"Out of the Frying Pan" - Book II: Catching the Spark (Part One)

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Welcome!

This is the continuation of the "Out of the Frying Pan" story hour - which began with Book I: Gathering Wood, which you can no longer see the original thread on the old ENboards, but a reprise is available here.

Or, you can go to the "Out of the Frying Pan" Story Hour Portal thread to find links to all the books and links to download them in word doc format.

"Out of the Frying Pan" - Book II: Catching the Spark leaves our originally heroes briefly to introduce a new character who has made his way to Gothanius with a different group - fulfilling his debt to the Academy of Wizardry, by being their representative in the this tiny kingdom in the backwaters of Derome-Delem.

The "story so far" tells things from his perspective. . . from there his story will continue until it meets up with that of Kazrack, Jana, Jeremy, Ratchis, Beorth, Chance and their own company.

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The Story So Far. . .

Martin made his way to Westron where the Academy had sent him to meet up with a man named Briad Ketchum who was leading a group of young men to the Kingdom of Gothanius in Derome-Delem. However, the man would not let the young alumnus join the group unless he signed a contract that required him to join the effort to slay a dragon that plagued that kingdom and in return gain citizenship, land and monetary reward. Martin acquiesced. He met several of the others traveling to the obscure kingdom, including Simon and Peter, who he became friends with. He also met Cheribuck, who warned that he had seen three of the others picking people’s pockets and conning others in the market of Westron. They traveled upon the Golden Scrag to Princeton, in Derome-Delem, a backward place where knights patrolled the land around tiny fiefs. There a young woman named Maria, joined the group. She seemed to have some skill with the sword and bow. The group traveled from there to Bountiful, where Martin spent a day conferring with Alexandra the Lavender, the Watch-Mage there. While here, Cheribuck had to stop James from beating up his two younger (and softer) brothers.

The group left the road there, and traveled through thick woods, via ways that Briad said he knew to avoid the “cursed” town of Stonebridge. However, while spending a day beside the Tall Twin River, the group was attacked by orcs. Three of the group were killed, but Martin discovered that Tanweil had killed the vast majority of the orcs on his own. Cheribuck, James and Maria seemed to hold their own very well also. Demoralized somewhat after the deaths, they crossed the river and made a harrowing trip up the mountains, to a trail that led to Northfork Wall and eventually Twelve Trolls. Arriving at Castle Gothanius, they found several other groups of would-be dragon slayers had also arrived.

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This is the REAL Dramatis Personae in progress.

It is organized by session so that people who have not read past a specific one can avoid looking at NPC information that might spoil the story for them.

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In Order of Appearance

Session 1:
Kazrack Delver
, a black dwarf of some fighting skill *
Rak-Kazum, Kazrack's father
Malcolm Mac Duligh, a skald from the Dubh Moors in the Archduchy of Wallbrook (deceased) *
Jana, a young girl fleeing her home in the city of Westron *
Beorth Sakhemet, a quiet young Paladin of Anubis, of Black-Islander descent *
Deet of Ptah, an older balding gentlemen recruiting for "Crumb's Boys"
Boris E. Crumb III, a fat man with a handlebar mustache, recruiting young men for Gothanius
Chance, a Wallbrookian gambler and devotee of Bes

Session 2:
Lalena
, an "herb woman" robbing graves in the Verdun cemetery
Arnold, a city guard infatuated with Jana
Frank, a shepherd's son from Zootsburg; one of Crumb's Boys
Captain Runwick, of the Verdun City Guard
Jeremy Northrop, a young Neergardian warrior and a friend of Malcolm's *
Sagrow, ill-tempered barkeep at The Cockatrice Tavern
Gwar, Frank's brother; one of Crumb's Boys
Kamir, a doughy young man of a helpful disposition; one of Crumb's Boys
Garcon, self-proclaimed greatest of swordsmen; one of Crumb's Boys
Briar Tulp, a young priest at the Church of Ra in Verdun

Session 3:
Levekt
, an elderly priest of Thoth; a friend of Beorth
Marta of Fallon, head medicus in the Verdun Healing House of Fallon.
Devon, a tall, powerful man with a bully's temperament; one of Crumb's Boys
Markle, a comrade of Devon's; handsome and charming; one of Crumb's Boys
The Square, a comrade of Devon's; skinny, ugly and quiet; one of Crumb's Boys
Reginald Corr, captain of the Sea Cow
Kristian, boatswain on the Sea Cow
Guisel, a young Herman-Lander, one of Crumb's Boys
John, a young Herman-Lander; one of Crumb's Boys
Carlos, a dark young foreigner; one of Crumb's Boys
David, a hunter at Cutter Jack's
Andre, a hunter at Cutter Jack's; David's partner
Captain Nerelor Threnegar, gate guard for the Safehouse of the Nauglimir Dwarven Merchant's Consortium at Cutter Jack's

Session 4:
Greglon
, the hospitable priest of Anhur at Cutter Jack's
Finn Fisher, a tanned, dark-haired young fisherman; one of Crumb's Boys
Dunkle, one of Crumb's Boys. Killed on an ill-fated goblin hunt. (deceased)
Doris, one of Crumb's Boys. Friend of Dunkle.

Session 5:
Reginald Cross
, Cutter Jack's Captain of the Guard
Cutter Jack, the earthy lord of the town of Cutter Jack's
Kinney, an assistant to Boris E. Crumb
Horung, an assistant to Boris E. Crumb
Ratchis, a half-orc ranger and friar of Nephthys *
Culum (called Nicholas), a young serving boy at The Silver Vein Inn in Tallow's Post
Nicholas Pinter, innkeeper of The Silver Vein Inn; Culum's father
Warren, the wainwright of Tallow's Post
Janx, a rare white-furred blink dog
Sergeant Fnord, constable of Tallow's Post
Tirhas Tesfay, an elven ranger, traveling to learn more of elves outside her homeland; Janx' companion.

Session 6:
Escher of Fallon
, a former adventurer of the Oath and an openhearted
healer; keeper of Fallon's Post
Rastfar, a wide-eyed young goblin; servant of Escher

Session 7:
Alexandra the Lavender
, the Watch-Mage for the village of Bountiful
Daerngar of Mnornthord-Rymraugh, dwarven priest for the 137th regiment of the Nauglimir Dwarven Merchants Consortium
Kennoch of Ra, young priest maintaining the shrine to Ra in Stonebridge
Amall, barkeep at the Sign of the Six Crows in Stonebridge
Marshal Harrick Moonglum, taciturn and temperamental leader of Stonebridge; not to be bothered while he's drinking

Session 8:
Cort, a wheezing middle-aged herbalist living near Stonebridge
Frances, a timorous young girl whose parents were killed by pirates; Cort's granddaughter
Jack-Knife Hawkins, a cranky trapper
???, crazed keeper of the mausoleum near Stonebridge
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Prologue

Prologue

Martin wiped his sweaty palms upon his Academy robes and then suddenly realized what he was doing, and place his hands behind his back to stop himself. He nervously examined his robes were various shades of green for sweat stains, and the suddenly realized that Daniel had made a left turn towards large double doors.

“This must be the audience chamber,” Martin thought. He had been eating his mid-day meal, when the castle steward had approached him and had said that the king wanted to meet and speak with him right away. “I guess I’ll have to get used to this kind of thing,” Martin thought. “I am a representative of the Academy of Wizardry now, wherever I may go.”

Martin took a deep breath.

“Are you okay?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, I just, um, have never addressed a king before,” Martin replied. “Any important protocols you can advise me on, well, I would appreciate it.”

"Fine. You will kneel and bow in his presence and not stand until given permission. You will not look him directly in the eye, and you shall address him as your majesty. I assume that any other basic graces of good manners I can leave in your hands?" Daniel paused before the doors that were flanked by guards in plate mail, wearing the gold and white tabards with the star of Gothanius upon them. The guards bore ransuers.

Martin bit lower lip, "Yes. Thank you for your help."

"Tom seemed to know these things naturally, I assumed they taught you these things in that school of yours," Daniel said, gesturing to a guard who went inside the doors to announce them.

"Tom and I were trained for somewhat different tasks. I assume that you came to know him reasonably well during his time here?" Martin replied.

“Reasonably. He was a good man,” Daniel said, looking down. “It was a shame what happened to him.”
The doors, which were carved with intricate patterns of mountains and flames opened again, and Daniel led Martin through them. Beyond was a small curtained off area.

"Wait here a moment, I will announce you, when you hear your name and the curtain opens you may step through - and remember what I told you."

"Yes. Thank you for your help,” Martin repeated, weakly, and Daniel disappeared through the curtain.
There wass some indecipherable whispering and after a few moments Martin heard Daniel's voice state aloud, "Martin the Green, Watch-Mage and esteemed Alumnus and Representative of the Academy of the Wizardry" and the curtain opened.

Martin stepped through the open curtain looking around to take everything in, while trying not to gawk. He hoped he succeeded.

The audience chamber was not as impressive as he imagined it would be.

Atop a raised dais were two thrones, one more ornate than the other. Three smaller ornate chairs sat on a slightly lower (but still raised) level. A velvet curtain of burgundy was draped behind the thrones, along with a shield holding the coat of arms of Gothanius. At the left and right of the chamber stood more plate-mailed guards, and tapestries on the walls behind them holding scenes Martin cannot pay close enough attention to make out at the moment. The king sat in the more ornate throne. . He appeared to be in his 40's with a thick, but well-kempt brown beard. Martin recognized the captain of the guard from the initial inspection upon his arrival with the others. He was standing off the dais to the right.

Martin walked forward at a slow, even pace, his eyes respectfully downcast, his face in the shadow of his longish shaggy hair, in Thrician style. He frantically looked for scuffed spots on the floor to indicate where prior supplicants might have knelt, as he forgot to ask just where this kneeling business takes place.
Not seeing any spot that is more or less scuffed than any other, he cursed himself inwardly for not asking the right questions. He stopped about halfway to the throne and got down on one knee, bowing.

"You may stand, Martin," the King said in a soothing baritone. "We cannot express enough how happy it makes us to have a representative of the Academy of Wizardry here once again to help our humble nation."

"Thank you, Your Majesty," said Martin, rising. He keeps his eyes on the King's feet, his gaze occasionally rising as far as the man's hands. "I am pleased and honored to be here on the Academy's behalf."

"So, they did send you. . . "

Martin gulped back a “damn!” and hoped the king had not noticed. "It would ill-become the Academy to neglect the Kingdom of Gothanius, Your Majesty. We are all saddened by the death of Tom the Silver, but the duty remains."

Though the chamber felt drafty to the young Alumnus, Martin felt a drop of sweat slid down his back.
The king let out a joyful laugh, "And here we were worried that you had simply come to fulfill the call for citizens and heroes. But of course not, the Academy does not send their graduates so lightly. We had sent word that we need a new Watch-Mage some time ago. We were afraid that the message had never arrived. This is grand news that needs to be announced to Kingdom. We have been without what was once one of our closest advisors and protectors for too long. Did you know Tom the Silver?"

Martin smiled politely, carefully avoiding the King's gaze. "I am afraid that I did not, Your Majesty. But he was well-regarded among the Alumni of the Academy, and many of my fellows have spoken well of him. I cannot hope to fill his shoes... quite literally, I fear, for I would not wish to mislead you here. I am not, in fact, his successor. The Academy is - was - still in discussion as to the best possible candidate for Watch-Mage of Gothanius when I left. But until Tom's successor arrives, I am authorized to act in his stead, and I will gladly fulfill that role to the best of my ability while I am about my other duties."
There was a pregnant pause.

“So, they sent a temporary watch-mage. . . strange that they should bother. . . but still to have someone here with a wide knowledge as they do instill at the Academy will be useful. . .” the King paused again. “Did you sign a contract when you agreed to come here?”

"Yes, Your Majesty."

“Would it please you if we were to strike that contract null and void and simple appoint you to the roles we have for one with your talents here in the kingdom?” the King asked, leaning forward.
"I am at your disposal, Your Majesty,” Martin replied.

"Of course you are,” the king smiled. He sat back in his throne and crossed his legs. "Now, we need to talk about these young men that have found their way to our fine kingdom. You have traveled with them what impression do you get in general?"

Martin gathered his thoughts and the replied, "They are young and healthy, for the most part, but few have any training for combat of any sort. Some of those few who are so trained are scoundrels and blackguards. As a whole, you have a good force of potential farmers, but whether they can be of service in slaying a dragon is in doubt."

The king was silent for a time.

“Is it not often said that heroism is found where least expected. I am sure among these young men there are some who are up to the task, and as for these scoundrels and blackguards - Well, I will have you point them out to Captain Merrick" he gestured to the captain of the guard. "So they can be rounded up and escorted away."

"Ah. That is a great responsibility, determining who is a scoundrel and who is not... I would wish additional time to make that determination properly, and to determine which are redeemable and which are not." With a smile, Martin added, "It is also said that a thief at the table is safer than a thief in the stable, when one's horses are concerned."
The King stood and walked up to Martin clamping a broad hand down on the young Watch-Mage’s shoulder, smiling broadly. "Such wisdom they give you in the Academy. . . We are surprised at the youth of these great advisors. . "

But then the king’s face became gave again, “"But your comment leads us into the first mission we want to give you for your time in Gothanius.” He turned and walked back to his throne and sat. “As you know, we are sending out these would-be dragon-hunters in groups of five. We know good and well that not all will be as dedicated to this task as we might hope. We will not judge these young men too harshly in this endeavor, as long as they cause no harm, and as long as their cowardice does not lead to the harm of Gothanius' subjects. This is where you come in. We want you to be the representative of the Crown in the field, so to speak."

Martin listened to the king carefully.

The monarch continued, “"Of course, your safety is of our utmost concern. We cannot allow such a fate as befell Tom the Silver to befall you, but again, such are the dangers of your station."

Martin felt as if he might swoon, as the waters of his position swelled over his head. He gathered his wits and asked, “That would be a great and formidable responsibility, Your Majesty. What would it entail?"
"As you know the majority of our Alder-villages lie within the valley to the west of here, and it is the new area of our expansion (after the defeat of the Fir-Hagre Orcs) that the dragon appeared - but has moved into our more settled areas - the closest Alder-village to Greenreed Valley is called Summit. We shall send you there,” the king explained. "You will be set up as a guide and advisor for these groups that travel throughout these two valleys searching for the dragon. You will also collect information on their progress and we shall leave it in your hands to judge who among those groups can be excused of their duty and return to Twelve Trolls for whatever reward we deem them worthy of. The groups will be advised to find you in Summit."

"I would be glad to assist, Your Majesty. However, my other obligations to the Academy may require me to travel somewhat within the realm of Gothanius and the adjoining areas, and so I would prefer to have some liberty to move about while fulfilling this task. Would that be possible, Your Majesty?"

“Well, it would be a waste of your talents to keep you chained in one place - of course, you might need to travel out of Summit to investigate some of the reports of these groups for yourself - and of course, you must travel there as well which may take as little as 2 days, but could take longer if the weather does not permit easy travel,” the king replied.

"Then I accept, Your Majesty. In the meantime, if I might be so bold, might I request access to Tom the Silver's quarters, that I might begin to put his affairs in order?" Martin asked.

The King smiled. "Do they teach you precognition at the Academy as well? I was about to offer you his quarters to stay in. I will have Daniel show you to them, and perhaps he can show you the library and the trophy room - where a monument to our former Watch-Mage's service and sacrifice can be found.”
Martin nodded, and took a deep, shuddering breath. "Thank you, Your Majesty. I would be honored."
The king clapped his hands, "Bring us a flagon of wine to share and drink to the coming of this representative of the fine and influential Academy!"

A servant came from behind the wall where the throne sat, bringing a goblet for you and the king and poured a huge portion of wine for each of you.

The king raised his glass and Martin did as well, smiling when he saw his hand was shaking much less than he had expected it to.

The king toasted, "To the Academy of Wizardry, may it help increase the influence of our benevolent nation, so it may take its rightful place among the grand nations of Aquerra!"

“To the Academy!” Martin said, he waited to see if the king drank, and then drank down the wine hurriedly, so they would finish at the same time.

"Daniel, will now show you to your new quarters, and then the library. We will speak again before you leave. Daniel will arrange for you to travel to Summit with one of the groups - if we think that they are appropriate to keep you safe,” the king said.

"There is safety in numbers, Your Majesty. Thank you for your concern."

Daniel walked over to Martin turned to the king and bowed. Martin handed his goblet to the servant that had brought it and bowed deeply to the king.

“Go with my good graces,” the king said, and the steward led Martin out of the audience chamber. The Watch-Mage remained very conscious of his breathing to avoid hyper-ventilating.

"I think the King likes you. Remain clever, but not too clever and you will do well," Daniel says leading you through the dining room to a rear hall,” Daniel said, leading Martin through the dining room to a rear hall and a stone stairway leading up.

“I think I can manage that,” Martin said quietly, and his thoughts went to the banquet meant to initiate the dragon-hunt in only two days’ time.
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Anulem, 7th of Syet – 564 H.E.

There was a soft knocking on the door of Martin’s new quarters. This suite of rooms he found himself in, separated from the friends he had made while traveling here to Gothanius, had once belonged to Tom the Silver. But Tom the Silver was dead, and Martin was still unsure how, and now here he was filling hise shoes, however temporarily, and feeling the weight of this responsibility on his shoulders, and the fear that accompanied it. Martin the Green had searched the room thoroughly looking for some clue, or journal or sign from his predecessor, but all he found were some dusty common components, and a crap-covered bird perch he assumed had belonged to Tom’s familiar.

Martin answered the door. A young servant girl stood there with his freshly washed Academy robes over her arm.

“Here you go, sir,” she said with a shy smile.

Flustered, Martin took the robes with a mumbled “thank you”, not sure of what to do next. She just stood there and looked at him and he at her.

There was a long pause.

“Will there be anything else, sir?” she finally asked. She had been waiting to be dismissed. Martin inwardly berated himself, not being used to the niceties of castle living.

“Um, no, thank you very much,” Martin replied.

The servant wished him a good afternoon and left, and Martin closed the door. At the Academy, students were responsible for dropping off and picking up their own laundry, and it was students themselves who did the washing. He laid out his robes on the bed, and went back to the desk where he had been preparing a letter to his Academy contact. The last group of “dragon-slayers” had arrived that afternoon and banquet in the honor of all who had answered the king’s call had not need to have been delayed as was feared.

As Martin scribbled, he felt something furry climb up his back and onto his head. He felt little furry paws on his forehead as little brown eyes looked into his. “I want a nut,” a voice said in his head.

Martin reached into the pouch he kept at his side at all times and pulled out an acorn and handed it to his squirrelly familiar.
“Yummy,” the squirrel said telepathically.

Martin scratched the rodent’s head and said, “Now leave me alone for a little while, Thomas. I want to finish this before the banquet.”

“Nuts at the banquet?” Thomas inquired.

“Probably not, Thomas. You can’t come anyway,” Martin replied, and he could sense Thomas’ annoyance as he climbed down and took his spot under the bed again.

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A few hours later, dressed in his robes of varying green, his hair pulled back in the best pony-tail he could make, Martin made his way down to the Great Hall with a cluster of many other young men, who were eager to eat the good foods the castle had to offer and to finally hear the details of the great mission they would likely risk their lives trying to accomplish.

The Great Hall was packed with the young men, most in the finest clothes they could find among those the castle staff had provided them. The chamber held three balconies, from two of which hung tapestries that showed the symbols of the alder-villages of Gothanius (1), which Martin had seen the day before in the trophy room. In one corner a group of musicians sat with their instruments, surrounded by a choir of young boys. They were all silent, waiting for some signal that the royal family would make their entrance. A good number of what were obviously nobles mingled among themselves, eying the uncouth visitors and would-be heroes nervously. They were decked out in their finest clothes and jewelry. The doors to the dining room were held open by ceremonial guards in shining platemail and golden tabards, bearing ranseurs. This room was also full of young men from many place in Aquerra, but most had the typical Herman-Lander look, olive skin, dark hair and brown or green eyes.

