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  1. #11
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    At this part of the story (between the last part and this the food came and we had quite some wine with it) none of us was quite sober anymore. It didn't really matter though, as the not-so-heroes got what they wanted. Kinda.

    -----------------------------------



    Out of the room through the north east exit, then following the corridor around a right corner, they were soon facing yet another door. This one was closed, and Zaza and Teltz took a while to make sure there were no traps, much to the dismay of the others. "It is just a door," Cajun kept complaining about the hold up.

    Finally, Teltz allowed them through, which caused Bjön to rush past them, following the amulet's increasing glow. The bard shrugged. "Paladins," he sighed, so that only the others could hear.

    The vaulted ceiling of this vast chamber showed significant signs of damage, with numerous cracks along its surface. In the center of the room, a 10-foot-wide bridge crossed a deep chasm. On the other side, a pair of stone statues watched over the end of the bridge in front of a set of grand brass double doors. The statues depicted villagers holding shields and spears.

    "I still say it is a waste of work power and money to build so much – underground, at that – for a few dead people. The murals and all could have been placed in a museum," Cajun stated.

    Zaza was already sneaking around in the room, doing what she could do best – scout out how to do or avoid mischief. At the bridge, she cursed. "Another of those pressure plates here," she said. "Probably going to drop us into the pits when we step on it."

    "Can we get around?" Samin carefully followed but made sure to stay a god bit behind her.

    "Very carefully, around the edges, maybe, at least your dad, Mook and me. I doubt the paladin could make it." She gave an apologetic smile to Bjön in his armor. "Armor can be so much of a hindrance unless in battle."

    "What about me?" Cajun asked, but immediately knew the answer. He wasn't that agile, he used to fall off almost any tree over any creek when they were out in the woods in summer.

    Zaza didn't even answer. "We'd need to tie a rope around each one crossing, and then it is not sure we won't fall and accidentally activate it."

    "Why not activate it to begin with – throw something on again?" Samin wondered. "That way, we'll at least know where exactly to step when the floor falls away."

    "Not that bad an idea," the paladin nodded. "Maybe the first one over can tie a rope to one of those statues. One of you arcane types have any spell to fly or levitate over?"

    Samin shook his head in regret. "I used my fly spell earlier, and my hawk would need to be close for me to be able to do it, anyway."

    "What could we throw on, though? There is not enough rubble here," Bjön mused, checking the room. "We certainly can't spare any more gear."

    "Can't we jam it? Maybe I can dissolve the whole plate and the mechanism with my acids. No mechanism, no opened pit of doom." Cajun went through all his vials he kept carrying around most of the time to check their details.

    "It's a stone plate so I don't think acid would do us any good." Zaza looked across the bridge and back at the trap. "It might not even cause the bridge to open up. Maybe it does something totally different."

    "Which would still not be something enjoyable, I'm sure." Samin's father was now standing next to Zaza to have a look.

    "Maybe I could throw you over," Cajun suggested to Zaza. "I've thrown you farther before."

    "Yes, on soft ground. I don't want to break anything hitting a stone floor. Not so worried about me now, huh?"

    Cajun blushed, despite knowing his sister was half joking. "Well, I'm out of ideas then."

    "Dadawin could j-jump over," Mook offered. "I just don't th-think he c-could tie a r-rope anywhere. And he won't make it with me riding him"

    From somewhere ahead of them, soft crying could be heard. They looked at each other, racking their brains for a solution to this problem. It seemed simple enough, and yet they felt stuck.

    Suddenly Samin spoke up. "If your wolf jumps over with a rope tied to the harness, then he can pull the rope from the other site and we'll hold it from here, so you and Mook can move over, you are good enough with that stuff. Then you help the wolf and then Bjön and Cajun walk over, they are heaviest and need support from both ends. After them, I'll follow Then we send Dadawin back with the rope and dad can come over and then..."

    Teltz' face brightened. "Son, that's genius, that can work."

    And it did. Exept from a bit of chaos about went when and Cajun having serious troubles not stepping onto the plate, they all got across fine. While Zaza gathered the rope and Mook cuddled the wolf, Teltz pointed to the ground. "There are bones here."

    Cajun blinked. "Yeah, well, it is a crypt, after all."

    "No, I mean, bones here. On the ground. They look like they have been smashed, and much like the bloody skeletons we saw earlier."

    "Not good." Bjön quickly came closer and sprinkled the remains with holy water, just to be sure.

    "Good thinking, but who placed them here?" Something must have attacked them and it sure wasn't the people from Kassen,they never made it here. And it can't have been too long ago. How long, do you reckon, do they need t, well, reform?" Teltz asked Bjön.

    "I am not sure. About an hour, I think, maybe double that."

    "Right. I sure don't wanna be caught by whatever took them apart. Let's be very careful!"

    The brass doors leading to what they hoped would be the final room must have recently been opened. Dust and a dead rat had been pushed aside by them, and there was a barely recognizable footprint of a rather large boot. "I'm going in," the paladin said, breathing heavily while grasping his amulet.

    "You haven't done this alone before, am I right?" The bard knew he was, but he needed the young man – not much older than his own son, he reckoned – to feel confident. When the dwarf shook his head, Taltz motioned to everyone. "And you won't go alone now. You'll go in first, we'll be right behind you."

    "We don't even know if we found the heart of the matter yet," Cajun mumbled. But by the glow of the paladin's amulet, they all knew they were very close.

    Bjön pulled the handle. The wide brass doors swung open on silent hinges to reveal a vast crypt. The only light emanated from a torch mounted above the crypt, flickering with a pale golden fire. Tall pillars
    marched across the chamber, ending at a dais on the far side, on which was set a large stone sarcophagus. A single form rested beside the coffin, that of a comely woman in tattered clothing. She appeared to be asleep or unconscious.

    "The Everflame," Zaza concluded. "Finally."

    Kassen's tomb was open and the lid was lying close to it. A dry, mirthless laugh was heard from the dark recesses of the tomb.

    "Ah, here w-we g-go," Mook growled in a foul mood, still wet, if not dripping anymore. "J-just l-like the o-old stories. The v-villain a-always makes a b-b-big show and fills old r-rooms with evil l-laughter." She seemed to have lost all fear or respect of whatever undead was lurking within here.

    "Yeah," Cajun added, doing a good job to mask his fear. But his hand gripped his hammer tighter. "Let's see if whoever it is now goes on about perfect plans of world domination."

    “So, Kassen’s heroes have come to fight me again. You will make fine minions in my army of the dead. Come and meet your fate.” With that, a wicked-looking skeleton strode into view, wearing polished mail and brandishing a cruel sword in both hands. A cold blue flame burned in its empty eye sockets. It really looked like something out of the winter evening stories. Just a lot more fearsome. The thing was wearing some sort of fancy hat and bracers, and tattered robed were floating around it.

    "Not fit for a fancy dress contest," Zaza said with only a slightly shaking voice.

    "I think it is your fate that will be sealed." The voice of the young paladin was steady and confident. "You couldn't even touch me, you are just a skeleton."

    "Who are you, anyway? Or rather, who were you?" Samin racked his brain for an answer to the undead infestation.

    "I think I know," his father spoke up. "That's the foe Kassen defeated, what was his name again?" Teltz had not forgotten, but an angry foe was a less dangerous foe, undead or not.

    "The robber with his gang of cutthroats, right," Samin remembered and quickly getting what his dad was trying to do.

    "I am Asar Vergas, rightful owner of the riches Ekat Kassen stole from me. I am no robber!" The large skeleton came towards them, and now schemes were moving in the shadows of the crypt, trying to circle the party. "And this time, Kassen's heroes will fall!"

    "Kassen's heroes?" Zaza took an involuntary step closer to Bjön. "We are nobody's heroes. Kassen is dead. We are just here to get the light of the Everflame – you know, tradition and all that."

    Behind her, Cajun started to laugh, only chuckling at first and then bursting out into full laughter. "Asar?" he asked between gasps. "That's really your name?" He didn't know all that much of his unknown father's language, but he knew as much. "Asar," he explained, "means ass in Orcish, and I don't mean no donkey."

    "4 skeletons," Samin declared, having paid more attention to the closing in minions of this wannabe evil ruler. "Could be worse."

    Bjön was slightly confused, as it appeared, by this exchange of words. It was clear that he was expecting some sort of heroic showdown. Things weren't developing the way he had planned at all. So his mind focused on the minor skeletons advancing. "Could you do that slippery spell again?" he asked Teltz.

    "Yeah," the bard nodded. "You may wanna pick them off one by one." He bumped his elbow into the ribs of the still chuckling alchemist. "Help him!" With a few words, the spell was cast and the skeletons were falling down faster than the zombies did.

    "You dare make fun of me?" Vergas' skeleton form stopped dead, and the blue light in his eye sockets flickered. "Me, who was the real force behind the fortune Kassen made? I will obliterate your town with..."

    "Yeah, yeah," Mook interrupted in a loud voice. "Look, man, you are a d-d-darned sk-skeleton now. All undead b-bones, no m-meat. So -you want s-some sort of r-revenge, but w-what for and w-who from? K-k-kassen is d-dead and u-unlike you he didn't th-think t-to just show up again in a stinky f-form." She frowned. "Wh-what woke you, a-anyway? A-and where have you b-b-been b-between your, well, d-different ff-orms of existence? Wh-what's the m-meaning of life and d-death? Is th-there really a p-point to any o-of this?"

    "Kassen, he is a coward! He was woken by the theft as well, but he stays hidden, of course. He..."

    "Theft?" Zaza interrupted.

    CLONK! The sound of a skeleton being hacked apart.

    "The plunderers your town sent..."

    "Plunderers?" Samin fell in. "To this crypt? Why would we plunder or own hero's crypt? Only a brainless skeleton could get that idea."

    Vergas stopped and let his menacingly glinting sword drop low. "I assumed..."

    "You assumed," Cajun said from the shadows with a chuckle. "Never assume, makes an asar out of you and me, you know?"

    CLONK! The sound of a skeleton being reduced to pieces.

    "The crypt was robbed, certainly not by us. Sorry it woke you but we can fix that. Can't you just go back to wherever you were before?" Samin was curious. "And yeah, where was that again? Were you in your god's realm or...?"

    "ENOUGH!" The sword came up again and the skeleton jumped towards Samin. "I'll get my victory this time."

    Samin ducked out of the way, partly horrified and partly annoyed. "Victory? We aren't even battling you, what kind of victory is that? No brain or not, you must see that you are talking nonsense." Frantically, Samin attempted to stay right in the back on the skeleton.

