Ghourmand Vale (3.5 campaign)

Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 14: ARRR WE THERE YET?

PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 5​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 5​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 5​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 5​

Game Session Date: 11 January 2023

- - -

"I say!" declared Alistair. "Would you mind explaining why we're to be working for a thieves guild? We have a paladin among our number!"

"Well, we're not exactly working for a thieves guild," Ageratum explained. "I'm being asked to do a mission for a thieves guild, and I'm to ask 'my team' to come along as additional protection."

"That seems to me to be splitting hairs," argued Alistair.

"Well, it's your dumb fault they even came looking for me - you and that stupid song about what a great thief I am!"

"I don't believe I even once used the word 'thief.'"

"Splitting hairs, Alistair!"

"Perhaps we should see what this mission is all about before we argue our involvement," suggested Harlan, ever the peacemaker. Then he turned to the little halfling and asked, "When and where are we to meet to discuss this assignment?"

"Dark and Light Club, tomorrow right before Carp's performance. But I don't think they're expecting any discussion, they're expecting to brief us on what we need to do and then we're to go out and do it."

"Unacceptable!" scoffed Alistair.

"Did they give you any indication of what the job might be?" asked Chaevaris.

"Nope."

"Well then," replied Harlan, "I suppose we'll just have to wait until tomorrow to see."

The next evening, Oleg Kulakov from the Hall of Collection and Revenue, Enforcement Division, was there to greet the band of four heroes. With him was Macrell Slade, the head of the town guard, and a bearded man with shifty eyes named Boris Predatsia. After introductions were made, Oleg explained the mission. "You are to escort Boris, keep him safe," he said in clipped tones. "You go to ship, he finds crate, you return crate, you get paid. Is easy."

"We're going to a ship?" Ageratum asked, knowing full well Ghourmand Vale was in a landlocked part of the continent. "What ship? And how are we getting there?"

"Ship does not matter. We teleport you in, teleport you back."

"So you're hiring us to steal cargo off of a ship," Chaevaris replied. Harlan, in full armor with the sun-symbol emblem of Pelor emblazoned upon it, said nothing - they could easily see his devotion to the forces of good; plus, he was concentrating on reading the auras of the three men present. Boris and Macrell were definitely of an evil bent, while Oleg was surprisingly not.

"No. You merely bodyguards, keep Boris safe. No stealing."

"Piffle and nonsense!" exploded Alistair. "Our mere presence means we condone the theft of this crate from its rightful owners."

"No," replied Oleg again. "Crate already stolen, we returning it to rightful owners."

Harlan at last decided to speak up. "May we ask what is inside this crate?" At that, Oleg looked uncomfortable. He took the paladin aside, out of the earshot of Macrell and Boris; naturally, the other three heroes followed. "Boris doesn't know contents of crate, is better this way. Crate holds statue of frost barbarian." The frost barbarians were one of several tribes who lived up in the northern reaches; why anyone valued a statue of such a person was beyond Alistair's imagination.

But then another possibility reared itself in the young sorcerer's mind. "How do we know it's just a statue?" he asked. "What if it's a real person, and this is merely a simple way to pass along someone captured and bound for slavery without having to feed him?"

"Keep voice down!" hissed Oleg. "How you know of this?"

"What?" exclaimed Alistair. "Then it's true? You're asking us to traffic in slaves?"

"No no no! Frost barbarian agreed to become statue. Is best way to sneak him from point A to point B. Then ship attacked by pirates, crate he in taken with other goods."

"Then, this is in fact a rescue mission," Harlan surmised with a slight smirk. "In future, it might have been better to lead with that."

Ageratum looked up at Harlan, the group's unofficial leader. "Are you okay with this?" she asked. Upon seeing the paladin's nod of approval, she spun back to Oleg and asked the most important question. "How much for the job?"

"Two-fifty gold, each."

"And don't forget my cut," pointed out Macrell, who had wandered over to see what all the furtive whispering was about. "Nothing happens in my town I don't get a piece of."

Alistair studiously ignored him and pressed on with a point of contention to Oleg. "If we're teleporting to a boat on the open seas, we'll need a potion of water breathing for each of us, Boris included, I guess."

"Preparations your job," countered Oleg.

"We're not going without those preparations," replied Alistair, bargaining for the team. "Harlan and Chaevaris wear armor that would be quite detrimental were they to end up overboard. If you want us on this mission, keeping Boris safe, then this is a non-negotiable requirement." Oleg bristled, apparently not used to there being any negotiations when he gave orders, but he was wasting time with this uptight nobleman. "Very well," he said, signaling for one of his men to approach. The man pulled out a wrapped bundle from a side pouch and opened it, revealing five narrow glass flasks of liquid. He passed one to each of the four heroes, giving the last one to Boris; apparently Oleg had planned for this contingency after all.

"We will return the potions to you if they prove to be unnecessary in the successful completion of this mission," Alistair promised. He'd already decided he'd be leaving his grackle familiar Ambrose behind, since if anything were to happen and they'd find themselves underwater, that was not the best environment for a bird.

"Yes, good, fine. You are now ready?" Nodding their approval, the group was herded together into a group in the middle of the balcony. Boris approached, unwinding a coil of rope from his belt. As he placed it in a circle around the four heroes, Oleg came up close to Alistair and whispered, "Be careful: is traitor," nodding his head in the direction of Boris. Alistair gave a start, and was about to exclaim "I say!" when he thought better about alerting Boris to the fact his status as a traitor to the mission was known.

Boris now had the length of silk rope - a magical device known as a thieves' coil, with cylindrical metal ends - wrapped around the group of five. Closing his eyes in concentration, he brought the two metal ends together and with a brief flash of light the five had vanished from the balcony level of the Dark and Light Club, where Holyrood Carp was just beginning his first song.

The group had expected to arrive in the cargo hold of a ship, and technically they did, although the experience wasn't at all as any of them had expected. For one thing, the ship's floor was canted at a 30-degree angle, causing everyone to fall over; only Alistair managed to keep his balance and remain upright. But more importantly, although this was indeed the cargo hold of a sailing ship - as evidenced by the curve of the walls, they were either at the very fore or very aft of the ship's lower deck - it was empty of all cargo. If the crate containing the petrified form of a frost barbarian had ever been on this ship (and if this was indeed even the right ship), it was no longer in evidence.

Ageratum scooted around on her bottom and pulled a sunrod from her pack. Activating it, they were able to more clearly see their predicament: there was an open doorway on the wall currently lower than the other walls, due to the ship apparently being at an angle, and in the room beyond the doorway were five creatures best described as "fish-men." The bottom section of this tilted room was covered in water, and there was a hole in the side of the ship through which one of these fish-men was passing a small crate - much too small to hold the statue of a frost barbarian, but a good indicator of where the rest of the contents of the cargo hold had been taken: out the hole in the ship's side and into the seawaters beyond.

Seeing the waters that filled the bottom of the room toward which they were currently canted, and the waters beyond the hole, Ageratum swallowed down the contents of her potion of water breathing. Without a word, Alistair did likewise and helped Chaevaris right herself. Harlan, however, had teleported in right by the open doorway and when he lost his balance he fell through the doorway. Fortunately, he had snagged the side of the door frame and was now hanging by his hands with the rest of his body in the room with the fish-men. One of the aquatic creatures noticed the paladin and gave notice to its associates in some garbly language. One of the fish-men ran up the slope of the floor and bit at Harlan's legs with a row of surprisingly sharp teeth; if these "fish-men" were patterned after any particular type of fish, a piranha would not have been a bad guess.

Boris had landed at the side of the open doorway after his spill and was now busily wrapping the thieves' coil back up around his left hand and elbow, his attitude seemingly that of "fighting off those fish guys is your job, not mine." Harlan kicked off his attacker and pulled his way back into the cargo hold, got to his feet, and pulled his flaming burst longsword from its scabbard; the light from the flames gave off more desired illumination in the darkened hold. But the paladin stood his ground, making himself the first obstacle if these fish-men wanted to get to any of the others on his team.

Chaevaris fired off an arrow that went streaking past Harlan's shoulder to bury itself into the head one of the other fish-men; Ageratum finished it off with a thrown kobold spear striking the same creature's stomach. It fell over on its side and floated in the water at the bottom of the ship's lower deck for a moment, before sinking below and out of sight. Alistair spoke the words to a magic missile spell and sent three missiles streaking from his fingertips to hit another of these fish-men, who buckled in pain after the attack but failed to die.

Another fish-man scrambled up the deck floor to try to get at Harlan, but the paladin's flaming blade came slicing across the creature's chest and torso, erupting in a blast of larger flame upon impact. Immediately, the tantalizing scent of fried fish filled the ship's hold as the fish-man fell backwards into the water, also quite dead. Another fish-man scrambled up the deck but was a bit more wary of Harlan's flaming blade; as a result, he avoided the dangerous weapon but was similarly unable to catch the paladin with its sharp teeth or wicked claws. But then Harlan fake-pounced in one direction, and when the fish-man dodged, his blade was there ready for it, skewering it through the stomach and burning its internal organs. It joined the other two fish-men in death.

Chaevaris shot another arrow into a fish-man, and once again a kobold spear thrown by Ageratum finished the creature off. Perhaps influenced by the scent of cooking fish, Alistair cast a scorching ray at the last remaining fish-man, burning him to a crisp.

Harlan, being the only one to have taken any damage in this initial skirmish, used his inherent ability to lay on hands to heal himself a bit, then cast a cure light wounds spell upon himself with a charge from his wand. "We ready?" he asked the others, as he drank down the contents of his potion of water breathing. Boris nodded his assent, the thieves' coil now once again in a loop at his belt, and those who hadn't already done so drank down their own potions. Alistair was secretly pleased that Oleg wouldn't be getting any of these potions back after the mission; it was a petty thought but an entertaining one nonetheless.

Sliding down the canted floor was the easiest way to get to the hole in the side of the ship. Ageratum went first, cautiously poking her head and her sunrod through the hole. Underwater, she could see, at the very edge of the sunrod's illumination, another fish-man or two lugging crates and heading for an underwater cave. Alistair ducked through the hole beside her and was surprised to see if he stood up his head was above water. There were two beaches ahead, each before a cliff that met at the top; the underwater cave entrance was between them. A bonfire was blazing at the top of the rightmost cliff, its light quite brilliant in the night air.

If the group wanted to retrieve that crate with the petrified frost barbarian, there was nothing else to be done but follow the fleeing fish-men. The group ran along the bottom of the sea, giving chase to the slower-moving fish-men burdened by heavy cargo. Both groups had made it into the cave, inside which was a grotto of sorts with a section of cave to the left that was above the water's surface; a few other fish-men were busy stacking up the crates of various sizes when Ageratum caught up to one of the ones still in the water. She stabbed at it with her silver short sword, causing it to drop its crate and fall over to the side, dead. Alistair, mindful that his magic missile spell hadn't been powerful enough to slay a fish-man with one strike, opted to point his wand at another fish-man and send off a barrage of not three magic missiles (all he could manifest on his own at present) but five. He was pleased to see that a blast of five missiles from the wand was indeed powerful enough to slay a fish-man in one fell swoop.

Two of the land-bound fish-men jumped into the water to attack these interlopers, and one took a swipe at Ageratum with its claws, but the nimble halfling handily dodged the attack. As Harlan and Boris ran to catch up, Chaevaris stopped her own advancement just long enough to send an arrow into the fish-man attacking Ageratum. It looked in shock over at Chaevaris, not having expected an attack from so far away, and that was all Ageratum needed to finish it off with a stab of her silver blade.

Alistair used up another charge on his wand and slew another fish-man as he leaped into the water; yet another fish-man made it safely into the waters and tried attacking Agertaum with teeth and the claws on all four limbs, but the nimble halfling avoided all of its attacks, much to the aquatic being's annoyance. Harlan waded up and tried slashing out at the creature, but he wasn't as fast underwater as he was on dry land and the fish-man likewise avoided the sword-strike. It was interesting to see his flaming sword didn't actually have flames along its blade while underwater, but the string of bubbles following in the blade's wake indicated there was as much heat there as normal, causing the surrounding water to boil. But then Chaevaris killed the aquatic beast with a well-placed arrow to the back of its head when it was concentrating on Harlan.

Ageratum waded up onto the shore of the cave and threw a kobold spear at one of the landbound fish-men, which stood on two humanoid legs. The spear hit a glancing blow, causing the piscine creature to hiss in anger. But then Alistair slew it with another blast from his wand. He followed the little halfling onto the shore, glad to be out of the water. He was also glad he'd left Ambrose at home, for the grackle likely would not have made the underwater trek with his master.

Three more fish-men approached from the back of the cave, each armed with a longspear giving them plenty of reach. One stabbed the tip of his spear at Ageratum, but had no luck in skewering her as it had hoped to do. Harlan charged up onto land, facing twin spears (one of which gashed him in the side as he approached) to bring his longsword - now once again sporting flames along the length of its blade after having left the water - slicing into one of the aquatic spearmen. It dropped its longspear and crashed to the stone floor of the cave, dead.

Chaevaris stepped fully out of the water and slew another of the spearmen with an arrow to the throat. Ageratum hit another fish-man with a thrown spear, Alistair tried to finish it off with a cast magic missile spell, but it stubbornly hung onto life. But it did at least back off, heading further into the cave where there was a small pool of brackish-looking water. It dove in and disappeared to safety; none of the intruders was particularly interested in slaying every one of these fish-men they saw, so much as driving them away so they could examine the contents of the chests and crates brought over from the partially-sunken ship.

The crate the fish-men had dropped in the water just before the shore was too small for it to contain the statue the group was interested in; nonetheless, out of curiosity more than anything else, Boris pried open the top of the crate and discovered it was full of apples. Snorting in disgust, he waded onto dry land and started examining the larger crates stacked there.

With the fish-men either dead or having fled, the five all spread out and started examining crates; Boris seeking a particular marking on the outside, the others by the more labor-intensive method of prying open the crates. The cargo they unearthed was quite varied, consisting of dried biscuits, suits of chain mail, and a small chest of pearls, before Harlan discovered a statue of a barbarian woman. He called the others over, thinking this might be the statue they sought. "I say!" declared Alistair. "I had rather assumed the frost barbarian statue we sought was a male."

"Is correct: we want statue of barbarian lord," replied Boris, speaking in the same accent and curt manner as Oleg; they likely came from the same foreign country. Then, realizing what he'd just voiced aloud, he added, "Oops - not supposed to know that." But that recalled Oleg's warning about Boris being a traitor, which Alistair surreptitiously passed on to the others via whispered conversations as they continued checking out crates. Ageratum placed herself off of crate-opening detail - much of them were much taller than she was in any case, making the process somewhat problematic for the three-foot-tall halfling - and onto "watching Boris" detail, so she could see if he started doing anything suspicious, like perhaps forgetting to bring them along when it came time to teleport back to the Dark and Light Club.

Chaevaris cracked open another crate to find rather damp furs inside, when there was a bubbling noise from the waters behind them. Alistair looked over from the crate of arrows he'd just opened, and Harlan, having just discovered a crate filled with small barrels of beer, did likewise. Rising up from the water stood a humanoid form, standing some nine feet tall with glistening skin like that of a newt or salamander. It had a mouth full of sharp, pointed teeth and claws of equal concern, which looked to be able to disembowel a man with one blow. "I believe that's a scrag!" Harlan called out to the others, dropping the lid to the crate of beer barrels and stepping in front of the others, once again offering himself up as the first line of defense. "Fire and acid works best!" he added, swinging his flaming blade back and forth before him in an effort to ward off the scrag.

The scrag, however, was not to be dissuaded from attacking these delicious, living morsels before it. Seeing it move towards Harlan, Alistair gave it a blast from his wand only because he already had it in hand, but vowed to send a few scorching rays at the beast to see how he liked being burned alive. It did not appreciate being shot at with magic missiles, in any case.

Chaevaris sent an arrow across the cave and into the scrag's throat, but it just plucked it out and cast it aside as if it had been little more than an irritation. Ageratum decided the scrag was more than she wanted to deal with in a hand-to-hand fight and continued prying open the little crate she'd seem, pleased beyond belief when she saw it filled with bloodstones. She gave a glance over at Boris to make sure he wasn't up to anything nefarious, but he was still examining the outer markings on the larger crates, apparently looking for a secret rune or glyph or something.

Alistair sent a scorching ray blazing from his fingertips, but it struck the ground before the scrag due to a bit of nervous targeting. "Blast!" scowled Alistair, which was exactly what he had not managed to do to the aquatic troll. But the blast of flame at least put the scrag into motion, for it charged forward at Harlan, raking him with a set of powerful claws. Fortunately for the half-elf paladin, his plate mail armor took the brunt of the attack, and he was able to retaliate in kind with a slash of his flaming blade. He was pleased to see the scar he opened across the creature's chest did not heal over, as the hole from Chaevaris's arrow had done. But just as he thought that, the elven archer sent another arrow burying itself into the scrag's side; it might not hurt the creature as much as fire or acid did, but it might at least slow it down some.

Alistair cursed aloud when another scorching ray went sizzling just past the scrag's head, failing for a second time to connect. Fuming, the sorcerer vowed to return to his magic wand; magic missiles, at least, never failed to hit their targets. But then Boris gave a cry of delight - he'd apparently found the crate they were seeking. Ageratum saw him starting to uncoil the silk rope from his belt and headed over his way.

The scrag continued his attack against Harlan - who had conveniently put himself in harm's way for that very reason - bending down and biting into the paladin's shoulder. Once again, the half-elf's armor took the brunt of the assault. But then Harlan channeled positive energy into his sword, recognizing the scrag as a source of evil. His next sword-strike seemed to stagger the bandy-legged beast, who staggered back a step from the force of the blow. Chaevaris shot another arrow into it and to her surprise, that was the straw that broke the camel's back: with a moan, the scrag fell backwards onto the stone floor of the cave grotto. With a look of determination, Harlan stepped forward to sever the creature's head with his flaming burst longsword - surely that would prevent the beast from rising back up.

"Over here, guys!" Ageratum called. "Boris found the crate with the right markings!" They helped lug the crate away from the others, to an open space on the cave floor. "Is right marking," Boris said, pointing to a shape painted on the top corner of one of its sides. He was laying the thieves' coil in a circle on the floor around the crate.

"Not so fast, there," reprimanded Alistair. "Let's make sure we have the right statue after all - no sense in having to come back if we grab the wrong one." Boris shrugged and stepped back, allowing Alistair to pry open the crate with his dagger. It was, in fact, a statue of a male frost barbarian, but Alistair noticed an unusual detail: the man's left hand was out at his side, palm to the back. "Let me check that female statue again," he said, returning to the other statue they'd unearthed earlier. Sure enough, the woman had her right hand off to the side, with her palm facing forward. Alistair was pretty sure if they were placed side by side, they'd have been holding hands.

