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Last Stand of the Dorinthians

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Angered by Rix, angered by failure, angered by mind-slavers, angered by betrayal... plus, even if Alexander didn't like the gnomes and their tunnels, they were good folk, he had slept under their roof. "Coming?" Leaving the party behind him an almost-tangible trace of fury, Alexander drew both his weapons as he raced swiftly down the hill, towards the left entrance.

Dartis swore at the scene of devastation. At Alexander's retorical question, he merely drew his own sword in answer and raced after the half-orc.

Silas, gripping his quarterstaff all the tighter, followed only a few steps behind Alexander and Dartis. And the rest came after.

==========================Mage Study and Dorms----->to Administrative area
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============================Market
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=============================Homes
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====================Homes------Hall-------Homes
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============================Entrance

This was a general layout of the tunnels. The party started in the Hall.


The party barged through the opening, entering the hall with Alexander and Dartis taking the lead. The hall was full of signs from the recent carnage, the bodies of several gnomes and two gnolls strewn about. Three goblins stood talking and laughing in the middle of the room. It would seem that they were willing to allow the gnolls to take the lead in the fighting, which was not surprising knowing how goblins fight without a leader to push them (and the party killed theirs). The goblins soon regreted their decision to 'play it safe' as Alexander cleaved the nearest one. Dartis killed the next one with his blade before the creature could react, while Silas smashed the head in of the third. With no more enemies about the adventurers had a chance to glance around. Only half the gnomes were armored and with swords. The rest wore no armor and wielded handaxes and clubs. It would seem the gnomes were down to their militia.

Kel nocked an arrow and drew the string half back, his eyes sweeping the darkness for any sign of trouble. He cautiously moved forward, letting his feet feel the way more than actually watching where he was going, his eyes continued to dart about the shadows while his ears strained for any sound of attack. Kel's ears picked up the sound of fighting to the north. He yelled this to his companions, and the group rushed northwards, following a tunnel for 40 feet until it spread open to a circular chamber, 120 feet in diameter. The doors to a dozen gnome homes laid roughly separated by 10 foot intervals.

A few of the homes were on fire, and the smoke obscured much of the destruction that eyes could detect. Vision was reduced to 60 feet, and black smoke began to choke the lungs of those around. In the center of the room could be seen four gnolls excitedly pushing around seven bruised and bloodied gnomes. Three looked elderly, and the fourth to be a mother desperately trying to protect three of her children. One of the gnolls backhanded the elderly gentleman next to her, then raised a greatclub to finish him.

The half-orc, speechless, emitted a scream of rage. "Aaahhhhhhhh!!!" He pounced at the black-haired gnoll with the greatclub.

Kel stopped, steadied his aim and let fly a shaft at the gnoll that struck the old man, quickly nocking another arrow he prepared to fire again.

Silas took a moment to cast Shield before following after Alexander.

With drawn sword Dartis charged into the melee as well.

Rix lowered his goggles, due to the light from the flames, and slipped inside some of the billows of smoke.

The gnolls ceased their attacks and turned to face the threat as Alexander charged into the room. After he made it more than halfway towards the creatures, the half-orc threw his knife, but missed the nearest gnoll. Dartis was behind Alexander, followed by a shielded Silas.

Kel took a shot, but also missed. He knocked another arrow and attempted to ignore his stung eyes, which peered past the smoke.

As the gnomes picked themselves up and ran, the gnolls smiled at the sight of the fresh combatants running towards them and readied their weapons. There were four: one with a greatclub, two with a battle-axe, and one with a flail. They all wore loose, studded leather armor, but carried no shield.

Rix, hoping to use the smoke to provide some concealment, ducked for cover and drew his crossbow. A grim smirk had been on his face from the moment they returned to the hills, although he had remained mostly silent. His aim wavered for a moment, the thought of ending the lives of gnomes was always tempting, but the immediate threat of the gnolls was more important. He steadied his hand, leveling the bolt at the groin of the gnoll with the flail and let loose.

Alexander wielded his scimitar with both hands and moved to cleave into the gnolls. Rix fired, hitting the gnoll holding the flail just above his right leg and caused the blood to flow freely. Just then, Alexander closed the distance and cut into the side of the lead gnoll, which Dartis then finished off with his blade. Silas moved to strike the other wounded gnoll, but missed. A second later, a shot from Kel flew past Silas and killed the creature before it could strike back. Kel then shifted his movement and slipped into the smoke.

One of the gnolls with a battle-axe (two handed) attacked Alexander, cutting deeply into the half-orc's shoulder and almost causing him to collapse in a bloody heap. The one attacking Dartis drew a cut along the man's arm while also using a hard two-handed swing.

As Rix and Kel slipped into the smoke, they lost sight of who was who. At the moment, each saw three tall shapes struggling near two shorter shapes.

"Not again!" Alexander yelled out, spitting blood... now that the gnomes were getting away, he knew he could step back, but if they didn't finish the gnolls, the help provided to the gnomes would be of no use. He moved in such a way that the gnolls couldn't get the jump at him while he picked up a discarded shield to use as a buckler. Through the smoke, Alexander could not see the ground around him well enough. Instead of a discarded gnome shield, he thought he saw a discarded goblin shield and reached to gather it while a gnoll moved to attack...

Dartis cursed as the blade drew blood across his arm. Dartis looked about to better gauge the situation, but the smoke was too thick and he could not spot Rix and Kel. He saw the half-orc rummaging about for a shield but decided that the best way to help his injured partner was to finish off the brute in front of him, so he braced his buckler and returned the blow againt the gnoll directly in front of him.

Silas ducked in, jabbing with his staff more to distract than to cause serious harm.

Kel slung his bow over his shoulder and drew his long sword "Your death stalks you through clouds of smoke Grenek," Kel spit. "I am the Hunter and you are the Hunted. Prepare to DIE!" The wild elf yelled as he moved towards the melee combat.

The gnolls attacked first, the one in front of Dartis missing wildly with his blow. Alexander scrambled for the goblin shield as the second gnoll hovered over him. At the last minute, Alexander swung the shield upwards defensively to block the attack. Using his improvised shield, he got jolted as the blow meant for him was absorbed by the sheet of metal, but he remained unharmed. Kel slashed deeply into the gnoll attacking Alexander, gravely wounding the humanoid. Then Silas caught the injured creature with a jab to the throat, breaking its windpipe and killing it with a critically successful strike.

Dartis swung at his opponent, but missed. He at least had the satisfaction of knowing there was only one gnoll left and his allies were coming in to help. Rix still could not make out who was who from his position, but maintained his subterfuge.

Dartis grinned at the last gnoll as his companions began to encircle the opponent. Alexander spit blood... again, and knowing that he wouldn't want to put himself for wasting precious healing, he rose from the kneeling position he adopted to counter the gnoll's blow, at the same time leaving his scimitar but retrieving his second throwing dagger from his belt, which he then launched at the standing enemy.

Silas nimbly dodged as the gnoll switched targets and aimed for him. The abjurer struck back, cracking the gnoll in the ribcage. A throwing knife from Alexander buried deeply into its chest. As it howled and attempted to remove it, Dartis and Kel finished the creature off with simultaneous strikes.

The battle was over, and the gnomes reappeared to now begin a fire brigade in order to save their homes. The party took the time to retrieve their items dropped or thrown as the fire was diminished by the short humanoids. Kel stepped forward to where Alexander stood and cast a spell of healing. "By the power of the Huntress be healed."

"I don't know, maybe as you say your Huntress is not mine, but she's certainly got me in high esteem," he patted the elf's back in thanks as most of his wounds were healed. "We are not yet finished..." he turned to one of the gnomes and asked brusquely, "Where did the kobolds and other scum go?"

A frightened young gnome handed off a jug of water to a fellow firefighter and pointed to the north. "They went that way, sir. Towards the direction of the marketplace." He gulped at the towering half-orc and added, "Thank you for your help," before scurrying off for more water.

Alexander grunted back a "thanks" before announcing to his friends: "the hunt continues."

Silas nodded grimly. "Let us go, then," he said as he began following Alexander.

Dartis tied a cloth about his arm and nodded that he was ready and headed north as well.

The adventurers continued through the northern passage, happy to move past the remaining smoke and flames being extinguished off the gnomish homes. Ahead lied a once beautiful fountain amidst the small shops that made the market circle. The scene was nothing like the party members remembered, with doors kicked in and a large number of gnome bodies littering the ground. The fountain water itself had a slight reddish hue, most likely from the couple of gnome bodies still twitching inside.

Four gnolls were conferring with one another in the center of the area when five kobolds came from the passage leading to the mage quarters. The leader of the five, an older kobold wearing crimson robes with the eye of a dragon on the back said in common to the strongest of the gnolls, "It is done, Grome." He cleaned a bloodied dagger on the hem of his robe. "I lost all my remaining drones and two of my clan, but the spellcasters are finished. We need one final push to take their chief and his guards, however it will be bloody. Perhaps we should pull back. We've lost enough people."

The gnoll growled, "Bah! You've only lost your zombies, Kazsinastrayas, and a handful of men. I've lost half my troops, but I'm no coward. We finish this here and now, then the caves are ours. Go back to Astraughlay and tell him of your failures. He has shown me the truth. First this place falls to me, then I will be on my path to become king."

The kobold's eyebrows furrowed as he hissed, "Grome, I've been thinking about the visions he has shown us. Yes, he has given us power. Yes, what he has shown us has come true so far. But look at us, Grome! The goblins are finished as a united force, your men are down to half their strength, and I've lost nearly all my drones that helped my tribe get this far in the first place. But after this, what? We've been decimated, Grome! We..." He stopped as he saw the party enter the room. "...are in trouble."

The party was in the entrace to the market circle. The four gnolls stood 30 feet away and were blocking the five kobolds from attacks. The kobolds all wielded shortbows, except for their robed leader, who wielded a knife and had some strange-looking components on his belt. The gnolls were armed with battle-axes and wielded them with two hands, except for the leader who was using a halberd. Instead of studded leather, he wore a fine-looking suit of chain mail. There was still smoke behind the party members, but the fire had by now been put out by the gnomes.

Dartis hestiated but a heart beat before rapidly drawing his bow and firing a pair of arrows at the head gnoll. "Stay together here and fight. They will come to us. There is little more havoc they can cause, so stay here and fight them where we can assist each other!" Called out Dartis.

"Grome." Is all he said, having recognized obviously the name as the gnoll's leader, and now challenged him with two hands on his scimitar.
If the jaws are coming at you, don't stand still, they bite. He waited for him to come forth, and ran to clash against him at last moment.

Kel reached out to a passing Alexander and slapped his arm upon him, "Huntress aid this one in his good fight." He prayed as he brandished his holy symbol. DM's Note: Spell was aid.

The kobolds behind the gnolls were trying to get a shot at the party from between the muscular humanoids when Alexander issued his challenge. The gnoll leader snarled angrily and charged towards the half-orc, followed by his companions. Their bodies blocked the kobolds from shooting at the adventurers, and they heard the kobold leader say, "No Grome! You damn idiot!"

Grome moved halfway towards the party when two arrows were fired forth from Dartis, the first burying itself deep within the gnoll's shoulder and the second embedding itself in his armor. Acid fired forth from Silas, but he missed badly with his magic. Alexander was energized by Kel's magic, the Huntress' divine blessing feeling both welcoming and familiar. Rix fired two shots from below Alexander's elbow, piercing Grome's defenses below his raised arm. The gnoll stumbled and wailed in shock as doubt reached his eyes along with the realization that not all prophecies may be true. With a smile, Alexander charged forward, and with a flick of his wrists, Grome's head was promptly removed from his body.

With a howl, the three remaining gnolls made attacks against Alexander, one getting in a lucky shot. The other kobolds began to move to the party's left side in an arc, trying to get a shot on your the group without taking the risk of hitting the gnolls.

Satisfied by the power show before the gnolls and kobolds, Alexander now separated his hands to be free to attack with both his blades, slashing and stabbing furiously with scimitar and dagger. Kel drew his sword and charged towards the kobolds "HUNTRESS TAKE THEE. OPPOSE ME AND DIEEEEEE" he yelled as he ran.

Silas was somewhat taken aback by Kel's charge (though he had come to expect that sort of thing from Alexander). Crazy Huntress-worshippers! Though not so precipitously, Silas moved forward in an attempt to position himself where he could cast burning hands without catching any of his companions in its effect.

The four kobolds moved ahead of their robed master, and each fired a shot at Dartis. The agile fighter avoided being hit by all but one missile. Alexander attacked one of the gnolls before him, slicing a gash into the creature's chest, then ducking in close to finish his opponent with a knife to the lung.

Silas attacked next, moving towards the kobolds and casting his spell. With his staff raised above him, the abjurer completed his words of magic, causing flame to bellow forth from the palm of his hand. He spread his fingers, causing the thin column of fire to become fan-like. Three of the kobolds were enveloped, their screams shrill as they attempted to douse themselves in the polluted fountain. They only made a few steps, and fall dead while still aflame.

The kobold in front of Silas snarled and casts a familiar spell. His fingers also spread outwards as a column of flame issues forth from his own hand and covered Silas with harsh damage. Rix fired a shot from his crossbow at the remaining croney of the kobold. It hit, severely injuring the creature, but not killing it.

Dartis fired his shots, injuring a gnoll before it swung at Alexander and threw off its aim. A second arrow missed, but distracted the other gnoll, who also missed the half-orc. It snarled at Dartis and turned to attack Alexander again.

Kel moved forward and barely missed the robed kobold, who yelled in fear and shock as a slice took a piece out of his garments.

"More than one way to deal with a sorcerer," murmured Silas as he brought his staff down to grip it in both hands. Stepping towards the kobold leader Silas swung.

The injured kobold moves first, backing away from the group and firing a bolt at Rix, which took some flesh off Rix's left arm. Alexander moved next, driving his scimitar and dagger deep into the stomach of the gnoll in front of him. As the blades were removed, the creature gasped, tried unsuccessfully to hold its intestines in, and fell dead.

Silas attacked the robed kobold, dealing it a glancing blow off the side of its head and eliciting a curse from the creature. Rix fired angrily at the kobold that had struck him, killing it with a bolt. Dartis fires two more shots at the injured gnoll, both hitting him in the chest with such force that the creature was lifted from the ground and killed.

The robed kobold was the lone survivor and attempted to run, Kel and Silas both missing at their attempts to strike it in the back. He got about halfway to the northern exit. Kel chased him, but misses again.

Silas cursed under his breath and followed Kel at a run. Don't want that kobold to escape or we'll lose our element of surprise, he thought.

The kobold skipped ahead of Kel, causing him to miss a clumsy attack. It turned and casts a quick spell at the priest, who suddenly felt the strength go out of his body. Kel collapsed to the ground under the weight of his own equipment, and lay motionless as the party watched his limbs become old and shrivelled.

Dartis fired two arrows at the same time that Rix let loose another bolt. An arrow and a bolt met in the center of the kobold's torso, pinning him to the wall of the tunnel opening. He coughed twice, blood welling up to his lips. After one last gasp he uttered his last breath as he stared at Rix and spoke a word in common. "Traitor."

At the kobold's last utterance, Alexander spit the word "die" at the body. "Let's see..." Alexander spoke as he was starting to go through the gnolls' and kobolds' possessions. When the others look to him, who had so pushed for haste through the complex, he answered, "Yes, we can take a few instants. These were leaders, as worn down as the enemy seems to be, they won't launch an attack without them anytime soon."

"Indeed, among these tribes, symbols of power seem to be very persuasive in what leader arise and how well they may lead their peoples. Depriving our enemies of future rallying devices is well advised." Supported Dartis as he watched the north corridor with a drawn arrow. DM's note: Ummm... guys. Kel is still in need of help.

A moan is heard from the unmoving Kel. Maybe it was a grunt of agreement. Maybe it was just pain. From the party members' positions near the corpses of their enemies, it was hard for those standing to tell.

Dartis cursed at his own selfishness and rushed back to the elfs side. He leaned over the prostrate elf, his untrained eye searching for anything that he could help with.
"Kel, can you move? Can I do anything to help?"

Silas stared in horror as the kobold's spell affected Kel by wasting the elf's limbs. Rix and Dartis' attacks passed by him with Silas barely noticing. When Dartis rushed back to Kel, Silas shook himself from his stupor and aided the knight in helping Kel as much as he was able. Silas' skilled eye recognized the affects of a ray of enfeeblement. Kel would come through to his normal state in a few minutes. All that could be done for him was to take the load of his pack off his fragile bones and give him some water for when his muscles popped back to normal.

"Thank the gods. I've heard of this spell before and you should recover in a few minutes." Though actually seeing it as it occurs is rather ghastly... Silas tried to make Kel comfortable and, after removing the elf's pack, set it nearby.

"Damnit" Alexander moved to help the elf who so many times helped him step up again in battle, and does what Silas instructs him to do, loosening the armor's clasps and loosens the armor. "Stand tough, they say you'll be back to normal." After he did all he could, he returned to his position, bow drawn.

After some time, Kel's raspy breathing normalized as the pressure no longer rested so heavily on his weakened frame and lungs. After a couple of minutes, the party watched in amazement as his muscles inflated to their normal condition and the color returned to Kel's flesh.

Meanwhile, Rix and Alexander were able to find the following, besides the weapons that were visible:
4 daggers
53 small crossbow bolts
A book with runes (unreadable by Rix or Alexander) found in the robed kobold's pack
132 gold pieces
65 silver pieces
And finally, a suit of exquisite elven chain that the gnoll leader was wearing. It was not sized for an elf, however, and was instead wearable by a very large human. Or gnoll. Or half-orc. Marvelling at it and the ancient tree symbol on its collar, later a recovered Kel would wonder how it came to be. Kel struggled to his feet "Where'd that damn kobold get to?" He spit as he stood. "I owe him a debt," he continued in a growl. "Thank you for your assistance, now help me get this armour back on so we can hunt."

Silas motioned to the kobold body still pinned to the wall not far away. "It seemed Rix and Lord Kalnian took it upon themselves to collect that debt for you." He gazed intently at the elf then nodded. "As it seems that you are fully recovered let us continue on. I dread to think what those creatures have done here."

"Interesting..." gasped Alexander, as he was stunned when he touched the near-liquid flexibility of the chain shirt. For a moment he doubts about if it was what it seemed to be, but it was cold as steel would be. "Curious symbol that of the tree... I put my blade on it not being a gnoll symbol."

Kel took a closer look at the armor. He sees some tiny runes etched into a circular pattern around the symbol of the tree. Despite the runes being a form of sylvan, Kel didn't recognize the word that is formed. Phonetically, he guessed that the letters would say 'Larinthree', but the word meant nothing to the elf. Something about them just seemed archaic. What is more, the symbol itself showed the wear of time, much greater than the elf would expect from a suit of durable elven chain. From his childhood memory Kel recalls a story he thought was meant to frighten young elves, a tale of vanity and the fall of an ancient elven kingdom. The memory stirs and almost comes to the surface, but falls once more to the recesses of your Kel's mind. DM's Note: Alexander kept falling in battle, so I wanted him to have some elven chain.

"Hmmm" Kel said while stroking his chin. "See this word here?" He continued drawing the attention of his companions to the runes etched around the symbol of the tree. "It's elven but very archaic, this armour appears to be very old - it appears to read 'Larinthree," he said. "Something nags at my mind about this name but I can not place it at this time."

"My friends, if Kel has recovered perhaps we can delay the history lesson until the rest of our gnomish employers have been seen to safety?" said Dartis, nocking an arrow and heading down the north corridor.

Silas peered at the word artfully etched on the collar of the armor. "I'm fascinated by runes but I fear I don't know any of the elven language. Perhaps I can do some research into it. And I am extremely interested in the book you've got there." He looked wistfully towards the book then grimaced. "As soon as we get this mess behind us."
 

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Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
The party saw no sign of the enemy as they moved north into the mage dorms. Most of the doors to this circular area were kicked in and there was no further sign of the enemy, although they did hear the slight sounds of battle further to the east towards the administration area.

Peering into the workshop, the advanturers saw the bookcases were lit aflame. Several apprentices had been slaughtered and were beyond the point that healing magic would be useful. The inferno rose to the ceiling, while ash and fiery papers crashed down around the room. Unable to do anything at this point, the group was prepared to seal the entrance and move on when Rix spotted movement near Horacios' workbench. A blood-covered gnome sat on the floor, his back to the workbench. He grasped desperately at two long knives which were buried through his calves, one for each limb. He screamed in frustration as he scrambled to remove the blades that kept him from moving away from the encroaching flames. Suddenly a weakened bookcase crashed between the party and the gnome, hiding him from vision in a bright flash of fire and blackening smoke.

Without hestiation Dartis ran into the room, leaping over the burning bookcase to where the injured gnome was. With a strong jump, he cleared the majority of the bookcase, but his foot quickly stepped onto a flaming shelf before he launched himself past the fires and next to the gnome, the hero unburned. (DM's Note: Dartis made some great rolls.)

Lifting him up in his arms, Dartis saw that it was Horacios, the teacher of magic. The noble looked back to the bookcase and realized that it was going to be a lot more difficult jumping through the flames unburned with the extra weight he just took upon himself. Seeing Dartis' look of determination, Horacios realized his thoughts and said, "Gods no! You're crazy! Leave me here or we'll both die!"

"I'll be damned if I leave you here to be burned alive." Dartis replied as he quickly pulled out both knives from the gnome's calves, eliciting a scream from the small man. Picking the gnome up, Dratis wrapped his blue cloak around the wounded magic teacher to shield him from the flames. With a great inhalataion of breath Dartis half-dashed, half-leapt back through the burning wreakage of the bookcases.

The party watched in amazement as the silhouette of the nobleman was seen through the smoke running back out. He made a strong jump, but it was not enough to carry him over the tall flames leaping forth from the various books. Dartis collapsed once past the flames, attempting unsuccessfully to douse the fire that had begun to appear on his leggings and scorched his flesh. From Dartis' arms fell a bloodied gnome that was falling unconscious from the shock of his wounds, two deep ones of which were in his thighs.

"Kel! Tend to this one, 'tis Horacios," shouted Dartis horsely as he beat at his smoldering clothes while crawling further from the fire.

When Alexander got to the door of the room and saw Dartis coming through the fire curtain, he hastily closed the doors so that they don't all end up as the bookcases. Then he tried to help Dartis quench the flames. This one is one of those I they call nobles; 'tis not in the blood, 'tis in the heart.. He left it to the others to take care of the unconscious gnome. "Rise Dartis, that was plain foolishness... had you got stuck in there, you'd forced me to go for you."
With Alexander's help, Dartis was able to extinguish the rest of the flames before taking any more harm onto himself.

Kel quickly went to check on the gnome, but the wounds were too severe. Only healing magic was capable of stabilizing him with injuries this bad, and the elf was nearly out of magic. Horacios began to mumble, "Astraughlay.... it was Astraughlay Kondeeistreigh that sent them. Kobold told me. He's gone insane... I thought it might be him, but didn't want to believe... Go south... follow the Salz River until you come to a great lake near the sea. Look for the five peaks. He is researching... he is... go towards second peak from left... you will know when you see..." Horacios was fading fast in Kel's arms, so the elf used up the last of his spell slots in an attempt to save Horacios.

The color of the gnome returned to his face, and his eyes fluttered open. Looking up at the party and hearing the sounds of battle to the east he asked, "It's not a bad dream, is it? We are really being attacked by gnolls, kobolds, and goblins aren't we?" Looking at their faces, he nodded to himself and grabbed Kel's arm. "Help me up, young elf. I'm not as spry as I used to be and we got some gnolls chasing to do."

Between the party and Horacios, the sputtering attack on the last of the gnome defenses in the administration tunnels collapsed. The battle could have gone either way, until the gnolls found that they themselves were leaderless and being attacked now from both sides. The gnomes that were beseiged on one side, and the party and Horacios on the other. Some got away, along with a few kobolds, but most died beneath the defenders' combined wrath. The goblins appeared to have fled when they took heavy casualties earlier on, their courage never being strong enough anyway after the party had killed their commander more than a week ago. The enemies of the gnomes had been crushed, and the small demi-humans would likely flourish in the power vacuum that was created. But it would take a long time. Half the population of the gnome hills had been either killed or severely wounded.

The despair felt was great, and became greater still when Horacios informed the settlement of the next piece of bad news. First, though he told what he knew to the gnome leader, Laughphray, and the part during a long, private meeting. "These creatures were sent here by a traitor. One of our own has been actively seeking our destruction. Astraughlay Kondeeistreigh, the Master Illusionist and my former teacher, has gone insane. I was informed of this by the DragonEye kobold leader, and although there were clues before this, I did not want to believe that a man we all respected could do something like this despite the crimes I've seen him perform."

"Many of you know the work that I and Astraughlay were working on in the old ruins to the south of here, but for our companions from Dorinth, I will elaborate. Astraughlay Kondeeistreigh took me and two other students as his aids while he searched for the location of an ancient elven structure three days south of here, along the crest of a hill near a large lake. My teacher was very excited at this opportunity to study a magical culture many thousands of years separated from our own. It took us a month of searching using clues from old texts, but when we did find the location, we found something that took our breath away. The structure is comprised mostly of a tall, stone platform with large, petrified trees forming an inpenetrable canopy. At the end of the platform stands an open dome with an circular pit that was once filled with magical flame. At the far end of the dome is a second level, where we found a curious sphere made with black glass and with swirling smoke inside. We also saw a stone chair with a strange, dome-like contraption and several small crystals laying in a stone alcove nearby. After months of research, we finally determined that the sphere and the chair were artifacts used by an ancient race of elves to bestow wisdom. Both the chair and the sphere had a slot to place the crystals, and we put them inside them. Astraughlay is not the bravest of gnomes, and nervously asked us which would like to sit in the chair and receive the wisdom of the ancients. Young Phylstray eagerly agreed. We... we thought he was going to gain something special... Instead the poor lad screamed as the dome moved over his head and the crystal pierced his brain, killing him painfully. Even more horribly, the crystal changed colors as the liquids in the brain were sucked away."


It took Horacios a moment before he could continue again, although a stiff drink from a flask he had by his side helped. "In the next weeks, we discovered what went wrong. The crystals were meant to be used on the elven elders before their deaths. Their spirits would then be planted into the device with the black sphere, where they would be able to grant a vision of possible futures to those who watched the surface. The stronger the elder, the stronger and longer the visions. It was meant as one last gift from a dying elven elder to the people he served for so long. Phlystray's death was avoidable if he had only spent more time in study, and I fear this realization caused Astraughlay Kondeeistreigh to slowly become unhinged."

"The night we read about the true purpose of the crystals, the second apprentice, Morious, convinced Astraughlay to use the crystal that had killed the our friend on the black sphere. I stood outside the platform, taking notes on the magical field around the dome, while the other two took their observations of the sphere's surface. I know they saw something, for I heard both of them gasp even from where I was, near the pit. What I saw was also surprising, for after they placed the crystal, the pit lit aflame with a magical fire that burned so hot that I had to step away in fear. Shortly after that I heard Morious scream. I ran up the steps to find Astraughlay Kondeeistreigh over the apprentice's still body, a crystal buried deep in his chest."

"I don't know why, but I moved forward thinking I could still save him, when Astraughlay grabbed me by my shoulders and said, 'Leave him, Horacios! It is better this way. He doesn't have to suffer anymore. They don't have to suffer anymore. I know how to make it better. We'll kill them all fast before they do it. Before they kill them slowly and horribly. We can make it right by ending their lives quickly. Horacios, help me kill them.'"

"In fear and confusion I asked who 'they' were. He answered, 'We have to kill them all. Elves, gnolls, kobolds, goblins, humans, dwarves. All the races before the great sin occurs. By the gods, Horacios, you don't know what they are going to do! How could they! Damn them, but we can fix it. We can make it quick so they don't suffer. You can't stop it! Gods, Horacios, in every vision I watched Saleentra burn! They're still alive, Horacios, but I can see the elves burning and screaming for salvation. And their the lucky ones. Oh, gods... you don't believe me. You don't believe me and you won't trust me. I'm sorry, Horacios, but I'll make this painless.'"


Turning to the party, he continued. "With that, he cast his magic, but I somehow resisted his illusions and ran. I thought the madman would die out there without help, but he lives still and he almost got us all killed. You must stop him. We can reward you with gems, if that is what you want. And of course, we can replenish your equipment. If what I heard is to be believed, he learned necromancy from the kobold, and they turned that damned chair into a device to make living zombies to control and later use the crystals for more divining. And Horacios undoubtedly is using some kind of enhancement to his illusion magic to make others see the future he thinks they want to see. I believe its the power of the sphere, and its making him powerful in both illusions and divination. It is likely he knows everything about you as is, and is likely he already considers you an enemy. You've killed his supporters except... we found an old flesh golem inside the structure. An ugly, bald brute. He didn't attack us when we came in to study, and Horacios was able to find a way to control it. If you must resort to brute force, best you have a plan."
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
End of Chapter 2- Illusions

"So it was elves who built the chair, and twisted by kobolds into a mockery of what it was, blanking minds instead of enriching them." They should have known, enriching of the soul comes from experience, not from the knowledge of the dead.

"Sad." Alexander shook his head. There was still work to do. Mad or not, that gnome was capable of horrendous aberrations. That was not to be permitted, and now that he knew that they had effectively been fighting against risen living dead, a feeling of genuine anger was born, along with simpathy for the gnomes' situation.

This war is bringing the same plague to each and every pack, the circle of life is being mocked at at every corner. "We'll need any help you can provide, 'cause we are bringing him down." Again anger showed on his face despite a crooked half-smile.

Kel trembled, visibly shaken by the thoughts of what his ancestors had wrought. "I will help," he said, his voice wavering with pent up emotion. "It seems only fitting that one of the elf race should put an end to this blasphemy."

Silas was grim-faced and silent. Will these threats to our safety never be put to rest? Finally he spoke up. "Of course you can count me among those who go to confront this renegade." Silas took little of the gnomes' supplies, knowing that they would need what they had to recover from the attacks that had nearly destroyed their homes.

Silas approached Alexander: "By your leave, I would like to use my magics to see what can be learned about the elven armor that you now wear."

"Read the runes if you can," answered Alexander to Silas' request, not caring much, but not devoid of interest.

Silas also wanted to check out the rune-filled book that was taken from the kobold leader. Silas casts his spell and the words on the armor and book form for him. He realized that Kel was very close. The armor said 'Larinthree, the Tree of Life'. As for the book, the abjurer realized instantly that it was a spellbook with the following spells: ghost sound, read magic, detect magic, disrupt undead, touch of fatigue, burning hands, color spray, cause fear, chill touch, ray of enfeeblement, scorching ray, spectral hand, mirror image.

The party began to gather supplies, restocking on food, water, and ammunition. Horacios was kind enough to cast a detect magic on Alexander's new armor, but it came up with a negative result.

Now, curious, Alexander asked for Silas' opinion. "Does it say why an elven armorer would have this built, for a larger body?"

Silas looked perplexed. "I'm afraid that I'm only able to decipher the runes. Which, incidentally, read 'Larinthree, the Tree of Life'. Why the elves forged armor so much larger than their body type, I don't know. Maybe Kel or another elf would know. Or perhaps a bard might know some history of the armor. Maybe it was intended for this golem Horacios mentioned. Ah, which reminds me..." Silas fell silent as he seemed to retreat into his thoughts. Absent-mindedly he wandered off, muttering about golems and peering about the gnomes' warrens.

The abjurer wracked his brains for all the information that he knew or had heard about golems. After that, he sought out Horacios to see if the gnome could offer some information about golems and Astraughlay's abilities as a wizard to help prepare them for the upcoming confrontation.

Horacios and Silas moved sadly through the remains of the gnomish library, picking through some of the more helpful tomes about golems. The two discovered that flesh golems were invulnerable to most magic, although fire and cold would slow them and electricity would heal them. It was possible that bathing a flesh golem in constantly burning magical flame would disable the creature, but that was something beyond the duo.

Afterwards, Silas pored over the kobold's spellbook which was written partially in the arcane language of magic and also partly with scribbled notes in draconic. The abjurer realized that with a kobold in the party, Silas would be able to learn all the spells outside of his forbidden spheres if Rix agreed to help decipher the text. One spell could be learned automatically for each spell Rix agreed to help with. Silas doubted that he could withstand the withering scorn and abuse that Rix would heap upon him the entire time they were working on the spells. And he doubted that Rix would agree to it anyway. So Silas contented himself with using Read Magic and Comprehend Languages, and just doing a quick skim of the material.


Alexander realized he hadn't a fixed opinion about Silas. He was for sure a brave man, and a smart one... but the half-orc didn't really know how to feel about the absent look which sometimes invaded his eyes. Alexander, since birth, had been accustomed to emotional reactions and clear, practical thought, the kind of thought The Hunt required.

Strange... maybe he had someone close to him die? He is far too different from those called scholars to be one of them. I'll better ask him, later. It is dangerous for an adventurer to constantly be lost in thought.

Even though he didn't usually care about these personal matters, of late he and Kel had been the main guides of the party. He was starting to feel somehow as a pack leader, and therefore he cared about the pack.

