Company of Chaos - All Around Golarion

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Blood at Dralkad Manor

Another session I wasn't present for, but one of the players helped write a journal for it.

This actually happened before the last session IRL, but after the last session in the story timeline.

I need to find a way to synchronize the timelines again.

The players loved both the last scenarios. There were little to none logical problems or motivation issues.

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A few days after they had settled in, Mook started to make use of her oracle abilities, which seemed to get stronger by the day. Being especially good with predicting the near future, she set up small shop – really just a tiny room next to the smithy – to offer her insights for a small, sometimes larger, fee. Edawon and Zaza spent their days helping out delivering messages for the companies here and generally keeping their eyes and ears open for anything interesting.

Kronk stayed hidden in their rooms, save at night sometimes. He practiced his fighting skill and wasn't averse to teach the others some of the basics, like how to keep a better balance or block an attack while unarmed. Krell, however, was getting restless, not having found anything to do as the need for the (suddenly very expanded) selection of spells he could provide was not really there. He had started talking to himself, and not quietly at that, which was highly annoying to everyone else. Zayel had no problems of that kind, he was happy to sit and read one of the many books he had borrowed at the local library. He had not had so much time to read in a long while, and when Edawon and Zaza joined him as they were not overly busy either, he was even happier.

Edawon and Zaza had started writing journals, dating back a few years to make it appear as if they had done so all along and been together all the time. They both had quite some fun with it, and while none would admit it, they were getting attracted to each other on a level not quite bother-sisterly.

One evening Mook came to their quarters with the news that one of the richer people of the city had asked her about an old partly burned down manor in a vineyard close by that was supposedly hunted. He had just wanted to know if that was true, considering he inherited the plot and needed to do something with it so he'd gain more riches – a true follower of his weird faith. Mook, however, had a flash of insight that she needed to check it out.

"So you went out on a limb and said we'd take care of it?" Zayel gasped. "What about asking us first?"

"I rather went out on a limp," Mook joked, but then got quite serious. "And I have to check it out, it is just something I know. I would go alone with the wolf if I had to."

Krell, of course, was all for doing it. They had been through a lot, how could checking out a haunted house be that big of a problem? Zaza, of course, agreed, and so Majek decided to ask the smith a day off and they would go tomorrow, as long as the weather was presenting such a bright, clear, cold sky.





Zaza's diary, 24th of Neth


I will never again say that it is only a haunted house – with those we have had enough dealings in Varisia. No, haunted it was not, just occupied by something vile and something viler. Mainly the world has too many cultists and wannabe cultists and, as it seems, people who dabble with the dangerous things. Majek could not even go along as the smith had too much work for him that day.

We arrived at a garden long not tended, there were overgrown evergreens and other, quite dead in winter, plants. Lots of trails, too, and not all of animals. Someone made screeching noises we supposed were to be meant as scary but we knew right away – mostly thanks to Mook – that this was a ruse. So we ignored the noise and went in through screeching double front doors. Someone had oiled them lately, though, or we would have had a much harder time opening them.

Mook turned around and seemed to look through a statue in the garden, and before we could ask what was wrong, a tiny human woman not much bigger than Mook or me appeared from behind the statue in winter clothes almost covering her up completely. You could only see it was a female because she was rather well stacked, as Cajun would say.

(Note from my son, who GMed this encounter: At this description, one of the players held up his South Park themed character binder and pointed to Kenny "You mean she looks like this?" Upon which the others almost all shouted "Oh my god, they turned Kenny female!" It took a pizza delivery and some vodka mixes to bring back order.)

To us it seemed like she would attack. She had a rapier and what looked like a mithril shirt for protection. I so wanted that shirt. My dear brother says I want too much, but a girl gotta take what I girl can grab.

Anyway, Mook stared at her and made some waving motion with her hand. She didn't even speak, but there seemed to be some silver light around her. But it might have been just the snow and the blinding sun. The woman – or girl, she seemed kinda young, too – suddenly fell to her knees in all the snow and started weeping. Next we know, there is a bunch of illusions around us, none of which could fool a gnome as it seems although I was at first quite taken aback with all the mad laughs emitting around us and a bunch of snow flying right into Krell's face.

Then there was the sound of light steps behind us, but that was no illusion. A moment later, Edawon acts all weird and smiles like a dumbass, and Zayel shouts about him being charmed before throwing some spell at whoever it was. I didn't see much because I had to duck into deep snow – got a lot of it down my coat, too, ewww – to avoid a flaming sphere. There was the woman crying and Krell shouting and someone angrily demanding to know what we had done with Belya. That's how we learned the name of the woman.

Seriously? You are in love with someone you wanna help and them you come thundering down the stairs right into melee to try and save her instead of staying hidden and take out one after the other as long as your love interest is not in obvious danger? What a moron. So, this erratic behavior might have had something to do with Mook's weird, silvery light thing but I am not convinced.

So I got back out of the snow and while I dusted myself of, I see Mook doing it again, silvery light and all, and that guy, too, starts crying. I am sometimes a bit weary of Mook nowadays, I wish I knew, I wish anyone knew what is going on with her.

Mook started something like a sermon, about bad choices in bad life changing situations and all that. I have no idea what was going on with her and those two fur clad lovers, but Krell nodded his head to whatever Mook said. Edawon was still looking dumbfounded, so I rubbed his face with some snow and that snapped him out of it for the most part.

When Mook was done with her preaching, the two birdies got somethings from the ruins and left in a hurry. Mook looked as if she was very happy, and claimed that the two of them was why she had to come here. I wasn't sure if that meant we could not go home, but Krell went through the door and said something about finishing a job we will at least get paid for. I think we all thought that two lovers having taken refuge in the ruins for the winter was all that was there to be, so we went in behind him rather unconcerned, even Mook who supposedly can see so much of the future now.

The house was all moldy and ruined, it was definitely for the better those two wannabe ghosts had left, or they might have gotten sick. We split up to check the place out. I found a chessboard which looks like marble and jade in the foyer and took it with me. Looks valuable enough, but it is also something I'd love to keep as brother dear has just taught me how to play. There were also some sort of half done wicker cages, but I paid them no mind. That was a mistake, but we had already made a mistake in not questioning the lovey-doveys.

I was just done putting the board away when there were terrible shrieks coming from another room. I found out later it was the former study. Zayel had used a knock spell to open it and now there were those two ugly creatures. I don't even know how to describe them. They somewhat looked like disembodied heads, but not like any heads you normally see. They were bigger, blacker had eerie teeth and they had wings like bats spout from the sides.

I later learned that those were some sort of vampires, I forgot the name of them. They are, in fact the heads of their victims, which explained the headless skeletons we later found in the room. They can firghten their intended victims with their cries, which is what they did to most of us. Zayel and Edawon were just staring at the things blankly, and while I could somewhat move, my mind went somewhat blank after I heard them screeching once more. Even Kronk stared as if he had been unprotected in the snow too long. Only Krell and Mook were not affected.

Krell tried with his sword, but hitting flying things is obviusly not his forte. Mook seemed confused at first, but then that glow came over her again, and she seemed... not to be herself anymore. She actually addressed those vampire thingies as lord and lady of the house. As if there was anything remaining of the original people in those undead abominations.

Well, maybe there was. That golden glow – yes, golden this time – coming from Mook surrounded them, and some sort of transformation took place. I couldn't move well enough to see it all, and Mook claimed to have little memory of it later. But they seemed to change back to something more humanoid. I am not sure what was more scary, the things themselves or what Mook, or something through Mook, did to them. Redemption, Kronk would later say. Maybe so. Kronk now calls Mook an oracle of mercy, as she seems to be driven to redeem the unredeemable, without much choice of her own.

When the heads where those of more or less normal humans again, they seemed to stare and wonder for a moment, and then wither away in front of our eyes. I can't describe more because I fainted, at least that's what my brother claims. I only remember outside again, lying in the snow and hearing the noise of battle from somewhere behind me.

As I was told, the leader of a wannabe cult had returned with more cult members and a captive sheriff of a nearby town they were driven out from before. Krell did a good job with his sword while Kronk attacked the followers with his strange, quick moves. I wish I could fight like he can, but I have barely learned yet how to keep my balance on one leg.

When I got up, I saw the bound sheriff and cut him lose. He was in a bad shape, and also very very angry. He killed the cult leader with the rapier of one of the dropped cultists when no one was paying attention. Krell seemed a little annoyed that it was not him who got to kill the guy. Krell can be weird like that at times, I would always be happy not to be the one to have to kill.

Now we are heroes in this town and surrounding area. We were well paid by the owner of the vineyard, but even better that we now get more people to come to Mook, and Edawon and me got some requests to accompany some lumbers into the forest, which we did without incident.

Then today, Mook returned from the Desna temple, which has few followers here. She said a letter had arrived from Bjön, telling us to move on to Falcon's Hollow, as they had to take the long road. We will do so immediately, which is a bit sad as I actually like this place, money greedy humancentric society or not.
 

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Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
The Beggar's (Thieves) Pearl/Tower of the Last Baron

Bjön's Pathfinder Diary, 25th of Neth


It seems that nothing is ever going according to plan, but that is what my elders in the order had warned me about all the time.

We stepped into a bright, cold day in front of a sturdy hut with smoke rising from the chimney. Some winter birds were singing, and it really looked all peaceful. We walked on, talking about our plans and thought it would work all out now. That was until the dwarf lady came running from the hut, eyes going wide when she saw us. It was clear that we were not what she had been expecting to see.

The dwarf was the mother of Torvic, the Pathfinder we came to see. As it turned out, he had been missing for some time now, and she had caught a thieving gnome trying to break into the hut. The gnome had thought it empty, because he had seen Torvic at a camp and stole a heirloom from him. The dwarf lady still had the gnome locked up in the basement. Never fool with a dwarven sorcerer, especially if she is worried about her son.

The stolen heirloom was a gleaming pearl which was in the family for a long time, a key of sorts she said. She had also recovered a few scrolls from the thief which detailed a so-called Gallery of Wonders, something her son had been looking for. Related to their family history, of course. A dwarf always wants to know more about the family!

I agreed to investigate Torvic's whereabouts without consulting my companion. Teltz seemed a bit annoyed, but didn't say anything as we left immediately to follow the woman's directions to the camp. She wanted to come along, but someone needed to watch the thief, and she was nursing a nasty cold and would probably have trouble with her spells. She gave us a few scrolls though.

We found the empty encampment easily enough. It must have been empty for a few days. I was about to ask Teltz for a divination, when we heard the sounds of a fight coming from a nearby cave. There was a plume of smoke over the cave, too. We rushed over, as much as rushing worked in the deep snow, and found a group of mites fighting what looked to be Torvic. Large boughs blocked the entrance to the cave, but Teltz did some sort of shattering song that blasted them all apart.

Once we dealt with the mites, we woke the by now unconscious Torvic. We had arrived just in tie, it seemed, to rescue him. He was confused, disoriented, and didn't remember much about anything, he didn't even know who his mother was or if he knew us or not. He was grateful though. He had also lost track of time, believing it was about a month ago when he first left to find his ancestral secrets.

We brought him back to his mother, and tried to figure out the whole story. He was going on about how he had been to this Gallery of Wonders, and implied he had met someone dangerous there. He told us to never sleep if we were to go there, although he could not tell us why. His mother managed to calm him down, but despiute suffering from sleep deprivation, he wouldn't sleep.

This was most curious. I knew I had to find out what was going on, and not only for knowledge's sake. If there was some evil in these mountains, so close to the next town, it had to be eradicated. Teltz kept pointing out how we were ill equipped to deal with anything, especially as the dwarf lady had to stay with her son. But it had to be done if there was any salvation for this family.

We left to find this gallery the next day. The descriptions of the addled dwarf proved good enough. After some hours in light snow and cold wind – and a constantly complaining dwarf who already had expended some of his magic on a song to warm us up – we reached the well hidden entrance at the end of a long ledge of worked stone at the bottom of a pass that was way too treacherous for my liking. The art of my people was still visible on the ledge. The outlined secret door was opened with an easily deducted phrase from the reliefs on the ledge and the scrolls from Torvic.

Someone had cultivated a strange sort of fungi in those caves the door led to, glowing in the approaching dark and not exactly smelling pleasant. We didn't want to press on, so we will spent the night here in the trap room obviously designed for the door in case someone wouldn't know the phrase. Teltz has set a ward, so we can both sleep.



Bjön's Pathfinder Diary, 26th of Neth


This has been a frustrating day. After finding nothing but a temple the recent inhabitants obviously fear, slippery mold and fungi, partly in cultivation rooms but also everywhere else, and a bunch of grotesquely fungizised ants we finally found the former forge and workroom. Teltz fell and knocked his head when a beam came down. This roused a few more mites we had to deal with. Then we found the prisoners. There were 3 of them, exploration mates of Torvic. They had been locked in the storeroom after being tortured, and the strange fungus was used to torment them further. All 3 are helpless and confused, much like Torvic has been. We now have an idea what happened to Torvic.

We could not go on with them, nor leave them, so we brought them to the temple. The place is still sacred and no one seems to dare to come in, so they should be safe while we went to find the lab the woman, Lyrehawk, talked of and the one who did those experiments on them. They weren't clear on the details, understandably. But we will soon saw.

We found the lab in the former library. Beyond a curtain of sticky yellow filaments, the corridor opened to reveal a bizarre chamber. Glowing fungi bathed the chamber in dim blue light, revealing dozens of incomprehensible devices and texts heaped atop tables and shelves. Half torture chamber, half alchemical laboratory, one table held the dissected remains of a mountain goat, surrounded by blood-spattered parchments covered in cryptic notes and drawings. Strange wires projected from the goat’s remains, connected to odd-looking metallic boxes. It was the weirdest and most revolting thing I had seen in my life – although I am sure there will be worse to come if I grow old in this calling.

We met a blue skinned humanoid - and his orc and goblin assistants - of distinct ugliness there; the twisted picture of a scientist appeared to be quite mad. I didn't know what he was, but the bard identified him as an underground race called derro. Before I could do anything, he had either charmed the little bastard or something else, because he seemed to talk to him quite normally, at least normal for talking with mad scientists. Teltz claimed to have found a dead Torvic and said he was very interested in the derro's attempts to remove sleep, even going as far to claim that was why we had come here. They all didn't know what a paladin was, it seemed, or they would have noticed Desna's symbol on me, and would have also known there was no way I would aid any such experiments.

Turns out Tnarat – that was his name – serves someone called Lady Morilaeth. It is still unclear what exactly that woman is, besides evil. But she can control dreams, or bring them to life, I am not sure what exactly. This is the reason for the experiments. The derro, for all they supposedly revere her, are also scared of her and want to escape her nightmares. That, I can understand.

I saw a side on Teltz which deeply astonished me. The plight of the derro as a whole – a race forced underground by their sensitivity to light, plagued by an inborn madness they can't shake and thus driven to evil – seemed to affect him beyond what I would expect of any man serving the light. I had the impression that, given there would be anything to redeem the race, he would not hesitate to do so. He tried hard enough to keep this hidden, but I could see it clearly. I know I would gladly help him achieve this goal, too. Whatever god created such a race should vanish from the worlds forever.

Then we heard the music drifting down the stairs. We were told that's the lady, and the screams we heard were from the attendance of her ball. It was clear that the derro was not happy about the noise, as it confused him in his research.

I was waiting for a while as Telz exchanged notes with the scientist. Some of them, I later learned, he had gathered a long time ago when he and his former party had killed another mad scientists doing drug research. Tnarat was very excited about this, and his assistants recovered some texts and information for the bard, too. Among those were, as I later learned, valuable ancient dwarf texts.

