Eberron's Not So Brave - The Dragonmarked Madness

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
A bunch of misfits get their last chance from their families to regain their reputation and thus their honor and inheritance back. They all end up together in the Eberron beginner adventure and much more.

This is written from the view of an old person, presumably a former member of the party, telling the story during a long winter in a snowed in inn. So there are interruptions from the audience etc. And if anyone reads this and would like to, feel free to pop in a question to be added if something's been unclear. Italic is current happenings in the inn and everyone else, normal is the storyteller.

This is a 3.5/PF/Houserules mix. I'm not the main GM, the GM has never run a game before and she's been afraid she would suck, so if there are some weird moments that's probably why. We love the game though.

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Night One

The fire was crackling, giving the room a nice yellowish glow and, more important, enough warmth for the circle of listeners around the storyteller in the large, comfy chair next to the fire. Outside the inn it was freezing cold, even the bay was frozen and all ships on the river or in the harbor were frozen in. A snowstorm was howling outside, making most people looking out of the bit of window not covered with ice blossoms shiver. Most people, grown ups and children alike, were nursing a hot drink or something that at least made you warm inside.

The storyteller was half buried under blankets, as some others were. He – or maybe she, it was hard to tell – was old. Grey hair covered half the face, and wrinkles were carved deep into a face hardened by weather
.

So, you have found out who I am, and now I shall tell you the story of the Dragonmarked Madness. Very well. But I talk slow, and I will probably need all this terrible winter to finish my tale. Which is probably good, as no ship will leave here for a few weeks, at least.

It all started in Sharn.

I know that is a very frowned upon way to open a story, much like 'it was a dark and stormy night.' Yet, it is true. Actually, both of those beginnings are true. Some kind of irony, isn't it, that the tale about the Dragonmarked Madness should start like a bad piece of fiction in one of those fancied bard tales magazines?

Most of the future party had been called to Sharn, to meet with the influential members of their Dragonmarked Houses. They didn't know each other then, but they were very much alike in one way. They had shown the Dragonmark of their House recently, and had disappointed or threatened their Houses badly, despite great expectations set in them. Or maybe because of that, as great expectations often cause great failures.

There was Deniv, from House Cannith. Story had it he was not only human, but that there was also some elven or halfling blood in him, or maybe even both. His Mark, however, was true, so his ancestry probably had not mingled with the other Houses. His abilities were extraordinaire. Unlike most others who had to manifest the abilities of their Mark little by little, he could utilize the standard abilities of his Least Mark all at once, and he was also said to have some other abilities probably linked to it. He was also very gifted in constructing things, but was also lazy and thus his House had deiced he would need to prove himself out in the world, with little help from them. He wasn't really an outcast, but as with the others, he was forced to make his own way or be really thrown out. Very small for a human and not having much of an attention span, which probably caused the impression of him being lazy, he also had the disadvantage of a copper toned skin, copper toned hair, copper toned eyes... the whole boy was of a single color, which made him look strange, bland somewhat, and in a weird way artificial if the light was right.

Then there was Lorraine from House Deneith. Her Mark had manifested at an early age when she had to defend a friend from street thugs in the town she grew up in. She had since developed all benefits of her Least Mark, and everyone was waiting for her Mark to develop to the next step. As each of the Dragonmarked Madness, she had been trained in magical ways since early childhood, too, when she had shown the first talent for it. She was also a good fighter, could wield a rapier like the best her age and throw a knife with astonishing accuracy. Among other things.

Sounds like the perfect thing, no? Except that she was a chaotic nature, not listening to her elders or instructors the way her House would have needed her to. Such behavior just is not accepted in House Deneith. She was also very careful not to put herself in a situation she could not master, and thus some said she was a coward.

Tjuja, she was a typical halfling and would have been a good House Ghallanda member, if not that she was undiplomatic to a fault and did not care at all about her appearance. Her dark, curly hair usually stood away to all sides, and she had to be reminded to wash it at times. She had a small scar on her nose she didn't want removed as it reminded her to be more careful, and that added to her reckless appearance. It was such that the House almost saw the relative early manifestation of her Mark as an insult, as she was so obviously unsuited for their business. Add to that that she seemed to follow all and no god and her tendency to talk in languages she didn't normally speak, she was even feared by some of the House.

Tibunn, on the other hand, was not a typical halfling. His hair had a blueish hue while his skin was pale as death, and there were rumors about him being part dwarf due to his stockiness. His Mark was true as well, though. He was a bit impolite at times, and could be as direct and undiplomatic as Lorraine or Tjuja. His issue with his House related to a personal problem with one of the elders, from what he said. Supposedly, he had been disrespectful and made fun of the traditions. Some House members claimed things had gone missing where he was present. He also was not much into House Jorasco's healing professions, although quite skilled in the art. To him, it was more important to follow his calling, although because he had no idea what that calling was, he was more often than not found doing nothing, so he was told to get out and find what he was looking for.

Filbura from House Kundarak, dark skinned and bright eyed, was a typical dwarf but by no means suited for House Kundarak. She had absolutely no hand for money and didn't care about it much, either. From her earliest days on, she had been more interested in wandering the lands and find out about the animals and people. She could track about anything and survive in bad weather. This would not have been such a big issue in her House, but she had openly talked about the evils of too much wealth, and about some financial secrets she had heard about. She was just never the type to think before talking.

Quavin from House Lyandar was, when they met him, a spoiled son of highly regarded House members. He had two faults that caused him to be sent away for the time being. One was his overly fondness of the other sex, including visiting certain facilities and spending too much money there, and fathering bastards on several occasions. And he was still very young, mind you, so this was no small annoyance and caused shame for his family. The other thing was that he had no real affinity for the element of wind. While he could master all elements somewhat, he was a lot better with the element of fire, and here especially good in using offensive spells. He had managed to almost burn down an airship by accident and was cast out to find his fame elsewhere afterwards. Likely, he was the one hit most by his house shunning him. In all fairness, they probably just needed him to be away from anything that could burn until he learned to truly control the manifestations of his magic. And they still supplied him with some money and other resources. To him, though, it was like the world had come down, and while his arrogance tried to overplay it, it was clear he had been deeply insulted and was at a loss what to do.

Viril from House Medani had not exactly been shunned by his House, although that was what he told everyone. The black skinned, fat half-elf with the Mark right over his forehead – not an advantage to be unable to hide who you are, I can tell you – had been told it would be best to leave for a while until the political consequences of an unlucky love affair, in which he refused to give up the name of a noble he had been involved with, had blown over. Before he joined with the others, he had intended to make his life in another city – he was the only one from Sharn, originally – as a security manager, criminal investigator or private eye.

Then there was Nihil, pony tailed nephew of the current manager of House Orien's Couriers Guild. He was a budding bard of some renown in his part of the world, but then a mocking song about his own House and the secrets it kept brought him misfavor among his own. He was deeply sorry about it and looking for ways to redeem himself. He was not so sorry to be away from his family for a while, though.

With Moreelle, outcast from Phiarlan, it was a secret what she had supposedly done to anger her elders. We gathered it had something to do with her not fully concentrating on one of the disciplines of art. She was often sullen faced and came over depressed, with her blond hair always covering her elven features as if she was ashamed of her race. Only when she talked about her magical art or could entertain – as well as Nihil if not better – did she smile and open up.

Feyan of House Sivis had made one of the few almost unforgivable mistakes for his gnomish House. He had lost an important contract between two major factions while running as a messenger and thus caused significant embarrassment and shame. And it didn't happen because the stub haired, little smooth talker had been robbed or fooled into giving it up. He had simply lost it. However that could happen – he was never clear about it, and maybe he had been conned after all. But his tendency to misplace things, forget important issues and mix up details led everyone to believe he really had been just slacking.

Zolan was the most unconventional orc you could ever imagine. He fit in well enough with his House in regards to scouting out places and hunt down whatever prey he set his mind on. He also loved reading and the arts though, stemming from him having been taken in by a rich merchant as an orphan – he was the later recognized bastard son of a House heir. Zolan, with his red hair and dark body and obviously with a bit of human blood, would go out of his way to do what he thought was right, regardless of what his House would think. So his House and Clan alike wanted him to prove he really belonged into Tharashk before accepting him. Technically, he was just not taken in yet.

With Milayn from Thuranni, the rumor was that she had assassinated the wrong person recently. Of course she would never confirm or deny it and no criminal charges were brought against her anyway, so it might have been just that, rumor. In any case, Milayn was slim, small – you could almost mistake her for an halfling although she was very insistent there was no halfling blood in her line – and very loyal to her friends and comrades. She was also, something that was discovered only later, dual marked. She might have been one of the first dual marked people of the world, although for reasons you'll eventually learn, she never advertised this fact. She, unlike the rest, had not been called to Sharn but sent to Sharn as a divination had revealed she would find her destiny here. That was definitely true.

Yuja, stocky, a bit overweight brown haired girl from the plains, was shunned by House Vadalis because she had preferred to spend her days learning magic above and beyond what was expected in the House, and had neglected all other duties. Her ability to mix and redefine druidic and arcane magic was also something that was deemed dangerous and rebellious. Like with Quavin, she had mostly been sent away until she learned to truly control her unique gift.

And then there was Ahna. The most un-gnomish gnome you could ever imagine. She was of no
House and stumbled into us by... well, not accident, as it later was learned the meeting had been well designed. Dragonmarked she was, nonetheless, but she carried no true Mark and would not reveal the truth for some time. She was strong and agile and could spar with the best of them. As a paladin of Boldrei, she was somewhat of a rarity but well liked by most people. She was, by gnome standards, beautiful as well and definitely radiant. From the whole group, she was the only one who could not be, at first sight, considered a coward. Everyone else was a bit too careful, a bit too lazy, and a bit too quick to care only for themselves. Ahna was quick to come to anyone's aid, but no wonder given her paladin status.

Sharn, back then as now, is a confusing city for anyone not used to it. You have, no doubt, heard about its magical properties, its floating towers, powerful mages serving the city and any other sorts of wonders. Many, if not most, of those stories are true. And as with any city you do not know, it can be very scary, especially if you are young, outcast and at a total loss at what to do. Add rain and storm to it and a late night arrival, and every bard would make a sad song out of it.

Each of the future party walked, heads drawn under cloaks and umbrellas, through the torrents of water raining down without pause. Sharn is not an easy city to get around in even if you know it, when it is dark, raining and you are a stranger, you are much more likely to lose direction – if you even have any idea as to where you are going. The same was true for all of them. In the curtains of rain, it was hard to see more than a few meters ahead, and you could barely see the glowing orbs of the everbright lanterns so abundant in the city.

Destiny had them come to the same bridge on that fateful night, and they all, more or less figuratively, stumbled over the same dead body while more or less bumping into each other. Some of them noticed the dark cloaked figure avoiding the lights and, while lighting illuminated the scene a bit better, slipping over the railing of the bridge, disappearing in the darkness below. But most didn't see that, they just noticed the body in the flash of light. And no doubt, they were suspecting each other.

Then there was another flash of light, in a curious shape looking like an aberrant dragon mark. It is not sure how many noticed the strange shape of the flash at once. But in that moment, all of them were aware that they were not the killers and more, they had to work together. A compulsion or charm was likely involved in this, but right then, no one cared.

Rain and blood was pooling around the victim, who was still clutching a satchel. It was an elderly human male, from the looks of it a scholar. Tibunn, his blue hair standing up in the electric aftermath of the lightning, quickly bowed down to search the corpse. He grabbed everything the man owned, whether from feeling the importance or just because he thought that anything of worth would be an asset to his survival is the question. Maybe a bit of both.

The next moment, before anyone could even say a word, the cloaked figure they thought to have run climbed back onto the bridge right next to the body and attacked Lorraine, who was standing with the back to the railing. Bad mistake, I can tell you. Lorraine felt the axe coming her way despite the rain and the thunder, and evaded the deadly blade with what looked like practiced ease. The rest of the freshly met group just stared for a long moment as Lorraine drew her sword and started to fight back. "A warforged?" someone asked as the cloak fell off the face of the attacker and it was clear that it was one of the widely feared constructs. And then Ahna sprung to action, joining right into the battle. And then Medani, who despite his bodily features, moved surprisingly quick. The others had no ground to fight the construct as well. And it had no chance now, despite flying into a rage. Eventually, it dropped without anyone else being hurt. Something glowing detached from its body and left to wherever.

Right then, late as so often, the watch appeared. They saw the last moments of the fight. "That," the paladin gasped and sounded like she was drowning, "is your killer, sergeant."

The sergeant, a dwarf who had come with two gnomes, stared at the scene and mumbled a few choice oaths. Then he asked everyone what had happened, slightly overwhelmed with so many people being witness to a crime. He was, in the end, satisfied they had the right killer and told everyone to go about their business, considering the dead warforged to have been a hired assassin.

By now, everyone just wanted out of the rain. The next tavern to do so in was the Broken Anvil right across the bridge, as the dwarf pointed out. They might have just walked past as the sign was not really recognizable in the rain, either. There was not much talking and no introductions, everyone just took a room and went to eat and sleep.

The introductions, very cautious ones at that, came the next day at breakfast. They went through the possessions of the victim, although they still couldn't justify that they – or rather one of them – had taken the items, they all felt it had been the right thing to do. They found the identification papers – the man's name had been Bonal Geldem from Morgrave University with the School of Pre-Galifar studies. The satchel held inks, paper, quills an apple – promptly snatched up by Feyan – and a journal. And the money he had had with him was enough to pay for their meals that morning.

The journal was something different. It seemed to be all blank pages, but radiated magic. And it bore the sigil of House Cannith, in about the size of a signet ring. They all turned to the copper colored human and handed him the journal.

Deniv twisted the signet ring on his left hand and then inserted it into the pattern of the journal. The blank pages immediately began to fill with delicate script and line drawings. One of the first pictures appearing was a map of a tower, very scetchy, and that of a place inside the tower.. "Looks like a foundry," some others commented at the same time.

"Look at this," Viril pointed. "That star in that picture."

"A schema?" Deniv wondered. Then he looked up at the others. "I'm not sure what is going on, or why we have met the way we do but it might just be destiny."

"Don't care what it is," Zolan growled. "But if we help each other out and do something for our Houses, then that is what we should do." He pointed at the journal. "Starting with House Cannith, just because it fell into our laps, so to say. And this does look important enough to regain favor with your House."

Making the long talks following this exchange short, they all agreed, and so it was that the Dragonmarked Madness was born, although they did not have a name for themselves, or any idea what it would eventually be. This is the true story of how they met up. Anything else you hear, about the dragons blasting lightning from the sky and so on, is either not true or just an exaggeration of the weather that night before.

Get me some drink, will ya? My old throat is getting pretty much dry from all the talking.

One of the kids hurried to comply, while an older youth who looked more than a bit like a streetsmart scoundrel spoke up. "So, basically, they started out together for each of their own benefits?"

The figure in the seat took a large gulp.
Yeah, definitely. Because there is some safety in numbers, and because it would be easier to regain their House status that way. As for the paladin – well, maybe she just needed to prove herself, especially with an untrue mark.

"So how did they find out what to do next?" The boy sitting to the right of the storyteller got all big and curious eyes. "They had so little information."


Oh they had a lot. First of all, some of them went to the unniversity the victim had worked at. Some bribe and some careful inquiry with his distraught secretary brought about the important parts. Turned out that the picture in the journal was the lost foundry House Cannith was after for a while. Some members of the house had hired the professor to do some research for them. It was to recover a family heirloom to gain status in the family. An ancient schema, an adamantine plate in the shape of a 7-pointed star about hand size. By the time he was murdered, Professor Geldem had found out about the location of that foundry. Deep within the Dorasharn tower. And when I say deep, I mean it. When they knew what tower they were looking at, the map suddenly made a lot more sense. They counted 57 levels under the sewer system.

The secretary said when the professor was killed, he had been on his way to secure some fire to bring on the expedition. He had, against all sense, decided to be a part of it. But the old elf lady could not say who of the House would have accompanied him, or if he had planned to hire some professionals.

As to who had killed him, the guard let them know, as a curtesy, that they suspected the Lord of Blades, who, back then, was a real worry for some people. The warforged siding with him thought all the biological lifeforms inferior.

A snort from the warforged innkeeper echoed through the small room. "Yeah right, I remember those times well enough. Some of my kind seemed to have more than a few screws lose. Literally."

The audience laughed, then returned their attention to the storyteller. "Wasn't it awfully dangerous to go to such a deep level without any experience? Did the cowardly among them even know what they were getting into?" a beautiful girl in the back of the room asked while huddling deeper into her warm blankets.


Well, no, most of them didn't realize what they were getting themselves into. But, they had a paladin to push them, and the burning need to get back into their comfort zones. So they went to the lowest inhabited level of the Dorasharn tower. They had brought their best equipment, what wasn't saying much, and had stocked up on potions and scrolls despite the expenses. The tunnels and corridors at this level of the tower were narrow and dark. An occasional window slit looked out upon the crowded walls and foundations of other towers, and infrequently placed torches sputtered here and there, giving off pallid pools of light and clouds of smoke. Even so, rough and dirty people crowded the narrow corridors, and the smell of sweat and sewage permeated the stale air. One tunnel opened onto a large chamber, where a mix of goblins, humans, and shifters gather around a small pile of garbage spread across three rotting blankets. One of the goblins shouted "No pushing! No pushing! There’s always enough for everyone at the Rat’s Market!"

The Rat's Market, you see, popped up here and there in different places of the lower city. Almost all of the goods were considered rubbish by others – salvaged things from the sewers or the ocean. Some stolen items of little value here and there. With their equipment, they definitely stood out but no one said anything. They did not notice that, when they talked to the goblin who ran the market, they were watched by someone. The strange environment took all their attention, so they couldn't probably notice a shifter paid more than due attention.

The vendor agreed to show them to the entrance that was marked on the map – E-213 Valve Cluster. For a good fee, of course, but they had no problem paying him. I think most of them felt pity for the goblin. Skakan – that was his name - pointed out a narrow passage that lead to a staircase that descended deeper into the tower. With each step down, the odor of mold and sewage become stronger, and they could hear liquid sounds increasing in volume as they descended. The narrow staircase was maybe 5 feet across, making it necessary for the party to march in a single file, the first and last carrying a lantern each. It was not really thought about in what order they would go down.

The stairs led to a wider tunnel. A shallow trench, about 2 feet below the tunnel floor, ran down the center of the tunnel, carrying sewer water from east to west. A thick grate allowed water to flow from the east, but was otherwise impassable as no one wanted any bad things – that did not originate in Sharn, of course – to come in. Metal iris valves, evenly spaced along the tunnel walls, opened at regular intervals to dump more water into the tunnel.

A warforged attacked from the shadows just when the last of them, Yuja, was on the last landing before entering the sewers, his rapier piercing the air with deadly efficiency. “You have the provost’s journal,” the warforged said. It was not a question. “Give the book to me, and you can live to see another day. Refuse, and we will make your deaths slow and painful.” At the same time, two shifters were seen by the paladin who had taken the lead, coming towards them through the sewage. Yuja, quick to try and cover her own behind, pointed to the front of the row, far away from her, to indicate she didn't have the journal. When the warforged was distracted for a moment, she ducked out under his arm and ran upstairs. He ignored her, believing her that someone walking in the back wouldn't have what he was looking for.

