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Aphonion Tales: Agents of Canberry (edited transcripts, posts Thursdays, updated 3/17/23)


We recently began a new campaign in Aphonion. The players are a group of young teens, with me playing one character as a semi-PC, semi-NPC, and then the DM. The Story Hour for this campaign will post on Thursdays. The posts are edited transcripts of the Zoom calls, so they cover just about everything that happens in the game.

Other Story Hours in Aphonion:
The longest currently active Story Hour begins with Aphonion Tales and continues with Aphonion Tales: The Archducal Council (posts MWF; this is a group of adult players and has occasional mature content); that game is set on the same continent (Drucien) and ties into many of the same plotlines, though from a very different perspective.
The other active Story Hour is Aphonion Tales: Adventures in The Spicelands and the War in Hanal (posts Tuesday; a slightly older group of teen players); this game is also on Drucien, starting south of where this group started and then moving far, far to the north.
Completed or discontinued Story Hours:
Aphonion Tales: Ravenskrag and the Shadow Line: This is a completed story hour; some of the players in this game were also players in that game (Riverwood is played by Merreep's player and Grolnok is played by Runor's player); it took place on a different continent, Zest'qua.
Aphonion Tales: Journals of a Licensed Diabolist: A discontinued story hour, also set on Zest'qua. Like The Archducal Council, this was an adult group of players and has occasional mature content.

And with that, let's begin:
Session 1 (December 4, 2022)
20 Ke-Ras
A motley group of adventurers have been recruited by the Archduchy of Canberry to attend to difficulties in the New Southern Kingdoms--the loosely organized area occupied by refugees from the Confederacy of the South Kingdoms, which were destroyed about five years ago by a massive invasion of demons. The heir to the last of the old South Kingdoms, Kaitlyn, has married the Archduke of Canberry, and they have now been crowned as King and Queen of the South Kingdoms and Emperor and Empress of Southern Drucien. The old Archduchy of Canberry remains the center of their power, however, and they are eagerly sending operatives to handle problems in the areas where their hold is weaker.

Our group of heroes consists of Riverwood, a wood elf rogue, who grew up in the outskirts of the Forest of Singing Leaves and was encouraged to travel to the Archduchy to seek adventure, because some of the Eldar have been providing counsel and support to the Archduchy; Grolnok, a half-ork barbarian from the Western Hordes that have recently made peace with the Archduchy and essentially been incorporated in; Father Bob, a human priest of Paranswarm, the Lord of Orderly Darkness, who was born as a one in the Theocracy of Tang, where most humans are halfling-sized and triplets known as threes, and was raised by the temple and then sent off as a missionary, but has decided to become more of an adventurer; and Aedrin, a half-drow rogue with psionic gifts, who was active as an enforcer in the Thieves' Guild of the Duchy of Brightspan, before he was shifted over to working as a Finger for the Body, the Archduchy's intelligence service, in exchange for avoiding some serious legal trouble. They hope to be joined by Twigs, a forest gnome bard, but he has yet to join them.

The group travels down from the Archduchy on one of the handful of vollers that the Archduchy employs. Riverwood is somewhat amazed by the human voller--it's made out of wood, not crystal like the elven ones, and it has powerbows instead of energy lances. But it nonetheless manages to fly, and it carries them south. In due course, it takes them to a collection of earthworks on a curve on the river. It might someday be a city (130, 284), but right now, while there is enough population to form a city, they are still building their first structures. There are a handful of Canberryan military troops here with a substantial number of auxiliaries.

A dignitary in threadbare robes and pink, puce, and lime-green robes, carrying a small sign, rushes over as the ship lands. The sign reads: "Imperial taskforce?"

Grolnok says, "We're the people you're looking for."

"In the name of the Empress Kaitlyn, welcome. There are problems in every direction. Come, I have a cabin prepared for you. I am Alexis."

Sanitation has been roughly taken care of by the military, although perhaps not as well as it should be. Many cabins have been built, along with some shacks that haven't been upgraded yet. The fortifications are woodwork, though stone is being hauled in.

The cabin is unfurnished, but clean with a wood floor, and dried reeds piled up with which they can make some bedding.

"Do you have any idea where you want to seek problems first?"

Riverwood expresses some surprise at this. "Are there any particularly urgent problems?"

"There is a small range of mountain south of the river. They are being continuously raided, by gnolls from the mountains. That is a continuous problem that you might be able to help with. There are a smattering of small communities forming militias, but they're not really making a dent in the problem. They need a legion of troops, but there isn't one available. There is nothing you can do about the ones by the borders of the Forest of the Little People who are visited by the Good Folk from the Forest, but they are not harmed at least."

They ask about additional rations, since that is some hundreds of miles travel, and Alexis takes them to the legate of the auxiliaries. The legate looks them over carefully. "This doughty group needs additional rations and supplies for the trip."

"Rations we have. Good solid iron rations and hardtack."

"There wasn't a mule on their ship either. Could I request the loan of a mule?"

"I would normally say no, but I'll give them Old Alonzo. I don't expect him to be coming back, and we should be getting a shipment of animals shortly."

A soldier whispers to Grolnok as he goes to fetch Old Alonzo, "He bites."

The mule is old and ill-tempered. But it's still doughty, and it has its eye on the elbow of the person leading it.

"I spread my troops out as far as I could initially, but then I realized I couldn't cover the whole area."

"Doesn't sound the safest, either," says Riverwood.

"No, it isn't. We're the auxiliaries to the legion that was assigned here. There are two or three legions here full-time, but the territory we're covering is enormous. And now we have additional refugees from the northwest in small numbers."

They get about 10 weeks of rations, and plenty of waterskins (though they will need to regularly refill them).

After they get back to the cabin, Aedrin addresses Riverwood. "Elf. We going to have a problem?"

"No!" Riverwood seems shocked by even the question. "No."

"Good. Don't start nothing, won't be nothing. Just wanted to be clear on that."

"Fair enough."

21 Ke-Ras
They awake to a warm, sunny day. The group decides to see if they can hitch a ride along the river--it will be a little farther, but hopefully faster, than proceeding straight overland.

There is a lone barge at the landing, where they have recently unloaded a whole bunch of casks of mortar powder. There is someone clearly in charge, plus two hands, and four mules tied up. "Now for the long, boring empty trip back down."

Bob says, "We're hoping for a ride downriver."

"No skin off our nose. If you're coming, get on. This is a one way trip for profit, so the sooner I'm coming back up river with a cargo, the better."

They're traveling about 550 miles on the river. The barge runs continuously, with his men handling it during the day, and the master steering it at night, traveling about 5 miles per hour. So it takes them about 5 days. Aedrin and Bob stay up at night ("I'll take a night watch--nothing good comes with the sun," as Aedrin explains), while Riverwood and Grolnok watch during the day.

25 Ke-Ras
In the evening of the 5th day of travel, they're approaching the point where they intend to disembark. They're still in the middle of the river, but preparing to head to the south shore. From the north shore, by the forested area, they hear singing. Father Bob immediately puts his fingers in his ears to mute it.

The barge owner cries, "Quick! Quick! Stuff your ears!"

With their ears stuffed, they all resist the compulsion to jump into the river, although Grolnock finds the temptation compelling. One of the hands starts heading to the side to jump off, but Aedrin whacks him across the back of the head and knocks him out, saving his life. The master gives Aedrin a wine skin in thanks.

He then beaches on the south side of the river, and the group gets off. The master of the barge gives them a friendly wave as he continues down towards Cese Mai.
[End session 1]

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Session 2 (December 18, 2022)

26 Ke-Ras
They expect it to take about nine days of overland travel to get to the mountains where the gnolls have been coming from. The area that they are walking through is a mix of grasslands and periodic large stands of trees--neither truly a forest nor an unrelieved plains. The first day of travel is uneventful, and they make camp.

Early in the morning, before they have all arisen, while Riverwood is on watch, four small green men walk out of the woods, completely ignoring her. They are arguing about something and carrying a picture, and pointing at the fire while speaking in a language she doesn't understand.

One of them points at the picture and says, in accented common, "What do you think?"

Riverwood looks at it, and she can't tell what it is at all. It doesn't look like much of anything to her.

"Ummm... It looks like a field," she says.

Grolnok starts waking up.

"I told you! I told you it was a field."

"Yeah. It's a field," says Grolnok.

"Hah! You each owe me a copper." One of them collects from the others, tips his hat, saying "thanks for settling that," and they march out of the camp.

Five days pass uneventfully.

End Year 2
In the early morning, before they have all woken up, Riverwood hears stealthy movement, all around the camp. She starts looking around for what's making the noise. She listens carefully to identify where they are coming from, and then looks at the nearest of the nine sounds she hears.