Martin had just started looking around the dining to spot his friends, and noticing that he had missed the first course when the horns announcing the coming of the royal family rang loudly in the Great Hall. Martin turned and went back into the hall as a rush of young men came out of the dining room and he lost Maria in the crowd, whom he had just spotted.

The horns rang out again, and the great double doors which Martin had taken into the audience chamber two days before opened. From the curtain beyond, emerged a man in fine dress, with curly golden locks and boyish face. He stood to the right of the doors and spoke: “Presenting the most honored family of our Queen: the Queen’s Mother: Selma Pratchet!”

A woman wearing clothing much too tight and low cut for her age and build came through the parted curtain. She wore what seemed to be an inch of make-up and she hungrily eyed all the young men clapping for her before standing to the left.

“The Queen’s lovely sisters, Brea and Vivica!” Two homely middle-aged women, dressed as young princesses might came through the part curtains. They curtsied in tandem and then stood to the left beside their mother.

“The Royal Architect, Balphus [insert name]!” A gaunt dwarf with sunken eyes and a frazzled beard walked through the curtain. He wore a burgundy hood, which he pulled off as he walked out and nodded his head to the politely clapping crowd.
Next, the Royal Hunter (a strapping young man with a well-kept goatee dressed in the ceremonial clothing of a fox hunt) and the Royal Smith (a stout man with a mustache, who looked uncomfortable in his pleated vest and bow tie) were announced.
There was another fanfare on the horns and the announcer cleared his throat, “And now the Royal Family!”
The applause swelled. “The Royal Princesses!” the crier said. “Princess Marion!” A pretty little girl of about 12 or 13 came through the parted curtain. She wore a dress of pink and lavender with flowery pattern on the trim and a daisy in her hair. She curtsied, red-faced and shy and then hurried to stand beside her grandmother.

“Princess Tracell!” A short and pretty girl of about fifteen, with a round face and soft curves walked out of the parted curtain. She wore a dress of powder blue, and had fine golden brown hair pulled into two braided bunches on the top of her head. As people applauded she curtsied and then waved and stood beside her younger sister.

“Princess Veldicca!” The next princess was taller than the last two, with darker hair in a long braid and light blue eyes that shone brightly. She had pale skin, and wore a dress of light green, and lept her hands folded in front of her lap when she bowed. Princess Veldicca looked perhaps a year or two older than Tracell. She stood with her sisters.

“Princess Deirdre!” Princess Deirdre was shorter and much thinner than Tracell, with lighter brown hair that ended at her chin. She looked almost boyish, and was an undeterminate age somewhere in the range of Veldicca and Tracell. She wore a dress of darker green with a tall collar and golden buttons.
“Princess Selma!” A tall woman with a sleeveless dress of a cream-color came marching through the curtain, and then catching herself, changed her gait to one more becoming a princess. She had a slightly darker complexion, dark hair like Veldicca, but green eyes like Deirdre. Selma’s bare arms were very muscular. She was definitely the oldest.

There was another fanfare, followed by the announcement of the heir to the throne, “Crown Prince Brevalin the Fourth!” A tall young man, perhaps only a year or two older than the oldest princess came through the curtain followed by a heavily armored guard. The prince was perhaps half a head shorter than his tallest sister and had curly dark hair, and fine clothing of black with golden trim. He bowed to the resounding applause.
There was a pause and then a much longer fanfare, which was followed with a soft theme played by the musicians. “And announcing their royal majesties, may they live long and in good heath, King Brevalin the Third and his Queen Rosemerta!”
Everyone looked up, and upon the balcony above the door way everyone had entered through came the king with his wife two steps behind him. The king wore his finest kingly robe and tall crown, and the queen was similarly draped. Her dark hair in long braids over her shoulders.

Everyone got down on one knee and bowed their head and there was another fanfare.

The king spread his arms open, “You may rise, my guests and subjects!”

All obeyed.

“We want to personally welcome you for answering our call in this our time of need,” the king said, addressing the crowd. “You young men are the future of Gothanius, a fresh infusion of blood that will carry us to a new strength and place in the world through heroism and cleverness. We also want to thank the alderman and their families who are present and their representatives, for their wisdom in leadership will help to form and guide this strength.”

The king paused and a smattering of applause, became stronger as other joined in.

“Now, we know that many of you have journeyed hard and long to be here, and are anxious to learn the details of this endeavor and get started, but we ask you to be patient a bit longer. Daniel the castle steward will be briefing all of you after dinner, but before we eat I we do want to make this announcement in regards to some rumors you may have heard: You all will be asked to form groups of five to undertake your hunting and slaying of the dragon. However, the reward has been increased. The monetary portion has been doubled to 10,000 pieces of silver (to be divided by the successful group) and more importantly the five who return victorious shall gain the hand in marriage of my five remaining beautiful daughters!”

There was a gasp, a pause and then a cheer, but Martin looked at the princesses’ faces and could see that this was news to them.

The king continued, “And now we eat another course and afterwards there will be music and dancing, and do not be shy. Introduce yourselves to the princesses, for who knows? One day soon you may be a hro and choosing among them for your own bride.”

With that the king retreated away from the balcony with the queen and there was more fanfare, and people began to seek seats in the dining room. Martin followed them back in there, and at a far table he saw Simon and Peter taking seats next to each other and chatting with a blonde fellow in a white shirt and black vest. At the end of the table was a smaller fellow in a similar outfit, but with a huge bush of curly hair, and a tall man of horrid looks, red nappy hair and wearing a white toga cinched with a robe belt and bright blue tights. Martin made his way towards them.

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Notes

(1) The towns and villages of the Kingdom of Gothanius are called “alder-villages” as they are run by alderman appointed by the king, and make up a council of alders that help advise the king.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Earlier that Same Day. . .

“Women and Dwarves, Crumb?” the dark-haired main with the shadow of a beard said. He wore a suit of chainmail, unlike the other soldiers’ ring mail suits, and had a fine longsword with a jeweled pommel at his side.

Crumb’s Boys were line up in groups of five, with five feet between each row. They watched Crumb and Deet standing by the guard captain.

“I brought what I brought. There was no stipulation as long as they were of age. Now, where do I get my money?” Crumb asked.

“They will take care of you in the castle,” the captain said.
Crumb and Deet began to walk past the group and the portly man turned the lads who had been under his charge. “Well, good luck boys. Have fun. It’s been real,” he said with a wave and he and his the Wayfarer of Ptah disappeared into the castle proper.

They never saw him again.

The man who was obviously now in charge turned towards the group, “I am Edwin Merrick, Captain of the Castle Guard. The defense of this castle and the lives of all inside of it, primarily that of that King and the Royal Family are my specific responsibility, so I just want to tell you all that you are looking at the face of the man who will kill you if by your actions you in anyway endanger my charges.”

He paused for effect.

“You are all honored guests of the Crown and I expect you all to act as such,” Merrick continued.

“Funny way to treat a guest,” Kazrack said.

“Did I give you permission to speak?” Merrick said, curtly.

“So now guests aren’t allowed to speak,” the dwarf replied. “Especially guests who have traveled far and hard to fulfill the request of your king?”

The captain walked up to him, “You can speak all you want when you are a guest of our dungeons, would you prefer that?”
Kazrack did not reply. Devon snickered, and the Captain turned to the tall man with a glare. Devon sneered, but said nothing.
“I didn’t think so,” Merrick continued. “This is the time where I speak and you listen. I say the rules and you learn them. Understand?”

There was a smattering of “Yes, sir” in the group standing at attention.

“My guards will collect all your weapons. We will be searching your packs, but we will trust you to hand over everything else, or else we will make you all strip down out here in the cold if we find even one person holding out on us. However, we will be marching you up into the castle before we collect all such gear. Do not worry, it will be cataloged and inventoried to assure that everyone gets back what belongs to them. Of course, more weapons, armor and other equipment will be provided before you leave for your mission.”

“When will be told more about the dragon and everything?” Kazrack asked.

“You need to learn when to keep your mouth shut,” the Captain said.

There was silence.

“Also, there will be no leaving or returning to the castle grounds until after the hunt is officially declared started. No one will be allowed to leave, and anyone caught trying to sneak out will be considered in breach of contract and will be imprisoned. Understand?”

Crumb’s Boys murmured that they understood.

“Tonight there will be a banquet in your honor, ‘your’ being you and all the others who have answered the king’s call for…ahem… heroes. You will behave in a manner expected for such a Royal event and in appreciation of his majesty’s great generosity.” Merrick cleared his throat. “One last thing, there is a portion of the castle open only to the Royal Family and their immediate servants. If anyone is found there for any reason they will be killed. The safety of the king is before I excuse someone might have.”

Crumb’s Boys murmured.

“Any questions? No? Good. The record-keeper will take your names and then you all can follow me.”

Captain Merrick led the way towards the castle. They walked through a large garden that had its paths and rows cleared of snow. A good number of winter flowers could be seen blooming, and it wa clear that this place would be very beautiful in spring. Two women were clipping flowers in the garden, but looking over at the line of men marching past and giggling. Many of Crumb’s boys turned to look at the women. They were middle-aged and dumpy, wearing frilly dresses of satin and lace, and long tall hats with veils, with fur wraps made of mink or ermine. They waved and giggled.

“Yuck!” said Chance under his breath.

They entered through tall doors into a grand chamber where servants hurried back and forth decorating the walls and preparing tables and chairs. Tapestries were being hung from balconies to the left and right, and another smaller balcony was at the head of the room. They were led through a dining hall to the left and to a back hall and up two sets of narrow stone circular steps. Up here in the western wing of the castle, the halls were narrow and they formed a long line before the door to a room flanked by two heavily armed guards.

“Okay, here is where you turn in your weapons and armor. A record will be kept of who turns in what,” Captain Merrick said.
They moved along one by one handing over whatever they had, though most had nothing to hand over. Kazrack pulled off his scale mail and handed over his halberd and flail.

“Name?” the old man behind the half-door asked.

“Kazrack Delver,” the dwarf replied.

The man looked over his list, “Ah! There you are. What are handing over?”

And on it went.

“Be careful with those,” Jeremy said as he handed over his swords.

And now they were divvied into large rooms with many bunks by a young man who introduced himself as Glenn, assistant to the castle steward.

“These are the rooms you will be staying in. As you know, there will be a banquet tonight. Anyone that needs fresh clothes just tell me or one of the other assistant stewards, and tubs will be filled with water for baths. The banquet begins in about six hours, but the main chamber downstairs will be closed off to everyone for two hours prior to the banquet as final preparations are done, so if you leave the castle proper you may not be able to get back in for a while.”

Crumb’s Boys (could they be called that anymore?) went into their assigned rooms, which already more than half full with other occupants, other young men, most looking to be in their late teens to early twenties; a good number having that Herman-Lander look. Ratchis, and Kazrack were put in one room, with Finn and Frank and Gwar and others, while Beorth, Jeremy and Chance were assigned the same room as Markle, Devon and The Square and some others.

Glenn pulled Jana aside, “We did not know that women would be among the groups to answer the king’s call, but another woman was with one of the other groups that arrived a few days ago so we have had some time to prepare for your special needs. We will have a dressing screen set up around your bunk, and you when you are ready to bathe I will show you down to one of the maids’ quarters and you can use their room.”
Jana thanked him.

“Also, I will see what I can do about getting you some more appropriate clothing, as your skirt looks rather muddy and torn.”
Jana thanked him again.

------

Most of those who were once “Crumb’s Boys” fell into their cots and fell fast asleep; including Kazrack and Ratchis. Chance, Jeremy and Beorth waited on the long lines for bath water. Jana was shown downstairs and took her bath in the privacy of a maid’s room. She was brought a blue dress with short puffy sleeves and a yellow bow on the front. She felt ridiculous in it, but figured it was better than appearing at a royal banquet dressed like dirty pauper.


Jeremy, Beorth and Chance dressed in their best clothes they had been carrying with them on their long journey. Jeremy and Chance actually had similar outfits, white shirts, black trousers and black vests, while Beorth a white priestly robe with a black belt and trim. He shaved off the bristly red hair that had been growing in as he did every few days. Jeremy and Beorth then went down to the garden to wander and explore the grounds a bit before the banquet started. Chance explored the castle as much as possible.

A few hours later when Ratchis woke up he found what clothes that were spread out that could fit him and winced. He had been given a white priestly garment, a rope belt, blue tights, and sandals with leather ties that wound up to just short of knee height. He was also given a blue cloak that matched the tights that was more of a cape. He felt ridiculous, but Chance assured him he looked fine (with a snicker when the brute wasn’t looking). As self-conscious as Jana, Ratchis joined the stream of young men heading down to the Great Hall when the fanfare of horns called them all to the banquet. Jeremy and Beorth came in from the front of the castle, as they had had to wait out in the garden while the final preparations were being done.

The Great Hall was beautifully decorated with tapestries and ribbons, and lit with many candles, and lamps, including two chandeliers hanging from the ceiling two stories above the main floor. Three balconies circled the room, and large doors were open to the huge dining room, where the smell of food wafted over the perfumes of petty nobles milling among themselves and smiling nervously at all the would-be hunters in their awkwardly worn outfits.

Long tables were set with fine china and silverware and the companions began to take seats near the end of one table. However, as the seats filled at the other tables, a couple of young mane took adjacent seats among the companions and waved over a young woman with short black hair and olive skin.
Servants began to place large pitchers of ale on the table, while a while steward went around filling everyone’s glass.

The two young men were obviously twins, one being maybe only slightly taller than the other, but both were pudgy and wispy sand-brown hair, and a bit of acne. They sat beside Jeremy, while the woman across from them sat between Beorth and Jana. She was dressed in brown woolen trousers and tall boots, and a cream-colored cotton shirt.

“How are your doing?” said the lad closest to Jeremy to the Neergaardian. “I am Simon, and this is my brother Peter.”

“I’m Jeremy Northrop,” the Neergaardian replied. “These are my traveling companions.” He introduced his friends. “Where you guys from? Here to help hunt the dragon, I guess?”

“Yeah, we’re from Swampstop (2) , and my brother Simon knows a lot about dragons, so we figured we’d be useful for such a mission, plus we didn’t want to go to war. You guys a group of five?” Peter said.

“Group of five?” asked Beorth.

“Yes, we heard rumors that we all would be divided into groups of five,” said the woman beside Beorth. “My name is Maria.”
“Maria, came up here in our group,” said Peter.

“So, you know about dragons?” Kazrack asked the other twin.

“Oh yes,” said Simon, his voice was nearly still that of a boy’s. “I have read many books on them, and have spoken to sages and people who have seen them.”

“Oh, yes, Simon is really smart. He knows all about dragons. Watch this! Ready?” Peter paused for effect. “Black.”

“Acid,” replied Simon without pausing.

“Red,” said Peter.

“Fire,” replied Simon with a smile.

“Blue?” asked Peter with a sly smile.

“Blue dragons are a myth, but according to legend they breathed lightning,” the pudgy lad replied, looking very proud of himself.

“What is that you are saying?” Kazrack asked.

“What kind of deadly breath they expel from their mouths,” explained Simon. “Dracologists call it ‘breath weapon’”

“Do you know what kind of dragon they are supposedly having trouble with here in Gothanius?” Kazrack asked.

“Green,” said Peter.

“Chlorine Gas!” cried Simon. “Terrible stuff. Very deadly.”

“Cun weh talk about somethin’ else fer a little while?” asked Chance. “Ahl this dragon talk is pointless fer now.”

“Where are you from, Maria?” asked Beorth.

“I am from here in Derome-Delem, a town on the northeastern coast called Ettinos,” she replied.

“And what made you come here,” the paladin continued.

“A chance to prove myself,” she replied. “I have too many older brothers and all I gained from them is how to use a sword, and my father doesn’t want anything for me but to marry, but I want to do what I want to do. My brothers get to travel, own land, take part in my father’s business, but not me because I am a woman. Heh! Though they don’t treat women much better here. Can you believe that tried to get me to put one some poofy-sleeved dress?!? I’d rather die first.”

Jana shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

“No offense,” Maria added, looking at the young witch.

“I just don’t know about this whole dragon thing. Dragons in stories cause great destruction. They are more obvious, but the dragon here seems to only appear occasionally, and there are no confirmed reports of death (3), though if there really is a dragon a lot of people are going to die,” Kazrack said.

“Din ah juss say I din wanna talk about the drah-gin?” Chance said, annoyed. “Thar will be plenny uh tahm fer that later. Less juss enjah this fahn food.”

“I agree with Chance,” said Jana.

They spoke for some time, sharing some tales of their journey to Gothanius and talking about their homes.

“Whut duhya thank yill spend yer rewahrd en?” Chance asked everyone.

“I think it is too soon to worry about that,” said Kazrack.

“I have no idea,” said Jana.

“I will found a monastery for Anubis,” said Beorth.

“I think we’ll buy a bunch of books and become sages,” said Simon.

“I never thought about it before, but it’s be nice to open an inn. Somewhere where lots of people travel through from many parts of the world, like Earthsea City or something,” said Jeremy. (4)

“Ahm gonna use my part of the reward ta enter one uff does high-stakes poke games in Haffar’s Part,” said Chance with a smile. “I heard ya need a thousand ta enter, but kin walk out wit tin times that! With that Ahl open me own casino!”

“Seems like a strange thing to do with all your money,” said Jeremy. “You could lose it all, but a casino would be a good part of my inn.”

“This all assumes that the dragon does not kill us all,” said Kazrack.

“Ah thought Ah said I din wanna talk about the drahgon!” said Chance, grabbing a piece of asparagus that was served on the table, in large tureen suspended in some onion cream sauce. He then slapped Ratchis hand, who discovering how delicious they were had proceeded to begin shoving asparagus after asparagus in his mouth. “Ya cahnt do that en a fahncee dinna. Ya gotta let other people have some too.”

Ratchis looked around embarrassed waited a minute and grabbed one more, refilled his goblet with ale for the fourth time and tried to get the attention of the wine steward to refill his crystal glass.

The servers began to collect their plates and glasses, and Ratchis tried to nonchalantly eat and drink as much as possible before they took it all away. He looked bewildered.

Chance put a hand on the big man’s arm, “This is only the first course. They will bring more food and drink later, I promise.”
There was a fanfare of horns from the Great Hall, and people began to make their way over there. The companions followed suit. As they stood Maria stepped over to Ratchis, “So where are you from? Not Ettinos, but usually people of orcish descent aren’t treated well anywhere else.”

Kazrack overheard and his eyes opened widely.

“I am from not far from here,” said Ratchis cautiously. “How do you know so much about orcish people?”

“I’m from Ettinos. It’s a half-orc colony. Almost everyone there has some orcish blood in them. Not me, but most people do,” she said with a smile. “I never understood why people have a trouble with half-orcs, they seem just like everyone else to me, just as likely to be a good person or a bad person.”

Maria stepped up her pace to catch up with Simon and Peter, and Kazrack who was lingering behind stepped up to Ratchis.

“I couldn’t help but overhear,” the Kazrack said. “Are you really of orcish descent?”

Ratchis looked down at his dwarfish companion with a stern face, “Yes, I am.” He walked into the crowd of the great hall, taking spot right behind Maria.

Through the fanfare of horns, the family of the queen was announced and emerged, as were some of the Royal servants, among whom the Royal Architect Baulch Stonefingers was a dwarf, which made Kazrack raise an eyebrow. The five princesses followed and then the prince and his bodyguard. There came another fanfare on the horns and everyone fell to one knee and bowed. Ratchis looked around and then followed suit.
The king and queen appeared on the balcony, and the monarch told everyone they could rise.

He spoke,

“We want to personally welcome you for answering our call in this our time of need,” the king said, addressing the crowd. “You young men are the future of Gothanius, a fresh infusion of blood that will carry us to a new strength and place in the world through heroism and cleverness. We also want to thank the alderman and their families who are present and their representatives, for their wisdom in leadership will help to form and guide this strength.”

The king paused and a smattering of applause, became stronger as other joined in.