We learned the lady partied a lot, and that not all the derro partaking survived those events thanks to a drug they were using to get high. Teltz said he would be back and disappeared upstairs, before I could argue about it. Now the derro asked about me and what I did with the "sage from above," meaning the bard of course. I didn't know what else to say, so I said I was his assistant and bodyguard. Every scientist, after all, needed an assistant. He understood that and went on about his research. I had to think of other things while claiming to listen as to not to retch right there and then. Derro might be victims of their own existence, but that does not make their deeds and views any less vile.

Teltz returned after a short while, describing the lady and her ball as totally whack. Supposedly, the woman was in all white make up on the throne, slightly looking like an elf but also like some sort of monster. I do not really want to know what nightmarish union she has sprung from, or I will be forced to feel some sort of pity for her. Teltz described a pendant she had, and I recognized it as a holy symbol of the vile Lamashtu.

We were then told that, usually, the party upstairs would last several hours, and at the end the thing calling itself a lady would return to the bedroom she had made for herself in the former attenndace room behind the throne. We offered to remove the lady one and for all, which would allow the derro and mites to return to their former home the lady had dragged them from. They agreed with almost childish glee. So, now we are waiting for the party to end and that woman to go to bed. A sleeping foe is an easier to kill foe, although this somewhat goes against my sense of honor. There is no honor in a cleric of Lamashtu, though, so I'm fine with the plan.


Bjön's Pathfinder Diary, 26th of Neth


This was almost too easy. Whatever dreams this vile woman had turned into nightmares as she slept – her specialty, we had been assured – we did not allow her to wake from it. She almost tricked us even sleeping though, as she appeared to be already dead. A trick, and a useful one, no doubt. If not for Teltz, I would have considered it to be a lucky day not to have to kill anything and left. Teltz,. To be on the sure side, set her on fire.

He thinks this has trapped her spirit in the dream or nightmare realm, or as he calls it, the dreamscape. He mumbled something about having to go back there for her later. He didn't answer when I asked him what that was about. He sure has his secrets.



Bjön's Pathfinder Diary, 5th of Kuthona


It was not easy to return with 3 confused, injured, traumatized strangers. We lost 4 days in the wintery mountains when we should have taken no longer than a full day. At one point, we got attacked by bears who thought we were easy prey, and they were almost right.

It turned out that Jelja, Torvic's mother, had called in some priests of Iomedae to assist with her son. She agreed to have the others stay as well. The place sure is big enough. That leaves us taking the gnome with us, who does not want to stay. Well, there is safety in numbers, although 3 is still a pretty small number. I would have loved to stay a few more days to talk with the dwarf emissaries about reclaiming the mountains, but of course, my companion wants to press on.

Yes, the gnome. Lerrim. I am not sure what to make of him. He might be a thief but he is not of the evil type, I checked that first. He hates devils with a passion, that is, at least, what we gathered on the road to Piren's Bluff. Something that happened in Cheliax and the reason he had been up in the mountains, trying to only survive, as he puts it. The closer we got to the small fortified town at the only pass through the mountain, the less tense he got. Now that we are here, he has decided to stick with us, probably due to the lack of accommodations. The whole area is snowed in, we barely made it here. We will not leave anytime soon and Teltz is in a bad mood about it. The only tavern in town was filled to the rim, so we and a few other more religious folk have been sent to camp in the old temple of Aroden, which is tended by a senile elf priest. A shame, really, he is fighting a lost war against time, with the temple and himself. But he is friendly enough to welcome us all.

The mood in town is strange, somehow subdued, but this might be just because of the especially hard winter.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Through the icy clear afternoon, the small trek proceeded towards the shimmering gateway the two gatemages had opened. Mook, still wary of the whole idea, looked again to her wizard friend for reassurance. He smiled at her and petted his hawk familiar, but in truth he felt as worried.

The traders they were traveling with were on their way to a place called Arthfell Forest. None of them had heard of it before, except Kronk, who claimed it was a bit of a spooky place, from what he had been told. There was no way to pass the mountains without major issues this time of year, so the traders had employed 2 gatemages who, with an enormous amount of energy, were able to open a gate from the plains outside the town they had found them in to anywhere else they had been before. Somewhat like a teleport, but different, Mook had been told. She cared less about this detail than about another. They all had to keep physical contact to one another and, through the first person in line, to one of the gatemages. As none of them could determine where they would come out, this was vital. Keeping in touch meant they would come out on a large clearing on a well traveled road. Losing contact would mean they could appear anywhere several miles away from where everyone else was. This sort of traveling was not yet well researched and supposedly people had gone lost several times before.

One of the gatemages led the tied together wagons with several families in them. The other led the pack animals, caravan guards and guests like themselves. They were grabbing their front walker's belts, hands or backpacks, if they were not right out tied together like Zaza and Edawon and Mook and Zayel were. Most held their riding or pack animals. It was too bad not everyone fit into the wagons, Mook thought. But the wagons were filled with wares and trader families. So Mook was tied to her friend while her wolf and a donkey were tied to her. Zayel had his hawk on his shoulder, bound with a strap of leather so the familiar would not fly away in a panic. As there had not been enough ropes, Zayel held on to the belt of Majek, who led two horses and was tied to Krell. Krell in turn held on to Edawon's backpack. Kronk was riding on one of the horses Majek led, as the kobold had caught an annoying cold and was weak with fever. Strange, it was, that priests and healers could come up with all sorts of cures, but even the gods seem to be unable to find a cure for the common cold.

On the other side of the gate, it was less cold but a lot wetter, which would probably not help Kronk at all, Mook thought. But they would have a much faster time traveling to Falcon's Hollow from that forest, so she had been told. And most likely they would find an inn to stop at and wait for the monk to feel better.

The line with the wagon was through, and their own line was now beginning to move. Mook tried to ignore the queasy feeling in her stomach and tried to remember all the ingredients for a sweat tea to help the kobold. She hoped her remedies would even work with lizards.

Zayel kept suppressing a cough. The close proximity to his familiar was a problem but he could let the hawk fly again as soon as they would be through. Only a few people and animals before them. Majek stepped through, without hesitation as it seemed, and the wizard and the oracle followed suit. Just when they were over the edge, in some sort of shimmering corridor only seeming to be a few feet wide, the boy sneezed. The hawk's feathers were flying, and automatically putting his hands to his nose he lost the grip on the half-orc's belt. When they were through the gate, they found themselves standing in a small, barely snow covered trail leading up over a small hill in a dense forested area. The three-quarter-elf sneezed again.

"Oh no!" Mook exclaimed, her voice full of panic. "Now we got lost!"

Zayel had a bit of trouble freeing his hawk, who immediately flew up over the trees to check out the area. "Eh," he said, sounding hard pressed for air. "Maybbe dey a jus over de hill?" He sneezed again. There was no trace of the portal anymore.

They had no such luck, of course. But they were not totally unlucky either, as a well build, bright colored inn with a large red sign proclaiming it THE TRAVELERS STOP INN and, judging from the horses looking out of a stable or tied to a hitching post and all the farm wagons in the front, quite some patronage, greeted them on the other side. Above the inn's sign, stretching across the front of the building was a banner with artistic lettering stating “The Traveling Exhibition of Doctor Phineus Krane, Professor of Antiquities and Master of Shroud Artistry.” A number of colorful tents have been set up at the rear of the inn yard, apparently for this exhibition. As evening was nearing, several workers could be seen securing the tents and wares for the night. Some late visitors were on their way home or into the inn.

"At least we will not have to sleep out in the open," Zayel, now not sounding as clogged anymore, sighed. "Look, I'm very sorry, I should have founbd a rope to tie myself to the others..."

"It's fine, we seem to be not so lost after all. We may be able to find the others, and asides, if needed, we have enough coin to make it to Falcon's Hollow on our own." Mook strode purposefully towards the inn, and Zayel shrugged and followed.

Business was brisk as the long shadows of evening slanted through the taproom’s open windows. A bald, red-faced man wearing an apron worked behind the bar and several young girls carried platters of food and drinks to various tables. Most of the crowd seemed to be local farmers and traveling merchants, although clustered around one table sat a rough-looking group of mercenaries, one of whom was a short, black-cloaked figure who might be a goblin. They huddled over their drinks in quiet
conversation, occasionally raising a head to eye the crowd. At a table nearby, a bespectacled scholarly looking fellow discussed a piece of decorated linen spread across the tabletop with a small group of onlookers. The owner of the exhibition, they guessed.

The two of them ducked through the people to claim a small table close to the mercenaries and the group discussing the shroud. It was pleasantly warm in here, and so they dropped their cloaks and ordered some hot, spiced ale from a serving maid.

They were just about to order their second round when the one they thought to be a goblin jumped off his chair to go outside and bumped into their table. Zayel's ale spilled over and hit the creature. It protested in a squeaky voice, and his friends got up all at once, except a fat guy who looked like a bored wizard. "Hey, you spilled your drink on our friend," the tallest of them stated the obvious. "Don't think because he's a goblin you can treat him like that."

Zayel looked confused, but Mook knew troublemakers when she saw them. She was about to reply, maybe use a spell, when two of the other customers stepped into the way of the mercenaries. "Goblins are generally vermin, and this was an accident," one of them, a broad shouldered farmer, said. "Leave if you don't like it."

A moment later, all hell broke lose. Zayel ducked under the table while Mook stepped back to the wall. Zayel had read about bar fights happening at random but until now he had always thought this to be an exaggeration. Mook had planned to keep her back safe, but bumped into the exhibition owner, who in turn knocked over a candle, and a moment later something started burning on the table. With an enraged shriek, water was splashed over it, but Mook paid little attention. She was focused on what she now realized was an ugly slim elf woman nearing her with a stein as weapon. Of course, the staff Mook had been using lately was popped up against their table, and not counting her dagger, she had little to work with. Her wolf, of course, was waiting outside as she had no intention of worrying the farmers. In her need to defend herself, she grabbed the nearest chair and barely blocked the stein from crushing down on her shoulder.

A loud, commanding voice could be heard over the pandemonium, demanding for everyone to drop their weapons and stop damaging the inn. Hesitantly, the locals and finally the mercenaries obeyed and returned, grumbling, to the not yet broken parts of their tables. A tall human was shoving the leader of the mercenaries into the corner, berating him about having been warned before and to leave town immediately lest they want to spend the night in jail.

As the mercenaries left, the goblin hissed and spat at Zayel who was still hiding under the table. Mook relaxed and put her chair back where she had taken it from. "Thank you for restoring order so quickly," she told the tall human. "I take it you are the law around here?"

The man, obviously having planned to be more unfriendly, nodded in slight confusion about the compliment. "That I am. Cage Blunndee, sheriff of the area."

"We were separated from our traveling companions," Mook went on, planning to use the momentum of the conversation. "A trade caravan that used some portal magic to get us here. Shifty spell, if you ask me, as we got lost, obviously. Would you happen to know of a large clearing with a major road going through it?"

"Craggart's Meet," the bartender, busy gathering up broken glasses, replied immediately. "It is quite some distance to the east, though. You would need a few days to get there on foot."

"Just great," Zayel grumbled as he got up and dusted himself off. "We have a wolf and a donkey but I guess that would not make us that much faster."

"My shroud," the exhibition owner could now be heard at his table. "It is damaged, glad I could rescue most of it. Those mercenaries should pay for it."

"I'm glad if we never see them again," the sheriff grumbled.

"What's it you are exhibiting?" Curiosity overcoming his annoyance the wizard went over to the table.

"Ah!" The man bowed and introduced himself, pleased at the interest. "I'm Professor Krane, Phineus Krane. I don't think you have heard of me?" He shook his head in an imitation of the supposed elf's gesture. "Of course not. The subject of my exhibits here at the Travelers Stop is a form of artistry called shrouding. By using certain reagents and magical properties, this art allows the image of a corpse or mummy to be captured orthographically... that is to say, with height, width, and depth... on the linen shroud in question. It was once a common technique among the burial practices of certain ancient cultures but has largely been lost today. The shroud in question that was almost destroyed carries the image of the Chelish King Haliad III. It is over four hundred years old and the centerpiece of my exhibition. Glad I warded it against most damage. Only brought it in here to show it to the young lass... oh she is gone now." The man's face showed slight disappointment as he ruffled his greying hair.

"Isn't this a bad place to hold an exhibition, especially this time of year?" Mook wondered while Zayel studied the shroud. "Or are you only passing through?"

"Oh, I'm here with a purpose." The scholar's eyes lit up. " Five years ago, a druid named Willowroot located and recovered five artifacts that once belonged to a forgotten king named Narven. With them I can create a shroud of their former master. The items will, of course, be returned and I will create a second shroud for him to keep, finally giving the burial honor to King Narven that has been denied
him for 200 years."

"Wow," Mook said. "And you know where this druid is? Somewhere around here?"

"Well, that is the thing. He is supposed to live around here but the scouts I hired have found any trace of the man yet. And I was hoping to be out of here before more snow falls."

"What are those items you are looking for? Maybe we can help? I have a hawk who could scout from above, and Mook here has a wolf companion and knows about forests." Zayel was definitely intrigued with all this.

Mook frowned at her friend, but she was fascinated by the matter as well. "We could certainly try. That is, if you would take us east with you – assuming that is where you are going next – so we have a better protection from weather and foe."

"Deal!" The professor now had an almost childish look of glee. “The five items are the breastplate of sacred fire, the wand of earth’s ire, the codex of the firmament, the vial of pure water, and the spirit-staff of Narven. I have here a map to the druid’s grove – although where in the forest it is, we don't know yet - and sketches of each of the five items."

"Perfect! I can't wait to get started." This was finally a mission right up Zayel's scholary alley. "Right first thing tomorrow, no?" He looked over at Mook, who nodded.

"Good good. I'll even pay for your rooms," the professor said and waived to the innkeep.

Zayel and Mook grinned at each other. This was much like the crazy exploits of their youth which, truth to be told, only ended a few weeks back.




The merchant's caravan stayed on the clearing for the night, and it was only when the owner of the donkey requested its return from Mook that they noticed the gnome and the wizard were gone. The half-orc had been busy replacing an iron or two and help with a wagon while and Zaza and Edawon had made Kronk comfortable in their new tent. Krell was with the guards most of the time, trying to get as much information out of them as possible. They had assumed Mook was, as it had become a habit, patrolling the area with her companion to make sure nothing evil was out there, and Zayel was known to teach a few of the children how to read and write in the evenings.

It caused a bit of a stir, but the gate mages were long gone back by then, and from all they knew, the two of them and the animals weren't that far. "This is a well known gathering place," the leader of the guard explained. ""Most likely everyone they meet will direct them here. They might find us by early tomorrow, and at least they looked like they can take care of themselves."

While the rest of the party as not so sure about that, they simply nodded and went about their business. Not that there was anything they could do. An older man came to bring soup and medicine for the kobold – who had been quickly accepted after he drove away a group of hungry dogs from some merchant children – and the guards asked Krell if he could help stand watch that night, to which he readily agreed.

"This is bad," Zaza mumbled while getting ready to sleep. "First we get separated from Teltz and Bjön, now we lose Mook and Samin."

"Zayel," her real brother quickly corrected. "don't forget he is Zayel now."

"Yeah, right. In any case, it is not good." There was nothing more to say about that.



"You did what?" Sitting in front of the fire a whole pig was roasting over where he had been trying to read one of the temple's old books, Bjön stared at Teltz and the gnome who was still hanging out with them in disbelief. "How could you do such a thing?"

"Well, let's see. For one, it is a temple to a devil. Asmodeus, devil, you know?" Teltz growled. "You as a paladin should understand that. And with all the talk about this town going to hell – literally, with the baron wanting to join Cheliax – it seemed the natural thing to do."

The dwarf put the book aside and took a deep breath. "So, you two decided to torch the temple? Like, burn it down? How much damage did you do? Where you seen?"

