Pathfinder 1E JollyDoc's Way Of The Wicked


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JollyDoc

Explorer
22 Arodus, 4716 - 9 Rova, 4716 - The Voyage of the Frosthamar

ACT 3: FIRE AXE

When Elise Zadaria exited Cardinal Thorn's study, there was a distinctly sour expression on her face. When her gaze fell upon the members of the Nessian Knot standing outside the office she struggled visibly to wipe the expression away. That failed when she saw Kelvin's smirk. Scowling, she stalked down the stairs.
"The cardinal will see you know, dear ones," Tiadora said, motioning them through the door.

"Welcome, my children," Thorn said in a deep resonant voice that had an almost inhuman quality to it. "Training is at an end. You have proven yourselves worthy. Now it is time for you to use that training and take your first mission. Your mission is war, my apprentices. You will bring war to Talingarde. You have two objectives. First, you will see a shipment of munitions delivered to a bugbear chieftain named Sakkarot Fire-Axe. He makes his camp on the northern coast of Lake Tarik beyond the Watch Wall. With this shipment, the Fire-Axe will have resources enough to unite the barbarous humanoid tribes of the north and light the fire of war. Sitting on the dock as we speak is the longship Frosthamar, captained by Kargeld Odenkirk. Tomorrow, when the ship is resupplied, it will be your transport. The captain is a ruthless mercenary and not to be trusted. He knows nothing of the specifics of our mission and you should keep it that way. He knows he is smuggling cargo to the north beyond the Watch Wall. That is all he need know. Once the cargo is safely delivered, he will take you south across the lake under cover of darkness and land you near the town of Aldencross. There our contract with Captain Odenkirk will be concluded. It is a shame how greedy he has proven. I had hoped to let the captain serve me again, but it seems he is too much of a liability. Kill him. Kill his crew. Burn his ship and leave no survivors. It is crucial that no one suspect our involvement and that loose ends are taken care of. Be sure to reclaim the coin I gave him. Best not to be wasteful. That done, you will begin your second task. We will do more still to aid our ally the Fire-Axe. The bugbears are mighty warriors but poor siege engineers. You will infiltrate the tower Balentyne, keystone of the Watch Wall, kill its commander and open the gate for Sakkarot's horde. Once the shaggy monstrosities pierce the Watch Wall, the bugbears will pillage and lay waste to the townships of the north, and the local garrisons will have no choice but to meet the Fire-Axe in the open field. Sakkarot is the most brilliant, gifted and murderous bugbear of his generation. I expect these battles will go poorly for the knights and yeoman of fair Talingarde. Do all of this and then when your task is done, break this clay seal."
He handed them a delicately carved clay seal adorned with a tangled knot of thorns surrounding the holy symbol of Asmodeus.
"I will have more instructions then. Succeed and I will see you rewarded handsomely. Fail or betray me and you will pray for the comfort of Hell before I am done with you. The mission you start upon today is a holy mission. The people of Talingarde think they have seen the last of the mighty Asmodeus. Soon enough we will remind them that there is no escaping the grasp of Hell. Let us toast our success!"
He poured one glass of deep red wine for each member of the knot and then finally poured one for himself. He raised the glass and offered a toast.
"To war."

___________________________________________________________________

"What a happy coincidence and good fortune for us that this tower Balentyne just happens to be Timeon's home post!" Dakota beamed as she and Tardaesha packed their belongings for the trip.
"Asmodeus works in mysterious ways," her twin returned her smile. "That boy is a true treasure. Have you already sent him on his way?"
"He departed last night," Dakota nodded. "He will wait for us to contact him."
"Well done, little sister," Tardaesha slapped Dakota on the rump. "Now, let's talk about plans for this little voyage."

_____________________________________________________________________

The Frosthamar was a single-masted knarr with a square sail. It was similar to a longship, but wider and with a deeper hull better suited to carrying cargo, and the Frosthamar was obviously loaded with cargo. She sat heavy in the water, loaded with twenty-four tons of weaponry, arrows and shields, according to Tiadora. The captain was a grizzled north-man with a wiry beard, pale blonde hair and countless scars. His crew consisted of a half-dozen grim sailors who spoke little of the common Talirean tongue.

"You will guard our boat all the way north, yes?" Odenkirk asked as the members of the Knot boarded.
"That's correct," Kelvin replied.
"Then I will take you to the cursed north past hope and life," the captain grunted.
"Oh, you are quite the charmer, aren't you?" Tardaesha asked with a teasing smile as she let her fingers linger on Odenkirk's chest when she walked by.
Odenkirk watched her go with an appreciative stare, then grunted again, a half smile concealed by his beard.

________________________________________________________________________

The Frosthamar was a fine ship, but not one that catered to delicate sensibilities. It had no cabins, so the passengers had to sleep under the stars with the rest of the crew. There were no garderobes nor chamber pots. The crew simply relieved themselves over the railing. Tardaesha and Dakota had no problem with such exhibitionism, taking great delight in the leers of the sailors. Katarina was a bit more modest, requiring either Dorian of Kelvin to stand in front of her whenever nature called.

It took half a day for the Frosthamar to sail down the Varnyn River and out into the open ocean. It hugged the coast, and passed countless farming communities and fishing villages along the shore. More than a few fishermen waved as the vessel passed, and Odenkirk was always sure to wave back.
"Wouldn't want'em to get suspicious, eh?" he said with a glower.
He informed his guests that it would take the better part of a week before they saw the great city of Daveryn, the largest center of civilization along the east coast, off their port bow. He quickly squashed any talk of stopping there, however.
"This is no pleasure cruise," he growled. "Besides, I won't get our cargo within a mile of a Talirean harbormaster."

It was during that first week of sailing that Tardaesha took it upon herself to get to know the captain a bit better. It just so happened that she spoke Skald, the native tongue of Odenkirk and his crew, and this alone would have gotten the northman's attention, even if the lady's ample physical attributes hadn't. It wasn't long before she and the captain started disappearing below deck when all was quiet above. There, in the cramped confines of the overstuffed hold, Tardaesha taught a few new tricks to a man who thought he new just about everything there was to know about the doings between men and women. Not long after that, Dakota joined them, and though the younger sister had taken a technical vow of chastity, saving herself for the "right" man, that didn't stop her from teaching Odenkirk a few tricks of her own. Soon, the sisters learned of a private stash of whiskey that he kept for himself, as well as the location of the payroll box that he kept for his men. Good, honest work on their part.