“Now, we know that many of you have journeyed hard and long to be here, and are anxious to learn the details of this endeavor and get started, but we ask you to be patient a bit longer. Daniel the castle steward will be briefing all of you after dinner, but before we eat I we do want to make this announcement in regards to some rumors you may have heard: You all will be asked to form groups of five to undertake your hunting and slaying of the dragon. However, the reward has been increased. The monetary portion has been doubled to 10,000 pieces of silver (to be divided by the successful group) and more importantly the five who return victorious shall gain the hand in marriage of my five remaining beautiful daughters!”

There was a pause and then a great applause and cheering.

“Oh, great, exactly what I need for a reward! Bah!” said Maria under her breath, obviously annoyed.

The king continued, “And now we eat another course and afterwards there will be music and dancing, and do not be shy. Introduce yourselves to the princesses, for who knows? One day soon you may be a hero and choosing among them for your own bride.”

The king and queen retreated from the balcony and the crowds began to make their way back to the dining room. Kazrack was slowed by the clog of people in the doorway, and by the time he got back to the table he saw that a young man, about six feet tall, with shaggy brown hair and robes of various shades of green had taken his seat, and was talking with Simon and Peter.

He walked up to take a seat opposite them.

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

Notes:

(2) Swampstop is a town in the southern portion of the Kingdom of Herman Land famous for drawing adventurers who explore the ancient crypts and abandoned forts of the Black Fens and other swamps in the area.

(3) Kazrack had asked the Captain of the Guard in Northfork Wall about the dragon, and he said he did not know specifically of anyone who died, but that there was a lot of damage to property.

(4) Earthsea City is a port in the southern area of the Kingdom of Neergaard. Named for a famous Neergaardian marine unit, it is a center of international trade for the kingdom.
 
Last edited:

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #12

“This is our friend Martin the Green,” said Peter. “He traveled with us from Westron. He’s a Watch-Mage.”

“Well, not technically a Watch-Mage,” Martin said to the gathered companions. “But I am an alumnus of the Academy.” He was about six feet tall with shoulder length sandy brown hair that was shaggy and uneven in the back, and wore the familiar robes of an Academy of Wizardry graduate in shades of green.

“Wow, they doobled the rewahrd,” said Chance.

“Yes, however, I am not that interested in marrying a human princess in a land that was stolen from my people,” said Kazrack, as servants poured a spicy tomato soup into their bowls and sprinkled cheese on top that grew soft as it touched the steaming broth.

Ratchis smirked, “I don’t think you are going to have to worry about that..” He lifted the bowl to his lips blew on the hot soup and began to slurp it down.

Chance pulled the big man’s arms down. “Ya cahnt do that,” the Wallbrookian said. “Ya gotta use a spoon.” He handed Ratchis a soup spoon.

Maria smiled as she sipped her own soup. Martin looked at Ratchis with a nervous smile, and the woodsman felt his face grow hot.

“You all traveled here from Westron?” Jana asked.

“Yes, we were recruited by a gentleman named Briad Ketchum,” said Martin.

Several more courses were served, along with more wine and more pitchers of ale. The companions ate and chatted with their new acquaintances, and the meal was interrupted several times for toasts initiated by a tipsy nobleman in honor of the king. Finn, Frank, Gwar and others could be seen eating and talking happily at the far end of the same table that Jeremy and the others were at.

“So, do you plan to travel with the twins and Maria to hunt for the dragon?” Beorth asked Martin.

“Well, perhaps, but my mission here is slightly different, as I was sent by the Academy, and the king may have a different role for me to fulfill. However, if I do go, most likely it will be with them,” Martin replied.

“Well, perhaps our groups can work together? There has been no stipulation that the groups are required to set off alone,” said Kazrack, being practical as always. “If there really is a dragon out there, ten would stand a better chance than five.”

“Well, that seems very reasonable. Even if I do not end up traveling with Simon and Maria and the others, I will try to mention your idea to them. It would seem to be safest,” Martin said.

Everyone ate the succulent pheasant in near silence, with Chance only occasionally chastising Ratchis for his table manners. The servants began to clear the table again, even more quickly than before.

“The king must be done eating,” said Martin. There was a fanfare of horns and then the band struck up and people began to move back into the Great Hall.

“Dessert shall be served after some dancing and the briefing is given,” someone announced to the crowd.

The many young men made a border about the dance floor, and others went to fight over the few free chairs in the chamber. Chance and Jana stood on the western edge of the dance floor and watched as a few noble couple walked out to dance. Princess Deirdre, who was only about five feet two inches tall and had reddish hair and a green dress walked across the dance floor and the crowd parted for her without a word, many of the lads staring at her boyish beauty. The princess took a seat with the musicians before a larp harp which she took and began to play beautifully accompanied by the band. Nobles applauded softly and politely, joined by the would-be heroes.

“Ah neva been inna cahsel buhfuh,” Chance said to Jana. “Ahve you?”

“No, Chance, I haven’t,” Jana said.

“Ya know ya luke very pretty in thut dress,” Chance said, looking down at his feet bashfully.

“Thank you, Chance,” Jana said with a sly smile.

“May I have this dance?” said a soothing tenor.

Jana and Chance turned to see Markle standing there, in a black shirt and jacket, and black pants and shining boots. He was holding his hand out to Jana.

“Sure,” said Jana, taking his hand and letting herself be led out to the dance floor.

Chance’s sneer followed them.

Markle danced beautifully, and Jana felt a little out of her depth, but the handsome Verdunian glided around with her in tow, making her feel as if she were almost floating.

Jeremy stood by Maria who was watching the women in their dresses dancing with finely dressed men with a sneer.
“Would you like to dance,” Jeremy said gesturing to the dance floor.

“Oh, you think I can’t?” Maria said confrontationally. She grabbed his hand pulled him on the dance floor.

Kazrack and Ratchis stood by Simon and Peter who talked excitedly about dragons. The dwarf crooked his head looking to see if he spotted the Royal Architect, but could not seem him. Ratchis pretended to listen to what they said, but he really watched Jeremy and Maria dance. Chance made his way across the dance floor to where the youngest princess Marion was twitching to the music and looking around wide-eyed for someone to dance with.

“Ya like ta dance?” Chance said to the girl, trying to figure out if she had even reached her thirteenth summer yet.

“Uh-huh,” she replied, nodding her head vigorously.

“Well come on then,” he said, and in a moment they were acting like two childish fools in the middle of the dance floor. Chance swung around Marion and she screamed in joy, making the castle guards that lined the ways peer at them nervously.

Jana looked over from where she danced with Markle and smiled knowingly.

Beorth stood not far from the musicians and noticed that one of the princesses had pushed her chair back behind the crowd watching the dance, and pulled a book out from under her dress and began to surreptitiously read it. He was standing by her trying to see what it was she read when she looked up at him. It was Princess Veldicca, her bright blue eyes shining from behind a border of luminous black hair that fell over her shoulders.

“I’m sorry,” the paladin said meekly. “I was just curious about what you were reading.”

“Oh, you like books?” the princess asked with the slightest bit of a smile.

“Yes, I like to read when I can find some books to read. Religious books, mostly,” Beorth answered.

“Oh, I’d love a religious book. I have read all the books in our library about ten times each, and I’m getting kind of tired of them,” Veldicca said. She gestured to the book she held on her lap. “This is a the second of a three volume set on kobolds.”

“Oh, sound… um, interesting,” said Beorth politely.

“Oh, it is. Did you know that even though both kobolds and gnolls are dog-like there is no evidence that they are in any way a related species despite what many sages say?”

“Really?”

Meanwhile, Jana and Markle continued to dance, even though the song ended and another slower song began.
“So tonight is the night,” Markle said, softly into her ear. “Are you sure you won’t be joining us?”

Jana smiled, as she was whirled around, hardly needing to pay attention to her feet, “I already told you I will do the part you asked, but I will not go beyond that.”

“Well, I will come to you tonight and let you know when it is starting. After that all you have to do is keep your friends out of it. It should not be too hard,” Markle said, and then dipped her.

“And while I will consider our debt fulfilled. I want you to know that there can be further reward just for your little part. When it is all said and done, or if you need a place to go, look for us in Ogre’s Bluff in seven days,” Markle said.

“Ogre’s Bluff?” Jana asked, as they glided past Princess Tracell who was now dancing with Jeremy, when Maria had abandoned him to talk strategy with Simon and Peter.

“One of the small villages far to the west. If you make it there, I’ll find you,” Markle said.

“Okay,” said Jana.

“You know you dance excellently. Have you ever had any lessons?” Markle asked the young witch.
“No,” she replied with her sly pretty smile.

“One would never have known.”
--
“So, how do you feel about your father promising your hand in marriage and that of your sisters to whomsoever slays the dragon?” Jeremy asked Princess Tracell.

“Well, I hope it is someone handsome,” Tracell said, blushing innocently while blinking her big round eyes on her cherubic face. “Normally, I’d only want someone of noble blood, but someone who is a hero that my father deems a noble will be one, so that will do fine.”

“Oh, heh, Um… What about your sisters? How do they feel about it?” Jeremy asked.

“Well, Marion is kind of too young to really understand what this all means, and Veldicca and Deirdre are always busy with books or music, so who knows, and Selma, all she cares about is acting like a man, learning how to use a sword and talking back. It is very unbecoming for a proper lady.”

“But you want to get married?” Jeremy asked.

Tracell looked at the Neergaardian slyly and then smiled, “Yes, I do. I was so envious of our eldest sister when she got to marry that Prince from Rhondria.”

“Oh, I thought Selma was the eldest,” said Jeremy.

“Oh, no. The eldest, Mariah, had to be married to create a bond between our kingdom and Rhondria,” Tracel explained.

They continued to dance through to another song.

“Listen, I was hoping that we could meet another time and talk. I wanted to …um, ask you a favor,” Jeremy asked.

Tracell cocked her head and a knowing smile came across her face. “Oh, a rendezvous!” she squealed, and then whispered. “How about tomorrow after mid-day meal in the garden?”

“That would be fine,” Jeremy replied.

The song finished and the blare of horns announced that the briefing would now start. A huge banner was unfurled of the front balcony and upon it was a map of Gothanius. Upon the map they could see Twelve Trolls, all the alder-villages, the area leading into Greenreed Valley and many icons of a dragon’s head obviously displaying the place the wyrm had been spotted.

A man with curly dark hair, dressed in an off-white tunic and with a clean boyish face that made he appear to young to have the air of authority that surrounded him stepped before the gathered crowd of would-be dragon-slayers.
“Hello,” the young man said. “As many of you may know, my name is Daniel and I the steward of Castle Gothanius, and aid the king in every way I can. As you can see the map above is one of the grand Kingdom of Gothanius. You will be receiving a copy of a similar map as you register and leave the castle to begin your hunt.”
Kazrack raised his hand.

“Please save your questions for after I am done,” Daniel said. “As His Royal Highness has said, you will be breaking up into groups of five for this mission. Starting at noon tomorrow you may register your group and leave for the valley beyond and go where you will to find the dragon and deal with it. Starting tomorrow after breakfast weapons, armor and some other general equipment will be made available to in the trophy room. You have three days staring at noon tomorrow before you must leave the castle and begin the castle, though obviously the sooner you leave the more likely you are to avoid bad weather on the road and have a chance to find the dragon before anyone else does.”

Daniel pulled a long pointer from behind his back and gestured to the banner/map. “As you can tell the most dragon sightings have been within Greenreed Valley, but also in the vicinity of Summit and Ogre’s Bluff,” the steward said. “We recommend you make your way to one or the other and begin your hunts there.”

He paused and scanned the crowd, “Now, any questions?” Kazrack’s hand was already in the air. Daniel looked the crowd over to see if there was someone else he could call on.

“Is there a person available; a witness to the dragon that we will be able to question?” Kazrack asked.

”No,” replied Daniel. “Any other questions?”

“How big is it?” asked Kazrack.

“It is said to be at from 60 to 80 feet long,” said Daniel.

“Does that include the neck and tail?” asked Kazrack.

Daniel sighed, “The information I have does not rightly say.”

Simon raised his hand and the castle steward happily called on the pudgy kid.
“I heard that the dragon is green in color. Is that true?”

“Yes, eyewitness accounts say that the dragon is green,” Daniel answered.

Kazrack raised his hand again.

“Yes,” Daniel said to the dwarf resignedly.

“Any particular trends in how and where it attacks?” the dwarf asked.

“Many of the accounts say that the dragon enjoys attacking merchant caravans, particularly those with many wagons and beasts of burden,” Daniel explained. “Any more questions anyone?”

Kazrack raised his hand again.

“No?” The steward ignored the dwarf. “Okay, thank you. A dessert of strawberry-flavored ice is now being served in the dining room. Enjoy!”

The crowd began to disperse, and long lines formed to get their dish of the dessert.

As Jana walked into the dining room to get on line, she noticed Devon walking with his bowl and eating the sweet treat, getting back on the back of the line. But as he walked, he slammed into a tall lithe hawk-featured man dressed in a long black cloak.

“Why don’t you watch where you’re going, dimwit!” Devon said loudly.

“Sir, I would inform you that it was you that was not looking where you were going, but obviously your lack of intelligence is such that you would not understand me if I deemed a lowly cretin like you as worthy of an explanation,” the man replied.

“Who you calling names, you pansy-talker!” Devon cried. “I will smash your face flat as a board!”
“Oh, what a witty comeback!” the man said. “I would find your ignorance quite entertaining if you did not have the breath of ox.”

“Why I oughta!” Devon pulled back his meaty fist, but suddenly Markle was right there, pulling the tall man way.

“Sorry about that,” Markle said to the man in the black coat.

“Why look, the ape has a keeper. It is good that they let the peasants take such jobs to pass their time. Do you clean up after his manure as well?” the man said to Markle.

Markle sneered, and Devon moved to get at the man again, but Markle held him back. They walked to the dessert line. The hawk-faced man, walked towards the back hall that led to the room all the “dragon-slayers” were staying in.

Jana smiled while observing the exchange, and then saw Chance swinging a spoon full of the dessert n wide-loops saying “Here come the butterfly!” as he fed it to the young princess Marion. She’d slurp it off the spoon with a big smile and moony eyes directed toward the poofy red-haired Wallbrookian.

----

Kazrack was waiting on the long line when he saw the dwarven Royal Architect walking by. So he left his place in line and stopped the dwarf.

Baulch Stonefingers was likely a good 60 years older than Kazrack. His brown beard had streaks of steel gray in it, and the little hair on his balding head was gray as well.

“Excuse me, sir,” said Kazrack.

The dwarf turned, “Yes?”

“Oh, I was just surprised to see one of my brethren here, and thought you might know of another dwarf in Gothanius, a rune-thrower, his name is Belear Grithckar,” Kazrack said.

“I find it fairly dubious that there are any other dwarves in Gothanius, but just because I am a dwarf does not mean I would know if there was,” the Royal Architect said with grating attitude.

“Oh,” said Kazrack taken aback. “I um, am sorry to have disturbed you.” The younger dwarf walked back to the dessert line.

----

Ratchis finished his dessert, enjoying the cold-sweet treat and walked over to where Maria stood talking with Simon and Peter.

“I was thinking that our two groups should work together,” Ratchis said to the warrior-woman. “It would be much safer that way.”

“Heh,” she replied. “Thanks for the offer, but I think we want to forge our own way and see what we can accomplish on our own.”

“But against a dragon, if there really is one, and whatever other dangers there are, ten would do better than five. And we also have the problem that there are six among us, but there are four among you, so maybe one of us can travel officially with your group,” Ratchis explained.

“Well, we are really looking at a variety of people to be the fifth in our group, like Tanweil for example who I think is an excellent fighter and can take direction,’ Maria smiled. “Maybe we can arrange for our groups to meet and have an exchange of information for our mutual benefit. We’ll discuss it and get back to you.”

She turned back to her companions, and Ratchis’ shoulders slumped and he walked across the great hall as the music began again and through the dining room to the rear hall and up to his room. Chance returned to dancing with young Princess Marion, and Beorth continued to chat some with Princess Veldicca, and listened attentively to Princess Deirdre when at one point she played a harp solo. Jeremy continued to drink, and watched the line of young men ask Princess Selma to dance and have her angrily refuse.

Upstairs, Ratchis found the hawk-faced man who had tussled with Devon sitting on a bunk, pouring glassfuls of wine and sipping them.

“Ugh, I must share a room with such a large brute?” the man said, looking up at Ratchis. “This arrangement is getting worse all the time.”

Ratchis just grunted, tore off the clothes he had been lent, and proceed to do his evening push-ups.

“Must you breathe so loudly when you do such savage rituals?” the man asked. “I may have to ask for another room. In a second it will smell like pig’s sty, not that this whole kingdom doesn’t smell like one.”
Ratchis grunted again and ignored the man, and soon went to bed falling straight to sleep.

The rest of the evening continued without event. Eventually the music and dancing was called to an end when the King announced his retirement for the night. The nobles left the castle, and all the those young men inwardly making plans for the hardships to come, made their way to their beds and sleep.

Jana, however, sat in her bed fully dressed, behind the screen they had set up for her, waiting for Markle’s word that she be prepared to stop the others. The minutes stretched into an hour or more perhaps, when suddenly she snapped awake realizing she had dozed. Someone was rapping on the screen.

“Come in,” she whispered, expecting to see Markle standing there.

Garcon walked behind the screen.

“Oh, my Jana, I have something I must tell you now that we have arrived here in Gothanius,” Garcon said.
“Garcon, I do not have time for you right now,” Jana replied.

“Oh, through many days and nights, across many miles and up and down stony hill and along the rushing rivers of the this rough land I have marched only to be by your side,” Garcon continued.
“Garcon, leave!”

“I know you play coy, but how can someone reject one who loves another so deepy and that has come here for no other reason than to be by your side and cast aside all other loves, loves that did not appreciate the depth that one could feel for another. Jana, you must understand…”

“Garcon, it’s the middle of the night, can we please talk about this another time?”

“But Jana, I have to tell you…” Garcon pulled off his hat and the powdered wig beneath, revealing short brown hair. Now she could see in the dim light of the low lantern she had by the bed that sweat was wiping away the face powder Garcon used to lighten his complexion.

“Oh my god,” Jana said, cover her mouth with her hand.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #12 (Part II)

“Yes, Jana. It is I, Arnold,” he who had formerly been Garcon said. “I have watched and waited. Letting one love die and another come to grow in my heart for you, Jana. All for you,” Arnold said. “Your skin like the caramel sweets sold in spring market, and eyes that shine like the waters of the Wizard’s Sea. I dream of you all the time, and I awake in the morning and see you again and I thank Isis that she allows my dreams to bleed into my waking life.”

“What are you doing here? Where did you come from?” Jana asked.

“From the moment I first looked into your eyes I knew there was something special about you. When I came to the Slim Stiletto (5) to meet you and found out you were coming here, I decided that a change would be a good thing and that I would come too and prove that I too can be heroic, and make you love me,” explained Arnold.
“You have to leave right now,” Jana pushed him towards the screen.

“Don’t play hard to get,” Arnold said, falling to one knee. “Let me recite a poem I wrote for you.”

“Jana, it’s time,” a voice said softly, as the screen was being pulled back. Markle stepped in and his eyes narrowed as he saw Garcon/Arnold there. “What’s he doing here?”

“He’s crazy. I don’t know,” Jana replied flustered.

“What is he doing here?” Arnold asked, and then turned to Markle. “Don’t think I won’t fight for Jana’s love, because I will.” He reached for his rapier.

“Arnold, stop!” said Jana with a hiss. “And be quiet, you will wake people.”

Markle sneered, “Just take care of it. I don’t care what you have to do, and if I were you I’d stay in here for at least ten minutes. Until we meet again.”

Markle slipped away.

“He is lucky he left, or he would have seen that I really am a great swordsman,” Arnold said.

Jana momentarily ignored Arnold/Garcon, and with a mental command her little green companion slipped out from under the pillow up the wall, across the ceiling, and through the crack of the door.

“To Jana, my love…” Arnold was starting his poem.

“Arnold, you have to keep it down,” Jana whispered.