She sees a small humanoid form with brightly painted features, who jumps back as she looks.


"Urr." He waves a very small spear at her. "Uhhhh..." He calls out, and shortly thereafter, another, even more brightly painted figure, wearing nothing but a breachcloth and waving a baton of some sort walks over. They jabber at each other.

The one with the baton says, "You're in... the place... of the deer." After a moment, he adds, "The Great Deer."

"You're very loud," says Riverwood.

Grolnok recognizes the language as they start talking among themselves as Goblin, and recognizes them as goblins. They continue talking amongst themselves, saying something about a spirit and a great deer. Grolnok listens carefully, and he can make out the next couple of sentences. "You got found! And soon the spirit of the deer will come and in its place be intruders."

Then the shaman turns to them, and says in pleasant tones, "Move 300 cubits left, please. Otherwise, he trample you."

They wake Aedrin.

Riverwood says, "We have a slight issue."

"That's one word for goblins."

"Something's coming, and they want us to move out of the way."

"Great deer spirit come soon. Please move."

As they clear aside, another seven goblins have emerged, now all brightly painted with whatever they could get. A couple of them start putting dirt on the fire and stamping on it.

As the group moves, the goblins set up a rude dais and an odd frame, obviously for some form of ritual. Once the group is out of the way, they put down their spears, and they start piling those things over on the side, and remove most of their clothes, which weren't much to begin with. One of them begins beating a tambour, while they all start chanting. The chant is exceedingly monotonous.

Aedrin throws down his bedroll and goes directly back to his sleep like meditation, while some of the rest of the group keeps watching. Even their mule is bored by the goblin ritual.

Perhaps an hour later, Riverwood hears the sound of galloping and crashing through the brush and trees as their chanting reaches a crescendo, which lasts for about half an hour, then silence. Just before dawn, Guron, the goblin shaman, comes back in, lays something down on the grass, and vanishes.

Riverwood carefully approaches, and sees four strings of brightly colored beads, tied together with a small leather thong, and quite nice, though clearly not of a lot of value in civilized lands.

3 End Year
In the early morning once more, a voice speaks from above, "Perchance, are you a gardener?"

"Lightly. Why?" responds Riverwood.

"Ahhh. When I was away from my lll... home... a group of pesky gnolls came by, and they trampled my herb garden. After I... chased them away..., I despaired, because I could never get them back into the ground in time. And so I would be interested in hiring you for a few days to replant them."

With a thump, she lands in the firelight. She is a woman dressed all in green--literally all in green--and her feet sink into the ground a few inches, though they don't match her shoes.

"I pay in good silver." Her head doesn't quite move right based on where she seems to be looking.

Riverwood is pretty sure that this is an illusionary seeming, and the loud thump was her real form landing.

"Do not worry. My llll...home is just over here. I assure you. I am not a dangerous being."

"I don't think I should trust this," says Riverwood. "What are you?"

"I'm Glenda!"

"What are you?"

"I'm Glenda the Green? Glenda the Green who would never think of hurting a gardener. Just gnolls who would trash her garden, and harm all the healing herbs and heal all the poisoned herbs... or rather all the non-healing ones."

"I'm still not trusting you. I don't think you look like you truly are."

"But... But... But... If I show myself as I truly am, you'll run away, and then my garden won't get fixed."

"Why would I run away? I'm not scared of weird things."

"I wouldn't say that I'm weird. I look like any other green dragon... oh, very well." There's a flash, and she drops the illusion. A young green dragon, petite by dragon standards, stands in her place.

"You sure you won't eat us if we come to work on your garden? You just want help with your garden?"

"I won't eat you, not only would I never eat a gardener--ever--it would be gauche. I need gardeners; who would eat something they need? But I've just feasted on the six gnolls who struck my garden, so you're doubly protected. It'll be weeks before I'm hungry again."

"Yes, you pretty much just told us about that," says Riverwood. "So you just need help with your garden?"

"Yes, I can never get it back in place myself. You see, I can look like Glenda, the nice old lady. But I still have the big claws. I can't work the earth with enough delicacy. And I'm afraid that because I left my hobbit gardener behind, they killed him."

"Alright, I'll help."

"You don't have a resurrection spell, do you?"

"I don't think so."

"Alright. I'll pay well, and once the garden is back in place, I'll carry his body to the hobbit village and see if I can find a priestess of Gunnora high enough level to resurrect. He's been with me for years. Normally, I can go hunting cattle with... I mean deer! Deer! I can go hunting deer without him being killed by random, wandering gnolls. They're getting bolder, coming all this way..." She stomps off, leading the way.

Riverwood and Grolnok follow her, leaving Aedrin behind still meditating.

"She's really bad at this whole not telling me about her plan thing," observes Riverwood.

Aedrin wakes up, and nobody else is in camp and there are some large footprints leading away along with his companions' footprints walking with them. He sneaks after to investigate, fearing that his allies have been kidnapped or worse.

He sneaks through the brush until he can see the green dragon, and his companions happily working in a ruined garden, near a small cave with what looks like an attempt to make a friendly human styling to the door, except that the door is about 12 feet wide.

"Oh, hello!" calls out Riverwood. "We figured you'd be here and didn't want to wake you."

"Thanks," Aedrin mutters, coming out from hiding now that Riverwood has drawn Glenda's attention to him.

"Do you garden? I'm paying all gardeners. They're putting my garden back into shape."

"I'm told that some of the things I've done have helped the flowers grow, but other than that, no, I don't garden."

"Oh, well, if you'd like a small cup of tea, there's a pot over there. It's too small for me to handle, but my hobbit used to make tea before the gnolls killed him."

"Are the gnolls your enemy, then?"

"I hate gnolls, and there are so many of them. Do you have any idea how many of them there are in the mountains?"


"Tribes and tribes and tribes. I don't know why the humans are getting so close to them. I'll only take a cow once in a while-- the gnolls take their children. I would consider that to be considerably worse."

"Is there something I can call you? A name, or such?"

"This is Glenda the Green," says Riverwood.

"As it turns out, while my companions are apparently happy to work on fixing your garden, we are, in fact, here to deal with the gnoll problem."

"Oh, the whole problem? One, two, three... plus a mule... the whole problem?"

"Yes, we're here to deal with the entire problem," says Riverwood.

"So let me ask you a question. How would you like a steady supply of steer, that you could take without any difficulties?"

"That would be delightful!"

"And perhaps while we're at it, a steady supply and access to buy whatever seeds you might want for your garden to grow new plants?"

"Really? That would be even better. I can get some seeds. I'm the local wise woman, you know. Nobody knows I'm a dragon except you."

"How would you like to be instead one of the empires praised and honored watch dragons?"

"An imperial dragon. That's what, if you got a unit of cavalry who dismount to fight? I don't know..."

"No, those are dragoons. Dragons are different."

"Oh, yes. We're larger. How would I do this thing?"

"So what you would do... You would make an example out of one or two of the gnollish problem tribes, and then you would spend some of your time in and around the human communities near there in dragon form, but more outside of them, between them and the gnolls. Then the gnolls would realize that this direction is the wrong direction for them to go. And if you wanted, we could probably get you a uniform or something close that you can drape over your form, to show that you are an imperial dragon."

"And in fact, not here to hurt anyone."

"Well, I'm not here to hurt any of the humans, but I am here to hurt gnolls. They killed my hobbit."

"Yes, and that's part of the reason why I think that we might have a shared interest here."

"I think we do have a shared interest here. You don't happen to have a resurrect spell, do you?"

"No, that is far, far, beyond my capabilities. But we might be able to get you someone who can."

"Still, I was thinking of making an example of that tribe, anyway. So that would be a start."

"Would you mind after you make an example of them posting an imperial banner in the ruins of their tribe?"

"Oh, sure. Do you have one?"

"No, but I'm sure we can get you one in one of the settlements."

"Oh, there are a lot of settlements when you get on another day or so. I don't know why the humans wanted to be so close to the mountains. They said something about rich soil, but the soil's rich enough here."

"Humans are weird," opines Riverwood.

"That's true. Oh, so many of the plants died before I could find a gardener. Well, we'll make do with what we've got. Yes, I'll do this thing once I have paid you for your gardening. I will go off and make an example of their tribe. No, wait! I'll wait for an imperial banner. Then I'll go off and make an example of that tribe. The ones that are underground are harder. I can make myself look like a human, but I can't get in there. I can breathe in their tunnel mouths. That can make them uncomfortable for a day."

