Pathfinder 1E Eberron Giantslayer


This is my Story Hour of the Giantslayer adventure path (PF 1e) set in Eberron. We are playing it as a PBP over at Paizo.

The cast of characters is:
Jacynta Laringfass - a female halfling Hunter 1 from Sylbaran in the Eldeen Reaches. (Portrait)
"You know why I like animals better than people? I've never met a lion that thinks I'm not living up to my potential, I've never met a hawk that wants to shame me for my choices, and I've never met a wolf that would abandon me after I've bonded with it. They know what's important in life, and they don't worry about much else. They've got this all figured out better than we ever will."
Thalmor Silverhelm of House Kundarak - a male Holder dwarf Inquisitor (Monster tactician, Oathkeeper) 1 (Portrait)
"There's money to be made in every endeavor."
Thurrvi Muth-la-Zash - a female Reacher half-orc Oracle (Spirit guide) 1 (Portrait)
"Diplomacy is only useful if something happens. And if someone says 'we had a useful discussion,' it means nothing happened."
Tuk Nimbleguts 273rd of his name - a male Brelish halfling Swashbuckler (Mouser) 1 (Portrait)
"Yeah, yer big...but my blade in yer ear will bring you down to my level, right quick!"
Engineer #3 Mk. II - gender-neutral Brelish warforged Soulknife 1 (Portrait)
"Anything can be a weapon. A half-round hammer, weight 500g, length 35cm, with hardened steel head and reinforced handle can move heated metal or forge weld plates. It can also shatter bones and deliver fatal blows with ease. The use of the tool and the choice of the wielder is of paramount importance."

If anyone would like to support the amount of time and effort it takes to tell a story like this, it would be much appreciated. My Patreon is under Trilogy Entertainment.

The room lay in darkness. A small ever-burning lantern hung by the door, its hood allowing just a crack of light to pierce the darkness of the room. The cramped quarters were full of bunk beds, their sleeping occupants having arrived late last night.

Thalmor had not slept well. Every bump and sound reminded him - and his insides - that he had boarded the House Lyrandar airship ‘The Colossus of Stormhome’, and that they were airborne.

Departing Sharn late last night, he had pulled some strings to get him aboard with short notice and was now bound for the town of Sylbaran on the southern border of the Eldeen Reaches. A bit of luck, it seemed, to be able to go straight to his destination rather than forcing him to take the lightning rail up to Passage in Aundair, before chartering a House Orien Coach down to Sylbaran. The whole journey would have cost upwards of 250 galifars and taken two more weeks of travel. This was strikingly easier. It also involved an extremely uneasy dwarf - him - flying. That was strikingly more difficult.

A bell sounded for cooks to begin preparing breakfast in the main kitchen.

The halfling Tuk jerked up in his bunk, his eyes wide, his breath hard in his chest as if he'd been being pressed into the ground and crushed. Tuk was glad the dim light kept his shameful reaction hidden as one of the warforged rose from a nearby bunk and exited the cabin in the dark.

Taking a deep steadying breath, he shook his head, his locks damp against his neck and cheeks.

Thalmor groaned quietly, kicking his legs out of the bed, while he rubbed the back of his neck. He pinched the tip of his beard, twisting it. With a heavy thump, his broad feet ‘plomped’ onto the ground, swaying uncomfortably as the airship hit a pocket of rough air. Blinking blearily, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes as his tummy growled. He frowned as he grabbed his stuff, eyeing the rest of the sleeping room.

Grumbling audibly he exited the room to find whatever vittles these airship masters might have scrounged. His eyes adjusted to the darkness as he made his way through the storage compartment in the next room over, before climbing the steep stair out of the passenger section of the hold. The ship creaked sleepily around him in response to his heavy footfalls. Ahead, he could make out quiet voices talking...likely the warforged that left the room a bit before him speaking in low tones with someone else.

The common area ran the width of the ship, almost forty feet wide at this point. A table and chairs lay just in front of the warforged Engineer #3 Mk. II with cabinets full of bread loaves and other sandwich fixings against the left wall. Another steep stair directly to the left of the door led up to the main deck, chockablock with full boxes and barrels strapped in behind the stair and hanging from the rafters over the cabinets.

Beyond the table, a counter jutted out from the left wall, full of cooking utensils and foodstuffs.

To the right of the door, a couple of bodies lay wrapped up in bedrolls on the floor in front of a padded wrap-around bench built into the walls. They snored softly, while above them a hammock lay empty.

Another counter jutted out from the right wall; it was kitty-corner, and offset just enough from the one on the left to allow passage between them. The deep blue of early morning from the portholes along the walls glinted off bottles and other drinking utensils stored under the counter.

In the dim area beyond the two counters, light from a lit stove in the kitchen could just be made out; a recognizable silhouette stood in front of it.

Roderik d'Deneith turned and smiled. "Good morning, Engineer. Sleep well?" Roderik chuckled at his own joke.

A groan emanated from one of the bedrolls on the floor. "It is way too early for your Khyber-spawn puns brother," the groggy voice of Kurst Grath, Roderik's younger twin brother, croaked out before rolling over towards the wall. "Three, please throttle him and his happiness so I can sleep."

"Good morning Roderick. Kurst."
Three said entering the room. "I am unable to strangle happiness, and it would serve no purpose to slay someone so obviously in distress. Perhaps a caffeinated beverage and some warm foodstuffs would improve your disposition Kurst? May I be of assistance in the galley?"

Scratching himself and muttering crossly, Thalmor stumbled into the room and maneuvered around the detritus toward the table and chairs. He settled into a chair, withdrew a ledger of sorts, and began to examine it, making notes at the margins. It seemed that he was waiting for something, and the furtive glances towards the kitchen, along with a gurgling dwarven belly, made said thing apparent promptly.

Roderik laughed jovially at Engineer #3 and his brother. "Absolutely, Three. Get over here, you can help fry up some tomatoes. We're on our own this morning,” he said to the room at large, “the lords and important folk are having breakfast up in the main galley."

Roderik pulled out a mug and a craft of beer from a storage locker. "Let me get you an ale, Master Thalmor," he said, greeting the dwarf. "I was told you would be joining us on our trip home." Condensation dripped down the sides of the craft, wettening the table as Roderik plonked it down, the dark brew slopping over its sides. "Welcome."

Thalmor looked up and nodded, a nearly imperceptible movement at the corner of his mouth betraying his pleasure at morning ale, "Aye, lad, much obliged." He gripped the handle of the mug, taking a draught of the dark liquid. The foam caught on his bushy beard, and he wiped it off with the back of his sleeve. He nodded, satisfied, "not bad for a morning brew, at least," he said in a gravelly voice. He rubbed his brow a moment before returning to his ledger.

Thuurvi, a half-orc woman wandered in, chewing on a bit of dried ginger.

“Thuurvi, good morning,” Roderik smiled at Thuurvi as he headed back to help Three.

Tuk emerged after Thuurvi and nodding politely made his way to the stairs leading up to the deck of the ship. He carried a bandolier and a weapon belt and was rubbing his neck. His wild shock of damp red hair caught Thuurvi’s eye, her own hair in a long orange braided plait down the center of her head trailing down her back.

Watching the halfling head above decks, Roderik flipped an egg in the pan on the stove. “Thuurvi, would you like some fried tomatoes and eggs with a couple of rashers of bacon?”

“That would be wonderful, Roderik.”
Thuurvi nodded at Roderik’s gaze following Tuk, “...ah, I guess he's not going for breakfast just yet?” She chuckled, “I'll be the honorary halfling and eat his breakfast as well if he doesn't come back. My stomach is regular as a clock,” she yawned, displaying distinct canines and larger tusklike teeth on her lower jaw, “even if I didn't sleep well.” She hovered for a moment near the cooking area, before taking a seat. “I would help, but spoons and knives tend to fly around me at times.”

Roderik exhorted, kicking at the lumps on the ground. "Rise and shine!"

A young female halfling entered the room. She glanced around as if looking for something as Kurst rolled over with a groan, "Sovereigns be damned. I'm getting up."

"Are they discussing the artifact up there in the lofty halls of the blessed gentry?"
Thuurvi asked as she ran her fingers through her bright flame-colored hair. Her fingers were black, covered in eldritch tattoos of what appeared to be burning otherworldly marshes that went all the way up her forearms.

A belch echoed from the corridor. "Unlikely," a man who looked to be around sixty years old entered the room, smiling. He beamed at the young halfling woman fondly, hugging her. "Jacynta! Good morning, my dear. So glad you could join me again."

He crossed to the table with Thuurvi and Thalmor seated at it, and tossed a leather journal on it, followed by a used quill with deep blue coloring, a messy glass jar of ink, a handkerchief, several coins, a loose bit of paper, and a small rust-colored mouse with overly large ears - which promptly scurried off the table into the contents of the storage around the edges of the room. "Oh dear, how'd you get in there?" he chuckled, walking over to pull out a mug from a shelf behind Kurst, who was still lying on the ground, his elbow over his eyes.

Thuurvi narrowed her eyes at the mouse as the man gestured to the halfling woman to join him at the table.