Arnold quieted his voice and continued, “As I turn my mind to the thought of the warmth of Ra’s Glory reflecting off the surface of the blue-green sea, I am reminded of a similar warmth that comes from basking in your presence…”

He continued on and on and Jana allowed him, if only to keep him busy, but suddenly there was a thump and muted growl in the hallway, and in a moment her familiar came crazily scurrying back into the room, the voice in Jana’s mind was a scream, “Big animal! Big animal! Big animal!” The tiny lizard slid up Jana’s leg and took her normal spot of safety under the collar of the witch’s blouse.

Kazrack awoke, thinking he heard voices coming from behind the screen.

Jana covered Arnold’s mouth, “Shh! Don’t speak. Let me just look in your eyes for a moment.”

The dwarf walked over the screen, “Jana?”

“Huh?” Jana said in her best groggy voice.

“Can I talk to you about something?” Kazrack asked.

“Can’t it wait `til morning?” Jana replied.

“I guess,” the dwarf walked back to bed and laid down, sleep enveloping him again.

But now Ratchis stirred as there was another sound from the hallway.

Arnold pulled his mouth free, “What was that? Are those villains up to no good? I will check and prove myself to you.”

“If you want to make me happy you will stay where you are,” Jana told Arnold.

Ratchis sat up and rubbed his eyes, but remained in bed, just listening.

“I knew you’d come around,” said Arnold leaning forward for a kiss.

“Uh, read me some more poetry,” Jana said, dodging the smooch. “Just do it quietly.”

“Certainly,” Arnold/Garcon replied.

------

Beorth woke with a start, someone was shaking him.

“Beorth, weck op!” Chance was saying. “Somethin’ strange is hoppening.”

“What is it?” said Beorth, suddenly alert.

“Ah heard some strange nuzzes from the hall,” Chance replied.

The paladin of Anubis got out of bed and went to the door with Chance close behind. He paused and listened, hearing nothing. He slowly pulled the door open.

The hallway was very dark, with only the slightest light coming from a sconce much further down the hall. Beorth placed one foot out into the hall to get a better look to the left and right, and felt something sticky and slick under his foot. He paused and stooped down, and ran his finger along the substance.

“Blood,” he said, in his typical passionless voice. “Wake, Jeremy and the others. This seems to be smeared all up and down the hallway.”

“Whot’s gun on?” Chance asked.

“We’ll find out,” said Beorth. “I am going to wake Martin the Watch-Mage.”

Chance woke Jeremy.

“What’s going on?” Jeremy asked, annoyed.

“There were strange noises and now there is blood all in the hall,” Chance explained.

“First chance in forever to sleep in a real bed, and there are strange noises and blood in the hall. I should’ve known,” Jeremy replied getting out of bed. “The guards should be getting here soon. We should just wait before we run off doing anything crazy.”

Chance ran out into the hall, trying to leap over the thick track of blood, but just ending up sliding towards the door where Ratchis and the others stayed.

Jeremy stood in the doorway. “Hey, be careful, you are spreading that around,” he said pointing to the blood.
Chance opened the door and went in and Ratchis immediately sat up, “What’s happening?”

Chance was startled.

Ratchis stood up.

“Thar’s blood ol over the hallway,” Chance said. “Beorth’s gone ta wake the Watch-mage.”
A handful of the lads sleeping in the room began to grunt and stir; more than one “Quiet!” erupted from the slumbering forms.

Ratchis walked over and shook the snoring dwarf, “Kazrack, trouble.”
The dwarf awoke, while Ratchis went to Jana. He knocked lightly on the screen.

“Quiet, I’m trying to sleep!” called a groggy voice from across the room, which led to quite a few more “Shhhhhhs”.

“Jana?” Ratchis said, as he pulled open the screen.

“Oh, all the interruptions of my admission of love,” said Arnold/Garcon.

Jana emerged from the screen.

“Chance said there were noises and now blood in the hall,” Ratchis said.

“Really? I haven’t heard anything,” said Jana.

“Hey, whus is he doin’ in there wit’ ya?” Chance said to Jana, sneering.

“A rival suitor?!” said Arnold said stepping to Chance.

“Back oof, or ah’ punch ya lights oot,” said the gambler.

“Arnold, stop!” said Jana.

By this time a few of the others were actually sitting up in bed, “What the hell is going on?”

Another voice said, “Will you shut the hell up?”

In the meantime, Kazrack had moved to the door and saw the wide swath of blood in the hallway. He also saw Jeremy standing in the doorway of the other room.

“Hey, I just notice that Devon and Markle and the other guy aren’t in their beds,” said Jeremy.

“Oh my, oh my,” Martin the Green said, rubbing his forehead nervously as he came around the corner. He suddenly noticed his robes were dragging in the blood, and he lifted them up.

Beorth followed, “The blood goes all the way up the hall, and past Martin’s door.”

“It looks like it does down this way as well,” said Kazrack, pointing past towards the stairs.

Ratchis came out to the hall followed by Chance and Jana. Arnold followed Jana.

“Who is he?” asked Kazrack. “He looks kind of like Garcon.”

Jana sighed, “Long story. What is happening?”

“Someone was killed,” Beorth said.

“We need to stay calm,” said Martin, nervously. “We have to find a guard or the steward and report this.”

Ratchis walked past him, trying not to make tracks in the blood, “We need to see what happened first.”

He kneeled down and examined the blood, as Beorth retrieved a torch. “Looks like the source of the blood is this way.” They followed the blood back to its source, which led to the room where all their weapons had been taken from them and stored. The door was smashed open, and here the blood was spattered all over the walls and door.
Ratchis stepped in and saw the room had been quickly ransacked. The guard they had seen standing before the door all day was nowhere to be seen – except for the blood.

“Weapons have been removed from here,” Ratchis said.

“What is this door?” Kazrack asked Martin referring to a large iron-reinforced door perpendicular to that that led to the weapon storage room.

“It goes to the Royal Quarters,” answered Martin. “We can’t go that way. The guards will attack first and ask questions later. We, uh… I have to go downstairs and find Daniel or the Captain of the Guards. I know where their quarters are. They are in this wing.”

Martin turned, as if to go back down the hall towards the stairs and then stopped and turned back and then opened his mouth and then closed it again. Everyone just looked at him.

“I, uh… Ratchis, would you come with me, and you others could you please keep people from wandering around or touching anything. The danger may not be over,” Martin added.

Ratchis and Martin made their way down the stone spiral steps. The tall woodsman led the way, going cautiously. The blood continued down the stairs, but became thinner as they came to the second floor. Martin directed Ratchis to a door, and then knocked on it.

“Daniel?” the young Watch-Mage called. “There has been some trouble, and perhaps a murder. Daniel?”
There was no answer. Ratchis tried the door and it was locked.

“Captain Merrick’s room is over here,” said Martin walking in the direction of an adjacent hall. Ratchis grabbed the shaggy-haired Thrician by the shoulder and pulled him back.

“I go first,” he said.

The came to another door and this time Ratchis knocked loudly, “Captain!” he called.

“Captain,” said Martin. “It is I, Martin the Green, there seems to have been some kind of incident. There is trouble.”

Again there was no reply. “We should go down to the ground level and see if there is anyone around,” said Martin.
Ratchis led the way to the steps going down to the ground level, but at the top of the spiral steps stuck out a pair of booted feet. Ratchis crept forward and pulled the body up a bit to see the beheaded corpse of a castle guard.

“OH MY!” gasped Martin covering his mouth and turning away.

“Come on, we’re going back up,” said Ratchis brusquely.

Upstairs, Ratchis informed the others of what they had found. By now, others of the would-be dragon-hunters were awake and displaying a mixture of nervousness and curiosity.

Ratchis made his way to the weapon storage room, and began to put on his chain shirt, and grabbed his swords. Kazrack, Beorth and Chance followed suit, while Martin went back into his quarters and retrieved his satchel of components.

“You shouldn’t do that,” Jeremy called from where he still stood in the door, refusing to come out into the hall. “We could all get in trouble.”

“Ef something is ripping the heads uf people around here, Ah fer one want me sword n’ armor, dahm the consequences,” said Chance.

“Hmmm,” Jeremy rubbed his chin. “You have a point.” And then carefully, as to not to step in blood made his way to the weapon storage room. Jana followed grabbing a crossbow and a club.

“What do we do now?” asked Beorth.

“We wait right here until some guards show up and we tell them what happened,” replied Jeremy, putting his chain shirt on. “There is no need to go wild, running around the castle looking for trouble.”

“Normally, I would agree with you, but, uh…” Martin swallowed. “I think something is seriously wrong. I suggest we do search, but first perhaps Ratchis and I can go up to one of the towers and see if any guards are up there.”

“Ok,” replied Kazrack. “We’ll wait here, for now, but if the king and others are in danger we need to act soon.”
Again, Martin and Ratchis left the others and made their way to the steps that led up to the tower. Ratchis slowly pushed open the trap door and felt the cold air rush in, as something dripped on him from above. He came up to see blood splattered everywhere up here as well. The corpses of three guards were badly torn apart. Martin came up as well and muffled a cry.

They could see the red glimmer of fire at the castle’s front gate to their left, and could hear the distant voices of men crying out in their attempts to deal with the flame.

“There must have been some kind of attack at the gate,” said Martin.

“It is a distraction for whatever is going on here in the castle,” replied Ratchis.

“How…”

Martin’s question was left hanging in the cold air as both he and the half-orc noticed movement in the tower across from their, closer to the front of the castle proper. A tall dark man with dark hair was climbing atop the low wall that ran around the edge of the tower, holding on to one of the four posts that held the tower roof up. He looked right at Ratchis and Martin frozen and looking, as he crouched there and then as if in slow motion to them, he let go of the post and began to tumble forward off the tower, but something even stranger was happening.

The man’s skin grew darker and his arms elongated and stretched downward, as if the skin were becoming leather and growing to connect along the side of his torso. The man’s legs collapsed upward and inward, becoming short claws, and his face stretched forward, as his ears bloomed outward, and black hair grew all over his changing body.

And then where a man had stood before tumbling from a tower, before Ratchis and Martin could even draw another breath, there was a huge bat with a wingspan of nearly twelve feet, flapping into the night with a screech.

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

Notes:

(5) The Slim Stiletto is the Inn where Crumb’s Boys all first gathered in Verdun, and where Jana and Arnold were supposed to have a date.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Sesssion #12 (part III)

“Whu-what was that?” Martin said, when he realized that he could move and speak and the horror of the sight had begun to subside.

“Come on, the King’s in danger,” Ratchis said, opening the trap door to allow Martin to go down first.

Downstairs, Ratchis told the others about the fire at the gate and the dead guards on the tower, but Martin did went directly to the door Martin has pointed out as leading to the royal quarters and began to knock as loudly as he could.

“Hello? This is Martin the Green. There is some kind of trouble! I think the king is in danger,” he called through the door, but there was no reply.

Ratchis pushed Martin aside and kicked the door with all his might. The large oaken door, reinforced with slats of iron, shuddered but did not open. He tried and failed again.

“Let me help,” said Kazrack. They slammed their shoulders against the door together, but the door held.

“We will have to find a way to the Royal Quarters from downstairs,” said Martin.

“I don’t think we should go wandering around castle,” said Jeremy.

By this time most of the would-be Dragon-Hunters were wake and were spilling into the hall trying to see what was going on, tracking blood all over the place.

“I don’t think we all should,” said Martin. “Beorth, would you stay here and watch over the others and make sure no one disturbs the storage room or tries to go through that door?”

“Of course,” replied Beorth.

“Ratchis and Kazrack, would you come with me?” Martin asked.

“No way I am staying here when there is something to be done,” replied Kazrack.

“I will stay here,” said Jana.

“And I too shall stay, for this vision of loveliness, this diamond in the rough will need me to watch over her, though my excellent skills as a swordsman would be very useful to you if villainy is afoot, but even ones such as I need to make sacrifices,” said Arnold/Garcon.

“Oh, gav it op!” said Chance. “Ya nut a bleedin’ swashbockler, but ah’ll stay with Jana and Beorth ta.”
Kazrack and Ratchis looked to Jeremy. The blonde Neergaardian sighed.

“Well, I guess I’ll go with you guys to keep you out of trouble,” he said.

Jeremy went down the stairs first, followed by Kazrack, then Martin and Ratchis took up the rear. They made their way past the headless body on the stairs, and found the head a crunched up pulpy nearly unidentifiable thing at the base of the steps, not ten feet from the corpses of two other guards.

“Looks like he was ravaged by an animal,” said Ratchis, he pointed to bloody bootprints that led towards the dining hall.

They made their way through the back hall to the doors to the dining room. Kazrack pulled open the door, while Jeremy covered it with his crossbow. The dining room was silent and empty, wooden chairs piled atop the long now barren tables.

Ratchis thought he heard something behind the large double doors which led to the Great Hall beyond, and rushed past Jeremy, pushing open the great doors hurriedly.

Kazrack, Jeremy and Martin rushed after him.

Ratchis paused. In the area beneath where the king had addressed the banquet from a balcony lay the body of another guard, and a second guard was being mauled by a huge brown bear.
Ratchis knew it was too late for the guard and waited, but Jeremy took up a spot to the woodsman’s right and fired his crossbow, striking deep in the bear’s flank. The animal roared, and the four companions braced for it to charge, but it did not. Instead, the bear backed up to the single door across from the one they had come through and stood there, growling and watching the party.

Martin hurried over to the guard to check for signs of life, while both Kazrack and Jeremy loaded their crossbows. The guard was certainly dead. Kazrack fired and missed, but Jeremy scored another hit, while

Ratchis just waited to intercept the bear if it charged.

Martin left the guard in the growing pool of blood, and taking out a handful of colored sand cast it at the bear and spoke some arcane words. The sand transformed into a explosion of multi-colored lights that enveloped the bear’s head. The beast shook his head and roared.

“Damn!” said Martin. The bear got up on its hind legs and roared again.

“Shoot it!” cried Ratchis.

Jeremy and Kazrack who were busy reloading, both fired and hit. Kazrack’s went deep into it’s flank, but Jeremy’s disappeared into the bear’s neck. Blood gurgled forth and the animal swayed and began to tumble forward, but before it could it the ground it disappeared.

“Where did it go?” Jeremy asked.

“Magic?” said Kazrack.

“It could have been an illusion, except these guards are really dead and the caster would have to be somewhere nearby, unless of course he is very very powerful,” Martin said.

“Which way should we go?” asked Jeremy.

“Well, we should be able to get to the Royal Quarters by way of the audience chamber or above through the balcony,” said Martin.

Ratchis walked over and checked the doors to the audience chamber and they were locked.

“The balcony it is then,” said Kazrack.

“How do we get up there?” asked Martin.

“Well, you could magic us up there or something,” said Jeremy.

“I cannot, um, do that,” said Martin.

“Heh,” replied Jeremy. “Then we’ll grab one of these long table and flip it over on the narrow end and use it as a ladder of sorts.”

Kazrack, Jeremy and Ratchis worked together to flip the table over, but it immediately began to slide backward, so Ratchis held it in place as the others climbed up, and then Kazrack and Jeremy held the table legs in place while Ratchis came up.

Kazrack and Ratchis stood to either side of the door, while Martin knocked. Jeremy was stuck holding the table up.

“Hello?” called Martin. He knocked again and waited. They could clearly hear the sound of someone on the other side.

“We can hear someone there,” said the Watch-Mage. “The King could be in danger. We’ve come to warn you.”

“In the name of the King identify yourselves. None may enter the Royal Quarters without his majesty’s leave!” said a voice from the other side.

“It is I, Martin the Green, and uh…three of the other dragon-hunters. We have found castle guards dead and wild animals about and there is a fire at the front gate. There is some real trouble afoot, we think the fire is a distraction to allow someone to do harm to the king.”

“You should not be wandering the castle at night, and none shall enter the Royal Quarters,” the guard on the other side said.

“Well, perhaps if you could come and help us find the perpetrators, or send someone to help us,” suggested Martin.

“None of the Royal Guard may leave their posts under any circumstances. The immediate protection of the king is our concern,” the voice said.

“But, we are telling you the king is in danger!” cried Kazrack with frustration.

“And I am telling you that the king is safe here with us, and no one shall get us to open this door short of the Captain himself,” said the guard. “It is he you should seek out if there is danger about in the castle.”

“Um, guys,” said Jeremy in a strained voice. “Could you hurry up? This table is getting heavy.”

“Well, could you bring the king to the door so we can talk to him?” asked Kazrack.
The laughter from the other side of the door was clearer than the talking had been.

“His majesty is not summoned by any man, least of all a stranger on the other side of a door in the dead of night when the castle has been attacked,” the guard said dismissively.

“Argh,” cried Kazrack, upset with their failure.

“There is no way they are going to let us in,” said Martin. “Should be head to the gate and try to find the Captain?”

“We cannot risk not being believed or being delayed and whoever is in the castle with magic animals accomplishing whatever it is they are doing, if they haven’t already,” said Ratchis.

“We could smash down this door, and make sure the king really is safe. Those guards on the other side of the door may be lying,” said Kazrack.

“And get into a battle with the Royal Guards? I think not,” said Ratchis.

“I think we should climb back down,” said Jeremy, sweat beading on his brow.

“Yes, I think we should try the door the bear was in front of. I think it was strange it did not charge us, maybe it was just trying to delay us,” said Ratchis.

“Well, it is either that or go out to the front gate and find the Captain, and that is exactly what someone may want us to do,” said Martin.

Kazrack helped Jeremy hold the table as Ratchis climbed down and then he held the table from below as

Martin climbed down, followed by Jeremy and finally Kazrack. The Great Hall was cold and spooky, the splattered blood of the guards and their bodies akimbo juxtaposed with the fine tapestries and the unattended instruments of the musicians left in the corner.

The four of them went through the door that led to the east wing.

“This is where the library and the trophy room are,” said Martin.

Ratchis walked in first, peering into the dark with his darkvision, Martin followed with a lantern, then came Kazrack and Jeremy. Ratchis crept a bit ahead, a short hall connected to his right, and as he turned to note a spiral staircase going downward, his vision was obscured by the shadow of an animal that leapt up onto his head and shoulders.

Martin stepped back as Ratchis struggled to detach the black and white furry animal that was furiously tearing at large man’s face. Kazrack ran up to his companion and shoved his halberd point right through the creature. It squealed as the broad blade burst its very body with sudden violence. However, the squeal ended abruptly as the animal disappeared.

“That was a badger!” Jeremy laughed. “You got tore up by badger!”

Ratchis growled dabbing at the deep scratches on face and neck with torn piece of cloth.

“It came from that stairway,” Ratchis said, and led the way down.

-----

Meanwhile, upstairs Beorth, Chance and Jana stood in the hall, keeping the others from coming out into the hall. Arnold/Garcon was out there with them.

“Ah guess you were too busy talkin’ ta this guy to hear whut wess gunn on,” said Chance snottily.

“You will address me as Arnold or Garcon, or you and I sir will have some words,” said Arnold/Garcon.

“Arnold, be quiet,” Jana said, as Chance’s hands curled into fists. “And Chance, he was just bothering me, you know how he is.”

“Oh, kind of like you looked sa bahthered when ya wuss dancing with yer boyfriend arlyer tonight,” said Chance.

“My boyfriend? What are you talking about?”

“I am more than a mere boyfriend,” said Arnold/Garcon. “I am the love of this woman’s- - - “

“Shut up, Garcon!” said Chance angrily. He turned back to Jana. “Aye! Ya know who ahm talkin’ `bout.

Markle! Ah saw ya dahn-cin ahl clarse n’ ahl.”

“Oh, Chance!” said Jana.

“Come ahn, admit it!”

‘Whatever,” was Jana’s only reply.

Beorth just looked at the both of them in wonder.

----

The spiral stone staircase came to a barren stone room with two doors. One door had a small barred window in it, the sound of air rushing through the window could be heard, and the cold air stirred in the room. The other door creaked in the wind. It was open.

Kazrack cracked the door open a bit more, while Jeremy reloaded his crossbow. The dwarf peaked in. There were narrow steps leading down into a room filled with barrels, crates and kegs. Ratchis stepped past them and tried to throw the door open, but something heavy seemed to block it from opening more than a few inches. Jeremy, Ratchis and Kazrack all pushed together and the resistance quickly gave. There was the sound of something falling and bursting, followed by a dripping sound.