"Yes, that would make me uncomfortable," says Grolnok, who is replanting the plants in circles and spirals instead of in the neat rows they used to be in.

"Well, but I wouldn't breathe on you. You're a gardener, so it's alright that you're here. That's all I care about. Well, that and if you happen to be good at helping humans give birth. I care about that, too."

"And why do you care about that?"

"Oh, I found this lovely minor goddess who's all about fertility and herbs, and fields and children, and birthing and health. Her name's Gunra, or something like that."

"You're a devotee of Gunnora."

"That's her! Well, I don't know about devotee. I've never met anyone else who followed her. I found this book that talks about it." She takes the single book that stood alone on her bookshelf down. To them, it is quite large, though not large to her at all. "I've read it from cover to cover. And if I'm to follow her, I have to be able to help children be born, and fields to be fertile. I figured out how to make the fields be fertile, but it would be inappropriate to talk about in polite company."

"You can just bury the gnolls in them. That will help."

"Yes, and as I said, it would be impolite to mention my delicate parts."


"But it's a good fertilizer. I don't tell the humans where I'm getting it from. They don't know I'm a dragon. Don't start telling them. They should never know. If they know, they'll stop coming to my lair, I mean, they'll stop coming up here for healing herbs and tea and talking to me." She thinks for a bit. "Well, maybe not. Maybe not. If I'm an imperial dragon, maybe they'll still come up and talk to me. It would be a convenient way of explaining the 12 foot wide door. I'm afraid someone will suspect."

"If you're to be an imperial dragon, you'll presumably need to have someone who is your commander or lord or something. I don't know how these details work, but there are people who can work the details out."

"So then I can report to them, right?"

"Yes, that would be how this works."

"And they'd be the one that got me steer? I would like to not have to hunt in the way I've been hunting. It seems unfair. I may possibly have just taken somebody's cow now and then..."

"It's worse than some ways, better than others."

"I know, I know. My cousin is just terrible-- he eats the people. I hope we knew that was wrong, but..."

"Oh, no, that's not good. We can't have dragons eating people," says Riverwood.

"Whereabout is your cousin?"

"He's down on the other side of the mountains. He's also older than me. He hunts down into the northernmost section of the Spicelands."

"I don't think we'll encounter him."

"Oh, you don't want to encounter him. He doesn't talk much, but he's nasty."

"I take it that he's unlikely to be interested in being an imperial dragon?"

"I don't think he's interested in being any type of dragon that doesn't eat anything else," comments Riverwood.

"I don't think he could speak to you like I do."

"This is a delicate question, and so I apologize in advance if it's upsetting. Would it offend you, if in the interest of securing the safety of the people in this area, someone were to do something with regard to your cousin?"

"Last time I saw him, he took a nip out of my flank. So, yes, fine with me."

"That's all right, then."

"I don't know how we came from similar eggs."

"You did, though."

"Oh, I know, I know, and you know, in another few decades, when I get old enough to lay eggs, I'm going to have to seriously consider whether or not I want to."

"I think that might obligate you to." Aedrin gestures at the book.

"Yes, I thought it might. But I'll teach them to speak one way or another. My mother taught me to speak."

"Is your mother still around?"

"No, she moved off to Zest'qua. There's a big, big swamp there. The Palood. Good for dragons to live in. I don't think it was a good idea. But mother always knew best! So that's how I got this lovely cave. I inherited her lair when she left."

"That's a nice way to get one."

"Oh, yes, much better than having to kill a pack of wolves and a bunch of other wild animals that live in it, take it over, and then force a slave to repair it in the way that you want it."


"That's what she did."

"If you're going to be an imperial dragon, you can't have slaves."

"Oh, I don't have slaves! The hobbit was my friend."

"Yes, you can have friends, and you can pay them if they do work for you."

"I always made sure he had whatever he wanted. I suppose I should go and scoop out a grave, because nobody has the resurrection spell."

"Wait, Glenda. I certainly don't, but I think there are people in the empire who do, and they might be willing to use one as a gesture of good will to a new imperial dragon."

"That would be better than than steers! If I'm going to be a good imperial dragon, I've got a hoard. I could always pay for my steers. I can't get back my hobbit. You really think they might? Then I should wait. I can cover him in soils and scented herbs, so that he won't... you know."

"That's probably a good idea," says Riverwood.

"I don't know anything about how the great healing magics work," adds Aedrin. "I don't know if they need to be done quickly after someone has died, or if they can be done later."

"Hmm, I think it's probably wise for me to let you talk to people when you get there before I come there. So I hope it can be at least a few days, because I think if I fly in carrying my friend's body, they're going to think I killed him, and then they're going to shoot everything they've got at me."

"That's right," agrees Aedrin.

"What sorts of herbs are these, anyway?" asks Riverwood.

"Oh, those," she starts reeling off the names of different herbs used for healing, "they are all in that book."

"Oh, funny that!"

"We'll see which pattern grows better herbs, and then we'll switch to whichever one it is." She very gently pats each of Grolnok and Riverwood on the back with one retracted claw.

"Do you know, is there somebody who is locally in charge of these settlements, because that would be the person for us to talk to?" asks Aedrin. "Otherwise, we could talk to the Legate back where we came from, but that's some distance away."

"Well, most of the nearest settlements are just tiny villages. Most people got close to the mountains, but there are some nearby settlements. Some of them have developed headmasters for their villages, and one of them has a knight. He came from far away, and I think he's crazy. But that's okay."

"Why do you think he's crazy?"

"He's afraid of rats."

Grolnok scoffs. "I mean what, are they going to bite him and cause diseases?"

"He thinks they're coming with weapons and strange things."

"Are you sure he's not afraid of like demons?"

"He calls some rats a rat man. He came here to buy herbs, once, and he warned me. Well, he warned me as Glenda the Green that they would come in my sleep and stab me. It was a strange conversation. Rats do not come near me. I would be surprised if rat men came near me. But of course he just thought I was a harmless old lady." She looks at Riverwood and Grolnok. "What gave me away? I thought I was pretty good at concealing who I was."

Riverwood responds, "Oh, for one thing, you just seemed a little off. It seemed like you were copying what you had seen other people do, instead of moving naturally."

"Oh well. If I become an imperial dragon, I won't have to practice. As long as the people will still like me, if I am a dragon."

"I'm fairly certain that if you're protecting them, they won't care."

"Is that how it works? Providing protection makes people your friends?"

"Sometimes," says Riverwood.

Aedrin offers a different perspective on protection. "When you offer protection, you become their boss, and in exchange, you get to take some of their money, and some of their stuff, and they owe you loyalty and you owe them protection, that's why we call it protection."

"Finding friends is a bit more difficult than that," adds Riverwood.

Glenda blinks at this explanation, without really understanding.

Riverwood and Grolnok finish the garden. Glenda rustles in through her 12 foot door, and she comes back out and very carefully dispense two silver to each. She pays them all, including Aedrin--who didn't do any work, but is happy to take her money.

About that time, they hear people coming up the path, and she says, "Don't give me away!" With a flash, she turns back into "Glenda the Green."

A small group of human women come up the path.

"Just hoping out this old woman with her gardening," says Grolnok.

"Greetings to you."

Riverwood whispers quietly to Grolnok, "Alright, I'm going to need you to just shut up about the old woman thing. Just don't say anything."

The womenfolk all purchase some herbs. They curtsy to the travelers, because they are not from the village. "Are you here to see Sir Adalby?"

"We are."

"He's hearing cases now."

"He'll be the local knight that Glenda told us about."

They point towards where the group can vaguely see a smudge of smoke on the horizon. "It's the biggest village in the area, so he's having them build a... what did he call it? A motte and bailey? And he's hearing cases. Now, it's been a lot of stolen chickens."

"And the occasional stolen cow, I don't doubt," says Aedrin.

"Oh, none of those have ever been solved. Probably gnolls," says the oldest of the women, and the others all nod. "But the chickens... gnolls don't take chickens. Sometimes it's the neighbors, sometimes it's the foxes, sometimes it's a weasel... Oh, and occasionally it's a goblin. Mind you, it's a real problem. He should be done in the courts in about an hour."

"I wouldn't guarantee that," one of the other women says.

"Well, he's not going to hear that capital case," responds the oldest.

"Somebody's got to hear it. Where are you going to get a lord around here?"

"But it's high court business."

"Well, I guess it is, but he's going to have to either hear it or send them off all the way up to the cities, and who wants to go there?"

"We've heard there's a young lord down by the mountains?"

"Aye, he's trying to hold things together."

"And is the lord down by the mountains..." Aedrin pauses. "What's the term for a lord's boss, or a knight's boss?"