"Yes, a lot, and no, of course not," the thief snorted. "I might've been caught by an old dwarf but only because she was a sorceress and I didn't expect her. I was fully prepared for this."

"So was I," the bard dropped in.

"Great. Didn't we agree we want to stay out of trouble?" Ever since they had been told by some locals how the baron, one self important human named Vendikon, had decided to side with Cheliax after they had courted him for a while, they had been talking about laying low and only trying to warn the Andoran army once the snow was gone and they could press on. Right now, it was impossible for the Chelaxians to invade, anyway.

"We can't sit still anymore," Teltz explained. "Some agents from Cheliax arrived, and their army is only stuck in the snow or they would be here already."

"This snow will not lessen for weeks, I'm afraid," the paladin pointed out.

"The baron's men are already harassing the townsfolk," Teltz continued. "You can't talk freely, or sing all the songs you want." Teltz had, from the moment he had assessed the situation, only used love songs or some other harmless entertainment.

"The locals say they sneaked someone out to warn their government," Lerrim added. "So it stands to reason that as soon as the snow is gone, there will be a siege or outright battle. And we'd be in the middle unless we do something now. Plus, I know Cheliax and I hate devils."

Bjön pondered this for a moment. "Burning their temple down won't do much but make the patrols harass more people. Maybe arrest a few just because."

"It is a sign," Teltz disagreed. "And there are more citizens and visitors against this sort of betrayal than are on the baron's side. It might strengthen their morals."

"Please keep out of trouble," Bjön asked, almost pleadingly. "I agree we might want to do something, but we need to talk about what exactly in more private quarters..." he pointed to the other refugees of winter around them, who, although not in earshot, might still gather something. "And we need to think everything through carefully, alright?"

"Sure," Teltz replied. "OK," the gnome agreed less quickly.

As the two of them left, the paladin allowed a small grin to show on his face as he picked up the book again. Going against devil worshipers was definitely his agenda, too, but he had not expected the two of them to show so much activism. He would have to be careful to steer them towards the actions he envisioned.



It had been easy enough to locate the grove with the help of Will, the hawk. It had been a bit more difficult to get there thanks to a narrow trail, and so it was already midmorning despite them, having left the inn early, when they arrived. At the location marked on Doctor Krane’s map, a clearing opened in the wood ahead. A crude stone altar constructed as a dolmen, a stone slab supported at either end by smaller stones, sat in the center of the clearing. Flanking it were two rough stone monoliths, lines of writing rudely chiseled into their surfaces. The altar and entire floor of the clearing was covered in a growth of thick, brown vines.

There was writing on the upper half of both of the monoliths. Zayel used a fly spell to fly up to where the writing was. Luckily, it was in Sylvan so he could read it without help. The inscriptions on the outside of the stones contain two riddles. The first riddle said “Two miles toward the sun’s first fire, the earth’s embrace will still its ire.” The second riddle stated “A league to the south in sacred mother’s home, the royal water is returned to its own.”

The inner faces of the monoliths held three rhyming hints. The first declared “Southeast four miles the image flies, atop forest giant in azure skies.” The second said “Lofty stone reaching higher, holds in its grasp the sacred fire.” Finally, the third stated “Six miles and some at forest’s heart, where name and namesake no longer part.”

It was easy for the flying wizard to notice the breastplate with the permanent image of a moving flame on it right atop one of the monoliths in a barely disguised concavity. He took it without worrying for traps.

"What's it with the riddles?" Zayel wondered as he came down again and relayed the information.

"I guess he wanted someone to find the items," Mook shrugged. "Could be part of a game to train apprentices."

"Maybe so, but the riddle about this breast plate was kinda pointless, as it was clearly visible once you read it all."

"Oh, maybe that served as a hint that those other rhymes are, in fact, leading to the artifacts." Mook shrugged. "You won't believe the dumb things gnome masters do to train their students."

"You think this druid was a gnome?" Zayel grinned.

"Nah, probably not, or there would have been some sort of a trap," the oracle chuckled.

"Will thinks he knows where the "giant" from the riddle is," the wizard said. "Giant tree to the south east."

Mook nodded and started down a deer trail into that direction. "Maybe if we hurry we can be back at the inn by noon."

The trees of the forest were older and grew much taller in this area. Carried softly on the breeze is a strange thumping noise. A massive hollow tree trunk towered above the surrounding woodland, once truly a forest giant. Upon one of its remaining upper limbs dangled a bone scroll case, swaying in the wind and thumping against its hollow side. This time, Zayel ordered the hawk to pick it loose and bring it down. "So, that makes two of them," he grinned. "And Will says he has found a pool of water probably related to the "royal water" riddle."

"This is easy enough," Mook agreed, "while still a bit of a challenge. I like those type of games. Maybe the druid is even expecting us?"

"Shouldn't you know?" teased the elf. "You are the oracle." Laughing, they marched on.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
To show where on Golarion the party is and was, I've created a travel map. The different colored pins depict the locations any adventures happened in, and where the party splits Ii use different colors. Adventure paths will get their own color.

This would later criss-cross a lot I assume, but then I'll make new maps for newer travels.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
The next morning, the caravan broke camp a bit later than usual, but when the missing travelers did not show up, they had little choice but to continue, especially as the weather seemed to turn sour and no one wanted to be caught inside forested area in a thunderstorm in winter. It took less than an hour to clear the forest. From the storm brewing over the trees, they only got a few snowflakes and small hailstones. When the caravan turned slightly south at midday, the party decided to stick with it anyway, so they could reach the Arthrosh River with them and travel east and north on it, to turn back west right to Falcon's Hollow. It was much better than going through the hills alone.

Kronk, because he was still too sick to do much, talked about his home in the area of Falcon's Hollow, about the Lumber Consortium owning basically everything there – including, so it seemed, the people. Most who came to the taown never managed to leave again, usually barely surviving with what they made from cutting down wood for their employers. Those who protested often vanished, and it was not assumed they just went up and left. Kronk's clan had all but stopped trading with the town in the last decade.

It didn't really sound like a place to settle at when they were done helping with the problem of the other kobolds there. Majek was especially disappointed about that. "Not that I don't like traveling, I wanna see the world. But not so much world at once, and with less perils coming our way."

Just as he said that, an elf they had not noticed before neared their group on a sorrel horse with a shining fur. It was an older man, with a regal aura about him despite the worn traveling robes which blended in well with the surroundings. "Do you think your elf friend will catch up with you soon?" he asked without introduction.

Majek blinked, while Zaza stared at the elf outright. "We have no way of knowing that," she said. "Hasn't anyone told you that it is rude to talk to people like that without introducing yourself?"

The elf looked down at the halfling and smiled, if barely so. "My name is of no concern to you, but your friend is of great concern to me.If you see him again, tell him to meet me in Augustana. He can leave a message at the Tree Top Inn if I should happen to be away." With that, he turned his horse around and rode off to the head of the caravan. Not even the guards looked at him as he turned onto a trail away from them a moment later.

"What was that all about?" Edawon blurted out.

"Devil if I know," Malik grumbled. "But that was one mighty arrogant elf, and he can stay in Augustana as long as he wants and not cross my part again."

"Well, we are going the other direction anyway. I just hope the two of them are fine and will find us soon. I can't help but worry," Zaza signed.


The two in question, Zayel and Mook and their animals, had come to a large pool formed from a bubbling, clear spring surrounded by thickets. It looked relatively deep but they couldn't see all the way down because of the spring troubling the water and some ice at the borders.

Mook was about to comment on the peaceful scenery and admire the beauty of nature, when all of a sudden a flash of energy struck her painfully in the chest, throwing her backwards to land on her behind. Dooda was at her side snarling at the bushes immediately, but she barely registered that. Her robe was torn and smoldering, and she had problems breathing.

Zayel had been diving for cover at the first sight of the flash. He knew the spell and noticed its origins to be somewhere to the left and front of them. The hawk let out an angry screech and dove into the bushes without being told so, and a surprised voice cried out in pain a moment later. Then the grey streak of the wolf flew by. Zayel got up again as quickly as he could and went after his bird, worried the next magic missile would strike the familiar down. He drew the short sword he had at his side since their stint on the island, never mind he had barely learned which end was front. As so often, the young man forgot that spells would be his best defense, as he could barely think clearly.

He found the wolf had locked his jaw firmly in the leg of a fat man vaguely familiar, while the hawk was clawing at the bald head and face. The stranger beat at the wolf with a wooden club but missed half of the time, partly because there was blood running into his eyes so he could barely see. Then his hand went to a solid belt and reached for a bottle of what seemed to be a potion.

"Hey, stop!" Zayel called out. The stranger hesitated, as if he was about to do as asked,. But something drove him to continue beating at the wold even as his hand opened the bottle. With some difficulty thanks to the hawk attacking, he drank it. A moment later, he appeared blurred as if seen through moving water or a rainy window. The hawk let out an angry shriek, but was confused enough to take off for a moment.

Mook's crossbow bolt flew wide of the man. Slightly unsteady on her feet, the oracle tried to aim anew. Zayel lost his balance just that moment when his feet became entangled in some roots. The young man fell forward without being able to grab anything to hold him upright. His sword, which he had been holding with obvious incompetence, flew out of his hands and went right through their attacker's chest. The fat guy fell without another sound, and the wolf barely jumped aside not to b buried under him.

Staring in shock, Zayel tried to get up again. "Wow... wow... who was that?"

Mook stared at the dying man with no sympathy, clutching her chest. "That's one of those folks from the inn, remember? The ones with the goblin trying to make trouble."

"Oh, Yeah." Zayel could not make himself to retrieve the bloody sword in the man's chest. "Why in the name of all gods was he here ambushing us?"

"Maybe after the same things we are? They could be considered valuable, you know."

As the wolf whined and danced around his master, Zayel became aware of how Mook looked. "You are hurt."

The oracle limped a bit as she came closer. "Yes but it is not only the magic that hit me. I think the other magic is beginning wear off." She lifted her left hand and showed a simple, wooden ring on her middle finger. It had been part of their payment after they had cleared out the manor ruins. It was filled with a magic allowing an oracle to ignore her curse, or even multiple curses, until its color faded to white. The ring had been of an almost black wood, and now it was light brown and there were many white streaks.

"The clerics said it can be recharged, yes?" Zayal said.

"Yes but, that is a major undertaking, and not something done on the trail. Let's finish this quickly so we can be on our way before anyone notices what I am."

"What you are is not evil," a tiny voice behind them said. From the surface of the pool, the head of a nixie was peeking out, smiling shily. "But this man was, and his companion, so I charmed him."

"I see," Mook nodded in complete understanding.

"Here," the nixie said and handed over the vial they were looking for. "You and your wolf need to drink this to make the hurt go away."

While Mook took the vial and gave to her wolf first, Zayel introduced them. "We are looking for just that vial for a ritual. Would you be willing to borrow it out? We'll return it after, as with all the other stuff we need."

"You will bring it back? Promise on the power of nature?"

"We promise," Mook replied before Zayel could think about what exactly that meant.

"Watch yourselves out there," the nixie said. "There are more bad people out there." Then she vanished.

"Oh, I would have had another question," Zayel sighed.

"What question?" Mook, looking decidedly better now, retrieved the bloody sword and cleaned it before handing it to Zayel, who absentmindedly took it.

"How she makes do in the cold water. I mean, we all know water conducts heat away from the body, and the nixies don't grow winter fat or anything so..."

Mook laughed like she had not done in a long time. "You arcane types, always the weirdest questions. It's probably magic. Now, let's hurry."

A while later, the trees parted, revealing a small clearing before a steep embankment. A dark, eight-foot-diameter opening breached the small rise. Small humanoid footprints were leading from the cave. A snoring could be heard from inside, and when Mook checked, she found a black bear in his winter sleep in front of an empty wooden coffer where the wand must have been. "Too late," she simply stated.

"So we have to hunt down those thugs now?" Zayel was really upset upon hearing that.

"Let's get to the last part first, and worry about them later," Mook decided. She turned into the direction the last riddle had indicated.

An ancient road wound its way through the trees, some of which encroached upon the road itself. Dimly visible in the green gloom ahead was an old ramshackle building. It was so overgrown and encrusted with moss and ferns among its shingles as to almost seem to be a part of the forest itself, a fey hillock here at the heart of the primeval wood. Closer examination revealed gaping windows and an open doorway, the door hanging by the remains of one leather hinge.

"Nice place," Zayel mumbled. He felt he was done running through the forest for today. He peeked in through the door, which promptly fell off. The boy barely jumped aside to avoid getting his feet slammed. "It is all rotting in here," he called back to Mook. Something stirred in the back of the former common room just as he said that.

"Step back," Mook called. "This place has a protector." The gnome pointed behind Zayel, and he saw a wooden trunk with many movable branches making its way towards him. Mook mumbled a few ancient sounding words in the druidic language – a language she had learned from her mother while she had still hoped to become a druid. Before the curse of the oracle had gotten a hold on her.

The defender turned towards her, shuddered, and stood still. Zayel let out a breath of relief. "What is that thing?"

"Kind of a walking tree. It will not harm us as long as we stay friends of nature. It was made to defend the woods from intruders with bad intentions. Or," she pointed, "in this case, the room."

"I'm glad I have you with me," Zayel admitted. Mook grinnded widely at that compliment.

A few minutes later, they had found goblin skeletons, the skeleton of what looked to be a satyr of sorts and the remains of a centaur. Next to the fallen apart fire pit was a gleaming skull and spinal column – which for some weird reason made Mook giggle like a little girl – and after another minute or so, Zayel finally noticed that the staff they were looking for was under those remains. He grinned again like a child finding a Spring Festival egg, but a snarling voice stopped him in his movements.

"Hold it right there, kid. That's ours, and by the way, so is the rest of the stuff you took." The tall, imposing human they had seen leading th mercenaries at the inn stood in the doorframe, wearing a mixture of mocking grin and serious determination. "You are but children, and outnumbered, too. You better be smart."

Zayel didn't really listen. His eyes were fixed on a member of the opposing party he had not noticed last night. A female elf, thin and pale with all white hair, looking so full of light and pure while she was joining up with those bad people. She was standing right next to the goblin, too, as if that was the most normal thing. For some reason, this caused a deep sense of dislike, yes even hatred, inside Zayel. All he wanted was to bring her down.

"I'm not a child," Mook replied. "And we are not exactly outnumbered. But if you would let us outside, we won't stand in the way."

The tall man's smile was one of victory now. "You will give what you took to her," he pointed at the elf.

Zayel frowned. He was not to give anyone anything, especially not that elf. But as the leader of their foes stepped aside, bow drawn, Mook took him by the elbow and steered him outside. "defender," she whispered. The boy's face brightened as he understood.

The goblin and the human went inside, while the elf turned to them with what could only be said to be an evil smile. "Now, hand over what is ours like nice little children."

"I just said before," Mook replied as if talking to an imbecile, "I'm not a child. And all we have is this," she lifted the scroll from a pocket. "You have the staff already, and your friend was throwing magic at us when we came to the pool." She indicated her damaged robes as proof. "Not like we could get past him. And that vine on the clearing, we wanted to get back to later, with some fire to root it out."

Vine? Zayel only vaguely remembered some growth on that clearing. Was Mook making that up or had he not noticed the danger he had been in when checking out the columns. He promised himself to be more watchful of his surroundings from now on.

The elf's face contorted and she was about to reply, when the sound of fighting could be heard from inside. For a moment, the woman stood frozen, then she decided it was wiser to help her friends. She disappeared into the building and a moment later there was the flash of some spell. "I'm glad I put the breastplate and the rest in the bag of holding," Zayel moaned. "But what now? We need the rest of the set."

