Pathfinder 1E JollyDoc's Jade Regent


Dramatis Personae:

Boris Ushki (goblin rogue): found as an infant during the late unpleasantness involving the Rise of the Runelords, Boris was taken in and raised by the Desnan priestess Koya Mvashti. He has served in her household as a cook ever since

Mazael Cravenlock (aasimar warpriest of Desna): working as a sometime caravan guard, he befriended Koya on his numerous trips through Sandpoint due to their shared religious beliefs

Haroldo Seigfreid (human bloodrager): the blacksheep outcast in a family of sorcerers due to his limited magical ability, he harbors a thus-far unrequited affection for Ameiko Kaijitsu

Yannus Vhiski (human cleric/evangelist of Shelyn): the younger brother of Sandru Vhiski, and adoptive son of Koya, he is recently returned from a military campaign at the World Wound, andi currently pondering his next step

Koman Locke (human slayer/vanguard): another adoptive son of Koya, he was found in with an Ulfen raiding party defeated by Sandpoint guardsmen.

Piotr Satarma (human void-touched sorcerer): son of a wealthy merchant who died at the hands of goblins, he is trying to rebuild his family business, and also courts the affections of Ameiko

Lucian (half-elf wood oracle): a young protege of the elven ranger Shalelu Adrosana, he seeks to prove himself worthy of his teacher's favor

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4715-Heroes Are Born

At the Rusty Dragon tavern in the Varisian town of Sandpoint, several old friends and acquaintances gathered. There were the adopted brothers, Yannus Vhiski and Koman Locke, each recently returned home after several years away fighting wars or pursuing fortune and glory. Their mother's house servant, the goblin Boris, accompanied them, delighted to finally have a day off. The wandering priest and sometime caravan guard Mazael Cravenlock, lounged in one corner, just in from another run with Sandru Vhiski. The young merchant, and, some whispered, sorcerer, Piotr Satarma leaned on the bar, gossiping with Ameiko Kaijitsu, the young Tian woman who owned the tavern. Piotr himself was also just returned to Sandpoint to settle his father's affairs after the old man had finally drank himself to death. Across the room, young Haroldo Seigfreid glared at Piotr. The morose and brooding fellow had long harbored a secret affection for Ameiko, but had never been able to act on it, ashamed of his black-sheep standing among his brothers, all capable sorcerers in their own right. Haroldo hated sorcerers. Lastly, the half-breed elf, Lucian Jones, had wandered into the tavern, wide-eyed and always amazed at what he considered "the big city." He had accompanied the famed huntress Shalelu Adosana from his village of Crying Leaf, tagging along behind his idol when she came to Sandpoint to investigate rumors of increased goblin activity in the Brinestump Marsh.

In fact, goblins were all anyone in Sandpoint could talk about. For the past several weeks, the Licktoad goblins had been attacking caravans on the Lost Coast Road with increasing frequency and boldness. The source of their newfound bravery seemed to be a supply of pyrotechnics they had somehow come into possession of. No one had been killed yet, but several merchants and caravan guards had been injured. The situation had escalated to the point where the mayor had reinstated the bounty on goblin ears, which had been banned several years back after the Duke boys had gone missing in the swamp while trying to earn some extra coin.

Mazael loudly, and perhaps a bit drunkenly, declared that he would be glad to take care of the goblin problem, and would be willing to split the bounty with anyone willing to accompany him. Piotr readily agreed to join him, as his family's business, already almost driven to ruin by his father, could ill-afford any more losses. Haroldo would be damned if he was going to let some jumped-up magician claim all the glory, and curry favor with Ameiko, while he stood by and did nothing. He signed up as well. Lucian raised his hand to volunteer, albeit a little hesitantly. This might be his chance to finally impress Shalelu, but he feared making a fool out of himself in his mentor's eyes, or worse yet, needing her to come and rescue him. Koman nudged Yannus. It had been a long time since the brothers had adventured and explored together, and after all they had seen, a few unruly goblins seemed like just the thing to clear their heads. Yannus agreed, but only on the condition that they try to deal with the situation with as little carnage as possible. Lastly, Boris didn't so much volunteer as assume that it was beyond question that he was coming along. He was a goblin, after all, so who would know more about how to reason with his own kind? Who indeed??

It was at that moment that Ameiko pointed out that no one knew exactly where in the Brinestump the Licktoads actually lived. She suggested that the group consult with Walthus Proudstump, the old halfling hermit who had declared himself the so-called "warden" of the swamp. The new companions thanked her, and set out for the Brinestump, taking the New Fishing Trail down into the valley where the dense growth of the marsh nearly blocked out the sunlight above. Following the trail led them directly to Walthus' home, a sagging, two-story structure that had definitely seen it's better days. A knock on the door brought the halfling to the threshold, but only to peer out through the cracked opening. When Yannus explained why they had come, Walthus hurriedly told them to look for the Licktoads along the Old Fishing Trail, and then slammed the door in their faces. Suspicious, the group knocked again, and this time, when the halfling impatiently opened the door, Boris pushed his way in, and headed towards the kitchen, offering to whip up a quick meal for the haggard-looking warden. Walthus explained that he wasn't fit to receive company, as earlier in the day, he had to run a giant snake off his property, and unfortunately, the viper had bitten him. Yannus, a priest by training, offered his healing services to the halfling. Walthus accepted, but he still seemed nervous, especially when he noticed Mazael heading upstairs. A look of rage came over his face, which began to ripple unnaturally. Within moments, the halfling had transformed into a horrid creature known as a faceless stalker. A pitched battle ensued, but the adventurers had numbers on their side in the cramped quarters of the house, and they managed to bring the monster down in short order. Moments later, Mazael heard a cry of help from upstairs, and when he went to investigate, he found the real Walthus cowering, injured, in a safe room. The halfling explained that the stalker had ambushed him the day before. He had managed to wound the creature, but had barely managed to escape with his life thanks to his trained pet vipers. Walthus was grateful to his saviors, and confirmed that the Licktoads could indeed be found along the Old Fishing Trail. In addition, he offered them his magic cloak as a reward, and even managed to overlook the fact that Boris tried to abscond with his coin purse before the group took their leave.

Following Walthus' directions through the treacherous swamp, the young adventurers had little trouble finding the Licktoad's village, but when they arrived, it looked as if someone had already beaten them there. The small village was enclosed by a rough log palisade, but the gates had been ripped from their hinges and lay on the ground. The buildings were on raised stilts with elevated walkways, but the whole area had an air of abandonment. A pig stye in the center of the village contained a pile of charred bones...goblin by the looks of them. The group set about exploring the buildings, only to find most of them empty. However, as they opened the door to yet another apparently abandoned hovel, they were met by shrill shrieks as a quartet of dogslicer-wielding goblins towards them. One of them carried a narrow tube in his hand. He pulled a cord on the bottom of it, and sent a volley of small, fiery projectiles towards the heroes. The young, inexperienced and mostly untried adventurers had never fought together. Most of them barely knew one another. But as one group of goblins went down, only to be replaced by a another one, and then another and another, pouring out of the surrounding shacks, they slowly but surely came together. Yannus, used to leading and inspiring young, scared soldiers, lifted his voice above the din of the melee, encouraging the others with his inspired words and songs of battle. Koman, trained to seek weaknesses in an enemy's defenses that others would never notice, struck with uncanny precision and accuracy. Mazael laid about him with his falchion, all the while spitting Desnan curses at his foes, while Haroldo cut a swath of carnage through the goblins, his greatsword dripping red, as his eyes burned with blood rage. Piotr hung back and called upon the magic that he had only recently realized was his to command, sending blinding flashes of light at some goblins, while enveloping others in bone-chilling columns of blackness. Lucian moved among his allies with a confidence he wasn't aware he possessed. As the goblins scored telling blows against them, the young oracle summoned the strength of the very trees around him and used that energy to heal the wounds of his new friends. As for Boris...well, the wily goblin did what he was best at: sowed chaos and dissent wherever he went. The Licktoad goblins were confused by his presence among the tall folk, and Boris used that to his advantage, catching them by surprise, and leaving them wide open to the attacks of his comrades.

The last of the goblins fled towards a large lodge in the center of town before being cut down by Koman. Fearing more goblins might await inside. the heroes split up, with Mazael and Boris looping around the back of the building, while the others headed for the double front doors. In the back, Boris noticed a ladder leading up to a blank back wall. Knowing goblins like he did (since he was one), he surmised that a hidden entrance must be there, and the ladder was left there to help the Licktoads remember where it was. He and Mazael quickly climbed up and found the poorly concealed door. Beyond it, they found themselves in a small chamber with no exits. Boris found two more secret doors, and he and the warpriest decided to open them simultaneously. Mazael hissed when his door opened on a shabby throne room, while Boris giggled with glee when his door opened what passed for the goblins' treasure vault. Mazael leaped forward, only to be met by the goblin chief Rendwattle Gutwad and four of his bodyguards. On the other side of the chamber he saw a pair of double doors shudder as his companions smashed their way in. Chaos erupted as Gutwad fired up a skyrocket firework and launched it in the close interior quarters, temporarily blinding, deafening and scorching everyone around him. The chief fought like a caged beast, even managing to knock Mazael unconscious, but the outcome was inevitable, and the young heroes put every last goblin to the sword.

In the aftermath, Boris was first into the treasure room, but Yannus was on his heels, not quite trusting the goblin to be left alone with anything of value. Plus, the priest wanted no part of lopping the ears off of the goblin corpses for the bounty, and he wanted to keep Boris occupied until the butchery was done. The only thing in the treasure room was a beautifully carved wooden chest. It bore scenes of cranes and frogs playing along a beach, and Koman was able to identify it as being of Minkai origin, a provence in the far-east land of Tian Xia. Inside were many foreign coins, and more fireworks, as well as a collection of finely made shuriken, a masterfully wrought pearl hair pin, and a gold-and-ivory fan that depicted a gecko walking amid cherry blossoms. On the back of this fan, however, someone had drawn a crude map which appeared to depict Brinestump Marsh, with the locations of two shipwrecks and a cave highlighted. The companions finished investigating the village, and were able to determine that a violent battle had taken place several days before. In addition to many goblin bodies, they came upon a handful of skeletal remains that appeared to be human. A large, beaten path left the village to the southeast, obviously the path that the invaders had taken. It led inn the same direction that one of the shipwrecks and the cave had been drawn on the map.


The Trouble With Rat Women

2 Abadius, 4715

The following day, the young adventurers returned to Brinestump Marsh, following the crude map in hopes of finding some long-forgotten treasure in the old shipwrecks marked on it. As they made their way through the swamp, however, they were overcome by the distinct feeling that they were being watched. It was Boris who first spotted the figure in the undergrowth, stalking them. At first, it crawled along on all fours, but then it rose up on legs that bent like a dogs. It's skin was pale, and when its mouth opened, it revealed small appendages on either side that looked like small hands.
"It's him!" the goblin screeched. "The Soggy River Monster!"
All of them had heard the legend, of course. Fisherman and farmers had told tales for the past three years of a creature that lurked in the swamp, preying on the unwary. No fewer than five disappearances had been attributed to it during that time.
The creature lunged at them, but Mazael stepped forward to meet its rush head-on. The beast drew back when it saw the size of the group, obviously not anticipating victims that fought back. Koman and Haroldo joined Mazael, and though the monster fought like a demon possessed, the three warriors brought it down quickly, suffering a few small cuts and abrasions for their effort.
Boris quickly sawed the creature's head from its body and held it aloft victoriously. "Momma Koya going to love this in stew tonight!"

It wasn't much further until they came to an overgrown clearing. In the middle was the burned, scorched remains of a merchant vessel. It was little more than a shell, and the companions were disappointed to find it completely devoid of anything of value. As they searched the wreckage, however, they did come upon the ships nameplate: the Kaijitsu Star.

The group backtracked to the Licktoad village, and set out to the southeast, following the trail left by whomever had attacked the goblins before them. After a short time, the path crossed a second, overgrown trail.
"I recognize this," Koman said. "It's called the Witch's Walk. Supposed to lead to Old Megus's shack."
"The old swamp witch?" Yannus asked his brother. "I thought she was just a story to scare kids."
Koman shrugged. "Who knows, but we're already out here, right? Might as well check it out."

The others had no objections. They were all feeling fairly confident in themselves, what with their victory over the Licktoads, and their defeat of the Soggy River Monster. The trail was old, and long disused, but still easy to follow. A sagging one-story shack sat in a clearing at its end, its walls dingy with age and encrusted with lichen and fungus. A partially collapsed shed sat to one side, while small pouches, twisted knots of feathers, and dangling wind chimes made of bones hung from branches and the roof edge alike.
"We knock?" Boris asked apprehensively, eyeing the decrepit building warily.
"Don't look like nobody's home," Mazael scoffed as he kicked one big boot at the door. "After you," he grinned at the goblin.
Boris shook his head emphatically. "No, Boris look for back door," he said as he skittered off around the back of the shack.
The others followed the war priest into the house, with the exception of Koman. The stalker's nerves were on edge. Something didn't seem right. He decided to hang back and wait to see if Boris found anything.

As Boris came around the back of the house, he caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. What looked like a large rat scurried from under the shack, but as it turned and looked back, it's face looked distinctly...human.
"Crazy rat woman!" Boris shrieked as he chased after the creature. When he turned the far corner, he just saw it dart behind Koman and into the shed.
"It run in shed!" Boris yelled, gesturing frantically. Come! Come!"
He grabbed Koman's arm and dragged the stalker to the back of the shed, where they saw that the wall had mostly collapsed. As the two of them peered into the darkness, they saw four pairs of beady eyes staring back at them. With a shriek, four rats, the size of small dogs, leaped towards them. Boris shrieked as well as he jumped back in surprise, his hands fumbling at his belt, leaving Koman to face the oncoming vermin on his own. Two of the rats leaped at the stalker, sinking their sharp yellow fangs into his thigh and arm, and ripping away chunks of his flesh. Koman went pale as the blood gushed from his wounds, and he staggered away into the woods. By that time, Boris had managed to pull the skyrocket from his belt and ignite it. Still shrieking, he aimed it at the rats and let it fly. It exploded on impact as it struck the first one, setting all four of them alight, and sending them squealing in circles.

Inside the house, the others heard the shouts and explosion coming from the shed, and they all but stumbled over each other rushing back outside.
"There! There!" Boris screamed, hopping up and down and pointing to the roof of the shed. "Crazy rat woman!"
The strange creature had indeed reappeared on the roof, though to Yannus' eyes it looked more like a rat man. It gestured with its all-too-human hands, and out of thin air, a swarm of screeching, biting rats appeared, surrounding Haroldo and Mazael. The two of them began beating at the rats, trying desperately to fight clear, Haroldo retching violently as he struck this way and that.
"Follow Boris!" Boris shouted as he clenched his knife between his teeth and began scaling the sagging wall of the shed. Haroldo, wiping his mouth, quickly grabbed the edge of the roof and hauled himself up, while below, Mazael and Yannus continued to bet off rats both large and small. Piotr added his own magical assistance, sending bolts of energy at the vermin, while Lucian darted among his allies, staunching their bleeding and closing their wounds as quickly as they appeared.
Boris had the rat creature backed to one corner of the roof when Haroldo climbed up, but no sooner had the big man set foot on the rickety structure than it began to sag and creak ominously. A moment later, the entire shed collapsed, dumping all three of them to the ground below. As Haroldo struggled to extricate himself from the rubble, he came face-to-face with the rat creature, and as he locked eyes with it, he felt his heart seized by bone-chilling fear. He stumbled to his feet, turned and ran as fast as he could back towards the house.
Boris, meanwhile, took advantage of the situation to leap at the creature's unprotected back, only to have it suddenly vanish from sight in a flash of light.
"Wait!" Mazael shouted. "It's still here!"
The war priest looked slowly right and left, then closed his eyes as he raised his weapon. With startling speed, he suddenly struck out to his right, and there was a sickening thud and a gout of blood. A moment later, the limp body of the rat creature reappeared on the ground.

A thorough search of the shack revealed the ultimate fate of the swamp witch when her misshapen and malformed remains were discovered in her makeshift laboratory, a victim of her own dark alchemy. Piotr, after examining the remains of the rat creature, identified it as a ratling, and deduced that it must have been the witch's familiar. The group was rewarded for their efforts when they found a hidden cache of magic scrolls tucked away in the wall, as well as a detailed map of the entirety of Brinestump Marsh. The cave on this map was clearly marked with a warning sigil indicating danger. It was only as they prepared to leave the shack that the companions realized that Koman was still missing...

They searched the surrounding swamp for hours, finding only a blood trail heading back in the general direction of Sandpoint. They hurried back through the marsh as quickly as they could, arriving back in town at sundown. Yannus rushed to the home that he and Koman had been sharing with their adoptive mother, Koya, and there he found his brother, bedridden and pale with the old priestess tending his wounds. Koya turned and looked at him disapprovingly as he entered.
"I thought you were going to watch out for him," she said reprovingly. "You know he was never the strong one."
"I'm sorry, Mother," the young cleric said, his eyes downcast. "It all happened so fast."
"This is not a game you're playing," Koya said. "You were a soldier. You fought in battles. You know what life and death means. Your brother does not. His ideas of adventure are naive."
"Yes, Mother," Yannus nodded. "I will be more careful in the future."
At that moment, Boris burst in, waving the map they'd found about wildly.
Look what Boris bring you, Mama Koya!" the goblin shouted. "Boris know you like pretty maps!"
"Always the good boy," Koya smiled approvingly as she patted Boris's cheek.

Haroldo walked into the Rusty Dragon, and his eyes immediately fell upon Piotr chatting chummily with Ameiko at the bar.
"Did you hear of our latest adventure?" he asked the Tian woman as he walked up and loomed over the sorcerer. "I saved the goblin and Mazael from certain death."
Ameiko glanced sideways at Piotr and gave a little smirk.
"That's not quite the way I heard it," she chuckled.
Haroldo's eyes grew dark. He decided he was starting to hate Piotr.

On the other side of the bar, Lucian sat with Shalelu, filling her in on events fro that day, and of their encounter with the goblins the day before. When he'd finished his tale, he reached in his pack and pulled out a small bow, masterfully crafted.
"It belonged to Chief Gutwad," he said as he presented it to the elven ranger.
Shalelu smiled in appreciation.
"You've done well for yourself," she said. "I've always said that there was more to you than meets the eye. I look for great things from you in the future."

The following morning, with Koman fully recovered from his wounds, the companions decided to continue their exploration of Brinestump, starting with the second shipwreck. They found it easily enough, right where it was marked on both maps they'd discovered. It was only slightly in better condition than the previous wreck, it's hull split down the middle as it lay on its side, half sunken in the muck. As they began to explore, however, an odd rattling sound reached their ears from inside the ship's hold. Suddenly, four figures shuffled out of the gloom. They were dressed in odd, laminate armor, and they bore strange, curved short blades, rusted and pitted. It was only once they'd emerged fully into the sunlight that it became obvious that they were no longer among the living. There was no flesh remaining on their bones, and skulls grinned mindlessly from beneath flared helms.
Though taken aback, the young heroes did not hesitate. A few short days before, they had been relative strangers to one another, but now they fought as one, their familiarity with each other's tactics showing through. In short order, they had hacked the skeletal warriors to pieces, and stood victorious once again. It was then that they noticed the nameplate of the wrecked hulk upon which they stood: the Kaijitsu Blossom...


A Destiny Revealed

4 Abadius, 4715

The last stop on the map of Brinestump Marsh was the mysterious cave marked by both the goblins and the old witch Megus. It wasn't difficult to find. A fifty-foot high cliff rose along the marsh's southern border, its face a thick tangle of jutting rocks and bright green vines and nettles. A curtain of those thick vines partially concealed the cave opening at the base of the cliff. Within, a low-ceilinged tunnel stretched away into darkness, a small stream running along one side. It twisted and turned for a ways before opening into a small chamber. In the center of the chamber a hairy red-backed spider the size of a pony crouched, feeding on some sort of large lizard. As it turned towards the intruders, Piotr sent a flash of bright light at its eyes, momentarily dazzling it. Yannus quickly stepped in and drove his glaive through its abdomen, pinning it to the ground while Lucian bludgeoned it to death with a heavy cudgel.

Further along, Mazael caught a glimmer of light coming from a side passage. When he glanced inside, he saw that the source of the flicker was a cluster of glittering crystals that protruded from a small island surrounded by a pool of shallow, brackish water. Intrigued, the war priest waded out into the pool towards the crystals. He'd gone no more than three paces, however, when something struck his leg...hard. Then his leg began to burn, and he felt something tighten around it, like a constricting snake. When he looked down, however, he saw a gelatinous, translucent mass clinging to his lower leg. He didn't let panic seize him. He closed his eyes and focused, murmuring a brief prayer to Desna. A moment later, he was free, his leg slipping free as easily as if it had been greased. He backed quickly towards the tunnel, his blood swirling in the water behind him. As he left the pool, Haroldo charged passed him, his eyes filled with rage. As the ooze creature reared up out of the pool to strike at him, he chopped at it with his great sword. It recoiled, but then struck again, seizing him in its grasp. A moment later, he heard Piotr's annoying chanting from behind him, and from out of thin air, a hail of small, black stones rained down upon the ooze, turning the air and water around it bone-numbingly cold. The creature slipped silently back into the water and did not reemerge.

The winding tunnel finally emerged in a large cavern, the stream running along one side. A half-dozen skeletons, clad in the same foreign armor as the ones at the wreck of the Kaijitsu Blossom, lay scattered about the floor, unmoving. Koman immediately ran to the nearest one and brought his morningstar down on its skull, smashing it. At that moment, the other skeletons began to move, rattling to their feet. Two more rose up out of the stream and began lumbering forward.
"They're going to box us in!" Haroldo shouted as tried to charge through the oncoming horde. He found himself instantly surrounded, and though he raged and lay about him with his blade like a dervish, the undead horrors clawed and raked at him with their filthy nails. Mazael and Koman rushed to his aid, while Yannus stood behind them, stabbing over their shoulders with his glaive. Piotr stood back, focusing his magic on disrupting the dark energy animating the corpses, while Lucian alternated between swinging his cudgel and using the minor magics granted to him by Desna to heal his companions' more grievous injuries. Finally, the last of the skeletons fell and did not rise again, leaving the young heroes panting to catch their breath, and bleeding from multiple wounds. Yannus and Lucian bound them and tended them where they could.

