Company of Chaos - All Around Golarion

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
The following solo is an adaption of Pathfinder Society Scenario #18 from season 3. It originally plays in/under the PF lodge in Sothis in Osirion. It fits much better where Teltz is right now, and he needs to be occupied while the party is split.

The Trouble with Secrets



Linnie stood in front of a set of stairs leading down into the inn's basement. For a moment after they had arrived, Teltz had really thought she wanted him to oust some rats or other vermin. A task he would have been, ironically, well prepared for. But now it seemed matters were more serious.

"So, I did talk to the city officials," Linnie just explained. "They came and had a look, found nothing and left again, insisting my uncle must have run off with one of his many concubines. But in all his infidelity, my aunt and me are sure he did not. He is much to dependent on all the luxury my aunt can offer him. She would not kick him out because he is so good at predicting the best business deals for her. So really, no reason for him to leave. And the last I saw of him was him going down there. I never saw him come back out."

Teltz nodded. "And you have found something now?"

"Yes, there is a hidden door in the basement that recently has been opened." The girl lifted her lantern and led the way down. In the large wine cellar of the inn, one empty shelf where wine had been stored had been removed, and the wall now bare showed a simple iron door painted in the colors of the wall. In a barely discernible writing "jail" was written across in what might have been a yellow color once. It was easy to see that it had recently been opened.

"So you want me to investigate?" Teltz made sure. "Your family is fine with that? They do not want the guard involved anymore, or hire a group of armed men to be sure?"

"The guards won't come back, not right now, all the chaos about the Razmiran business is still high. My dad is in the council and has no ear for anything about his missing brother in law. My aunt is out for business for a while. I think she has given up worrying about uncle Fendel."

"I see. Has there ever been a mention about the basement extending under the street?" The bard moved a hand across the door. It felt ancient to his inborn time sense.

"There were some rumors about secret tunnels, interconnected halls from several buildings and all that, but never something definite." Linnie shrugged apologetically. "I was interested in that as a child, of course, but never really read up on it to find out if any of it was true."

"Of course." Having found the hidden opening mechanism at the right edge of the door, Teltz let his mind go over his equipment again. After he saw that his friends – silly thing to do – had left a lot of the magical stuff they had found behind when they set out, he did what every experienced traveler and adventurer would do. He packed it all. At his belt was a large pouch for spell components, sunrods, magic items and potions, the alchemist's fire Cajun had left behind and the occasional scroll he still had. He had his dagger and rapier at his side but had left his bow at his room. And because his busy past had taught him to be prepared, he had brought food and water, too. He did not expect to be long on locating someone missing in some vaults or tunnels, as his uncanny sense of direction had never failed him before. But a lot of things could happen – cave ins, monsters (they were everywhere in those troubled times) or even criminals. "I have everything I need," he concluded. "Keep the door closed until I knock in the pattern of a red wing's song. You know that one, right?"

Linnie nodded. Those birds were all over the place, especially now that it got cold, trying to get crumbs from the city dwellers. "If there is any danger, come back please. With your word we can get the guards to come back and help."

"Sure thing," Teltz agreed. He smiled and opened the door, finding it difficult to open. It made some screeching sounds and eventually, he could slip through. As the girl closed the door behind him, the bard quickly lit a sunrod and checked out his surroundings.

This room had obviously not been used for years. Battered chairs and tables dotted the chamber, the upholstery having rotted long ago. A set of closed double doors stood on the east side of the chamber, the words “Hall of Recognition” carved into the stone above the door. To the north were two closed doors, to the south a single closed door. The dust on the floor was the only indication of activity in the room, having been recently kicked up by someone or something. Several sets of foot prints could clearly be seen coming and going from the Hall of Recognition. Nothing had moved to or from the other rooms. Teltz decided to ignore the unused room and went towards the double doors when he stumbled over something on the floor.

The sunrod illuminated a binder with notes. The bard picked it up and found it to be a on an experiment. In the dim light, the notes were almost impossible to read and Teltz wished scientists would be required to have a neater handwriting. The notes were not all in the same writing though, some looked perfectly readable and female, referring to substances used on a test object and cultures of flesh subjected to poisons and molds and other things. It did not seem to make much sense. All Teltz could imagine was that these halls had been some sort of lab before and Fendel had found the notes and gone investigating on his own. The research notes dated back 60 years, that much he could make out.

The doors to the next room were party open, and so Teltz carefully peaked around to see if anything was moving. Like a giant spider, or centipede, or, what would not surprise him either, the animated remains of the girl's uncle. But there was nothing like that.

This large chamber was adorned with ornamental tracery carved into the walls and ceiling. Large bas-reliefs, each ranging from eight to twelve feet tall, adorned the long walls, four bas-reliefs on each side. These bas-reliefs depicted various figures: four humans, a dwarf, two elves, and a halfling.
Each was rendered in beautiful detail, showing their armor, weapons, and faces in stark relief. Six statues stoond scattered about the room. They depict humans, an elf, a gnome, and a dwarf, each statue bearing even more detail than the bas reliefs, depicting even the specific lines of body form and
facial features.

Coming inside, Teltz held the sunrod up high to see more. It seemed the bras reliefs were actually statues set in the walls. This seemed strange and rang an alarm bell. To the bard, this screamed 'constructs trying to crush you once triggered." The question was, what was the trigger? Could not be coming inside or passing through, as in that case, he would have found the remains of uncle Fendel in this room. He thought his best bet was to move carefully and not touch any of the statues.

The door at the end of the hall was also party open, and Teltz made it to there with no problem, although he felt stared at. The eyes of the statues did not seem to move when he looked but it was still a creepy feeling. A part of him just wanted to turn around and leave. He was sure to be very quiet, lest a sound activated those things.

The next room showed signs of horrible deeds performed both in the past and recently. A sturdy, wooden table outfitted with manacles and leather body-straps sat in the middle of the room, stained with old blood and bile. Rusty surgical implements and bones littered the floor. Three solid, metal doors stood on the north wall, each slightly ajar. A fresh, eviscerated corpse of a middle aged man was lying near the southeast corner of the room.

That had to be uncle Fendel, Teltz knew. His niece would not be too happy to hear what she had already feared was true, however, that was the bard's least worry right now. Something dangerous had killed the man, so he would not linger here. As carefully not to make any sound as before, he went closer.

A small, tattered book caught his attention next to the dead and already smelling man. Holding his breath,.Teltz retrieved it. A Pathfinder's diary. One Aygrim Bossel, a name Teltz had never heard. It was also dated back 60 years and ended about 10 years ago. The accounts were written in a much better hand. Skimming through, the bard was surprised to read that the inn above had once been a small Pathfinder lodge. This Bossel trapped several of their researchers down here when what he described as "ancient evil" broke free. After that, the Pathfinder disbanded his lodge and founded the inn to watch over what was down here and make sure it would never get out. It sounded as if the man felt guilty and didn't want to ask for help because of that. But the story was also somewhat disjointed, giving the appearance of someone who was already senile. The last entries were from 10 years ago.

Deciding he could read this later, the bard looked around once more. The doors to the north wall looked more like storage chambers or cells. They were all closed, but the dust was disturbed all over, likely when whatever was in there now had killed the poor man. And considering the lack of remains of the supposed researchers, it could also be reasoned that they had either been completely devoured or transformed into something else. He was not going to take chances with that. Moving as quietly as he could to the left door, he placed a hand on it while reaching for his spell components. He withdrew a small, golden likeness of a key and mumbled the words for the arcane lock to take. He felt the shift under his hand as the door magically locked, only to be opened by him or anyone able to break the spell. He then rushed to the middle door and repeated the process. By the time he had reached the last door, something was stirring inside, as he had not been able to avoid all sound, having had to talk to cast. He repeated the spell once more, and as the golden key figure kept shrinking with each spell, he also felt more and more drained of arcane energy. But he also felt elated, as he thought he had just defeated what someone missed to defeat 60 years ago.

A sound at his back made him turn swiftly. A secret door had opened on the south wall, and he cursed at himself for not having thought to check the area for hidden passages. There had been little time but still...

Two young men with cudgels, sunrods and wicked looking daggers at their side were now coming into the room. They seemed to be part of some gang or the other, but what Teltz noticed most in the now relatively bright light between their sunrods was the vacant look in the eyes of one of them and the confusion evident in the other. Either they were on drugs or influenced by someone. Almost automatically, his hands formed the symbol of magical detection while he spoke the necessary words. Immediately, he saw a sick yellow glow around the targets. They were under a spell, alright, some sort of influence, and from the looks of it probably a domination spell. The bard frowned as they lifted their cudgels and advanced. He now had the feeling he was in above his head with this. Ancient evils and probably dominated gang members... it spelled "vampire" to him all too clearly.

Now Teltz had no intention to hurt anyone who was dominated. The two advancing fighters looked well capable of being able to harm him though, and he would be hard pressed to defend against two cudgels with a rapier he had not used in a while. And from all he knew about vampires, the vampire dominating them had to be close by. Which might or might not be what he locked behind the doors. And he had to make a decision quick.
 

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Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Bjön's Pathfinder Diary

7th of Neth



It has not been easy for me hiding the truth from the captain and crew. Of course they were all sincerely sorry, and went on about how it is a miracle that even one of us was back, and how it was a blessing that the cultists were all gone for good. I kept to myself for fear of letting something slip, and as the crew took my demeanor for the mourning of friends, they left me mostly alone.

The way back to the shore is as tricky as the crew had feared. The early winter weather will force us to come close to the shore much earlier than I had hoped. My plan, with which the captain originally agreed, was to make to the west and then come to the shore just inside Molthune waters. The crew has no qualms with that country, as they often trade there, too. Now, the plan is to get to the coastal waters within Druma, right at the peak of the peninsula peaking into the Lake. This is not at all good. It is where the others plan to reach coastal waters as well, following the coast even more closely than we plan to and then go south towards Detmer.

I pray to Desna that we do not accidentally come across their boat. It is not possible to hide a kobold doing most of the sailing, and the crew would recognize Kronk immediately. But maybe my main worry should be that they make it to the shore at all.





Teltz ducked under yet another swing and was very grateful for the wand of mage armor he had managed to use just before the fight had begun. If not for that, he would have probably already been incapacitated. Looking back, he should have probably just used one of the other, more offensive wand, but to hurt someone who was not free in their will was not something he managed easily. Foolish, considering what might be at stake if he died.

His rapier landed a hit and cut a deep gash in one of the foe's tighs.Both of the fighters had some gashes already, but none of them were deep and unfortunately, not of them really bled enough to cause them to become weaker.

The bard's backside stung from a kick of those nail studded boots of theirs and for a moment, he considered his life long bad luck with this part of his body. He stopped himself and tried to focus once more. No, he would not start with memories right now, lest his whole life would just run by and he would be dead.

Once more the bard tried to avoid a blow, letting himself fall backward. He could feel the swoosh of air where the cudgel had barely missed his left shoulder. He lost his grip on the rapier, and the weapon clattered to the ground, landing next to his discarded sunrod. All light sources were strewn over the room, and the impression of the two attackers being illuminated from the ground was an eerie one.

With a course, Teltz rolled over. His backside ached even more after the fall, and something had pressed itself hard against one of his back pockets. Instinctively, he reached behind to remove the offending item, barely aware that this might be the last thing to do in his life. He retrieved a small vial with something liquid. For the briefest moment he stared at it, trying to remember how it got there. Then he remembered.

A hurled dagger tore a gash in his shirt, surprisingly missing his arm. Teltz quickly did something he would normally never do, throwing his only remaining weapon at the attacker who had just barely missed him. He missed as well, but the others stopped for a moment. Just when they wanted to move again, he aimed again and threw again. His foes stared in confusion; no doubt they were well aware of how many weapons he had had. When something shattered at their feet, they seemed to be even more confused, which was just what Teltz had hoped for.

To confuse them even more because he needed to win another moment, he asked the most silly thing he could think of. "May I please have my dagger back?"

One only grunted, the other laughed and shook his head. But as they wanted to advance again, both were unable to move. Teltz jumped for his rapier and the sunrods and couldn't help but grin widely. 'Magical glue,' he thought. 'Gotta love the stuff.' He had to hurry though, lest the two of them figured out they only had to get out of their boots to free themselves.