"My name is Aemon Grahame if you please," he sighed, sitting down across from Thalmor and pulling the craft of beer over to him. His skin was a soft red-chocolaty hew, very warm, and had clearly seen the sun. "I am the scholar who found the Xen’drik artifact in question." He scoffed, "‘artifact’..." shaking his head, he poured the beer from the larger craft into his mug, to find it had only a few drops left. "Odd that," he frowned, looking inside the craft as if there might be some alcohol still hidden in its depths. "It's a pillar. A stone…" Roderik handed him another craft of beer, "- thank you, Roderik. A pillar of stone. A stone pillar. Apparently, it comes from the town of Sylbaran," he brandished his now full mug of beer in salute to the room in general. He had a likability about him, and a playfulness that belied his age. His eyebrows raised as he spotted Thuurvi’s twisted shadow on the wall behind her before dismissing it with a shrug. "So...reason to celebrate!"

Jacynta eyed the bacon and the offered seat but remained standing. Distracted, she peered back over her shoulder into the ship where she had just come from after not seeming to see what she was looking for in the common area.

Aemon took a long pull from his mug. His close-cropped hair was a lovely dark shade with bits of grey, a large swoop of his forehead bald. He sighed with content, smacking his lips.

"Aemon," Thuurvi nodded at the dark-skinned man. "Thuurvi Muth-la-Zash, a Jhor'guuntaal of the Reaches, although my family was originally from the Marches," she said as she sipped her water.

"Kurst." Roderik snapped. When there was no response, he barked, "Custennin Grath!"

Kurst lurched up, entangled in his bedroll, his white legs on display under his nightshirt. "I'm up, I'm up!" he groused.

"A jorgun - I'm sorry…" Aemon leaned forward, stroking his neatly trimmed goatee that had gone almost completely gray, "a jo...jogunt -"

Kurst grunted, pulling on his pants, his tongue trilling on the 'r' in Jhorgun'taal. He looked remarkably like his brother if his brother needed a haircut, hadn't slept all night, and was two drinks in. "It means 'born of…" he stopped pulling his pants up and closed his eyes for a second, thinking, "...both bloods', or something like that."

Next to Kurst in the other bedroll on the floor, another man stretched and yawned, his mustache curling up at his cheeks. "'Two bloods'."

"Help yourselves."
Roderik set down a couple of plates of bacon, fried tomatoes, toasted muffins, and bright yellow butter. "Omast is right. It is 'two bloods'. Actually, correct me if I am wrong, my lady, it means 'child of two bloods', correct'?" He gestured welcomingly to Jacynta again to sit and join them.

Thalmor stopped writing for a moment, taking a swig of ale as he watched the warforged cook.

Amused, Thuurvi turned back to Aemon. "Yes, Roderik has it. 'Child of two bloods'. The Shadow Marcher orcs took in many humans long ago when none else would have them, and the admixture is a mark of pride in many parts of the Marches." Thuurvi availed herself of a plate as she spoke. "Tak, Roderik. I get so hungry when I'm off my beauty sleep schedule," she mumbled, relentlessly tucking into her food. "So how is it that a Xen'drik pillar winds up in the Reaches of all places?" Crumbs on the tabletop skittered away from her, wafted by unseen forces as she reached for a muffin. Her grey skin beautifully caught the sunlight beginning to come through the porthole windows, both warm and stormy-smoke adjacent to her blazing hair. "Were there Giant colonies established there in the past?"

"Um...colonies might be a strong word, but there's certainly evidence of Giantish construction, just up Blademark Hill."
Jacynta finally stepped into the room. "Well, Bloodmarch Hill, most people call it. Sorry, but did anyone see another halfling come through a minute ago? With red hair?"

"Yeah, he hopped on up to the deck,"
drawled Thuurvi. "Apologies for the term - I should be mindful that 'colonies' has all sorts of implications. Bloodmarch Hill, a colorful name. I'm sure I've walked it but don't recall that particular moniker."

Kurst and Omast rose and put away their bedrolls and the hammock. "On Bloodmarch hill the only real evidence of anything is the remains of I guess...of a citadel that once stood there," Roderik said, a bit subdued. "I don't think it was giant-made, however. I'm pretty sure it was made by man. Before it was destroyed."

Jacynta climbed onto a chair next to Aemon, helping herself to a slice of his bacon. She seemed content to just listen to the morning conversation.

Thalmor’s face was stoic as he nursed his ale, listening to the half-orc woman chat with the others. His gaze rested on a particularly interesting piece of wall detritus, lost in thought.

"Destroyed?" Aemon questioned, "what happ-"

The hatch burst open with a bang. "Greetings all!" the red-haired halfling declared from the ladder. "My apologies if I was abrupt earlier, I seem to be averse to sleeping on an airship! Tuk Nimbleguts, 273rd of that your service!" He delivered a sweeping bow with one hand, holding onto the ladder with the other.

Thalmor’s trance broke with a snort and ale came out his nose as the enthusiastic halfling barged in. Wiping it away roughly, he shook his head, before returning to his ledger.

Thuurvi chuckled at Tuk, but she was all about the bacon and tomatoes. "Mmph. Yer namsh Shpilled-yer-gutsh?"

"A stone pillar of giant-ish construction, originally from Sylbaran?"
Three queried, as he efficiently cooked food in the galley, deftly using their large fingers in place of more traditional utensils. "Most curious."

Tuk hopped down from the ladder, managing a wide smile as he spotted Jacynta. Taking a seat at the table, he grabbed whatever foodstuffs were within reach, stuffing a prodigious amount of food into his small frame.

"I do not recall any areas within the town where such a pillar might have resided," Thuurvi mused, taking another couple of pieces of bacon and grinning approvingly at Tuk.

"Is it magical or psionic in nature?" Three asked, cracking some eggs to fry. "Or does the stone hold only archeological significance?"

Aemon’s ears perked up and he grabbed a muffin and slathered on a thick helping of butter. "I don't think the pillar is psionic in nature. Or arcane, for that matter. Mind you, I'm no expert on either. I will say it holds power. Of what kind...I cannot say." Tuk listened to the discussion of the nature of the pillar being delivered to Sylbaran as he ate. Aemon looked around the table, picked up the plate of bacon, and peered under it before setting it down again. He called out to Engineer #3 in the kitchen, "I say, what are you called dear fellow? And do you have any preserves hidden back there? Fig perhaps?"

"My designation is Engineer #3, Mark II. For ease of reference and brevity, most I converse with end up addressing me as Three."
Three piped up from the kitchen, "And yes, Master Aemon, there is a basket holding assorted preserves and jams. Would you prefer a single selection or a variety?"

"Well let's have the whole basket, then,"
Aemon laughed, rubbing his palms together.

Omast disappeared back into the ship towards the sleeping quarters, and Kurst stepped into the kitchen joining Roderik, where they conversed quietly with one another, laughing occasionally. The energy in the room picked up while everyone enjoyed their breakfast.

Tuk spoke up around a mouthful of food, "Giantsh like the ol' shtuff made by th' ol' giantsh." He chewed a bit and swallowed, clearing his throat, "sorry...I've heard that the giants of Droaam revere the old Xen'drik giant sites. Might be a mistake putting something like that up with a town so close..." he finished, letting the statement hang in the air.

"Hmm, I suppose that's a fair estimation Tuk," Thuurvi nodded at him. "But giants are not monolithic, no pun intended. The giants I knew in Droaam tended to be reverent, but there's a spectrum. Not all are - some resent their past. Some are back-to-Xen'drik nationalist or speciesist types, and those are scary indeed."

She tapped her plate with her knife, thinking. "I suppose you'd put me on the 'cautiously reverent' part of the scale. I'm not one for enslaving elves, for instance." She made a face, shuddering, "even if they do odd things with their dead. And as for humans putting a town close to somewhere? That's what humans do. Expansionist empires or scurrying refugees, that's how my dear pinkish ancestors like to get into lands they probably shouldn't be occupying."

As the group ate, a middle-aged half-elf with a shaved head and crow's feet on his eyes stepped through the doorway, followed by a younger female half-elf, her dark brown hair offset by pale green eyes. "We should arrive about an hour before the midnight bell," he instructed, speaking to her and paying no mind to the other people in the room as the two of them headed up the ladder onto the deck. "I want us ready to turn around by midnight so we can arrive early in Fairhaven."

"So tell me,"
Aemon asked, wiping his mouth with a cloth and looking over everyone gathered, "I know dear Jacynta here, I've worked with her before. Are you all from Sylbaran?"

"Yes. From Sylbaran as much as from anywhere."
Engineer #3 replied. "I work with the smith and magewright, and assist with the town's defense as needed."

"My apologies, Three"
Thuurvi stated, "I think I've seen you around, but I'm usually running off to the woods. I didn't realize you were from Sylbaran."

"No apologies are necessary. My work typically keeps me close to Clamor, unless called on for patrol or defense work,"
Three responded. "I am very rarely to be found outside the walls or in the forests."

"And a good help he is at that,"
Roderik beamed at the warforged.