"We'll wait, of course," Mook announced as if that was the most natural thing in the world. "If the goblin tries to run, Dooda and Will can grab him. If one of the others comes out, well, you have some spells, don't you? So have I, but they probably won't anymore."

"Sometimes I swear you are evil," Zayel shook his head. "But I like it."

Mook was right about the goblin. A few minutes into the fight, the sneaky little mercenary came running out of the ruins, both the staff Zayel had wanted to take before and the wand they had not been able to find earlier tucked under his robes. The staff was really large and made the attempt to flee look pathetic. It was obvious the goblin had not forgotten them, as he drew the wand as he came out and pointed it at them. A moment later though, the hawk had disarmed the unsuspecting little guy, and a snarling wolf had his teeth right at the shrieking goblin's throat. "Very nice," Mook simply stated, taking the staff from their foe while Zayel collected the wand from his familiar. "Finish him off."

Dooda did as asked, and Zayel had to jump back to avoid the blood spray as the screeching goblin was torn apart. She had the same air around her Zayel had seen when she first confronted the skeletal dragon in the golden city. He did not like that, but he decided not to comment. "Do we leave now?" he asked.

"You bet, and the faster the better. I'm not sure the defender would win, plus they might decide to leave when they notice their treacherous friend is gone." With that, Mook hurried back the way they had come,leaning on the newly acquired staff. She was limping less than before but it was clear the magic of the ring would only last a day longer or so. If they were lucky.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Tower of the Last Baron/Hollow's last Hope

"What are you composing?" Bjön sat the small basket of winter apples next to the fire he was sharing with the bard and sat down next to the human with his lute, looking a bit tired. He had helped shoveling snow around the temple all day, and helped with an injured trapper who had been brought in earlier. The dwarf took an apple and relaxed on the bench.

"I'm trying to compose a teleport song. I can only teleport to certain places if they have a specific song written for them, and I need to compose that song while I am there. I admit it is far superior in many ways to what wizards do, but my bard school has made sure we all know the advantages, too." Teltz smiled at the surprise in the paladin's face. "I can only go to places I, personally, have written songs about, even if they are just short ones. I need to capture the feeling of a place, and I will know just when a song is right. So no sharing with other bards, and no simply going where I was before. On the bright side, once written, I need no spell components and not even an instrument, my voice is enough, and as opposed to a wizard, I can carry any number of people listening with me, and chose who, too."

"Now that's neat. How often can you do that? Have you done it before? Why didn't you tell me?"

"In theory," the bard smiled and sat down his instrument, "I can do it at any time. However, it takes time. It does not always work because to some places I just have no good connection. There is also the possibility that, once done with the song, my other spells will not work for a while afterwards, depending on how long it took me to get it just right. Of course, I also need to be right at the place I want to teleport to when writing the magic. This place seemed good, not very frequented usually, in a place where it might make sense to return to given that it looks like we'll be all over the world for a while and, most importantly, I have the time and inspiration right now.

I've not done it often before," the bard continued, taking an apple as well. "Mainly because the places you write about seem to take a piece of you and make you want to return. Or maybe it is more like they anchor a part of you. Most bards feel that way, those who don't sometimes get lost during a teleport. I did it at the inn in Tamran, because I had to wait so long and my connection to that place was strong. We might need to go back there eventually."

Bjön nodded. "Good idea. Kassen, too?"

"Yeah, a place just outside the town. I was using it to go back when I visited an old family member about who's home I also have a song about. Never even told Samin about it." He took a deep breath. "It is an ability that tends to make people pressure you to write songs about places they like when they travel with you. And they do not understand I cannot make songs all the time about all sorts of places, especially those I'm not connected to."

"No doubt. How often can you teleport?" Bjön took another apple.

"Once, at best twice a day. I haven't tried more than twice, anyway, and usually I let a day pass because I am really very exhausted afterwards."

"When do you expect to be done with this one?" the dwarf inquired while changing into his night gowns. Most other guests of the temple were already sleeping.

"I'm almost done. An hour or so more – if the music will not bother you."

The dwarf smiled widely. "Your music never bothers me unless it is too loud or about women of ill repute cheating their customers."

Chuckling, the human picked up his lute again. A while later, just when he was finally done, he noticed Lerrim making his way through the sleepers over to their fire. "You know Bumbo?" he asked as he sat down to warm himself up. His face was grim.

"Yeah of course, that imbecile nephew of the baron working at the kennels." Teltz put his things away and got ready for the night. "What about him?"

"Well, he's no imbecile, and I doubt he is the nephew of the baron. That son of a bitch is a spy."

Teltz stopped in his movements. "How do you figure?"

"Saw him sneaking about town, listening in on people who think he doesn't get what he's talking about. I used that tactic before. Then tonight, I followed him back to the kennel and he went into the lair of the largest bitch with pups and didn't come back out. So I talk to the dog and she says he is going down a tunnel every few nights and when he comes back he smells all liquor and food and like the baron."

Teltz whistled. "Now that's interesting. Good thing Bjön didn't let on about being a paladin."

"I was thinking," the thief continued. "If there is a tunnel that goes right into the dragon's lair, so to say, why not use it to kill the baron and rid the area of Chelish influence? The Andoran army is gathering for war, or at least a siege, once spring is around, but if we get the issue solved before we could all be on our happy ways. Not that he would like the idea." Lerrim pointed at the snoring paladin.

"Yeah, that would be a favorable approach," the bard agreed. He thought of his inkling that he might soon need a teleport song to this place. "But we'll need Bjön to fight off the guards."

"You can do sleep spells, can't you?" Lerrim wondered.

"Yeah but... see I just did something magical not making it likely my spells will all work as they should in the next few days, so we might have to wait a while."

"Alright, but a few days at most, ok? I have a feeling that arrests will begin soon." He didn't have to point out that strangers were usually the first ones arrested.



Traveling by boat around the wide arch of the rivers Arthrosh, Andoshen and Foam to Falcon's Hollow had been without incident. The trader who owned the boat they had hired stopped at the town anyway to deliver some of the more rare supplies to the Lumber consortium families. This time though, he was in a hurry to be away as soon as he had dropped his wares and advised them to run as well.

There was no doubt the town was in peril. Perched at the edge of civilized lands, the small town of Falcon’s Hollow had always had to rely on itself to solve its problems. Meanwhile, the uncaring lumber barons squeezed the common folk for every last copper, deaf to their pleas. Now the hacking coughs of the sick could be heard throughout town. The plague had come to Falcon’s Hollow and the town’s leaders couldn’t be bothered to stop it.

Majek, Zaza, Edawon and Krell were walking through the town the same morning of their arrival – having left the sick and disguised kobold at the Jak’a’Napes inn – the weirdest name for an inn in their opinion. From what they gathered, with the cold and wet weather, a mysterious plague had sprung up which defied all attempts to cure it. The only cleric around here could not heal diseases, and the woman in charge of herbal remedies seemed at her wits end. There had been casualties already, and Krell commented on how dumb that consortium could be not to want the town – and thus themselves and the business – healthy. The answer was probably, so they realized as they checked out the place in slowly falling snow, that there could only so much lumber be won still, and they probably already planned relocating their business, and thus leaving the town to doom anyway. Save those who followed them, of course.

"We should talk to that herbal lady," Edawon suggested. "Maybe there is something we can do, healing components we can bring in, anything." He pointed at a shop close to them. Dried out creeping ivy and full window boxes covered the font of the rugged-looking, two-story shop bearing the faded sign “Roots and Remedies.” A line of twenty-some somber townsfolk, some with pale, wheezing children, others seeming to be precipitously near tears, stretched from the open door.

"Well, that would take a while," Zaza protested. "And I'm not standing close to infected people, thank you."

Majek shrugged and started pushing through the line while dragging Zaza and Edawon behind him, trusting that Krell would follow. He didn't quite like to wait and talk, it was time for some action. Ignoring the protests of the waiting people, he burst into the shop.

The smell of burnt earth and spicy incense choked the air of the cramped, mud-tracked shop. Bunches of dried herbs hung from the ceiling, along with dangling pots, presses, alchemical apparatuses, and glassware of more arcane purposes. Pouches of rare plants, jars of colored glass, and all manner of dried, preserved, and jellied animal parts filled high shelves and tables doing double duty as displays and workspaces. In the shop’s rear, a rail-thin woman with severe looking spectacles and hair pulled back tightly busied herself between an overpacked rack of herbs, a table covered in stray powders and measuring equipment, and a pot loudly bubbling over with thick gray froth. Over the din of her work and without looking up, the woman impatiently shouted “And what’s your problem?”

"Uhm... we actually wanted to help with this disease?" Zaza posed it like a question to be on the save side. "We've arrived this morning and thought we might have something you need to make the right medicine."

"You?" The woman looked over her glasses, studying them. "Unless you happen to have some strange ingredients for a potion my grandmother wrote down, you are of no help to curing blackscour taint."

"So that's what it is called," Edawon nodded. "Never heard of it."

“It’s a sickness, almost like any other, but you get the mold growing in you. It starts eating away in your chest and belly and is damned determined to stay. Your body near turns itself inside out trying to hack the stuff up, but all that does is cuts your guts up… bad. Blackscour itself is just a fungus that’s not good for anything. Hard, bitter, and sharp, it likes the water and gets you sick if you drink it down. Never heard of it growing around these parts, though, until now.” The woman went back to stirring the pot. "Not many non-humans around these parts. You'll be certain to get attention."

"You said your grandmother had a cure?" The half-orc brought the topic back to the matter at hand.

“My grandmother’s book has a brew in it that says its good for this kind of thing. Some rare roots and concentrations, most of which I have here, but there’s three I don’t. Elderwood moss, which I’ve never heard of, but granny says the stuff only grows on the oldest tree in a forest. A specially pickled root called rat’s tail, and ironbloom mushrooms, stunty little things that only grow in dark places thick with metal, a favorite among dwarves, or so I hear.”

Zaza scratched her head, while Majek and Krell shook theirs. Only Edawon nodded. "I know of Elderwood moss and the mushrooms," he said. "Never heard of the root but I could most likely find it. Do you know where they are supposed to grow around here?"

“Well, for the Elderwood mold, there’s gotta be an oldest tree in the vale. Damned if I know where it is, though. The rat’s tail and mushrooms are even longer shots. Way north, toward the mountains, people say there used to live a bunch of dwarves. They’re not there anymore, but I’d bet their forges are. If you can find ironbloom anywhere around here, that’d be your best bet. As for the rat’s tail, who knows? Actually, Ulizmila, the witch that lives deep in the woods might. She’s a crafty, mean thing that knows all sorts of strangeness. She might even have one. I don’t know what she might want for it if she is still alive, but I doubt it’d come cheap. My grandmother traded her sight to the old crone for a few pages of what she knew, and that was years and years back, and I don’t know a soul who got any nicer as they got older.” The woman was now stirring more vigorously, as if the topic angered or depressed her. Most likely, she was believing that no one would try and find anything, even with Edawon's offer.

"Any ranger or trapper or other woodsperson I could get in contact with to get started?" the halfling asked.

Wiping the sweat of her brow and looking pointedly at the door, in front of which people had started to protest loudly, Laurel the herbalist thought for a moment. "Milon Rhodam, I guess. He should be in the eastern lumber camp at the moment, trying to get as many trees down as possible before the snow gets too much, as always."

"Thanks, I'll see what I can do." Edawon waved the others out of the shop and they made their way back to their inn.

"You see what you can do?" Zaza snorted. "All alone?"

"Not quite, I'm taking him." He pointed at the half-orc. "Someone has to stay with Kronk, and neither of you has some survival experience. Majek can at least fight, better than the two of you anyway."

Zaza was about to protest, but Krell nodded and, considering she felt cold already, the halfling had no desire to stay out and about any longer than necessary, so she just nodded. So that afternoon, dressed in their warmest clothes, her half-brother and the ranger left to arrive at the lumber camp before the night.

The trek took a while, but asides from two wolves trying to eat them and quickly being discouraged by Majek's whirling ace, nothing happened. When they arrived, it was getting dark. The Lumber Consortium Camp cut an ugly scar of stumps into a dense stand of proud darkwood trees. Five sturdy-looking log buildings - seemingly a bunkhouse, meal hall, office, barn, and smithy - stood with numerous wide carts and sleds amid the sawdust covered clearing.

Asking around for Milon Rhoddam got them directed to a blunt, quiet man, who everyone agreed was one of the most experienced wanderers and woodsmen in the region. His nephew had taken ill with blackscour taint and so he gladly sketched the two of them a rough map of the forest, marking the location of where he believed Ulizmila’s hut, the oldest tree in the forest, and the dwarf ruins stood. He also invited them to his small hut for the night, and while they had to sleep on the ground, it was way better than being out in the cold.


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Almost up to date with the progress again! :)
 
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Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
"So, what exactly," Zayel inquired, much to be rid of Madam Velomina's constant talk about what he considered to be the most boring topics as to really find out, "does a summoner really do? I have learned it is a specialty of arcane magic, but a lot of people summon all sorts of things and are usually called conjurers."

Happy to be asked the question, partly because being bored with the exhibition caravan's beast master's gossip as well, the plump girl sitting with them on the first wagon, flashed a smile at the young wizard. "It's not quite the same. I'm able to call forth... or maybe force into existence, not so sure yet which... beings from other planes. They can take on any sort of shape, as it seems. Before I ran from the Summoner's Guild, I saw all kinds of weird creatures. They don't seem to follow a pattern. And you need to spend a lot of magical power to help the eidolon grow – that's what they are called, eidolons – so you never really get to learn as much in the ways of other spells like normal sorcerers do. And it seems, we are not real sorcerers anyway, as we are not normally associated with any bloodline."

Zayel nodded. "So those beings are under the summoner's control? All the time until the summoner dies? Isn't that much like slavery?"

The black haired girl shuddered. "Yes. Although the eidolons also vanish when they are killed here – they are not truly dead, you know, we can call upon them again, just like a normal summon. And usually, they also go away while we sleep. Usually, but some summoners can prevent that, and some eidolons are here for so long they do consider this plane their home and don't leave anymore at all.

The issue of enslaving another being is why I ran. You see, the guild needs more apprentices, so they keep buying kids and young adults from poor parents or slave markets. I was bought as a toddler, because I supposedly displayed great talent." She grimaced at that.

"How awful. I never understand why any intelligent being would want to own another. But didn't that free you, in the end?"

The canvas of the wagon moved a little, and Zayel could see the outline of Mook listening in. Mook was very reluctant to talk to anyone, as her stutter was back with the lack of magic to suppress it. At the moment, her excuse was that she had a cold and was hoarse, but eventually she would have to find a way to recharge the ring or talk in her old way again. Now that she had a while without the curses, she was acting even more shy than she had all her life.

Tiva, the summoner girl, shook her head. "Once you are stuck in a guild at such a young age, you are bound to a master, or several masters, and because they paid for you you are supposed to learn all you can and then work it off. I was made to summon an eidolon, even of that was the last thing I wanted to do."

"No one should ever be made to do anything," Madam Velomina offered, although it was clear that she didn't understand half of what they were talking about.

"So, you ran." Zayel nodded again. "I was told not to ask a woman her age, but you seem awfully young."

"Not much younger than you are, I suppose, although it is hard to say with you elves." She flashed him another grin. "I'm 13, and that's almost grown up unless you are a sheltered noble."

"Where's your eidolon, then? You said they forced you to call one."

"I didn't call it back the last time it vanished when I had to sleep. Seems wrong for me to keep it bound here." Tiva looked a little sad despite her words.

"I t-though," Mook fell in, coughing to mask her stutter, "that you s-summoners had a b-bond with the e-eidolons?"

"Yeah, we do." Tiva turned to Mook and frowned. "You should be resting."