    "And you get the wrong people, too," Teltz stepped into the skeleton's view to make it leave his son alone. "We didn't rob the crypt and aren't any heroes of anyone, so you are behaving irrationally. Well, should be expected, coming back from the dead to be like this must be mind addling." Carefully staying out of the sword's reach, Teltz danced backwards towards the Everflame, Asar following him.

    CLONK! The sound of a skeleton getting disjointed.

    "A-and if you g-get what y-you want, then wh-what?" Mook asked, now holding her spear in hand just in case. Not that there was anything to stab it into. "I m-mean you are no longer l-living, s-so what g-good does any money or p-power do you?"

    "Yeah, no wine, no women, no food... maybe song, although I am not sure how you could enjoy music without ears – hey, how do you see and hear anyway?" Teltz had no trouble staying out of the reach of Kassen's enemy.

    "So some of the robbers," Zaza tried to bring the topic back to what interested her, "were quite zombified and awfully stinky last we got rid of them. You didn't get them all, right? Any idea where they did come from or planned to go? So we could try get the stuff they stole back – or them at least?"

    From his point, Teltz could see that Kassen's body was still in his sarcophagus. "At least this one's quite dead, still."

    "I don't think the hero of our town would do us any harm." Somehow, the halfling's voice sounded a tad sarcastic.

    "He is no hero, he is a thief." Asar stopped going after the bard and turned in a circle, holding his sword out so no one could come near. "He stole my part of the loot we got when we were traveling together."

    "Loot, as in, plundering crypts and dungeons? Stealing a dragon's heard earned hoard?" Samin offered, slightly out of breath.

    CLONK! The sound of a skeleton doing what the skeletons before it already did.

    "What? No, that was not what we... yeah, sometimes," Asar admitted. "Only from tainted locations, though."

    "Tainted locations like this one now? You are aware what you are doing now isn't good in anyone's book, or even neutral. Undeads are an abomination to nature." That was Bjön, being dead serious. "You emanate an aura so evil my amulet picked it up a few miles from here." He pointed the the unconscious girl. "And you kill and abduct people."

    "See, if you want to make it known Kassen wasn't all that much of a hero, give us the details and we'll tell the story." The bard peered into Kassen's sarcophagus again, eying the longsword the corpse held. "But you are much better off dead than undead."

    "Not that much of a hero? Hah, he was last in and first out in every encounter, and..."

    A blueish ghost with a short beard and long flowing robes appeared. "I assure you I was not! Asar is just a jealous man feeling under-appreciated because he didn't even use his brain much when he still had one."

    "Kassen, I assume?" Teltz sighed.

    "The very same," the ghost bowed while the skeleton's eyes flared up and sent tiny sparks of light flying.

    "Erm, why don't we let you two talk it out, take the girl and the flame and go?" Cajun suggested hopefully.

    "Hah, Kassen doesn't fight alone, he always needs someone else to get the hot potatoes out of the oven for him..."

    The amulet around the paladin's neck flickered. Irritated, Bjön stared at it and then back at the spirit – technically rather a manifestation than an undead, or so he had been taught – and the skeleton. "What is happening here?"

    Teltz took a few quick steps towards the girl and checked her over. From his pouch, he produced a few herbs and put one leaf under her tongue and another under her nose. Her breathing became more stable and her pulse was better, but she didn't quite wake up yet. He would have to carry her. He was about to call out for help from Samin when he found his son wasn't in view anymore. Neither was Zaza.

    With the minor skeletons gone and Kassen appearing, Samin had seen it fit to follow an urge he had had since entering these final rooms. Followed by Zaza, who had learned to trust the weird instincts – for a magi type – of her friend, they moved over to one of the adjacent rooms into what looked like the crypt of Asar's former men. The central sarcophagus had been disturbed, its lid lay broken on the ground in front of it. The corpse of a masked man was beside it.

    Samin was quickly going over to the body, trying to ignore the stench. "Looks and smells awful," he commented. Picking up a map that had fallen out of the tattered grey robes, he motioned for Zaza to help him.

    "Ew, I hope it's worth it. More than the tiny magic crystals and bits of gold you usually find." Zaza tried to not look at the iron mask or anything else as she nimbly went into the pockets and the ripped open backpack of the dead guy. "A wand, a horn, spellbook... oh and money. New gold coins! Don't tell the paladin," she smirked.

    "We can count that later. Anything else?"

    "Nah, but that's quite something. Let's get out of the smell and see if the others are done with the two... whatever they are."

    "You know, while we are at it, remember this?" Samin held up the key they had retrieved from the water earlier. "We haven't found out what to do with it yet."

    "Maybe ask the girl? She must know because if they have not placed it, it would long be gone, no?" Zaza went ahead and peeked back into the main room, where Samin's father was dragging the sister of the madman upstairs towards the brass doors.

    The dwarf was standing between the two awoken beings, and it looked like he was trying to negotiate some sort of agreement. Cajun was sneaking up to the Everflame and light it.

    All of a sudden, the skeleton frame of Kassen's adversary, murderer of the townsfolk, collapsed among his attire, sword and strange hat toppling to the floor. Bjön jumped backwards and bumped into the half-orc who was returning with the lit lantern of the Everflame.

    Kassen's spirit let out a benevolent laugh. "Thank you for your help in this matter. I am sorry people had to die. For your future undertakings, I have some things for you to assist."

    Future undertakings? Zaza's ears perked up. Bjön, she noticed, looked somewhat disappointed and almost cross-eyed. She could not see why; if with the help of Kassen or without, he had been able to rid the world of an undead abomination.

    "What things?" Cajun asked, eager to get his hands on anything helping him in smithcraft or with his alchemy studies.

    Kassen reached around himself – well, his body, anyway, - and somehow, despite being incorporal, managed to produce a set of things before fading from view with a bright smile. "The scales of my armor will help you in your greatest need," he whispered as he disappeared.

    "Oh r-really?" Mook's voice sounded somewhat bitter. "What else is there?"

    "A bashing shield, an elemental Gem..." Samin, taking stock of it all, let the latter, together with the loot from the guy in the next room, vanish into the last things they had gotten. "... and a bag of holding." Mook had quickly grabbed the shield, she had planned on getting one of these for a while, very helpful when fighting with a spear.

    "Where'd you get that from?" Teltz, just getting back from making the still unconscious girl comfortable at the exit, stared at the pilfered goods.

    "Next room, weird guy with an iron mask killed by the undead," Zaza explained. "Your son's got a knack, as usual, for finding the valuables."

    "As if you d-didn't." Mook grinned, counting the scales. "One m-more than we are." Without asking if the other might have been meant for the girl at the door she tied it around Dadawin's neck. "He's part o-of us too," she said.

    They all took a scale and then turned to leave. The reality of it all had not quite dawned on them, it appeared to Teltz, as Samin and Zaza involved Mook and Cajun in a plan to try out the key they found earlier at the door they had left unchecked upstairs.

    When they reached the door, the girl, Dimira, was finally waking up, eyes wide in fear and all confused. "It's all Cajun tried to assure her. "The ass is gone, and your brother is waiting for you upstairs."

    The reaction of the girl was one of disbelief and joy – what was to be expected. What was not expected was that she would jump up and run out across the bridge over the pit. ""Wait there is a..." Zaza started. With a click, the mechanism engaged. "...pressure plate," the halfling replied, expecting something bad to happen to the just rescued girl.
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    No trap door opened up under Dimira. Instead, the 2 statues to the left and right of the brass doors began to move. Their heads turned with a screeching sound towards the bridge and for a moment it looked as if they were to attack in some way. But then they returned to their original positions.

    "Interesting," Samin muttered, checking the statues from all sides. "They must be made so they do not attack anyone leaving. Guess we now know what took the skeletons out here apart."

    "W-whatever."Mook followed Dimira oh her wolf, now that she knew the way back she was eager to get out as quickly as possible, and she didn't like walking in wet clothes.

    Zamin and Zaza insisted on checking out the last room upstairs while Cajun went with Teltz to get Dimira's half insane brother. Dimira had explained about the wood golem and the key they found needed to be inserted into its back to turn it off. Not a problem if you knew what to look for. The equipment the townspeople had stored here for them earlier were gathered – they had earned it after all – and not too soon after, everyone was out of the crypt in the early hours of evening.

    A loud screech and a wicker greeted them. Wilbur the hawk and Bjön's horse were happy enough to see their masters back. The dead horses out here had been mostly eaten by scavengers, but even without the stench, no one wanted to camp anywhere close to the crypt. Dimira and Roldare barely stopped long enough to gather bedrolls from the entrance as they left.

    The night found them not too far up the slope, sitting around a high burning campfire, checking what they had found or been given in the crypt. The maps the bandits had and the notes attached to them were of special interest. On the one Samin and Zaza had found was “The amulets are entombed with Kassen and Asar." They already knew what amulets it referred to. Both Kassen and his long time enemy and former friend had described them in detail. They had been called back from the dead when the robbers stole them from around the corpses' necks.

    This seemed significant, as it meant someone else knew about the crypt and its contents, and the amulets alone could not have justified sending a bunch of men risking to wake the dead. The other note was a tattered handbill inviting anyone interested to meet at a place called "The Ranger's Lament." Teltz explained that this was a popular place in Tamran, the capital of the country. It could mean anything or nothing.

    "That bandit with the mask sure was strange," Zaza commented when they discussed the possibilities to prevent the crypt or worse, the town being attacked by bandits in the future. "Why would anyone want to wear an iron mask in a crypt?"

    "Iron mask?" Bjön frowned. "Sounds familiar. Did he somewhat look like a priest?"

    "He was pretty much busy decomposing, I didn't much look at him," Zaza snorted.

    "Could have been a follower of Razmir," the paladin wondered. "I've heard of them showing stronger presence in Tamran now. Lots of people are giving them credit for feeding and protecting the poor and all that, but I don't know. I am weary of cults keeping too many secrets."

    "Talking of secrets, what's yours?" Cajun wanted to know. "You all of a sudden show up here with that amulet of yours hunting for the undead, right? How come? Where did you come from?"

    "My family dumped me at the door or a city orphanage when they found out I was night blind. Not much good for doing anything underground, they must have thought, and didn't want to move upside. The paladin running the orphanage saw my potential and my faith and made sure I got a good start myself at being one. That's pretty much my life in a nutshell." Bjön grinned while clearing the last soup out of his plate. "The order I belong to, we are all asked to pick a purpose, and I happened to come upon someone dying who gave my his amulet to continue his work to destroy the undead . At least the evil ones among them, which is at least 90& of them. The Amulet gives me dreams where to go to. So here I am. That's my purpose in a nutshell, too."

    For a moment, it seemed that was all the dwarf had to say. "I'm also a Pathfinder," he suddenly continued. "And how that came to be is a quite long story, but the essence of it is, I helped her out when she needed it most and their work has always fascinated me so she made sure I was a part of it, That's it..."