_______________________________________________________________

When they were perhaps a day past Daveryn, about the time they were passing the Watch Wall, the crew and passengers of the Frosthamar ran into their first bit of trouble in the form of a Talirean patrol ship. 'The Blade of St. Martius,' was emblazoned along the ship's prow, and its course carried it towards a direct intercept of the larger vessel.
"She's seen us, sure as damnation," Odenkirk snarled. "And there is no way we'll outrun her loaded like this. One look at our cargo and they'll know us for exactly what we are...weapon smugglers."
"What do you suggest?" Tardaesha asked, one hand absently rubbing the back of the captain's neck.
"I'll be damned if they're taking my ship," Odenkirk snapped. "I say we heave to, wait for them to board, then kill them all."
"I like it," Tardaesha nodded. "And it may come to that, but I'd like to suggest an alternative. Allow my sister and me to try a more diplomatic approach first. You know how charming we can be. If that fails, then plan B goes into effect."

When the Talirean ship drew close enough, the sailors began shouting.
"Heave to in the name of the king!"
Odenkirk complied, and the captain of the other ship, along with four of his men, boarded the Frosthamar once they'd come alongside.
"I am Captain Edward Sambryl of the Royal Talirean Navy," the commander said brusquely. "Who is in charge here?"
"That'd be me," Odenkirk stepped forward and introduced himself.
"Your ship is riding quite low in the water, Captain," Sambryl said. "You are also a foreign vessel well north of civilized lands. Do you mind telling me what your cargo is, and where are you bound?"
Tardaesha took that moment to step forward. She had used the magic of her circlet to turn her hair almost white blonde, and her eyes deep blue. She had also altered her attire to that of a priestess of Iomedae. Beside her, Dakota had likewise changed her appearance, save that her hair was now dark, and her eyes darker. Her clothing identified her as an inquisitor of Iomedae's church. The other members of the Knot had disguised themselves as more of Odenkirk's sailors.
"Captain," Tardaesha said, addressing the Talirean as if speaking to an underling, "what is the meaning of this? I am Sister Katlyn, and this is Sister Ellise. We are on a holy mission for the church, delivering much-needed supplies to whaling colony up the coast."
Sambryl eyed her dubiously.
"I find that hard to believe, Sister," he replied. "Why would the church be involved in something so trivial?"
Dakota's eyes flared. "You dare to question an anointed member of the clergy!? Do not presume to speak on matters that do not concern you! There are missionaries stranded at that colony, and every day we are delayed means a chance that one or more of them may not survive! Perhaps you would like to explain to the Bishop in person why you allowed his favorite nephew to perish from privation and frost bite!?"
Sembryl's face paled visibly beneath Dakota's withering stare.
"I...I...apologize, Sisters," he bowed. "It's just that these waters are known to be frequented by smugglers and pirates, w...which you clearly are not! Please give the Bishop my regards, and be on your way."
He quickly gathered his men and boarded his ship. They detached from the Frosthamar and began to pull away. Odenkirk smiled broadly and smacked Dakota on her backside.
"Well done, 'Sister,'" he said, eyeing her appreciatively. "Remind me to thank you personally later on."

_______________________________________________________________

Dark had been Nerianus' dreams of late. A haunted triton oracle of Iomedae, Nerianus had always been regarded as mad by his tribe. He had foreseen that a great evil was coming, and had become convinced that only he could stop it. He gathered a small group of believers and their dolphin allies, and in the dead of night, moved to intercept the strange ship sailing their waters.

________________________________________________________________

Lemmy was freezing. To make matters worse, he was freezing on the deck of a ship! A ship that floated on water! A trifecta of bad luck on his part. He prowled the boat, grumbling to himself. Every night the captain anchored the Frosthamar, likely so he could spend more time fornicating with the Dannister wenches, Lemmy though darkly. So every night watch detail had to be shared. It was currently his and Roger's duty, along with the three sailors who tended the needs of the ship, alternating the work with their comrades after midnight. At least he had Roger to keep him company and swap war stories to pass the tedium of the long hours. The dwarf didn't know what on earth they were keeping watch for. It was black as pitch out there. Not like they would actually be able to see anything coming....

A scream sounded from behind him. Lemmy spun around, and froze in place, not quite grasping what he was seeing. One of the formerly sleeping sailors writhed on the deck, clutching one arm which hung at an odd angle. Looming over him was, for lack any better description, what appeared to be an animate column of water about the size of a donkey. As Lemmy stood staring, another of the...things...appeared as if out of thin air, right next to one of the sailors on watch. It surged towards the man, ramming into him and bull-rushing him towards the railing. Just then, a high-pitched whining sound went past Lemmy's ear, followed by a hollow thunk. He looked, and saw a quarrel protruding from the mast. More confused than ever, he turned back towards the railing, and in the water below saw several figures swimming about. There were a couple of ship fish leaping into the air, squealing and clicking as they breached. The other individuals were scaly, finned humanoids with athletic builds and blue green coloration. As they ducked and surfaced in the water, Lemmy could see that their legs ended in wide flippers rather than feet. Four of them held heavy crossbows, while a fifth grasped some sort of three-pronged spear. Lemmy didn't know what in the Hells he was looking at, nor did he much care. He flung out one hand and sent a bombardment of rocks at the nearest creature in the water, then began shouting at the top of his lungs to wake the others.

_________________________________________________________________

"Did you hear something?" Dakota asked sleepily, raising her head from Odenkirk's bare chest and looking across at her sister.
"Sounds like that loud-mouthed dwarf shouting about something," Tardaesha yawned, disentangling herself from the still-snoring captain. "Wakey, wakey, lover," she slapped his face gently. "I think we've got trouble."

___________________________________________________________________

Lemmy whirled and sent another geokinetic blast at the water creature trying to force the sailor over the side. At that moment, Dorian woke with a start and leaped to his feet, still sleep-addled.
"What's going on?" he asked blearily.
"Get down!" Lemmy warned, but it came too late.
With a twang from the water, a crossbow quarrel sprouted from the priest's shoulder, spinning him around. Across the deck, the second water-thing continued to rain blows down upon the still supine sailor with the broken arm. Kelvin lay with his eyes open, having heard Lemmy's warning. He rolled to his belly and spoke an incantation. Three glowing missiles streaked towards the elemental (for the wizard had quickly deduced what they were facing) Lemmy had bombarded, and as they struck the creature, it abruptly vanished.
'Summoned,' Kelvin thought to himself. 'Now where is the summoner?'
He didn't have a chance to find out, as another elemental appeared right next to him and, using one stubby, rudimentary arm, punched him in the stomach...hard.

The other sleeping sailors were rousing from their sleep, but as they rolled to their feet, the elementals smashed into them, leaving one staggering around like a drunkard. To make matters worse, more elementals continue to pop into existence around the deck, resulting in a chaotic melee from bow to stern of the Frosthamar. Suddenly, the hatch to the hold flew open and Captain Odenkirk emerged, naked as the day he was born, frothing at the mouth, and gripping a massive great-axe with both hands. He was closely followed by Tardaesha and Dakota, both clad in little more than their small clothes, but with weapons drawn.
"GET OFF MY SHIP!!" Odenkirk bellowed.
Heedless of his lack of any proper defenses, he waded out into the fray, swinging his axe like a mad man. Each time he connected, however, he completely obliterated an elemental.