A growl from the secret door made him freeze for a moment. Two large hyenas definitely not from this world stood there, staring at him with glowing red eyes. Summons, no doubt, which unfortunately meant there was another vampire here, possibly the original who had spawned the others. What was even worse than those summons were the group of archers with short bows showing up behind them, flanking a woman vampire clad in a ridiculously revealing black dress and high heeled shoes. "Sure thing," Teltz muttered. "First thing any woman does when being set free after 60 years is to buy a dress and new footwear."

The vampire hissed, and as much as he could guess, she was about to make some sort of speech, or maybe try to dominate him. As he had little else, Teltz hauled two of the sunrods at the 'ancient evil' as a distraction and grabbed the alchemist's fire, firmly pushing out of his mind any warning about flames in close, and especially closed, quarters while retreating towards the room with the statues. As he felt the door behind him, he saw the hyenas charge. "Sorry, guys," he muttered. Summons or not, it was not their fault they were here. The flask landed between them and burst into flames. He had not aimed as well as he had hoped, so one of the creatures made it through, but Teltz was already out of the room banging the door shut. The vampire screeched for her dominated entourage to fire, but the arrows just bounced off the door.

Taking a few steps backwards in haste, Teltz bumped into the statue of the old dwarf standing closest to the door. Immediately, he heard the grind of stone on stone as the statue began to move. "Uh-oh," Teltz groaned. "I have a bad feeling about this."

As he turned and tried to get past the dwarf construct, he heard the door open again. The statue reached out for him as all the others in the room began to move. His mind raced once more. Vampires, constructs, old Pathfinder lodge, Hall of Recognition... so the statues must be of Pathfinders. Pathfinder lodge would mean a Pathfinder could pass, most likely. They would recognize one how? The symbol, maybe. Yes, that was probably it!

Teltz fumbled for the journal he had found with Lennie's uncle. It had the Pathfinder symbol right in front of it. "Pathfinder," he shouted and waved the book right in front of the stone dwarf's face. "I'm the good guy, see? That is the bad one!" He pointed at the vampire now entering the room from under the door in gaseous form and rematerialized.

It worked. First the dwarf, then all the other statues turned to face the new arrival. Teltz didn't linger; he knew enough about vampires to realize she would keep summoning or just follow him as a gas. The sound of battle erupted behind him, but it would take only moments for the evil girl to notice she could not do much about the constructs. As he was almost at the door to the entrance hall, he heard the rough bark of new summons. From the howling, the constructs took care of that problem, at least.

As he limped though the double doors and started to close them, he saw his current #1of women he didn't want to date going gaseous again and groaned. As the doors closed with a screech, he more stumbled then walked to the door to the wine cellar and had trouble remembering the knocking sequence. He had lost the sunrod just inside the Hall of recognition, but he could see the slip of light shining out from under the door, so the blood sucking chick would be there any moment.

As the door was opened, he basically fell into the cellar, knocking the innkeeper's daughter over and into the room. "Close," he gasped. "Quick."

"Why? What's wrong?" The girl, who had taken the time to sort through the wine, was beginning to panic because Teltz himself was panicking. She took long to get up and off him.

"Don't ask! Close the...."

But it was too late. Materializing within the opening was the form of the eerily beautiful but cruel looking creature who would want their blood in a moment.Her fangs blinked in the dimming light of the lantern the girl had brought. "You cannot escape me," she hissed. The girl fainted.

"You know," Teltz said while getting up and catching his breath, " you really need to work on your opening lines. That was so cliche."

Indignation flashed over the woman's face. "It worked on her," she said drily. "And I will work on you now."

Teltz' mind was tired of trying to think of new possibilities. His pouch was half torn off, and he was not sure if he could find the fire producing wand in his cloak even if he would have the time to try. Walking backwards again, he stumbled against one of the shelves. "Are you at least going to tell me your name? You do have a name, no? Not just a number, like, spawn 104 or something?"

She didn't even acknowledge his attempt at confusing her. "I am Taylin Harkus," she said and came closer. "The name will be nothing to you but if you really need to know, I can spend a little courtesy."

"Wine?" Teltz said, grabbing one of the bottles and holding it out towards her. "Almost like blood and a lot more romantic."

For a moment, she frowned. "You are somewhat funny, maybe I'll turn you into a spawn as well." Another step closer, she now opened her fangs and made ready to bite. One of her slender hands reached out for his face. Teltz, still holding out the wine bottle, had no way to recoil any further. Maybe he should ask for a last gulp from the bottle...

Then he read it. 'Blessed Wine Church of Iomedae, Harvest Festival.' His eyes went wide. Harkus mistook that as a sign of fear. Only when the bottle landed with full force on her head did she notice the smile or triumph in the bard's face. Her hand dropped from his face as the wine ran down on her, hissing and burning. She stared at the drops landing on her hands, not comprehending what was going on. Teltz grabbed another bottle which turned out to be the same label and repeated the process. When he reached behind himself for the 3rd time, an unworldly screech came out of the undead's mouth. She was not down yet, of course, and reached for him once more. Teltz ducked to the side and out of her grasp, looking for what he knew every wine cellar should have. He found several of the handy items.

To open a barrel, each cellar of an inn (and usually the tap room, too) held small wooden hammers and small wooden stakes. Teltz quickly grabbed one of each and then allowed her to get a hold on him again. When she tried to find him through her melting facial features, he put the hammer and stake to work. "It seems I got right to your heart, after all," he shouted as he drove the wood home.

The body of the undead went rigid, and then she dropped with a loud thud. Teltz' hand went to his rapier, but he had lost it somewhere. Knowing the domination over the others back in there must now be broken, he took went back to the anteroom to retrieve his weapon. No one seemed to follow him anymore, although there was still the sound of walking constructs.

A rapier, as he found out, was a bad weapon to decapitate a vampire. Or anyone, probably. He had to resort to stepping on the torso and tearing at the half melted head to get the job done finally. Just has he held the head in his right hand by the equally half gone hair,. The girl woke up again, looked at the scene and fainted again. "Just my luck," he muttered as he emptied another bottle of holy wine over the woman's head. He was not so sure his former actions would count towards permanently removing the evil from this world. "I know one thing for sure, I won't have a blind date with any ancient evil anymore if I can avoid it." But he would have to send someone for the remaining vampires in their cells.

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

This scenario is quite different in the original, not only because of the changed location. There were so many logical oversights in it I wonder it was published at all.

Originally, there were supposed to be dominated street fighters in the rooms north and south to the entrance hall - while there were no trails going there, nor was there any explanation how anyone, the uncle included, could have passed the hall with the constructs if they would attack anyone trying to move past. It might have made sense with the pathfinder symbol as excuse if only for the uncle, but not with the fighters. The player came up with the idea that it must be the symbol so of course I went with that idea as it was creative.

There were other rooms behind the secret door leading to an abandoned prison of the city guard. Why a vampire would store so many guard all over her secret hideout (especially on the side she could not seriously expect an attack from) and thus risking someone breaking the dominate and discovering her is beyond me as well.

But the way it turned out was just fun, at the time of him sending the statues against her and then with the holy wine - which I placed there mainly to rescue the PC (and to hint at opening another bottle for the game) - everyone was laughing hysterically. The others, who were also playing at the other side of the table, were so fascinated by the situation they didn't get far until Teltz was done.
 

Azkorra

Explorer
Have you seen that this scenario was actually retired from Pathfinder Society play by Paizo? And the reviews over there at Paizo also tend to match your personal impression.

However, your version of it really read like fun. Good stuff!
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Ah, no I hadn't checked which scenarios were the retired ones. Makes sense now why some of them get retired.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Master of the Fallen Fortress (changed locations, not otherwise adapted - except by the party)



"C-can it be fixed?" Staring at the damaged boat, Mook was the first to ask the question which was in everyone's mind. Their not so seaworthy boat had made it to the shore, but not undamaged. They had had to hide behind some rocks to wait for the passing of the paladin's vessel, and a wave from the tricky waters had smashed them against the stone. They had barely managed to make to to shore, and it took a while to drag the heavy thing onto ground and survey the damage. Only now the water had all drained out of the two fist sized holed at backboard.

Zaza was the only one not paying attention; the few minutes it had taken to reach safety had felt like ages to her, and she was more sea sick than ever, even after at least half an hour on solid ground. She was not even looking at the sea, instead sitting on a stranded log a few steps away, staring inland.

"I'm not sure," Cajun replied. "We had boats with more damage at Kassen every now and then but they were a bit smaller and easier to handle, and there were experienced people to do the main work. I had only to make the iron bands holding it all together, and luckily, those are not damaged here. If they were, I would not be able to replace them."

"If we had all the tools, it could be fixed," Kronk said after careful inspection. "But aside of a view multi-use tools from Cajun, we have no carpenter's tools. And I already searched the boat, nothing there either."

"Isn't there something alchemical you can do to close the holes, at least until we reach the next port?" Brenn-Krell asked. The man was fully healed now, and the end of his strange double existence would come about in a few hours, by Kronk's calculation.

"No glue I can create could close this, and I would not have any materials at hand to make it anyway," Cajun sighed.

"Just g-great, and there is m-more storm c-coming. We can't b-be in the b-boat for sh-shelter, it m-may wash out t-to the s-sea again," Mook stuttered, getting angrier by the minute. She had changed somewhat after her encounter with the dragon skeleton, but even she could not pout a finger on what exactly was different. Just one thing was clear, she was not shy about her stutter anymore.

"If it does, we are not worse off than now," Cajun said. "Unless we find a way to fix this, we are really in trouble. We have neither the provisions nor the time nor the stamina to walk all the way to the next city. And no one knows if there are any other towns or villages nearby. We have no map of the area, even." He had checked that early on them leaving the island. The only map was of the shoreline and major city placements.

For all his former attempts at taking the lead, Brenn-Krell was, at least in his current state, not much of a leader. They were all missing Bjön, however insecure the paladin might have been at times, and they were missing Teltz even more. It was as if everyone was expecting someone else to take the initiative.

"Where are w-we, anyway?" Mook wondered. "N-not too f-far into the r-river, I think."

"Just behind the eastern point of the peninsular," Kronk confirmed. "And while I came down the Profit's Flow – that is their weird name for this river - hidden on a barge, I only got to Detmer before taking off and going by land. So I know of no settlements, or even roads, around here."

"How is Detmer like?" Hest wanted to know.

The monk snorted. "Large shipyards for their fleets, lots of suspicion towards strangers.The people of this region are weird, they value trade above all else and wouldn't have let me in all by myself. So I had to be a stowaway. Their security is good, and a few times I was almost discovered. Somewhat human centric, too, as as far as I could glean, their strange prophecies are only meant to favor humans."

Before anyone could ask any more questions, Zaza spoke up for the first time in hours. "That's nice to know and all, but maybe we should care for the immediate problems first. Like, finding shelter from the storm. Getting wet in this time of year is not good."

"She has a p-point," Mook agreed. "Do we have all our stuff?"

Cajun went over the bundles and backpacks again and nodded. "Maybe we can salvage parts of the boat to build a shelter."

"There is a large building over the crest of the hill there," Zaza said, pointing towards where she had been looking inland. "Looks like a ruin from here, but there will be enough left to shelter us from wind and probably from rain – or snow," she added, looking wearily at the clouds. She knew enough about weather to see the signs of winter approaching very fast.

"Right, then, let's go," Cajun said, looking at the others for agreement. Everyone else nodded, so they began to make their way up the hill. Mook was on her wolf again, and Samin's hawk was scouting the area from above.

They made down the other side of the hill and now saw that the ruins once had been an old border keep, or maybe a siege fort of sorts. It must have been in ruins for quite some time. No doors or windows marred the otherwise smooth expanse of the tower’s walls. The tower was clover shaped in plan; its eastern wing had largely collapsed, exposing the interior floors to the open air. Only the topmost level seemed whole, though its eastern portion hung precariously over the mountain of rubble left by the collapse. At ground level, the rubble framed a gaping hole in the side of the building that provided access to the tower’s darkened interior. The tower was about 80 feet tall, by Cajun's estimation, and the walls were surprisingly smooth.

As the group entered, it became obvious that the collapse of the eastern wing had caved in much of the tower's first level, too. The south wing was totally filled with rubble, which left only the northern wing, and a small part of the west one, accessible. The west win's staircase was blocked by rubble, but without the need for it, no one wanted to climb up into a potentially dangerous situation anyway. The northern wing of the tower seemed to have escaped the worst effects of the collapse, but rubble still littered the floor and everything was covered in a thick layer of stone dust. Thick cobwebs cloaked the ceiling and hung down the walls like gossamer tapestries. A single archway stood open in the southwest wall.