On the far side of the cavern, a single, narrow passage exited. It was short and led to a small, cramped chamber. As the light from Yannus's glaive showed dimly in the far corners, the companions saw a dark alcove on the opposite side. In it there was a large chest, and seated upon it was a man, silent and unmoving. As the group cautiously approached, he rose his feet, the sword he'd been cradling on his lap know naked in his hand. He was dressed in the same armor as the skeletons, though his appeared in better condition, and he wore a large, flared helmet on his head. It was only when he'd stepped into the light that his skull-like visage made it clear that he was no longer among the living, though two pinpoints of light gleamed from his hollow eye sockets. His gaze fell upon the hulking form of Haroldo, and he nodded. Then he spoke, strange-sounding words rasping from his lipless mouth.
"He's speaking Tien," Piotr whispered. "Ameiko has been teaching me the language."
Haroldo glared at the sorcerer. "So what is he saying, smart boy?"
"He's challenging you," Piotr replied with a slight smile. "You want me to use my magic on him?"
Haroldo snarled in response, and turned towards the skeletal champion, his eyes blazing as he raised his own sword. The walking corpse met his charge, steel ringing on steel, and it slipped its curved blade beneath Haroldo's and slashed the blood rager across the abdomen. Haroldo grunted, but did not falter. He swung his huge sword like a battering ram, knocking the creature to one side. Then Lucian and Koman were by his side, moving to flank the skeleton. Though it moved stiffly, it was obvious that, whatever the fiend was now, it had been a skilled warrior when it was alive. It parried and countered the blows of three warriors, giving as good as it got. The three companions eventually overwhelmed it through sheer force and numbers, and when Lucian's cudgel finally cracked its skull, it fell silently to the ground, unmoving.

The dead warrior's blade was a thing of beauty. It was etched with the images of seven shrikes perched on a coiling branch that ran the length of the blade, but the hilt and pommel were loose, and twisted in one's grip. The chest that he had been seated on was carved rosewood. Inside, the interior was velvet-lined and contained many slots. Most were empty, but several still held wondrous treasures, including 10 delicate flasks containing multi-colored elixirs, a ring carved from ivory, a slender wand fashioned from lustrous teak wood, a beautifully wrought chain shirt, a curved short-bladed sword forged from cold iron, and many more of the fireworks similar to what the heroes had taken from the Licktoad goblins.

The companions loaded up their booty and headed home to Sandpoint to tell their tale and bask in the glory of their adventure. Ameiko was specially interested in the artifacts they had recovered, and offered to buy all of them for her collection. Piotr told her of the battle with undead warriors in her native tongue of Tien, which made her laugh in delight. Haroldo, not to be overshadowed, interjected how the skeletal champion had singled him out for individual combat, and this time, Mazael was there to back up his story, grinning mischievously at Piotr as he did so.
After that, the companions settled back into their normal lives, their adventures now a fond and fading memory. That is, until two days later when each of them found themselves mysteriously summoned to the Rusty Dragon by Ameiko. When they had all gathered, she reached under the bar and pulled out the carved sword they had retrieved from the undead warrior. The hilt had been repaired, but the pommel had been removed. Ameiko reached inside and pulled out a small rolled parchment.
"The smith found that the hilt was hollow while he was repairing it," she said. "This was inside."
She unrolled it and began to read.

"My son, my heir. You know now that I have kept secrets from you. You were always a perceptive son, and while you may not understand my reasons for secrecy, I hope that you will realize it was necessary. Know that I was not angry with you for opening the warding box-I was angry with myself for withholding the truth from you and forcing you to seek out what I should have given to you. The words I spoke to you were from anger with myself and it shames me to think of them now. I write this note as an apology, and to beg you to leave these secrets to history.
The next few days will be the most important I have faced in many years. If our family's enemies have, as I hope, forgotten us, I shall reunite with you and your wife, and your mother and I shall reveal the truth to you. But if they still seek the contents of the warding box, I fear that I may not speak to you again. The box holds our family's greatest treasure, so I have returned it to Kortun's care, and it shall remain hidden in the secret third vaults under Brinewall Castle-obscured from our enemies, I hope and pray. I will not grant our foes the satisfaction of killing me themselves-if it comes to it, let my death, by my own hand, be my final act to protect you, so that our enemies believe our line ended.
I have instructed Tsutamu to keep this letter from you, delivering it to you only if I fail to return as I hope to. If I can, I will reveal all to you myself. If I cannot, this final missive from a father to a son must suffice as an apology in place of an explanation, and you must destroy this letter, flee to the south, and never return to Brinewall. If our enemies find what I have hidden, there will be nothing here for you. If they do not, they will lie in wait forever for your return.
I hope to see you again soon, my son. But my heart tells me I will not. I am sorry to have failed you. But I am proud of you, and I know you will survive this old man's shame. You are strong and you must remain so. For if you are reading this and I am gone, know that our enemies will never stop searching for us, and that is why I cannot reveal the truth to you until I know there is no chance of them finding us again."
Rokuro Kaijitsu
Sunday, 29 Desnus, 4687

"Who is Rokuro?" Piotr asked when she'd finished.
"He is...was," Ameiko corrected, "my grandfather. Which means this letter was intended for my father, Lonjiku. My father and I...we really never had the best relationship. We didn't talk a lot, so I don't know much about his life in Minkai before the family came south. I did some research after I first got the note. The town of Brinewall lies about 500 miles north of here. It was mysteriously wiped out 28 years ago...the day after this note was written, in fact. The captain of the guard there was a man named Kortun, and Tsutamu was my grandfather's personal bodyguard, a samurai warrior. I guess, maybe that was him that you guys fought in the caves. It's starting to make sense now, the two shipwrecks in the swamp, the undead soldiers, the fireworks. Only, it doesn't really. What was my family doing in Brinewall in the first place? Why did they flee? What is this secret my grandfather was talking about? You know, I feel bad about saying this, but I'm actually kind of excited! A mystery involving my family? The chance to explore a ghost town and an abandoned castle? I think I'm feeling a road trip in my near future. Sandru has been talking about making another caravan run north, and I know Koya would jump at the chance to go on the road like her mother used to. I already talked to Shalelu about it, and she has agreed to come along. What about you lot? You up for a little more adventure??

As it turned out, they were. None of the young heroes had any urgent ties keeping them in Sandpoint. In fact, for Yannus and Koman, it was going to be like a family vacation, traveling with their brother Sandru, and their mother Koya. Piotr was thrilled at the chance to spend a bit more quality time with Ameiko, and Haroldo wasn't about to let him take advantage of it. Lucian was overjoyed to be able to actually adventure with his mentor, Shalelu, but he tried not to let it show too much, for fear of being thought overeager. For Mazael, if there was money to be made in the service of Desna, that was all the excuse he needed. And finally, Boris was not to be denied. He immediately volunteered to be the cook for the caravan, much to the dismay of the other travelers.

Sandru's caravan consisted of a covered wagon for passengers, a supply/cargo wagon, and a fortune teller's wagon, which Koya would use. Ameiko put up funds for supplies and further improvements, and the company used the money to purchase another covered, and another supply wagon, and to reinforce all of the transports. Sandru would be driving the lead wagon, and he hired four local brothers, Dale, Jeff, Bobby and Mario, to drive the others. He also convinced their sisters, Rachel, Paula and Julia to come along as additional cooks, despite much grumbling and cursing by Boris. Haroldo would serve as a guard for the caravan, while Mazael, Lucian and Shalelu would scout the terrain ahead, and forage for food. Koman volunteered to ride up front with Sandru and act as a guide to navigate the road. Ameiko and Yannus would act as healers for the troupe, in the event of injury or illness, and Piotr offered his merchant experience to help with trading in any towns they passed.

Within two days, the caravan was outfitted and ready to travel. The pulled out of Sandpoint with little fanfare, but much excitement and anticipation. Those feelings were quickly tempered with a healthy dose of reality when, not 20 miles out from the town, still on the heavily travelled Lost Coast Road, the train was set upon by a band of marauding ogres, who just happened to stumble out of the woods as the caravan was passing. The brutes descended on the company in a disorganized mob, but what they lacked in tactics, they made up for in sheer strength ferocity. The companions were not without their own resources, however, and they came together like a well-oiled machine, at first driving the ogres back, and then finally slaying them to the last. The caravan had taken heavy damage, nonetheless, and they were forced to stop and spend two days encamped while Sandru effected repairs. This produced some unrest among the hired hands, but when the train finally set out again, spirits lifted. After that they made good time, with two weeks passing with no further hardship. They travelled through the towns of Galduria, Wolf's End and Rodric's Cove along the way, with Piotr making good on his boast to wrangle them some good trade deals. Rodric's Cove would be the last settlement they would encounter before Brinewall



22 Abadius, 4715

The caravan was a week out from Rodric's Cove before it ran into it's next spot of trouble. This time it was bandits. A group of them swept out of large copse of trees, but the scouts, Shalelu and Lucian, spotted the ambush and had time to warn the others. The company was ready for the highway men when they struck. The battle was fierce and swift. The bandits were soundly beaten back and driven away, but the caravan was again forced to stop for several days to make repairs. It was during this time that Yannus thought it might be a good idea to have his brother Sandru begin instructing him in the art of carpentry and being a wainwright.

After Rodric's Cove, Sandru elected to take the caravan along an old track that skirted the southern Stony Mountains, avoiding the lawless city of Riddleport altogether. The track wound up into the Velashu Uplands, following the river northwest to a low pass in the mountains, and then due north into the Nolands. Finally, the morning arrived when the wagons passed over an old stone bridge, and came to an overgrown trail that led into the woods due east. An old signpost there read: To Brinewall. It was at that point that Ameiko fell from the wagon seat where she was riding, and landed unmoving on the ground. Haroldo was the first one to her side, quickly followed by Koya.
"What happened?" the old woman asked.
Haroldo shook his head. "She wasn't looking well this morning. Pale and quiet. I just thought it was something she ate. Is she dead??"
Koya shook her head. "No, but she is in a deep coma. This cannot be a coincidence. The moment we near Brinewall, where some legacy of her family is said to remain, and she suffers this? There must be some link"
"Well," Sandru said, "the wagons won't be able to navigate that trail. It's too overgrown. Yannus, I suggest you, Koman and your crew head for Brinewall. It can't be more than three miles further on. I'll stay with the wagons."
"And I will watch over Ameiko," Koya said.
"Then I will accompany you," Shalelu said to Yannus as she shouldered her gear.

Sandru was correct in his assessment, and it was little more than a three mile hike along the Steam River before the company reached the ruins of Brinewall. The first structure they saw was a stone lighthouse, now little more than an empty shell, its roof caved in some time ago. A quick search turned up a partially crushed strongbox that still contained a scattering of gold coins, as well as a rusty iron key. When they exited the lighthouse, they could see down the hill to the town proper, as well as the ruins of the docks. However, there appeared to be a ship moored at one of the two piers. It appeared relatively new, but upon closer inspection, it could be seen to be partially destroyed and half-sunken.
"That's a longship," Koman announced. "From the Linnorm Kingdoms. Looks like the raiders found this place before we did."

The companions made their way down the hill and into the town proper, heading towards the docks. Most of the buildings they passed were burned out or mostly collapsed, though one that they saw bore several architectural designs similar to those of the Sandpoint glassworks owned by the Kaijitsu family. When they reached the docks, they could see that the longship had suffered tremendous damage in the form of tremendous claw marks and what appeared to be scorch marks. Not far away, lying half in the water along the beach of the lagoon, was the carcass of some sort of large creature. Closer inspection showed it to be a green scaled reptile the size of a horse, with finned, winglike arms and a draconic visage. It bore the marks of several violent strikes with an edged weapon. If this was the creature that had attacked the ship, then the raiders had apparently given as well as they'd got. Koman knelt down to examine the mud on the river bank.
"I see one set of boot tracks leading away," he said. "There was at least one survivor."
"Beware the water!" Shalelu suddenly shouted, pointing towards the lagoon.
Crawling out of the water were a quartet of creatures that resembled a cross between giant lobsters and eels. They rushed towards the companions to defend their meal, claws snapping in the air as they came. Before the party could react, the reefclaws were among them, grabbing onto legs and arms with their serrated appendages and holding tight. It didn't take the group long to recover, however, and with Shalelu's deft support with her bow, they made quick work of the scavengers. Boris quickly went to work on their carcasses with his butcher knife.
"Caravan running low on provisions," he said. "Tonight we eat surf and turf!"

The party continued to pick their way through the ruined town, and eventually found themselves in front of the completely destroyed remains of a large church. The symbol on the lintel could still be made out as that of Desna. Beyond the church was a cemetery, guarded by a set of iron gates, flanked by a pair of statues carved in the likeness of a beautiful woman with butterfly wings. The grounds of the boneyard were unusually well kept, the grave markers clean and weeded. A single stone crypt stood on a small hill at one side, bearing the name of Admiral Mercatio Kiameleu, the founder of Brinewall. What appeared to be a gravestone set aside from the others, turned out to be a well-maintained shrine dedicated to Desna. Koman and Mazael, both followers of the Lady of Travels, made their obeisances before the shrine, but of the mysterious caretaker, there was no sign.

Finally, the heroes turned their attention to the keep that overlooked the ruined town...Brinewall Castle. It was a walled structure that appeared to be at least two stories, with a taller tower on one side. There was no movement upon the battlements, and the large iron portals of the gatehouse stood closed. The group approached cautiously, noting the numerous arrow slits that looked out like dark, staring eyes. Haroldo carefully boosted Boris up on his shoulders so the goblin could peer inside. The interior of the gatehouse was dim but Boris's eyes quickly adjusted. The floor was packed dirt and numerous wooden support beams rose to the stone ceiling above. Another pair of rusted iron doors opened to the interior of the keep on the opposite side of the room. Lying about the room were four odd-looking individuals. The looked roughly human-sized, but they were covered in black feathers and heads like large ravens. They all looked to be sleeping.
"Bird men," Boris whispered as he motioned for Haroldo to lower him back down. "Sleepy bird men. Boris think he can squeeze through arrow slit. Sneak very quiet and unlock gate. Good plan, Boris think."
The others couldn't argue that the little goblin could be very unobtrusive when he wanted to be. Haroldo boosted him again while the others readied themselves in front of the gates. Slowly, Boris wedged himself into the narrow opening and slipped inside the gatehouse, then lowered himself quietly to the floor. He began tiptoeing across the room towards the exterior doors, where a large lever served as the locking mechanism. He gripped the lever and pulled it, and to his horror, it made a rusty, squeaking noise as it lowered. One of the bird men stirred and opened its beady eyes. Quickly, Boris shoved the door open, and his friends darted inside to stand over the bird creatures, weapons ready. Haroldo and Koman put their fingers to their mouths, warning the creatures to be quiet. Immediately, one of them began squawking raucously. A bowstring twanged, and a green fletched arrow sprouted out of its shoulder.
"These are dire corbies," Shalelu snapped. "They are evil, murderous creatures, and your mercy is wasted on them!"
At that moment, the dire corbies began lurching to their feet, reaching for the heroes with filthy, sharpened talons. Chaos erupted inside the gatehouse. The corbies fought like fanatics, screeching and slashing despite suffering grievous wounds. They fought past the point when lesser creatures would have succumbed, until they finally dropped one by one.
"The language they were speaking," Lucian huffed as he struggled to catch his breath, "it was Aklo. They spoke of their master, and how he would destroy us all."

A pair of ladders on opposites sides of the room led to trap doors in the ceiling of the gatehouse. Koman and Boris quickly scrambled up them to see what the raucous shrieking of the dire corbies had alerted. When they emerged onto the roof, however, they found another trio of the corbies waiting for them. They began squawking loudly, and their cries were answered from the far side of the courtyard. There, on another battlement, three more corbies were readying a catapult.
"Down!" Koman shouted as he lunged for the nearest corby.
Boris thought his warning was unnecessary, since the little goblin couldn't even see over the parapet. Still, he ducked low and plunged both of his blades into the thick leg of an oncoming corby. From below, he could hear his friends rapidly ascending the ladders. Just as Haroldo and Mazael reached the roof, the crack of the catapult shattered the air. Unfortunately for the dire corbies manning it, the siege weapon was old and in disrepair. The throwing arm completed obliterated the base as it slammed forward, knocking the bird men to the ground and sending its boulder sailing harmlessly into the woods beyond the wall. The three corbies quickly climbed to their feet and began quickly running along the battlements to join their comrades on the gatehouse roof.

By that time, all of the companions, save for Yannus, had reached the rooftop and engaged the dire corbies. For his part, Yannus fished a flask out of his pack, uncorked it, and quickly downed the contents. He grimaced as his muscles began to spasm and stretch, his bones elongating. In a matter of moments, he had grown to twice his size, and he pushed open the inner doors leading to the courtyard. He stepped outside, his head now even with the parapets, and moved to try and intercept the oncoming corbies, using the now over twenty-foot reach that his glaive gave him. However, as he reached the middle of the courtyard, the doors to a stable suddenly flew open. Standing there was a large, hairy spider the size of a pony, and next to it was an emaciated creature that looked like a cross between a person and an arachnid. It gestured, and the spider scuttled across the courtyard towards Yannus, but when it was still several yards away, the giant evangelist impaled it with his polearm. The arachnoid creature, and ettercap, screeched inhumanly and loped forward on all fours, stopping just outside the reach of Yannus' glaive. From there, it began spinning fine silk from a spinneret on its abdomen into a web net, which it promptly prepared to hurl towards the priest.

Meanwhile, back on the roof, the battle careened from one side to the other, but the dire corbies were rapidly losing ground. The last one went down just before the other three reinforcements rounded the final corner on the battlements, only to be met by a hail of arrows from Shalelu, and Mazael and Haroldo standing shoulder to shoulder. Though the corbies tried to break through, they were beaten back and overwhelmed.
"Little help!" a call came from below.
Shalelu turned and saw the ettercap advancing on Yannus, tossing net after net of sticky webbing at him. She drew her bowstring back to her ear, sighted, and loosed, burying a shaft to the fletches in the creature's neck.

The courtyard was quiet. There seemed to be no further answer to the warning cries of the dire corbies, nor to the sounds of combat. The heroes quickly made their way down to the ground and joined Yannus, and then they all hurriedly crossed the open yard to the keep itself. The front doors stood closed, but that way seemed to obvious. They circled around to one side, and there found a side door that was unlocked. As quietly as possible, Boris eased it open. Beyond seemed to be the ruined remains of some sort of barracks, but all the bunks had been piled into the middle to make a large nest. No sooner had the daylight from outside illuminated the chamber, than a hissing sound came from the nest. Two large reptiles, lizards the size of crocodiles, lumbered out of the debris and rushed forward. Haroldo pushed Boris aside as the first one lunged, and the big warrior swung his sword down and neatly decapitated it. Shalelu darted in behind him, but the second lizard seized her leg and hung on, shaking her back and forth. As she struggled to break free, Yannus came to her side and jabbed down with his glaive, severing the lizard's spine, causing it to go limp.


Enemies and Allies

2 Calistril, 4715

A single door on the far side of the ruined barracks led deeper into the keep, but no sooner had Lucian pushed it open, than a horrendous stench washed into the room. He immediately felt a wave of nausea, and from the sound of the retching coming from behind him, his companions were succumbing to the smell as well. Through watery eyes, he saw four figures advancing out of the adjacent room towards him. They stood on two legs, but their skin was more like reptile hide. Their heads were reptilian as well, and a large red crest ran from their scalps down to a long tail. They brandished heavy wooden clubs in their clawed hands, and they hissed angrily as they moved in.
"Troglodytes!" Shalelu shouted in warning, the only one of the group who wasn't gagging.
She quickly loosed a volley of arrows at the first trog, dropping it with three direct hits to the throat. From behind the ranger, Piotr spoke the words to a spell, and a dazzling blast of light filled the room. The troglodytes hissed, rubbing furiously at their eyes, and then Haroldo and Mazael were among them. The two big men, hacked and slashed furiously, making quick work of the reptiles, leaving the room quiet, but still repulsively pungent.

A large table lay in shambles in the middle of the room, while crumbled suits of armor that bore decorations of dragons twisting around castle towers lay in heaps along the walls. A flight of stairs wound up along a curved wall to one side. A number of documents, maps and troop lists that dated back to the night Brinewall was attacked, lay scattered among the debris. Reading over them, it became obvious that the guards believed that the citizens of the village were rioting, and that several buildings had caught fire. The guards were preparing to mount and expedition to investigate and restore order, but there was no further indication of their success or failure.

Boris crept quietly to a door on the far side of the room and pressed his ear against it.
"No, no, no!" he heard a shrill voice shouting from the other side. "You can't fly any more! I need more feeling! More emotion!"
The goblin pulled away from the door, his face puzzled.
"Crazy man yelling at not-flying people," he shrugged.
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Koman asked. "Sounds like a party!"
The door opened on to a long hall, draped with rotted, faded banners that depicted a stylized castle sitting on a seaside cliff. Thick stone pillars supported the ceiling, while at the far end of the hall sat an old wooden throne, its back carved to resemble the towers of a castle wrapped in the coils of a serpentine dragon. Seated upon the throne was a wild-eyed man, obviously of Tian origin, with a bristly goatee, deep red skin, and a truly prodigious nose. No fewer than eight dire corbies were clustered before him.
"Ah!" the man laughed, and clapped his hands when he saw the newcomers at the door."Just what we needed! An audience! Come in! Come in! Tell me what you think of my latest masterpiece! It's a story about a flock of ravens who find themselves magically transformed into humans who can no longer fly. Isn't that wonderful?!"
Without hesitation, Boris marched into the room. Yannus cursed under his breath.
"Stop him!" he hissed at his brother.
Koman started after the goblin, and Haroldo followed.
"Excellent!" the Tian man clapped again as the trio entered. "All of the players are in place! Now, my actors and thespians, kill them all!!"

The corbies swarmed about the three heroes, while one of them rushed to block the door, preventing Yannus and the others from coming to the aid of their friends. Haroldo, as the biggest threat in the room, drew the most corbies to him. The swiped with beaks and claws, badly mauling the blood rager.
"Catch!" Boris shouted as he tossed a flask to the big man.
Haroldo caught it one-handed and quickly quaffed it, closing some of his wounds. He then swung his blade at the red-skinned man, who was still laughing and clapping maniacally, while dancing a little jig on the dais. The stroke missed by a hair's breadth, and the man recoiled in shock.
"How dare you?!" he screamed, his voice going up several octaves.
Just then, Koman plunged his own blade into the man's back. He screeched again, and then vanished in a flash of light.

Back at the door, Shalelu, Lucian and Mazael made quick work of the corby blocking their way, but another took its place a moment later. It fared no better. The heroes rushed into the room just as Haroldo went down under a flurry of blows from his assailants, and did not rise again. Enraged, the companions redoubled their efforts, fighting to reach Koman and Boris. One after another, more corbies fell before them, but not before Boris was taken down as well. Finally, Mazael reached Haroldo, and hurriedly cast a healing spell upon him. His bleeding instantly stopped, and his eyes popped open. Without missing a beat, he seized his sword from where it had fallen and, still laying on the ground, swept the legs from under a corby that stood above him. As the last of the dire corbies succumbed, Mazael knelt beside Boris and set about stabilizing and reviving the goblin.