Now that the door stood open Ratchis could see that the short stone stairway into the sunken room was covered in a black oily liquid. Ratchis leaned back and did a broad jump over the steps and down into the room, but misjudged landed badly. He was stretched painfully on steps, his back covered in the viscous substance.

There was a sudden movement and sound in shadows of the room, Ratchis looked over as torch lit up and was tossed in his direction. He instinctively flinched, but the torch fell below him, and the oil all about burst aflame.

Devon ran out of the shadow through a doorway in the opposite wall, “Somebody came through!”
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #12 (Part IV)

Ratchis forced himself to control his breathing and spoke words calling to his goddess, Nephthys, to grant him her Divine Favor and the stood, the flames licking at his clothing.

Kazrack leapt from the landing to the right onto a crate he thought would hold his weight, but the crunching of wood as one leg painfully burst through stranding him there proved him wrong. He cried out from the painful split, while Martin and Jeremy moved onto the landing.

Ratchis ran off the steps, patting his clothes out, and could see now that a lantern light could be seen coming from the next room. Kazrack pulled his leg free and rolled off the crate. Martin and Jeremy came down the steps, for the fire had flared up suddenly and then died down.

Ratchis pushed a crate before him into the room to act as a shield, but then came round the left side of it deeper into the L-shaped room. There he could see Markle and the hawk-faced man he had argued with earlier standing on either side of a small dark archway. Martin came up behind Karack who was now ducked behind the box, waiting for someone to move it.

“Devon’s in there!” said Kazrack.

“Who?” asked Martin.

Markle moved cautiously forward, holding a short sword in his right hand. With his left he reached into a small red bag on his belt and pulled out what appeared to be a ball of fur. He threw it sidearm at Ratchis, and as it tumbled towards him it grew and grew, taking the form of a large wolf that landed before the large half-orc and bit at him, but missed.

“Damn, Jana!” cried Markle. “I’ll choose someone better next time.”

Martin moved into the room, and he and Kazrack felt a wave of dizziness come over them, but they shook it off. Ratchis hurled a javelin at Markle, and the small handsome man dodged enough to make it strike his studded leather armor at an awkward angle, but he could feel the bruise start to swell.

Martin spoke an arcane word and three small globes of light began to dance around the wolf’s head. Jeremy leapt over Kazrack’s head onto the crate, but felt the sharp pain of a blow to his rear right flank. Turning, he saw Devon had emerged from the darkness of the other corner in this part of the room. Kazrack moved around the box, and fired his crossbow at Markle and missed. The wolf seeing him more open took a nip at the dwarf and missed, just as he felt another spell begin to come over him, but fail.

Ratchis pulled a dagger to go along with his drawn short sword, and moved to attack the wolf, which was too wile for him. The lights moved from the wolf which seemed to ignore them to circle Devon’s head, he was taken aback, and the spray of bright colors that followed from Martin sent him reeling. This gave Jeremy an opening which he exploited, drawing blood with both his blades. The wolf continued to bite at Kazrack, but his armor proved too strong for the animal’s teeth to puncture. Markle charged at the dwarf, stabbing with his short sword, but the dwarf parried the blow, impressively displaying skill at keeping both foes at bay. Again, Kazrack felt another spell wash over him to no avail.

Ratchis tried to take advantage of the wolf’s distraction with Kazrack, but both is blows went wide. The flips flipped back over to Marke’s head, but he ignored them, as Martin moved over to strike a blow against the stunned and blinded Devon’s shoulder with his staff. Suddenly, Devon’s head cocked, and as Jeremy’s longsword came down for what would have been a killing blow, Devon parried it with his cutlass, but winced as the short sword bit him. He disengaged from combat.

Kazrack, Markle and the wolf, all struggled with each other, but only Markle’s blade found purchase, causinf the dwarf to spit.

“I knew you wouldn’t be able to mind your own business,” he said. “Really unfortunate for both our parties.”
From the corner of his eye, Ratchis could see the hawk-faced man tracing something in red on the wall behind him. But there was nothing he could except stab forward with a deep blow into the wolf’s haunch that made it yelp pathetically.

Martin the Green twiddled his fingers in Markle’s direction, but he shrugged off the daze effect, and continued to fight.

Jeremy turned and went to finish the wolf, but missed as Devon came swinging wildly at the Neergaardian.
“I may not be able to see, but I can still getcha,” he said.

More blows were traded, Markle felt the bite of Kazrack’s polearm, but the dwarf felt both the wolf’s teeth and Markle’s blade. Kazrack staggered, but kept his feet.

From the other side of the room the hawk-faced man was heard to declare, “Come from the fiendish pit!”

The circle the man drew on the wall burst into bright flame and from it emerged a red hawk, who’s very feathers flicker like flame, and filled the room with a sulfurous smell. It flew right into Ratchis’ face, heat seeming to emanate from it. Ratchis slashed at the bird with his knife as he made a blind stab at the wolf. The bird dodged, but the sword found purchase in the wolf, and with a howl it slumped and disappeared.

Martin came over and took a swing at the hawk with his staff, but the bird was too quick, screeching an unearthly screech as it dove and fluttered. Devon and Jeremy continued to struggle with each other, now that Devon had recovered his bearings and vision. Kazrack desperately tried to get a more solid blow in on Markle, who was looking gravely wounded, but he was too quick and skilled.

The warlock in the corner of the room moved into position and fired a ray of green light at Jeremy, but the ray went wide.

“Why must you do this?’ asked Markle. “Why don’t we stop this now? We go and you go, and forget about the whole thing?”

“Do you expect us to forget all those guards you killed?” Ratchis replied, coming at Markle with a flurry of blows, even as he ducked out of the way of the fiendish hawk’s attack.

Markle had no response, but was hard pressed to block the attacks, feeling the cut of Ratchis long knife again. Martin continued to swing at the hawk and continued to miss, being over-cautious about striking Kazrack or Ratchis by accident.

Devon and Jeremy continued to trade parries and blows, and the blood ran down their armor in bright gouts. Jeremy noticed something and his eyes went wide open, “Devon isn’t human!” he cried.
Devon only smiled.

Ignoring Jeremy, Kazrack found the opening he needed and a hard blow to the hip, sent Markle down into an unconscious heap.

The warlock fired another green ray, this time striking Ratchis, but the Friar of Nephthys shook off the effect.

“Martin, bind Markle,” said Ratchis, moving over to where Jeremy and Devon struggled. The fiendish hawk tried to slow the large man’s progress, but failed. Ratchis delivered two strong blows to Devon. Before Devon could react to having two opponents Jeremy followed up with two strong blows of his own, and the one who had always been a thorn in their side dropped to the ground.

“I surrender!” cried the Warlock, dropping to his knees.

“Call off the hawk!” cried Kazrack, who was still struggling with it.

With a word from the warlock, it disappeared in a sulfurous “poof!”

Martin and Ratchis moved to stabilize Devon and Markle, while Kazrack covered the warlock.

“Make even the slightest gesture I interpret as a spell and I will skewer you,” said the dwarf.

The two rogues looked as if their wounds had already stopped any serious bleeding.

Jeremy pointed to Devon, “I saw his wounds healing of their own accord!”

End of Session #12
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #13

Upstairs, Jana, Chance and Beorth waited in the hall, with Arnold/Garcon standing in the doorway. Suddenly, he sound of the door to the Royal Quarters opening coincided with the sound of armored figures hustling up the spiral steps. In a moment, they were surrounded by castle guards.

“Drop your weapons!” one of the guards commanded, and Chance, Jana and Beorth complied. “Why do you have weapons and wear armor?”

Before any of them could reply, a guard cam running up the hall, “Sir! The weapon storage room has been broken into and the blood seems to have its origin there!”


“Yes, that is why we have our weapons,” said Beorth.

“What?!? You killed the guard and broke into the armory?” the guard in charge asked.

“No,” said Beorth quickly. “We were awakened in the middle of the night by noise and came out to discover blood in the hall. We took our weapons from the room, which had already been broken into, and my friends went to investigate, while we stayed and protected those who are the king’s guests and made sure no one else went into the storage room – by order of Martin the Green.”

“You and you,” he pointed to Chance and Beorth. “Come with me.”

He stopped in front of Jana and pulled her weapons from her hands,” You go back to bed, young lady. You shouldn’t get involved in these kinds of things.”

Jana smiled, and went back to the room, noticing that Arnold/Garcon had already slipped back in and was in his bunk.

Chance and Beorth were taken down to the great hall to wait. They could see the blood splattered everywhere and the bodies of the guards were being taken away.

“Ach! Ah hope that tha others ah ahl-right,” said Chance.

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

Meanwhile, in the bowels of the castle, the three villains were bound.

“I’m telling you, I saw Devon’s wounds close up of their own accord,” maintained Jeremy.

“Well, we can’t worry about that now,” replied Ratchis. “I know of priestly spells that can cause the same effect, maybe this spell-caster here did something. But, what is more important is that the little guy is still missing.”

“What was his name again?” asked Jeremy.

“I think they called him ‘the Square’” replied Kazrack.

“Where is he?” Ratchis asked the bound warlock roughly, pushing him with the toe of his boot.
“He is gone into the vault to find the treasury we sought,” said the warlock.

“What?” Jeremy declared. “That is what you wanted? You guys are thieves?”

“There is literally a king’s ransom in there,” said the warlock. “Do not look down your simple nose at us.”

“Shut up,” Ratchis kicked him lightly again, and then stood to flank the door that led to the darkness of vaults below. It wwas open, but a crack. “Square! Come out of there and surrender. If we have to come in there after you I promise you will die, but if you just give yourself up now, you will make it a lot easier on all of us.”

There was no reply.

“Come out, Square! It’s all over,” Jeremy called into the darkness.

“He’s not going to listen to you,” said the warlock.

“Figures,” said Ratchis, pulling his sword, and looking to Jeremy. “Martin, watch the prisoners.”

“Okay,” the Watch-mage replied, as Kazrack brought him a black case that appeared to have belonged to the hawk-faced man.

Jeremy counted to three, and then kicked open the door. Kazrack was covering it with his crossbow.

Ratchis stepped into the darkness, and Kazrack followed, unloading his crossbow and taking up his halberd again.
The area beyond was a series narrow corridors with round stone seals in the wall at about chest height at regular intervals. Ratchis and Kazrack crept down the corridors carefully, when they heard the sound of metal scraping on stone, and then a clang. The jogged in the direction of the sound, and found a tiny alcove with a metal grate.

Ratchis lifted the grate and peered down. The air below was moist and fetid, but the passage way was too narrow for him or Kazrack to follow.

“Looks like he got away,” said Ratchis.

“Makes sense that they would have had an alternate way out of here,” replied Kazrack. “Not that I know how

Devon could possible fit down there.”

They made their way back out of the lower vaults as castle guards burst into the room.

“Drop your weapons and get on your knees!” they commanded.

The four companions obliged, though Kazrack did it reluctantly. The Captain of the Guard, Edwin Merrick walked in.

“What in the hells is going on here?” he demanded, looking at Martin.

“We were chasing thieves, that…”Kazrack began.

“Was I talking to you?” the captain said. “Martin, I ask again.”

“Um, sir, we were pursuing these thieves you will find bound here. Two were taken in battle, but one gave himself up. One seems to have gotten away through a grate in the lower vault,” Martin explained.

“Yusef! Take four men and check out the lower vault,” the Captain said to his men. “You four, stand up and line up.”

They were surrounded by guards and brought back up to Great Hall, where guards watched Chance and Beorth.

The captain gave orders to his men and then went into the royal audience chamber.

“I’m glad to see you’re alright,” said Beorth. “Did you get them?”

“One of them got away,” said Kazrack, disappointed.

“No talking!” commanded one of the guards.

They were forced to stand there for nearly forty-five minutes, when finally the captain returned.

“The king has been awakened. You will answer his questions now,” the captain explained. “Remember, no disrespect to the king, or I will personally spend my off-duty hours beating the tar out of you in the dungeons. And, do not speak unless specifically addressed.”

They were led into the audience chamber. The king was already seated on his throne.

“On your knees!” The Captain issued his command to the party, and they obeyed. “Your highness, these are intruders we caught in the treasury.”

“Very well, Captain Merrick. Thank you, your vigilance and hard work pleases us,” the king said. He was wrapped in his kingly robes, but his eyes looked sunken and dark. “Martin, you may rise.”

“Thank you, your highness,” said Martin, bowing his head.

“Now, tell us what has happened.”

Martin began to tell the tell of the sounds, the blood in the hall, the dead guards, the animals and the confrontation with Markle and Devon.

The king cleared his throat.

“It pleases us that these rogues were caught, and the captain assures us that the fourth in their group will likely be caught, as it is known where all the drainage grates end up. However, there is still the matter of your running about the castle armed without leave.”

“But your majesty, we only did it in your service,” said Kazrack.

“Shut up,” Ratchis hissed to Kazrack.

Martin the Green tugged on the dwarf’s sleeve and put a finger to his lips. The king’s eyes widened, and then narrowed with annoyance.

“We must still think of a proper punishment for your actions, so we shall pronounce our sentence tomorrow after the mid-day meal. You shall be brought before us again,” the king said. “Until then, sleep well, and again we thank you for your efforts.”

“Thank you, your majesty. Your highness has been very generous,” Martin replied.

The party was shown out, and returned to their rooms for an uneasy sleep for what was left of the night. On the way, Beorth asked Ratchis, “I get the feeling Martin did not tell the king the whole story, what happened?”

“Markle said that Jana knew that they were going to attempt this robbery. He even implied that she was supposed to help them,” Ratchis replied.

“Oh,” was all Beorth said in reply.

------

Ralem, 8th of Syet - 564 H.E.

Very early the next morning, Beorth stopped by Martin’s quarters to confer on the events of the previous night.

After a bit of time they decided that they should find Jana and talk to her about it and went to the room she was sharing to find her. However, she was not present.

Beorth and Martin were just walking out of Jana’s room when they noticed her coming down the hallway. She seemed to be upset about something and seemed to be in a hurry to get to the sanctuary of her room. Beorth stepped in front of her and said, “Ah! Jana! I am glad that we have found you. Martin and I have some serious matters to discuss with you.”

For a second, Jana’s breath caught in her throat and she rolled her eyes, “I am sure that you do.”
Martin gestured toward his suite. “Would you care to step this way?” he asked while quickly unlocking the door to his room.

“After you, “ Beorth said, as he motioned for Jana to step into the room ahead of him. After all three were in the room, Martin moved back to the door and Jana could hear the key turn inside the lock.
“Please make yourselves comfortable,” the Watch-Mage said as he waved his hand around the room. Jana lowered herself onto the simple divan while Beorth and Martin placed their two wooden chairs slightly in front of and to the side of Jana’s position.

Beorth took a deep breath and began. “Jana, as you know, the others have accused you of something very serious.

They say that you knew what Markle and his ‘friends’ were planning to do the night before last.”
Beorth paused for a moment, inhaled and then slowly let his breath out. “Jana, what I need to know is what exactly you knew about Markle and his plans…”

Jana looked up at Beorth, “I knew nothing of their plans….”

“But that is not what the others are saying. They are saying that you had prior knowledge of what was to happen and you chose not to say anything to anyone.”

“Listen to me when I tell you that I did NOT know exactly what they were planning…”

“Exactly what they were planning?” Beorth asked, “But you DID know something was afoot?”

Jana looked back at Beorth in silence.

“Jana I need to understand…” Beorth sputtered. “I want to know… Jana, I need…” Beorth cast a look of entreaty at Martin. “Help me, Watch Mage.”

Martin who had been listening quietly, turned his eyes toward Jana and simply said. “He wants to know, can you be trusted?”

“Trusted? By whom? And for what? What does THAT mean?” Jana replied.

“Look, Jana,” Beorth continued, “these are very serious allegations against you. My first impulse is to turn you over to the Royal Guard and let them question you.”

“Well, you will do whatever you want.”

“Ten men have died as a result of your inaction and the life of the King was put in danger because you failed to tell anyone what you knew. I must know what you knew, Jana. You have to tell me what you knew. If I am satisfied that you didn’t know anything, I will let the matter go and I won’t turn you over to the Guard.”

“You have to believe me, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I knew that Markle was planning something but I did not know exactly what it was.” Jana insisted.

“Did you suspect that Markle was involved in the murder of the guard?” Beorth asked.

“I thought he was.”

“You thought he was and you didn’t tell the others? Why didn’t you tell them when you knew that they were walking into danger? Were you scared to?”

“You guys don’t know Markle like I do. You have no idea what he is capable of. He and his friends are VERY dangerous.” Jana explained. “I was scared, not for the group, but rather for myself. Markle and his friends can cause great harm to me.”

“If you knew they were dangerous and were planning something, why didn’t you turn them in or warn us ahead of time? We could have stopped them or protected you…” Beorth wanted desperately to believe her.

“Protected me? PROTECTED me? Do you think that you are safe from him now that he is in the King’s dungeon?”

Beorth had never seen Jana so passionate about anything. “Markle is a very powerful man and his reach is far longer than you know… he is still a threat even if he is a prisoner.”

“What is he planning, Jana?” Martin asked.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? Or you don’t want to say?” Beorth added.

“I don’t know.”

Beorth sighed.

“Jana, you are a young girl and I don’t blame you for being afraid of Markle. I also believe that you didn’t mean our traveling companions harm, but…” Beorth could not finish.

“But,” intoned the Watch Mage, “would you do the same again?”

Jana paused and thought for a moment before answering, “Had I known the extent of the danger and what Markle was planning, I would not do the same again.”

Beorth watched Jana for a moment and settled back into his chair, “That is all I need to know.”

Martin glanced over at Beorth and then leaned forward in his chair. “But there is the OTHER matter to discuss…”

“What other matter?” Jana groaned.

“It has been said that you have been seen using magic.” Martin began.

“Yeah, so?” Jana replied.

“So where does it come from? No one has ever seen you study a spellbook or use arcane symbols.”

“I do not have a spellbook nor do I use one.”

“Well, then, where does your knowledge of magic come from? Are you self taught?”

“What I know was taught to me.”

“So you studied as an apprentice with someone?”

“No, not exactly,” Jana hesitated.

“Well then who taught you?”

“A friend.”

“Who is this ‘friend’ of yours? What is his name and what does he look like?”

“I will not tell you his name. He is a small creature with wings, a tail and mottled white skin,” Jana said.

Martin glanced over at Beorth who was obviously shaken by the reply. “And when does he teach you?”

“He comes when I ask him to,” Jana said as if it were the most common thing.

“Is he a god of some sort?” Beorth asked.

“No, he is not.”

“Well, is he a demon?” Beorth continued.

Jana’s reply was a flat and simple, “No.”

“Has he ever asked you to commit an evil act?”

Jana chuckled. “Evil? What is evil? I have never really sat down and thought about it.”

“Well, you are sitting now. Now is as good a time as any to consider it,” Beorth said, thoughtfully.

The room was still and quiet for long moments. “I have never harmed others for my magic and I have not done anything ‘evil’ to gain my powers. I use my powers to protect myself.”

“You must understand that magic of your kind can be potentially very dangerous,’ said Martin.

“And you are saying yours is not?” Jana retorted.

“Mine was taught by the Academy. It is codified and tested. It is safe in and of itself, not like witchcraft,” Martin said.

“You know nothing about witchcraft that your precious Academy did not teach you,” said Jana with some venom.

“And that is all I need know, the Academy does not teach falsehoods,” Martin insisted.

“Can I go now?” Jana said.

“We are not holding you here Jana,” Beorth said gently. “We just wanted to talk.”

“Feels more like an interrogation to me,” Jana said, throwing an evil eye at Martin.

“I apologize,” said Martin, and Jana cocked her head thinking she heard sarcasm in his voice. “I am sure you are hungry. We will meet you at breakfast.”

Jana walked to the door and tried the knob, and then turned and looked back at the Watch-mage.

“It is locked,” she said.