    "...in a nutshell," Cajun grinned, and Bjön grinned back. The two of them definitely got along well.

    Late next morning saw them on their way back to Kassen. They would arrive late at night, with them having had a late start and only one horse. There was not much talk, the happenings were weighing deeply on everyone but Bjön and Teltz as it seemed. And Samin's father was deeply in thought about something, reacting absentminded when talked to, if he reacted at all.

    When they finally arrived in Kassen, they found a celebration underway in their honor. Mayor Uptal was there to greet them at the gates, but his joy at their return quickly turned to horror as he was told what had happened. The news quickly spreads throughout town and the harvest celebration turned to mourning. Bjön's presence was, however, heralded as a positive sign.

    After than night, things seemed to be slowly returning to normal, except that the 4 younglings and Samin's dad, could be seen hanging out around the paladin a lot. There were also meetings between Bjön, Teltz and Mayor Uptal. Cajun, Samin and the girls were wondering what they were about, as neither the dwarf nor the bard would talk.

    Samin used the chance to learn the new spells from the spell book he had found, not mentioning its existence to the local wizard he was, in theory, apprenticed to. The only way to learn was to be sneaky and get into the old mans spellbook anyway, so hardly anyone knew what spells Samin could do but his friends.

    4 days after they had returned, a group of masons and clerics set out to bury the villagers, clear out any possible remaining undead and repair the crypt, if possible. As the trail of people crossed the bridge to head out of the northern gate, a lone stranger came riding in while the young hero wannabes were watching their townfolk leave. Something was strange about the hunched figure, and it was not only that Kassen's citizens were generally careful about strangers at first. Samin felt an immediate fear he could not explain to himself, and Mook – who wasn't actually finish, just sitting there in her gnomy winter clothes watching the others while leaning on Dadawin – seemed to freeze for a moment. A clear sign that her oracle sense had picked up on something.

    Cajun just frowned. "Weird person, can't even see if it is a man or a woman. Won't make many friends dressed like that."

    "Nice horse," Zaza said in an amused voice. The mount looked like it had not had enough food in years, although from the swing of its step, it could not be that old. The neck was too long for the halfling's taste – who was quite good at riding even the largest horses – and the ears were longer than they should have been, too. If the offspring of horses and donkeys would be able to breed, she would have guessed at a donkey in the horse's lineage.

    The rider didn't even notice them as he or she vanished into the main part of Kassen. Zaza and Cajun quickly went back to fishing, but Samin, while staying with them, had a feeling his time in this place was up. His father's warnings from when he was a small boy were as fresh in his mind as ever. As he turned around, Mooks eyes met his, and he knew she was aware of it, too. Wilbur screeched in the sky as if to echo their feelings.




    Rodawin Teltz was just about telling the mayor, who he considered a friend even long before he had come to this place, that he would not accept the task Uptal was trying to shove off on him and the young people. The paladin could probably very well do it alone, having connections and all, and if anyone from town would have to go with them it would probably have to be someone from the guard. With all that was in his past – and thus his son's – he did not want to risk roaming around and playing the heroes and thus attracting unwanted attention. Far from it.

    He turned to look out of the window of the mayor's house next to the river to check on the friends on the docks, his eyes caught a glimpse of the rider crossing the bridge, and while he could see the person even less clearly, he immediately felt the same sense of dread. "I think you are right," he immediately shifted his attitude. "It would do them good to leave town and do something useful for once. Isn't Cajun about done with his apprenticeship with the smith and could go on the road? Not that it is often done around here but in his case..."

    Uptal nodded in agreement. "And her mother recently mentioned that Mook needs to do the next part of her initiation, which includes what they call The Walkaround. Supposedly it can last several months. Mook would not go out of fear of losing friends, you now how she is with all her stuttering. This seems like the perfect opportunity. And Zaza's mother would be happy enough to see Zaza trudge along, means no more worry, at least for a while, of what will become of her. Who knows, maybe the two of them could even make a living in the city."

    "That settles it, then. We'll pack and leave with the paladin as soon as possible. We'll send a messenger when we've found out more."

    Uptal laughed. "No hurry, it does serve well enough if you let us know once you are back, Rodawin." The bard nodded slowly, but he was not so sure they would be coming back anytime soon, if ever.
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    Haven't read the new instalment yet but I quite like your journal so far. Even though the actual adventure seems a bit lame to me (at least when compared to other 1st-level modules like, for example, The Hangman's Noose), your writing is really excellent.

    Keep up with it and don't feel discouraged by any lack of comments on this board!

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    Yeah it's a rather lame adventure compared to most others but it gave a good start for this type of adventure connections as it is the first in a small series. And it went pretty quick.
    My Story Hour campaigns. What are they up to this week?

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    The lag kept me from coming here for a few days.

    Anyway, I was considering making a new thread for the follow up adventure as I can't seem to edit the title of the post. But as it is a follow up, there isn't a point to spam the board with threads.

    We got two new players who just didn't want to play the first part. Edawon Hest the halfling ranger and a surprise even the players didn't know until it happened.

    This is the second half of the session that ended the last adventure and the next one.



    Their departure happened in haste and, for a reason no one but the bard and his wizarding son – and possibly Mook - understood, also in secret. Teltz had made the mayor promise to only announce their leaving the next day when they were well on the way and not to tell anyone where exactly they were heading. An errand for Kassen, that was what he was to tell anyone. No one would wonder given their recent success.

    Bjön's horse had initially been a problem. Bjön had been able to secure passage on a river barge with the name of Black Mist as he vaguely knew the captain, a dwarf named Walren. Dwarf captains were rather rare, so it was not a surprise for a paladin from Tamran to know the man. But there had been no way to take a horse, and selling the well bred and trained animal would not only ave proven to be difficult, it would also have caused questions and no doubt the stranger Teltz and Samin were worried about would have noticed something. Bjön, noticing something was up just not what, thus agreed for Mook's gnome clan to take the horse – on a big horse like that 3 or 4 of them could ride at once, which would make trading with the other gnomes around these parts a lot easier.

    The captain employed only one hand, a scarred man named Ewem. Wherever he was from his command of the common tongue was poor and so he didn't do much interaction but introducing himself.

    After 6 days of travel, everyone was sick of being on a boat, even when no one but Mook missed camping in the open. The constant whistling of the captain was unnerving to Samin. Zaza was literally sick, retching all the time and avoiding food altogether by now. Bjön, having had many talks with Walren, was getting restless to get to the city, making mention of having to do some other things besides looking for the grave robbers. Cajun was relatively content to do whatever alchemists did and hardly came out of the single room they used, which happened to also be the room the freight was stored. Teltz was composing a happy tune about their weird encounter with Asar, which somewhat irked the paladin even if he didn't say anything. Samin was still going over the spellbook from the loot. He had also borrowed one of the old spellbooks from his so-called master back in Kassen. The young man had the distinct feeling they would need him to know more spells. Dadawin the wolf had taken to hunt rats with the ship's half-take forest cat and was, all considered, the happiest of the bunch.

    There was one more passenger on board, who preferred to sleep in the open. A young halfling ranger named Edawon Hest had joined them at their last shore stop 2 days ago. He didn't say much to any of them but Mook – although he might have talked to Zaza more if she wasn't busy feeding fish. Their love for nature made them bond quickly, and when the halfling heard about the grave robbers and the undead and what the group had done to get rid of them, he offered his help in finding the guilty party. As it soon turned out, for all his dislike of cities and larger settlements, he was quite street savvy, having grown up in Korvosa.

    On the evening of the 6th day, the captain decided to press on well into the night to reach the city. "No point in staying on the water," he said, "when there are real beds to have and good food without being sick all the time." Zaza nodded in agreement, but Teltz puffed the pipe he was so fond of and watched the dwarf wearily. "You know the man better," he asked the other dwarf. "Does he seem to be anxious, or is it just me?"

    Bjön nodded. "He's been getting more nervous by the hour. He says the waters here are not safe – the war and some issues with so-called faith barges coming from Razmiran.."

    "We'll keep watch, then," the bard decided.

    About an hour after dark, Edawon noticed a small sailboat coming in their direction from the open lake. He almost missed it, as a bank of clouds had Covered the moon and a trickle of rain was making watch keeping decidedly unpleasant. When he notified the captain, Walred frowned and went to get his weapons. "We'll have to deal with them – pirates, my all right, but they are considered privateers of Molthuni."

    "Ack, the stupid war," the halfling cursed, just as everyone else joined them.

    "What defenses do you have?" Bjön asked, although he was pretty sure of the answer.

    "Defenses? I need all the space for wares, usually, and even if not, like now, I am not exactly skilled in the arts of fight. We have a crossbow is all."

    Bjön grimaced. "I think they saw us, they are readying crossbows. I'd like to take them alive." There was doubt in his voice as to the possibility.

    "I Think 3 of em, capt'n," Ewem announced, loading the aforementioned crossbow.

    "What good is taking them alive for, they would be hanged anyway," Teltz growled and took cover behind some crates. "I suggest you use the horn, Bjön."

    Bjön nodded and took the small horn they had found among the possessions of the grave robbers from his belt. With a mighty blow, the horn produced a sound like the fog horns of larger ships. A white cloud of fog was immediately emanating from the instrument, obscuring the area around them, effectively hiding them from the attacking crossbowmen. With a loud THUCK an arrow got stuck in the boat, and a cursing Ewem was firing back. Very quickly, firing back became pointless as Bjön sounded the horn again and the fog spread out.

    "Maybe I should use this?" Samin asked his father and help up one of the wands they had gotten form the crypt.

    "I think that would be a waste of magic. We have a paladin and a wolf and Cajun," Tetz chuckled.

    What he meant with the latter became obvious a moment later when there was a sudden spark of light in the fog, and the cries of their would be attackers, who had made ready to come on board, could be heard, albeit dampened by the fog still. The constant drizzle of rain was not enough to put out the fire their alchemist had caused, but despite their problems, the privateers retaliated. A moment later, the small sail of their barge was on fire, too.

    "Now what?" Samin hissed. "The boat will burn down if we don't put that out and we can't get up because of their arrows."

    The angry screech of a hawk could be heard, disturbed by the fire as he had been perched somewhere in the rafters. Wilbur was able to locate his master despite the fog and landed right next to him, still complaining. Samin absentmindedly stroked him and, a moment later, started sneeze violently.

    Splashing sounds came from the middle of the ship, and an angry dwarf voice could be heard cursing. "I think that answers the question and I doubt there are still any arrows to come," Teltz said and got up. The fog begun to disperse, and the first thing they saw was Dadawin with a bloody snout. The small boat of the privateers was burning beyond saving and when they saw Cajun, he had a decidedly eager smile on his face. Anything that could burn or blow up was fun for the half-orc. His clothes looked slightly singed, and he carried a small lock box under his left arm. "Found this over there," he explained. "One of them pirates wanted to make off with it into the water so i decided to take it."