"Oh, of course. I've met Sara Morninghawk. A pleasure, Three." Thuurvi smiled placidly at the 'forged. "I'm sure you do fine work."

The sounds of clinking silverware and shifting chairs filling the room as everyone sat quietly for a moment, waiting for the others to respond.

Thalmor sighed in resignation. He leaned back, putting down the half-empty mug, and raised his eyebrows at the question. "Eh? Nay. I’m a banker. Only been to Sylbaran a few times." He watched the others’ expressions carefully. "An oath was made and broken," he stated as if that were enough explanation.

"All right, Thalmor, I'll chew.” Thurrvi queried, soaking up egg yolk with her muffin. “What sort of oaths are we talking about?"

Thalmor shrugged dismissively, "It’s my business, that’s all. Don’t know why I thought anyone in this lot would be in league with my quarry."

clucked Thuurvi. "I like to shout at ducks when I'm hunting them as well."

"A banker! Ha. And a magewright, always a good thing to have. What brings, or -"
Aemon nodded at Engineer, "- brought you to Sylbaran?"

"Only been in Sylbaran for a bit. I mainly grew up in Droaam and the Byeshk Mountains."
Thuurvi wiped her plate clean with some bread, giving Thalmor a little 'cheers' with her table knife and a closed-mouth smile.

Aemon turned to Tuk. "And where are you from, Master 273rd? What brings you to Sylbaran?"

Tuk took a drink, eying Aemon before answering.

"Well, I be from HalfHome, where all us Tuk's were born and bred," Tuk declared proudly, biting off a piece of buttered bread. "But...that's all gone now." He grabbed a slice of cheese and folded it with a piece of bacon into his bread, taking a moment. "Seems someone's got it out for us Tuks. Going ta ground, as they say, in Sylbaran. Hopin' to make meself useful..." Taking a big bite, he leaned back and looked at everyone, gauging them.

"HalfHome?" Thuurvi knitted her brows. "Can't say I recall it...something happened to it?"

Kurst sighed and sat back in his chair. "Not good things, that's for sure."

Roderik nodded. "The village was hit by a landslide. Freak accident. There were a lot of good people there. Decimated it, unfortunately. My condolences, Tuk."

Thuurvi smacked her brow. "Ah, 'Steeth. I recall the name now. Only heard rumors about it and nothing about its destruction. I'm truly sorry, Tuk. The Byeshk Mountains are beautiful, but damned if they don't eat up a number of lives each year." Thuurvi sighed, pondering. "Who's really from where they were from originally, though?"

"Eberron is a fascinating place. The world is lives, it breathes, we move about and migrate, things are connected in ways that we would never guess, and may never understand."
Aemon burped quietly, "excuse me," he apologized, reaching across the table. He picked up Thalmor's full mug of beer and placed it a few inches from where it had been sitting. "What connects things?" He grabbed Thuurvi's cup, and Tuk's cup as well, moving them on the table to different spots. "Are the Eldeen Reaches forested with deep ancient woods because the Wardens and that ancient talking tree are there? Or did the tree start telling stories because the woods are so thick and old, and that brought the Wardens of the Wood to that place?" He leaned back in his chair, interlinking his fingers over his belly.

"Dragonmarks, Manifest zones, the prophecy, even the Day of Mourning...if you find an ancient pillar in a far-off land that shouldn’t be there and return it to its home, what else might happen? How will Eberron change, and respond, and...adapt to such actions?" He chuckled whimsically, and gestured along the line of the beer mugs...on one end was Jacynta, on the other, the warforged Three stood in the kitchen area, with all of the mugs in the middle in a line. "How will Siberys respond? Or Khyber? What connects disparate people together in our world?"

Thalmor gaped as his ale was moved, opening his mouth before snapping it shut. He grabbed his ale and held it close, as another pocket of air moved the ship in an unnerving way. "Lad, some things ain’t for moving. Better to have left them be." He took a swig and gestured to the airship and surroundings, "damn thing shouldn’t exist for one..."

Thuurvi frowned at the mention of the Wardens. "What connects people and things? Strife and confusion, or so it seems. The whole thing is gone pear-shaped. A creation myth involving two males and one female is surely suspect to be either horribly wrong or horribly correct and absurd besides. As if menfolk of any species could create anything except spurts -" she tipped her cup over to spill a bit of drink on the table, "-of blood."

Reaching across the table to fetch his cup, Tuk observed the half-orc drily, "The womenfolk ain't been shy of spilling the blood either, I reckon’."

"Only fair to deliver what's been given, Tuk,"
replied Thuurvi. "Chivalry is dead and buried."

Roderik sighed. "Sylbaran has definitely had its share of blood spilled during the war."

"Roderik, I heard a bit about that,"
Thuurvi commiserated, "but I was safe in Droaam during the War."

Thalmor leaned forward, frowning as the ship creaked loudly. "As for Eberron -" he paused looking at Aemon, clearly not finished yet, "I know her well. She doesn’t like people poking where their noses don’t belong, does she?" He leaned back and took another swig from his mug, holding onto the thing with an almost iron-like grip.

"Many times connections exist without our awareness," Three leaned on the shelf in between the kitchen and the table, listening to the group discuss philosophy. "A seemingly random occurrence in one city may result in a tragedy across the continent. Most people are blind to these happenings, and will never know all that transpires around them. Some are more 'lucky' and will come to understand those connections. I do not yet know which is the greater mercy; awareness or ignorance."

The room sat in somber silence for a moment as Three’s words were considered.

Aemon chuckled, a huge smile on his face. "Well said," he lifted his mug of beer towards Engineer #3 and toasted. "To awareness..." he downed the mug in one long gulp, smacking his lips, "...and to ignorance."

"We have the afternoon to ourselves."
Aemon plunked his mug down, "I think we arrive later tonight -"

Roderik interjected, "The quartermaster said something about arriving at the eleventh bell tonight."

"Did he?"
Kurst muttered, eating his breakfast. "I must have missed that."

"...yes, we arrive at the eleventh bell."
Aemon nodded at Roderik, standing. "Right. I will be doing a presentation on the pillar around sunset. I imagine some politicians aboard will likely try to take credit. Until then -" he clapped his hands together and rubbed them. "- the day is yours to do what you will. Does anyone have anything they need to do? I know I could start with a...ah..." Aemon pointed at his empty mug and the empty craft of beer meaningfully, "...a bit of a starter. Anyone else have any plans?"

Thalmor sighed and relaxed. "It’s as good as any meal, Aemon," he raised his mug in salute.

"I have no pressing tasks. Most likely, I will assist with maintenance and cleaning on the vessel." Three said, washing the dishes up.

Tuk pondered, "I'll likely snag a bit o' a nap, as I says, sleep wasn’t comin' last night. Or I'll haunt the deck. Interesting view...more interesting conversations..." he trailed off mysteriously.

"Usually barley-water and tea for me, thank you. And I must go meditate to the gods in order to receive my sacred blessings of divine mercy for the day." Thuurvi said with an almost-pious expression on her face. Her lips pursed to hide her tusks, and she made her eyes puppy dog-wide for just a moment, before bursting out laughing. "Sorry. I can't lie to save my life. Nap, a round of song and cloud-watching on deck, and anything I can do to help without bothering the crew, that's what I have on the docket. Say, do warforged sing?"

Jacynta took a deep breath and let it out slowly, muttering, "I suppose now is as good a time as any." She continued in a more conversational tone, looking up at Tuk. "Before you go, Master Nimbleguts, there's a matter we should discuss. With some privacy, if we can get any."

Thuurvi raised an eyebrow at the halflings.

Tuk sipped his drink, nodding at Jacynta, "Sure, if ya like. But, I'm no Master…" Tuk smiled, "not yet at least."

Jacynta led Tuk into a corner of the room to speak with him in hushed tones.

"I'm not much good at this kind of thing, and I don't really know how to couch the news, so I'm sorry...and maybe you've heard already, I don't know, but -"

She paused to take a breath and break her rambling. "I knew one of your - I don't know, a cousin, maybe - in Xen'drik, and...he's dead."

Tuk rubbed his face with a hand at the news, shaking his head, "Ah, 'tis sad news Jacynta, but thank you. Xen'drik you say? Hmm, could have been Tuk The Seeker...or perhaps Tuk The Lost. Hard to say, we went all over."

Tuk considered Jacynta for a moment, "I'll let you in on a secret," he whispered, leaning closer. "Seems one of my cousins pissed off someone or something, and Tuks have been dying ever since. That landslide that took out my home? Deliberate." He spoke the last word slowly to let its meaning sink in.

Tuk smiled at her, "Thanks fer lettin' me ken about my cousin's fate, it stings but I appreciate it all the same."

Three looked over the group. "Do any of you require metalwork or maintenance on your equipment?"

Thalmor shook his head, grumbling, "Nay, this contraption is not to my liking. I’d stay below lest anyone have use of me." He stretched, looking a little unsettled, "an unlikely event, I expect, given that there wouldn’t be much use for a banker on an erm, airboat. But -" he raised a manicured finger, seemingly considering for a moment. "Should anyone wish to lose money in a game of cards or summat, I am certainly available to win it." He grinned for the first time, though it was hard to tell exactly, given the length and thickness of his black, wiry facial hair. His eyes glittered mischievously.