“Oh, dear, my apologies,” he got up and unlocked it for her.

Martin and Beorth spoke for a few minutes more and then followed Jana down to breakfast.

---------

At breakfast the next day, the feces hit the fan. . .

The Dining Chamber was full of young men excitedly talking about the previous night’s events and about their plans to leave and hunt the dragon.

Ratchis finished chewing down a piece of buttered toast with a slice of lard on it, when he turned to Jana, “So, how much did you know?”

“Huh?” she replied.

“Don’t play dumb,” Ratchis said. “What did they offer you for you help?”

“Who? What?”

“Markle and the others, what did they offer you and why didn’t you tell us what was going to happen?” Ratchis was persistent. “We know you were supposed to help them. Markle told us as much.”

“I am not going to talk about this,” Jana replied.

“Oh, yes you are,” insisted Ratchis.

“Whut is this about?” Chance asked.

“Markle cursed Jana last night, while we faced him, because she was supposed to help them, and I guess he figured she had told us about what they planned, as she should have,” Kazrack said.

“It is not as if I actually helped them,” Jana said.

“But you didn’t tell us either,” said Ratchis angrily. “And because of bastards a lot of innocent guards were killed!”

He slammed his fist on the table.

“Um, Ratchis, could you keep voice down a bit? People are staring,” said Martin.

“The thing is. . .” Kazrack started.

“I just don’t know if we can trust you,” interrupted Ratchis. “We need full disclosure on everything.”

“Yes, how can we have someone for a companion that…” Kazrack was interrupted again.

“I want to know now,” said Ratchis.

“Ratchis, if I could speak,” Kazrack tried again.

“I want to hear from Jana,” said Ratchis.

“Okay, good,” said Kazrack, not listening to Ratchis and continuing. “I think it is fair to say that we can judge by Jana’s past actions that if she knew that the guards were going to be killed she would have made a different decision. My problem is that by not warning us she allowed us to go into a dangerous situation without all the members of our group.”

“So, why didn’t you tell us, Jana?” Beorth asked in his usual subdued tone.

“I, uh… I was scared. I didn’t know exactly what they were going to do, or what they’d do to me or to any of you if I told,” Jana said in a tone not common to the world-wise girl.

“I find that hard to believe,” Ratchis said.

“Believe what you will then!” she snapped back.

“Look,” said Kazrack getting everyone’s attention. “We have all done something as an individual in the past that has failed the group at one time or another. We should be forgiving of Jana.”

“Fargive uh fer what? She din do nuthin’” said Chance, speaking for the first time.

“Yes she did, Chance,” said Kazrack. “She committed an error by omission.”

“I don’t understand why you all making a big deal of this. It all worked out for the best, didn’t it?” Jana said.

“That is not the point!” Ratchis said loudly.

“Attention everyone!” came the voice of Daniel the castle steward from the front of the dining chamber.

“Immediately after the meal, the trophy room will be open for you all to come and pick out some weapons and equipment. Beginning at noon, groups of five may come to this room to register, gain their map and go on their way. Thank you.”

Many people began to end their meal, but the companions were not done with their discussion.

“I have a simple solution to this whole problem,” said Kazrack. “A little thing I will ask each of you to do, that will relieve us of any suspicision.”

“What is that?” Jeremy asked, with suspicion in his voice.

“I only ask that we all make an oath to put the good of the party before ourselves,” Kazrack said with a smile.
Everyone groaned.

“What?” asked the dwarf, puzzled.

“That’s stupid, Kazrack,” said Ratchis. “I thought you had a real solution.”

“It is a real solution,” said Kazrack. “We all just make a promise to think of the group first.”

“I will not make that promise,” said Ratchis.

“Why not?” asked Kazrack.

“I will not make it either,” said Jana. “Why set myself up to be a liar?”

Kazrack looked at her as if he knew she would say that.

“Why not?” asked Kazrack. “We are a group with common goals. We are companions who rely on each other. We should not keep things from each other or work against each other!”

“I agree,” said Ratchis. “I’m sure Beorth and the…others…” He looked to Jana with a sneer, “ would agree.”

“So, making the promise is no big deal,” the dwarf insisted.

“No, it it is a big deal,” said Ratchis. “I will not make such an oath, because only one thing comes before me and that is my goddess, not this group, not anything.”

“Anyway, a promise is worthless,” added Jeremy. “People can promise anything and still do what they want.”

“But a man who is having a doubt about whether or not something is the right thing to do, and who has made an oath is more likely to come down on the side of the oath made,” said Kazrack.

“Ach! Kahzrahk, thas jast stupid,” Chance said. “How kin ya expect people ta mahk a promise they may not kep? Ah know I cahnt mahk such a oath.”

“Are you saying you plan to betray the group?” Kazrack asked amazed.

“Plahnnin’? No,” Chance replied. “But ya nevah know whut is gunn hoppen. Bad enough ya might be farced ta do somethin’ ya friends won’t like, but ta brek a promise in addition is horrible.”

Kazrack sighed.

“If are all friends then I do not see why we cannot make this oath together,” said Kazrack. “And now that I see all your hesitance, I have to wonder if it is even possible for me to continue traveling with you all.”

“Okay, okay,” said Jeremy, with a forced smile and a bit of a patronizing tone. “I promise to put the group before myself, okay? Right, Ratchis? Go ahead and promise.”

“I promise to behave just as I always have,” Ratchis said.

“We know,” said Jeremy with a sigh.

“My actions and attitude should speak for themselves,” Ratchis added. “I do not need to make an oath to prove my willingness to help and to be a friend.”

“I will make the promise if you want me to,” said Beorth. “But my oath to Anubis always comes first.”

“Well, of course,” said Kazrack. “I am not asking anyway to promise to betray their beliefs.”

“I still will not do it,” said Ratchis.

“Nor will I,” said Jana.

“Ach! Me too,” said Chance.

Martin remained silent.

“Then perhaps I need to leave this group. If you cannot make such a simple promise, especially if you are saying that you are already doing it,” Kazrack looked at Ratchis. “I do not know if I can trust you.”

Kazrack stood to leave.

“Wait,” Martin finally spoke up. “There is another matter of business I think your group needs to discuss. Beorth and I spoke about it earlier.”

Everyone looked to the tall mage.

“It appears that Jana,” he paused. “Is a witch.”

“Yeah, so?” said Kazrack.
“Witchcraft is a very dangerous and non-traditional form of spell-casting,” said Martin.

“Or maybe, it is too traditional that your little Academy would like to admit,” said Jana acerbically

“She’s a witch, so what?’ said Kazrack. “You are a wizard. She is a witch. If you were a woman, you’d be a witch, too.”

Jeremy snickered.

“No, it is not just a matter of gender, it is a matter of form,” Martin tried to explain. “Male witches are warlocks, female wizards and still wizards.”

“So, you’re a witch?’ Jeremy asked Jana, recoiling a bit.

“You could say that, yes,” Jana replied.

“The why didn’t you ever tell us?” the Neergaardian responded.

“Because ignorant people like him,” she pointed to Martin the Green. “react as they do.”

“Well, I just need assurance that you learn and practice your magic in a safe way, because we both know that most witches do not,” Martin said.

“So says you,” was all Jana had in terms of a reply.

“This witch-stuff doesn’t matter so much to me except that it is even more reason for a promise to be extracted from everyone in terms of good behavior and cooperation,” said Kazrack.

“Are you still going on about that?” said Jana.

Kazrack stood, “I must require this oath from all of you if only because without it I cannot trust some of you enough to travel with you,” Kazrack said looking at Jana, and his eyes drifting to Chance as well.

“But Kahzrahk,” Chance said. “Ya friends wit’ someone becahz they’re ya friend, nut becahz ya make a promise.”

“Well, I guess we are not all friends then,” said Kazrack and stormed off.

The rest of the companions sat in silence for what seemed a long time.

Finally, Ratchis spoke, “Might as well see what equipment they have to offer us before we are supposed to meet with the king.”

The half-orc stood and walked towards the trophy room, and Jana and Chance left as well.

“Martin, what does Jana being a witch really mean?” Jeremy asked.

“It means she summons extra-planar beings to gain her magicks from,” said Martin.

“Extra-planar?” Jeremy cocked his head.

“She summons demons that teach her spells, demons she controls – but that could come out of her control and be free to wreak havoc in out own world,” Martin explained.

“That’s not good,” said Jeremy.

-----

Ratchis went to the trophy room where tables of weapons, armor and other equipment were set up among all the trophies on display. Dozens of the lads hoping to win the reward picked through swords (long and short), crossbows, daggers, clubs, maces, suits of ring mail and scale mail, shield and other items like coils of rope, backpacks and whetstones, walking among the trophies. There were two stuffed brown bears on their rear legs and growling, a mountain lion, a moose head above the hearth, and that of 12 point buck on a perpendicular wall. A huge tattered flag and the crest of Gothanius (6) also hung on the wall. What drew Ratchis’ attention the most were two stuffed orcish specimens. They had a reddish glint to their short piggish body hair, and were dressed in studded leather, carried spears and wore horned helmets. He stood and stared at them for a long moment, but was distracted by Kazrack passing him carrying a dwarf-sized chain shirt.

The dwarf stopped, “I want you to know that this whole thing had nothing to do with you, but to be fair to others I thought I would ask the oath from everyone, when it is Chance and Jana that I mostly want it from.”

“It doesn’t matter,” replied Ratchis. “I don’ think a promise of any kind from anyone is going to make a difference in how anyone acts.”

Kazrack sighed, “I disagree.” The dwarf left the trophy room. Ratchis picked up a bunch of equipment he thought he might need, including a heavy crossbow and a long sword.

-------

Beorth made his way to the chapel on the castle grounds, hoping to find a priest of Ra there that he might confer with about the necklace he now carried from the crazed man in the mortuary. (7)

Unfortunately, all he found was a deacon, who helped administer the morning services and lit candles in the evening.

-------

After the mid-day meal, they all (except Jana) gathered before the audience chamber to be led in to see the king. Eventually, Daniel came to them before the king again. They got down on one knee and listened to the king.

“We have thought long in this matter, and have decided to be generous,” the king said. “You punishment shall be a great honor, a simple task that we shall give to you that will do your efforts to do right credit, while you still endeavor to fulfill the task you were originally summoned here to do.”

“Thank you, your highness,” said Martin.

“Thank you,Martin,” the king replied. “We are sure that it was your fine influence that kept these fine men in line in their effort to help, and since you did do such a good job, they will escort you to your post in Summit and make sure you get there safely, and then this group of five can go on the dragon-hunt after accomplishing that.”

The king paused, but the great thanks he expected did not come.

He frowned.

“This means that you five must officially register as a group, and must wait for Martin to be prepared to leave before you can go,” King Brevelan added. “The five of you may go along on your business. There is one last thing we must speak to Martin the Green about in private.”

As the others walked out into the Great Hall, Beorth asked, “What about Jana? She makes six of us.”

“I don’t even think she should count,” said Kazrack.

“We might be better off without her,” said Ratchis.

“Ah cahnt buhlieve ya guys!” said Chance. “Jana has always been ar friend. She’s helped us wit’ ar wounds and used her spells aginst ar foes. We know we cun trust her becarze we always have had ta!”

No one said anything, but the group dispersed.
Jeremy ran out to garden, late for his rendezvous with Princess Tracell. He found her still waiting, chittering with her ladies in waiting. She was dressed in a coat of fine mink pelts, and wore her hair in a tight bun. Her eyes shone brightly in the shocking glare of the sun on the snow.

“Princess! I’m sorry I am late,” Jeremy said.

Tracell walked away from her ladies and shooed their attempt to follow, approaching the Neergaardian.

“I knew that you were among those that had to speak to my father,” Tracel said with a side smile. “Is it true that you and your companions defeated thieves trying to break into the Royal Treasury?”

“Well, it is true that I did, and that my companions were there,” Jeremy winked.

“Oh,” Tracell coverer her painted mouth with the tips of her fingers. “It must have been very dangerous!”

“Dangerous? To the thieves maybe; the only reason they are still alive is because I am merciful,” Jeremy said cockily.

“Oh, I am so sure that you will be the one to defeat the dragon,” Tracell said, siding up to him closely. “You are so brave and skilled and…handsome!”

“Well, thank you,” said Jeremy, feeling his face heat up a bit. “Um, but…I was, uh…hoping you could help me in a way that would help my mission to slay the dragon.”

“Really? What? Anything!”

“Well, you see I need something from town and I can’t leave the castle to go to town, but I need this thing to help me on my trip,” Jeremy explained.

“Well, I cannot go to town myself,” Tracel said, and Jeremy’s shoulders sagged. “But, I can have one of my servants go. What is it you need?”

“You see had someone I really cared about, a friend who died on the hard journey up here,” Jeremy said, his lower lip pouted out into an exaggerated sad face. “And I just want a way to remember him, something to help my morale on the road.”

“What is that?”

“A cup, a mug of sorts, that has his name on it,” Jeremy said.

“Is that all?” Tracel said. “What is the name?”

“Malcolm,” Jeremy replied. “M-A-L-C-O-L-M.”

“I will have one of my servants fetch it for me,” Tracel said. “I must go, but meet me here again at the same time tomorrow.”

“Will you have the mug for me?” Jeremy asked.

“Um, no,” Tracel seemed confused. “It will take me more than a day to get it. I only meant so that we could see each other and talk more. Don’t you want that?”

“Oh!” Jeremy exclaimed. “Yes, of course. I’d love to.”

The princess hurried off with her ladies in waiting, and returned towards the castle, passing Ratchis who was on his way out to the garden to do his daily exercises.

He was in the middle of doing his 180 push-ups, when he heard someone walk by and stop. He looked over to see one of the princesses standing there watching him. Ratchis stood.

“You look pretty strong,” she said.

Ratchis said nothing. The princess’s beauty was almost painful against the backdrop of the snow-covered garden.

She wore a fur cape and hood, but no coat, only a light shawl over her brown dress, which looked much too plain for her. She had a dark complexion like a Herman-Lander, dark hair and green eyes. Ratchis remembered her muscular arms from the night before. It was Selma.

“Of course, the size of one’s opponent does not matter to a prepared warrior,” Selma said, eying the long sword Ratchis wore. It was the one he had gotten from the trophy room.
Ratchis grunted, “You know how to use a sword?”

“Very well actually, though my father tries to forbid me to practice anymore. He says more than the most basic martial training is unbecoming a princess. I say that men are frightened of women being able to best them in combat. What do you say?”

“I say that anyone can and should do anything they want,” Ratchis replied. “As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone that is.”

Selma smiled, “So what if I said that I could best you in battle, I just a woman?”

“I would wonder if it were true, but I would not doubt it just because you were a woman,” Ratchis said.

“Heh,” was Selma’s only reply. “If I thought we could spar without our getting in trouble I’d like to see the truth of this…”

She walked away towards the castle.

Ratchis just stood watching her walk out of his view, and then began to jog about the castle grounds looking for a spot where there were no guards. Eventually, he found a quiet and isolated area between the rear wall and the castle-proper, and then hurried back to the castle.

-----

Meanwhile Chance had gone to find Kazrack, who was sharpening his halberd blade.

“Kahzrahk, Ah wanted ta talk wit’ ya,” the Wallbrookian said.


“What is it Chance?” Kazrack said, without looking up.

“Ah wanted ta make eh bet wit’ ya,” Chance said.

“A bet?” the dwarf stopped and looked up.

“Aye! A bet. If I win ya ferget ahl this stuff about the promise n’ everything, if Ah lose then ah’ll not only mek the promise, ahl get Jana ta do it ta,” Chance explained.

“I do not think I can leave such a thing to a wager,” said Kazrack. “It is too important.”

“Whaddya mean by that?” said Chance, getting slightly angry. “Leaving it ta uh wager is leavin’ it in tha hands uf the gods. If it is es good enough fer Bes, it es good enough fer us.”

“Well, what is the bet?”

“Ah betcha ah kin knock down that dar with one hand!” said Chance with a big smile.

“What? Really?” Kazrack said. “It must be a trick.”

“No trick! I will knock it down with one hand all by myself and no magic,” Chance assured him.
Kazrack’s brow wrinkled as he thought and looked back and forth from the door to Chance.

“Wait a minute,” Kazrack said. “You are just are going to knock on the door and move down knocking lower and lower. Knocking down the door!”

“Damn!” Chance said. “Ya know whut Kazrack, here was uh perfect opportunity ta just give in without losing face, but no.”

“I can’t do that,” Kazrack said. “I cannot travel with people I cannot trust.”

“If you could trust us before, ya kin trust us now. Nothing has changed,” said Chance and he left the room, passing Jeremy who had come to speak to Kazrack as well.

“Is Kazrack in there?” Jeremy asked Chance.

“Ya, good luck, ya’ll need et!”

Jeremy walked in, “Kazrack, I wanted to talk to you about Jana.”

“Ok,” said the dwarf, getting back to his blade sharpening.

“Martin said that Jana is a witch,” said Jeremy.

“Yes, I know,” said Kazrack.

“Martin told me what that really means,” said Jeremy.

“What does it mean?”

“It means she controls demons!”

“Yeah, witches, watch-mages, all those folks control demons,” said Kazrack.

“Martin does not control demons,” Jeremy replied.

“Well, that’s no good. He should control demons, someone has to, can’t let them run around wild causing harm,” the dwarf reasoned.

“No, that is not how it works,” said Jeremy exasperated. “She summons them. She bring them to this world to learn magic from them, but they could get free and hurt people!”

“Oh,” Kazrack said as if deep in thought. “I guess that is another reason to not trust her, I guess.”

“Well, if the five of us leave her behind you can forget this whole promise thing and we can continue on our way,” Jeremy suggested.

“I can’t do that,” Kazrack said. “Originally, I wanted the promise mostly because of Chance and Jana, but now Ratchis’ response troubles me. I just don’t understand why he would not make the oath.”

“Some people just don’t like to be told what to do,” said Jeremy. “Friars of Nephthys least of all.”

“That is not a good enough reason,” replied Kazrack. “A dwarf would never make a decision based on that.”

“Ratchis is not a dwarf,” said Jeremy. “But he is stubborn enough to be one if you are an example.”

Jeremy left.

----

Up in Martin’s quarters, the Watch-Mage taught Beorth how to play King’s Men (8), while Ratchis returned to the Trophy Room and collected some more gear. He carried another sword and a suit of ring mail outside and dumped it in the isolated place he found, being careful to not be seen by any guards. He then went back into the castle and stopped a guard.

“I am looking for Princess Selma,” he said. “Do you know where I can find her?”

The guard looked confused. “The princesses cannot be disturbed and cannot be seen without permission of the king or queen,” the guard replied. “Why are you looking for her?”

“I have a gift for her,” Ratchis replied, and wandered off to find her. He made his way to the east wing and looked in the library. In this small room with less than a dozen books was Princess Veldicca. She sat in a lovely dress with a large book on the table before her. She looked up startled.

“Oh, if you need the library I will leave you to it,” she began to close the book.

“Um, no your highness, I was just looking for your sister,” said Ratchis, feeling his face warm again.

“Which one?”

“Oh, uh… the oldest…Selma?”

“I’m not sure where she is, but if I see her I will tell her you are looking for her,” Veldicca said politely. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Ratchis and thanks,” he walked back out into the Great Hall where he happened to see Selma crossing from the dining hall.

“Oh, uh Selma!” said Ratchis.
The eyes of Princess Selma’s handmaiden widened incredibly at the half-orc’s daring to address royalty like that. Selma cracked a small smile despite her surprise. “Yes?”

“I uh, wanted to know if you, uh, wanted to come outside with me for a little while, I uh… have a surprise for you,” Ratchis said.

“What is it?” the princess asked.

“A place for us to spar,” Ratchis whispered. “I got you some armor and a weapon. I thought you might like the diversion.”

Selma laughed, “Are you crazy? Do you think we could do such a thing anywhere in the castle without being seen? And do you know what would happen to yo if you were caught fighting even in a friendly spar with a princess?”
She laughed some more, and Ratchis just stood there silent and embarrassed.