"C-can't you f-feel it through the b-bond? D-don't you m-miss it?" Mook seemed exhausted from trying to mask her stutter but Madam Velomina obviously thought her too sick to be up and began to steer her back towards her cot with a lot of tut-tuts and head shaking.

"I do miss it... her." Tiva looked even more sad now.

""Then don't you think," Zayel picked up now that he got where Mook wanted to go with this, "that the eidolon misses you, too? After all, you created it, or at least gave it form. You are its master. Or even its god, in a way."

Tiva grimaced. "You are telling me I'm responsible," she sighed. "But I never asked to be, and I'm barely responsible for myself. And I don't want a slave, really."

Zayel didn't say anymore as they kept moving towards the rising sun. But he knew already, from his own experience and others,' that it was not so easy to rid yourself of responsibility, no matter your age. He had tried to ignore it, defy it even with the antics he and his friends had been up to until not so long ago. But here he was, not sure at all where his path would lead him.



"You can never be sure where your path will lead you," Bjön sighed and checked his equipment one last time. "I would have never thought I'd be sneaking into a stronghold to assassinate a devil worshiper. At least not under such circumstances. And I still have no idea what makes me do it."

"Probably your sense of duty as a paladin?" Teltz offered. "Or maybe you don't want us to get caught and die without your heroic aid?"

"It was a rhetorical question," the dwarf snorted, then he looked at the two of them. "I'm ready. Let's just try to avoid unneeded bloodshed."

All clad in black – even the armor had been darkened with soot – they made their way out of the old temple, clinging to the nearby palisades of the town's wall until they reached the intimidating estate of the wealthy Almir family, with its dragons and gargoyles decorating the windows and roof. From there, they rushed over the street to pause in the shadow of the dogyard's shabby building. A single bark sounded as one of the dogs had either heard or smelled them, but nothing else stirred. Lerrim had visited the owner of the kennels a bit earlier and managed to spike the evening meal of the dogs with dreamleaf. Bjön had considered asking why he had a stock of the herb but then had decided against it. After all, it was handy now.

"Where do we need to go?" Bjön mouthed.

Lerrim pointed to one of the kennels, then he opened the door to the shack. It gave off little noise; the snoring of the inhabitants of the humble dwelling was a lot louder. Lerrim had been forthcoming with dreamleaf regarding the owner's bottle of liquor as well. By what they had found out, the supposed imbecile, Bumbo, would be sleeping now as well, having been to the baron's place earlier that night, as Lerrim had observed.

The dogs were sleeping soundly, only one lifted a tired head and let out another bark, then fell back asleep. They reached the tunnel entrance in one of the bitches' kennel and just had to shove the snoring dog aside. Soon thereafter, the trio was on their way upwards in a tunnel wide enough for two to march in and not crouch too much. A small lantern they had taken from the dogyard was the only light, but it was more than enough to see the end of the tunnel in time to not bump into each other. Lerrim concentrated, and a moment later, he looked a lot like the spy usually using this tunnel, complete with a cloak too long and all the mismatched colors for the rest of the clothes.

As the thief pushed up the trapdoor to come out in an empty boy of the baron's stable – as he had assumed he would – two guards turned towards him, only slightly alarmed. They relaxed immediately when, in the dim light, they took the imperfect illusion for the real Bumbo. They looked back towards their dicing game, waiting for the dice to finish spinning.

They never knew the outcome, as two throwing daggers flew silently towards them, each of them embedding itself deep into one of the guard's throats. They died gargling in their own blood, not comprehending what was happening. "All clear," Lerrim announced.

The others came up behind him. Bjön frowned. "Didn't we agree no unneeded bloodshed?"

"This was very much needed," Lerrim replied drily. "We'll probably have to face more guards outside the stable."

The two more guards sleeping against the stable walls proved no problem, indeed. Teltz threw a sleep spell at them for extra measure, glancing at the thief to let him know he could have done that before. Then they glanced around.

To get to the keep from the stables, they had to go over open ground. Going as they were would cause too much attention to the bard cleaned them up with magic and then disguised himself like one of the guards. His illusion was a lot better than the one the gnome had come up with. Lerrim looked decidedly annoyed about that. Then Teltz went to disguise the dwarf as well. After that they hurried over the yard towards the entrance to the keep. No one seemed to be looking too closely as they arrived in front of the doors and knocked.

The guards inside peered out at them through a spyhole. "Password?" one of them asked rather bored.

Teltz and Bjön tried not to look at Lerrim at the question. They just hoped the gnome had not gotten the wrong information from the serving girl he had charmed earlier.




Majek had had a restless night. Not because he was worried too much about what was ahead of them – they had been to a fabled golden city and made it through some other perils after all – but because this was the first time he was away from Zaza in almost all his life, not counting the few times when he had been with Samin – Zayel, he corrected himself – and the girls had been off to do their thing. Fact was, they had always been close enough to each other to should out from a window and get an answer, even if that would have woken or otherwise annoyed half the town. He wondered if Zaza felt the same way, or if she was adapting to the new situation quicker than he was. She used to call him too sentimental, and maybe she was right.

"...badly injured," Edawon's words made it through to the maze of his thoughts

The half-orc stopped daydreaming and blinked. "What?" he asked.

"The fox." The ranger pointed to the edge of the forest. There, barely visible in the early morning dark, not far from the edge of a forest-shrouded lake they had noticed just a few minutes before, a fox with large ears and bright orange fur was lying bleeding, its hindquarters caught fully in the jaws of a crude iron trap. It was crying pitifully while trying to pull itself free.

"Stupid people using stupid traps," Majek harrumphed. Around his hometown, such traps were forbidden; the druids made an example out of everyone not heeding the rule. Obviously, other parts of the world cared a lot less about fair hunting methods. Maybe they lacked druids here.

The fox was on the grass covered shore of the lake, closer to the water than the forest. Edawon and Majek were walking on a small trail beyond the forest edge. The half-orc didn't want and noisily made his way through the bushes and low trees to reach the injured animal. The halfling quickly followed.

With a few quick moves, Majek sat the lantern he was carrying down and freed the poor creature from the trap, noticing that it would not be able to walk. He was about to inquire what they were supposed to do now, but before he could get a word out, a badly aimed arrow landed a few meters next to him. Then there was screeching in the air above him. When he looked up, the alchemist could see 2 large black birds, somewhat like crows just bigger. They were going to attack Edawon.

"Hobgoblin," the ranger shouted and pointed. Majek looked towards a patch of bushes directly at the river. Sure enough, a wildly painted hobgoblin stood there, firing another arrow that missed by not so much.

"Trap," Majek growled. "The fox was bait. I'll give him bait." He uncorked a flask from his belt – one of the last of his alchemist's fires – and aimed it at the bush. The foiiage wouldn't be dry this time of year, but alchemist's fire didn't care about that. His aim proved to be true and before the hobgoblin attacker could aim another arrow at one of them, the bushes with him still inside went up in flames. "Hobgoblin torch," the half-orc nodded, pleased with himself. He didn't even notice that, a few weeks ago, he would have been shocked at the pure idea to torch a living being like that.

The hobgoblin shrieked and did the only thing he could do. He jumped into the water. It did him little good, however, as a giant snake shot out from the icy lake and grabbed the trashing prey. The big ravens flew off once their master was gone. "Looks like we better keep some distance to that shore," Edawon said, checking out his cuts. Then he moved to the terrified fox. "Do we have any healing magic left?"

"Not that much. Sure you want to use it on the fox?" Majek was doubtful. As much as he loved animals, healing magic was hard to come by, now that Mook and Zayel were not with them. They had already invested quite some of the money gained in their earlier exploits into potions and would probably need to invest even more.

"I can patch her up, but I would have to carry her with us," Edawon explained. "And I am rather certain what we are about to do doesn't need an injured animal we would need to protect."

"Alright." Majek went through his backpack and handed Edawon one of the almost empty salves. Those were as effective as any potion, but of course you could only use them on the outside, so they were a bit less expensive.

The first hint of real sunbeams could be seen through the branches and over the lake now. Majek gathered the lantern he had put down when he had freed the fox and put it out. "Looks like this is going to be an interesting day. In the positive way."




"Red crow, white crow," Lerrim said, trying to sound as bored by the procedure as the guard was. The spyhole closed, and a moment later the door swung open. As soon as they were inside, the door closed again, the guards not paying any more attention, looking ready to fall asleep. That was what they had hoped for and the reason for sneaking it at this time of day. They pretended not to care either and quickly looked around. Heavy pine doors fitted with brass moldings depicting ravens in flight gave way to a T-shaped entry hall. Marble plinths in each of the four corners supported claw-footed braziers holding cherry-red coals. Thick tapestries were hanging from the east and west walls, starting near the twenty-foot-high ceiling and reaching within inches of the gray flagstone floor. Each one depicted a murder of crows with sparkling black gemstones for eyes—one on a field of white, the other on a field of crimson.

They knew from the servant girl that the baron's sleeping room was on the second floor, so they kept moving to the end of the hall. After another quick look, they turned right to where the stairs where. "Left room next to the balcony," Lerrim whispered, although no one was close to hear them and even if so, his whispering would have probably been more suspicious than speaking normally.

A wide hallway ran the length of the keep’s second floor, ending in stairs at one end and doors out to a balcony at the other. Five other doors exited the hallway into adjacent chambers. Paintings, tapestries, and narrow pedestals supporting ivory busts decorated the walls of the hallway. To their dismay, 8 guards stood watch along the hallway. Lerrim hissed. The girl he had made to tell him the basics had never mentioned them.

"Run," Teltz whispered without moving his mouth. "Say you need to talk to the baron right now. We'll take care of the rest."

Confused by the situation and not knowing what else to do, the gnome nodded and started walking very fast rather than running towards the balcony, ignoring the guards next to the stairs. "Need to talk to the baron," he huffed, making it sound like he had come running all the way. The guards, holding out spears at the ready, didn't seem to know what to do. It seemed that the baron's spy coming here this time of day was not a normal occurrence.

All their eyes on the supposed spy, they ignore the supposed guards. Not wanting to waste too much magic if he could help it, Teltz drew his own knifes and proved he could hit a small target as well as the gnome. He had the 2 closest guards in the hall downed when Lerrim, pretending to be out of breath, bowed down to put his hands on his knees. He had no idea which of the doors to turn to now.

Bjön was following as quickly as he could but it took him longer to cut down the guards at the stairs than it took Teltz to move on to the next two guards. Their total surprise, both at the spy's appearance and at being attacked, stopped them from doing anything but dying, yet Bjön had the feeling his short dwarf legs would never make it to any other guard. They did not have to, either. Suddenly righting himself, Lerrim threw another dagger which sank into the heart of one of the guard, then jumped at the other with a much larger knife. Teltz made a weird gesture with his hand, much like tying a bowstring, and one of the remaining guards grasped for air while turning blue. The bard paid little attention as he as already avoiding the spear attack of the last guard while cutting his throat. No sound had occurred and the paladin realized one of them, probably Teltz, must have used a silence spell. Even his own footsteps were not audible anymore as he moved closer to them.

Lerrim, covered in blood although the illusion somewhat masked it, tore the door to the left room at the end of the hallway open and stormed in, Teltz right behind. Barely avoiding a curse, the dwarf followed suit. He almost bumped into the bard, who had stopped suddenly. The paladin poked his head around the tall man's hip and saw what had brought the others to a sudden stop.

A huge four-poster bed covered in thick blankets and feather pillows dominated the eastern half of this palatial sleeping chamber. A thick rug of crimson and gold with ravens in flight running along its tasseled edges covered the floor in the center of the room. A massive fireplace of gold-flecked black marble protruded from the northern wall, banked coals perfectly warming the chamber. Paintings depicting various members of the Vendikon family adorned the walls between narrow, wood-shuttered arrow-slits. A narrow table along the southeast wall held additional blankets and a hooded lantern.

The bed was well used, but the baron was not in it. "What now?" Teltz mouthed, the silence spell still being in effect. None of them had considered the fact that, despite the winter sun coming up late, the baron might be up at dawn already. Teltz quickly checked the bathroom and dresser. The bath had been recently used, which meant the accursed man was indeed already up.

Bjön took charge and pointed back to the door. If the baron was up, a servant might come up any time, and the last thing they needed was the alarm raised. The others nodded and followed him out. Not knowing where else to search, the paladin walked to the opposite door. He bashed it open, axe at the ready. There was still no sound as they entered. A large, U-shaped table filled most of the space of this carpeted room. Eight upholstered, high-backed chairs surrounded the table, while a ninth, which looked more like a throne, sat at the center of the southern end. Tall, narrow windows of stained glass were flanked by thick burgundy curtains with golden crows stitched into them. But the room was empty, not even a servant was stirring.

Lerrim shrugged and pointed to the hallway again, and the paladin nodded. But the next room down the hall proved to be another disappointment. A long preparation table dominated the center of this obviously private kitchen. Pots and pans and other cooking implements hung from a rack suspended over it. A hearth along the southern wall glowed with banked coals. A long shelf and cabinet combination full of food, seasoning, and crockery completely covered the west wall. Two female servants were about, cleaning up the floor and table. One of them looked up and tried to cry out an alarm, but the silence still centered on Teltz didn't allow her to cause a fuzz. A moment later, the two women fell down asleep. Bjön wondered how many more of those sleep spells the bard could produce as he tied them up. Once more, they turned to leave as he was done.

It looked like they would have to comb through the whole keep for the fiend friend, and there would likely be more bloodshed than they had even seen in the golden city. It was going to be an interesting day, and likely in the negative way.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
This afternoon, the group in the baron's keep finally managed to play again (the others are much further along so it was about time). The below battle took up the whole session but was worth it. I just hope I managed to do it justice as it was one of the best scenes we had yet and I am not that good at writing battles.


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Never entered into the diary, but later told the rest of the group in quieter times:


"The horror of the scenery was unbelievable. Not due to the amount of death occurring or even the gore on the floor and the abandoned weapons lying around, mostly used. It was not the image of the guard captain standing over the fallen gnome or the tapestries on the wall depicting devils tearing each other apart with both spears and claws, or the fact that the light of the swinging chandelier overhead made them appear almost alive. Well, the latter had probably to do with it. But what made it all so terrible was the total, utter silence. The whole fight had been without any sound, the screams of agony and fear which must have originated in the throats of the dying were just never heard. There was no sound when a body dropped to the floor. The battle cries of attackers and defenders could only be imagined as they charged, eyes and mouth open, towards each other. By now, there was only the guard captain left, and he was now turning his attention away from the gnome and coming right towards me.

There is something to be said about attacking your enemy under any sort of silence magic. If you are quick, you can be done with it all and no one would be the wiser unless they happened to see you. Unfortunately, if you can't really surprise them, or they outnumber you – or both – then being unable to warn your friends or be warned is also a disadvantage. This was why I was on the floor with my back to the upturned table and a large gash at my left tight where my lifeblood was forming a puddle under me. The gnome, swinging from the chandelier at the time, had not been able to warn me. One of the Chelaxian bodyguards of the baron we were there to kill had been right behind me, and while he had forgotten that my smaller size meant he would have to guard lower and thus now added his blood to mine in his demise, he had still managed to render my left leg useless.

We had taken the wrong doors out of the two options left to us on the baron's keep's first floor. Instead of the library, where he had been eating breakfast, we had walked right into the guardroom where the guard captain was handing out daily assignments to a good sized group of guards we never managed to count. They fell silent in the middle of their business as the spell's area of affect hit them, too. And that was what saved us right then and there, because Lerrim's crossbow and a throwing dagger from Teltz and, of course, my small throwing axe killed 3 of them right away. But that was the only advantage we had before they started swarming all over us.