"Well there's somethin' ya don't see every day," Lemmy grumbled to Roger.
"Let's just hope the ladies have him softened up a bit when it comes time to tie up loose ends," Roger replied.
Then they were moving again, trying to avoid being bowled overboard by the elementals, while at the same time dodging the crossbow bolts that continue whizzing through the air. Meanwhile, Katarina rushed to assist Kelvin, who was still on the ground, his arms held protectively over his head as he tried in vain to ward off the blows of the elemental assaulting him. As the creature turned towards the new threat, Kelvin finally managed to roll to his feet and staggered towards Dorian.
"Let me guess," the priest said, glancing over at his brother, "you need me to heal you. Is that all you think I'm good for?"
"Just shut up and get to it," Kelvin snarled through blood-frothed lips, not in the mood for his sibling's jokes.
Dorian drew his bone wand and tapped the wizard, beginning the infernal healing process.
"Try not to get hit again," he chided.
Kelvin just glared at him, and then began looking around at the fracas, trying to find Lemmy.
"Lemmy!" he called when he'd spotted the dwarf. "There's a summoner out there somewhere! See if you can find him and put a stop to this!"
Lemmy nodded and made his way back towards the rail, suffering a glancing blow from an elemental as he passed. He saw the fish men still swimming about, but noticed that four of them were surrounding the one with the pitchfork in a protective circle.
"There ya are," he grinned. "I gotcha now!"
He pointed towards the leader, and unleashed a blast. Nerianus recoiled in shock and pain as the fist-sized rocks pelted him. His followers returned fire at the dwarf, while the oracle began a prayer of sanctuary, designed to shield him from the mind's of his foes. Before he could complete the chant, however, a flash of light from the deck of the ship caught his eye a split-second before three bolts of energy struck his chest, burning and bruising his flesh. Worse, they broke his concentration, and the prayer was gone, wasted.

Kelvin grinned in triumph when he saw the effect his magic missiles had on the triton. While he was still disoriented, the young mage sent another salvo at him. This time the bolts struck the triton's head, and he went limp and sank beneath the waves. The other tritons looked stricken. They glanced hesitantly at the ship, and then caught their dolphins by their dorsals and dove under water.
"They're leaving!" Kelvin called over his shoulder to his comrades.
"These little bastards aren't!" Odenkirk shouted.
He destroyed another elemental that had Tardaesha backed into a corner, then Roger put an end to one that was sneaking up behind the captain while his back was turned. Gradually, the tide continued to turn in their favor. Even the sailors were able to take down one of the elementals by ganging up on it. Finally, the last one winked out of existence as Dorian channelled negative energy through its body.

"Who was on watch!?" Odenkirk raged once the deck was clear. "I'll have him keelhauled!"
"Yer welcome to try," Lemmy snarled back, clenching his fists, Roger at his back.
"There is no one to blame here," Kelvin interjected diplomatically. "These were summoned creatures. Their summoners were tritons. They live underwater and so were able to approach unseen and then conjure their minions directly in our midst, although why such creatures would take issue with us is a mystery. They are generally goodly individuals who are not known to waylay travelers."
"Well, whatever their reason, they failed and it's over now," Tardaesha said, taking Odenkirk's hand and leading him back towards the hold. "I'm sure this will all seem like a bad dream in the morning."

__________________________________________________________________

"We're a little light on fresh water, I think," Odenkirk said, scratching his beard idly.
He was standing at the bow with Tardaesha by his side, gazing at the nearby coast. "We're passing Seal Isle and there's a stream that feeds into the bay there. We'll take on water there. I'll send a party to shore. Of course that means we'll spend a day in some of the richest fur seal hunting grounds all along this coast. I'm thinking of organizing a hunting expedition. Interested?"
Tardaesha glanced sidelong at him.
"My brother Dorian is a priest," she said. "With his prayers, he can create fresh water at will. I see no need to waste any more time."
Odenkirk's face turned beet red.
"Dammit woman!" he snapped, turning on her. "You may have your uses and talents, but this is my godsdamned boat, and I'll do whatever I damned well please!"
He stomped off across the deck, his men staring after him. Tardaesha continued to stare out at the sea, a faint smile playing across her lips.
"We'll see," she murmured.

It took half the day more of sailing to reach the isle's harbor, but even as they drew close, the amount of seals they saw frolicking in the waves was astounding. Odenkirk lowered anchor and sent a dingy ashore with a couple of sailors. He and two other sailors then boarded a second dingy.
"If any of you are want to come along, there's one more dingy," he said.
"I think Dakota and I will stay here," Tardaesha smiled. "Salt water is terrible for our hair."
"I'm stayin' too," Lemmy growled. "A big boat's bad enough. Ain't no way I'm gettin' on a smaller one."
Kelvin, Roger, Dorian and Kat, however, seemed eager to join the hunt. They piled into the last boat and began rowing after the captain.
"I hope you know," Tardaesha said, speaking Skald as she turned to one of the remaining sailors, "that your captain is raping my sister and I every night. He says if we don't allow it, he'll have us thrown overboard. This is the kind of man you serve."
The sailor just shrugged.
"You're salt wives," he said. "Cap'n can do what he wants, long as he pays in gold."
He went about his business.
"So much for a mutiny," Tardaesha whispered to her sister.

___________________________________________________________________

Dorian had to admit, he was actually enjoying himself. A bit of a sadist at heart, he took pleasure in clubbing the seals who, out of curiosity, swam up alongside the dingy. So far he and his crew had managed to take five of them. Not a bad haul considering Odenkirk's band had only killed two. He felt a bump underneath the hull of the boat.
"Looks like we have another one," he said gleefully.
The bump came again, but this time it was much more forceful, rocking the dingy violently from side to side.
"Seems like a big one," Roger said. "Brace yourselves. I think its breaching."
Something surfaced, alright, but it was no seal. Instead it looked to be a disturbing combination of seal and shark, with brown fur and a wide mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth. It came up right under the boat, heaving it into the air on its broad back, and capsizing it. Roger and the Dannisters went flying into the surf.

Dorian landed near the overturned boat and was able to grab the keel and hang on. Kelvin and Roger fell nearby, but still close enough to swim and grab on as well. Only Kat was not so fortunate, and even worse for her, she was a poor swimmer. An errant wave crashed into her as she struggled to tread water, causing her to gag and choke, her head dipping beneath the surface. That's when she saw the creature that had rammed them circling below her. Suddenly, it surged upwards, it's jaws gaping, and clamped onto Kat's leg. It took everything she had not to scream underwater and lose what precious little breath was still in her lungs. She drew her dagger from her belt and began stabbing madly at the beast, hoping it would at least let her go.