“Thank you for the effort,” she said, patting his shoulder. “Maybe in some other time and place. I appreciate it.”
She walked off with her servant, still laughing some.

Ratchis stood there dejected for a moment and then retrieved the items he had stowed and headed back to the trophy room. He found the place empty., and dropped the extra gear and looked around. The two orcish specimens seemed to stare at him in silent agony.

Gritting his teeth, Ratchis drew his long sword and with two solid blows chopped the heads of both specimens and then kicked them over. He then walked out of the Trophy Room, calmly.

------

That night at dinner, Finn and Carlos came by their table and explained that the two of them were going to form a group with Frank and Gwar and a fellow they met from one of the other groups and head out the next morning.
The wished him luck and he thanked them for their help.
------
After dinner, Kazrack found Daniel the steward to ask him a few questions:
"To whom do I speak if I have questions about the contract I signed?" Kazrack asked him.

"I can answer any and all questions regarding this matter," Daniel replies.

"Very good then. Has any consideration been given to the fact that one of the Princesses would be forced to marry a Dwarf if my group should win?"

"Forced?" Daniel's eyebrows raised. "Regardless, you are being presumptuous in saying your group will the one to succeed. As to the details of such an eventuality, I am not at liberty to discussion such a matter. However, I get the impression that you are trying to imply something specific. Have at it, I do not mean to be rude, but I have a castle and the whims of a king to attend to."

“I will try to be brief as you are so busy. I got the impression, perhaps mistakenly, that the Princesses would be married off to the group that completed the quest. If my group were to succeed I doubt any of the Princesses would be happy to marry a dwarf and, in light of this, I thought it prudent to suggest we alter my contract. Shall I continue - or is there a better time for me to approach you?”

“Alter how?” Daniel asked.

“I would suggest allowing me to act as an individual instead of as part of a group. If I succeed I would ask only for the monetary award and a land grant equal to what five men would have received.” Kazrack explained.

“Unfortunately, that is not possible,” said Daniel. “First of all, the king gave specific instructions that you and your companions accompany Martin the Green to Summit. You are required to do this. If after accomplishing this fact and making sure that Martin the Green is there safe and settled you choose to travel onward by yourself that is your choice – a foolish choice if you ask me, but your choice none-the-less. However, no contracted individual will get more land and resources than one man can easily use. Though we do have some land that could be prospected and become very profitable when compared to other parcels of the same size.”

“Very well then, I have one other request of you,” Kazrack said.

“Yes?”

“Would it be possible for me to use the forge on the castle grounds to repair my armor and that of my companions?”

“I think I can arrange it for tomorrow, but you will have to use your own resources,” replied Daniel.

“That will be fine,” said Kazrack. Very well then, I thank you for your time.

---------

Isilem, 9th of Syet – 564 H.E.

The night went by with no event. Early the next morning Kazrack grabbed a small snack from breakfast and then went to use the forge.

The others sat around the table at breakfast and found the Dining Hall to be emptier. Several groups of young men had already left for their journey to seek out the dragon.

“We have a problem,” said Beorth. “We are a group of six and we may only travel as a group of five. What are we to do?”

“Perhaps one of us can find another group to travel with and maybe meet up with us later,” suggested Ratchis, not looking up from his eggs and sausage.

“But I guess that someone must be Jana, since the other five of you have been given a task by the king,” said Martin.

“Well, she is a witch,” said Jeremy, ignoring the fact that she was sitting right there. “Let’s just leave her behind.”
At that moment there was a commotion at the podium, where one of Daniel’s assistants was registering those groups ready to leave the castle for the dragon-hunt.

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN I DON’T COUNT?!?” It was Maria’s voice, echoed by the sound of Simon and Peter trying to calm her down.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t come,” said Peter.

“We still need you,” said James. “We’ll all share some of our reward with you.”

“That is not the point!” Maria declared. “Not only did they wait until the last moment to inform us, they have no right to say that the contract is void because I am woman!”

She stormed off.

“Ah guess that answers that question,” said Chance smiling.
Breakfast ended and everyone went on their way to do what they would to pass the time and think about the problems of party dynamics that faced them. Jeremy went back upstairs to sleep, while Martin prepared his list of things he wanted the court to provide him for the journey to summit. Beorth made his way out to the shrine of Ra to pray, while Jana – who knows how she spent her time.

Ratchis walked out to the garden to do his daily exercises, but was met by Edwin Merrick, the captain of the guards and four of his men.

“Ratchis?” the captain asked.

“Yes,” the Friar of Nephthys replied.

“I need to ask you some questions,” Captain Merrick said with a sneer.

“What about?”

“About some property that was destroyed in the Trophy Room,” the Captain replied. “Will you give your weapons up and come with me please?”

Ratchis looked at the guards that had fanned out. He paused and then slowly drew his sword and handed it to the Captain, who merely pointed to another guard who took the weapon. The Captain turned and Ratchis followed. The guards fell in line behind them.

As they approached the guardhouse, Ratchis could see the front gatehouse scored by fire. The stones were black, and the ground was muddy and covered in ash. However, the damage did not look as bad from as it looked like it might’ve been that night he observed the fire from the tower.

In the guardhouse, the Captain sat, while Ratchis remained standing. Two guards remained in the room, watching.

“Tell me what you know about the damage to the king’s trophies in the Trophy Room,” the Captain said.

“I know nothing of it,” replied Ratchis with an even voice.

The Captain looked at him for a long time.

“You are of orcish descent, are you not?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Fir-Hagre?” (9)

“Darksh,” Ratchis replied.

“Well, the trophies defaced in the Trophy Room were specimens of the Fir-Hagre. They terrorized our people for years, but the efforts of the king wiped them out. Those were his prized possessions,” the Captain explained.
Ratchis remained silent. He could feel the tension in his body; his muscles were like one tightening coil ready to spring forth in sudden violence and anger.

“Where were you yesterday afternoon?” the Captain asked.

“I was training in the garden and then I went upstairs and took a nap,” said Ratchis.
“Really? Who saw you?”

“The princess Selma saw me. I’m not sure if anyone else did.”

“One of our guards puts you in the Great Hall in the afternoon. And one of the servants says she saw you enter the library, which is right across from the trophy room.”

“Yes, I saw one of the princesses there and her retainers,” Ratchis replied.

“Perhaps you were making sure any possible witnesses were indisposed,” said the Captain.

“Are you accusing me of this?” Ratchis asked. “What would I gain from doing such a thing?”

“You are part orcish, they are orcs. Perhaps their presence there offended you. Who knows?” The Captain leaned forward. “I only know that right now you look like the most likely suspect and the time and place fits. So, if you don’t mind, I am going to have to ask you to stay here in one of our cells while we look into this some more.”
Ratchis hands tightened into fists, and he felt his blood boiling over and a pressure in his head. He breathed out long and low.

“I hope you won’t give us any trouble. This will be a lot easier for all of us if you just come along,” the Captain said, slowly standing.

Ratchis relaxed.

“Fine,” he replied. Ratchis followed the guards out a door and down some steps to a lower floor lined with cells. He was searched and placed in the tiny cell. The cot was too small for him and the floor was covered in dirty straw.

The figure in the cell next to him was sleeping, but stirred and looked up.

The man smiled broadly. It was Markle.

“I should have known I’d see you in here,” he said.

End of Session #13

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

Notes:

(6) The crest of Gothanius is a quartered field on shield with opposed yellow and red, with a white star (on red) in top left-hand corner.

(7) See "Out of the Frying Pan: Book I: Gathering Wood" session #8.

(8) King’s Men is the Aquerra equivalent of Chess.

(9) The Fir-Hagre is the orcish tribe driven out of Greenreed Valley.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #14

Markle sat up and rubbed his face with both hands, wiping the sleep from his eyes. He looked relaxed. Ratchis had never seen him smile so much.

“So what’d ya do? Strangle her?” Markle asked Ratchis, who sat uncomfortably on the cot that groaned beneath his weight.

“I am accused of defacing the king’s trophies in the Trophy Room,” Ratchis replied.

Markle laughed, “Did you do it? Don’t worry I won’t judge you poorly.”

Ratchis did not reply. There was a long silence.

“So, what did she tell you?” Markle asked. Again, Ratchis did not reply.

“Look, there is no reason for us not to talk. I did what I had to do, you did what you felt you had to do. I hold no grudge. So, I am going to prison. I have been in prison before, most of my life actually. I adapt,” Markle looked through the bars at Ratchis, still smiling.

“If you tell me what Jana knew when I can tell you what she told me,” Ratchis replied.

“Heh, well, she never knew exactly what we were going to do, but she knew when and she was to help us keep you guys from getting involved,” said Markle. “She was supposed to be paying back a favor I did for her.”

“Since Jana didn’t do such a good job for you, perhaps you can tell me what favor you did for her?” Ratchis proposed.

Markle laughed again, “Well, turn about is fair play and all. Just ask her this, I bet she doesn’t even think I know about this… Ask her who Rindalith is.”

“Who is he?”

“Just ask her. Did you know that she was placing you and your whole group in jeopardy? In danger? She is,” Markle said with a smirk.

Ratchis thought about what Markle said and eventually fell asleep sitting up.

------

As Kazrack hammered at the party’s armor, and Beorth spent his day in the shrine of Ra, and Jana sat bored in her room, while Chance spent his free time trying to start up card games with the other “hunters” and Martin went over his list again and again, Jeremy went out to meet with Princess Tracell one last time.

It was just after mid-day meal, and he had only been waiting a short time in the increasingly cold wind when he saw here approach with her ladies-in-waiting. They waited at a safe distance as she and Jeremy stepped between tall and now-barren rose bushes.

“Oh, Jeremy,” Tracell said breathily, her face obscure a bit by a woolen scarf. “It is so good to see you again.”

“Oh yeah, well… It was just yesterday and I spied you across the way at dinner,” Jeremy replied.

“Ooh! I knew you were looking at me!” Tracell said. “I wasn’t sure, but I should have known.”

It was quiet for a long moment and she blushed.

“So, um, do you have the mug?’ Jeremy asked.

“I told you it’d have to wait a day,” she said, with furrowed brow.

“Oh yes, I’m sorry. I am just distracted by my coming journey and by um, you… uh, of course.”

She blushed again. “Will you be leaving soon?”

“I think we are leaving tomorrow some time, but we haven’t discussed it much. My companions are all about doing their own thing.”

“They are probably waiting for your leadership and guidance,” speculated Tracell.

“Probably.”

-----

Martin the Green came downstairs and after asking around found Daniel giving orders in the Dining Hall. He waited until the castle steward was done and then approached him.

“I have completed my list of needed supplies for my journey,” the Watch-Mage said. “I know some of these things will not be available, but I figured I would try.”

“Okay,” said Daniel, looking distracted. “I will see to this as soon as I can. When do you plan to leave?”

“I think we will be ready tomorrow,” said Martin. “Oh, and I was also hoping for a mule or donkey to help carry my gear.”

“That can be arranged,” said Daniel. “Oh, and you might be interested to know that one of you would-be companions has been taken into custody.”

“Oh? Who and for what?” Martin said, nervously.

“I believe his name is Ratchis? The big one,” said Daniel. “It is a shame really, but he has been accused of defacing the orcish trophies in the Trophy Room.”

“Oh,” was all Martin could say.

“Well, it should be all cleared up one way or another soon enough,” said Daniel. “The others should still be more than enough people to escort you to Summit. But before you leave, make sure you come and find me. I will have some last minute instructions and a token from the king to take with you.”

“Of course,” said Martin.

“Speaking of which, the case that was found on that warlock that you and the others captured has been brought to your room for you to examine. His Majesty has said you can do with it what you like,” added Daniel.

“Oh, oh, thank you,” said Martin the Green, forgetting all about Ratchis in his curiosity and rushing back up to his room.

He found a servant with the black valise waiting by his door about to knock. Thanking her, her took the bag into his room, placed it on a table and slowly opened it.

“What’s that?” a chittering voice said in his mind. “Smells funny.”

Martin could feel his familiar crawling up on to the top of his head.

“I’m about to find out what it is, Thomas,” replied Martin.

“Nuts? Could there be nuts in there?”

“I doubt it.” Martin the Green looked inside to find the bag built to hold things securely, with little movement and no breakage.

The bag held two bottles of wine. One was half empty, but the other was still tightly corked and full. They had no labels. It also held two wine glasses in a recess designed to cushion them. The case also held on one side a smaller box that he opened to reveal an alchemist’s kit. There was a silver candle-holder and several candles, most were burned down to a nub, but there were a few unused specimens. The bag also held a velvet pillow, some fine clothing and a small red leather bag tied beneath the lid.

Martin spread several items from the valise on the bed and cast his Detect Magic spell, but only the leather bag had any aura of magic.

Martin picked up the bag and looked inside. It was empty.

“Nuts?” Thomas chittered.

“Quiet now, I’m working,” Martin admonished. He slipped his hand into the bag and felt a fuzzy ball at the bottom. He pulled his hand out and looked inside. There was no such thing. He slid his hand in again and again and felt the fuzzy ball. He grasped the ball and pulled it slowly out and opened his hand. It was gone!

He repeated his experiment with the same results.

“What’s in there?” Thomas asked again, sniffing.

“I’m not sure,” Martin said to the squirrel, taking a moment to scratch his head. “Let me try something else.”
Martin slid his hand back into the bag and grabbed the fuzzy ball and this time yanked it out, tossing what was in his hand away from him. The tiny ball of hair spun in the air and grew and changed. It landed on the bed as a bobcat. It had dark brown fur with deep rust highlights. Thomas dove into Martin’s hood, and the Watch-Mage himself flinched. However, the animal just cocked his head and looked at Martin, as if waiting.

“Now, just sit right there,” Martin said, nervously. The bobcat sat.

Martin’s eyes opened widely.

“Stand up,” he said to the cat. It stood.

“Roll over!” The cat rolled over.

“Hmmmm,” Martin the Green mused. “Turn back into a fuzzy ball!”

The bobcat cocked its head again.

“Um, get back in the bag!” said Martin, holding it open. The cat leapt and reversed his transformation, and disappeared into the red leather bag.

Martin felt back in the bag and there was another fuzzy ball.

“Fascinating…”

---------

The day passed without further event. Jeremy sparred some with Beorth. Kazrack worked until he could do it no longer, and Jana sat bored in her room. Ratchis awoke with a start when he heard the sound of keys in a cell’s metal lock. Markle was being moved.

“Your turn to be taken to the lower dungeons, scum,” said a guard.

Markle turned to Ratchis, “Until we meet again.”

“You won’t be meeting anyone ever again,” said the guard pushing Markle roughly.
“Oh, I know” said Markle with a grin.

Ratchis yawned, and stretched out on the floor, knowing to save his energy whenever he could.

Ratchis had long been awake, watching the tiny square of sunlight move across the floor of his cell, when the Captain of the Guard, accompanied by two other guards came to him.

The cell was unlocked.

“Come on,” the Captain said. “Today is your lucky day. It seems that someone else confessed to the crime. You are being released.”

Ratchis said nothing and got to his feet.

“Follow me,” said the Captain and led him back up to the office.

As Ratchis ducked his head through the doorway, he saw a lovely figure standing there waiting for them. She was draped in a fine ermine wrap, and stood nearly six feet tall, her dark hair tucked in a fur hat. She wore a blouse of tan cloth and a blouse that passed for “plain” in noble circles. She stepped towards Captain Merrick and Ratchis. It was Princess Selma.

Merrick dismissed the other two guards.

“Thank you, Captain,” the Princess said. Ratchis just stared at her, and then looked back at the Captain and then back at her.

“It appears that the Princess has confessed to defacing the specimens,” Captain Merrick said with some anger in his voice, but not looking at Ratchis, who he was addressing. “This is now a situation to be handled in private by the king. Do you understand?”

“Yeah,” said Ratchis, nodding and still looking at the Princess. She did not smile.

“You are free to go,” the Captain said.

“Captain, please give us a moment alone to talk,” the Princess said, looking at Ratchis.

“But your Highness!” The Captain protested.

“That was not a suggestion, Captain,” the Princess said, sternly.

The Captain’s eyes narrowed, and he turned to Ratchis, pointing a finger at him. “Do not forget you are in the presence of royalty!”

He walked out.

“Thank you,” Ratchis said.

“You owe me more than thanks,” the Princess said. “I just wanted you to know that as far as I am concerned I just saved your life and as such you owe me a great deal. I’m not sure in what way you are going to repay me, but it never hurts to have a big guy who can fight owing you a favor. Understand?”

Ratchis nodded.

“Good, now get out of here before he changes his mind, or I do.”

Back in the castle, the rest of the companions were coming down for a late breakfast, enjoying the comfort of a good bed for one last night. Martin was so late, eventually a servant brought him a tray of food, while Kazrack rushed down, afraid he’d miss out on food. He bumped into Ratchis, who was slowly coming up the circular stairs.
“We should leave today,” said Ratchis without enthusiasm.

“I will be forced to travel with the group for the next two days at least,” said Kazrack.

“About Jana: despite what she did, I think we should give her a second chance,” said Ratchis. “While I do think she betrayed us, I think if she had it to do over she’d do it different.”

“I have not decided what I will do after that. It seems that going off on my own would not be more profitable,” was the dwarf’s only reply, and with that he continued on to breakfast.

---

While the companions spent the day in preparation and at noon, Princess Tracel nervously anticipated for her last meeting with Jeremy. At noon she waited in the garden for her would-be hero to come to her. She had though to him all night.

She smiled broadly at him as he approached, and she took a step as well, standing closer than she had ever dared before.

“Do you have the mug,” he said, his eyebrows arching in a meaningful way.

“Yes. Yes, I do, and another gift, if you’ll take it,” She looked long and hard in his eyes, her love searching out for the reflection of his own.

“Um, uh . . . of course,” Jeremy said, with a tone of confidence only she could hear.

“Here is the mug with the name of your lost companion,” Tracel said, her voice ringing brightly like a bell of admiration. She stepped even closer, forgetting herself. “I had a servant retrieve it. I find your cherishing the memory of your brother-in-arms very heroic.”

She handed him the mug. It was wrapped up in tissue papers. He slid it in his pocket without looking at it.
“Thank you,” he said, trying hard to conceal his emotions from her, as she looked on knowing the true deep appreciation in his heart. “I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

“I have something else for you,” Princess Tracell said, her eyes wandering down his face, to his square jaw and his neck that flowed into strong and manly shoulders.

“Oh, what is it?” He feigned surprise.

“I want to ask you a question first,” she said, breathlessly. “If you succeed… If you slay the dragon… Will you come back for me? Will you choose me from among my sisters?”

There was a moment of silence between them, and the increasingly wicked and cold wind was the only sound, as if they dared not even breathe in this moment of love revealed.

“Uh, yes,” Jeremy said, with the kind of sincerity only a true romantic could clothe a word in.

“Oh, oh, Jeremy!” she cried, warm tears rolling down her red, cold cheeks like crisp late autumn apples. “I am so happy.”

She looked around surreptitiously, and then placed a small kiss on his cheek.

“Was that it?” he said, his blue eyes sparkling.

“Oh, you are kind to say that a simple kiss from me would be a gift,” Princess Tracel said. “But, I have a token to take with you on your quest, as every good knight who has a lady should do.”

“Uh, yeah, that’s what I meant,” Jeremy said, looking hard at her face.

She drew a white article of clothing from he bosom and placed it in his hand. It felt very silky.

“It is to be wore outside your armor, or tied to the saddle of your horse,” Tracel said, remember the many tales of knights and maidens she had heard from her nanny. “But being from Neergaard, I’m sure you already know that.”
“Yes, of course,” Jeremy said, obviously too overcome with the moment to say anymore.

“Well, I am sure you have much preparation to see to before you leave today,” Tracel said, thinking herself very reasonable.

“Yes. Uh, yeah, I’ll see you when I get back,” Jeremy said, too shy to reveal everything he was feeling.

“When you come riding in upon a white stallion to claim me as your wife?” Tracel said, her smile widening again.

“Yuh-yeah,” said Jeremy, leaning forward as if it were a shared lovers’ secret. She took the moment to kiss him again, and then covering her mouth as she tittered with a joy she had never known, she ran off.