"If it's a game of chance yer after, I'm up for it!" Tuk beamed from the corner with Jacynta.

"No, I'd just as soon toss galifars right down the latrine. I can't fool people to save my life," Thuurvi exhaled.

"If the cards or dice are fair and balanced, I would be amenable to a game." Three approached the table. "I admit, most humanoids are unlikely to ascertain my mental States. Perhaps dice might be the most equitable chance for each to win," Three mused.

Aemon refilled his mug from Roderik and took another large swig.

Thuurvi wiped her eyes as a torrent of laughter escaped her. She picked up a leftover fork, eyes on the 'forged. "Three. Say this is a die," she dropped it casually on the table, still watching them as it whisked off to hit the wall behind Aemon, and clatter on the floor. "No dice games for me. But do enjoy."

Looking at the fork, then into his cup, Aemon glowed, "Roderik my boy, you brought me the good batch!"

"That seems like it would make things difficult, Thuurvi.”
Engineer #3 watched the fork bounce away, turning his eye-lenses back to the half-orc. “Is there something that can be done to alleviate this problem? Will that pose concerns for adventuring or working with you in the future?"

"Nothing need be done Three; thank you for your concern. I just try not to drop things. Fortunately, I don't live in Sharn."
Thuurvi grinned at the 'forged. "One learns to find value in one's flaws."

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The passengers mingled for another half hour, chatting with one another. Dishes were cleaned up, and the table was wiped down.

Omast returned with some armor and weapons and he, Kurst and Roderik headed above decks. Aemon disappeared into his room for a nap, and soon snoring could be heard echoing down the hall.

About an hour later, Roderik returned with the other two. With them was a swarthy human with chaotic brown locks and dark eyes that twinkled; a long scar ran from his right cheek across his nose to just under his left eye. Tall and strong, he was followed by an older man, with long white hair hanging down over his shoulders and a styled beard. He was wearing a neat set of high-quality blue robes and carried a cane with the head of a dragon carved into it.

"That was amazing, friends," the olive-skinned man beamed, following Omast down the stairs into the dining area. "I think you knocked a tooth out, Kurst," he lamented, rubbing his jaw. "Or would have."

"Consider it payback for where you decided to jam your short sword, Valeros,"
Kurst gruffed, throwing his weapons down on the built-in couch. "My mind is telling me I shouldn't sit for a week, whether or not it was permanent."

"I thought that is where you Reachers liked it,"
Valeros jabbed, winking at Kurst.

They all laughed. The older man sat on the built-in couch against the wall next to Kurst’s weapons, kicking his feet up. "I still owe Omast here," he complained, pointing his thumb at Omast, who was grinning as he wiped the sweat from his brow. "He threw me from the top of the quarterdeck!"

"I missed you throwing Ezren off?"
Roderik bemoaned, looking at his friend. "When? Where was I? I would've paid good money to see a Thrane splat on the deck."

Sighing deeply, Ezren sat down near Valeros. "You did pay good money," he grinned toothily, shaking a pouch full of coins. "But I did not splat on the deck."

"You were on the fo'c's'le, fighting Valeros,"
Kurst's voice was muffled from inside the body of his armor as he pulled it off over his head. When he emerged, hair tousled, he gestured at Valeros, who had pulled out a mug and was drinking from it - although he had never filled it. "I could see you from where I was dangling."

Valeros coughed on his drink, laughing. "How did you get your leg caught up in those ropes?"

"I've no idea, but you just had to cut the ballast and drag me up into the rigging,"
Kurst shook his head in bemusement as he tossed his armor down next to his weapons in a jumble.

"Drag you screaming..." Roderik amended, neatly stacking his weapons and armor against the wall.

Valeros pointed at Roderik, "...screaming with my short sword lodged between your -"

"- Firmly lodged," Kurst interjected.

"- Yes. Firmly." Valeros shook his head as if he was trying to clear an image from his memory. "I could've used that against your brother here, but you disarmed me. That sword’ll never be the same again."

"Is it still called disarming, if a less…appropriate body part is used?"
Omast opined, sitting down with a groan.

"Are you talking about his ass?" Ezren deadpanned. "Because it was definitely lodged in his ass."

Kurst wheezed as he tried to catch his breath from laughter, and tears streamed down Valeros’s cheeks as Roderik regarded them fondly, shaking his head.

"You threw up all over the deck, dangling there," Ezren chuckled. "The Captain was not pleased."

"All that bacon, just gone to waste,"
Kurst sighed.

Valeros finished his drink, smacking his lips in appreciation. "Bugger the Captain," he grinned, perking up. He leaned forward, plopping his mug on his knee, sloshing beer over the edge. "You lads want to take another turn? Ezren, we’re guaranteed to beat them handily again. Let's do it!"

"Nothing is certain, my friend."
Ezren pronounced, tossing the bag of coins above his head and catching it.

Kurst shook his head, shifting uncomfortably in his seat, "I'm done. For a minute."

Omast snorted, "Count me out."

"You should have a go with these folks, they're rested up,"
Roderik offered, looking around at the group of travelers. "What say you all? Who wants to pound the stuffing out of this arrogant birk with nothing to lose but his pride? Tuk? Thalmor? Jacynta? Engineer #3 here could snap you like a twig. And Thuurvi..." Roderik whistled dramatically. "You couldn't handle her."

"Well, perhaps Ezren could, but that's cause he's been around the tower a few times,"
Kurst grinned, wickedly. "Dirty old man."

"Jealousy never suited you, Kurst,"
Ezren winked. He smiled politely, nodding at Thuurvi, "and a woman can only be handled when she wants to be."

"Roderik, you flatter me dangerously - I'm used to talking my way out of fights, most of the time; it's a good habit when around giants and medusae."
Thuurvi smiled around her tusks and wiggled her blackened fingers.

"I'm game if you all are," Valeros proclaimed, surveying the room.

"I will engage in melee training combat if you are amenable." Engineer #3 Mk. II spoke up. "Would you prefer to utilize weaponry, or perhaps fisticuffs? I do warn you that my construction affords me the opportunity to deal lethal damage without a traditional weapon in hand. As the recipient of such a challenge, I afford you the traditional choice."

Valeros clapped his hands together in excitement. "A challenge!"

Roderik took a drink of water. "Not to worry, Three, Valeros here is a bearer of a rare dragonmark from House Deneith."

Valeros removed his bracer on his right arm to display a Mark of Sentinel, the dragonmark of House Deneith. "I am Valeros d'Deneith," he said with a flourish. "My mark allows me to bind anyone who touches it - and who consents - to a non-lethal exchange for just under half an hour."

"So you can let loose."
Roderik smiled at his warforged friend. "You cannot kill him, and he cannot kill you."

"You feel it still -"
Kurst grumbled, shifting in his seat.

"Although at a remarkably lessened rate," Valeros added appeasingly. "Still, I would say...avoid getting stabbed in the ass."

"Sure, I'll go for a round, Ser Valeros d'Deneith,"
Thuurvi said, standing. "I'm always up for some friendly practice."

Grinning from ear to ear, Valeros offered Omast a full stein of beer, "Did you hear that?" Valeros crowed, smacking Omast on the arm. "She called me Ser."

Omast laughed, waving off Valeros’s offer of beer. "You never served in no noble army, brigand," he scoffed, filling up a mug with water for himself and returning to his seat.

"Ezren," Kurst winked at the wizard, nodding meaningfully in the direction of Valeros. "I've got fifteen Sovereigns that Thalmor and the rest could take you and the old man."

"I'm just a mercenary, that's right. No Ser for me,"
Valeros glanced at Thuurvi. "And yeah, I'm old," Valeros huffed, turning towards Kurst. "And I'll take your bet. I'll use my winnings to clean my short sword."

Omast’s eyebrows raised at the much younger man calling himself old, his eyes twinkling with good nature. "Put me down for 25 shillings on the dwarf and this lot."

Thalmor shook his head, "Nay, I reckon I’ll get sick if I venture on deck. It’s unnatural how high up we are..." He looked out the window nervously, fidgeting with one of his silver rings. "Besides, I’m a bloody banker, not some kind of reckless brawler." He raised his second mug, grumbling, "You kids go have fun."

"Master banker, we can have our fun down here, rather than above decks, if you would care to join us."
Valeros held out his arm, the Mark of Sentinel prominent on it, for all in the room. "Anyone who wishes to join, grab my arm. Hold onto it until I tell you it is okay to let go, and each of you repeats the phrase 'I consent to train with Valeros d'Deneith, for all must bleed. Blood will have blood.'"

Tuk immediately marched out of the shadows in the corner where he had been speaking with Jacynta and grabbed Valeros’s arm. "I consent to train with Valeros d'Deneith, for all must bleed. Blood will have blood." He looked the warrior up and down, "You'll make a good sound when you hit the deck!"

Valeros laughed heartily, nodding at the halfling. "I like this one."