"Help me lug this one over by the other," Alistair said to the others. "We're taking them both."

"That not part of plan," argued Boris.

"Yeah, well, the plan's changing a bit," replied Ageratum. "We're not in any particular danger now that we've fought off the beasties, so we're going to open up the rest of these crates and see what's what." Boris wasn't particularly pleased with the delay, but he held his tongue. In Ageratum's mind the delay was well worthwhile, though, as one of the unopened crates was filled with amber. And as long as the thieves' coil teleported everything it was wrapped around, with a little squeezing together, they could fit all five of the people on the mission, the two crates of statues, and the smaller crates of amber, bloodstones, and pearls - especially when the latter three smaller crates were stacked on top of each other with the little halfling perched on top.

"Another change," added Alistair. "You won't be piloting on the way home. Hand it over." He held out his hand to accept the ends of the thieves' coil.

"You don't know how it works," countered Boris.

"I saw you do it," Alistair counter-counterpointed. "And I know I trust myself to get us to the right destination more than I do you. No offense." Boris scowled, but when he saw Harlan's unsheathed longsword spouting flames and ready for action, he bit his tongue and handed the ends of the rope over to Alistair. The sorcerer examined each of the ends, saw how they fit together, and noticed an arcane rune on the top edge of one end, alongside a burned-out one that hadn't been burned out back at the Dark and Light Club. Apparently the thieves' coil held charges, like a wand, and was good for only so many uses. Placing a finger over the unblemished rune, Alistair closed his eyes and concentrated on the balcony of the Dark and Light Club. With a flash of light, they were suddenly gone from the cave and back where they had started.

Oleg, Macrell, and Holyrood were there to greet them. "Mission successful?" Oleg demanded, frowning in puzzlement at the pile of crates when he had only expected the one.

"Quite," replied Alistair, pulling the silk rope back into a loose pile and handing it back to Boris. "These two are yours, the smaller ones are ours. Now then, about our payment...?"

Oleg examined the statues and handed over four bags of coins. "As we agreed," he grunted, then motioned for some of his men to start lugging away the crates bearing statues.

"Let's not forget my cut," pointed out Macrell. "I get 25% off the top."

"For what?" demanded Alistair, appalled at the very notion. "You did nothing!"

"On the contrary, I was the one who put you in touch with Oleg here. It's because of my contacts that this mission even went down in the first place."

"Pshaw!" scoffed Alistair. "It was because of Ageratum's notoriety - thanks to my songwriting skills and Holyrood's excellent performance - that Oleg wanted her involved in the first place. I posit your involvement added nothing to the equation."

"Is that the way you want to play it?" snarled Macrell, not liking being cut out of a quick and effortless profit. "You really think you want me as an enemy?"

"Please, please," interjected Oleg, happy now that the crates were hammered back together and being lugged off by his men. He held out a fifth bag of coins, handing it over to Macrell. "Here is your cut: 25 percent of payment to others. Now everyone happy, yes?"

Macrell snapped up the pouch and peered inside it, mentally estimating the value of the coins inside. "Fine," he grumbled, leaving the group in a huff.

Alistair turned to Holyrood Carp. "Alas, this rescue mission of ours forced us to miss your performance," Alistair said. "How did it go?"

"Very well indeed!" enthused the bard. "They loved the new song about Chaevaris. You guys are getting a lot of good publicity out of these, and I'm getting very grateful audiences. Here: a portion of tonight's earnings." He gave seven gold coins to Alistair, who thanked him and dropped them into the sack of coins Oleg had given him.

"Then I will bid you a pleasant evening," Alistair said. "I, for one, wish to get out of these damp clothes." He shook the bard's hand, nodded to Oleg, and lifted one of the smaller crates of gems. Harlan and Chaevaris each hefted another one, and then the four heroes returned to their horses and wagon, where Ambrose greeted his master. The trip back to the Stout farmhouse was uneventful.

- - -

Dan went through several changes when designing this adventure; apparently it was originally going to involve the pirates at sea who stole the cargo from the ship originally carrying the frost barbarian, hence the punny "Arrr" in the adventure's title. The fish-men were skum, the transformed servants of an aboleth (who was on the other side of the passageway through the "pool of brackish water" and would likely have killed us all had we been foolish enough to abandon our primary goal to follow the wounded skum back to its master). And we would have played through this adventure a week earlier, but Dan hadn't finished the maps. (He and his family had traveled to another state over the Christmas break.)

We each earned enough XP from this adventure to send us to 6th level. Each player opted to advance another level in the same class their PC already has; I don't think any of us are interested in multiclassing or taking on any prestige classes in this campaign.
 
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Richards

Legend
INTERLUDE: ALISTAIR'S SONG

To the Esteemed Bard, Holyrood Carp,

Alas, it has come time to write a song about myself, if only to round out the entire group. I must confess I have found the entire process somewhat embarrassing, but I hope it will meet both your approval and your needs.

The lyrics follow:

If you need a man who can wield a blade, you can find them by the score​
If you need a magic-wielder, there are spellcasters galore​
If you need a man who can do both, they are much harder to find​
But Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite is a name that comes to mind​
I say!​
He wears a rapier at his hip - he's been training since age 10​
He's quite accomplished in its use, as he's shown time and again​
Though he's never studied wizards' tomes or even opened a spellbook​
He's a natural at the sorc'rous arts - one attempt is all it took​
I say!​
Born into the nobility, he enjoyed a life of ease​
And he could have stayed in luxury, doing just as he might please​
But once he started casting spells, he incurred his father's wrath​
And he made a vow right then and there to follow an adventurer's path​
I say!​
For although he lived a noble's life, adventuring's in his blood​
(Although he casts prestidigitation spells to clear his boots of mud)​
That he'd someday help out those in need was a straight-to-heart belief​
Spent his childhood preparing, reading Elfy "Danger" Silverleaf​
I say!​
As an adventurer he does his best; fighting evil is his life​
It's a dangerous profession - he's got no time for a wife​
And if he runs into trouble, and hasn't got a clue​
He thinks, "If I were Elfy 'Danger' Silverleaf, what would I do?"​
I say!​
He keeps a low profile, never one to blow his own horn​
He's no longer quite the dandy, his leather boots are now quite worn​
So who's that well-dressed man riding his horse up to the castle gate?​
Why, it's none other than Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite!​
I say!​

Now, having completed songs about the four of us Trained Professional Adventurers, I fear I must cast my lyrical net further. I'm of a mind to write a song about Jasgund Singh, one that would depict him in a less-than-favorable light. I trust you would not find such a song upsetting? I must admit, the thought of a song belittling the fiend eventually reaching his ears brings me a modicum of joy, but I would hate to have any potential repercussions come back at you. I will start work upon it at once and allow you to decide if you wish to use it.

With Fond Regards,

Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite
 

Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 15: A SATISFYING, COOLING MIST

PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 6​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 6​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 6​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 6​

Game Session Date: 18 January 2023

- - -

Right as the noontime sun was reaching its peak, two horses and their riders rode up to the Stout farm where the group who called themselves the Trained Professional Adventurers - as if they were the only four to ever have earned that distinction - made their temporary headquarters. One of the riders was Caraban Montieson, head of the Merchants Guild; the other, a man named Oscar Poppert, unknown to any residing in the Stout farm.

Caraban insisted upon being heard first, telling Oscar to wait at the entrance of the farmhouse while he conducted his business. "We've an urgent matter that needs looking into," he told the four heroes. "The water in Ghourmand Vale is becoming fouled. We've taken our observations and complaints to the town council, but they insist everything is fine and refuse to do anything about it. But I tell you, each day the water becomes worse and worse! I've talked personally to Merton Funk, but he won't do anything without the council's say-so. We tried sending in a few folks to check out the sewers, but I think Funk had a few of his boys rough them up and send them packing, which is why we'd like you to go check it out - Funk won't be able to stop you four from checking it out and seeing what's what." He quoted a payment he was willing to hand over if the Trained Professional Adventurers would enter the sewers and determine what was fouling up the town's water supply. Harlan agreed that they'd check it out.

"Good!" declared Caraban. "I hope you can get to the bottom of it, and fast - before people start to get sick!" But, having gotten the answer he was hoping for, he remounted his horse and departed back for Ghourmand Vale.

"And as for you," replied Harlan, looking over at Oscar, "What can we do for you?"

"Are you Alistair?" the man asked.

"No, that would be me," replied the young nobleman, stepping forward.

"Well, I got a message for you is all. Lady name of Miss Rogers--"

"Nanny Rogers?"

"Yeah, that's her. She says your sister-in-law Julianna has given birth to a set of twins, a boy and a girl."

"I say! Did she say what she named them?"

"Nope, that's all she told me."

"But they're both healthy?"

"I guess so - she didn't say."

"And the mother? She's all right?"

"Listen, I've told you everything I was told." He held his hand out expectantly, and with a sudden realization about the expectations of the matter, Alistair opened his coin purse and dropped a piece of silver into the man's palm. Oscar pocketed it happily and returned to his own horse.

Alistair wheeled on the others. "I know we're to check out the Ghourmand Vale water situation," he began, "but I must check up on Julianna and the babies first. Do you want to go on ahead of me and I'll catch up, or...?"

"No, we'll go with you," Harlan replied. "Make sure your family is okay, then we can head over to the Vale and check out the sewers. This has been going on for days, so I don't imagine a few more hours will make that much of a difference."

"Yeah, let's go check out your niece and nephew, Uncle Alistair!" said Ageratum, nudging her elbow into Alistair's leg playfully.

"I say! I am officially an uncle now! And that makes Father a grandfather - twice over, in fact: I wonder what he'll think of that?" Chaevaris just made a quiet smirk but said nothing; as far as she was concerned, even Alistair's father was little more than a child himself, grandfather or no grandfather.

The group packed up their adventuring gear, got their mounts from the stables, and were off. They opted to leave the wagon behind so they could make better time; Ambrose flew off ahead and sat perched on a tree waiting for them to catch up, making a game of it while still keeping an eye out for trouble. But they arrived at the Stone Keep without incident, where Father Kilkenny took them to see Julianna and her twins. "She's fine - they're all fine," the elder cleric reassured a visibly nervous Alistair. "Cute little babes, too, the pair of them!"

Julianna asked Alistair if he'd be willing to return to Greyhawk City to inform his older brother Atherton that he was now a father, and that they were all safe and healthy. "But of course!" replied the newly-minted (and quite proud) uncle. Alistair wouldn't mind letting his parents know that he had made it just fine despite being virtually kicked out of the family; in fact, the more he thought of it, the more eager he was to return. "However, there's a matter we must first attend to in Ghourmand Vale," he told Julianna. Consulting with Harlan and the others, they determined to remain at the Stone Keep overnight and head to the Vale the next morning.

Caraban was there to open the locks to the sewer system personally. "I was expecting you yesterday afternoon," he grumbled.

"A personal issue demanded our attention," Alistair replied, waving him off. "Now then...ew." With the doors opened, the nobleman got his first look - and more importantly, smell - of a sewer system. He immediately cast a prestidigitation spell to mask the foul whiff of the sewer waters. Ageratum just laughed. "This is water from the river," she scoffed. "Look: you can see three different branches of fresh water coming in here from three different directions." Off to the left, the waters spilled about ten feet down over a dam. "That's where the sewer water is, over there!" she pointed out. "This water's perfectly fine."

"Perhaps, perhaps not," replied the fussy nobleman. "I smelled something quite foul."

"He's not wrong," pointed out Chaevaris. "Look!"

They were underground, in curved tunnels that held water about halfway up; along the one edge was a wooden walkway just above the waterline. There was a metal grate about 20 feet ahead to the right, and stacked up before this grate - and being pushed up against it by the flow of the water - were dozens of corpses. Or, in some cases, pieces of corpses.

"I think we may have found our problem," Ageratum pointed out wryly. There were torches hanging in sconces above the wooden walkway, and in their flickering light she thought she saw movement from the middle of the pile of bodies. She pointed it out, right as Alistair was climbing across to the other side of the pile of corpses, hanging on to the metal grating so he wouldn't have to step on any body pieces. Chaevaris fitted an arrow to her bow and sent it flying into the center of the mass.

"I say!" declared Alistair, in the middle of casting an unseen servant spell and then passing one of the torches to Ogilvy once he had taken his invisible form. "Give a fellow a bit of warning, if you please!"

"I'm not picking up any indications of evil in the vicinity," Harlan interjected, facing the pile of bodies and then slowly scanning all around him, until he was facing the dam leading to the actual sewer waters below. But then, after having given such a proclamation, the tangle of bodies rose up, with chunks falling off and to the sides as a roundish body popped out of the middle of the pile. "Leave my meat!" the creature demanded, as three tentacles rose up from the sections of human corpses. One of the tentacles went swinging towards Alistair and hit him with a wet plop; it was difficult to say whether the high-pitched squeak emanating from between the sorcerer's lips was caused by pain from the tentacle's rough spikes at its fleshy tip or the mere thought of being touched by a monster who ate pieces of dead bodies floating in a sewer grate. The other tentacle went crashing down at Ageratum, but the nimble halfling dodged out of the way. The creature's third tentacle stood straight up from the corpse-pile, for on its tip were perched the creature's eyes, which scanned on both sides of its food stash. It pivoted its thick torso and snapped its powerful jaws at Alistair, but the creature's teeth failed to catch the sorcerer.

Ageratum, having avoided the otyugh's tentacle attack, made as if to flee away from the beast but then doubled back, catching it off guard and enabling her to stab the blade of her magic short sword deep into its body. It roared in pain, and then Harlan came rushing up at it, hitting it with his own flashing blade - only his was sheathed in flames, which caused the offalvore to roar even louder. Alistair stepped back, away from the tentacle, and sent a blast from his wand of magic missiles crashing into its filth-coated body. The otyugh retaliated almost immediately against the sorcerer, raking him with the pointed barbs of its tentacle tip, then grabbing him up and squeezing him in a constricting vice. But then, almost as an afterthought, the creature spilled a gush of blood from its mouth and its tentacle loosened around Alistair, as its death belatedly caught up to it. With a final gasp of foul breath, the otyugh fell back into the waters and expired.

Alistair immediately walked farther away from the dead otyugh and focused his entire attention on his prestidigitation spell, cleaning his clothes everywhere the foul beast had touched him. Harlan, Ageratum, and Chaevaris grabbed up its tentacles and started hauling it - with most of its dead bulk floating in the river waters, buoyed by its own internal gases - before pushing it over the edge of the dam. Alistair, finally clean to his own satisfaction, put Ogilvy to work tugging bits from the corpse-pile and sending them on the same aquatic path; best these rotting bodies go to the sewer portion, not stay in the fresh water section, where the putrefaction was getting mingled in with the water the populace above rose up from their wells.

"Hey," pointed out Chaevaris. "Look at those markings on the necks!" Sure enough, the archer's keen elven eyes had picked out the unmistakable puncture marks common to a feeding vampire. "I'll bet it's Carly behind this!" she surmised. "Remember, we brought her down to mist form and she seeped through the ground, leaving us to deal with that plant monster? I'll bet this is what she does now with the bodies of those she feeds on!"

The fresher bodies had all been piled up on the north side, so it was assumed they'd floated down this way from the northern stream. Harlan, Ageratum, and Chaevaris crossed past the vertical grate over by Alistair and the half-elf paladin led them northward, along the wooden platforms just above the level of the slow-flowing water. After a bit, the platform crossed over to the other side of the river, where it dead-ended at a cave opening. The light from the torch Ogilvy carried and Harlan's flaming longsword allowed those with elven blood - Chaevaris and Harlan - to make out two figures within the cave: one, the unmistakable 14-year-old form of the vampire spawn Carly; the other, a human man in armor, wearing an unholy symbol showing him aligned with an archfiend.

Harlan immediately cast a protection from evil spell upon himself as he advanced. "There is evil in the cave," he announced, after having sensed a great deal of it emanating from the shadows within. Ageratum moved up to the point where the wooden platform made a left turn to lead to the cave opening, holding her silver short sword in her left hand and readying a kobold spear in her right - if Carly popped her hed out the cave, she was going to get a spear-point in the kisser! But the elves weren't the only ones capable of seeing in the dark, for Carly's voice called out petulantly from the back of the cave, "I know you! You killed my monster!" Chaevaris nocked an arrow and pointed it at the undead form, taking a very careful aim; she wanted her undead bane arrow do deal as much damage to the vampire spawn as it could.

As Ogilvy moved up and the torchlight lit up the cave even further, Alistair could see well enough to make out which shape was Carly's and which the cleric's. Pointing his wand at the teenaged vampire spawn, he fired off a shot, which went streaking across the river into the cave to hit Carly straight in the chest - and then dissipate harmlessly as it hit some sort of invisible barrier. Alistair cursed, realizing she was probably wearing a brooch of shielding, the surest protection against the otherwise nearly foolproof magic missile spell. Then he perked up at the thought that after they had managed to permanently kill her - something he was sure they'd be able to do this time, for her coffin was visible just behind her - he could claim the brooch of shielding for himself. But then his mood soured again at the thought that he's just used up a good portion of its protection with his five-missile attack.

The evil cleric, a man named Raten Splurgg, stepped forward and cast a spell in Harlan's direction. The half-elf felt a tingling in the back of his head but shook off the effects; later, he'd recognize it as a failed hold person spell. But the attempt to take him out angered the paladin and he charged across the cave, swinging his flaming burst longsword at the cleric, cutting through links of chain covering his broad chest and forcing the man to grunt in pain. He then felt another tingle in the back of his head and realized Carly was focusing her attention upon him as well, trying to dominate him, but she was stymied not only by his half-elven heritage but, more importantly, the protection from evil spell he'd cast upon himself earlier, which prevented such magics from affecting him. Now it was Carly's turn to curse aloud.

Ageratum raced into the cave and stabbed the cleric in the leg with her short sword, as Carly swung a fist at Harlan in frustration, swearing again when she failed to connect. Across the running water, Chaevaris followed Carly's movements with her aimed arrow, and when the vampire spawn stopped moving for a moment, the archer let fly. The arrow went streaking across the gap between the two, hitting Carly just below the throat. Carly screamed, partly in surprise - for she hadn't seen the arrow coming - but mostly in pain, for the arrowhead's enchantment ensured it maximized the damage to the vampire spawn's undead flesh. Alistair continued moving closer along the wooden walkway, firing off a scorching ray spell at Carly that hit her square on; the sorcerer was well and truly pleased that the undead teenager didn't seem to have any sort of special protection against flames.

Ogilvy entered the cave and stood in the back, his torch lighting up the whole place. There was Carly's wooden coffin in the back of the cave, and next to it a smaller coffin the size of a small child. Seeing it, Alistair hoped there wasn't some sort of vampire baby in there; slaying an undead teenager was one thing, but killing a vampire baby would be something else altogether and the sorcerer didn't know if he had it in him.