It was the consensus of the group that it might be time to fall back and take stock of the situation. Despite this, Boris still insisted on poking around in corners on the way out, laughing gleefully when he triggered a hidden door concealed behind a tapestry. The fact that a quartet of troglodytes waited on the other side, didn't deter him. Even after they were quickly dispatched, with the aid of his none-to-happy companions, he again crept quietly down a stairwell on the far side of the room. It was only after listening through a door at the bottom, and hearing what sounded like several creatures speaking in a hissing, sibilant language, that he finally decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and rejoined the others as they made their way out of the keep and back through the ruins of Brinewall.


It was as the group was once more passing the Brinewall cemetery, that a small voice called out to them. Sitting atop one of the stone statues of Desna was a tiny female, no taller than a foot, with delicate butterfly wings.
"I've been watching you," she said. "I'm Spivey. Did you just come from the castle? Did you kill all of the evil creatures there? There were more people like you here two weeks ago. They came in a boat, but the sea dragon at them. Well, most of them. One lady survived. She killed the dragon, and then she went to the castle. She never came back."
"What...are you?" Yannus asked.
"Spivey," the little creature repeated. "I am a servant of Desna. I came her ten years ago after my mistress was killed by a hungry plant. I tried to restore the temple, but that attracted to much attention from the fiends in the castle, so I've just been tending the cemetery ever since. Did you kill all the evil creatures?"
"No," Yannus replied. "We killed many bird creatures called dire corbies, and a few troglodytes, but their leader escaped us. We are in no condition to pursue him at this point. We were on our way back to our caravan to recuperate and plan our next approach."
"You're welcome to stay here," Spivey indicated the bone yard. "It is safe. The castle creatures don't come here. I've convinced them it's haunted. I am a healer as well. I can tend your wounds."
"Any friend of Desna is ok in my book," Mazael agreed.
"Wait!" Boris chirped. "We going to stay in grave yard because butterfly lady says so?? What about dead people? Boris want to go back to wagons and Mama Koya."
"The dead here are at peace," Spivey said. "They will not trouble you."
"Boris not care!" the goblin said, throwing up his hands. "We have supplies for caravan! Boris must cook tonight! Boris leaving. No offense bug lady."
"I'll go with him," Koman sighed, rolling his eyes. "Just to make sure he stays out of trouble. We'll meet you back here in the morning."


The walk back to the caravan through the forest was not a long one, but Boris and Koman had barely made it halfway before the goblin stopped abruptly. He felt as if he were being watched, and when he looked around, he quickly found the culprit. Perched in a tree above them was another strange creature in a day full of strange creatures. She had the body and face of a lovely human female, but large brown feathered wings sprouted from her back, and her legs ended in sharp avian talons. A long bow was slung across her back. When she saw that Boris had spotted her, she raised her hands in a gesture of peace.
"Why all these crazy animal people around here?" Boris asked in disgust. "What you want, bird lady?"
"Careful," Koman warned. "She's a harpy. They can hypnotize a man with their voice."
The harpy shook her head, and then pointed to her throat.
"I don't think she talk," Boris said.
The harpy nodded. Then she pointed to her mouth, her head, and then mimed touching Boris.
"Boris think she want to talk in Boris head," the goblin laughed, happy to play the guessing game.
The harpy nodded again.
"Boris...," Koman warned again.
"Yes, bird lady!" Boris clapped and beckoned her. "Come talk in Boris head!"

She fluttered down to the ground and cautiously approached Boris, one hand extended. She placed her hand carefully on his head.
'I am Zaiobe,' Boris heard a female voice speak into his mind.
'I Boris,' he replied, finding it surprisingly easy to communicate mentally.
'A pleasure,' Zaiobe said. 'I know that you and your friends were at the keep today, and that you slew many of my lover's minions. Wait, don't be afraid. I did not come seeking revenge. Instead, I came to offer you a bargain: I want you to help me kill that sonofabitch!'
'Why you want to kill crazy boyfriend?' Boris asked.
'He stole my voice,' Zaiobe answered. 'Well, not really. I lost my voice several years ago when my god took it from me and replaced it with his grace. No, Kikonu has the ability to steal others' voices, and he used this to mimic what my voice used to sound like as a cruel joke. He will learn that I have no sense of humor.'
'Who is this god you worship?' Boris asked.
'He is called Pazuz, the Master of the Four Winds,' Zaiobe replied.
'Hmmm,' Boris mused. 'How we going to kill boyfriend?'
'I will meet you in the town tomorrow,' she said. 'I will call to Kikonu and tell him that I want to make amends. He will believe me. I will summon him to the courtyard. You and your friends will be waiting there to ambush him. Once he is dead, you may do with the keep as you wish. I will not hinder you.'
'Deal,' Boris said, and shook her hand.
Zaiobe smiled and took wing.

"So what was that all about?" Koman asked.
"Bird lady want us to kill boyfriend," Boris shrugged. "She say she is priestess of Desna. We trust her."
"Do you know how I know you're lying?" Koman asked, shaking his head. "Your lips are moving."


Koman and Boris made it back to the caravan without further incident, and gave a full report of the day's events to Koya and Sandru. Ameiko's status had not changed, though no sooner had Boris finished telling about their encounter with Zaiobe, than she suddenly spoke again in a dreamy voice.
"Beware the cuckolded is in his shattered silent love you should seek aid..."
"Well that would seem to be prophetic," Koya said. "Still, you must be careful, my son," she told Koman.
He agreed, if only to placate his adopted mother.
"I'd like to go back with you," Koya then announced. "I want to meet this Spivey, another sister of Desna. She sounds fascinating!"


A Woman Scorned

3 Calistril, 4715

The next morning, the companions gathered in the center of the ruined town, and Zaiobe appeared as promised. When she landed and moved towards Boris so that she might communicate telepathically with him, Yannus intercepted her.
"No offense," he said, turning to the goblin, "but I think I'd like to hear what she has to say first-hand this time."
The harpy shrugged and reached out a hand to touch the young evangelist.
'So Boris explained everything to you?' she asked.
'He did,' Yannus replied. 'What is your proposal?'
'I will fly ahead to the keep,' Zaiobe said. 'I will contact Kikonu and ask him to meet me in the courtyard. I have no doubt he will come, and when he does, you and your friends will be waiting. We will kill him. Simple enough.'
'Perhaps,' Yannus answered, 'but I think we would like to know more about your lover. For instance, what kind of magician is he? What powers does he have?'
'He is no magician,' Zaiobe chuckled,'though he does have magic at his disposal. Have you ever heard of an oni?'
Yannus shook his head.
'Oni are spirit creatures from this plane, but not of this plane. Kikonu is a type of oni called a yamabushi tengu. In his natural form he looks very much like the dire corbies, but he has wings. He is a deadly warrior, and he is resistant to magic. He also heals very quickly. His one weakness, however, is fire. That is why I'm saving these for him.'
She pulled an arrow from her quiver, and as she fitted it to her bow string, its tip ignited in flames.
'I think we can work with that,' Yannus nodded. 'Lead the way.'


A short time later, the companions stood assembled in the courtyard of Brinewall Keep while Zaiobe hovered above them, bow in hand. The front doors of the keep suddenly burst open, and Kikonu stepped out, his arms spread wide, flanked by a pair of dire corbies.
"Zaiobe, my love...!" he began, but then stopped short when he saw the heroes waiting for him, weapons drawn.
"You traitorous whore!" he screamed, and as he did, he began to transform.
Feathers sprouted from his whole body, and black wings exploded from his back. His face melted and molded into that of a giant raven. He raised one hand towards Zaiobe, and streaks of fire exploded from his palm, striking the harpy. Though scorched and in obvious pain, Zaiobe didn't falter. She loosed a pair of flaming arrows in rapid succession, both of them impaling Kikonu. He shrieked, and began beating frantically at the fire as it seared his flesh.

Shalelu quickly stepped forward and let her own arrow fly, taking advantage of the fact that the oni's wounds were obviously not healing nor closing. The dire corbies moved forward to shield their master from further assault, but as they came, Yannus thrust with his glaive and stabbed one through the thigh. Kikonu moved behind his minions and tried to regain his composure. Cursing, he sent another volley of scorching rays at Zaiobe, at the exact moment that another of her flaming arrows struck home. As he shrieked in pain again, and tried to further insinuate himself behind his corby minions, Mazael swept his falchion down and raked it across the oni's side. A moment later, Yannus cut down the corby he'd wounded before, leaving Kikonu exposed once again. Hissing in rage, Kikonu spread his wings and took to the air, heading straight for Zaiobe. He had made it no more than halfway when the harpy sent one final arrow flying. The flaming shaft pierced Kikonu's throat, and he dropped like a stone. When he it the ground, he lay, unmoving, eyes open and staring blankly.

Zaiobe threw back her head and laughed soundlessly and then, without missing a beat, she pivoted in mid air and loosed an arrow at Shalelu. The ranger dove to one side at the last second, cursing roundly. As Zaiobe prepared to shoot her again before she could regain he balance, Lucian rushed to cover his mentor, nocking and loosing an arrow quickly and without finesse, but still managing to graze the harpy, causing her shot to go wide. Zaiobe circled, trying to draw a bead on the elven archer, whom she judged to be the greatest threat, when Piotr quickly uttered the words to a spell and sent a sizzling stream of bolts of pure energy at her. She reeled from the impact, her head spinning. When her vision cleared again, she saw Shalelu sighting down the shaft of a bone-white, ivory fletched arrow. The ranger loosed, and when the arrow struck home, it exploded into a cloud of white powder. Zaiobe swooned as she inhaled it, falling instantly into a deep slumber. She tumbled from the air and hit the ground with bone-jarring impact. She jerked awake, disoriented, and tried to struggle to her feet. As she did, Haroldo dealt her a heavy blow across the brow at the same time that Boris drove his sword into her back. She swooned again, slipping into unconsciousness. Her last sight was of Mazael standing over her, his falchion upraised, still dripping with the blood of the second corby he'd dispatched.

With Kikonu and his traitorous lover dead, there appeared to be no further impediment to the companions searching the rest of the keep at their leisure. They passed through the throne room once more, and then through a small door at the far end. This led into a circular room with old tapestries depicting a seaside castle hanging askew on the walls. A thick layer of dust caked the floor, and the air was musty and weirdly cold. Old bloodstains splattered the walls, along with numerous brutal gashes and slashes to the stone itself. Two doors hung askew on hinges in a short passageway to the south, while to the north, a third door lay in fragments on the floor, opening onto a flight of stairs leading down into the darkness. A second staircase led upward against the north wall.

The group made their way carefully down the short passage, and peered through one of the broken doors into what appeared to have been a small office. The desk and chairs that once decorated it lay in shambles on the floor. A flight of stairs led up to the southeast. Several scattered and hastily written notes lay among the shambles of the desk. One of them was a letter that mentioned an attack on Brinewall Castle. It described the attack as a night assault by men dressed in dark robes. The letter was unfinished.

As their attention was focused on the contents of the office, none of the companions heard the stealthy movement coming from the other room, across the hall. It was Piotr's sudden shout of alarm that alerted them, as a large shadow loomed out of the darkness and lurched towards him. The creature was skeletally thin and dressed in the bloodstained remnants of a destroyed suit of half-plate armor. A finely crafted dragon helm sat on its head, below which glowed a pair of red eyes. As Piotr stumbled back, his fingers spat bolts of light at the walking corpse. It rocked back for a moment, but then resumed its approach, silent as a tomb. Shalelu sent an arrow into its chest, and still it came. Boris ducked behind it, and sank his sword into the back of its leg, and it still did not stop. Mazael moved to intercept, but as he came in close, the creature seized him by the throat, and the war priest felt the cold of the grave sink into his bones. Another arrow thunked into the wight's forehead as Lucian's bow twanged from behind Mazael, and finally, it sank slowly to the ground, the light going out of its eyes.


Deciding to wait on exploring beyond the main level, the group returned to the throne room and took another side door. This led to an interior courtyard that might once have been a delightful garden, but was now a tangle of weeds that surrounded a pool of water choked with thick, slimy green algae. Haroldo led the way this time, and as he neared the pool, he thought he saw a slight ripple of movement just beneath the surface. He leaned forward to see more closely, and it was at that moment that the surface of the pool erupted as a monstrous creature surfaced. Six powerful legs, each ending in a hooked claw, jutted from the shield-like body of a truly massive insect. One of its claws grabbed the big bloodrager and dragged him bodily into the pool. Lucian and Shalelu dropped to their knees and opened fire with their bows, peppering the beast as it started to sink below the surface. Piotr added his own magical barrage, and the creature began to thrash violently, all the while squeezing the air from Haroldo's lungs. Just before it disappeared completely, one of Lucian's shafts found its way into its large, compound eye, sinking in up to the fletches. Haroldo felt the pressure ease around his chest, and he frantically extricated himself and pulled himself onto the shore, gasping and hacking up foul water.


From the courtyard, the group reentered the keep proper through a mostly empty storeroom that gave on to a vestibule. Beyond that they found themselves in a large circular room ballroom that featured a ring of pillars that supported a balcony above. A flight of stairs wound up to it along the southern wall. Faded paintings of dancing elves decorated the walls, spattered here and there with ancient bloodstains. Looking about the chamber, it was obvious that, not only had a terrible battle taken place there long ago, but also that at least one of the aggressors in the fight possessed prodigious strength, judging from the deep gouges in the walls near the largest bloodstains. The damage looked to have been dealt by an enormous axe or some similar weapon.

A set of double doors from the ballroom gave back on to the throne room. The companions chose another smaller door they had not yet investigated, and found themselves in a large hall, its roof supported by four stone pillars. What appeared to have once been large, wooden cages lay in shambles throughout the room. A heap of rags and furs in the middle of the chamber seemed to be some sort of makeshift bed, while a large heap of partially eaten birds, squirrels, and wild turnips mounded nearby reeked with the stink of compost. Standing amid the detritus were three strange individuals. One, the largest, was female, lanky and gangling. Her legs bend in three joints like a dog's, and she had large, milky eyes. She carried a steel flail in one hand, and wore a wicked-looking spiked gauntlet on the other. The other two were male and bore a resemblance to the female, though their features were just as misshapen and grotesque.
"Well lookee here, Muthildah," one of the males said. "It's them that killed the bird fellas in the courtyard yestidee."
"I can see that, ya idjit," the female, Muthildah, snapped. "What'cha jest standin' there fer? Tear'em a new one!"

As the boys rushed forward, short spears gripped in their powerful hands, Piotr's magic threw dazzling light in one of their eyes. Lucian darted into the room past that one, but the other stabbed at him as he passed, piercing his side with the spear. He guffawed with laughter, but a moment later he squealed and then gurgled as both Mazael and Haroldo slammed into him, dropping him with two devastating blows.
"Do I hafta do everythin' myself?" Muthilda bellowed.
She rushed forward whipping her flail about her head and smashing it into Haroldo's shoulder. The big blood rager felt and heard bones crack. Muthilda raised her fist to pummel his face, but then Shalelu's bow sang, and an arrow sprouted from the half-ogre's chest. Cursing, Muthilda snapped the shaft of the arrow off with her gauntlet, but another one replaced it as Shalelu fired again. She staggered back a step, and Mazael moved after her, burying the blade of his falchion in her belly. She screamed in anger and pain, but it was cut short as Piotr conjured a cloud of ice-cold, swirling black motes about her head and she collapsed in a heat.
"Muthilda!" he only surviving brother cried, his vision finally clearing.
He followed his brother and sister into oblivion a moment later as Boris sank two blades into his kidneys at the same time that Lucian fired an arrow into his heart.


The companions moved back through the ballroom and the vestibule beyond, to a door with led into the only area of the ground floor they had not yet explored. The door was unlocked, but it was impossible to tell what the room beyond had originally been used for, as the walls and floor were decorated with countless preserved animals and creatures, ranging from small birds and forest creatures to fearsome predators. Several of the displays looked uncomfortably fresh or humanoid in shape.

As they stepped into the room, first Boris, and then Mazael heard an odd buzzing sound coming from somewhere inside. A moment later, Mazael shouted in surprise and pain as a red gash suddenly opened up across his thigh.
"Hi there!" came a cheerful, high-pitched female voice.
A small figure stood in the middle of the room. She was a dainty, elf-like creature with long, twitching antennae, wearing a brightly colored dress made from butterfly wings and preserved wildflower petals. She twirled a serrated short sword in her hands, Mazael's blood still dripping from the blade.
"I'm Buttersnips," she giggled. "Do you want to play?"
"A quickling," Shalelu hissed. "There are few fey more evil and twisted."
Buttersnips giggled again, and then, moving almost to fast for their eyes to follow, she darted across the room and through all of their legs, coming to a stop behind Piotr, who was standing at the back of the pack.
"Hi there!" she waved, and then slashed the sorcerer's arm.
Piotr cursed as she darted away again, but still managed to send a flash of dazzling light after her.
"Hey! Not fair!" Buttersnips pouted as she rubbed at her eyes.

Shalelu and Lucian quickly moved between Piotr and the quickling. The ranger drew several arrows from her quiver, and handed them to her protege.
"Cold iron," she said. "The bane of all fey."
Lucian nodded as he took them, and then he and Shalelu knocked and sighted. As Buttersnips zipped back towards them, they loosed, and both arrows struck home. The quickling screamed as she darted past them again.
"That's it!" she shrieked. "Fun time is over!"
Hissing, her teeth bared, she darted after Piotr again, slashing him a second time, causing him to stumble.
"She too fast!" Boris shouted in his native tongue. "We must box her in! Close doors!"
Yannus and Shalelu, both of whom understood Goblin, acted quickly, each shutting one of the double doors that led into the room. Unfortunately, this left Haroldo, Shalelu and Piotr on one side, and the others, along with Buttersnips, locked in the room.

Yannus uttered the words to a prayer, asking Shellyn to guide his hand. When Buttersnips ran towards him, time seemed to slow and clarify before his eyes, and it was as if the quickling were moving in slow motion. He thrust his glaive at her, striking true and unerringly, sending her tumbling into Lucian's legs instead of through them. As she jumped to her feet, Lucian knocked and loosed another cold iron shaft, sending it clean through her shoulder. Yannus moved towards her again, and snarling, she whirled on him, stabbing her small sword into his belly. The priest grunted in pain, but he still managed to bring his glaive down solidly on her blade, sundering it into pieces. Buttersnips somersaulted to the far side of the room and then, amazingly, levitated straight up to the ceiling. Lucian sent another arrow at her as she reached the top. Then, just like that, she simply vanished.

Abruptly, the heroes heard Buttersnip's voice coming from the other side of the door.
"Better luck next time!" she said. "And there will be a next time!"
Shalelu's voice came from the other side of the door as well.
"Do not believer her!" the ranger shouted. "Quicklings can throw their voices! She is still there!"
"We need you in here, now!" Yannus shouted.
When the door opened, Buttersnips reappeared, punching Boris in the throat with her bare hand before she pulled herself across the ceiling like a spider. She reached the still-open door, dropped to the ground, darted through and disappeared up a nearby flight of stairs.

"Well," Yannus panted, holding his bleeding belly. "I think that's enough exploration for one day."


The Quick And The Dead

5 Calistril, 4715-The Quick And The Dead

The following morning, Sandru appeared at the cemetery to escort his mother, Koya, back to the caravan, and to report that Ameiko had uttered another of her cryptic messages the night before.
"She spoke first in Tian," he said, "but then she switched to Common. She said, 'A key you seek lies in the grip of the ten-handed one---his fear is your greatest ally.'"
Sandru also provided some insight into the ornate dragon helm that the group had taken from the wight that had attacked them.
"This is the traditional helm worn by Brinewall's commanding officer," he explained. "The last man to hold that title was Andril Kortun. He was mentioned in the letter you found in the swamp. Ameiko's grandfather left whatever it is we are searching for in his care. I believe you have discovered his unfortunate fate."


Having scoured the main floor of the keep, the companions decided to move upstairs, following the direction Buttersnips had fled. The stairs led to a wide balcony that wound around the ancient ballroom below. A rickety-looking railing ran along the balcony's edge. A set of double doors on the eastern side of the balcony led out onto the battlements of the keep, where the remnants of a solarium stood. Mazael pulled open the doors revealing a chamber draped in gloom. It may have once had a beautiful roof of glass, but little remained save for a few precariously learning wooden timbers hanging above a swath of crumbled stone and ruined furniture. The roof cover the southern half of the room had been crudely repaired with thick sheets of canvas and furs that had been stretched and fastened over the frames, creating a dark, almost cavelike, nesting area.

As Mazael peered into the darkness, he caught a faint hint of movement from a deeper shadow within the gloom. Before he could open his mouth to warn his friends, and ear-splitting screech pierced the air. Mazael, and Boris behind him, staggered back under the sonic onslaught, their ears bleeding. Within the solarium, a massive bat, easily the size of a horse, unfolded itself from the ceiling. Mazael, his balance still off, stepped quickly inside, his sword swinging wildly, yet still managing to connect. Behind him, Shalelu's bow sang, and the giant bat shrieked as her arrow struck home. It lurched towards Mazael and sank it's dagger-like teeth into the big man's shoulder. When Haroldo shouldered past his friend, the mobat spun like a serpent, and bit him as well. Mazael continued to hack at the beast, while Shalelu kept up a barrage of arrows. Finally, Piotr conjured a dazzling flash of light, completely disorienting the bat, allowing Yannus to run it through with his glaive.


They reentered the keep and crossed the balcony to another set of double doors on the far side. These opened onto a long hallway. To the right, it opened onto what appeared to be a dining room. To the left, it ended at a door before taking a sharp turn. Not hearing or seeing signs of life in the dining room, the companions moved to the door on the left, and Boris put one of his oversized ears to it to listen. He heard a muffled voice speaking strange words on the far side.
"Somebody home," he whispered to his friends.

Koman reached over the goblin and shoved the door open. The walls of the room beyond were decorated with dozens paintings of a towering humanoid figure with four wings, a bird's head, and a scorpion's tail, seemingly drawn in blood. Old pews sat in a line facing the far wall, where a hideously defaced statue of the goddess Desna stood. Her beautiful butterfly wings had been hacked down the middle to give the impression of four wings, her head had been removed and replaced with a crude carving of a leering bird's head, and a long, barbed tail made of braided, dried nettles hung from her posterior. Standing before this unholy tableau were two dire corbies. The first appeared much as all of the others that the heroes had thus far encountered, but the second wore filthy robes caked with blood, and filth caked her feathers, and smeared her beak and talons as well. She wore a sword belted around her waist, and a silver pendant hung from her neck. Neither of the corbies seemed pleased to see the companions, and Boris wasted no time on introductions. The little goblin darted past Koman and stabbed his short sword into the first corby's meaty thigh. As the bird man shrieked, Piotr moved to the doorway, and seeing the robed corby and fearing she may be a priestess, he quickly cast a dazzling flash into her eyes, which also had the effect of temporarily rendering her mute.