    "Good thinking," Teltz nodded and fished for his pipe until he remembered it would do him little good in the rain.

    "If yer all done, whaddaya say you come help Ewem and me put up the spare sail?" the captain's voice came through the dispersing fog. "I want out of here lest there are more of those rats out here looking for prey."

    2 hours later, the city of Tamran drew near. In the dark, Tamran glitteredith hundreds of tiny lights, emanating from the windows and lamps that dot the city. It had he look of a new town, built primarily of wood, though some older buildings lingeredere and there, many showing signs of damage from the war with Molthune to the south. Cracked walls and burnt remnants could seen even from this distance, fresh scars from the long conflict.

    "I'm glad I had ya with me," the captain sighed. "If yer looking for a good place to crash, I recommend the Gar's Last Meal down near the water. It's good and safe and if you need a ride back that's where to catch me, too."

    Cajun was first off the boat, eager to examine the contents of the box he had recovered. Zaza wasn't far behind, and the relief of being on solid ground was obvious in her face. "So, are we going to that inn the captain suggested?" she asked, and her stomach growled to remind everyone of her lack of food lately.

    "No," the bard decided before anyone could speak up. "I prefer off the waterline and at a place where there isn't as much fish to eat as we would for sure get around here." He ignored the knowing looks of his son and Mook, who guessed right that the real reason to be elsewhere was so there would be less chance to be found by – well, whoever it was Teltz had Samin and himself avoid.

    "I suggest we go to the Forest Bounty," Bjön spoke up. "It's where I'll most likely find the Pathfinder contact from around here. It's most likely we'll get more information about anything from him. If someone is trying to sell stuff robbed from graves, he will know who to ask about it, too."

    "Sounds good to me... but that's not an inn, is it?" Cajun asked. "I heard of the place, I think, a feast hall for every day?"

    "More or less. I'll know an inn close by where we can stay, so we won't have to worry about rooms. This time of year, not much trade comes in and most inns are happy enough for customers."

    Through the maze of bridges, ramps and streets at impossible angles, Bjön led them to the southern part of Tamran until, really tired and in Zaza's case also really hungry by then, they stood in front of The Weathered Rose Inn in the center of a larger market place. It was obviously a better establishment, with red and white bricks overgrown with ivy dominating, framed with dark wood. Painted lead windows decorated the place, too, depicting red roses. The wooden sign above the entrance depited a single red rose blossom, stained with age but cleaned up recently. Several flower boxes lined the windows, but in this time of year they were empty. A stable to the back of the inn looked like it would provide rather luxury boxes for horses and similar animals.

    Dampened laughter drifted through the door as someone left. "It's usually quite expensive," Bjön grinned. "But I am here often and don't have to pay after solving the little ghost infestation they had last year. And for friends of mine, the price is usually modest enough."

    "Hm-hmm," Teltz grinned. To his son he whispered "It seems even paladins like their comforts."

    They approached the entrance and were greeted by an older halfling in red and white clothes fitting the building. He was obviously here to discourage undesirable customers. "Master Bjön," he smiled at the dwarf. His pronunciation of the name was a little weird, much more drawn out than necessary. "Glad to see you back in here. Master Solomon isn't in the inn," he chuckled at the meager joke, " but will be glad to see you when he returns tomorrow. You do stay a while, don't you?"

    "Quite possible," the dwarf smiled. Then he pointed to the others. "These are friends of mine. We'll all need quarters and, first, some food."

    "Alright, the wolf can come in but the hawk needs to stay outside, you understand, birds and their toilet habits..."

    Samin nodded. Wilbur wouldn't have wanted inside in any case and was already perching on one of the ornamental wood pieces over the door.

    They were quickly seated at a table close to a large stage on which a young elven woman performed lively songs. The place was filled with merchants and other traveling people but the noise was at a minimum compared to other inns. Soup was brought for everyone after it was obvious that Zaza couldn't hold much more down still, and their plans for the night didn't include long meals.

    "I'm not going anywhere," the halfling girl announced after she was done eating. "I need a bed and sleep in quiet and without nightmares.

    "M-me too," Mook confessed. "You can t-tell us l-later what you f-found out."

    Samin and Cajun looked at each other. They knew very well Mook wasn't tiring so easily, it was much more likely she would not want to leave Zaza alone in strange surroundings and, quite possibly, didn't want to show her stutter around either. But that was as well as it meant Cajun would not have to offer to be company for his sister. The half-orc burned to know what it was with the grave robbers and this strange cult they had heard about several times now.

    Hest, having been strangely quiet all this time, declared he would be going along in any case. Glancing at Mook, he waited for her to nod. Teltz barely avoided a smile. There was something going on between this halfling and the gnome, he was sure.

    The less tired of the group left soon after they had been shown to their room, the two girls getting a room with a double bed while Bjön got a double bedded room for himself. The others took a 6 bed guest room they had to share with a noble born fighter who had seen some of the war recently and now wanted some rest. The man wasn't in when they brought up their belongings. Cajun decided that even had he been able to meet the guy he would rather entrust the box from the boat to his sister. "Try to get it open if you aren't too tired," he said before they left.

    Zaza turned over the box a few times, feeling a lot better after some food and hot tea and the prospect of resting. She also felt the need to talk to Mook, for the first time in days having some privacy. Mook, however, was much more interested in taking a bath in the little room at the end of the hall. The halfling decided to try her luck with the box instead of waiting and found it no challenge for her skills.

    Inside were some coins, including a whole of 13 platinum pieces – a type of coin Zaza had not seen in a long time. The rest was a – for her – substantial means of gold and silver, and Zaza, like in the crypt, pocketed all of it. A surviving habit learned early in life, when she had to make sure she and her usually honest-to-a-fault brother had enough means to get by when their mother was either intoxicated or gone for a while. If things would go bad, she would have something for themselves. She was beginning to realize, though, that after she saw the usual prices at this inn – which they had to pay very little of as promised - that even with all she had saved and the additional wealth from the crypt and the box, even one person alone could not last that long in a city, not even in a ramshackle one as this so-called capital.

    There was only one other thing in the bag, the privateer's charter signed by the governor of Molthun. It might be worth a little to the right people. When Mook reentered the room she showed the paper to her. "L-let your b-b-brother t-take it t-to the guards," Mook said. "He found it, after all, and maybe there is a little reward for it."

    Zaza nodded, then headed off to take a bath as well. An hour later, still well before midnight, Zaza and Mook were sound asleep with the wolf lying next to their bed keeping a half asleep watch.



    Meanwhile, the others arrived at the Forest Bounty on the northern edge of the town. It had been quite a walk, and Samin was tired as well by now, not cherishing the idea to have to walk all the way back. He wished they would not be quartered in the south end.

    Made from enormous timbers, the Forest Bounty was a long hall, open at both the front and back, filled with wooden tables and benches. Dozens of people gathered here, eating, drinking, and laughing. One table of patrons even carried on with a bawdy song that seemed to have most of the folk smiling.

    Upon a question from Bjön, a serving maid near the door pointed to a nearly empty table in the back. Bjön promptly made his way through the crowd, expecting the others to follow him.

    At the table sat a robust man, wearing green and brown leathers and cloaked in a large bearskin. A longbow rested against the table next to him. He looked up and with a hearty laugh greeted Bjön.

    “Welcome, and your friends as well. I am Reginar Lacklan. Please sit – if you are looking for me I am sure we have much to discuss.” He swept out his arms in an inviting gesture as a serving maid placed a tray of roast boar and forest vegetables on the table before him.

    The ever hungry Cajun and Edawon were digging right into the food again while Bjön introduced them. Then the paladin quickly explained the matter at hand by recounting in a short version the happenings at Kassen's crypt. Lacklan listened carefully. "If there was one of the masked servants of Razmir among them, it stands to reason the cult wanted those amulets you are looking for. Why, only they could know. Everything they do is for money, usually. And I know for a fact that a group from the local temple went up north a few months back, but only a few returned. They went straight back to the temple. Might've been the thieves you are looking for."

    "What, in the name of all good gods, would a strange cult want with the amulet of our hero and his foe? How could anyone even know about them?" Cajun's fist hit the table. "No one has been in Kassen and asked. Not that we know of, anyway."

    "If your hero was the adventuring type, he may have had more companions. Maybe some of them are still alive? Who knows, maybe they are now with that cult," Reginar shrugged. "Plenty of opportunities to find out where your former allies are, I suppose. A few weeks after this group came back from the north, another group took off from the temple. Some blue robed woman was leading them, maybe their leader. I don't get their robe colors, most run around in grey, some are grey and I saw a few black ones, too. Denoting rank, I suppose. Anyway, they took a boat and off they went. Haven't been back since."

    "They are in it for the money, you say, but last thing I saw, they were at least pretending to help the poor," Bjön said.

    "You've been away for about a year, yes?" Reginar asked. "You remember around that time they started building their temple? Well, people wondered how their funds came about, and there are stories of theft and extortion. They blackmail people. And what's worse, the city guard seems to be mostly in their pockets as well. Saw them beat a man almost to death, supposedly he stole from them. City watch didn't do a thing about it. That's how bad it now is."

    "The other paladins..." the dwarf started, but the ranger waved his idea way, chuckling. "There are no paladins around now that I know of. There had been some sort of border conflict supposedly involving demons or undead and they all rushed off."

    "Hasn't anyone tried to find out details about them? Some sort of investigation the government has started – they must know their guard isn't doing their duty," Edawon wondered.

    "The government has no resources, which is why they are probably happy the cult helps the poor – which they actually do."

    "Does the name Ranger's Lament ring a bell?" Teltz asked, remembering the note from the crypt.

    "Oh yeah." Reginar took a large gulp from his beer and belched. "It is where they do their recruiting meetings. They have no services, see, they just recruit you to your faith and make you a member. No maybes and such. You don't get into their temple without being a member."

    "That complicates things," the bard sighed. "I was hoping to just get in, search for our property and be on our way again."

    "If it is even still there," Samin frowned.

    "If you want to get in, you need to bring some time," the ranger grinned. "Pretend to be interested and let them convert you. They'll lock you in the temple for a few days to teach you, so I heard. After that, from what I gathered you are pretty much free to roam around at least in some parts."

    "Right, that, I won't do. We'll find another way. I'll let you know how it goes," Bjön nodded and got up.

    "Actually, I'm all for helping you if I can. If you manage to get in and out again, or gain any other information, care to meet me here again in a week? Maybe I have something for you then, too."