The party was able to find the following from what the gnomes scavenged off their dead, and the gnolls and goblins:

Medium-size equipment:
13 Battle-axes
10 Spears
2 Longspears
6 Maces
3 Morningstars
4 Clubs
15 Daggers
3 Longbows
2 Crossbows
27 Arrows
19 Crossbow Bolts
16 Backpacks
10 Suits of Studded Leather
3 Large Wooden Shields
27 Rations, Trail
14 Waterskins

Small Sized:
12 Suits of Padded Armor
10 Suits of Leather
4 Chain Shirts
3 Suits of Studded Leather
20 Wooden Bucklers
15 Hand-Axes
5 Battle-Axes
5 Short Swords
10 Small Crossbows
100 Crossbow Bolts
50 Rations, Trail
25 Waterskins

Finally, the leader of the gnomes pulled Dartis aside once the party made their preparations and said, "Young noble, be careful out there. We've recently put some 2-gnome patrols out to search the area and one was ambushed a short while ago. Poor Draphreen was attacked and dragged off by some large, giggling monster before his friend could come to his aid. We found the corpse, or most of it. His arm had been torn off, gnawed clean of the flesh clear to the bone, and left a few hundred feet away. The patrols never did find his head. Again, be careful out there. I don't know where this giggling creature came from, but it seems there are worse things out there now than kobolds." Loughphray spoke mechanically, his eyes distant as if from shock.

Accepting only some rations and waterskins as payment, Kel withdrew himself from the company of the others. "I will be outside in the open. You will find me before departing," the last said as a statment; not a question.

Harindan Loughphray chased down Kel, and looked at him in shock as the priest interrupted his discussion with Dartis to delcare he would sleep outside. "Alone? By the gods, Dartis! Is your friend mad? Did you not tell him about our slain patrolman?"

Pausing at the words of Harindan the solemn elf replied, "Then I will be just inside the cave entrance and it will be the easier for me to be found," he dropped his head and starts to walk, deep in thought. "I yearn for the feel of the skies above me. I must at least step outside for a moment."

DM's Note: I decided not to have the elf killed by a troll.

Silas listened in concern as Dartis related the information he got from Harindan about the slain patrolman. "Do you think the troll may have followed us? I'm not certain golems can giggle or I would think it..." Silas abruptly paused. "My guess would be that it is an illusion sent by Astraughley." Again Silas paused. "Wait. Didn't the troll that got loose at the kobold lair giggle as it killed the kobolds? If this is it then I feel some responsibility for leading the creature back here." He took a deep breath. "I think we should hunt it down and kill it." DM's Note: Noble, but suicidal unless they had a plan. The characters were 2nd level.

As they continued to talk, Silas related the information that he had learned about golems and recommended carrying torches or flammable oil, if they could find any.

"Spending the night outside will be enough to lure the creature," Alexander commented, on the hunting of the troll. "If we can prepare the terrain ahead of time, the better."

After some discussion, the party instead decided to step out into the wild and follow Horacios' directions, keeping a watch out for a troll attack that never came. It took three slightly uneventful nights to travel to the large lake silhouetted by five large peaks, although Rix swore something was giggling outside the camp during his watch on the last night.

After heading towards the second peak from the left, the party found itself circumventing the lake and walking along a tree-covered ridge. Soon the trees became a string of petrified wood which created a thick canopy over their heads. After several more minutes, the party realized that underneath the dirt beneath their feet was hardened cobblestones, much eroded due to the passage of time.

They saw the cobblestoned path raise at a slight angle, only to plateau ahead of them after a few hundred feet and about fifteen feet higher than their position. Five hundred feet past the beginning of this plateau could be seen a dome-like structure, the glow of a flickering fire highlighting a doorway. Also on the plateau, the adventurers could see two rows of thin, square pillars with motifs unnoticeable from the distance.

As they approached, they noted that most of the light of the fading evening was not penetrating the canopy of petrified trees above them. They also couldn't help the feeling that they were somehow being watched.

Dartis maintained an uneasy lookout as they approached. His arrow was nocked and ready.

"This place is old, and though your kinsmen made it Kel, it is no longer of their work nor wholesome in the least. Come Silas, let us light a torch in preparation of night. I fear we are already known and the light will not betray us further," said Dartis. He now wore the masterwork chainmail that was left after Alexander discovered the elven chain.

Silas lit a torch. "Perhaps we should make a camp before travelling further."

"We wouldn't be able to see any better by day," answered Alexander as he pointed towards the petrified canopy. "This place..." he took a moment to breathe before the magnificience of the construction, having never before seen a building greater in architecture than a fort. "Lets keep moving then."

The party made last minute preparations before continuing, with Silas walking with his staff in his right hand and his lit torch in his left. Because of a slight breeze, the flame casted strange shadows from the pillars that jumped and danced with each twist of the fire. No animals were heard as the adventurers continued on, just a deathly silence and a chilly wind that caused some to shiver involuntarily.

The party walked the upward slope and reached the beginning of the plateau. The pillars showed carvings of elven figures with wings, flying upwards in between symbols of the sun, moon, and trees. Alexander and Dartis took another step forward in order to get a better look, when a bright flash of light temporarily blinded everyone.

Message to party:

Your vision clears and you gasp in amazement. The trees have become wooden and beautiful, with bright, warm sunlight peering down upon you from a clear sky above you. These strong, tall trees grow on either side of you, making a majestic mockery of the overgrown, petrified monstrosities that you had previously walked under. All around you are elves, but of a kind you've only heard in faery tales. Their beauty tears at your heart as these winged sylvan creatures fly gracefully around you, some circling you playfully as childish laughter reaches your ears. The pillars next to you gleam from the sunlight with a polished finish, showing the skills of craftsmen greater than you thought possible.

A delegation of female winged elves land in front of you, blocking the view of the path ahead with their formation. They smile at you as they approach with crowns made of leaves, a beautiful song of peace issuing forth from their red lips. Pale arms reach out, crown you, and touch you, while tender eyes look at you with wonder and promise. They speak in a rythm that seems like song, "Heroes, welcome. You have passed our test of courage and found the hidden observatory of the Larinthree elves. I know you are confused, but we've been affecting your minds from afar. Your kingdom still exists, and your friends are unharmed. We have need of such men as you, but first you deserve to enjoy the rest of true heroes. Come with us to the lake and join our dance. Let us tend to you, brave Dorinthians, and give you the joy that you deserve. We have been waiting for heroes to come to our land for so long."

Dartis stood in shock for a heart beat. He then spoke slowly and distinctly. "Yes, yes, Dorinthia still stands. But only here," he said, placing his fist on his chest. "No witchcraft or sorcery could casue me to falsely witness or to ever forget the screams of a thousand dying countrymen upon the fields of Kalden. Yes indeed heroes have come, but not for the foul purposes you have lain your webs. Never will I forget Kalden, Never will I forget Kalnian, Never will I forget Dorinthia and I will not have you defiling the proud memory of a proud people," ended Dartis in a shout.


Breathless, chest heaving from emotion, Dartis screamed again. "We have come for you Astraughlay! And I will see you lay as carrion and offal for the vultures for your mockery here! Do you hear me Astraughlay! Oh yes, a pleasing display, one that would entice any man. But you have failed to account for Dorinthian pride, honor and heritage. Dorinthia lives indeed, she lives in me! So take your toys and play with them yourself. You have failed Astraughlay! We have come for you," finished Dartis, tears streaming down his face. Dorinthia lived, he so wanted to believe it, he so wanted it to be true. But the blood, the stench of war, the cries and screams of battle, he knew it could not be so. But if only it could, if only it could. If only his family were indeed safe, if only his home still stood. If only he could believe this paradise. He wanted to but Dorinthia called him, called him to be true.

Huntress... Guide me... Alexander stepped forth, and as Dartis proclaimed his truth, Alexander intoned his in a crescendo... first a low whisper... then his voice... then his declaration of loyalty to his quest. The prey was marked. Nothing else remained to be said.

"My conviction is stronger today
As I fight to uncover you, unholy lie
And the fear isn't going away
As the warriors still die


Damnation a moment away in my eyes
If we give in to control for the sake of your unholy lie
It's doom for the Circle and for us all


Don't you know the war is far from over now
The Circle must remain unbroken
Brothers die defending The Hunt!
"

"The Hunt is eternal. We are on the chase tonight" Alexander smashed his fist against the emblazened tree on his armor, and moved foward along with Dartis. The circle can't go back, unharmed friends? No, dead friends. The circle can't go back.

Silas gazed at the wonders around him in surprise and no small amount of growing joy. However, when Dartis stepped forward and began his emotion-filled cry, soon followed by Alexander's own roar of defiance, he realized they were right. "...You have passed our test of courage..." they said, but any who would recreate the horrors of war in another's mind in such a fashion cannot be good. Quietly Silas murmured, "Either they speak true and are heartless creatures, touched of evil, or they lie or are the lies of a madman given illusionary life. Either way they are no friends of mine." Silas smiled grimly. "You just made an error, Astraughlay."

Kel stood motionless and silent while the sylvan delegation delivered their writ. His eyes glazed over and his lips started to silently move, a prayer to the Huntress bubbling from his lips without being vocalized. The wild elf's eyes took on a haunted look, his body started to shake, his muscles trembling, a tear slowly rolled down his smooth, chiseled cheek. "This can not be," he said as Dartis started his impassioned speech. "This is a falsehood. Surely we would know of the existence of our winged brethren?" Kel said bewildered, his eyes darting around the clearing trying to find evidence of the deception.

Kel looked around for evidence that there was an illusion, and noticed the scene pause and flicker, becoming less 'real' when his companions spoke and moved bravely forward. The priest followed, although somewhere in his mind something about these elves rang true... he remembered stories told to him when he was young about when elves soared, but passed them as children's tales.

The winged elves pleaded and begged that the party would not continue, their cries becoming more shrill and desperate as they pushed forward. Finally the scene in front of the group seemed to melt away, and with a cry, so did the beautiful elves, their colors merging into an angry, gigantic face of a gnome. His hair twisted and writhed with fire, his teeth black, and his eye wild and insane. "Turn back pigs," he screamed in a demonic voice. "Turn back or be slaughtered like the cattle you are." An unnatural fear rose inside of the party as the large head floated above the adventurers, the terrain cast into a reddish hue from the heat and glow of his hair. The group now was halfway to the dome.

Kel struggled forward, each step like a stab through his heart, his companions a blur through the tears that stung his eyes. His heart beated heavy in his chest and his breathing became laboured as he struggled to draw great gasping breaths into his lungs. He stumbled as Astraughlay's image broke the illusion. "Confirmation. Betrayal. Lies," the elf hunter cried as he shook his head and pulled his longsword from its scabbard. "Retribution," he growled as he stepped forward, death promised in his hard, steely eyes.

Rix smirked at the face of the gnome, they always failed to know the right way to bait a trap. He checked the bolt in his crossbow and waited.

The party's defiance caused the face to fall in surprise, ripple, and fade away. The petrified forest returned to sight as they remembered it, and the adventurers saw that they were now more than halfway across the elevated walkway. They walked further towards the dome, its interior flickering orange with the glow of a strange fire. As they stepped into the wide doorway, they saw that the inside of the once-great dome was littered with dirt and mud, with a pit full of an unnaturally pure-orange, silent flame in the center. A raised platform was held up by several wooden columns. A winding staircase started near the fire and reached upwards to the opposite side of the dome, where it touched the above platform's floor. Just underneath a tall, open ceiling was a black glass sphere resting on this second floor. As eyes fell onto it, it swirled with a interior inky smoke and suddenly each adventurers' vision was blinded by another flash of light.

What Rix saw:
You see an image of yourself sitting on a throne deep in caves of beautiful kobold craftmanship. Several females attend to you, and two kobolds from rival clans kneel below you in a gesture of respect and servitude. You hear a voice in your mind. "It can be yours, Vaerixsjach, lost of the kobolds. They need not be made into living zombies to serve you. All will know the power and genious of Vaerixsjach, and I can show you how to make them respect you. How to make them obey. All you need to do is turn around and forget these gnomes, and the path to leadership is yours. Turn around Vaerixsjach. You owe them nothing, but I would owe you so much."

"Now that is a delightful image, petty and unimaginative though. Not that I wouldn't like it, but I'd prefer it if there were a number of gnomes spitted around me in the image, particularly you right in the center." Rix smiled maliciously, "Lead on. There's at least one gnome that I'm finally going to get to kill and nothing is going to stop me."

What Kel saw:
You have returned home, wiser and honored among the elven people. You hold something wrapped in cloth in your arms, and a voice speaks inside your head, "In your hands can be the works of an ancient race of elves, now forgotten in all but children's tales. You can bring honor to your family name, and peace with the Dorinthians and neighbors. All you need to do is forget this quest, Kel, honored of the Huntress. Kel, I have seen the future of your people. They will burn, Kel, and I can't stop it alone. Turn around from this mission, priest, and become my tool to save your race."

"AAAIIIIIIEEEEEE," Kel cried, his voice ringing with pain. "Get out of my head gnome," he managed with gasping, ragged breaths. "Evil incarnate, this can not be!" The elf steadied himself and his voise rung out in defiance. "You will perpetrate this abomination no longer gnome," he shouted. "We are your doom!"

What Alexander saw:
You see yourself in a woodsman's home by a beautiful lake. It takes a moment to realize that it is the clear lake you used to jump in as a child. Several strong, young men who look simalar to you work happily on a nearby boat, while a familiar woman of beauty wraps her arms around you tenderly. A voice is heard inside your head. "Alexander, the Lady's champion. It is a dark road you will travel, and your dreams will not become reality. Unless you help me. Alexander, turn back. You need not die here. Do an old man this favor, and I promise that I can help guide you to the future you deserve. A quiet home, strong boys, and Syra Dorin as your wife. In my visions I see her suffering before she dies. Work for me, Alexander, and we can create a future deserving of your courage. I can show you how to save her and live happily ever after. She deserves no less."

What Dartis saw:
Men surround you and the mighty, white charger you ride, chanting your name as they pump their fists in joy. You wear the emblem of Dorinthia on your chest, as do they. The capital of the Tallione Empire lies before you, it's gates breached and your flag now flying on its battlements. A boy comes up to you and offers a crown as a voice says, "Yes, Dartis Kalnian. This is a vision of what can be. The Dorinthian kingdom returning from the ashes in even greater glory than before, like a pheonix from the ashes. I can tell you how to make this happen, my lord. I can tell you where the few, lost survivors of your kingdom are before they are completely exterminated. You can reach them in time and bring them to safety in your new village. Just do an old man a favor. Turn around and forget this quest, and I will grant you this boon."

Dartis listened enraptured by the vision spinning in his head. He was lost within the beautiful vision, reveling in it's glory. His heart's every desire. To have it all come crashing down as the vision faded away, replaced again by the mundane dreariness of the ancient temple. Dartis stood crestfallen and heartbroken, ashamed to have been tricked, but more sorrowful yet that the vision in his mind would not, could not be true.

What Silas saw:
You are reading by a window in a large estate, a study full of magical books spread out before your smiling face. Several young apprentices bustle quickly around you, asking for your advice in their experiments as your proud wife looks on. It is then that you realize that one of the apprentices is your own child, aged to adulthood. A voice can be heard in your mind saying, "Ahhh... Silas Eyrstan the Caernite. You have come such a long way to save your family. You should be in a study making discoveries that will benefit your people, not stuck trekking through the mud risking your life. What happens to your family should you fall? And fall you will, Silas, unless you give this life up. I can guide you to safety and show you knowledge you've only dreamt. All you have to do is forget this quest, abjurer. Turn around, and see to the family that needs you."

Silas stood, rooted to the spot. His hand grasped his quarterstaff with such force that his knuckles turned white. Except for that grip he seemed to tremble. Very slowly he turned, looking back the way the group has come, back towards the remnants of once proud Dorinthia. Tears began to leak from his eyes but then, slowly, his mouth set in a grim frown, jaw clenched tightly. Quietly murmuring to himself Silas said, " 'Kill everyone', you said, Astraughlay. As much as I want to, I can't turn back now." Slowly, with great effort, Silas turned back towards the dome. Speaking loudly, "Friends, this evil creature makes promises he can't keep."

With quarterstaff and boots ringing on the broken pavement beneath his feet, Silas strode forward.

The party followed,denying the voice in their heads his victory. A screeching noise could be heard, and soon the visions clear, revealing the interior of the dome once again. A crack formed on the surface of the large, black sphere and smoke began to billow out from it. They had defeated the sphere's illusions and passed their trials against falsehood, fear, and temptation.

Down the stairs bounded a large, bald humanoid that looked like a patchwork of muscles and flesh, and hiding behind him was a robed, frightened gnome with a worn, pointed hat. "Go away," the gnome yelled in common. With a nervous chuckle he said, "We're not interested in whatever your selling."

He looked quite mad.

Question from Fenris, Dartis' player: Mad like crazy?
DM's answer: Crazy. Like loco. His deck of many things is missing a few cards.
Dartis' player: Two tacos short of a combination plate. Got it.

"A madness has gripped you gnome," Kel said as he cautiously moved forward at an angle to force the gnome to fight on more than one front. "And we mean to rid you of it one way or another. I beseech you Huntress Bless us in this endeavour," the feral looking priest cried as he thrusted the petrified claw he used for his focus skyward. Suddenly, emerald energy burst from the symbol and flowed over the elf and his companions, leaving sparkling motes of energy dancing across their bodies.

Blinking away tears at a second loss of his kingdom, Dartis pulled back his bow. "We are selling nothing. But we have a large measure of justice to deliver," he replies as he loosed a pair of arrows at the old gnome.

Silas stopped and watched the patchwork humanoid for a moment. "That must be the golem," he said to no one in particular. Flexing his left hand in preparation for spell-casting he waited for the creature to advance. DM's Note: I was hoping that the party would work together to knock the flesh golem into the pit of magical fire, but I had to let them work it out.

Dartis' two arrows surprised everyone, both slamming into the flesh golem. The creature bellowed and charged forward, but Silas' burning hands spell slowed it so that it was still a few steps away from the bowman and unable to attack him.

Kel's sword screeched as the elf drew it from its scabbard. "Huntress be my shield," he intoned as he tapped the claw that hung around his throat upon his forearm and prepared himself to engage the enemy.

He had cast Shield of Faith +2.

"Not quite what I was hoping for," murmured Silas. Filing the information about the golem away in his head, Silas took a step back and cast Shield upon himself.

Rix moved quickly away from the golem creature, Let them deal with the lackey... He aimed his crossbow at the gnome and loosed the bolt.

Dartis fired two more shots, his first bouncing off the flesh golem's skin, while his next embedded itself deep into its neck. Alexander got into the act, getting in close and slashing at it with his blades, but missed. Still, he drove the creature back, a few feet closer to the pit. In retaliation, the flesh golem punched Alexander, knocking the wind out of the half-orc and bringing him to his knees. Alexander began to wonder if a direct attack was really in his best interest.

Rix fired his crossbow bolt, nailing the gnome as the crazy man ran up the stairs. He screeched in pain, but was still able to cast a spell. Rix saw a number of images appear around the gnome, each looking like an eerie twin.

Kel, sword gripped loosely in his hand, moved cautiosuly forward into a postion where he could attack the golem.

Alexander charged upwards, intent on meeting the gnome in single combat.

Silas' eyes darted from the golem to the pit and back again. "Push him back!" he hollered. Glancing about and seeing his companions occupied in combat, Silas gritted his teeth then dashed forward to bull rush the monster. DM's Note: Yea realization! It was crazy that the wizard bull rushed the golem...

The gnome had three extra images around him when he appeared above the party on the platform. Rix fired, but misses badly. Dartis moved next, firing two arrows at the gnome, and impacting with one arrow, but it hit the wrong Astraughlay. The gnome's image disappeared, leaving him with two. With a chuckle, he cast a spell that caused a cone of colors to reach down towards the party, just barely enveloping Rix, who fell unconscious.

The flesh golem raised a fist to crush Alexander, when Silas screamed and ram into the creature. Amazingly, the golem was partly lifted unto the abjurer's staff (DM's note: Natural 20 for Silas!, not so good an opposed roll by the flesh golem...) and knocked backwards to the edge of the pit. It swung at Silas, missing the wizard with a fist that glanced off his magical shield. With a frightened wail, the creature saw the flames of the pit that it was falling into and made a desperate grab, snagging Silas' robes. The two fell into the flames.

Kel arrived right as Silas went over the edge. As he peered down, he could see the abjurer desperately grasping for the side as he slid ever deeper into the flame. The flesh golem was frozen by contact with the fire, a look of pain and anguish stuck onto his face. His arm was also frozen, and it grasped Silas' robes in a unbreakable grip. Quickly thinking, Kel reached down and grabbed Silas' arm, preventing the magic-user from slipping further down into the fire, although the flames burned clothes and skin.

"Cut the robe. I can't hold the weight of both of you," Kel screamed as he desperately tried to pull Silas to solid ground.

Seeing Silas fall into the pit, Dartis quickly sprung into action. Judging that Alexander would keep the gnome busy for a bit, Dartis dashed over, his bow still in his left hand, his right quickly drew his trusty sword and the young noble reached down to cut the robe still being held by the foul construct.

Silas stared in amazement and horror down at the golem. He never imagined that such a creature could feel pain and anguish. He was frozen and somewhat sickened by the revelation and the result of his own action. Despite the pain of some burns, he was nearly oblivious to his own precarious situation. That quickly changed as Kel yelled and only as Dartis began cutting at his robe did Silas begin scrambling at his belt for his dagger.

Kel had trouble holding the weight of Silas and the creature, but kept Silas from being engulfed in the flames, though not from the abjurer being burned once more. Dartis fell next to Kel, and slashed at the robe, cutting a tear in it. Silas was forced to drop his quarterstaff in order to scramble out of the pit, but finally was free. The trio rolled outside of and away from the pit, and Silas extinguished the budding flames on his clothes before they became stronger.

With a roar, Alexander charged the gnome, but after a few arcane words, the half-orc stopped in mid-charge, a friendly look on his face as he smiled at the man (DM's note: charmed).

Player of Rix's note: Rix remained unconscious. Visions of sugar plum faeries danced... what?

Kel rolled to his feet, grabbing his long sword from where it lay on the ground. "You are a fool gnome," he shouted as he flung his hand forward. "Huntress aid me, Huntress wrap him in your arms," he cried, his fingers poiting at the mad gnome with an entanglement spell.

Despite the pain from burns that he received, Silas reached around and pulled out his crossbow. He pushed back a shock of hair that had fallen into his eyes and then loaded a bolt into the weapon. With a look of grim determination, he took a step towards the gnome but stopped and fired.

Dartis fired two arrows, but both hit the two left over images, which were dispersed. Silas' shot went wide, missing the gnome. Kel's spell went off, and some buds of grass that were growing in some of the cracks in the platform suddenly grow taller and wrapped themselves around the gnome's ankles, immobolizing him and also Alexander. The gnome looked in fear at where the images were last and produced a wand while mumbling something. A mystical arrow appeared next to him and rushed at Dartis, striking him. The gnome then ducked, disappearing from view of those below the platform, although the charmed Alexander could still see him and pleaded for everyone to stop the violence.

Silas scanned the room to see if there was any way that he could circle around and cut off the gnome's line of retreat, but the only way that Silas could see the gnome escaping, was by one of the two stairs that led up to the platform, or by jumping down 15 feet.

Kel started to negotiate his way forward, trying to avoid the area with the vines and position himself so he could attack the gnome.

Dartis led the group upstairs, but once they got to the top of the platform, they saw no signs of him. The charmed Alexander said to the party, "He disappeared!"

There was a cot in the corner, a workbench with some equipment on it, a bookcase, and the sphere, which was now leaking black smoke. Some patches of grass were overgrown near the far end of the platform, but the gnome was nowhere to be seen.

Below the platform, Rix became conscious, but was blinded and stunned, unsure of where he was or what was going on.

Dartis swore, ."Alright he either popped down a rabiit hole or turned invisible. Kel, you and I can look for any secret trap doors or whatnot he may have used. Silas, work on seeing if he's invisible, or waking up Alexander from that stupor he's in. Once Rix is on his feet again he can help search as well."

Silas looked over at Alexander and frowned. How the... He shook his head and turned his mind to the other problem set him by Dartis. Quickly figuring out what he needed to do, Silas stepped up to the edge of tall grass and cast Detect Magic. Beginning where the gnome was last seen, Silas began scanning the area for magical auras, looking especially for those illusionary in nature.

Rix groped about blindly for his crossbow and reloaded it just in case.

Before dropping his entanglement spell so that the party could better search for the gnome, Kel spent several seconds examining the area where the gnome last was, looking for any sign that he might perhaps still be entangled. "Hold. Let's just make sure that he isn't invisible and still entangled before we go any further," he said to his companions. DM's Note: Clever player.

Kel noticed the grass looking strange around the place that the gnome was last seen, almost as if the twined blades of grass were shoes wrapped around an unseen person.

Silas saw a humanoid-like aura crouched down near some grass that was overgrowing on the platform. The grass was also glowing, but that was probably because of Kel's spell. He also noticed a glow from the black sphere. The humanoid-like aura was illusion-based, the grass was nature-based, and the black sphere's aura was divination-based.

Kel whispered to his friends, "It is as I suspected. He is still trapped in the Huntress's thorny embrace." As he talked, he sheathed his sword and unslung his longbow, nocking an arrow in preperation.

Dartis drew an arrow to his cheek. "Just tell me where to shoot," he whispered back. "Damn it Alexander, you let him get away!" cried Dartis loudly.

Oblivious to the plan, and doing his best to maintain concentration on the Detect Magic spell, Silas said, "There," and pointed towards the crouching gnome. He then dropped another bolt into his crossbow.

When Silas yelled and pointed, an angry hiss was heard, then a magical arrow appeared and struck the abjurer as the gnome became visible before the party, wand in hand.

Kel fired his arrow in retaliation, but missed the gnome. Dartis fired next, two arrows flying in the air. Both slammed into the gnome with such force that he was ripped from the grass that held him and landed with a thud onto the ground. Blood quickly pooled underneath the gnome, and in his final weazing the party heard him say, "Beaten? I've been... beaten? This was ... not seen in ... sphere... Perhaps... perhaps some can... be saved... But... the greatest... greatest crime... will break you... as it... as it... did me... They will... betray... I saw... the great tree... burn..."

Astraughley, master illusionist of the Loughphray gnomes, died with a shudder. But for a moment before he was silenced forever, so did his madness.

Rix recovered with the dying of the gnome.

Silas stared at the dead gnome a moment then sighed. The sense of relief he felt was considerable and he looked to see how his companions were faring. Once he had assured himself that everyone was still standing and faring tolerably well, he began looking around the hall with interest. The smoking sphere attracted his attention and he moved to investigate before Alexander got a whim to bash the thing to pieces.

Kel dropped his spell, unstrung his bow and secured it across his back. Then he cautiously walked forward and knelt beside the gnome, searching him for anything useful. "Is everyone OK? Does anyone need to feel the healing touch of The Huntress?" he asked after his search was finished.

Silas looked up when Kel spoke. He grinned. "Well, I'm still standing so I guess I'm ok. But I'm feeling a bit singed. And that golem struck Alexander pretty hard. It's no wonder he's been wandering around like a witless loon." He chuckled but looked to see if Alexander had shaken off the effects of the spell.

"yeah, Rix is awake now at least and seems to be getting better. But Alexander did get hit pretty hard. I'm fine," said Dartis as he headed over to prod the dead gnome with his sword and ensure that the gnome was indeed dead and not an illusion.

Healing not being his forte, Dartis began to search the surroundings. Seeing Silas eyeing the sphere he issued a caution. "Silas, whatever that blasphemous thing is, or was created to do, I can't claim to know. But that thing was obviously what drove Astraughley mad. I think it best to leave it alone, I don't want you to suffer the same fate as he," Dartis emphasized the last point by kicking the dead gnome.

Rix and Alexander recovered, joining the party by the sphere as the last of the black smoke inside rolled and began to pour out of the broken glass. A final image could be seen briefly inside the darkness, and was that of a great tree covered in flame. The size of the tree caused it to be a great conflagaration, which looked as if it may soon burn into the surrounding forest. A group of elves looked on, their eyes wide in horror. The image soon disappeared, and the sphere then became empty and useless.

Kel recognized the burning great tree as the ancient tree of his homeland. As he watched the image, one of the elven figures gave a cry of anguish and fell to his knees. His face was young, but tight with stress beyond his elven features. As Kel concentrated on the figure, the face turned towards the viewer. Kel knew that he stared at himself. The image of the future Kel disappeared with the last wisp of smoke.

Kel shook his head in shock as the image faded away. "Even in his death he plays tricks on my mind," he cursed with anger. After a moment he moved over to his injured friends and called on the power of The Huntress to heal them.

A search of the gnome revealed a jewelled electrum dagger estimated to be worth about 200 gp. It looked more ornamental and gnomish in design. A search of the bookcase seemed appealing at first, especially since the party immediately found two garnets in a dish worth 10gp each. Further searches revealed nothing but trash, much of it half-eaten meals from the gnomes disgusting diet of nearby rodents.

The gnome's corpse had the wand that he was creating magical floating arrows with. It also had seven copper pieces, a scroll with arcane symbols on it, two flasks of an unknown liquid, and a tome with the pages filled with a more arcane language.

Besides the ever-burning flesh golem below, there was nothing else that the party found of interest... except, of course the various images of flying elves etched into the walls.

Dismayed by the image in the sphere, Silas turned away. As his companions searched the area he studies the images on the walls with growing enthusiasm, especially since ancient civilizations appealed to his training as a Caernite scholar. He almost had to be dragged away to check the writings on the scroll and in the book but he planned to do so.

Silas walked around, noting the interesting carvings etched into the walls of the dome. Unlike dwarven carvings which are completely dug out, the humanoid forms presented were done with the externally thick lines that were then filled with a small number of fine, thin lines.

Most of the carvings depicted some unknown historical events, such as the meetings conducted between different delegations of winged elves. The more recent-looking carving showed the winged elves bringing gifts to other humanoids, such as dwarves, orcs, and humans. These were followed by scenes of wars and battles, scenes of more delegations, followed by more battles, fields of dead non-elven humanoids, and finally by wingless elves walking over the ruins of elven settlements.

Silas returned from studying the images on the walls to the gathering of his companions and friends. "I've been thinking. Perhaps we should either bury the gnome or carry his body back for the gnomes to bury. He used to be friends with Horacios." Silas glanced towards the pit. "And maybe we should finish off that golem. When I pushed it into the pit it had such a look of fear and pain on its face. I hesitate to leave it like it is, and yet, I don't want it to run free, either."

Rix scowled at his being denied his pleasure, he walked up the platform, pointed his loaded crossbow down at the gnome, and plugged the bolt point blank into the corpse just for sure. "Let us take him back and show them that they were the cause of their own destruction." He smirked at the irony of the situation.

"Kind of like the Dragon clan was, right Rix?" Added Dartis.

The party returned to the gnomish hills as heroes to the people, as the adventurers were able to finish the forces that had menaced the demihumans. Astraughlay Kondeeistreigh was returned to his people to be buried as the villian he became, and not as the man he once was. As a reward for your services, each member was rewarded with the remnants of the gnome coffers: coins adding up to 300gp each.

Also, Silas had his old staff replaced with a masterwork version fit for himself. The gnomes also design a masterwork crossbow for Rix to replace his old one. Alexander was given a potion of cure medium wounds since he has a tendency to be at the wrong side of a weapon. Dartis' bow was reworked in order to give it a stronger pull (now gave a +1 strength bonus to damage). And Kel worked with the local priests to help give the dead proper funerals. In return, he was allowed to keep three vials of antitoxin and two vials of holy water.

The gnomes also identified some of the spoils from the last battle. The jewelled dagger was not magical, and neither were the garnets. The party was given 200gp for these items, just below their maximum value and a far better price than they would get anywhere else.

The two flasks were potions of bless, while the wand was one of magic missile with 48 charges left. The scroll was a scroll of protection from arrows. DM's note: In retrospect, I should have had the gnome read it before the battle.

The spellbook Silas recovered had the following spells:
All 0 level spells from PHB.
1st level: Detect Secret Doors, Identify, Charm Person, Color Spray, Disguise Self, Nystul's Magical Aura, Silent Image, Ventriloquism, Cause Fear
2nd level: Locate Object, See Invisibility, Blur, Hypnotic Pattern, Invisibility, Mirror Image
3rd level: Displacement

DM's note: Too bad that he made illusion and necromancy blocked spheres. I had no intention of screwing Silas over, but he chose the blocked spheres after I had chosen the protaganists in chapter 2, a necromancer kobold and illusionist gnome. Since Silas could not go to a wizard's school, he had to learn spells from what he found.

The party made their way safely home, their trip uneventful, and the adventurers stronger for their experience.

Thus Ends Chapter 2 - Illusions

Characters had now levelled up to 3rd.

Next: Chapter 3 - The Imperials
 


Fenris

Adventurer
So very fun to relive these DT. They were a blast to play. Makes me miss Alexander and Kel. And maybe Rix, but only a tiny bit.
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
We lost Alexander and Kel after the players of which found that they could no longer access the site due to some software connection error. The player of Alexander can now access the site again, but didn't feel like taking up Alexander after such a long separation. :(
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Crowds of Dorinthians swarmed around the party as they finally come home, many of whom began to worry that they might never come back. An intensity of loss could still be felt, however, and before long word reaches the adventurers that one of Cal's riders came back the day before with two Imperial arrows in his back. From the looks of it, he had ridden hard for three days with those wounds, and had died before he reached the new town. His horse walked in on its own. In the rider's hands was a letter scrawled by King Bermax that said: 'The Imperials have learned that we have been housing your kin who have fled from other parts than Fair Creek. Cal Dorin was about to lead them home when the Tallione Empire demanded that we turn them over. We refused. They came back with a larger army than we have thought possible. We are now besieged, and your people trapped with us. Cal and a few of his best riders have volunteered to carry copies of this letter and attempt to break out of the trap to bring you this warning: The cause here is lost. Do not come to the Dunkel Mountains. I vow that we will fight for as long as we can and die like dwarves.'