Haroldo stepped into the room to support Boris before he was in over his head, and it was then that he heard a familiar buzzing sound. He whirled just as Buttersnips appeared behind him and jammed her small blade into his foot.
"Hi there!" she said cheerfully. "Did you miss me?"
"Not really," Yannus snapped from the door as he began to chant a prayer.
An ear-numbing blast of sound erupted around the quickling, and she recoiled from Haroldo, holding her ears.
"Not fair!" she whined, stomping her feet. "Nevakali, help me!"
Behind her, the robed corby, who must have been Nevakali, stepped to one side, and as she did so, and exact duplicate of her appeared next to her. At the same time, she slapped her hands together, and a small arc of electricity leapt from them to strike Haroldo, setting the blood rager's hair to stand on end.

Koman entered the fray, moving to try and flank Buttersnips, but as he passed her, she wrenched her knife free from Haroldo's foot, and jabbed it through the slayer's calf. He cursed and stumbled, but then Boris somersaulted behind the quickling.
"Pick on someone your own size," he grinned evilly at her, and then quickly slashed his sword across her belly.
Nevakali seemed oblivious to the chaos around her. Her eyes rolled back into her head as she gripped the pendant around her neck. As she did this, dark energy gathered around her, and then exploded throughout the chamber, sending numbing pain through her allies and enemies alike. It took a moment for the combatants to recover, but Shalelu was the quickest, and she knocked and loosed an iron-tipped shaft in one smooth movement, sending it into Buttersnips' back.

Boris looked around, trying to regain his bearings, and saw the Nevakali's dire corby minion reeling on its feet. Seeing a perfect opportunity, the goblin darted across the room and finished the bird man off with a well-placed strike. Meanwhile, Haroldo, still favoring his injured foot, limped towards Nevakali, his blood beginning to boil. and brought his greatsword across his body in a vicious slash that sent the priestess stumbling into the wall behind her, blood flowing freely.
Across the room, Piotr, still smarting from his last near-death call with Buttersnips, sent a pair of flashing missiles at the quickling. Already badly wounded, she glared at him, pure hatred in her eyes. She blurred into motion, streaking around Koman, who managed to graze her with a wild swing of his blade as she passed. She reached the door, dodged past Shalelu, and stabbed Piotr in the side before disappearing down the hall beyond.

Nevakali pushed herself away from the wall, and finding her voice again, croaked the words ot a vile prayer, instantly plunging the room into total darkness.
"Nice try," Mazael growled as he called upon his celestial blood to flood the area with divine light, banishing the darkness.
When she caught sight of Nevakali once more, Shalelu loosed two arrows in rapid succession. The first on struck the illusory double of the priestess, causing it to instantly vanish, while the second struck Nevakali herself. Haroldo howled in rage and rushed the corby, hammering her to the ground with a bone-shattering blow. She struggled to rise, and then Piotr conjured a cloud of dark motes around her, the cold magic weakening her further. Still, she lived, and managed to once again channel her foul, unholy energy into her attackers before Mazael dealt her a killing blow.

As Piotr pumped his fist in celebration, he suddenly cried out in agony as Buttersnips whizzed past him, her blade raking him from back to belly, before she disappeared down the hall again. Shalelu, Koman and Yannus gathered around the sorcerer, forming a shield in case the quickling came around for another strike. When they heard the tell-tale buzzing of her speedy movement, and saw the blur of her shape appear around the corner, however, it was Piotr's magic missiles that finally brought her down.


As the companions tended their wounds in the aftermath of the fight, Piotr and Mazael, both devoted followers of Desna, took the time to clean up the shrine, and undo as much of the defacement to her statue as they could.

Afterwards, the group continued their explorations. Beyond the chapel, they found a series of rooms that seemed to be currently serving as sleeping chambers for the dire corbies. One of these chambers was larger than the others, its furnishings laying in disarray with the exception of one writing desk and chair in a far corner. Its surface was heaped with pages of parchment and paper. Piotr shuffled through them, and found most of them covered with dense scribblings and revisions written in messy Tien. The writings all seemed to be devoted to a nonsensical play about a family of crows that turned into bitter, insane humans. A set of stairs spiraled up from this room, leading higher into the tower, where they found what must have once have been a library. The walls were lined with bookshelves, although the majority of the books lay in disorganized piles on the floor. A large, filthy nest of grass, branches and strips of cloth was tucked in one corner of the room. They seemed to have stumbled upon Kikonu's and Zaiobe's hideaway.

Back out in the hallway, Boris stood with his ear pressed against another door.
"Boris hear baby cry," he whispered.
He tried the door handle, but it was stuck firmly. Haroldo fished an iron crowbar from his pack and set it into the jamb. One good push from the big man flung the door open. Although the storeroom beyond may have once been well organized, the fallen crates and broken barrels that filled it presented a tangle of debris. Now all of the companions could hear it...the soft sound of sobbing coming from deeper within the room. Koman led the way, stepping carefully over and around the mounds of detritus. He had gone no more than a few feet in, when he felt something seize his foot. Looking down, he saw a small, bony hand protruding from under a fallen cabinet. The body it was attached to slowly wriggled its way out into the open. It looked like a small, emaciated child, clothed in nothing by cobwebs and rags, but where its head should have been, instead there rested the skull of a wolf or a dog. Its hand was still locked around Koman's ankle, and as he looked down at it, he felt the breath being drawn from his lungs, leaving him fatigued and gasping for air. He raised his sword with some effort, and brought it down on the horrid apparition. It released him, but then darted forward, its animal jaws snapping, and bit into his calf.
"Not to worry!" Boris shouted as he tumbled and rolled past the tiny horror, its continued sobbing seeming to bore into his brain. "Boris here to help!"
He slashed at the creature, but then it turned on him, laying one hand upon in his chest. In that moment, Boris lost his ability to speak.
"Now, Boris going to die horribly!" the monster spoke in the goblin's own voice.
From the door, Shalelu fired into the melee, sending the creature spinning, but it recovered quickly and lunged at Koman again.
"You go to sleep now!" it hissed, still sounding like Boris as it bit and clawed at the slayer.
Koman felt his strength seeping out of him, and then his vision went dark and cloudy as he swooned and collapsed to the ground, snoring like a bear.
Piotr send a missile barrage into the room, and the creature fell back. Haroldo leaped into the gap, standing protectively over Koman as he slashed savagely into the thing. It shivered and shuddered, and then Boris sank both of his swords into its back, and it crumbled into a heap of bones.

Koman awoke with a snort, and climbed groggily to his feet. Boris leaned down to look more closely at the skeletal remains of the monster, clearing his throat to reassure himself that his voice had returned. There, down low, almost at floor level, he saw a series of figures drawn on the wall in a child's hand, seemingly with charcoal. They depicted crude representations of figures dressed in black robes throwing star-shaped projectiles, along with frightening bird-headed men, and lumbering savage-looking giants wielding axes.
Silently, Boris scooped the small bones into a sack. He would take them to Spivey for a proper internment.


The companions found no more enemies on the upper floor, either living or unliving. However, in an abandoned servants' quarters, they came upon another clue as to what befell Brinewall twenty-five years earlier. Filaments of white, fibrous mold grew along the walls and across the bunk beds of the room, giving it a foul, musty stink. Here and there, mounds of fungus grew in nauseating colors. Beneath these mounds were the skeletal remains of several corpses. The limbs and heads had all been severed from the bodies by some sharp, slashing weapon, though there was no sign of the skulls.

The final room they entered on the upper level was once a guard post. Judging from the blood and gouges marring the walls, a terrific battle once took place there. A spiral staircase led them back down to the ground floor, where they found themselves in a the battle-scarred donjon they had visited earlier. There was another stairwell here leading down, and the group decided to venture to the dungeon level of the keep.

The stairs abruptly ended at an iron portcullis barring passage to a room beyond. The bars themselves were sunken deep into the floor and ceiling with no obvious method of passing thru to the chamber on the other side. However, Boris noted two 5-inch diameter circular depressions in the walls to the left and right of the portcullis, faintly inscribed with an image of the sun to the left, and the moon to the right. Yannus remembered the disc they had taken from Kikonu, inscribed with the image of the sun. He took it out of his belt pouch and placed it in the sun-engraved depression, where it fit perfectly.
"Now we just have to find the moon disc," he said, "and Ameiko said that a key we seek lies in the grasp of the ten-handed one. We'll need to find whoever or whatever that is."


The retraced their steps to the main level, and then to the nearest set of stairs they had found in their explorations. This happened to be in the ballroom, and it led down to a large kitchen. Stone pillars supported the ceiling, and the fire pits, tables and pantries looked like they hadn't been used in decades. Thick layers of dust covered everything in the room. There were multiple exits from the chamber, but the group chose a pair of double doors to the south. Beyond this, they entered a large, domed room with a pool of dark water in the center surrounded by four stone pillars. It looked to be the keep's cistern.

On the far side of the cistern was another pair of double doors. As had become his habit, Boris leaned close, his ears perked, listening.
"You be quite in there!" he heard a booming voice shout from the other side of the doors, followed by a loud bang. "Slugwort gonna give you a beatin'!"
"Big bully in there," Boris whispered.
Mazael nodded and kicked in the door. Not quite a torture chamber, the dungeon on the far side featured three cells made of iron bars, one to the north and two to the south. A filthy, nest-like bed lay in the middle of the room, heaped around a central stone pillar next to what could only be a half-eaten giant centipede the size of a horse. In one of the cells, a blonde-haired woman, clothed in rags, badly beaten and bruised, stood, yet the look in her eyes was defiant and unbowed. Also standing in the room was an ogre, easily ten-feet tall, with an uprooted sapling gripped in his hand
"Hey!" he bellowed. "You not s'posed to be here....unless you goin' in a cage." He looked momentarily puzzled. "You want Slugwort put'choo inna cage?"

In response, Boris tumbled through the ogre's legs, and promptly slashed across the brute's Achilles'. Slugwort howled, and hopped up and down on his good foot until Piotr hurled a trio of magic missiles into his face. Grabbing his face, the ogre almost lost his balance. Haroldo took that opportunity to charge in, but Slugwort managed to recovered in time to bring his sapling crashing down on the bloodrager. The blow only seemed to enrage Haroldo further. He charged in snarling, and as he struck, Boris slashed behind both of Slugwort's knees, sending the giant sagging to the ground in an unmoving heap.

Yannus and Koman approached the caged woman.
"She's Ulfen," Koman said in an aside. "I speak Skald. Let me do the talking."
"In case you've forgotten," Yannus told his brother, "I speak Skald as well, and we both know talking isn't your strong suit."
The woman continued to glare as they approached.
"I am Yannus Vhiski," the priest began. "Would you like us to release you?"
She nodded once, curtly.
Yannus signaled to Boris, and the goblin hurried over and made short work of the lock. Cautiously, the woman stepped out. "I am Kelda Oxgutter," she said.
Yannus smiled and introduced his companions.
"Did you come on the longboat in the lagoon?" he asked.
Kelda nodded. "Yes, my shield brothers and I. We came here to raid, but we were attacked by a drake. It killed my brothers, but I finally managed to slay it."
"I'm sorry for your loss," Yannus said. "We came here with a trade caravan from Sandpoint. We have encountered and killed many types of creatures here, and have been forced to slay them all. How did you come to be captured?"
"We came to Brinewall following a map I found," Kelda replied. "It showed a hidden entrance into the keep. I was not going to leave empty-handed and have my brothers' deaths be meaningless. Unfortunately, I found the entrance, but it led me to the lair of a creature that I could not best."
"What kind of creature?" Yannus asked, his eyes narrowing.
"It resembled a giant squid," she said, "except it flew, and could speak. It subdued me, and I woke up here."
"Did it have ten arms?" Yannus asked.
"I didn't count them," Kelda snorted, "but ten sounds about right."
"Could you find your way back there?" Yannus asked.
"Yes," Kelda nodded, "but I need to recover my gear, and I'm not currently at my best."
"We can tend your wounds," Yannus replied. "Would you care to join us?"
"My honor demands it," she said stoically.

They found Kelda's gear locked in an adjoining cell, and while rummaging through Slugwort's gear, they came across an odd, rune-marked stone. Piotr peered at it, and muttered a few words over it.
"This is a summoning gem," he said. "It can call a creature from the elemental plane of earth to aid us."
"I think that may come in handy," Yannus said.


The Return Of The Scions

5 Calistril, 4715

Before following Kelda's lead to whoever or whatever the "ten-handed one" was, the companions decided to explore the rest of the dungeon level first. They back-tracked to the kitchen, and from there took the northern door, which led them to a small, low-ceilinged cavern, filled with a tangle of stalactites and stalagmites. Boris's sharp eyes found a hidden exit on the far side, which gave onto a winding passage that eventually led to another cavern, partially water-filled, with an opening leading outside to the bay.

Returning once more to the kitchen, the group opened another door on the western side. The door was stuck and water-swollen, but a strong nudge from Haroldo sent it slamming open. Beyond, a foul-smelling chamber dripped with moisture that ran down the walls in rivulets amid thick tangles of nasty-looking fungus. Three washing bins in the walls were completely clogged with heaps of even more repulsive molds and mushrooms, some of which had grown to prodigious size, including two large mounds of green mold sprouting dozens of purple-capped mushrooms in the rooms center. As the group prepared to enter, Piotr abruptly stopped them.
"Tread carefully," he muttered. "Those are phycomids. They are carnivorous fungi. Their stalks secrete a caustic acid. Stand back"
He wove his magic, and a column of black motes streamed down on the first mound. The two phycomids began to twitch and writhe, but before they could attack, the group jumped into action. Lucian and Shalelu opened fire with their bows, while Koman, Kelda, Haroldo and Yannus swarmed into the room and slashed the fungi to pieces within a matter of seconds.


The laundry room turned out to be a dead-end, so the companions moved towards the only remaining exit from the kitchen. It opened onto a large mess hall, where long benches in various states of disrepair and several battered and filthy wooden tables stood between stone pillars. The air reeked of reptiles, wafting in nauseous waves of the half-dozen troglodytes that stood about the room. They were tense, and wary, as if they'd been waiting for the trespassers, but Boris was in motion before the first of them could move. He darted past and behind the nearest trog, and buried one of his swords in the brute's scaly belly. With a grunt, the trog folded double and collapsed, bleeding to the floor.

Shalelu knelt by the door and picked her targets, while Lucian stood above her, following his mentor's lead. In the room, one of the trogs moved behind Boris, and clubbed the goblin behind his ear with its cudgel, while another rushed to meet Mazael as the big war priest muscled his way in. Kelda rushed to his side, hurling Ulfen epithets as her blade flashed around her in a blur, and Koman moved among the trogs, striking with uncanny precision. One by one, the troglodytes fell to the heroes, though their stench lingered on.


Beyond the mess hall, the group stumbled upon a abandoned armory, mostly empty but still with some salvageable arms and armor. A short hall led from there to what looked to be some sort of arena. The middle of the chamber sagged in a bowl-like depression, leaving a narrow ring of level ground around the perimeter. Remnants of a low wooden railing marked the edge of the depression, but most of it had collapsed. A large chair sat in the center of the chamber next to a table heaped with doubtful-looking cuts of rancid meat. Seated upon this make-shift throne was a particularly large troglodyte, with a wicked-looking iron morningstar laid across his legs. Arrayed protectively in front of him, were four female trogs who hissed menacingly as the companions entered the room.

The troglodyte chief grinned evilly as he rose slowly to his feet, and directed his harem to attack. His smile turned quickly to shock and pain as Yannus held forth his holy symbol, and a burst of holy radiance filled the room. The chief and two of the females shrieked and clawed at their eyes, blinded from the brilliant blast, and their skin boiled and blistered from the heat. In an instant, Kelda leaped across the room, her eyes flashing with murder. She slashed her sword downward, opening the chieftain from throat to groin. Coughing and gurgling, the big trog collapsed back onto his throne. Boris took advantage of the chaos to slip his sword blades through the ribs of the nearest female, silencing her screams in an instant. The lethal goblin then whirled away and drove his sword into the throat of one of the blinded trogs, putting her down as well. Haroldo, Yannus and Kelda finished made short work of the remaining two.


Brinewall Keep lay empty...except for whatever horror still awaited them deep in the bowels of the dungeon. The creature that apparently held the key to the vault the concealed the secret of Ameiko's heritage. Kelda led the way through twisting passages, until at last they came to an intricate iron screen that blocked further progress into a large chamber beyond. A wooden door painted with the image of a tall, beautiful blue-skinned woman seated on a throne stood in the middle of the screen. It was Pharasma, the goddess of the dead. Past the screen, the room stretched dozens of feet to the east, supported by stone pillars, and with deep funerary alcoves on either side. The far end of the chamber seemed to have partially collapsed into a large cavern in which faintly glowing motes of light swirled and danced in the air.

Cautiously, the companions opened the door and entered the crypt. They had taken no more than a few steps, when a ghostly image of the same woman painted on the door, suddenly appeared out of thin air, floating at the far end of the chamber.
"Be at peace," the goddess said. "You are in no danger here. Lay down your weapons and come to me. I shall grant each of you a boon."
Mazael started forward, sheathing his sword as he went.
"What are you doing?" Yannus hissed at him.
"Pharasma is calling to us," the war priest shrugged, looking over his shoulder.
Koman put away his sword as well and began to follow.
"Can't you see it's an illusion?" Yannus snapped as he grabbed his brother's arm
"Pretty," Boris said as he palmed both of his daggers into his sleeves and started after the others.
Yannus cursed and went after the others, though he gripped his glaive firmly in his hands. Haroldo and Piotr came along, though Luician hung back at a gesture from Shalelu, and Kelda showed no sign of going anywhere near the floating image of the goddess.

At the far end of the crypt, the floor simply ended, and a vast cavern opened up in the darkness beyond. The floor descended in two twenty-foot drops into a large, eerie grotto. The walls dripped with moisture and bore strange and disturbing cave paintings of towering four-winged humanoid shapes. Tiny motes of glowing light continued to drift and bob in the air, giving the place an almost nauseating feeling, as if the cavern were viewed through a dreamlike haze. As the companions gathered at the edge of the drop off, the image of Pharasma abruptly vanished, and a creature out of a nightmare rose slowly into view, it's leathery wings beating the air. It had a slimy, mollusk-like body, complete with ten tentacles, two of which ended in savage claws, and a monstrous face. As it reached a height level with the ledge upon which the heroes stood, it spoke, it's voice like bones cracking, its words filthy and unintelligible, and a darkness as black as night spread from out from it, enveloping them all.

Most of the companions groped about blindly, though Boris could still see in the darkness, as could Mazael, thanks to his celestial heritage. So it was that only the two of them saw the creature unleash its next assault. It spat its savage words again, and a greasy cloud of cloying, sickening coldness washed over them. The cried out in pain as the unholy blight seemed to siphon away a bit of their souls, and Yannus and Piotr doubled over, becoming physically ill. Boris knelt down and pulled his bow, taking careful aim. He loosed, and his arrow flew true, but when it struck the abomination, it simply bounced off its thick shell. Then Shalelu was beside him, cocking her head as she listened in the darkness, seeking her target. Before she could act, however, the fiendish decapus drew a slender wand from its tentacles and sent a scorching ray of fire at her.

"I have an idea!" Piotr shouted.
He fished around in his pack until he found what he was looking for: the strange weapon that Kikonu had wielded. He began to whirl the ball and chain section around his head, creating a constant buzzing sound. A moment later, an enormous wasp simply appeared above his head.
'Slay my enemy,' the sorcerer mentally commanded the creature and, it's compound eyes more than adapted for darkness, it flew towards the abomination, it wings humming angrily. It reached the decapus and jabbed its stinger through its shell and into its flesh. The creature bellowed in pain and fury, and lashed out at the wasp with tooth, claw and tentacle. Shalelu's ears honed in on the sounds of the conflict and, ignoring the sting of her burns, she bent her bow and let fly, smiling slightly to herself as she head the arrow strike home.

Haroldo also had an idea, though he didn't feel the need to brag about it like the pompous sorcerer. He felt his way towards the edge of the drop off, and began to lower himself over the side. In the darkness, however, he misjudged his footing and slipped, plummeting the twenty feet to the first ledge below. Cursing, he scrambled to his feet, rage filling him. His anger fueled the innate magic that rested just below the surface and, calling upon it, his body began to shift, growing rapidly to twice his normal his size. He ran towards the far wall and began to climb, his hands and feet sticking to the surface like a spider.

The battle between the decapus and the wasp continued to rage, and with its next barrage of tentacles and claws, the abomination destroyed the giant insect, sending it back to the plane from which it had been summoned. Still, it gave Shalelu time to draw another bead, and this time she loosed first one of the flaming arrows she'd taken from Zaiobe, and then followed with a special arrow she'd been specially designed for demon-spawn. When the two shafts struck the decapus, it shrieked in agony, clawing and biting at the arrows as they seared its flesh. It brandished its wand again, and another blazing fire bolt struck Shalelu, sending her scrambling for cover.

Down below, as Haroldo continue to scale the wall behind the decapus, it finally took notice of him, and sent a scorching ray his way as well. The giant blood rager took the blast full-on, grimaced in pain, and kept climbing. He reached the creature's level and, while still gripping the wall with his feet and one hand, drew a longsword from the scabbard at his side. The decapus screamed at him, and beat at him with its razor claws, while sinking its fangs into his shoulder. At this point, Haroldo was fully engulfed in the darkness, and fighting blind, though he could tell where the attacks were coming from. Crying out in rage and desperation, he swung his blade with all his might, and felt it bite deeply into the flesh of the fiendish abomination. He heard its screams suddenly cut short, then heard it fall heavily to the ground below. Feeling his strength ebbing, he scrambled rapidly back down to the floor of the grotto, and then proceeded to collapse into unconsciousness from fatigue and blood loss.


In the aftermath of the battle, Lucian quickly rushed to Haroldo's side and proceeded to heal the warrior's wounds, while the others climbed down the ledges to ensure their opponent was well and truly dead. Secreted within the stalagmites of the grotto floor, they found a small trove of treasures and valuables that the creature had been hoarding. Among the items, Koman's eyes instantly fell upon a familiar looking item...a compass with a small hollow, just large enough to hold a tiny stone or gem.
"It's a wayfinder," he breathed. "The Pathfinders use them. I saw them do amazing things when I studied with them."
He reverently tucked the box into his belt.