Raten stepped over behind Carly and cast an inflict wounds spell upon her, flooding her undead body with negative energy - for an undead creature, this was the equivalent of having a healing spell cast upon you. The burned flesh smoothed over, the wound from Chaevaris's arrow - which was plucked angrily by the vampire spawn and tossed away - closed up and healed over. While none of the heroes had voiced any particular overall plan, each had been hoping to focus their attention on the undead foe before them and put her out of business; now it seemed as if they might have to take out her clerical support staff to prevent him from prolonging her ability to stay in the fight.

But Harlan was still willing to give "taking the vampire spawn out first" a shot. He stepped forward, channeling positive energy through his flaming blade to bring it crashing down onto Carly's shoulder in a smiting blow. However, she must have anticipated such a move on the paladin's part because by the time the blade got to where she had been, she was no longer there. The positive energy dissipated from the blade as Harlan swung it in a sideways arc, hoping to catch her in his follow-on attack, but she managed to skip backwards just far enough for the blade to go whizzing by her without making contact.

Carly's expression was one of triumph - which immediately changed to one of irritation and pain when Ageratum stabbed her in the calf with her silver short sword. She cried out "Ow!" in surprise and hopped backwards by her coffin. She stared down at the halfling in an attempt to dominate her, and Ageratum was taken completely by surprise; her mind suddenly got fuzzy and she forgot what it was she had been doing, when the stray thought - "stab the paladin in the back!" - manifested in her brain. That's right, Ageratum thought to herself, I need to stab Harlan in the back! How could she have forgotten?

Chaevaris shot another of her undead bane arrows at Carly, hitting her in the chest and causing a lot of damage to her undead flesh. Carly turned to Raten to get him to heal her with his necromantic touch, but then Alistair entered the cave and blasted her again with another scorching ray spell. The flames coursing over her body were too much for the vampire spawn to handle; unconscious, her body dissipated into fine beads of mist, which started floating unaided over in the direction of her coffin.

Raten stepped forward, saw it was too late to help his mistress, and determined these four heroes would not get the opportunity to do anything to her undead body once it reformed in her coffin. The inflict wounds spell in his hand, which he'd intended to use to heal Carly (but couldn't now that she was a cloud of mist - it was too late for that to have any effect upon her now), he instead used to harm Harlan, his mere touch siphoning off some of the paladin's life force. But Harlan scooted around the cleric, thinking to catch him between himself and Ageratum where the little halfling would be able to get in a nice back-stabbing, and channeled another blast of positive energy into his sword, priming it to smite evil once again. That ought to keep his focus on me! the half-elf thought to himself as he brought his flaming sword crashing into Raten's side. However, Ageratum's back-stabbing abilities had no time to come into play, for the paladin's smite evil attack caused Raten to fall to the cave floor, unconscious and bleeding out. For some reason, the Blood Mirror in Harlan's belt pouch wasn't stabilizing the wounded cleric's body like it normally did. (Had Raten been conscious, he'd recognize that it was the desecrate spell he's cast upon the cave, along with the two protection from good spells on himself and his mistress when they heard the heroes fighting the otyugh, that was overcoming the Blood Mirror's normal ability to prevent death from those about to leave the mortal coil.)

But then Alistair stepped up, saw the current status of things, and cast a scorching ray directly into the cleric's face. His head burned almost to cinders, there was no way the Blood Mirror would have been able to do anything to keep him alive, even had the desecrate spell not been in effect. Unseen by any of the heroes in the cave, Raten Splurgg's dark soul went screaming off to its Hellish afterlife.

Harlan was temporarily surprised to see Ageratum veering around him in an arc, keeping her distance from the reach of his blade as she maneuvered to get behind him. With both of their opponents out, the paladin couldn't figure out what she was doing, unless--he spun around to face her and leapt back as she attacked, her silver short sword stabbing in his direction. He deflected the blade with his shield and then, not wanting to have to fight her off - and realizing the reason for her sudden betrayal - threw both shield and sword to the cave floor and leaped out at her with his arms open wide.

Had Ageratum been of her own mind at the time, she might have been able to take advantage of the opening to get in a good strike at his undefended chest, and possibly even pierce the armor he wore, in the split second before he was upon her. But then he had her in a bear hug, squeezing her tightly against him, arms pinned to her sides and short sword unable to maneuver enough to be able to stab him. She tried wresting herself free, but the half-elf had both a strength and a height advantage on her, and her struggles remained fruitless.

By this time, Carly's gaseous form had seeped into her coffin. Chaevaris was at the coffin's side in a moment, lifting the lid with one hand while snatching up one of the undead bane arrows she'd shot at the vampire spawn with the other. Looking down at Carly's body, once again taking on a solid form now that she was "safe" within her coffin, the elven archer snapped the arrow's shaft in half (knowing full well the "undead bane" magic of the weapon had already been spent) and stabbed the undead thing through the heart with the impromptu wooden stake. Carly's face animated just enough to show a rictus of pain before she slumped over, dead. Chaevaris knew that this dead state would only last for as long as the stake remained piercing the vampire spawn's heart, but right now there was nobody there willing to pull it out, so it ought to be safe for now.

"Get off me, Harlan!" came Ageratum's voice from underneath the paladin's body as he lay prone upon the stone floor of the cave. "Seriously, I'm no longer under that bitch's mental control!" Sure enough, as soon as Chaevaris had plunged the broken arrow through Carly's black heart, the veil had lifted from Ageratum's thoughts and she found her will back to being her own. Harlan climbed off the little halfling, stood up, and offered her his hand. He got her to her feet and then retrieved his discarded sword and shield.

Once Chaevaris showed the others what she'd done to Carly's undead corpse, Harlan sheathed his longsword and scooped her up in his arms. Doing so showed that mixed in with her burial dirt at the bottom of the coffin were a bunch of golden coins and a pair of potions; Ageratum gathered up the treasure from the bottom of the coffin while Alistair unpinned the brooch of shielding from the dead vampire spawn's garment and pinned it to his own cloak. "Please continue," he told Harlan after the brooch was in place.

Without a word, the paladin stepped back out of the cave and onto the wooden platform, where he sat, with his feet dangling into the water. Looking down into the water with his superior elven vision, he saw the bottom was close enough he could stand without being completely submerged. Saying a quick prayer under his breath - "Pelor, take this young woman's spirit; she did not ask to become an undead monstrosity" - he leaped into the river, holding Carly's body before him. The water only came up to his chest, but it completely engulfed Carly's corpse; only Chaevaris's arrow sticking up from her heart reached up above the slowly-flowing water. But within a few seconds the broken arrow began to wobble as Carly's body started dissolving in the slow current; Harlan could feel the weight of her decrease with each passing heartbeat as she was slowly washed away to nothingness. When the arrow started floating down the river and the paladin could no longer feel the teenager's body against his arms, he turned to face the wooden walkway and Alistair helped him climb back up. A quick prestidigitation spell helped dry the paladin and clean his armor.

"Let's go," he said to others. "I think we're done here."

- - -

This was a very satisfying adventure for the four of us players, as Carly had managed to avoid a permanent death at our hands twice before.

Incidentally, Dan explained after the adventure was over the smaller coffin had been built because Carly had gotten it into her mind to transform a living baby into a vampire; in her undead state, that was the only way for her to "have kids." We're all glad we were able to kill her before she went any further down that particular path!
 
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Richards

Legend
To the Esteemed Bard, Holyrood Carp,

I hope you will not mind the sudden change in tone, but my next song is not broadcasting the positive virtues of one of my adventuring compatriots, but rather tearing down a vicious enemy. They say sarcasm can be a powerful weapon in the right hands, and I have full faith in your hands (and voice) in being able to bring down a downright cad through the power of your song.

The lyrics follow:

Jasgund Singh...is a stuffy, old bore...​
Tricked into marrying a whore...​
Everybody laughed and mocked him so he turned around and socked 'em​
Jasgund Singh...likes to call himself a Lord...​
And he wants to be adored...​
Wears a filthy, smelly turban; what he does is quite disturbin'​
Jasgund Singh...is a low-bred animal...​
A repulsive cannibal...​
And he eats the hearts of women; might as well, he sure can't win 'em​
Jasgund Singh...now this next part just might shock ya...​
He's not human, he's rakshasa...​
He's got a tiger head, that's rich; he can't tell which hand is which​
Jasgund Singh...is a tiger humanoid...​
And he's easily annoyed...​
He is always ill at ease, 'cause he's probably got fleas​
Jasgund Singh...trapped in a faraway land...​
He's got morons in his band...​
And he sends them out on missions but they vanish like magicians​
Jasgund Singh...is as stupid as they come...​
I'm not saying that he's dumb...​
But it couldn't get much clearer he can't locate the Blood Mirror
Jasgund Singh...trapped in his desert land...​
Because that's where he's been banned...​
Having him here'd be no favor, 'cause he's such a crappy neighbor​
Jasgund Singh...sits and sulks about each day...​
'Cause he doesn't get his way...​
He's a whiny little wussy; a rakshasa's just a pussy​
Jasgund Singh...probably won't like this song...​
He won't listen very long...​
He'll hold his breath 'til he turns blue, wishing each word wasn't true​
Jasgund Singh...go ahead and throw a fit...​
Get so mad that you could spit...​
But it won't make you feel better, you'll always be a bed-wetter​
Jasgund Singh...might as well just face the facts...​
No one buys your "tough guy" acts...​
You'll always just be strange, for a tiger's stripes don't change​
It looks like you've got the mange​
You're stuck there, you got short-changed​
Your freedom you can't arrange​
From your family you're estranged​
And you'll never be exchanged​
'Cause your just so damned deranged!​

I understand perfectly if you decide not to potentially incur the maniac's wrath - even if you opt not to ever use the song, I certainly had a good time writing it! In any case, best of luck with your continued performances.

With Fond Regards,

Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite
 

Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 16: DOUBLE HEADER

PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 6​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 6​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 6​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 6​

Game Session Date: 23 January 2023

- - -

Returning to the Stone Keep after their adventures in the sewers of Ghourmand Vale, the four heroes were surprised to see a trio of unfamiliar horses reined in the front of the building, along the hitching posts. "It would seem there are visitors here," observed Harlan.

Sure enough, when they entered the keep to check on Julianna and her twins, they found Father Scarborough holding the two babies as their parents embraced and spoke quietly to each other. "I say!" declared Alistair upon seeing his brother this far from Greyhawk City. "Atherton! When did you arrive?"

"Just this morning, little brother," replied Atherton. "The three of us." There were two strangers standing alongside Atherton; Alistair was fairly sure he'd never seen them before, yet they did seem awfully familiar. They were certainly nobody Alistair had met before in his previous circle of acquaintances among the Greyhawk nobility, given their rough-cut garments of fur and leather...with a start, Alistair realized where he'd seen them before. "I say! You're--you're the statues we rescued!"

Sure enough, these were the two statues the Trained Professional Adventurers had rescued from the fishmen after the ship upon which they'd been being transported had been sunk and looted, now returned to flesh and blood. The man stood with his arms crossed, a rather regal expression on his hard-weathered face, whereas the woman was much younger. These, apparently, were two members of the frost barbarian tribe which lived in the colder northlands above Greyhawk City.

"I'd like to formally introduce you to Larson Clearspike and his daughter, Gundrun Clearspike. I understand I have you four to thank for their rescue and return. Well done, all."

"Happy to have been of service," replied Harlan, as he started a series of handshakes all around, introducing the strangers to the members of his adventuring band.

After the greetings were finished, Atherton added, "I would like to hire you to continue your rescue efforts. You see, Larson here is the leader of his tribe, and they have been assaulted by slavers - most of his people, about thirty in all, have been captured and are being transported south. I would like to hire you to travel back to Greyhawk with us - to include my wife, children, and Nanny Rogers - and then, once there, I will take my family and the Clearspikes north while you investigate where the slavers have taken the frost barbarian tribe members. All we know at this point is that they were heading south from there."

"When would you want to depart?" asked Chaevaris.

"Tomorrow, optimally - I know you'll need time to prepare for a journey of that duration. I understand you have a wagon, correct? We'll let my family ride in the wagon, while the Clearspikes and I ride on horseback. I trust you all have steeds of your own?"

"Quite," replied Alistair, trying to impress the older brother to whom he'd always looked up. He quietly mouthed the words to a prestidigitation spell, surreptitiously polishing his boots and cleaning his garments of any mud he might have picked up since the last time he'd used such spellcraft to enhance his appearance.

The rest of the day was spent making preparations for such a long journey: the four heroes recalled it had taken them 19 days to travel via caravan from Greyhawk City to Ghourmand Vale, although they'd spent a full day tracking down a pair of kidnapped children who had been taken by hungry kobolds. They'd need food for themselves and the animals (although Chaevaris said she'd be able to hunt plenty of animals while traveling, as she had done on the caravan), extra blankets and tents for Atherton's family and Nanny Rogers, and little odds and ends like extra axle grease for the wagon. But they finished their provisioning by that evening, got a good night's sleep, and were on the trail not too long after sunrise the next morning.

Travel back to Greyhawk City was quite different from their initial caravan; they had but the one wagon, for one thing, and a pair of very young babies who needed constant feeding and changing, and who kept odd hours - those on night watch detail often saw Julianna up with one or both of her babies at all hours of the night, getting them back to sleep. Ageratum, Chaevaris, and Gundrun were occasionally pressed into service in rocking the babies back to sleep if they happened to be on shift, a task neither seemed to resent. And Nanny Rogers was always there to lend a practiced hand as needed, having raised Atherton and Alistair since they had been mere babies themselves.

All in all, the first week and a half on the road was pretty uneventful. It was on the 11th night that Harlan, during the first two-hour shift of guard detail, encountered a group of four people advancing towards their overnight camp. "Who goes there?" the half-elf called out, unsheathing his flaming burst longsword to show the newcomers he was prepared to defend himself and his companions, but also to add to the feeble light coming from the campfire, which had burned down almost to embers. The cloudy night sky, obscuring the stars and the moons, didn't help matters.

"We come in peace," called out one of the four, and they cautiously entered the ring of illumination so the paladin could see them better. They wore garments of skins and furs, and they held no weapons in their upraised hands.

"You look weary," Harlan observed. "Please, sit by the fire - I'll add some firewood to keep you warm."

"Thank you," replied the apparent leader of the four bedraggled men. "We have had a hard few days." They made themselves comfortable around the campfire and began their tale, but they only got as far as having been taken by orc slavers before Harlan interrupted them. "I think Larson should hear this," Harlan said, and at the name of their own tribal leader the frost barbarians gasped in astonishment and cheered. It wasn't long before the whole group had been awakened - including the twin babies, crying at the interruption of their sleep.

Larson Clearspike confirmed these were part of the 30 or so tribesmen who had been captured from his tribe. The tale they told was astonishing: the band that had attacked them had consisted of about a dozen orcs, a two-headed ettin, and their leader was an elf mage. Some of their number had been given to the ettin as food, and he had devoured them in front of the others, which made for a very effective bit of negative reinforcement, for the elf often threatened to feed the slower slaves, those who couldn't keep up, to the ettin when they stopped. Still, these four had managed to sneak off in the early morning, when the sun was first rising, and escaped north, bumping into the campsite quite by accident.

"Wait, I'm confused," said Ageratum. "I thought the frost barbarians lived north of Greyhawk. That's still eight days away from here."

"That is correct," replied Atherton.

"Then what are they doing all the way out here? That's way out of their way. I thought we were being hired to check south of Greyhawk for the missing slaves?"

"It would appear the slavers' plans have changed," relied Atherton. "Perhaps they are taking them further west than we had heard."

"But I was under the impression orcs didn't like bright lights," piped up Alistair. "Why were you all camped out overnight? I would have thought they'd want you to travel in the night hours, so they could sleep when the sun was up."

"Well, it's the elf that was calling the shots," the escaped slave replied.

"Still and all, it seems we should head south and track down these slavers," Alistair said. "We can head out the first thing in the morning; if it took these four all day to get here on foot, we should hopefully be able to cover that distance in three or four hours on horseback."

"Do you wish to head out now?" asked Atherton.

"Heavens, no!" answered Alistair, enjoying being the one with the most knowledge on a given subject for once. "Riding our horses at night, with any speed, risks one of them breaking an ankle in a gopher hole or something. Better we head out in the morning. Of course, the slaves will have been moved further south by then, but we should hopefully be able to track them without too much difficulty. Elfy here is an extraordinary tracker." Chaevaris just squinted her eyes, debating whether she was more pleased by the young fool's compliments or displeased by the nickname "Elfy."

"In addition, those of us who cast spells will require our sleep if we're to have a fresh allotment in the morning," added Harlan. That, then, was the plan - the next morning, the group would split up, the four heroes taking one of the escaped slaves with them on horseback to retrace his steps from the previous day, while the others continued on their trek to Greyhawk City. "Catch up with us if you can," offered Atherton, "otherwise, we'll see you in the city."

The next morning, one of the escaped slaves volunteered to go with the four heroes to backtrack to where the slaver force had made camp overnight two nights ago. The other three would return with Larson and Gundrun Clearspike to Greyhawk, accompanied by Atherton and his family. Alistair said goodbye to his brother and sister-in-law, then gave his best regards to Nanny Rogers. "You be careful fighting those awful slavers," she admonished the young sorcerer.

"It's alright, Nanny," Alistair replied, with a hint of pride in his voice. "This is what I do now."

Chaevaris offered to ride double with their barbarian scout, as she was the smallest hero who rode a full-sized horse. They made excellent progress, and the barbarian excitedly pointed out landmarks he'd remembered passing by as they made their way north. "We made camp in an old, abandoned mine," he told them. "We should be getting pretty close to it."

"Then let's slow down and go in carefully and quietly," suggested Harlan.

"Why?" argued Ageratum. "They should have moved on yesterday morning."

"Perhaps," agreed Harlan. "Still, humor me, just in case."

It turned out the paladin's hunch had been correct, for after securing their horses (leaving their barbarian guide with them) and making their way toward the mine entrance on foot, they saw five orcs spread out on guard duty, squinting in the morning sunlight. Harlan guessed it to be about two hours before full noon, and the orcs looked none too pleased out in the open on guard duty. The four heroes made their way to a line of trees, noting there were several sections of raised stone before the mine entrance, offering them plenty of passageways between if they wished to sneak up on the orcs.

"I've got a better idea," Chaevaris said in a low whisper. "You guys stay here and be ready to charge once they figure out something's going on. I'm going to head off to the right and see if I can't pick them off, one by one." And with that, the elven archer ducked and moved half a hundred feet to her right, positioning herself behind a tree where she could see all five of the bestial guards. Nocking her first arrow into place, she sighted down her bow and targeted the orc at the farthest point on the right. He looked to be armed the same as the others, with a falchion and a javelin. Taking in a deep breath and holding it, she let fly with her arrow, and it went whizzing silently a hundred feet or more to bury itself into the orc's throat. He fell over and died with barely a gurgle.