"Yeah, that's it."

"He will be once he gets established. He was hurt pretty bad, back in the old country. He was captured and hurt bad. But they rescued him, and cleaned 'em up with that flesh thing."

"Skin," says Aedrin. "That would be skin."

"That's it! Never heard of the skin before we were forced out of our country. Now we count on them for a lot."

"You don't have a priest in any of these villages, do you?"

"Most of us have walked away from Berta. After all, what did she do? She did naught, while we were all dying. But this sun fellow, Glordiadel, he hasn't sent anyone yet. We're waiting. So right now we're depending on the lad with the skin."

"That's a Redactor, then," explains Aedrin. "Redactors are psionic healers."

"No, he said he's not really trained very much. He called himself... what was it... a talent?"

"So he's not a truly trained psion, then."

"No, he had an awful sickness, just as he hit his manhood, but he lived through, and he did, and then someone who was wounded and getting gangrene, and he wasn't gonna last-- you know how it is--the lad's eyes got all funny, and the fellow recovered."

"He went through his threshold, they call it." Aedrin holds a coin in his hand, and levitates it just a smidge.

"Oh, you're one of them, too. Oh, I tell you, I tell you," she turns to her fellows, "I tell you, it all changed when the dead came out of their tombs and the demon started eating people back in the old lands."

"What?" asks Riverwood in amazement.

"When the South Kingdoms fell--the old South Kingdoms, that is," explains Aedrin. "That's why all these people are settling here."

They nod respectfully, and then turn back to Glenda. "I brought you fresh venison, and I was hoping that you could..." She starts listing herbs.

Glenda leads them in and handles the herb sales.

Aedrin watches closely to try to figure out whether they are playing along or whether they're actually in the dark. He's pretty sure the younger ones are fooled, but the leader, the one who did most of the talking, knows and doesn't care, because they're getting the herbs they need. He thinks she also has a pretty good idea where the cows are going.

They head down to the village that she indicated. The village is probably 600 people, with an earthen berm around it, and a very recent outward facing palisade of sharpened thin logs, and a group of young men working on deepening the pit around the berm, shoveling earth from the moat up onto the berm. A young man in raw-hide, but with a real spear with a steel head, and a shield bearing the arms of the empire, is standing outside the gate.

He looks up at them. "We were told there would be teams coming. Are you them?"


"Sir Adalby will wish to see you."

"We're going to need to speak with him, anyway."

"He's got a few of us whipped into a militia. If it hadn't been for his horse, we wouldn't have been able to turn back the last group. Sir Adalby's horse fights better than most of us."

They go in to a not very impressive bailey that's being built, but it's something, and sitting in front of a little wooden platform is a middle-aged man in full plate armor. Someone has painted a golden sunburst over what was clearly a different seal on his shield. Standing next to him eating is a unicorn.

"Is that what you meant by his horse?"

"Yes, that's his horse. Got a horn. Isn't it weird?" He nods vigorously. "Well, I've got to go back to duty. He gets mad if we leave duty for very long. He's afraid that ratmen will sneak up on the village. I hope not, but I've got to be ready to fight them off if they try."

The knight looks at them, and says, "Look, we are joined this day by representatives of the Empire." He makes a strange gesture and blue light shines out of all of them. "We will hold the last case until I have discussed it with them."

"We also will need to speak with you in private."

"Of course." He rises from his chair, and they can see that he is recently wounded in several places. The people applaud and disperse. "We used to do things back in the old days, before the ratmen came. Now, the case before me is a violent one, that I am loathe, as a mere knight under King Elric of Stormwall in the old days, to take upon myself, but in the absence of a lord and my unwillingness to have any of the men under arms that I have to convey the accused all the way to the lord in the north, I must render high justice. This man stands accused of murder."
[End Session 2]
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Session 3 (January 1, 2023)

4 End Year
They are in the village of Sylfezky, and guests of Sir Adalby Sylfezky. They are all having an oatmeal breakfast with the knight.

"What we face, friends, is that this man is accused of killing his sister-in-law."


"That's not good."

"The law agrees with you. I wield a greatsword with alacrity. I defend my people. I will guide them. But I don't know how to figure out whether someone committed a crime or they're being framed. I'm hoping that the emissaries who were sent," he gestures at all of them with his oatmeal spoon, "are more knowledgeable on this."

Riverwood says, "Maybe one of us. I don't think it's me."

Aedrin has a more practical question. "Sir knight. Just so I'm clear on this. Are you wanting us to find out what actually happened, or is there some conclusion that you're wanting us to find out? We can probably do either, but I'd like to know which job I'm being asked to do."

"Find out what actually happened! The problem is that the people want this handled fast. They think they know who did it, they want him hanged. I can probably delay the trial until the end of the day, but not much longer without having to kill to protect him, and I don't want to kill my own people."

"That makes sense," responds Riverwood.

"Because the people are convinced he did it, but I am somewhat less convinced. For an odd reason... There seems to be no reason for him to have done it. But then again, as I said, I know nothing about how to investigate these things. This is not part of my training, nor my life."

"I've been involved in more than a few investigations, though usually not on this side," says Aedrin. "So I'm sure we can figure things out."

"Well, at least we can try."

"Why do they think he did it?" asks Grolnok.

"They lived in the same cabin. Well, I say cabin, but most of them are really huts. But the victim lived in a cabin with her sister and her sister's husband, and so when she was found dead in the cabin, most people assumed her sister's husband must have done it. He and his wife claim that he had gone to the fields to work. I can't find anyone who saw him there, but given the amount of land we're trying to work with the few people we have, he could easily have been out working and unseen by any. But just the same, if there was some problem in the relationship between the sister and the husband, or the sister and the wife, none might have seen it."

"But the wife does not accuse him--she stands by her husband?"

"Aye, she does."

"Is there anyone else who might have been interested in killing her?"

"I have one, but he's considered an upstanding man of the village."

"Is he, now?" Aedrin says, immediately suspicious of him.

"I suspect that the man whose courtship she refused recently. He is a widower who lost his wife at the Intaking on the Day of the Dead. He may be responsible. He is a jealous and angry man--has been ever since I came here, but I have no evidence whatsoever that he was even near the cottage."

"Have you attempted questioning him?" asks Riverwood.

"Of course! I said, 'did you kill this woman?' And he said, 'No.'"

"That's not how you question someone. If you just ask, 'Did you kill this woman?' Obviously, he's going to answer 'No,' even if he did do it."

"But I am a lyan," he says. "We do not have a great deal of subtlety." Lyans are holy warriors dedicated to the principle of Law--like paladins, but without the focus on Good as well.

"Of Glordiadel?"

"Of course! You didn't know He had some, did you? There are not many, but some. And once upon a time, I was more congruent with the faith that I belonged to, for I was at one time a lyan of Berta."

"Isn't Berta a goddess of Chaos?"

"Of course! And what could be more chaotic than for a Goddess of Chaos to be served by a lyan?"

They have no answer for that, though they are befuddled.

"Can you detect chaos, as paladins detect evil? Did the man you suspect have the mark of chaos upon him?"

"I can, and he did not--neither he nor the man the village accuses did."

They travel to examine the body where it has been lain in the village chapel. The acolyte is praying over the body. They can easily identify the makeshift jail as they travel across the village to the chapel, which is a little bit larger, though no better built, than the rest of the village buildings.

There are a group of rough-hewn benches facing a makeshift altar, with a very small sun-disk--likely a personal holy symbol repurposed as a public one--hung behind it. The body is laid upon a bier of wood, before the plain table that serves as an altar.

The apparent cause of death is obvious: there is a substantial indentation in the side of her head, in which a sachet of herbs has been placed. Aedrin immediately begins matter of factly removing all of her clothing, so that the body can be fully examined for any other signs of injury. He notices three things, besides the major trauma on her head: the first is that there is bruising on her left arm, as if she was grabbed; the second is that there is a faint, lingering, almost sickly sweet smell by her mouth; and the third is that something about that smell makes him feel almost light-headed.

He wafts the smell around. "Do any of you recognize this smell? Careful with it."

Riverwood feels the urge to flee in response to the smell--so strong that she almost does, before she steels herself. Bob, the human priest, says that the smell just smells stupid. Grolnok cannot smell it at all.

"So, it seems to only affect people with elven blood?" Riverwood says. She looks at the body carefully. "The ears are a little pointed and the frame slight... she can't be full elven, but perhaps she was a quarter elf or so."

Grolnok says, "All right, that gets us a theory of the case. Her lover came to talk with her; they had an argument; he grabbed her by the arm and bashed her head with a brick; and then he poisoned her with special elf poison."