It was probably now that they began to understand what they were really doing. They had taken the road of what is so commonly called adventure and now they might already pay for it. The only real thing they had going for them was their numbers, and they could not really play them down here.

One of the 12 valves dropping sewage water in from the higher levels opened and almost washed one of the shifters away, wetting both thoroughly. Our heroes-to-be, luckily all in waterproof boots and even pants, co nsidered finiling out into the wide sewer, but they now realized that any of the vales might open at any time, probably washing them away in icky water. This was especially revolting to Quavin. He later didn't know how, as he should not have been able to do it, but he released such an amount of elemental magical energy that the sewers freezed shut, including the valves. And the two shifters, who cried out in panic before becoming dirty ice statues. This caused a real issue for that past of the sewer system later, and repair crews probably cursed whoever had done the damage in the vilest words.

Now they went out onto the ice, Viril, who had been second last in the file, barely escaping the attacks of the construct. It was difficult to keep their balance for most of them. It was impossible for the warforged. The sewers shook with the impact, although the ice didn't break save a few cracks, as it was all frozen through.

In a moment, everyone who had a weapon was upon the construct. With so many to get at it and it being unable to get back up, it didn't take long for it to die. Once more some magical light, a final messenger detatched from it and flew away. Those who knew about those things looked at each other and hurried the others on.

At the next intersection they turned right after a bit of confusion including getting some of each other's names wrong. Very soon, they found the circular metal hatch, set into the tunnel wall and engraved with arcane runes. In the middle of the hatch, a glowing circle of mithral depicted the same icon as on Bonal’s journal, the ancient symbol of House Cannith that predated the founding of the Kingdom of Galifar itself, a stylized anvil and hammer. The door clearly radiated magic.

Tibunn, having a little experience with going places he should not be, pointed out the system of an ancient trap. It appeared to have launched projectiles of some sort at some point, but was clearly empty now. It had probably gone off lots of times. Yuja, who had just caught up with the group, pushed to the front. "What are we waiting for? Just open the door already."

"But that's careless," a halfling boy not much more than a teen piped up. "Just because one trap isn't working does not mean there aren't any others!"

Yes, very true. The storyteller smiled at the boy. But in addition to their inexperience with such things, you also have to consider the size of their group. A small army, they were, compared to the normally much smaller sized of exploring or adventuring groups. With so many inexperienced people in an unfamiliar environment, not knowing each other, it is very hard to communicate. Either everyone talks above each other or, like in this case, no one really talked as they were all scared to make a fool of themselves. Which, of course, made the likelihood of just that happening all the more probable

Fortunately for them, though, there was no other trap. Although the door had to be pushed hard to open, it gave them no other trouble. It opened into a vertical shaft, with air rushing through it towards the higher tower, and it was all pitch black, of course. They held down a lantern and saw that it was a mix of crumbling earth and ancient stone, and centipedes and other insects covered the walls like living decorations. Nihil covered the shaft walks with lamp oil and set it alight to get rid of the critters, but the resulting smoke drove everyone away for a while, and there was a good deal of coughing and cursing. But at least it had the desired result. They knew they had to go down, which provoked an argument as to who would go first or last, or any position between. Not everyone was a good climber, especially Viril had problems. He hardly fit into the opening, as a matter of fact. Jokes at his expense were made, including the all popular permanent reduce person joke. He got quite angry at them and finally went in first just to show them. He almost got stuck but he indeed made it down. The shaft started to angle, and by bracing himself he could actually walk along one of the surfaces. When he, after what seemed a long time, arrived at the nearly horizontal tunnel intersecting the shaft, he was completely out of breath and could be heard huffing and puffing. He was also completely in the dark.

Later on 'Viril in the dark' would be come a saying for when things were done without thinking the through. Right then, it was just annoying as the half-elf began to panic. Feyan quickly took a lantern and followed him down, but as neither he nor anyone else could get past the big bodied Medani, they had to keep him in front and not much light illuminated their path. It mattered only as much as his eyesight, despite being able to see ok in dark surroundings, had some issue with judging distances, and not getting light reflected from where he was going aused him to bump into about everything. Yuja went last again, knowing she was a lot less agile than the others and not wanting to be an obstacle, but also not wanting to be the first to run into any problems. Of course, it didn't occur to her then that being last also held some dangers.

The tunnel eventually opened onto a vast chamber, though it emerged about six feet above the floor. Impossible to see the distant walls in the darkness, and the ruins of nearby walls and building appeared as deep shadows in the eternal tower night. There was a change in air currents and pressure that indicated a large open space ahead.

It was easy to get down to the ground. A constant background noise arose from walls and ruins. It took
a moment to recognize, but eventually the sounds of chittering and buzzing could be picked out from among the cacophony. The chamber seemed to amplify and echo the noise in disturbing ways. A mass of squirming, chittering, shiny black beetles soon emerged toward them with hungry purpose. Once more, Nihil threw lamp oil in flasks with burning tinder in them, and the swarm went up in flames, producing very bad smelling smoke that made everyone but the orc and Nihil retch. "What?" he grinned. "It's how you deal with those critters."

"Just how much lamp oil do we have left?" Zolan asked.

With a grin, Nihil showed several more flasks just for the sake of throwing them. "I brought my own attack supply."

Feeling rather bold now, they started to explore further, but they had not gone far when dangerous looking large rats ran towards them. With a sigh, Nihil threw more of his makeshift firebombs and they ran away squeaking, most of them burning. In the dark only lit by two lamps, it was a weird and scary sight to see squeaking, moving torches illuminating their panic driven paths. After that, no other critter dared to come near them and Nihil's grin was decidedly too smug.

Scouting the rest of the old quarter, they found little - an abandoned temple, an old stone column and the bones of what looked like a dwarf. And the foundry, of course. The adamantine doors refused to open though, and it might have taken days and a lot of noise to get in through the walls, and they didn't want to risk that. Finally, they had the brilliant idea to check the roof, and sure enough, there was a large enough hole in there to lower down a carriage. A large chunk of the ceiling had fallen in, crushing cabinets and shelves beneath the weight of brick and stone. The remains of what appeared to be a metal dog that was also caught in the falling stones jutted from the debris. Dusty shelves, intact, lined the southern wall, and a huge forge and furnace filled the eastern part of the room. Neither appeared to have been used in centuries. Two pairs of glowing eyes emerged from the far darkness, and as they used a rope to get down, they could see two metal dogs creeping cautiously towards them.

The paladin was first one down, the journal secured on her belt. Deniv insisted on going down next. After all, it was his house's secret to be unveiled and returned. Nihil was so confident, he pushed himself ahead of some others to be next. It was when he jumped the last meters that the two metal defenders attacked. Just him, though. Taken by surprise, the man hauled himself up the rope again, looking bewildered.

It took a bit of experimenting to find out that whoever had the journal was fine. Everyone agreed that Deniv was fine because he was from House Cannith. In the end, it was up to him and Ahna to search the place. But while there were some treasures in the form of sellable weapons and armory on the shelves – which they, of course, sent up for the others to pack – they found no schema. Frustration spread, and Deniv, not wanting to admit defeat, walked over to the metal dogs to check them out. He admired the craftsmanship and was wondering if he could bring them along somehow, or maybe at least find some salvageable parts on the destroyed one. Ahna needed a bit of convincing to help him push a piece of rock off the thing, but it was worth it. Out of the dog's head stuck a metal rod in the shape of a pentagon. This was odd because the rod seemed to serve a purpose.

It was the gnome who made the connection to the forge. Above it were 3 symbols, a pentagon, a triangle and a square, and the symbols were clearly made to put something inside. "If one came from that thing's head, it stands to reason the others are in the heads of the other dogs," she reasoned.

Deniv could touch and search the dog constructs without trouble, as they really seemed to react to his mark. He found the latch to pop the heads open and produced the other two rods. The gnome beamed at having been right and was about to bounce up and put the first rod they had discovered into the respective depression when the man stopped her. "My house is known for needing things very much in order," he explained. "3 points, 4 points and then 5." He slid in the rods he had in the order he deemed right, then gave a mock bow to the paladin to continue. She did so with a frown, not being sure if she had been mocked or not, but a hidden vault behind the furnace opened with a pop and a screech – time had not passed without signs here – that caused Ahna to cover her ears and grimace.

They found not only the schema, but also bags of coin. Their comrades hollwered down from above in glee as they roped it all up one by one, nearly overloading their bagpacks. If they had been worried about not getting money from their families, they would have less to worry about for a few months at least, more if they would manage to not waste it all.

Try as he might, Deniv could not make the metal dogs abandon their post, with or without the rods in their heads. As someone finally pointed out, there was no way to get them through the roof anyway, and the door was as locked from inside than from the outside. Eventually, they left and gathered outside the foundry.

As they were about to leave, a flaming crossbow bolt flew from the rubble surrounding the large stone column. “Weak flesh!” a powerful voice called out from that direction. “Now you face Saber, greatest of the devoted followers of the Lord of Blades. Throw down the schema and walk away. This day does not have to end with your blood on my hands.”

Confused looks passed among our future heroes. They had totally forgotten someone else was after the schema and that the final messenger sent by the other construct up a level would have gone to someone. It had been careless of them not to expect being followed and ambushed. Deniv recovered first. "We... we don't have any schema. Just some weapons and the coin we came for. Those dogs in there never let us come close to the vault," he improvised.

"Almost ripped my head off, too," Ahna quickly chimed in. She was sure they had never mentioned the schema while hauling up stuff.

"You are trying to trick me." There was the sound of a crossbow loading, but by then, Quavin had readied his spell components and threw a glittering substance up while mumbling a short word. A shimmering shield popped up between them and the warforged, and the crossbow bolt was deflected easily.

A few of them, around Quavin, made a run for the tunnel they had come through. Some of the others – Lorraine, Anha, Nihil and Zolan – made to engage the warforged. As Quavin was the first up the rope, they heard the sounds of battle and realized not all of them had decided to run. They turned to see what was going on, but it was too dark to see much. The lantern Ahna had held stood a bit off the battle, and a dim glow surrounding two of the fighting comrades – Nihil and Ahna – only let them see part of what was going on, but eventually they saw and heard the warforged fall, and another final messenger detached. Lorraine came back limping, and Zolan had a bleeding gash on his head. Everyone felt in over their head, having been reminded of the bigger picture behind the situation, and they left as quickly as they could. It took a good deal longer to get up, with all the added weight and Lorraine needing assistance from a levitating spell. Only when they were out in the surprisingly still frozen canal did they pause to put a bandage on the orc's head while the orc used his minimal clerical healing power on the warrior woman. She walked a bit better after that, and the blood was no longer trickling down her tigh, but the climb us the long stairs and back into the Rat's Market seemed to take ages in any case. None of them talked until they were well out of the lower parts and back in an area where the likelihood of being robbed was slim. By now, the day had almost passed and the bad weather was gone, replaced by a sinking sun that did nothing to warm up the early spring evening.

"If we are to work together," Zolan announced into the uncomfortable silence, "then we need to do better than this. We need to learn what each of us can do and what they can't. We need to learn about this whole adventuring thing. And we definitely need to pay more attention to our surroundings at all times."

The others nodded and mumbled agreement. "And," Filbura the dwarf said, "we need to change inns just in case someone saw us there. And the sooner we sell the coins and get a place of our own, the better."

"Sell the coins?" There was more confusion among the others.

"Those are old. Don't you know they are worth a lot more to a collector than their metal value? I may not be interested that much in money making and safekeeping, but I know what's worth what, still." She grinned. "I can take care of that, given some of you are helping me carry the coins."

Thus, the Dragonborn Madness, although not having made that name for themselves yet, was truly born. They moved to another inn one by one, so as to raise less suspicion, and found buyers for their treasures. Yet, they kept the schema until they could find out more about what was going on, or at least who in House Cannith to give it to."

The storyteller leaned back, gratefully receiving a cup of spiced tea from someone. "So did they buy some sort of keep?" the girl who had brought the tea asked.

Oh, no. They did not have nearly enough coin then, nor knew where they were heading. At first, after the dwarf managed to sell the coins for a good collector prize and the orc sold the weapons they did not need, they bought apartments in Oakbridge, all in the same, recently renovated tower. Viril was already living there, having been too lazy to pick a new place so he had rather suffered through the noise during the renovations. They bought the other 3 places on the floor so they could easily meet up and moved in in groups. Buying living space and furnishing them toom all of their coin, though. The two entertainers got themselves jobs in the Dragon Towers, with some help of old friends. It was not that easy for the others though. Luckily, Deniv managed to find a House Cannith operative from his branch of the family to give the schema to, and he got paid for it on top of all. On the bad side, he was told that this was not enough to ingratiate him with the House again, but he was assured he would be contacted if there was anything he could probably do for them and asked to check a certain messenger station weekly.

This, in turn, gave Tibunn the idea to post an add in the Sharn Informer that they were looking to do the "odd jobs of adventuring" and reroute the answers to the same messenger station. That way, they would not need to give away their identity or worse, hang around taverns a lot and waste their money on cheap drink there. The others agreed.

Settling in with each other proved to be somewhat difficult. Filbura, used to live with nature, felt particularly unhappy in the city but she made up for it by converting a whole glass covered balcony and the room it belonged to into some kind of greenhouse. Tjuja on the other hand converted one of the rooms to some strange kind of cave-like place with lots of smoke and candles and implements for fortune telling, then proceeded to place an add on her own to get a small business running. She was successful, too, because she was cheaper than most and more accurate. Lorraine turned a former storage room they did not need – after all, they had 4 storage rooms now – into a small training studio and proceeded to teach teenagers "the first steps of the battle dances" as she called it. She had an eye for those who could learn but didn't have enough oin to pay expensive teachers, or were shunned because of their ancestry. And she only asked what they could give, even if it meant some never paid and some paid later. She also got a guard job or two thanks to getting known in merchant circles for teaching their kids privately as well, which paid considerably more to begin with. Ahna, too, secured some bodyguard jobs, mostly for rich gnome brats with parents of her faith. But those jobs were only now and then, and she used the rest of her time to help Viril, Zolan and Quavin to research the Lord of Blades and collect news about him. They all strongly suspected they would have more run ins with him and his warforged.
Tibunn and Millayn sometimes vanished for a while and came back with a bit of coin, and while the paladin looked at this with a frown, she never said anything or tried to investigate. Deniv used his skill as an alchemist and artificer to do the ocassional work for the apothecary around the corner and a workshop he knew someone at. Mostly, he was reading up on his hobbies though, as regular work really bore him. Sometimes he also helped Feyan to run errands for the group and the two of them becamse close friends. Yuja befriended Filbura but otherwise found little to occupy her time with and so mostly kept herself busy with cleaning the apartments – and driving some of the others mad with her overly motherly behavior at times. Sometimes, things would behave weirdly in her presence, like a clock going backwards, or kitchenware breaking without anyone touching them. Waking up screaming in the night was a regular thing for her, but she didn't explain her nightmares.

So they waited for an adventurer job to come by, and as it happened, they had to wait a few weeks. Most people preferred to deal with respective parties to do their dirty work by finding them in taverns. They did not know this, but very often ads of this nature were only responded to if the party in question had already gained some fame or notoriety, or none of the people frequenting taverns wanted anything to do with the job.

How they got their next real work and how it changed their standing is a story for tomorrow. I'm old and need my bed now.

The audience parted respectfully as the storyteller got up shakily, leaning on an intricate staff. "Have a good night's rest," one of the serving women said as she watched the warforged help the geezer into a room on ground level.
 

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Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Night Two


The next mid morning, one of the serving girls led the storyteller back into the large common room, where everyone who cared for the story – which was about the whole of the crew – was gathered on tables, chairs and the floor. Once more the storyteller settled into the large chair next to the fire and smiled at everyone. A few children brought covers and placed them carefully around shoulders and over the lap. Then they settled back to their places.


"So, where were we?

Oh, yes, them waiting for real adventuring jobs. The first thing offered to them via their drop off at the messenger station was not coming in a message, but in the form of an older dwarf smoking a pipe while reading the morning news. It was Tjuja's turn to check for any news, and being told that there was nothing but a letter to Zolan from one of his new friends he was trying to develop some sort of orphan project with. As usual, she was not surprised, but there was the usual disappointment nonetheless.

Not noticing that the messenger station worker waved at the dwarf and pointed at her, the halfling was already on the way out and bumped almost into the dwarf. Before she could apologize, he smiled warmly at her. "You are of those looking for a job, yes? I have just the thing for you." He then took the startled girl to a corner and explained it to her. When he was done, Tjuja accepted the job without thinking to ask back with the others.

Their reactions varied. "A vampire hunt?" Lorraine complained. "We'd need to know a lot more to get that done, especially with a vampire as tricky as you just described."

Filbura folded her arms and shrugged. "It is a job. If they can't track it, we probably can because we are not expected."

"I don't like vampires." "Do we get some magic help?" "What's the payment?" "Why were we picked?"

Ahna the gnome paladin shouted for everyone to be quiet and tried to get the story straight. Tjuja's explanation had been more than a bit confusing. "So, this man, a Commissioner Dabrah, hired us to hunt down a vampire who has violated the laws of conduct here in Sharn. Several times."

Tjuja nodded. "Yes, he has been killing people drinking them empty but not making them new vampires for some reason."

"And at first no one noticed until he went from homeless and beggars and drunkards to more important people?"

"Yup, it was then they knew what had happened to so many unseemly characters. From the set ups, the commissioner thinks it might be a vampire who used to work for some city officials, eliminating undesirables, as he called it." Tjuja sniffed. "Sounds to me like a more or less official assassin got angry and now turns around on them."

"If that was so, then why starting with beggars?" Feyan wondered. His gnome ears flicked. "Could as well have gotten straight to the point."

Ignoring the interruption, Ahna motioned for the halfling to go on. "And he said that the vampire evaded all attempts at catching him?"

Again Tjuja nodded. "He thinks he has friends with the city guards, probably even the elite troops. Anytime they were sure to get him he was either not where they thought he was or escaped the least possible moment, even seeming to play with his would be captors."

"Do they even know it is a he?" Moreelle pondered.

"Not so sure, no, but the commissioner has seen him... it... flee, and says he thinks it moved like a man. Supposedly such things do not change when becoming a vampire."

"I see." The artist scratched her head. "Do we have a list where the murderer has hit before?"

With widening eyes, just remembering something that she had been given, the halfling reached into one of her many pockets. "This supposedly has all the information we need." Carefully, she placed a cone shaped orange crystal on the table they were all gathered around.

"Oooh!" Tibunn reached out for it before she could explain its function. Carefully, he touched the tip of the crystal and concentrated. A moment later, the area over the crystal showed a miniature version of Sharn, a semi-solid one at that. In many places they could see red dots, accompanied by arrows linking dates and details to them. Information about the killings, no doubt.

"How did you know how to do that?" Tjuja stared at the other halfling.

"It is a psi memory crystal. My aunt taught me how to use them. Insanely expensive and hard to come by unless..." He caught himself before trailing off. "I don't suppose we can keep this, can we?"

"Unfortunately not," the girl replied with some sense of regret. "But it will supposedly automatically update when something new happens, or rather, when they find another body and discover details. No idea how that works."