But the leftmost orc was about 60 feet closer to the heroes than the others, who were all bunched up at the mine entrance, and he had apparently seen Chaevaris's arrow come flying from the trees. "Guys!" he cried, "We got attackers!" He held his javelin ready to throw, but squinted into the sunlight, trying to pick out a target.

At that, one of the orcs turned and made as if to enter the mines, no doubt to warn the others. But Alistair was ready for him; standing up from behind a rock, he cast a magic missile spell that struck the orc in the back and sent him face-first onto the ground, dead.

One of the other orcs leaped down from his higher ground and ran along a channel towards the heroes. Chaevaris was able to track him with her next arrow, though, and it buried itself in the side of the brute's head. He died without even knowing what had hit him.

Alistair raced forward, running along a channel between the raised rocks on either side of him. Ambrose flew alongside him, keeping low so as not to be a target for any of the remaining orcs' javelins. As a result, the sorcerer didn't get to see Ageratum's first use of his new stratagem: days earlier, he had found a couple decent-sized boulders during their travels and cast shrink item on them, then gave them to the little halfling for safekeeping. She kept them in a separate pouch, all by themselves, so she wouldn't get them mixed up with her other sling ammunition. But now she loaded one of these magic stones into her sling and fired it off at the orc who had shouted out a warning. The sling bullet struck the orc in the forehead, and then, as per the specifics of the spell, was immediately restored to its normal size upon impact. As the initial strike had caused the orc to fall backwards a step, the boulder returned to its original size and immediately fell upon the orc's chest, crushing him beneath its weight. Of the four orcs taken down thus far, he was the only one within range of the Blood Mirror and thus while he was unconscious, his wounds were stabilized by the magic gemstone Harlan kept upon his person. (The other three orcs were quite dead.)

That left only a single orc still on guard duty, but seeing his companions taken out so quickly, he wasted no time in turning tail and running into the mine entrance, disappearing from view. "Drat!" cried Alistair. "He'll alert the others!"

"That may be for the best," returned Harlan. "Fighting them out in the sunlight works to our advantage." Now that their presence was already known, he unsheathed his flaming burst longsword and mentally set the blade ablaze. He then ran up to meet the reinforcements when they came spilling out of the mine entrance.

He didn't have long to wait. From the mine entrance spilled out half a dozen more orcs ready for battle, trailed by the one who had ran inside to fetch them; he dawdled a bit behind his brethren, already knowing how dangerous these attackers were. Alistair proved his point by sending another magic missile spell striking the first out of the mines right in the face, dropping him like a stone. By this time, Harlan had moved up enough that the Blood Mirror stabilized his wounds as well.

Ageratum was moving up as well, but unlike Harlan she wasn't charging straight into battle; she ran along the left side of the area before the mines, taking the time to stop by the orc she'd knocked out with her pebble-boulder and slitting his throat with her dagger. She knew the Blood Mirror didn't discriminate about who it stabilized, and the little halfling was determined to ensure those that should have died actually did.

Harlan charged the nearest orc, slicing him across the torso with his flaming blade, dropping him with a single stroke. The other six orcs all made for the half-elf, screaming curses, but then one of them screamed even louder as an arrow buried itself in his gut and he fell over, dead, before reaching the paladin. But Harlan was quickly beset by three orcs, and he was unable to deflect all of their attacks with his shield; one of the brutes' falchions got past his defenses and cut into the half-orc's flesh. However, if they thought a paladin of Pelor could be taken down by a single blow when there were slaves to be rescued, he'd show them the error of their ways!

At that moment, the half-elf saw another orc exit from the mine opening and behind him came a two-headed figure rising heads and shoulders above the orcs. So this was the ettin - let him come and taste his burning steel!

Alistair blasted another orc with a magic missile spell, glad to see he could take out an orc with every spell cast; he'd save his more powerful wand if needed against the ettin. Harlan cut down one of the orcs before him and then cleaved to the side, bringing down a second in as many seconds. There were now five orcs and an ettin on the battlefield; somewhere there was supposed to be an elven mage in the mix, but he had yet to show himself.

Chaevaris, still back behind the tree from which she'd started sniping at the orcs, set another arrow in place and lined up her shot against the ettin; not sure if a head-shot would kill a two-headed creature, she opted to aim for the creature's heart - surely he had only one of those!

The last orc to arrive couldn't wait to get into hand-to-hand combat range; he threw his javelin at Harlan, catching the paladin in the shoulder. The ettin approached Harlan as well, a massive spiked club held in each beefy hand, but then Chaevaris let fly with her arrow and it buried itself into his chest. He roared in pain, but remained standing; these ettins were a lot tougher than the orcs accompanying it.

At that point, unknown to any of the heroes, the elven mage - one Elessair Oronar, the head of this slaver party - exited the mine entrance and made his way out onto the battlefield, veering far enough away from Harlan and the orcs that he wouldn't get caught up in their melee. But he was secure in the knowledge that he'd had his battle-eager lackeys engage the enemy long enough for him to have cast upon himself the spells mage armor, shield, protection from good, and most importantly, the invisibility spell that kept anyone from knowing of his presence among them.

Alistair pulled out his wand and fired off a shot at the ettin, figuring the brute was worth sending five missiles to do the job instead of the three he could muster on his own. The ettin screamed and cursed with two different throats at the unexpected assault, but didn't let the pain distract him from his chosen melee target, Harlan Starblade.

By this time, Ageratum had moved up - completely unnoticed by any of the slaver party - close enough for her to throw one of her kobold spears when a target presented itself. She held the pose, ready to throw, waiting for her moment.

Harlan saw the evil intent in both pairs of the ettin's eyes and backed up, taking a moment to heal himself with a laying on of hands, allowing Pelor's healing power to flow through his fingertips and seal up the worst of his cuts. This also meant he'd delayed the ettin's eventual attacks by a few seconds, which the paladin well knew could often be the turning point in any battle. One of the orcs raced up at Harlan, but before he could cross the distance Ageratum had found her moment and took him down with her thrown spear.

But then the ettin charged, moving much faster than the half-elf had given him credit for. Chaevaris took her shot, hitting him in the side by one armpit as he ran, but he remained upright and his spiked clubs came smashing in at Harlan, dealing an impressive amount of damage. But just as the ettin refused to fall, so too did Harlan. He just grinned up at the two-headed brute, a trickle of blood running down his lip, likely from a punctured lung.

A blast of flame went whizzing past Alistair's head, close enough for him to feel the heat of the blast. He recognized it as a scorching ray and looked about for the attacker. There he was, a mere 15 feet or so from him - the blighter must have been invisible! The sorcerer was sorely tempted to respond in kind, to see how the elven spellcaster liked a taste of his own medicine, but he'd fumbled the spell twice in a row when fighting those fishmen and feared he might do the same this time. Seeing his hesitation, Chaevaris called out, "Take down the ettin first, Alistair! Harlan can handle the wizard!"

Trusting that the elven archer was better versed in combat than he was, Alistair ignored the suddenly-visible elf before him and shot another magic missile barrage from his wand at the ettin. That did the trick; four eyes crossed on the giant's faces and he fell over to the ground, merely unconscious due to the nearness of the Blood Mirror. But Ageratum was there in a moment to take care of that issue, leaping upon the ettin's back and stabbing her short sword through his kidneys, killing him for good. And then, proving Chaevaris's recommendation to be absolutely true, Harlan charged at Elessair and ran him through with his flaming blade, piercing him through the belly such that the point of his sword projected out of the mage's back. When Harlan pulled his flaming blade back out, the elven mage tried for a moment to cast a spell at the half-elf but then collapsed at his feet like a marionette with its strings severed.

Alistair cast a detect magic spell and examined the dead mage's body as Harlan ran off to engage the remaining orcs. Sure enough, he had a magic amulet of some sort around his neck, which Alistair removed as spoils of war. He also took the masterwork rapier from the elf's belt; Alistair already had two but this one was rather nicely made, and the elven slaver certainly had no further use for it. He felt for a pulse while he was at it, but Harlan's blade had apparently done more damage than even the Blood Mirror was able to handle.

Ageratum made herself useful moving from orc body to orc body, slitting throats where necessary, after first checking that Harlan's attention was on taking down the remaining orcs. You never knew with paladins - sometimes their morals stopped them from doing what was arguably right. She waited until he had gone inside the mine entrance to see about freeing the slaves before she dispatched the last few he had taken down.

The enemy forces slain, Chaevaris finally moved up to join the others. "That was a refreshing change!" she exclaimed. "I don't often get to put my sniper skills to much use!"

There was movement over at the mine entrance, causing Alistair to ready another magic missile spell, but it was only Harlan returning with just over a dozen slaves. They wore the same types of hides as the four who had come to the heroes' campsite the night before. "There are nine dead frost barbarians inside here," Harlan said gravely. "We'll need to build a pyre - it's the way of their people."

"I'll get right on that," Chaevaris promised, pulling a hatchet from her belt and heading back to the trees.

"Are we going to burn these others?" asked Alistair, looking at the bodies of the orcs, the elven mage, and the ettin.

"The slavers?" scoffed Harlan. "No, those we let rot under Pelor's rays." It was the answer Alistair had been hoping to hear.

- - -

We've figured out that with 14 frost barbarians traveling with us on foot, we'll never catch up to the others on horseback and in the wagon in time, so we'll have to meet up with Alistair and the Clearspikes at Greyhawk City. Dan has hinted that Atherton will be hosting a dinner party there at his house, inviting both Alistair and their father, Lord Ambrose Pastlethwaite, which will bring my PC's backstory to a close. That ought to be interesting.
 
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Richards

Legend
To the Esteemed Bard, Holyrood Carp,

With this next song I return to singing the praises of our adventuring band. With luck, it will further expand knowledge of our exploits and further our fame. But I fear this is likely the last such song on this topic; in future, I will attempt to expand the field a bit and sing of other aspects of the life of an adventurer.

The lyrics follow:

I wanna tell you all a story ‘bout adventurers both brave and bold​
And the folks of Ghourmand Vale always feel comfort when this story’s told​
They call themselves the Trained Professional Adventurers and to this day​
There’s been nothing put before them that could stop Ghourmand Vale’s TPA​
Their unofficial leader’s a half-elf paladin named Harlan​
And all the pretty young single women dream of him calling them “darlin’”​
But I hate to break your hearts, my dears, when I tell you you won’t get your way​
‘Cause Harlan’s just too focused on leading Ghourmand Vale’s TPA​
Chaevaris is a wood elf and she’s quite the well-accomplished archer​
It was from Greyhawk City that she made a rather hasty departure​
But it worked out for the best that everything turned out just that way​
For she’s the greatest long-range threat in the Ghourmand Vale TPA​
Ageratum is a halfling and a well-valued part of the team​
She’s always up for an exciting adventure, or dare, or wild scheme​
And she’s as eager as any of the others to jump into the fray​
Ageratum’s made a place for herself in Ghourmand Vale’s TPA​
Alistair is a spellcaster who still carries the Pastlethwaite name​
He’s made quite a mark for himself in the respected adventuring game​
And if you ever see him surprised he’ll surely exclaim out loud, “I say!”​
But he’s the noted spellcasting expert in Ghourmand Vale’s own TPA​
So, there you have the basics on the whole mighty team and I’m just here to say:​
Nobody brings the action like the Ghourmand Vale's own TPA​
No, nobody brings the action like the Ghourmand Vale's own TPA​

I hope you don't mind this final description of our little group, after having already written a song about each of us in turn.

With Fond Regards,

Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite
 

Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 17: THE WAREHOUSE

PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 6​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 6​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 6​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 6​

Game Session Date: 22 February 2023

- - -

"There's Larson!" cried one of the frost barbarians as the haggard group finished their week-long trek and entered the city of Greyhawk for the first time. As a group, the former slaves rushed over to greet their leader and his daughter Gundrun, who had been awaiting their arrival. Behind them, the group of Trained Professional Adventurers brought their mounts to a halt and watched the barbarians' long-awaited reunion. It had been slow going, these past days, but now their task had been completed to everyone's mutual satisfaction. Harlan wasn't sure what their plans were now they'd been brought back together, but he wished them the best - they'd been through a lot.

"Tokens of our gratitude," said Larson Clearspike, reaching behind him to his daughter. Gundrun dutifully handed over a quartet of amulets, which her father ceremonial draped around the heads of the four heroes who had rescued his men. "These show the esteem by which you will be revered by members of my clan," he intoned. Ageratum merely smiled in appreciation at the gesture, while mentally determining how much she could sell her amulet for on the open market - probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 pieces of gold, she estimated; not bad! Still, she figured it would likely be best to wait until getting back to Ghourmand Vale before selling her amulet; no good would come of the frost barbarians finding the amulet they had bestowed upon her sitting in the window of a pawn shop here in Greyhawk City!

"Gundrun will lead you to the house of your brother," Larson informed Alistair. Then he and the men turned and blended into the crowds, off about whatever business a group of rough barbarians got up to in a bustling city. Gundrun, having reached the city half a week before, had apparently learned her way about it fairly well, for she led the group directly to the townhouse of Atherton Pastlethwaite, nestled in the wealthier part of the city.

"Don't you already know the way to your brother's house?" asked Ageratum from the saddle of her pony, Munson.

"I fear not," the sorcerer replied. "Atherton and I were still living with my parents when I was kicked out of the family last year."

Atherton met them at the door, grinning widely. "You made it! Good show!" he beamed. "You'll stay here with us tonight, I hope? I'm planning a dinner party tomorrow to celebrate your success!" The heroes readily agreed, as Atherton's townhouse was much fancier than the simple farmhouse where they made their headquarters back near Ghourmand Vale. And it was good to sleep in a bed again after so many days on the road!

The next morning, Alistair announced his intention to do some shopping. "If we're going to go to a dinner party tonight, I shall need a new outfit!"

"What's wrong with the outfit you're wearing?" demanded Chaevaris. "It's already fancier than anything we've got."

Alistair's eyes goggled. "This is slightly out of fashion and has signs of having been used in combat situations," he argued, pointing out where the ends of his cuffs were slightly worn. "And surely you're planning on purchasing clothing appropriate to a dinner party at a nobleman's estate?" he gasped. "Elfy, please tell me you weren't thinking of wearing your combat armor?" Seeing the archer's expression, he turned upon Ageratum to talk some sense into her fellow female adventurer. "My parents are going to be here! I would like them to think highly of my new associates!"

"I thought you were kicked out of your family," the halfling mused. "So why do you care what they think?"

"Because...they're my parents!" was all Alistair could think of as a reply. "And I'd like to show them that we 'mere adventurers' can dress up just as nicely as they can."

Harlan stepped forward. "I will certainly pick up something more appropriate to wear than my plate mail armor," he said in a soothing voice to calm down the flustered sorcerer. Somewhat mollified, Alistair led the group to the shops where they'd be best served in finding appropriate garments. He purchased himself a full nobleman's outfit, while Harlan chose a courtier's outfit more fitting to his station. The women each chose an evening gown, and seeing Chaevaris in a woman's garb made the sorcerer wonder how he could have ever assumed she was a man, typical elven androgyny aside.

That taken care of, Alistair also purchased a pair of nets and then used the shrink item spell to reduce each to the size of a handkerchief. "I've been wanting to try this out," he admitted to the group. Chaevaris also had a small quiver custom fitted with a second strap, so she could wear it upside down around both shoulders. When asked whatever for, she admitted to wanting to try out an experiment of her own: the inverted quiver would be placed over the archer's immovable rod to provide a sturdy support while high up on a tree limb, over the edge of a cliff, or even while hanging freely in mid-air.

That night, while dressing for dinner, Alistair was a bundle of nerves. He made sure his tie was impeccably fastened and every crease in his clothes was in place. Not only would his parents, Lord Ambrose and Lady Druzelda, be there, but also his mother's brother, Uncle Conrad Mandelberen, a rather roguish man with a bit of a dark side to his nature. Alistair buckled on his finest masterwork rapier, completing the look of an elegant nobleman, before heading downstairs. His grackle familiar remained in the bedroom; Alistair had no desire to introduce a bird of such common appearance as his familiar, and especially wanted to avoid explaining to his father why he had given the grackle his name.

All four of the heroes were in place in the living area downstairs when Lord and Lady Pastlethwaite arrived, fashionably late. Atherton was there to greet them in person, taking his father's hat and cloak and his mother's wrap and passing them off to Nanny Rogers to place in a room down the hall. Fortunately, the twins, Alice Montjoie and Abelard Atherton were both sound asleep in their room, and Atherton's wife Julianna was there to greet her in-laws, wearing a stunning evening gown that showed off her post-pregnancy figure to best advantage. She led them into the living room to meet the other guests, and to Lord Ambrose's credit he merely froze in place for a second or so upon seeing his outcast youngest son before continuing on as if nothing were out of the ordinary. This was, after all, he mused, his eldest son's affair, and if he desired to invite his little brother there was bugger all Lord Ambrose could do about it without losing face.

Not wanting to rub his father's face into the situation any worse than necessary, Alistair addressed his parents by their titles. "Lord Ambrose, Lady Druzelda? May I introduce my associates: Harlan Starblade, Miss Chaevaris Noarunal, and Miss Ageratum Purslane." For the same reason, he had foregone wearing his Pastlethwaite signet ring - although he kept it in a pocket on the interior of his vest, close to his heart. Lord Ambrose harrumphed and shook hands all around, clearly uncomfortable but not about to give his son the satisfaction of making a scene.

Atherton poured drinks for the group, explaining, "I think we'll wait a bit to start dinner, to give Uncle Conrad time to arrive. Please, make yourselves comfortable."

Time passed slowly as the group waited for their final member to show, and Harlan took the opportunity to start the conversation going by mentioning he was a paladin in the service of Pelor - a topic he knew to be safe, as the Pastlethwaites had been raised as followers of the God of the Sun, according to Alistair. But as the minutes ticked slowly on and it started to seem as if Conrad wouldn't show after all, there was a sudden knock on the door. Nanny Rogers went to answer it, bringing inside a stranger holding a sealed envelope. "I'm t' deliver this t' Lord Ambrose, if it please you, sirs," he explained.

Lord Ambrose tipped the lad a silver coin and ripped open the envelope. His shaggy eyebrows raised as he read the words on the sheet of folded parchment within, then grunted. "Conrad's been kidnapped," he said, causing Lady Druzelda to gasp in astonishment and Julianna to take her by the hand. "They want Atherton to bring the Pastlethwaite diamonds to Balstrode's Warehouse to effect his release." Having read the note, he wordlessly passed it over to his older son and returned to his seat, focusing his attention on his brandy.

Atherton nodded for Alistair to come read the note. "I have several suspicions about this," he admitted in a low voice. "First of all, I've been expecting something like this to happen - I think someone's trying to have me killed. And...I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Uncle Conrad were actually in on the deal. He's been suggesting I go along with some of my enemies' proposals, to the point I no longer think we can trust him."