"Uhhh.... I'm not sure if he'd already bashed her head in with a brick, there would be any need for poison," points out Riverwood.

Aedrin carefully probes her mouth, looking for a source of the scent--he pulls out a brown paste, almost like mud, from inside her mouth, and wipes it on a clean handkerchief to preserve it. Even in the concentrated form, Grolnok cannot smell it at all, and none of them can recognize the scent. Aedrin's fingers tingle from the contact.

"See? She must have been poisoned," says Grolnok. "So, she eats the poison, and then starts to run away, he grabs her, and then he bashes her head with the brick."

"The brick that we haven't heard anything about before this? And doesn't that seem awfully complicated?"

"I have a suggestion for how we could find proof," says Aedrin. "You all go to talk to the suspect. While you have him busy, I'll search his cabin. If I find the poison, we know we have our man."

"I can use a Zone of Truth to determine if he's lying," says Bob. "Lord Paranswarm grants that spell to me."

"And you can let me know mentally when you have him busy. I can establish a mindlink with two of you." Aedrin reaches out psionically to Bob and Grolnok, deliberately not touching the mind of the wood elf.

Grolnok, Father Bob, and Riverwood go to speak with the man that Sir Adalby suspects.

Father Bob casts a zone of truth. He can see a sparkly blue field surrounding the three of them and the suspect.

Grolnok puts his hand on the man's shoulder. "What was your relationship with the unfortunately deceased?"

"Nothing like I wanted it to be," he grumbles. The field remains blue.

"Do you know how she died?"

"Pretty obvious. I've seen the body. The side of her skull was stove in."

"You obviously knew her pretty well?"

"Well enough to fall in love with her. Have you ever been in love with a beautiful woman, Grolnok?"

"Hah. No. Orks aren't all that and a bag of chips. You loved her. You wouldn't kill her."

"Kill her? I may be an ugly man, but I wouldn't kill someone I loved." The zone doesn't turn red, which would indicate a lie, but it does turn yellow.

"Did you kill her?"

"I didn't kill her." The zone of truth turns yellow again.

"Did you assist in the murder?"

"No, I didn't assist in the murder." The zone turns blue again.

"Do you know who killed her?"

"No, I don't know who killed her. She did reject me."

Grolnok tries to intimidate him. "What did you do?!"

Meanwhile, Aedrin slips into the hut, though this one almost deserves the term "cabin." There is a wooden table with a book open upon it, and a rudely made wooden chair. There are also four large chests--three of them also simple woodwork, like the furniture, and the fourth fancy and elegantly made, with fine scrollwork on it. That one has a lock on it, unlike the other three. Aedrin heads straight for it.

He begins to investigate the chest, checking it for traps, and almost concludes there isn't one before one last psychokinetic check turns up a needle trap in the lock. He places a wood block in front of it and deliberately discharges the trap before picking the lock. A spray of nine needles embed themselves in the wooden block. Aedrin sniffs at the poison, and recognizes the smell: concentrated spider venom.

<<He had a very serious poison needle trap on his chest, with what's probably drowan poison. Very expensive, and not what you'd expect a random villager to have. He spent a lot of money on both the trap and the poison to use on the trap.>>

Aedrin picks the lock and finds that the chest has several interesting items: a money box, which he ignores; a book; and a small box that looks to him to be high glass, tinted with the colors of the psionic guild of redactors. Aedrin examines the high glass box first. It has three labeled dials on it, clearly a combination lock of some sort.

Meanwhile, the interrogation continues.

"When was the last time you saw her before she died?"

"Perhaps three hours earlier, on the same day." The field remains blue.

"What did you talk about?"

"We talked about my merchandise, and how successful I thought I could be as the community grows and recovers." Most of that remained blue, but with a tinge of yellow as he said how successful he could be--Bob thinks he probably is already successful.

"And how are you doing in business?"

"Much less well than in the old days, but as well as I can under the circumstances. Better than most." The field remains a perfect blue.

"What do you buy and sell?"

"Now, anything I can get my hands on. In the old days, back before the South Kingdom fell in the flurry of demons, I dealt primarily in fine clothing and certain rare essences."

"And hypothetically, would you still have any of these rare essences on you?"

"On me? No, no, I would not carry them."

"But you still own them?"

"I have small quantities left. Yes, for the day there'll be enough wealth to sell them again. I would have given her one of them if she'd only said yes." Bob sees a new color in the field--it's still blue, but almost with purple tinges. He thinks that's because of strong emotion impinging on the man's logical faculties.

Back in the cabin, Aedrin sniffs at the high glass box, to see if it has a scent like the scent they found on the body--if it's filled with the brown stuff, it would smell from when it's opened and closed. But he smells no smell at all. He then turns to the book, because the combination lock seems more challenging than he wants to deal with first.

The book is filled with alchemical information. It also has writing in it in two different languages and very different hands. The first writing is in silver ink, very elegantly done, and does not look to be human in work. Aedrin can't read it, but he recognizes many characters from Drowan--he assumes that this is some other form of Elven. The second hand is in a crabbed, ugly black ink, and is in common. He infers that the text was written in Elven, then translated into Common. He pages through the book. The early pages are filled with formulae for various perfumes and the like, including a philter of love. Towards the back, there is a section that is not translated--but that section has a faint odor to it that Aedrin recognizes, strongest on some of the last, untranslated pages.

<<He's our man. Find out if he knows what the what the smell coming out of her mouth was about.>> he sends to Grolnok and Bob.

"So let's say that during our investigation, we found there's a strange odor around her mouth," says Bob. "Any idea what it is?"

"No." The field is a blazing red.

In response, they haul him bodily over to a chair and tie him to it, trying to make sure he can't flee.

"Care to try that last one again?"

"Look, look..." pleads the merchant.

"Okay, so what is it?"

"Listen to me. I didn't give it to her. I didn't make it."


"I never had it translated. She could read the language. She didn't know what she was making... I didn't know she could read that language, whatever it is, but she can. She could, and she thought... I don't know why she made it. I think she thought she'd make it as a gift, but..."

"I don't think you want to give it to anyone," says Riverwood.

"I never had it translated, because they told me what it was, and it terrified me. The idea of even having it readable in my book scared me, but I guess there are people who can read it in my book even untranslated."

"Well, what is it?" asks Bob.

"I didn't make it. She made it. It's a drug called kriff. There's a flower you can derive it from, used by the old elves. There are several things you can make from it--poisons and this drug. I didn't want to sell that. I sell essences, and now anything I can lay my hands on, but I didn't want to sell that. Oh, God, I'm tied to this chair! You're not going to let me go, are you?"

They relay that to Aedrin. <<I know what kriff is. Powerful drug. The elves never sell it, but the drow might. It's strictly forbidden by the Guild in Canberry. It's mostly used to debilitate and destroy human or similar cultures, because it's pleasurable at first and exceedingly addictive.>>

"So you think she got addicted to it?"

"Seems likely. Possibly. Maybe. I don't know. I think she took some and then fell and hit her head. But since I showed her the book..."

"So she learned how to make a drug, got high, tripped, and died."

"I think so." He bursts into tears. "So I did kill her indirectly. I knew that the man who was arrested was innocent, and I said nothing. The knight was going to hang somebody, and I didn't want it to be me. And now I will be hanged for it."

The group argues over whether he should be executed for this or given a less severe punishment, with the merchant miserably listening, still tied to a chair.

"I'm not confident that she didn't know what she was making," says Grolnok.

Riverwood nods. "She could read the language, and from what we can tell, she did have Elven blood..."

"I think we're going to want to talk to her sister and find out."

They turn back to the merchant. "Have you told us everything you want to tell us? Anything you need to tell us?"

"I told you things I didn't want to tell you!" That is sparkly blue.

<<Ask him about the high glass casket.>>

"What do you keep in the high glass casket?"

"How do you know about that? You must have searched my home..."

"Just answer the question."

"Fair enough. I brought that with me from the fall of my city. It contains the best of my essences, the most expensive. Someday there was going to be a market for them again. There won't be after I'm hanged, but some day there would have been a market for them again. Well, I suppose there still will be a market for them again, but it won't be for me..."

"How were you so successful?"

"I was a successful merchant of high-end goods in a great city. There is much money to be made in that."

"But now?"

"Now, I am not successful. I buy and sell what I can to take my hand to keep my hand in, while hoping that things get to a point again where a merchant of quality can make a decent living."

"But you still seem to be doing pretty well for yourself."

