Last Stand of the Dorinthians

Deuce Traveler

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

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

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

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


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

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

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)
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 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

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

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.
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Deuce Traveler

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 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...

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