"I say!" declared Alistair. "What should we do?"

"I'd like you and your team to go to the warehouse in my stead. If everything's on the up and up, then by all means hand over the diamonds and see to getting Uncle Conrad back safely. However, I want you to realize what you could be getting yourself into: this could very well be an assassination attempt, and whoever's trying to kill me will likely try to take you out instead."

"You can count on us, Atherton - we won't let you down!"

"I know you won't," Atherton replied, slapping his brother good-naturedly on the side of the arm in a manly show of support. He knew his little brother practically worshiped him and would do almost anything he'd ask of him; Atherton had full faith in his own combat abilities but now that he had a family to worry about...better to let Alistair and his team put themselves in danger.

Alistair quickly explained the situation to his adventuring companions and they all went back upstairs to dress for combat. Alistair stripped off his own new garments with remorse, putting back on the outfit he'd deemed inappropriate for dinner party wear. It was still a nobleman's outfit, and with any luck it was fancy enough to allow him to pass himself off as his older brother, especially at night, and no doubt by a group of lowborn kidnapping thugs. And if Uncle Conrad was there and alerted his "kidnappers" that Alistair was an imposter, well then that would be all the evidence they needed that Conrad Mandelberen was no longer to be considered an ally.

Gathering back downstairs in full combat gear - with Ambrose the grackle perched proudly upon Alistair's shoulder - Atherton passed over a bag containing the diamonds and gave the group directions to Balstrode's Warehouse, and the quartet was off. Ageratum hurried to keep up as Alistair stormed down the streets, heading to their destination with a fierce look of determination on his face.

Arriving at the warehouse with only starlight by which to see, Alistair sent Ambrose on a reconnaissance run. The grackle circled the warehouse twice and flew above it, then returned to his master's shoulder to give his report. The warehouse was about 20 feet tall, in the shape of an "L," with a single door in the back and two sets of double doors on the two walls on the inside of the "L" - which had an 8-foot-tall fence surrounding it and blocking off the rest of the rectangular block. There were no windows in the building, nor were there any noticeable holes in the roof.

"Three entrances," mused Ageratum, the group's expert on sneaking into places. "Let's try the back door first." They made their way to the north side of the warehouse, and while the halfling gave the door a thorough examination for any obvious traps, Alistair cast forth his unseen servant with the words, "Ogilvy, if you please!" He then reached into his vest pocket and passed over to Ogilvy a small pouch containing four pebbles, each a boulder the sorcerer had shrunk in size using a shrink item spell in the last several days. Ageratum had another such pouch, ready to be used as ammunition for her sling.

"No traps," she announced, then tried the door. The knob turned, but she couldn't get the door open. "It's stuck," she said. "Give me a hand." Harlan applied his own strength to the door, but it was no use. "Something's blocking it," he decided. "A stack of crates or something, most likely. Very well, we'll have to try one of the other sets of doors."

Chaevaris decided if they were going to be opening a set of doors from inside the fenced-off area, she wanted to be up on the rooftop, so she could shoot down upon anyone coming outside. To that end, Alistair had Ogilvy scamper up a pile of crates in the bend of the "L," taking with him Chaevaris's immovable rod, tied around the center of which was a coil of rope. Upon reaching the roof level, Ogilvy activated the rod and the elven archer started climbing up. Ambrose sat perched on the southernmost corner of the roof, overlooking the events. At Alistair's direction, Ogilvy moved over to just above the set of doors on the east wall of the warehouse, where Alistair would be soon announcing his presence. "Remember," he told the others, "I'm Atherton."

"Yeah, yeah, we got it," answered Ageratum, standing to the south of the doors, silver short sword out and ready. She'd used a dose of stone salve to grant herself the protection of a stoneskin spell. To the north of the doors stood an abandoned wagon, behind which Harlan crouched, his flaming burst longsword out but the flames currently inactive, so as not to give away his position. He quickly said the words to a bless spell, encompassing the entire group.

"Okay, here goes!" whispered Alistair, casting a mage armor spell upon himself before hammering on the closed doors with his fist. "Open up!" he demanded in a voice deeper than normal. "It's Atherton - I've brought what you asked for! Bring out my Uncle Conrad at once, you bounders!"

"Come on in!" called a voice from the back of the warehouse. "Dark work is best done in dark places!"

Alistair had no desire to enter the warehouse; they'd engineered a trap so they could all gang up on the kidnappers when they opened the doors. He tried another tactic, calling out, "At least bring him out here so I can see he's okay!"

"Get in here, or we'll bring him out in chunks!" came the reply. Alistair frowned; so much for their clever plans! He kicked in the doors, seeing the warehouse inside was lit by a few meager torches in sconces along the wooden pillars supporting the roof; the place was filled with all manner of crates stacked haphazardly upon each other. But despite the 20-foot ceiling, the warehouse was all one level - there was no upper story to the building.

In the flickering torchlight, Alistair could make out a shadowy figure standing in the back of the warehouse. He wore dark clothing, his form mostly obscured by the heavy cloak he wore, but the sorcerer thought he could make out the glint of a metal weapon held in his left hand - a mace, perhaps. He addressed his comments to the figure, who he assumed had been the one doing the talking. "Let me see he's safe!" Alistair demanded a second time, standing in the open doorway. Ageratum took the opportunity to scoot inside, hiding in the shadows between a pile of crates. From her vantage point, she couldn't see the man Alistair was talking to, but there was a second figure standing off to the side between piles of other crates and barrels, this one also wearing a dark cloak obscuring most of his features. She glanced nervously at him, but it didn't appear he had noticed her scurrying inside the warehouse. It looked like he had a short sword and a dagger strapped to his belt, but his hands were at his sides.

As it was apparent their ambush plans had failed, Chaevaris noiselessly walked along the roofline to the corner of the "L," lowering herself down upon the small stack of crates and from there to the ground. She readied an arrow, sliding over to the doorway until she could see inside the warehouse. As soon as any of the kidnappers headed for the door, she'd have a shot all lined up for them.

Harlan cast forth his senses and detected no evil emanations from inside the warehouse, but that was inconclusive, for he had no idea how many crates and barrels were piled up against the wall, likely blocking his divination attempts. He rounded the wagon, standing to the side of the open doors, just out of view.

Alistair, knowing full well they wanted him to enter the warehouse so they could kill him, took a tentative step forward. "I'm here," he called. "Now where's my uncle?"

"He's back here, in the office," came a wheedling voice from further north than the figure Alistair had assumed had been doing the talking. "Bring your little friends on in and see for yourselves."

Alistair froze where he stood. So the kidnappers already knew he wasn't alone! That did it; putting on an aggrieved tone, he announced, "Very well! If you have no intention on carrying through with your end of the bargain, I shall not allow any more of my time to be wasted!" And with that, he pivoted on his heels and made a big production out of storming back out of the warehouse, hoping to at least get one of the kidnappers to come out after him, where his friends could spring their trap. But Ageratum, a bit more attentive than the sorcerer, noted neither of the two cloaked figures had so much as moved a muscle during this entire encounter. Suspicions crossed her minds: were these merely mannequins, and if so, for what purpose? On a whim, she tossed a thunderstone at the closest figure; it exploded at his feet but produced no reaction from him.

With both Chaevaris and Harlan ready to spring into action, Alistair stormed over to the gate in the fence the group had used to enter the courtyard. And there stood a human-sized figure, waiting to pounce upon the young nobleman. "Hello, Atherton," it said in the same voice as the one in the back of the warehouse, as a set of wicked claws at the end of rather bony fingers came slashing out at Alistair, ripping through the front of his vest, shirt, and digging furrows in the flesh of his chest. Alistair staggered backwards in shock, and the babau demon followed, swiping at his face but missing this time. "Somebody's paid a lot of money to see you dead!" he chortled.

Ageratum came charging out of the warehouse, her silver blade flashing in the moonlight. She stabbed the babau in the leg, scraping her blade against its rough hide without any discernable effect. However, at this range she could see the demon was covered in a sheen of reddish sweat, which was causing her blade to start to bubble. With a shudder of disgust, she shook the droplets of acid off her blade, sending them shotgunning the ground at her feet.

Chaevaris spun about in place, rapidly targeting the fiend with her readied arrow. But then Harlan ran between her and the babau, detecting evil and confirming its existence as the paladin caused the flames to burst forth from his blade while swinging it in the fiend's direction. He channeled Pelor's positive energy through his blade as an extra touch, and the babau screamed in outrage at the crippling attack. Alistair brought up his wand of magic missile and fired a blast at his attacker, but the missiles merely spattered and sputtered harmlessly against the fiend's innate resistance against spells.

Despite having been directed to slay Atherton Pastlethwaite above all else, the babau demon recognized Harlan Starblade as the hero most likely to be able to prevent the demon from accomplishing his goal. With that in mind, he turned from Alistair and leaped at the paladin, clawing for his eyes and biting with his wicked teeth. Harlan's shield managed to deflect some of the attacks, but the demon's claws ripped a set of parallel scars down the half-elf's cheek. However, the fiend's intense focus upon Harlan allowed Ageratum to scoot up into position behind it, slamming the point of her blade deep into the back of its knee. She remembered to fling her blade back upon pulling it out, to rid it of the acidic slime the demon exuded.

Chaevaris found her shot and went for it, releasing an arrow that struck the babau in the head and seemed to send it reeling. But now that she knew they were up against a demon, she could use arrows with cold iron tips against him, which she believed would deal him even more harm than usual. Harlan continued his attack with his flaming sword, channeling a second burst of holy energy through his blade and dealing a considerable amount of pain to the demon. Alistair got off a second blast from his wand, this time managing to penetrate the foul beast's spell resistance, possibly due to it being preoccupied with the paladin's righteous attacks.

By now, the babau was looking fairly frazzled, blood dripping freely from numerous cuts on its armored hide. It leaped off to Ageratum's side and the halfling got in another stab with her blade, not that it was likely to have done much damage. But just that quickly, the babau was gone, having teleported somewhere to safety. "Is that it? Is he gone for good?" Ageratum asked, hoping that might very well be the case.

"Unlikely," Harlan replied grimly. "If he was gated here to slay Atherton, then he'll continue on until his mission has been completed, or he's died trying. Come on, we should go check out the warehouse, see if Conrad is in fact there at all."

Together, the group returned to the warehouse, Alistair waving off Harlan's offer to heal his wounds. "I'll be all right for now," he insisted. "Let's just get this over with."

With the light from Harlan's flaming sword, the group could see the closest figure - the one Ageratum had been eyeing - was the corpse of a human male with the blood drained from him. Worse yet, he only had one leg, the other one missing all the way up from the hip; the man's cloak had hidden that fact from view, as well as the fact he was only standing upright by means of a wooden brace, much like a scarecrow. The one in the back, to whom Alistair had thought he'd been conversing, was missing his right arm at the shoulder, the missing appendage obscured by the man's cloak. Moving through the warehouse, they found a total of six such figures, each missing a different body part, one of them a head and the other his entire torso; his limbs had been impaled upon a wooden framework that held them all together. "Creepy," Chaevaris admitted.

"Worse than that," Alistair informed them. "It would seem someone has been assembling the parts to build himself a flesh golem." There was a sudden crash behind them, and four boulders came spilling down from the roof. Alistair had forgotten about Ogilvy up on the roof, and once he'd gotten out of range the unseen servant spell had flickered out, dropping the pouch of four shrunken boulders. "I say!" declared Alistair, wincing at the pain in his chest as he had spun about, opening up the claw marks the babau had left in its initial attack.

"Listen!" hissed Harlan, straining his ears. He and Chaevaris, the only two of the group with elven blood, could hear the wheedling voice of the babau from even further into the warehouse. "You've got to help me!" he whined. "Come on, I'll definitely owe you one!" But whatever fiendish ally he was trying to bargain into summoning to the Material Plane to aid him was having none of it, much to the babau's chagrin. He started cursing foully in his own demonic language.

Chaevaris had started climbing silently up onto a stack of crates, hoping the higher view would allow her to sight her prey. She helped Alistair climb up beside her; the sorcerer by this time wanted no more to do with fighting off a demon at melee range and hoped to put his wand to good use. "There he is!" the archer hissed, nocking a cold iron arrow to her bow and letting fly. The arrow went whizzing in a bee-line towards the demon, only to have him inadvertently turn at the last moment and narrowly avoid getting hit. But he was now aware that he was being hunted by those he was supposed to kill! He responded by casting forth a darkness spell that overpowered the flickering light given off from the torches in the area. Chaevaris squinted and said she could still kind of make out his location; Alistair did the same but saw nothing. Harlan advanced on the area of magical darkness, undeterred when the light from his flaming burst longsword seemed to extinguish, for he could hear the cracking of the flames as he approached his demonic prey.

"Wait - there he is!" cried Alistair, making out a darker silhouette in the gloom ahead and below him. He fired off another blast from his wand, but once again the demon was able to suppress its power and it fizzled for a second time. Alistair exploded with a string of curses rivalling those of the babau a few moments ago.

Ageratum moved closer, spotting the babau in the darkness and thinking of how best to hurt him when her blade seemed to be insufficient to the task. Then, smiling an evil smile, she resheathed her sword and took out her sling, as well as one of the shrunken boulders from the pouch Alistair had given her. Had she targeted the babau directly from inside its bubble of darkness there was a good chance her shot would go astray, but by remaining outside the radius of darkness she could deduce his precise location: directly in the middle of the spell effect. With that in mind, she targeted the ceiling directly above the babau demon, firing off the boulder-pebble with her sling. Upon impact with the ceiling, it regained its normal size and then gravity took over, bringing it crashing down upon the demon's head. He cried out in pain and the little halfling hoped the boulder had done enough to penetrate its unholy ability to shrug off most non-magical physical attacks.

Whether the boulder had been effective or not Ageratum would never know, for the babau survived the attack but then was taken down by a final shot from Chaevaris's magic composite longbow. The fact that the demon's body remained after death was a good indicator it had not merely been summoned here to the mortal world, but stepped through a magical gate to do its foul work. With the babau slain, the heroes spread out and gave the warehouse a thorough search, but Conrad Mandelberen was nowhere to be found. "Curse the fates!" snarled Alistair. "I fear my brother was right, and Conrad is in league with Atherton's enemies!"

"Well, on the bright side, you've still got the diamonds," pointed out Ageratum. Then, realizing that wasn't necessarily a given, she asked, "You do still have them, don't you?"

Alistair patted down his pockets and found the pouch of diamonds intact. "Indeed I do!" he declared. Then, wincing in pain after having pulled the muscles of his wounded chest once again - such as they were - he turned to Harlan. "I say," he began, "if you were still up for a spot of healing...."

"But of course," the paladin responded, walking over to heal his friend.

- - -

So, with the whole adventure involving only one CR 6 monster, we ended up with a scant 450 XP each for the night's session. At that rate, it'll be seven more sessions before we finally hit 7th level! But Dan assured us that this adventure was somewhat of a fluke along those lines, and he's hinted it's very likely we'll meet up with those missing body parts from the six bloodless corpses in our very near future....

I managed to roll a natural "1" not once but twice out of the three times total I fired off my wand of magic missile in this adventure. Those curses Alistair let loose with after the second occurrence...well, let's just say I roleplayed that moment particularly well.
 
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Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 18: THE BOW BREAKS

PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 6​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 6​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 6​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 6​

Game Session Date: 27 February 2023

- - -

The Pastlethwaite family was still at Atherton's townhouse when the four adventurers returned. "Well?" demanded Lord Ambrose. "Where is Conrad?"

"He wasn't there--" began Alistair, but he was immediately cut off by his father.

"How could you fail to bring back Conrad? I knew it was a foolish idea to entrust you and your group of commoners to a task of this importance!" He spun to Atherton, the older of the two boys and the one who had received all of the training on running the Pastlethwaite merchant empire. "You've always been my favorite, Atherton, but I'm afraid this time your judgment was faulty. Why you left this up to your idiot brother--"

But this time it was Lord Ambrose's turn to be cut off. "I have full faith in Alistair and his team," Atherton replied. "Furthermore, Conrad's not being there was not at all unexpected. I have suspected for some time he has been working contrary to the family interests. In fact, I've had people keeping an eye on him for some time now. The fact that Conrad was suspiciously not even present at his supposed 'kidnapping' is even further evidence that this whole charade was simply an attempt to have me slain in an ambush - an ambush to which Alistair and his team were quite willing to expose themselves, I might add!" Lord Ambrose harrumphed loudly and turned away, the closest he ever got to conceding a point or offering up an apology.

"Here are the diamonds," Alistair said quietly, handing over the bag of gems with which Conrad's ransom was to have been paid. Wordlessly, Lord Ambrose grabbed up the bag and returned it to an inner pocket. Alistair then quickly explained about the babau demon and the six corpses on display, each with a different body part missing. Lady Druzelda's face crinkled in discomfort at the unpleasant topic of discussion.

The awkwardness was broken by a knock at the door. Atherton opened it and was relieved at who he saw standing on his porch. "Come in, come in," he beamed, ushering a young man into his home. "Everyone, this is Konstantine, an associate of mine who has been shadowing Conrad's movements of late. What can you tell us, lad?"

"Well," began Konstantine, a bit nervous under the glare of Lord Ambrose, "I'm afraid, sir, we've - me and my lads, that is - we've been able to trace the recent piracy of the ship containing the two frost barbarians in statue form, to Conrad. It was his ship, the Silver Moon, that was used to sink the merchant vessel that was carrying them while they were in statue form. But they lost a lot of men in the attack, and before they could manage to dive down to try to fetch the treasure in the ship's hold for themselves, these four" - here he indicated Harlan and his band of Trained Professional Adventurers - "had managed to rescue Larson and Gundrun already." Lady Druzelda's face had whitened at hearing how her brother was implicated in these underhanded dealings, her face screwing up into a scowl.

"And where is Conrad now?" demanded Atherton.

"He's on the Silver Moon, sir. Taking on new crewmates, it seems like, sir. I'd reckon he'll likely be there the next two, three days at the very least."

"Very well. Good job, Konstantine!"

"There's more, sir," Konstantine said, looking worriedly over at Lady Druzelda. "It seems he's, well, he's been seen in the company of, like, well, fiends, sir."

"Fiends?" repeated Atherton.

"Yes, sir. A red-skinned woman with devil horns and a tail, for one, sir. And a six-year-old lad with shiny eyes as black as, well, my boots, sir. Scary looking, they are, sir, too - like a shark's eyes."

"Are you implying this devil-woman's boy is Conrad's?" demanded Lord Ambrose, finding his voice once again. Lady Druzelda looked positively aghast at the mere notion.