Also among the treasure was a stone statuette depicting a a bird-headed, four-winged humanoid with its right arm extended. Piotr saw it first, and felt strangely drawn to it. He reached down and picked it up, and immediately felt an invigorating sense of confidence come over him. At the same time, however, he felt oddly sluggish and weighted down. Something was wrong, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it...

The last item of interest, was a darkwood and silver disc decorated with an intricate etching of Brinewall under the midnight moon. It was the second key to the vault.


Before breaching the vault, the exhausted and wounded heroes decided to return to the cemetery and rest. Spivey was thrilled to see them, and to hear of their defeat of the evil within Brinewall. She gladly tended their wounds while she chatted away excitedly. As the day wore on, and they recuperated, the sound of approaching hoofbeats interrupted their reverie. Turning towards the cemetery gates, they saw Sandru galloping in on horseback.

"I'm glad to find you here," he said as he dismounted. "Ameiko spoke again less than an hour ago. She said, 'Grandfather waits in the dark, but he knows not who he was.' Does that mean anything to you?"
"We found the second key to the vault," Yannus replied. "Ameiko's grandfather, Rokuro, said in his letter that he would die defending whatever this family heirloom is. Perhaps some part of him still waits there."


The following morning, the companions returned to Brinewall keep for the last time. They made their way back down to the vault, and placed both discs into their respective slots. Immediately, the iron bars of the portcullis slowly slid down into the floor. The walls of the room beyond were smooth stone, spattered with ancient bloodstains and deep, violent gouges. Deep drifts of dust lay on the floor, while immense stone doors hung open on the far side, revealing empty vaults beyond. Suddenly, the dust swirled into the air, coalescing into an ominous shadowy form that took on the ghostly image of an old but handsome Tian man. The spirit adopted a defensive pose, his katana held before him menacingly.

"Rokuro Kaijitsu!" Yannus called out, stepping forward boldly. "We have come here with your granddaughter, Ameiko. We have come to help her reclaim your family's honor."
The wraith's eyes bulged, and he froze, motionless. He lowered his sword, and then spoke, his voice low and mournful.
A moment later, he raised his arms and cried out in anguish, then turned and faced the companions, tears of dust running down his incorporeal cheeks.
"Take the Seal away from here," he said. "Take it to my child. It is no longer safe...and I am no longer worth of guarding it..."
He pointed towards a spot on one blank wall, then, with another agonized cry, he flew apart into dust once more.

It didn't take long for Boris to find the hidden door that Rokuro had indicated. The chamber it opened onto appeared to be only half-excavated, one portion of it remaining a rough cavern wall. Three identical darkwood chests bound with bronze sat against the base of that wall. The three chests were locked, but Boris had no trouble unlocking the first two. Inside these were several items of arms, armor and magical trinkets. As the companions gazed upon them, each felt drawn to a specific item. The drew them forth, and instantly knew that each item had been created specifically for them. The heroes instinctively knew as well that each item contained a unique guardian spirit known as a kami. This spirit imparted to each of them the knowledge that, if they were willing to make an appropriate sacrifice, the kami could make their items even more powerful over time.

As Boris approached the final chest, it simply unlatched and opened, as if it had been waiting. The only item inside was an ornate box decorated with draconic designs, containing three compartments. Only one of those compartments was occupied. It contained a stone statuette of a dragon. As the companions gazed upon this strange totem, their vision began to cloud, and all of them collapsed to the floor. In an instant, their unconscious minds were filled with visions. They saw an army of terrible fiends, with burning skin, glaring eyes, and sharp tusks, wearing strange armor and wielding exotic weapons, emerge in a storm from a vast forest, and then descend upon a nation populated by Tian people.
This vision was swiftly followed by another: a young man dressed in royal robes stood over a simple well, a friend at his side. Suddenly, the friend grew nearly three times in size and was sheathed in a frightening suit of jade armor. The jade warrior drew a sword and struck down his royal friend, then held the bloody sword aloft in triumph.
A third vision followed, this time of a young Tian man handing a beautiful sword to a richly dressed Ulfen man in exchange for a bag of gold.
Finally, the vision faded, and the companions saw their friend Ameiko waking from her deep sleep, but she was dressed in the finery of an empress. She rose from sleep, not in a humble Varisian caravan, but from a resting spot within the arms of a jade throne.

The visions passed in the span of a few heartbeats, and when they had, the heroes awoke once more. The visions had left indelible knowledge in their minds: they knew that the land they saw invaded by fiends was called Minkai; they knew that the man they saw murdered by the jade warrior was Emperor Shigure of Minkai; they knew that Ameiko Kaijitsu's true family name was Amatatsu, one of the five royal families of Minkai; they recognized the young Tian man with the sword as Ameiko's grandfather, Rokuro Kaijitsu, formerly Amatatsu Tsutoku, selling the family's legendary sword Suishen to the Ulfen merchant Fynn Snaevald in the city of Kalsgard to finance his family's flight and exile; they knew that Suishen was intelligent, and could impart much more knowledge of the Amatatsu family's legacy if recovered; they knew that Ameiko herself was the heir of her line; and finally, they knew the power of the stone statuette, the Amatatsu Seal, and its warding box.

The Amatatsu Seal was one of five royal seals of Minkai, and represented the Amatatsu family's divine right to rule the empire of Minkai. Should no Amatatsus of pure blood be able to take up that charge, the Seal could invest the right to rule as an Amatatsu in any number of living, humanoid hosts, making them Amatatsu scions. The companions understood that the Seal had indeed invested each of them as just such a scion. The Seal had healing powers as well, and it revealed these to the heroes. In fact, Piotr instantly knew that the bird statue he had claimed was cursed, and would eventually corrupt his soul. The Amatatsu Seal unmade this curse, and the statue fell to the floor and crumbled to dust. They also were aware that the Seal radiated strong magic, and those with the proper resources could sense this magic across oceans and continents, allowing it to be tracked across any distance. Originally, this was meant to allow its rightful owners to track it if it were stolen, but this also made it vulnerable to tracking from enemies who might be seeking it. This was the purpose of the warding box. As long as it was closed, and the Seal contained within, no amount of divination could find it. Lastly, the Seal made it known that it could never be transported by teleportation magic or dimensional travel. It could not be taken from the Material Plane save via special portals blessed by the gods, and those who carried the Seal could neither cast nor otherwise use teleportation effects. This was meant to protect the Seal from being easily stolen, but it also meant that, if the Seal were to be returned to Minkai, it was going to be a very long journey.


Night Of Frozen Shadows

6 Calistril-24 Calistril, 4715

"What should I do now?" Spivey asked, looking lost and a bit forlorn as her guests packed up their gear and prepared to return to their caravan.
"Come with us," Yannus shrugged. "Your work here is done. What's keeping you?"
The little angel looked thoughtful. "Where are you going?" she asked
Yannus turned to Ameiko, who had come to find her friends after awakening from her coma. She had explained to them that the Amatatsu Seal had also had a kami spirit attached to it, but when Rokuro had died, and the seal left abandoned, it had left its vessel to go in search of any surviving Amatatsus. When it had finally sensed her presence, it had possessed her, in a misguided effort to communicate. Now that the seal had been recovered, it had returned the kami had returned to resume its duties.
"First," she said, answering Spivey, "we are going to Kalsgard to reclaim my family's sword. Then, I intend to travel over the Crown of the World all the way to Tian Xia and Minkai to restore my family's name and heritage."
Spivey's eyes grew large. "You are going to travel across the top of the world??"
Ameiko winked and nodded.
"Even my former mistress never travelled so far!" Spivey exclaimed. "Yes, I would love to come with you! Just think of the stories I'll have to tell when I see Desna again!"


The caravan of the Seven Scions of Sandpoint set out once more that afternoon, making for the upper Nolands, and then into the Land of the Linnorm Kings. Spivey and Kelda settled in nicely, though the latter ended up having to take over driving one of the wagons, as the Varisian woman Danica made it very clear that she had no intention of journeying across the world, and would be returning to Sandpoint immediately.

Less than a day out of Brinewall, the caravan came upon a group of stranded travelers. They drove a pack train, but had lost too many of their animals to continue. They begged passage, but quite simply, the caravan had no more room. Instead, Sandru agree to sell the travelers some of their supply goods, and Yannus advised them that Brinewall castle was only a few miles back. It would a good place for them to hold up until they could recover and resume their journey.

A day later, the caravan entered the cold, subarctic Land of the Linnorm Kings. One thing that was immediately noticeable were the ubiquitous flocks of ravens that constantly filled the skies above. It was Yannus who first noticed that, among the flocks, there was one much larger bird. Perhaps the size of a small dog, the raven also had one brilliant, red feather on one pinion. He pointed it out to the others, and the Varisians in the caravan immediately began forking the sign of the evil eye in its direction.
"'Tis a blood-feather raven," Kelda explained. "'Tis a bad omen. Such creatures are thought to be servants of dark powers."

As they continued to move north, the caravan stopped at the copper mine of Kopparberget, where a small village had grown up to support the dwarven miners there. They traded with the dwarves before setting out again, following an existing trade route to the town of Jol. Every other day or so, the blood-feather raven could be seen on the wing above them again, only to disappear a short time later. The mood among the Varisians grew more dour.

The route turned towards the Grungir Forest, and cut through its eastern neck. They were no more than a day away from the bridge to the city of Losthome, when they were set upon by a band of trolls. The battle was fierce, and would have gone worse for the group had Piotr not pointed out that trolls were susceptible to fire. With the help of his magic, and judicious use of alchemical fire, the giants were routed, but not before the caravan took significant damage. They limped into Losthome, where they were forced to spend four days making repairs. Unrest increased among the Varisians, but the combined talents of Ameiko and Yannus helped ameliorate the situation.

The path turned north again, following the western bank of the Thundering River, until it reached the confluence of that waterway and the Rimeflow River. There, at Skalsbridge, the caravan made camp. The night was cold, and a frozen mist clung low to the ground, making the light dim, even within the range of the campfire. The sounds of the night were muted, but the dull silence was suddenly broken by the scrape of wood upon the gravel bank of the river...a boat had beached just beneath the bridge. This was quickly followed by the splash of feet in the shallows, and the oath-cries and battle songs of Ulfen raiders.

The heroes rushed forward to meet the onslaught of over a dozen crazed Ulfens while, out in the fog, they heard more raiders attacking the caravan. As the two groups clashed, Haroldo slashed the legs out from under one raider, while Yannus skewered another one. After that, however, Haroldo found himself surrounded and assaulted from all sides, while Yannus took a blow as he struggled to recover his glaive. Haroldo's blood boiled as he raged and hacked around him, cleaving his blade through two warriors. As his back was turned, two more Ulfens closed in, slashing at his exposed flank. Behind him, Lucian dropped a raider with a well-placed arrow, but he could see that the blood rager wouldn't last much longer. He rushed to Haroldo's side and laid his hands upon the big man, allowing the healing power of his god to flow through him and into his friend.

Across the battlefield, Yannus continued to fend off raiders who were encroaching on Piotr. The sorcerer back-pedaled as he was being hemmed in, and then, at the last moment, he flung both hands out and loosed a cone of flames, engulfing all of his assailants. From behind them came Mazael, his falchion hewing madly, cutting down one of the burned Ulfens. Yannus took the opportunity to bring his own magic to bear, unleashing a brilliant flash of light, which blinded several of the warriors, but unfortunately affected Haroldo as well.

Haroldo never slowed. The latent magic that lay within him caused his body to blur as he continued to rage, slashing about him madly, and continuing to bring down enemies, even blind as he was. The tide of battle inexorably turned as the Ulfens were cut down. Two turned and fled across the bridge, vanishing into the mists, but their brethren did not far so well. The heroes, battered and bloodied themselves, cut them down to a man. As the din of battle faded, Ameiko, Sandru, Koya, Shalelu, Kelda and Spivey joined them out of the mist, equally bruised and injured, but just as victorious.

In the aftermath of the battle, the companions discovered that all of the raiders wore identical gold bands around their upper arms, engraved with the image of a stylized lion.
"These are the mark of a ring-giver," Kelda explained. "A local lord will give these to his loyal men as a sign of fealty."
"Do you recognize this emblem?" Yannus asked. "Why would they attack us?"
Kelda shook her head. "There are many minor lords in Kalsgard," she explained. "Perhaps we can learn more when we reach the city."
Further investigation also revealed the raiders' boat, a fifty-foot river craft with the name Aril's Hammer engraved on the prow. The group debated the wisdom of trying to row the ship down river to Kalsgard and sell it, but ultimately decided that might draw too much attention. The boat was scuttled.


The remainder of the trek to Kalsgard was largely uneventful, save for a foiled attempt by a group of bandits to try and rob the caravan under cover of fog and darkness. Kalsgard itself came into view roughly twenty days after the caravan left Brinewall. The trading capital and oldest surviving settlement of the Linnorm Kingdoms, the city was a huge, bustling metropolis rising upon the southern shore of the Rimeflow River's wide mouth, with a population of over seventy thousand.
"Once we pass the gates," Sandru explained, "we'll be entering the Bone Quarter. It's the poorest section of the city, but it's were most Varisian caravans camp. Mostly because the Ulfen's see little distinction between honest caravaneers, such as ourselves, and Sczarni con artists. I suggest, little brothers," he said to Yannus and Koman, "that you and your friends procure your own quarters in the city. This will help throw off suspicion while I make preparations for the journey over the Crown of the World."

Following Sandru's advice, the heroes split up, and planned to meet up at an unassuming inn latter in the day. Piotr made his way through the city to the Fire Quarter, a rowdy district where all manner of Ulfen competition, relaxation, and entertainment took place. There he made surreptitious inquiries about the local lords and their sigils. It didn't take him long to discover that the lion's head emblem was the rune-sign of a ring-giver named Asvig Longthews. Further questioning also revealed that Fynn Snaevald, the merchant who purchased the sword Suishen from Rokuro Kaijitsu over sixty years ago, was still alive and well. He apparently still worked as an independent trader of amber and whale oil, as well as a collector of Tian antiquities, out of his home in the Amber Quarter.

For his part, Yannus went in search of a shrine to his goddess, Shelyn, that he had leearned existed in the city. He finally found it in the Jade Quarter, a district which served as a home to a large Tian immigrant population coming over the Crown of the World. The old priest of the shrine was a man named Yin-Po. He was pleased to meet a fellow adherent of the love goddess, but was curious as to what had brought Yannus so far from home.
"I'm hired on as a caravan guard," the young cleric explained, somewhat circuitously. "My employer is looking to find a guide over the Crown of the World to Minkai."
"Oh, you may have difficulty there," Yin-Po shook his head. "This is the off-season for such travel. The morozko storms sweep across the Crown this time of year. Most of the guides who know the route are retained by the merchant guilds, and would not be free to take on such an unsanctioned journey."
"I see," Yannus nodded. "You wouldn't happen to know of any freelance guides, would you?"
Yin-Po looked at him guardedly.
"I'm afraid not," he said curtly. "In any event, I wish you good luck and a safe journey, brother. Please feel free to come by for services during your stay."


The companions regrouped and, based on Piotr's information, decided to first seek out Fynn Snaevald. Ameiko insisted on coming along, wanting to hear first-hand any information related to her family. The Amber Quarter was the hub of manufacturing and production in Kalsgard, with shops that sold similar wares congregating close together along the streets. Thus, it was not difficult to find Fynn's home. When Yannus knocked on he door, it was answered by a slender, wiry old man with blue veins crawling across his arms and neck beneath a shock of white beard and hair that floated around his head like a halo.
"Help you?" he asked.
"Are you Fynn Snaevald?" Ameiko asked.
"The one and only," the old man grinned. "And who might you be?"
"My name is Ameiko Kaijitsu," she replied. "Sixty years ago, your purchased a sword from my grandfather, Rokuro. Do you remember this?"
"Suishen," Fynn breathed. "Of course I remember. It hung over my mantle there up until two weeks past. I tried to carry it once upon a time, but it gave me a sort of...a funny feeling."
"Two weeks?" Ameiko asked. "Did you sell it?"
"Hah!" Fynn barked. "Never! 'Twas stolen! A band of black-masked thieves broke in and took it! Didn't see them myself. Wasn't home, but several of my servants were killed in the dust up. One of my men, Olaf, was still alive when I came back. Told me what happened before he expired. The only thing he said about the thieves was that one of them was much taller than the others, and seemed to be in charge. I reported it to the city watch, but nothing's come of it. Tell you what, though: if you youngsters find out who took my property and killed my people, and exact my sworn blood vengeance upon them, then the sword is yours."
"Can you think of anything else that might help us find the perpetrators?" Yannus asked.
Fynn thought hard for a moment, stroking his beard.
"Now that you mention it," he said at length, "Olaf did say one more thing. He muttered something about paying the lion's due. Didn't think much of it at the time. Just the ramblings of a dying man who'd lost his wits."
Yannus looked pointedly at his companions, and then withdrew one of the armbands they'd taken from the raiders from his cloak.
"Have you ever seen this before?" he asked.
"Aye," he nodded, taking the band. "'Tis the rune-sign of Asvig Longthews...Wait a minute! Longthews is a tall fellow. You think it was he that took the sword?"
"It would seem so," Yannus said. "Men wearing these rings set upon us on the road not five days past. Do you know where Longthews lives?"
"Not exactly," Fynn shook his head, "but I know his farm is somewhere outside of town. I also hear-tell that he has several dozen warriors as his bondsmen."
"Well, he has a couple of dozen less now," Haroldo growled.


It didn't take much investigating to discover that the farm of Asvig Longthews lay about a two hour walk southeast of the city, in an area of lightly forested and marshy hills. The companions decided to pay the local ring-giver a visit that very night. At first, Ameiko wanted to accompany them, but Sandru convinced her that it would be in her best interest to stay with the caravan and the Seal, while he went with the young heroes. Kelda also agreed to come along, since she was most familiar with Ulfen customs.

When the group reached the Longthews farm, it was after nightfall, and the main house was ablaze with light, with the sounds of boisterous celebration coming from inside. As they approached cautiously, they saw that a ring of short wooden posts driven into the ground surrounded the farm and its outlying buildings. The main road to the house passed between two of those posts. The posts were topped with fancifully carved lion heads, matching those on Asvig's arm rings. Piotr held up a hand as the group drew closer.
"There's magic here," he murmured. "Some sort of conjuration dweomer."
Mazael moved a few steps further.
"There are runes carved into the posts," he said, "and it looks like someone drew another rune in the dirt between them, then tried to erase it. I think I can redraw it."
He bent to the task, and after a few moments, stood up and nodded.
"I think I got it."
To test the theory, he stepped between the posts. Instantly, there were two flashes of light, one from each post, and a moment later, a pair of large felines appeared out of thin air and, snarling, hurtled towards the companions.
One of the summoned lions leaped for Sandru, and ripped at his arm with its razor-sharp claws. The second one pounced on Lucian, clawing and biting. Lucian drew his cudgel from his belt and slammed it across the snout of the beast, while Sandru rolled behind it and thrust his sword through its spine. With a yowl, the lion-creature vanished as quickly as it had appeared. Yannus and Mazael turned on the other cat, and quickly dispatched it as well.

The companions continued on, as quietly as they could, to the farmhouse. Just before they reached it, Sandru hissed to get everyone's attention. Turning to look at him, the others saw him point back up the road in the direction from which they'd come. There, perhaps a mile or two away, they saw a column of torches, maybe twenty or more, heading towards the farm.
"I figure we've got maybe an hour before we have company," Sandru said.
Yannus nodded, then gestured for Haroldo to open the door. The big warrior slammed one large boot into the door and sent it flying inward. The long main hall beyond had a sunken floor with a raised platform along the sides. These were crowded with trestle tables and chairs, while a fire pit dominated the center of the floor. Twenty Ulfen warriors filled the room, though maybe half of them were passed out drunk. The others were drinking heavily, and manhandling the young female thralls serving them. The noise stopped abruptly as the door slammed open.
The silence stretched a heartbeat longer, and then the Ulfens burst into laughter as they rose to their feet and drew their battle axes...


First Blood

25 Calistril, 4715

Boris didn't wait for a response from the Ulfens. Drawing his brand new pair of wakizashis, he ran screaming into the room, leaped up onto one of the raised platforms, and rammed one blade into the groin of the nearest warrior. The big man grunted, and doubled over, his blood pulsing out in great gouts as he collapsed to the ground. With no choice at that point but to follow the insane goblin's lead, Lucian knelt and put an arrow through the chest of another Ulfen, and Piotr finished the man off with a cloud of freezing, black motes.

Sandru glanced at Koman and shrugged, then launched himself into a forward roll between a pair of drunken, swaying Ulfens. Koman followed his older brother, and the pair of them quickly flanked and dispatched one of the inebriated warriors. Up on the nearest platform, Boris drove one sword into the throat of an Ulfen who was still snoring loudly in a drunken stupor. Another warrior rushed up behind him as he knelt, and managed to open a gash in the goblin's back before he rolled away. Mazael suffered a glancing blow as well as he plowed into the main room and brought his falchion down on another sleeper. Slowly, the remaining Ulfens who'd been sleeping began to rouse, and climb slowly to their feet, looking around in bleary-eyed confusion. Haroldo, side-by-side with the battle-maddened Kelda, dispatched one of them before he could get his bearings. Yannus, still standing at the entrance to the house, saw three warriors converging on Boris, which another pair moving in to flank the little goblin. Gripping his holy symbol, he called forth a thunder clap of sound that momentarily stunned the first three.

At that moment, on the far end of the room, an ornate folding screen was pushed aside as another Ulfen warrior entered the room. Immediately behind him, came a woman dressed in fine furs, and with a raven perched on her shoulder. She fixed her gaze on Boris, still standing over the pair of men he'd slain, and she forked her fingers at him. Boris's eyes rolled back in his head, and he swooned and collapsed into a deep slumber. The pair of Ulfens flanking him brought their axes down upon him mercilessly.

The other companions were not near enough to Boris to aid him, but they fought on as if possessed. Mazael, aided by Lucian's arrows, took down one man, while Koman beat another one to the ground. Sandru leaped to Haroldo's side and slew one warrior as he was still strapping on his shield, then Haroldo swept his greatsword in huge arc, and took out another pair. Meanwhile, Piotr, realizing who the real threat in the room was, conjured a sphere of flames out of thin air, and sent it bouncing towards the witch. It set the hem of her skirts ablaze, causing her to beat frantically at them to extinguish herself.