"You see that!?" Lemmy shouted, pointing out at the capsized dingy.
"I see it," Tardaesha said, her lips tight. "Didn't you ask Tiadora to procure a flying elixir for you?"
"Yeah," Lemmy said, "but I was savin' it case I ended up in the drink."
"I'll owe you," Tardaesha snapped. "Give it to me."
Reluctantly, the dwarf did, and she quickly upended it, quaffing the bitter drink. Concentrating, she rose into the air, and after a moment to get her bearings, soared out over the waves towards her siblings and Roger.

Kelvin saw blood frothing in the water and violent thrashing at the spot where Kat had gone under. Cursing, he used his free hand to cast a spell, conjuring a glowing orb of electricity, which he then directed towards the back of the sea creature as it tossed and rolled. When the orb stuck, blue lightning crackled across the monster, and it released Kat, wheeling away to consider another pass. She tried to struggle to the surface, but she was bleeding profusely, and her leg wouldn't quite do what she wanted it to. She glanced below and saw the predator coming towards her again. She slashed down with her dagger, desperately trying to keep it at bay. It flinched but didn't back off that time. It opened its maw again and rushed her. She squeezed her eyes shut, bracing herself for the inevitable, but suddenly, she felt herself being lifted. She felt hands beneath her armpits, and her eyes popped open. She turned her head and saw Tardaesha behind her. The monster was swimming after them, not wanting to let its prey escape. Her sister extended one hand and a flash of black energy leaped towards the beast. It roared and veered off. Then they were out of the water, rising up into the air.
"No!" Kat cried. "Put me down! The others are still back there! We can't leave them!"
"Be still!" Tardaesha snapped. "In case you haven't noticed, you're bleeding to death! I'm getting you to safety then I'll go back for them!"
Directly below, Kat saw Odenkirk's boat, headed towards the overturned dingy. Tardaesha swept in low and dropped Kat into the boat, then turned and flew back towards Roger and her brothers.

Roger watched Kat and Tardaesha fly away with mixed feelings. He was glad Katarina wasn't dead, but he resented being abandoned. He looked around, trying to spot the beast beneath them. He needn't have bothered. The creature surfaced, it's mouth wide, and raked its fangs across his chest. Luckily, his mail held, but the sheer force of the bite felt like it may have cracked a rib. Kelvin, thinking quickly, called his electrical orb back to the surface and sent it at the beast again. It screeched in pain, then rolled on its back, floating limply. Roger quickly scrambled atop the hull of the boat and pulled Dorian up behind him. Kelvin moved to follow, but something grabbed him around the waist. He didn't even have time to register the pain as he was shaken violently from side to side, seized in the jaws of another of the beasts like a salmon snapping up a dragonfly.
"No!" Roger shouted.
He fumbled his sword from its sheath and slashed down at the creature, opening a huge rent in its blubbery hide. Then, he heard a sharp swishing sound, and an arrow miraculously sprouted from the thing's back. Roger looked up and saw, well over a hundred feet in the distance, Dakota standing at the rail of the Frosthamar, her bow in hand. Next to her was Lemmy, his hands outstretched. Unbelievably, rocks flew out of his hands, covering the incredible distance like they were flung from a trebuchet. They pelted the creature with tremendous force, and it reared back, preparing to dive again. Before it had the chance, however, Roger gripped the hilt of his sword in both hands and drove the blade straight down through the top of its skull. It went limp and heaved over, nearly tearing the half-orc's weapon from his hands.

________________________________________________________________

While the sailors righted the overturned dingy, Odenkirk helped Roger and Tardaesha bring Kelvin aboard his boat, where Dorian set about tending his wounds as well as Kat's.
"Never thought there'd be bunyips in these waters," the captain mused, staring at the floating corpses.
Tardaesha glared at him.
"Do you have what you came here for?" she asked tightly.
Odenkirk smiled at her.
"Now, now, don't be mad, sweetheart. No permanent harm done. Your people are alive, and we bagged over three-hundred gold worth of seal pelts. Not a bad day's work if you ask me. I think we'll spend a couple more days here."
Tardaesha stared for a moment more, then nodded once before turning back to her siblings.
'Just a little longer,' she told herself. 'Then we'll really see what a good day's work looks like.'
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
Captain Odenkirk
 

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JollyDoc

Explorer
9 Rova, 4716 - 11 Rova, 4716: Endings and Beginnings

The Frosthamar put out to sea once more the following morning. They were now well north of the Watch Wall, and Odenkirk estimated that they would reach the headwaters of the River Taiga by the next day. About noon, one of the sailors spotted a group of small boats hugging the coast headed towards the ship. Closer inspection revealed three one-man kayaks and a larger, open, seal-skinned canoe with four men rowing. As they drew near, one of the men in the larger boat hailed them in broken Common.
"Yutak," Odenkirk said as he stood at the rail watching the smaller vessels approach. "Native northern tribesman. They hold no love for the Talireans. Probably looking to trade."
"Hail travelers!" an older man in the large canoe called. "I Joseph Calls-Fire-From-Water! This White Tusk, Chief!"
He indicated a younger, muscular man seated beside him.
"We trade!" Joseph continued. "We have much ivory, and this!"
He made a gesture and one of the oarsmen unwound a tarp from around a large bundle, revealing a gleaming, spiraled ivory horn at least eight-feet in length.
"She's a beauty," Odenkirk whistled. "What do you take in trade?"
"Metal spears," Joseph replied, "and Talirean clothing. Fine clothing. White Tusk like."

"Sister," Kelvin leaned close to Tardaesha and whispered in Shadowtongue, "can you tell if any of these primitives are of a goodly bent?"
Tardaesha smiled and concentrated for a moment.
"Negative," she replied.
"Pity," the wizard shrugged.
"Tell me, Captain," Dorian, standing near Odenkirk, addressed the man in his native tongue, "how would you feel if we just slaughtered these people and took all that they had?"
Odenkirk looked thoughtful for a moment, then sighed.
"The Yutak are famous for their family loyalty," he replied, "and infamous for their vendettas. They hold grudges for a long time. Me and my crew won't take any part in that, but we won't stand in your way either."
Dorian looked to his siblings, and Kelvin shook his head.
"Very well," the priest muttered. "Best not to raise suspicion, I suppose. Send them on their way, Captain. We have no interest in local trinkets."
Odenkirk thanked the Yutak, but told them they had nothing to trade at this point. The tribesman looked disappointed, but turned their boats around and headed back to shore.