"Well, it is not much," Edawon concluded. "But it is out of rain and wind, and we can make a fire."

"I d-don't think so," Mook quietly said and pointed upwards to the north wing roof, stopping the halfling from entering. A thick web, partly covered by dust, could be seen in a corner to their left. A giant spider was peeking its head out of a nest in the middle of it.

"Just great," Samin groaned. "I hate spiders."

"J-just b-back out," Mook advised. "If we d-don't come to c-close, it will n-not attack."

"So back out into the brewing storm?" Samin asked, almost as disgusted about that idea.

"Up a level," Cajun said drily. "You can fly up, and you will have a flying spell left for anyone who might not be able to climb up on the rope you'll take with you. Spider won't be up there, and they neither." He pointed in a by-the-way manner to the outside, where Dadawin was growling at a bunch of wild dogs who might have thought they could grab one of the party as prey. Wilbur was circling over them, swiping down on them every now and then. The dogs looked hungry, but Dadawin was at full strength so they did not dare to take it up against a large wolf and a hawk.

"The p-poor things, I wish we could f-feed them," Mook mumbled.

"That bears the question – how do we get Dadawin up there?" Zaza wondered. "Remember the last time we tried to lift him up a tree?"

"Erk," Cajun made and rubbed his arm, where the scar caused by a panicked wolf was still evident.

"I dare say he and Wilbur will do fine on their own as long as they avoid the spider," Samin thought. "If we hear they are in trouble we can come to their aid."

No one argued with that, so Samin took a rope and, as Cajun called it, "spelled himself up there." The crumbling remains of the upper room had plenty of opportunity to fasten a rope, as Samin's strength would not have been enough to lift anyone but maybe Zaza up. He threw a worried look at the two doors, one to the northwest and one to the southwest, but both were closed and no dark monster came out of them. Samin called himself an idiot for his worries. After all they had seen recently, he should really not be such a coward. But after seeing the spider, he could not help it.

Zaza and Mook came up one after the other, then Edawon and the sorcerer. Then they waited for Cajun to fasten their extra sacks of stuff from the island to the rope and brought it up. Cajun climbed up last, he could have probably done so without the rope seeing how he had been rock climbing since he was a small half-orcling.

The ledge that had formed up here was not out of the wind enough even if you moved a little back, so after a moment of discussion, they decided to see if there was a better place for the night behind one of those doors. They decided on the northwest one, which opened with difficulty – the wooden doors had become stuck due to the weather conditions and age. This room was mostly empty. Judging from the shelves lining the walls, this darkened room might once have been a storeroom, though its contents had long since succumbed to the passage of time. A crack in the northern wall had apparently let in some rainwater, which had collected in large puddles on the floor.

"What's that?" Cajun asked all of a sudden, pointing at a lizard making their way towards them. It was a dark blue, lighter at the stomach and glowed with electricity. Strangely enough, it didn't behave like a wild animal, but stopped close to them, banging its tail on the floor. An electric shock involuntarily went off and hit all of them but Brenn-Krell and Mook, who were still standing at the opening looking at the wolf taking up a guard position outside.

Some screams of pain and annoyance later, Zaza threw a bit of dried meat out to the creature, who eagerly devoured it. "Hey, don't feed it," Cajun complained. "It will just follow you around and shock us all over again!"

"It looks tame," Zaza mused, ignoring her brother, feeding the animal another bite.

"Yeah, and that's strange. Either someone has gotten rid of it, or its master is nearby," Edawon said, his face darkening.

"Who keeps shocker lizards as pets?" Zaza wondered. "Some sort of mage working with lightning?"

"Maybe we should ask if someone is home and ask for permission to stay," Cajun suggested.

"Not like this place looks maintained – at all," Brenn-Krell snorted.

The lizard, noticing there was no more food to be had, wandered off harmlessly while his energy recharged. "Maybe check out the other room instead?" Edawon suggested.

"Or we follow the pet to its master. It looks way too confident not to have one," Kronk said. When everyone looked at him he shrugged. "What? It is not like we would run into a large group of evil folks. I mean, if there would be a lot of people here, they would have taken notice of us by now."

"Yeah well, not so sure about that," Cajun said, scratching the meager beard he had grown over the last few days. "But as Bjön would say, if something evil is brewing, we ought to check it out anyway."

"Who are, we, the moral police?" Zaza questioned. "We are to meet the others in that place upriver, whatever it was called. Not to play at being heroes when I don't think we really are. We were just lucky! If we bother with too much crap on the road we'll just be late!" Folding her arms, she tried to stare her older brother down.

While this had been successful in the future, it was not now. "From what I gather, Bjön can't even be back in Tamran yet. Before he gets Samin's da and makes for that city down south, we will probably be half way there. We have a time advantage. And would you really want us to walk on and not know what is in our backs?"

"L-let's check it out," Mook said calmly. "I c-can f-feel something is here t-that n-needs our attention. It may b-be evil, but I c-can also feel lost s-souls in n-need of g-guidance."

"What?" Zaza stared at Mook. "You have changed, haven't you? What's going on with you?"

"I have n-no idea," Mook replied calmly. "B-but we can think of it a-after we d-dealt with this."

"Cajun is right." Brenn-Krell was slightly shivering, according to Kronk's earlier tales of transformations like this one, it was a sign of the impending end of the change. The group noticed Kronk looking thoughtfully at the fetchling. Mook remembered the monk had tried, several times, to mention some side effects with the transformation, especially that it was not well tested on non-kobolds. But anytime he had tried he had been interrupted by someone or something, the last time by the leak in their boat.

"Anyone else agreeing with my fool headed oaf of a brother?" Zaza growled. The silence that followed, and everyone looking at her with serious eyes told her she was the only one who would prefer to just not know, try to spend the night and then carry on. With a sigh, she turned towards the other door out of this puddle filled and not very comfortable room. "Well, then, let's try and get ourselves killed."

There seemed to be nothing wrong with the door to the next room, so Cajun pulled at it with all his power. To his surprise, it opened easily and he almost landed on his behind before he regained his balance. A terrible stench, like a mix of carrion, rotten eggs and spoiled fish all thrown in the sewer drifted from what must have been an armory once. Racks for weapons lined the walls of this chamber; above the racks hung various shields, pieces of armor, weapons, and standards on display. Most of the racks were empty, but a few weapons remained in place. They were rusty and largely unusable, of course. Zaza started vomiting at the stench, the others barely kept their food in.

Two immature looking reptile-like humanoids jumped to their feet, waking up from sleeping on their watch by the looks of it. Picking up two javelins, they made to attack. "Are those... troglodytes?" Samin gasped. He had read about them and their unbearable stench, but never thought to encounter any, especially not so far off the open sea. Without thinking about it, he moved his right hand into his belt pouch and withdrew a small clay model of a building the others could not recognize and mumbled a spell barely audible. Then he addressed the attacking younglings while Brenn-Krell and Cajun easily moved out of the way of their clumsy attack. The half-orc was carrying too much baggage to draw his weapon in time, but the fetchling had out his new short sword in no time. "Why are you attacking us? We mean you no harm."

Both attackers stopped and stared wide eyed at the three-quarter-elf, who had to fight with his stomach all the time, trying not to let any disgust show on his face. Likely, none of the troglodytes had ever heard their language coming from a member of another race. Additionally, Samin thought he might still sound funny to them.

The others but Zaza, who was still retching, stared at Samin and then at their foes. Cajun and Mook knew, of course, that Samin was able to speak any language as long as he had access to arcane energy, but this was the first time they had heard him speak anything really weird. He had used the spell for orcish before, and for gnome, and the occasional strange traders coming through, but this was something different.

"You understand us!" one of the younglings gaped.

"Great, so now that we both agree on the obvious, would you maybe tell me why you were attacking us?" Samin, once more, felt kind of besides himself, listening to himself talk in some self assured manner, seemingly ignoring an obvious threat. And, at the same time, he felt a strange power in him and he just knew he could deal with this.

"N-need to d-do something about that a-awful smell!" Mook exclaimed. Before she could think of anything specific, the air suddenly filled with the scent of roses and violets, with a hint of cinnamon and vanilla. Her mind dissected the scents – some of her favorites- and only then was she wondering where it came from. She looked at Samin, who had not noticed anything or so it seemed. But everyone else including Zaza and the two troglodytes now stared at her. From the faces of the reptiles, it seemed they hated that scent as much as the party hated theirs.

"What did you do?" Zaza asked, baffled.

"Me? W-why me?" Mook replied, utterly confused.

"Because," Cajun said, "it emanates from you."

"Why w-would it?" Mook started again, but Samin made a wave with his left arm and then pointed at the younglings. "What do you protect here?" he asked, clearly demanding an answer but trying to display a non-aggressive stance.

"They have magics," one of them whispered to the other. "Dangerous."

"Yes, we can be dangerous when attacked. Now, what were you supposed to be standing guard for?"

"I don't like what he is doing." Cajun stared at the back of his best friend as if he didn't know him at all. "Anytime we encounter someone hostile, he just talks to them and it is fine. Remember the crypt? And the lizards on the island?"

Zaza could hear true worry in her brother's voice. "It is not like he has never surprised us with the changing power of his arcane uniqueness before," she said.

Cajun grunted at that. "I don't like what Mook is doing either," he added with a nod of his head towards the oracle. "Both of them are changing and they do not know what is up, which means they cannot control it, which in turn makes it dangerous in my eyes."

Zaza tried to stare her brother down again. "You are talking about our best friends here!"

"Exactly. To help them, we need to know what's going on, and maybe we are better at finding out what it is than them." The alchemist looked determined not to let this go.

"Once we are back with Teltz, he'll sort it out," Zaza shrugged and tried to ignore Cajun's worries. Teltz had always sorted anything out Kassen's local spell casters could not deal with. Sure all this was just the stress of the last weeks adding up. But a bit of doubt remained.

Samin seemed to have come to an agreement with the younglings. He was just introducing the kobold, who was held in relatively high regard by the troglodytes, as it seemed. It made some sense; even with the kobold being a lot smaller, they were both reptile like.

One by one, the others were introduced to Hark and Pilder, so the names of the younglings. "They'll take us to their leader," Samin explained. "They seem not to know very much, except that they want a new age for their race."

Cajun rolled his eyes when no one but Zaza and Edawon could see it. "Yeah," he whispered as everyone made for the staircase in the middle of the tower, which was not blocked up here. "And I have a feeling making a name for themselves has to do with dark rituals and other evil deeds to conquer the world. Isn't it always like that?"

Edawon shrugged. "I can't really say, and I have seen a bit more of the world than you have." Zaza chuckled.

Cajun decided it was time to keep his mouth shut before he would put another foot in.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Bad cold related joint pains, so super slow typing for me.

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


Climbing up the staircase, Cajun threw worried glances at Mook. He wondered if it was only him noticing that the oracle seemed to have trouble moving, every now and then holding her lower back. The alchemist tried to recall if she had fallen or otherwise could have hurt herself, but there was no memory of any such event. Cajun's remaining attention was on their troglodyte... guides? Captives? He was not sure, other than that he would not trust them.

At the next landing the two younglings Hark and... Pilfer? Pilgrim? Cajun sighed inwardly, feeling very confused right now. Anyway, the two of them stopped and talked nervously to Samin, who relayed that they should not stop here because the "violent lieutenant" was living here. The young troglodytes seemed truly terrified about it, and so the party moved up to the next floor with them.

All except Cajun. He was not sure what made him stay behind, maybe the need to make sure nothing fell into their backs. Grabbing his hammer and feeling for a flask of alchemist's fire, he made for the door to the room the door off the landing led to. He paused for a moment, straining to listen, but the thick door made it all but impossible to hear what was going on. He thought he heard some snoring, but he could not be sure.

There was no way to push the distorted door open silently, so he bashed it right in. Stumbling forward, he noticed a room with old beds partly filled up with leaves and straw and the odd half rotten mattress. From 3 of the beds, sleepy reptilian eyes stared at him in disbelief. The stink was nauseating here, too, but Cajun managed to push it out of his mind, if barely so. Seeing the troglodytes, who tried to wake up with all the slowness of a reptilian body in cold weather, were no real threat at the moment, he switched the alchemist's fire he was still holding in his belt pouch for something less deadly but equally effective.