Ezren stood and pulled a dark leatherbound book out of his satchel. He looked over his notes for a few moments, flipped a couple of pages, and began walking around the room, muttering arcane syllables to himself. He touched items as he went, and for a moment the items he touched seemed to be the focus of the if everything around them dimmed...but then the moment passed.

"We're allowed to use magic to prepare before the fight begins, Ezren?" Thuurvi’s tone was light as she watched Ezren. "Because I'll do the same, if so."

"Go right ahead,"
Ezren acknowledged Thuurvi with a nod of his head without looking at her, touching several more items. "This is a spell of my own making that allows me to reset the room if we damage anything. It just takes me a few minutes to place a kind of...memory over everything. Like a net. You can prepare either before or after Valeros completes his ritual."

"How very thoughtful, Ezren,"
Thuurvi said silkily. After Tuk finished his handshake, she approached the curly-haired man, standing over him by a number of inches. Looking him in the eyes, she took his pink hand in one of her tattooed ones, and spoke clearly, "I consent to train with Valeros d'Deneith, for all must bleed. Blood will have blood."

Engineer #3 stood and placed a large metallic hand alongside Thuurvi’s, repeating the oath. "I consent to train with Valeros d'Deneith, for all must bleed. Blood will have blood." He looked around the room at each of them, "I will strive not to injure or incapacitate anyone." Valeros nodded at both of them, his grin getting bigger.

Jacynta hesitated for a moment, then shook her head muttering to herself, "Ah, what the hell. I think I'm in a mood to blow off some steam." She stepped up to the Deneith scion and laid her hand on his arm. "I consent to train with Valeros d'Deneith, for all must bleed. Blood will have blood."

Omast and Roderik sat on the built-in couch against the wall, surrounded by piles of their armor, looking excited to watch the event about to unfold. They placed bets on what they thought might happen. Kurst returned from the kitchen with an orange he’d found on a shelf and joined them. He peeled the orange swiftly as the inhabitants of the common room all bound to Valeros's dragonmark.

With a final light touch on Thalmor's notepad, Ezren pulled out a small round item connected to a fine chain from his pocket and walked back over to Valeros. Sitting down, he placed the item on the table and opened it. "This watch will now help me protect the room from any wanton destruction that happens when Valeros's body ‘hits the deck’," he explained, nodding at Tuk. He opened a pouch on his belt and placed several pinches of something inside the watch before snapping it shut. He stood, and returned it to his pocket. Hanging his cane off his right forearm, he drew out a wand with his left hand. "I think I'm ready," he nodded, grasping Valeros's forearm. "I consent to train with Valeros d'Deneith, for all must bleed. Blood will have blood."

Valeros grinned toothily, inclining his head at Thalmor once more. "If you bind to my mark, it will protect you if anything bad happens."

Thalmor blinked and looked around, considering. He took the warrior’s arm, "Fine." Clearing his throat, he muttered, "‘I consent to train with Valeros d'Deneith, for all must bleed. Blood will have blood.’" Letting go he straightened out his clothing, as the line of his sleeve appeared slightly wrinkled after the exercise of touching someone else. "Aye, thanks," he nodded, begrudgingly, "it was a good idea." He grumbled something incomprehensible and went back to his ledger.

Valeros walked over to the three men on the couch, and each of them, in turn, clasped his dragonmarked forearm and repeated the phrase.

He turned and faced the room, closing his eyes, and Valeros laid his hand on his forearm over the Mark of Sentinel. "The Blood of the Sentinel watches. The Blood of Deneith protects us, for all must bleed. Blood will have blood, and blood runs deep." With that, he strapped his bracer back over the mark.

The thrum of the airship elemental fell loudly on the heavy silence of the room. The liveliness of a few moments ago was replaced with anticipation of the coming conflict; a reminder that life was about living, and loss.

Valeros drew his swords from the sheaths on his back and cracked his neck, while Ezren held his cane in his right hand and his wand in the other. They grinned at each other, and the white-haired wizard inclined his wand to his forehead in a salute. "Let’s do this!"

Tuk made a rather rude impatient gesture at Valeros, calling the man on, as Thuurvi wiggled her tattooed fingers and uttered something guttural that didn’t quite sound like Orcish. Much of the room, excluding the table, was suddenly filled with thick smoke billowing up to the ceiling, and Valeros was obscured from the halflings’ view.

"We've got a bloody witch, Ezren. Can't be that pretty half-orc," he cursed, his voice belying a hint of sarcasm. "No, I bet it's the 'forged!"

Tuk, who was obscured from Valeros’s vision, moved around the table, drawing his rapier. He crept through the edges of the haze, before exiting it, coming to stand in the kitchen. He waited, bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet, his relaxed stance betrayed by the intensity of his gaze.

Jacynta frowned, glancing from Thuurvi to Three and back again, before shrugging the comment off. She ducked under the table where Thalmor sat, drawing her belt knife as she crept toward the edge of the mist.

"She's not using magic," Ezren warned from inside the fog. "I don't know what she's doing or how, but watch out!"

"Don't step on a halfling!"
Kurst taunted from deep in the fog. Thalmor smirked at the quip and sipped his beer, watching the proceedings with care.

Engineer #3 formed Their mindblade over-top Their hand and slipped across the room near Tuk at the edge of the fog, nodding as he took up a flanking position with the halfling to the entrance of the kitchen.

"Time for some fun!" With a bellowing laugh, Valeros crashed out of the mist. He now loomed over ten feet tall, ducking his head to avoid banging it against the ceiling and ran right into Tuk and Three, unaware they had moved.

"One must maintain defense in combat at all times, Valeros," Engineer #3 lashed out at an unprotected region that was normally not so high off the ground. "The unexpected blow will cause the greatest damage."

Valeros dodged aside, avoiding the cheapshot from the warforged. Tuk side-stepped Valeros’s rush easily, but missed his slash at the man’s meaty thigh.

"Whoops, careful now, step lightly now…" Tuk used the moment of Valeros’s disorientation and stepped closer to the enlarged warrior, the opposite of what people his stature usually did. Suddenly he was moving with the man weaving in and out of his feet and legs, intonating, "Careful now, step lightly now…"

Valeros growled at the chanting halfling under his legs, "Oh no you don't big guy!" He slammed Tuk in the nose with the pommel of his blade, "A couple of dirty fighters, Ezren! Like Kurst!"

"Sarcasm and wit. Most of the warriors with such styles use a rapier or cutlass. Yet here you are with a simple utilitarian sword, Valeros."
Engineer stepped up, swinging with his oversized mind blade ‘power fist’. "Interesting."

Tuk blinked the stars out of his eyes from Valeros's blow and continued to dance around his big feet. "If that's all ya got..." He lunged forward and up, aiming his rapier at the man's exposed crotch, "Take that!"

Valeros dropped his short sword and spun, trying to avoid the irritating halfling stabbing him in the nethers, and open-hand slapped Engineer #3 Mk. II in the face. "You're like a cat!" He howled at Tuk, "Get out from under my fee - OW!"

"Ezren has left the battlefield! Cheating!"
Thuurvi's gaze followed Ezren as he slipped out of the room through the door to the sleeping area, hidden by the haze to everyone but her. She hurried after him, coming face to face with the wizard on the other side of the doorway he went through. He stood just outside the mist that covered her, and she stabbed at the old man with her dagger. He swatted the blade away with his dragon-headed cane, knocking her off balance.

Hesitating for a moment just outside the unnatural mist, Jacynta steeled herself and slipped into it. Almost immediately she was confronted with Valeros's oversized feet, stamping around madly as he cursed at Tuk.

She waited for a good opening before sinking her dagger into Valeros’s boot. As she yanked it free, she knocked a latch on the boot, unintentionally releasing it. On his next step, Valeros's boot came halfway off his foot and he stumbled, getting entangled in the boot flopping around beneath him. He bellowed jovially, "The Six ravage your father you tiny little nightmare!"

Thalmor, trying to have a peaceful sip of his drink, got a slosh of beer in the face as Valeros stumbled into the corner of the table. He cursed, wiping the froth from his face as he smirked at the antics - as much as he could see. The odd haze and smoke made it noticeably less interesting, visually. Keeping his head down, he tried to stay out of the way.

Stomping his heel back into his boot, Valeros squeezed past the table that was bottlenecking him, looming halfway out of the mist. Looking down he grinned upon seeing Tuk there. "You are quite fun to fight, halfling!" His eyes flashed happily as he cut his sword across Tuk's thigh.

"You lot are quite resourceful!" Ezren agreed, stepping back from Thuurvi. He cast a spell, holding his left arm out in front of him, hand in a fist. "Վահան!" The air in front of his arm seemed to solidify for a moment into the shape of a shield, before returning to normal.

Cheers went up from the three men in the back of the room, laughing and taunting as the battle roared around them.

"Your mobility is commendable,” Exploiting his advantageous position, Engineer reached for Valeros to grapple him, “but if you cannot move it will avail you naught." Valeros shrugged off Engineer #3's attempt to grapple him.