More unsettling than this letter was the fact that the dead rider had been the only one to arrive. The fate of Cal and the rest of his companions was still a mystery. How long the dwarves could hold out was an even greater question. Baron Dorin met with the party in his office and made one thing clear. "I want nothing more than to have my son back, but I will not order you to go. In my opinion, the mission is too dangerous. You have done much for us. It's best that your rest now and meet again with your friends and family." With that, he fell back to his seat, his face that of a broken man. Syra Dorin, his attractive daughter, stood strong, placing her hand on his shoulder to steady her father. The head of the local militia, Kyle Radnal, was also present, his eyes staring out into space as he had his own thoughts and emotions battling inside him. He was never one to get along with Cal, but the two of them had been the glue that had held the refugees together.

DM's Note: Since I wanted to avoid the sense that I was railroading the party, I told them that the rescue of the dwarves was an optional quest and they could just take a well earned rest and go to the next chapter if they wanted. But, the party members began to prove themselves heroes...

Dartis was quiet a moment and then knelt before Baron Dorin, and spoke: "My Lord, all my family and friends, aside from those I have made in the past few days, perished upon the plains of Kalden or in the green hills of my beloved Kalnian. I have no reason to rest, for Dorinthia is not restored. You may not order me, but I pray you do not hinder me either. So long as there are people of Dorinthia in danger, I cannot rest. I have nothing to live for. My land, my family, my people are gone. All I have is Dorinthia. And so long as her people live, so shall I. I cannot speak for my companions, but I will go to the Dunkel Mountains. I would ask that if you can spare them, that any remaining forces who wish to volunteer may come with me, but should I need to go alone so I shall, if even the whole of the Tallione army stand between me and the dwarven holds. Shall I go with your blessing my leige?" said Dartis holding his sword out to the Baron hilt first.

Silas nodded, touched by Dartis' speech. However, he said nothing to interupt; he only took a step forward to stand behind Dartis and show his support and willingness to take on this quest.

Alexander would have to make a hard choice now; while he wanted to stay there, maybe even have some contact with Syra apart from the meetings her father commanded, something that *could* grow and to which he could attach for the first time in his life since Ravil...
but revenge...

The Lady of the Lake didn't approve of vengeance, something foolish at its core according to her teachings... but Alexander's mind was somewhere else than with the Huntress for the first time... the opportunity to spill Tallione blood...

But this was actually heavier for him than it looked, not only was he going against the Huntress, he was also leaving Syra unprotected... but there was something strong which drove him ,which he hadn't felt with this magnitude before: the opportunity for payback. He too stepped forward.

Baron Dorin was in shock from the gesture, and the party's unanimous agreement (Rix stayed silent) to render aid in this dark time. He was speechless, gazing at Dartis and reached out to hold the handle of his blade with weak hands. His daughter, normally shy, stepped forward and surprised everyone when her hand confidently wrapped around the handle instead. Her left hand gripped her father's shoulder in order to grant him strength. At the same time, she tapped Dartis' own shoulders with the flat of the blade as she ordered, "I task you, Dartis Kalnian, to become a guardian for the lost people of Dorinthia, to seek them, and be their light that guides them here to their new home. From this moment on, you will serve all Dorinthians, as you served those of Kalnian. Rise, Sir Dartis." She looked at Dartis with appreciation.

This is the closest Dartis had gotten to Syra Dorin, and he was amazed at this hidden reservoir of strength. Normally, she acted childish, but for a moment she was a true royal member of Dorinthia. Her smile was warm, and for a moment the noble's mind wandered as he realized that she might be the only surviving noble lady that was available for marriage.

Dartis rose, "Gladly do I accept this task, should I need to I shall shed my blood for my people. But now is the time to shed Tallione blood. To make them pay for their crime agaisnt our people. Our people will be saved, our country will be restored. So long as the Noble Houses of Dorithia stand, Dorinthia will stand. For we have always been the protectors and defenders of this country, so shall we always be. For we are newly purged of impurities, and our nobles are tempered by war, and hardened by exile, but still we are Dorithians, and so long as we live, so long as we hold to the principles upon which Dorinthia was founded, so long at the Houses support each other and are bonded together, we shall lead her back to glory." said Dartis as he took the sword back from Syra, holding her eyes for a moment again before leaving.

Alexander was proud of Dartis and the change of emotions he had brought about. Still... he couldn't but feel a twinge of jealousy when Syra bound him to the oath. Suddenly, her eyes met the half-orc's for a brief moment, along with a smile in his direction, and he felt some tension inside of him disperse.

DM's Note: I did my best to start a tension-filled love triangle, but Alexander and Dartis stayed better comrades and refused to take the bait.

The adventurers had agreed to help rescue the dwarves and their kinsmen from the Tallionian siege. Some of them decided to go because of morality, some for glory, and some for treasure... For a week the party was allowed to relax in the town and resupply. Kyle, Hector, and the clergy provided training for the group to better deal with Imperial tactics (hence the level-ups).

The people had made some amazing strides from last time the party was there. The taxes were almost non-existant since there was not much of a government and because of this, and the halfling merchants trade with the elves, kobolds and gnomes, prices for goods had actually dropped to normal prices. Also, the following items were available in the Radnal Ruffian's stockpile for free:

2 Gauntlets
17 Daggers
6 Punch Daggers
5 Light Maces
2 Sickles
6 Clubs
2 Heavy Maces
1 Morningstar
3 Shortspears
8 Longspears
4 Quarterstaffs
4 Spears
210 Crossbow Bolts
4 Light Crossbows
36 Darts
22 Javelins
4 Slings
130 Sling Bullets
12 Throwing Axes
2 Light Hammers
3 Handaxes
2 Light Picks
2 Saps
12 Short Swords
3 Battleaxes
1 Flail
4 Longswords
1 Heavy Pick
3 Rapiers
2 Scimitars
1 Trident
2 Warhammers
2 Glaives
1 Greatclub
2 Halberds
1 Scythe
5 Longbows
3 Shortbows
340 Arrows
1 Bastard Sword
1 Hand Crossbow
3 Sets Padded Armor
2 Sets Leather Armor
1 Set Leather Armor (Small)
2 Sets Studded Leather
1 Set Studded Leather (Small)
1 Hide Armor
1 Chain Shirt
2 Small Wooden Shields
3 Large Wooden Shields
7 Bucklers
7 Backpacks
10 Bedrolls
6 Coils of Rope (100 ft)
Grapple
42 Trail Rations
21 Hard Biscuits
7 Water Flasks
12 Torches
6 Lanterns
5 Tinderboxes
8 Flasks of Oil
2 Tanglefoot Bags
10 Large Sacks
5 Small Sacks
3 Mirrors
2 Bottle of Ink
5 Pieces of Vellum (paper)

Also, because of the distances involved, the party was to be provided with horses (and a mule for Rix) and saddles.

From the Ruffian stash, Silas took 2 large sacks (to use as saddlebags), a coil of rope, the grapple, a small bundle of torches (4), a lantern, 2 flasks of oil, a tanglefoot bag, a mirror, a vial of ink, and the paper. Most of this stuff he kept in the sacks for the horse, but the paper he put into his scrollcase for safety and the vial of ink he secured in his backpack.

Accepting the offer of free equipment graciously, Kel ensured that he had 50 arrows in his quivers, took some trail rations and hard biscuits, a lantern and tinderbox, two flasks of oil, a small sack, a mirror and a tanglefoot bag.

Danica caught up to Rix when the rogue left the storage room and smiled happily, "Oh, Rix! The gnomish delegation came and told everyone about the party's exploits. I'm glad to see you back! Even the gnomes said you acted like a hero, although they didn't seem excited to admit it. How did it go?" The rogue was still annoyed at saving the gnomes, so the conversation he had with Danica was brief, although not totally lacking in humor or warmth.

Dartis was sitting in front of the town square, restringing his newly strengthened bow, when the commoner militia leader, Kyle Radnal came up to him with a white charger in tow. The noble remembered something of the Radnals... and he believed that they used to be part of the nobility once, but he couldn't recall what happened. "Dartis," Radnal said, breaking the noble's thoughts and speaking as if he didn't recognize Dartis' superior status. Suddenly Dartis knew now why Cal Dorin didn't like the man. "I'm sorry to bother you, but I felt that you would like to meet your new companion. This gentleman is 'Swift'. He is yours if you want him," Kyle said, stroking the horse's flanks appreciatively.

As Kyle led up swift, Dartis stood and ran a discerning and practised eye over the horse. "He's a beautiful steed," said Dartis inspecting the forelocks. "My thanks to you for bringing him to me. I have missed the feel of the saddle these last few weeks. I shall take him with me to to salvation of Dorinthia's people." Added Dartis, shrugging off Kyle's social slight.

Dartis spent his time getting to know Swift and testing his capabilities. He also asked around to see if any men were willing to volunteer to go with him, but being very reassuring and supportive of those who did not wish to go. In short, though Baron Dorin led the remaining people to the elven lands, Dartis approached this as though he was now the captain of the military and acted as such. He also spent his time encouraging the men who remained. Observing training, helping with moral, training and defensive preparations where he could. He also tried to find a new cavalry cloak, since his last one was burned rescuing Horatios.

It was not easy for the noble to find a new cloak, since they were specially made for the military and most of the surviving riders took off with them when they went with Cal. With the men missing, their surviving family members (minor nobles) are loathe to part with them. When Kyle Radnal heard about Dartis' search for a new cavalry cloak, he came up with an old one for Dartis from a source unknown. “I heard you needed one,” he said, handing the noble an old, but serviceable cloak. Radnal held onto it for an extra moment when the cavalryman reached out and take it, asking of Dartis, “Wear it well.” It was fitted for a bigger man, but still fit Dartis comfortably around his shoulders.

DM's Note: Kyle Radnal was once a member of the nobility, and a paladin and cavalry officer long ago. He decided he liked Dartis and gave up his own cloak, long in storage.

As Dartis continued to talk to the people, he noticed that Syra and Alexander spoke often to each other on walks and wonder about their relationship.

Meanwhile, Silas Generwine of the Elven delegation met Kel in the newly established embassy just outside the town circle. He sipped his glass of the wine the elves were sharing, but frowned bitterly over it and said, "Kel, Kel, Kel... I just don't know what to make of these stories. It's bad enough that these humans believe in these heroic exploits this group you've been observing is supposedly making, but now the gnomes are beginning to think it, too. And now the pro-Dorinthian faction of the elven council is demanding we send this place more aid." He sighed disgustedly. "Tell me honestly, Kel," Silas Generwine pleaded. "What are they really like? And don't be afraid of honesty. We've known each other for a long time."

Kel sat down beside his old friend and stared into the skies. "Where do I begin?" he mused aloud, his breathing slowing as he thought back on his recent trevails. "All the stories you hear have more than a kernel of truth about them," he began. "The valour of Sir Dartis... he paused and smirked, the appellation leaving a strange taste on his mouth, "can not be questiond. Nor can the bravery of Alexander, or the power of Silas, even Rix has proven himself a valuable ally, even if he is a little short at times." Kel laughed quietly at his jest. "They are good and true Silas, and I find myself wanting to journey with them, wanting to help, wanting to be their friend."

Silas of the elves frowned as Kel spoke. Suddenly, he threw his glass of wine into the nearby fireplace and spun to face the priest, his cheeks flushed red with anger. “Be careful what you say, Kel!” He put a finger in Kel's face, and for a moment the priest saw the human quarter of Silas Generwine's blood in his rage. Silas Generwine's face smoothed once more, although the agitation was still there. The elf delegate slumped into his chair and said softly, “Kel, be careful what you say. The Tallione Empire knows that these people have been hidden by the elves, and their beginning to exert pressure on the Council. The Council is divided on the issue, Kel, and although the pro-Dorinthian faction has become the minority, they are a vocal minority. The majority of the Council has tried to limit news from this area, but already stories about the heroics of these adventurers is beginning to sway our people. Kel, if a decision is to be made to turn these people over to the Imperials for the safety of the Elven kingdom, it will not behoove you to be on the losing side of the argument. Already there have been talks of duels among Council members. As a friend, Kel, I promise to pass the facts you have given me without phrasing it as if you have a personal bias on the subject.” With that, the two elves attempted to talk through the rest of the evening on happier things.

The first night Silas the Human Wizard (not the elf) spent with his family was wonderous, and he wished such moments could last forever. Still, he tried to put worries out of his mind, but he was interrupted on the second day by a knock at the door. When Silas opened it, he saw Fineas, a young man and apprentice to Hector, the supposed magician. "Excuse me, sir," the lad asked, his eyes wide. "I've been meaning to ask you this yesterday... but... sir, I... Sir, I'd like to train under you because of how great they say you are and please don't say no." The lad seemed worried, and rightly so. In a way he was betraying Hector, and normally such a relationship between student and teacher was an unspoken pact of loyalty.

Silas frowned thoughtfully. "I'm not a great man...but I don't expect you'll listen to that now." He thought for a long moment then motioned the lad inside. Once they've both seated themselves at the table Silas continued, "I can't train you...now. In a week or so I'll be leaving again to give aid to our allies the dwarves. If I were to take you on as a student and leave, then what would you do?" Silas shook his head. "However, I will need assistance for preparing for my journey. I'll ask Hector to allow you to help me and then, when I leave you'll still be able to return to Hector's training. We'll see how things stand when I return."

The next morning Silas tracked down Hector in his cottage and asked if he could have the assistance of Fineas in preparing for the journey to the Dwarven lands. Hector didn’t seem pleased with Fineas’ request, and he defensively said, “I don’t know why he went to you. I was an adventurer once, too, you know.” He turned red after he said this, embarrassment on his face as he realized how juvenile he sounded. Hector seemed even more embarrassed after Silas offered him the spellbook. He smoothed his robe with sweaty palms, and took the book from the abjurer, visibly relaxing as he flipped through it.

He then got excited from what he had seen in the book, and was visibly pleased, giving Silas five scrolls in exchange and 300 gold, which was most of his current money. The spells were Alter Self, Resist Energy, Magic Missile, Sleep, Detect Thoughts

“Well, it’s in kobold, but I can probably go to our new neighbors and ask them for help deciphering anything I have trouble with. As for Fineas… I suppose two instructors won’t hurt for a new student. Alright, I’ll have him come to you to help out,” Hector said, then roughly shook Silas' hand.

Fineas worked hard for the abjurer during the next week, and assisted him in magical research. He seemed a sharp and obedient student, and Silas felt that he had promise.
The rest of the abjurer's days passed happily despite the danger to come, and he trained himself in order to better prepare. During the days that followed, Silas performed the familiar ritual, and transfered Scorching Ray and Protection from Arrows to his spellbook.

At the center of town, Alexander looked around for Syra, and found her when she left the administrative building for an errand, with Lady Huffring in tow. Her guardian looked at the half-orc in disapproval, her nose turned slightly upward as if to avoid a bad smell. Syra looked shyly at Alexander at first, which slowly turned to amusement as she watched the reactions between the ranger and Lady Huffring. Finally she asked, "Alexander, I was about to take a walk along the nearby creek. Would you enjoy escorting myself and the lady so that we may have your protection?"

After Alexander joined her she asked, "So, what did you think of my performance today," she asks and then laughs childishly. "I was completely nervous. I only wanted to help father."

"I could escort you for a walk..." -he smiled at her guardian's gesture... it was difficult for anything to bring him down now that he was with Syra.

As they started moving, Alexander answered her questions... maybe a bit bluntly, but he had never seen a need for being delicate "I wasn't expecting your hand to take the handle of the sword..." A pair of seconds... "That's good, it means there is more than meets the eye to you... there is strength within, and so I'm telling you what a madman foretold for me..."

He told her about the incursion into the gnome's hideout, smiling with satisfaction when he remembered the golem's hits and how he was able to stand them. Then he cared to ask about her, what she had been doing while the commando was away, and he listened at her more out of wanting to hear her voice than out of interest. Finally, he decided against telling her about the gnome's prophecy.

Syra hung onto Alexander's every word, her eyes growing wide when the half-orc ranger spoke of the more trying times in his last adventure. When he asked her what she had been doing, she explained, “Nothing so exciting, Alexander. I’ve been handling more of father’s responsibilities since he’s been more ill of late.” Her face dropped for a moment in concern for him.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine, but I’d rather spend my time riding then meeting with all these self-important officials all the time,” she said with a laugh. She had changed, Alexander realized, and walked with more confidence. She had done well for herself in Cal’s absence.

The rest of the half-orc's days passed happily despite the danger to come, and he trained himself in order to prepare. The half-orc did notice Dartis admiring Syra from afar, and wondered what his own thoughts on her are. On his last day of preparation, Syra snuck her hand to hold Alexander's during one of their walks and squeezed it in the rare moments when Lady Huffring wasn’t watching.

The week goes by, and the party members recuperate and prepare. Dartis was given a strong, white charger as a steed. Alexander, Silas, and Kel were also given adequate horses to ride. Rix was given the small mule that was holding a supply of a month’s worth of food for the party. The kobold also sometimes rode with Alexander, and the two spoke often, but normally they traded barbed words in a somewhat joking manner.

Over a hundred men marched behind the group, carrying packs of their own food (two weeks worth each) and improvised weapons, mostly bows and hunting knives. They were gathered by the combined efforts of Dartis and Alexander and followed the party in order to rescue their kin. Most had little experience in combat, and Kyle Radnal kept his growing force of Radnal's Ruffians home to protect the families.

The party had to determine which way to go, the direct week-long journey that would take them through more arid plains close to the mountains, or the lush river journey that arched like a crescent, but took about 12 days to travel.

"Well comrades," Kel said companionably, "from what the men say we should be taking the river route, and, personally, I agree with them. It's just a pity we can't organise some sort of river transport to speed things up. Anyone know anything about the river?" Kel asked at one of their rest stops.

Player of Kel to DM: The men are on foot? We're the only ones mounted?

DM's answer to Kel: The men are on foot, although there are a few mules being used as pack animals. They aren't really organized, and march out in a disorganized column.

Player of Silas to DM: Are there any leaders other than our characters?

DM's answer to Silas: No. There are some older, grizzled veterans, but nobody with command or even NCO experience.

DM's Note: I love how the characters had assumed that they could gather an experienced army after Cal took some good men to the dwarven kingdom while Radnal would not release his Ruffian's to serve. I also enjoyed making them take up a leadership role.

Silas was opposed to bringing men from the village. After his experience in the army he felt that they would only serve to slow them down and likely die at the hands of the empire's troops. However, he only mentioned his objections to Dartis and only one time. After it became clear the men would be coming along, Silas did his best to aid the progress in any way that he could.

Silas was displeased with the disorganization of march and brought the subject up with Dartis and his other companions. He suggested letting the men go by the river way and the small group of his companions go by the plains route in order to scout things out beforehand. He didn't expect this suggestion to be taken and so also suggested that the men be broken up into smaller groups with each of the party directing one of the small groups in the hopes of speeding up the march. He also suggested that Alexander and Rix and possibly some of the more woods-experienced of the men spend time scouting ahead for dangers and potential campsites.

"I understand your concerns Silas, but please remember that we are still at war. It is our people who we are going to save. I took no one who did not volunteer, and we must respect the right and duty of these men to defend their homeland and avenge their losses. Now the key will be to use our forces well. We need a keen mind to plan the best way to maximize our forces," said Dartis, clasping Silas on the shoulder. "So give this some thought. I had a fancy to raid their supply wagons in the rear of their column, cut off their seige and force at least some to retire from it. But put your mind to this task Silas, that will both distract you from your displeasure and make the march go faster for you, Counsellor Silas," added Dartis with a smile.

"There is not a day that passes that I do not worry what will happen when the empire turns its forces to stamping us out completely. I would do anything to stop that from happening and I forgot that these men and women would do no less. Thank you for reminding me of that, Lord Kalnian. I'll think further on what you've said and if you have any other task for me, I'll undertake it gladly."

The river path was chosen by Dartis. He agreed that Alexander, Rix and agile men that were capabale should scout ahead. Along the march Dartis will broke the men up into 10 groups and put one of the veterans in charge of each group. Dartis and Kel and Silas then rode vedette as well as tried to keep the men organized, moving and focused.

The weather was actually pleasant, as the autumn season had just begun. The group travelled along a river that flowed north, then turned east then southeast towards the dwarven lands. The older men knew some marching songs and taught it to the younger members of the troupe.

The large group made it through two days and nights and out of the elven lands without incident, but in the morning they found a horrible sight. The men had taken turns as sentries, each shift encompassing of about eight guards, two standing on each end of the compass. The two guards that were watching the west were found slain, their bellies sliced open, several limbs pulled off, eaten and discarded, and their heads still missing. One of the guards mentioned that he had heard a giggling in the night, but that was the only thing that any of them noticed out of the ordinary.

The bodies were found separate from each other, and you surmise the first guard (found near a bush) went to go urinate and was killed, before the other was snuck upon and murdered.

Silas looked to Alexander. "Can you track it? We left this beast behind twice before and I won't do so a third time."

"As loath as I am to delay our travel, I must agree. We cannot afford to lose any more sentries."

Alexander crouched, and examined the ground before him. After a moment he gave the party a nod. Yes, he could track the thing.

Dartis put a few of the veterans in charge and told the group to stay until the party got back. "Lead on Alexander"
DM's Note: I was surprised they didn't take a handful of men to help.

Kel readied his arms and armour and prepared to ride on the Hunt with his friends. "For the glory of The Huntress," he cried as the small group started to follow the tracks. Silas merely adjusted his gear and followed along.

The party left the militia behind with Rix (whose player was MIA) and on guard as the party hunted the creature. The trail took the group along the river, and then along a branching wide stream with a strong current. They walked another half mile before the adventurers could hear the continuous crash of water. Alexander said that the trail ended at the top of a small waterfall. The group peered below to see a beautiful, large pond 25 feet below them. Figuring the trail would begin again along the pond's edge, the four of adventurers climbed downwards. There were no footprints. It was as if the troll jumped into the pond and disappeared. The waterfall was wide, and fell around a semi-circle of rock.

"I know that there are often caves that lay behind the falls of rivers, carved out of solid rock. Let us examine the sides of the falls to see if we can find some hiding hole for this beast. Otherwise we may have to examine the bottom of this pond. But first, Silas, I have heard that trolls are difficult to kill. How may we finish this creature once and for all?" Dartis mused.

Alexander confirmed what Dartis was saying. He checked near the waterfall and believed he could see a cave behind it.

Meanwhile, Silas searched his memory and told the others what little he remembered hearing about trolls. It was just a jumble of bits and pieces, with no hard facts. "Though Kel might know more..."

Silas and Kel put their heads together and remembered something about fire being able to stop a troll's regeneration. It seemed that trolls were able to heal fast, a fact the group noticed when the creature was cutting through kobolds as if they were paper dolls.

Silas reviewed the arcane words and gestures to the spell that he just recently learned, Scorching Ray, thinking that spell would likely be his best bet against the troll. He tried to peer through the water to see the cave that Alexander had mentioned. Finally satisfied, he adjusted his pack, grasped his staff tightly and said, "Well, shall we see what's back there?"

"We shall," answered Alexander, as he sniffed the air near the entrance and unsheathed both his blades, ready to impale them in a rampaging troll. It was a weird moment to think about it, but suddenly he remembered the elven illusion presented by the mad gnome... and instantly thought of his ancestors... orcs, he had never seen an orc... he shook his head, what kind of thoughts were those? He stepped foward.
DM's Note: Well, Alexander would get his chance much later.

Kel unhooked his lantern from his backpack, made sure it was full of oil, and then lit the wick. Once the lantern was alight he cautiously followed after his friends, the words of a spell sitting comfortably on the tip of his tongue. With any of the troll, he planned to cast barkskin on himself.

The adventurers have to wade up to their waists in the outskirts of the pond and slip in behind the waterfall that pelted water against their heads. Somehow, Kel was able to keep the flame in the lantern dry by hunching his body over it as he moved through behind Alexander.

The cave was rough in shape, and descended steadily downwards. The ceiling was nearly ten feet in height, while the cavern was narrow, with only five feet on average width. A natural ledge formed a foot-wide overhead and continued to match the slope downwards at an angle. It looked like a small creature could fit up there, but unfortunately the party was missing Rix.

The cave widened into a larger cavern after another seventy feet down, although the light from the lantern and the sunlight from outside barely let anyone see into it. They could hear something breathing heavily in the distance, although it didn't move and seemed oblivious to the adventurers' presence. A few stripped bones from humanoids lay strewn by the entrance.

Alexander made signals for his companions to wait just where they were with their lamp, so that he could advance silently in darkness to get though the corridor into the cave.
Then he had second thoughts as he realized he would be isolated. Reconsidering the course of action, he took the lead, but instead of going up ahead, he advanced along with the group. Dartis went second after Alexander, with an arrow nocked and ready.

The party continued on, Kel shading the lantern so that its light was not too revealing. As the group made it the last few steps before the cavern opening, they heard the creature inside heavily sniffing the air. Not waiting for the creature to catch a scent, Alexander moved in followed by the rest of the party.

The cavern was large, about 20 foot radius, with a 20 foot tall ceiling. The troll was at the far end of the room, crimson drool dripping from its chin as it stared up at the intruders from a half-eaten arm it was devouring. It hissed at the group at first, tossed the arm to the far side, cleaned its chin with the back of its forearm, and giggled briefly as it leapt up to a standing position, claws extended.

Alexander charged with a howl, his two blades stabbing at the troll. Although he missed with his scimitar, Alexander's punch dagger found a purchase inside the troll's ribs.
Kel casts his spell, the elf's body becoming akin to a tree. The troll attacked the half-orc, cutting him badly with his claw and nearly dropping him. Dartis moved to the side of the battle, entered the room, and fired two shots, one missing in between the two large combatants, and the second biting deeply into the troll's back, causing it to howl. Dartis also heard a cracking noise nearby, but was unsure of what caused it. Silas advanced to within range while chanting arcane words of power. Stretching out one hand he pointed at the troll and a ray of sizzling light erupted from his palm. The troll screamed in surprise as Silas' spell slammed into his side, scalding the troll severely. A look of fear appeared on the creature's face, and for a moment it looked as if he might flee into the far side of the room.

DM's Note: Dartis failed to examine his surroundings. The ground was weak here and beginning to crumble.

After seeing the fearful look of the troll as the fiery rays came to impact the creature, Alexander opted for a more crafty approach. He prepared himself to fend off any attack with the intention of cornering the beast... But then he remembered the regeneration! So he -again- drove both his blades with the intention to hack bones apart from flesh before the cuts could close.

Alexander watched as his previous stab healed completely, although two arrows were still stuck in the troll and it was still burned. The half-orc angrily attacked again, but missed both times, his blades bouncing off the creature's skin. Dartis had the same problem as he fired, both arrows glancing off of tough hide. Kel charged forward next, slashing the creature and leaving a trail of blood along its forearm. The troll attacked in a rage, concentrating on Kel. A claw raked the cleric, although the other claw missed. The creature also bit at the elf, bloodying his bicep badly. The blood loss nearly caused the priest to collapse.

Silas cast his spell, but had to get within 5 feet of the troll and just behind his two allies in melee to cast it without getting Kel and Alexander in his cone. The spell did severe damage to the troll, searing it in the face and enraging it further, although it remained standing... and looking angrily at the abjurer.

The party heard a sharp cracking noise, although it was difficult to tell its source since the sound bounced in the echo of the cavern. Worried about the audible cracking, Alexander yelled at his companions behind him, "Look at the entrance!" He then started shifting his position slowly to get to flank with the elf, attacking at the same time to avoid retribution from the troll and try to divert its attention from his friend.

DM's Note: I had thought that the party would avoid direct conflict with the troll because of their level and was planning to have him continue snacking on their friends and allies (and maybe even enemies) until they were tough enough to take him on. Instead they bravely (foolishly?) decided to take him on and now had their priest and tank in the single digits, were out of fire spells, and the troll would have a full attack next round. I intervened...

Silas looked around to try to determine the source of the cracking noise. Dartis took the oil and lamp from Kel to free him up to fight, and circled around to help Alexander flank the beast, ready to pour oil on it.

Alexander attacked once more, slicing the creature badly with his scimitar, but missing with his off-hand blade. Kel attacked also, but missed as he was wary of the creature's attacks. Dartis took the oil from Kel and tossed oil onto the creature, burning it. It bellowed in pain and swung at the archer, opening a small wound in his shoulder (that took off half his hit points). It then stumbled between Kel and Alexander and in front of Silas. In anger it moved to attack the abjurer that burned it so badly.

Silas was looking downwards at the moment, as he discovered that the loud cracking noise was coming from the floor. Multiple cracks had been appearing from the weight of the party's battle, making spiderweb patterns, and the magic-user realized that the ground was about to collapse.

He stared in horror as one last pronounced crack appeared from the wall near Alexander's legs, twisted in the shape of a semi-circle, and moved to meet the end of another large crack by the cavern's entrance next to Silas. As the cracks met, and the floor gave way, Silas took one last look at the troll heading towards him and thought, "Oh hell..."

The floor collapsed from underneath the group, and they, and the troll, tumbled far, far below into the depths...and met suddenly with the ground...
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Each of the party members landed inside a jelly-like substance, which reaked of decayed, but sickeningly sweet food. The goo was soft enough to break the fall without anyone being injured when they finally reached the ground. The adventurers rolled out of the jelly, only to see the large shape of the troll land on the rock floor with a thud in front of them. It seemed he missed the various pockets of goo. The creature got up shakily, his regeneration beginning to repair the damage that he had taken.

As the group glanced around they saw that they were in another large cavern, and they could no longer see the last cavern from whence they fell from. It was too dark, and the distance too far. Also, the party was covered in the nasty jelly and struggled to keep the stuff out of their eyes as they somewhat successfully wiped their various faces with dirty sleeves. Strange, amber stones were placed inside the walls and gave a soft, dull light that allowed the adventurers to see their surroundings better.

On either side of the group was a band of armored insect men, each wielding a weapon in their hands. From the looks of things they were about to war with one another, but the group's strange entrance seemed to have shocked them into a temporary peace. As the party regained a hold on their weapons, the troll gave a worried giggle and began to lope towards Alexander, slowly. It was evident to him that he wouldn't be escaping past the surrounding creatures.

In turn, the group also prepared to finish the battle. But first, one of the ant-like men began to beat his spear into the ground, creating a primitive rythm. Ant-men on both sides took up the beat, some stamping their strange feet while others clashing blades on shields. Like gladiators of Tallione, the party and the troll circled each other for the kill amidst the anticipating spectators.

For Alexander, the change of scenary, altough a surprise, was quickly relegated to the background... the troll was still standing. Deciding that studying his opponent wasn't an option when it healed at a vigorous rate, Alexander warned, "If I fall, get my potion," before jumping again against the troll.

Silas gaped as he picked himself up from the ground. He tried to rub off as much as the goo as he was able, or at the least, enough so that he could move without hindrance. Seeing the troll pick himself up and begin circling, Silas sighed, forcefully intoned a word of power, and flicked a finger toward the troll. A greenish ball of liquid soared through the intervening space...

Alexander attacked, but some of the goo disrupted his vision and his blades bounced off the creature's rubbery hide. Kel's swing was more effective, and it cut deeply into the troll's flesh. Dartis moved in next, flanking the creature before his bow fired twice, despite the slickness of the goo around his bowstring. His first arrow slammed deeply into the creature's back, tossing it to the ground, but the next shot went wide and glanced off Kel's thigh, injuring the priest. The troll writhes in agony as it attempts to rip the arrow out of its body, but it stopped and gave one last pitiful giggle as Silas stood over it and flicked a final blast of acid into its face. After a long twitch, the large creature lay dead, half of its wounds caused by fire and acid.

DM's Note: So much for my reoccuring villian.

The ant-men on both sides cheered the show, and both groups moved towards the warriors. As they neared each other they began to banter in a strange chittering language. The ant-men looked similar to one another, except that one side was brown in color and the other group red. It was evident that they were arguing over the party since they brandished their weapons threateningly, but the red ant-men were the first to back down after the brown ant-men point to the mounds of slimy goo that the group had landed in.

After the red group backed down, a large brown ant-man approached the party and pointed to a tunnel behind him with his spear. It seemed he wanted the adventurers to go inside the passage. There were nearly twenty of these ant-men in each of the two groups.

The half-orc did not sheathe his blade, and instead -as an answer to the brown ant's pointing- he pointed upwards with his left arm, then he pointed to his companions, and pointed again firmly upwards. "Had enough with tunnels," he mumbled.

The brown ant-men looked at each other and shrugged. It was evident that they did not understand the common language. One that stood behind Alexander pushed him a bit more forcefully with the butt of a spear. From the jolt, it seemed that these creatures were somewhat strong.

Silas shrugged and glanced at the troll. Looking towards the ant-men with an obvious look of excitement he said, "Perhaps we should go as they direct. They seem pretty serious and well, they do outnumber us."

Alexander mumbled something else about tunnels, looked upwards longingly, and followed Silas.

"Besides which we have no way to climb back up anyway, so let us press onward. Thus far they have not slain us so hope remains," said Dartis as he followed the antmen.

Kel nodded in agreement with his friends, and he grimaced in pain as he looked at the blood still flowing from his wounds and uttered a quick prayer to the Huntress to cure his wounds.

The creatures guided the party through what felt like several miles of tunnels, and during the journey the group noticed smaller ant-men working at digging at more passages and collecting food, which the adventurers watch them sometimes eat and regurgitate into a smelly, decayed goo, which was piled and stored in various corners. Many of them stopped to watch the intruders for a moment before going back to work.

Finally, the escorts guide the party to a final cavern, where a larger ant-man in armor stood over a naturally-made desk of solid stone. Scraped on its surface were various notes, cleanly made in a language that the party could not understand. The guards got his attention with some chittering, and he stopped his studies to look at the party in surprise. After a moment he motioned the group towards him and said, "Do you understand me? I think this is your language, bipeds. My fellow formians say you landed among them before they had a chance to wreck our enemies' food supplies. I take it this was accidental."