Then, from behind the witched, another warrior entered the room, but this was was easily head-and-shoulders taller than any of the others, and wore fine armor beneath furred robes. This could be none other than Asvig Longthews. At the same time, the doors to the kitchen flew open, and four more warriors streamed in. The companions were completely surrounded at this point, but that did not slow them. Koman slew one of the men still recovering from Yannus's sound burst as he bent to retrieve his sword. Boris, awake once more, but bleeding profusely, rolled to his feet and quickly grabbed his blades. Lucian dropped another warrior with his bow, but suffered a glancing blow for his trouble. At that moment, a woman's scream split the air. All combatants turned to look, pausing in their efforts to kill each other. The witch, her dress still ablaze, was falling as a barrage of streaking missiles from Piotr struck her full in the chest. Silence engulfed the room, and then a moment later was split by another cry, this time from Asvig.
Rage suffused the Ulfen chieftain, and he lunged into the melee, heedless of the danger. He shoved his own men out of his way, ignoring blows from Kelda, Koman, and even Boris, though his blood flowed freely. Finally, he reached the door, and Piotr, who had just murdered his wife. He lunged forward with a shortspear and swept the sorcerer's legs from under him, sending him sprawling to the ground. His companions sprang into action, fighting viciously to reach their friend, felling warrior after warrior, but still unable to get to Asvig. The chieftain raised his spear high, preparing to impale Piotr, but then, out of the corner of his eye, the sorcerer spotted his flaming sphere, still sitting on Helva's corpse. With a thought, he called it to him, and it leapt through the air, landing directly on Asvig's back. He howled as he was suddenly engulfed in flames and dropped, burning, to the floor.

Eight Ulfen warriors still stood, but when they saw their leader fall, they all simultaneously dropped their weapons and raised their hands in surrender.


As Yannus and Koman were the only ones fluent in the Skald language (besides Kelda), it fell to them to interrogate the Ulfens.
"We saw lights on the road," Yannus began. "How many more are coming?"
The warrior he was questioning shrugged. "Maybe two dozen. It is a celebration. All of Longthews' huscarls have been called in."
"Celebration?" Koman asked. "Of what?"
"We honor the passing of Snorri Stone-Eye," the Ulfen replied. "He was ring-giver to Asvig Longthews."
"What did your lord do with the sword that you took?" Yannus asked.
The warrior shook his head. "I do not know."
"You don't deny you stole it?" the priest pressed
"Asvig tells us to take the sword, so we take the sword," the prisoner said.
"Why did you kill Snaevald's people?" Koman snapped.
"Asvig said leave no witnesses," replied the Ulfen.
"You, and any who were directly involved, now owe weregild to Flynn Snaevald," Yannus pronounced. "What do you offer?"
The warrior looked around at his fellows, and all nodded slightly.
"We offer ourselves as thralls," he said calmly.
Yannus considered this, then nodded as well. "That is acceptable."

Yannus turned his attention to the thralls still huddled in one corner of the great hall. The companions had discovered several more in the kitchen and pantry, some of whom looked like they had been used roughly.
"You are all safe," he said gently. "What would you do now?"
"We are yours, Lord," one of the women replied simply.
"Flynn Snaevald has need of servants," Yannus said. "Would you be willing to serve him? He would be a kind master."
The women looked at one another and nodded enthusiastically.
"Can any of you tell me if Asvig has had any recent dealings with any strangers?" Yannus asked.
They looked at each other again, and the one who spoke for them answered.
"Just the guide from the city," she said.
"What guide?" Koman asked.
"Ulf Gormundr," she replied. "He came several days ago, and our Lord...Asvig...had him taken captive."
"Is he still here?" Yannus asked.
"No," the thrall said. "He was taken yesterday. Asvig said he would be joining Snorri Stone-Eye."
"What?" Yannus asked. "What does that mean? I thought the warriors said he was dead."
"He is," the woman said. "But his funeral barge will be lit at dawn. I think Asvig meant that he was taking the guide to the barge."
"Do you know where?" asked Yannus.
"The docks in the Fire Quarter," the girl replied. "Oh, there was another visitor today as well. A Vharki woman."
Yannus looked questioningly at Kelda.
"An ice-dwelling people," the Ulfen woman explained. "They are nomads, much like your Varisians."
"She came looking for the guide as well," the thrall explained, "but my Lord had his men beat her and throw her off his land."
"What a saint," Koman snorted.

As the thralls gathered their meager belongings, and the other heroes looted the farmhouse and prepared the prisoners to travel before the rest of Asvig's men arrived, Koman pulled one of the serving girls aside, a pretty young blonde with ice-blue eyes.
"What is your name?" he asked.
"Olga," she said shyly, casting her eyes downward.
"Do you want to accompany your friends to your new employers, or," Koman winked slyly, "would you like a life of adventure, treasure-seeking and constant excitement?"
"Are you the ones that Asvig sent his men to raid upon three nights past?" she asked excitedly.
"You know about that?" Koman asked.
"Yes," she nodded, "the Lord bragged about it. He sent them on a long boat loaned to him by the Rimerunners Guild."
"I see," Koman said. "Yes, that's us, and as you can see, he failed, and we don't take kindly to people trying to kill us. We always pay our debts. So what's your answer?"
"Oh yes! Yes!" she giggled.


As the companions made their final preparations to depart Asvig's farm, Boris caught sight of a solitary figure approaching the house through the night mist.
"Who goes there?" Yannus called.
The figure came slowly forward into the torchlight, hands spread to show they were unarmed. It was a woman dressed in heavy furs. Her features were flatter and more swarthy than the Ulfens, and her hair was raven black. One eye was swollen shut, and numerous bruises adorned her face.
"My name is Uksahkka," she said in accented Skald. "Did you find him? Did you find Ulf?"
"Are you the Vharki woman who came her earlier today?" Yannus asked.
She nodded. "I came looking for my friend. Asvig Longthews came to him several days ago and offered him a job planning a trade route through the Grungnir Forest. Ulf was happy to have the work. He has not been very popular with the guilds of late. He came her two days ago to finalize plans, and he never returned. When I came seeking him, I was told he had never arrived, and was thrown out. Yin-Po told me that you had come by his shrine asking about a guide. I tracked down your caravan and followed you here. So did you find him?"
"No," Yannus shook his head, and Uksahkka's face fell. "The thralls told us that he has likely been placed upon the funeral barge of Snorri Stone-Eye, which is set to be launched at dawn."
Uksahkka sniffed back tears and nodded.
"I know of this," she said, "but I think the funeral will be delayed. There will be a heavy fog in the morning, and it will not clear until sunset. The barge will be guarded by three dozen of Snorri's huscarls. It will be vulnerable, however as it sails out of the harbor."
"How do you know all of this?" Yannus asked, suspiciously.
Uksahkka shrugged. "Vharki women sometimes have a sixth sense about the weather. It was passed to me by my mother, and to her by her mother before."
"A useful talent," Yannus smiled. "How would reach the barge if it is already at sail and alight?"
"The pyre will be lit by a timed flame," the Vharki explained. "It will not ignite until it is past Spear-Shaker Point. If you and your friends meet me there an hour before sunset, I will bring kayaks. These are small boats that my people use. They are easy to master, and I can teach you quickly. You can use them to paddle out to the barge."
"You seem to have all the answers," Yannus said, arching one eyebrow.
"If I did, Ulf would be here now," she replied bitterly. "I will not go to the death ship, but I will meet you at the Shellyn's shrine after. Give this token to Yin-Po, and he will bring you to a safe house where I will meet you."
She handed Yannus a clay disc with the image of a songbird stamped on one side.
"Until we meet again."


"Paddle boats!??" Mazael raged. "Do I look like I can swim??!"
He indicated his large frame, sheathed neck to foot in plate armor.
"Boris agree," Boris piped in. "Is stupid idea. Why we listen to stupid boat lady? Boris have better plan."

The group had made their way back to Kalsgard under cover of darkness, and back to Flynn Snaevald's. The old shopkeeper was overjoyed at his new thralls and enthusiastic serving girls, and was, if anything, happier when Haroldo presented him with the severed head of Asvig Longthews. He was disappointed to hear that Suishen had not been recovered, but assured the heroes that, should they recover it, it was theirs to keep. Afterwards, the group had returned to the Bone Quarter and their caravan to discuss their next move.

"I can't believe I'm asking this," Yannus sighed, "but what is your plan, Boris?"
"Rest of you go learn how to paddle boats," the goblin said, "and Boris will sneak on fire boat. If Ulf man on boat, Boris set him free so he not burn up. Then, when boat sail past you, you paddle little toy boats over and we all get away. Simple."
"What part of 'I don't swim' didn't you understand?" Mazael barked.
"And what about the three dozen Ulfens guarding the barge?" Koman asked.
"You stay on shore," Boris waved at Mazael, "and if Boris not want to be seen, three hundred vikings not see him. Plus, Boris have this!"
He pulled a small vial out of his belt pouch.
"What is that?" Yannus asked.
"Special potion," Boris smiled. "Boris buy in market today. Make Boris invisible."
Yannus looked to the others.
"Does anyone have any better ideas?" he asked.
"Not as long as I don't have to swim," Mazael grumbled.


The next morning, just as Uksahkka predicted, a heavy fog rolled in off the bay, and Snorri Stone-Eyes funeral barge remained at dock. As the day wore on towards evening, however, the fog began to lift, and the Scions began making their way towards the rocky peninsula known as Spear-Shaker Point, accompanied by Kelda and Shalelu. As they walked through the city, an unusual number of ravens gathered on the rooftops and in the trees along their route, appearing to almost watch and follow the companions with their black eyes.

As prearranged, Boris separated from the others when they reached the docks, and made his way stealthily towards the barge. Just as Uksahkka said, no less than three dozen burly Ulfens milled about on the pier around the boat, drinking, laughing and singing. Boris quaffed his potion and promptly vanished from sight. From there, it was effortless for him to sneak onboard the barge. The deck of the longship had been built up with planks over the old rowing benches, creating a space belowdecks. It appeared that the funerary treasures had been placed in that hold, as the deck was empty save for a silent, shrouded form resting atop a bier in front of the mast, surrounded by stacked wood. A leather sack sat atop a small pile of sand at the base of the bier. Boris found a hatch near the bow, but it appeared to be nailed shut. He let out a long sigh, then settled down in the shadows to wait until sunset.

True to her word, Uksahkka was waiting for the rest of the Scions on the rocky beach at Spear-Shaker Point. She had four small two-man boats pulled up on the shore, each with a pair of double-bladed paddles. For the next half-hour, she taught the heroes the basics of paddling the kayaks, and keeping them upright. Finally, as the sun began to set, the companions saw in the distance, Snorri Stone-Eye's funeral ship set sail.

Boris watched as an Ulfen warrior stepped on board the ship with a lit torch. He touched it to the small leather sack atop the sand pile, and it promptly began to smoke. When he stepped off the boat, the other warriors raised their drinking horns a final time, and began to sing loudly as the boat was unmoored and pushed out to sea. Boris waited several minutes before he crept out of cover. He knelt down beside the hatch and pressed one enormous ear to it. Faintly, from below, he caught the sound of chains clinking. Pulling the crowbar Haroldo had loaned him out of his pack and went to work on the hatch. It took some time, but he finally managed to pry it off. The hold below was a cramped space, nor more than four-feet high, but this proved no impediment for the diminutive goblin. Boris dropped down and made his way through stacks of funerary treasures, occasionally stopping to pocket a few trinkets here and there. At one point, an ornate great helm caught his eye. It had golden inlays and backswept wings mounted to its sides. Boris made a mental note to come back for it. When he reached the center mast, he saw the chain he'd heard earlier bolted to the wood. It stretched away into an odd mist that filled the hold's stern. It didn't seem like smoke, but Boris shrugged and began to follow the chain. Eventually, it ran between a pair of crates. The goblin cautiously peered over the top. On the other side, a figure crouched in the mist with its back to him.
"Ulf?" Boris called out.
The figure slowly rose and turned towards him. He was dressed in a finely wrought chain shirt, but his skin dripped with seaweed and putrid seawater. Barnacles grew out of his flesh, and an eyepatch covered his left eye. He gripped a wicked-looking great axe in his hands.
"Ooohhh," the goblin breathed. "Boris think you not Ulf..."

The attention of the Scions was focused on the approaching funeral ship, a column of smoke now rising from its deck, but no sign of Boris nor Ulf.
"There!" Shalelu suddenly called out.
The others looked more closely at the ship, but then noticed that the ranger was pointing towards the water, where a large wake was moving steadily towards the shore. Then, something huge emerged from beneath the waves. It resembled an enormous crab, the size of a wagon, with a thick, spiny carapace, and over-long legs. Shalelu's bow was in her hand in an instant, and she rapidly fired off a volley of three arrows, each one striking true, but not slowing the huge crustacean at all. Koman stepped forward to the edge of the water and braced himself.
"Stay behind me!" he called over his shoulder.
Yannus did as he asked, but upended a flask, and instantly grew to twice his size, his enormous glaive now extending over his brother's shoulder.

Boris weighed his options, and then did the first thing that came to mind. He leaped at the dripping corpse, both blades flashing. He impaled the thing with one wakizashi, but Snorri Stone-Eye batted aside his second thrust. Then the undead Ulfen brought his axe down, opening a gaping wound in Boris's thigh. At the same time, the goblin felt a bone-numbing cold sink into his flesh, leaving him feeling weak and winded. Rethinking his strategy, he limped backwards into the mist, quickly loosing sight of Snorri, and ducking behind a stack of boxes.

Shalelu continued to pepper the giant crab with arrows as it reached the shore, and Piotr hurled a barrage of magic missiles towards it as well. Still it stood, unfazed, snapping its huge claws repeatedly at Koman as the slayer deftly fended off its blows, aided by quick parries from Yannus' pole-arm. It was inevitable, however, that Koman would eventually be just a hair too slow. One claw thrust forward and clamped around his waist, crushing and cracking ribs. Before the crab could pull him into the water, however, he managed to pivot and wrench himself free, but he was bleeding freely.

Boris held his breath as Snorri Stone-Eye stalked towards his hiding place. He thought he was in the clear as the old pirate moved past him, but then Snorri turned, and stared right at the goblin with his one good eye. Boris moved quickly, tucking into a roll, but his wound slowed him, and he could not avoid Snorri's second blow. The last thing he saw before everything went black was the gleaming axe blade whistling towards him.

"Get back!" Kelda screamed as she rushed to Koman's aid. "Move!"
However, just as she reached the slayer, the crab smashed her to the the ground. Mazael and Haroldo began to move forward, but not before the crab seized Koman again, and lifted him bodily into the air. His scream was cut off as blood frothed from his mouth. The crab shook him violently, the cast him aside into the water, where he floated face-down, motionless.
Lucian, Shalelu and Piotr redoubled their ranged attacks, while Mazael and Haroldo hammered at the beast relentlessly until it finally collapsed.


Endings And Beginnings

26 Calistril-27 Calistril, 4715

Koman was dead. That fact was indisputable, but the remaining Scions still had a job to do. The funeral barge was approaching, the smoke from its deck thickening, and Boris was still somewhere on board, presumably with Ulf Gormundr. Yannus solemnly draped Koman's cloak over his body, and then the companions boarded the kayaks and paddled out to the drifting long ship. They tied their kayaks to the bow and climbed aboard. Quickly, Yannus crossed to the burning coal bag and removed it from atop the oil flask.
"We need to move fast," he said to the others. "If this ship doesn't go up in flames soon, we're going to be getting a lot of Ulfen company."
They crossed to the pried-open hatch and peered down into the gloom below.
"Boris!" Yannus called. "Can you hear me?"
There was no reply...only the distant sound of clinking chains.
"Check that," Yannus instructed Haroldo, pointing to the shrouded body resting on the funeral pyre.
Haroldo crossed to the pyre and flung back the shroud. Beneath it was a wooden mannikin.
"Fake," he said.
"Well, I guess we have no choice but to see what's below," Yannus shrugged.

One-by-one they climbed down into the hold. It was positively claustrophobic by the time they all squeezed in. They could see through the various funerary treasures to the mast amid ships, but beyond that was a strange, rolling mist.
"Boris!" Yannus called again.
"Help me!" a voice called from somewhere in the mist. It was not Boris, but the accent was Varisian. Possibly Chelaxian? "There's a zombie in here! Watch out!"
As the voice faded, the sound of chains and heavy footsteps drew closer from the mist.
"There!" Kelda shouted, pointing. "I see something!"
Without waiting for an answer, the Ulfen woman drew her blade and charged towards the fog where she saw a shadowy form lurking. She swung at the figure, but her blade was caught and turned by the head of a great axe. Then, stepping out of the shadows, Snorri Stone-Eye short-hafted his weapon and buried the blade in Kelda's shoulder. She cried out, not only from the pain, but from horror as she felt a small piece of her soul leached away through the weapon.

Piotr, now able to see their opponent, conjured a cloud of black dancing motes around Snorri's head. The undead captain batted at them, annoyed, but then a blast of light exploded around him as Yannus hurled his own magic, hoping to blind his one good eye. When the light faded, however, Snorri born burn and scorch marks, but his vision did not seem to be impaired, as evidenced by the fact that he struck Kelda again, driving her almost to her knees. Then Haroldo was there, the big man's own blade hammering into the undead Ulfen. Piotr capitalized on the distraction by hurling an orb of fire at the draugr, but Snorri strode right through it, unmarked. Kelda scrambled to put some distance between herself and the captain, but she was too slow. Snorri's axe came down one final time, and Kelda did not rise again.

Mazael stepped up to support Haroldo, and Shalelu, her bow stowed and a short sword in her hand, moved in to flank. The three of them struck repeatedly at the draugr captain, but could not bring him down. Snorri dealt a pair of withering blows to Haroldo in turn, and though bleeding and pale, the blood-rager did not give ground. He raised his great sword and brought it down on Snorri Stone-Eye's neck. Finally, he collapsed, sea water and putrescence spilling out on the planks.


They found Boris where he'd fallen, unconscious but stable, with the winged great helm resting on his head. He was disoriented after they revived him, but quickly got his bearings. Following the cries for help deeper into the hold, the companions found a very odd creature bound hand and foot...and tail. It resembled a human-sized ape, but its eyes were obviously intelligent.
"Thanks the gods!" the creature exclaimed when it saw them. "I thought that monster would be the end of me! Please, set me free!"
"Who...what...are you?" Yannus asked.
"My name is Neko," the creature replied. "I am a vanara."
"And how exactly did you come to be in this situation?" Yannus pressed
"I am...was...a circus performer," Neko said. "Perhaps you've heard of us? The Hellknight's Tent of Endless Pleasure, Leisure and Recreation, out of Cheliax. No? Anyway, we travel the region often, but not long after we came into the Ulfen lands, we were set upon by raiders. I fear the circus was destroyed, and most of my companions killed or scattered. I was taken captive and placed here as some sort of offering to that vile...thing! Please! Free me!"
"Enough talk," Boris grumbled as he drew a wakizashi and sliced the vanara's bonds.
"Thanks you!" Neko gushed. "You saved my life! Among my people, that means I owe you a life debt!"
"Whatever," Boris shrugged.

At that moment, a loud 'whump' sound came from the deck above, accompanied by the smell of smoke. Quickly, the companions ran for the hatch and pulled themselves back topside. The wooden bier had become fully alight and burned brightly at midship. Beyond it in the water, the heroes could see the kayaks that brought them there cut loose and drifting out of reach. Tied off at the stern of the ship were two large canoes, into which a group of six black-clad, masked figures were quickly clambering.
"We need to move!" Lucian shouted.
The oracle followed words with action, running full speed across the deck, and straight through the spreading flames, heedless of the burns he suffered. He closed the distance with the ninjas quickly, and was among them before they could react. Yannus, realizing that Lucian had just likely signed his own death warrant, followed after, but not before casting a spell of protection on himself to shield him from the fire. To everyone's surprise, Neko was the next to move. The monkey-boy leaped effortlessly over the fire, landed briefly on all fours, then leaped again, soaring over the heads of the startled ninjas, and landing nimbly in one of the canoes.
"Hmph," Boris snorted. "Boris can do that."
To prove his point, the goblin got a running start and hurtled the bonfire. He landed in a full run, then dodged and rolled among the legs of the ninjas before reaching the bow railing, and then hopping into the canoe next to Neko.
"Well done, Master!" Neko grinned.
"Boris not your Master," Boris scowled.

The ninjas may have been taken aback by the boldness of their quarry, but they recovered quickly. Two of them ran to the bow, unlimbered short bows, and began firing at Neko and Boris. Two more closed in on Lucian, trying to force him over the side of the boat, while the final pair flanked Yannus, one of them driving a wickedly pointed stake-like weapon into the priest's belly. Then, a flash of light and glitter exploded around three of the ninjas, temporarily blinding them. Yannus glanced over his shoulder, and nodded his appreciation at Piotr. He nodded again, this time at Shalelu, when a pair of arrows sprouted from the throat of one of his assailants, sending the ninja tumbling over the rail.

Haroldo, Kelda's body slung over one shoulder. lumbered like an angry bear across the deck of the barge. As he ran, he allowed his rage to fuel him, unlocking his latent magic, this time in the form of fire resistance, as it rose. He barreled through the flames and through the ninjas, leaping into the canoe with Boris and Neko, setting it rocking dangerously. Behind him, Lucian, being pressed precariously close to the rail by his two attackers, turned and jumped, landing clumsily, but safely in the second, empty canoe. He then turned, drew back his bow, and fired a deadly shot into one of the blind assassins, dropping the ninja instantly. Yannus struck another of the blind killers, and as that one spun away, groping, Neko, now with a bow in his hands as well, fired three arrows into him, killing him. Boris shot the last of the blind ninjas, killing him as well, leaving only two still standing. Shalelu and Lucian combined their arrows to slay one, while Yannus, with an assist from Piotr's magic missiles, took down the last.

The flames continued to spread, and now pieces of the deck began to collapse. Yannus heaved three of the dead ninjas into Lucian's canoe before following himself. Mazael pulled a flask from his belt pouch, drank it, then lifted into the air, taking flight. He flew to the canoe with Lucian and Yannus, and they tossed him a rope up. He then towed the boat around to the bow of the barge, allowing Shalelu and Piotr to climb aboard. With everyone safe, the companions paddled their vessels back to the shore of Spear-Shaker Point.


Beneath their masks, the dead ninja were all Tian, both male and female. The only identifying item on them was a small, jade statue of a raven that each carried.
"This just gets better and better," Mazael growled. "First we got vikings trying to kills us, and now ninjas! And we still haven't found the sword or the actual viking we're looking for!"
"We have more immediate concerns," Yannus said quietly as his eyes fell to the bodies of Kelda and his brother. "Kelda never mentioned family here in Kalsgard, other than her fellow raiders. She was a brave and honorable companion, and I think we should lay her to rest in the Ulfen way."
"What? Burn her and all her gear up on a boat?" Mazael snapped. "Seems a waste."
"We'll remember that if you ever get killed," Lucian smirked.
"Yeah, you do that, knife-ear," the war priest sneered.
"What about your brother?" Piotr asked Yannus.
"We're taking him back to the caravan," the priest replied. "We can use the power of the Seal to resurrect him."
"Wait!" Lucian cried. "If we do that, if we open the Seals warding box, then we risk exposing it's location to the Five Storms!"
"Wait, lemme get this straight," Mazael chuckled and shook his head at Lucian. "You get all weepy and bent out of shape about taking potentially useful gear off a stranger we met on the road, but when it comes to doing something meaningful for one of our own, you're gonna cry foul?"
"I'm just saying," Lucian sighed, "that we need to consider all of our options, and the risks involved."
"The only option," Yannus said with a note of finality,"is to bring my brother back from the dead if we have the power to do so. We will, of course, discuss this with Ameiko, but I feel certain that she'll agree."