    "That's great, thanks for the help," Teltz agreed. When the others got up, too, they left the hall just to find the rain had gone worse and the long walk back was going to be tedious. Bjön, still seemingly fresh, didn't seem to care. Finally, a few blocks from the hall, they found a man with a donkey cart who agreed to drive them for some silver after Cajun and Samin – always the pranksters – played totally drunk and Teltz, playing along, acted the worried father who had just found them. In the dark, it wasn't as obvious that the half-orc wasn't half human. They barely managed to get onto the cart, with Edawon barely fitting in what left the paladin to walk. Bjön just laughed, shaking his head. He preferred to walk, in any case, and he was, short legs or not, quicker about it without the youngsters. The only one able to keep up with his stride had been the bard until now, but the others would learn to walk fast soon enough if they were to roam the world. And he, Chosen of Desna, would be there to help them along, so he promised himself.
    My Story Hour campaigns. What are they up to this week?

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    "You got how much for the charter thingy?" Zaza's eyes almost popped out of their sockets over breakfast when Cajun showed them the 500 pieces of shiny gold he had gotten from the military for the proof that the privateers were hired by their enemies. Mook and Samin stared as well, none of them had ever seen so much gold. Edawon seemed indifferent; he had seen a lot more, actually, just that it never was any money he was allowed to touch.

    "That'll help," Samin's father admitted. "I had indeed been worried about our monetary situation. Not that the mayor could give us much but provisions."

    "Yeah, guess he thought what we found with the robbers would do," Cajun said, throwing a quick glance at his sister.

    "S-so w-what n-now? We scout the t-templke and t-the bar?" Mook asked.

    "Not we, Zaza," Bjön suggested. "She might not know city life but she looks very harmless. And you, Cajun, as a smith, maybe you could ask for temporary work as a journeyman. Close enough to the temple, that is, as there are several smithies to the west of the block."

    "Block?" Cajun wondered.

    "That's how big the temple actually is," the dwarf nodded.

    "Quite some temple," Samin pondered. "If we need to search all that for the pendants..."

    "We'll see. I'll go look for a job, then," Cajun grinned and got up. He couldn't wait to do some real work again for a chance.




    Zaza knew another thief when she saw one. And there were more than one among the crowd of people who had gathered to see the priests and their acolytes – the ones in the white robes, the halfling deducted. Priests of the temple walked through the masses and cut purses here, lifted a bag there. "Quite some religion," she muttered before she mingled among the crowd herself. She was supposed to just watch, but she couldn't watch that.

    To Zaza, stealing from bad people – including people to rich to share – was not a bad thing. The people those priests stole from looked like normal folk who weren't rich enough to be able to afford losing their money like that. The girl went right behind the 3 stealing priests, one after the other as fast as she could, who robbed the listeners of their belongings, and in turn dug into the bag at their side, liberating them oif their stolen possessions. The priests, as she had suspected, never even saw her, they were completely concentrating on not being seen themselves. They were slow about it, too, what was no wonder with their robes.

    Each stolen item went into the bag of holding she was carrying hidden under her wide shirt. Every now and then, she faked interest in the preaching priests in the middle of the crowd. Being small was definitely an advantage, and being swift even more so. No wonder halflings made the best thieves – in her opinion anyway.

    There were two difficult moments when the eldest and most experienced of the priests almost noticed her, but she was lucky. This time. Zaza left the crowd and called herself stupid for doing what she just had done. Observe, not interfere, she had been told. But, as everyone knew, she was not all that good at doing what she was told.

    Then she realized the second part of her plan would not work. Even if everyone would be standing around after the priests left, she could hardly announce herself, telling them the priests stole from them and give it back – even if they would believe her it was like painting a sign on their efforts to infiltrate them. And it was impossible to track about 10 people at once to give them their stuff back. She had risked her discovery for nothing but the thrill of it.

    Well, maybe not for nothing. Money was always useful.



    The endeavor of the young halfling had not gone completely unnoticed. From a small alley barely wide enough to let one person through, a set of eyes were following her every move. A yellow snout appeared and sniffed in Zaza's direction, but the wind came from the wrong side and the creature was too far away to have had much luck, anyway. "Stealer stealing from stealers," it muttered in a strange accent. "A thief taking from thieves. My prophecy... my prophecy."




    Later that evening, they met at The Weathered Rose a good time before dinner. Cajun came down from taking a bath, as he had indeed found journeyman work in a local smithy. In short, he gave the others a summary of the rumors he had heard. There was all sort of nonsense imaginable. From the cult leader being a medusa, to the god of the cult walking the very streets of the city – there was just no way to know what could be true. One thing was clear, though, everyone feared them. They were running a protection scheme, and talking about disliking them could cause a lot of trouble to the complainers as you couldn't know who was looking on. The only reason, the half-orc was sure, they talked to him at all was because he was a stranger and not in danger of being a cult member.

    "They also steal," Zaza added, and explained what had happened on the street in front of the temple – without telling what she had done with the thieves, though. The last thing she needed was a lesson or the other on keeping a low profile and out of other people's pockets.

    "So, all in all they are criminals," Bjön nodded. "In their home country, it is not much different so I heard. I doubt the man they follow is anywhere close to a god."

    "That makes little difference, except they won't have any divine magic if that is true." Teltz scratched his chin. "What else have you leaned?" he asked Zaza.

    "It is about impossible to get to this temple without being seen, all busy streets and thus also more of the guard. All the businesses close by pay to the temple. Supposedly, since the temple is around, there are little, if any, thefts. Save those of the cult, but no one mentions those. The temple folks come and go, no real pattern in anything, but they are mostly in groups, and mostly white robed. I'm sure those are the acolytes or whatever they call them. We might as well grab some of them, take their robes and masks and get back in."

    "And once inside, we won't know what to do and be discovered," Edawon said and shook his head. "Better that one or two of us pretend to be new converts and go inside as acolytes, and we do the grabbing and masquerading once we know how it works on the inside."

    "Not too bad an idea. Which means you and me?" Teltz asked, looking at Edawon. "I take it you have done such a thing before, and frankly, so have I. I'm a bard, and can find myself in the role of a cultist easily enough."

    The halfling nodded. "I have indeed. I had a run around and heard they do one of their recruiting schemes tonight, so we might as well get to it sooner than later."

    "What about the rest of us?" Samin wanted to know.

    "The rest of you will stay close by the temple as long as we're inside, at least two of you close by, with Zaza and Samin taking the night shifts." Teltz grinned at his son, he knew of his tendency to hang out with Cajun and Zaza during the nights, climbing trees and roofs of Kassen. "Cajun will go working and keep his eyes and ears open. We can use both the rumors and the money."



    After dinner, the two of them headed out to the Ranger's Lament a good time before the meeting so they would arrive early. Zaza and Samin followed them, the latter having some sort of disagreement with his hawk about it, as the bird was not able to do all that well in the dark.

    Sitting in the shadow of the Temple to Razmir, the Ranger’s Lament was a simple establishment. Made from solid wood timbers, the one-story building was comprised primarily of a large common room, with a bar and a kitchen off to one side. Although open for business, very few people appeared
    to be inside, despite the fact that many of the other local establishments seemed quite full.

    Inside, the two of them were welcomed by the barkeep. "I'm Rolen Oggersmith," the burly man said with a wide smile that seemed somewhat not sincere. "Take any seat, the priests will arrive shortly."

    Teltz pointed to a table with 3 chairs in the middle of the room, and they sat down, making themselves comfortable.

    As they did so, another young man came through the door, a slim half-elf who went to take a seat in the corner not too far from them. He looked somewhat desperate, the typical cult victim. Edawon raised an eyebrow at the guy, but Teltz shook his head slightly. It was not their business what others did, they were here for one purpose only – get their stuff and leave, and, if there was a chance, proving the cult was dangerous would be a plus.

    About 20 minutes later, a group of 6 masked cultists entered. Of, those, 2 had grey robes and one wore black. With a look around, they neared the stage. Teltz couldn't be sure, but he thought he could make out some disappointment about the turn out by the way the black robed leader shrugged his shoulders.

    After stepping up onto the stage, the figure in the black robes turned to the audience, his face hidden behind the iron mask. With a strong voice, he called out, “You have come here to seek the power and glory of Razmir, and I am here to tell you that he has found you worthy!” At that, all of the other priests chanted in one voice, “All praise the Living God!”

    “He is proud of you,” the black-robed figure continued, “for taking this, the first of 31 steps to enlightenment, the path of righteousness, the stairs to power and glory. Razmir is the one true god. What other god so richly rewards those who follow him? What other god lives among his people, guiding them with his wisdom and his might? What other god can lead you to true salvation? None of them! Only Razmir can offer you the power, the fortune, and the glory that you desire. Will you join him?” He folded his arms and waited for an answer.

    "How pathetic," Edawon whispered so only the bard could hear. For all to hear, he spoke his consent, as did Teltz and the unknown youngling.

    "Congratulations on a wise decision." The protest boomed. "The temple will pay for all your food and drink tonight, before your training begins."

    As they had already eaten before, Teltz and Edawon stuck to ale. "Kind of anti-climatic. That's all, you come here and get your meal paid for? Sounds too simple if you ask me." The halfling saluted the half-elf who was digging into food as if it was his last meal.

    Right then, the half-elf seemed to get tired all of a sudden. His head slumped and he barely missed the plate as his head fell to the table. "What..?" Edawon managed before he felt dizzy as well. "Those bastards poisoned our f..." He fell off the chair and stayed down. Teltz just had time to think about how fascinating and illogical it was to poison people already agreeing to join their cult.. unless they had been found out, that was. Then he, too, met the darkness of unconciousness.



    "They didn't come back out?" Bjön frowned as he looked from Zaza to Samin. "That means they must have a connection from the tavern to the temple. Maybe I should talk to the owner..."

    "And break cover?" Cajun shook his head at the idea of the paladin. "We can check out if there is a connection later tonight, I'm sure the keep can be made quiet for a while. Maybe that will be a better way in than borrowing their outfit. We just watch the temple and the tavern alike I'd say."

    "Yeah, from what we heard, it might be a few days before they come out again." Samin pointed towards the way to their inn. "We'll have some food and rest now, if you don't mind. We'll be back in the evening."

    Mook nodded and patted her wolf. As the two of them left and Cajun went to the smithy, she frowned at the dwarf. "You are n-not m-much for secrecy, are y-you?"

    "I would prefer to be able to go to the authorities, yes," the paladin admitted. "But it seems we have little choice here. Let's walk around and watch everything at once." He sounded slightly annoyed at the idea of a day's wait.