We still did well enough, as most of the guards didn't have all their weapons yet or were even all in their armor already. Lerrim was, to my surprise, quite good with a short sword. As most of them were evil, Desna helped me, too – luckily, thanks to my training, I do not need to call out aloud to invoke the benefits of her magnificent power. No, our luck turned when Teltz stumbled out of the door to avoid being slashed in two by the guard's captain. It brought him close to the door of the library. The area of effect of the silence on him spread to that room and its inhabitants. And despite a library being supposed to be silent, if you are silenced in the middle of your conversation with your bodyguards, you tend to notice. So all of a sudden, we also had the baron, his hellhounds and his Chelish lackeys to deal with.

The baron, so we knew, was a spellcaster, but he was useless in that regard thanks to not being able to talk. But the spell would wink out any minute, so Lerrim decided to do something about it first. Never mind the guard he had just somehow managed to down had given him a bad limb, which meant he was a lot slower than he would have usually been. His hate for anything devilish, especially this baron who was about to betray his own people, was too deep to care. Lacking any other weapon, with the last remaining knife he had still sticking out of the guard's throat, he resorted to taking the crossbow hanging his neck – that was his idea of having his hands free when needed – and banged it into the baron's knee. I remember the 'you can't be serious' look on the baron's face as he kicked Lerrim against the opposite wall.

I had no idea what the bard had done to suddenly change into a fire elemental form. I have since learned of his tattoos and the immense powers they hold. But back then, I was very much shocked. So was, good thing, the baron and his two guards. Teltz started on the baron, who had the bright idea to back off into the guard room while I was sparring with the captain of the guard, a human of great skill. I dare say he was better trained and more experienced than me, and he was just being careful because he feared the power of Desna. Invoking the divine had already left him injured, and he could not know the extend of my divine connection.

Behind me, there was a greenish light and the hellhounds yowled. I had no idea then what happened to them but they were gone.

Back in the guard room, Teltz jumped at the bodyguard pushing himself in front of the baron. I could not see the other one. Somehow Lerrim had managed to climb on the chandelier despite bleeding from a head wound where he had hit the wall. From up there, he pelted the baron with crossbow bolts but most did not go through the magical protection the traitor had already active. Teltz set the bodyguard on fire just when I managed to drive the captain against the table, knocking it over in the process. There was still no sound, mind you, the burning bodyguard walked around screaming in silence while the smell of burning flesh poisoned the air. I really wished I could put him out of his misery, but a crossbow bolt from Lerrim did the job. The gnome had the decency to forget his main goal for a moment to end the poor soul's suffering. Although I suppose, he is now suffering far worse in hell.

Unfortunately, that was almost his undoing as Vendikon jumped up and clung to the chandelier with a silent shout, swinging it so hard that the gnome fell off, right on top of the burning corpse of the bodyguard. As he rolled off, I barely avoided losing an ear to the captain's sword. Teltz turned towards me but him being all fire himself I could not get his meaning. That was when the other bodyguard, who had come to after having been sleep powdered by the gnome earlier as we later found out, ran my leg through before I managed to do a lucky hit and kill him. The baron dropped, boots first, on Teltz's head and rendered him unconscious. This made the bard turn back into his normal form. It also brought the traitor right to where Lerrim was.

Through the onset of pain after the first shock, I saw the little fellow take a crossbow bolt – just the bolt – and jump at the baron. He stabbed him where it hurt a man most, and as the traitor went down I swear, this gnome thief tore him apart with hands and teeth. That was when the sound came back. The baron's cries lasted only a second though, as his voice drowned in his own blood. I will never forget that sound.

Seeing me incapacitated, the captain rushed over to save the baron. While he was too late, it did not help Lerrim who, all covered in blood and probably half insane of hate, was still crunched over his kill. The captain's sword ran him right through from his right shoulder to his right shin. The human actually flung him off his sword against the door, then went over to make sure he was dead.

So now he was coming towards me. I took me a moment to remember I could heal myself up. My hand over my own wound, I called on Desna once more. It did not heal me up all the way and I had lost some blood, but my leg was finally functioning again. I pushed myself up to meet the man's sword. Truthfully, I would probably have lost that fight, as the captain had the desperation of a man with no other option in his eyes and by now I was exhausted. I had been up all night, whereas the human had just started his day, had obviously had time to down a healing potion seeing how his injuries had gone away and most of all, had the hopes of reinforcements arriving anytime soon thanks to the noise we now made.

That was when a beam of a sickening green hit the man. There was an eerie flash and he seemed to burn from inside out. I could see his organs and then his skeleton as he dissolved into nothing, his face an expression of confusion, shock and finally realization. His sword clung to the ground as his grip loosened before he disappeared.

Lerrim's blood smeared face stared at me with a terrifying grin of both triumph and pain. Then the hand with the magic ring he had used dropped again, and his eyes went blank. I knew death when I saw it, but next to the sorrow I felt about losing out newest companion, I also had the feeling that, for reasons unknown to me, death was rather a relief for him. I never found out his story or what exactly he had been running from. But we always knew he was a troubled soul from the moment we decided to take him with us and then not lock him up for the theft he had done. I hope he found his peace. As I went to confirm he was dead despite of already knowing, I saw the burned out ring on his hand and realized he had saved me from the hellhounds before. I felt ashamed for not really trusting him.

I limped over to Teltz, expecting to see more guards come through the door at any moment. I laid hands on him and could feel the divine power restoring his vitality, but he was still well out, and that left me with a serious problem. The keep would not stop fighting just because the baron was dead, at least not that I would risk it. Our plan had relied on the bard song-porting us out of here back to the temple, but that was out of the question now. I could not carry him either way. Not knowing what else to do, I searched the barons body. Some scrolls and items and a spellbook later I still had no idea. I was unable to use any of the arcane scrolls and items, or even know what they did.

I managed to drag the bard through a door in the back of the guard room. A pair of bronze gargoyles with spiral horns and heavy protruding lower jaws squatted atop large marble plinths in alcoves in the southeast and southwest corners. For a moment, I feared they would come alive.Two doors in the north wall exited the wide chamber, the eastern one we had just come through. Two short staircases ascended to a landing where a single staircase between them continued to the next level. Narrow windows on the staircase looked look out onto the bailey below. I was looking for something to bolt the door with when it occurred to me it would be better to drag the torn apart body of the baron in here, too. If they knew the baron was dead there was no telling what they might do.

I heard shouting and footsteps on the other side, but had nothing to block the door with save the baron, so I used his body. I felt nauseated doing that, and it wasn't a very effective barrier either. But to my luck, no one came charging in. I heard shouts to find the baron and wails of panic, but that was it. A few minutes into the chaos, Teltz woke up. He needed a bit to shake off his confusion so I helped him up the stairs into what seemed to be an opulent ballroom or meeting room. It had wonderful panoramas on the walls but we didn't really care. Teltz regained his wits and performed the teleport song as soon as he could, only nodding when I told him of the gnome's fate.

We reappeared in an almost empty temple. The chaos in the keep seemed to spread quickly through the city. We heard a servant telling everyone outside – and there were lots of people outside despite the heavy snowfall – that something had invaded the keep and killed the devil followers. I peeked outside and heard the sound of fighting, saw the mob with pitchforks and other makeshift weapons go up to the keep to reclaim their land from the 'devil folks' – probably hoping to kill the baron himself. Well, they had to be disappointed there.

We cleaned ourselves up ignoring the ongoings. The people would know it had been us once they found Lerrim – lest they think the gnome had done it all by himself. Likely, we would not have much chance to rest for a while after they knew, so we tried to catch as much sleep as we could, although it was hunted by nightmares. "
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Thanks to eye and joint issues, I'm slow typing at the moment. I hope the story won't run away from me - but then we have extensive notes this time around. ;)

As usual, we made some minor story relevant changes to the adventure, mainly for season and that it makes no sense for creatures to "fight to the death" all the time, or to fight at all. I also wanted the pact with the worg and his pack to happen so I'm glad that for once, they didn't have other ideas there.

The change in destination was the idea of Mook's player, who used one of the karma points I hand out to make it happen (after discussing it with me beforehand of course, needs to make sense with where the adventures are).


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


Getting the moss fro the elder tree had been no problem, despite making the gruesome discovery of dead bodies tied in the branches. They had found the cause to be a tatzelwyrm, but some substance Edawon had thrown, reluctantly as the half-orc had thought, had caused the thing to run.

Now it was midmorning. After a rather difficult path up and down a densely overgrown hill, the two snow covered travelers arrived at the next point indicated on their makeshift map. The sounds of the forest became suddenly distant as the trees part, opening into a small, almost perfectly circular glade. The nearest stands of pine, eyln, and darkwood - all typically sturdy woods - twisted away from the clearing, as if bent by some impossibly strong wind or seemingly in an attempt to flee despite their paralyzed roots. At the glade’s center squatted an ugly cottage, little more than a pile of twigs, shoots, and ivy stacked upon mud walls. From the thatched roof dangled bundles of gnarled roots, old dried beast carcasses, and knucklebone bangles, all clattering together like gruesome wind chimes. A dozen small thatched fetishes, each shaped like a tiny man, imp, or rearing serpent, stood propped in the yard, keeping guard before a rickety plank door.

"Sure looks inviting," Majek mumbled. The fox, lugged in Edawon's backpack, agreed with a whimpering sound.

"There hasn't anyone been here for a while," Edawon said, pointing at the rotten door. "Something must have happened to the witch."

"Meh... think we can still find what we are looking for?" Majek passed by the various figures, not feeling threatened by them.

"Probably. Rat's tail is valuable for years if preserved right, and this place looks as if the former inhabitant had the habit of preserving all sorts of things."

"Hope you are right." With little difficulty, Majek pushed the rotten door aside. Inside, the cottage was dank, reeking, and filled with shadows. Haphazardly hung shelves lined the walls, covered in all manner of clay jugs, clouded bottles, strangely cut rocks, rotted bunches of herbs, and a museum of other crude curios and remnants of a bone grinder’s artifice. A rusted iron cauldron, with a wide mouth wide and deep enough for a small person to crawl inside dominated the hut’s single room, its ash-covered surface shaped with a relief of capering fiends and leering devils.

By luck or magic, no weather seemed to have affected the inside of the place but the alchemist saw something rather disturbing. Across from the door, against the far walls, stands a high-backed chair made of wicker, the gigantic curved tusks of some monstrous beast, and thousands of human teeth. In the chair was what looks like a corpse wrapped in filthy burial linens, its form padded with pungent herbs and sprouting patches of thick white mold. "I am not sure I want to have anything to do with this place," the half-orc stated and took a step back. "There is definitely some dark magic involved, even if the corpse does not look real. Just look at the chair."

"Corpse?" The halfling pushed into the room, passing his companion. "Yeah that's a fake. Probably put here to make possible visitors think someone was home. Weird enough. And I agree about the chair." Careful not to touch anything, the ranger looked around the place. After several minutes of squinting and sniffing, he finally pointed to a peg at the wall close to the door. "There. Lots of rat's tail, and it still smells like, well, rat's tail. Means it still has the essentials to be used."

"Great. I guess it would have been more difficult to get that while the witch was still here." The half-orc could barely reach the peg without anything to stand on but he managed without having to use any of the benches standing around. The less they touched, the better. "Now let's go."

As he was about to stow away the rat's tail, the cauldron they had not paid much attention to suddenly came alive with a loud clatter and hurled itself at Majek. With a shriek not sounding like a half-orc at all, Majek rushed out of the hut and across the weird yard, back up the hill they had come down from. He almost lost the rat's tail in the process. He scolded himself as he brushed snow out of his hair, having fallen into a bush. He had been to the golden city and he had seen worse things. Maybe it had been the presence of black magic affecting him, or maybe it was the whole location so far off from any civilization.

Hest followed more slowly. "It didn't bother me. Looks like a guardian only attacking who disturbs the place."

"Yeah. That's just great. Whatever. Let's get going." Majek finished dusting himself off and placing the rat's tail safely in his pouch. "I have a feeling it will be worse at this monastery. Who knows, maybe we will be dealing with ghosts or some such. You know, of we keep doing this, we really should find a cleric to join us. Maybe a priest of Iomedae. Or, at least, we should wait until our undead fighting paladin is with us again."

"We haven't seen any ghosts yet," Edawon frowned. "I'm frankly more worried about wolves and other unfriendly creatures."

"Yeah," the alchemist sighed. "That, too."

They arrived at the ruined monastery shortly after midday. The sun was bright, and there was no new snow in sight. To Edawon, that was a good thing because when they neared the old buildings, he could check for any trails with little difficulty. Sitting squat at the foot of an imposing mountain, the ruins stood between ancient gnarled trees. Made of simple stone blocks, worn smooth with the passage of time, the stout building was falling apart. Sections of the slanted shale roof had collapsed and portions of the outer wall had crumbled. Small bare twigs striving to once be big trees and wild thorn plants brown from cold and covered heavily in snow ran rampant across the field leading up to the place, leaving only the slightest indication of a path that ended at the ruined front doors. Beyond, a messy yard yard waited in shadow. Before entering the yard, the path passed between a pair of old stone statues. While one of them was little more than rubble, the other was relatively intact. The 5-foot-tall statue looked incredibly worn but it could still be made out as a dwarf holding aloft a great stone hammer. Moss and creeper vines would likely cover most of its surface in warmer days, but as the leaves had all gone, Edawon removed a thin sheet of snow around the base to uncover an old dwarven inscription that read “All praise” and something scratched away, as if to defile the original purpose of the place. A crow cawed somewhere to warn the world of their approach.

"You know," Majek mused, "how in the old stories a name made unreadable usually means something very sinister is at work?"

The ranger nodded and moved on. "It usually is in the real world, too." It sounded like he had experience with this sort of thing, which did not help to ease the nervousness the half-orc was beginning to show.

Tall grasses and chunks of stone debris had all
but overtaken the small yard. The now dead patches of grass and the debris was covered in knee hight snow at places where the wind had made drifts, but was only ankle deep in most areas, but the ground was hard to see and very uneven. Off to one side, a wooden stable had collapsed into a mound of rotting timbers and moldy straw. The outer wall on the east side had also collapsed, leaving a ragged hole. Three doors exit into this yard, a pair of double doors to the east, a single door to the north, and a lone door leading into the squat tower in the southeast corner. A trail of hoofsteps led to the tower.

Majek looked up and around at the snow covered walls.The wet snow had stuck to the surface in some places and falling off in others, making it impossible to see if there were any more inscriptions or maybe pictures. Not paying enough attention to the ground, the alchemist suddenly bumped into something and nearly lost his balance. He found himself in the northwest corner of the small yard and what he had bumped into was an old well almost completely snowed in. A frozen rope went down to equally frozen water. Majek shook his head and resolved to be more attentive. Sure, in the stories, it was often the case a foe would attack from above where no one looked, but it wouldn't help to look up to be killed by falling into a frozen well. For some reason, the thought made him chuckle. "Can we even find those mushrooms in the snow?" he wondered aloud.

"Yeah, they mostly grow in buildings and usually dry up in winter. They are even better dry. But we won't check out this tower," the ranger pointed to where the hoofprints lead. "The buck went in and did not come out. That's not a good thing and gives us reason to give it a wide berth."

"How do you know that's a buck? Couldn't it be a female?" Carefully, the half-orc made it to the stable and looked inside. Asides from a few bones looking to be from a donkey or pony, he could not see anything.

"A female would have a wider hip," the ranger simply said as if that was the most obvious thing in the world. Majek wanted to inquire on that, but then he found the wolf prints. He pointed to them. "Maybe the wolves got him then?"

"No, there are no wolf prints going into the tower. My guess is someone made a lair there. Let's check everything but," Edawon grinned. "As for the wolves, they have a bad reputation but are usually fine with leaving people alone unless they are very hungry, and there is enough prey around here."