'Sleep bomb' his master at Kassen had called this specific potion, made of the extracts of herbs and spiced with the sort of alchemical agents causing a cloud of gas to form. He had been warned that it would spread quick, so he would have to duck out of the room immediately. But it was also an advantage as it meant the cloud would dissipate quickly. Not the strongest of alchemical gadgets, to be sure, but now he was happy he had thought to bring the gifts of his former master on their journey instead of some of the other things.

It worked right as planned. Cajun decided he did not care much for the bitter taste when he could not escape the forming cloud of his assault entirely, but he felt only slightly dizzy and that was over in a moment or two. He was just about to bind his captives, when he heard his sister's voice behind him. "What are you doing? The others are up to find their leader."

"Yeah and I'm down here dealing with what Hulk and Pilfer were afraid of. What are you doing here?" the half-orc countered.

"Looking for you." Zaza chuckled at Cajun messing up the names of the troglodytes, then went to help him bind them up. "I noticed you were missing, and then saw you throwing something in here. If you think it is necessary to check this landing out, you are probably right."

Cajun grunted agreement. Nice to see his sister, at least, show some sense. "Ready your crossbow, sis. I'm going to find this Taruk."

"Tulok," she automatically corrected him and did as he asked. "Just don't stand in my line of fire."

"Don't intend to!" Without checking if the adjacent door to the next room was locked, he bashed it in with his shoulder, once more struggling for balance. But he had picked the wrong door. This one was full of puddles as cracks in the walls and ceiling of this chamber had allowed rainwater to collect here, flooding the room and giving rise to a profusion of mold and fungus along the walls and ceiling. The only inhabitant was a giant frog, who jumped right up to attack Cajun. Why the stupid thing thought the half-orc looked like food was a mystery, but it seemed hungry enough to not be afraid.

A crossbow bolt hit the frog square between the eyes and dropped it immediately. A surprised and happy "yay" sounded from behind the alchemist. Cajun lowered his hammer and grinned at his sister. "Nice shot there."

"Thanks. Hey, did you see that?" Zaza waded through the ankle deep water towards a molded and broken table. A moment later she retrieved a small statue that looked like it was jade. "Trust you to find valuable stuff in the weirdest places," Cajun chuckled.

They went back to the troglodyte barracks, somewhat elated at their find and easy success towards the giant frog.



Up the stairs, their absence had not been noted yet. The remaining party emerged on the 5th floor. The four wings of the tower were completely open on this level, forming one great, cross-shaped chamber with arched ceilings. The decayed remnants of a carpet ran from the doorways at the end of each wing, meeting in the center, where the spiral staircase dropped out of sight below. A large, throne-like chair stood in the middle of the eastern wing next to a big chest. The light was dim as the daylight shining in through the archways was obscured by the clouds of the storm that was now beginning.

A lizard figure looking somewhat defeated, or, as much as anyone could read reptile body language, struck by a loss, stood at the eastern archway, looking out into the distance. A very small albino crocodile was next to the troglodyte, making a hissing sound and thus alerting the leader to the party's presence.

Hark and Pilder started to talk very fast to their boss. They were talking over each other, and it was obvious the leader – who looked like a shaman or druid with his tall scimitar made out of some sort of bone – didn't understand a word. A few hisses from him later, one of the younglings started all over again, pointing hastily to Samin, Brenn-Krell and Kronk in the process while ignoring the others.

"Great, now we are 'everyone else' " Edawon joked.

"I c-can live w-with that," Mook anounced.

Brenn-Krell suddenly started coughing. A moment later, more shivers like before went over his body. His transformation back to his true self was beginning. "Bad timing," he gasped.

"Worse than you might think," Kronk whispered before turning his attention back to the troglodytes.

Just then Mook noticed the siblings missing and was about to mention it, when the troglodyte leader started speaking while coming closer with his pet. He seemed tense, but not openly aggressive. "his name is Tasskar," Samin translated. "And he claims this tower for himself. He says we should surrender as his slaves."

"Yeah, a-as if," Mook mumbled. As she said that, the room filled with the same scent from downstairs, pushing back the troglodyte smell. Tasskar's head swirled around and he stared at Mook, hissing something that sounded angry.

Samin replied, calming Tasskar down a bit. Edawon wondered how long the tongues spell would hold, and if Samin could do it again. Without a way to talk to these creatures, there would certainly be violence. It was a wonder Samin was so good at negotiations, but Edawon had not known the young man long enough to really wonder about it.

"C-cajun and Zaza are g-gone," Mook whispered. "I g-guess they were curious about t-the other l-level."

"Despite the warning from those two?" The halfling frowned. "But now that I think about it, we should have checked out that level first."

"Y-yeah. W-want to g-go look for them?"

"I will. You stay here, he has noticed you and whatever you did with the air seemed to have at least impressed him." With that, Edawon slid back towards the stairway and down, leaving Mook to wonder why everyone was blaming her for some scent in the air.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Edawon basically flew down the somewhat slippery stairs, surefooted as most of the time. His right hand was already holding on to the crossbow by the time he arrived at the landing one level down. The remnant of a bitter scent was hanging over the area. He recognized sleep wort and calm bark as the main ingredients of whatever Cajun must have thrown at the snoring troglodytes in their makeshift barracks. The door to the left was ajar, and the sound of fighting could be heard, including a curse from Zaza. Peeking through, he could see Cajun engaged in battle with a young but tall and strong troglodyte, while Zaza was trying to get another shot in. An arrow was sticking out of the left shoulder of their foe, but it didn't look like she had done any real damage. The troglodyte was making a good job out of keeping Cajun between himself and the rogue, making it hard for Zaza not to accidentally hit her brother.

Cajun's hammer blocked the javelin of his opponent. It did not break, however, just vibrated. Cajun attacked again, and the troglodyte simply ducked out under the more clumsy weapon, dancing back a few staps with what looked like a sneer, again using the half-orc as cover.

The stench down here was worse than anywhere else they had been, and Edawon could see that Zaza was about to vomit again. Holding his breath, he entered the room and fanned out to the right. The reptile would have a hard time using Cajun as cover for both of them. A moment later, he managed to get a clear line of fire already and sent a bolt at the back of their enemy.

Until now, the troglodyte had not really noticed him, concentrating fully on avoiding the blows of the now very angry half-orc. Now that a crossbow bolt planted itself into its tail – not quite where the ranger had aimed at – it instinctively swirled around with a loud growl and more nauseating stench. The distraction was all Cajun needed to finally get through the cover and land a crushing blow on the reptile's right shoulder. With a screech, it dropped its weapon.

If they had thought it defeated, they were utterly wrong, though. A howl that was a mix of anger and pain came from the reptile's snout as it hurled itself at Cajun, using claws and teeth to rip into the alchemist, who had no chance to use his hammer so quickly. Both Zaza and Hest sank more bolts into the back of the creature. Cajun went down with a curse. Being pinned down by the weight of his opponent he lost his grip on his weapon. Zaza hurried across the room, drawing her short sword now – one of those they had taken from the island's dead. Before Edawon could decide on any other course of action, it was all over as Zaza jumped on the back of the attacker and sank her sword half into its neck. The troglodyte collapsed. Zaza rolled off it and started to vomit again.

With some difficulty, Cajun shoved the body off of himself. He had scratches in the face, and his leather armor was ripped and torn, but it had protected him well enough. "Ogrepiss," he cursed, what was unusual for the well mannered youth. "And that's what Samin wanted to leave in our back unchecked."

"Thanks for the help," Zaza gasped as she was finally done retching. "I killed it, didn't I?"

"Sure looks like it." Edawon kicked the body and then pulled the sword out of it. "You may want this back."

Zaza nodded and took the sword, which the ranger mostly cleaned on the body of their fallen foe, back into her possession. "So what now?"

"There are some more rooms," Cajun pointed out, trying to ignore his burning scratches. "I'll be damned if I leave before i know what is in there."

"Look at this," Zaza pointed to a corner where a rusty box was open. . Several parts of non-troglodyte equipment in good state could be seen in there. "That's not from the reptiles. And it looks relatively new. Maybe they have waylaid someone?" The rogue went over to check the bundle. "Yeah, there is quite some stuff in here. Spells, potions, a rope, clothes, bow and arrows, leather armor, rapier... and hey, what's this?" The halfling held up a compass like object which was giving off a faint light.

"I've seen this before," Cajun said. "When we met with this other Pathfinder after the temple affair."

"I don't remember.! Zaza put the thing back. "Does this mean they've killed a Pathfinder?"

"Likely enough," Edawon grunted. "Let's see what is in the next room, shall we?"

"It is locked," Cajun grumbled and went back to the dead reptile to check if there were any keys. He got lucky. "Seems they have something valuable in there."

The door opened with a squeak a moment later. The room behind was tiny and dark. The air was stale and smelled somewhat of blood. In the northeast corner of the room, a man bound in manacles looked up with panic and exhaustion in his eyes.

"Is that the guy who that gear belongs to?" Zaza went over in a rush, while Cajun followed more slowly. The keys he found fit for the manacles, too. The man in front of them was too weak to stand up on his own, Zaha and Cajun had to lift him to his feet.

"Get out of there," Edawon rushed them. "We need to check up on Samin's diplomatic attempts."

"Is this your stuff?" Zaza asked, pointing at the box. "Are you are Pathfinder?"

Thunder rolled outside, the storm being now in full force. The sound seemed to shake the human from his lethargy. "Yes... yes, I am. My name is Forsend, Balenar Forsend. I was planning to check out this old building when those monsters took me captive."

Edawon handed over his water, and Forsend drank hastily. "You look quite beat up."

The freed captive nodded and pointed at the body. "That beast beat me up at every opportunity. They wanted me to die for their demon god or something like it. I am lucky not to have been sacrificed yet!"

"Get your stuff, then," Cajun said, waving to the others to stall more introductions. Truth to be told, he was already worried about the ranger having let slip the wizard's name. They were, after all, supposed to be dead and had yet to decide on a way to actually keep this presumption alive. Throwing their names around would not help things at all. "We have friends upstairs with the leader of those reptiles and two of the younglings, we bound the others in the next room."

"Why not just slay them now?" the human asked.

"Not their fault they are what they are," Edawon answered with a weak smile. "We can decide what to do with them once the situation is resolved." With that, he turned and made for upstairs again.




Quite a distance away, in the Molthune port of Korholm, a certain dwarven paladin stood next to the equally dwarven captain at the bow of his ship, looking decidedly impatient, if not angry. The storm pushing the waves up against the docks carried no rain, yet, but it was uncomfortably cold and not a situation in you wanted a boat like the Black Mist to be out and about. Captain Cygar was well aware of the fact and had decided to stop here rather than some unnamed bay a bit further west and risk being smashed against the shore.

"So, they are not letting me off the boat because I'm a paladin, or because I am a citizen of Nirmathas?" he inquired.

"Both, actually," the other dwarf said. "Paladins of Nirmathas have had quite a hand lately at thwarting the Molthune's army's attempts at invading."

"Yeah, I do not doubt that. But I have never been a part of Nirmathas' forces, one way or the other."

"Strictly speaking, neither are the other paladins, but as they see the Molthune state as a basically evil system, which, no doubt, it is... asides, I thought every Nirmathi was part of their forces."

"Yeah yeah," Bjön waved at the docks were guards were posted. "This basically means that they will turn back or worse, imprison or kill anyone going across the border if they suspect them to be of Nirmathas origin, right?"

"I'm afraid so," the captain nodded. "Why, do you want to visit someone?"

Thinking of the route he had planned him and Teltz to take to reunite with the others, the paladin grunted even more annoyed. "Yeah but I guess that will have to wait for some time."

"Times are rough, and they are about to get rougher all over the world, I guess. To set things right, we'd need a lot more paladins and other heroes, for the Worldwound alone." Cygar chuckled. "Or a really epic group of heroes, as in the very old sagas from before time."

For some reason, Bjön shivered when the captain said that, and not only from the icy wind.