Tuk spun around Valeros' knee, scooting back between the warrior's legs. Lunging upward, Tuk tried to embed his rapier in Valeros's meaty buttocks but Valeros reached between his legs and got ahold of Tuk's collar, flinging him back into the dining area. As Tuk was ripped off his feet, he kicked a boot up and rang the bell just above his head. He landed in front of Jacynta, keeping his balance as he bumped into Thuurvi's back, all of them vague shifting shapes in the mist.

"Son of a - !" Valeros groaned and made a sound in his throat. "Siberys, I'm gonna keck."

Jacynta, who was still crouched under the table, slipped past Tuk. She swiped again at Valeros's oversized calf, but her dagger slid off his leather greaves as he stomped around.

Thuurvi nudged Tuk. "If you can get into that area near the wizard, gut him." The disquieting ripples in the air around her moved the fog around as if she was struggling with a blanket wrapped around her knees, trying to untangle herself, completely separate from her actual movement. "Er, no pun intended." Looking down, she considered the dagger gripped in her hand. "Gah, I should have pulled out my sling; stupid demon spirits." Dark power flowed through her mortal conduit, and she whispered harshly through her tusks, "I am your bane."

Ezren took another step back, tracing arcane sigils in the air before him. He seized the sigils as if they had a physical form, and attempted to turn an unturnable object until - with a snapping motion almost as if he broke something - Ezren overclocked the spell! Two bolts of white-hot light darted out faster than a blink of the eye, hitting Thuurvi in her abdomen. Ezren whooped with joy, "Haha!"

"Mother of - tiny, bloody, awful halflings..."
Shaking off nausea from Tuk's parting gift, Valeros spun to face Engineer #3 with a roar. He brought his sword across in a powerful back-handed strike, but his wrist was caught by the warforged, who stepped inside the attack, snapping Valeros’s right elbow back and propelling him over the warforged’s shoulder. "The unexpected attack deals the sharpest blow, as I stated.” Valeros slammed hard into the ground. “And now you will feel the might of a psionically-empowered fist." Engineer #3 delivered a crushing blow with his ectoplasmic battle fist to Valeros’s thigh.

"Ow!" Valeros grunted in pain, trying to fend off the warforged’s punches.

Tuk got his feet under him and ran out of the mist, jabbing his rapier at Valeros sprawled out on the ground. Tuk's rapier was deflected with the largeLongsword, knocking the rapier out of the halfling's hands; it landed next to the shelf to Tuk's right.

With her easy target of Valeros's leg gone, Jacynta slipped back through the mist to Thuurvi's side.

"I think Tuk is otherwise engaged," she said, peeking around the corner of the doorway through the edge of the mist at Ezren. "You've been fighting the wizard alone this whole time?"

Thuurvi responded, looking down at the halfling woman next to her, "let's get that wizard. Everyone else is busy with the big swordy guy."

Valeros yelled, sprawled on the ground in the kitchen, fighting off the warforged and the halfling menacing him.

Ezren concentrated on his wand in his left hand for a moment, and spoke a word of command, "যাদু মিসাইল!" A bundle of barbed wire quickly poured out the end of the wand onto the ground. Woven in amongst the barbed wire were five sharpened bones. "Ah! Backfire!"

Lashing out from the ground, Valeros caught Engineer #3 in the legs with his longsword. "Screw your backfire! Get over here, now!" he bellowed, lurching to his feet. Engineer #3 swatted at his face, almost hitting him in the eyes.

"Hey, Ezren! You know the Devourer likes to eat pink skins like you who delve into His magic, right?” Thuurvi taunted, slipping into the room with Ezren. “It starts at night, with bad dreams. And itching!" She moved to the opposite wall while the wizard was occupied with the backfiring wand.

Tuk glanced in the direction his rapier went flying, shrugged, and pulled out his dagger. "That bigger and better spell didn't seem to do much for ya down in th' basement!" the halfling taunted.

"This warforged hits like a blacksmith!" Valeros shouted to Ezren, just as Tuk stabbed him in the knee, "Ow! And this halfling can't seem to hit anything!"

"Correct. I am trained in both martial combat and the manipulation of metal via forge."
Engineer swung again with his mind blade, the oversized ectoplasmic battle fist turning his already large hand into a veritable battering ram. "Now would be an ideal time for your surrender."

"What is it you warforged say in times like this? I forget..."
Valeros smirked as he caught the enhanced fist on his blade and pivoted, stepping up and smashing the pommel into the warforged's eyes, temporarily blinding him, "...oh that's right. F#@k off!"

Engineer held his arms up in a defensive posture, attempting to clear his vision. "My visual sensors need recalibration."

"The Devourer take this - confounded...I can't get there, Valeros!"
Ezren glanced between his cane and his wand, trying to make a choice.

Jacynta darted around the corner after Thuurvi, dagger flashing as she lunged for the old man. Ezren kicked over a Rundlet of wine that was standing against the wall, and Jacynta tripped over the barrel, banging her knees and her shins. The barrel burst, stopping her in her tracks, as a deep red wine poured all over the compartment's floor. The wizard yelped, "Ah! I thought that might be flour! Not good wine!" The air reeked of alcohol, and Ezren could distinctly smell notes of cherries and plums. "Enough! যাদু মিসাইল!" Ezren shouted, pointing his wand at Thuurvi. Another white-hot point of light shot out, hitting her in the shoulder.

Ezren dodged past Jacynta. "Valeros, I’m—" he ducked under a plank of wood the halfling flung at his head, "—I’m a fool!" He splashed through the wine gushing from the broken barrel.

"I spilled—" he stumbled, narrowly avoiding the shattered cask of the barrel Thuurvi kicked in his way, "—I spilled good wine!" He panted, disappearing into the mist. "Blast it!"

Ezren burst out of the mist across the table from where Thalmor sat. The wizard put his finger to his lips in a shushing motion. Thalmor grumbled and waved dismissively, folding his hands impatiently.

"Dammit, Ezren! Come on!” Valeros cleared his head with a shake, hitting Tuk with his longsword in a devastating blow before stepping back into the corner behind the warforged. “Again?"

Tuk winced, muttering, "The harder they hit, the harder they fall..."

He swung in around Three, slashing at Valeros' large calves. Valeros caught the halfling’s blade on his longsword, spun it around, grabbed Tuk's hand, and flung him onto the ground in the corner. "Get over there!"

Thuurvi grimaced and peered over at Ezren, who was a bit hard to see around the corner from her vantage point. Her eyes pierced through the mist she’d summoned, even though no one else could see through it, it did not hinder her vision. "Jacynta, we should invest in a net - these wizards are slipperier than alchemical hogs," Thuurvi quipped. Muttering under her breath, she whispered to the spirits that surrounded her. Several napkins left on the breakfast table began to smolder and then light on fire, trails of smoke wafting up into Thalmor's face.

Jacynta eyed the mist with trepidation, adjusting her grip on her dagger. "Did you see which way he went?" she called out to Thuurvi, scanning the obscured common room for Ezren.

Ezren scrambled up the chair and onto the table, crossing it in two steps. He unintentionally kicked the bits of fabric that Thuurvi had set on fire into Thalmor's lap. He leaped onto the counter behind Thalmor, his foot slipping on the edge, and crashed to the countertop. His momentum knocked dishes and other breakfast items to the ground as he fell into the kitchen with a thud.

Thalmor shoved back his chair, cursing, but the leg caught, toppling him to the ground. Beer flew into the air as the dwarf impacted the floor.

Thalmor coughed, taking the full force of the fall. "Hey! I don’t mind you rapscallions playing your games, but leave me in peace!" he sputtered, annoyed. He glared at the fighters around him.

Surrounded by pots, pans, plates, and broken crockery, Ezren uttered a word of magic, pointing his wand at the warforged fighting Valeros. "যাদু মিসাইল!" A bolt of light streaked out of the tip of the wand, hitting the warforged in the back, knocking Them to the ground.

"Great job, Ezren!" Valeros yelled, beating his long sword into the prone warforged.

"Get 'im, Three!" Roderik yelled. Watching what they could of the battle royale, Kurst and Omast chattered as Ezren crashed through the kitchenware. "Thuurvi's gonna murder Ezren,” Omast grinned over his drink. “I know,” Kurst bellowed with glee, his beer sloshing out of his mug as he gesticulated enthusiastically. “I'm so excited!"

"You'll be out and about if there's a real scrap, yes?"
Thuurvi scowled at Thalmor as she moved past the beer-covered dwarf struggling to disentangle himself from his chair. "At least trip Ezren next time!"

Jacynta cautiously moved into the fog, stepping carefully until she came out the other side. Three stood to her right, with a giant Valeros beyond him. Tuk lay sprawled on the ground in the corner.

Thalmor scowled from the floor, unable to see Thuurvi. "Now why would I need to be out and about fer any reason? Why would there be a real scrap?" He grumbled and stood up, obviously annoyed. He wiped himself off as he stumbled away from the action to the corner, nursing his grievance, and sporting his beer in his beard. "Yer business is yer own, I'm not a blasted nursemaid nor bodyguard!"