"What if they are led by a larger wolf? A dire wolf of sorts?" Majek pointed to a set of larger prints.

"Well, that could be a problem," the halfling agreed. "But we are not alone here in any case. There is at least one kobold about, and the way it hopped around over here he was not happy with the weather." Edawon followed the prints to the door in the west. "Maybe an outcast of the kobolds Kronk needs help with."

"Or a sentinel," the alchimist thought. Something tickled his nose and he looked up again. A light snow had started to fall. "We might want to catch it in any case, just so we won't have to deal with a whole lot of them."

"Yeah, or be quick and avoid it." Edawon pushed the slightly open doors wider and peered inside. Beyond the double doors was a small dark hall. Littered with mounds of debris and a year’s worth of dead leaves and trails of several weeks of snow, it was clear that a narrow path wound inside. The room ahead had no doors anymore. The opening led into the former sanctum. Pews of darkwood were tipped over and covered in dust on either side of this ancient shrine. At the far end stood a large ceremonial anvil, but its surface was defaced and ruined. The halfling shook his head as he could see no mushrooms around.

The half-orc moved north, following the faint wolf tracks in the corridor. They led to a large, damaged chamber. Gaping holes in the roof allowed faint light and snow to enter. One of the stone columns that once supported the ceiling was toppled, its broken pieces littering the floor. A thick patch of black, dried mushrooms was hiding in a nearby corner, giving the room an earthy scent that was barely noticeable above the stench of wet fur. "I think I found what we need... but the wolves, too, I reckon," Majek called back.

Edawon joined him just when a large, grey, wolf-like beast jumped up from behind the ruined column, baring its teeth and growling like mad. "That's not a dire wolf, that's a worg," the ranger said drily. "Good day to you, master worg. We have no intention to fight you or the pack you have acquired. We only need some of the mushrooms over there."

"They are mine," the worg replied in a growling voice which was hard to understand. Majek was shocked about it at first, but then remembered worgs had magic in them and were no ordinary animals.

"Of course, but wolves and worgs have little need for them now, do they? Maybe we can pay you though? Hunt for you so you can rest tonight?"

"Do I look like I can't hunt myself? We enjoy the hunt, we live for the hunt. Maybe you would make good prey?" The eyes of the worg seemed to glow.

"We certainly don't make good prey," Majek said casually and showed his hammer and short sword. "We've dealt with an undead old dragon not too long ago, you are really not comparable to that." Nothing of it was a lie, as he didn't know if the beast could sense lies, but of course it was a bit of bending the truth.

"So you did?" The worg seemed to chuckle. "In that case, you may be able to be of use after all. Let's make a deal, then. Here's the problem..."

When they left with the mushrooms about an hour later, they had made an unbreakable pact with the help of what looked like an item looted from the hut of the long gone witch. They had made it for their whole group, too – for their pack to aid the worg's pack – and they fully intended to honor it after having heard the details. Both hoped the others would see it the same way.



The caravan in the south was stopping at a frozen creek about the same time. A few rocks, some low hills and a few evergreen trees stopped the cold winds coming from the north, and the midday meal was rather cheerful. Tiva and Zayel had been exchanging stories, with Mook listening and making a comment here and there. Others were grouped around a larger fire, but the desire of the young folk to talk alone for a bit was respected.

By now, Tiva knew of Mook's stuttering problem and oracle curses and even that Zayel was not completely of elven blood and knew, in fact, little of his pointed eared fellows, having grown up among humans for the most part. Tiva, so they had learned, hungered for knowledge other than how to summon things and a few spells here and there other magic users would take for granted anyway. That was the other reason why she had run. "You know," she was just explaining, "my helper – and older student at the guild – always said you do not need to be worried if life gives you lemons, as the saying goes. It is when you don't get any lemons you need to find a way to get them yourself."

"Lemons were very rare where I grew up," Zayel said without being specific. He had decided on claiming he was from "the north" somewhere but would nheed to talk to his da first to see what he thought about it. "So I definitely agree that getting thekm is not a bad thing. Mook would probably... Mook?" Only now he noticed that the oracle had been staring into the fire for a few minutes with a strange expression he knew all too well. "Oh in the name of all the good gods, she has a vision." It didn't happen like that all too often, but he had witnessed it a few times, and it always meant some sort of trouble or change of plans or bad news.

"I take it that's not good thing!" Tiva threw the bare bones of the bird wing she had been eating into the flames and stared at the gnome. "Does it happen a lot?"

"Nah, but it's always something that changes things, like... oh, there we go!"

Mook lifted her head and looked at the two of them. "W-we are n-not going north any longer," she declared. "We n-need to go s-south with the caravan."

"Huh?" Zayel almost dropped his cup. "Why in the name of the gods would we do that? We need to meet up with the others, and they are waiting for us at Falcon's Hollow – or at least, I hope so. We need to help Kronk and all. My da will be looking for me there."

"I have n-no idea," Mook said simply. "B-but you will be e-expected there b-by an Elf."

"Somewhere in the south an elf is waiting for me? How are we even supposed to find one elf in a large south?" the boy winced.

"W-where is the c-caravan going again?" Mook asked.

"Augustana. In fact, we'll turn south where this creek meets the river, to stop in the next town for some business and..."

Mook nodded, as the caravan was very slow with all the stops for their exhibition. "Augustana," she said, looking almost as if she would taste the name. "T-that's where we f-find the elf, then." And with that, she continued eating, not even considering Zayel might want to argue about her sudden decision.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Kronk was feeling a lot better, and this evening, while sitting in the living room of the house they had been given to stay in after their help with the medicine, he finally tld the rest of the group about the kobolds of this area, and the troubles his tribe had with them. The monk's local Shining Claw tribe, many of them involved in his monastery, was only about 150 heads strong, with many of them busy in other parts of the world on their never ending mission to bring balance – whatever that exactly meant. Kronk's tribe lived in the mountains, while the Truescale kobolds lived underground, under the monastery ruins from the dwarves.

Their self proclaimed king Merlokrep was greedy, if followed by bad luck if the reports could be believed. The destruction of the halfway house for orphans and the disappearance of several other children from Falcon's Hollow was attributed to the king and his band, and Kronk knew for sure they abducted a group of ranger trainees from his tribe. The Shining Claw tribe sent a party to deal with the Truescale kobolds, but they had little success due to the kobold king's mad shaman being able to predict when and where they would strike. Kronk also said that the town people were not willing to help, partly because of the Lumber Consortium not wanting to get involved.

It was when 5 more children from the human town vanished in autumn during a dare to stay at the halfway house ruins that the shaman of the Shining Claw tribe called Kronk into his cave to undergo a ritual he had seen in a vision. Originally, he had been told that this ritual would only have to do with Kronk's birth destiny. Kronk didn't elaborate on it, but from what he said, the visions he got during the ritual had been of the "thief of thieves" and where to find her. And that it would bring help against the minions of Merlokrep.

Before Kronk left to follow the directions of his vision, a group of Shining Claws examined the halfway house to find proof for the Truescale involvement in the burning and kidnapping. But they only found the decaying body of Elara, the woman who used to run the place. There was more cooperation from the humans now, too, because one of the recently vanished children was the son of an important man in town, but as it was not assumed that any of the children were still alive, they were mourned but not avenged.

The night before, Kronk had sent a message to his tribe with the help of a trained owl a local wise woman kept, but he had of course not heard back yet. In winter, the Shining Claw kobolds usually retreated deeper into the mountains and would not have seen the message in the usual drop off point.

"Seeing how it is winter and all, and we have to wait for the others, I suppose we will have a few weeks worth of rest before the Truescales can be tackled," Kronk concluded.

"Don't know about that." Majek chewed his lower lip and looked worried. "Maybe those children are still alive. We should at least scout out what is under the monastery ruins. I mean, we made it there before, just the two of us."

Zaza, her hair glowing brightly in front of the burning fire place, pointed to the windows with a shake of her head. "In this weather, we'd not make it through the forest."

Majek followed her pointing and sighed at the rows and rows of snowflakes coming down. Falcon's hollow had basically been snowed in for the last few days, and although the weather had let up a little, it was still difficult to even walk through town.

"Maybe we can find someone to teleport us there," Zaza joked as she put up her feet on a footrest. "Or maybe there is an underground tunnel all the way. Or..."

"Oh stop it!" Her brother threw a crumpled paper at her. "It is just so frustrating to sit around, unable to do anything."

"Do the laundry, then." Zaza grinned widely.

Before the half-orc could respond, Krell spoke up. "There might be a way to get there. But it would take some time to get there, and you may not like the method of transportation."

"Your shadow walk," Majek observed.

"Yes. Crossing the shadow plane is not a nice experience, not for me either. But since my ancestor had taken possession of me, I have been trying it out and now am fairly certain that I could take all or at least most of you to the monastery."

There was a moment of silence. Kronk was the first to break it. "If you could do that, it would be very much appreciated. At least from my side."

"What could be worse than what we've seen in the golden city?" Majek argued.

"A lot of things," Edawon immediately corrected him. "You don't really have any idea. But yeah, if we can avoid the wilderness, I'm all for you taking us there." The halfling ranger, too, had been getting restless.

"Then it is decided. Tmorrow before first light?" Zaza suggested, suddenly all eager as well.

Krell nodded. "Tomorrow at first light."




The sights and smells of yet another city were overwhelming for Mook. It might have been her initiative to come here, but being almost alone with only Zayel and their new friend Tiva as real company made her feel small and insignificant. The rest of the caravan around her might have been as distant as her hometown.

Zayel was also staring at the unfamiliar architecture and fashion of Augustana. There were so many statues and fountains and house decorations – including beasts he had never seen before – and most of the stone work looked to be expensive. It was hard to compare this place with the other towns they had seen before. It was too different, too wealthy and too advanced, for lack of a better description.

The caravan had made straight for Oldtown the heart of the city, to make camp in one of the large squares, something they did every winter and for which they had a permanent permit. The streets were full of musicians and other performance artists despite the time of year and the almost constant ice cold rain pouring down from above. Snow would come soon, they had been told, but right now the drain was worse than the snow they had had to endure until a few miles north of the city. Madame Velomina, the half-dwarf cook of the caravan, had assured them they would not have to stay in wagons, that a local tavern would have rooms for them all including Mook – who had made herself useful by reading cards at their stops – and Zayel if they wished to stick around. For now, the two of them had agreed. They didn't own that much money as most had been with the others when they had been separated. Vision or not, Mook was unable to tell when and where they would meet this strange elf she kept seeing in her dreams, or what he would want with Zayel.

"You look lost," Zayel commented. "I thought gnomes liked and even needed new impressions."

"Yeah b-but... you kn-know, I prefer to c-control when I find n-new things and how." Mook gave him a weak smile. "N-not v-very adventurous, I admit, b-but given that I c-can't c-control much of my so-called Oracle g-gifts, I l-like to be in control of a-about anything else."

The three-quarter-elf nodded. He had a similar feeling. Several people, his father included, had assured him he was some sort of magical miracle, some sort of protegee of the essence of magic itself, but he didn't feel like it. If anything, he felt like a piece of chess in a game of fate he did not understand. And right now, he felt very alone despite his long time friend next to him. He was missing his father and was beginning to wonder if he would ever see him again.

The caravan was pulling into the square assigned to them. The news of their arrival had already spread, and a sizable crowd was waiting for them to whip out the exhibition and few sideshows. Tiva emerged from the back of the wagon with a bright smile. "We'll just be in the way until everything is settled, says Madame Velomina. So we are free to explore the city and probably buy a few things." Tiva had some small savings and seemed eager to spend some of them.

"O-ok," Mook quickly agreed. "I n-need to find some magic c-components." The gnome was not sure if they would have the money for it, but she would like to recharge her anti-curse ring. Tiva knew about her stuttering by now, as did most others. It had been impossible to hide she was an oracle, but it had, after all, brought he some business on the road.

Tiva nodded in understanding. "I'm sure we can find just what you need. But you better leave the wolf with the caravan. What about you, Zayel?"

The young man turned to the sight of the buildings and looked into the sky. His familiar was flying high above, and for a moment he could see through the bird's eyes. "Can't hurt to check the place out right away," he agreed. "But once the rooms are settled, I'll need a hot bath."

"Guess that makes 3 of us," the summoner girl laughed and jumped of the wagon. "Come on, it will be dark soon enough."

About an hour and a half later, with the sky over the city beginning to darken, the 3 of them had all they needed. Zayel had bought new spell components, and Mook had all the candles, incense and oils needed to recharge her ring. Their money was, however, rather scarce now, and Zayel in particular was worried about that. Tiva took things a lot more easy, but considering that she was just going day by day and was still trying out her freedom, that was no surprise.

When they arrived back at the square – with losing their way only once – the exhibition was set up for the next day and most of their workers and performers had retreated to the nearby Tree Top Inn. The building was rather small and unremarkable, mostly just frequented by those exhibiting on the square all around the year, and in winter it was a place for yearly travelers and the two regular caravans staying for the winter, including their own exhibition. Mook and Tiva were given a room to share, while Zayel was told to bunk with the majority of men in one large room upstairs. That was fine with Zayel. Their anmal companions got their own space in the large stable next to the inn. The feeble minded but kind groom even promised to bring the wolf fresh meet and have his cat catch mice for the hawk. Zayel doubted that there would be a shortage of doves even in winter, but he liked the idea anyway.

Upon hearing that Mook was an oracle and reading the cards for people, the innkeeper promised to let people know so she could set up readings in one of the inn's corners. It was bound to attract business which would be good for either party. Mook's mood brightened considerably after that.

Zayel decided to go to bed early. He felt cold from the walk through the city, despite his good winter clothes. To his pleasant surprise, someone had already placed a hot stone into his bed, so he quickly changed and jumped in.

Only now he noticed the only other person in the room, an older elf with hair as white as snow who was sitting next to one of the big fire places, perfecting an arrow as it looked like. The stranger didn't look at him but Zayel had the feeling of being watched For a moment, he felt uncomfortable, but then the warmth of his bed and finally being in a real bed again made him very tired. Before he did, thoughts of those not with them flashed through his mind. His father, his best friend, the sorcerer Brenn who had transformed... was he all back to normal now or did something go wrong? With that memory, he fell into a sleep of wild dreams.





The snow in the courtyard of the dwarven ruins was knee high in places, and where the wind had blown it against the ruins it could reach up way over halfling size. The group around Krell, who looked somewhat exhausted, watched the openings to the various rooms carefully. But nothing came out except a wolf or two from Graypelt's pack. Graypelt himself was sitting in front of them, patches of his fur stained with frozen blood. He had had to dispatch a werewolf girl a few days ago, he explained. The little bitch, as he called her, had tried to take control of his pack. From what they could understand, she had been in the woods since the halfway house had burned down. Graypelt claimed that, too, had been a werewolf attack to begin with. It seemed somewhat doubtful, but they were not here to bother about a fire that happened a while ago.

Zaza was pale from the shadowwalk experience and looked like she might faint. Edawon didn't feel that much better but he had experience at hiding feeling that way. The others were less affected, or maybe it was that they had been brought here a bit earlier and so had had more time to recover. The kobold looked more like the cold was affecting him despite wearing warm robes and boots custom made for him. They had offered Kronk more protection, but he had insisted he needed loose fitting clothes to be able to fight if needed.

Graypelt growled and turned, being done with his werewolf tale. "Showing you the entry to down," he snarled. "But won't come after you."

The entrance to down proved to be a crumbled set of wide stairs. They had to squeeze through snow covered bushes to be able to carefully make their way down. Edawon and Majek walked up front, while Krell brought up the rear. Edawon, Kronk and Zaza carried torches. Very soon, they could hear what sounded like whispers and moans and hisses, but were more likely echoes of dropping water and wind caught in hallways.