"Some psion is linked to it, that way, they can also keep track of it so we can't abscond with it." Tibunn grinned weakly. There went his hope of doing just that when the job was done.

"So," the paladin tried to find out more details, "the commissioner has decided to hire us not only because the police is probably dealing with one or more informants, but also because we are new on the scene and that vampire has probably never heard of us, right?"

"Eh, yeah, basically. And because we are a large group less likely to run out of people to shadow someone with, so he said." The halfling girl looked a bit sheepish. "I know I should have asked you all first but..."

"But most of us would have done the same, if not all," Deniv interrupted. "It's fine, we were all dying for a real job."

"So what's the payment?" Viril grinned.

"The award on the vampire is 5000 gold already, and we'll get 500 extra for just trying."

Whistles were heard and some applause. This job would be no loss in either case, and 5k of gold was just what they needed right now with their incomes running low.

And so they got started. At first, they tried to analyze the data but the attacks had been random, and in some cases one area had seen more than one attack. Altogether, there had been 98 attacks, where only 6 green spots signified escaped victims. Eventually, Filbura realized, smacking her forehead, that the 6 green points were almost exactly where deadly attacks had happened not too much later. No other spots were right above each other. The 3D view had confused them there for a bit.

"So, the places of the killings are important?" Nihil racked his bard brain for some lore about rituals requiring anything like this, especially on a large scale, but could come up with nothing and neither could anyone else.

"Over what time did all those killings occur?" Quavin circled the image of the city, hoping to see anything special about the locations.

"It says 29 months on this note," Tjuja answered. "Quite along time for the authorities to ask for outside help. But then, they supposedly only noticed the connections late, with people dying no one was missing and such." The halfling poked at the image. "If the locations of the killings matter, maybe the timing does, too?"

Zolan scratched the meager beard he had managed to grow and looked at the comprehensive list Tjuja had also gotten. "Not in my book. Random time passed between murders. As little as 30 min in some cases, and weeks in others. But they of course don't know exact time of death for everyone."

"Hrm, doesn't help. Maybe we should check out all the locations, even if there are so many," Viril suggested while easing a large sandwich, his determination to lose weight all but forgotten. "It says here there was nothing out of the ordinary in the places where the victims were found, but who knows?"

"Nothing out of the ordinary? Then why does it say in a footnote divinations didn't work?" Tjuja mumbled, but no one paid attention right then.

"Checking out all those places would take ages, and while at the topic of ages, there will be nothing left as most murders happened long ago. Last week was the first one after a break of over a month!" Lorraine shook her long blond hair, which she now had in curls as to the latest fashion. "No, we might send a few of us to check out last week's location, but it will probably not help."

"That's happened in the financial district," Filbura said. "So I better go, I might be able to use my House identity. Feyan and Deniv, wanna come?"

"I will be along, too, I know a bit about finding evidence and hiding it," Milayn chimed in. Until now, the slim girl had not seemed to pay any attention.

"Alright, then, you all go and we will see what else we can dig up." Zolan said cheerfully, trying to impose a sense of moving forward. "

"And they didn't get back to the fact that divinations were useless?" a young mage asked and her eyes widened. "It seems important to me."

"No, no one had heard Tjuja and by the time the others were leaving, she got a client so forgot all about the pressing questions in her mind." The storyteller smiled ruefully. "It was a forgivable mistake, and at least the information was there to read again.

The viewing of the murder location proved to be fruitless. Authorities had, after taking in all the evidence, or lack thereof, removed the body, and what little mess had been made had been washed away by rain and trampled by many feet. A street vendor selling snacks to busy people explained that the area felt changed and the mood of the regular people coming and going had been subdued for a few days. But it had not been the first murder and wouldn't be the last. He said it was likely just the fact that everyone knew it had been a vampire. The opinions about vampires being allowed in the city varied widely, and there had been some heated discussions in the area.

With some sense of disappointment, the group was on their way back when, from the alley between a broker and a betting office that seemed not quite legal, they heard a cry for help and some laughter. Looking at each other, they decided to see what was going on and ran into the alley, all with their daggers respectively club drawn. A slim, tall man looking like a minor noble was fighting with a rapier, pressed with his back against the wall, against a bunch of robbers trying to grab his substancial purse. The criminals were armed with daggers and clubs themselves, and one had a short sword, but the loud arrival of the party caused them to panic and run. They rounded the corner at the far end of the alley. Filbura considered going after them, but that would have been a futile excercise. Maybe those dark souls would think better of it next time.

"My thanks," the man gasped. "I'm Feivel Hollowain, owner of the Magic Brewery. I just retrieved some money from the bank to buy new equipment; had those thugs gotten my money I might have been ruined." He simled apologetically. "My bodyguards are sick, and I foolishly thought no one knew where I was going. I owe you my thanks and probably my life." As the man came out of the alley, they could see he was an elf with pitch black hair and equal eyes.

"Ah, Lord Hollowain," Deniv hinted at a bow. "Heard from you, of course. Your beer is among the best brands in whole Sharn and area."

"I would hope you heard of me." Regaining some confidence, the brewery owner laughed. "What say you, it is after midday already. I will buy you a lunch you have likely never seen before. Along with enough drink to keep you from drying out, of course."

Both Deniv and Feyan grinned widely and accepted with a bow, while the women just inclined their heads in acceptance. Not a quarter hour later, they were sitting in the Warforged Stag, one of the better restaurants of Sharn, in a room by themselves. The food was truly great, although not unique, and soon talks centered around what they were doing in Sharn as it was, from their accents, obvious they didn't grow up here.

None of them mentioned their Houses – they had all agreed on that - just that they had been out of luck lately and banded together to find work as an adventuring group so they could see something of the world and, first of all, of Sharn.

Hollowain listened politely and asked all the right questions. "So, you are looking for work currently? I have a little problem I could use help solving, and you 4 seem just the right crew for it. It isn't anything that big, but it is, strictly speaking, a little bit illegal. As it is often the case with romantic problems. Oh, not my romantic problems," he hastily added when he saw Milayn's unbelieving eyes. "My cousin is in love with the wrong girl, you see, at least where her family is concerned. They want her to marry a rich businessman of the magic item trade. More prestige, and asides, their patriarch abhors alcohol, sad as that is."

Deniv shook his head and downed another beer. By now, he felt a bit light headed. "How could anyone not admire this yellow brew?"

Feyan coughed and kicked his friend under the table. When Deniv was drinking too much, things could go ugly. But their potential employer had not really paid attention to the bronze colored youngling. "It comes down to this," the elf continued. "She is to wed this guy she detests on the morrow. My cousin has tried to get her out of her parent's clutches twice and failed. Maybe you can be his salvation and manage where he didn't come through for his woman."

"You want us to abduct her, right?" Milayn was right to the point. "Because her family wouldn't know us. And then you want them to marry on the run, kinda?"

"Very astute of you," the elf smiled. "Indeed, that is what we have been planning. But no one wanted to be bothered with a little job like this one."

"Sure," the gnome laughed before anyone could stop him. This was not only a job, it was a quick one and what was even better to a gnome, it involved a practical joke of some kind, namely destroying wedding plans with a secret wedding. "We're in. Tell us what you know about where she goes and all such, so we can get to planning. Time is short!"

Deniv, in his intoxicated stated, nodded enthusiastically. Filbura nodded her agreement after a short hesitation. She had done some similar things before in her hometown, getting people out when they were oppressed by their families. Milayn did not comment as she was already outnumbered. The Thuranni was not sure what rubbed her the wrong way about all this, but she had a bad feeling about it. But she would not, under any circumstances, let her friends do this alone, especially as they had no time to go back and call for help. And, in this case, a small group was likely better.

"Delightful!" Hollowain began writing things down on a napkin. "Here is her schedule, as much as I know it, her address, and additional info. And the place to meet at to do the wedding. We'll pay you 200 gold each, is that ok? Oh and, my name musn't come up. My father is not too happy about all this either, as he would rather see my cousin's half of the business fail so he could take it over. "

Deniv stared, so did the druid. Feyan just chuckled, not considering the overly large amount they were offered. "Sure is fine. And we won't mention you, we know family can be a problem. Now, let's see what to do about this..."

"They didn't tell the others at all?" The voice belonged to the young halfling who had pointed out the trap folly last night.

The storyteller shook the head.
"They wanted to surprise the others. Come back with some success even if it was not related to the vampire murders."

"When I'm going to be an adventurer, I will be more careful," the boy said. "Anything could happen and no one would know where I was? No, thanks. Let me guess, something did happen?" The boy's face was definitely hopeful as if he wanted them to have been punished for their foolishness.


"Oh, something always happens," the storyteller grinned. "About an hour later, the 4 of them were in Upper Northedge, standing at the walls of an impressive mansion build on a large platform outside one of the wider towers. The walls were decorated with sculptures and carvings showing trees and vines, and the gates were formed by living bushes. The whole set up spoke of taste and money without appearing intimidating or arrogant. It looked, in a nutshell, harmless to them. This was amplified by the fact that, unlike on normal days, there were a lot of non-elves around for what they called the prosperity festival, which took place on the inner platform circling the tower and in the tower streets themselves, then spilling out onto two of the wide bridges connecting the towers. Almost every street was brightly decorated, there were street vendors selling stuff everywhere – not heard of on a normal day – games for young and old and mimes and more. To make sure the festival was not disturbed, someone had cast a shield of sorts over the whole area, which kept out the drizzle of rain that had started about half an hour earlier.

Filbura and Feyan were enjoying theirselves eating colored candy sticks – supposedly to fit in with the crowd. Milayn was eating some sort of sandwich, just Deniv was uncomfortable in the situation. "We got her description, but in the masses of people, how to find her?"

"She might still be in the house," Filbura suggested.

"I think, the only way to cover this is checking both out. There are so many people going in and out, we could just grab a crate and join the masses of servants supplying the festival," Deniv suggested as he scratched his copper beard. "But I look too weird to pass as any sort of servant not yet seen, so I will be one of us checking out the festival."

"That is a lot of festival to cover," Filbura worried.

"The elf wrote down she loves to try exotic foods, so we probably just need to check the food vendors," Feyan reminded them. "I'm with Deniv."

"For some reason, that just sounded like 'I'm with stupid," Milayn mumbled so that the others would not hear.

"So, Milayn and me sneak into the mansion then. Should be a breeze," Filbura said, but she sounded doubtful.

So the group split up, which was, all considered, not a bad idea. They had even considered what they would do when they had found the girl, who was, as they had been told, not informed of the plan as there had been no way to contact her. This was especially an issue if they would find her in the mansion.

Sharn was then as it is now a very magical city. For the right price, you could find levitating discs, flying carpets, flying anythings really to take you and your cargo from a to b with several stops in between. The festival naturally had plenty of such taxi services just waiting for customers. It was simple enough for Milayn, who had an assortment of potions, to prick the skin of a fat gnome waiting for a cargo delivery and take his levitating wooden platform with a large empty crate as he fell asleep. It only hovered a feet or two over ground, but it would serve to sneak a girl-filled crate out of a mansion.

Getting in was as easy as they had thought. The single guard hardly looked at them when they mumbled about "Lady Caithlyn's delivery," just like Hollowain had said. But standing in the large and beautifully kept garden, they realized the men still had the crudely drawn base map of the mansion."

A few in the audience chuckled. "Did they not memorize the map?" an older man asked. "The paladin who led our group back in my time always insisted on memorizing maps, as it takes precious time to check on it while you are better off running or fighting."

"They remembered some of the layout as they moved into the grand hall of the house – a room occupying the whole front – but they had not memorized it, no. They would learn to do that later.

They were looking around the hall – the decorated pillars, large staircases leading up and the double doors supposedly going to an indoor courtyard – and pondered where the girl would be if she was still here. They decided checking her room would be the best option, and maybe innocently ask a servant if they would happen to encounter someone.

At the same time, Deniv had lost sight of the gnome, who had darted off a moment ago. Probably to get some more food, the artificer thought. He tried hard not to frown as he started at the flks mingling around the booths and food kitchens, trying to make out anyone fitting the lovely description of Lady Caithlyn. Unfortunately, the crowd was so packed in places that he would have had to come a lot closer to any woman to see if it might be her. This could take all day.

Just then, Feyan popped up next to him again, munching on some cookies with a strange spicey smell. "Found her," he mumbled. "She's at the silversmith's booth over there, ordering rings."

"How did you..." the human started.

"I have that kind of luck, finding what someone, myself included, is looking for." Feyan grinned. "Unfortunately, I also misplace much more things than I find, so I guess it just balances out."

"Well, then, let's talk to her and..."

"Ah, not so fast. There are 2 nasty looking elf guards with her. We need a distraction."

"Can you do that? I think I'm better suited talking to the lady," Deniv admitted. "She may be interested enough in my appearance to listen to our plan."

Grinning even wider, the gnome nodded. "Sure thing. Just watch!"

Half a minute later, the silversmith was crying bloody theft as half of his booth' content got knocked over and a red clad small figure ran down the lane. The lady ordered her guards to give chase, as she had been about buying some of the display – or maybe just because it seemed the right thing to do. It confused Deniv as Feyan had been wearing greens, and it confused him even more when his friend appeared between two stalls, pointing west. "She went there!" he shouted, hopping on one leg. "Bumped right into me and stepped on my foot. Bloody and bloody halflings! Thieves, all of them I tell ya!" He then seemingly caught himself. "Present shoppers not included, of course."

The elves went right where he had pointed, and Deniv was already on his way over to the lady. No one else was paying attention. "I bear a message from your beloved," he announced as soon as she noticed him. "He wants to marry you tonight in the Chapel of Eternal Light. We are to get you there safely. Oh and he says to tell you 'rosewater.'"

Her expression turned from confused to hopeful. "I can leave? Really? That was all your doing?" Her blue eyes sparkled at him, and Deniv felt weird without being able to say why. He nodded and pointed towards the end of the booths not top far away. "We need to move."

Right then, dancing around the silversmith who was picking up items, the gnome was back and put a blue cape around the girl's shoulders, covering her yellow and orange blouse and pants. "So they won't recognize you," he explained. Deniv was sure he must have "borrowed" the cape from somewhere. A moment later, him, Feyan and Lady Caithlyn were darting between some stalls, making for the exit from this place of merriment. They had forgotten about the girls from their party, nor would they have had a means to tell them they had been successful"

Back at the mansion, the girls had maneuvered their floating box to the upper floor and stood in front of many doors leading to various rooms. They had tried to open some, but they were all locked and, from listening to them, were also all empty. Just when they were about to ask each other what to do, a stressed sounding voice came from the end of the hall. "Estelle, where are you? Can't get my hair done properly!"

"Sure sounds like a young lady to me," Filbura chuckled, then the dwarf was already pulling their means of transporting a bride behind her. A door was standing slightly ajar, and a mix of scents drifted out into the hallway. Perfume, incense and something less pleasant they could not identify. "Who will talk to her?" the dwarf hissed.

"My turn," Milayn said, knowing that if they were not believed, she could always use a few drops of the sleeping poison on the lady and they could still get her out. She peeked into the room and saw a young woman fitting the description fighting with a hairbrush and a pearl tiara.

"Milady?" she started the most polite way. "Would you come outside for a moment? We have something for you. Rosewater. From your beloved."

The woman turned and looked at the two of them with a confused and definitely impatient expression. "What? Beloved? Rosewater? What are you talking about?"

"We are talking about the Chapel of Eternal Light and a dream come true," Milayn tried again. "All you need to do is come with us, everything else is taken care for."

"If this is one of those practical jokes so popular lately, cut it out," the woman said sternly. "Who sent you?"

"Your beloved," the dwarf said the same time the assassin pointed to the crate and said "Not a practical joke. It will be all clear once you look in here."

Getting up with some angry frown, intending to end whatever this was sooner than later, the elf came to the crate the two were now holding open for her. "This is empty. What...?"

Milayn poked her with the sleeping poison quickly and gave her a slight push so she would land in the crate. "We don't have time to talk all day, don't want this Estelle come and surprise us,." She explained. "She can thank us later."

Filbura closed the crate and, with an afterthought, picked up brush and tiara and add it to their cargo. "She sure doesn't want to go to her wedding without her hair done right," she grinned. Then the two made downstairs by means of one of the spiral stairs in the back of the house, which was slightly moire dificult with the floating crate, but they encountered no one but a grumpy maid dusting off portraits, not paying them any attention. Out the servant's entrance in the back, they grumbled loudly to each other about being ordered to carry this useless stuff to wherever while others enjoyed the festival. The lone guard at the back snorted something about them not being the only ones to miss out but that was all.

With a sigh of relief, Flibura followed Milayn down the street, directing the crate while her friend pulled. "This was quick," she laughed. "I admit I was a bit tense in there."

"We're not out of the water yet," her friend grumbled. The rain, not kept out beyond the festival area, had grown stronger and they had to pull their cloaks up as they hurried over the smaller pedestrian bridge towards another tower. The rain was a welcome excuse for stealth in Milayn's eyes. "There, down the ramp and out of the elf neighborhood as quickly as possible."

"This city is so confusing," Filbura complained as they hastened down the ramp. "We will need a skycoach to get to the temple district, no? Won't we raise suspicion?" They way to the elf residence they had made going through one of the few public teleport points, but not only were those one way, they also did not allow luggage and were a bit expensive to use.

"Yes but there is so much weird stuff going on in this place, suspicion is not what I am worried about," Milayn answered as they took a short break after crossing yet another bridge into another tower. She pointed towards a balcony with waiting skycoaches – some drawn by magical beasts, some driven entirely by magic – floating discs, flying carpets and even a small green dragon with rider waiting for customers to carry. "There is plenty of transportation to chose from, and several people have luggage. We'll say we have a delivery for the Chapel of Eternal Light – which is not even a lie – and we shall be able to get there without paying a fortune."

She was right. Filbura decided they try the dragon, because it could carry the crate and levitating platform in its claws while they could sit up. The rider was just too happy to oblige, as, so she said, too many people were afraid of her dragon friend because they equaled her green color with bad behavior. "It's not easy being green," the dragon sighed as they flew off. For some reason, this caused the dwarf to struggle with laughter.

The women had a much easier time just hiring a flying carpet right from the festival. Their girl was willing to go along, after all, and so they arrived at the temple district, close to the chapel they were expected at, very early and still had time to spare."

"But... but they had two girls now," a pregnant dwarf in the audience called out in confusion. "I'm guessing the one going willingly was the right one, but what about the other?"

"Ah, we'll get to that after lunch," the storyteller nodded. "Let's have something to eat first, shall we?"
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Pain free day, so long update. Almost up to date with what happened in the game, too.

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After lunch, everyone was gathering around the storyteller again. The snowfall outside had gotten worse, and the wind was constantly howling. There was little light, as the sun had trouble to break throuh the swirling snowflakes.

"So, as I said, Deniv and Feyan arrived first. But they had forgotten an important detail. The temple had several entrances, and one of them was to be left unlocked for them. Now they were looking in confusion at the relatively small, but brightly decorated building. None of them remembered that it was them who had the notes from Hollowain, either.