Samin felt exhaused, on a profound level independent of rest, food and drink or even the use of magic. He had had to renew his tongue spell twice, and he could not do it any more despite of his focus, but his magic potential was not used up yet. No, his exhaustion seemed to mostly stem from the fact that he had negotiated and talked and... done something else. Something that way beyond his control. Half the time, he had not been sure what his next words were when he had started talking, yet somehow he always seemed to say the right thing, calming the troglodytes here and reassuring them there, showing both understanding and power at the same time. Their demon god, he had soon seen, was the only thing they knew in the ways of religion, and he had wished a few times that Bjön was here to have a way to maybe set them on a lighter path. What he had, instead, was a stuttering oracle spreading a pleasant scent. What the troglodytes, or more specific, their leader, really wanted was a place out of the dark caverns back into the world they had once, so long ago, ruled in a more or less oppressive way. That was why they had prepared to make a human sacrifice. Samin had not managed to get specifics out of the druid, just that it didn't refer to their group.

But Mook had done her part, unexpectedly. In the strange way of oracles, she had suddenly spoken up in the mingled draconic dialect of the troglodytes. To Samin's annoyance, he only got the beginning, something about the change of tides and winds blowing in different directions. The moment Mook's alter ego – as he usually called it when she went on such speaking in tongues without her stutter, which happened rarely enough – started addressing the troglodyte group's situation specifically, his spell ended and he couldn't understand a thing.

The group from below came up to the top level just when Mook started speaking. The eyes of the Pathfinder with them widened at the sight; he of course recognized Mook for what she was. When the oracle was done, a long silence fell. Just before everyone was beginning to feel uncomfortable, the troglodyte raised a hand and pointed at the Pathfinder. In very broken common, he addressed them all. "Him keep, help clean temple yes? Make boney spirits go way. Do we will for woman say."

"Boney spirits?" Cajun mumbled, barely able to get the gist of the speech. "Sounds like undead all over again."

"We'll help," Samin nodded without asking anyone else. Suddenly, he had been shifted to the leader position. "But we need rest, now. It is getting late." The air in the damaged tower was in no way warmer that outside, and they would need to get a fire going. At least the air was still filled with that pleasant smell Mook somehow created.

Cajun had managed to work his way to Samin. "Say, can you make our rescue guy sleep with a spell, without him noticing? He is exhausted enough. Before we do anything else, we need to talk. Without anyone listening in!" The alchemist said it with as much insistence as he could muster.

Samin nodded, waiting for the Pathfinder to turn and stare after the troglodytes – the younglings going down to free their companions after Zaza had used hands and feet to explain what had transpired, and their druid to the back of the room to sit in his ruined throne. Brenn-Krell caught the man before he fell, but then to everyone's surprise toppled over shivering and seizing.

Kronk was at the fetchling's side immediately. "He's transforming back. Let's go back down. They don't need to see," he indicated the troglodytes. "Can you carry him?"

He was tired and aching from the fight before, but Cajun still nodded and lifted the fetchling, who was surprisingly light. Samin and Kronk carried the much lighter, almost starved Pathfinder and his belongings downwards to where they had left their stuff before climbing up. There they made a makeshift camp right in the stairway, as the smoke could go up and it was a place more easily kept warm.

"We need to talk," Cajun replied as he made the fetchling comfortable. Edawon has let slim your name, Samin, and if the Pathfinder remembers later and tells someone the Society will know we are not dead and probably hunt us for not delivering what they wanted to get their hands on, maybe even believing we still have it. Bjön warned us of such!"

The halfling ranger paled a little, realizing he had made a bad mistake. "I'm so sorry, it is just..."

"Yeah, we all need to get used to this. We need new cover names. A change of appearance," Cajun said, well aware how difficult that would be for some of them, specifically him and the kobold.

"Yes, all that is good and well." Kronk snarled. "But can it wait until after he has transformed back?"

Everyone looked at the shifting form of Brenn-Krell, who seemed to have some trouble reverting. His skin was still way too grey and his facial features a lot more shadow like. His hair had taken on a greyish blond hue. "Yes, it can wait," Cajun conceeded. "Is this normal?"

The monk sighed. "Sometimes... actually, quite often... some of what we transfer into stays behind. That is actually the hope of everyone undertaking the transformation. In the case of kobolds, who did not actually invent this procedure, we all want to be more like dragons, no matter what color we are. Some of us are born with draconic features already. Most others who know about the possibility will strive to get their hands on the substance causing this."

"I see. But it is not dangerous, is it?" Zaza felt the man's head, which seemed to be hotter than usual.

"Not physically, no. But he might not only retain the knowledge and some appearance of Krell, but also keep some of the memories, and that..."

"Y-yes," Mook nodded her understanding. The memories of his ancestor, not quite knowing who he really was, had already stressed the sorcerer a lot. There was no telling what would happen if this state would turn out to be permanent.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Some issues with the session notes being stuck in an impounded car and me not having been able to GM one of the sessions led to a bad delay in posting. Sorry about that. Due to the lost notes, part of this is a short version of the end of the adventure

Our opinion about Master of the Fallen Fortress is that it is a good solid starting adventure, especially when used in the intended location and circumstances. There were the usual small errors attributed to the way d20 based RPGs seeminly are supposed to work (fight it, kill it, loot it) but we don't adhere to.

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


The weather had cleaned up during the day, but the same could not be said for the mood of the party making their way on foot to the next settlement. It was going slow, not only because of the shorter members of the team.

In the morning, they had been surprised by the Pathfinder's decision to stay with the troglodytes. Strangely enough, the lizards seemed happy about it, maybe because Forsend had known a way to get into the temple of Nethys without alerting the traps. Knowledge, he had assured them, had been the key to their old empire's creation, and knowledge would serve them way better again than following an evil god they seemed only half-heartedly interested in to begin with.

The impossibility to repair their boat well enough to make it upriver had not been such a big surprise. Several days on foot to their interim destination – Detmer – they had been told, but there were villages at the river before then where they could stock up and adapt their appearances.

They would have to reinvent themselves, it had been decided. With what Samin had told them about him and his father running from someone even not knowing what exactly, and them having to pretend to be dead to not be a target for the Pathfinder Society, there had been quite some discussion about how to achieve that.

In some ways, destiny had helped them a lot already. When Brenn had reverted from the fetchling form, he had not done so completely. According to Kronk, this was common when not prepared well or, at times, it was the goal of the whole transformation. The way the sorcerer looked now, he was taller, with a greyer skin and haunting eyes, and all his features were more prominent. He had kept some of the strange abilities of his ancestry as well. And quite a few memories. No one would consider him the same Brenn who had left with them for the island. Consequently, he was now calling himself Krell, as that was part if what he was. It was the perfect change for the purpose of disappearing.

Then there was Mook. The changes here were more subtle. Whatever had happened when she had called upon divine power to help the undead dragon had definitely changed her though. For one, she looked lighter in skin tones and hair.. Her stutter was less prominent, and she had started to rhyme as the bard Pathfinder had shown her. But she was also more fragile, suffered from strange back pains and had a pronounced left limp, which made the journey all that slower. The group was already planning to take her to a healer as soon as possible.

Most remarkably were the changes in her abilities though. It was as if some gate had been opened. At times, she talked to herself, and she did things she didn't notice she was doing, or causing other things without knowing she even did. As an example, she now often answered questions or replied to statements before they were said.

Mook was unwilling to pick another name. Mook was, after all, one of the more common gnomish names. She was agreeable to add her clan's name as a second name, something the gnomes of her ancestry didn't like doing. So, she was now Mook Halakar. She had also gone to call her wolf Dooda, which was close enough to the original name so he would learn to listen.

Samin had undone the dye of his hair and was now a natural light blond. They had decided to pass him as a full elf, which would be easy enough. After some thought, he had decided to go with the name Zayel now. It was a childhood hero of his, from one of the few fiction books his former master's library had held. It was very common a name among elves, too, so nothing people would remember as being strange.

He had started to call his hawk Will, but the real problem was his allergy to feathers. How many bonds like that were out in the world? He was probably the only magic user allergic to a hawk familiar. He had refused to think about it further, cited that he could just keep Wilbur away from settlements for a while so no one would suspect he even had a familiar.

Edawon's name had not been mentioned to anyone prior to their island adventure, so he decided to stick with the name. Zaza and Mook cut his wiry red hair short and made a pattern in it looking somewhat like a chess board. Everyone was satisfied that the ranger's appearance had been sufficiently altered.

Zaza being a common halfling name, too, if not as overly common as Mook or Zayel was for gnomes and elves, had been given a similar haircut, just with swirls as pattern, and would be passed off as Edawon's younger sister. They looked alíke enough, especially now that Zaza's skin had become her usal pale hue for winter.

Cajun was not too happy about that, but as they had decided, much against his own ideas, to pass him off as a short version of the more common half human half orc ancestry, he could hardly go as her brother much longer. There was still discussion if it would be possible to poass him as some sort of tiefling, given his reddihs eyes and not very orc like features, but Kronk said he had met a tiefling once and the difference would be easy to see.

Something else that tirked him was that he had to hide his skills as an alchemist for a while. He would still go smithing – good way to make money, after all – and he would pose as the son of a human barbarian. As to that, Kronk and Edawon both suggested he was spposed to play a bit dumb and try to hide that he could read and write so well.

While his fighting skills were fine, he was no near as savy as a raging barbarian, but Edawon insisted that he should do fine as a son of one, who would otherwise just be a simple smith. Alchemists were, after all, not that common, especially not half-orcs. Kassen had been the only town in the whole area to have had an alchemist who aloso took on apprentices, and even some bigger towns had only one or two of those usually, so Edawon, who knew quite some of the world, has assured them. He was undecided as for a new name, not liking that idea much, either.

Kronk himself was the main problem. A kobold was a kobold was a kobold, even if, as he claimed, a kobold of his color would be more likely accepted the more south they came. For now, he was wearing his wide cloak again. But they would have to come up with a solution.

"I n-need a rest," Mook repeated again. It seemed every half hour, at least, she could not go on, and at one point Cajun had had to carry her up a hill or two. Dooda was limping from a fight with a pack of dire rats earlier that day and the gnome had not had enough healing magic to cure him completely so she could not ride him.

With a heavy sigh, Zaza sat down on a piece of rock on the side of the road. "We need mounts," she decided. "All of us. I'm almost happy Dooda is hurt and you can't walk much either so my own problems won't show as much." The young rogue grimaced and rubbed her burning legs.

"I'm much more for finding a boat upriver in that village," Cajun pointed.

"Huh?" Zaza turned and looked down the other side of the hill they had just climbed. Indeed, there was some sort of settlement there, but even for someone used to the very small towns and villages of wilderness areas, it was a stretch to call it a village. 10 or 12 huts and houses, maybe, and a few boats out in the river with nets to catch fish. A few gardens and small fields. There was only a muddy, dirt packed path leading to it from the not much better road they were on now.

"I somewhat doubt those boats would be able to travel far," Kronk tried to assess the worthiness of the vessels. "But I will settle for a rest out of this cold. If they don't outright hate kobolds that is."

Determined to get down there, Mook moved on. Her limp was very pronounced, and she clearly had pains walking. "T-tired of t-travel, for n-now," she grinned, trying not to complain.



The people of the small village proved helpful enough. They only settled here recently, in an attempt to make profit from the rare salmon found in this area of the river. Mostly halfling and human, they were very proud to tell how they were once slaves and had come here to find their own little fortune. How they would be bale to build stone houses already come spring. And how they would welcome them if they wanted to stay. It was obvious that, especially traveling with a kobold who were favored slaves in some areas, they were all considered to be former slaves or people helping to free slaves. Edawon's tales played right into that. The ranger let the slave mark he had gotten from his former chelish owner show, and for the first time the rest of the group, trying to hide their surprise, saw a side of the ranger he had kept secret until now.

Edawon explained they were expected in the capital by some human frioends who wanted to help them advance. This caused nods of understanding. Humans, they were told, considered themselves the only true heirs of wealth in their strange, wealth based religion. But as long as you nodded your head and told them you agreed with their supposed superiority, they would help you ut as long as it would not mean less profit for them.

The local healer helped both Mook and the wolf, although he had no magic available. In return, Mook helped them with her new found power of divination to determine what crops to plant next spring, where to dig a new well and where to find most salmon. It was clear they would have liked the oracle to stay, but they accepted they would have to travel on.

Against their first notion of traveling on quickly, they stayed almost a week. It was a restful time, even though they helped with day to day chores. If they had not been expected to join with the others sometime soon, and if the place would not have been too close to their origins, they might have stayed the whole winter.