__________________________________________________________________

Roger and Lemmy drew fire watch again that night as the ship lay at anchor, and were more miserable than usual. A cold snap had come in and the temperature had plummeted well below freezing. Ice rime had begun to form on the rigging, and intermittent snow flurries had given way to fat flakes and biting winds. The crew had lit several torches to provide both light and warmth in the freezing darkness. Lemmy didn't think it helped. As he stood contemplating the misery of his existence, the cold night was split by the sound of inhuman laughter coming from somewhere near the top of the mast. Lemmy looked up and saw a small creature perched in the crow's nest. It was thin, with leathery wings, small horns and a cruel smile.
"You shouldn't be here, mortals!" the creature called down. "You shouldn't interfere with beautiful, glorious cold!"
The little beast flung out one bluish/white hand and pointed at Lemmy. Instantly, a glaze of ice began to form on the dwarf's armor, causing the metal to become painfully cold where it touched his flesh.
"You ain't seen interferin' yet!" Lemmy snarled back through chattering teeth.
He pointed his own hand back up at the little fiend and sent a blast of rocky debris at it. The barrage struck the creature, almost knocking it from its perch.

"What's going on now?" Dorian asked testily and groggily from where he'd been bundled in his bedroll, back to back with Katarina to preserve body heat.
"No idea," Kat mumbled, climbing to her feet and rubbing her eyes. "Dwarf's yelling about something again."
Just then, one of the sailors on duty pointed towards the far side of the deck, his eyes wide.
"Ice devils! he shouted, and began fleeing towards the bow in blind panic.
Kat looked to see what had frightened the man so, and saw what appeared to be bipedal blocks of ice climbing over the rails, at least four of them. The other sailors tried to scrabble away from them, but as they did so, the creatures slammed club-like arms into them, leaving frost-bitten flesh wherever they connected.

Lemmy tried to leap aside as the nasty little imp sent a burst of the same kind of little missiles that Kelvin was so fond of streaking towards him, but they still hit him head on, sending him tumbling head over heels. Growling deep in his chest, he rolled to his feet and unleashed another geokinetic blast. The creature shrieked, and this time it did lose its hold and tumbled bonelessly down to the deck where it struck with a sickening thud and lay unmoving.

Though she'd just woken up, Kat still moved with the quickness and grace of her namesake. She somersaulted behind one of the ice things and drove her knife into what she hoped was a vital spot. The damned thing didn't have any sort of normal anatomy for her to judge by. Nearby, Dorian had managed to gather his wits about him enough to send a spray of flames from his fingertips at another of the beasts, melting off a significant portion of its body. It gave a totally alien scream, and lumbered into the priest in a pain-filled rage, shouldering him aside. On the far side of the deck, Roger sparred with a third elemental, trying to keep it away from the sailors (he needed them to sail the ship, after all), but it managed to duck under his swinging blade and drive a fist into his belly. The air whooshed out of his lungs and he staggered back, dropping his defenses. The ice creature advanced on him, raising both arms, but before it could strike, it suddenly exploded into a thousand pieces. Roger looked up and saw Lemmy standing in the midst of the ruined thing, his fingers smoking. The dwarf just grinned and reached down a hand to help his friend to his feet.

Kelvin had taken a few moments longer than his siblings to come fully awake, but now the he was, he didn't waste any time. He sent magic missiles at the pair of elementals Kat and Dorian had already injured, shattering them on impact. Then, after Kat threw one of her daggers and impaled the last one, he fired another salvo into that one, destroying it as well. A moment later Odenkirk emerged from the hold, once again naked, with Tardaesha and Dakota following closely behind, still rubbing sleep from their eyes.
"What's all this, then?" the captain asked, looking around at the mess.
"Nothing to concern yourself with," Kelvin smiled humorlessly. "Seems like our fires attracted the attention of an ice mephit and its elemental friends. No more than we could handle."
Odenkirk nodded and grunted.
"Strong work," he said, and then slipped an arm around the waist of each of the ladies and disappeared below once more.

_______________________________________________________________

By mid-morning of the following day, the Frosthamar finally arrived at the ice-choked entrance to the Rive Taiga. Kargeld proved himself a worthy captain as he nimbly sailed the heavily-laden ship through fields of floating, jagged bergs. He barked orders in Skald, and his sailors scrambled to comply. Again and again he turned the boat at just the right moment to pass between the broken shards calved from ancient glaciers. After several nerve-wracking hours of this, the boat pushed through the dangerous headwaters and into the clear flow of the almost-uncharted mighty river. The Taiga wound through a land of savage wonder, a great northern forest that, to the best of anyone's knowledge, had no name. After many miles of picturesque pine trees frosted with new-fallen snow, the ship came to a great mountain range. The river flowed through a large rift in the mountains that looked as if some impossibly huge primordial giant had smashed a pass through the grey slate. The Frosthamar was headed due south at that point, though that had no effect on lessening the intense cold. They eventually arrived at the great interior sea of Talingarde, Lake Tarik. South of that sat the Watch Wall, while on the northern banks, in a wide wooded valley, was their destination...the camp of Sakkarot Fire-Axe.

Thousands of bugbears were already assembled there, but worse, there were more than just bugbears in the camp. The occasional polar bear lumbered around the camp untended, while fur-clad goblins scampered here and there, laughing with frenetic glee, and even a few giants gathered at the camp's fringes. There was only one place to dock the boat, a crudely made pier that jutted out into the river. Standing on the pier as the Froshamar pulled in were four hulking bugbears who seemed none-to-pleased to see the ship. As the crew tied off the mooring lines, the big brutes yammered among themselves in their own tongue...a tongue Lemmy just happened to speak.
"They ain't the friendly sort," the dwarf muttered to his companions. "Seems they're thinkin' 'bout eatin' us soft, squishy sorts before the Fire-Axe gets here to claim all the tasty bits."
"Well, let's show them just what sort of heartburn they're in for," Roger grinned.
Lemmy hopped on the rail and cupped his hands to his mouth.
"Hey! Furballs!" he shouted in the bugbear/goblin speech. "You wanna piece of us? Come get it!"
The four brawlers laughed raucously and began stalking forward, great-clubs resting on their shoulders. Just then, Roger leaped over the rail and landed on the pier in front of them. The look in his eyes was pure murder. He raised his great-sword over his head, and then drove its point deep into the planks, leaving it there quivering upright. Then he slowly drew one thumb across his throat in an unmistakable gesture, and pointed towards the bugbears. They looked hesitantly at one another, and then back at the hulking half-orc in his full plate armor. With subdued growls and many backwards glances, they turned and lumbered away, slump-shouldered.