Lady Caithlyn seemed vaguely amused by this. "We should start checking clockwise," she suggested, her cheeks flushed from all the excitement. "It certainly won't be the main exit." That, the others agreed with so they rattled at one door after the other while the bride-to-be tried to fix herself up for the wedding while she went along. If anyone would have noticed them, they would have been a weird sight.

Filbura and Milayn, who were just on their way to the temple, had a problem of a different kind. Her charge had woken up and was banging the inside of her transport box. "We are drawing attention," Filbura hissed.

"You don't say," the assassin growled back. Loud she said "I'm never going to transporting banger snakes for that wizard anymore, especially not for that meager pay."

The couple and their children they just passed by looked confused, but didn't interfere. No one with a sane mind would interfere with the delivery for a wizard. "Banger snakes?" Filbura wondered, looking confused.

"I just made that up, obviously. Look, there is the temple, we need to let her out somewhere where no one can see us and explain the situation to her better than we did before."

The delivery entrance to the temple was, as with most such buildings, small and hard to find behind fancy decorations. It gave them enough cover to drop their cargo and open it up. The woman jumping out in a fury was about to shout at them when she almost stumbled over her brush and saw her tiara. More out of a reflex, she grabbed both and then she mumbled some angry words. Milayn and Filbura felt themselves rooted into place. "He didn't mention she can do magic," the dwarf protested.

"Who?" the elf snapped at them. "Who sent you to abduct me? You better talk or I'l get it out of you."

"We are here in the name of your beloved, Fandel Sayadin," Milayn explained, remembering the instruction not to mention their contractor's name. "To prevent the wedding tomorrow, we brought you here to be married tonight. It's all arranged."

"Fandel?" There was a short moment of confusion, then the woman let out a short laugh. "Then you think I'm Lady Caithlyn?"

The two abductors looked at each other, equally confused. "Why, yes, you were in the house, you fit the description..." the druid said.

"I'm Lady Dolara, Caithlyn's elder cousin. We might look a lot alike, indeed, but I'd think this would have given away I'm not the one you were looking for." She lifted her right hand, and the band of marriage, a green metal band looking like vines shimmering in green and blue, curled around her right wrist. "I've been married a long time ago. So, as for Fandel's candor, I admire it. But he sent some beginners who obviously had not planned this out well. Caitjlyn is at the fair."

"We had little time to plan," the dwarf grimaced. "We were just hired 2 hours or so ago. We basically just followed the instructions."

"Well, if she is at the fair, there is hope yet," Milayn reminded her friend. "The others might find her yet and be on their way already, as we never said we'd meet up again. Could you release us, please?"

The elf undid the spell with a motion of her hand. "What others? There is more of you?"

"Yeah, we split up in case you... I mean, Lady Caithlyn, went to the fair. Seems it was a good idea, too." The druid looked up at the temple walls. "Maybe they are already inside, they might have had less trouble. I just hope this Fandel will be here in time, too."

"I thought he hired you? He must be here already, then, no?" Lady Dolara looked suspicious again.

"We didn't meet him." Milayn remembered the bad feeling she had had about this endeavor before. "A friend of his asked us to help out. Probably wanted to keep the groom out of trouble, just in case."

"A friend?" The lady's eyes narrowed. "This friend would not happen to be one Hollowain, would it? No, I can see from the looks on your faces that it was him." The lady let out a very unladylike curse. "Then I hope your friends have not found Caithlyn."

"And why would that be?" The dwarf folded her arms. "Are you against them marrying?"

"No." The irritated stare of the lady made Filbura close her mouth. "I'm against Hollowain go through with his fiendish plans, and I fear they involve Caithlyn's undoing. He has been sneaking himself into Fandel's good graces and eventually friendship. This is why I came to Sharn to begin with when she wrote of this friendship; to warn him and Caithlyn of them."

"This Hollowain character isn't trustworthy, then?" Milayn grabbed the dagger in her belt. "He's been planning against them? To what end?"

"Because Fandel has signed over his estate to him in case anything happened to him. He has no family, you see. Hollowain has been doing this several times before, but the authorities could never prove a thing."

So we've been hired to do his dirty work, and he likely plans to kill us off, too, and then blame it all on Fandel, who would either kill himself or be executed." Milayn was quick to assess the situation. "He's probably arranged this attack on himself, too, to find some fools to work for him."

"Hey," the druid protested, but she, too, saw the truth in the words of the assassin.

"Very likely, yes. We need to hurry and see if we can intercept your friends before it is too late." Lady Dolara turned and started rounding the temple, not waiting to see if they would come along or not.

"Shouldn't we call the authorities?" Filbura asked naively.

"Are you mad? We'd be probably arrested for abduction, or at least, Deniv and Feyan would be."

"Good point." Filbura started following the lady. "Let's hope we won't be too late to same the girl or our friends, then."

"Yeah," the Thuranni agreed and hurried to follow. "The damage to our reputation would probably be irreparable."

The other two and their charge had by now found the unlocked door just on the other side of the place. A partly covered everburning flame was all that lit up a small anteroom with a bench, a mirror and some chairs and chest. It looked like a room to prepare a wedding party or any other person of importance, so they seemed to be on the right track. By now, Caithlyn only needed another look into the mirror to be happy with her appearance. Her gown worried her a bit, as it didn't shout "wedding," but they assured her it was fine, and that it was the action that counted, not the looks.

From the anteroom, a narrow hallway led deeper into the temple, ending at a sturdy metal door just out of the reach of the anteroom's everburning flame. Deniv bumped into Caithlyn when she stopped to avoid the same happening to her with Feyan. Her and the gnome had less issues with the sudden darkness. "They could have left more light on," Deniv mumbled as he sorted himself out. The lady chuckled nervously. Feyan pushed the door open to reveal the inner sanctum of the small temple.

A rotunda with benches of wood and stone alternating and an equally round altar was revealed. On the latter, a 3-armed candle holder stood, candles lit. A vial with water and an incense holder with burning leaves were also present. More everburning flames decorated the walls here, and the light was warm and welcoming, not too bright on the eyes but chasing away all the shadows.

"So they are here, then," the gnome chuckled. Louder he called "Here comes the bride!"

A hooded figure disengaged from a doorway. They had not noticed it before. With slow but steady strides, it came towards the altar. "Welcome, friends. Welcome, Lady Caithlyn! The groom will be with you in a moment."

Deniv recognized the voice of Hollowain and looked at his friend. The gnome shrugged. The masquerade was a bit strange, but they both remembered the elf's words about not wanting to be dragged into the mess of things. "Are we supposed to go now?"

The hood turned to Deniv and shook his head. "We need some witnesses present. Where are your friends?"

That was a good question. The men could not believe that the women were still looking for the lady, when it was clear the 2 of them must have been successful. "On their way," Deniv said to overplay their mess up in not coordinating things better. "We got split up."

"Very well. We cannot wait for them, though. I'm going to go along with the preparations. Caithlyn, would you come over to the altar, please?"

She was about to do as he asked, when a female voice suddenly called out. "No, don't! It's a trap, he means to do you harm, likely to kill you!"

A copy of Caithlyn seemed to materialize out of another hallway at the head of the altar. She has her arms raised, and a faint light was glowing around her hands. "It's Hollowain, and he's evil. He's done it before, he's after Fandel's possessions and wants to frame him!"

Hollowain had turned around in surprise, looking from one woman to the other in confusion. That was enough for the newcomer to strike a spell at him. A bolt of light hit him squarely between the shoulders and threw him between the benches.

But right then, more doors to more hallways opened, and two groups of armed men appeared, some of which they knew just all too well. "Those are the thugs that were after Hollowain before!" Deniv exclaimed.

"It was a set up? All of this?" The gnome, having a hard time to digest that a wedding-to-be turned into a possible fight grabbed his knife and jumped after Hollowain, in the hopes to grab a hold of the man and make him call back his thugs. The newly arrived mage woman went to Caithlyn and grabbed her by the arm, steering her hurriedly behind the altar to get some cover. The thugs drew falchions, cudgels and other means of dealing out hurt.

The gnome reached Hollowain, who was trying to shake off the dizziness caused by the spell and the fall. Quickly, he grabbed the man by the neck and let him feel the blade. "Better not move, or you may get another mouth a bit deeper than you are used to," the gnome hissed, trying to put malice into his voice. "And better call back those thugs of yours, too."

Hollowain was not fooled that easily. He knew inexperienced people if he met them. This gnome, he knew, had never killed in his life before. He reached behind to grab Feyan's wrist, confusing the gnome. Feyan hesitated a moment too long, and before he knew, he found himself flying over the head of the elf and crashed down hard behind some benches. The world became dark around him. The last thing he heard was Hollowain's laughter.

Just then, Filbura and Milayn came running through the hallway Lady Dolara had used, having had some trouble catching up after they missed the door the woman had opened with a spell. The assassin cursed and her hands went to her arsenal of shuriken and throwing knives. Filbura was slower, taking her time to notice that she had indeed seen some of the thugs before. Deniv, she noticed, had just thrown some smoke causing bottle on the ground, which saved the elf woman from being attacked by all thugs at once but also obscured the sight for her bow and Milayin's assorted throwing tools. The assassin already cursed, but one of the thugs was down. The others, 7 if she had counted right, were circling around the smoke to get at Caithlyn, who was still hiding behind the altar. Hollowain joined the fray with his own sword, but cried out as Filbura managed to put an arrow in it. The sword dropped with a clinging sound. "Aren't there any priests here to notice the commotion?" she wondered.

Hollowain looked like he was about to explode. His carefully developed plan was about to blow, and he needed a solution fast. His hand went to his belt pouch and he withdrew a sheet of paper. With a snarl, he began reading from it.

The cloud Deniv had caused began to dissipate. Lady Dolara hurled a ball of light at Hollowain. Filbura shot an arrow at the only thug not inside the cloud, but missed and found the man coming at her. Milayin threw her shuriken in rapid succession, and while she hit no vital spot, she brought the thug down before he could reach the dwarf. Hollowain's spell, disrupted by the attack he had to duck, fizzled and he let out a roar of anger. A moment later, he could not move anymore, being in the grasp of Lady Dolara's spell. The cloud was gone and revealed sleeping thugs and... a sleeping Deniv. He had been caught by his own defense. Filbura could not help but giggle. Lady Caithlyn, too, was sleeping behind the altar, which had been inside the cloud. Feyan came too just then with a loud groan. "Did we win?"

"Don't stand around," Milayin hissed, kicking the last thug unconscious, then beginning to plug her weapons from his body. "Tie them up. Or should we just kill them all?"

Feyan and Filbura both looked shocked at the suggestion, but the elf lady just pointed at Deniv. "We won't be able to prove anything to the authorities. Get him out of here and go home. Take what valuables Hollowain has with him. I'll find out where he holds Fandel and then dispose of them. None of us can afford for him to live so he would be our enemy in the future." There was a cold glow in her eyes suggesting no one needed her as an enemy, either.

"Right." Milayn rushed to Feyan's side to help him out of the benches, then searched Hollowain and took whatever she could find, which was unfortunately a lot less than what they had been promised. Filbura's druidic magic managed to raise Deniv, although he was still disoriented. Before they knew it, they were back on the streets in the temple district, all but Milayn in a rather depressed mood. The assassin, who had feared it would not end well, was not one to worry over spilled milk.

"We shouldn't tell the others about this," Feyan offered as they were waiting for transportation. "We got some money from the guy, yes?" When Milayn nodded, he suggested they just make up a short escort job to explain it and leave it at that. Deniv readily agreed, not wanting an argument with either Ahna, the paladin, or Lorraine. Filbura shrugged, she wasn't much for secrets but if her friends wanted to keep this to themselves, it was fine with her. Milayn just nodded once, preferring to avoid the same sort of arguments Deniv was worried about."

"So, did they learn a lesson out of this?" one of the warriors in the audience asked.

"Like that you don't leave your real fighters at home if you can avoid it?" The storyteller chuckled. "Unfortunately, no. But for now, they were safe and heading back home, trying to remember the main reason they had been sent out to begin with. The matter of the vampire. And they had nothing to report there, either.




In the time they had been out and about and almost gotten themselves killed, Lorraine had been holding her daily training sessions with paying students. To the end of those, she saw a familiar face framed in red hair in front of the door as she let a student out. "Mallie?" she grinned at her second grade rogue counsin. "What are you doing here?"

"Looking for you, obviously." The much smaller an slightly older woman positioned herself in a chair and too the offered wine. "I heard of your troubles with the House – silly elders, as usual – and thought you could use my help. Or, to be honest, I need yours."

Mallie had always managed to dodge troubles in House affairs. She was a good enough fighter and aspiring rogue, the latter their family, with few exceptions, knew nothing about. She also owned a security and exploration business in a small town outside of Sharn. Mainly, she was supplying those with no time to go out and search for hands to do their (sometimes dirty) work with the man power to do so. Most of this manpower came from House Deneith, as good fighters were almost always on the list, as temporary bodyguards and escort details most of the time.

"You need my help?" Lorraine was amused. "It's rare enough that any dragonmarked want to work for you, so you have decided to see if I've been down on my luck enough to actually work for a close relative? One that has a tendency to venture into the not-so-legal side of things at that?" The woman chuckled. "Not quite. Although, it's not about you or your business, it is just that I abhor fixed schedules, which is, as you know, one reason father and others had issues with me."

"Since when do I stick to fixed schedules?" Mallie grimaced. "If anyone hates anything fixed, it is me."

"Yeah, especially if it is fixed on someone's wall, or..."

Mallie threw the empty leather cup after Lorraine. "Be serious, for once. No, the situation is this. I have a high profile client who has, in the past, not been on friendly terms with House Deneith. Thus, I can't really get anyone from Deneith to do any work for her, for fear of running into trouble with the elders. Yet, it was specifically asked for someone from our House. Some seal that can only be opened by one of us, if I get it right. So I thought..."

"Yeah, send the outcast." Lorraine threw the cup right back. "And let me guess, the fact that I'm currently not in good standing is supposed to be left out?"

"Indeed. Who needs all the details? Definitely not our clients. Also, because they asked for more than one capable hand, and I can hardly send anyone with you who could tell about you, I thought maybe some of your friends..."

Lorraine's eyes narrowed. "How would you know about them? How did you find me, first place?"

"I kinda... well, I kept tabs on you because, well, you never know when you nee family help. I admit I lost sight of you at first, but then I found the messenger station you use when you sent news to aunt Gizella. I knew you'd write her as she was always so fond of you and had gone at your father something awful for throwing you out." The red haired woman reclined and put her legs on the table in the kitchen, looking awfully smug.

"Of course you have," Lorraine growled. "I do not appreciate being spied on."

Now her cousin looked insulted. "I didn't spy on you! That'd be a waste of good resources. Just kept track on where you were. And then I saw you were looking for work... May I at least tell you what it is about?

"Yeah, sure. But we are working on something high profile at the moment, for the authorities." Lorraine wasn't willing to go into details. "So if this takes longer than a few days, it's a no go."

"No, it actually sounds like easy money. So, here it is..."

As Mallie explained the details, Lorraine found herself interested against her will. Maybe she could ask a few of the others to come along on this."

"What was it? And did they leave without telling anyone else, too?" a child piped up.

"Oh, no, Lorraine knew better than to do that. She waited for everyone else being back that evening, and for our 4 intrepid abductors to finish their tale of not much found out and a supposed escort business. Also, Tjuja was reporting that her attempts to divine anything about the vampire had met with little success, except that it was a male. But it was just their first day on the job, so all in all, they weren't really disappointed and had their hopes up to find something in the near future.

The core of the problem to solve, Lorraine explained, was an old, partially ruined tower which had once been a training facility for House Deneith, located in inhospitable swamp marsh area on the coast about a day's travel from Sharn. The village and surrounding lands close by belonged to a Lady Thurga. A decade or so ago, they disposed of a mass of undead with the help of some priests. Suspicion had always been that those had come from the tower, but it was quiet after a while so the matter was forgotten. Now, though, there were not only more undead, a green poisenos fog had started to creep over the marsh. Sometimes, the wind blew the fog into the village and farms, killing off small cattle, and the young and elderly, despite being thinned. This time, there was no doubt about the source, but it had been impossible to enter the tower because the magical seal closing it was strong still. It required, so Lorraine had been told, someone with Deneith blood to open it. The Lady Thurga had even offered to have potions against poison and some protection against undead ready, and would also send some of their guards along who knew the marsh. Their job was to open the tower, help clean out what was inside, and maybe Lorraine would find something of calue to her House.

"Undead," Tibunn grimaced. "A vampire is already bad enough but I suppose they are more talking of zombies, skeletons and such?"

"Not specified. Probably, yes," Lorraine nodded.

"I'm needed here," Tjuja said right away. "I need to do more divinations about this vampire still, and I can't do that so well from the distance."

Moreelle nodded. "I can get leave from my current employ at any time, so I won't mind going along if I'm needed. I saw zombies before." Despite her words, she twisted her blonde hair nervously.

"I think 4 or 5 of us will be more than enough." Lorraine looked at Ahna, who had begun to act as their leader in earnest by now, and for a change, Lorraine didn't mind as the paladin, unlike her former superiors, asked for their views.

Ahna nodded. "Sounds like I should go along on this one. Zolan?"

The orc grinned. "I wouldn't let you go without me. I'm the skeleton smasher!"

The others knew the tale about his former encounter at an old graveyard well enough by now and just nodded and waved to stop him from regaling them with the same story again. "Anyone else?" Lorraine asked.

"Sounds like you need a mage," Quavin added, not looking too happy about it but determined to pull his weight.

Filbura hesitated. After her stint with the abduction job, she was a bit reluctant to go on another mission so soon. Yet she had had it with the city. She needed a change of scenery. "Mind if I come, too? I know that makes 6 but, I need to see some wildlife and vegetation, even if most of it is going to be a marsh with poison gas."

"We have a team, then. Leave next to tomorrow?" Lorraine asked. As everyone nodded, Lorraine smiled thankfully at them and went to send notes to her students about her absence. She was all eager to see if there was anything in this old tower to bring her back into her House's good graces, even if she had no wish to work with them anytime soon again."

As the storyteller nipped on hot tea, the child spoke up again. "Tjuja was scared, wasn't she? It wasn't about divinations."

The storyteller nodded, chuckling softly.
"Well observed. Indeed, terrified described it more, though she did her best not to show it and no one who noticed would ask. In her youth, there had been a bad episode with a ghoul she had not yet told anyone about.

In any case, they traveled as planned and arrived at their destination or Marshford late the evening they had started. It was already getting dark, but they could still see green fog drifting off from the nearby marsh, not always dissipating in the mild breeze. They had been expected, so their quarters for the night and their food were ready, and several people from the village – actually more of a small town counting the farms, the mill and other businesses not directly in the settlement – wanted to talk with the party immediately. Among them, of course, Lady Thurga, who proved to be an ancient looking human with wrinkles all over, with a mind still quick and manners not so polite. The latter didn't matter much, because the woman made a list of things she could help out with. Among the items they were given were two large glass orbs with a continual light cast on them. This was, of course, much better than any torch. Not only didn't they require oxygen or cause smoke, they could not be blown out by sudden drafts or in water.