"I buy and sell whatever I can. If you can provide people's needs, there's money to be had. Do you know I bartered for things? If you know about my glass casket, you've been in my house. That chair that I have with my table, the table, the chest that I keep much of the barter goods in hoping that someday a merchant will come along to buy them to take to a city--all of those were bartered for. I have been reduced to bartering to make a profit, and I learned to lay a floor. Just sleeping on the dirt was beyond me."

"Did you know what you were giving her? How did she get access to your book with the recipe for kriff?"

"Oh, I showed it to her. I wanted to impress her. I didn't expect she could read the language I hadn't had translated at great expense back in my home city."

"But you did you realize she was making it."

"She said she was making me a surprise."

After confirming that the untranslated material is all poisons and kriff recipes, Aedrin uses a knife to excise those pages from the book. The group has a little debate over this--is it theft? Is it confiscating dangerous materials? But most of them don't mind.

"I think you should have taken out the kriff and other dangerous materials instructions," says Grolnok to the merchant.

"I didn't think anyone could read them except that weird guy at the scriptorium that I paid to translate it. I found that book. I didn't know what it was, but it was beautiful, so I bought it. For years, I kept it on an end table in our home. And then my wife suggested that I have someone try to translate it, because she said she thought that there were chemical symbols on the cover. So I went to the scriptorium, and one of the men--a really old servant to Berta-- could translate it. I don't know if he knew the language or had a gift from the goddess, but he began translating it, and when he got toward the end, he asked me if I really was sure I wanted that translated, and I said, 'Why?' And he said, 'these are for deadly poisons and drugs.' And he told me about kriff, and I said, 'No, don't translate those,' and then I paid him the two and a half thousand silver he wanted for the others."

"That's expensive," comments Bob.

"And I made it back many times over the years. He was the only one who could translate it. When you are the only only one with an item that another wants, you can charge anything they can reasonably afford, and you will get it. That is basic merchanting."

"So get those monopolies."

"Exactly. He had a monopoly. Then I had a monopoly on those essences, and people went wild for them. They paid the price."

"So you made a fortune off the translated pages. Why didn't you destroy the pages with the dangerous recipes?"

"It would make the book imperfect. It wouldn't look beautiful anymore. I don't like to destroy beautiful things. And I never met anyone before except the old man in the scriptorium who could read it at all."

Riverwood knows that the old followers of Berta were not friendly with elves in the old days.

"Believe me, I did not want her to die. I wanted her to love me, but I was willing to go on as her friend, if I couldn't have that, and instead... What I don't understand is, you say it was around her mouth? She ate some of it? Doesn't make sense. Why would she want to commit suicide? Why would she want to taste it? I don't know what the text says, but I assume from what you've said, that the odor will do it. So if she was testing it, why put it in her mouth?"

They decide to go to the sister. An argument breaks out between Bob, who wants to keep the merchant tied up, and Riverwood, who wants to release him. Eventually, they agree to untie him but to keep him with them so he can't run away. They meet up with Aedrin and head to the sister's home.

They enter the hut, and the sister, who has probably been weeping recently, looks up in surprise, and then she sees the merchant and looks confused.

"Hi, sorry," says the merchant. "I'm just standing here."

"That's a lovely opening," says Riverwood. "We have to keep him with us. Otherwise, he's stuck to a chair."

"They said that this was more humane or something," Bob explains. "I don't know."

As they begin talking, Bob and Riverwood both notice that the sister's ears show signs of having been surgically rounded, like slight points were cut off. Riverwood looks back and forth between the sister and Aedrin, comparing the two people with part elven ancestry.

"Yes, treat me just as an object to compare with," says Aedrin. "Go ahead."

"That's not what I meant!" says Riverwood indignantly.

"How can I help you?" says the sister. "You're surely the ones that were sent from the Empire."

"What can you tell us about your sister? Did she have any unusual problems?"

"When we we were young, she went through a stretch. But they got better with time."

"What was that stretch?"

"Well. The priest of Berta said it was a poltergeist, but I always thought it was my sister. Things moved randomly, flew through the air, and then when she would get angry, things would blow apart, glass frames, that type of thing. But then all at once, it stopped, when we got older."

Aedrin says, "Psionics, then. Random manifesting as she went through threshold sickness, but then when she survived, it turned into an untrained but controlled, never fully manifested, Gift." He pauses. "Did she have any difficulties with kriff?"

She looks confused. "I don't know what that is."

"Did she have any problems with addictions?"

"Not that I know of. I mean, she never really got over the death of her betrothed in the Intaking. But we helped as we could. She would have stayed and died with him if we hadn't dragged her along with us when we fled."

"Was she still so suicidal recently?"

"Not that I know of. You think she bashed her own head in?"

"I forgot about that... I was focused on the poisoning."

"I thought she was doing better, really, before she was murdered. She was starting to take more interest in things again. She wouldn't accept the suit from that man, but he did start her back up with tools so she could start making perfumes from flowers and herbs. I assume she was selling them to him."

"Did she have any other associates?"

"Oh, yes. Several traveling merchants. There's the beginning of a trade route that touches here. They were paying her for the essences she could make, even though she felt they're inferior. I didn't even know some of the essences that I smelled her working with. So I almost think she managed to trade for another alchemical manual somewhere. They weren't in her old repertoire."

"Well, we know where those came from," says Bob.

"And these other people that she sold to--are any of them in town now?"

"No, the last left the same day she died."

"Interesting! So, my working theory: she made some kriff, and they decided that was valuable enough to kill her for. But it's strange, because if she was their source, they'd never want to kill her. Maybe they somehow got a recipe from her..."

"Which way would they go?"

"Oh, they're heading towards that independent town that has so little to do with us. Pivonzowe. It's a few 1,000 people, ruled by an archmage--the most powerful person in the region-- and very standoffish. They'll trade with anyone, but they won't let any one in their walls, and they pre-existed all of our settlements. They are probably from the same era as all the abandoned villages where we dare not go, but they're still here."

"That's about half a day's travel away. And so that means that if they left here going there, they'll be there by now," says Aedrin, examining a map the knight gave them. "But we could get to Pivonzowe today if we felt like we needed to."

"Do you want to see her book?"

"Yes, yes, we do."

She goes over to a corner where there's a cot with a crude chest stored under it, and she pulls the crude chest out and opens it up. It has a few clothes, several ceramic glass vials that don't look like very high quality, and a book. She pulls the book out and hands it to them.

The book is hand written, clearly as much a notebook as anything else. They flip to the back, where there's writing:

"I can't believe the recipes I'm finding in his book. He can't speak the Old Speech. He has no idea."

There are then several pages of translations in a much nicer hand than the one that the scribe had used. It describes four different recipes. One is kriff; the other three are all based on the flower kirif. One is the psychoactive activator and the other two special psionic poisons. Aedrin recognizes those three and immediately pulls out a knife to cut those pages out, too--not destroying them, but cutting them from the book.

"Did you know that your sister was dealing in poisons and drugs?"

"No, I've never bothered her private things. That would be weird. And poisons? We don't have any need for poisons here. Oh, to the merchants! You think she was selling these to them?"

They examine the four ceramic pots carefully. None of them have the smell of kriff on them. They very carefully open them, and find that one has the activator drug to be given to a person at threshold.

"That's very valuable," says Aedrin. "Possibly as much as 500 or 600 silver worth of it. It's not the highest quality. It's not even the quality drow make, but it's probably the best she could do with what she's got--her equipment is pretty primitive for this sort of work." Aedrin turns to the merchant and perfumer. "Would you be able to follow these instructions?" He shows him the instructions for the psionic activator.

"It's pretty straightforward. I could follow it. There aren't very many kirif flowers in the area. There are some. I've seen them. They're a weed."

"Apparently not, according to this," says Bob.

"But yes, I could follow this."

"In a major city, the Society of the Mind, or the Ministry of the Mind, or places like that would pay good money for this one. We'll let you copy that one only, but not the other two. You don't need to know about them. And you you might do well making that up and shipping it north."

He happily copies the recipe. "Thank you. I still thought I was likely to hang. They're going to have to hang someone."

"Well, then, we'd better go. I just figure that this village needs money, and if he starts making this stuff, shipping it north, the money will flow."

"Money is good," says Bob.

"So maybe we shouldn't have him hanged," says Riverwood. "I don't know."

"That's what I'm thinking. I think we should go talk to the night, and then I guess we have to head to Pivonzowe."

"Did we ever talk to the person that is currently on pace to get lynched? We might want to go talk to him."

They head to the little jail. The guy sitting in front of it with the spiked club and the chain shirt leaps to his feet when they approach and loudly proclaims, "This person is under the protection of... oh, you're the imperial guys."

"Yes, we're just here for interrogations," says Bob.