Thuurvi scuttled towards Jacynta and tapped her to let the halfling know she was behind her. "I can heal you to wallop another day, Brave Tuk."

Jacynta gave Thuurvi a flat look. "What, all halflings look the same to you?" Thuurvi sighed, realizing she had mistaken Jacynta for Tuk from behind.

Three heaved himself to his feet as Valeros laughed, "Take this, 'forged!" With a look of triumph on his face, he kicked the warforged squarely between the legs.

"You have tried to injure reproductive organs on a Warforged." Engineer #3 spoke without inflection as he calmly took the low blow. "That was a very poor tactical choice, Valeros," the warforged advised, wiping the look of triumph off Valeros’s face with a punch.

Tuk stood and stepped inside Valeros’s defenses as Three punched the man, stabbing him in the thigh.

Jacynta rolled her eyes and glanced between the enormous form of Valeros, and Ezren struggling to get back to his feet. She nudged Three, "Have fun with the biggun," she called over her shoulder at the metal man before darting at the wizard.

"Halfling!" Ezren yelped, kicking a pan on the ground and launching it up into Jacynta’s path, and knocking her dagger out of the way with an awful clang. "Angry halfling!"

Gesturing and muttering, Thuurvi whipped a fork from the galley at Ezren’s face. He ducked as it shot by exceptionally close to his ear. "Fork!" he yelled, as it clattered against the cabinet over his shoulder with a racket.

Ezren scrambled to his feet, evading another swat from Jacynta. He leveled his wand at her, grinning. "ভারক্লাকড ম্যাজিক মিসাইল!" Two balls of light streaked out, hitting her in the chest.

As Ezren dodged silverware on one side of the room, Valeros was battling the halfling in the other. "Stay down!" Valeros yelled, cutting Tuk across the halflings' right shoulder.

Tuk growled in frustration as he was again hit by the enlarged man, ducking and jamming his dagger into Valeros’s right side, finding a spot to slip just under the edge of the armor. With a yell of pain, Valeros fruitlessly tried to slash out and defend himself and was almost tripped up on a cup that rolled under his feet from the chaos of Ezren's plunge over the counter. "No!"

Engineer #3 swung again at the large fighter. "Indeed. I will end this conflict as soon as possible." Valeros brought the pommel of his sword around on the back of the warforged's fist, yelling, "Hands off!"

"Jacynta, trip him or knock his wand out of reach!"
Thuurvi called, stepping closer to Three and waving her hand in the direction of Ezren in the corner. In an eyeblink, the floorboards underneath him took on strange, jagged shapes, shifting under the wizard's feet.

Jacynta glanced back at Thuurvi, then up at the old man towering over her. "Sure," she said under her breath, "Just knock him down. How hard could that be."

She lunged forward, smacking the wand out of Ezren's grasp and sending it clattering to the counter behind him. He scowled at Jacynta, "Don't listen to the half-orc!"

Ezren stomped his foot on the ground, and a shockwave burst across the floor, flinging the fragments and detritus off the ground with a cacophonous clamor.

The shockwave slammed over the ground at Thuurvi and Jacynta's feet but both of them kept their footing, and Ezren quickly slipped past Jacynta as the halfling slashed at him, moving through the debris-covered ground to get closer to Valeros.

Valeros brought his sword around in a powerful blow, as Engineer #3 countered him perfectly. Valeros was able to just step out of the way of the counter, while his longsword connected with a resounding crash on the warforged’s plating.

Feeling beleaguered and fatigued, Engineer #3 kept his hands up near his head and tucked his elbows in close to his chest, maintaining a defensive stance.

"I hope there's some blood or juice in you, Three," grunted Thuurvi as she placed a hand on the 'forged's side, concentrating on the energy of the touch.

"The witch is doing something to the warforged! I think she's repairing it. Artificer!" Ezren shouted as Thuurvi stared daggers at him.

"Are you a wizard or the town crier?" she snarled. She leaned in, moving energy into the wounded warforged, and her focus shifted, leaving her open for just a moment. Valeros swung his longsword, cutting some netting above Thuurvi’s head. It pooled on the ground next to her, missing almost entirely.

Tuk cried out, grinning from ear to ear, as he saw his warforged comrade wavering. "Let's go metal-man, we've him on th' rope!" He bellowed up at the enlarged Valeros, "Come on, big guy, pick on some yer - size!" Tuk dodged in, planting his dagger firmly in the back of Valeros's thigh.

"Ezren! I don't -" With a groan, the giant armored man sank to one knee.

A cheer went up from the corner, as Roderik, Kurst, and Omast leaned out comically over the counter, trying to get a better angle to observe the battle. "Aim higher!" Kurst yelled to Tuk.

Jacynta glowered down at her ineffectual dagger, then darted after Ezren. As Ezren swung his cane at her, she dodged deftly under it and launched herself at his legs, knocking him to the ground. "Ahhh!"

Ezren hit the ground and immediately reached in his belt pouch, pulling out a potion. "Catch!" he called to Valeros, tossing him the potion as both Jacynta and Tuk unsuccessfully tried to block it. With a triumphant exuberance, Valeros snatched the vial out of the air. "Thanks!"

Ezren scrambled to his feet, his eyes on Jacynta. "You, my dear…” he spat breathlessly. “We need to have words."

Valeros thumbed the end of the potion open, quaffing it down. "Yes!" he beamed.

"That there's cheatin'," Tuk uttered darkly.

Valeros brandished his longsword at the halfling who smacked the blade out of the way, denting the big sword with his tiny dagger. "Hey!" Valeros exclaimed. Tuk was clearly pleased with himself.

Thuurvi stepped away from Valeros's reach, muttering and wriggling her tattooed fingers in his direction.

"What in Khyber—" Valeros swore as a spatula smacked him in the face. Tuk cut in again, and Valeros parried the attack, hitting the halfling in the elbow with the pommel of his sword.

"Death to the biggun'!" Jacynta yelled, hurling herself at Valeros’s hulking body. "He can't stop us all!" Her dagger struck home, cutting into Valeros's arm. "Gah! Ouch!" Valeros yelled.

Tuk grimaced as he rubbed his numbed arm, keeping an eye on Valeros, ready to dodge away from any attack from the warrior, "Yer gonna pay for that one..."

Engineer #3 lurched up suddenly, startling Valeros, but the enlarged man was able to get his hand on the warforged's head, pushing him back to the ground. The warforged pushed back up, getting a large thumb in his eyes, but finally stood, ready for more.

Ezren pushed past Jacynta as she tried to hinder him. He ran into the corner to pick up his disarmed wand.

Valeros quickly drew out a vial from his belt and threw it on the ground in between the half-orc, halfling, and warforged. It burst into a ball of flame, burning all three of them, just as the mist that has been covering the entire room waned and disappeared.

With a roar of laughing and cheering, the three men on the couch all stood, scrambling to get a better view.

Tuk jumped up and cut one of the ropes dangling from the ceiling near the wall closest to him, low enough for him to reach it. Leftover from when Valeros cut them moments ago, the halfling caused another section of netting to fall, as well as what appeared to be several bags of potatoes and onions, entangling Valeros in it. Valeros bellowed in confusion, flailing to unentangle himself. "What in the blinding hell?!"

"Oh, come on,"
Jacynta snarled, flinching back from the sudden flames. She drove her dagger at Valeros’s leg again, desperately. It sank into his leg as he fell back on his heels, dropping his longsword to the ground with a loud clatter.

Net draped over him, Valeros leaned back onto his wrists, breathing heavy, looking up at the ceiling, his eyes closed. "Khyber, I'm sweating like a Thranish hooker," he huffed, breathing heavily. "Ezren! The halflings got me! They said they're going to feed me to their dinosaur gods." He lay down on his back, still entangled in the netting, chuckling softly. After a moment, a ripping sound drew all eyes up to the ceiling. A sack of onions lodged in the rafters tore and a remarkable amount of red onions pummeled Valeros in the face in rapid succession. "I yield!"

Kurst harrumphed and handed over several coins to Omast, who chortled happily.

Wiggling his fingers around the hilt of his dagger, the feeling in them restored, Tuk called out, "Ha! Take that you Big-Assed Ass!"

Valeros groaned as Tuk stabbed him with his dagger. "I yield! Feed me to your dinosaurs!"

Thuurvi launched a saucepan at Ezren, then ducked around the corner. "Just tackle the magic-user!" she shouted. "Valeros, be sure to rub the onions all over your face—the dinos like that for seasoning!"

Ezren ducked as the saucepan Thuurvi launched at him crashed against the wall. "Alright!" he called, holding the wand he’d just picked up into the air along with his cane, both pointed toward the ceiling. "Alright! Let's call it there I think.” He stood unblemished in the corner of the kitchen, surveying the detritus surrounding him.

The wreckage in the cabin was an impressive sight. Valeros lay on his back, bleeding from several cuts and wounds. His body was covered in a pile of pots and pans, various root vegetables, and some netting that still wasn’t fully disconnected from the ceiling. His left boot was still hanging off his foot, with a large hole in it where Jacynta's dagger had found purchase.