They secured Kelda and her belongings in one of the canoes. Then, after stacking it high with driftwood, they set it ablaze and pushed it out to see. So passed Kelda Oxgutter.
The Scions then made their way back to the gates of Kalsgard, whereupon they were immediately stopped by the city guard.
"What's all this then?" one of them said, indicating Koman's body slung over Haroldo's shoulder.
"He's my brother," Yannus explained. "We were traveling up the coast when we were set upon by an enormous crab."
"Sounds like a shark-eater," the guard nodded. "Fair amount of them in these waters."
"Show him, Boris," Yannus instructed.
Boris dutifully hauled a hunk of crabmeat as large as he was out of his pack.
"We managed to slay it," Yannus said, "but not before it killed my brother."
"Dangerous outside the city walls," the guard said soberly. "You have my sympathies. Where are you taking him?"
"To our caravan in the Bone Quarter," Yannus replied. "To prepare him for burial."

Koya was grief-stricken when she saw Koman's body and heard what had transpired. Sandru was grim-faced, but silent.
"We will use the Seal," Ameiko suggested immediately, even before Yannus had a chance to suggest it himself.
"I had hoped you would say as much," Yannus said, gratefully. "Though I know you are aware of the risk."
"If I am not willing to make sacrifices for my friends and family," Ameiko replied, "then what is the point of making this journey at all?"
She brought out the warding box and opened it, exposing the Seal. She drew it forth and rested it upon Koman's chest. It pulsed once with emerald light, and then became dormant again. Nothing changed. Then, each of the Scions gasped as their eyes rolled back in their heads, overcome with another vision. This time it was of Koman, standing in a sun-drenched, wooded glade, a peaceful smile on his face.
'Continue the journey, my friends,' he spoke to all of them. 'I'm staying behind. Know that I have no regrets, and you have my blessing. Go with Desna, and may the road rise up to greet you.'
The vision faded, and they all knew implicitly that Koman was well and truly gone.

Koya was understandably saddened, and disappointed, but she respected her son's decision. As was the Varsian way, his family, Yannus, Sandru, and herself, would divide up his possessions. For his part, Sandru took only the wayfinder Koman had found in the dungeons of Brinewall. The kami-possessed sash that Koman had worn was now inert, it's spirit departed. Koya said she would prepare him for his final rest, but that she would wait to bury him until they were back on the road again, as was the practice among Desnans.


The following morning, with no other leads to follow, the Scions headed back to the Jade Quarter and the shrine of Shellyn. That was where Uksahkka had told them to meet her after they had rescued Ulf from the funeral barge. The fact that he had not, in fact, been rescued was beside the point. There were few options. Neko accompanied them, having attached himself to Boris, and with nowhere else to go. As they made their way through the crowded streets, they could not fail to notice the ubiquitous ravens that followed them everywhere they went. At one point, Mazael glanced over his shoulder.
"Don't look now," he said, "but I think we picked up a tail. He's been with us for a few blocks now, hanging back and trying to look inconspicuous."
"Don't worry," Boris smiled. "Boris handle this."
"I'll come with you, Master," Neko said excitedly.
"Stop saying that!" Boris snapped. "You no come. Boris very sneaky."
"I can be sneaky too!" Neko hopped up and down. "Please take me with you! Pleeeeaaase!"
Boris sighed and grumbled. "Fine, but if you get Boris in trouble, Boris will be very unhappy."
"Boris," Yannus said, "remember, we don't want to cause a scene. We are trying to go unnoticed."
"Don't worry," the goblin grinned, "nobody see Boris unless Boris want to be seen."

Boris and Neko dropped back through the crowds and made their way around the block, trying to get behind their follower. As they rounded the last corner, they spotted him just a few yards ahead. It was a boy, Tian, not more than a teenager. Boris eased forward, slipping a dagger from his belt as he went. Neko's eyes went wide when he saw it, but he said nothing. When Boris reached the boy, he placed one hand on his shoulder, and pushed the tip of his blade gently against his back. He felt the boy stiffen.
"You be good boy, now," Boris whispered in his ear, "and tell Boris why you following his friends."
"Please," the boy said, fear in his voice. "Don't hurt me! The hooded man...he paid me to follow you and leave notes!"
"What man look like?" Boris asked. "Where you leave notes?"
"I never saw his face!" the boy said. "I swear! He told me to leave the notes under a specific barrel on the docks!"
Boris was silent for a moment, then he withdrew his dagger and put it away.
"Good boy," he said. "Now you do something for Boris. Boris pay you gold to keep putting notes under barrel, but you say Boris and his friends leaving town. Going south to Sandpoint to bury other friend. Ok?"
The boy nodded furiously.
"Boris trust you, boy," the goblin said, "but Boris also know if you not do what you say. Run home now."
He released his grip on the boy, who promptly vanished into the crowd.


As they traveled deeper into the Jade Quarter, the Scions passed a blind beggar on a street corner. In and of itself, this was not unusual, as the neighborhood was full of such unfortunates, but as they walked past, he called out.
"They know who you are, and are coming for you!"
Yannus held his hand up for the others to stop.
"What do you mean, old man?" he asked. "Who is coming for us?"
"I do not know," the beggar shrugged. "This is what I was told to say."
"By whom?" Yannus asked. "You're blind. How could you know to whom you were to deliver your message?"
The old man shrugged again. "I was only told to wait for someone who smelled like cabbage. Then I was to deliver that message. He paid me two coppers."
He shook the coins in his bowl for emphasis.
"Cabbage?" Mazael looked confused.
Boris sniffed the air, then turned towards Piotr. He leaned closer and sniffed at the sorcerer's robes.
"Boris smell cabbage," the goblin announced.
Piotr looked skeptical and sniffed under his arms.
"I don't smell anything," he said.
"You no cook," Boris said.
"And you're not blind," the beggar added.
"May I see your coins?" Yannus asked the man
He held his bowl up, and the priest examined the pair of coppers.
"Minkai," Yannus said.


Finally, the Scions turned the corner onto the street where Shellyn's shrine lay. Suddenly, the sounds of screams and the crashing of tumbling masonry rolled down the street over the normal noises of the crowd. Ahead, above the press, the shrine slowly swayed and collapsed into the street, dumping the facade of stone and mortared brick on those unfortunates below, resulting another wave of screams of pain and fear. As the companions watched in horror, some...thing stepped out of the wreckage. It was twice the size of a man, and twice as broad, but appeared to be entirely made of earth and stone.

Mazael and Haroldo were in motion as the twangs of Neko's and Lucian's bows sounded from behind them. On the heels of those arrows, streaks of glowing missiles flew from Piotr's hands. When the blood rager and the war priest reached the elemental, they began hammering it from both sides, sending chunks of debris flying in all directions. Suddenly, one pile driver-like fist from the behemoth smashed down on Haroldo, sending the big man staggering back. Yannus was there to take his place, however, stabbing with his glaive. The creature shuddered under the steady barrage, and eventually crumbled. As it fell, however, it abruptly vanished into thin air. Piotr quickly began to scan the area, knowing what this meant: the elemental had been summoned.
"There!" he shouted, pointing towards a nearby rooftop.
The others followed his gaze, and just caught sight of the large, blood-feathered raven as it took flight and disappeared over the roof line.

"We have to find Yin-Po!" Yannus cried as he rushed into the wreckage of the shrine.
It didn't take much searching to find the old priest. He was unconscious, but seemed largely uninjured. Yannus laid his hands upon him, infusing his own divine power. Slowly, Yin-Po's eyes fluttered open.
"What happened here, Master Po?" Yannus asked.
"I...I'm not sure," the old man said, sitting up carefully. "An earth elemental appeared out of nowhere and attacked. I was caught off guard and could not stop it."
"Where is Uksahkka?" Yannus asked.
Yin-Po's eyes grew wide as the younger priest helped him to his feet.
"She...she was in the safe room," he said, "behind the shrine! Come, we must see to her safety!"

All of them rushed into the alley in back of the ruined building. There they found what had obviously been a hidden door, but it had been smashed in from the outside. Within was an empty cellar. There was no sign of violence, but Ukshakka was nowhere to be found. A search of the room revealed only one clue: a large, black feather lying in a corner. It was much too large to be that of a normal raven, or even the large, blood-feathered raven. Another mystery.

"Now what?" Mazael asked. "We've got no sword, no guide, and now no vharki girl."
The others all looked at one another, none of them having a ready answer. Suddenly, all eyes turned to Boris.
"What?" the goblin asked suspiciously. "What you looking at?"
The he felt it. The elaborate Ulfen helmet he'd been wearing ever since he'd found it on the funeral barge was moving. It's wings were flapping, and it rose slowly off his head. It hovered in the air for a moment, and then flapped over to Mazael and settled upon his brow. Then, as if things could not get any stranger, the helmet began to speak.
"Greetings fellow Travellers," it said in a high-pitched, melodic voice. "I am Helgarval. I am an agent of the Desna, a cassisian angel. I was summoned to this plane to serve a powerful priest of my Lady, but my master met an unfortunate end. Since then, I have been attempting to do good deeds while I am stranded here, so that my betters may take notice of me and return me to my home in Elysium. In my years here, I have learned of the presence of a group of evil creatures in Kalsgard known as oni. These beings are part of an organization known as the Five Storms, and their agents here are part of a guild of thieves and assassins known as the Frozen Shadows. In turn, this group hides behind the facade of a powerful trading consortium called the Rimerunner's Guild. The head of this guild is a woman named Thorborg Silverskorr. Her close associate and advisor is a local spellcaster called Goti Runecaster, and he, in turn, has a certain familiar...a blood-feather raven. Do you see?"
"I believe we do," Yannus smiled grimly. "How did you come to be on the funeral barge?"
"I learned that Snorri Stone-Eye was also affiliated with the Rimerunner's Guild," Helgarval replied, "so I stowed away on his ship to try and find more information, but I became trapped there. When your little goblin friend came aboard, I was at first suspicious. When I saw how bravely he fought, however foolish it may have been, I did what I could for him. My divine aura protected him from the draugr, keeping it from killing him outright."
"Talking hat save Boris?" Boris asked, bewildered.
"Indeed," the helm answered, "but I cannot stay with you. This one is also a follower of Desna, and so my path lies with him if he will have me."
Mazael smiled wickedly.
"Welcome aboard, partner!" he laughed.
"Well," Yannus said to his companions, "I suppose we have a guild hall to investigate."


Gathering Information

27 Calistril, 4715-1 Pharast, 4715

"Before everybody charge into guild hall, Boris think we need more information," Boris suggested helpfully as the Scions mulled over their next course of action.
"I agree with Master," Neko chimed in, earning him an irritated look from Boris.
"That's actually not a bad idea," Piotr said. "As you know, I have some experience with the merchant clans. I can ask around some of the local shops about this Thorborg Silverskorr."
"And I'm sure there's a tavern somewhere near the Rimerunner's joint," Mazael grinned. "Merchants like to drink, and as luck would have it, so do I. I don't mind staking out a spot near the guild hall, tipping a few pints back, and getting the lay of the land"
Yannus couldn't argue the wisdom in the plan, so he nodded his agreement.
"Very well. Haroldo, Lucian and I will go and resupply in the mean time," he said. "We'll meet back at the inn in a couple of hours. Remember, we are still trying to go unnoticed."


The Scions parted and went their separate ways. Neko and Boris decided to continue their investigation in the Jade Quarter. Immigrant populations, in Boris's own experience as one, tended to notice many things while largely going unnoticed by the majority. They didn't find out much more about the Frozen Shadows than Helgarval had already told them. It seemed that the thieves' guild had come to power several years ago, and its members were rumored to have almost supernatural abilities in stealth and assassination. They often left a large black feather as a calling card. No one knew where they were headquartered, however.

As the pair made their way through the crowded streets, a large Ulfen warrior, reeking of ale, bumped rudely into Boris. Acting purely on instinct, Boris's hand went immediately to the big man's belt and snatched off his coin purse. The Ulfen seized the goblin's wrist as it withdrew, however.
"Hah!" he bellowed. "First you poison my dog, and now you try and steal my purse!?"
"What?" Boris asked, genuinely perplexed. "Dog? Boris no kill dog. Dog meat too stringy."
"Liar!" the Ulfen shouted. "The hooded man told me it was you! I demand wereguild! You owe me 50 gold crowns!"
Boris peeked inside the coin purse he still had clutched in has hand. Ten coins lay within.
"Here," Boris offered the purse back. "You take ten crowns. Deal?"
"Those are my own coins!" the big man snarled. "You're a thief and a dog-killer!"
By this time a large crowd had gathered, and parted, forming a circle around the confrontation.
"Look," Boris said placatingly, "Boris already tell you, Boris no kill any dog. Boris offer you coins that Boris find. Still, you no happy, so, Boris only see one way out of this."
The goblin's twin wakizashi's were suddenly in his hands, and he thrust both of them towards the Ulfen's gut. To his shock and amazement, the large man moved with surprising speed and agility, deflecting the blows so that, instead of striking anything vital, they only grazed him. Then, the warrior swung his battleaxe in a broad arc, slashing across Boris's belly.
"Master!" Neko cried.
The varran turned, dropping to all fours and ran towards the nearest building, and then scampering nimbly up the wall. When he reached a wooden support beam, he wrapped his tail around it and hung beneath it, gripping his bow in his hands. He knocked and release, sending an arrow into the Ulfen's backside. The man roared, and Boris took the opportunity to leap away. He darted around a corner, and ducked behind a trash bin, trying to make himself inconspicuous. With Neko out of his reach, the Ulfen warrior charged around the corner after Boris, his eyes darting this way and that. Boris shifted slightly, but it was enough, and his opponents eyes fell upon him. He raised his swords to defend himself, but it was fruitless. The battleaxe fell and Boris went down.
"Master, no!!" Neko shrieked.
His hands moved so fast, they blurred, sending arrow after arrow into the Ulfen, but still the brute stood. He moved to the building, right beneath Neko, drew a handaxe from his belt, and hurled it at the varran. It hit Neko in the thigh, and stuck there, but still he continued to fire, until finally, the big man groaned and collapsed to the ground.

Neko didn't waste any time. He scrambled back to the ground, darted over the Boris, hefted the goblin over one shoulder, and then raced up the side and to the roof of another building. He fished out several healing potions from his pack and forced them down Boris's throat until the goblin's eyes opened and he sputtered.
"Shhh," Neko put one finger to his lips. "Policemen below!"
Boris looked down to the street and saw that several constables had indeed arrived on the scene and were gathered around the body of the Ulfen warrior.
"No," Boris snapped. "Boris earned this! No let cops take away!"

The pair of them climbed back down to street level, and cautiously approached the constables, hands empty and upraised.
"Are you responsible for this?" the head constable asked, drawing his sword and pointing it at Boris.
"No," Boris shook his head. "That man responsible. Boris and friend just defending ourselves. Big man say Boris kill dog, then try to kill Boris. Ask people," he indicated the crowd, "they tell you same."
"We already asked," the constable said, "and they confirm your story, but they also said this man accused you of picking his pocket."
"No, no, no," Boris said as he deftly tossed the stolen purse into a nearby sewer, "this all mistake. Boris no kill dog, and Boris no take money. Big man want Boris's money. Ask for werewolf or something."
"Wereguild," the constable corrected. "Compensation for wrong-doing."
"Oh?" Boris cocked his head. "Then Boris deserve werewolf for big man trying to kill him."
The constable seemed to consider this.
"You are a goblin, correct?" the man asked.
"...yes," Boris answered carefully.
"And don't goblins carry weapons called dog-slicers?" the officer asked.
"That very racist," Boris huffed. "Not all goblins same, just like not all Ulfens have relations with their sisters, like Boris hear. You search Boris. You no find dog-slicer, dog meat, or stolen purse! Now Boris want werewolf!"
"Fine, fine," the constable raised his hands in annoyance, "but this man is dead. What exactly do you want?"
Boris thought about it.
"That nice axe," he pointed out. "Boris take that."


A short time later, with a tidy profit from the sale of the battleaxe, Boris and Neko walked into an orphanage located in the Jade Quarter. Having already given half the proceeds to Neko for saving his life, Boris presented the other half, 500 gold crowns, to the astonished headmistress of the facility.
"For little ones," he explained. "You give to them so they no have to take coins from bad men on streets. Tell them gift from Boris."

And this was born the legend of St. Boris, later to become known as Santa, whereupon every 27th of Calistril, gifts were given to children in memory and celebration of selfless charity.


The companions regrouped in the common room of their inn in the Bone Quarter later that afternoon. Piotr reported that he had learned that the Rimerunners Guild specialized in trade with Tian Xia over the Crown of the World as well as along the rivers of the Lands of the Linnorm Kings. They were extremely influential in and around Kalsgard, with many local merchants and their retainers, and much of the local economy beholden to them. Thorborg Silverskorr, the leader of the guild, was a merchant of high repute, though she was rarely seen in public. She had numerous connections with the wealthy and powerful of Kalsgard, including Linnorm King Sveinn Blood-Eagle himself.
Mazael gathered from his hours of watching and drinking, that the guild hall was well-guarded, with at least a dozen soldiers patrolling the grounds, and more than twice that in city constables within haling distance.
Then Boris told what he learned, of his and Neko's adventures. He described the altercation with the Ulfen warrior, but left about the part about the man's demise and their run-in with local law enforcement.

The group decided that their next move would be to go to the Rimerunners' hall and see what they could find out, but when they stopped by their rooms upstairs first, however, they found one of the chambers had been completely ransacked. There was no evidence that the room had been forcibly broken into, but a quick search revealed that the window was unlocked, and another large raven feather was found under the detritus. Yannus declared that they were no longer safe at the inn, and could not stay there. The Scions returned to the caravan and told their friends what they had learned, and what happened. Sandru was concerned that their presence with the caravan would attract more attention, but ultimately realized that there was strength in numbers.


The Rimerunners guild hall was a fairly nondescript two story structure in the Jade Quarter. Just as Mazael described, several guards patrolled the perimeter of the grounds, and numerous constables were visible within a block as well. The companions approached the front door, where an armed guardsman stood. He looked at them appraisingly, taking note of the numerous weapons that were visible.
"No weapons allowed," he stated flatly.
"We are here to demand wereguild," Yannus spoke up. "Assassins affiliated with your organization have attacked us on several occasions, and we have proof!"
He held up one of the large raven feathers. The guard stared at him.
"You people need to move along before I call the constables," he said.
"We demand to speak with your guildmistress, Thorborg Silverskorr," Yannus persisted.
"Seriously," the guard repeated, "move along. This is your last warning."
"Pardon me, Sir," Piotr stepped in, "but what my companion is trying to say, is that we represent a legitimate business concern whose interests have been jeopardized. We have reason to believe that perhaps one or more rogue members of your guild may be involved. We would very much like to speak with one of your factors to resolve this situation."
The guard turned to regard him.
"Wait here a moment," he said, then turned and entered the building.

Meanwhile, no one had noticed that Boris and Neko had slipped away. The pair made their way around the building to the back, where they found another guard posted at a rear entrance. Hiding behind a large trash bin, Boris tossed a coin towards the far corner. The guard turned, and moved that direction. Quickly, Boris moved to the door and tried the handle. It was locked. He darted back to Neko and motioned him to follow. Quietly and unseen, the returned to the others.

The guard returned a moment later.
"You may enter," he said to Piotr, "but you must go unarmed. You may bring two others with you, but they must be unarmed as well."
Piotr turned to the others, and was not surprised to see to see Boris with his hand up, and Neko grinning beside him. The sorcerer sighed and nodded. Neko dropped his bow and quiver, and Boris unstrapped his wakizashi's, but he did palm a dagger up his sleeve, which nobody noticed.
Once inside, a long counter ran across the front of the main room. Brass bars extended from the counter to the ceiling, with only small teller windows allowing transfer of items. A locked gate blocked access behind the counter. A wooden railing surrounded the elevated floor behind the counter. Several clerks sat in front of the teller windows, while a pair of guild factors sat at desks in the raised area. Two more armed guards occupied the room. The guard escorting Piotr, Boris and Neko moved to the locked gate and opened it with a key, then indicated that they should go through. For a moment, Neko hesitated. The brass bars were too similar to the cages he'd spent much of his life in during his time with the circus. Panic threatened to overwhelm him, but he was determined not to let his master down, so he swallowed hard and followed Boris.

The trio was escorted into a back hall, and then into a small conference room where another guild factor sat scribbling on some forms with a quill pen. When they entered, he looked up at them over the top of his glasses.
"I understand you have some sort of grievance," he said.
Piotr told his tale, leaving out sensitive details regarding their true reasons for being in Kalsgard.
When he was done, the factor regarded him in silence for a long while.
"We are a legitimate and well respected organization," he said at length. "These are serious charges you have levied. I cannot, in good conscience, lend them credence."
Piotr nodded.
"I understand," he said, "you are simply doing your job, and I am certain you have no knowledge of these things. My concern, however, is that you may have unsavory individuals involved in nefarious dealings that seek to besmirch the reputation of your prestigious guild. Is there any way for us to gain an audience with your guildmistress to try and bring this to light?"
The factor considered this again, then leaned forward and spoke in a low voice.
"You did not hear this from me," he said, "but Thorborg Silverskorr purchased an old hall outside of town called Ravenscraeg two years ago from a man named Snorri Stone-Eye."
"Didn't he just recently pass away?" Piotr asked.
"Why yes," the factor nodded. "In fact, his funeral was just yesterday. In any event, the guildmistress has been spending a great deal of the guild's money on refurbishing and developing the building. Nobody knows exactly what's going on there, but based on the funds involved, the secrecy surrounding the project, and her personal involvement, it must be something big for the guild's future! That's really all that I can tell you."
"Thank you," Piotr bowed. "You've been most helpful."


It didn't take too long for the Scions to dig up more information about Ravenscraeg. It was indeed the former hall of the Mad Reaver Snorri Stone-Eye, and it was so-named because it lay high among the rocky crags south of Kalsgard, accessible only to the eponymous ravens that roosted atop its ridgepole. It lay two days walk south of the city, in the hills near Grungir Forest.