"Oh, go ahead." He moves out of the way.

"You should really in the future verify that people are authorized by the knight before you give them access to the prisoner. But don't worry about this time."

"Right you are." He's not the brightest candle in the stack, but he is trying.

The prisoner looks up when they come in.

"So what do you know about that murder?" says Bob.

"Did you do it?" adds Grolnok.

"No, I didn't do it. I was in the fields plowing. I didn't. I didn't."

"And do you have proof you were in the fields?"

"No, the knight already asked me that. I was plowing acreage separate from the other people."

"What did you see? Did anyone go to talk to the victim?"

"People talk to her all the time. Sometimes she even talks back. Sometimes she ignores them, but people talk to her all the time."

"Have you noticed anyone suspicious around her recently?"

"I don't know how to tell suspicious. I mean, she's got new customers for her essences, but..."

"Who are these new customers?"

"A group of merchants. There were three of them, all men, one of them very ill favored. No offense, but kind of like him." He gestures with his chin towards Grolnok.

"Did they have names?"

"The master merchant... He told her what it was. She mentioned it, but... I was glad to see her busy doing something rather than just moping. Do you think the master merchant killed her? They said I hit her with a brick. I asked them what brick, so they changed it to a stone. I didn't hit her with a stone or my fist or anything."

"So, you poisoned her," probes Bob.

"No, no, I didn't poison her. I swear it!"

They bring the merchant back to his house, telling him not to leave the village ("Where would I even go?") and then tell the knight that they're heading off to try to intercept these merchants.

When they come to the knight, he says, "Oh, yeah, I remember them. They came in to town, showed a few low-grade vials of perfume and headed off."

"We think they murdered her on the way out. We think they're dealing in in forbidden drugs."

"Oh!" The knight thinks for a bit, processing that. "Well, I'm not gonna mention that part to the villagers, but I'm going to mention that the imperial representatives believe it was them and are pursuing them. That will prevent them from storming the jail. Or it should. But who knows... You go see if you can bring them back. Huh. I wasn't even thinking about them."

"I suppose we can also leave the lover boy in the village," says Bob.

"We have a mule. Will that help?"

"We've already got a mule."

"Right. We don't have any horses. I have my steed, but it won't answer to any but me, and I know, I know, that sounds like I'm making it up, but it's the truth."

"Some horses are like that, aren't they?" says Riverwood.

"You ought to know: The deceased had instructions on making some of these forbidden drugs and some poisons, and that we have confiscated those."

"Oh, well, that's good. But what was she doing then? I don't want to know--it's too complicated. Go ahead."

"Don't worry, we don't know, either," says Bob.

"I hope you find out. I'd like to hear an explanation where I don't end up hurting my brain."

"Oh, you shouldn't hurt your brain," says Riverwood. "It's not pleasant."

"No promises," adds Bob.

"Well, you know, do your best."

He supplies them with some food packs, and they are ready to head out.
[End Session 3]


Session 4 (January 15, 2023)

4 End Year (cont'd)
[Father Bob's player missed this session. We also were joined by Twig, a gnome bard, whose player still hasn't made it, but where it was judged useful to have him along as an NPC.]

They depart immediately for Pivonzowe. The journey, about half a day long, is uneventful. As they approach the town, they see that it is a true walled town, much more so than anything since they left civilization. There are boats in the small lake behind it, and two small airships floating from a squat voller tower in the town. They are human-made, but they are vollers nonetheless. There are also about a hundred or so fortified farms scattered--stone-block houses, slate or metal roofs, and firing loops in the walls. Near the walls, well inside the belt of the farm, there is some cleared area with colored banners flying. No heraldry is on the banners, just colors. Near each banner, there is a mobile stall set up for trading, with three or four armored men standing near one corner of that space as if they are guarding it. There are a few people wandering through shopping--mostly women of the town.

Riverwood looks around at each of the stalls, seeing what they are selling. Some of the farmers wave at them as they start heading in, though others seem to recognize that they have a bard with them and then draw away. Riverwood notices that the two regular guards are male, but the person in charge is a woman, dressed as a knight. One of the stalls is selling vegetables, produce from a local farm. The next stall has a small woman--perhaps even a tallfellow halfling--with a collection of odd pots and jars in front of her, with no custom currently. There is also a stall with a man dressed in colorful robes attempting, seemingly futilely, to sell various things that look to be magical trinkets. He has a wagon behind it with a horse standing behind there. The people avoid him, walking a considerable distance around his stall--at least the women, and there aren't many men.

Aedrin hangs back, looking around the market for the people they're looking for. He doesn't see the people they are looking for, but he notices the cloth of the wagon behind the magic trinket stall moving, despite the fact that there is not a bit of wind. He suspects that there are people inside, looking out, but he can't see them clearly.

Through the partially open gate in the wall walks a woman. She is tall and slender, with gray hair that looks to have once been brown. She wears straight robes, with a loose metallic belt. The guards spring to attention, and the woman in the produce stall inclines to her as she walks past. Behind her, two more armored people have emerged.

Aedrin gives a nod of respect in her direction and walks over to the knight with the standing guard. She gives him a slight nod in response--the sort of polite but vaguely condescending recognition that he has experienced among the more polite Drowan matriarchies in the past. "Dame Knight. I'm a representative of the knight who rules one of the neighboring villages."

"And thank all the goddesses for his arrival."

"He has dispatched us here, investigating what we believe is merchants seeking to sell contraband--at least, it is contraband in our realm. We have reason to believe they have kriff."

He can tell from her face that she has no idea what that is.

"I believe the people you may be seeking may be over there," and she gestures with her chin toward the colorful wagon. "However, I think Lady Saksia has personally decided to intervene. What is this... kriff?"

"It is a vile drug. It provides a certain pleasure to the user, but it also is highly addictive, and it is destructive and kills over time. It is forbidden throughout our kingdom, and in most civilized lands."

"I see."

"We also suspect them of a murder, but that is of our jurisdiction, not yours, and so I thought I would mention the contraband first."

"Thank you." She begins moving towards the stall that Lady Saksia is approaching.

Aedrin quietly says, "We might want to head to the back of the wagon, in case someone bolts."

Both Grolnok and Riverwood have faded away from the situation, not wanting to be involved. Riverwood is keeping a close watch from the edge of another stand, while Grolnok has moved all the way into the vegetable stand.

The man in the colorful robe, seeing the respect the lady receives from all the others, inclines towards her. The lady makes a short cutting motion with her hand, and Grolnok and Riverwood can hear the word "forbidden." All of them see the curtain move again, and there are sparkles and a round piece of wood stick out through the curtain.

Aedrin yells, "Wand!" and she looks up. The brightly dressed merchant dives for the ground.

From the curtain, they hear "Death to the matriarchy!" A small red bead shoots from the wand at the lady, exploding into a fireball, but it doesn't engulf anyone except Lady Saksia and her two guards. Both of her guards fall to the ground, but she remains up, and while singed, does not look badly hurt.

The guards with the knight draw their weapons, and she gestures for two of them to head to the front of the wagon while she leads the other two towards the back towards where the fireball came from.

Riverwood dashes towards the curtain. From the ground behind the table where he threw himself, the brightly dressed man says in a rather demanding tone, "I told you not to use my wands!" The curtain twitches aside again, but this time two small darts of energy shoot out and strike Riverwood for a total of 7 damage. Aedrin can see in the wagon a man who used the wand, though it's unclear why he did not use the wand again--perhaps Riverwood is too close? But there is also another man in there wearing ring mail and clutching an axe or something similar. That man looks like he might be an ork or half-ork, matching the group they expect.

Twig inspires Riverwood, and fires his bow into the curtains... missing the curtain altogether.

Lady Saksia would have incinerated the entire wagon and stand with a fireball, but there are now people who have rushed in too close, so she needs to choose a different approach. She makes a long, slow gesture and an enormous hound with black fur, red eyes, and fire coming off it appears next to her.

Aedrin moves forward, low to the ground, while readying a psychic dagger for when the person with the wand pops out again. The knight with her accompanying guards is running forward towards the wagon in the back, while the other guards rush the front of the stall.

Grolnok, meanwhile, is standing in the produce stall, trying to blend in as a salesperson, while the actual farmer there looks at him oddly and slightly afraid. He has decided he wants no part of this mess.

Riverwood charges into the wagon, throwing the curtain aside. There's a figure clutching a stick trying to stay as far away as he can, while an ork in ring mail surges forward to intercept her. She strikes him for 6 points of damage. Her opponent swings his axe at her, missing narrowly. The fellow with the stick shoots a long slender ray of fire at Aedrin, who dodges aside nimbly. The mage screams out, in a furious tone, yelling "Servant of the Matriarchy!"