It was the 17th of Neth when they finally moved on. They took a ship from the city picking up salmon for the large markets. No one looked at the hooded kobold twice, or at anyone else for that matter. They arrived at Detmer late afternoon of the same day, the ship's wizard making sure there was plenty of wind in the sails.
As they set foot on the docks, they were checked over by the guards, who seemed to make sure no penniless refugees from the war in the neighboring countries or from wherever else would bother the city. As they could show they had some coin and claimed to be from Salmon Reef, the village they had stayed in, they were not bothered. The guards gave them the usual advice to stay out of trouble and let them pass. By now Cajun had decided on a new name. He was now going by Majek, the name of a half-orc that had died in Salmon Reef earlier the year. He also decided to claim said Village as his port of origin if anyone asked. They would have to work on their backstories, for sure. Hest was already telling his new sister about the adventures he had had and places he had seen, so she could claim some knowledge of them. She would normally say she had been too young to remember much.

Detmer was something else to them. The harbor was an almost obscene display of wealth, not only for the many ships finished or under construction, but also for the display of sapphires everywhere. Mook, Kronk and Majek decided immediately they didn't like the place, too much of this country's focus was on wealth above everything else. Zaza, on the other hand, had a good enough time looking around and liberating a few purses from people who didn't look too important. She had heard the stories about how the more powerful would track down any thief ant any cost, but they would need more coin, and coin was here in abundance.

They had counted their resources in the village. As it turned out, only Mook had brought some coins to heed her mother's advice to never travel anywhere with an empty purse. The others had left most of their things in the inn at Tamran. After all, on the island they had had no need for money, and the plan had been to return after all. Other than that, they had what they pilfered from the cultists, including some extra weapons Majek was going to sell immediately, and some riches from the underground city. Anything that was not magic, Zaza and Edawon, who decided to take on the role of treasure hunters in the city to sell their loot, went to sell immediately as well. Krell and Zayel went to fill up their spell components with the money Zaza had liberated. There were more than enough relevant shops here, and Zayel, inexperienced in city life, let Krell do most of the bargaining and other talking. Luckily, while Krell's appearance fetched a few curious looks, people wanted to make business above all else and they got what they wanted.

When they met again at the docks – they didn't have to go far to begin with – they decided they would leave with the first ship bound for Kerse. They found one easily enough, although they had to sneak Kronk on the ship under the pretense he was the disfigured child of Krell. A charm helped to stop anyone from asking questions. They traveled through the night and the next day and arrived at Kerse the evening of the 18th of Nethys. By now, there was a thin veil of snow on everything, and the river had started to freeze at the edge. Winter was a bad time to travel for all of them but Edawon, who was used to a lot worse. Mook's pains had become worse, and she was unable to heal herself. Taking herbs for her pains dulled her oracle abilities and she did not want to have to do that any longer.

Not knowing where Teltz and Bjön were, they decided to press on to Macridi before winter would turn any worse. They found a dwarven vessel headed that way, and the crew was more than happy to take them along for some help on the boat, as they were short with hands. Kronk was greeted like a lost friend; it turned out their dwarven clan had had some help from "the good sort of kobolds" a while ago.

While the journey was slow due to the ship stopping at many small locations to sell their dwarven crafts, they found themselves in good company, and the cleric on board was able to heal most of Mook's back problems. She was still limping, but now there was little to no pain.

They had bought warm winter clothes in Kerse, and when they finally arrived at Macridi, they were in dire need of it. There was a snow storm the morning they arrived, and it took a while to find lodgings affordable to them. Only when Majek, who had by now grown into his role somewhat, mentioned he was a smith by trade did they find some unsused rooms above a smithy in exchange for his help. The old smith had recently died, and his two sons were in dire need of additional workers, which they could not pay right now. A win win situation for all of them, especially as the rooms were very warm, getting their fire places heated by the smithy's forge.

The half-orc noticed that playing dumber than he was had some advantages. Mainly, people talked more freely around him and didn't watch their written material much. It was assumed he didn't understand a lot, and he loved toi reinforce the notion with some dumb questions here and there. The two brothers running the smithy liked him well enough, so all there was to do now was to wait and watch out for the others. Especially Zayel was getting itchy to see his father again, and there was badly hidden worry in his voice whenever he mentioned Teltz.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
The Chasm of Screams - PF Scenario 2-14

Bjön had found Teltz back at the inn, and relayed to him all that had happened. The bard had put up a good show of mourning about his lost son. The news about them not being able to travel through Molthune anytime soon was depressing to Teltz, as it meant they would have to travel half through the Inner Sea region to meet up with the others. Back with a boat the way the paladin had come would have probably drawn too much attention, so they settled on the long journey with a heavy heart. While the dwarf was about sending a message all the long way by river to Macridi to the temple of Desna there – something they had agreed on while on the island just in case – about not coming up to Druma but going to Falcon's Hollow directly, Teltz had more bad news in the matter of the folks pursuing him and Samin. Not only had they found their way here, they were, supposedly, already aware of where he was staying. News of the island adventure had traveled fast among the interested parties, and while the Pathfinders in the city were none too happy about the supposed failure of the mission, they were at least relieved to hear that the cult members, too, had vanished.

Bjön came back all excited. It happened that one of the Pathfinder's high profile members was in a bit of a bind, needing some parts for a cure of an afflicted friend. Said cure had supposedly been crafted by a good friend and was now ready to be picked up. The group that was supposed to do the pick up had been in some magical battle and wouldn't be able to do it in time, so the job had been offered to Bjö and "any aid he could procure." Obviously, this was referring to Teltz. This in itself might have been an annoyance rather than helpful, as Bjön was not really in a position to refuse a high ranking member of his society. But the pickup location was right on their path around Molthune. Additionally, a teleport beacon and a wizard capable of using those would place them right there, and the beacon could also return the materials without their need to come all the way back. Teleports were expensive, and they had already tried to find someone able to get them at least to Kraggodan, with no success.

Teltz, who had been packing their stuff including additional warm clothes, listened carefully. His spirits perked up when the dwarf mentioned their destination was "way into Nidal and halfway down Molthune," as the paladin jokingly put it. "But if the stuff can be sent by a teleport beacon, why send anyone at all?" he inquired.

Bjön held up a small scroll,. More like a paper token. "Because this has to be put on it. The woman we are looking to pick up from was supposed to own one, but she was described as prone to losing such things, which is why they arranged for pickup to begin with."

"Alright, then," Teltz agreed. "Sounds pretty much routine to me. I don't suppose we get paid?"

"No, but we get a free teleport cutting weeks from the journey. We might arrive in Falcon's hollow same time as the others."

Teltz nodded. He had not been able to find out much about Falcon's Hollow yet, save that it was some sort of lumber town ruled by some evil sounding company, which was probably why the kobolds needed some help. He was eager to go there, fix whatever was amiss and probably settle there for a while if it proved safe enough.

The same afternoon, they met with the mentioned Pathfinder, a druid, at an exclusive teleport point used by Pathfinders only. Even Bjön had not known about it until now. As advised, they were dressed in their warmest clothes, despite there being little snow in Nirmathas yet. But, so Teltz thought, there were certainly colder areas already, and maybe their destination was known for cold.

He was definitely right. They emerged in a swirl of snowflakes driven by a piercing cold wind. As it looked like, they were standing on a mountain trail covered in medium high snow. Glints of sunlight darted through the clutching, skeletal branches of towering yellow pines. The incline softened into a small dell, set against the backdrop of the gray, toothy peaks of immense mountains. Near the center of the clearing stood a small hovel of rough basalt stones, neatly covered with sod to protect it from the mountain’s wintery chill.

The bard took in their surroundings in awe, then he turned to the dwarf. "Where, in Desna's name, are we?" He mentally kicked himself for not having asked about it earlier.

"Ah... Mindspin Mountains," Bjön grinned. But no problem, see, there is the den of the beast... err the woman... already."

"Mindspin... hey, around this time of year this is not a place..." But the dwarf was already moving to the fenced in yard of the hovel. A minute or two later, they were standing in front of the door. No one answered their knocks. Not too surprising, as they had not been announced. A sickly yellow glow emanated from the grease-smeared windows Teltz peeked in through, leaving the rooms dim and shadowy. The illumination highlighted a small table of rough-cut pine in the main room. A note rested atop the table, weighted in place by a small soapstone figurine carved to resemble a seahawk.

"Looks like she left a note. Is the door open?"

The paladin tried and nodded. It opened smoothly without as much as a squeak, and they found themselves in a small room used for storage and work, as it looked like by the tablke and chairs filled with tools of skinning and hunting. The next room was barely separated from this one, but as they moved in, Teltz' sense of danger went up. "Something is wrong," he announced.

Bjön nodded and moved over to the note under the figurine. "Just gibberish it looks like. And there is a string set, looks like some sort of trap."

Teltz followed the string and found a simple, but effective, explosive trap set to destroy the main beam of the room so it would collapse. "Who is this woman trying to trap? Surely not us."

"Don't think it was her," Bjön mused and pointed to the ground. Some barely discernable boot prints, much larger than that of a normal woman, could be made out.

"So, someone else tries to trap her in her own home?" Teltz went to disarm the trap carefully.

"For some reason I do not think she would fall for that," the paladin mused.

"Well, what now? Think something happened to her? If so, we are not likely to find out what, in this weather. We should probably just stay here, there is food and wood and a bed wide enough for both of us," Teltz said, pointing into the bedroom. "And magic light to boot to save us from the constant smell of candles."

The paladin looked at a loss. "Yeah, well, it seems a good option, better than trying to camp out there anyway. We just need to be careful. I'll check the area for evil, anyway." Bjön nodded at Teltz and went outside for a moment, to see if there was any evil to detect close by.

Teltz had a good look around and then started to get the ingredients for a strong herbal tea together. Just when he was about to heat the water he heard shouts and the sound of steel on steel outside. Drawing his short sword, he went for the door just when Bjön came back in, pushing an unkempt, bearded short human clad in warm furs into the work room. Then he threw the bundle of his captive, including a longsword and a bow, into a corner.

"Look what the dwarf dragged in," the human said and put his sword away. "And who do we have here?"

"No idea yet, found him sneaking up to the windows. By my guess, to find out why the trap was not sprung." The paladin looked sternly down onto the man. "You better tell us everything you know, or, I swear by Desna, you will regret it."

The stranger seemed to recognize him as a paladin or, at least, someone in the graces of a divine power. Slowly, he moved back towards the wall, looking from his captor to the bard and back. "I just watch," he tried to talk himself out of the situation.

"Yeah, because we believe that," Teltz snorted, going over the possessions of the man. Some magic oils, he noted, so the guy could hardly be the barbarian out of the woods he seemed to be. Maybe he had been hired. Other than that, it looked like he hadn't traveled far to get here. "You have a camp nearby, don't you? How many of you, and what do you want?"

"There is just me!" The captive grew nervous by the moment. "I just watch."

"So, you were left to watch this place. For who? Where is the owner of the house?" Teltz looked to the dwarf, not even knowing the name.

"Eya," Bjön helped out. "Where is the human woman who lived here?"

"I just watch.." the man tried again, but the paladin took a step closer and suddenly seemed to glow in a divine light. Teltz, who could see from his point of view that the paladin was just using the magical light in the room to his advantage, could barely hide a grin. "In the chasm," the barbarian rushed out. "They kill me if I tell you. In the chasm..."

Teltz shook his head. "We know little of this place, so why don't you just show us where your camp is and tell us from the beginning?"

Staring at the paladin, the fur clad guy nodded quickly. "They kill me," he weakly replied, obviously believing the paladin would do the same if he didn't answer their questions. Teltz opened the door, grabbing his stuff to set out for yet another unplanned trek, this time in snow and wind in mountains he did not know. "Yeah," he mumbled. "Just a quick pick up, for sure." He locked the door magically and followed.



The camp was a short way up the slope among pine trees and bare branched birches. Within this section of the wood were the ruins of a small settlement. Heavily overgrown, only the crumbling
foundations of several small huts provided evidence of its existence. Within one of the foundations, a small, man-made clearing concealed the scattered remnants of a hastily fled campsite. Snow had been thrown upon the coals, though they were still warm, and indents in the ground marked the sleeping locations of at least four individuals. Near the fire rested a small woodpile and a sack with some candles, a half-day’s rations, and a few other mundane possessions. From a nearby tree dangled a makeshift birdcage, crudely woven from saplings, in the blowing wind. A raven with a broken wing was in it.

"What's this?" Teltz exclaimed, disgusted. "You either kill and eat an animal or you leave it alone." As he went over to take the unconscious, but still living, bird out of the cage, the barbarian mumbled something about talking witch birds. A familiar, maybe, the bard wondered.