Silas looked from the ant-man to his companions and back again. "Yes," he began. "It was an accident. We tracked the troll after it killed some of our people and the floor where it holed up collapsed beneath us. Is there a way out of these caves?"

Alexander, completly stunned at all this, was with his alarms all on, ready to be set off at the minimal incident... this was far too weird for him. So this was how an antmound looked inside... worse than the gnomes' tunnels.. Deciding to let the arcanist do the talking against tunnel-dwelling... ants?, the half-orc just examined the room, already considering the desk as a spot for Dartis and Silas to take cover, and the exit for him and Kel to block it if necessary.

"There is no real easy way out, except perhaps by climbing the walls from where you had come. Probably not an easy task. There is a tunnel that leads from between my territory and my enemies' that goes to the surface, but it is a day's journey and I cannot spare the men since we are in open warfare with our opponents. However, if my enemies were somehow removed... say with a dose of poison in their food supply," he tapped a small barrell filled with a foul liquid as he mentioned this. "Well, if something horrible like that were to happen, then I'd have nearly all my men free to aid you. Of course, it would have to be delivered by someone they might not suspect to be an enemy..." If a formian could smile, his face would have showed one.

"Then perhaps you have some rope we could borrow to climb back out of the hole we made," replied Dartis with a stern face. These were Rix's kind of people, he thought. All the better that the damned kobold wasn't there, who knew what kind of mischief the formians and he would brew up.

"Rope?" The large formian looked at Dartis with a puzzled expression until the noble explained it to him. Then he dismissed the idea, "We have no need for such materials in the underground."

"Fine, then permit us to climb back out of the hole." replied Dartis.

The noble felt the tension rise as the formian leader looked at him sharply. After a moment, though, he seemed to visibly calm down and pointed to a small worker ant-man. "Fine. Do it the hard way then. This worker will guide you to the outskirts of our territory and point out the tunnels of our enemies before leaving you to fend for yourself. It is in their territory that you had fallen. Off with you now!"

The ant-man worker was smaller than the soldier formians, but had the same tone of black on his carapice. He waited for the group to follow him.

Dartis gave a stiff bow to the leader. "Thank you for your generosity," he said quite sincerely and followed the smaller worker ant out.

"Please, hold a moment, Dartis," said Silas quickly. Turning to the lead ant-man he said, "Poisoning is not an accepted practice among our people and so we cannot in good conscience do this thing for you. But maybe we can earn your aid by aiding you in another way. What is the cause of this warfare between you and this other people?"

The formian leader shrugged and said, "We started fighting in our home plane far from this place because our queens declared that there was not enough resources to go around. Therefore the strong dominate the weak and take the resources available, as has been done for countless years. This time, however, one queen used powerful magic that ripped a section of the battlefield from the plane of Mechanus and brought us to this world. Here there were resources, although no queen to continue our race. A truce occured, as a nearby human village dumped enough discarded food in their waste pits for both our groups to live on. It is likely that we would all eventually die of old age anyway, so why war with the abundance of food? Recently these humans we depended upon were killed and captured by another hive of humans. With no more food waste easily grabbed from the waste pits, our groups have been starving. It is the old struggle for food again, and if we do not continue the war soon in order to deplete our populations, it is likely that both our groups will starve as there is only enough resources in the earth and above to sustain half us formians. As leader of these formian brothers, I am determined that our group will have the least casualties when war comes," he said, tapping the barrel of poison once more as a hint.

Alexander looked at Dartis and said, "We could try and free the captured ones after answering the dwarves' call... That should settle it." Poison is part of nature's arsenal, but poisoning food is vile, it must never be considered an option.

Silas looked over at Alexander with a slight frown. Does he realize what the possibility of forming an alliance with these creatures could do for our cause? "We need allies now, Alexander. After the battle may be too late." Silas turned his attention back to the formian. "Our people, too, are at war. If we can solve your problem without loss of life, would you lead your warriors against our enemies?"

"Silas... we can't stay here, we must make haste." Fighting by our side?! allies?! these food-poisoning, tunnel-city-dwelling giant ants? The thirst of my blade won't suffer further delay, not now that we are in our way to quench its thirst. "We can't afford any delay."

Delay? The word sounded strange coming from his lips. I guess the military terminology is sticking to Alexander. Silas looked like he would like to argue but instead ignored Alexander and awaited the formian leader's answer. Although he didn't care about the formian seeing them discuss the offer, he is intrigued by what will be its answer. He didn't mention the men they had to lead just because seeing how these creatures operate, it wouldn't surprise him if they considered the better choice to take them as hostages and to use their men's strength against the other ants... plus, that would mean a longer delay.

The formian considered Silas' words and then answered, "If you could solve our problems then there would be no need to fight. However, your solution still leads us to our deaths, and if half of us aren't killed we would still need to fight one another. If we followed you, we would be fighting others instead of each other, but then we would gain the animosity of these others. Also, we would be far from the underground tunnels and vulnerable, and we don't know what food source would be available at the place you wish to fight. No, it makes more logical sense for us formians to stay here and slaughter each other."

Silas gaped for a minute, baffled by the formian's logic. Finally, nodding, he said, "I see. You would rather pointlessly slaughter other formians than take a chance on finding new caves with a nearby human hive to aid you in finding food. In that case, we'll accept your guide to the cave-fall."

The formian nodded in agreement and motioned his smaller compatriot to guide the group. The smaller ant-man led the party out of the territory and towards a large tunnel. It pointed at tehm and then to the opening, signalling that they should continue without it.

The formian scurried away as the party went down the tunnel, and it took them directly to the caves of the other formian tribe. Red formian workers glanced at the adventurers, deemed them no danger, and then carried on with their labors. It was not until the group reached the large cavern with the hole that the party fell through that they saw any soldiers. These formians also didn't attack the adventurers, spending their time instead in helping the soldiers move their food further down the tunnels. A large red formian, as big as the leader of the black ones, stared at the party intently as they gazed into the darkness above from whence the group fell.

Silas approached the large red formian and bowed. "Do you understand my language?"

The formian cocks his head slightly to the side and hissed, "Little understand, yes..."

"It is dangerous for your people to remain here. The other formians plan to taint your food and while you are sick and dying start war to kill you so that they can have all the food and living space."

The formian thought this over for a moment and then said, "It is logical. If he removes us, then food problem is no more. I would rather kill him, take control of his men, and send scouts to find a better source of food, but still... his way is logical and would save time I would likely waste."[/color]

Exasperated, Alexander exclaimed "They will try and poison you, do, or do nothing about it, either way it's fine with us!" how could these creatures ever survive?

Alexander looked upwards, trying to discern how much they fell. Unfortunately, the half-orc could barely see a speck of light above and had to guesstimate that they fell something between 40 and 70 feet.

Silas fully understood Alexander's frustration and was about ready to scream himself. "Would it not be better if you had a home away from such threat? We could show you such a home but would need your help against those who threaten us."

The ant-man's interest perked up at Silas' words. "What home is this? Does it have more food?"

"Caves. Many days from here. I don't know what kind of food you eat but other creatures used to live there so I'm sure food could be found. But my own people are threatened by war and I must help them before I can help you or they will all be killed."

The creature thought once more and answered, "Perhaps this be better, if more food could be found. If you willing to give scouts to lead our own scouts there, and talk to our enemies to send theirs peacefully, then we would be interested in making the attempt. What you need in return? Nothing free."

Silas nodded. "True, nothing is free. But I wish to be certain we understand one another. Your hive will move to new caves that we will show you, leaving these caves for the other formians? In return we wish for formian warriors to aid us against those that war on our hive."

The formian shook its head. "It makes no sense us to leave here and chance unknown territory, then die in your battles, when we can stay here in what we know and die in own battles. Still, we will help your leaving since you distract us from real enemy," the ant-man said. He motioned to two of his own workers and said something in a strange language.

Very quickly they began digging, creating a sloping ramp towards the surface from whence the party fell.

Silas sighed. He was mentally exhausted from trying to communicate with the formians and understand their weird logic. He turned to his companions and said that if any of them had any better ideas they should speak up. Silas then just waited, trying to stay out of the formians way as they worked.

Tired? confused?... Resignated! Alexander was exhausted thanks to the tunnels and the clicking and the alien logic and the poisoning and... breathing heavily and restraining himself so as not to sink half-a-foot of steel though the ant-man's chest, Alexander led the ascencion, silent and with his hands curled into fists. Had I been alone I would have started combat... that would have been stupid.

The formian leader gave Silas one last gift before the abjurer followed the half-orc: the cleaned skull of the troll that was killed. Silas accepts the skull from the formian reluctantly and said, "Thank you for your assistance. If things do not go well for you our village is not far from here, though it may be some time before we are able to return there. However, we will still be willing to help you." Uncertain of formian custom he awkwardly raisee one hand in farewell and began the ascent.
With the aid of these formians the party was able to climb out of these maddening depths and back to a world that now seemed normal in retrospect. As they moved to leave the waterfall cave, the dim sounds of ringing steel and screams reached the adventurers' ears from the territory below them. The formians' war had started anew.

At the rim of the pit Silas stopped and looked down into the darkness. The ring of steel against steel and the screams of battle echoed up the shaft and Silas sighed. It's all so senseless. If only I had been able to persuade them. Turning back to his companions he smiled wearily and followed them down to where the horses were left.

DM's Note: The formians would have made formidable allies for the party, so I purposely made this quest difficult. If the party either poisoned one side (an evil act) or helped the red leader take over all formians by killing the other leader (neutral act), they would have gained an ally. At no time would the formians willingly fight against the Tallione Empire since they would have been involved in an unknown danger. That was not logical to the formians. The good act would have been to tell both formian leaders that the new Dorinthian refugee village had enough waste for them to eat if the ant-men would like to reside alongside the humans. They would have accepted the offer, and if the Dorinthian home was ever endangered, the formians would have seen their source of food also endangered, and would have moved to aid the Dorinthians in such a conflict. This quest wasn't solved, and instead the formians went back to killing one another. Silas made mention of his village, but not that there was enough food for both hives.

Exhausted, tired, and hungry, the adventurers arrived back at the camp in the middle of darkness. Two men on duty almost shot Dartis as he surprised the jumpy militia when he appeared in the moonlight. The Dorinthians greeted the party enthusiastically, and are even more excited with the news that the troll had been slain. After a few moments the group was back to their sleeping mats near the center fire. Rix saw them and askeds, "Where the hell have you been?" It seemed nothing had happened in the day that they had been gone, except that each of their companions worried for the party in their own way.

Alexander pointed at the skull Silas was carrying "Remember the Dragon Eye's pet?"

Silas smiled. "Good to see you again, Rix. Unfortunately we were delayed." He held up the skull when Alexander answered and pointed in Silas' direction.

After a brief victory celebration, the party gathered up the remains of their two dead guards, and four of the militiamen insisted on returning home to give them a proper burial. But first Ornal, a weather-worn old woodsman, demanded that Kel and Alexander say some proper words for the dead in the way of their religion.

Kel spoke words of strength and comfort for those gathered and sent the dead men to their peace.

Altough he knew that some wouldn't like the prayer, Alexander said it over the rest of the mangled bodies: "May they feed the wolves and make the beasts as strong and brave as they were in life." As strange as it might sound for some, as uneasyness appeared among the men -wondering whether that was an insult or a blessing-, the half-orc explained that that was one of the honours of the Lady, to allow one's prowess to continue within the Circle.

This was different from the gnomish illusions of fey long dead of ages old, and different than the fate of the captured souls within the kobold zombies. The spirits of the dead men might travel swiftly into a new vessel.
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
The party continued leading the rest of the men, and although several became sick along the way, all made it to the end of the journey more than a week later. The group was still hidden partially by forest, but before them lay wide plains filled with overgrown wheat and tall grass. In the distance the force led by the party could see the mountains of the dwarves, perhaps only another half day's march away. From their location they could see numerous black specks, like columns of ants, that represented a legion of men: Alexander and Dartis correctly guessed by the campfires that more than a thousand Tallione soldiers were laying a seige against their dwarven allies.

Alexander directed his next question at Dartis, that noble warrior, who he felt knew more of working with large numbers of men: "Say, how do we sneak our numbers through that?"

"Who said we are going to," replied Dartis with a grin, clasping the half-orc on the shoulder.

Dartis gathered his party up. "Now we have several options here as I see it. But we need to get a message into the dwarven holds. Silas or Kel is there anyway for either of you to get a message into there through your powers?"

"The first thing we need is to scout out those lands better." said Dartis with a meaningful glance at Rix. "Alexander, take a few men with some woods experiance and circle around and get a better estimation of forces, supply locations, command tents and use of roads."

"My plan currently is to make a small attack in the rear of the column and destroy their supply lines. If we can get a message, or a messenger into the caverns we can coordinate an attack from the dwarven holds that should catch them turned around trying to find the enemy attacking from behind them. Now at worst, should that fail, I say we surround the plain, and set it ablaze. The fire should burn quickly through this grass, and leave the forest. The fire would drive the Tallione horse wild and cause the men to run about. We can pick them off as they flee. Again it would be best if the dwarves and the rest of the Dorinthians attacked at drive off what they could. What are your thoughts on how we should proceed?"

Silas looked thoughtful but eventually, reluctantly, shook his head. "Unfortunately, I am unable to use my magics in that fashion. I just don't have the skill." He continued to listen as Dartis outline his plan, nodding in approval, but had little to add.

Rix shrugged and said, "Sure I can get in there. Although I'm sure those dwarves would love to see a kobold slipping inside their place. Do you want me to go now or at night? If I can't find a way in at the entrance, do you want me to search in other areas? And what's our food situation like?"

Checking on their food, the party found that they and their men had a week of supplies still left, which was barely enough for a return trip with foraging along the way.

"I'm afraid I have no more magical power to communicate with those inside than you do," Kel said to Dartis. "And I'm afraid I'm not used to this type of warfare." Kel indicated the swarming mass of the enemy army. "But I will do what I can, rest assured. And I'll start by going with the scouting party"

It seemed everyone was standing around looking for guidance and nothing was happening and so Silas sighed, stepped up, and began giving out orders. "We need to know what's going on so Rix, scout for now. Once we find out more then maybe you can make an attempt to gain entrance to the dwarven stronghold. Smaller scouting groups will be less likely to be discovered so no more than one or two together."

He pointed to one veterans planning to scout. "You. Take several men with you and scout back the way we came. We'll need a camp. This location is a little close; I don't want their outriders to stumble over us. Also look for potential ambush sites where we can lead their troops and...get to it. I want you back here with news before the sun sets."

He stood looking at the gathered scouts. "Keep low. Don't take any unnecessary risks. Return when you have some information to impart." He raised one fist in salute. "For Dorinthia!"

Although surprised at Silas' outburst, the camp quickly began to bustle with activity. Rix prepared to go, checking his equipment before disappearing into the tall grass of the plains.

As the scouts got ready to leave, one young lad passed the abjurer and yelled in support, "For Dorinthia!" The pitch was a little high, though, causing some of the party to stop and stare at the youngster suspiciously.

The youth blushed, clearly embarrassed from being noticed. Before the lad could walk off, Alexander walked behind the youngster and removed his cap. Long hair fell from the hat, and that's when the group realized the young man was actually a very young woman.

"Danica Swann!" Alexander said in surprise. This was trouble. Kyle Radnal was not going to be happy to find that his surrogate daughter had gone off with the militia forces to face the Imperials.

"Hi," said Danica hesitantly. She looked down, and quickly up again, then bit her lip. She quickly grabbed for her cap and put it back on. "It's been a while..." She was smiling, and looked around nervously in case she was seen by one of Kyle's friends. But then she turned back to smile at her fellow adventurers.

"Long time indeed," Alexander said as he shook her hand while hoping for her to have "matured" and avoid hugging him like the last time. He then took the wand recovered from the goblin shaman and presented it to Silas. "This is bound to be useful in this situation, I'm not sure if it is still working, though."

"Alexander!" Danica squealed, and took his huge hand when it was offered. She felt like even more of a child as she reached up to take it, but enjoyed the warmth of his hand. As they shook, she felt stupid, and her lips twisted into an odd embarassed grimace of mock seriousness.

"Danica?" Silas grinned from behind Alexander as he took the wand, then laughed as he focused entirely on Danica, genuinely pleased to see the young woman who first welcomed him into the party. "Since you left, I've moved beyond gathering sticks and watching fires. I hope you've been well. Rix should be around here somewhere..." He looked around a bit but turned back shrugging. "It's good to see you."

"Oh, dear, sweet Rix," Danica said impulsively, looking around as she rose to her tip-toes, in hopes of seeing him, but without luck. "And you, Silas. You have come a long way indeed. I'm still lugging a crossbow," she said smiling, as she lifted her weapon, as if she needed to offer proof. She was still blushing slightly. "To be honest, I feel a little out of place here," she added, looking about as she lowered the crossbow.

Silas shook his head. "You shouldn't feel out of place. Your experience with the Ruffians should serve you well here. So," he motioned in the directions of the Tallione camp over the rise beyond, "do you have any suggestions concerning our situation?"

Seeing the reunion of old friends, Dartis allowed some time for pleasantries before approaching Silas and Danica. "Well Silas, I take it our stowaway is known to you," said Dartis with a grin. "Welcome to our small band of fighters. I am Dartis Kalnian. I can only hope your being here is a testament your love of Dorinthia, as our mutual friend here Silas has."

Silas blushed and quickly directed the subject away from himself, "Lord Dartis Kalnian, this is Danica Swann."

When Dartis introduced himself, Danica unknit her eyebrows and took his hand, too, "Yes. Hello. Um." She tried again, retrieving her hand and self-counsciously wiping it on her dress, and then stopped when she realized how she must look like. "My Lord. I'm Danica Swann." She said with more courage as she did a small courtsy. "Let me serve you and Dorinthia as best I can." Dartis welcomed her warmly into the party.

The group parted their ways as Silas and Danica spoke... Rix had already gone, and from the distance he had to cross, it would be up until a day until the party would see him again. Unable to find forest that allowed them to get closer to the Imperials, Kel and Alexander cut through the dry vegetation, but their taller bodies were not able to blend into the tall grass in Rix's manner. Still, they moved through the plains, their bodies crouched and moving swiftly, until they became to the watching Dorinthians two dark specks in the large field.

What Kel and Alexander experienced:
It took a number of hours until the duo began to make out some of the Imperial numbers. The Tallione force looked to be a mix of heavy and light infantry, significant cavalry, and some few archers. Still, they needed to get closer and get a better look in order to make a better estimation of numbers and to check on where their logistical supplies were held. They were still about a mile away from the center of the camp, and the grass could hide the two, but disappeared near the start of the mountain side. The pickets of the Imperial formation was perched on a red, rocky and barren hill.

"Kel, do we keep approaching and return at night? I see far better than them, and might see when they see not if the Huntress provides a clouded night."

The elf considered the army and then looked at Alexander "Yes I think your plan has merit but I don't think we should return to camp, I think we should just wait here. Night approaches anyway and in the hours that we wait we may observe something useful."


What Dartis experienced:
Dartis and some of the other men started picking up bundles of dried wood and stacking them at the tall grass in order to burn them later and start a fire. They were nearly done when several of the woodsmen came back and reported two possible places to make camp. One was on some large rocky hills inside the forest that could give a height and observation advantage to the defenders, but it was not near a water source and it was not quite autumn yet, making it fairly hot for those standing for long on the rocks. The other one was near where the river the band had followed ended. A small lake was there, shaped like a bowl and surrounded by large trees. It was hard to observe an enemy coming and wasn't very defensible, but the group would have a water source and likely game to hunt. Both were about four miles north of the group's current position, the lake straight north, and the hills northwest.

What Rix and Chalik experienced:
The situation was looking dim for the dwarven clan of Bermax. The Imperials had blockaded the main gates of the underground kingdom for weeks now and it would soon lead to food rationing. What was worse, the king had to feed a number of refugees from the remnants of Dorinth. Some factions advocated giving the humans up to the Imperials. But news of the heroism displayed of late from the remnants of the Dorinthians was brought to the dwarves by their delegation to the humans (which included Chalik) and the gnomes to the southwest had swayed the dwarves to help the Dorinthians.

It was still possible for the dwarves to avoid the Imperial blockade by use of secret, alternate entrances. The problem was that small groups of Imperial horsemen had also made steady patrols, making movement outside difficult. Because of Chalik's skill at stealth, he was asked to do reconaissance on the enemy lines. As the dwarven rogue skirted the edge of the enemy lines, he was reminded of the danger of his actions when he saw a struggling, captured kobold tied against a Tallione rider's saddle. As Chalik watched, he realized that the kobold was Rix, an adventurer whose exploits helped make the refugees to the west be seen as heroes. If Rix was here, his companions could not be too far away. Chalik's blood was pumping hard with the realization that the humans were coming to the dwarves' aid, and he moved from behind boulder to boulder, using them for cover until he got to behind the enemy lines and overlooked where the mountains met the plains. If Rix's allies were there, they would be hiding in the tall, dry grass of the plains.

Sure enough from Chalik's view through a hole in a boulder he hid behind, the dwarf saw two dark shapes move forward slightly to spy on the Imperials, then drop again to hide within the grass when horsemen were heard. Behind the two adventurers a group of six horsemen rode hard towards the Imperial forces, slowing though as they approached the start of the mountains. If they continued in their direction they would pass right over the two shapes Chalik had just observed...

Back to Kel and Alexander:
The duo agreed to move when it got dark, but they both noticed a small dwarf run from behind a boulder to one closer to you. It seemed to be scanning the tall grass for something, and his eyes peered out from a cleft in the rock. Kel and Alexander were close enough to where the plains met the mountain terrain to recognize him. It was Chalik Bermax, someone who had travelled with the dwarven delegation to the Dorinthian refugee camp, and who was said to have spoken well of the Dorinthian exploits in the court of the dwarven king. The half-orc and elf moved forward a few feet to get a better look at him, and perhaps get his attention. He seemed to see the duo, but then his head disappeared from behind the boulder as the sound of hooves could be heard from behind. Taking Chalik's reaction as a warning, the two men ducked back in the tall grass. They couldn't see what was coming, but it sounded like a handful of riders, all moving close to the duo's position and towards the Imperial lines.

What Silas, Dartis, and Danica experienced:
Because of the low supplies, Dartis and Silas sent the men to the lake to camp, although Danica, Silas, and Dartis along with a handful of men went to check out the site with the rocky hills, in case they had to go somewhere more defensible and would have time to move their small force of men. When they reached the hills, they saw that the hills were actually strangely-shaped piles of red rock surrounded by a large field of short grass. The party's hundred men would have the advantage of high ground if placed here, although archers would quickly ruin their day since the position would be exposed.

The group discussed about possible avenues of defense while their three soldiers checked on a previously unnoticed cave near the base of the hill. Suddenly all three men scrambled out of the tunnel, and the party mistakenly found their screams to sound somewhat bestial until Danica realized their yelling was being drowned out by two brown bears that burst from the entrance and seemed most unhappy about being disturbed. Two of the men were armed with spears, and nervously tried to keep the beasts at bay with their weapons. The third that was in the front and armed only with a short sword, made a break for it and tried to run behind the trio of adventurers instead of behind his closer companions, which was the wrong move. One of the two bears broke away from the spear-wielding men and attempted to chase him down, and now both panicking soldier and enraged bear quickly barreled towards the heroes.

DM's Note: At this point Rix became an NPC, but the party regained Danica (human Sorcerer) as well as had Chalik (dwarven Fighter/Rogue) join.
 
Last edited:

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
What Danica, Silas, Dartis experienced:

Danica took a step to the right as she raised her crossbow to allow a path between her and Dartis to fire without hitting the running man. Pfft. She released the bolt into the bear, wounding it slightly while Silas quickly cast his extended Mage Armor. Dartis wheeled his horse to the front of the group so the man could hide and fired a pair of arrows at close range at the bear. "Stand firm men," called Dartis to the other two spearmen, "We'll eat well tonight." Dartis' two arrows sped towards the creature, one grazing it slightly while the other round penetrated deep into the beast's arm. In a rage, it took a swipe at the man running away from it, but missed. The other two men weren't as lucky. One of the spearmen had a gash opened in his shoulder by the bear's claw, and he fell in shock. The other one screamed in panic, and missed his jab at the now bloodied bear in front of him.

"Aiiiaiiiaiii!" Yelling and wildly waving his quarterstaff in large arcs over his head, Silas dashed forward to interpose himself in between the fleeing soldier and the nearest bear.

Danica smiled in satisfaction as she realized that her first bolt connected, and though she had not yet begun to breathe again, she was proud of herself for holding her ground. This time, however, Danica missed her shot, though Silas' staff cracked the bear against the side of its head. The beast looked to be in bad shape, and made a pitiful swipe at Silas that bounced off his magical armor. Danica cursed herself for missing a point blank shot, but exhaled, inhaled, and fired a third bolt at the wounded creature.

Meanwhile, the second bear cut down the second spearman, both claws slamming down on top of the poor man, and its jaws crunching down upon the man's neck with a sickly spray of blood. The bear yelled in anger, however, as Dartis rode by the creature and plucked two arrows deep into its side as the nobleman tried to attract its attention away from his fallen men.

Silas twirled his staff once more, and connected solidly against the first bear's ribs, causing it to roar feebly. The bear returned the attack, missing with the first swipe, but nearly lifting Silas off his feet with the next and causing blood to flow from the abjurer's chest. As the huge beast opened its large maw to snap at the stunned abjurer, a crossbow bolt flew past Silas' head and buried itself deep through the roof of the bear's mouth. It tumbled next to the wizard, flopped once with a mighty twitch, and lied still, dead. Danica smiled at the shocked Silas, pleased with her critically successful shot.

Dartis fires twice more at the other bear, his first shot hitting hit once more, while the second shot went wide. The bear charged the rider while his horse pranced nearly out of the way. Nearly, except for the strong swipe that rocked Dartis from off his horse, causing him to fall painfully to the ground and his horse to dance away once more. Although fairly wounded, the brown bear moves closer to finish Dartis off... it was five feet from Dartis and 30 feet from Danica and Silas.

Silas stared at the sky, coughed, rolled over, and spit blood from having bitten his tongue. Groaning, he warily looked at the bear lying next to him. Thank the gods I was magically protected or I'd be dead... "Thanks, Danica." He flinched at the pain of his battered ribs. "I think I owe you... He trailed off as he heard the roar of the second bear engaging Dartis. He turned to see the other bear towering over the nobleman and instinctively reached for his staff only to discover it lying some distance away. He cursed, then quickly began chanting words power and pointing at the bear as a ray of blinding light began to form on his fingertips.

"Hee hee!" Danica smiled at Silas, her voice rising to a squeak on the second note of her giggle. She shrugged a shoulder as she moved to look where he gazed, "Just a sec." She turned, looked at the other bear, aimed and fired. Pfft.

Dartis may have landed with a painful thud, but rose quickly shrugging off the pain in his bleeding shoulder for the moment, taking in the new reality of his situation, Dartis drew his sword and struck at the bear. It was Danica's bolt that flew first, her shot burying into the large bear before it could maul Dartis. It let out a roar and stood up on its hind legs, as Dartis took the opportunity to get up and attack the creature. Both Dartis and the bear hacked at one another simultaneously, a fountain of blood billowing forth from both individuals, causing the nobleman to fall to his knees and grasp his sliced open shoulder. Silas cast his own spell, a beam of hot light coming forth and burning a hole into the bear just as it raised a paw to slap Dartis back down. The beast didn't even have a chance to cry out, despite its jaw being contorted in agony. Its guts were blown out as a hole was made through the bear, and it too flopped to its side and died.

The three party members were victorious, the only sound now heard being that of their own breath, the frightened grunts of a fellow swordman and horse, and the dying moans of the surviving spearman who lay on the ground and bled his life away.

Danica felt like collapsing to the ground herself, her knees buckling from the excitement. But she stayed on her feet, and looked at her companions. "Who's hurt? Is there anything I can do?" She lowered her crossbow and started moving to see if Dartis was alright. "Can I help you, my Lord?"

Silas hurried to the dying spearman murmuring, "Hold on, hold on," all the way. He did his best to bandage the man's wounds and make him comfortable and to give him company. Although it was too late to save the spearman that was mauled by the bear, Silas was able to stabilize the second one. He was in bad shape, but Silas was able to rip apart some of his cleaner pieces of his tunic in order to create make-shift bandages. Dartis ignored his own pain, however Danica had to help him maintain his balance at one point.

The man the party saved regained his brave once again and peered inside the cave that the bears erupted from and yelled back, "Phew! We should have smelled those beasties before we saw them. Their cave stinks like hell." He came back and asked, "Poor Jarel. How do we bring him back to camp? And what do we do about Fred," was the man's next question as he jerked a finger at the nearby corpse. After all the death that the Dorinthians had seen in the last decades, it was beginning to cause some of the party's fellow men to become somewhat immune to the sight of dead bodies.

Silas looked worriedly at Dartis. "Lord Kalnian, are you able to ride? We need Kel here. And now that the bears have been killed I think this place would be preferable to the lake side for our camp."

Danica took the time to ask the man about his friend, Fred, and about getting his body back to his family. The man answered with, "Fred there didn't have no one waiting for him. He was married back when he was living in Silver Springs a few years back, but then that cholera incident struck and well..." He gave a sad shrug which said the rest. Then Danica checked the cave to see if it was a decent place for a burial, but the sorceress could smell the stink of rotten meat and animal musk. The unpleasant smell increased as Danica followed the tunnel and entered a small chamber with a raised, flat rock in the center of the room. Two passages were on either side of her from this location, one going east and the other west, although she decided she didn't have the time to continue exploring on her own. She did find a velvet bag that stuck out amongst some old bones and debris in one corner of the chamber, however, though she prodded it and made sure it wasn't something's home before picking it up. The sorceress came back out to find Dartis eager to return to camp, the dead man tied behind him on the saddle, while Silas made a make-shift litter to carry the second gravely injured man. She wondered momentarily if she could meaningfully contribute. Still, she told the others about the cave, and its forking paths, and that it could provide an easily defensible base if something could be done about the stench.

When the three party members returned to the camp there was of course a moment of sorrow for Fred. Jarel was watched over and brought to the edge of the water, where his wounds could be cleaned and rebound. Otherwise, there came some other disturbing news... the other party members had not yet returned and it was beginning to grow dark.

Silas found one of the scouts that brought them the information about the rocky area. "Take some men back to the stony place. We killed two bears and they need to be cleaned and dressed." Dismissing the man, Silas paced a bit until the ache of his ribs encouraged him to sit and rest a bit. After catching his breath and stretching for a bit he sought out Dartis and Danica, who he found inspecting the camp, the nobleman from his horse, Swift, while Danica walked beside him. "Some of our scouts haven't returned yet. Alexander and Kel among them. And I haven't seen Rix around either." He shrugged, not certain of what else to say about the matter though he was still worried. He looked questioningly at Danica. "You said the bear cave continued back some ways? I'd like to check them out on the morrow. And I would like to consider moving the camp to the rocky place, especially if there is a sizable cave there. This place here," he motioned with one hand to the surrounding area, "is pleasant though hardly defensable. With a little work the other location could be made even more defensable. Unless you plan for us to keep moving, Lord Kalnian?"

Dartis looked at Silas from his horse. He hadn't the strength to get down and feared he wouldn't get back up. "Let us see what our scouts say. I have great confidence in the skill of Alexander, Kel, and even Rix to stay hidden to deal with any problems. But I agree that we do need to fully explore that cave. If extensive enough it will provide a good defensive position. Hopefully we will be attacking though, not hiding in a hole, cornered."

DM's note: The chamber with the flat rock was actually an ancient pre-Dorin burial chamber (the flat rock actually being an old, now moss-covered lid), and the rest of the cave complex held other rooms. However, with the dire straits that the second part of the group had found themselves in, these were never returned to by the party.

Danica looked at Dartis, and was starting to feel a little self-conscious. She reached to pull her hair down over her face, but then remembered that she had cut her hair, to effect a disguise that everyone seemed to have been pretending was still valid, but she knew now she had not really fooled much of anyone. I wonder if they suspect about my magical powers, too... she asked herself. As far as Danica knew, she has not used magic in front of anyone yet, and no one had accused her of sorcery. Not "accused", she reminded herself for the third time that day. But if anyone suspected, they hadn't yet spoken to her about it. She was tempted with the bears, of course. She was tempted all the time. Magic made everything so easy. But she knew that eventually she was going to do something that would show to everyone what she was. And that made her anxious.

But here were her comrades, and no one was expecting her to say anything, and so she smiled at the realization and skipped a bit while Silas and Dartis walked in front of her deep in conversation of strategy and tactics, knowing that she would be eating bear tonight and not at all worried about her other companions, especially the wily Rix.

That quickly changed when she saw a dwarf covered in blood walking towards the party from whence Alexander, Kel, and Rix went. He seemed exhausted, yet excited. Danica gave a shout to her companions, surprised that such a weakened dwarf could get past their sentries. Dartis moved off of his horse and stood erect in order to welcome the dwarf over and see if he had any news of his companions, although it took him a great effort to do so because of his wounds.

DM's Note: The dwarf was Chalik, and he had dire news of Alexander, Kel and Rix as described below.



What Kel, Chalik, and Alexander experienced:

Kel crouched warily in the long grasses, every nerve singing with tension, as his hand rested lightly on the hilt of his long sword. Seeing the elf go for his blade, Chalik cursed under his breath. These Dorinthians are insane, he thought. I kind of like them. He moved as quietly as possible, trying to reach the two skulking forms in the grass. Now if I can just make sure that's who I'm seeing, and keep them from killing me, maybe we can free the kobold and get out of here.