The bad news was that no guards could accompany the party, and the reason was obvious. A lot of the locals spouted injuries from a brigand attack the day before, and with two exceptions all of the lady's guards had been injured, and those two were needed to stand guard. Reinforcements were on the way, but no one wanted the group to wait that long, as there had been a skeleton sighting the night before, too. There was a bright young ranger lass who was willing to show them through the marshes, and while both the paladin and the warrior objected to use half a child as a guard into something dangerous, the priests of the town assured them that it would be fine. The girl, Lale, was immune to the poison, as were about a quarter of the population and as many animals, they were told. She was a ranger apprentice, knew the marsh well and had in the past been invisible to the undead when she had been out hunting. It was as if they would not recognize her as a living. Lale was from a neighboring thorpe on the lady's land, and her group of rangers and druids had sent her as a guide. Naturally, the party questioned the girl a while after everyone else was gone to let them have rest, but asides from being a bit shy, nothing seemed unusual about her – no magic was detected on her, no evil either and she was definitely alive. Casually, Lala mentioned to be curious as well, and the paladin thought of asking her to return with them to Sharm later to have the mystery solved, hopefully.

More or less fine with this, they went to bed and found that, despite their excitement, worry or even fear, they fell asleep easily. Maybe it was the soft beds, or something had been in the food, but they woke up refreshed and ready to open the tower that had once been a House Deneith training facility.

The trek through the marshes proved to be an annoying exercise. The good thing was that the fog had killed off the insects. The bad thing was that it had also killed off larger animals, and the stink of death over the area combined with the stink of the fog was something awful. Everyone but Filbura and Lale felt sick and had to take a break often, so the advance was considerably slow. Which did not help the situation. They had to use several of the anti-poison potions even before they arrived, and there was sure to be some fog in the tower, too, plus the way back.

When they finally made it, it was late afternoon already. The sun was hiding behind mist and poison fog, and it was getting cooler quick, as was fitting for the time of year. It was decided to camp inside one of the many small huts rangers, trappers and druids had erected in the area instead of going in exhausted, wet and cold. During the night, they kept watch, of course, but asides from some strange noises, like something large moving through the salty waters, nothing transpired."

"That's the thing about adventuring," someone chuckled. "Everyone who doesn't do it seems to think it is all the danger of battle and the excitement of missions. Here's a day long walk in bad area, which I'd like to see anyone not used to it do, and it gets mentioned in passing because, eh, it would be a real bore to detail."

"Wise words. Indeed, most people do not take such truth into account when planning their glorious adventure careers," a large warrior chimed in. More people laughed, commenting that was why they had their behinds firmly set in their own estates or ships."


"Yes, well, I am sure several of the party had similar thoughts, both about the trek through the marsh and the abduction mess up." Filling up the teacup, the storyteller leaned back and sighed. "But there was no turning back now, so the next morning saw them in much subdued mood, still feeling sick and unable to breakfast for the most part.

There was a road recognizable now, and it lead up a rocky path to the remaining cliff face of the area. In the cliff was build a massive, rectangular tower with one large waterwheel attached; the latter still working, stirring the low flowing, dirty creek it was in. The sturdy double doors looked magically protected even to the uninitiated; they had done well in the test of time. The symbol of House Deneith was etched upon it.

"Ugly building," Filbura commented.

"Practical building," Lorraine corrected, slightly annoyed. For a moment, she hesitated, not knowing what exactly to do, then she tentatively put her hand on the door. A clicking sound could be heard after a second or two. "Welcome to the blood," a voice whispered in her head. No one else could hear it, but that wasn't surprising to anyone.

The door opened to a mostly emptied out hall dimly lit by the gray daylight filtering in, with only a few tattered rugs here and there and some dented shields and broken weapons lying around. And, to their annoyance, 6 skeletons which promptly started to stir. "Someone doesn't want us in," Zolan grinned. "Or anyone, most likely. And that someone likely wasn't from your House Lorraine."

"I'd say," the warrior agreed. "Should be easy enough to handle, yes?"

"Yeah!" the orc agreed, drew his short sword and jumped forward. Moreelle wanted to start a song of magical aid and encouragement when, to everyone's surprise, the orc priestling started to sing! It was all in orcish, and with such a bad voice – unless it was supposed to be so off-key and screeching – that Filbura and Lala, who hadn't been affected much by anything until now, covered their ear in shock and grimaced as if to be sick. The bard herself mouthed a few elven curses and threw a worried look at Lorraine. How could the woman fight with such a noise right next to her?

Indeed, Lorraine missed a few swings when, they dare think, she would otherwise not have had trouble. At first it seemed as if she was about to instinctively attack her ally instead of the undead, but little by little, the singing annoyed her and her anger gave her a different sort of power. Bit less skill, more direct fury. Which worked as well.

Once the job was done, Lorraine stared at Zolan. "What was that?"

"Oh, just an old orc song to frighten the enemy," he explained. "To get myself in the mood."

"Hate to point it out," Moreelle sighed. "But those things aren't alive anymore and thus don't get scared, yet the rest of us had to fight to think clearly in this infernal noise."

"Aww, is my voice really that bad? Come on, girl, I just wanted to help."

"Hint for you – if it doesn't affect your enemy but hampers your allies, it's bad!" Ahna, who had been unable to even draw her sword in the pain of the acoustic onslaught, said drily.

"My mind's gone blank of any spells," Quavin added for clarification.

"Alright, alright." Putting his sword away, the priestling lifted both hands. "I will try not to do it again."

"Just try?" Filbura groaned.

"Just don't... sing... anymore, ok?" the elf bard patted the orc's arm and followed the others.

"What about Lala?" Filbura worried. "She's too young to go in with us, I'd say, and too young to stay outside alone, too."

Lala frowned. "I don't want to go in, but I am not too young to be out alone. I have been out alone for years, now. And the undead really don't notice me."

"But if they really don't, she is as safe with us as outside, no? And maybe she can help get us past some problems somehow," the mage suggested.

The girl shook her head. "I'll wait for you in the hut we stayed, but if you aren't back in 3 days I'll be on my way back. Is that alright with you?"

Ahna nodded. The girl had, after all, just been sent along to guide them. "Be safe," she said and watched Lala leave. Then she went ahead to stand next to Lorraine. Filbura and Moreelle carried the lights, the dwarf in her right hand and the elf had managed to fix the leather bags they were in to her left shoulder somehow, to have her hands free for playing her flute she had brought. "Alright, now where to?" Ana asked.

Lorraine consulted the badly scetched map they had been given, drawn by someone who had, a long time ago, been the appointed ground keeper. "Straight ahead, I'd say."

"But there is a door in the left wall, too, and if we go ahead, something unknown might come out and fall into our backs," Quavin tried to reason.

"Good point." Filbura pointed to the left, to cast her vote as to where to go first.

"Agreed," the orc nodded. "Won't want anything in my back."

"But of we go there first," the bard mused, "won't that mean something can fall into our backs from there?" She pointed front.

"Heck, if we are going to discuss this all day, we get nothing done!" Zolan went to the left door and pulled it open, not worrying about traps as in his eyes undead didn't set traps.

He was lucky. Asides from some carrion insects seemingly immune to the poison fumes feasting on dead rats, nothing was in this room which looked like it was once used for training. The room behind, with some training dummies, was equally empty. The shower and laundry room next to the training hall had a few dead tiger beetles and more dead rats, but nothing dangerous either. Satisfied, the group went back to the entrance hall and moved forward."

"Not checking for traps, again." The halfling from last night shook his head. "I guess they learned the hard way, didn't they?"

"Maybe. For now, they felt a little bit too confident but were at least somewhat careful. They found hallways with stairs as they moved on, and a small closet, all empty and no sign of undead. A few cobwebs with dead spiders here and there and some dead rats and mice, mostly already decomposed or eaten, was all that looked remotely spooky.

They found the dining hall right from the hallway, and here they found their first real challenge. Hissing and crying, with tentacles spouting from its shoulders, a huge black at was standing on a rotting dining table. 3 ghouls, their stink adding another wave of nausea to most of the party, stood on broken chairs clawing at the beast.

"Displacer beast," Lorraine said, having seen such a creature before. "Let's go for the ghouls. The beast is their enemy so hopefully our ally, at least for now."

"Let's go for the ghouls, sure," Filbura mumbled, doubting her wisdom of coming here, but then she would have worried to no end had she not come along.

The orc, the warrior and the paladin jumped forward, the paladin invoking the protection of a scroll they had gotten in the village. The ghouls turned their attention on them, howling an gargling in frustration as they could not get at the party. Moreelle started into a song about defeating the unnatural, and everyone felt better at once, both more confident and slightly stronger.

The beast saw its chances and clawed into one of the ghouls. Those undead, while slightly intelligent, had nothing on the cunning or agility of the beast, so the ghoul's attacks went into empty air as it tried to defend itself. While working up some sweat, the party and the beast had the ghouls down in little time, their mage not even needing to throw any spells – this was something they had agreed on early, by the way. Not that Quayin was sure that some fire spell or the other would not erupt when he was nervous, but he was determined to try and reign it in until they really needed the power.

With the ghouls gone, the beast snarled at the party and backed off. Filbura started to talk to it with words the others could not understand, but the beast calmed down and even let out a purr that almost sounded like a house cat, just louder. "It says the poison does bother it and it came in here to find some shelter. It also says the other room is full of dead rats and giant centipedes." Filbura pointed to their right. "Sounds like the kitchen, from the description, which makes sense. Doesn't sound like we need to go in there." The druid took one of her remaining potions against poison and offered it to the beast. Again she spoke in that strange language.

"Figures she would help it," the paladin sighed, but she, too, had no need to see the beast harmed.

"Her name is Ti'ir," Filbura announced as the beast licked up the potion. "She's not from around here, she was with a wizard and got lost when their ship sank in the latest storm. She wants to come along."

"A displacer beast with a wizard?" Lorraine's eyes almost fell out. "Does she understand us?"

"Only a little, but she will probably learn. The wizard wanted to make her his familiar but she would prefer to be free of any such bonds and return to the wild where there is no poison."

"Agreed, we'll find a place for her when we are done. Thank you, Ti'ir," the bard said politely. Ti'ir purred again.

"Ignore the kitchen and let's move upstairs, then," Lorraine suggested. Everyone agreed.

The stairs were of solid stone and thus they could move up quickly. On the 1st floor, the hallway went left and straight after they turned a few corners, ignoring the stuck door immediately across the stairs. Looking at the map and seeing that straight would eventually lead to the next floor, it was quickly decided to go left instead. There was a door immediately to their right as they came into this section. More carefully this time, they checked the door and then opened it and found a peculiar sight. Several dead rust monsters and half eaten metal chunks which might have been weights littered the floor. From the ceiling they could see dead bats hanging, mostly looking mummified. The toxic fog had killed them but their claws didn't let go of their next even in dead. Without a word, they closed the door and moved on.

"I wonder what causes this fog," Filbura mused. "It's fine if we are not affected and it kills all the inhabitants we might have had to fight, although I feel sorry for the bats. But not knowing what it is is beginning to worry me."

The paladin nodded. "It might not even have to do with the tower."

An empty storage room to their left later, they came to the end of the hallway. Again they couldn't find a trap on the door and pulled it open. The room behind was large, with a number of bunk beds with chests at their foot ends. There were skeletons and rotten bodies on each of those beds, as if something had killed them in their sleep. To no ones surprise, all those bodies stirred as soon as Lorraine put a foot into the room. "Let's get at it again," she said, being a lot more cocky than before.

This time, with 6 zombies and 10 skeletons, they needed the help of the elf mage to incinerate some of them, as even with the bard's song it might have caused some issues defeating them all with just 3 people and a beast without being infected by a zombie disease. Fighting in the stink and the poison also exhausted them more than usual, even with the potions. "You need to learn to turn undead, priestling," Lorraine told the orc. Zolan just grinned and nodded.

Having dealt with this, the party moved back to the stuck door. Lorraine was satisfied with the progress but a little disappointed with finding nothing of interest to her House so far, and she thought that the room there might have been an administrative place. Instead, after pulling it open finally, they found a gymnasium with an even worse stench, a skeleton with a glowing dagger next to it on the floor and shuttered windows letting almost no light in.

"It's not magical," Quavin said, pointing to the dagger after a quick detect. "I smell a trap."

"Indeed, and those things might be a part of it," Moreelle agreed, pointing out the 3 wights rising up from behind rotten mattresses.

Zolan groaned. He was not as trained a fighter as the paladin or the warrior, and despite not wanting to admit it, he was beginning to get tired. But as the bard's song sounded once more, he managed to join into the fight after the paladin had used the second scroll of undead protection. He just worried they would run out of those scrolls soon.

Quavin, who held himself back this time, only brandishing his staff just in case, noticed another issue. Moreelle looked paler than before. "How often can you keep doing that?" he whispered as the last wight fell. "You look awfully exhausted."

"In this stench and all? Probably one more song. The poison also affects my voice, I need to be careful not to sound like our orc friend soon."

The mage nodded. "How many of those protection scrolls did they give Ahna?"

"I didn't count," the bard admitted. "4 or 5, maybe?"

Again, Quavin nodded, pushing his red blond hair out of his forehead and tried to fix it behind his ears. For some reason, he thought of a haircut and wondered why his mind brought this up in this situation. "We will run out of resources soon, at this rate. There's one more level after this one, and then there is the basement." They had noticed a spiral stairway, blocked in places by rubble, before. "Those undead need to be coming from somewhere, or being drawn here by something."

Filbura frowned. "Those wights rather looked like coming from elsewhere while the bodies in their beds and downstairs looked as if they had been warriors from this place." She pointed to the tattered remains of what looked like peasant's clothing on the wights.

Ahna, wiping her scimitar-like blade clean on the mattresses, had heard the last part. Her gnome ears twitched as she sneezed in the stench. Lorraine towered behind her, and to Filbura, it was an almost comical sight. No one who would not know Ahna and her almost monk-like fighting style, only wearing chainmail and leather armor, would think her a paladin, really. The muscles on her arms seemed overly large for a gnome, and she had in the past gotten funny comments from male gnomes about it who had no idea what she was. Her blue, piercing eyes looked from one to the other. "How is everyone feeling?" she inquired.

Zolan admitted being weary, Lorraine felt like just getting started despite feeling slightly nauseous. Filbura was somewhat green in the face and just grinned sheepishly. The mage assured he was fine but wanted to tally their resources. Moreelle admitted to not being able to perform many more songs, at best 2 with some time to recover. The Ti'ir let it be known that she was unhurt and still strong.

"Well, if we go back outside to rest to tomorrow, we might run out of potions," Ahna reminded them. "And this poison will get us quick. Asides, we might have to clean out the rooms all over again. We have 3 more of the undead protection scrolls. We have 2 potions of restoration, and the one wight almost managed to make them necessary just now," the paladin counted. "We also got vials of holy water, 10 of them,as you might have noticed."

"I say we rest 10 min and then move on," Zolan suggested. "Us orcs can rally a lot, and after a break I'll be ready to hack some more of those abominations apart. The I suggest we check upstairs and if there is no cause for the undead or the fog there, well, we will see if we are still fit to go to the basement."

"Yeah, we will not risk our lives over this," Ahan agreed, looking at Lorraine to reinforce that part. "We'll go back to the village if necessary, and get more resources, if needed.

"Sure," Lorraine nodded, sounding slightly frustrated. "I would have thought we'd found something of importance by now."

"Getting rid of a bunch of those abominations is important," Filbura reminded them.

10 min later, rested and strengthened with some food and drink, they were on the move again. This time, they went straight and to where the hallway turned right, moved to another right turn without encountering anything and then came to a halt in front of the stairs to the upper level. The displacer beast blocked their way and hissed in alarm.

"She says there's something on the ground," the dwarf translated and held the light out. The floor seemed to move slightly, giving off a greyish color.

"Just great. That's ooze, isn't it?" Zolan groaned. "And it seems to thrive on the poison fog."

"Can you burn it off?" Ahna asked the mage. "The walls and floor are all stone, nothing else should burn here."

"I'm pretty sure those things are immune to fire," the elf frowned. "But let me see."

Unfortunately, the assumption proved to be right. Not being good with any sort of electricity spells or protection spells, the elf leaned back against a cold wall and sighed. "It corrodes weapons," he explained. "So not much use hacking at it."

"You don't have any spells which could do anything?" Filbura inquired.

"I'm thinking, I'm thinking, but remember I haven't had a chance to study that many spells in my life, yet. My magic is mainly raw fire energy."

"Folks, it is moving," Zolan pointed out, and Ti'ir was already moving away from it. The ooze was spread out over the whole length of the corridor up to the stairs, and now they could see it ripple, probably having noticed them and getting ready for an attack. "Can these things move fast? How do they attack?"

The party moved back behind the corner, and to their relief, the ooze didn't seem to want to follow. "I'm not sure," Quavin admitted. "Oozes weren't my favorite thing to study."

"Well, when this is over, we could all do our best to learn as much as possible about all the weird life forms in the world," Filbura determined.

"So, we are stuck?" the bard said meekly.

"Unless you find a way to sing it away, it seems so," Lorraine snapped, getting more and more frustrated with their situation.

The eyes of the elf woman lit up. "That may just be possible but you'd need to cover your ears. Zolan... can you do that noise again you made downstairs?"

"What?" The orc looked at her in confusion. "You mean my singing?"

"Yes, that noise," she nodded. "I have a spell redirecting and focusing sound for defense, but I need a sound source."

"You want to turn my voice into a weapon? I looove that!" Zolan brightened considerably. "Where do I need to stand?"

"Right in the corner, I will be next to you. Best the others stay here," Moreelle said.

The others actually backed up some distance into the corridor to be on the safe side. Still, the sound of the orc and the amplification by the spell of the bard – the mage thought he heard names of different tonal systems – assaulted their ears despite being directed at the ooze. Some smoke or dust drifted through the corridor, and then the noise stopped. Moreelle mouthed something, but it needed a few seconds before everyone could hear again. "It worked," she repeated.

"Great." Lorraine immediately pressed on. "I just hope there'll be no more of these things or I will need a new set of ears."

The displacer beast had run at the first sound, back down the corridor, and now reluctantly caught up again. She mewed at Filbura. "Ti'ir says that that was worse than a thunderstorm in a narrow valley," the druid translated. "Which, I guess, was the worst howling she had ever heard before."

Zolan looked decidedly too proud as they climbed the stairs to the next level.

TBC
 


Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Thanks for reading ;)


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There was nothing in the corridor on the next level except an old, mostly rotten tapestry showing a bear hunt and a hardly recognizable painting of a duel. Some mold of the harmless type was visible here and there on the fine marble floor, and thanks to the damaged roof there were some slippery spots where the rain had come in and some sort of algae were thriving. The corridor made a right turn and lead towards a door before going left.

"This door first so we have nothing in our backs?" the paladin asked.

"I'd suggest checking out the sounds first," Zolan suggested instead. "Don't you hear that?"

Now that he mentioned it, the others could hear the faint sounds of scraping and rustling. It came from where the corridor went left. "Sounds like insects," the druid guessed.

Following the sounds, they came to where the corridor went left once more. To their right hand in the corner was a badly damaged, half open door. Before anyone could stop him, Zolan poked his head in. "Spiders it is," he announced as he withdrew. "Some big, nasty, black ones with angry green markings on their backs. Looks poisonous. And it looks like they are eating a zombie."