The companions returned to the caravan to make preparations, and to let Ameiko and the others know what they had discovered. Their friends wished them well, and to travel with caution, but Spivey insisted that they take her along. The little priestess had grown restive being enclosed in the large metropolis for so many days, and she longed to spread her wings and get back on the road. The Scions could not argue that she would be a great asset with her healing skills and divine powers, so no one objected.

The following morning, the set out afoot, leaving Kalsgard behind as they journeyed into the boggy lowlands. As they neared the end of their first day of travel, the trail they followed wound its way through green marsh. Swaying cattails grew thick in a shallow pool beside the muddy path, and tiny colorful flowers dotted the water's surface. Suddenly, Mazael drew back as a piece of the marsh seemingly rose up and struck out at him. It looked like a transparent pseudopod covered in mud and debris. As the others watched in shock, and horror, the entire pool began to rise up, higher and higher, towering over their heads. Boris was the first to act, loosing an arrow into the amorphous blob. The shaft pierced the ooze and traveled straight through it, splitting it neatly in half...and then there were two! Haroldo drew his greatsword and hacked at one of the undulating masses, and cleaved it in two as well, making three of the aberrations.
"Stop hitting it!" Yannus shouted. "It's not working!"
Spivey, flitting about the heads of her companions, held up one hand, and a soft, muted light gathered around it. Then she hurled it at one of the blobs, and when it struck, the ooze recoiled, a large scorch mark on its translucent skin.
Then, one of the oozes lunged towards Neko. The monkey-boy shrieked and scrambled backwards, but one tendril wrapped around his leg and drew him towards the mass, squeezing and burning him. Piotr hurled magic missiles at the blob, sending shivers through it, but still it held on to the struggling varra. In frustration, forgetting Yannus' warning, Mazael swung his sword at the ooze, causing it to split a fourth time. Cursing, Yannus drew a vial of alchemical fire from his pack and threw it at the section of the blob still holding Neko. It struck and burst into flames, and the creature shriveled into black char, setting the monkey-boy free.
Boris, suddenly remembering an unfortunate experience he'd had while wandering through the sewers beneath Sandpoint, called out to the others.
"Hit jelly monster with sticks and clubs, no pointy things! Then it not make more!"
Haroldo took his meaning, and swapped his sword for a flail he kept in his belt, and went to work on the largest remaining ooze. Spivey and Piotr assisted him with their magic. Yannus drew a morningstar and attacked a second ooze, and Neko drew blunted arrows from his quiver and began firing at the last. In short orders, all of the blobs had been destroyed, and silence descended once more over the marsh.


By the end of the following day, the companions had reached the foothills. They rose sharply ahead into a steep and craggy shale escarpment hundreds of feet high. Tucked into a narrow defile between two of those crags was a stone-and-timber longhall and tower, weathered and gray. The hall stood nearly one-hundred feet above the base of the cliff, with only a single wooden stair climbing in a series of switchbacks up the cliff face to its front gate. All was silent save for the raucous caws of the ravens that congregated atop the hall's tower and ridgepole high above.

When they reached the base of the crag, the found themselves staring up at a rickety wooden stair built from timber planks, silver with age. In some places above, the stairs and landings were secured directly to the rock face, and in others they hung free upon wooden supports and buttresses driven into the rock. Lichens and moss covered the stairs and rocks, with pale vines, roots, and blooms of nightshade, willowherb, and bog tea sprouting from occasional crevices in the stone. Single file, the Scions began to climb...all save Boris. The little goblin fished around in his pouch and drew out three flaccid bladders. He twisted valves on their necks, and they rapidly inflated, filling with air. He tied a rope around the bunch, then handed the other end of the rope to Neko, who gripped it with his tail. Boris grabbed the rope and let the balloons lift him into the air, where he hovered above Neko, who began scrambling up the rock wall, keeping pace with the others as they climbed the stairs.

By the time they reached the fourth landing, the group was fifty-feet above the ground below. A short flight of stairs rose to the landing, which abutted the cliff face. A small hollow in the rock was plastered over with what looked like a huge wasp nest. Before Mazael, who was in the lead, could step onto the landing, the plaster began to crack and splinter as something huge emerged. The creature was the size of a horse, with the head of a spider, a giant stinger, and two long arms tipped with wickedly sharp pincers. It lunged towards Mazael, but the warpriest met its charge and slashed his falchion across its abdomen at the same time it sank its mandibles into his shoulder. From behind him, Piotr sent magic missiles at the beast, and Spivey invoked her starlight blast, dazzling the creature's multi-faceted eyes. Yannus thrust his glaive over Mazael's shoulder, driving it into the insect's thorax, but still it would not retreat. Rising into the air on its wings, its stinger flashed forward and impaled Mazael's chest. Instantly, he went rigid as every muscle in his body seized up, paralyzed. The giant spider-eater moved in for the kill.

As the battle raged, Boris began to let out the rope attached to his balloons, rising higher above the fray, until he was almost level with the final landing and the gates of the hall. Suddenly, a quick movement caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. He turned and saw several black-clad figures crouched behind the railing of the landing. As he watched in dismay, they raised blow guns to their mouths and sent a volley of darts flying at his balloons.

Mazael saw his death approaching, and he couldn't do a thing about it. He could hear Helgarvarl shouting at him to move, but he couldn't. Then, just as he sent his final prayer to Desna, he felt a soft touch on his shoulder, and a whisper in his ear.
"Not yet, traveller," Spivey said, and at her touch, he was suddenly free again.
The war priest stepped back just as the spider eater struck, and then a flurry of arrows from Neko, and glowing, streaking missiles from Piotr shattered the monster's carapace, and sent it tumbling over the railing.

Just then, a piercing scream drew all eyes upward, where the unmistakable form of a falling goblin grew larger and larger as it dropped towards them. Abruptly, Boris' plummet arrested, and he floated gently down the last few yards, a broken, ceramic leaf in his hands where he'd managed to reach and crack open a magical snap-leaf. The charm simultaneously made him light as a feather, and rendered him temporarily invisible. As he landed softly on the stairs and began to fade from view, he found his breath enough to speak.
"Sneaky ninja-killers waiting for us. Boris think it's on now!"


Nice to see another JollyDoc story hour. A triumphant return!

Your last one was Kingmaker, right? That ended with the morally ambiguous female magic user going crazy and betraying her party members? :D
Although I thought you were also playing the explorer one (whose name I cannot remember...Serpent Throne or something?) but that the SH ended before finishing :(.


That's exactly right! Good memory! Kingmaker did indeed end with a crazed queen of Kardasia turning on her allies.
I did not finish the Serpent's Throne story hour, to my regret, but Jade Regent has been very exciting...and far. I am almost caught up on my posts to where we actually are in the game. Stay tuned for more carnage and fun from the Scions!


Well, I was referencing the fact that a lot of your games tend to end with the morally ambiguous female magic user turning on the party. Mandi, Mox, Entropy... :)

Although from my perspective, it kind of seemed that some of the final interparty conflict that happened at the end of Kingmaker was just because the group wanted a challenge. I seem to recall some comments about the time between adventures, combined with PF's 'questionable' magic item creation rules that divorce XP from the crafting process, led to a very powerful, very wealthy group.


All of that is true, and we have actually put several house rules in place for Jade Regent. We are not allowing crafting feats. However, I did make the unique magic items that the group found in Brinewall imbued with kamis. These spirits will allow the possessor to make monetary donations to increase the power of the item. So, this makes that suit of +1 plate mail that Mazael found now be able to be enchanted further by him just by sacrificing to the kami. Therefore, it will now become an item he will likely keep with him throughout his adventuring career.
We have also put a limit on how many buff spells an individual can have on them on any given time. It really hasn't come into play yet, but we'll see how it plays out at higher levels


The End Of The Song

2 Pharast, 4715

Despite Boris' forewarning, the companions had no choice but to continue up the switchback staircase. Mazael took the lead, with the others following single-file, save for Neko, who continued to scale the wall, and Spivey, who flew along beside him. Boris, still invisible from his snap leaf, brought up the rear. They made it to the final stair, and Mazael had just reached the uppermost landing, when the trap was sprung.

Mazael looked around the landing, but saw no sign of the ninjas...until they seemed to materialize out of thin air all around him. Unlike the human ninjas they had faced aboard Snorri Stone-Eye's funeral barge, these assassins had heads of great, black ravens. They wielded wakizashi swords, and before Mazael could react, one of them slashed at him, opening a wicked wound across his belly. The wound burned, far more than it should have, and the war priest felt a sudden fatigue and weakness suffuse him...poison.

On the lower landing, Lucian, who had just mounted the stairs, heard the commotion coming from above. At that moment, however, another trio of ninjas appeared around him, and he had his hands full. He was struck twice in rapid succession before he managed to leap off the stairs and back onto the landing, putting a few precious feet between himself and his attackers. Then, as quickly as they had appeared, all six of the ninjas vanished again, only to reappear a moment later, surrounding Mazael and Lucian once more, continuing to cut and stab at the two heroes.

"That's enough of that," Piotr muttered from his position midway up the stairs.
He waggled his fingers, and a burst of golden, glittering dust exploded around the three ninjas on the upper landing, causing two of them to claw and rub at their eyes as they were temporarily blinded. Just then, Spivey rose into the air at the opposite side of the upper landing, and seeing the trio of assassins momentarily disoriented, she used Desna's power to set off a concussive blast in the midst of them, stunning all three. Behind her, Neko clambered over the railing, snatched up his bow, and quickly dropped one of the lurching ninjas with a pair of well-placed arrows.

Down below, Lucian popped a snap leaf of his own. He'd learned a thing or two from Boris' impressive ability to survive against long odds. He disappeared and used his moment of respite to tend his wounds. A moment later, another flash of glitterdust filled the area, and now his three assailants stood blind and disoriented. Then Haroldo lumbered down the stairs, his sword swinging in wide arcs. With the tide suddenly turned, Lucian put his bow to use, and between the big blood-rager and himself, the three ninjas didn't last long.

Mazael, though still reeling from the poison in his system, managed to put down one of the still-blind assassins, and then Yannus was behind him, impaling the last one with his glaive. Just as Mazael was about to lose consciousness, Spivey was at his side. She pulled several rolled parchments from her small pack, spoke a prayer as she read them, and then the war-priest felt a wave of rejuvenation flow over him.
"Thank you," he said as he climbed to his feet.
"Travelers must stick together," Spivey smiled.
"Indeed," Helgarvarl agreed from atop Mazael's brow.


The gates leading into Ravenscraeg were unlocked. Beyond them lay an enormous long hall, rows of pillars supporting the forty-foot high roof. Torches set into the pillar sconces, and two fire pits set with iron spits in the center of the rush-strewn floor gave the room a ruddy glow. Several doors opened into rooms on either side beneath ten-foot high balconies lined with feasting tables. At the far end of the hall, a fifteen-foot high balcony with master's high table looked out over all. Smoke holes cut into the roof high above allowed in more light, and the croaking of the many ravens that roosted on the roof's ridgepole.
"There is evil here," Helgarvarl announced. "I can sense it."
"Where?" Mazael asked, crouching and looking all around as if he expected to be attacked again at any moment.
"There," the helmet said after a moment. "On the balconies."
"Well, let's not keep them waiting," Yannus said.

The companions turned towards a short flight of stairs that led to one of the balconies, moving carefully, though fully aware that whatever enemies awaited them likely knew of their approach. As Mazael set his foot upon the first riser, however, the air around them suddenly exploded into a cacophony of raucous squawks and the beating of dark wings. From the roof and rafters above, hundreds of ravens descended into the hall, splitting into four large swarms. They surrounded the heroes, wings beating at their heads, beaks digging into flesh, and talons raking at their eyes. Lucian managed to hurl a vial of alchemical fire at the horde just before they struck in full, setting a dozen or so of the birds ablaze, but not stopping the assault.
"I can't see!" Mazael roared, clawing at his eyes, which bled profusely.
Haroldo just bellowed incoherently as his own sight went dim with blood and pain, and vertigo overwhelmed him, leaving him doubled over and retching. Neko became disoriented by the chaos, trying to see in all directions at once as he aimed with his bow, until finally he just gave up and ran for a corner of the room, his hands covering his head. Yannus whirled his glaive around his head, slashing many ravens from the air, but it was like trying kill a swarm of wasps just by waving your hands. It wasn't making a difference. Finally, it was Piotr who managed to give them a little breathing room. The sorcerer turned and touched his thumbs together, fingers spread wide. A cone of fire shot from his fingertips and engulfed the birds, completely consuming two of the swarms.

Haroldo, charging about blindly, inadvertently stumbling up the stairs and onto the balcony, smashing through several tables and chairs before coming to a stop. He leaned over, the nausea leaving him, trying to catch his breath. He sensed something, a prickle on the back of his neck. Though he could not see, he sniffed the air and cocked his head. A faint hint of spice on the air. A soft rustle of cloth. Instinctively, he ducked and pivoted, dodging to one side. He heard and felt blades hiss through the air around him, missing him by only inches. He was surrounded.

As Piotr celebrated his victory, he heard a low whistle behind him, and then felt a sharp pain lance through his back. He reached around, and felt the wooden shaft of an arrow protruding. He turned to see where it had come from, and saw, on the opposite balcony, three black-clad forms kneeling behind the railing, bows in hand. As he watched, one of them loosed a second arrow, and this one found Mazael, still blind and reeling from the raven attack.
"Behind us!" he shouted, but most of his companions were still occupied with the remaining two swarms.

Neko finally managed to regain his composure, and was brought back to sharp reality at Piotr's warning. He saw the ninja archers, human this time, on the balcony above, and his resolve focused. This was something he could shoot back at. Kneeling, he brought up his bow and put an arrow neatly through the shoulder of one of the assassins. Lucian followed the varra's example and put his bow to work against their new attackers as well. Another shaft flew from the balcony, this time finding Yannus. The beleaguered heroes now fought a battle on three fronts.

Mazael swung wildly in the air with his falchion, blood running down his face and into his open mouth.
"You must calm yourself," Helgarvarl advised. "You're going to get yourself, and me, killed this way. Stand still for a moment, and I will clear us a path."
It took all of Mazael's will to comply, but once he had, he felt sudden heat on his brow as Helgarvarl unleashed a small jet of flame from his eye sockets.
"Now," the helm said, "Go that way."
The war-priest obeyed, but the ravens quickly reformed their swarms, this time flying at Piotr.
"No!" the sorcerer shouted as they swept towards him, trying to cover his head.
It was no use. The birds raked at his face, and he felt hot fire shoot through his eyes as the world went dark.

Spivey had so far managed to avoid the bulk of the ravens, zipping about the hall, dodging and weaving as if she were one of them. Finally, she found herself in clear air. She quickly called upon her magic and loosed a soundburst among the flocks, stunning all of the birds, and sending them drifting aimlessly about. Yannus took the oportunity, and swiped his glaive through one of the swarms, slashing all of the birds to pieces. Neko fired again at the ninja he'd struck before, this time taking the man through the throat, and sending him toppling over the balcony. Then he turned and loosed two more arrows into the last of the ravens, skewering all of them like shish-kabobs. Lucian whooped with triumph as he too took down another of the ninjas, but his expression turned to despair as two doors suddenly opened under the balconies on both sides of the room.

One of the doors was right next to Yannus, and when he turned at the sound of it opening, he found himself looking into some sort of bunk room. Standing on the other side of the door were four burly Ulfens dressed in studded leather armor and carrying battleaxes. What captivated Yannus' attention most, however, was what was standing behind them: an enormous brown bear, reared up on its hind legs, and gripping an intimidating great axe in strangely humanoid hands.
"We have a problem over here!" he shouted to his companions.
"I have news for you, my friend," Lucian answered from the other side of the room, "it's not much better over here!"
The door near him also opened onto a dormitory, and emerging from that room were another dozen armed Ulfens.

Thinking quickly, Yannus started moving back, while at the same time using his magic to set off a sonic boom among the new comers. Two of the warriors and, to his immense relief, the great bear reeled and staggered in the wake of the concussion. It was only a brief respite, however, as the other thugs poured into the main hall, quickly surrounding the companions. Mazael was still unable to see, but when an axe blow grazed across his back, he turned, swinging his falchion with all his might, and was rewarded by a solid thunk, followed by a gurgling scream and the sound of a body hitting the floor. Lucian, who still had his bow out, found himself cornered by a quartet of Ulfens, unable to bring his weapon to bear. Though he tried to evade and protect himself, several blows penetrated his defenses, sending him staggering into a wall.

Up on the balcony, Haroldo, still blind, but fighting like a cornered animal, struggled to fend off the ninjas that surrounded him. Suddenly, one of them darted in and, hooking his foot behind the blood-rager's leg, lifted, sending Haroldo crashing to the ground. Immediately, they were upon him, stabbing at him repeatedly with their swords. Snarling in rage, he lurched to his feet, bleeding from multiple wounds. A vicious slash to his Achilles nearly brought him down again, but through sheer will he stayed on his feet. With an inarticulate howl, he swung his massive sword, connecting solidly with one of the ninja, nearly cutting the man in two, then followed through, striking a second one, ending his life as well. He stood there, a bloody, frothing wreck. The last ninja backed slowly away, but Haroldo cocked his head, listening, and then lunged forward, impaling the would-be assassin straight through the chest.

Yannus continued to try and clear some space around him, slashing out with his glaive wherever he saw an opportunity. His luck finally ran out, however, when he backed against one of the pillars supporting the roof and had no more room to maneuver. The thugs came at him from all sides, and as he spun to parry one blow, a second one hit him like a battering ram, nearly severing his spine. He felt himself falling, his breath coming in ragged gasps as consciousness slipped away.

Neko was surrounded, just as Lucian was. The difference was that the nimble monk had trained with a bow for most of his life. Even from a distance of inches, he could bring it to bear, and snapped a shot off a point-blank range, felling one of his opponents. Lucian took a different approach. Using his last snap leaf, he disappeared again. While his foes were momentarily caught off guard, he fished a vial of liquid from his pack and drank it down. He felt himself grow light, lighter even than air, and he rose from the ground, lifting up towards the rafters above. From there, he saw the huge bear-man emerge into the great hall. He saw Neko send an arrow at it, only to bounce off its thick hide.
"It's a shape-changer!" Lucian shouted, recognizing the nature of their foe. "A were-bear! We need silver!"
Shalelu had taught Lucian to prepare for any eventuality. To that end, he had stocked his quiver while in Karlsgard with arrows made from a number of different materials that various creatures of the world might be vulnerable to. Now, he reached behind him and drew forth a shaft tipped with silver. He drew to his cheek and loosed, sending the shaft into the were-bear's shoulder. The brute bellowed in rage and pain.
"Kill that one!" the creature shouted in a guttural voice, pointing up at the now-visible archer.

Mazael flailed about in a blind fury, hacking down another thug by sheer luck and power.
"Hold," Helgarvarl spoke into his ear. "The lyrakian approaches."
Mazael paused and heard the flutter of soft wings coming from directly in front of him.
"It's me," Spivey spoke. "I think I can fix your eyes."
He felt her small hands touch his eyes, and winced in pain, but a moment later his vision cleared, and he saw the direness of their circumstances.
"Thank you," he nodded. "Now get to safety. I've got some killing to do!"
She smiled and flew up again as the war-priest cut down first one, and then another of his foes.

Spivey spied Haroldo atop the balcony and flew towards him. She paused, hovering a safe distance away.
"Haroldo," she called, "it's Spivey. Nod if you can understand me."
After a moment, the blood-rager nodded once, curtly. Spivey flew to him and touched his eyes, healing them as best she could under the circumstances. Haroldo looked around, his vision clearing.
"Hmm," he grunted in approval
He then drew upon the magic that coursed through him only when his blood boiled, and before Spivey's eyes, he grew to twice his normal size.

The three ninjas on the opposite balcony, unable to get clear shots into the raging melee below, scrambled over the railings and down to the floor, joining their allies. They moved towards Mazael, who now found himself facing the were-bear, the crowd of Ulfens parting around them. The shape changer swung his axe, and though Mazael managed to get his sword up to block, the weight of the axe carried it through, and it buried itself in his shoulder. He stumbled back, directly into the waiting blade of a ninja. Mazael's sword dropped from his numb fingers and he slid to the floor.

"No!" Lucian shouted as he put two more silver arrows into the were-bear.
Then, three glowing missiles streaked through the air and struck the lycanthrope. It stumbled back and fell heavily into one of the support pillars, nearly cracking it in two. As it slumped to the floor, it began to change, until a naked human man lay dead on the floor. Lucian turned, looking for the source of his assist, and saw Piotr standing on the balcony stairs, his eyes clear once more, Spivey hovering nearby. Just then, a high-pitched squeal came from the front of the room. Lucian spun that direction, in time to see Neko, a growing pile of thugs at his feet, go down beneath the axe blows of several more. Lucian felt despair creep over him, even as he felled another Ulfen with a well-placed shot.

Only Haroldo, Spivey, Piotr and Lucian still remained to fight. Boris had not been seen since the battle began. The remaining thugs and ninjas began to close ranks. Several of them climbed another stair onto the balcony, closing in on Haroldo, while another contingent rushed towards Piotr. Lucian and Spivey remained safely above the fray, but if their last two companions fell, the battle would be lost. Spivey made a decision. Using her divine power, she channeled holy energy into a radiant burst, sending healing power into her comrades, both standing and fallen. Unfortunately, the energy was indiscriminate, and several of their wounded foes benefited from it as well. It was a necessary sacrifice, and it worked. Across the hall, now ignored by any enemies, Neko blinked and opened his eyes. Assessing the situation, he leaped to his feet and scrambled up a nearby wall to the rafters above.

Piotr breathed a little easier as his wounds began to heal, and he used his strength to call upon his magic again, conjuring a flaming sphere and sending it hurtling towards the onrushing thugs headed towards him. One was bowled over, but another dodged around it and leaped at the sorcerer, wrapping his burly arms around Piotr in a crushing bear hug. The warrior who'd been tripped up by the fire sphere regained his feet and charged, aiming to take Piotr's head while his fellow held the sorcerer still. Suddenly, an arrow sprouted from that man's throat as Neko found a perch high above and put his bow to use. Piotr felt Spivey's healing surge a second time, and his eyes grew wide as he looked over his grappler's shoulder and saw Mazael rise slowly to his feet. The war-priest growled low in his throat as he stalked forward and cleaved the Ulfen holding Piotr from stem to stern.

On the balcony, Haroldo's rage magic rose again, this time causing his arms to elongate freakishly. As the thugs and ninjas charged him, he cut them down in their tracks, none of them getting anywhere near him. One by one, they fell before him, until only one ninja, remained. The assassin gathered his will, preparing to leap at the giant warrior, but before he could, Neko's bowstring twanged and he fell where he stood, an arrow through his heart. Silence finally descended on the great hall, and it was only then that the companions realized that, in the wake of Spivey's healing magic, Yannus had failed to rise...

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