    The masked, black-robed priest paced down the narrow stone hallway, looking in each of the cells the 3 abductees had been locked into. “I must apologize for the way that you were brought here,” he began with a calm, even tone. “We must be sure that you are pure and properly prepared to join the faith. Today you shall fast and meditate on the glory of Razmir. On the morrow you shall be sworn in and given your masks, made one with the body of Razmir; one piece of the greater whole. You shall become acolytes, and be allowed upon the first step of enlightenment. Rejoice! The path of glory and fortune shall be open to you.”

    With that, the priest left again, and the rest of the day passed in utter boredom and with rumbling stomachs. Every 6 hours they were given water, but that was all. None of the priests spoke to them again and they didn't bother to try engaging them in talk.

    After 24 hrs, the priest, this time introducing himself as Egarthis, returned with a group of priests to release them. "It is time for the ceremony," they were now told. "Follow me."

    They were led up small stairs, through a room with a table and chairs,,a hallway and into a large room with many pews. The main temple area, so it seemed. A large crowd of masked priests waited in the temple. While white robes shrouded most of them, some wore gray, and a few showed black. In the center of the chamber was a gigantic staircase, atop of which glittered a porcelain and gold mask, the holy symbol of Razmir. On the eighth step of the stairs stood a black-robed priest, who spoke gravely. “Come forward.”

    They were asked to stand one at a time on the first step. Priests handed them white robes approximately their size and ions masks. "This you must wear when on the first floor or outside," they were told. One by one, they accepted their attire to the chants of "all hail Razmir." With some difficulty, everyone managed it into robes and mask, although the robes were still too wide for the halfling. Teltz was sure he heard a mumbled "pathetic" at some point.

    "Brother Krant will tutor you in the ways of the Living God," Egarthis declared after welcoming them to the community. "When you have proven yourselves worthy, you will be free members and get your possessions back."

    At that, the cultists fled the room one by one. Once they were all gone, Krant set to explain the rules. There were quite a few of them. Their routine was to start the next day. Then they were shown where to eat and sleep.

    "This is going to be a rather boring assignment," Teltz whispered once no one seemed to be close.

    The next day was not quite as boring as it had seemed at first. Getting up at 7 for a quick breakfast and then working some in the yard, the two of them decided that there were worse things – getting up even earlier, for example. The prayer and lessons half through the morning and the meager lunch were more bothersome, as was the cleaning of the temple floor with way too small brushes. While Edawon had trouble with the soap and water and, of course, the brush, he was sure Teltz had had some magical help at one point of the other. During afternoon prayer, the halfling was so exhausted he fell asleep a few times. Luckily, no one noticed and he was not the only one either.

    Then there was what they called training in the afternoon. Indoctrination on how to act in public, basically. Everything from how to walk and keeping your identity secret to how to extort money and mock other faiths. Teltz actually had some fun with it, pretending he was not good in acting like they wanted in public but also presented himself as a quick learner.

    Then there was dinner at 7 again, more evening prayers and finally, every acolyte was used to copy the so-called holy texts. Edawon got out of this duty and was instead sent to help carry a delivery in when he successfully pretended to be unable to write and barely able to read. Finally, they could return to their rooms, all hoping to be seen as worthy sooner than later.

    The second day almost got themselves involved into a fight Krant staged between acolytes in the courtyard. Edawon faked sickness, and Teltz charmed the man into thinking he had won such a fight before, and the two of them watched in disdain as Evlar – the young half-elf – and the others fought to win a night without copying duties.

    2 days later, they were taken to be part of the preachings outside the temple, witnessing the pick pocketing of the Razmirans from the other side of the fence, so to say. Teltz made it harder for them with his bardic spells, drawing attention to their doings once or twice, but no one bothered to call the guards. But the crowd dispersed faster. To their surprise, each of them got a share of the loot when they returned. Edawon frowned at it but said nothing, of course.
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    This story hour continues to be good stuff! Where is the thumbs-up smilie?

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    Seems I forgot to post the last part of our last session after a comp crash, oops.

    -----------------------------------------------------


    The waiting outside was not much better. Only Cajun felt useful in working and earning money. Zaza in particular became bored quickly enough and couldn't help to liberate a few things from rich arrogant merchants when Samin wasn't looking. But as there weren't many people out at night, there was not enough to occupy her mind, and keeping watch became very tiresome, especially as they couldn't talk much lest they would draw attention.

    On the 3rd night, Zaza saw the glowing eyes following them for the first time, but Samin laughed at it and blamed her lively imagination. But she saw them again the next night, twice at that. Determined, she borrowed Dadawin for the next night. The wolf would surely sniff out anyone following them.

    Dadawin already growled when they left the inn. On the way to the temple, he was nervous, but Zaza managed to calm Mook's companion down. "If we are really followed," Samin joked, "then whoever it is will sure stop now, with the big bad wolf at our sides."

    Zaza threw him a look that made him shut up and just moved on. A few minutes later, they were watching the temple again, as usual from the roof of the Ranger's lament. Dadawin was watching down in the alley. "Why are we doing this, anyway?" Samin sighed. "I'm sure they have other exists than the main one and the possible connection to the tavern. Plus, my da and Edawon might have been out a few times but we can't recognize them in their masks."

    "Better than not paying attention," Zaza replied, although she had been wondering the same thing.

    "I don't know about that, I..." Samin started, but the angry howl of the wolf and a panicked cry cut him short. Zaza was already on her way down before Samin could worry about anyone else, especially the guard, hearing the commotion.

    Samin, moving down the gnarled tree they had come up much slower, heard a muffled shout and a loud curse and more growling from the wolf. When he was finally going towards the corner the wolf was herding his prey into, Mook had already seized a small someone by pitch black robes, trying to force the unknown stalker's hood off.

    "What do we have here?" Samin said, in the best imitation of a hero in his favorite stories. "Could this be a goblin?"

    "Aiii! Goblin yourself," came the angry hiss from under the hood. Small yellow hands with claws grabbed Mook's hands and held them easily. "I done nothing to you."

    "Except stalking us," the halfling stated. "We've seen you following us for a while. What is going on?"

    Mumbling a new spell he had learned recently, Samin made a move with his right hand, and the magic took the hood of the stranger down. In the dim light, they could make out a yellow reptile face with big orange eyes. Pointy teeth flashed and a breath smelling of fish condensed in the cold of the pre-winter night.

    "That's....a kobold," Zaza recognized the creature.

    "I have never seen a yellow kobold," Samin muttered, as astonished as his friend was.

    "And exactly how many kobolds have you seen, mighty wizard?" the hissing voice was mocking him. The stranger let Zaza's hands go and took a step back.

    Samin was not about to admit that his only knowledge of kobolds came from the books his wizard master had in his meager library. "A kobold following us is bad news," he said instead. "Where there is one, there are many, and they are usually up to mischief."

    "What were you doing following us?" Zaza inquired, getting back to the part of it that interested her most.

    "I was not following him," the kobold made clear. "I was following you. And I am alone. Call that wolf back, I am not a threat to you."

    "No, obviously not," Zaza said, holding Dadawin at his scruff. "But that does not mean you meant no harm."

    "A clever one, you are, thief from thieves," the kobold chuckled; it was a strange sort of laughter that made Samin feel uncomfortable. "Well, then, I mean you and your friends no harm. Sure this mighty wizard has a spell to confirm that?"

    "Unfortunately not," Samin admitted before he thought of bluffing the kobold. But a look at Dadawin made him more at ease. "But our furry friend seems to believe you." Indeed, the wolf's hair was smooth again, and he only barely growled now. "What do you mean with thief from thieves?"

    Zaza shot Samin a look he knew all too well; she had omitted something from her former reports about a situation and didn't want him to preach at her for it. "Yes, please, tell us – but up on the roof as we have a mission to fulfill."

    "Up there?" There was a hint of panic in the lizard being's voice. "Ah, that is the one problem I have. Heights are so not my thing."

    "The <b>one</b> problem you have?" Samin snorted. "You don't have any others, like, following strangers around at night?"

    "I wasn't following you around all night," the kobold snapped back. "I was actually following you day and night, just that by day you were sleeping and so was I, most of the time. Could hardly stay awake for days, now, could I?" He seemed to say the last part to himself and he – was it even a he, Samin wondered – reluctantly followed Zaza. Samin thought that, if the kobold would dart off, they would likely not be able to catch it.

    The way up on the roof they had been on before led over a few old crates and a toolshed in the garden of a shop and up the branch of a tree. Samin, not the best climber, had learned in his time being friends with Zaza to just climb right behind her and do as she did. The kobold seemed to be doing ok until they were on the shed, then it made the mistake of looking down. It was only 2 meters to the ground, but this seemed to be quite enough to make the lizard-like being feeling dizzy. Only the wolf on the ground and Zaza climbing up ahead made him go on, so Samin thought. The kobold paid him little heed, even when Samin had to shove him from the branch to the flat roof of the shop.

    "I sure hope we didn't miss anything," Zaza mumbled, looking in the direction of the Masked God's temple.

    "What are you staring at that temple for, anyway?" the kobold asked. "If they want to go out unseen, they have ways to do so, and not only under this shop I would guess. And your friends in there need to help themselves if anything goes wrong. You wouldn't make it in there. You are just wasting your time here."

    "Maybe so, but..." Samin started, then he stopped to stare at their new acquaintance again. "How do you know what we are watching?"

    "I have been following her," the kobold reminded them. " I was watching. And sometimes listening, too."

    "How impolite," Zaza barely supressed a laugh. "What is your name, anyway? I am sure you must know ours."

    What Samin took as a smile on the kobold's face widened. "I'm Kronk, the monk," he explained with a mocking bow. "At your service and my own."

    "Now that's a honest introduction, I'm sure," Samin said. "Monk? I didn't know kobolds were monks..."

    "You didn't know kobolds were yellow, either," Kronk retorted.

    At a loss for words, Samin just shrugged and kept watching the temple, although he suspected – and had suspected this for a while now – that the kobold was right and keeping up a watch did nothing but making them suspicious if anyone would see them.

    "So, now that we are here and you have been so nice to introduce yourself," Zaza said, "what about telling us why you were following us – me – around, and how come you are in this city anyway. I can't imagine people would like having kobolds around. Your kind is known for mischief and destruction, after all."

    "There is just me, and one lonely yellow kobold causes little offense," came the reply. "And I have a protector, too, but that is a long story for later, when all of you are present. I am not about to stop following you, stealer from stealers, and now that you know of me already, I am sure you want to introduce me to the rest of your friends, yes?"

    Zaza's mouth opened, but now she was at a loss for words, too. "You... are quite the bold thing," she finally managed."

    "Kobold," he grinned his toothy grin again. "Quite the bold kobold."
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    "We've been through the whole area now, and have found nothing. We need to get to the next floor." The bard's voice was slightly angry, but he managed to keep his voice low enough while the two of them stared at the murals in the worship hall, supposedly in prayer and worship. The murals, of course, described the past and hopeful future – world dominance, what else – of the Living God. By now, they both had noticed that the artist had had some fun with depicting some of the god's supposed worshipers in a state of fear and terror rather than admiration and worship.