"As to that, I couldn't say, sir, begging your pardon," Konstantine stuttered. "She's only but recently been accompanying Conrad, sir, so very likely not - but it definitely seems like she's the lad's mother. It's unsure what all...uh, duties...she performs on the ship, but she's been berthed on the Silver Moon for almost a week, now, sir, her and her boy."

Atherton turned to his younger brother. "Your next mission, if you're willing: I'd like you to fetch Conrad from his ship and bring him here to me. Alive if possible, but if not...." he left the sentence dangling on purpose, and Lady Druzelda hid her face behind her lace handkerchief. Julianna did her best to comfort her.

"But of course, Atherton," Alistair readily agreed, and only after committing the group to the task at hand thinking to look over to Harlan for confirmation. The half-elf merely nodded his acquiescence to the plan. "Do you want us to head out directly?" the paladin asked Atherton. "If he's likely to still be there in the morning, I think we'd be better served getting up early and making a first-light raid upon his ship. That way we can go in will full spell complements and such."

"As you think best," Atherton told the paladin, then escorted Konstantine back to the front door. Lord and Lady Pastlethwaite made their farewells immediately after, Lady Druzelda refusing to make eye contact with her youngest son, for she felt an overwhelming guilt: it had been her haranguing about the evils of trafficking with demons that had spurred Lord Ambrose to kick Alistair out of the family when he had suspected the nascent sorcerer of having made a deal with a demon or devil to learn spellcraft. And now, come to find out, it was her own brother who had apparently been hanging out with demons and devils! The shame of it burned her cheeks a bright crimson.

"We'll need a plan," Alistair pointed out once it was just Atherton and the four adventurers alone in the drawing room again; Julianna had gone to tend to one of the twins, who had started crying in the babies' room down the hall. "How about this: we show up at the ship and tell Uncle Conrad that his sister is ill and wishes him to come visit her at once."

"Supposing he doesn't take the bait," asked Ageratum. "Then what?"

"Is he close to his sister?" asked Harlan of Atherton and Alistair.

"Not particularly," Atherton admitted.

"He's hiring on new crew," Ageratum pointed out. "We could show up as new sailors, recently hired on. That'll get us on the ship, at least. Then we can look around and find Conrad."

"He'll certainly see through any attempt at me trying to disguise myself as a sailor," Alistair objected.

"So we pick up a hat of disguise for you," the little halfling countered.

"Best pick up two," Harlan wisely pointed out. "Most pirate vessels - and this indeed sounds like a pirate vessel - tend not to hire women as crewmembers. Not even striking-looking young halfling women such as yourself," he hastily added.

"Well, that's just stupid," Ageratum sulked. Only then did Harlan realize he had unconsciously excluded Chaevaris from having the need for a hypothetical hat of disguise; not surprising, for she had gone over half of her adventuring career thus far with her three companions all assuming she was a male elf. The archer just rolled her eyes and shook her head as the half-elf paladin realized his error.

"I believe you're all overthinking this," Atherton observed. "Why don't you just show up at his ship, as yourselves, so you can inform him of my death? I presume he was involved in setting the assassination attempt in motion, and if the - babau, you said? - demon was the only one involved in the attack, and you killed it, he can't have very well have reported his failure to Conrad, can he have? With any luck, Conrad will assume the demon just failed to report back his success, if that had even been part of their plan."

"I like it," Harlan agreed. "Showing up as ourselves allows me to be in full armor aboard the ship, which will be handy if we're going there to fight your uncle."

"Have you thought about how we're going to get him off the ship when he's dead or unconscious?" asked Chaevaris.

"He should just be unconscious - we'll have the Blood Mirror at hand," pointed out Harlan.

"Hat of disguise," replied Ageratum, answering the archer's original question.

"The wearer determines what the disguise looks like," countered Chaevaris. "If Conrad's out cold, he can't very well alter his appearance. Nor would he even want to."

"Okay, then dust of illusion," countered the stubborn halfling. "We kill him - or knock him out, whatever - then sprinkle some dust on him and make him look like a sailor passed out from too much hooch. And then two of you carry his body back off the ship, under the guise of taking him to a healer or whatever." Seeing Alistair's look of incomprehension, she added, "'Hooch' is booze, Alistair. Alcohol."

"Ah, yes - quite."

It was as good a plan as any. Atherton promised to see to the purchase of a bag of dust of illusion - and two potions of spider climbing, at the halfling's insistence - and then sent them off to the kitchen to grab what they could of the leftover dinner party food (Lord and Lady Pastlethwaite had insisted on dining without "Alistair and his new friends" during their ambush at the warehouse) and then get some sleep.

The next morning, the group was refreshed and on their way to the pier before the sun rose in the morning sky, Ageratum holding onto her two new potions and the bag of magical dust. They approached the Silver Moon, Alistair recognizing it at once as his uncle's boat. "He's made some modifications to it," the sorcerer noted, observing the rows of ballistae at the ship's fore section, "but this is his ship, all right." The gangway was down, so they walked boldly up it and up to the ship. Alistair's grackle familiar Ambrose flew off to alight in the crow's nest, looking down at the morning bustle on the deck below him. "Permission to come aboard?" Alistair asked, recalling that was proper protocol.

The ship's first mate, a gruff-looking man named Talhomen, and one of the members of the crew turned to see who had approached. Their frowns indicated they were not particularly impressed with what they saw, although the crewmember's gaze soon found its way to Ageratum's ample chest and his attitude improved significantly. "What's your business?" demanded Talhomen.

"We wish to speak with my uncle, Conrad Mandelberen. I'm told he's aboard this vessel. It's a family matter of some urgency." Talhomen grunted and indicated with a nod of his head they were to follow him. he led them to the back of the vessel, through a short, doglegging hallway and into an expansive executive area. Two men were already there, standing in the back: Captain Muddletrot, the ship's captain, and Conrad Mandelberen, the latter wearing a dressing gown. Harlan instinctively scanned their auras and detected evil emanating not only from both of them, but also from a brown rat scurrying along the back of the room.

"Alistair!" said Conrad. "What brings you here at this ungodly hour?"

"Some rather sad news, I'm afraid. Um, it's a personal, family matter," Alistair explained to the captain and first mate. "Would it be possible for us to speak with my uncle alone for a few minutes?" Conrad nodded his agreement and the two men left, closing the door to the suite behind them. Chaevaris immediately stepped in front of the door, blocking it with her body.

"So what's this all about?" Conrad asked, although he suspected he already knew. But before answering, Alistair looked over at the rat scampering away. "Harlan?" he asked, and the paladin knew exactly what the sorcerer was asking. "Yes," he replied. "Both."

Conrad frowned at this quick exchange and started wringing his fingers in front of his gown. "Whatever this is about," he said, "I think you should come back in."

Alistair realized at once that his uncle was casting some sort of message spell, likely summoning the captain and first mate back to his side - it looked like the jig was up already, although Alistair was admittedly surprised at his uncle's abilities to cast spells, for he'd never known him to be a wizard or sorcerer, but perhaps that's where Alistair himself got his own spellcasting abilities, from his mother's side of the family? "I'm afraid there's no good way to put this," Alistair began, "but Atherton--look at the size of that rat!" As if just now noticing the brown rat, Alistair whipped out his wand of magic missile and sent a barrage striking the rodent unerringly in its back. It gave a startled squeak and rolled over, quite obviously dead - or, at the very least, well on its way to death but stabilized by the properties of the Blood Mirror Harlan carried in his pocket.

"What the Hell did you do that for?" screamed Conrad.

"There was a rat--" Alistair began.

"Of course there was a rat! This is a ship! Ships have rats on them!"

"Atherton is dead!" Alistair countered, trying to get the topic back on track.

"So what? I cared a lot more about that rat than your stupid brother!" roared Conrad.

"I say! Well, if that's true, then I'll be sure to replace him with another rat of equal value..." began Alistair, but that was when the door to the stateroom started opening back up. Chaevaris grabbed the knob and tried to hold it closed, but Captain Muddletrot was much stronger than the lithe archer and the contest was as short as it was one-sided: he forced the door open, causing the elf to fall back a few steps to retain her balance. But in one fluid motion, her composite longbow was off her shoulder and an arrow was put in place, aimed at the captain. At the same time, Harlan rushed forward, pulling out his flaming burst longsword from the scabbard at his hip and bringing it swinging into Conrad's side. He channeled holy energy through the blade, consecrated by Pelor Himself, and then swung the blade back out before thrusting it deep into Conrad's belly. The evil sorcerer never got a chance to cast any spells beyond the message spell that brought Captain Muddletrot and First Mate Talhomen back to his quarters; sliding down the back of his stateroom wall (and leaving a bloody trail on the wall behind him), he joined his rat familiar in near-death as his life force hung in the balance, protected from instant obliteration solely by the power of the paladin's Blood Mirror.

Alistair felt a disturbance in the empathic link he shared with his familiar. "Ambrose is worried about something on deck!" he informed the others. He was yet to realize it, but the commotion upsetting his grackle was a group of four wererat pirates bursting out of the fore section of the ship and running across the deck to the aft section. The bird wasn't the only one concerned about the quartet's sudden appearance, for the rest of the crew had been unaware that these particular crewmembers were able to transform into half-rat, half-human hybrids.

"I'm worried about what's already in here!" Ageratum replied, sending a pebble from her sling crashing into the side of Captain Muddletrot's temple. However, upon impact, it resumed its original size before Alistair had cast a shrink item spell upon it days ago, and crashed to the wooden floor at the captain's feet. Chaevaris then released her arrow, sending it flying across the room and unfortunately doing little more than ripping through the fabric of the captain's coat at top of his left shoulder.

Talhomen was there at the captain's side, his own blade in hand, but Alistair figured it was three against two in the adventurers' favor and calling out, "I trust you can handle them - I'll see about safe passage from the ship!" ducked to a door in the back of the stateroom, which - if his memory of how the ship was laid out was accurate - should not only be Uncle Conrad's bedroom but also the room in the very back of the left side of the ship. That would put it the closest accessible room to the docks, and the young sorcerer was pretty sure he could open a hole in the wall large enough for them all to jump through. Conrad was already out cold, so as soon as they could get the captain and first mate dealt with, they should be able to take their leave of the ship.

Unfortunately, this plan came to an immediate halt when Alistair entered his uncle's bedroom and saw a young lad of about 15 years standing beside the bed, after having just tucked the bedding back into shape. The cabin boy looked up at Alistair in surprise. "Stand aside, son!" Alistair warned, placing his hand upon the side wall and casting forth a shrink item spell that reduced a 10-foot-by-10-foot section of the wall to a mere sixteenth of its original size. Giving it a push, it fell down to the waters below - and upon impact was restored to its original size, now a virtual raft floating on the waters between the Silver Moon and the harbor pier. The cabin boy, however, had seen the frost barbarian amulet Alistair wore about his neck and called out, "Get me off this ship!"

"Off you go, then!" Alistair gestured, indicating the hole in the wall. "Leap to safety!"

"But--but there are ten more of us, taken as slaves from the frost barbarian tribes!" declared the boy, Ingmar.

Alistair's mouth opened and closed reflexively, as if he were some sort of fish giving air breathing a try for the first time. "Okay, then, new plan!" he declared. "You take the nearly-dead man over there - that's my Uncle Conrad, and he should be fine - take him, throw him over your shoulder, and leap down to safety. I'll send a black bird over to you; you follow him to my brother Atherton's house. Take the body to Atherton, and he'll be able to reunite you with your leader, Larson. In the meantime I give you my word we will go rescue your other ten friends. Do you know where they are?" Ingmar said five were in the front of the ship and five were held in the back, both on the lowest deck. Alistair hollered for Ambrose through the hole he'd made in the ship's side and, once the grackle appeared in a fluttering of wings, his master explained the new plan to him. Ambrose cawed his understanding and landed over on the bottom edge of the newly-made "window" in the Silver Moon, awaiting Ingmar to fetch Conrad's unmoving form.

Back in the stateroom, Harlan charged Captain Muddletrot, did a little bit of sword-on-sword thrust and parry, and made it past the pirate's defenses to stab him with the point of his flaming blade. Hissing in anger and pain, Muddletrot tried retaliating against the half-elf paladin, but Harlan was too quick for him, dodging back away from the point of the captain's cutlass. There was a short flight of stairs leading up to the upper deck, and Ageratum climbed about halfway up to give her a height advantage over the pirate captain, something she didn't usually get to enjoy during a combat against humans. Her short swords stabbed out at him, striking him in his unprotected left shoulder as he had foolishly decided the little halfling woman posed nowhere near the threat of the paladin of Pelor. That was a mistake he realized at once, as he was forced to wrest his wounded shoulder away from the halfling's blades, looking much the worse for wear. And then, as if he didn't already have enough to worry about, Chaevaris sent an arrow racing across the stateroom to catch the captain in the upper chest, causing him to tumble to the floor in a loose tangle of limbs. Blood started pooling from his wounds, but the flow stopped almost immediately, courtesy of the proximity of the Blood Mirror.

But by now the wererats had moved up to the doorway to the stateroom, and the assembled heroes got their first good look at what they were dealing with: lycanthropes! The closest in formation stabbed out at Harlan with a rapier held in a disturbingly rodent-looking hand. The hit struck true, getting past the paladin's defenses. The first mate also went for Harlan, hoping to take him down quickly so they wouldn't have to deal with any of his unknown paladin powers: those holy men were said to be able to do all sorts of odd things to those of a more flexible bent when it came to ethics and morality. He was also successful in his attack, but Harlan wasn't overly concerned just yet, for he'd taken much more damage than this in fights before and he wasn't even considering taking time out of this one to heal himself.

Alistair and Ingmar stepped back into the stateroom, the barbarian lad to fetch Conrad's body and the sorcerer to cast a scorching ray spell at the first mate. Unfortunately, Alistair's shot went wide, no doubt due to his fear of accidentally hitting the paladin while he traded sword-blows with both the pirate mate and a wererat in combat. (That was the reason he was planning on giving should anyone ask, in any case.) But Harlan was successful where Alistair was not, striking the wererat in the side with his flaming blade and singing the beast's fur; the burning stench quickly filled the room.

Ageratum leaned over the stair railing and stabbed down at the wererat with her silver short sword, smiling when the blade seemed to deal the beast extra pain (her blade wasn't ablaze like Harlan's was, but she was fairly sure she had heard it sizzle when impaled inside the wererat's flesh). And Chaevaris, seeing the lycanthropes eager to join the battle, grabbed up one of her silver-tipped arrows and sent it flying into the lead wererat's shoulder, dropping him unconscious to the stateroom floor to join the captain, where floor space was starting to be at a minimum.

Another wererat stepped up to take the place of his fallen brother, standing side-by-side with Talhomen, both of them focusing their blades against Harlan. Not surprisingly, they were able to overcome the half's defenses by teaming up on him in that fashion, and the elf started thinking that the first break he got he'd probably drop back and apply some self-healing. But then a second scorching ray from Alistair's fingertips hit the first mate straight in the face, causing his swordsmanship to suffer for a moment of distraction; Harlan quickly took advantage of the situation by striking forward with the point of his flaming burst longsword, dropping Talhomen to join his leader and one of the wererats into blessed unconsciousness. But the half-elf wasn't quite done yet: cleaving his blade to the side, he managed to clip off the whiskers on the left side of the wererat's face which carving a burning gash down his muzzle.

Ageratum continued pressing the attacks with her silver blade against the wererat, enjoying the burning sounds her blade made when striking lycanthropic flesh. And then that wererat was taken out by another silver arrow from Chaevaris's composite longbow. The last remaining wererats moved up to take the place of those taken out before them, but it was obvious by the worried looks on their faces and their twitching whiskers that neither was particularly pleased to have found themselves in this situation, fighting for their lives against foes who clearly outmatched their own fighting prowess. Their nervousness was evident in the first clumsy attack against Harlan, which the paladin easily deflected on his shield. Alistair cast another scorching ray spell at the other wererat and the beast's nervousness actually saved it, for in its fear it crouched before the sorcerer had even finished casting the spell, and the gout of flame went blasting harmlessly over his head.

Harlan, realizing these wererats weren't all that much of a threat, moved past one to set himself up in a flanking position against the other, who now had to worry about a stab-happy halfling on the stairs on one side and a wretched paladin with a flaming sword on the other. The other wererat tried preventing Harlan from getting into position with a feeble attack from his own rapier, to no effect: the blade was swatted away by Harlan's shield. And then the paladin brought his flaming blade crashing down upon the pinned wererat, dropping him from behind as the poor foe was concentrating on avoiding Ageratum's silver blade. The half-elf pivoted in place and brought his blade swinging the cowardly wererat's way and caught him by surprise as well. He followed up with a second swing but by then he had the beast's full attention and he managed to avoid the flaming sword that had already proven to be so deadly to his lycanthropic mates. However, Ageratum leaped down from the steps and stabbed the last remaining wererat with her silver weapon on the way down, staggering him to the point he almost dropped his own blade. It was simplicity itself for Chaevaris to take him out with another silver arrow.

While Alistair informed the team about the other barbarian slaves in the lower holds, the little halfling took the opportunity of Harlan's focus being upon what the sorcerer was saying and a chance to free more members of the frost barbarians to steadily move from body to body of their downed foes and provide a nice, clean sword-slit along each and every available throat. Blood Mirror or no, she was making sure none of these vile slaver-pirates ever worked their evil again! Harlan didn't notice at all; he had been laying hands upon his numerous wounds and allowing Pelor's healing energy to restore him to close to his full strength (even though it took the additional casting of a cure light wounds spell to get him back to that state).

"Where's the nearest set of stairs leading down to the lower decks?" Harlan asked.

"Too far away, at the front of the ship," Alistair replied, recalling the times Uncle Conrad had had the family over to join him on a joy ride over an evening meal (mostly to show off his vessel). "But never mind that: I'll make us a nearer entrance!" He bent down on his knees, placed both hands on the floor in the corner of the stateroom, and cast another shrink item spell. A 10-foot-by-10-foot section of the wooden floor shrunk down, and gravity tipped it off the top of the wall separating two different bunkrooms directly below, to land upon a poor crewman lounging in his hammock. "Bloody Hell!" he cried as the miniaturized chunk of floor bonked him on the head and then resumed its normal size, bring him and his hammock crashing down on the sleeping crewman below him. The two bunkrooms cleared out almost immediately, each of the occupants deciding there was somewhere else they'd rather be at that moment. Alistair was glad to see they weren't grabbing up weapons and moving to the attack, merely fleeing to save their own skins from whatever weird magical attack was under effect. Chaevaris activated her immovable rod over the hole and dropped down her rope, still tied to the rod's center, and led the others to the floor below. "Now that we're below decks, there's a set of stairs closer at hand!" Alistair told the others, stepping out of the bunkroom where the aforementioned stairs were already visible.