Chalik left his hidden position in an attempt to scramble down towards another boulder near the high grass of the plains, but then heard a yell from the cavalry, and knew instantly that he had been spotted in the brightness of the day. The horsemen were still distant, but began to close the gap fast. They quickly just passed the two Dorinthians, and approached within sixty feet of the dwarf.

Cursing himself for an amateur, Chalik dashed off to the side, trying to find some cover to prevent the riders from simply trampling over him while not leading them toward the Dorinthians. "Well Alex, we can't let Chalik take them all by himself. Let's go," Kel said as he made his way as cautiously as he could and as quickly as he could towards the dwarf and the soldiers.

The horsemen stopped in front of Chalik with weapons ready, but then one of them gives a shout as he saw Kel and Alexander crouching low and heading towards their rear from the tall blades of grass. Kel and Alexander were now 30 feet from the horsemen, which were in a semicircle and only a few feet from Chalik.

Despite their numbers, the captain of the cavalry licked his lips nervously at the audacity displayed by elf, half-orc, and dwarf, and so lifted his weapon high above his head and yelled with as much dignity as he could muster, "You three! Surrender and drop your weapons in the name of the Emperor, or else meet steel!"

"And I suggest you ride back to your flea ridden misbegotten bastard of a master before you meet your death," Kel said cooly as he stood from his crouch and tested the balance of his longsword with his right hand. "The Huntress knows this is a lonely place to die," the elf growled with a sweep of his hand, his eyes locked on the leader of the soldiers and his left hand grasping the holy symbol of his Goddess.

Chalik stopped and surveyed the situation for a moment before adding slyly, "You never know what might come out of the grass next..."

The leader of the cavalry stiffened slightly at the words of Kel and Chalik before letting out the his own, "Take them down, but take them alive if you can." His men moved to attack, four kicking the flanks of their mounts to charge Kel and Alexander from horseback, while the cavalry leader and another rider wheeled around and raised the flat of their blades over Chalik's head.

Grinding his teeth, Chalik drew his blade and slid to his right, trying to ward off the horsemen. Chalik moved first, swinging his rapier at the rider closest to him. His opponent moved too arrogantly close to the talented dwarf, who stabbed into the human's raised armpit and buried his blade deep enough to pierce the man's heart. With a shudder, the Imperial cavalryman collapsed coughing blood. The second man (the leader) rode at the dwarf, but barely missed with his own strike, his blade bouncing off Chalik's masterwork leather.

Kel and Alexander also moved before their opponents, with Kel missing both the nearest horse and rider with his deadly longsword. Alexander had more luck with his scimitar, slicing off the arm of the rider nearest to him. The wounded man screamed as his wound bled profusely, before he too collapsed in a pool of blood. The remaining riders conducted their reprisals, however. Although Alexander remained unscathed from the remaining rider that moved against him, Kel was beset by two other cavalrymen who flanked the elf. The first missed, but the second was able to move behind Kel and bury his sword deep into the elf's shoulder, elliciting him to cry out in Silvan.

Turning to his remaining foe, Chalik said calmly, "You should have left when you had the chance. I'll still let you go if you dismount and throw down your weapons." Chalik warned his opponent to surrender and held back, allowing for the man to give up if he wished. Instead the Imperial moved his horse a step backward and blew a horn he took from his belt. A long wail echoed off the walls of the mountain, and heads from the far off Imperial camp began to turn and notice the battle at the base of the hill. Chalik moved forward and attacked, his sword missing once at the first attack of opportunity, but then piercing into the enemy at the next strike. The man's armor took most of the blow, although a small trickle of blood appeared on his forearm. "Arrh... damn wicked dwarves...to hell with quarter..."

Kel attacked next, and his own blow was true, slicing deeply into the side of a nearby rider. The Imperial tried to gallop away, but only made it a few strides before it was obvious that he would die on his mount. Alexander also attacked, his scimitar missing, but his now dual-weldt punch dagger punctured the lung of a soldier about to cleave at the half-orc. The man gave a grunt of surprise, shuddered, and nearly collapsed on Alexander. Another rider cursed loudly and swung at Kel, but missed badly.

Chalik growled after seeing the far off Imperials take notice of the battle, "That's what I get for trying to be nice." He lunged forward at the horseman, hoping to eliminate him quickly so he and the Dorinthians could flee.

The two cavalrymen moved first, with the leader galloping away and yelling to his companion to follow him in retreat. Kel attempted to strike one of the opponents, but missed. Chalik struck the leader in the calf, causing another thin wound to appear. The cavalry leader recovered, however, and was able to continue his flight.

About half a mile away, the shape of a company of fifty men was being formed above the heroes, on the mountain. They stared in the direction of the three demi-humans as they quickly donned armor and arms. It looked as if they planned to march towards the trio soon. Unfortunately, all but one of the horses of the men the party had killed had fled.

Chalik turned to the others. "Is either of you hurt? Can you run? Because I think that's the best move here." The other two quickly agreed. Chalik, Alexander, and Kel were able to hide in the tall grass as the company donned its various armor and arms and moved to intercept them. Because they were trying to hide, the trio ended up moving much slower than the force that was pursuing. The company had too many people to fight against, and were almost as difficult to hide against. Alexander and Kel were caught, but Chalik ended up sneaking past the patrol. He came up to the forest near the mountain kingdom of the dwarves and immediately noticed the trails of the Dorinthian protective patrols. He assumed the tracks were from Dorinthians, and he found it easy to avoid their untrained sentries and enter the encampment of human militia nearby a lake inside the forest. A familiar group of humans was visible, consisting of Dartis, Silas, and Danica. The dwarf approached, reasoning that they would probably want to know about the fate of their companions as well as the company of Imperials that were now beginning to move in order to investigate the woodlands.

DM's update: Kel and Alexander went into the NPC void at this time, so I had them and the now-NPC Rix be the ones captured by Imperial forces while allowing Chalik to escape. Still, Kel and Alexander could have avoided this fate if either them (when PCs) or Chalik had made some different decisions. If Chalik had not tried to run across a barren hill-side towards Kel and Alexander during the middle of the day he could have avoided being seen. Also, the party was not able to cut down all the Imperial scouts and allowed them to alert the larger forces. The Imperials were aroused to a possible threat outside of the besieged dwarven mountain kingdom and went to investigate. The party began to realize that their meager force of 100 untrained men were too inexperienced to face off against a thousand Imperial soldiers, as Chalik was easily able to slip past their guard. Things go downhill from here...
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Having trouble updating this thread. I think the message is too long, so I'll try splitting...

Chalik hurried up to the humans as quickly as he could. "I have bad news," he announced without preamble. "Three of your
companions have been captured by an Imperial force that has moved into the woodland."


Danica rushed up to Chalik and was stopped in her tracks by the news. "Gracious!" she exclaimed as she took him by the hand and led him to Dartis.

Is the blood his, or...., she stopped the thought and hoped Rix and her other companions were alright.

"Do you need to wash up? Which friends? Are you alright? I'm Danica Swann can I help you? How close are the Imperial troops?" The flurry of questions
was, she was sure, incomprehensible. As she led the dwarf, guiding him, she breathed deep and tried to stay quiet.[/QUOTE]

Dartis swore. "How many are out there, can we intercept the captors? When will they be here?" asked Dartis peppering the dwarf with questions as he
simultaneously signalled the camp to pack up, to get ready to move to the cave. "Can you make it back to the mountain?"

Chalik was briefly nonplussed by the sudden attention but finally responded, "I believe there were about 50 troops. Your friends and I fought a few of them but there were too many and we were overrun." He then described the party members who were taken, not trusting his memory of their names, while gratefully accepting a drink of water and a chance to clean up. He looked grimly at Danica. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to do more. I'll do whatever I can to help you rescue them."

Silas frowned. "Infantry or horse? Are they coming this way? How much time do you think we have?" He stared intently at the dwarf then started as if he just remembered something forgotten. "My apologies, good dwarf, my name is Silas Eyrstan."

Chalik nodded at Silas' introduction and replied, "Chalik Bermax, at your service." He then answered the questions tersely but accurately. "We should have this conversation with whoever's in charge here," he concluded. "The Imperials will likely be here tomorrow."

Silas supressed a smile. He motioned towards Dartis. "Chalik Bermax, this is Lord Dartis Kalnian, Commander of this unit of Dorinthian forces."

Chalik was obviously taken aback for a moment, then bowed deeply and said, "My Lord, I wish I had better news for you." He hesitated for a moment before continuing, obviously very uncomfortable. "Though I've not earned it, I would ask a boon of you. If you are planning to try to rescue the captives,
please let me guide your people. I crave the opportunity to redress my failure."


As the party discussed their next move, one of the militia that was on guard-duty barrelled in and interrupted their conversation. His chest was heaving and sweat poured over
his light coat. After a moment he gave a weak salute and said, "Horsemen... they spotted us, sirs. Came right up to our position, they did, then rode off before
we could say spit. I think they know where we are now..."


Dartis swore again, then offered a quick apology to Danica. "Alright, back to the cave!" be bellowed. "Silas, Danica each of you take
half the men and head towards the cave, take separate routes to slow down pursuit. Danica take the northern path, Silas the southern. Put archers on the hill above and spearmen in the mouth of the cave. Put a few volunteers back about 100 feet in that dense grove of trees. We'll try to pin them if we can.

"Chalik, I wish I could grant you the boon, but right now I would ask that you accompany my men to a safer location. Hopefully we can beat back the first assault and try again.
I will stay here and give the leaders a few arrows to slow them down. Now move,"
Dartis bellowed out his orders quickly directing the direction for travel with the tip of his sword.

Silas grabbed a couple of the veterens that he had become acquainted with and sent them to preparing the men to leave as quickly as possible. After he saw the men begin scrambling in their preparations to move he returned to Dartis. "They may have archers of their own, Lord Kalnian. I can aid you a bit in that, if you'll allow it. I can give you some small protection against their arrow fire, at least for a short time. It won't protect your horse and it won't protect you from their other weapons so that will still be a danger but I would rest easier if you would allow me to cast a protective ward over you." So saying, he cast protection from arrows on the noble horseman.

Silas tried to get Chalik's attention next. "[Dwarven]Stone-Brother[/Dwarven], do you know of the cave near here?" Chalik replied that he did not, and wished he was more of a help as he followed the abjurer.

Danica Swann had never been told to lead others before. As Dartis' words sunk in she bowed slightly, and said "Yes, my Lord." She saw that Silas
was taking care of the dwarf and some of the stronger fighters. She cast her eyes around the camp and tried to rally those who were nearby. She would ensure that none were
forgotten.

"All of you, listen," she implored, trying to raise her voice above the mounting confusion. "We are moving out. All those on the
east side of the camp will come with me."
Here she made a sweeping gesture with one hand, as if to bisect the group. "The rest will follow Silas.

Grab your things, we're leaving right away."
Had she sounded confident enough? She hoped so.

She had her meagre gear with her, of course, but she took a moment to grab the piece of leather from her belt pouch. She ran it down either side of her face, and then

horizontally across her chest. "Keep me safe like steel," she whispered to herself. She then replaced the leather thong, once she felt her mage
armor
spell take effect.

She stood by the access to the north road as others gathered to follow her. "Morrison! Keeling! Come on you two!" she called to two stragglers she could identify.

When Danica finally had a chance during her quick march, she reached into the velvet bag and attempted to prod the insides of it with an unlit torch. As she did so, she was
surprised to see that the torch began to disappear further into the bag than she expected. Removing the torch, she placed her hand in the bag and discovered that she could
easily put her entire arm into the thing. She also thought she felt a couple of small objects inside as she dug around. She believed that she had just found herself a bag
of holding
.

As the news of the approaching Imperials reached the ears of the men, a sense of panic could be felt rippling through the irregulars. Some began to pack their bedrolls and
other gear unto the few horses and onto their backs while others gathered their weapons and wandered the camp aimlessly. A few of the men that had experience attempted to mold a semblance of order, but it was the young voice of Danica that finally brought the would-be soldiers into an organized force. Within the space of ten minutes, two columns
were following the trails the men had made days before along the river, only to break off from their paths later on in order to reach the rock formation with the bear cave.

Dartis stayed behind with two dozen of the healthier, swifter men, creating a vanguard that saw to the protection of the men and took to the wilderness between the two columns
and slightly behind. They were left unharried, although a force of a dozen horsemen appeared to watch and follow them from a distance. Dartis' horse, Swift, danced
majestically around his irregulars, as the young noble raised his bow at the Imperials in defiance.

The entire force reached the rock outcropping without incident, and the third of the Dorinthian forces that brought bows and arrows took positions on the highest portions.
Another twenty men hid themselves in the woods, waiting for the Imperials to come. Around fifty men are left over, and they positioned themselves at the lower portion of the
rock formation and the green field immediately around.

It took some time... a frustrating and tense amount of time- but finally the ordered military march of the Imperials could be heard east of the party. From the top of the rock
outcropping, some of their bobbing helmets could be seen through the trees nearby, and the party members saw the group stop about a third of a mile away. From the top of the
rock outcropping, the party also saw a second group of Tallione cavalry approaching from the western side. This was a larger force, about a couple of dozen in size, but it was
hard to count through the trees.

From this second force a rider galloped forward, and the Dorinthian men knocked and readied their arrows in his direction. He burst forth into the edge of the clearing,
watching the Dorinthians with disdain. He pulled his horse back so that it would halt and shouted loudly, "I would have words with your commander!"

Dartis shouted back from a pile of rocks, "Have you come to parlay?"

The man boldly rode forward to come within 50 feet of the Dorinthian archers. He removed his helmet and stared upwards at Dartis and the party. "I don't come to
parlay, but to offer an opportunity to parlay with my captain, Commander Fralius Sassarius. He wishes to meet you away from our two forces. He wishes to request your terms
for agreeing to the parlay. I am also to add, that a refusal to parlay will be considered to be a signal for hostilities where we will then meet you on this field."


Chalik sneered at the offer of Parlay but held his tongue.

"I will meet Commander Sassarius. There is a rock outcropping a league east of here. I will meet him there, and he may bring one assistant" replied Dartis.

"It is decided, then. He will meet you with one of your assistants. Both sides may also bring two guards each, which will be expected to stand away and out of
earshot. My commander will meet you soon,"
the man said and stiffly turned his horse, as if disappointed that talk would precede violence.

Dartis turned to his companions and chose Silas as his assistant, and Chalik and Danica as his guards.

Chalik bowed his head humbly. "Thank you my lord," he said simply.

Silas seemed a little nervous but nodded his head in acceptance of this honor. He seemed unusually quiet as he prepared himself for the meeting. Finally, he presented himself
to Dartis. "I am ready, Lord Kalnian."

Danica was the first to arrive at the rock, and she withdrew her torch in order to lead the group she had led into the shadow of the mouth of the cave she had recently visited.
With a confidence unexpected by one with so few years (or in someone of her frail size, some would say) she posted guards and indicated defensible positions for archers. She
re-entered the cave and placed her pack close to where she had found the mysterious velvet bag not very long ago, but did not let people linger. She took two of her group, and
led them down deeper into the cave, to where it forked.

"I'd like you two to stand guard here. Spread yourselves out, but it appears these caves go deep, and we've not had a chance to check them out. I'm
suspicious that all of this smell is not due to the bears we fought earlier."
Confident that they have their innstructions, and that they will be able to relay a
message in case something appears -- "Letting us know of the danger is of top concern" she had stressed -- she left them with the torch if they
needed it, with the intention of checking on them regularly.

DM's Note: This was a smart move, since they didn't need another bear or something worse coming out of that cave when they had Imperials to worry about. Lucky for them, the dangers still lingering in the cave were not the kind to be so proactive. The cave's secrets never were fully explored.

As she emerged from the cave, she was told that Lord Dartis had requested her to be on his guard detail at the parlay. She flushed, and started biting a fingernail. Nevertheless, she excused herself, checked the time to see if she needed to recast her mage armor and inspected her crossbow.

She tried to look neat, or presentable, or intimidating, or some combination of the three. "For Dornithia," she said to herself, standing up and
bracing to journey with Lord Dartis and his entourage.

The party arrived at the meeting place for the parlay, while both armies watched each other from a distance. The four party members were not harrassed by any enemy besides the occasional misquito. It was a bit of a walk, maybe three miles away. Standing already at the outcropping when they arrived were four Imperials, two in legionnaire armor, one
in an officer's armor and plumed helmet, and the fourth a stooped, wizened man in black robes and red sash. As the party approched, the two legionnaires moved back to give
their commanders privacy, while Chalik and Danica also stood away. Dartis and Silas walked forward to meet them.

"I am Commander Sassarius, leader of the Imperials here. This is Rufus Nefius, my advisor appointed by the Emperor. We are chasing a dwarven outlaw that
killed a number of my men, and have no quarrel with you. No quarrel, unless you are Dorinthians, such as the three men we've just captured. If you are not men of Dorinth, who are you? And if you are men of Dorinth, how is it that you've survived?"
He asked his questions in a demanding tone, his back straight, and his hand on the pommel
of the short blade that rested on his hip. As he mentioned the dwarven outlaw, he nodded pointedly towards Chalik. Despite the distance, Danica and Chalik could hear the
conversation clearly as a slight wind carried his strong voice.

The wizened, sickly looking man called Rufus Nefius was wearing the serpent necklace of a priest of Oberius, the Cassus-Tallione god of Obedience. Those of Oberius worship evil, law, strength, and trickery. Still, by the components at his belt, the heroes guessed he was more an arcane spellcaster than priest.

At the Imperial's words, Chalik pursed his lips but didn't intervene. Instead he muttered quietly so that only Danica could hear, "This just keeps getting
better and better."


Danica smiled, but said nothing. The only act of communication was that her left eyebrow arching on her forehead. She felt the rat she carried in her pocket shift in its nest.

Silas, of course, deferred to Dartis and remained silent. However, the wizard made him uneasy and the fact that the man wore the religious regalia of Oberius...well, it
reinforced his niggling suspicion that the Tallione had treachery in mind.

Dartis met the commander's gaze with that cool arrogance that only a noble has, merged with the confidence of a trained soldier. In a clear voice he called out:
"Well met Commander Sassarius. I am Duke Dartis Kalnian, this is my advisor Silas Eyrstan. I know of no dwarven outlaws in these parts, and I would gladly turn
any over to you should I find one. In fact I would help you search these hills for them if you would accept my aid. But I doubt you would for though I have never met you, you
claim to have a quarrel with me. For indeed I am a Dorinthian. As for how I have survived well that is a long tale better suited over a tankard and table, rather than dirt and
grass. But come, you say you are having problems with outlaw dwarves? Surely the stout dwarves of the Dunkel mountains have not sunk to mere brigandry. Or have we stumbled upon some other quarrel of yours? And if that is the case, you seem to accrue quarrels at a rapid pace. But come, why do you have a quarrel with me? For being a Dorinthian? For being a soldier? For being here? Haven't you heard Commander, Dorinthia is no more, nor are we in lands once claimed by Dorinthia. We seek a new life, far from the strife of the old. Without enemies, old or new."
 
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Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Sassarius' eyes grew wide for a moment, as Dartis' words were unexpected. He gave a regretful shake of his head and said, meaningfully, "I've come to expect
lies from Dorinthians, and here one speaks honestly, and admits proudly of his heritage. Well said, although it changes nothing. In fact, your honesty may make things worse for you. Tell me, Duke Kalnian, what you are a duke of? If Dorinthia is no more why do you use the royal title? In your hearts you remember what it is to be a sovereign people, and you will never forgive the injustice of being brought down. No decent people would. If we let you go, how long until your people insist on even the smallest of revenge for ancient slights? Would it be wise to allow even a small danger threaten my own citizens as we occupy your lands? And you never outright admitted that the dwarf beside you is not the one that killed a few of my soldiers, with help from a few other Dorinthian spies. No... the only course now is to ask you to submit to the empire now or prepare to defend..."


"Commander Sassarius, if I may make a suggestion," Rufus Nefius interjected with a thin smile under bloodshot eyes. "Our seige of the dwarves
isn't going as smooth as some of us would prefer. Perhaps we can make a deal that would be beneficial to all parties. If I may ask, what are your intentions towards the
Dorinthians being held by the dwarves, Duke Kalnion?"


Sassarius stiffened his stance slightly. It was almost as if he would rather had the party and their men killed then to have them involved in Nefius' machinations...yet he
said nothing.

Dartis listened carefully to the two Imperials and addressed the Commander first:

"Indeed, perhaps you have experianced lies from Dorinthians, but I have from Imperials, so rather than assume all Dorinthian's lie, perhaps you should judge
every man by his own honor. As for my title, well I inherited that from you. When my father was killed by Imperial troops, his title reverted to me. As for how I still claim
it, well I did not say 'Duke Kalnian of Dorinthia' did I? But when your father passes away, will you renounce the name Sassarius? I thought not. Just as you will still claim
your heritage and name as your forefather's pass on, so shall I claim my heritage, name and title, whether or not that title is attached to any land that I can claim. I was born unto the title and by the gods, I can claim it until I die and so I shall. And whether it does my weal or woe, I shall claim my heritage proudly and without hesitation or reservation."


"As to the future of my people. Perhaps the Dorinthian are different than the Imperials. Perhaps an Imperial mouse would seek vengance against the lion that
steps on it's tail. But a Dorinthian mouse seeks land where there are no lions rather than spend a fruitless life pursuing an enemy beyond him."


"But, perhaps Counselor Nefius may have the right approach to the situation. It would seem that the lion has too many deer to guard. These lands here were not a part of Dorinthia. Does the Tallione Empire truly seek to control every land, this year? Should they not take the time to digest the bite they have taken these past 40 years?
As to Counselor Nefius's question, the Dorinthians sheltered within are the remants of a few scattered villages. Inside are craftsmen and farmers, not warriors. Surely, Commander Sassarius, within the Imperial heart, within your heart, dwells mercy for fallen foes. Mercy that will not, can not be repaid by vengance."


Danica's heart rose with Dorinthian pride at Lord Dartis' words. Her sharp gaze scanned the surrounding area, watching for hidden Imperials as the negotiations continued to be
tense.

Nefius clapped in glee, "Well said, Lord Kalnian, well said. I can see that our two sides may come to an agreement after all. You see, it wasn't just by accident
that our Imperial forces came upon the dwarven lands. There is something that our Emperor needs. Something deep inside the sealed section of the dwarven kingdom. Although the crypts were made by dwarves, beyond the seal lay ancient catacombs made by hands not dwarf, nor gnome, nor man. It's a shield. Such a simple thing really, that shield, although crafted onto its surface is the face of a young king bearing a crown on his head. I saw it once while I was scrying and meditating, and just by chance my mind's eye
fell upon it. A brilliantly crafted..."


Commander Sassarius interjected angrily at this. "What in Hades are you talking about, Nefius? We are here to finish the conquest of Dorinthia."
"Commander Sassarius," Nefius started with a sigh, "Please don't interrupt me again. You forget yourself. As much as capturing the Dorinthian
forces would please me to no end, we have more important matters to attend to. Such as finding this shield, the real reason I agreed to your silly plan of attacking the
dwarves, since I need to spell it out for you. It's discoverer would be awarded greatly by the Emperor. And I mean to have it and deliver it to him personally. Such an
artifact of beauty would be a great prize indeed. Greater than the ragged remnants of a conquered people. Dorinthia is finished, Commander. Seek your glory elsewhere, better
it not be conducted against your father's bretheren anyway."
At the last comment, Commander Sassarius glared at Nefius with a look of utter hate, which was promptly
ignored as the scrawny man turned back to the party members. "So what do you say? You enter the dwarven caves, convince them to allow you inside the sealed off
sections of their catacombs, and return with the shield. And then we will leave, and allow you to reunite with your men. We are a gentle Empire, after all."


DM's Note: As a twist, Commander Sassarius has a Dorinthian parent although he considers himself a loyal member of the Tallione Empire. He is an honest warrior, but somewhat gullible, which makes the up and coming commander at a disadvantage in the fragmented and corrupt Tallione court.

Chalik remembered the following:
[sblock]
The dwarf remembered the tales of the wall with the steel seal deep inside the dwarven burial chambers. Legend has it that a great subterranean enemy burst in large numbers
from out of a hole the dwarves had inadvertantly dug. Many dwarves fell during that almost forgotten time, and it wasn't until nearby humans came to the dwarves' aid that the
battle turned in their favor. Unfortunately, the human king was killed during the battle, and it was said that he was buried with his shield in a hidden chamber that the
dwarves had found. Chalik felt it was a good thing he had paid attention to the local history...
[/sblock]

Dartis raised an eyebrow at Nefius's treatment of Sassarius, especially at the invocation of his heritage. Oh ho, now we see who hold the leash thought Dartis.

"Indeed," replied Dartis. "A heady prize and grand offer indeed. A mere shield in exchange for all that. Still there would be an issue of safeguards. As Commander Sassarius has so blunty put it, lies have often been put forth on both sides of the battle. What assurances could you give me that my men would be left in peace, and that should I succeed that you would indeed hold to your word and leave, prize in hand. We seem to be at a bit of a stand off, Counselor Nefius. I require you to leave, yet you require me to achieve your end. At least if you want to present the shield to the Emperor and not your children. Now how would you begin to approach this issue? I would think that the releasing of captives would be a good first gesture of good will, a sure sign that you intend to negotiate in good faith. Certainly the act of a gentle Empire after all. But that would but lay the foundations for trust upon which we can build an agreement. For I would certainly not want news of the shield and its' value to circulate among the Imperial army, I would want to assure you that the shield is placed into your capable and deserving hands and no other. But how shall I deliver the shield unto you? Shall I march down, alone upon the plains surrounded by a full division of the Imperial Army? No that will not work. Perhaps Commander Sassarius and you could stay with a small contingent while the rest are sent back to deal with the real and everpresent dangers that threaten the Tallione Empire on it's newly acquired eastern flank. Now how shall we proceed?"

Nefius cocked his head to the side, and leaned on his darkwood staff as he listened with amusement to Dartis' demands. After the nobleman was done speaking he said,
"Bravo, my young man. If you were bargaining from a position of strength, I would definitely be swayed. However, as it stands now, let me give you my own offer.
Do as we say, otherwise I will be forced to execute one of your three companions we have recently captured; a death each day until you comply. I think I'll start with the elf,
since he's a bit too high-and-mighty for my tastes. If you do agree to our terms, we will allow your men safe passage to enter the dwarven kingdom and pull our army away for a
short time so you may safely do so and join your people inside. I may even release the elf in your care as a sign of good faith. Return with the shield, and our main purpose is complete, and we will release your other two companions and leave this place. What do you think of our terms?"


Chalik gnashed his teeth in silent frustration. He growled to Danica, "That shield lies in the tomb of a true hero, though no Dwarf. I'll not see it desecrated for the amusement of these dogs or their master!"

"Better to die here and take some of them with me,"
he finished grimly, hand resting on his blade.

Silas listened intently but his mind was aswirl. For what reason do they want this shield? The fact that they want it so desperately is telling but...why? His thoughts continued to spiral in that vein until one thought in particular crystallized: The Tallione want the shield and the shield itself may give the clue as to the why.

Danica listened to the speeches, but, to be frank, she did not follow their full import. This was all a whirlwind for her, and she had been caught up in a political intrigue that in no way resembled her life from six months previous. Nor her life from last week, for that matter.

But she had been given a job. Her scan of the surrounding area had detected nothing, it seemed, and Dartis and the Imperials were speaking with words that commanded such
attention... And all for a shield. Surely our goal should be to get the shield, and put it somewhere the Emperor does not know about. And that will buy time for our captured comrades.

She had another thought. She started to speak out, "...", but then hesitated, remembering her place.[/QUOTE]

"Counsellor Nefius, what is weakness, but strength not yet realized." countered Dartis. "As for doing as you say, as you demand, well if you were interested in executing your prisoners, you would have done so, and I know that you have no compunctions about doing so. But what if that should fail to sway me? Shall you be left with three corpses and no closer to your goal? As for your terms, they are not entirely unfair, yet you have still failed to provide the crucial component, that which I am sure Commander Sassarius would no doubt take umbrage with. You have failed to address by what means or measures we can believe that you will hold to these promises. What besides your word, of which you have still not given, shall be your pledge that the terms you have stated shall be adhered to?"

Nefius grimaced at Dartis' offer, but Commander Sassarius gave him a hard look and stepped forward, offering his hand to the Dorinthians. "We give our word, this I swear. And perhaps we can offer to release this elven prisoner. His name is Kel, and he's been a gentleman while under our care. I'll need the afternoon to move our men away from the gates so that you can enter by the evening."

"With the release of Kel as a token and gesture of the integrity and sincerity of your pledge, I will accept your offer, Commander Sassarius. I shall hold you
to your word as a man, as a military man."
replied Dartis taking the proferred hand and meeting the Tallione's gaze.

Danica held her breath, as she marvelled at the interaction between these two leaders. Her nose twitched slightly, but she felt she may almost relax. Soon these men would be
gone.

As Danica looked at the Imperial commander and Dartis, she realized that their similarity of appearance was greater than just fellow soldiers. Commander Sassarius had a face like Dartis' as well, In fact, the Imperial looked much more a Dorinthian than a Tallione. Her thoughts were interrupted as the two sides broke from each other. The rest of the afternoon was a flurry of activity, as the men prepared to enter the safety of the Bermax
kingdom. One began to sing a familiar field hand song, and soon the entire camp joined in, as men happy to be alive. When word reached them of what agreement was made in
order to save them from battle, morale shot upwards and the troops flashed Silas, Danica, and Dartis many smiles. Every now and then the party members heard snippets of
conversations, such as: We were right to trust these heroes. Our leaders love us, and will not have our blood spilt unless necessary.

Danica maintained her posture, let Dartis lead, and as she followed in her official capacity, she successfully resisted the urge to look back and see what the enemy were doing.

As the word went up, and Dartis was being clapped on the back by many, Daica courtsied and withdrew to find her pack. She remebered the two guards she placed in the depths of
the cave she goes to them and relieves them of these duties. "Thank you for your assistance; it is appreciated," is all she said.

Kel reached the outskirts of the camp, led by a small contingent of Tallione cavalry, which then left him to quickly return to their own lines. The elven healer reported that
Alexander and Rix were fine, although Rix's mouth had gotten him pushed around by Imperials more than once.

Danica talked with Kel as they moved out, and listened more about the story he had of Rix, whom she realized she missed, though he had not been in her thoughts at all for the
past day.

As the Tallione soldiers left the mountain, the Dorinthian troops headed towards the gates in an orderly column. Soon, they could see the mighty steel gates of the Bermax halls, two large dwarven kings carved upon their surface. The mighty portals slowly swung open into a great hall, and allowed the militia to enter before closing mightily behind them.

As human eyes began to adjust to the dim light, the party could see that the tall, granite pillars of this dwarven hall disappeared into the darkness above. Rows of dwarven
soldiers surrounded the Dorinthian troops and began to greet them as saviors, although one tired and dour dwarf approached the party directly. It was Lender Bermax, who had
worked many times at the refugee camp. He looked the group over, then at Chalik, and said, "Chalik, we asked you to scout around and instead you chase off the
entire Tallione army. Still, it's hard for me to smile when I fear what agreement you must have made, or is it Tallione trickery at play?"


Chalik greeted his ally with a sour expression and said, "A bit of both, I fear, my lord. I'll let Lord Dartis relate the details of his arrangement, but I'm sure the Tallione command is up to no good. Even if one of them can be trusted to keep his word, they look ready to plant an axe in each other's back at the first chance."

Silas gazed wide-eyed at the craftsmanship of the dwarven stronghold, greedily absorbing every sight. Murmuring to himself he said to himself, "My master said the dwarves were masters of stonecraft. I never imagined..." As the dwarves came forward to greet them Silas will return the greeting in their own language.

Dartis left the abjurer to stare and took the time to explain the situation for Lender, who frowned deeply. "Damn Imperials," he said and spit.
"The king won't like this at all, but at least you bought as a decent chance at survival. We can't survive a lengthy siege... not with the supplies at hand. I warn you, though, that there was a reason why our people sealed up that entrance. We encountered a strange group of savage creatures we called dwellers. The battle was hard-fought, but this happened long ago, and we don't really have a decent account on what tactics worked against them. In the tales they were a savage race, more muscle than brains. You'd best be careful down there."

The dwarves were able to get each member of the party a weeks worth of trail rations and a refill of their waterskins. Kel and some of the dwarven priests were able to fully heal everyone, and the Dorinthians were placed in the large hall that they had entered into. It was large enough to place their bedrolls and lay comfortably, although some of the louder snoring from the party's fellow Dorinthians made it for a somewhat restless night.

DM's Note: Next, the party will meet some of their fellow Dorinthians that are being safe guarded by the dwarves and then enter the sealed depths of the Dwellers.
 


Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Danica made no special preparations; she had what she needed, or so she thought. She did not plan on bringing any of the men to the cave of the dwellers, but then, it was not her call.

She did, however, find time to investigate the velvet bag in private. First, she removed a dulled short sword out of the bag, although it looked dented up and worthless. Next, she took out several rations of food, though spoilt and also worthless. Finally, however, she removed a large, round stone that was glowing with a cast continual light spell, which proved to be helpful as a light source.

With some experimentation she found that the bag itself seemed to be able to fit up to 250 pounds of equipment and a total volume of 30 cubic feet. Even when full, the bag weighed only 15 pounds.

Silas paced about the hall chatting with the Dorinthians and making certain that they got settled before he wandered off in search of a master of lore, a bard, or a Caernite scholar. His desire was to find someone who knew the lore and legends of the shield that might hint to the reason why the Tallione sought it.