"Whatever eats zombies is our friend," Ti'ir decided. "Let's leave them well enough alone until they come at us. Unless there is anything of interest in that room?"

"Not that I could see. But then, there were a lot of webs."

"There is more noise. Some flapping." Ahan pointed down the corridor.

The displacer beast hissed. It sounded almost dismissive. "She says it's just bats, and small ones," Filbura translated.

"Great, then, back to the first door. I have a feeling some revelation is waiting there." Lorraine pointed with her sword and went to see if she could open the door.

"You mean like where all the undead come from?" Filbura closed the door to the spider room a bit more before she followed.

"More like what happened here. This was at least partly a magical attack." The fighter found the door to be open, but stuck, so she started pulling.

"Indeed." Quavin pointed at scorch marks and other signs which were, at first sight, easily missed. "And it doesn't look like this all happened during the Last War either."

"More recent, yes, and I..." Lorraine couldn't finish her sentence, as the door opened and everyone immediately noticed the red glowing eyes in the dimness of a room with shut windows. A gust of cold and dust drifted into the corridor, and as nothing happened, the party began to notice other details. Hunting trophies, including a rotten snarling brown bear posed to stand up, a boar with a bored expression and a snake with glittering glass yes, were on the floor and on the walls. Turned over chairs and a broken table were lying half rotten on the floor. A skeleton construct was posed in front of the only other door out of the room. It had the red eyes they had noticed, and they were staring right at them.

"Bone golem," Lorraine whispered. "Often used for training, and the commands for it are always the same." Stepping inside, she lifted her sword and called out "Alabaster." Immediately, the thing stepped aside and into a corner.

"Alabaster?" the paladin chuckled.

"Well, it can't very well be something easy to try like 'stand down' now, can it?" The fighter sounded a bit peeved. "As long as it worked."

"Indeed." Quavin sighed. "Anything is better than fighting everything we come across."

"Looks this was once the trophy chamber and office of the commander." Lorraine pointed her sword at the closed door. "Which probably means we'll find his quarters there."

"Nothing here to tell us what has transpired." Quavin, who had been checking out the room holding up the light high, frowned at the rat-eaten trophies and mold eaten papers. "We can just hope the commander had a private log or something."

"They usually do." Lorraine opened the door to what looked like a sitting room. It opened surprisingly smoothly and didn't even squeak. "Some protective magic on the door,I guess."

Another set of red eyes stared at them from one of the moldy armchairs. "Another bone golem? They seem to love them." Filbura frowned. But the displacer beast howled in alarm.

"Not a bone golem." The light in here was somewhat better, if still dim. The paladin took up a defensive position in front of the others and next to Lorraine. "This looks to be a bog mummy."

Indeed, the glowing eyes belonged to a brownish colored body that must have rested in the marsh ground for quite some time. It seemed to be male, and the rusty sword in its hands looked more than a bit threatening as it got up and, with a creaking sound of its joints, came forward. The intent to attack was obvious.

"Whoever he was when he was alive, time in the bog hasn't done him any favors," Zolan chuckled. "Can you two handle it?"

Lorraine replied by stepping forward,catching the rusty sword of the mummy with ease, disarming the thing. Unfortunately, undead didn't care if they were armed or not, and this one was no difference. With a creaking sound, the arms of the thing stretched out to wrap around Lorraine's neck. Trying to catch her balance from almost falling over something unseen on the floor, the woman knew she could not duck the attack. Fortunately, just before the arms made contact, they were separated from the mummy's body and clunked to the ground. Then the head of the abomination went flying as well. "Yup,we can handle it," a grinning paladin announced.

"How can you stay so calm in the presence of these things?" Filbura busted out. "They are so unnatural, they really make me feel all wobbly."

"Me, too," the elven bard admitted.

Ahna looked at them with piercing blue eyes in that 'paladin on a mission' way as Zolan loved to call it. "We'll be seeing a lot of things like this one in the future," she said sternly. "When we decided to take on adventuring, we all knew what this would entail, at least the basics of it, no? While we may not all be motivated by wanting to be champions of valor - or even heroes known at least in Sharn - but instead want birthrights back and to live in the luxury of Houses again, we all should be clear that this is no garden party. We'll battle with evil most of the way, be assured, so instead of giving in to fears and worries, we need to employ our inner strength, even humor, to deal with the situation. Some day, one of us might not make it. And the last thing the survivors would need is falling victim to emotions where a clear head a logic are in order!"

Everyone else except Lorraine, including the displacer beast, stared at the gnome. "Right, then," Zolan finally coughed. "But you can forgive us if at one point of the other some of us don't live up to your paladinish standards,yes?"

Lorraine, who had checked out the mostly empty room and found nothing, was already moving towards doors likely leading into the bedchambers. "Are you going to stand there all day giving and listening to lessons of morale, or can we get on with this?"

"In my time, I've seen many an adventurer party give up," a middle aged woman who looked like an archer with her strong arms and piercing stare, said. "That's the other part of adventuring most people don't get. It's not a game, and while you can have fun and excitement, the tragedies that may happen need to be kept in mind."

A few others nodded and said words of agreement, while a few young folks mumbled among themselves, looking a bit worried. Possible future adventurers, no doubt. The storyteller smiled and nodded, continuing her story.

"The party indeed came into a once luxurious, oak paneled bedroom, the left over furniture as useless and moldy as all other things they had found until now. What was remarkable though was the mostly skeleton body on the ground next to the rotten canopy bed. It was of an armed and armored man bearing the symbol of House Deneith and stripes marking him as the garrison commander. A faint magic glow, even visible to those with no magic abilities, surrounded the remains, which explained why the unfortunate commander had not joined the undead forces. "Someone put a powerful blessing on the body," Zolan mused. "Probably because they had no way to come back and bury him properly."

"This is curious." Lorraine inspected the body closely, careful not to touch anything.

"Something wrong?" the orc asked.

"Yeah, you could say that. He's been killed by a throwing axe." Lorraine pointed to the blade still embedded in one of the ribs. "Someone tried to save him, but he likely lost too much blood."

"What's so unusual about that?"

"Look at the blade more closely," Lorraine said darkly.

Before Zolan could do so, Moreelle whistled. "The blade has House Deneith markings."

Indeed, now that it had been pointed out, the others could barely make out the etched Deneith symbol in the middle of the blade. "So you think he has been killed by one of his own?"

Lorraine shook her head. "There are many factions in our house, as I'm sure there are in all others. Rivalry is more or less open. And sometimes, although this is hardly ever admitted to, those rivalries can take deadly turns."

"So, another faction of Deneith is responsible for the attack? How many factions are there, and which one did this man belong to? Or the attackers?" Filbura's eyes had gone wide. House Kundarak had its own rivalries, sure, but save some poison every once in a while, they did not usually take such violent turns.

"That, I cannot know," Lorraine admitted. "I need to find more information." Looking around the room, she frowned, seemingly lost in thoughts.

"And then, of course," the paladin cautioned, "is always the possibility the killer just took the weapon of one of the defenders."

"Good point. But then doesn't the intact bone golem support the theory of Deneith killers?" Quavin mused.

"Yeah..." Ahna admitted, not liking the idea to be drawn into house politics.

"In any case, we can't get past this magic to bury the man, if we could even get him out. And he's well enough protected, so I suggest we let dead commanders lie," Zolan offered.

"Definitely." Ahna began checking out the room in assistance of the displacer beast, who was sniffing at the rotten furniture, and Filbura and the bard who seemed to need to take their minds off the dead body for now.

"Here it is." Lorraine sounded triumphant, and a squeaking noise made everyone turn towards her. Behind the canopy bed, a secret panel was swinging open ever so slowly, the mechanism damaged by decay. "Many commanders have secret chambers for the monetary stuff and, of course, the more important papers."

The small chamber behind was glowing in a faint magic light, too, but Quavin quickly asserted that it was just a stasis field to protect documents. There were a few small chests and scroll cases, and most important to Lorraine a box with well sorted papers in binders. She grabbed them quickly, stowing them away in her backpack. "Time to go through them is when we are out. Take the rest, don't bother to look. It's the treasury most likely, and we can examine that later, too. In the name of my house, I claim treasure and papers for us," she formally added, just in case there was additional protective magic.

"Can we get out now? This was the last floor save the towers, yes?" Filbura had already retreated to the bedroom door.

"Yeah the rest of the place needs to be accessed from elsewhere. Just clean out this floor, and then we need to find a way into the towers, and check the basement. The undead plague must come from somewhere," Ahna reminded them.

Fortunately, save the bats in a room otherwise empty and a zombie giant snake in the old dueling room at the end of the corridor – which was dealt with quickly enough – there was nothing more of interest. As they were about to retreat again, Lorraine insisted on barricading the stairs with the plenty of rotten furniture and broken on walls. "Lest we want to find new infestations on the morrow. I doubt we can finish the job today, we are all exhausted."

It was barely early afternoon, but the others agreed. While it was exhausting them even more to place barricades, it was certainly better than going through the floors for another time. They also took the time to check if anything had moved in since they had come through, but they were lucky. They also found the badly concealed doors to the towers and wondered how they had missed it the first time. Finally, they stood in the entrance hall again. Anti poison potions were handed around once more, and they began discussing further actions.

They could go up the spiral stairs to the towers or they could check out the basement. Both options meant something could sneak up to them from the other side. With a bit or reluctance, they decided to block the stairs to the basement with a barely rotten cupboard from the entrance hall. With the toppled over thing blocking the stairs, mindless undead would be kept down, and even those who had somewhat of a mind would have their issues. It would of course not be that easy to remove the blockade again but they were sure they could manage once they had rested.

Rest, however, was not on the menu yet. They could at least get up the stairs and to level 4, which they thought served as a base for the towers. A weird way to construct a stronghold, maybe, especially as it had not helped much to keep invaders confused. It made for all the more running up and down while they were already having some troubles catching their breath.

"Maybe we can find a save place to rest up there," Lorraine offered. "Once we cleared the other levels out, save the spiders and bats it would have made a better place than sleeping in the swamp."

"Not better than staying in the hut," Zolan grimaced. But he, as all the others, followed Lorraine up, with Ahna bringing up the rear.



At roughly the same time, back in Sharn, a frustrated Viril was staring intently at the 3D map they had gotten from law enforcement. Another spot had just lit up on the map, indicating the vampire killer had found a new victim. "There is a pattern in all this, I just know it," the wannabe private eye mumbled, more to himself as everyone else was a bit tired of him repeating it over and over. "Maybe it includes the time of day the murders happen?" Hopeful, he started to write down details on a scrap of paper.

"Yeah," Yuja, who was balancing on her chair with a cup of coffee in her hand opposite the half-elf said automatically, not really listening. "Hey, look at that! They have finally tracked down the suppliers of the red ale and the black beer. Ahna will be happy to hear about it?"

"Huh?" Irritated about being interrupted, the fat half-elf looked up at her. "Ale, Beer?"

"Really, where have you been? Ahna has been going on about this drug connection for quite a while. Supposedly, the red ale and the black wine make you all happy happy joy joy but open you up for suggestions and spells and servants of the Dark Six have been using this as a way to gain followers or, at least sacrifices. It has been quite the talk of Sharn recently."

"I see." Viril was running his hands through his hair. "I don't pay that much attention when Ahna is in one of her super paladin moods. I just turn her out," he admitted.

"Yeah, we do the same when you go on about the investigation for more than an hour, of if you keep repeating yourself like in the last 15 minutes." She downed the brown liquid and grinned at her friend. "Tell you what, let's start anew with this. Maybe it is not the dates of the killings, it is the position only. We know some attacks failed, and the murderer came back later to kill someone else, at a different time."

"Good point." Viril pushed the piece of paper away. "But the locations seem so random, all over Sharn in a long period of time."

"Maybe we can't see a pattern yet because there are not enough victims? Like in those connect the dot games," Yuja suggested, shifting her equally overweight form to a more comfortable position. "You usually need to see at least half the dots and be good in it to know what will come of it."

"Huh!" Viril shook his head in worry. "That'd be an awful lot of murders."

"We might just not be good in it and the vampire is almost done," the girl offered. "In any case, this is 3-dimensional. Harder to see, especially since we don't know what direction we need to look at it from."

"Huh!" Viril shouted again. "I never thought of that. I just assumed down was down, and where the information was placed was front."

"Down is probably really down, unless the killer is truly messed up." Getting up to get more coffee, the girl tried to look at the image from all sides. "And it is an overlay over the city. I know we took that out before, maybe we should again and then hit the arcane library with it."

"What? Why? Do you think the killer is a mage?"

"Maybe, but I was more thinking about this all being some sort of rituals or one big ritual or whatever, or maybe a star chart of sorts. Where else to find out about that than in the arcane library?"

"Ah." Viril's face lit up visibly. "Why didn't we think of that earlier?"

"It's only been 2 days," Yuja laughed. "Of course we need some time to process it. The law has been on it for month with no results." She didn't mention that the law had probably already had arcane help, as she needed to do something else but sit here and listen to her friend complain. "Maybe we should take our oracle, too?"

"She's not yet back. That fair she was invited to read at, remember? Will be a few hours."

"Alright, then. Let's go. Maybe when the others are all back, we have some more info to go by."

As they were making their way out of the front door, the back door - leading to a balcony for the whole complex lit by a timed daylight spell - opened with a squeak into the small sitting room. Tibunn, Feyan and Nihil rushed in after making sure no one else was in there.

"Do you think it is a good idea to do this on our own?" Tibunn asked, starting, like the others, to gather his equipment from his room after putting down groceries and other things they had just bought.

Nihil ignored the look and checked the positions of his knives. "This is a chance for me to gain favor with my House again."

"Someone stole a few messages you don't even know what they might contain, you remember being run over by the thief in the description and think you kn ow where he lives – but you aren't sure." Despite his doubts, Tibunn was already dressed up for a hunt.

"Hey," Feyan jumped in. "I lost an important document for my House, and everyone was quite angry. so I can imagine his House would be glad to get the messages back. It's a matter of reliability."

"Exactly." The bard looked ready to go after he had tucked away his small crossbow. "The reward is substantial enough to make me think something important was in those messages, too."

"Yeah, I admit, a 100 gold just for giving information about the guy seems a lot." The thief wannabe was ready now, too. "But I wonder that they didn't post any information about what they would pay if you bring the guy or the messages."

"Most people would probably not bother with someone stealing others' mail," Feyan grinned. "Nothing really heroic about it. That's what Sharn has a law enforcement for."

"Which in turn relies on adventurers like us to work properly anyway, so we are all good," Nihil pointed out. "And we can leave the guy to the guards, all I want is the bag with the messages."

"We get it, we get it. Let's go, then, and tell us in detail how the guy ran into you, and where. Seems like a lot of luck." Feyan left a quick note on the back of their shopping list to state they were 'on a small job and back soon.'

"Well..." There was no way around it, so the bard began his slightly tuned down tale about his chance meeting with someone from the bottom part of Sharn's society. "

"So the gnome didn't learn," a stern woman in the audience shook her head. "After the matchmaking disaster he should have known better."

"When do gnomes ever know better?" a dwarf grinned.

"Hey, we always know better!" A young gnome bard jumped on a chair and struck a few heroic notes. "We just tend to believe better is boring!"

As the laughter of the audience died down, the storyteller continued.
"As they made their way down into the lower levels of the great city, they listened to the bard's story about meeting an outcast bard on one of the lower taverns while searching for some more unsavory type of songs to add to his repertoire. The man was wanted on the upper levels for slighting one noble or the other, or so he had said, but was happy enough living the way he did. And he had kept his promise of not only teaching new songs but also some new spells, always complimenting Nihil on his voice and arcane potential. One afternoon, Nhil had again lost his way and found himself on a level where hardly anyone lived but some ratmen – who were friendly enough towards a bard to point him in the right direction. Shortly after, the thief of the messages ran into him and knocked the bard against a wall, not even looking back. The description – tall black haired man with a red dragon tattoo on his forehead, left eye missing, a pronounced limp – was so obvious he couldn't forget him. Which was a good thing because today he had seen the wanted notice on the market.

"Are you sure you even find the place again? And ratmen? I am sure they are not generally friendly to strangers." The doubtful expression just wouldn't leave the halfling's pale face. "The area down there is generally dangerous, I'm surprised you didn't run into trouble yet."

"I did... a few times. But having a few friends down there by now has helped," the bard admitted. "Anyway, yes, I can find the place again. I left some arcane marks only me can see under normal circumstances to guide me."

"You learned how to do that? Very nice, will come in handy if we ever have to go into the sewers again, or any sort of dungeon." For the first time, the expression of the halfling softened and he shook his head so his blue locks were flying about him. "I have had a few nightmares about being stuck in a sewer maze without a hint how to get out."

"Me, too," the gnome admitted before he could catch himself. "But," he quickly added, "that was some time ago."

The lower areas of Sharn are a hive of scum and villany, but not only. A lot of the denizens there simply have no other choice but to live there, for various reasons, and try to make the best of it. Dirty and run down and dark does barely begin to describe it, but if you made up your mind, you can see beyond the filth and notice that life, there, is not that much different than anywhere else. The same way you'd find that in a palace of shining light and many fine things there is the same sort of treachery and greed as in any other place in the world.

They had been down in those places before, of course, when they had recovered the schema. At that time, though, they hadn't known what to expect. Now they did. The low levels of the tower the bard was leading them to seemed to be flooded with beggars usually begging on higher up levels, dark figures shooting looks at them and the occasional scream or wild laughter here and there. None of them spoke until they finally arrived at what almost looked to be a cave entrance. Half the wall of the building was broken down, forming an archway. A weak torchlight could be seen just inside. It smelled of decay and garbage, but not more so than everything else.

"This is where he ran into after he bumped into me," Nihil explained. "He seemed to know exactly where he was going."

"Alright." Moving in front to check for possible traps, Tibunn eyed the torch first, but it seemed to be just a normal, cheap torch which might burn for another hour or two. He noticed the astonished looks from the others and shrugged sheepishly. "I've been taking lessons, too."

"You mean you hooked up with the local thieves' guild to learn about traps and tricks?" Nihil shook his head and a finger. "Don't let Ahna know."

"Adventurer's guild!" Tibunn corrected, moving on carefully. "And I suggest we better be quiet now."

In the meantime, Viril and Yuja had arrived at the Arcane Library, which was distinct from the library at Morgrave University, and much smaller. On their way, they had thought of using the university's library as well, but decided to try here first as planned.

They had run into a little problem because the librarian was sceptic of both the psi crystal and allowing a mystic – easily recognizable by her aura, as he assured Yuja – to access the library. Mystics were, after all, known for "stuff just happening around them." Yuja, who had had little idea about this, not even knowing her abilities had a name, was luckily able to assure him that little had ever happened around her, and explained she was not trained and it was the first time she heard about it. Asides, she was dragonmarked. The librarian was even so nice to give her a list of people she could contact to find out more about it.

Upon hearing what they were looking for, the elderly man lead them to a room which had a working model of the skies of both hemispheres. It looked similar like the 3d presentation in the psi crystal at first look, but there were notable differences. For one, there were details the crystal's presentation of Sharn was lacking. Nebulas, comets, stars with constellations marked, meteor clusters and more. Not only did everything have names and numbers under it, it was moving!