On the way here, the captive had made little sense, just going on about taking the witch woman on the orders of their mistress. He was obviously very afraid about revenge of that woman if he talked, and implied everyone else in his tribe would feel the same. To Bjön, it did sound a lot like an evil entity taking advantage of the less civilized and less capable inhabitants of this region.

Pushing the captive, who had his hands bound tightly, to the ground, Bjön went to check the campsite. He found a small sack of the sort they had seen in the hut, but before he could search further, Teltz came over with the bird. "I was thinking of putting it out of its misery, but it may be a familiar. Maybe you can heal it?"

Slightly at a loss, having never healed anything that small, Bjön carefully took the raven in his hands. Before he could think about if this would work at all, the divine magic granted to him by Desna already went to work. A golden glow surrounded the bird, and the wing mended. It woke up, too, looking distinctly disoriented, but it was obviously tame.

Bjön wanted to give the bird back to Teltz. When he turned, he heard a muffled curse and saw the bard sprawled out on the ground. He rolled over, rubbing his leg. "Darn snow was covering up a box."

Indeed, an old, rusted box peeked out of the snow. It was too old to have anything to do with their matter at hand, but the dwarf's Pathfinder senses awoke. "We take that along, too. He can carry it. It is getting dark and colder, and the bird and us, too, need some warmth."

"What about him?" Teltz pointed. The captive was shaking slightly.

"We can tie him up outside, maybe Desna will let him live through the night," Bjön growled. He didn't mean it of course, it was just to show Teltz that they had no choice but to keep him inside, too. But the man, who had given his name as Aran Thokskaw, hunter of the mountains, did not know that. He only knew there were two people able to wield magic, a power hardly anyone in his tribe had. And one of them had a direct line to one of the many gods. "I was just watching," he mumbled again as Teltz dragged hip upright, putting the rusted box in his outstretched arms. The barbarian had trouble not to let it drop but he somehow managed to keep the balance despite having his hands bound.

Teltz had little sympathy for the guy. Forced or not, they had abducted the woman they had come for and thus possibly made their mission unaccomplishable. Worse, it delayed everything, including their leave from here to wherever Eya would have been capable of sending them to.

The hovel was as they had left it, with the fire the bard had started before they had left still burning. Teltz put on another log and went to make that tea – only for the two of them of course – while an impatient Bjön secured the prisoner, tying him between two heavy crates. The box he had carried was on the working table now. Then he pried the rusty lock of the box open with his dagger. Inside, he found a crumbling leather-bound journal.

Before he could open it, the bard set the tea and some bread and cheese he had found on the table in the main room. "Hey, the raven is awake," he said.

"Vetta," the bird cried out. "I Vetta."

"So it is a familiar, then." The dwarf sat and started on the food while they listened to the weird speech pattern of the raven,

Vetta had been out of the hovel, flying about the forest when several men came and attacked her mistress. As she raced back to the hovel, the agents knocked Eya unconscious and Vaetta lost contact with her. She arrived just in time to witness the barbarians dragging her mistress off. The raven did her best to tail the agents and was able to safely follow them back to their campsite where she flew in close enough to observe them, and once in range, she again began to sense Eya. Soon after, the agents began talking about taking her to a place called the Chasm of Screams. Upon mention of the Chasm, Vaetta felt Eya flood with fear. Without warning, one of the agents knocked Eya unconscious again, and they broke camp and dragged her off with them. At that point, one of
the men spotted the raven and shot her. That’s all Vaetta remembered. Her panic was evident, her confusion as well. The insistence that the two of them help her mistress was touching, but there was nothing to be done this night. Snow was falling heavily now, and it was getting dark quickly.

Bjön instead perused the book, ignoring all questions and pleas from their captive. The journal recounted harrowing tales of icy winters, disease, and starving Eagle Knight operatives. In later entries, the soldiers became haunted by frightful dreams that led them to a strange location they called the Chasm of Screams. Over the next few months, those drawn to the cave went mad, broke from the settlement, and began systematically hunting and eating their kin.

Bjön read the most relevant parts out loud. "Must be the same chasm. Now we know what happened to the settlement, and why Eya was so afraid, according to Vetta."

"You don't really think it is a good idea for us to go there, do you?" Teltz inquired. He was all for aiding those in need, but by no means self destructive.

"A good idea? No, but it is what my path dictates me to do." The paladin turned to the prisoner. "Tell us all you know about this chasm. And hurry up, we need to catch some sleep." Teltz unpacked a small flute from his pack and started playing a certain melody he used to assure he would know truth from lie. For the captive, it was just a nice tune and it calmed his panic to boot.

About an hour or two later, the two of them were not much the wiser. Supposedly a wonder of nature, the chasm attracted the curiosities of local tribes who braved its wind-haunted labyrinths to test
the fortitude of their best warriors. Few returned from the brutal and grueling trial, while those who did return were driven mad. These individuals soon broke from the sunlit lands of their birth and descended deep into the gloomy caves. Collectively, their existence formed the basis for later rumors
that cannibalistic tribes dwelt within, and that the chasm’s horrific screams came from the spirits of their victims. Aran didn't understand when both the paladin and the bard scoffed at a tribe wasting their best warriors in tests of pointless courage. "It always was like that," he simply stated.

A while ago, however, the situation had changed and something had moved into the chasm. From the barbarian's description of an ice-woman, they could not quite get what this woman probably was. Several things came to mind, but Aran was unable to describe her in a useful way. She made the tribes worship her ad bring her sacrifices. Anyone not complying would just end up as a sacrifice, too.

When they finally went to bed, Teltz could sense Bjön's just anger at the evil lurking... well, wherever the chasm was. A typical paladin, the bard mused silently. Well, typical at least in such matters. There was, however a very good possibility that they would be unable to do anything about the monster, and he said so.

Bjön looked at the older man with resignation. He would have liked to tell him that Desna would prevent him from failing, but he had seen with other paladins that this was not always the case. He would have liked to inspire the bard – as weird as that felt – to go into this with all they had, but he had to admit they did not have much. So he just nodded and went to bed without more words. Teltz had seen more from the world, and it would be unwise and also impolite to rebuff him just now.

Somehow, they both managed to catch some sleep. The next morning dawned bright and calm, and they went through their supplies, seeing what they might be able to use. Luckily, they had the most of the magical and protective stuff of their group. This made Teltz worry about Samin, though, and he had to force himself to focus on the matter at hand.

Aran led them on, always looking about nervously as if some member of his tribe or the other would jump out from the forest and kill him. From what they had learned, before any such thing would happen, he was more likely to go down with an arrow in his throat.

Walking in deep snow was not a fun thing to do for either of them, not even talking of the trail they left. There had been no snow shoes, and Teltz wouldn't have known how to use them anyway. Both of them were tired already and slightly sweaty under their clothes when they first heard the noise. The wind picked up again, too, as they drew nearer. The familiar, Vaetta, was all upset now, and claimed she was able to sense her badly injured mistress.

Even from a distance, the strange and horrid screaming echoed unnervingly through the mountains, drowning the silence and driving away living creatures, leaving the snowy hillside lifeless. Along the baseline of the mountain’s face where its roots wedged into its neighboring peak, a gaping chasm opened from which the howling emanated. Here, its wretched wail belched forth in frigid, almost gale-force blasts. It was about impossible to hear anything else.

"What a weird entrance," Teltz shouted. Before he could ask what to do about Aran now, he noticed 3 more humans huddled in furs close to the maw around a fire. They looked to be guards. Bjön waved his hands around; it took the bard a moment to understand that, since they had not been noticed yet coming just out of the forest and the noise covering their approach, they should surprise them. The paladin readied his weapons, but Teltz grabbed his arm and shook his head. "Do you really want to fight in this snow and wind?" he mouthed. Bjön blinked, then understood and nodded, watching the bard getting into his spell component pouch. A few seconds later, the figures slumped over, barely avoiding rolling into the fire. A snore loud enough to be heard over the wind once they were closer showed that they were all deeply asleep.

"What to do with them now?" Teltz shouted, ignoring the amazed stares of their first captive. He quickly searched their pockets and found a few potions and oils, just like they had with Aran.

"Help me," the paladin shouted back. With amazing skill, as if he had done this a lot of times before, the dwarf build a makeshift cold shelter from snow and a ´few rocks. Then he motioned for the now bound with their own ropes sleepers to be brought inside. "No one can see them easily, and they are safe from the cold winds," he shouted. "Now for Aran..."

Before Teltz could ask if he should use a sleep spell again – not his favorite choice as it meant losing a spell that might come in handy again – Bjön drove his first into the base of the once more kneeling barbarian's neck. The man dropped like a fly. Teltz was about to ask how to do that and where to learn it, but then shrugged and helped deposit him with the others. Certainly, Bjön was not your usual paladin, and the bard had seen quite a few of them.

Moving into the maw proved difficult; the winds knocked them both over once or twice before they made it into the tunnel. Once inside, the force of the "air gone wild" as the dwarf cursed, lessened significantly. The howling decreased as well. The tunnel leading from the chasm maw ended at a shallow pit before making a sharp bend upward. Hundreds of bones lined the bottom of the pit. Every now and then, a cyclone-like swirl of wind mixed with icy shards and snow formed in different places.

"I don't quite like the sight of this," Teltz shivered, despite the warm clothes.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
The passage sloped up radically, exposing a wide fault in the rock that created a natural overhang that blocked some of the passageway. The tunnel appeared to continue up, around, and over the crag. "Oh, yay," Teltz muttered. "I have a feeling it will get worse the farther we get in."

A bit of snow dropped right on the bard's face as he said that. "Did I mention I prefer warm weather? Sunny beaches, lush forests and gardens with all kinds of fruits in it..."

He dwarf snorted as he made his way around the obstacle. "But think of the song you can write about this! Just the right story for cold winter nights by the fi..."

He was rudely interrupted as two humanoid shapes dropped down from above, crouching on the ground right before them. Somehow, Teltz and Bjön got the impression of spiders pressed into a humanoid form – or maybe the other way around. They opened their large mouths and hissed in what could only be described as an appreciative manner. It looked like they wanted to make lunch out of the friends.

The paladin's new adamantine axe, suddenly shining with a golden glow, cut right through one of the ugly creatures, causing gore to spray and freeze around them. Teltz, not able to move much in this passage, grabbed his sword but hesitated. He would only hit the dwarf, considering his sword skill was mediocre at best.

Luckily, the dwarf didn't need him. While the weird creature remaining rushed up the wall, finding a grip as if it were a beetle, obviously trying to make their prey following them, Bjön took a step back, pushing the bard further out of the way of the beast. Teltz almost lost his footing on the icy ground. A second later, he was grateful for the push though, as something smashed on the floor and a greenish vapor spread. Like the dwarf, he instinctively held his breath.

Under other circumstances, the presence of the cloud might have been a real problem, but a gust of wind hissing through the tunnel dissipated it quickly. Out of the remains, the weird creature jumped at the dwarf, trying to claw his face off. To Teltz, it seemed the thing was completely mad.

The paladin had turned his axe to the edge was to the attacker. Obviously relying on its natural armor that was no match to the holy glow of the axe the paladin wielded, their foe split itself almost in two, looking confused at his body as his life bled out.

As the thing dropped, Teltz squinted at the remains. "Whatever it was, it didn't like the light from the axe. And not only because it was magic."

"Creatures of darkness, is what they were." The paladin sighed. "I've seen them once before, they are called morlocks. We might want to have light at the ready at all times, there will likely be more down here as they come in groups so I have been told."

"I can do a few light spells," the bard nodded. "Don't want to draw attention, though." There were enough things drawn to light in the dark, and no need to exchange the frying pan for the fire. "We might wanna watch the ceiling." They should have done that before, of course, but neither of them wanted to admit that.

The familiar screeched and dug its claws into Teltz' shoulder. "Yeah, we will be moving," he calmed her down. Pressing on, the passage widened into a large frozen pool. The roof climbed upward, forming a natural chimney extending about 150 feet above the pool. A stream of cold air spilled in through the hole in the ceiling, filling the chamber with a low, doleful moan.