Most of the bards and sages he found were simply old men with good memories and a penchant for spinning good tales and asking interesting questions. However, Silas finally ran into a venerable old dwarf named Steerfranz, who lived in a small hovel lit by numerous old lanterns that revealed rows upon rows of books. The old dwarf refused money, but also refused to answer questions at first, insisting that Silas share a strong pipe and share a mug of stale ale which tested his constitution.

An hour of idle conversation passed before the dwarf suddenly got up and pulled a book off the shelf, and pointed to a rough drawing of a shield laid upon a body. Steerfranz pointed to some of the words that were in dwarven and told Silas, "The shield was said to be owned by the 'King of All Men', and it would definitely be a prize to the Emperor, who believes himself to be the leader of mankind, chosen by the gods. Also, the shield was supposed to bear the face of the human king who bore it, and the Emperor likely thinks that the face will be that of a Tallione man like himself, if I know how Imperials think."

Silas passed the information to his comrades before eating, feeding Thebu, reviewing his spells and getting rest.

Chalik cornered Lender to get his private opinion on the matter and make sure this whole expedition was something that the king would approve. He also asked formal permission to attach himself to the Dorinthian expedition.

"Of course the king approves," Lender said over a shared jug of ale. "Although the 'King of Men' is a respected figure, he's still not a dwarf, nor is his shield a dwarven artifact. By helping the Dorinthians survive this, we make up for the debt, and if we can buy our own survival by giving up human metal, so be it. Our real worry, is that some of these creatures may attempt to get out once we open the seal. We'll be forming a defensive line to keep them in the crypt area, but be aware that if we don't hear from you after a few days, we'll have to assume the worst and reseal the passage so that we don't risk being overrun."

After their talk, Chalik made sure all his equipment was in order and spent the rest of the evening and night eating and sleeping as much as possible. There was no telling how much of either he'd be able to do in the coming days.

"My Lord," said Danica to Lord Dartis as she caught up to him and distracted him from his thoughts, before setting out. "May I have a moment? In the cave where we found the bears, well, in all the confusion there wasn't time, but I wanted to tell you..." She broke off here, because the information was coming too fast.

She paused, and took a deep breath.

"I wanted to tell you but there wasn't time. In the cave, I fouund two things that I wanted to tell you about. First, the caves went deep, milord. I posted a guard at the time, but it may be that it is an access to somewhere else. I know not what, but I had a sense. The smell was overpowering, and the bears were keeping away casual visitors.... BUt that's not what I wanted to tell you. In the cave, I also found a velvet bag. I think it is magical, my lord. In it was a sphere of light--much like my torch, magical, to aid with seeing, and a sword. Milord, I should like very much to keep the bag, but I felt I had to tell you. I guess all I find is techically yours anyway."
She glanced down, and then quickly up, her teeth emerging from behind her growing smile. Her eyes flashed, and she finished, pulling at the hair on her forehead, wishing it would grow to cover her face.

"My lord, I will follow you to retrieve the shield. I don't like going on a mission for the Imperials, but you know best, and you know affairs of state. But here are the items I found. I cannot use the sword myself, and I do not wish to be seen to be hoarding." She looked down and up, again. then, in a quiet voice, she added, "For Dornithia."

"Danica, it has been a hectic time so do not feel badly for having delaying in telling me. As for the bag. I have no lands, nor are you my vassal, so I have no claim on what you find from birthright. I am however at this time the captian and commander of what Dorinthian forces exist, barring Baron Dorin, and even then we are equals in title. As captian, I need look after all my forces. I see no reason then that the bag may not be kept by you as a spoil of war. Perhaps though you culd find a way to give a few coins to the families of the men who were wounded or killed by the bears. If, of course, we survive to find our way home again." replied Dartis.


"As for the magic stone, by all means employ it. Whatever we can do to banish the darkness will be a great help. I would be interested in examining the sword once we stop again, however. As for our mission, yes I know how you feel. I do not wish to aid the imperials, not even their vanities. But, in these times I must think of the survival of all my people, and not whether my own pride or dignity is wounded"
Dartis added sadly.

When Dartis spoke, Danica listened intently. ""Thank you my lord. The bag will help me, and an offering to the families when we return seems wise. I can offer anyone on the expedition the sword. It isn't magical, but perhaps it can be put to good use."

As they were walking, Danica lagged behind for a moment, and examined the sword. She placed it between her palms, and says "Show me your nature." With her magic the sword spoke briefly back to her, showing brief scenes of hectic training, but little use in battle. The sword apologized to her, but it explained that it was a normal blade, not at all magical, and poorly made. She looked up shyly, to see if she had been seen conversing. She scampered to catch up with Dartis, and talk a bit more.
After the night passed, the heroes formed up by the seal in the ancient dwarven crypts.

A hand-picked mix of dwarves and Dorinthians stood ready with their weapons in order to engage any dwellers that might come out. The wheel on the great seal (that showed a battle-axe etched onto the surface) was turned counter-clockwise by two struggling dwarves, until finally it came open on a hinge with the sound of rushing air. The passage stunk of stale air and mildew, but was about 10 feet wide, more circular than square, and descended at a gentle 2 degree slope into the darkness below.

The tense silence was broken by Kel, mumbling something about hating the darkness.
Chalik didn't complain as his vision worked fine in the dark, but he did have his blade drawn and ready as he stepped towards the front of the group.

Silas looked a little burdened down by the gear that he had stuffed into his pack and strapped onto the outside of it. However, he shrugged out of the pack and untied the lantern that dangled from a strap on one side. Rummaging within the pack he pulled out a flask of oil and proceeded to fill and light the lantern. Once lit, he heaved his pack back across his shoulders, grabbed his staff in his right hand, and the lantern in his left. Obviously excited about this trek despite its rumored dangers, he grinned. "I'm ready. Now let's see if we can find this shield the Tallione are so desperate to get their hands on. Dwellers beware!"

"It'd be nice to have Alexander here for this" said Dartis idly.
The last few days had been a whirl of activity. It seemed an eternity since they had been fighting the kobolds in the cave and yet not but a few weeks had passed. Fate too had been fickle, promising ruin, delivering salvation, but with a cost. Whether the gods and Fate would deliver he and his people yet, Dartis did not know. But it had been on his mind greatly the last few days. What would they do after they freed them? Where could they live? Dartis had to shake himself several times to get out of such thinking. Right now his duty was before him: recovering that shield. That way lay their only hope of survival and so what came later would need to be left to thinkers like Silas and the future.

Dartis drew his sword and, once Silas lit the lantern, stepped over the threshhold, into the barely lit darkness.

The party conversed quietly amongst themselves as the delved deeper into the tunnels below. The journey was uneventful, and it took several minutes to reach a chamber, roughly 40 feet in diameter. The tunnel continued north, but the heroes could also see another passage in this chamber that went west. Around the north passageway they saw arrows pointing upwards, while on the western passageway were designs depicting a blob with two tendrils. Both passageways continued in a gentle downward slope. "Look! This dungeon is labelled!" observed Danica, pointing at the sign with clear delight.

Silas frowned at the symbols then looked over at Challik. "Do you know the meaning of these symbols? I confess, I was so busy with everything else that I neglected to get directions to the grave where shield lies." He looked somewhat abashed at his negligence.

The tendrils curved like opposing crescents, starting in the directions away from the main body and having both heads of the tendrils facing one another.

After a few moments of staring at the carvings, Kel cleared his throat, as if to ask 'what now'?

With no answers forthcoming from anyone else, Dartis picked the tunnel with the arrows, a fortunate sign for him and headed down the path.

The tunnel continued downwards for approximately 70 feet, until it opened up into an irregularly-shaped circular room about 40 feet in diameter. From the entrance of this room, the party saw a passageway directly ahead and another that led to the right. The ceiling was about 30 feet above.

In the northeast, the corner of the room was raised like a platform and stood about 20 feet high. The heroes couldn't see what was on top of it, but Kel and Chalik warned the party that they could hear something shifting its weight frantically. The sound started as soon as the party stopped in front of the room. As the party struggled to listen to what their companions detected, they could hear the sound of something on top of pebbles and rock.

Dartis readied his bow with a drawn arrow. In a soft voice he said "I doubt we will find many friends behind the seal, though let us not make a foe out of one who is not. Hold the light higher so we can see what is on top of the platform."

Silas lifted his torch higher and looks upwards trying to catch a glimpse of the maker-of-sounds. Musing quietly to himself, Silas said, "Can't quite see. Shall we move closer? Eh, Thebu?" As the warty head of a toad poked out of the exterior pocket of his cloak (obviously recently and crudely stitched in place) and myopically peered about as Silas took a step forward.

Silas could not scry his familiar at his level of talent, but he could gather a general impression of what the familiar saw. After standing on Dartis' shoulders, he held the toad slightly over the rim of the raised stoneworks. His familiar gave off a feeling of fear at what it saw and two words were felt in Silas' mind... "Chained lizards..."
Not knowing that Silas had detected a presence, Danica held her everburning torch in one hand, and her crossbow in the other. She took a few steps forward towards the northwest.

"I am happy to go investigate, but I do not see an easy route up. Perhaps we should just continue?" This last was asked with an accompanying gesture from her torch hand, towards the left-hand passage.

As Danica moved towards the other passage and made her suggestion, she suddenly heard some creatures arguing in a gutteral language. The voices seemed to be coming closer, and there wasn't much cover to hide behind in this room.

Quickly returning Thebu to the comfort of his pocket, Silas turned to the others and saids, "Lizards of some sort, chained. Beyond that, I couldn't say." The toad wiggled around in Silas' pocket then poked its nose out and lets out a low noise. "Brip, brip."

But Danica hissed for him to be silent. Hearing the voices, Danica dropped her torch and raised her hand, quickly, to offer a signal to her companions watching her. The signal did not last long, however. For the same hand was now reaching for her pouch, where she grabbed the leather thong within, and drew a large x over her heart, saying as she did "Protect me, keep me safe. Keep me safe, protect me." The x was drawn large, the x reaching from shoulder to hip, hip to shoulder. (She was casting Mage Armor). She raised her crossbow and took a step back.

Catching Danica's movement from the corner of his eye and seeing her attention directed down the passageway, Silas stepped towards the wall and sets his lantern down on the floor. Gripping his staff in both hands he prepared for whatever might be coming.
Dartis was still contemplating the lizards on the platform when he noticed the preparations going on. He turned, arrow drawn to wait for the source of the sound to emerge.
The party saw two creatures they mistook for a moment as humans. But then they noticed their snout-like faces, webbed and clawed feet, and thin reptilian tails. With a grunt, the two creatures charged the party, clawed hands outstretched. They started their charge from 30 feet away.

Dartis made a comment to Silas "I guess we should have expected them to say Hi." as he rapidly fired a pair of arrows at the leader.
Danica raised her crossbow and fired, severely injuring the lead creature with a crossbow bolt to its shoulder. It gasped and stumbles, only to be shot only a few inches away from his fresh wound by Chalik's own arrow. The strange creature fell at Dartis' feet and gave a death rattle.

Dartis fired off two rounds, but both bounced off the rubbery hide of the second, enraged creature. It gave a howl of anger as it saw its companion fall. Dartis smelled the stench of rancid water as the humanoid reached him and tried to bite him, showing a hideous row of long, razor-sharp teeth that looked to be able to kill a man with one chomp. Right then, perhaps because of its blind rage, it stumbled on the body of its dead comrade and tumbled to the ground.

Silas rushed up and stabbed downwards with his staff, further pinning the creature after bruising it in the chest. Kel followed and took an aimed strike with his scimitar, killing it. The party took a moment to smile at one another at their victory, but then Chalik detected the sound of claws on rock. A third creature had gone unnoticed, its skin blending into the rock with a near-chameleon ability. It was crawling on the wall with its claws, and nearly made it to the raised stoneworks in the corner of the room, a key dangling from a belt at its otherwise bare hip.

Dartis and Chalik were the only ones able to react in time, with Chalik's arrow missing and striking the wall just underneath the creature. Kel fired his own two shots, one arrow missing, but the other striking the creature's lower back.

It howled, but hung on long enough to drop onto the raised area of stone and disappeared from sight. The party's alert ears were filled with the jingling of keys, the rattling of chains, and the hissing of angry lizards.
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Silas turned back towards the lizard platform. He held his staff at the ready, squinting in the dim light as he waited for the creatures. Dartis grabbed Danica's arm and pulls her back away from the area of raised stone right as two sets of eyes appear and gleam at the party from their heights. Two giant lizards appeared from the shadows, their red serpentine pupils set within gray eyes. Their skin was a dull, sickly green but looked tough enough to turn weak blows. Although the heroes didn't see teeth when their tongues flicked out to sense the terrain in front of them, their mouths were huge and looked capable of swallowing a small human whole. Their feet had long claws, and the party members imagined them rending the flesh of their opponents into smaller chunks. They were balanced by a thick tail. As they began to climb down towards the party, the heroes saw a third lizard being unchained by the humanoid creature. That task complete, he moved to unleash a fourth, when the third lizard smelled his blood, and pounces upon the unsuspecting lizard-like man. He screamed in terror, but the sound was swiftly replaced by the echoes of torn flesh, broken bones, and swallowing on the part of the third freed lizard and the fourth chained one.

Danica, a small human, stepped back and regained her footing, exclaiming, "Yip! Dartis, I thought he was dead!" She fired her crossbow at one of the advancing lizard creatures.

Silas began to move forward but then abruptly stopped with a whispered curse. Frantically, he waved one hand in ritual movement and pronounced the words of power that summoned forth his arcane defense... Extended Mage Armor.
Chalik was the first to move, and he switched to his rapier, and then waited for the approach of the creatures. Danica fired off her shot, burying a crossbow bolt deep inside the neck of the lead creature. It shrieked, but did not fall, and angrily closed in on Chalik, who sliced a nasty gash into the creature's front leg.

The lizard attacked next, slicing a nasty wound into the dwarf's shoulder. Dartis fired his shots next, both arrows lodging into the giant lizard's side, causing it to scream and flop uncontrollably onto the ground. The second lizard crawled over his dying companion and attacked Darts as the fighter switched from bow to his blade. The clawed front leg slammed the young lord squarely against his chest, and although Dartis did not feel the edges cut into his skin, he did feel his ribs become bruised from the force of the creature's blow.

Silas cast a spell, although the rest of the party was unaware of its effects. Kel moved forward next, yelling some ancient elven battlecry, and slicing at the lizard attacking Dartis. He slightly wounded the creature on the flank, although its full attention was still on the human fighter.

Along the corner of her eye, Danica could see that the third lizard had finished its meal and was beginning to crawl down the raised area of stone. She shouted a warning to her comrades.

Chalik came to Dartis' side and driving his rapier fully through one of the creature's legs. It snarled, and moved to strike at Chalik with its other leg, when Danica's crossbow shot distracted it by zipping in between the combatants, barely missing both dwarf and lizard. Dartis stabbed at the creature with his sword and traced a thin gash in the lizard's face. Kel joined the melee, only to have his own attack bounce off the tough hide of the lizard.
The third lizard moved behind Chalik to strike him from behind. Having given himself a modicum of magical protections Silas felt more prepared for battle. At Danica's warning cry he turned. Seeing the third lizard bearing down upon the group, Silas raised one hand and pointed at the lizard. Foreign words rumbled out from his mouth and a searing beam of light shots forth from his hand... Scorching Ray A bolt of flaming light erupted forth from his palm, hitting the creature squarely in the chest and causing it to shriek in pain as its claws missed the dwarf widely.

"Gotta get me one of those", thought Danica to herself.

Chalik attacked again, but missed, the fact that Danica nearly missed him and that she is reloading her crossbow and that he had a lizard to his back distracting him to no end. Danica's next bolt sang true, however, and the creature fell with a pained hiss as her bolt pierced its lung.

Dartis moved to another of the creatures behind Chalik, but his sword bounced off the lizard's skin. Kel joined in once more, and once more he also failed to penetrate its tough hide. The creature countered, striking Kel severely across the face. The elf screamed and fell, his hands protecting his slashed throat and cheek. Silas hurried to protect his comrade by standing over him and striking with his staff, cracking the lizard's ribs with his staff.

Chalik yelled to see if Kel is alright, but the elf merely replied in moans while the dwarf's rapier knicked the creature in its side. Danica fired her bolt, but the lizard was too fast, and she missed its side by inches. With a warcry, Dartis was the one who ended it, leaping onto the lizard's back and burying his blade into the center of the creature's neck.
Kel recovered himself and cast a spell of healing, his face and neck wounds closing, and the color rushing back to his face.

The only sound now besides the heroes' labored breathing, was the fourth lizard that they still could not see and was straining to free itself on the top of the raised stone area.
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Silas looked around warily to make sure that his companions were all still standing. His worry about Kel eased when he saw that the elf was still capable of healing himself but he still helped the elf to his feet. Flooded with relief that they'd all managed to survive another dangerous incident, Silas grinned. However, noise from the chained lizard grated on Silas' nerves and he approached the raised stone area to see if he could get a better view of what was going on up there.

Scrambling up on some rock debris, Silas peered over the edge and could see that the creature was still enraged, attempting to pull the chain from the wall, and was standing over the torn body of the lizard-like humanoid.

Danica readied her everburning torch, and advanced towards the rock pile where Silas was.

"Chalik, help Kel. Danica reload and watch that corridor. Silas, cover me in case that thing breaks loose." ordered Dartis picking up his bow. He the proceeded to the platform and climbed on top of it, his naked sword still covered in saurian ichor, ready to finish the deed.

Silas nodded at Lord Kalnian's command. "Yes, sir."
"Yes, milord." answered Danica to Dartis' command. She stepped back from the rocks, and reloaded and raised her crossbow, pointing it down the corridor.

At her feet, she saw the corpse of one of the humanoid lizard creatures. She looked at it, and what it was wearing. "Does any one know what these creatures are called?" she asked, in curiosity.

Silas stood nearby, staff held firmly in both hands, ready to jump in should Dartis need assistance. When Danica asked about the men with lizard-like features he glanced at them briefly. Brow furrowing in thought he tried to remember if his master of the arcane mentioned such creatures or if he might have read about them somewhere. They seemed to be a mutated version of Skum. Besides the ability to climb walls and chameleon-like abilities, Silas was unsure what else they could do.

Maintaining his vigilance while Dartis dealt with the lizard, Silas spoke,
"During my apprenticeship my master would tell tales at the end of the day. I thought they were tales to entertain a young boy but I realize now that they served the purpose of education as well. I remember creatures such as these but there was little information beyond what we've already seen. They can hide themselves like a chameleon and are able to scurry up walls as well. We'll have to be extra careful."
Dartis heaved half a dozen or so small boulders up onto the platform. He then climbed up to the platform. While standing at respectable distance from the lizard he began heaving the boulders onto the head of the lizard. He was not going to waste his arrows if he could help it.

But the lizard was rewarded by its struggles when the bolts fastening its chain finally gave, sending it temporarily off balance as it skidded to a halt in the center of the raised stone corner. The party scrambled back down and prepared for combat before the creature could begin to climb down.

Having seen the nasty results of the lizard's long claws, Silas was reluctant to get in too close. However, since Dartis has been chucking rocks at it and was unready, Silas did his best to dash in yelling and whirling his staff about in order to distract it until Dartis could again arm himself. He got a lucky shot in, striking the creature firmly across its side as it scrambled off the rocky platform.

Danica whirled around and fired her crossbow at the lizard creature. Pfft... missing the creature, but tearing a hole through Silas' sleeve. The abjurer was surprised, but unhurt as the lizard attacked and also missed.

Chalik yelled and swung his rapier, but the creature's thick hide was too much and the blade almost snapped. Dartis moved to Chalik's side and swing his own blade, cutting deeply into the creature's flesh with a mighty cleave. It was Kel, though, that finished off the beast, his strike biting into the lizard's throat and silencing it forever.
There were no more bestial sounds, and it appeared that the party were the sole survivors of the carnage.

Silas was able to get to the top of the stone platform and searched the disgusting remains of the lizard-like humanoid that was torn apart. On the corpse he found a keyring with four black keys with curvy shaped lengths.

In a pouch by the corpse he also found a well-made sling, two small sapphires, and ten crude gold pieces with the face of a lizard-humanoid emblazoned on both ends. Also on the corpse, Silas found a silver ring with runes of an unknown language etched upon its surface.

Silas packed away the items that he had found with the intention of sharing the treasure with his companions when they returned to a place of safety. He examined the ring and jingled the keyring. Silas could see that the language on the ring was a blend between aquan and undercommon, but leaning more towards the undercommon side.

"Found some keys and a bit of stuff that may be worth some coin if we make it out of here alive." He grinned. "So. Which way now?" He ambled over to check the walls near the two exits to see if they had markings similar to those they found previous.

"Let's try that tunnel" said Dartis pointing to the tunnel to the north.

Danica smiled at Silas, a coquettish grin which acknowledged the danger she had put him in. "I'll aim for the lizard, next time," she offered, looking down at his sleeve as she reloaded, and glancing up again quickly to see if he was still watching her.

Still grinning, Silas shrugged. "It's just a hole. The bears did worse." Truly, his clothes did look a little worse for wear. He turned away and quickly retrieved his lantern still sitting on the floor near the cavern wall.

She added in apology: "I can try and mend that for you later, if you wish." And with that she headed down the tunnel, lifting her everburning torch to help illuminate the passage. With her hair cut short, Danica was missing the strands with which she used to habitually play. As she walked, she did so with a grace that she knew would appear feminine to most, and she winced at the thought that, such a short time ago, she actually hoped to disguise herself as a boy. The memory ached, but she fought back the embarassment. But are all my secrets this transparent to the others? she asked herself.

The smooth, circular corridor Danica led the group through went for 40 more feet, with a slight decline that made it impossible to see the next chamber at first. As the heroes neared the end of the tunnel it did come into sight. They were just before the entrance of a very large chamber, about 90 feet from east to west, and another 40 feet from south to north. Two large pools of water stretched from the west and stopped at a large statue in the east.

The statue was in the shape of one of the humanoid creatures, but showed only its torso and higher, the rest of the body submerged in another pool of water. It stood 40 feet above the water, its head just barely touching the ceiling. On the forehead was what looked to be a large gem, while two outstretched hands with palms up were held 10 feet over the strip of earth that formed a path between the pools. Another tunnel was in the north.

Silas stopped as they arrived at the next cavern. "Ai! That thing's huge. At least there's no bloody alters. Think they're lurking just under the water waiting for us to pass?" His grin had faded into a smile that, coupled with his eyes that darted about the cavern, seemed more strained than jovial.

Danica grunted approval at Silas's idea--it did seem likely that something awaited in the water. Still, as the party began to enter the room she was looking up, at the ceiling and the walls, looking for places of potential ambush. With her back to the wall of the new room, she side-stepped her way 10 to 20 feet along to the right. She was not going in the water, yet.

"There is only one way to find out. Stay here and cover me until I cross so we know it's safe. Silas, do we know what this shield looks like? That gem couldn't be it could it?" asked Dartis as he drew his sword and began to walk down the path between the two pools. Danica covered Dartis with her crossbow.

Dartis crossed the path without any difficulties, and Danica found that there was no target for her to plug holes into. From his vantage point, Dartis could see that the gem is simply that... a large and cut green stone, but unlikely to be a shield.

Assured that there is no threat of arial assault, Danica moved forward to stay close to Dartis, her eyes scanning the surface of the water. Dartis beckoned the rest of the group over and examined the corrider out.

From his vantage point he could see that the corridor continued for 30 feet, before bending to the right. At the bend, he believed he could see signs of rubble.

Silas approached Dartis. "No, that's not the shield." He went on to relate what information that he received from the dwarves that he spoke to prior to coming into the tunnels. Holding his lantern a little higher, Silas looked over towards the rubble. "Looks like a bit of shaky footing over there..."
Danica advanced carefully, to test the footing of the ground. The ground seemed steady enough.

As the heroes approached the bend to take a closer look, they saw it was a part of the ceiling that had collapsed. Axe-marks scarred the surface of the wall and ceiling near the collapsed section. Both the rubble and the scarred surfaces looked very old, and it seemed that little travel actually occured through this area. They could only marvel at what might be on the other side.

"Well our way is blocked. Chalik do these axe marks look to have been made from this side to intentionally collapse the tunnel?" Asked Dartis as he headed back down the corridor to the room with the statue.

After a few moments, Chalik answered in the affirmative. "Hmmm... yes, I would say they do. And the marks look to be quite old. From the amount of rubble, however, I think that we could try to clear some of it out with 30 minutes or so of work. Maybe it will let us see what's on the other side."

"Well, let's set to it stout dwarf" said Dartis with a grin, clapping Chalik on the shoulder. "Danica, would you hold my bow please and help keep watch?"

The men began digging as Danica stood watch closer to the room with the pools of water. The four of them formed a line, Dartis and Chalik passing rocks and rubble to Kel and Silas to place along the ground. The four of them worked up a sweat, until their clothes and skin were covered in a thin layer of dust, but within 30 minutes a hole was made on the top of the pile of rubble that was large enough to allow a human or even a dwarf. Chalik stopped the party for a moment, lest the opened passage become too unstable. The dwarf climbed up the pile of loose rock and stuck Silas' lantern into the next room. The heroes heard him gasp, as he scrambled over the rubble and inside the next room.
"Gods!" They heard the dwarf gasp and the scraping of metal against stone. "We've found it!" They heard him struggling with something in the darkness.

Meanwhile, Danica stared into the room with the pools, hearing the sound of something scraping upon the stones. It seemed to be coming from the direction of the tunnels that her party had come from. As she concentrated her vision in that area, she believed for a moment that she could see a flicker of movement, then the sound seemed to get slightly closer, but then the movement came from the ceiling, and in many directions. She backed away in fear, as she also watched the pools of water begin to move in noticeable waves, as if something or somethings swam quickly beneath its depths.

"Whatever we've found, can it wait?" asked Danica, as she leaned the bow against the wall and raised her own crossbow instead. Her voice squeaked a bit as she asked, and in her mind she didn't sound serious enough. So she added, "There is something moving in the room with the pools. In the water, and on the ceiling. I think we need to prepare ourselves."

With her left hand, she threw her everburning torch twenty feet in front of her. Perhaps her action would catch some creature, like a deer in Dancing Lights. After she threw, she raised her crossbow and aimed...

"What did she say? Someone throw me a rope and take this shield!" Chalik shouted, as something metallic was pushed against the lip of the cleared opening.

Silas grabbed the shield from Challik pulling it up through the crevice created by their excavations. "She said that something's moving around up here. Possibly a lot of somethings. How much room is there in there? Might be wiser for us to retreat in there and limit their options in surrounding us..." He looked over at Dartis to see what he would suggest.

"Not unless there's another way out of there. Let's arm and see what's out there. Now that we have the shield, or at least a shield (and Silas check it out to make sure it's the one we want). we can leave here. I would prefer to fight our way back out. At the least make sure one of us gets out with the shield to free our people. Come let us see what we are up against" said Dartis grabbing his bow and drawing an arrow.

Silas grabbed the shield, and with a quick glance could see ancient writing and the molded features of a male human on its surface. It definitely looked to be what they were after, but before he could take a closer look Danica fired her crossbow as the sounds of crawling creatures came nearer. Her bolt missed, but the party could hear the hissing chattering of agitated humanoids, sounding like the ones recently fought. From the sounds of it they were almost on top of the tunnel opening now...

Danica reloaded, and prepared to fire again. The illumination only lit the area enough to show shadows flitting ahead. She hugged the right side against the wall, taking steps to avoid chargers, firing bolts --

Silas stood directly in front of the cave entrance. He slid the shield a little towards Dartis in case he should need to grab it up and use it. "It certainly looks like the shield we were told about." Quickly he knelt and slid his pack from his shoulders, trusting Dartis and Danica to keep whatever is out there off his back. He unstrapped the rope he had and tossed one end down to Challik and affixed the other end to himself to use his own strength to help Challik out of the hole.

It was Dartis and Kel who handled the first charge, as several figures fell from the ceiling near the cave opening. Kel moved first, but missed the skum that dropped in front of him. Dartis followed, with two shots at point blank range from his bow that killed another creature dropping in front of him.

Danica attempted to help Kel, firing a crossbow bolt that injured the creature in front of him. At the same time, Silas helped Chalik, who took the opportunity to crawl over the tunnel's opening and drop on the other side, weapon drawn.

The lizard-like creature in front of Kel slashed at the elf with its claw, but missed him. At the same time, two more scum dropped behind him from the ceiling, while another three erupted 30 feet behind those, from the pool. Chalik took a moment during the confusion to move himself into the front ranks.

"Silas, some oil set ablaze on top of one of those pools may slow them down, or at least keep more from coming out" suggested Dartis as he fired another pair of arrows at one of the new creatures.

Silas heard Dartis' suggestion about the oil but wasn't really certain how to go about implementing the idea. Instead he stepped up between those fighting in the front and, waiting for a moment when he could catch more than one of the creatures in its effect, cast Burning Hands.

Chalik and Kel block the entrance to the tunnel, which only allowed two of these mutated skum to attack in melee at a time. There were five skum in front of the party, with one being wounded and directly in front of Kel. Another uninjured one closed with Chalik. The two others that jumped from the pool were halfway to the group.

Chalik attacked first, slicing at the creature in front of him with his rapier, and was able to penetrate the creature's tough hide. The creature howled as it was wounded, then Danica's crossbow bolt flew passed its head, and misses its companion behind it.

One skum counterattacked against Chalik, but was unable to bite into the dextrous dwarf. Kel was not so lucky, as the wounded creature in front of him unsuccessfully raked his armor with two clawed hands, but then bit into the elf's arm.

Silas attacked next, his hands outstretched inbetween his two companions in the front row as an arcane cone of fire erupted from his hands, hitting the first five skum and killing off the two in front of Kel and Chalik, turning them into screaming masses of charred flesh.
The other three also screamed, and in retaliation their heads reared backwards and then lunged forward as they each spit a green wad that exploded on the ground in the midst of the party. The greenish gel flew in every direction, some of it splashing on the bodies of each of the heroes. Where it touched clothes, holes were made, and what they realized was the acid took some skin with the fabric. All were hurt, and Kel nearly incapacited again.

Despite the pain, Kel stopped his bleeding with a prayer for healing. Dartis fired in retaliation, hitting and felling another skum, but breaking his bowstring on the next shot. The human fighter would need time to pull out another string and restring his weapon.

There were four skum left, two injured ones that had just spit, and two that had now closed the distance from the pools and were behind the first two.

Silas looked grimly out over the battle. He struggled not to rub the acid burns fearing he'd injure himself further. With a look of grim determination he hefted his staff and prepared to step forward to give Dartis the time needed to restring his bow should it appear that he would do so.

But Dartis tossed down his bow in disgust, and ran towards the front line, drawing his sword as he did, pausing only long enough to grab the Shield from Silas, as a mate to his sword.

Chalik and Kel moved forward and out of the tunnel to attack, both targeting opponents that were already injured. Chalik's rapier moved swiftly, his hand a blur as he feinted in one direction, then sliced his blade to the other, leaving a thin trail of green blood across one skum's throat, which choaked and fell. Kel missed the other, but Danica's shot flew true, critically hitting into the second skum in between the eyes and throwing it backwards five feet right before it struck the elf down. The elf turned back towards the sorceress in both surprise and appreciation.

Silas stepped forward to meet the next two skum, but the piles of skum bodies around them served to drive them into fleeing. The pair headed for the pools of water, but not before the party unloaded with their missile weapons. Danica, Kel, and Chalik all struck one at the same time, bringing him down. Dartis took his restrung bow and fired two more salvoes, but couldn't tell if they had struck, as the creature dived into the water as the arrows reached his vicinity. No body came up to the surface, and Dartis believed that although this skum might be injured, it was probably still alive and swimming quickly elsewhere.

"Let us move quickly before more come back!" shouted Dartis urging group along.

Danica reloaded, and scanned the water, looking for a target. "You cross first. I can follow." She said with the confidence of command; an authority that seemed to be her true inner nature suddenly emerging from the shy persona she normally exuded. But then she remembered her place, "Er. Sir. If that's alright." She offered a coy smile.

Dartis paused to give Danica a wry smile of his own. "How kind of you. NOW MOVE! And that's an order. I'm last out. Danica, Chalik, Silas then Kel. now GO!" ordered Dartis almost pushing his small band across the bridge.

Silas bent to recover the shield, then hurried after the party. The group's flight was a harrowing and frightful affair. These mutated skum camouflaged with their surroundings, and they would pose a great threat if they were allowed to form into larger formations. But they were only able to attack in ones and twos, trying desperately to impede the party from escaping. Chalik's keen eye discovers several, which he points out to Dartis who was able to send such would-be ambushers back into hiding. The braver skum were made quick work of, although Dartis was taken by surprise once, and some invisible force around Danica seemed to divert a clawed strike from another dark niche.

The pursuers become more aggressive as they realized that the party was heading for one forgotten direction: the way into the dwarven kingdom. The heroes disappeared past the dwarven seal just as a dozen skum appeared down one tunnel, but the dwarves acted fast, firing crossbow bolts and throwing axes to disrupt the beasts while others worked their backs into closing the great seal. Finally, with a loud creak, the seal slammed shut, causing the sounds of the party's pursuers to cease reaching their ears, as if they had never existed.

One dwarven sergeant saw the prize in Silas' arms and said, "Good job, lad. I'll send a runner to the king, who will inform the Imperials that we're ready to barter. I must say, I'm glad to see this thing is nearly at an end, although 'tis a shame to have to give up such a treasure."