    "Or we could first explore the half of the basement off limits to us," the halfling mused. "Or wait even longer to get out of acolyte status."

    "Supposedly, that is soon," Teltz sighed. "But knowing those folks, soon may be next year."

    "You said you had a way to sneak into the basement's closed off area," Edawon said. "And that you could not take me along. How, and why only you?"

    "I can turn invisible, through a magic not transferable," Hest mumbled, obviously not quite comfortable about it. "Never mind the details, but it likely means I can mingle through, even the upper areas, without being noticed. I dislike undertaking such a search alone, though. At least for the second floor."

    Hest nodded. "You will probably be fine in the basement. Not too much traffic there, from what I could see. At least not at night."

    "Which means, I take it, we should pretend to retire for the night. Very well, then. We have done enough... worshiping... for the day, I'd say."

    "I'd say," replied the grinning halfling and turned away from the mural. No one had paid them any attention, the few others present were also busy to get the required praying and worshiping time in before they went to bed.

    In their chambers, which were also in the basement, Teltz locked the door, not wanting to be observed by the halfling, who he trusted only to a certain point. Not even his son knew all that there was about him – or their family history – so the bard would not tell a new acquaintance so early in their friendship.

    The halfling waited outside; none of their roommates – a dwarf, the half-elf Evlar and two human sisters who would make any evil god proud in Teltz' opinion – were in yet. They had seen the dwarf in the worship room and knew the sisters out with one of the priests on whatever errand. So Teltz thought they should be safe enough. With one last hesitation, he lifted his shirt up to his navel, revealing a barely visible tattoo of silvery ink forming a leaf-like pattern around it.

    As he traced the pattern with his right index finger, the world around him seemed to change, becoming more transparent and appearing to be illuminated by a colorless light from within. In truth, it was him changing; his body and mind partially slipping into another realm of existence, becoming invisible and, as he had not yet told anyone, mostly insubstantial. He would be able to walk right through doors and walls now, although he didn't like the sensation going along with it. At first, he had had to do this naked, but after long years, he was able to keep his possessions with him lest they be too big and heavy. But he had not yet learned how to bring things with him by turning them into his current state. All in all, Teltz did not understand the process very much, which is why he usually didn't use the tattoo, which in turn meant he didn't get more experience with it.

    The door opened just then and the dwarf entered, Hest behind him with a worried expression. The halfling relaxed when he noticed that the bard was already invisible. Teltz used that moment to slip out of the door; he had not thought about how to open the door once he was invisible, and simply walking through it would have meant more explanations later.

    He would need explanations as to how he had managed to go through the permanently locked door to the restricted area in the basement, too. Maybe he would claim someone had gone in and out, but that would be a very convenient coincidence to believe. Teltz would worry about that later, though. Right now, he was content to make it through the iron door, ignoring the sickly feeling associated with passing through solid material.

    A single everburning torch in a sconce on the eastern wall provided light for this area, revealing a dusty, cobweb-ridden corridor. The stench of sweat and worse was in the air, but in his transformed form, it didn't bother him. He knew that to the left of the T-section at the eastern wall would lead to the cells they had awoken in a few days ago, so Teltz took the left turn and passed through another door at the end of the short corridor.

    He emerged in front of a staircase leading down, curving to the east. Some musky smell was in the air, but as all sensations were somewhat different in his current state, he had no idea what it could be. An animal, maybe? Some residue from a ritual?

    The pressure trap on the stairs was clear to the human as he descended, but he could ignore it, of course. At the end of the stairs were no doors and so he could see the next room clearly. It had the look of a second half to the sliding trap he had just walked over. The tall chamber was broken into two levels. Loose gravel, dirt, and bones covered the bottom level, while a walkway traversed the upper level from east to west, leading from this room. At opposite ends of the room on the lower level stood a pair of gigantic stone statues, roughly carved in the image of Razmir, his hands held high to support the room’s ceiling. Each statue sat upon a pedestal with a large hole in its base that sloped down and out of sight.

    "Something nasty hiding in those holes, no doubt," he muttered and twitched at the strange sound his voice made in his momentary form. There were bones and remains of possessions all over the floor. He could make out a wand and a purse, and several gems. He crouched down and separated useful stuff from junk, putting a golden ring, a pearl and the wand into the large purse. Anyone watching would have seen those items levitating. He held on to the purse and had a better look at the room.

    Looking for a way to climb up, the bard noticed a door at the west end of the walkway. A secret door he had failed to notice when he was upstairs. It had to be right under the everburning flame.
    The bard tossed his bundle of loot up on the walkway. Hopefully, he would find a way to take it through the secret door later. Then he turned and walked up the stairs again. No need to climb – which was more difficult in this half solid form – when he could just walk through the wall upstairs. Which he did a few minutes later to pick up his bundle. He hid it as best as he could just behind the secret door, so at least no one coming from that side would fall over it right away. Then he proceeded to the east and passed through the next closed door.

    The stale scent of perfume and incense was heavy in this opulent chamber with pillows, carpets, and other fineries covering the floor. Silk curtains were hanging over the walls, and flicking light emanated from a hidden source on the ceiling, which was also draped in curtains. On the north side of the room, a gilded throne, bedecked with tiny gemstones, was sitting upon a raised dais. Half-empty bottles of various spirits were lying about the room, and an exotic water pipe was set up in the middle, filled tobacco. Golden censers, currently unlit, were hanging from the columns.

    One by one, the bard checked the curtains. Behind the southern one, he found another door. With a shudder, he reluctantly passed through this one as well. By now, he felt quite sick to the stomach.

    This chamber contained two small chests on opposite walls and a large chest between them, sitting next to a table. Atop the wooden table were three bags and a large ledger. A treasury, as it seemed.

    The chests proved to be locked. Teltz made one of his hands go through the wood and felt around, feeling a lot of coins in sacks, the middle one also containing a wooden case. Teltz ignored the chests and turned to the bags on the table. The first was filled with four complete sets of city guard uniforms, matching those worn by the local watch exactly; the second contained 23 silver holy symbols, representing nearly every good and neutral deity, and the final bag appeared to be empty. But Teltz knew a bag of holding when he saw one. Reaching inside, he thought of getting everything out and retrieved pieces of a broken gold chain looking rather old. He recognized them immediately as fragments from the chains hanging around Ara's and Kassen's necks in the Crypt of the Everflame. Here was the final proof that they had been right coming to the temple.

    The ledger held check in information for all the items, although it didn't list where they came from. 'There were also mentions of transportation of tithes – to Razmiran, Teltz suspected, filling the purses of the Masked God's nation.

    For a long moment, the bard contemplated his discoveries. The bag of holding meant he had a way bringing all of the treasures out of here and the temple if he so decided. There was no weight limit for such bags in his current state, he had tried that before. It held the risk of being discovered though, because it meant he would have to dispel the tattoo's magic and then invoke it again.

    Discovery, he realized, wasn't his real fear. There was but a slim chance of anyone stumbling in here at this time of night. But the repercussions of using the tattoo's powers in quick succession and the thus needed ritual of restoration – which he could probably not do in their inn – were not something he looked forward to. Additionally, he had a bit of a moral problem taking these riches. Not because he thought the temple should keep them, but because there was a slim chance the city officials could use it for the poor once the temple had been exposed. He was not the thieving type; yet their group would need a lot of resources, knowing they would not be likely to return to their former home anytime soon. Only Teltz knew the true nature of the hunters trying to find him and his son ever since he had adopted the boy. The quiet years in Kessen were now at an end. And then, who said the city would use the money to aid those who needed it, anyway?

    Tracing his left index finger over the tattoo, he dispelled the tattoo's strange magic. As usual, he could not breathe for a moment, much as if his body needed to readjust to being solid. When he could focus again, he put the chain parts back into the bag of holding and then lifted his shirt again, retracing the tattoo with his right index finger to become invisible again. This time, he felt even sicker than before. But there was no other way. Only when holding the bag while invoking the magic did the bag become like him, and only then it could be used to gather up and transport normal, solid things through solid matter. He had done that before, although with a lot less loot that he would be doing now.

    Teltz set about in a hurry. First he went through the chests one by one, gathering up the sacks and the box of wood and emptying them on the table again. He would not take what he couldn't use later. While the bag had no weight and space limit in the state it was in now, everything in it would put a burden on his soul. The effect was hard to describe, but it was not pleasant at all.

    The 9 bags of silver and the 4 bags of gold he returned to the magical storage right away. The wooden case, made of darkwood and valuable in itself, held 5 moonstones, several potions, a portion of oil, a dose of what he thought was sovereign glue and a set of horseshoes which he thought to be magical. He returned it to the bag of holding as well. The weapon, a mace, he had also discovered he left out. It was likely some sort of magical weapon, but for him to add it to the pack would cause his soul to be burdened more than by normal weight. His insubstantial form was not very compatible with weapons beyond simple knives.

    There were 14 bags of copper coins from the last chest. He contemplated over them, and finally his greed, born of worry for his son and the others from the group, made him pack those as well. By now he became increasingly nervous, an effect part of the soul burden.

    In the room with the throne-like chair, he stopped to free it of its gems. His hate for this cult he was pretending to be a part of grew with every moment, and he wanted nothing more than harm them in any way he could. This effect was, as he would have noticed had he been his normal self, also an effect of the soul burden he now carried.

    In a hurry he rushed all the way back to where he had hidden his first loot. Adding it to the bag, he went out through the secret door. He felt the need to vomit, but his job was far from done, and now that he had committed to it, he would see his plan through.

    Getting to the second floor was no problem being invisible. The guards chatted with themselves and didn't suspect anything; as long as he wouldn't walk right though them that was. Teltz stared at the jewels in the grand mask fitted between the guard alcoves longingly, but his need to damage was not that great yet to be so foolish and alert the guards after all.

    He went around the balcony overlooking the lower area and stood in front of a pair of double doors made of silver. The symbol of Razmir and several of his followers offering him treasures was engraved into it. Again, he went right through, feeling a slight pain now in addition to the sickness.

    This new room had many doors, three on each side and a pair of double doors opposite the entrance. In the center of the chamber, a twostep dais served as a base for a sculpture made up of dozens of masks, carefully forged into a humanoid shape. Teltz thought it looked like a golem of sorts and was relieved not to be seen.

    Those were clearly the quarters of the high ups, and for a moment, Teltz thought of investigating them, but then, he was here for the things stolen from the crypt of Kassen. He was looking for the high priest's quarters, knowing she had left last week. So he picked the double doors to pass through.