The paladin took the lead and stepped carefully onto what looked like a slippery surface. Just as he was sure he had a sure grip, the whole floor started to move, reaching out to engulf the dwarf. Vaetta chittered a warning. "Frost ooze!" shouted Teltz and pulled the dwarf, who was struggling for balance, back into the tunnel. Teltz bumped his head at the tunnel wall as he lost his balance as well. Bjön uprighted himself and shouted out a battlecry. This of course did not intimidate the ooze, but it made him feel better. Again, the magical axe glowed in a strange, golden light. As the weird life form moved forward, the axe went through it as if it was butter. A small piece dropped onto the tunnel grounds. A moment later, it attacked them on its own.

"Uh, yeah," Teltz said. "That's how they multiply, I heard. Doesn't kill them to hack them apart." Despite this, he hacked the little ooze in half again, creating two new ones. "Unless you hack them to very very small pieces, that is."

The large ooze was unable to get into the tunnel as the dwarf, not having grasped the problem, hacked another part of it off. "Wait, you mean if I reduce this thing in size often enough, it can come after us?"

"Quintessentially, yes." Teltz kept hacking, the small ones really were of little concern and were soon small enough to be dead. He noticed, though, that his sword, unlike the dwarf's axe, started to dissolve. The digestive fluids of an ooze, he recalled now, were detrimental to unprotected metal.

"How annoying. What do you propose?" At a loss what to do next, the dwarf just stepped out of reach of the thing.

"Ah... fire," Teltz offered. "As most cold creatures, it should be very vulnerable to it."

"That would likely take a lot of fire." The paladin scratches his meager beard. "Maybe I should just hack it smaller just until it would almost fit in here and then we burn it?"

"We'll be here a while," Teltz sighed. "But it sounds like a plan."



Sometime later, through biting smoke taking its time being blown away by the gusts of wind in the tunnels, the 3 of them – counting the raven – hurried on. They felt they had already lost a lot of time dealing with the annoying ooze. The last thing they needed was to fail saving a woman who might be able to get them out of the mountains and closer to their destination.

Getting up the shaft was easy enough with the dwarf's climbing gear. Teltz was a nimble climber, and was insisting he go first. The shaft bisected a horizontal cavern and continued upward. Jagged, human-sized, ice-covered stalagmites filled the cavern floor here. A rough and frigid cross-breeze
whipped through this passage from west to east every few minutes. The two of them hesitated to brave the natural force, but at least the smoke would be gone. Teltz hid the raven under his fur cloak to avoid her freezing to death.

As they climbed out and gathered their gear to go on upward, where the bird knew her mistress to be, a bloody head came rolling out of the shadows of one of the stalagmites, in a whirl of bone fragments and more blood. It looked like the head of a woman. Teltz jumped aside so it would not hit him as it rolled right towards the shaft and fell down.

"That's a sculpture," the bard recognized, at the same time the bird was calling "fake fake fake" out from under the cloak.

"Nice try," Bjön grunted. His glowing axe was once more in his hands. As he had suspected, more morlocks were hiding in the chasm. These, though, looked less like dumb beasts and more like a primitive group with some sort of culture. At least, they had spellcasters. The first hint to that was that Bjön's axe bounced off of a magical protection one of them had. From the effect, Teltz assumed it to be some form of protection from good.

The wind chilled Teltz to the bone despite his clothes, and he wondered how those monsters could exist here. His damaged sword barely blocked the attack of one of them, not leaving the slightest dent in its natural armor.

Before the bard could think of any spell or song to boost their abilities, the area around them went all dark, save for the divine glow of the adamantine axe. That was the confirmation of spellcasters, probably divine, on the enemy's side. The shivering bird squeaked a single syllable, fully of magic, and one of the morlocks started to cry out in panic. A fear spell, Teltz thought. Clever bird, he had not considered the obvious possibility that Vaetta would know any spells. His sword hit something in the darkness, but again it seemed to bounce off, and a forceful blow of an unarmed strike threw Teltz back a few meters. He landed right outside the dark zone.

With a howl that had nothing human, one of the morlocks came at him with a huge club. The monster was above him before he could get up on the icy ground and with the wind. Once more he barely blocked the club with his sword. The blade fell apart, the damage from the ooze acid had been worse than he had assumed. The bard rolled sideways to avoid the next blast, making sure he didn't accidentally hurt Vaetta in the process. As the club hit the ground next to him, Teltz whispered the words for a light spell, targeting the club of the enemy. As he touched the enemy's weapon briefly, it light up like a torch. With a cry of surprise and pain, the monster dropped the weapon and stepped backwards.

"Mine, now,." Teltz growled and took the club as he got up. Advancing on the morlock, he waved the club in front of him, directing the thing backwards to where the shaft went down. A moment later, the morlock's feet stepped into air and it fell all the way down.

Bjön had issues of a different kind. Two of their foes came at him, and in the darkness he could only make them out whenever his axe hit the shields around them. He hoped their protection spells would wear off soon, but he had no such luck. Instead, something hit him with the force of a hammer and caused him to almost lose his weapon. Trying to find the end of the spell's reach seemed to be useless as well, all he would risk was falling into the shaft.

The dwarf put the axe away, aware that its light had possibly stopped them from going at him full force, but he needed a different strategy. Dropping to the ground, he made himself as flat as possible. He knew enough about magic to be aware that, with this spell, even his enemies were unable to see in the dark. And while they sure knew the area and would hardly bump into the stalagmites, they wouldn't assume him to be on the ground. At least he hoped so.

Steps and shuffling and some sniffing to his right told him he had guessed correctly. His hands went into his pouch, searching for the small bag of puffing balls Cajun had given him a while ago to entertain the children of the inn they had been at. He had not used them all up, and he figured they would make a good distraction. He found 5 or 6 of them still there and threw them into the direction of the shuffling.

A few hissing puffs and cracks could be heard, and while the light effects this toy usually produced was swallowed by the spell, the acid smoke was not. Coughing and retching was heard, and the monster backed up. It would be a short lived distraction, but it was all he really needed. As quickly as possible, he rolled in the opposite direction of where he knew the shaft to be and finally emerged out of the dark zone. He found himself at the bottom of some steps made out of snow and ice, leading up to where they would probably find the bird's mistress.

Teltz, in the mean time, found he could not get around the dark area to the other side of the spell's effect, as it touched the walls. He concentrated and mumbled another spell, and a moment later, his voice seemed to come from somewhere inside the dark area. "Bjön, are you out of the spell?" He sure hoped the paladin was.

Inside the dark, the noise suggested the two spellcasters were looking for him. From somewhere, Bjön called out he was, in fact, out of the spell effect. Once more, Teltz cast a spell, this time crumpling a sheet of written music, a copy of one of his favorite songs in fact, in his hands. A screeching, thundering and at the same time laughing sound emerged in the middle of the dark. Other than being unpleasant, it had no effect on him or Bjön, but the monsters started retching and gagging, feeling nauseated. A moment later, the dark spell ended. Bjön, already waiting once again with his axe, attacked the two retching creatures right away. "Desna!" he called. "Help me eliminate the evil dwelling in this chasm!"
A moment later, the remaining monsters, spellcasters or not, sprawled dead at the paladin's feet. "I've had it with this frigid place," the young dwarf growled. "There are some stairs over there, let's get this thing done."

Getting up there proved somewhat of a chore, with the winds still blowing and the ground slippery. Teltz especially was exhausted as they reached the top. His unusual ability to cast a lot of spells often came with physical exhaustion, although he had not explained that to the dwarf yet. He felt like he was out of shape, what was definitely not the case. He used the club he still had for balance and support but it was not really helping.

The passage opened into a series of natural labyrinthine catacombs. Their tangled walls were slicked with layers of ice that hideously entombed dozens of humanoid corpses, mostly tribal folk or villagers, in various states of decay. Some looked hundreds of years old, others more recent.

The bird became very agitated now, and they could see why. Half naked and almost frozen, the form of a woman was positioned to the left wall of the cave. The two looked at each other and nodded. It looked like a bait, so it most likely was one. That other woman, the evil around here, would be lurking close by. And they still did not know what it was.

Teltz frowned and then motioned to the dagger the dwarf had at his side. "Bless it," he whispered. "I have an idea." He didn't mention it was a daring idea, probably born from exhaustion and lack of food – his stomach was beginning to rumble. While Bjön was looking at him questioningly, the bard once more whispered a spell while taking the raven out of his cloak, and this time, a transformation took place. His body twisted and turned and shaped itself into that of a morlock. As Bjön caught himself staring, he shook the surprise off and did his own spell to bless the dagger which the bard took. Then the human made a snapping motion with his left hand and the light on the club went out. The next moment, the bard-turned-morlock hurried over to where the bound woman was. Once there, he cut the ropes apart, which was a bit difficult as this form of a body was harder to move for him.

"What are you doing? Get back down there! Have you lost your weak mind? How dare you defy me!" A hissing voice, speaking common with some infernal words mixed into it, came from the back of the room, and sliding steps could be heard. A moment later, an ugly ice hag appeared in view. Her red glowing ice and the horns on her head made Teltz think of a devil for a moment, before he recognized the creature. He didn't respond, but finished cutting the ropes, hoping for her to come closer.

She did just that, cursing while coming into striking distance. As she reached out with one of her clawed hands. Teltz suddenly swung his club, making her stumble over it. As she caught her balance with a sound of angry surprise, he jumped over to here and attacked with the blessed dagger.

The gods must have been with them, because the weapon slid right into the evil monster's belly, right up to her ugly hanging breasts. Her hiss turned into a screech. Dragging herself backwards, she dislodged the weapon. Blackish blood seeped from the wound. Her left arm reached for the transformed bard and she started on a spell.

That was when a glowing adamatine battle axe hit her square on the head. It seemed to bounce off the horns somewhat, but the hag was dropping to her knees now. Blood was gushing over her face. Before the paladin could adjust his aim to hit where there were no horns, the hag turned incorporal and invisible before their eyes.

"Won't help you," Teltz growled and stabbed the dagger at her again. He knew that a blessed weapon could well hit incorporal creatures. He could not tell if he had hit something or not though. The bless of the weapon winked out, and Teltz hurried back to the unconscious woman. Bjön watched the area carefully, to see if the hag would show up again, but nothing of the sort happened. Teltz grabbed the woman and, while still in his transmuted form, rushed the stairs back down as if half of the abyss would be after them. After a short hesitation, the dwarf searched the cave for anything that might have been Eya's – they needed the component for the afflicted Pathfinder woman after all – and then followed, accompanied by the bird who had to grab his hair to not been blown away by the winds.

Past the dead bodies at the end of the stairs, the bard rushed down the shaft, not needing any climbing gear in this form and not having much difficulty with the woman either. It was only when Bjön carefully climbed after him that he understood. The spell would end any minute, and carrying an unconscious, half dead body all the way would have taken a lot longer. And their rescue had little time left.

Teltz made it down to the pit with the bones before the spell ended. When Bjön arrived, he had wrapped the woman in spare furs and cloaks, though he didn't have many. Her bare feet looked frozen, and Bjön went to heal as much damage as he could once they had carried her out. As she came to, a healing potion helped with the recovery, and the still burning fire of the sentries they had captured outside helped, too. But still they had to take her back to the hovel quick. "Wait here," Bjön said. "I'll make something to drag her back."

"You've got it," the woman suddenly whispered. "Good."

Teltz looked at the small box and a bag the Dwarf had taken from the cave. He nodded. Maybe they would get out of here fast enough, after all.



That evening, with Elya recovered a little, they got her side of the story. How the hag had caused her hellish nightmares. The hag, she said, was stealing souls to sell to devils. But more important that explaini8ng that was her needing to get back to Osprey to help him with his Pathfinder friend.

"We had hoped you could bring us closer to Falcon's hollow," Teltz expressed. "Osprey said we could send what he needs back with the teleport label thingy."

Eya blinked. "Yes, that much is true. After all of this, I am not staying up here, however. I will leave, and someone else will have to make sure later that the hag is really gone. The teleport point, however, can be set to bring you to a number of places. None of which is a place named Falcon's hollow, though, I'm afraid."

It turned out that the closest thing to get to was a place in the west of Andoran, in the Aspodell Mountains. A dwelling of another Pathfinder, as it seemed, who would be able to help them along to Piren's Bluff, the only pass crossing the mountains. That was good news because it meant they might be in Falcon's Hollow before the others. Their journey could faster than going through Molthune.

That night, Teltz and Bjön slept well, if exhausted, and the mid morning of their next day saw them packed and ready to be sent on, not without wishing Eya and her clever familiar all the best.
 

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