Once they got down to the second sub-level deck, they ran into five of the barbarian slaves they had been looking for. The fact that the adventurers were all still wearing the amulets Larson Clearspike had given them allowed them to instantly believe the heroes' tale, and they agreed to head to the main deck and desert the ship - from what the heroes had heard, it sounded like most of the ship's crew had been unaware there were wererats among them and were in somewhat of a panic. Alistair told them to hang around the area and await their own departure after they found the other five barbarian slaves, which this group said would be found at the forward hold on the bottom level; they themselves had been berthed in the aft hold. Now knowing exactly where to go to find the last of the slaves, Harlan led the team down to the lowest deck and from there, across an open section in the middle of the ship with crates and barrels lashed to the side walls in a somewhat haphazard fashion.

The first things the adventurers noted about the lowest deck were the stench - a miasma managing to be reminiscent of sulphur, rot, and decay - and the lullaby being sung by someone in the aft section of the ship. It was a feminine voice, but the words were unknown: at a guess, Alistair supposed it was one of the baser tongues used by those of the Lower Planes: Abyssal, perhaps, or Infernal. But the tune was one the sorcerer recalled Nanny Rogers singing to Atherton and himself when they were very young lads.

Ageratum ignored both distractions and tossed an activated sunrod toward the front of the ship; unlike the main deck, there was no way for sunlight to reach down here and Harlan's flaming blade was the only illumination they otherwise had on hand, and the flickering flames made the shadows seem like they were moving about - a rather disturbing notion. The sunrod landed before a closed door barred from the outside; following her source of illumination and straining her halfling ears, Ageratum heard a few ragged coughs coming from the other side of the barred door. "I think it's this one," she told her friends.

Harlan wasted no time; boldly stepping to the door, he lifted the heavy metal bar from its support hooks and set it aside, opening the door to see five bedraggled barbarians looking back at him in fear. The paladin held up his amulet and said simply, "Larson sent us to free you." It wasn't the exact truth, but it was close enough for the paladin's needs and it got the five slaves up and out of their wretched excuse for a bunkroom and heading up the stairs to the main deck and freedom, where the group promised to meet them and lead them back to Larson.

Chaevaris, however, was fairly certain the four of them wouldn't be following immediately; instead, they'd be checking out the lullaby woman, who was likely behind a closed door in the back of the ship. She stepped up onto a crate for a better vantage point, then nocked an arrow to her bow and took aim at the door; anyone who came out the door would be stepping right into her target space. Alistair, seeing the archer's preparations, took out his magic missile wand and followed suit. Ageratum stayed over on the far side of the stairwell leading back up to the upper decks, but placed one of Alistair's pebble-boulders into her sling and readied it for potential action.

Harlan approached the aft end of the ship and cast forth his senses - sure enough, there was a palpable sense of evil emanating from the other side of the wooden door from where the lullaby was coming. He channeled Pelor's smiting energy into his sword, ready to bring it slicing into whatever devil-woman might be hiding back there. But before he could open the door himself, it swung open, pulled inward by the red-skinned tiefling woman who was even now continuing the lullaby she'd been singing to her half-fiend son. Harlan was struck by Jacinda's curving horns, sweeping back from her forehead in the manner of a ram, and the pointed tail poking out from underneath her dress. He wasn't sure what had caused her to open the door - perhaps her fiendish hearing had picked up the stray sounds the heroes had made while they got into position? - but there was no ignoring the wave of evil emanating from her unseen aura. The black-eyed child in the bunk at the side of the room was a good indicator that these were the two fiends with which Conrad Mandelberen had been seen hanging about, and if Harlan had had any doubts about their evil nature, the fact that a flesh golem stood hunkered over in the back of the room, its obscene form crafted from the stitched-together parts of several different victims, was the final, conclusive indicator.

But before the paladin could strike the tiefling woman, Ageratum took any concerns he might have had of striking the first blow out of his consideration, for swinging her sling around her head a few times (an act she had started when she saw the door first open), she released the pebble and sent it flying across the hold to strike Jacinda in the middle of her forehead. The pebble returned to boulder size upon impact, falling at the woman's feet just as she herself lost consciousness and crashed to the ship's deck. "You killed Mummy!" cried the boy from his bed, part of it the cry of a little boy worried about his mother but another seemingly excited by the spilling of blood, no matter whose it might be. Harlan focused his attention on the lad and got an immediate indication from his aura that he was equally as evil, if not even more so, than his mother's aura had shown her to be.

Seeing the flesh golem stir and make its way forward, Chaevaris lowered her arrow and cast it aside, reaching into her quiver for one with an adamantine tip. She drew back the bowstring and waited for the perfect shot. When the golem's form suddenly filled up most of the open doorway, she released the arrow, to fly over Harlan's shoulder and bury itself into the construct's upper arm.

Recalling what he'd learned recently about flesh golems once they'd learned there was likely one being crafted from the remains in Balstrode's Warehouse - specifically, that they were immune to most spells but could be slowed by fire-based spells and healed by those wielding electricity - Alistair lowered his wand and cast a scorching ray spell across the open deck to strike the flesh golem in the stomach. It had the desired effect, for the construct started moving noticeably slower immediately. Harlan was able to squeeze past the massive brute and bring his blade crashing down onto the half-fiend child's form, dropping him to unconsciousness with one blow. Harlan opted to give him a second blow with his sword immediately and prevented him from rising again, having damaged his body beyond the Blood Mirror's ability to stabilize. The half-elf's grim and determined expression showed he was not allowing the fact that this demon wore the form of a little boy to prevent the paladin from doing what needed to be done.

The flesh golem turned and advanced, slowly, upon Harlan, hands raised as if to throttle the life from the paladin. Almost immediately, two more adamantine-tipped arrows sprouted from its back, shot there by Chaevaris's keen targeting in the dim light. Alistair, knowing his scorching ray spell had already done all he was able to do against the flesh golem, called out, "Ogilvy, if you please!" and summoned his faithful unseen servant to his side. Passing over one of the remaining pouches of four "pebble-boulders," he figured having Ogilvy drop them on the golem's head was the best way he could participate in beating down the stitched-together construct - it was either that or approach him with his masterwork rapier, and that particular stratagem held no particular appeal for the sorcerer, especially in these cramped quarters.

Ageratum moved up to the doorway and sent another of her own pebble-boulders crashing into the flesh golem's broad back. Harlan scooted past the golem and back out of the cramped bunkroom, where there was slightly more room to maneuver in the open deck. He took the opportunity to cast a bless spell upon himself and his three companions.

Spinning about in a lumbering manner, the flesh golem clomped its way to the doorway, where Ageratum stood. Chaevaris took the opportunity to pump two more adamantine-tipped arrows over the halfling's head at the flesh golem, hitting it in the stomach and neck. By then, Ogilvy had climbed up onto a stack of crates by the door and dropped the first pebble-boulder onto the golem's head, the boulder restoring to its full size upon impact. Ageratum, by that time, had retreated back over by the stairs, well out of the golems reach. She fired off her last of the shrunken boulders, hitting the golem smack-dab in the side of the head.

Harlan was standing in an attack stance, waiting for the golem to approach. Once he did, the half-elf let swing with all of his strength behind the blow, cutting not very deep into the creature's hardened flesh but leaving behind an impressive burn mark where the blade's flames had singed the dead flesh. Then he backed up out of the golem's immediate reach before it had a chance, in its slowed-down state, to counterattack. Chaevaris shot another pair of adamantine arrows at it, safely out of range on a large crate closer to the fore section of the ship than the aft, while Ogilvy stepped over to another crate and dropped another pebble-boulder on the golem's head.

Ageratum had no desire to engage the flesh golem with her short swords and thus started up the stairs, reaching the deck directly above while Harlan continued his wait-for-the-golem-to-get-within-striking-range-and-then-attack-and-retreat tactic that was proving to be so successful. Chaevaris continued shooting her adamantine arrows at it, and a third pebble-boulder from Ogilvy finally caused the golem to stagger, almost at the end of its unnatural endurance. Harlan finally took it out with a blow from his flaming burst longsword, and the golem crashed in a lifeless heap upon the ship's lower deck, having failed to land a single blow against the heroes who had slain the two fiend-blooded people it had been commanded to protect.

"That's it - let's go!" cried Harlan, leading the others back up the stairs, taking only a moment to return to the tiefling's cabin and ensure she was permanently dead - a task made unambiguous by the parting of her head from her neck. Alistair retrieved the small sack from Ogilvy before dismissing his unseen servant, noting there was still one pebble-boulder still to be used. But Ageratum, waiting for the paladin to catch up, had heard his call for retreat from the vessel and reminded him there was plenty of loot to be gathered from the cabins of the captain, first mate, and of course Conrad's own stateroom and cabin. "Very well - quickly, then!" the paladin conceded; he'd had an opportunity to rid the world of a considerable amount of evil this morning and couldn't begrudge the other three heroes their material rewards. Ageratum led the group back up the way they'd come, clambering up Chaevaris's rope and the archer deactivating and pocketing her immovable rod on the way back to the "good cabins" where the higher-ranking members slept. Under her expert eye for hiding places for loot, she managed to grab up several hundred coins, a nice diamond ring, a silver-and-pearl talisman of some intricate design, plus some decent armor and weapons from Captain Muddletrot and his first mate, Talhomen.

"Okay, enough - let's go!" finally decided Harlan Starblade, after he'd noted his greedy friends had emptied out the largest crate they could find from downstairs and were filling it to the top with the stuff they wanted to take with them; once he'd deemed it time to go, Alistair cast another shrink item spell on the now-full crate, bringing it down to a much more manageable size (to the point where the slightly-built sorcerer, no great heavyweight in the muscles department, was able to carry it by himself). Then they followed the remaining crew in evacuating the Silver Moon. They found the group of ten barbarians - the first group of five had seen the second group emerge from the ship and gathered them together into one group - and then all 14 headed their way back on foot to Atherton's townhouse.

It was a bit of a walk, but there was not a single complaint among the group the whole way there.

- - -

Ageratum ended up wearing the pirate captain's +3 studded leather armor (fortunately, in 3.5 magic armor resizes to fit the wearer, so the fact that Ageratum was half the pirate's size - and was a woman - made no difference, as it re-formed to fit her perfectly). Alistair ended up with his uncle's +1 rapier, as the rapier is his weapon of choice and his previous one was only of masterwork quality. Chaevaris got a pair of boots of speed and Harlan ended up with a scroll of remove curse, as he's the only one capable of using it (although Ageratum could certainly give it a try with a successful Use Magic Device check, but said success wouldn't be automatic). And we all earned enough XP that we're anticipating it to be very likely we advance to 7th level at the end of the next adventure.

Oh, and we made sure to kill the rat in the stateroom while it was still knocked out and stable - it was Conrad's familiar and there was no good reason to allow it to (eventually) heal. It got its head removed and tossed into the water before we left the ship.
 
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Richards

Legend
INTERLUDE: WHY ARE THERE NO TOILETS AT ADVENTURING SITES? SONG

To the Esteemed Bard, Holyrood Carp,

I hope all is well with you and you have continued to enjoy success with your performances. This next song I've written is a bit of a departure from the others, focusing not on any individuals but rather an aspect of adventuring to which not many outside the field will have likely given much thought.

The lyrics follow:

The life of an adventurer can be pretty rough​
You see a lot of fighting and you've got to be tough​
But there's an aspect of the job that quite frankly bites:​
Why are there no toilets at adventuring sites?​
An owlbear's been attacking travelers on the road​
You track him down to his lair, fight him in his abode​
And by the time you've slain him, you have made quite a mess​
Then you feel some gastrointestinal distress​
Why are there no toilets at adventuring sites?​
Adventuring is fun but that's not one of the heights​
Adventurers complain, be they swashbucklers or knights:​
Why are there no toilets at adventuring sites?​
You camp on the side of the road for weeks at a time​
You often find yourself covered in sweat and with grime​
But these are merely irritants, what really incites:​
Why are there no toilets at adventuring sites?​
The indignities of adventurers are beyond belief​
Do your business behind a tree and wipe with a leaf​
It isn't life-or-death, merely just one of our plights:​
Why are there no toilets at adventuring sites?​

I wish you continued success with your enjoyable performances.

With Fond Regards,

Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite
 

Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 19: BREAKING THE RING

PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 6​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 6​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 6​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 6​

Game Session Date: 8 March 2023

- - -

"I would like to say a few words, if I may?"

A chill went up Alistair's spine when his father, Lord Ambrose Pastlethwaite, stepped up to the front of the room where the elderly nobleman's grandchildren - less than three months old - had just had their official naming ceremony. So far, the gathering had gone well, with Alistair managing to keep his distance from his parents, who had after all jettisoned him from the family over his father's mistaken belief that his sudden sorcerous abilities had been the result of trafficking with fiends. Now that it had come out that his mother's brother, Conrad Mandelberen, had in fact been trafficking with fiends, Alistair was well aware the topic was even more of a sore subject. Alistair's older brother Atherton had taken the matter into his own hands, seeing that Conrad's intellectual abilities had been drained down to the bare minimum to sustain life, but he would spend the rest of his life as a drooling idiot confined to an asylum - and well out of public view, so as not to cause embarrassment to the family.

And the ceremony had gone so well up to this point, too! Atherton had publicly praised Alistair and his three companions, thanking them for keeping his wife Juliana safe during the last stages of her pregnancy with the twins, for bringing them back to Greyhawk City safely from Ghourmand Vale, and for ridding the Silver Moon of the evil elements Conrad had hired on as crew. He'd even told them after the naming ceremony had officially concluded, and the guests were now mingling amongst each other and lining up to see the babies, that he'd had 7,000 pieces of gold deposited in each of the adventurers' names with the Chandler's Guild, a sum that could be drawn upon here in Greyhawk City as needed. Things had certainly been looking up - until Lord Ambrose made his request and all eyes turned his way.

Lord Ambrose's eyes, Alistair couldn't help but notice, were aimed directly at him.

"I believe, Alistair, you are wearing a signet ring you should no longer be wearing," he announced.

Alistair visibly gulped. He was, of course, still wearing the Pastlethwaite signet ring he'd been given upon his thirteenth birthday; his only concession to having been thrown out of his birth family being he wore it with the family crest inward so it wasn't visible when in public, so as not to advertise the fact he was a Pastlethwaite in areas where it could get back to his father. (The young sorcerer proudly wore it normally when in Ghourmand Vale.) He was, after all, not fully sure of the implications of having been thrown out of the family: was he no longer to consider "Pastlethwaite" to be his last name? In that case, how did one go about getting a new last name? Still, if his father was determined to make a public spectacle of this whole affair, undoing all of the public good will Atherton had generated on his little brother's behalf, then by the gods Alistair wasn't going to make a poor showing of it: he'd take this new humiliation with his head held high. Slowly, deliberately, and without breaking eye contact with his father, he raised his right hand and made a show of removing the signet ring from his finger. A retort came to his tongue, and he wondered if he dared speak it aloud, but the opportunity vanished before he had to make a decision, for Lord Ambrose's next words were, "It is high time my son wore a signet ring more appropriate to his station!"

Reaching into his vest pocket, the heavyset nobleman pulled out an iron ring covered in platinum runes, with the Pastlethwaite crest in bold along its top face. "This is a ring of spell storing, much more suited to your proud new role as a Trained Professional Adventurer, bringing honor to the Pastlethwaite name!" Alistair moved forward through the crowd, blinking back tears, and shook his father's hand in the proper manner by which two members of the nobility displayed a public show of affection. But it was all Alistair could do not to wrap his arms around his father in relief.

Atherton took the Trained Professional Adventurers aside when he had a moment. "If you're up for it," he said, "I'd like you to escort Gundrun Clearspike back to her clan. Her father, Larson, took the barbarians you rescued, both on the way to Greyhawk City and from involuntary service aboard the Silver Moon, and headed back north to their homelands. They intended to have a go at the orcs who had captured them into slavery and wanted Gundrun left behind for a few days to ensure her safety. If you're willing, I've got a cargo ship that will take you to the northern shore of the Nyr Dyv and then it's about two weeks north from there."

Alistair looked to Harlan, the group's unofficial leader. "But of course," agreed the paladin at once. "We're ready to leave at your - and her - convenience."

And thus it was that two weeks later found the four adventurers, now outfitted in proper cold weather gear, riding their mounts northward through the increasingly colder lands. Gundrun rode her own rugged horse, purchased in the city for the trip, and she led the group unerringly to her family's traditional lands. But when they hit their small village, they found a slightly smaller number of the barbarian tribe than Gundrun had expected to see - and those, her father among them, that were about looked much the worse for wear, many sporting new scars and bleeding wounds.

"Father!" exclaimed Gundrun, leaping down from her horse. "What has happened?"

"We had it out with the orcs who'd ambushed us those months earlier," Larson replied, giving his daughter a fierce hug. "We managed to beat them back and slew them to the last, even though it cost us a few fighting men to do so. But then we ourselves were routed, by a giant and a pack of winter wolves. And when the dragon showed up...Hell, we lost seven there in one fell swoop when it attacked us out of nowhere. We had to fall back, tend to our wounds. But give us a day or two, and we'll give 'em another try!"

"How big was the dragon?" asked Chaevaris. The barbarian leader admitted it was a small one, not much bigger than a horse, and if that had been all they'd had to contend with they'd have been able to overcome it, but when added to a hill giant and a pack of five winter wolves, it had been more than they could handle at once.

"What do you think?" Harlan asked his three companions. "We know the slavers we fought employed an ettin, an elf spellcaster, and a group of orcs. This giant is obviously allied with the orcs, at least. I think we should take out this threat to the well-being of these free people." Chaevaris readily agreed, Alistair and Ageratum adding their support. Larson offered to bring along his men, but the half-elf had him stand down. "You are all in need of healing and rest," he told them. "We are all hale and hearty; let us see what we can accomplish on our own first. We will not hesitate to fall back and seek your assistance should their numbers prove too much for us to handle. And it seems you have done the majority of the work for us, in any case, taking out all of the orcs on your own." Larson, his barbaric pride thus assuaged, agreed to let the four heroes go off on their own to see what they could do about the situation. He gave them a brief overview of the lay of the land: directly north were the fens, beyond which lay a valley which branched off into a "Y" - it was to the right fork of the "Y" that the forces which had driven off the Frost barbarian tribe had laired.

Leaving Gundrun to reunite with her people and tend to their wounds, the four Trained Professional Adventurers rode north into the fens. Ambrose flew ahead, scouting out the way, alighting on a tree branch every so often to allow those on horseback to catch up. But Alistair felt an excitement and a feeling of immediate concern over the empathic link he shared with his grackle familiar, about the same time Chaevaris's keen elven eyes spotted a figure in the sky ahead. "Flying creature, approaching from the direction of the sun!" the archer called out, drawing her longbow and notching an arrow into place.

"Where?" asked Ageratum, pulling one of her kobold spears into position to stab up at anything that might approach her on her pony, Munson. "I don't see anything!"