By that time, a crowd of bugbear onlookers had gathered around the far end of the pier, anticipating bloodshed and mayhem. Abruptly, they parted as a great, black-furred bugbear came forward gripping an axe wreathed in flame in one hand. He stopped a dozen feet from Roger and pointed the axe towards him.
"Who sent you?" he demanded in unaccented Common.
"Cardinal Adrastus Thorn," Roger replied. "We come bearing gifts."
The bugbear smiled a toothy grin.
"Then you are welcome here!" he shouted.
He turned to the somewhat stunned throng behind him.
"These humans are my guests!" he growled. "I will deal with anyone who harms them! They are our allies!"
He walked to the boat and ripped open of the crates, revealing finely made axes within. He tossed one to the nearest bugbear warrior.
"Behold!" the Fire-Axe proclaimed to his folk. "They bring us steel!"
This resulted in a terrifying chorus of growls and cheers from the monstrous assembly, after which they set about unloading the boat. The chief's lieutenants saw that each case was distributed, and soon a visible transformation came over the camp. Where once there were a thousand bugbear savages, now there were a thousand bugbear soldiers, each with new weapons and shields adorned with the emblem of the Fire-Axe. What a terror the Knot had helped to create...

_____________________________________________________________________

Sakkarot Fire-Axe held a feast in honor of the weapons shipment and their new allies. It was a brutal, savage affair, with bugbears fighting each other, and all manner of monsters in attendance. The highlight of the party was when a great, shaggy dire boar was brought in in shackles. One ton of angry pig was led in by a dozen bugbears, who dragged the beast before Sakkarot. The Fire-Axe proceeded to behead the already wounded animal in one mighty stroke with his weapon. The beast was then spitted and roasted in a great open pit.

Eventually, as the raucous bestial festivities died down, Sakkarot stood from the table and summoned the members of the Knot to follow him to his private quarters. He dismissed his guards as he strode inside the tent, then sat heavily among several cushions, gesturing for his guests to join him.
"You are traitors to your own kind," he began without preamble. "You must know that. When Balentyne falls and my horde pours through its shattered gates, we will slaughter Talireans by the thousands. Yet I see no regret in your eyes. Tell me how this can be?"
"Easy," Lemmy answered, rolling up his sleeve and displaying the brand emblazoned there. "Our own kind left us to rot in prison, sentenced to death for so-called crimes. I say let'em burn."
Sakkarot nodded, and then pulled aside his own great breast-plate, revealing the holy symbol of Asmodeus burned into his chest.
"We all have our scars," he said. "In any event, tomorrow you must depart this camp. It will never by truly safe for you here. Over the next week, more tribes will rally to my banner. I will promise them blood and give them steel. Then, at last I will be ready to march. A week after that I will be poised to strike. I will move my horde to the valley just north of Balentyne. There we will wait for your signal. Fire this rocket into the air. Within the hour, we will attack. Make sure that the way is ready. After we gather, my horde will be idle and start to grow anxious. I can hold them together for another two weeks. After that, I expect desertions and squabbling. Get your work done before then. You have one month to infiltrate and destroy Balentyne"
Sakkarot reached behind him and produced a single carefully wrapped signal rocket. Suddenly, the bugbear warlord became very serious and stern. He stared straight into their eyes.
"Can you do this?" he asked. "In one month can you break the Watch Wall?"
"By Asmodeus, I give you my word," Roger replied grimly. "We will succeed or perish in the attempt."
Sakkarot grunted and nodded.
"Thorn has faith in you," he said. "If you weren't his best he wouldn't have sent you. Do this and your names will be legend. Now go. Hail Asmodeus!"

___________________________________________________________________

The next day, Captain Odenkirk was more than anxious to leave the bugbear camp. Already he had seen bugbear warriors eyeing his ship, and knew that it was only a matter of time before they built up the courage to attack. He made no secret of his lack of faith in Sakkarot's word.
"Look in that one's eyes," he said to Tardaesha. "He's smart. Always plotting. Bugbears shouldn't be smart. I'm not getting paid enough for this. If you and your lot aren't ready to go by dusk, I'm pulling out without you. Mark my word!"
"Don't worry, love," Tardaesha kissed his cheek. "When all of this is behind us, Cardinal Thorn will see to it that you are justly rewarded with all that you deserve."

As the sun began to set, the Frosthamar set out once more, crossing the mist-shrouded Lake Tarik under cover of darkness. They made the southern shore of the lake a few hours later and dropped anchor.
"Well, I'm afraid this is where we part ways, my beauties," Odenkirk said, his arms around Tardaesha and Dakota. "I must say, I'm sorry to see you go. I always have room on my crew for able bodies such as yours. Don't suppose you'd reconsider whatever nonsense Thorn has you up to?"
Tardaesha smiled. "No so easily done, love. But what say we celebrate our friendship and break open a bottle of those spirits you have stashed below?"
Odenkirk considered this for a moment, and then nodded.
"Why not?" he shrugged. "One for the road, but then I'm off. I want to put as much distance between me and this place as possible. You're no more than a couple of hours walk from the town of Aldencross from here, and it sits not more than a mile or so from Tower Balentyne."

Odenkirk went into the hold and returned a few minutes later bearing a dusty bottle. The crew cheered to see it. He popped the cork and prepared to upend it, when Kat snatched it from his hand.
"Barbarians," she shook her head. "My father employed some of the finest somaliers to stock our wine cellars. You have to let a good vintage breath for a moment first."
The captain glared at her for moment, then waved her off.
"Also," Katarina continued, "it is a poor host who does not first offer a toast to his guests."
She handed the bottle back to Odenkirk, him none-the-wiser of the generous amount of arsenic powder she'd slipped inside.
"A toast then!" He lifted the bottle high. "To wine, women and gold!!"
His men roared their approval. Odenkirk took a long swig, then passed the bottle on to his men. Each member of the Knot put the bottle to their lips as well, but none of them drank. The captain also took no notice of the fact that his passengers had arranged themselves strategically around the deck. By the time the first of the sailors began to vomit violently, it was too late.

Kat got the party started by flicking a palmed dagger into the throat of the nearest sailor. The man sagged, choking on his own blood and vomit. Two other sailors, a little quicker on the uptake than their brethren, saw the knife sticking out of his neck and put two-and-two together. They drew short swords from their belts, but instead of going for Katarina, they rushed at Lemmy and Dorian, having seen the two of them in action before, and knowing how dangerous they could be. Dorian squealed as one of the crewmen struck him a glancing blow, and Lemmy grunted as the second one tagged him, but fortunately his armor deflected the brunt of it. Dorian took several steps away from the men, then spread his hands wide and sent a cone of flames washing over them. They screamed as their clothes caught fire, but Roger quickly put one out of his misery, while Lemmy blasted the other and sent him careening over the railing.