Upon saying that, Silas turned the prize over for the party to see. The shield was round, and small; something fit for a warrior on horseback. Around the edges, in script amazingly similar to that used by ancient Dorinthians, were the words: 'The King of All Men' along with engraved laurels. A portrait of a man wearing a breastplate and furs had been hammered into the center of the shield, the exact bearing of a willful and handsome warrior-king from the old barbarian times before Dorinth was ever established. What is more stunning is that the face is an exact twin of Commander Sassarius.
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Danica too marveled at the shield, making a wee circle with her thumb and forefinger and holding it up to her eye. "Let me see its nature," she said, almost under her breath. Detect magic

She stepped closer to Dartis -- "Does he need help with those wounds?" She wondered to herself --, and asked, "Um. We're not actually going to give this to him, are we?"

Danica detected a mixture of abjuration and enchantment magic. The magic of the shield seemed quite stronger than anything she had seen before.

OOC: The Shield of Kings, small Shield +2 of arrow catching, can be activated 3 times a day for a +4 charisma bonus that lasts one turn.


Dartis was broken from his study of the shield by Danica's question. "I don't wish to. Such an artifact should stay with Dorinthia. But," he added with a sigh, "I don't see any way to save our people without doing so. Much less without further endangering these fine dwarves who have already risked so much. But if any of you have any further suggestions I am glad to hear them."

The party was ushered into a large chamber, where their wounds were treated and they were fully healed by the rough hands of the local dwarven clerics. Soon, the dwarven king himself came to visit and asked to see the shield. "This is a work of beauty, and something I never thought I'd see in my lifetime," he admitted while holding the metal object in old, worn hands. "That strange gentleman has come to the front of our gates with an armed escort, and a large chest. He asks that we cover the shield in this," he said, showing a black cloth sack that he had curled underneath his arm. "It would seem that the only ones who are to see the shield are us and that robed man with the shifty eyes."

Silas looked with a little curiosity at Danica as she performed her nearly unnoticable ritual but the arrival of their esteemed hosts distracted him. He respectfully greeted the Dwarven king in his own tongue. He scowled upon hearing the shield was to go directly to the sinister wizard and not Commander Sassarius. He looked over at Dartis to see how the commander was going to handle the wizard's attempt to circumvent his agreement with Commander Sassarius.

"Um. Is it possible that we could give him another magic shield --or even a shield that he thought were magic -- instead of the one that he clearly needs? His expectations of us clearly indicate he doesn't want it uncovered in front of his troops. But what if we could make him think he had the Shield of Kings, maybe only for a short while? Would that be enough to accomplish OUR goals? I have an idea on how we might be able to trick him, for a short while, at least. Um, sir." Danica's shy offer filled the silence. She knew that she must appear like a simple girl with a bad haircut--nothing more. But she did not want to give away such a treasure.

The king thought it over for a moment and said, "Well, we could just throw some shield with runic writing, but didn't that shady-looking Imperial know what this artifact was supposed to look like? We could try creating a duplicate, but it would take us a couple of days to make a decent likeness.

Danica shrugged at the King's query. "I really don't know what they know. But I do think that a nicely carved shield that radiated magic could be made to seem to be the Shield of Kings. Even if a wizard simply cast a Continual Flame spell -- is that what it's called? -- it would glow and flicker and radiate magic. That would make it seem to be a magic shield," she said, and paused for a second, taking a quick glance at her companions. An incisor nibbled at her lower lip for a moment, and she exhaled, deeply. "After that, I think I know how to make it seem to be the Shield of Kings, for a while at least. What I don't know, is if such a ruse actually accomplishes our ends." She glanced back and forth between the Dwarven King and Lord Dartis, expectantly.

Dartis had been lost in thought. Finally he spoke:

"This is something I do not want to relinquish. It may indeed be an heirloom of our ancestors, and in any case anythings we can do that is contrary to the Imperials we ought to do. Still, this was undertaken as a way to save not only the remaining Dorinthians, but to relieve our very good friends the dwraves, who have provided them sanctuary and protected them. Still, I dream of ridding the land, or part of it at least, of the Tallione. This would make a tremendous rallying standard."

"One of my ideas previously was to try to substitute the shield. Of course Nefius will know if it is not magical, but I doubt he knows exactly what it looks like. he is crafty though, and his precautions for delivery betray both his desire and his fear. For upon seeign the shield I thought that if I must hand over the shield that Commander Sassarius must see it. That may spark some dissent or conflict between them that may work to out advantage. So I say, let a new shield be made, and let us offer it up. If it is discovered, we must ensure that commander Sassarius sees it though. We gamble greatly, the Imperials still hold friends whose lives may be forfeit if this rouse fails, and indeed this stronghold is then imperiled. But with the King's blessing, let us begin!"

The king nodded and said, "I share your concerns, and will support your decision, but the Imperials are nearing our gate as we speak, and they bring your captured friends in tow. How do we stall them for two days?"

"Your Majesty, My Lord." Danica began with an awkward courtsey directed midway between the two, and smiled. She put down her crossbow, hanging it on a leather loop on her belt, and ensured that the bolt was secure and safe. Now her hands were free to use excitedly when she talked.

"If I may..." she breathed in deeply, and continued. "If we have another shield that can radiate magic...really any magic, I suspect, which is why I suggested a Continual Flame spell, or else a less unique magic shield that someone might have, thjat we could use rtight away, then here is what I suggest."

Danica's eyes sparkled as she spoke, and it was clear that she was building up to something. "I think that if we had such a shield, that I could make Lord Sassarius believe that he held a unique item that was destined for him." She paused before continuing, her fingers wringing one another for the moment. But prompted by the silence, she continued.

Deep breath, and she began again. "My Lord, I have a confession to make, and it is one that does not come easily to me. You have been good to me, as have you all," she said, turning, and encomapassing her companions with her gesture, "but I have not repaid your trust with transparency. There is something I have wanted to tell you, but, well, I haven't. But it may help us here." Danica felt like she was hyperventilating, and her face had flushed completely.
"I, um... I can er, um. Okay. Sometimes, when I need to, I can do things. Magic things, er. I've never actually said this aloud before. Whooo. Okay. When I need to, I can cast spells, I guess. Since I was fourteen or so, and I don't need a spell book or anything." Danica looked around, clearly expecting this to be a big revelation. It occured to her for a moment that maybe her companions had known all along; but I hid it so well. She rushed on with her plan, suppressing the thought.

"Anyway, it occurs to me that I might be able to make the Commander think the Shield was talking to him. If I were hidden in the woods, say, even a fair ways away, as long as I could see him, I think I could make him and the others think the shield was talking to them. And, um, I've heard of Intelligent wepaons and things, and if suddenly a magic shield were to start talking to you and using your name and saying you were the chosen one, and that it was destined to be held by you in battle, and all that, well it might be that we could fool him like that. I think I could do it for hours if we needed to, it's really quite simple magic. But if we did it a few times a day, I think I could make him think that he had an even better shield than he is expecting. An Intelligent Shield... a Shield of Kings. And that might play on his vanity."

"Um. Boys like it when you play to their vanity."
She smiled at this and looks around, hoping nobody was going to laugh at her plan.

Silas listened quietly to the others planning and was quite surprised when Danica confessed her innate ability to use magic. He felt a momentary pang of jealousy which quickly faded when he realized that it was not so much the use of his magic but the study of it that gave him pleasure. Drawing his attention back to the conversation he listened a moment longer before interjecting.

"If we must give up the shield I would give it up only to Commander Sassarius and no other. This wizard, Nefius... I do not trust him. I do not trust Sassarius either but he, at least, seems to have some honor. However, I agree that we should not turn the shield over to them at all.

Silas looked at Danica. "I've no skill with the magics of misdirection. To go through with this we'll need to rely upon you for that. But it seems to me that Nefius fears the shield being seen as it is carried by one worthy and with the right to rule. It is the Shield of Kings." He straightened a little and looks bluntly at Dartis. "We should give Nefius what he fears. Ride out, in full procession, bearing the shield."

"That's a good point," Danica said about it being Nefius at the gate. "That does change things, I guess." She looked around for other ideas, hoping that something could be salvaged. She could barely make eye contact with Silas, a real magician. Nevertheless, she must.

"I'm afraid I don't really get how scrying works. That shield was in the dark, buried. Is it possible that Nefius would have not been able to see the details of the shield? He won't have seen the shield except through that spell. Is it possible that something can be done?"

She hesitated, and continued: "I know that the wizard comes with our friends, including dear Rix, and we don't want to endanger their lives, or indeed those of the dwarves..." Danica here awkwardly repeated her courtsey, and continued."Is it possible that we could get Nefius to bring Sassarius here? Could this be made into a matter of diplomacy, not for seconds, but only for true leaders? What if we sent out someone who was obviously unequal to Nefius, with the request that the Shield of Kings is to be born by Kings, and by Kings alone?"

Danica blushed. "You all must think me the most horrid, duplicitous scoundrel. It seems every thing I say involves lying. But to give away an artifact to the Imperials... Well. I can't imagine it will save many lives, even if it spares our friends for the time being." Danica trailed off contemplating the greater good argument, wanting to help her friends but not seeing a clear way through.

"Indeed, the thought has crossed my mind I must admit Silas. However, we did agree to hand over the sheild. But no specificis were made as to whom we should hand it over to. We can and shall insist that we hand the shiled over to Commander Sassarius. Nefius made no demand that he receive the shield directly from us. That at the least may buy us some time. And I trust the honor of Sassarius more than Nefius. It was Sassarius who forced Nefius to give his word of safe passage.

Although. Although perhaps Silas maybe right. Now Silas do we advance out in full procession, bearing the shield, only to turn it over to him? Or do we ride out in full procession, shield borne upon my arm, to free our friends and cow or sway the Imperial forces before us? Or do we strike what bow we can and slay the few Imperials that set foot upon the threshhold of this fortress?"
mused Dartis.

Silas sighed. "That is, truly, the question." He looked at Dartis and it was plain to see that he was torn. "It is pleasant to think that we could ride out behind you, sway Commander Sassarius and his troops to our cause, strike down those who have injured or oppose us, and then build a safe home for our families.

But the reality would likely be far different than our dreams."
Silas straightened. "Nevertheless, that would be my advice. Take up the shield, let us ride out behind you with our allies, the dwarves, with us. Ignore Nefius. Approach the commander and declare for Dorinthia. Sway them or cow them, whichever seems appropriate at the moment, but let us do this all with the honor of Dorinthians. Let us strike no blow except in defense."

He smiled but it was tinged with a soul-deep weariness. "Whatever your decision, I will stand by you and for Dorinthia."

King Bermax nodded, "Very well, if that is your decision we will stand by you. What of your friends held by Nefius, however?"

Silas turned to King Bermax. "Sire, your people will be directly affected by our course of action. What do you recommend? As for our companions, I don't know."

The dwarven king answered, "Your plan is solid, if it is to get the attention of this Sassarius. However, perhaps there is a way to sneak a message to him, or to sneak into the camp with the shield (although I do not know how in broad daylight), or to even try to get Nefius and the prisoners closer before making our move so that you have a better chance of rescuing them before we chase him off. Even then, we may have the whole Imperial army at our backs and would have to hope to find a way to make parlay."

"How many men accompany Nefius?"

"Six," the king answerd.

"So be it. Let us prepare to meet the Tallione delegation. Be ready for whatever may occur, including Imperial treachery" said Dartis respectfully taking the shield from Silas, and with a bow to his advisor, strapped the ancient shield to his arm.
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
The party moved forth from the halls of the mountain dwarves, the great portals opened by several strong and stout warriors. The Dorinthian refugees gently cheered as Dartis led the procession, shield on high. Their eyes were both full of hope in the face of the heroes' bravery, and full of worry over the loss of their protectors.

The party moved forward with confidence, Nefius and his six men standing in front of the perty initially by 100 yards. As the heroes came closer, they could see that Rix and Alexander were kneeling on the ground in front of two armored men in the rear wielding short swords held near their throats. The two men in the middle were wearing dark robes, although the one on the right looked like he had a sort of holy symbol around his neck and a glint of armor underneath. The final two men that stood nearest also were armed, in a similar fashion to the men in the rear, but were also holding shields.

Nefius stood in the center of the six guards and two prisoners, a chest by his feet. He looked back nervously at a company of Imperials coming from the far away camp, led by a man too far to recognize. He turned back towards the party as they approached within 50 feet, stared at the shield and motioned to the open chest by his feet. "What do you think you're doing," he hissed in anger. "Turn over the shield and your friends will live."

"Harm either of them, and I promise that not only will you not walk away from this site, but that this shield will be buried so far under the mountain, not even the dwarves will be able to find it." shots back Dartis.

"As for what I am doing, Counsellor, is delivering the shield. You never specified unto whom it shall be delivered, nor under what conditions. As to your fear, I have no time for it. You cower and seek to hide it from eyes. because you fear what shall happen when those eyes behold it. What do your guards think to see you cower and cringe because some shiny bauble is naked to the world and not enclosed in deceit? What, I wonder, do you fear, Counsellor? Surely the great Nefius cannot fear a ragtag group of Dorinthians. No, your fear is approaching." said Dartis staring off at the lone figure in front of the Tallione army.

Wheeling his horse around and moving closer to the group, Dartis gestured with the shield and addressed the guards. "I command you to release the prisoners!" Dartis called out in a voice that only a Lord used to ruling could summon.
Danica stood in the back of the delegation, her crossbow in hand, feeling protected as she had cast Mage Armor over herself before leaving the protection of the dwarven fortress. Her spell was cast covertly, as with all her previous magics, and she was conscious that she had revealed too much of herself. Her confession about her powers had cost her the trust of her allies, it seemed, and with no benefit to be gained. She had thought her plan was worth pursuing, but as soon as it was spoken, it seemed to have been passed over without even an acknowledgement as it was rejected.

It ached whenever she thought of her confession, and she wondered if Lord Dartis will ever have a real use for her. As a crossbowman, she had a purpose. As a messenger, she had a purpose. As a sorcerer? She felt she has been a traitor to the cause, --no that's was not right, but she feared it is how she was seen now -- the cause for which she has fought. But where could she go, she wondered to herself.

Danica was sullen, her lips pouting subconsciously, as she stood looking at those in Nefius' delegation. But she had a job, at least for now, for Dorinthia. She eyed them up, looking to assess which one of them presented the greatest physical threat, and which one of them was the most heavily armoured. After some review, Danica believed that Nefius was the most dangerous, although the men who flanked him look to be spellcasters, while the rest were soldiers.

As Dartis commanded the release of the prisoners, Silas felt a surge of pride. Though he tried to keep his face bland he couldn't help smirking at the furious Nefius. Even so, he was aware that this could degenerate into violence quite easily and he kept one hand tucked within his sleeve grasping a wand.

As Dartis spoke, the six soldiers surrounding Nefius stood in an uncomfortable fidget, nervous glances thrown in one another's direction. There was something in the haughty demeanor of the Dorinthians and the conviction of the nobleman who led them. And that was when the heroes saw into the eyes of these Imperials and knew instinctively that they weren't true soldiers, but mere cronies of Nefius.

Their leader licked his lips nervously, turned to look back at the approaching Imperial company. With a twisted red-lipped smirk, pale Nefius grasped his dark quarterstaff with both hands and said simply, "Kill them."

The black robed man said a few words of magic, and his companions around him were suddenly strengthened in courage, the fear disappearing from their faces as they moved to attack the party.

At an impulse, Danica raised her crossbow to eye level, pointing it at the person wearing the holy symbol and the armor. She gave a moment's glance to Dartis, and back. "Your strength is gone," she proclaimed, and a ray coursed from where the crossbow bolt was, enfeebling her opponent.

As if expecting such a brtual response from the Tallionian, Dartis immediately sprang into action spurring Swift forward and drawing his sword. The great horse leapt straight towards the guard by Alexander, man and horse both seeking to strike him down.

Danica was the first to act, a coruscating ray flying from her crossbow and sapping the strength of the priest next to Nefius.

Rix also moved as he sensed the danger, throwing his head backwards to catch his guard by surprise before hurling his body forward in an attempt to escape. Unfortunately, the man recovered and slashes the kobold in the back, causing a cry and spurt of blood. Upon seeing this, Alexander roared and broke the bonds that were holding him, but was unable to shake off his guard. The Imperial stabbed the half-orc in the chest, his blade sinking deep.

Chalik moved forward and attacked one of the front-line guards, his rapier slashing but missing. Dartis charged forward and around the flanks of his enemy, his concentration on the guard with his blade in Alexander. The man looked up in surprise, as Dartis cut into his upraised arm, nearly severing it and causing the Imperial to collapse clutching it in shocked horror. As he fell beneath the noble's horse, Swift reared up and brought a hoof down squarely onto the dying man's head, finishing him off with a sickening crunch.

Kel moved forward with his longsword, attacking the guard in the front ranks, but missing him badly. Silas moved his horse past the elven priest and around the opposite flank from Dartis. When the abjurer got off his horse, and makes an amazingly talented landing in front of the guard that had just stabbed Rix from behind. His staff whistled before cracking into the side of the Imperial's helm, harming but not dropping him.

The Imperials returned the favor, although Kel was missed by the strikes of the soldiers in the front ranks. The priest moved to attack Silas, but missed him in his weakened state. The other robed figure next to Nefius made a motion with his hand, and a bolt of arcane magic flew forward and struck Danica, who grunted in pain and surprise.

Behind the party was heard a dwarven war horn and as the army of the mountain king was on the march.

When the bolt of energy blasted into Danica's shoulder, she became aware that it was the first time she had been struck by magical energy, and that it had happened within seconds of the first spell she had ever cast openly. My whole life has changed, hasn't it?
Danica shifted the crossbow and pointed it at Nefius. This time, she pulled the trigger, sending a bolt flying for the group leader. She reloaded. I'm getting sloppy she thinks to herself. I've really messed this up.

Dartis turned, the fire in his eyes matching the flame that just scorched his shoulder. With Alexander out of immediate harm, he let out a cry as he spurred Swift on towards Nefius, bloody sword raised high. At the same time, Danica fired once more, this time at the black-robed Nefius in the center of the enemy group. The shot hit him squarely in the arm, causing him to clutch his wound in surprise.

Chalik attacked one of the guards in front of him once more, but his rapier was parried by the man's shield. Dartis moved forward, barreling past a surprised mage, and attacked Nefius with his sword. The blade cut a gash into the side of the Imperial's face. As Nefius turned in surprise, Swift reared and kicked out with a hoof, slamming into Nefius' chest hard enough to cause him to stumble to the ground and cough up blood.
Kel attacked one of the guards that was in the front ranks, but like Chalik, his blow was parried by a shield. Silas attacked the man he was engaged with previously, but his strike went wide.

The Imperial engaged with Chalik closed in with the dwarf and attempted a short stab, but the stout rogue was too nimble for him. The man attacking Kel was much luckier, tricking the priest with a feint before sticking his blade into the elf's side. Kel grunted in pain, but maintained his stance.

The guard next to Silas smirked, thinking that a wizard shouldn't bring a stick to a sword fight. His grin soon disappeared, though, as his overhead smash was easily blocked by the stoic-faced and melee-hardened abjurer.

Nefius' clutched his blood-covered face as he dropped his quarterstaff and pulled a vial out of his belt pouch. He downed the strange liquid, and Dartis cried in frustration as he watched the Imperial fade into invisibility. He knew the man is about to flee, and took a final swing at where Nefius last was, but missed his mark. He soon had other problems to worry about.

The dark-robed cleric to his right reached out and grabs the nobleman's leg. Immediately Dartis felt a cold chill as dark magic coursed throughout his body. Soon after that, the robed wizard that Dartis pushed past before cast a spell at him, and the mounted noble felt a wave of exhaustion. Dartis fought off the magical sleep, much to the disappointment and rising fear of his enemy below him.

Silas blocked another of the guard's strikes with the thick oak of his gnomish-crafted staff and was pleased when the staff withstood the blow. An iron taste filled his mouth and he realized that he had bitten his tongue. He spit blood, and, hearing the cries of his companions, swung his staff at the guard facing him. Silas struck outwards with his quarterstaff, catching his Imperial opponent by surprise from the abjurer's strength and speed. The quarterstaff just barely connected with the man's jaw with enough power to cause him to spin and topple after a sickening crunch.

"Imperial Coward!" shouted Dartis at the space that Nefius had occupied. But the fire still burned as did his leg and Dartis swung his trust cavalry sword down at the dark robed cleric whose touch chilled the very marrow in his bones. At the same time urging Swift on with his knees to strike at the cleric as well. Swift kicked outward, but missed the dark-robed priest next to the noble. But as the priest moved out of the way of the hooves, Dartis' blade raked across his breastplate, gouging out a piece of the metal and wounding him badly.

Wheeling Swift around, Dartis called out: "Your craven master has fled and left you to your enemies. Flee and follow while you may!" None of the Imperials answered Dartis' call. It looked as if they still had some fight left in them.
Danica was aware that none of her magics could work against invisibility, and she cursed herself that her ink vial was in her backpack, and not her belt pouch. That might have kept him a target she thought to herself. But with no sure target, she turned her crossbow to the warrior who had attecked Kel. "Your strength is gone," she proclaimed, as another ray coursed along the crossbow sights at her foe.

Danica's ray shot forth and touched the soldier, and for a moment he shivered, but then shook off the magic with no other visible affect.

Chalik attacked the soldier next to him, but again his blow was parried by the grim-faced warrior. Kel also made another attack against the man who had injured him, but he also failed to make contact.

The Imperials moved next, but both front line guards missed Chalik and Kel. The injured cleric made an attempt at hitting Dartis with a light flail, but his weakened strike bounced harmlessly off the noble's armor. The dark wizard took a step to flank Dartis, then cast a spell that hits the rider forcefully from behind, drawing blood.

Rix and Alexander were both down. Rix was bleeding pretty badly and not moving, but Alexander looked to simply be stunned as the heroes could see him move slightly every so often. Both Imperials that were slicing into them were killed by Silas and Dartis. Kel and Chalik were engaged with two Imperials that were still uninjured and had swords and shields. Danica was behind Chalik and Kel and shooting. The two robed Imperials were engaged with Dartis.

........Da..........
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.....C.....K.........
.....I......I.........
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....r..D..r..........
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...........S.........
...A.....R..........

Dartis cursed as his leg was again bitten by Imperial magics. Still, a soldier doesn't falter, and he would be damned if he had come this far to let a few Tallione take him down. Spurring on Swift they both attacked the wounded robed Imperial.

Despite Dartis being pressed by two Imperials, Silas moved to the still and bleeding Rix. He knelt and ripped a strip of cloth from Rix's clothing to use as a bandage. Though he had little skill at it himself, he attempted to perform first aid on the kobold. "C'mon, you little bugger," murmured Silas, "I know you haven't finished being contrary, yet." He looked up from his work to yell for help. "KEL!"

Silas tried to stopped the life from seeping from the bleeding Rix, then screamed out for Kel's help. Danica's shot buried itself in the thigh of the Imperial fighting Kel, causing the man to scream and spurt blood down his leg. He remained standing, however, and focused on the elf in front of him. Kel tries to finish him, but was unable. He runs past him instead, causing an attack of opportunity that barely missed him. Kel scrambled next to Silas and yelled, "Go back to the battle. I'll help him!"

Chalik swung at the second soldier, but missed once more and cursed his luck. Dartis attacked the priest in front of him, but his sword went wide. Swift had better luck, kicking out and crushing the dark-robed man's head in. He went down in a slump.

The wizard cursed and walked backwards towards the two remaining soldiers. He cast a spell and a ball of acid sprang forth and hit Dartis. The soldiers both attacked Chalik, with one moving to flank the dwarf. Although one of the soldiers missed the nimble rogue, the second swung and barely wounded him across the forearm.

Dartis gritted his teeth against the pain of the acid burning his flesh. Fine, if they want a distance combat, I am well prepared to fight that way he thought as he drew his bow. His eyes flickered over the field, taking in the movements of his men and Danica. Rix and Alexander were safe, or as safe as they could make them. Chalik was in need though.
Mounted on a trusty steed, bow in hand, as the arrow was drawn, a flood of memories assaulted his mind momentarily. Here though was the pride of Dorinthia, here was their glory, here was their skill. Little felt better to Dartis than being on horseback with a drawn bow. He smiled at the Imperial, not as a form of intimidation, but through sheer joy of being on horseback firing a bow. Not since the disaster at Kalden had he felt it. Rythmically, two arrows sped from his bow at the Imperials. The first missed the robed man, but the second landed squarely in his ribs. The man wheezed, and a spell fizzled, but he remained standing.

Seeing Kel's reckless dash through the battle to aid Rix and Alexander, Silas quickly stood to give Kel a little defense so that he could work to save the kobold's life. Whipping the wand of magic missiles from his sleeve Silas fired it at the nearest Imperial.
Kel continues to work feverishly on Rix, casting a spell of healing to attempt to stabilize the kobold. As he did so, Silas' bolt of magical energy sprang forth, hitting the black-robed wizard that Dartis had just shot and causing him to flip over dead at the feet of the two remaining Imperials.

Danica saw the soldier that attacked Kel let the priest run by, and instead moved to attack Chalik. She fired at this man, but missed badly and nearly hits the dwarf instead. Chalik hardly noticed, his concentration instead on the Imperial in front of him. With an angry shout, the dwarf feinted in one direction, then brought his rapier straight for the raised armpit of his enemy, connecting with the flesh in between the armor and ripping a chunk out.

The two Imperial troops respond in kind, with the injured one missing Chalik, but the other hitting the dwarf from behind and leaving a bloody slash along his back.

Despite the pain, Chalik smiled at them and pointed at the battle field, showing the men that they were all that still stood fighting the Dorinthians. At the sight of this, both of the remaining Imperials backed slowly away from Chalik, gently placed their weapons and shields onto the ground, and placed their hands up in surrender.

As the party considered what to do, the lead Imperial column stopped just short of them, led by Commander Sassarius. On the other side, the dwarven army and human militia stopped at an equal distance. Both forces considered one another for a moment before spending the next few seconds dressing up the lines in preparation for battle. The two surviving Imperials looked back and forth and noticed that they, and the party, were dead in the center of any charge that might happen. "We're dead men," one of the Imperials wailed to his companion in worry.

"Chalik, bind their hands and lead them back. Kel get Rix on his feet and out of here with Alexander. Back to the line. Danica, Silas, watch my back. Nefius is still out here somewhere. Meanwhle slowly back up towards the column. I am going to see what I can do." said Dartis.

Before Dartis rode out to meet Commander Sassarius, Silas hurriedly stepped over to Lord Kalnian's horse and, murmuring a string of words of arcane power and briefly touched Dartis on the leg, casting a protection from arrows. He ducked his head in obeisance to Dartis' command saying, "Yes, Lord," then slowly retreated toward the Dorinthian and Dwarven line.

The young noble then slowly trotted out alone towards the Imperial line, hands empty and raised in a token of parlay. He stopped just out of bow range from the Imperials.
"Commander Sassarius, I would speak with you!" called out Dartis.

As Silas went, Dartis' words concerning Nefius echoed through his mind. Nefius still about, but hidden... He frowned and tried to come up with something that he could do when he realized that there was one spell... As soon as he was able he cast Detect Magic and began scanning the area of their short-lived battle for sign of the wizard...

Silas moved his cone of detection around as he swept the area for Nefius' location. The twisted man was definitely out of the range of the abjurer's spell and it seemed clear that he has fled, although Silas could not be sure unless he attempted to follow a dissipating trail of magic and leave the safety of his group. On the other hand, the black staff that Nefius dropped glew brightly with moderate transmutation magic. A crossbow by the side of the dead robed wizard also showed an aura of magic.

It took both Chalik and Danica to help support the gravely wounded Alexander and move the barely breathing half-orc out of the way of the approaching conflict. Kel picked up the nearly dead kobold in his arms and carried him gently away. After Silas cast his magic and did his sweep, he picked up the magical items and marched the two remaining soldiers away and towards the dwarven lines.

Dartis took the moment to get off his horse and retrieve the magic shield and his sword that he had to drop in order to fire off his last two arrows. After doing so, he remounted as three Imperial horsemen broke ranks and approached him. It was Commander Sassarius, and two of his trusted men. He looked furious, and he stared hard at Dartis as he asked, "Is this the way Dorinthians negotiate, lordling? By slaying those who approach in a manner of peace? Nefius may have been an object of loathing, but he was still an Imperial and your murdering him must be answered for."

"Greetings Commander Fralius Sassarius" replied Dartis calmly and formally. "I should ask you the self same question regarding negotiations since it was Imperials who drew weapons first! On one point though I think we can agree, that Counsellor Nefius is indeed an object of loathing. Unfortunately, he is still an object of loathing. After he ordered his men to kill us, he used some of his dark magic to dissappear. I knew well that it was only his fear of you that forced him to even agree to this intial arrangement. But apparently once out of your sight, Nefius does as he pleases and ignores your orders. Should he ever approach your camp again Commander, I would watch my back. He fears you and sought to betray you. I respect you as an officer and an honorable man too much to have you fall to the schemes of such a scoundrel."

"So I have no murder to answer for. I wish I had a body to present and evidence of self-defense. He order his men to attack, and struck me with his foul magic. Alas that i could not kill him to indeed answer for a murder or a death. I know that within the Great Empire of Tallione to defend oneself is considered a right, is it not? That a man is permitted to strike at those who strike at him? It was Nefius who ordered this. I sought you out, as I did not trust Nefius. That threat drove him over the edge. As I said he fears you. Perhaps he feared that if he learned your forces had been delayed here on a fool's errand, you would be cross with him."

"Commander, Nefius' errand was fruitless. All it managed was to delay your stay in these parts. Dorinthia is no more. You task is complete. If you feel the need to salt the earth and destroy every drop of Dorinthian blood in these parts, you may find that a larger task than you hoped" added Dartis with a subtle and diplomatic reminder of the Commander's heritage.

"These poor people are not seeking to forment rebellion. They merely wish to live in peace. It has been the machinations of Rufus Nefius that has led us all here. Two armies on the brink of war. Let us end this in peace. Greater glory awaits you in the Empire I am sure Commander. None lies here. You task is complete. Seek a new task elsewhere, I ask. The man who poisoned your counsels is gone, take your own,free of his webs."

Silas stood and listened as Dartis spoke with an eloquence born of his nobility and he hoped that Commander Sassarius proved himself as noble. With a start he realized two things: his distraction had nearly caused his arcane vision to lapse and, their commander, Lord Dartis Kalnian, was currently facing the Imperial Commander and his escorts without an escort of his own.

Quietly he attracted Danica's attention. "Danica, Lord Kalnian faces the Imperials without attendants..." Slowly, he began to approach the mounted delegation, hardly noticing if Danica followed as he continued to scan for traces of Nefius' magic as he walked. To Danica he will whispered, "This crossbow I found has the air of magic about it. Best stow it away from Imperial eyes."

He continued forward until he was only just behind and to the left of Dartis as befitting a guard or counselor. Silas continually scanned the limit of his vision for further trace of Nefius or his magic.

At Silas' words, Danica nodded primly, took the crossbow Silas offered, and moved forward to stand a few meters behind Dartis, to his left. As she approached, she hung her own crossbow on her hip. She loaded the new one, and held it in her hands as she stood ready to guard Lord Dartis.

As Silas and Danica took their places to the sides of Dartis, the companions near Commander Sassarius stiffened and readied their weapons as if anticipating an attack. The three heroes did the same, and for a moment the sun glinted brilliantly over the ancient shield that Dartis held in his hand.

A gasp was heard from the soldier to Sassarius' left. "Gods... Commander, gaze upon the face on that shield and tell me my eyes don't deceive me. Is that the one that Nefius wished retrieved?"

"It must be, Commander. It is your image on the Shield of Kings. Do you know what this means?" The second companion asked, his eyes glazed in imagined glories.

But no such lust for glory reached the eyes of the Imperial leader. Instead his face remained a visage of stone, though his hands gripped the reins of his horse until the knuckles became white. Finally, he said, "It means that Nefius would have sowed chaos among myself, my family, and my friends. Bringing this to the emperor, even if I brought it to him sealed in that chest without seeing it first, could have been perceived as an intent to usurp the throne. I would have been killed, my family banished, and my allies removed from power. In one easy move, Nefius would have erased my opposition to him at the court."

"But though his plot might have been ruined, Nefius still lives, or so these Dorinthians say. What if he makes it to the emperor before we do? He'll be able to set whatever plot he had in motion anyway."

Commander Sassarius turned his head sharply to his companion in alarm, then looked back to the heroes and said, "We must ride away, and fast. It is a long way back to the Imperial capital and it would seem we have business there. Hand us over those two prisoners you have taken that stood by Nefius' side so that we may have them testify in front of the emperor and we will leave you in peace," he offered.

The heroes agreed to this. The chance of watching this army leave and having Nefius hang was too good to pass up. As Sassarius turned to leave and muster his army out he said one last surprising statement. "My mother was Dorinthian, but was a minor noble on the borderlands. Her uncle usurped her father's position, had him imprisoned, and sold her to the Imperials across the border. As you might imagine, she never had good words to say about her fellow Dorinthians. Still, she was the greatest woman I've ever known, and I must say that there might be Dorinthians with character like hers after all." After this partial compliment, he left with the two prisoners, and shortly afterwards the army did, too.

---

The celebrations started almost immediately after the last Imperial disappeared over a hill. The portals to the dwarven kingdom were opened wide, and everyone began to gather on either side of the opening. The human refugees started crying and hugging with the happiness of being alive, while the dwarves started rolling kegs of ale with the intention that they would soon be enjoyed.