"Nor I," added Alistair, pulling out his trusty wand of magic missile and shading his eyes to glare into the sun. Then he saw a dark figure, with leathery bat-wings flapping the creature forward through the air towards the group. "Wait a minute, got it!" he declared. "It's the dragon!" Ageratum slipped from Munson's saddle and gave her pony a slap on its flank to get it to move away; she didn't want him to be in the midst of combat with a dragon is she could help it. She then pulled one of Alistair's "pebble-boulders" - which he'd been restocking each day for the past two weeks during their northward trek - and dropped it at her feet. It returned to its full size upon impact, granting her a bit of cover in the otherwise open field in which they found themselves. She hunkered down behind it, spear raised and ready.

Chaevaris likewise slid from her saddle, but only to ensure she had a more stable perch from which to aim her arrow. As the creature approached, the elven archer could tell this was much darker in scale coloration than she would have guessed, for she had assumed the dragon the Frost Barbarians had encountered was a white, given its association with winter wolves. These scales were a reddish brown. But no matter; the elf could affix an arrow through its reptilian head no matter what color its scales.

Alistair dismounted from Zephyr and hastily cast a mage armor spell upon himself as Ambrose flew off to the side, well out of the dragon's breath weapon range. Harlan dismounted by the sorcerer's side and cast a bless spell upon the group before unsheathing his flaming burst longsword from its scabbard. But it was apparent to all by now that this was no white dragon coming towards them and lowering its elevation as it moved in for a dive, it was a--

"Wyvern!" Chaevaris called out, releasing her arrow and watching it streak through the air to bury itself in the reptile's shoulder, right by the wing. She could see the creature had no front legs, and its tail, raised high above its head in readiness to plunge downward when it got within range, was tipped with a scorpionlike stinger, dripping with venom. The wyvern hissed in pain and dropped closer, now a mere 60 feet from Harlan, who as usual stood in the front of the assembled group with his sword readied for action. Ageratum raised her spear in a throwing stance, waiting for it to get closer. Alistair opted not to wait, for the aerial beast was now well within range of his wand; firing off a blast, he sent five missiles streaking unerringly towards the monster to crash into it head-on. The wyvern by now was looking much the worse for wear and altered its dive, opting to allow a few quick wing-strokes to gain it back some of the elevation it had lost in its dive towards what it had mistakenly thought to be easy prey. The change of course, however, came too late, for Chaevaris brought the wyvern down with a well-placed arrow through its head. It came crashing down to the ground in a tangle of limbs, lifeless neck and tail swinging around madly as it crashed and then lay still.

Harlan almost seemed a bit disappointed that he hadn't gotten to contribute to the thing's death, but Ageratum was perfectly fine not having had the opportunity to throw her spear. After all, she found fighting things that didn't have any noticeable loot readily at hand to be not at all worth the effort. Still, just to be safe, she drew her short sword and slit the creature's throat - one never knew how much interference Harlan's carried Blood Mirror gem could mess with an otherwise clean kill. Then, without a further word, the four remounted their steeds and returned to their trek towards the "Y" shaped canyon further north.

Ambrose resumed his role as forward scout, until they got to the "Y" and took the rightmost fork. Soon thereafter, Harlan and Chaevaris, with their elven sight, saw a score of dead bodies lying on the cold earth before them: a few human barbarians, but a much greater number of orcs. Harlan noted a few of the corpses looked to have been chewed upon and partially eaten by large wolves, and there was more than one place where an impression in the ground - usually accompanied by a rather large quantity of dried blood - showed where a body had been but was no longer. Chaevaris pointed out the lack of drag marks by the missing corpses and voiced her opinion they had likely been taken away by something that carried it aloft. "This is the work of the dragon, no doubt," she asserted.

There was a hill directly ahead, with a cave opening facing the group and the scattered field of corpses. It was dark inside the cave, with just a glimmer of flickering light from the very back. Fortunately, the cave opening was tall enough for Alistair to ride Zephyr directly inside. "I don't like the idea of leaving the horses outside, especially when there might be winter wolves about," he whispered to the group before dismounting. Ambrose alit upon the back of the saddle, Alistair instructing him to look after the mounts and keep an eye out. "We'll be going deeper into the cave," he told his familiar. "You give us a warning if anything approaches from outside." Then the sorcerer cast an unseen servant spell to bring forth Ogilvy, passing the human-sized force one of the small pouches of pebble-stones he'd been carrying with him; judging by the number stitched into the pouch, it was the one with the four stones whose magic would expire later that evening if not used up before. "Drop these, one at a time, on the heads of anyone attacking us," he advised his silent servant.

Chaevaris rode Talkacha into the cave, swinging down from the saddle as she did so. Seeing there was no immediate danger in this first chamber - although her keen elven vision picked up what Alistair had failed to note in the back: a screen of hanging furs along the northwest, no doubt blocking off a passageway to another cavern - and lit her bullseye lantern, which she then shone down towards the back of the cave. There was another passageway off to the northeast, this one free of hanging furs.

Harlan dismounted from his white horse Law and strode towards the back of the cave, flaming sword in hand. He was headed towards the northeastern passageway, but as he got closer, he could see a hill giant advancing from the other side of the hanging screen of furs, stepping beside a campfire that was no doubt responsible for the flickering light they'd noted outside. He tightened his grip upon his longsword, holding his shield up before him and allowing the giant to advance upon him.

The hill giant looked down at the half-elf and, apparently making no differentiation between the well-armored paladin and the Frost Barbarian tribe he'd helped capture into slavery, grumbled, "Stupid barbarians, good only as slaves and meat." The fact that his mouth drooled as he said it showed which role Grolth preferred for Harlan at the moment.

Ageratum had been the last one to ride her mount into the cave and was busy slathering on a quick dose of stone salve; a hill giant, a dragon, and a pack of winter wolves all sounded like plenty of good reasons for a little halfling to have as much protection as she could!

A flash of motion caught Harlan's eye. Spinning to the right, he saw a quartet of winter wolves advancing down the passageway from that direction, as Grolth stepped forward and forced the paladin to give him his full attention for the moment. He dodged a massive greatclub that the hill giant swung his way, ducking beneath the weapon as it passed by overhead. As Grolth was momentarily thrown off balance, Alistair gave him a blast from his wand, while Ambrose suddenly gave a frantic cawing from near the cave entrance. He'd heard the flapping of leathery wings outside the cave, off to the left, indicating the dragon was coming in for a landing and would soon be entering through the front cave opening. Involuntarily, a stream of white waste exited the bird's body and splashed over Alistair's saddle; the sorcerer would no doubt wish to cast a prestidigitation spell before he once more rode astride Zephyr.

Sure enough, a white-scaled, reptilian face peered around the cave opening, balanced upon a snakelike neck. He sucked in air and sent a blast of frigid vapors encompassing Ageratum and the riding mounts all standing there; Ambrose managed to take wing and shield himself behind Zephyr's body, but the frost covered each of the mounts, harming them all to one degree or another. Munson, the closest to the cave opening, took the brunt of the attack and toppled over onto his side, while the other three horses, in a fit of panic, raced back outside the cave to take their chances out in the open. Ambrose followed them, knowing full well he had given his master all the warning he'd been expected to - Alistair and the others would have to take it from there. The halfling, however, had dropped to the ground beside her pony and shielded herself from all harm in that fashion; rising to her feet with her short swords in hand, she swore she'd cut the dragon's heart out herself if Munson had been slain by its frigid breath weapon.

Realizing there was no way the group could take on a hill giant and five winter wolves from the back of the cave and a young white dragon from the front all at the same time, Chaevaris took out the sole arrow from her quiver that contained one of the clothlike items resulting from one of Alistair's shrink item spells that wasn't a small boulder. Shooting the arrow at the stone floor in the corridor to the northeast, the archer let it fly; upon impact with the ground, the fabric covering the arrow's head resumed its normal form, that of a blazing bonfire that completely blocked the ten-foot-wide passageway. With yelps of fear, the four winter wolves approaching from that direction backed off from the fearsome flames; leaving a much smaller number of foes for the Trained Professional Adventurers to have to deal with at one time.

Pulling another arrow from her quiver in a practiced move, Chaevaris shot it at the hill giant menacing Harlan. Unfortunately, that one missed its mark, but the archer took comfort in the fact that the shot she really needed to pull off - the "bonfire reactivation shot" - had gone off completely as planned. She figured they had several minutes before they had to worry about the large blaze dying down to the point the winter wolves might try to push their way through it.

Harlan moved up to attack Grolth, accepting a swing from the giant's greater reach as the price for doing business. He took a glancing blow off his shield that rattled his arm up to the shoulder, but then struck true with his flaming blade, cutting and searing the massive brute along his side. Behind the giant, Harlan saw the white-furred face of another winter wolf, but fortunately the passageway coming out of that side-cavern was too narrow to allow it to move past Grolth and help attack the half-elf paladin just yet.

A little fearful of closing with a dragon that much larger than her own spare form, Ageratum grabbed up one of her kobold shortspears and hurled it at the reptile. It missed, but the dragon flinched away regardless, allowing the halfling to retreat further down the central cave, closer to the relative safety of her friends.

Grolth slammed his greatclub into Harlan's shield again, bending it out of shape and almost making the elf's entire left arm go numb. Alistair sent another charge from his magic missile wand flying into the giant bully, at the same time calling out for Ogilvy to help Ageratum with the dragon. Obediently, the invisible unseen servant moved over beside the dragon - who saw nothing but a small coin pouch apparently hovering in the air - and released a "pebble-boulder" while holding it above the dragon's head. Upon impact, it resumed its normal size, resulting in a rather fearsome blow powered solely by the force of gravity. Better yet, it caused the dragon to look around fearfully, trying to pinpoint the invisible attacker from nowhere who had thrown a large boulder at it without it even hearing it come flying into the cave. It spun about, peering across the field of dead bodies looking for a hidden giant, knowing from personal experience that both hill giants and frost giants liked throwing large rocks at their enemies to soften them up. The dragon released another blast of its frigid breath weapon just in case, but there was nobody within range the way it had been pointed. (And now the dragon was worried there was an invisible giant there in the cave with it - possibly with a spellcasting ally granting it greater invisibility?)

Activating her boots of speed to grant her a few moments under the effects of a haste spell, Chaevaris used her faster-than-normal speed to shoot three arrows in extremely rapid succession over at Grolth, hoping to take him out before he landed a lethal blow upon Harlan with his massive greatclub. But while only one of the three hit hard enough to pierce the giant's flesh, it took his concentration off of the paladin long enough for him to get in a perfect stab deep within the giant's midsection, burying the majority of his flaming blade inside Grolth's massive gut. He pulled out the weapon and brought it in a wide arc, but the hill giant staggered back out of range, almost trampling the winter wolf behind it as he cried out in pain, clutching his wounded belly. Behind the bonfire, the other four winter wolves tried getting past the fearsome flames, yapping and barking at it to no avail.

Realizing the advantages to be had by concentrating on taking down a single enemy, Ageratum charged across the cave, away from the dragon and straight for Grolth. Her short sword slashed across the front of a meaty shin, cutting to the bone and causing a flow of blood to spray from the wound. Then another blast from Alistair's wand sent the hill giant toppling backwards, unconscious and bleeding out, until the impartial Blood Mirror automatically stabilized his wounds based on nothing more than his proximity. (Ageratum promised herself she'd come back later and take care of that oversight.)

Ogilvy, continuing to obey his master's last orders, fetched another pebble from the sack, held it above the now-paranoid dragon's head, and released it, to plummet onto its noggin as a boulder and crash to the cave floor. He wasn't dealing the creature a whole lot of damage by doing so, but just enough to make him frantic in trying to fend off his unknown and unseen attacker. In a panicked frenzy, the dragon lashed out with the claws of its forelegs and its mouthful of sharp teeth, trying ineffectually to catch its invisible tormentor in its powerful jaws and grasping talons.

With Grolth down, the giant's favored winter wolf was able to scramble over his body and move in for the attack. Chaevaris responded with a trio of well-placed arrows, each of the three hitting its mark and burying itself up to the feathered ends in its furry pelt. Pain and fear in its eyes and blood spilling from its canine lips, the wolf howled in agony but still kept coming. Harlan scrambled backwards, hastily laying on hands and healing up the worst of the damage he'd taken from Grolth's swinging greatclub. The wolf expelled a cone of frosty breath, similar but less powerful than that of the dragon, which engulfed only Ageratum, but the halfling dodged to the side at the last moment, warned by a keen sense of self-preservation that bypassed her own conscious mind and allowed her act without pausing to consider her actions. She landed on her feet off to the side, unharmed by the frosty spray.

But rather than stay out of harm's way, she immediately charged the wolf, both of her short swords stabbing in at it in a pinching maneuver. The wolf, in trying to dodge one blade, only made it that much easier for the other one to pierce the side of its shaggy neck. And then Alistair stepped up, casting the scorching ray spell he'd stored inside his ring of spell storing (it had ended up being a minor version of the ring, but no matter - although it figured his father wouldn't publicly broadcast the fact he'd spent the minimum amount possible for his gesture of forgiveness to his youngest son). The gout of flame flew over Ageratum's head to strike the white-furred wolf straight in the face, scorching its muzzle and causing it to stagger on its feet, barely able to stand.

Ogilvy, in the meantime, dropped a third "pebble-boulder" onto the white dragon's head, causing it no small amount of panic. It decided to change its strategy thus far and ignore its invisible attacker, in the hopes it might do likewise. Instead, it raced deeper into the cave and bit Alistair on the shoulder, causing the young sorcerer to cry out in pain. Chaevaris spun about at the cry and sent a trio of arrows at the dragon, hitting with two and burying them deep through the young dragon's still relatively soft scales. (Soft, that is, only in comparison to how tough they'd be if the dragon were allowed to grow to many times its current size, although that was looking less and less likely as the combat continued. Only now was it starting to get the idea that fleeing back to its own cave might not be a bad idea, for these "barbarians" were much tougher than the last batch that had shown up here.)

Harlan focused his attention onto the dragon's aura long enough to determine to his own satisfaction its evil nature, and then charged, channeling Pelor's evil-smiting energy through the flaming blade of his sword as he did so. The dragon fell back at the strength of the blow, a deep gash having cut a line of pain through the scales above its belly.

The wolf took in a deep breath and exhaled, sending a blast of frost breath at Ageratum; the halfling easily skirted out of the way, but the attack took every last ounce of strength from the staggered wolf, and it collapsed, unconscious, onto the stone floor of the cave. The little halfling, finding herself now closer to Grolth's unconscious form than anyone else, took the opportunity to run the edge of one of her blades across his throat, opening it up wider than the Blood Mirror could fix. Best of all, Harlan's back was turned as he faced the dragon, not that Ageratum was necessarily concerned that the paladin might not approve of that particular action in Grolth's case, given his role as a slave-taker.

Alistair dropped to the ground, rolled, and cast a scorching ray up at the dragon, catching him in the underside of the jaw. As anticipated, the cold-based dragon didn't like the fire-based spell any more than had the winter wolf. Ogilvy advanced from behind on the dragon and dropped the last of the four "pebble-boulders" onto its head, before moving back to its master to receive further instructions (or, failing that, another pouch of four more magically-shrunken pebbles). Doing its best to ignore the pain of its most recent wounds, the dragon made a full-out attack against Harlan, biting, scratching, and even buffeting the paladin with its wings in a desperate attempt to bring at least one of its attackers down. Harlan weathered the barrage of attacks, but it was evident he wouldn't be able to take too much more, for he almost stumbled under the frenzy of natural weapons. But then the hasted archer pumped another three arrows into the dragon, leaving it just as ready to fall as Harlan. It was anybody's guess which of the two would drop first.

Anybody's guess but Harlan's that is, for the paladin had full faith in his combat training and the protection of his deity in the face of adversity. He stabbed forward with his blade using all of his might, slicing effortlessly past the dragon's scales and piercing its heart with the tip of his flaming blade. The dragon dropped to the stone cave floor like a rock, and Harlan made a desperate - and ultimately successful - effort not to join his reptilian foe sprawled out on the ground.

That left only the four winter wolves pinned behind the bonfire. Chaevaris walked steadily toward the flames, popping open a flask of lantern oil as she did so. Peering through the flickering flames, she grinned wildly as she saw the side cavern was in fact a dead end; the wolves had nowhere in which they could retreat. Holding the flask alongside the end of her bow in her left hand and dipping the tip of one arrow after another into the oil, she fired them through the bonfire, igniting each arrow in turn mid-flight, to strike a helpless winter wolf. It was, she decided with a grim grin, very much like shooting fish in a barrel. It didn't take her long to take them all out, especially not when Alistair stepped up beside her and started casting his daily allotment of magic missile spells from the store of arcane energy he was able to wield on his own.

Although still fairly wounded himself, Harlan staggered over to the front of the cave and cast a cure light wounds spell upon Munson, bringing the wounded pony back to full consciousness. Ageratum would need him, he realized, to ride back to the Frost Barbarians' village. Then, with all of their foes slain (Ageratum having made sure the deed was permanent with a good throat-slitting as needed), the Trained Professional Adventurers explored the entire lair, seeking treasure. (Dragons, Ageratum informed them, were well renowned for their love of treasure.) Sure enough, there was a sloping passageway behind the giant's cave that led up to the dragon's lair, complete with an opening at the ceiling to allow it to come and go as needed. There, they found two cases of Furyondy fire schnapps, golden place settings, and bars of silver. At the halfling's suggestion, Alistair cast a shrink item spell upon the white dragon's corpse, for Ageratum said a dragon's hide could be valuable if sold to the right person - an armorer, for example. The sorcerer picked up the shrunken body - now in a clothlike fabric form that hopefully wouldn't decompose - and placed it carefully in his pack, while the others distributed the dragon's meager hoard into their own pouches, after the sorcerer had likewise reduced them in size with his spells.

"Well," said Harlan with a vigorous enthusiasm, "I think we can report back to Larson a fully successful mission!" He mounted back up onto Law and led his horse back south. The others mounted up and followed.

- - -

Not knowing what Frost Barbarians do to their deceased (burial? pyre?), we left their dead where they lay for now, figuring the way was now safe so we could return with the members of the tribe able to travel and they could tend to the matter as befit their beliefs.

As expected, this adventure brought us to the lofty heights of 7th level. Alistair opted to learn the spells acid splash (it can't hurt to learn a few more combat spells, no matter how low their damage output!) and flame arrow, the latter for the benefit of Chaevaris because I promised Logan I'd do so. (Plus, Alistair has a light crossbow as a fallback weapon, so the spell might prove to be useful to him as well.) But from now on, Alistair's going to focus on making himself the best Trained Professional Adventurer he can be, for he has a reputation to uphold - and that means making the most of the few spells he'll be able to master over his 20-level career as a sorcerer. After all, he "wasted" a few spell levels on comfort spells before even realizing he was a sorcerer.
 
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