"You bitches!!" Odenkirk screamed, his beard bristling, his face red as a beet.
He rushed forward, his great-axe clenched in his meaty fists. Before he'd taken two steps, however, Kelvin threw a spell, coating the haft of the axe in an oily liquid. It slipped from the captain's hands and clanged to the deck at his feet. Snarling, he bent to retrieve it, but could not get a grip on the greasy wood. Katarina took the opportunity to move up behind him, while Roger stepped in front. Kat slammed a dagger into Odenkirk's back. As he straightened, crying out in pain and rage, Roger grabbed him by the neck with one hand and channeled the dark, corrupting power of his faith into the man's flesh. Furious, Odenkirk broke free of the half-orc's grip and whipped a throwing axe from his belt. Kat rammed her dagger home again, but then cried out as one of the sailors managed to flank her and slashed open her back with his own blade. The captain raised the hand-axe to finish her off, but Roger struck first, cutting down with his great-sword and nearly separating Odenkirk's arm at the shoulder. Stunned and reeling, he turned clumsily, unsteady on his feet.
"Goodbye, Captain," Kelvin said as he pumped magic missiles into his chest. "Nothing personal. It's just business."

Odenkirk fell, as did the sailor who'd attacked Kat when Dorian sent a bolt of fire through his chest. The remaining two sailors threw down their weapons and fell to their knees, begging for mercy. Roger and Lemmy granted it to them by giving them swift deaths. The Knot then proceeded to loot the Frosthamar, taking Odenkirk's sea chest and the 6,000 gold coins it held, as well as the seal furs he'd collected, before putting the ship to the torch with the bodies of its captain and crew still aboard.

_________________________________________________________________

They were close now. Just a few miles away lay the small market town of Aldencross, and less than a mile from there was the watchtower Balentyne...their ultimate goal. Already Sakkarot's horde gathered and prepared to move. Within two weeks, they would be in a small valley north of the lake awaiting the signal. Firing the rocket into the air at just the right moment, and the members of the Ninth Knot would take the first step towards claiming vengeance against Talingarde. Destiny had brought them there. Destiny had given them a mission. There was no doubt that the future of that green and pleasant land lay in their hands. They could go to that town right then and warn them of the plots of the sinister Cardinal Thorn. They could give themselves up and face the justice they deserved. They could turn back from the horror and slaughter they were going to inflict upon those Iomedean sheep. That was the moment. That was the turning point. After that, there was no going back. Was there one of them eager for redemption?
No. Of course not. And so off they went. They had work to do. They must burn Balentyne.

_____________________________________________________________

The journey to Aldencross from the lake shore was a short and uneventful one. It was almost midnight when they arrived, and the small town was quiet, its inhabitants mostly asleep for the night. Still, there was a single inn in the village, and its lights blazed, the sounds of laughter and music coming from within. So it was that a band of road-weary travelers entered the Lord's Dalliance.

The innkeeper looked up from the bar when the door opened. Aldencross was a market town, and it was not rare for traders to come from all over to peddle their goods there. Even the odd adventurer bound for the savage north was not unknown. So when Bellam Barhold saw the band composed of a robed elf, a smiling dwarf, three comely women, a priest and a human sell-sword, he thought little of it.
"Evening strangers!" he called out. "What can I do you for?"
"We're in need of rooms," the elf replied in a smooth, cultured voice.
"How long are you in town for?" Barhold asked.
"Until our business is complete," Kelvin, the elf, replied with a smile.
"Oh?" the barkeep asked curiously. "What sort of business you in?"
"We're scouting new trade routes in this area for a small merchant consortium," said Kelvin. "We may be staying a couple of weeks."
"Excellent!" Barhold grinned. "Glad to have you. Always good to have new business in town. Rooms are 2 gold per night, and that includes two meals a day."
"Two gold?" Katarina asked in disbelief. "You could stay in one of the finer inns in Daveryn for that!"
"Aye," Barhold smiled, "but this ain't Daveryn, and in case you haven't noticed, spare rooms are hard to come by out here on the frontier. Costs money to have supplies shipped here from the larger cities. A man's got to make a living."
"My associate is just weary from the road," Kelvin soothed. "Your price is a fair one."
"I see you serve quite a few soldiers here," Kat observed, ignoring Kelvin, who shot her an annoyed glance.
"That we do, little lady," Barhold nodded. "Balentyne Tower's close by. Lots of military folk rely on the town for good and...er...services."
"Indeed," Kat threw him a wink. "It so happens that I have some small talent in dancing, and I even perform a bit of sleight of hand."
She reached out and pulled a silver piece from behind the innkeeper's ear. Barhold smiled broadly.
"So you can!" he laughed. "If your dancing's as entertaining, then I might can knock my price down a bit for you. Ha! You might even consider joining up with Ye Merry Men when they hit town in a few days."
"Ye Merry Men?" Kat asked.
"Aye," Barhold nodded. "An acting troupe. Led by the Bard of Barrington himself! They're playing the Great Hall of Balentyne."
"Fascinating," Kat smiled again. "Perhaps I'll audition. Until then, I think I can keep your patrons entertained."

Barhold was correct. Though there were a few locals in the common room, there were more off-duty soldiers present, gambling, drinking, and enjoying the attention of the barmaids. Kelvin stood casually behind a group who were dicing, nodding approvingly at each victory.
"Your pardon, gentlemen," he cleared his throat at a pause in the game.
The soldiers looked up at him, smirking slightly at the foppish elf dressed in clean, white robes.
"My companions and I are new in town," he said.
"You don't say!" one of the soldiers laughed, and his friends joined in.
"Yes, well," Kelvin smiled indulgently, "as it just so happens, we have an acquaintance stationed at your garrison. Are you familiar with a young squire named Timeon?"
The soldiers glanced among themselves, sobering a bit.
"Yeah," one of them nodded. "We know Timeon. He's one of Captain Eddarly's men. Just returned from an assignment that went bad. Nasty business."
"Yes, I had heard something of the sort," Kelvin tsked sympathetically. "We are friends of his family, and we thought that it might help him to see some friendly faces. Would you kindly pass a message on to him? Tell him that the twins are in town, and staying at the inn. An old inside joke. He'll get the reference."
"Sure we will," the soldier said. "Say...is that dwarf with you a new recruit for the engineers?"
Kelvin cocked his head. "Now that you mention it, he did say something about that, but I wasn't sure what he was talking about."
"Yeah," the soldier elaborated, "Master Eisenbauch's had a crew of ten dwarves up at the Tower every day for months now. They're working on refurbishing the gatehouse. Says it might take years!"
"You don't say," Kelvin nodded. "I'll let my friend know. Are they staying at the Tower?"
"Nah," the soldier said. "They're staying here in the inn. Surprised they're not down here. They can drink any of us under the table. Must have had a long day."