Kel and Chalik went to help Rix and Alexander reach the clinic and be healed, while Dartis and Silas took Danica to meet with a Dorinthian who led one of the columns of armed refugees with skill. The man's name was Barok Hume, and he had a rapier dangling from his side (OOC: Introducing Nephtys' character here). Before they could begin their mutual congratulations, however, Chalik came back with a manacled Imperial. The man's clothes look raggard and he seemed like he hadn't slept in a long while. "I'm sorry to bother you," Chalik said. "We captured this Imperial weeks ago as he was wandering nearby on his own. Initially, we thought he was a spy and planned to execute him. The problem is that we are now almost certain that he was a defector. The other problem is that there are still plenty of dwarves that still want to see him dead. I was hoping that he might get a fairer trial with your people since you are mostly humans, after all. His name is Tessan Ventus." (OOC: Introducing hafrogman's character)
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
The prisoner seemed to be on his last legs, worn and tired, with weeks of stubble covering his face. But as he was delivered from one jailer to another, he took a deep, ragged breath and drew himself upright. For a moment he stood straight and spent a time considering the four standing before them. He met the gaze of each unflinchingly, and deep conviction burned within his eyes.

He stood silent, awaiting the decision.

Dartis had watched the Imperial column leave, barely breathing. He had been relieved that more of his people would not have to fight. And that the dwarves who sheltered them would be spared the brutality of war. But now, as he thought he could relax he found that he faced the Tallione prisoner, who stood almost defiantly before them.

"Well Tallione, how come you to be here?" asked Dartis.

"If we treat every defector as a spy we will get no surrenders and will have to fight twise as hard in the future, but if we treat every spy as a defector we will have no secrets left. Question is, what secrets do we have left anyway? Seems to me our enemy knows our every move already. And if we already have spies in our midst what harm can yet another spy do?" Barok snorted, a wry smile almost touching his lips as he turned to his new companions. "But the choice is yours, do with him what you want, you've certainly earned it."

Ventus turned his eyes on Dartis as soon as Barok finished speaking. His voice was rough from lack of recent use, but he spoke forcefully enough. "It is as it has been said. I am . . . I was Legionaire Tessan Ventus. I served my empire. I fought and killed my enemies on the field of battle. . ."
He paused, considering the recent events in his life. Speaking of it for the first time, there were many conflicting emotions and memories. When he continued, his voice was quieter, and although he still held his head aloft, he no longer met anyone's eyes. He stared into empty space ahead of his.

"When the killing moved from the battlefields and encompassed those who were not soldiers. . . I was forced to reconsider much that I knew to be true. I left the legions to find my own way in the world. My paths crossed that of your allies, and now I am your prisoner."

He returned his eyes to those standing judgement, firmly meeting the gaze of Barok to add, "I am no spy."

Silas had schooled his face to blankness and listened quietly until this point, but his emotions were given away by a pursing of his lips and a tightening around his eyes. He stared at the one named Tessan Ventus, but then an ill feeling arose. I've faced men like him and I've killed men like him... "All men deserve the chance to make a life of their own choosing," he murmured hardly louder than a whisper. He looked to Dartis and didn't envy him the decision with which he was now faced.
Ventus’ mind raced on how he had gotten into his predicament. He remembered his wanderings that led him to the dwarven kingdom; he found a glade hidden by tall hills that looked wild with growth untouched by man.

However, Ventus had found that impression to be false. Inside the glade, by a crystal clear lake and large tree that appeared foreboding at night, he found a group of men sleeping in tall grass that wrapped around their bodies and kept them as prisoners. They seemed to be deep in dream, and no amount of prodding could wake them. On closer inspection he saw that they wore the cloaks of Dorinthian calvary!

He then heard singing coming from the large tree, and as he looked he saw a lithe woman holding a Dorinthian noble in her arms, his face blank as if in a trance. The music compelled Ventus to walk towards her and the Imperial grew sleepy as the grass seemed to wrap around his legs and pull at him.

As Ventus was about to drift off, a slumbering Dorinthian somehow gathered enough strength to break the spell and grab his thigh. "By the gods, run from here man!" He begged as the grass tightened against him and pulled him once more closer to the ground.

The spell temporarily broken, Ventus took his advice to heart. You ran, and did so for two days before being captured by the dwarves. The Imperial realized that perhaps these Dorinthians would be interested in the tale, and see value in leaving him his life.

His moment of memory broken, Ventus turned to face Silas for a moment, considering the man's statement. He inclined his head in a slight bow, aknowledging the sentiment. He appeared to be deep in thought for a moment before speaking again. These Dorinthians were at least willing to hear him out it seemed, more consideration than had been offered before.

"I am certain that your dwarven allies believe me to be one who would say anything to his own benefit, but I hope that in this you will at least take me as a man of my word. There are more dangerous things afoot in this land than man. As I wandered lost, I came upon a cursed glade. I nearly fell prey there to whatever evil magic held sway, but in the end it was the actions of one of your kinsmen who set me free. If it is not too late, I would render him the same aid, but alone I was powerless. Render your judgement upon me, but grant me this boon. Lend me your strength in the rescue of your blood."

Dartis listened to the exchange between Silas and Barok and Ventus carefully. After considering everthing spoken, Dartis turned to Ventus: "The Emporer does not easily release his legionaires. Nor do they often seek to be released. The punishment for desertion is well known in the legions, and few dare to risk it. Fewer find fault with the tactics of the legions or the goals of the Emporer."

"In light of that I find it doubtful that the Tallione would send a spy under such pretenses. It would have been far too eas to have inflitrated the refugees. Not withstanding the timing would have put Ventus here as a spy far easlier than the Imperial column."

"If his tale is true, and the brutality of the legions, the breaking of the laws of war, and slaughter of civilians finally caused the Tallione conscience to finally awaken, then by all means we need to allow him to pursue his destiny a free man, so long as it is not to the detriment of Dorinthia."

"Here then is my judgement. We shall provide the opportunity for Tessan Ventus to demonstate his truthfulness and intentions. He was under no obligation to inform us of our kinsmen. Should his story be true, he will have done Dorinthia a service and shall have his freedom. In the meantime, he shall remain a prisoner of Dorinthia, but a prisoner of honor. He shall be permitted to shave and clean himself, and his possessions returned to him. He shall be fed as we are and shall lead us to our kinsmen. This we will do if he will swear an oath, that he is not a spy, agent or legionaire of the Empire of Tallione, and owes no allegiance to it and that he will make no attempt to escape our custody until he has lead us to our kinsman and we have declared final judgement. Since he claims to no longer be a legionaire and cannot swear by his legion or its standard, I would ask Tessan Ventus as to what he would swear by that we would deem his oath as binding," declared Dartis to Ventus and the assembled crowd.

Ventus listened patiently as the Dorinthian noble reasoned his way through the situation. The stubble covering his face itched fiercely, but he maintained his stance, keeping his bound hands in front of him.

Dartis's statements about Tallione almost provoked a response from the former Legionaire, but he gritted his teeth and said nothing. For all his feelings of betrayal, his old home was still firmly lodged in his heart. He listened stoicly to the judgement pronounced against him, nodding solemnly in response. "Bring me my sword, the sword of my family. I will swear upon the blade, may it break under my hand if my word be sworn false."

Barok glanced at the prisoner, "You'll know the truth of his oath at the glade, my lord." He turned to Dartis, "It seems the Empire has its reasons to want you dead, and I wouldn't put it past them to lay a trap for you. I'm pretty much done here, and don't really care whether I'll make it out of this war in one piece or many as long as I get a chance to kill some Imperial scum along the way. You've done well so far sir and I'd like to join you fighting our enemies, whoever they may be." He saluted the Baron sloppily, something halfway between laughter and sorrow in his eyes.

Silas clamped his lips tight as he realized the words he spoke were not quite as quiet as he thought them to be. Your wagging tongue will bring you to sorrow, yet, he thought. He gazed at Ventus appraisingly as the scene between the Imperial and Lord Dartis Kalnian played out. Briefly he glanced over at Danica to see how the young woman was taking these newcomers, especially the Imperial, Ventus.

Thinking he saw a slight hint of command from Dartis, Silas stepped over to Ventus' dwarven captors and retrieved Ventus' weapon. Unsheathing the weapon and holding the bare blade horizontally in front of him he moved over to stand in front of Ventus. He glanced back at Dartis. I hope to the gods I'm not overstepping my boundaries...
"An oath made while in chains can never be binding." He looked at the nearby dwarves. "If this has Lord Kalnian's approval then cut him free, so he can give his word, freely." He returned his gaze to Ventus. "Know that I am a Caernite scholar. Not only will your oath be heard before two sovereign peoples but the earth itself will hear and bind your word to you."
Ventus met Silas's gaze without flinching. "I understand, and accept." He held his hands up in front of him, fists clenched and held apart so the binding ropes were pulled taunt between them. He too awaited the final word from the man to whom he had submitted himself, this Lord Kalnian.

"And gladly would I have you join me Barok. Our first order is and has been as you yourself have been serving, protecting and gathering our peoples. But in doing so there has been much fighting. I am glad to have your sword. Dorinthia is grateful for your service" said Dartis clasping the man on the shoulder. "So be it." replied Dartis as Silas retrieved Ventus' weapon. As Ventus held his hands out Dartis gave a nod to Silas.

In a rich and full voice far more suited for court than a battlefield, Dartis announced:"Tessan Ventus you are hereby remanded unto the custody of Dorinthia. Upon your honor you have sworn to remain as a Prisoner of Honor until such time as Dorinthia has rendered her judgement. Advisor Eyrstan, release his bonds."
As Silas cut the cords, Dartis added in a more personal tone as Silas handed over the sword: "The weapons of ones ancestors are sacred, thier deeds are bound to them, and the manner in which their decendants employ them either desecrates or reveres their memory."

"Silas, see that he gets what he needs." Addressing the small assembled host, "Come, let us now celebrate while we may. Tomorrow we will ride out to find our kinsmen and provide Ventus his reckoning"

After his bonds had been cut, Ventus gestured for Silas to hold out the sword horizontally. He placed his hand over the blade, slowly, to ensure that no one mistook his intentions. He spoke deliberately and clearly to all assembled. "I, Tessan Ventus, do swear the following, of my own free will. Upon the blade of my father, I am no longer a legionaire in the service of the Tallione Empire. I hereby renounce all allegiance to the government of my homeland. I harbor no concealed duties, being neither spy nor agent for the Emperor or any other entity. I will attempt neither escape nor any attack upon my captors. All this I swear, to be witnessed by all."

Silas listened solemnly as Ventus makes his oath, nodding his approval at the man's words. With the ceremony concluded Silas quietly said, "So witnessed, by the peoples of Dorinth, Bermax, and the earth who gave up a portion of herself so that your ancestors might arm themselves."

Ventus bowed once to the four assembled before him, then left with Chalik and Barok to retrieve his equipment from the dwarves. He stayed away from the celebrations, not sure of what kind of reception he would get, nor if he even had anything to celebrate. Best to leave the Dorinthians in peace. The morning would bring time enough to meet those with whom he was to travel.

Leaning in to Silas, Dartis whispered, [sblock] "Thank you my friend. I go to the king, come when you can and send Danica" [/sblock] With a last look at Ventus, and a nod to Barok, Dartis turned and heads back into the celebration.
With a concerned look, Kel went with several dwarven priests to attend to Alexander and Rix. Strangely, the three of them had become very close throughout their adventures and the elf was obviously agitated about the condition of the half-orc and kobold.

Barok and Chalik took Ventus to get cleaned up and retrieve the rest of his equipment. At the same time, Danica, Silas and Dartis met with King Bermax. The lord of the mountain was happy enough to listen to the party's requests and agreed to allow the Dorinthian militia and refugees to stay a bit longer as guests while the party followed Ventus to the location of the lost Dorinthian cavalry. Pondering the plight of those men, he added, "It's a strange story this Ventus tells, although there may be some truth mined from it. We dwarves never go to the location he is said to visit, as it is known as dryad territory. I would be most careful, as the fey can be vicious."

The party talked with him some more before the group got together to enjoy the celebrations and then bedded down for the night. The party that was formed consisted of Dartis, Danica, Silas, Barok and Ventus. The area was estimated to be two days away, and the dwarves provided five days of trail rations for each of the five party members. They also allowed them to peruse their stockroom for extra goods. This was what was available to take:

3 Gauntlets
4 Punching Daggers
2 Spiked Gauntlets
3 Light Maces
2 Heavy Maces
1 Heavy Crossbow
2 Light Crossbows
1 Hand Crossbow
50 Bolts
20 Throwing Axes
2 Light Hammers
5 Hand Axes
3 Short Swords
3 Battle Axes
4 Warhammers
1 Spiked Heavy Shield
1 Greataxe
2 Shortbows
1 Longbow
40 Arrows
1 Dwarven Waraxe
1 Dwarven Urgrosh
3 Suits of Leather Armor
2 Suits of Studded Leather Armor
5 Chainmail Suits
3 Breastplates
1 Splint Mail suit
1 Banded Mail suit
3 Bucklers
2 Light Steel Shields
1 Heavy Steel Shield
1 Tower Shield
4 Backpacks
2 Bedrolls
1 Winter Blanket
1 pack of caltrops
1 Crowbar
1 Grappling Hook
1 50' coil of rope
7 Hooded Lanterns
12 Oil Flasks
25 Trail Rations
3 Waterskins
1 Piece of chalk
2 Signal Whistles
3 Whetstones
5 Torches
2 Tanglefoot Bags
3 Sunrods
1 set of Masterwork Artisan's Tools
1 set of Thieves Tools

-------------------------------------------------------

When he was next seen, Ventus was much changed from his captivity. His sharp, new shave revealed the face of a young man. His hair had lightened several shades with washing and it had once again been cropped short in the style of the Legions. He still seemed slightly reduced as a result of his captivity and wandering before that, but a true night's rest had done much to restore his vigor. His frame was broadly built, and dressed once again in shining armor he looked the part of a warrior, no longer a languishing prisoner. But he had left the remains of his binding cords intact. They no longer restricted his movement, but they still hung from his wrists as a reminder.

Much of his legionaire's gear was left at the battlefield long ago, and now his distinctive scale mail had been changed for a breastplate from the dwarven stockroom. However, despite the new armor and the Dorinthian shield; the cut of his clothes, his stance and bearing, and the features of his face all loudly announced his history. And from his belt hung his highly polished blade, proudly bearing the golden eagle of the empire. Tucked into his pack was a battle axe, also borrowed from the dwarves. He figured one might never know when you might need to threaten a tree.

Ventus had stayed away from the celebrations, although there weren't many places for him to avoid being seen. Most people didn't notice him during the festivities, but the few that did made him feel uncomfortable indeed. Since Chalik was standing guard by his side, he was safe. Still, he resisted the unconscious urge to rest his hand on the pommel of his sword. He found that their reactions were slightly more positive in the morning, as it did help that he abandoned his old armor.

Before they set out, he did his best to describe in detail the scene that he was a witness to.

"The men lay under the effects of the spell, as I myself nearly fell prey to. It enduces a weariness it seems, a powerful effect when coupled with the plants that held them captive. I do not know what the woman's purpose was in holding them so, but they were clearly there against their will, or with no will left at all."

Silas mind was still considering King Bermax's description of the area, and again to Ventus' tale. Worrying, Silas had stayed at the edges of the evenings celebrations. Silas was allowed access to the small dwarven wizard's hall, though from the limited resources it was clear that most dwarves avoided this vocation. Since Dorinth's magic schools were all destroyed and Silas was one of the few surviving spellcasters, this was difficult for his vocation to say the least.

Silas tried to focus on learning some new spells, but the upcoming mission and the extended separation from his family weighed heavily upon him. He also looked for Ventus but did not catch sight of the man before the morning preparation. Though he frowned a little when he saw Barok he wasn't quite sure why and hoped that the man would prove a trusted friend. Repeatedly, he found himself watching Danica, surprised at her transformation, and thinking to himself that she would be key to what was to come.

Danica hurried about, not formally greeting either Barok or the newly freed Ventus. As she passed them during preparations, she bent at the waist, and tipped her hat, before remembering that she was no longer disguised as a boy. She blushed and continued to fuss about.

When she was freed from her obligations, she went to Rix, and spendt some time with him, speaking soothing words and holding his paw-like hand. She was proud of him, how he never squeaked during the battle, and what great lengths her companions were willing to go for a kobold. Things have changed so much, since we first met, she thought. You're a hero now.

She thanked Kel for his help, and said to the Dwarven priests, "Take good care of him now," kissed her finger and pressed it between Rix's eyes. She almost skipped away, so relieved was she at seeing Rix safe.

Later in privacy she went over her gear. She stood, the two crossbows bouncing awkwardly against her legs. Hmmm. Can't travel like this. Taking a walk, she went past the sight of the last battle, hesitating where Nefius had stood, and on a hunch, bendt her thumb and forefinger into a loop, and said, "Show me what glows." She held her fingers up to her eye, and looked about, to see if there was any hint of Nefius, or anything else. detect magic Danica found no trace of Nefius outside or anything else of interest, but a chill wind blew while she looked, causing her to shiver. For some reason, Danica knew Nefius survived and that his mind was also on the Dorinthians. It was as if somehow he had watching her from far away and when she casts her detect magicspell, for a moment in her mind she saw a dark figure huddled around a glass sphere and observing an image of Danica inside the crystal ball. ... but that must have just been her paranoia.

Satisfied, she looked to see if there were any bodies left that needed to be cleaned and properly disposed of, helping the dwarven teams that were sent out to clear them away. She then returned to the Dwarven tunnel, and busied herself helping with the cooking up a meal. A fist of anxiety caught in her throat as Dartis passes, and she looked down, hoping not to be noticed. How could I have been so stupid to have thought my magic could help in a deception against Nefius? But she swallowed it, flicking a remaining curl over her ear as she stirred a pot of some sort of stew.

After eating, she looks at her equipment. She was still carrying the magnificent Imperial crossbow, and it was suggested that this could be hers. She compared the weights of the two crossbows. The Imperial crossbow was a light crossbow and radiated magic. She had some more considering to do over whether or not to abandon her old, familiar weapon that had become so used to carrying

Danica was conscious she was not strong as a real warrior, and she rebuilt her pack, starting with replenished bolts that the dwarves had offered, to see if she could carry all her belongings without slowing her ability to move through the forest. She also remembered to move the ink vial to her belt pouch, for next time.

When this was done, she rejoined her friends, and had some stew. Her repacking has taken much of their supper time, but it saved her having to make conversation. Danica realized that her disguise failures had been her own fault: her boy disguise was seen through as soon as she encountered someone who had known her before, and she herself had revealed her real secret. So much for that. She tookthe silly cap off her head, and unbuttoned her collar. No more secrets. Her lopsided smile grew as she ate -- it was clear she was hungry -- and by the end of the meal she stood proudly, and looked to make one more change.

She started to look for a nice, silk blouse among the dwarven women, hoping something meant for a dwarven female child as some sort of formal wear. But something feminine, and something from here. Danica spent some time among the dwarves looking for a more feminine outfit. She had little luck, as most of the wide dwarven clothes made her look like an apple. The sorceress did meet a Dorinthian refugee, however, that came up to her and offered her one of her spare clothes for two gold pieces. The price was steep, but the woman was in need, and Danica found that she couldn't refuse. She was pleased by her decision, however, as she found that the dark blue silk blouse fits her perfectly. From the looks of some of the other men in the camp, it is also shouted female.

Barok had one last night with the woman who warmed his blankets on the trail and said his farewells before helping himself to some supplies (a bedroll and a tanglefoot bag). Then he headed out to join the others. Having had little sleep and a lot to drink he was not in a cheerful mood, but kept himself steady and seemed competent enough.

In the morning of the preparations Dartis found time to speak with each member individually. First he tracked down Barok. "Barok, they tell me you are a man of sharp eyes, I charge you with keeping a close watch upon of our captive then. While he has sworn his oath. As you have said an Imperial trap is not out of the question. I have no suspiscions of him, but we will give him enough rope to hang or save himself."

Barok winced slightly at the volume of Dartis' voice and rubbed his left temple before answering with a grim expression, "I accept your charge, because I do not trust him. But not just because of that. He has the blood of murderers in his veins and wether or not he has done murder against our people he has helped make murder possible for his brothers. It will take a lot more than an oath to make up for that."

Dartis next had summoned Danica, and when she appeared he was taken aback a bit at her transformation. "Danica Swann, I wish to thank you for all of your assistance, especially venturing out with Silas to serve as my honor guard against the Imperials. It took a great deal of courage. You are part of why Dorinthia has and will be great. And Dorinthia will always be proud of Her daughters, so long as they stay to to her. I am glad to see that you no longer conceal yourself from your countrymen. You have earned every right to stand alongside Her defenders. You have the gratitude of our remaining peoples, they will not judge you so long as you do not judge yourself. Silas has told me that you found an Imperial crossbow on the field. It looks of excellent quality. Long may you use it against our enemies. Enjoy your free time, you have earned the opportunity to relax."

Danica was flushed with the compliment that Dartis offered her, and she courtseyed low. She patted the new crossbow at her side, and nodded, her lips pursed at the seriousness of what awaited them.

Dartis then caught up to Silas

"Silas my friend, I am worried. Imperials I will stand before and face a thousand arrows, but fey? The memories of the gnome still haunt me. I will lean heavily upon your knowledge her and well as your and Danica's magic for our next challenge. But we must succeed! To find kinsmen, to find cavalry! Do you know what that would mean to our people? Such hope it would bring!

But still I worry, the Imperials are on their way back to Tallione, but how long will their own schemes keep them occupied? And what do we do with our people Silas? We cannot rely upon the gnomes or the dwarves or the elves forever. Hopefully the reduced Imperial presence will allow the elves to breath a bit more easily and keep us a while longer. But we must find a new home. Arable lands for our farmers. And it must be soon. Our people grow less scattered. We have begun assembling them. We must provide them a direction, a place to go, a place to live......."
after a pause Dartis added, "a king." said Dartis staring into Silas' eyes.

"Do you think our people need these things? Ruminate upon them. Put your Caernite mind to work upon these problem my trusted Advisor, and see what answers you can give me"

Silas bows as Dartis presented the ring to him. "Respectfully, Lord, I must decline. I am well protected by my magics and I feel it would do more good for Danica. She baffles me, I must confess. She almost seems ashamed of her magics." He shook his head in amazement. "And I feel that she will be instrumental in our next mission. I know nothing of the fey except that dryads seemingly prey on human males. I hope that her gender will provide us some manner of protection. As well as her magic." His brow knitted together in concern and thought. "Perhaps I should try to find out more about what she can do with her magic? Though I'm afraid that no matter how cautiously I proceed I will still tread too heavily." He sighed.

Returning Dartis' forthright stare with one of his own, Silas said, "I have thought long about these things you bring up already. I share your worries and fear that once the Tallione finish with their internal squabbles they will once again turn towards the remnants of Dorinth. We cannot flee them forever. We need homes and fields, places where we can raise our children in safety. We need something greater than ourselves, a community, leaders, a king. Baron Dorin is old, his son lost...and the Shield of Kings has been placed into your hands..." Unsure if he has brought up something that he shouldn't have, Silas quickly pressed on. "I will continue to consider these things and provide you what counsel I may."

When Silas saw Danica again, he handed her the ring they discovered in the Skum caverns and told her it would protect her. (ring of protection +1)

Kel and Chalik came out to bid the party good luck, as did several other well-wishers that were able to get up early despite their hangovers. Interestingly enough, King Bermax was not one of them, and the heroes heard that the lord of the mountain was so pleased at the survival of his people that he had a private celebration with five hundred year old dwarven ale, and would likely have the kind of morning no one would envy.

Silas split some of the winnings of the previous adventure amongst the three previous party members of Silas, Danica, and Dartis. It came out to be 86 gp, 6 sp, and 6 cp each. It probably would not be of use against dryads, but he was glad to get the obligation out of the way.

After making their final arrangements, the party moved to leave. Ventus served as their guide through the fields to the east, although instead of going northeast towards where the Dorinthians stood against the Imperials, he cut to the southeast towards some high hills. The journey was uneventful, but not without its own tensions as the ex-Imperial soldier was not allowed to take watch, and was himself observed closely in poorly disguised anxiety. The situation was not helped by Barok's foul mood. He constantly sipped at his waterskin, though by the evening the color returned to his face and he seems to be in better spirits.

The party reached the foot of the hills on the morning of the second day, and spendt most of the following day climbing up hilltops and back down ravines. As the last minutes of the afternoon ticked by, Ventus stopped the group in front of a large ring of tall hills that circled, what he said, was the valley where he found the men.

It didn't look like an easy climb. The incline was steep and filled with brambles, and the heroes began to understand that Ventus' previously rough look may have been less about his treatment by the dwarves and more about his journey. For a moment the wind picked up, and the party briefly heard the attractive voice of a woman singing in an unknown language.
 
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Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Ventus stared up the slope; he remembered it as being much less daunting coming down, but then again, his mind wasn't very clear at that point. "This is the way that I came. There may be another, but I could not tell you of it. Scout as you wish, but I would advise you to guard your ears against the siren's song. Together we may stand a chance, aiding each other to break the spell, but alone you will be easy prey, and we will not know your fate."

I'll keep my distance" Barok said and began climbing, cursing in his mind as he was scratched by the thorny brambles.

The party watches as Barok climbed to the top of the hill, doing a fairly good job of staying quiet despite the brambles and undergrowth. Soon, he disappeared from sight.
Barok reached the top of the hill with confidence that he had moved as quietly as possible under the circumstances. He heard a hauntingly beautiful song that pulled him, and made him want to rush into the grove below. In the twilight he gazed upon the grove below, a scene that should have been breathtaking in its natural majesty. The grove of trees and tall grass was about 200 feet in diameter, with a shining pond that surrounded a small isle. On the tiny isle stood a great oak, but its leaves and branches looked twisted and wrong in a way that he couldn't quite understand. Barok believed he saw a couple of figures underneath the great oak, but the twilight conditions made them hard to make out.

Barok kept moving around the rim, the song making him reluctant to go back down. He tried staying behind cover as much as possible, as he both tried to observe what happened on the island and look for hidden foes along the periphery. Knowing little about matters pertaining to the fey he was still not convinced it was not an imperial ambush. Though it would be a shame to have to kill whoever is creating such beautiful music.
As Barok moved around the periphery he noticed that the power of the song pulled stronger at him the closer he got to the isle. At one point he was definitely sure that there were two figures by the oak tree, and one seemed to be stroking the face of the second.

He also noticed that to the north of the grove was another grove previously unnoticed and on the top of another collection of hills below the ones he stood on. The second grove was a fifteen minute walk away, in his estimation, and in the center were three giant oak trees. These seemed more natural than the twisted tree on the isle and did not fill him with the same sense of foreboding. Barok sensed that there was something special about those trees, but beyond that he has little experience to understand more.

Such a wonderful way to die, he mused to himself... Maybe the Imperial didn't lie, after all.

Barok returned to the others to let them know what he had learned. When the Dorinthian came back to the group, Ventus was able to breathe a little easier. If he had fallen prey to the music's lure, it would have been difficult to earn any trust. As it was, Ventus was relieved that the song and the woman and her tree were all still as he had seen them. He had half begun to doubt his own sanity.

"It doesn't seem to be an Imperial ambush," Barok admitted grudgingly to the group after saluting the Baron, "but some sort of tree-bonded fairy with a captivated humanoid under her spell. I did not come close enough to see whether she intended to mate with her captive, eat him, or both, but I got a feeling she's not entirely benign."

He thought for a moment, then shrugged. "I did notice something else though, but I don't know if it's relevant. There is another glade on an island close to here with three huge oak trees very similar to the one with the singer. There is a possibility that there are more fairies there, but my feel of the place was very different. While the singer's island filled me with unease, the second island felt more natural. It might be worth looking into, or not."

Danica stood there, listening to the description. When she worked as a messenger, her habit had always been to avoid forest spirits and fey—“give them room, and they don't bother you” had been her cautious assessment. She stood there with a cool wind blowing past, her rat poking its nose out of a small pocket in her backpack. "I don't suppose we want to just go around all this...?" she asked with a smile across her face.

"Not as long as there are Dorinthians in there, no" replied Dartis to Danica. "Barok, is the way into the valley easily on the far side? In any case I think that may be an easier way in. If the malevolence is less or absent from that side as you sensed, we may get farther into the valley with less risk." suggested Dartis

Ventus listened to the Dorinthians discussing the approach, and the description of the second glade piqued his interest. "It is good that at least one captive still remains. It means that she has not simply killed them all since I was here last. The second area seems of interest. Tell me, was it surrounded by the same strange grass as the other tree? The song is bait to draw prey near, but it seemed as if the grass itself is what was holding your kinsmen captive."
Barok remembered seeing grass, but not as tall and wild as that in the first glade.

"I don't suppose anyone has any beeswax we could use in our ears? Or perhaps when we get to the top we should tie ourselves together? Spells like these often work to reduce the will of an individual--as a group, we might be okay." Danica shrugged as she asked this -- she was guessing, but wanted to be helpful.

Barok answered, "We can't fight this creature all bound up together. But blocking our ears might work I suppose, the enchantment felt stronger the closer I got to the singing. Guess I should have tried holding my hands over my ears, we can try that once we get up there and decide then whether we want to stuff mud into our ears. But I think we should take a closer look at the other glade, if this thing has enemies or disappointed relatives it could be helpful to us. And if they too turn out to be hostile to men at least their lawn looked less feral."

Danica nodded, her eyebrows thrust up in mock despair. How does one attack killer grass? she wondered.

Barok led the party the long way down the hill, around the base of the raised earth, and up and over a smaller hill away from the twisted grove. Only a third of a mile from the grove with the trapped Dorinthians lied another grove, this one with three large oak trees in the middle, the tallest being the center one. The grass was wild and came up to human ankles, but didn't seem threatening. The heroes were about 100 feet from the oaks when they saw a mountain lion rise up from where it was resting at the base of the trees and pace back and forth, watching them warily and with a surprising amount of intelligence.

Danica noticed the large cat, and anticipated a charge, and started to walk towards it. She left her crossbow at her hip, but she extended the pinky of her left hand, the rest of which was in a fist. She walked up to fifty feet.

Dartis started to reach for his bow, but the strange actions of the puma, along with the light of intelligence in its eye made him hold for a moment. His martial urges pushed him to draw, yet he fought them, telling himself that here they were dealing with fey and fairies. He wished they had Alexander with them.

As Danica advanced, Dartis kept a careful watch on her, the puma and the large oaks.
Brave Danica was the first to step slowly forward, her hands away from her weapons in a sign of peace. Dartis was more wary, but stepped in next to her and was ready to move at the first note of danger. Suddenly, the party noticed that the bark of the trees began to morph, and from them three women appeared, whose dark skin was like that of an oak. The one in the center looked older and matronly. She called out, "Manlings, you should not be in this forest. These are dark times for those who wish to travel amongst us. Already, many men have come and many men have fallen. For your own safety, we urge those of peaceful intent to turn back."

Dartis stared at the transformation, jaw open for a moment, but as the women spoke, he regained his tongue. "Our apologies ladies of the forest, we did not mean to intrude. But tidings of these dark times have come to us. We know that many men have fallen. Indeed that is why we come here. They are our countrymen, our friends and family, our kin. We have come to take them home. Is there some way that we can rescue them. I humbly ask for your guidance and wisdom." asked Dartis reverentially.

The three women of bark turned to look at each other for a moment, then they began to speak in a language that sounds like elven, and yet different. Finally, they turned back once again to the party, and the older tree-woman spoke in Dorinthian once more. "My daughter, Trieste, is the one that has captured your men. It is odd she has not killed them, for that has recently been her way with strangers that venture into her glade. She has turned wicked ever since Morduk the Corrupter had stolen her heart from her oak tree through his dark magic and trickery. Morduk had come to our forest and taken over a small temple to a forgotten, but evil god. He fell in love with Trieste, and when she did not return his love, he stole her heart and cursed her. To return Trieste to normal, you must confront Morduk and return her heart by placing it inside the dark hole in her oak tree that was created when Morduk ripped the beating treasure from its core. Morduk's temple can be found on the top of the largest of hills." Upon finishing her speech, the woman pointed upwards to a tall hill that stood above the rest a mile to the north. It was late, but the heroes could still make out what looked to be a structure or rock formation at its summit.

"I thank you for your wisdom, we shall go both to restore my kinsmen to us and and to restore your daughter to you. Tell me though lady of the forest. How shall we know Morduk the Corruptor and how shall we know your daughter heart?" asked Dartis.

Ventus stood respectfully back from the three women while they discussed the priest Marduk with the Dorinthians. His eyes narrowed somewhat at the reference to those killed by Trieste in the past. How many men had met their doom here already? The three women seem strangely unconcerned with the fate of their daughter, or her captives. Were they no match for Marduk, or simply too uncaring to act?

He gazed upwards, considering what passed for a temple to an evil god in this glade. Their path seemed clear, but at least for now he looked to Dartis for the lord's instructions.

"You will know them," the dryad answered. "Morduk is a mighty warrior-mage, and you will know and sense his great power. He has never been defeated, and he single-handedly slew Trieste's animal guardians. As for her heart, it will also be familiar to you. Remember, neither the heart or Trieste's oak or Trieste is to be harmed. If you do not restore her, we will not aid you in restoring your friends.”

Danica was somewhat surprised at the candour of the tree spirits, and at their trust of the interlopers, among whom she was numbered. As Dartis took control of the conversation with the fey women, Danica lowered her gaze, and slowly stepped back to join with the others.

When they indicated the temple, Danica looked up, and a small shiver ran down the base of her neck. But her obligation was clear, and Morduk had to be stopped. She turned to Dartis, gavesa nod when she caught his eye, and waited expectantly.
Barok kept to the back, knowing that he lacked the charisma needed to parlay with the fey. He briefly considered whether it would be a better choice simply to kill the corrupted dryad than to take their chances with Morduk, but kept his thoughts to himself.
The party was in agreement, at least verbally, on the course of action. They left the three dryads and headed towards the location of Morduk.
 

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