The stairway eventually opened into a large rectangular chamber. The stone walls of this area were covered with intricate carvings of dwarves toiling in mines or smithies, looking almost alive in the flicker of the torches. In the center of the chamber stood the bottom half of a broken obsidian obelisk. Crude picks, hammers, and other tools were scattered around the chamber. 2 kobolds of a dull brown color, watched over by 4 blue and green ones looking more like warriors or slave drivers were trying to tow away a large piece of the obelisk in the meager shine of a small lamp, having serious troubles to move the thing.

Kronk pointed to the guards just when they were noticed by the other kobolds. As expected, the workers were quickly hiding behind their piece of obsidian while the others shouted something and advanced on the party. "They say we are intruders and have to die," Kronk translated, sounding somewhat amused.

"We don't want to hurt them if we can avoid it," Edawon reminded.

Krell already nodded and started to cast. The warriors suddenly moved as if they were walking through water, their movements slow and uncoordinated. Majek grinned and stepped towards the first of them, removing the strange makeshift axe – not much more than a stick with some sharpened iron nailed onto it. Edawon helped disarming them after the halfling saw that the kobolds were truly helpless. Zaza produced a sturdy rope. "We can tie them up and free them on our way back out."

"What's with those?" Majek pointed at the cowering workers.

"Slaves from a mountain tribe, it lookes like." Kronk said something in draconic, and with some hesitation, the two of them got up and answered. Kronk pointed at them. "Slaves from the Mountail Scale tribe. The lighter one is Kibbo, and the darker one is Jarrdeg."

The two now former slaves bowed. "We speaks yours talk," Kibbo said. "Great Liberators, we's eternally gratefuls."

Zaza chuckled. "Nice to meet you. I'm Zaza, this is my brother... Edawon." She remembered just in time no one needed to know who her real bother was. She introduced the others, too.

"You know this place, maybe you can help us? We are looking for missing children from the town below the woods." Edawon smiled, trying to appear as unthreatening as possible, noticing their new acquaintances nervousness.

"Pink skin little ones?" Kibbo nodded eagerly, it looked like hsi head would come off. "Mad king has thems as blood bags for his crown."

"Ritual they wants do to get rid of bad lucks," Jarrdreg added. "But Jekkajak nots remember ritual. Jekkajak strange in head." Jarrdreg made a spinning motion with his hand. "But then, all the Truescales are bit mads.

"Jekkajak? A wizard?" Krell stepped closer, trying not to appear scary.

"Shaman, oh great Chief Slow-Walk," Jarrdreg corrected. "But He Who Forgets More Than You Or He Knows not gets his spells correct most of time. King Merlokrap is losing his patiences. Wants to sacrifice pink skin spawns to make bad luck go away-way."

"Bad luck, eh?" Edawon looked at the tied up warriors and nodded. "Let me guess, Merlokrap is not so much liked by his tribe anymore."

"No no, he's not," Kibbo agreed.

"What's this for?" Krell pointed at the obsidian, deciding at the same time to collect some as spell components for his shadow spells.

"For king's wife-main. “The Only One Allowed to Nag-Nag His Greatness wants black mirros to watch herselfs in," Kibbo explained. "Black stone make reflect stuffs."

"Ah," Krell nodded. "So no matter how bad off the tribe is, the king's wife still wants more shiny stuff." They were beginning to get a partial idea what the bad luck of the tribe might be rooted in.

"Shiny good-goods always good-good, Great Liberator Krell" Kibbo shrugged. "Buts when not free and not stuff in growley hole," he pointed to his stomach, "then shiney good-good not so good-good."

Majek scratched his head, getting a bit of a headache from the way the kobolds talked. He was so used to Kronk talking normally he had forgotten the stories of the more known kobold tribes. "Will you come with us and show us around?"

"Yes, we helps, Great Liberator Majek," Kibbo assured. "Have weapons, too!" Proudly, he lifted a sling.

Majek barely avoided a chuckle. "You should take those... axes the warriors had."

"Yes, we take!" Even more proud, the two of them hefted two of the axes and a small but well enough balanced spear with a stone tip each. Kibbo also took a bow and arrows. "I can shoot-shoot when there is lights some," he explained. To make sure there would be, he took the small lantern sitting on one of the broken off stones.

"So, where to?" Zaza asked. There were 3 exits from the entrance hall, left, right and straight on. A dull red glow came from the right.

"That way, old rotten beds where monkses use to sleep," Kibbo said and pointed to the left. "Yous not want go there. Stinks and flattering suckers nest there."

"Flattering suckers?"

"Stirges," Kronk explained. "What about right?"

"Eww, no-no. Right is hot evil pit of gloom, where the monkses did dark rituals and makes their gods likes them. Hot and smokey and full of burn-burn."

"So, we go straight, then," Edawon concluded.

"Yes, Great Liberator Edawon," their new guide nodded. "Buts not into room straight ahead buts left at next cross-cross. Old well room is love nest of to buzz-buzz."

"Shocker lizards," Kronk explained again.

"Yes, we definitely want to avoid those," the ranger grinned. "Let's go, then, maybe we can get this over with quickly."

"That was when my mother said when she set out to recover a heirloom," Kronk sighed, but only Zaza heard him and was left to wonder what he meant with that.



Zayel woke up to the sound of a street vendor shouting his wares. He felt well rested and confident that they could make the best out of their situation. Again, him and that stranger from last night were the only ones in the room, and from the sounds and smells in the inn, Zayel had overslept quite a bit. He stretched and yawned, trying to ignore the elf who was again sitting at the freshly logged fire, sharpening a knife this time.

"Good morning," the stranger said loudly. "I was already fearing you would sleep through the day. I've been hoping to talk to you last night, but you fell asleep like a can on the fireplace."

Somewhat irritated, Zayel turned towards the elf while his mind was going through some spells he might need if this man proved hostile despite his friendly words. His right hand closed around the spell component bag he always had next to him in bed thanks to his father's instructions. "Who are you? And what do you want from me?"

"Such vigilance! Good thing, though, as we have no need for fools." The elf got up and bowed slightly. "Amaran is my name. And from your reaction, I take it you did not get my message but came here on your own accord."

"No, I got no message." But the pieces were falling into place as Zayel's mind woke up fully. "But Mook told me an elf would be waiting for me in this city and made us come here. That would be you, I guess."

"Ah yes, the oracle," the elf nodded. "Indeed, i have been waiting for you. No doubt you are puzzled about it all, but then so where me and some friends when a vision showed us your face and told us where to find you. Well, the vision was slightly off as you had accidentally left the caravan I was searching out."

"Yeah, an unfortunate mishap," Zayel said and grimaced a little remembering his oops. "But, what would you, or your vision, want with me?"

"We need you to help us out with something. And then we may make you the offer of being part of something bigger, something important to us elves as a race."

"Help you with something," Zayel repeated. Of course, he thought. He had had little hopes that he might have inherited half a kingdom or something and was thus sought to be the new price. He grinned at that idea. "Well, let's hear it, then."

The other elf made a movement with his hands and whispered a well know spell. Zayel's master had used it often enough to ward off listeners. "Now we can talk without being overheard," Amaran said and sat back down. "How much do you know about the history of your own people?"

Zayel began to realize the man probably thought him a full elf. Maybe that was what the vision had suggested. "Not all that much," he admitted. "Only what the books I got hands on said. Most elves left Golarion for a long time following Starfall, and when they came back they had to fight to get some of their former strongholds and belongings back, resulting in the forming of the elven kingdom."

Amaran nodded. "Have you ever read what became of the elves that stayed?"

"Not much was said about it. Generally, it seems it is assumed they just vanished."

"Vanished, but not gone. Unfortunately. Some of them are very present right now, and a threat to the area. Will you help me and my partner deal with them?"

Zayel frowned. He was definitely not keen in getting involved in any sort of conflict. Running around with Mook to recover some artifacts and in the process happen to come across an evil group of adventurers was one thing. Knowingly entering a dangerous situation another. His father would probably not approve – but then, they had been asked to help Kronk and agreed, too. He might be in some sort of damp and cold dungeon right now battling kobolds and who knew what. His father was not here, and for all he knew, he had to follow another part of his supposed great destiny his da had hinted at. "We'll help, unless Mook has any objections," he conceded.

This time, Amaran shook his head. "I'm afraid the gnome is not part of this. It is an elven matter."

The young mage's defiance awoke. "Either we are both part of this, or it is no deal. We're already separated from family and most friends. We are not going to be separated from each other."

The elf blinked and seemed to consider all his options. "Alright, then. But you must both swear not to tell of what we may find."

"I can't talk for her," Zayel made clear. "But for my part, I'm fine with that."




The tunnels of the underground complex were rather well kept. The two slaves told them that the tribe than captured them had insisted on weekly clean ups done by their forced workers.

As they turned left where the kobolds had indicated, an annoyed screech came from somewhere. Jarrdreg and Kibbo hid behind their 'great liberators' and seemed to become even smaller. "Head-thing with wings," Kibbo explained. 'They hunts in room where the devil-fire is close."

Zaza grunted. "More of those undead heads with wings, whatever they are called. Great. Let's avoid them." The halfling walked faster and pressed ahead of the others to check if she could see any traps. The kobolds had claimed there were none, but she would not just trust some recently met dragon wannabes.

At the next cross section they went right or they would have doubled back to one of the locations they were trying to avoid. The corridor here was longer than the last one, and it was impossible to see the end of it. But a dim glow suddenly appeared ahead of them and they could hear noise as if from a battle, but there was also someone singing. Zaza squinted, but could not make out anything particular. "More kobolds?" she mused.

"Sounds like it. Who would they fight down here?" Kronk asked the former slaves.

"Maybe pink skin sacrifices make a run-run?" Jarrddreg guessed. "Grown up pink skins probably helps them."

"What grown ups? There are other prisoners? Why didn't you tell us before?" Edawon growled. He began walking faster and drew his sword. Majek and Kronk followed him quickly.

"You not asked," Jarrdreg shrugged and got his weapons ready, too. "We readies for fights."

Zaza rolled her eyes and looked to Krell, who nodded and got his spell components ready. Then the two of them followed the others with Kibbo valiantly guarding their backs, arrow knocked on the looted bow.

The meager light in what looked to have been the mess room once came from a fat halfling, more correctly his dancing lights, who stoop onto a table warding off a group off kobolds with a broken lute while trying to aid a girl with a club. He was singing in a full baritone voice.

Gold is for the daring
Silver for their aids
Copper for the henchmen
Helping with the raids
Fine, screeches the raven
Sitting in his den
But iron, cold iron
Is master of all men

Hammers on the anvil
Steel forged for the blade
Axes to the enemies
Plying the grim trade
Truth, says the warrior
grinning at the brawl
But iron, cold iron
Is master of them all

There must have been magic in that song, because while the kobolds hesitated, the half-elf girl clad in sturdy clothes standing next to the bard and the new arrivals at the scene suddenly felt stronger and more hopeful, despite there being way more kobolds in the room than each of them cared to meet in a lifetime. Majek and Kronk jumped right into the fray and the two other kobolds used bow and axe respectively. Krell prepared a spell while Edawon aimed his crossbow and dispatched a kobold trying to get around the two to where two more children tried to take cover behind a bunch of toppled old chairs.

Bread for our bellies
Ale for our cups
And the leftovers
For the wolfhound pups
Yes, laughs the halfling
Speaking while he drinks
But iron,cold iron
Is master of all things

Kronk was skillfully avoiding being stabbed or sliced open while his flurry of fists hit this opponent or that. Majek's hammer rotated and kept most of the dragon kin at bay. Zaza tried to place a knife in the back of what looked like one of the kobold leaders who had some sort of a whip to prevent him hitting her real brother eventually, but she missed in all the chaos. Two kobolds seemed to freeze and toppled over as Krell let loose a spell.

Torches to the buildings
Fields put to the flame
Death to the weaklings
fleeing at our name
Yeah, right, grunts the orc
looking at the pyre
But iron, cold iron
Is better yet that fire

The obvious bard threw the remains of the lute in the face of an advancing kobold just as Majek ducked the whip and stumbled over a prone kobold. Edawon was knocked over by an arrow burying in his shoulder just as he tried to climb on one of the other stone tables. Zaza tired to get another knife into the same guy as before and succeeded this time, but it only struck the blue kobold's left leg. An arrow flew by her from their ally and stuck the same kobold in the chest, but the blue guy's armor was obviously stopping it without much, if any, damage. A bunch of kobolds dropped from a sleep spell.

Pitch for the defenders
Archers to their places
Hail to the dwarven knights
Fighting with their maces
Well, says the guardsman
standing on the wall
Iron, cold iron
is master of them all


"Take this!" The half-orc had lost all patience and, while waving Kronk back, drew a small vial and trew it at more kobolds coming out of another hallway. A greenish gas spread, making their foes cough and bend. It stung in their own noses so they moved back, but thus got mixed up more with the kobolds not affected. The girl with the club used this chance to bonk another one on the head.

Feathers for the arrows
Strings for our bows
Peace for our fallen
Death to our foes
Oh, says the elf priest
Blood all on his hem
But iron, cold iron
Is master of all of them.

Slowly, the rows of kobolds started to lighten up. Some where fleeing despite their two obvious leaders trying to call them back. Krell let lose another sleep spell catching a bunch of those trying to flee. The bard was almost pushed off the table as he ducked a spear stab.

Shoes for the horses
Swords to your side
Men at the ready
Time for us to ride
Charge, cries the horsemen
Riding out into the plain
And iron, cold iron
was master yet again


Finally, both their leaders wounded, all of the kobolds ran like there was no tomorrow. Jarrdreg and Kibbo let out victory howls that sounded like wounded dragons. Edawon got himself up from under the table where he had been stuck since he had tumbled down from it. The arrow was still in his shoulder. Kronk had a nasty gash on his left leg and Jarrdreg's head was showing signs of a forming bump. Other than that, they were fine. Kronk went over to Edawon and examined him while Zaza turned to the exhausted bard and the children.

"I don't know who you are," she smiled at the other halfling. "But you are a hero with a lovely voice. This girl, though, from the description we got, and the other two you have with you, match the descriptions of Kimi Eavewalker, Savram Vade and Mikra Jabbs."

"Mikra," said the largest kid. "That's me!" He smiled an unsure smile showing he was not of much intelligence, just as it had been described.

"Where are the other two? We wanted to find all of you." Majek looked at them worriedly. Zaza knew that her half-orc brother had a knack to know if an endeavor would be hopeless or not, so when he had insisted on searching for them during winter while everyone thought them dead, it had been likely some of them still lived. But to expect all of them to be alive was too optimistic even after what their new kobold friends said.

"Hollin and Tyran got hit by those savage's poison blades and got paralized," the girl spoke up. "We need to get back to save them!"

"Yes, yes, but first of all, thank you." The fat bard sat down on the table, breathing heavily. "I'm Edgrin Galesong, and Tyran is my half-elf friend from the party we came here with. All the others died."

Once more, Zaza introduced them. Edawon shouted out in pain as Kronk removed the arrow just as the halfling girl got to the two of them. She grinned, trying to play over her confusion. "So, you escaped them and they caught up to you?"

"Yeah, we took a wrong turn or two. Ended up in some smoky tunnels looking like a mine. Came out into a forge room, guess the chimney could use some cleaning. Met a hellhound there we could barely dispose off." Taking deep breaths, the man slowly calmed his beating heart down. "Some... thing... took Jurin and we barely escaped, having no weapons anymore."

The companions looked at each other. Then they looked at Majek. The half-orc hesitated. "I think he's still alive," he then said. "But of course i can't be sure. Just a gut feeling."

"Let's go rescue him then," Kimi shouted. "What are we waiting for?"
 

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