Twig stabs the ork for another 5 damage.

"I'll toast your glizer!" says the man with the stick.

"Gizzard! You'll toast his gizzard!" Shouts the brightly dressed man on the ground.

The hound bites at the ork but misses. Lady Saksia casts haste on everyone on her side.

The knight presses through to reach the spellcaster. The knight misses twice, then hits and knocks the mage unconscious.

Aedrin stabs the ork repeatedly until he surrenders, throwing down his axe while shouting "Shahvard, you pie-hole, you abandoned us!"

The additional guard at the front of the wagon calls out, "My Lady! There's no one here!"

Aedrin shouts, "He may have turned invisible. Can anyone see through that?"

Lady Saksia casts a quick spell, then says, "They're correct--there's no one here." She bows her head more respectfully to the group. "Welcome to Overlook. It is unfortunate that this is the way you were introduced to us."

"I thought you were called Pivonzowe. Were we wrong?"

"Yes, that's what the newcomers call us. But we have been Overlook for many, many, many years, and we do not choose to accept their change. We were founded by my grandmother nearly 200 years ago. Whom do I have the honor of addressing?"

"I am called Aedrin."

"A blessing on your mother. I'm glad that you and your cousin are not slaughtering each other in our town, or at least in our marketplace. And you, what is your name?"


"We have an understanding," Aedrin says.

"Thank you, Riverwood, for your assistance. A blessing on your mother."

While this is going on, Aedrin is stripping the magical equipment off of the spellcaster and tying his hands up and gagging him.

"It's fair enough," says Riverwood. "We shall no longer have issues from him."

They recover a wand of fire with 5 charges remaining.

"My lady, we believe that these merchants were bringing kriff to try to get it into your settlement. Are you familiar with kriff?"

"We are fairly cut off here, normally. It's a dangerous substance, I believe, capable of addicting the mind."

"Exactly. A forbidden drug. Well, forbidden in our Empire, at least."

"Certainly forbidden here, as well."

"May we search their establishment to confirm that they have it with them?"

"Oh, please do. You are from the new settlements."

"We are. We are representatives of the Empire, sent down to assist in matters that need assistance."

He can tell that she focused very carefully on his choice of words.

"And you are his companion," she says with a nod to Riverwood.


"Search their belongings. They were expelled from this town. Well, he was." She gestures with her chin to the young man who Aedrin just bound. "Years ago. I had thought this simply a charlatan selling worthless poultices until one of my people sighted him peering out of the back and saw his friend. I knew that we must deal with that. We appreciate your intervention and assistance, although their merchant seems to have slipped the net."

"Their merchant also referred to 'his' wand. That makes me wonder if he was, in fact, the leader of the group."

"It would make sense. I did not expect that one to have the courage to ever return."

"Is your town, in fact, a matriarchy?"

"Yes. With a school of mages that trains some of the finest female wizards and sorcerers on the continent. It's the way my grandmother established it, and now I seek to link to the lives of my predecessors. I have selected my need to interact with the outside very carefully. We have attempted not to be too troublesome to the newcomers. When we first came here there were many villages that are now destroyed. And things have only been getting worse these last few years. I have sent out my vollers twice to bombard gnollish groups that were attacking the new colony, but I do not have the forces to police the entire area, nor the desire to involve myself with another culture."

"If it is not overly prying, are you of the Seachen?"

"My grandmother was. We are more enlightened. We permit service in our military, service in the clergy. The only thing that is forbidden to males is the learning of magic."

Aedrin finds a chest full of noxious substances. Kriff, many poisons, all in little clay pots. They also find a fourth level spellbook. There is a fair number of very, very well preserved parts. Some have been mummified, some are very old, and another book which attempts to attack with electricity when they attempt to open it. It has runes of death and decay on it.

"Lady Saksia, do you have any objection to my trying to open this spell book?"

"No. Well, other than your dying, which I would prefer to see avoided." She sounds just like one of the matriarch's in Aedrin's father's lands, only a little more genteel.

"As would I, as would I. I don't suppose, Twig, that you could inspire me a little bit before I do this?"

Twig plays an inspirational tune.

Meanwhile, people have now returned to shopping. A woman asks Grolnok how much for a bundle of turnips. He haggles, starting at 7 bits, and settling on 5 bits. The woman who actually owns the stall looks on, stunned. "One of those is yours--you did better than I would have normally."

He puts the other 4 in her cash box. "Nice to meet you. Bye!"

Aedrin narrowly manages to disarm the trap and opens the book. It's clearly a necromantic spell book.

Lady Saksia confirms that it is "not at my proficiency, but much more powerful than he ever will be," with a dismissive gesture at the bound mage.

Twig realizes that the mage is bleeding out, and he binds his wounds.

"Do you know why someone might wish to introduce kriff into your town?" asks Aedrin.

"I know why he's here, but I don't know why he, or anyone, would attempt to introduce kriff. That doesn't share his character, so it must share somebody else's. Perhaps the fellow with that book." She points the necromancer's traveling spell book.

"Indeed, perhaps seeking to destabilize the region."

"Well, we are the only well-established power here. You've probably noticed by now. The knight may become one, but we are here and we're rapidly becoming a trade center. By late afternoon, there will be more stalls and dozens of people who have come from other towns to buy. Which, of course, means selling from here would not just have been selling to us."

"No. It would sell to the whole region."

"You know, we discounted this one. One of my followers walked by, and none of the poultices and things that he had on the front table have any magic. So we presumed him a charlatan, and even though he is male, it is permitted for a male to be a charlatan after all, as long as they do not charge outrageous prices. But she was not aware of what was truly being done. It can make the people feel better."

Aedrin checks the other stall with the clay pots, to make sure that they don't have any with kriff. But those pots are all empty--it's a pot merchant.

The man running that stall nods his head to Aedrin. "Bit of excitement, there."

"Oh, just a little bit. Nothing more than a day's work."

"That's the outcast over there, it is." He points at the bound up mage.

"What was the outcast exiled for?"

"Stealing knowledge, stealing the book of one of the students at the Academy. They didn't even cut off his hand. They just threw him out. I don't know why he came back. He could gone where they didn't care."

As Aedrin returns, Lady Saksia asks, "How is it safe to destroy the things in that trunk? If, for example, we incinerated it, would I infect my entire town?"

"I can't tell you that, Lady."

"Then we will seal it. We will seal it, seal the chest in lead, and place it... I guess in the dungeons. I never have prisoners to put down there anyway. I'm not sure why my grandmother built the dungeons at all."

"May we take the prisoners?"

"Oh, by all means. In his case, it's particularly wise that you do, because since he returned, after being exiled, I would be forced to execute him, and I'd rather not. His mother was a good one."

"Well, we need to bring him back so he could stand trial for murder, and if he's convicted he'll hang by the neck until dead."

"Then it will be on the heads of your Empire, not on my conscience. He didn't actually kill anyone here." [Presumably, this means that the guards who were hit by the fireball survived?]

"Do you know why the old villages were abandoned? Were they destroyed? The locals seem to fear them."

"They were destroyed, and the new locals are refugees from disaster. They're very superstitious. I've had to be very careful not to trigger them against my people. They do not have much copper, but they have things to borrow, and that can be a value as well. One woman in particular would come here also who seems to have a certain authority. I do not know her name. She is one of the newcomers, and their villages are making some attempt to put a small military together. I do not know if they will succeed. They're too close to the mountain. They call themselves something ludicrous like Astromolfu."

"That's quite a mouthful. May be where we're heading next."

"Yes, they've been attacked twice. They have put together good defenses militarily. I do not know why they do not simply move. If they were willing to use the old villages, Ulfonwe is fortified. But I cannot say for certain they don't have a reason for their fear. Some of the old villages were destroyed by attacks, but most were destroyed after those odd creatures came with the incense. I believe they were using magic."

"Rat people?"

"Yes. It killed in hours. But then, when they approached us, we threw them back by force, and they disappeared back to the south. The gnolls did not care for them either. I was much younger at the time and could not follow them; my children were not yet in positions with authority. Anyway, if you wish to speak with the prisoner's father while you are here, I will have a pavilion and food brought. If you do not, and you are taking them from my hands, I will accompany the chest and make sure it is sealed away. I do not dare do something that could damage my own folk. I will see what research can yield on it."

"Do you wish to keep the spell books?"

"No, certainly not that." She points at the necromancy tome. "I do not recommend any caster keep that. Such arts are forbidden in my grandmother's nation."

They decide they are done here and bring the prisoners back to the knight.
[End Session 4]

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