They were told the library had similar working models for several planes, arcane power points and more. Also, when you touched anything in the model (more like putting your finger – or nose, as Yuja found out – in, it would give you one or more glowing lines to follow through the library to relevant works about it.

Virlíl was completely taken by this, and it was a while before he stopped oohing and aaahing and Yuja could get him back to the issue at hand. She had had no idea Viril was so interested in astronomy, but as he now told her, it was something he had done with one of his great grandfathers when he was young and the interest had never left. Sharn, he complained, was usually too well lit even at night to see anything cool though, unless you paid for the use of the observatory, which Viril could currently not afford.




Back in the swamp, the party had, very carefully, climbed the stairs in the tower, avoiding slipping on the moss or tumbling over some rubble from damaged stairs. The doors to the landing on the next floor were open, if not completely, and they could see a little dim light filtering out of the area behind it. For a moment they stopped, listening for any signs of danger. Aside from some faint sounds reminding them of dropping water or rolling rubble, they could hear nothing.

Ahna slipped to the front to stand next to Lorraine. The gnome, being much lower to the ground, peeked around the door for a few seconds, then waved to the others. "It's an empty room, save for a collection of statues. Quite the curious collection, actually. And very life like. I would very much like to meet the artist." The paladin disappeared into the room. Lorraine, looking back down the stairs for a moment to see if they were followed by chance, went in behind her.

In Quavin's mind, an alarm bell began to ring. It took him a few precious seconds to remember what was striking him the wrong way but then it clicked for him. "Be careful," he cried out. "There might be a..."

Right then, a shrill shriek could be heard from behind the door, followed by an alarmed cry of the paladin. "Cockatrice!" Lorraine shouted. A swooshing sound and then a thump, and a moment later, the severed head of the beast came bouncing down the stairs. The displacer beast purred and patted at it with his paws playfully, but with such a force the head flew to the other side of the tower, where it hit the wall with a sickening crunch before falling down with another sickening splash. "Eww," the druid commented.

"Man, that was close," Quavin sighed. "A room full of life-like statues, alright." He couldn't help but chuckle, but then Lorraine's worried voice drifted out to them. "I think we have a problem..."

That turned out to be somewhat of an understatement. As everyone rushed into the room with the 'statues' they almost toppled over the new one in the likeness of a gnome paladin with one hand at her rear end where she had been bitten after being ambushed from behind. She was bent slightly forward, and so was not very stable to begin with.

"Oh ye gods," the orc cried out. "Is she dead?"

"No, just petrified. Like everyone else in here." Quavin pointed to the 'statues' of an orc, several ravens and bats, a few goblins in interesting positions, a youg bear, a snake, undead – even a skeleton - a ragged looking ogre and a few goblins in weird looking positions. "It's reversible, if you can afford the right spell or ritual."

"I wonder how heavy she is now?" The bard wasn't sure if to be worried or amused. "Good it wasn't you Lorraine, you'd be much harder to carry."

"It might be worse that it is Ahna." Quavin tested the weight of the statue. "Because the spells for reversing this are well beyond my knowledge, even as a ritual, and the components are very expensive. Paying someone for it would be even worse. I'm sure Lorraine's House would have paid for it, though. But even with the treasure we found in the commander's quarters, we will need a long time to get the coin."

A shocked silence fell. Just Lorraine wasn't too concerned. "Really, it would be a lot worse if that was me. Explaining my presence here and possible political implications if the doings of an as yet unknown party of my House came to light could cause some people to decide I was better left in stone. Well, there is nothing to be done now, so I suggest we hurry on."

"You want to leave Ahna here?" Filburas eyes seemed to want to come out of their sockets.

"You don't expect us to carry her around, do you?" Quavin asked. "It'll be hard enough getting her downstairs and out of the swamp once we're done here."

There was no arguing the simple logic, but the gnome still looked unhappy. "Why can't her god just turn her right again? She's a paladin, after all!"

Zolan frowned. "That's not how gods operate, exactly, unlike someone is really crucial to their plans, but the question isn't bad. Maybe something can be done the divine way, just not in here." The poison atmosphere of the area would soon require them to use another potion, and they were getting short in supplies, even taking Ahna out of the equation.

"Keep going up, or check out this level first?" the bard asked.

"This level," Lorraine suggested. "We can come back here to rest and use the statues to block both doors to be save." She didn't mention that it felt less like abandoning their friend; it seemed a silly thought.

The only other door out of the room was hard to open, and it led into the open air. They were now standing on the cross section the tower walkway running around both towers, facing the other tower. None of them had seen a tower design like that before. The wind was blowing stronger up here, but not strong enough to get rid of the poison in the air. Lorraine coughed and wondered if the potions were losing their effectiveness.

Right across the door was an iron cage door set into the tower wall. They could see rotten straw and what looked to be dead guard dogs in a large kennel behind it. A part of the kennel seemed to have been turned into a roost for some large birds, but there were neither bird remains not live birds to be seen. Carefully walking around the larger tower, they found no other entrance into it. "Whoever was in charge of room design probably got his license from some golem school," Filbura joked.

"It's probably meant to confuse possible invaders. Works with us but hasn't helped them much." Zolan pointed back to where they came from. "Let's continue upward, nothing here really and we still have some daylight."

Daylight it might have been, but the marsh was gloomy to begin with, and the tower only had slits for windows so the magical light was very much needed, more than earlier. The room they finally emerged in was obviously the old clock tower. Parts of the clockwork, wooden beams and rubble that had come down and a lot of tools made the room a hazard in itself. There were no stairs to the next level; they had obviously arrived at a dead end.

Lorraine opened her mouth to suggest retreating, when the rubble began to move and various sorts of undead, mostly zombies and skeletons, emerged from the ruined room. It almost looked as if someone had been storing them here. It didn't take a genius to conclude that they had at least found one of the sources of the undead plague.

"Zolan!" Lorraine cried out while she hacked apart the zombie that had emerged right in front of her. "Can you turn them?"

"All of them?" The orc paled. "Not a chance, asides, where would they go? The effect would be lost in a few moments." He, too, engaged a zombie and then ducked back into the safety of the door. "And it looks like they would follow us down."

A soft song, almost mocking, drifted into the room from behind them, accompanied by the music of a harp. They recognized it – The Zombie and the Barmaid – and the flood of undead that was about to rush over them slowed down considerably. They looked to be almost frozen in time where they were closest, and just barely slower in the back of the room. The elf bard motioned her head for them to pass her down the stairs. Everyone but the orc and his human friend hurried to do as suggested. The two of them stayed to hack apart the first two rows before they felt too tired and began their retreat to the lower levels. "How long is this spell holding?" the orc gasped.

"Probably a few minutes," Quavin replied. "Not enough for us to get to the bottom of the stairs. Even considering those things are generally slower than us."

"To the room with the statues, then, as planned," Lorraine ordered, and everyone, including the bard who had stopped singing, followed. Moreelle looked pale and tired, and Quavin had to catch her so she would not stumble on her way down. Close to the next landing, he handed her to Ti'ir who let the woman more or less ride on her. Then he turned around. The whole way down, his anger and fear had caused his hair to sparkle and stand to all sides, and small sparks were flowing from his fingers as well now. His magic was building up, uncontrolled by him as he had already exhausted himself today. Hew could not follow his friends into the statue room this way or he might end up causing a disaster. But out here, he might be able to do something good instead.

While he couldn't control the building blast, he could direct it somewhat. And as fire almost always went up, he was sure the undead would suffer significant losses. "One moment," he shouted to the others. Then he let go of any control, just pushing the raw magic away from himself and the door his friends were waiting behind. In a roar of flame, accompanied by sizzling lightning, the inside of the stairwell became an inferno flashing up through the dimness. The dead moss clinging to the walls helped matters along, too.

The Lyandar outcast stumbled backwards, intend on reaching the door to safety. But this act of arcane fury had, even if not controlled, taken more power from him that he had left. He felt a rush of cold coming over him, and a numbness of mind and body. Before he could say anything, the world around him turned dark and he crashed to the floor, half into the room and half outside.

Lorraine and Zolan dragged him in quickly, and closed the door. "What happened? He's alive, isn't he?" Lorraine stared at the pale face, uncomprehending what had happened.

"He'll be alright." Zolan checked the vital signs. He knew in this situation, his little healing magic would do no good. "He overcasted. Even if he wasn't in control, really, the energy needed was the same."

"Overcasted?" Lorraine was about to ask a lot of questions about this, but Moreelle shook her head. "Forget it for now, Thing is, he will need a lot of rest. So do I. So do all of us, I guess." Her voice sounded very weak indeed.

Zolan was already busy moving the 'statues' – all but Ahna's – while he grunted his consent. He needed a few attempts and Loraine's and even Filbura's help to secure the doors. Moreelle set up a base camp in the meantime – their sleeping bags and some extra covers for the cold mainly – while the displacer beast started patrolling the room, just in case. "She says we should sleep until it is dark, then she will wake whoever smells fittest to take over," Filbura explained as Ti'ir' hissed and purred at them.

"Sounds good to me," Moreelle whispered, already in her bag. A second later, she was already asleep and the others were not far behind her.

TBC
 
Last edited:

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Thanks to several people being absent for business reasons, update is shorter this time.

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"We can admit it already, we are lost." Feyan ran his hand through his reddish hair and and looked around. They had been following a badly lit corridor for a while, following the direction of a human who seemed like he knew his way around down here. The corridor had turned into a tunnel, and trying to find their way back they must have taken the wrong turn a few times. By now, they were back in a corridor, but the walls were different and the faint magic light coming from them had not been in any other parts earlier.

"We aren't lost," Nihil protested. "We are just... momentarily displaced."

"Which means, we are lost." Tibunn said grimly. "And we haven't seen a hair of the guy you were after."

"And we didn't bring much food or water," Feyan added. "We could starve down here and no one would know about it."

"Starve? We won't starve, that is not a death for a halfling."

The gnome snorted. "Really, if that's the only worry you have, jump into your own sword."

"What's that supposed to mean? I don't even carry a sword, just a dagger and a crossbow."

"It's a saying, silly, it means if you are worried about how you die, pick your own way right now."

"That's a silly saying, it's..."

"Would you two cut it out?" Nihil pointed ahead. "I think there is some sort of room ahead. And we won't die down here, there must be a way up again someplace."

The room proved to be an old storage room with rotten supplies and even more dead rats, most of them with some sort of mutation or the other. It smelled bad. Past another room with rat bones and some humanoid remains, too, they entered a wider corridor that, except for a cave in, looked less abandoned. There were some footprints in the dust that, according to Feyan, didn't look to be that old. It lead them to a set of double doors made from grey stone with lots of colored inlays. It radiated magic even for those not usually receptive to such things.

"Guess we found what is responsible for the radiant magic in this area," Tibunn mumbled. "Can't say I'm too happy about probably intruding in someone's domain, but if it gets us out of here..." He began checking for traps, very carefully as he was expecting something magic. Feyan helped him, but they came up with nothing. The door was locked, but the halfling had little problem picking the lock.

Behind the doors was a large vault several stories high, with doors going to different chambers. The doors, all wooden, were mostly rotten and easy to push aside when they tried. Several were empty or contained only rotten boxes, but a lot of them seemed to be preserved by magical stasis. On this lowest level, someone had taken great care to sort the stored items by type – there were chambers for necromantic stuff – complete with, of all things, rows and rows of pixie zombies who didn't move a rotten muscle – defensive and offensive magic, things bards, enchanters or conjurers could use and a whole area devoted to illusions. They didn't need to identify any of it as it was all labeled, too. A drift of fresh air was coming in from somewhere.

"How in the world did this place come to be forgotten and so unprotected?" Nihil asked, gaping at all the instruments in stasis.

"I don't think it is either," Tibunn said, checking the area for traps and protections still. He could feel a psionic drag from everywhere, very faint but present. He told the others and tried to explain. "It's all about intention. You come in here not planning to take anything, you are fine. The problem comes when you want to steal something."

"Why, what would happen?" The idea of not taking anything from here riled him. He was already going through possibilities to come back here later. "But if someone owned all this stuff, he didn't want to make new enemies, either.

"I think, for one, we'd get in trouble with the pixie zombies. But I can't really say. I just found another small door over here though, and it's leading into a lab."

"Bah, pixie zombies. That's like swatting flies, really." The halfling followed his friend to an indeed small door where they could look into a neatly arranged alchemical lab which had a scroll scribing table on the other side. "Someone's been hiding stuff down here, and I wonder what or who from."

"Could be so simple as a group of magic folks trying to hide their research from a rival academy, or rival study group," Nihil offered.

"Down in the worst parts of Sharn?" The gnome shook his head in doubt. "Unless, of course, they teleported in here, in which case their could be a teleport circle around." By now convinced there was no further trap, they stepped into the room. "Say, is that a boot?" Feyan pointed to one of the corners where something could be seen behind the table with all the scrolls and books.

"Yeah..." Tibunn went ahead carefully and found the mostly decomposed but by now mummified remains of an orc. "This orc looks like he's been cut or stung by something, a lot of times. At leas that's what I think, hard to say with the state the body is in," he reported back. "Maybe he tried to steal something and the protections activated."

"Well, I sure don't want to end up like that," Nihil stated, coming closer to look at the mess himself. "We better don't touch anything. Any other way out?"

"Over here." Feyan had moved to a curtain covering the corner, swaying very faintly in a cool breeze. "This is where the fresh air has been coming from."

"That must mean there is an exit, no?" Nihil, eager to just get out of there despite being the one who had gotten them into it to begin with, followed the gnome who was pushing the curtain aside to reveal a partly open metal door. With no regard for traps, he pushed it open to look at a slightly smaller vault with even more stories. Instead of doors, rotten or not, leading to rooms, it contained archways cut into the stone. At first, they thought the archways contained very realistic paintings of many places, until Nihil noticed the clouds in one moving, and a dragon – they thought it was a dragon – flying through another. Then the breeze freshened up and they figured out it was coming from several archways.

"They are portals!" Nihil shouted in amazement. "Permanent gateways to other places!"

Always the practical one, the gnome scouted for another way out before wanting to think about that, but found nothing. "I think we might be in more trouble than we anticipated," he said.

"A whole vault of gateways?" a young wizard remarked excitedly. "The possibilities of such a discovery are endless."

"If you know how to use them, and can do so safely, yes," the storyteller nodded. "Our 3 adventurers, by now not nearly as confident as when they had started out – and as we remember, there wasn't that much confidence there to begin with – weren't experienced in such things. None of them had ever seen such a portal before, not even to talk of using one.

They did the most logical thing – starting to go around to see if any of the portals would lead back to the surface of Sharn. And despite their somewhat dire situation, they started discussing possibilities. But as the bard pointed out, using portals wasn't as easy as it is portrayed in some stories. Even if they are open to everyone, there is no saying if they are two way without research, and who would be waiting on the other side. Even a peaceful scene could have some nasties waiting nearby, and, as the bard also pointed out, they had no fighter with them. Which in retrospect was a dumb move. You simply don't go into the belly of Sharn or anywhere else you don't know without someone who can defend the party. Of course, a significantly skilled bard would be able to defend a party, but Nihil wasn't there yet.

It was then that Nihil decided to embark on a second path – that of a favored soul – to be of more use, and to be able to defend where magic wasn't doing the job, and able to heal when their priest or paladin were not around. His calling had already been there as a child, of course, but his love for music had always come first, partly because his family would have liked it even less if he had "gone into religion" given that none of them were very religious themselves. One of his mentors as a child, a priestess of the Sovereign Host, had told him he would make a great priest, and that there were people using their music to the greater glory of the gods, especially among the so-called favored souls (GM note: Gospel Priest is a custom class we developed, so Nihil, as all the others, will later turn out to be the equivalent of a 3-class PC).

For now, he was happy enough that the other two listened to him. He was the present "expert" on arcane matters,after all. Unfortunately, their hopes of finding a portal to somewhere in Sharn, preferably to a place they knew, didn't come true. A few hours later, after a meager meal that left them without provisions, they realized that it could take days and weeks to find anything. Not all portals went to fixed locations, some cycled through several, others seemed to be active only at certain times. For 3 people, it was an impossible task.

It was the gnome who finally, more by accident, found a secret exit to the room. He had to take a leak and while looking for a place to do it without upsetting anything, he came across a portal on the lower level which had an image that was not changing. The trees portrayed did sway a little, and the clouds did move, too, but it was always the same clouds, and always the same sway. For a gnome, it was easy to see it was an illusion. He yelled for the others to come over.

Behind the illusion, they found a simple iron door that was unlocked from the inside but had, as they found, no handle on the outside. From the outside it was a secret door. Behind it, they found the stink of Sharn's sewers.

"We should be able to find our way up from here," Nihil said, while grabbing a piece of paper from his bag to be sure to map the way. "I am sure the door opens with a knock spell or other magic from this side, there's no magic on it that I can tell."

"Yeah, we need to find this place again," Feyan agreed. "But we better get out of here now because the smell isn't good for my nose. I'm still having nightmares from our first time in the sewers."

The halfling chuckled. "You are the right sort of adventurer. But I agree, let's hurry up."

They decided to go against the flow, not wanting to end up at the shore but to find an outlet. Nihil's mapping slowed them down, but except from a few rats and something with tentacles that swam by and ignored them, they didn't encounter anything.

Until they finally came to a valve that marked the way up. Something large, white and reptile looking was sleeping right in front of the stairs upward, a long tail going around to form a circle ending at a long snout with massive fangs. The group halted and stared for a while.

"Is that a crocodile?" Tibunn whispered eventually.

"I think so," Nihil whispered back. "We aren't equipped to fight whatever it is anyway."

"So, we just let it lie and go find the next valve?" Feyan asked.

"Probably a good idea, unless you can talk it into letting us through."

Feyan shook his head at the bard's suggestion. "I can't really talk to reptiles yet, and asides, who says it wouldn't just jump at us anyway? I don't know how aggressive crocodiles usually are, but I heard they have a very limited intelligence."

The reptile suddenly stretched, and its small black eyes stared at the party. "You know," it said in a raspy voice, "it is very rude to talk about someone as if they aren't there, especially if you are insulting them. Additionally, I would think it is impolite in any of your cultures not to introduce yourselves to the host, no? And I'm not a crocodile. I'm an alligator." It hardly opened its mouth while talking.

Tibunn almost dropped the dagger he had been playing with and his jaw, Nihil almost lost his balance and was stopped from falling into the sewer by the gnome, who quickly grabbed his pants. Only Feyan, used to talking to other types of animals, didn't flinch. "My apologies," he said. "We didn't think you could understand us. And in our defense, we know little about any sort of reptiles. What is the difference between a crocodile and an... alligator?" It was obvious the gnome had never heard of alligators.

"For one, we are bigger and wider, especially at the snout." The beast sounded slightly amused now. "We are of a different scientific classification. "When we close our snout, you can still see our amazing teeth, while you can't do the same with crocodiles. And we are, with no doubt, the more intelligent type."

Nihil, still shocked and thus acting weird, chuckled. "I have a feeling a crocodile would say that, too."