    A large plush bed on the south wall, facing a carved oak desk on the north side, furnished the large and opulently decorated chamber. In the center of the room, a large carpet, woven with the mask of the Razmir at its center, spread across the floor. A small table positioned next to it bears a small whip, a pair of manacles, two bottles of Andoran brandy and four vials of exotic perfumes. Teltz ignored those.

    The bard set about searching the room carefully, more and more nervous and ready to attack someone or destroy something. In the bookcase, carefully disguised behind a false book face, he found 3 more ledgers dealing with the temple's business. One held the income with all the details about how it was obtained – few of it legally – and one other the expenses, which weren't always legal either. Both those volumes, Teltz threw into his magical bag. There was no time to waste here. The third, however, dealt with the Kassen expedition. For a moment he thought of reading it right away, but then he felt more irrational thoughts creeping up due to his burden, and he threw it into the bag as well.

    The only other thing of mild interest was a locked drawer in the table. After confirming what he was looking for was not in there, he added the contents without any further thought to his bag. Disappointed but still eager to do damage, he left through the doors again. The hate was building up to rage, somewhat fueled by the disappointment. Against all reason, Teltz began to invade the other rooms.

    Only one of the rooms was occupied; loud snoring drove the bard out again before he was fully through the door. The others, he quietly but thoroughly ransacked. One of them was clearly the chamber of Egarthis. A map detailing the cult's progress in the city was on the wall. It looked as if they made astonishing progress, which in turn was quite shocking to Teltz.

    Egarthis was a man of little possessions, or so it seemed. The only thing the bard found worth taking was a Vudrani dagger – or so it looked – set with a variety of colored gems. There was dried blood on it, which only pushed the human's emotion up even more. Ina fit of uncontrolled rage, he hacked at the map on the wall with the dagger, again and again, shouting curses in a voice only he could hear.

    The thumping on the map was obviously heard, though, as a moment later a sleepy voice in front of the door called out asking if everything was alright. With a surprised hiss, Teltz added the dagger to his prizes and went out of the room, not only through the door but also through the priest Rennec who had been standing right outside. A startled gasp came from the other man's mouth before he dropped in a convulsion.

    The guards came towards them already as Teltz moved out on the balcony. But that was another opportunity. Namely, to loot the mask. It was a foolish thing to do, but he could not help it. The six emeralds could be removed easily, but the bard struggled with the green quartz. When he finally got it out without damaging it, the guards were already calling for reinforcements, and alarm bells rang out. Taking two steps at once, the bard ran downwards and toward the temple gates, barely avoiding passing through more people.
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    The alarm in the temple set everyone running to see what was going on, including the acolytes. Hest was among the first to rush out of the basement, fearing that his partner had been discovered but relaxing slightly when he noticed the commotion came from upstairs. Teltz was, to his knowledge, just exploring in the basement and could probably use the distraction to reappear.

    "What's going on?" he asked one of the older members, running past him while donning a sword belt.

    "Something knocked out one oft the priests, with magic or something. Supposedly invisible." With that, the man ran on, followed by a woman holding a rapier. "We're blocking the exits," she took a second to explain.

    Krant, the acolyte master, came limping past with a grim expression. "Don't stand there selling pocket monkeys, take this axe and go stand in the main gates with me."

    Slightly confused, the halfling did as told. All he wanted was to check upstairs but he had no way of getting there. "I'm no good with big weapons," he dared to comment.

    "Yeah, I noticed, that, but you'll look at least slightly threatening to an invisible intruder, I hope." Krant joined a few others blocking the temple gates, everyone looking confused but determined. "There is a full search on the way," a voice Edawon recognized as that of Egarthis shouted. "Everyone not in it, stay in position."

    There was little to do about it. Edawon tried to look more determined and less worried. The commotion in the temple became worse in the next few minutes, as it became clear that this was not a simple apprehend-the-intruder operation. The theft in the treasury was quickly discovered, and now there was talk of several intruders, as it was seen as about impossible for anyone of less than orc size to carry so much and make so little noise. Edawon was not so sure of that, but he was not about to say so.

    "Head count," someone called out. "Let's see who is here, and who should be here. The thieves must have come from our midst."

    Once more, the halfling had no idea why they would assume this; an invisible intruder could have passed through the gates at any time. But then the mentioning of a plundered treasury made him realize they suspected their high ranks. While that was a relief, he had no idea how to explain the absence of the bard and hoped the human would show up quickly.

    It was Krant who remembered that Edawon usually was around Teltz. "Your friend, where'd he go?" the acolyte master asked with an angry grin. "Trying to avoid work, as always?"

    "He's not really my friend," Hest replied, maybe a bit too quickly. "Just the one I know best in here. And last I heard he was having some issues with the food of this morning."

    Krant, who usually did the tasteless cooking for the acolytes, thought about this for a moment. It wasn't the first time someone reported someone else having issues with the food, although the affected acolytes hardly complained themselves, lest they ran afoul of Krant's temper. "So you telling me all the time he was just too sissy to admit he has a weak stomach? And rather get punished for being lazy?" A laugh started in the man's belly, and a moment later he could not contain it any longer, bellowing and howling in the most unpleasant way. It drew the attention of the priests quickly.

    "What's so funny?" Egarthis snapped as he came to the gates, obviously on his way to meet the small group from the city guard assembled outside. "Do you think someone stealing from our temple so amusing, Krant?"

    Krant's noise immediately ceased. "Nah, it is just..."

    "Whatever it is, get the acolytes to their quarters and stay there. Everyone back to where they belong, and then we'll see who was where when this all went down. Someone must have let the thieves in."

    Relaxing slightly, Hest followed Krant and the other acolytes down. At the time of the alarm and a good time before, he had been in the kitchen, talking to the other present acolytes. No one could put any blame of him that he could find. But it seemed he was locked in the temple now, even more than before.




    "Something is going on at the temple." Zaza interrupted her attempts to get more out of the kobold - who kept saying he didn't like repeating himself and would only explain more when the rest of the group would be there - and pointed to the Razmiran house, where all windows were suddenly alight, and people were swarming the garden. "It is good we kept watch!"

    "How is it helpful, when you have no way of knowing what is going on inside, nor are you all here. And if you were all here, you would still be too few to deal with those thugs-gone-religious. Even with that wolf of yours." The kobold's intelligent eyes distracted the two others from the commotion across the street. "How do you plan to get your comrades here? They are half across the city."

    Indeed, the inn was quite some distance away. Because of it being free save for food and drink – thanks to the paladin – they had not dared to relocate closer to the temple, as their funds were, after all, still limited. It seemed a big mistake now. Samin could alert his hawk back at the inn thanks to the familiar bond and lots of practice, and someone – likely Cajun – would be close to Wilbur to catch when that happened. But for some reason, no one had thought about how long it would take those at the inn to get here. It was not like they had anyone who could teleport.

    Samin was already concentrating to shake the rest of the team into action. Zaza sighed and looked back at Kronk. "So, what do you purpose? Just wait and do nothing?"



    Cajun was indeed sitting in the quiet common area upstairs next to the guestrooms, reading a book about alchemy he had borrowed from another guest. He was completely absorbed in the matter and tired from a day's work in the smithy, so it took him a moment to notice Wilbur hammering his beak at the window, sitting on the flag pole just outside. Just then, the door to the girls' room at the end of the corridor opened, and Mook emerged, her eyes wide with excitement. "Da-da-dadawin is upset, I think w-we n-need to g-go..." Then she noticed Wilbur and nodded. "So s-s-something is ha-ha-happening."

    The half-orc was already knocking at the dwarf's door. Bjön's head poked out and he blinked, being half asleep. But when he saw their expressions, he awoke quickly. "I'll be right down," he said and went about retrieving his armor.

    When Cajun returned the borrowed book to their rooms so no one else would take it, he noticed the door was ajar. A few days ago, he would not have wondered about it. The fighter they had shared the room with for the first days was always forgetting to close the door when he had been to the bathroom. But he was gone now, and there had no one been up or down the stairs for a while. Carefully, the boy took a peek inside. The bed of Samin's father was occupied, wet boots and a heap of clothes in front of it and a partly open bag seemed to be under the bed with some of the clothes. Trying to make no noise, Cajun came closer. The mouth fell open. He had expected some late guest having taken the wrong bed due to too much drink, but this was indeed Teltz. If he had gone from the temple, maybe that was the reason for the sudden alarm. Carefully, he tried to shake the bard awake, but all he got was a heavy snore. The man looked pale and exhausted and was sweating a little, much as if he had some kind of fever. Why had he not told them he was back? "Everyone," Cajun called. "Come in here, you won't believe this!"

    A moment later, Mook and the now fully equipped paladin stared at the sleeping man as dumbfounded as Cajun. Both tried to wake him as well, with no success. "He is feverish but his temperature seems fine," Bjön noticed. Mook nodded to that. Her grandmother had taught her some healing, and she was sure the sweat must have different reasons and she said as much. "L-looks l-like some s-sort of shock," she guessed.

    The sound of Wilbur hacking at the window glass could be heard again. "W-what now?" Mook said, sounding helpless. "W-e are expected to c-come a-and yet s-someone s-should stay here."

    "I will stay," Cajun heard himself say. "I know you may need a fighter extra, but Mook has to make sure Dadawin doesn't flip out, and a paladin who knows how this city works and the streets in the temple area might be a big help if you have to follow someone. And my arms are tired from a day's work anyway."

    The dwarf looked at him thoughtfully, then nodded. "Let's hurry, then, we can get horses in the stable – you can ride, can't you?"

    "Of c-course," Mook confirmed. "I w-wasn't exactly b-born on horseback b-but if it isn't a w-wild stallion, I c-can ride."

    As they left, Cajun closed the door behind them. His main reason for volunteering was not his tiredness, or any of the other reasons he had given. When Samin and him had been a lot younger, Samin had told him a little of how they had come to Kassen. Teltz featured a weird part in it all. At the end of the story, Samin made Cajun promise that, if his father would do something strange, or appear sick and confused and Samin was not around, Cajun would have to watch over him and protect him if he could.

    A promise was a promise. Teltz would definitely need the help once he woke up. Until then... Cajun's thoughts went to the bag under the bed. No one else seemed to have noticed it in the confusion. After their adventure in the crypt, the half-orc knew what a bag of holding looked like, especially when it was half open and looked like someone – likely the bard – had tried to remove something from it before collapsing on the bed.

    As the young man pulled at the bag, he noticed how heavy it was. He would not be able to carry it far, and not for the first time he wished he would be as strong as a regular half-orc. But it was not his to have. Teltz would let them know what was going on early enough. Cajun just hoped the human would wake up before the others returned.
    My Story Hour campaigns. What are they up to this week?

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