The members of the Knot fanned out among the patrons, joining in on conversations here and there, but doing more listening than talking. As was their wont, soldier's liked to gossip, worse than old women in a knitting circle. So it was that the Nessians gathered several useful bits of information..
"They say bugbears are massing up north," one particularly boisterous guard declared. "I wonder what they're up to? Well, it doesn't matter! We'll be ready for'em! You'd think those shaggy walking carpets would have learned by now that the Watch Wall is unbreakable!"
"Do you know how the Lord's Dalliance got it's name?" another soldier asked Kat, who was seated upon his knee. "It was once a brothel! I hear there used to be a secret passage in the basement that allowed the Lord of the Watchtower to sneak in here and have a good time. Of course it must have been sealed up years ago."
"That Mad Martin is a strange one!" opined one old-timer deep in his cups. "He tends the rookery at the Watchtower, you know? They say he never leaves except for necessities. He talks to the birds like people and has named every one!"
"I've heard that Father Donnagin was sent here after the church demoted him from bishop," one lad whispered conspiratorially to Dorian. "He got into some sort of trouble...serious trouble I'd wager to be banished to the Watch Wall."
"Soldiers today!" a churlish local complained to Roger. "A worthless, shiftless lot! Balentyne is in total disarray. Soldiers today are too lazy. Not like in my day."

Ah yes, it proved to be a very lucrative and fruitful evening.

___________________________________________________________________

The following morning, Timeon arrived at the inn bright and early. Tardaesha and Dakota made a show of greeting him and making over him in the common room, eliciting quite a few sly winks and smirks from the patrons. He blushed appropriately and offered to show the ladies around town. They accepted and strolled out with him, one on each arm.

"What are you doing here!?" he asked when they were out of earshot of curious listeners.
"It's quite the tale," Tardaesha smiled. "What a coincidence that our current business should bring us to your posting!"
"Yes...," Timeon said uncertainly.
"Suffice it to say that great things are happening in this isolated corner of the kingdom," Dakota said. "We need you to be our eyes and ears inside Balentyne. We have already gathered some intelligence from local nattering, but we need more. Much more."
"In two weeks time," Tardaesha took up the narrative, "Balentyne Tower will fall."
Timeon gasped aloud.
"Now, now, my dear," Tardaesha chided, "you must keep up appearances. War is coming to Talingarde, and we shall be its fomenters. What can you tell us of the garrison and its defenses, in generalities?"
It took the squire a moment to regain his composure.
"Well," he said at length, "our garrison consists of one-hundred soldiers, broken down into four companies, each under the charge of a captain."
"Who are these captains?" Dakota asked.
"Varning, Barhold, Mott and Eddarly," Timeon said. "I'm in Captain Eddarly's company."
"Barhold?" Tardaesha asked. "Like the innkeeper?"
"His brother," Timeon nodded, "though I don't think they're close."
"What else?" Dakota prodded.
"Lord Commander Havelyn is over all," Timeon continued. "Then there's the magsiter, Tacitus, and Father Donnagin. He has six acolytes working under him as well."
"I'll bet he does," Dakota grinned wickedly.
"What's this we hear about the raven keeper?" Tardaesha asked.
"Oh him," Timeon smiled. "Martin Rayard. We call him 'Mad' Martin."
"These ravens," Tardaesha asked. "What are they used for?"
"Delivering messages long distance," Timeon explained. "They're vital for communications."
"Is that so?" Dakota asked. "Interesting."
"Very much so," Tardaesha agreed. "Well, I realize we cannot keep your from your duties for long, nor can you be seen spending over much time with us, but rest assured, we will be in touch. Be ready at all times."

___________________________________________________________________

That evening, the common room of the Lord's Dalliance was even more raucous, thanks largely to the band of dwarves hammering back pint after pint at a large corner table. Lemmy was delighted. He wasted no time in sauntering over and introducing himself.
"Smith's the name," he said, slamming his own pint down, "Leonard Smith. Which one of you's Eisenbauch?"
"That'd be me," a burly, gray-bearded dwarf stood.
"Damn glad to meet'cha!" Lemmy stuck out his hand. "Heard you an' your crew was doin' some repairs up the Tower."
"Yeah," Eisenbauch replied, his eyes narrowed, "what of it?"
"Just so happens I got me a knack for engineerin' work," Lemmy grinned. "Gonna be in town fer a spell an' thought I might pick up some side work with your boys."
"Depends," Eisenbauch said. "What can you tell me 'bout the theorem of Pythagorus?"
Lemmy's grin broadened and he rubbed his hands together, warming to his audience.

______________________________________________________________

Kat came awake with a start in the darkness of the room she was sharing with Dakota and Tardaesha. For a change, it wasn't the moans of her sisters that roused her this time. No, this was something else. She'd heard a noise from somewhere downstairs. Stealthily, she crept from her bed, out into the hall and down the stairs to the common room. Peering around, she caught movement from behind the bar. She crouched down further into the shadows and let her eyes adjust to the dim moonlight spilling through the windows. The shadow behind the counter resolved itself into Barhold. He held a small candle and he moved furtively through the door to the kitchen. Intrigued, Katarina followed. She waited a moment until she heard no noise from beyond the door, then pushed through. The kitchen was empty, but the door to the cellar was slightly ajar. She pushed it open as well and tiptoed down the stairs. There, in the cramped and musty space, was Barhold, standing before a blank wall. As Kat watched, he reached out and touched a spot there, and that section swung aside.
"Well, well," Kat whispered to herself.
Barhold stepped through. Kat waited again, then followed. Unfortunately, this time the secret door squeaked slightly as she pulled it aside.
"Who's there?" Barhold yelped, spinning around and holding up his light, revealing Kat.
"It's just me," she said, stepping forward, her hands upraised, non-threatening. "I heard a noise that woke me. I came down to investigate."
"Oh," Barhold was sweating now, obviously nervous. "Sorry to disturb, Miss. Nothing amiss at all. Just...just putting up some stores for winter. Nothing to concern yourself with. In fact, now that I think of it, I may have been a bit unfair in our negotiations last night. If you're willing to do your act, you can stay here free of charge for as long as you like. How does that sound?"
Kat smile knowingly.
"That sounds quite agreeable," she said. "This is a nice little hidey-hole you have here. Perhaps we can meet again here some time..."
 

carborundum

Adventurer
I love this part. Can't wait to see what your folks do with all these clues, hints and rumours :)

BTW My players captured the mephit and got it to swear to a year's service in exchange for its life. Now they have a translucent flying scout. Sigh :)
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
That's awesome! The entire infiltration of Balentyne has been very cool to play out. The gang comes up with some fairly innovative and creative ideas
 


R-Hero

Explorer
(Checks timestamp on Age of Worms)
(Compare with timestamp on Way of the Wicked)

Has it been 10 years already??

Damn, time flies...
 


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