Now the alligator belched a laugh. "Good point. But for accusing you of being rude, I haven't introduced myself yet. Name is Chandro, a good looking male, although this won't help me any here. Forgive my smell, the area down here isn't exactly clean, but I can't help it, I'm stuck here.."

Feyan introduced each of them. "What do you mean you are stuck down here? I understand that climbing up all those stairs and opening a valve is out of the question, but why can't you just swim out to the sea?"

"I waited too long. The sewers have grates, you see, to prevent any enemy force – or large other things, I suppose – to crawl in through the sewers. When I got in here, I was quite a bit smaller. And I got in through the grates closing off a small clean underground stream. However, in my explorations I got lost and by the time I found another way out, I had grown a little too big to fit through." Chandro's tail switched in annoyance. "Luckily, I found a few interesting places to learn a lot of things, especially how to talk to people. Scares most of them quite good, I can tell you."

"You don't eat people, do you?" Tibunn couldn't help himself asking.

"Of course I do. Murderers. Thief guild and assassin guild rejects. Other random scum the people living in the slums decide to feed to me. Some of them I don't eat if they don't appear to be evil." Again the tail switched. "You aren't evil."

"Unless you ask my aunt Thelda," Nihil again burst out in his nervousness.

Chandro laughed at that for quite a while. "If you go up through here," he then said, "be careful. The people up there are somewhat mean, a few of them tried to kill me a while back. And they keep going at each other."

"Thanks for the warning." Feyan looked over the long, white body and sighed. "Say, is there a way to open the grates somehow to let you back out? You don't seem happy here."

In an almost humanoid way, the alligator shook his massive head. "Thanks for asking, but a few of those I didn't eat already tried. There is some magical stuff on the grates preventing that."

"Oh. Sorry about that. But we could find out about this stuff and maybe help you then. We aren't from the slums, you see, and have certain resources."

"If you would do that for me, I would be eternally grateful." The eyes of the reptile closed for a moment. "I'm so sick of and from the filth down here."

"We'll find a way," Nihil decided. "We intend to come back down here, anyway. But if you know another way up, not leading to warring factions, it would help a lot. We aren't that good at fighting."

A short while later, they were following the alligator upstream, sure no one would ever believe the tale.

In all the time, Viril and Yuja had been comparing the points of the killings in the city with the constellations. There had been similarities, and sometimes a few stars would fit a constellation or two, but it made no real sense. The librarians had brought them coffee and tea and some light snack, free of charge, and taken some interest in their research. But the two of them were finally out of ideas.

Yuja flipped the crystal, which was still active, around and around, making the marks dance between the star simulations. "It was a good idea but alas. We will have to come up with something else."

Viril nodded and was about to deactivate the crystal, when the librarian responsible for the sector, a young elf, turned a corner with a bunch of books and scrolls to sort back in. He threw a look at the set up and smiled. "Ah, are you researching super constellations? That one's my favorite. But you didn't select all the stars, I see."

Viril and Yuja looked at each other, then at the elf. "Super constellations?" they asked at the same time.

"Yes, you see, the constellations in our sky do not only form a lot of small images, if you know how to look at them, several normal ones form bigger ones. Sometimes really big, like the one you have partly mapped out." His fingers traced the whole constellation, going through the psicrystal's points. "This one is called The Dragon. Depending on who looks at it, it is a bit different, with horns or without, with bigger wings or smaller, with a curled tail or straight." Showing the different interpretations, he chuckled to himself. "But as dragons are somewhat unpredictable, it fits."

"A super constellation," Viril talked to himself. "I hadn't know they exist. I barely know all the normal ones."

"They are often ignored," the elf nodded. "A lot of people see them as omen if they are clearly recognizable in the sky – which does not happen often as most of the time, one part or the other is under the horizon. And usually, they think of those omens as bad. Don't know why, exactly."

"Thanks for your help," Viril said. "We'll map this down somehow. I think I can get the crystal to record it. Would that be alright?"

"Sure. Shared knowledge is growing knowledge." The elf bowed and vanished again.

"Viril," Yuja said, having gone slightly pale. "If this is a super constellation thingy, there are an awful lot of stars still missing in the killer's recreation. What means an awful lot of people are going to die if we don't catch the vampire first."

"Yeah," the fat half-elf sighed. "There is that."


TBC
 


Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Yes. Very sorry for the delay. I suffer from chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and another form of rheuma, so from October - March I am usually slow at writing, due to pain. Additionally, I found very little time in the recent weeks.

I plan to continuen all my SHs, the next part for this one is actually half written, maybe I manage to find some time today, or just post what is already there. I normally want to write at least 10 pages at once.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
"This is so typical we bring home a new job, and no one is around. Oh well, can't do anything tonight, anyway." Deniv dropped the message they had picked up on the table and looked around. "But at least someone did the shopping."

Milayn noticed the empty cup and the crystal missing. "If I'm not totally wrong, Viril and Yuja went somewhere for the serial killer investigation. But Where's Tjuja? Shouldn't she be back by now? It's almost midnight , and if I am not bad of hearing, she was supposed to be back way before then. Didn't she say her booth closed around tavern hour?"

"Yeah, but who knows who she picked up, or if she is not visiting the taverns herself. Halfling, and all that."

"True that. But our blue halfling was supposed to be home and clean the kitchen, it's his turn." Milayn wrinkled her nose at the state of said room. "But then, he had had excuses, and unfortunately good ones, for his last 5 turns." Resigned to the fact that someone would have to do it anyway, she started cleaning up.

"Hey, the crystal ball is glowing." Deniv went to the small, blue crystal ball sitting on a table in the corner of the kitchen, glowing in a dark blue. It was one of a set the oracle had acquired from a customer lately. A handy communication device. This bigger ball served as a central hub of sorts, and 3 smaller ones could be carried and used to contact both the bigger ball and each other as long as you were in a certain range. Tjuja had taken one along to test out the range, and they had already found it worked outside the city where she was now. "Can only be Tjuja," he deducted, "as the other balls aren't in use. Unless Viril remembered to take one."

The assassin shook her head. "Still up there," she pointed to a shelf.

Deniv already tried to call back to Tjuja, but he only got static blue flickers. "Whatever it was about, she isn't ready to talk at the moment. Probably tried to tell us she is running late. We need to find out how to get this thing to record messages." It was a function they knew existed, but the blue for "someone has called" and green for "someone is calling" had been all they had figured out yet.

"Well, then we don't need to wait for her to decide what's for late dinner." The woman began to look through their foods and then grabbed a basket of eggs and bread. "This fine for you? Also have bacon."

"Sure thing." With a grateful smile, the man put the trash in the shaft downwards to the sewers and plopped himself into a chair. "Can't wait to get on the new job, especially seeing how this is a follow up on our first adventure."

"Sure beats doing all the day to day stuff. I don't know how some people stand such boring lives. At least, Tjuja is out doing what she loves to do," the woman replied and went to work on dinner.

But at that moment, Tjuja was not doing what she loved. She was doing what was needed to survive.

It had, as most of the time with such situations, started out of the blue. One moment she had explained to a client that the reason she didn't have children was her unconscious rebellion against an abusive husband, the next moment there was shouting and yelling all around her tent, and she could hear the clang of weapons and the swoosh of arrows.

Before she could get up and open the flap of her tent, the shouts got louder. The fighting seemed to be right outside. Her terrified client hid under the table and the next moment, something cut loose the strings holding the tent up, and the canvas came crashing down on them. While her client was relatively fine under the table, Tjuja became entangled in canvas, decoration and a rope. Panic crept up in her. With no idea what was going on other than that there was a fight, and being so trapped, she had a hard time thinking at all.

Ever so slowly, she managed to get to the edge of the mess and look out with one eye. Still entangled, she could do nothing but stare at the sight right in front of her. A middle aged gnome fighter was hammering away at the shield of a halfling, who tried to defend himself with an axe while they were insulting each other. Some of what they said made little sense. "We'll nix you," the gnome cried at one point, to what the other replied "Lisp will prevail." She couldn't hear a lisp though, and right then, an arrow hit the canvas above her right arm, so she decided it was safer in all the mess than out. Not too long after, she heard what could only be a death cry right outside. Someone must have won the duel. Reaching for her part of the crystal ball, she contacted home, in the hopes of being able to let someone know what was going on, but no one was there.

Slowly, the fighting died down and the noise abated. The sobbing of her client had also stopped, which was good as Tjuja didn't want to be found. She heard orders outside about searching the place. "Take the small ones and leave no survivors among the tall," she heard someone with a squeaky voice order.

Someone lifted the canvas right next to her and stared right into her eyes. Behind the armor clad gnome woman that looked at her, Tjuja could see several more gnomes, halflings, a dwarf and what seemed to be goblins and kobolds. "I found a halfling," the woman shouted triumphantly. Then she turned back to Tjuja. "Anyone in the tent with you?"

Her client, she knew, was in danger. She was a human, and thus a tall one, she guessed. So she shook her head. "What is going on?" she managed.

"Later." The gnome started cutting her free. "But count yourself lucky to have met us."

Tjuja saw no reason to count anyone lucky. Around the area, small and big bodies were laying, from what she could make out, they were all dead, including the elf woman who had been organizing the fair. Some other small folk were rounded up and brought to the edge of the field. "You will be coming with us," a rough looking halfling in a leather armor with an eye patch said. "We'll help you realize your true potential, your true destiny!"

The way he spoke, Tjuja knew she was facing a fanatic. Whatever their mission was, it was not something she would want to be around, but it seemed s he had no choice. Strangely enough, without even being searched they were pushed onto a cart that was waiting for them in a thicket. Most of them, Tjuja couldn't quite exclude herself either, were shocked and confused. Her hand clasped around her communication device, but she could not attempt anything now, because a gnome and the dwarf were watching them.



At the same time, our group back in the tower ruins just woke up. None of them had had a particularly good rest, all had had some sort of nightmares, mostly about being turned into stone by one thing or the other. That nothing had occurred while they had been sleeping was a good thing, however.

After a bit of confusion how and where to do their morning toilet – another thing that's mostly ignored in stories you'll read – they decided to take it slow but steady. Filbura talked to their animal friend about what she might have heard. But other than some sounds like small feet scuttling around in some distance outside in the area they hadn't been to yet, there was no new information.

Ti'ir went out the door first, sticking to the ground while making warning noises. Filbura would have preferred her to be quiet, and from the frown, Lorraine was also hoping for more stealth. But the displacer beast had decided that showing strong presence was the best option, and there was no way to convince her otherwise.

"She says it smells kobold," Filbura explained. "The whole area must be swarming with them from what she says."

"If there are any, they are hiding from us, probably with reason, " the fighter snorted.

"Yeah because we are an armed group, invading their territory?" the bard suggested. "Kobolds are not the best fighters, unless they show up in swarms."

"We'll see. In my experience – and I have a bit of that – kobolds are never good news. Let's just be careful."

"Not only because of the kobolds," Filbura reminded them. "I don't exactly have a good feeling about all this."

Quavin waved his hands around and concentrated for a moment. "Thought so. There is lots of magical energy around here, and I doubt it's coming from any kobolds." Then the elf pointed left and right to the grey stone walls with several wooden and iron doors set in them. "It's somehow like the whole area is covered by protection spells and other powerful stuff I have not seen before. Lots of different magic."

The orc and the human were already, very carefully checking for traps, opening a few doors. None were locked, and all led to straw filled, mostly small chambers who definitely looked like they were usually occupied by kobolds. However, for kobolds, the rooms were surprisingly orderly and there was no trash. "Maybe some refugees from elsewhere making a home here," Zolan suggested. "I've seen it before – those who try to organize themselves are shunned by the other clans."

"Could be but this magic thing has me worried." Lorraine pointed to the end of the walls to their left and right, where the top of the tower had a sort of open central court. It started raining just then, ever so slightly but ever so annoying. "We might want to get out of this confined space."

"This door is locked," Zolan said just as they were about to get into the more open areas. "Guess not all kobolds like anyone spying on them."

"Or maybe it's the only one who knows to operate a key," Lorraine grinned. “We should check it out in any case. We don't want..."

"...anything falling in our backs, yeah," Moreelle finished and, to everyone's surprise, gave the wooden door a good kick. The lock broke immediately, barely holding together anyway due to rust. Only now it became apparent that no one could have used this door in a long time. "Maybe we should have kept it closed," the woman mused.

"Probably don't need to check it out then?" Quavin hoped.

"Unfortunately," the bard sighed, "things can lurk in such places slumbering for centuries. I don't have to tell you that, though."

"Was just a thought." Making sure to stay in the back and ready to cast if needed, Quavin motioned for one of the others to go ahead.

Lighting a torch and holding it inside the opening, Lorraine only found a room, maybe 4x4 meters wide, which had rows of black clothes hanging from the walls. After her eyes got adjusted to the relative dark, she noticed it looked like the cloth was covering doors. "Maybe some sort of meeting place where everyone comes in through a different door," she suggested upon showing the others.

The displacer beast hissed. "She doesn't like it," Filbura said, a translation that was unnecessary.

The human frowned at them. "Maybe it would be a good idea if you 2 stayed here as a watch. Just so nothing surprises us from outside, either."

Filbura nodded and took a few steps back. As much as she hated being alone – and she had the displacer beast after all – she was definitely happy not to have to go in there. There had been too many dark and weird rooms for her taste in this building.

The debating voices of her friends reached her from the opened door, but she couldn't understand what they were saying. Filbura was watching the displacer beast turning her attention to the end of the path they had been on when they had found this door. Her ears went back and forth, in a manner that told the gnome that Ti'ir was listening to something happening rather quickly. "What is it?" she asked her.

"Kobold sounds," Ti'ir replied. "In panic. Sounds like very small kobolds."

Filbura frowned and her ears strained to hear something, but all she could hear was the wind and some branches of high trees and bushes that had grown up here over the centuries. No surprise, as her ears weren't anywhere close to what the displacer beast's were. "From what direction?" she inquired.
"Left behind the corner and what sounds some stairs down," Ti'ir answered. "They sound really afraid but I can't smell anything bad that might cause it."

Filbura turned to tell this news to her friends, but they had gone quiet, so she assumed they had moved on a bit. "Right, we should check it out," she decided. "At least I should. Can you wait here and watch the door for me?"

Ti'ir yawned as answer and put her behind down. She seemed to be almost grinning. Filbura nodded and started running towards the direction her friend had indicated. Indeed, as soon as she was close to the corner she could hear the panicked cries of young voices in a language she didn't understand but could make out as draconic. A group of kobold children soon came to view standing around a basin designed to collect rain water. The small wall around it was mostly broken off, and they were all staring down into it. Filbura was almost out of breath when she reached the group. They noticed her very late, and now the cries of panic were also for her. Everyone moved back from the basin, giving the gnome a chance to have a look.

Several meters below, a kobold was hanging on to a gnarled root emerging from the wall. On another root a bit below some sort of toy was stuck. It was obvious that the child had been trying to reach it. A rope that had been tied around the waist had been torn somehow, and now it was impossible to either reach the toy or get out again. Filbura mumbled something about always needing more than one rope and went through her backpack in a hurry. Within seconds, she had tied the rope to the same old pump the kobolds had used for theirs and was climbing down. She didn't trust the kobold to be able to let go with one hand and grab it.

It was not difficult for her to get down, grab the kobold and then the toy – some sort of frisbee - after all, if he had risked his life for it and they were already down there, it made no sense to leave it there. Very slowly, with a shaking kobold even more panicked by her presence at first, she made her way back up. She was greeted with scared, curious and confused looks from the other kobold children. And from somewhere, the frantic voices of some older kobolds came closer.

"I doubt they would have been here in time," she mumbled and put her cargo down.

"Gnome?" one child asked in common, coming closer carefully. "Gnome help Garka."

"Oh you understand me then. A little, anyway." Carefully, Filbura put the child down and smiled at everyone. Then she looked at the frisbee. "Why do you play here where it is dangerous?"

"Can't go out anymore," an older child explained in much better grammar. "Not allowed since vampire moved in downstairs."

"Vampire?" Filbura's eyes went wide. "We saw no vampire in the lower levels."

"No, very down." The kobold frowned, trying to remember the word. "Base cement?"

“Basement,” the gnome corrected. “Good to know. How long has it been there?” The undead roaming the area suddenly seemed to make a lot more sense.

“Not know.” The little kobold frowned, trying to remember. “When bad wind came throwing ships at shore, think?” The child, probably a girl, thought Filbura, was looking questioningly at the others. They nodded. “Plant-come-out-wild-wind,” the kobold added, obviously translating literally from her own language.

“Spring storms,” Filbura nodded. That fit in well with what the people in the area had been describing.

By now, the grown ups were arriving, talking all over another in draconic, at first being suspicious of the gnome but quickly calming down when Garka, the rescued boy, explained what had happened. “You save little one, we grateful,” an older woman looking like she might be the chief and shaman in one person, said, bowing slightly. “But what you do here all alone? Place not good for lone hero.”

“Oh, I am not alone,” Filbura explained. “I am here with friends, but they wanted me to stand watch while they explored the locked room with the black curtains.”
For some reason, this caused a stir and cries of woe from the kobolds. “You alone now,” the chief cried out. “Them go in cursed room with look-ins, they never come out. You alone now.” Everyone looked at Filbura with an expression of grief, as much as she could tell kobold expressions.

“They should be fine, I’m sure,” the gnome said, not sure of the fact at all. “There was nothing in it, and the room had no other exits.”

“No way out for your eyes,” a warrior with a bow and lots of scars tried to explain. “Some ways are magic. Some ways are evil. Look-ins are evil, bring you to another place. Not come out again. We lost half the tribe when first we come live here. Then we closed room. You not see warnings?”

The gnome shook her head. “Just a locked door, with a very rusty lock. Easy to open. Look-ins?”

“Yes, look in and you see yourself the wrong way round,” the chief tried to explain. “Don’t know common word for.”

“Mirrors!” Filbura realized. “Those look-ins are covered by curtains? Falling clothes?”

Everyone nodded. “We make them not see anything anymore. All who look in are taken to the dragons knows where.” The warrior sighed. “Lost my mate, and my nest brother.”

“Excuse me, I need to check it out. I’m sure they are fine, but...” Filbura turned around and started running again. Only when she arrived and saw the alarmed expression of her animal friend did she notice the kobolds had all followed her and were arriving one after the other. “Did you hear from them?” she asked Ti’ir. She got a mental negative. Ever so carefully, she opened the door and peeked inside. It was pitch black. “Hello?” she called out. But she knew right then no one would answer. Not only the torch was gone, but so were her friends.

“Said so,” a younger kobold said, putting a bony hand on her shoulder. “All gone. Evil place. But you not alone, you have us, now. Can stay if you want, you help Garka, we help you.”

“I need to find them,” Filbura insisted.

“If they heroes, like you, might come back, no?” the fighter who had lost some of his family mused. “We no heroes, so we not come back. But maybe your friends help our friends? Maybe they end the look-ins?”

The chief-shaman nodded, only now understanding that they might actually be lucky and get rid of a threat. “Come, you stay with us, your companion friend, too. Tell us story what you were doing here, we tell you story how we come live in this place. We be friends.”

Not knowing what else to do, Filbura nodded.
 

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