Tuk and Jacynta stood over him. Tuk’s smashed nose was red and angry-looking. Engineer #3 Mk. II knelt next to Valeros and Jacynta, also down for the count. Behind Them, Thuurvi stood at the entrance to the kitchen. Valeros's discarded shortsword, still oversized, lay next to her on the ground, Tuk's disarmed rapier only inches away from it.

Trails of smoke rose from the two women and the warforged, and prominent singe marks surrounded them all on the surfaces and items where the burst of flame happened. Thuurvi's clothes had several small holes where magic pierced them, as did Jacynta’s.

Engineer #3 had several newly acquired dings, scratches, dents, and one particularly prominent scrape right across Their glowing green eyes.

Dishes and broken crockery littered the kitchen and eating area where, moments ago, Thalmor had sat quietly, his empty seat now upended and set ablaze. The smell of wine was sickeningly intense as it slowly seeped across the kitchen floor from the anteroom, where a pile of barbed wire rested amidst a broken barrel of red wine.

A small fire burned feebly on one side of the table. Thalmor was illuminated in the corner behind it, standing next to the stair leading up to the top deck. He held his notebook in hand along with a still-dripping mug, his beard soaking from spilled beer.

Another onion thwacked Valeros wetly in the face, leaving a large wet smudge.

Engineer offered him a hand, the one not enclosed in a massive ectoplasmic battle-fist. Valeros groaned, taking the proffered help, and the warforged hauled him upright. "You fought valiantly and in a tactically sound manner." Root vegetables tumbled off Valeros, and Three nodded to him slowly. "Despite being outnumbered, you rendered me unable to continue and could have potentially eliminated Tuk. Well done. You have my respect, and I will fight by your side if the need arises, certainly."

"Likewise, my friend,"
Valeros winced, clapping him on the shoulder. "And you!" he scolded, looking down at Tuk, pulling the netting off himself and failing. "You took avenging Kurst's smelly old—Ezren, would you please get rid of this?" He interrupted himself, gesturing at the size of his body, and the net.

Ezren glanced down at Valeros. “Yes, I think it’s time.” Ezren raised his voice for the others to hear. “Let's put the cabin back to order, and have a good afternoon rest, what do you all say?" He put his wand away, whispered an arcane word, and Valeros and all his gear returned to normal size.

Valeros glared with bemusement at Tuk as he finally separated himself from the net. "You took avenging Kursts’ precious bottom way too literally," he winced, laughing and offering his hand to the halfling. Looking at Jacynta, he laughed. "Both of you," he smiled, then took Thuurvi and Thalmor into his gaze as well, "all of you. Well done."

Thuurvi shrugged and smiled. "Really, I'm more of a talker than a fighter; with many of the things you meet in the Byeshk Mountains, there wouldn't be a fight to speak of--I'd just wind up a smear on a rock, along with the rest of you." She rolled her eyes at herself. "See, like that. Talking," she laughed. "Ezren had the right idea, though—he ran and hid."

"You were controlling the battlefield, my dear,"
Ezren grinned, picking up Valeros's short sword and handing it to him. "Your strength was in removing our ability to see. So I eliminated that strength. The nearest door seemed the most logical choice."

Tuk fetched his rapier, rubbing the back of his neck, "That was a nice bit o' fun! I'll be takin' to the air more oft'n if t'is how lively it gets!" he exclaimed, touching his sore nose tenderly with a finger.

“Tuk, that combat was quite effective.” Three commented. “If we are to battle such large foes in the future, we would be wise to remember that tactic."

"Remember it? You better believe it!”
Tuk nodded to the warforged. “It's my life's work...all us Tuks together..." his shoulders slumped a bit, thinking about all of his dead cousins. "Ah...together...not much together when yer the only one."

Thuurvi nodded to Three as well. "Well, ogres and giants can be found not too far from Sylbaran, although they don't usually come that close. We shall see."

Tuk grinned up at Thuurvi, his voice brightening it seemed by will alone, "Let them come! I figure we'll take 'em down, right quick!"

"I like your spirit, Tuk.”
Thuurvi winked at the halfling warrior. “There will no doubt be occasions when merely talking with an ogre won't do the trick."

"I ran right into these two. Didn't even realize they were there."
Valeros smiled, nodding at Tuk and Three. He raised an eyebrow at Ezren. "What do you think, Ez?"

"Yes, I think so."
Valeros removed his bracer, baring his dragonmark. Ezren took the silver watch from before out of his waistcoat, opened the watch, and wound the dial back. As he did, the wine flowed back into the barrel, which righted itself. Onions and potatoes rebagged themselves and were deposited in the rafters again, and the haze cleared from the air as the smoke from the various fires dissipated. Ropes and nets reattached themselves to the walls, and broken crockery mended, stacking neatly on the counter next to the pots. Thuurvi noticed the holes made by Ezren's wand in her clothes were mended, as were everyone else's, and the beer seeped off Thalmor's beard into his mug.

As each object returned to its original place, the face of the watch flared a soft red light until it was pulsing with wild, rapid flashes, before slowing and finally stopping.

Valeros spoke in a low, quiet tone, touching his mark, "Deneith Blood runs deepest. All must bleed, and blood will have blood. All have not yet bled."

The party’s exhaustion faded, and their cuts and bruises vanished. Valeros's face was contorted in anguish for a few moments before he let out his breath in a rush. Sweat still covered his brow.

"There," he grimaced. Looking up at the room, he nodded to Ezren. "That's done." He wiped away sweat beading on his forehead with the back of his hand and proffered a cloth from the counter. He wiped a bit of blood off his dragonmark, tossed the cloth into a refuse bin, and deftly fastened his bracer back on his forearm.

Tuk had been watching carefully as Valeros utilized his Dragonmark, winding back the damage. "Neat trick, big man," he observed respectfully.

"You both command powerful magic. I have never seen a room repair itself in such a manner, nor the injuries of combat heal so quickly among so many.” Three said, running Their hands over Their previously dented frame. “I am honored to have trialed with you both."

"It's not powerful magic, really,"
Ezren said to the warforged. "My spell takes a long time to cast, works in a very limited area, and does not actually restore things. It's more like...I paint a picture, and then we paint over it. When we're done, I simply remove the top layer of paint, uncovering what was there the whole time. What we just painted over for a few minutes."

"And my mark is mostly just a trick, yeah. It works similarly."
Valeros entered the dining area, pulling his stein from his belt again as he replied to Tuk. "Once bound to my mark, someone is much less likely to be hurt severely. But as it must be voluntary... it's useless outside of training."

"It's actually where I got the idea for the spell - his mark,"
Ezren explained, gesturing at Valeros. "It is a fairly unique Dragonmark, only mentioned in writings of House Deneith. Not without its costs, of course." He nodded at Thalmor. "In principle, I think, the spell functions a bit like some of House Kundarak's aptitudes. area. I don't think that is what Valeros's Dragonmark is doing, but it's the methodology around which I designed the spell."

Thuurvi shook her head in wonder at Ezren's explanation. "So not a glamour then, not an illusion, but top of reality?" She adjusted her orange braid. "That's far beyond my area of expertise, but fascinating. I do often think about what is real, although I'm no philosopher nor metaphysicist."

Thalmor grumbled as everything reset but sat back down. "Wouldn't know too much 'bout Kundarak marks. I get my callings from ol' reliable here." Thalmor withdrew his holy symbol and took a sip of beer. Grimacing slightly at the slight oxidation occurring near a corner of the symbol, he polished it on his coat. Thalmor snorted, "I get power from work not luck of birth." He chose his words carefully, and took another sip, "feels more...honest. Many folks aren't 'marked; not sure why we gotta lionize those who are." He sniffed, gazing out the window.

"Houses rise. And Houses fall." Omast declared, pulling on one side of his mustache thoughtfully. "Like the chest of some great sleeping beast. Some people in the Great Houses are good. But many just helped prolong the war, prolong the slaughter," he said in a disgusted tone.

"I agree, Master Thalmor. An individual's accomplishments deserve recognition. Not just a coincidence at birth, by chance.” Omast nodded solemnly at the dwarf. “Like Roderik..." he turned to his friend. "You're great because of who you are, not what you were born with."

Tuk nodded, agreeing with the sentiment, "Ya, what ya do is what ya are!"

Thuurvi shrugged at Thalmor and Omast. "Gods and powers mark people in different ways--no shame in using what you have. Anyhow, what you are often changes over time. But I hear what you're saying, Thalmor, no need to unduly elevate them."

She leaned against the edge of the table. "Ezren, have you examined the artifact?"

"The pillar? No, I've not,"
Ezren said, joining Thuurvi at the table. "Any of you?"

Jacynta shook her head. "I worked with the team who found it, but I left Xen'drik a long time before they got to that point."

"Well, I hope we can go look at it closely,"
Thuurvi mused. "I wonder if there's writing on it, even if it's magically concealed."

Tuk examined his rapier, looking for dents and scrapes, then looked sideways up at Valeros, a bit of mischief in his eyes. "Wanna do some more sparrin' up on deck? I'm just gettin' warmed up!"

Voidrunner's Codex

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