Jeremy watched her for a moment and then walked back into the castle. He caught a glimpse of the first flakes of snow as he entered. Up in his room, he looked at what Princess Tracel gave him. It was a piece of satin one underwear. He rolled his eyes, and tied it haphazardly to the scabbard of his long sword, and then slid it back on his belt so his cloak would cover it most of the time.

He proceeded to unwrap the mug and looked at it. Carved in one side were the letters, “M-A-L-C-O-M.”

“Hmm, spelled wrong,” Jeremy said to himself, but then lifted the mug in the air. “Oh, well. Malcolm would never have known it anyway. From now on we always drink together, until we have drinks at your place!”

-----

The companions spent some time taking care of last minute details before leaving. Kazrack strapped his almost ridiculous amount of equipment to his back and walked out to the front gate.

“Ho, there!” said one of the castle guards. “What is your business at the gate?”

“I want to leave the castle and go to town,” said the laden dwarf, large flakes of snow swirled around him.

“None may leave the castle grounds without their group and none may return until their mission is accomplished,” said the guard.

“But I am only going to town to buy supplies and sell off some other goods,” said Kazrack.

“The Crown will provide you with supplies when you register your group,” said the guard.

Kazrack sighed, annoyed and returned to the castle proper.

Jeremy and Beorth came down the stairs carrying their packs, going to meet the others and register.

“You know Beorth, I was thinking you should put your foot down and not let Jana travel with us,” said Jeremy.
“Excuse me?” Beorth looked at Jeremy in bewilderment.

“She’s a witch!” said Jeremy, lowering his voice. “You know what that means! She summons demons and bends them to her will. She can ensorcell men, and do all sorts of mean, terrible nasty things.”

“I have never seen Jana do any of that,” said Beorth.

“How do we know we haven’t been enspelled already?”

“I’ll keep you opinion in mind, but it isn’t my place to say she can or cannot travel with us,” said Beorth.
“Well, I, for one, plan to watch her closely,” Jeremy insisted as they came into the dining room, where Chance and Ratchis waited.

“Where are the others?” asked Ratchis.

“I am right here,” Kazrack said, entering the room.

“Jana is still upstairs,” said Jeremy.

“And Martin had to talk to the steward before we left. He said to meet him outside,” Beorth informed them.

“I’ll get Jana,” said Ratchis, which he immediately did.

“Jana, we are ready to leave,” the half-orc said to the girl who was still packing her things.

“I am coming,” she replied, slinging her bag over her shoulder and moving towards him.

“We can talk about your friend Rindalith later,” said Ratchis curtly and turned to lead the way.

Jana stopped in her tracks, and her eyes opened widely. After a moment, she regained her composure and followed.

----

In the dining room, the five of them registered their group, an assistant to Daniel the Castle Steward taking their names.

“What do you call yourselves?” he asked. “I mean, does your group have a name?”

”We don’t have a name,” said Beorth.

“We are the Warriors of the House Divided,” said Kazrack.

“What?” the steward asked.

“Warriors of the House Divided,” Kazrack said again, and it was written down.

“Thassa stupid name,” Chance said.

“Your gear will be waiting for you in the courtyard,” said the steward.

“What supplies do we get?” Kazrack asked.

“The same as everyone else.”

“Which is?”

“I don’t know.”

----

They met up with Martin the Green and their supplies (2 weeks rations, gallon of water, 1 flask of lamp oil, flint & steel, and a woolen winter blanket) in the courtyard, and cold half hour wait for Martin’s mule and possessions to be brought out by a stable boy. The tension in the air was palpable, as no one in the group said a word to each other. Finally, they were off, Martin feeling the weight of a golden medallion that bore the king’s sigil and a letter of introduction in his breast pocket.

As they came through the gate, the party turned right, using a narrow path that went down into the ravine about the castle and then back up into the nearby mountains. However, Kazrack did not turn and continued on straight into town.

No one said a word.

Ratchis led the way, and Beorth, Jana, Chance, Jeremy and Martin (fighting with his mule the whole way) followed. The snow came down harder and harder. The wind whipping it up into their faces, as they marched right into it. They had only gone a few hours when they decided they had to stop. The castle would still have been in view if it had not been for the snow, but Ratchis found a rock ledge that formed a shelter that would do for the night. It was even tall and deep enough to allow the mule to get out of the weather as well. The remains of a fire showed that they were not the first to use this place for such a purpose.

Ratchis started a fire, as Jana tried to show Martin how to handle the mule a bit. They discussed their aims, and decided they’d try to get to Summit via Ram’s Head.

About two and a half hour later, Kazrack arrived.

“I thought you left the group,” said Jeremy.

“I went to town to sell off my old armor,” said the dwarf. “I told Ratchis I would be traveling with the group as far as Summit.”

Ratchis was silent.

Watches were set for the night, and no one spoke hardly a word to each other. On his watch, Jeremy sat by Jana and watched her very closely.



Tholem, 11th of Syet


In the very early morning, Ra’s Glory reflected from just over a half-foot of snow all about them. The air was crisp and whispered unintelligibly across the snow’s surface, occasionally sending cascades from the rock ledge above them.

They ate a cold breakfast, packed up the mule and began their journey north by northwest towards the alder-village of Ram’s Head (according to the map they had been given) in order to avoid the Ogre Scar. (10)

Ratchis, Jana, Chance, Beorth, Jeremy, Kazrack and Martin marched half the day, slowly move up the mountain, through deeper and deeper snow. Ratchis led the way, pushing through the show with his long muscular legs, and setting a pace the others found exhausting. In time they came to the edge of tall ravine about 120 feet across. It was crossed by a rickety rope bridge, that swayed in the wind that came whipping down the canyon. The mule brayed nervously, and as the party discussed the safety of the bridge, Jeremy took it upon himself to test it out.

He slowly made his way across the bridge, his weight lessening the wild bucking, but still it swayed, and he was about halfway across when losing his balance, he slipped face first onto the bridge, his feet dangling over the side. The bottom of the ravine was over 100 feet below him.

The party watched in horror as he struggled to get back up on the bridge and then crawled slowly to the other side. He stood and turned.

“The bridge is fine!” Jeremy called across. “Come across one at a time!”

“Come back!” called Ratchis. “The mule will never make it across that.”

“It will be fine. Mules are sure-footed!”

“We have to go another way. Come back!”

“Fine!”

Jeremy stepped onto the bridge, thought it over and then got back down on his hands and knees and crawled safely across.

“The mule could have made it,” he said on the other side.

“Excuse me if I don’t take your word for it,” said Ratchis.

“I will have to speak to Alderman of Ram’s Head about this bridge,” noted Martin. “This is unacceptable.”

-------

The party headed back southward at a quicker pace, and while it the sun had started to sink by the time they got back to where they had camped the night before, they pressed on towards the village of Three-Trees to stay the night there. They moved down into the valley and found a themselves walking through large orchards, with tiny mal-formed apples frozen on the limbs of trees.

The village was a tiny collection of cottages, guarded by log bunkers guarded by lightly-armored soldiers with bows.

There was a small inn at the center of the village and the companions went in and lowered their aching forms around a table and ordered food and drinks and arranged for lodging for the night. Two middle-aged men sat at the bar talking, and one kept looking over his shoulder at the party as they talked.

“In the morning we will head north to Ram’s Head,” said Ratchis.

“From the map it looks like it is a longer way to Summit, but we will be able to avoid the Ogre Scar,” said Kazrack.
“Mind if I join you?” said a voice. They turned to see one of the two men. He had thinning brown hair, and a pot-belly. He wore nicely-kept clothes, and his skin looked darkened by the sun. He pulled up a chair “My name is Joseph the Brewer. Where are you all from?”

The group was silent for a moment.

“I take it you are one of these dragon-hunting groups?” Joseph continued. “I have seen a few of them traveling through last couple of days. I travel all throughout Gothanius selling my beers and ales, but I am wintering here in Three-Trees.”

“I’m from Neergaard,” replied Jeremy.

“Neergaard, huh? Had some Neergaardian mead once, good stuff. Not many dragons in Neergaard I assume, not with all the knights there and all,” Joseph reasoned. “But the dragon here, oh it’s a mean and scary one, that’s for certain.”

“You’ve seen the dragon?” said Kazrack, happy to have a possible lead.

“Oh yes,” Joseph said, his smile disappearing. “It was just this past summer.”

“What did it look like?” the dwarf questioned.

“It was fifty or sixty feet long, and bright green like Ra’s Glory shining of the muck of a pond in mid-Quark. (11) It came seemingly out of nowhere, attacked my little caravan. It breathed a jet of fire on wagon of ale and it just exploded. Everyone fled and scattered. It was terrible,” the brewer said.

“Were many people killed?” asked Martin the Green.

“None that I know of, but a good amount of property was destroyed. I lost that whole shipment. It cost me a bundle. I hope you get it,” Joseph said, a hint of anger creeping into his voice.

“No one was killed, fascinating,” mused Martin.

“In all the tales of dragons I have ever heard they usually kill a lot of people,” said Kazrack.

“Well, I don’t want to disturb you too much, but if you ever need ales of any kind, let me know. I brew all kinds of seasonal ones. In fact,” he turned to the barkeep. “Hey, Johnson, get these fine men (and lady) a round of that Pumpkin Ale on me.”

The night went by without event and the next day after a breakfast of oatmeal, they were headed northwest again

Balem, 12th of Syet – 564 H.E.

There was less wind this day, which made the cold bearable. They were crossing a snow-filled plain, and passed no signs of life. At mid-morning they crossed a stone bridge that went over what must be (according to the map) the Kelzain Stream. Ratchis then turned them on a more northerly course.

As the day waned they crossed wagon ruts running east/west in the hard earth, and further on they could see the tell-tale signs of civilization atop the nearby foothills. As they climbed up a steep trail Ratchis discovered, they could see the thatched roofs of yurts.

Ram’s Head was a village atop a plateau in the shadow of a tall dark mountain scored with paths and ledges. All the buildings were low round builds of log and thatch, with a corral nearby. The muddy streets were strewn with straw and the droppings of sheep and goats.

They knocked on a random door and Martin asked which house belonged to the Alderman, and followed the directions there, after finding out his name was Morrus..

Martin knocked on the door to the alderman’s Yurt. The voice of boy came from behind the door, “Who’s there?”

“My name is Martin the Green. I am a Watch-Mage and am working for King Brevelan Goth III. My companions and I have come to see the Alderman.”

There was a pause and then another, deeper, voice said, “Do you have proof you are who you say you are?”
“I have a letter of introduction from the King,” replied Martin.

“Slide it under the door,” the voice said.

Martin paused and looked at the others. Jana shrugged her shoulders, and then the Watch-Mage slid the letter beneath the door.

The waited a few moments and then finally the door slowly opened. A tall man with graying dark brown hair in rustic clothing of leather and wool answered the door. Ratchis immediately noticed the hand axe he held low to one side. He looked perhaps in his early forties, but his arms and chest looked very muscular, his face was care-worn.
“My name is Morrus. I am the alderman of Ram’s Head,” the man said, and then gestured to the boy of about fifteen years behind him. “This is my son William.”

The alderman handed the letter back to Martin and showed the party in. “I’m sorry about my initial greeting, but one cannot be too careful in this part of Gothanius,” Morrus said. “Between gnolls from the north and bandits, it can be very dangerous. But that is done with, I am sorry that my home is not as nice as some other alderman’s places, but Ram’s Head is a humble village. However, you are welcome to stay here the night.”

“We greatly appreciate your hospitality,” said Martin the Green.

“William,” said Morrus to his son. “Take care of their pack animal and then bring in more firewood.”

“Yes, sir,” the boy said and ran out.

“Have a seat around the fire,” Morrus said to the group. “Make yourselves at home, though I’d like to learn all your names.”

The party spread out around the fire pit in the center of the one room building, and told the alderman their names.
The floor was dirt, but covered in fur blankets and burlap pillows. The smell of something cooking in a pot above the central fire, just barely smothered the smell of a barn.

“So you are the new Watch-Mage, and are on your way to Summit,” Morrus said.

“Yes, my companions are seeing that I get there safely, where I can help to aid and oversee the hunting of the dragon,” replied Martin.

“So Summit is getting a Watch-Mage then. It figures,” said Morrus with a sigh. “Aside from the dragon that place is relatively safe since the Orc War finished and pretty wealthy. Here in Ram’s Head, we struggle to just get by.”
There was an awkward silence.

“Of course, some aldermen have more favor than others. They are more popular, invited to Royal Balls and get whatever they want, while others suffer,” Morrus continued, until he caught himself. “Not that I am placing the blame in any one place. His Majesty the king, does a very good job, and I am sure he knows what he is doing sending you to Summit to overlook this project of his, but when it is done, I wonder what will become of you.”

“Well, I am only the interim Watch-Mage. I am sure such a decision will be made when the time is right and another alumnus of the Academy is assigned to Gothanius,” said Martin the Green.

Morrus stirred the contents of the pot and then began serving it into wooden bowls.

“It is a local favorite,” he said. “Stuffed intestines stewed in a black sauce.”

“We have something very similar in the part of Thricia where I am from,” said Martin.

William came back in and immediate began to pour the group wine from a gourd.

“You mentioned gnolls before, do they come to these parts often?” asked Ratchis.

“They come down from the north in the winter. The harsher the winter, the more frequent and devastating their attacks. They come looking for food, which can be livestock, but can also be people,” explained Morrus. “Every man in this village has learned to fight because of this and I lead the militia, but we still lose about a half dozen men every year, if not more.”

“Oh,” said Ratchis, and turned to his bowl of black steaming entrails.

The party ate hungrily and then their full stomachs and the warmth of the Yurt took over and they dropped off to sleep one by one.


Teflem, 13th of Syet – 564 H.E.

The wind woke them. It battered the thatched roof angrily, and sounded at times like a growl rolling across the sky.
“Good morning,” said Morrus, stirring the pot above the fire. “It is a gusty day out.”

The companions stretched and got their things ready and ate the re-heated stuffed intestines from the night before, now crusty from where it stuck to the bottom of the pot. Ratchis had seconds

“I was wondering if you know anything about the dragon,” asked Kazrack, as he crunched on the breakfast, and brushed crumbs from his beard.

“I don’t know much. It has not been seen this far north or east,” said Morrus. “I’d be curious to find out more about it myself.”

“Well, this man named Joseph told us he saw it attack his wagon. He said it was long and green,” said Martin.
“An brethed far,” added Chance, with his mouth full.

“Joseph? Joseph the Brewer?” Morrus asked, incredulity.

“Um, yes,” replied Martin.

“Well, I’m not calling him a liar, but I wouldn’t believe everything that man says. He has a heart of gold, but he has a tendency to exaggerate a bit.”

“We’ll keep that in mind,” said Martin.

They thanked Morrus for his hospitality, and he welcomed them back anytime. They found William outside preparing Martin’s mule, and thanked him as well. The whipped like a cruel taskmaster, but they headed to the west by southwest, hoping to make Summit by mid-afternoon at the latest – but they had barely marched an hour when the gusts began to bring volleys of snow upon them.

Ratchis tried to pick the right direction and lead his companions to safety, but visibility was almost nothing and now the wind rarely stopped biting with its cold and cruel teeth. In time they came to a frozen stream that covered in snow was hard to spot, and led to wet feet. Ratchis turned them south, hoping to find an easier place to cross the stream and perhaps find a landmark that could help him find their place on the map. He knew they should find be finding a wood soon, and this either meant they were near the Ogre Scar or near Summit.

They finally crossed the stream, but Jana and Martin began to stumble and they could all feel the deep cold in their bones, except for Ratchis who had placed Nephthys’ blessing on himself to protect him from the elements. Only the deepening gloom let them know that evening was upon them, for they had not seen the sky for hours, all there was a uniform gray from horizon to horizon.

By the time the came to the treeline they were searching for, they were all stumbling a bit, and Chance was helping Jana to walk. Ratchtis led them a few score yards into the wood, and found them a tree to sit beneath. He and Kazrack worked to clear the snow out from under it, and then the half-orc took the last of the tinder he carried and built a small fire.

“I am going to explore a bit, while you all stay here,” said Ratchis. “Hopefully we are closer to Summit than to the Ogre Scar and we can make a last push. If we are near the Scar, we may need to get out of here anyway, so rest up and conserve your strength.”

With that he jogged off.

The others did what they could to warm up. There was not much wood for the fire, though Jeremy threw some pine cones into it. Beorth wrapped himself in a blanket.

Jana looked pale, and she shivered as she felt a sleepiness come over her.

“Are ya okay?” Chance asked her.

“I don’t feel so good,” she said groggily.

“Ya should wrap this a little tighter about ya” Chance said, pulling her cloak closed about her. “Sometimes feeling warm is all about being a little lucky,” he added with a wink and brushed her cheek with his hand. Suddenly, she felt he cold seep out of her body. It was as if it were no colder than an early autumn day.

“Luck?” said Kazrack. “It has nothing to do with luck.”

Jana smiled a Chance.

“Everything has ta do wit’ luck,” Chance said to the dwarf. “Jass sometimes ya gotta mek yer own luck.”

“What does that mean?” the dwarf asked.

“Et mens that ya gotta tek chaunces en life,” explained Chance. “Ya gotta give luck a chaunce ta kick in and help ya out. Et es not considered bad luck when ya try something crazy n’ it fails, but et es good luck when et sacc-seeds. Bad luck comes when ya don’t try anything.”

“That does not make any sense,” replied Kazrack.

“Et meks more sense than ya know.”

It was nearly two hours before Ratchis returned, and the fire had died out. The Friar of Nephthys had an armful of firewood and re-ignited the blaze.

“I found Summit nearby. The ridge it sits upon is only a mile or two away. We can definitely make it. Take off your boots and socks and put them, and your feet, by the fire to dry and then we’ll get moving.”

“Where’d you get the wood?” Jeremy asked. It looked cut and split.

“I borrowed it,” Ratchis replied.

The party warmed their feet by the fire, and then marched towards the tall ridge the town of Summit stood upon. The snow continued to pile up, and the dark town shimmered white in the places where light could be seen to peek through the windows of houses.

They walked up the main street, which ended in a square with a two-story inn at one end. As they entered, the warm place, they could see the carved sign that read “The Sun’s Summit Inn”.

Inside, the common room glowed with the light of the hearth, and of a few lanterns in the real glass pane windows. The bar was directly across from the entrance, and the hearth was against the right wall, where a bard strummed on a lyre and sang softly, flanked by a tall muscular man that rivaled Ratchis in size. There were about a half dozen table and benches, some of which were occupied. An elderly couple sat across from each other at a table to the right, while two men sat and ate and drank at the bar. Four figures sat at the table closest to the door and to the left.
The party took a table to the right of the door, across from the four who looked like they might be travelers as well. Two busty barmaids were serving the people in common room, and Martin went over to the barkeep, a man who appeared to young to have his steel grey hair to ask about rooms for the night.

The four men at the next table were being loud, or actually one was being loud (with interspersed laughter from another). He was tall, and had a long sword at his belt. He had dirty blonde hair, and well-kempt beard, and pale skin like Jeremy’s. He faced away from the door. Across from him was a short squat man with a bowl of thick black hair, and dark sun-soaked skin. He wore wolf furs, including a hood made from the head of a wolf, that rested on his back. He had a huge two-handed battle axe resting on the table, but gripped tightly in his hands. He sat, teeth gritted, showing no motion, his shoulders taking up all the room on the bench. Beside the dark man was a skinny weasel-faced fellow, who also had long hair and lots of acne scars on his face. He laughed shrilly at everything the blonde man said. Across from the weasel was a rotund bald man, who only had tufts of black hair sprouting from behind his ears. Despite, his girth, he looked strong and a large round nose and a double-chin. He wore black priestly robes with a silver belt cord and had a nasty headed mace at his side.

Martin returned from the bar and sat down, “The innkeep will be arranging for us to get three rooms, two doubles and a triple. He is also sending over a barmaid to take our orders.”

The companions sat there, just wanting to enjoy the warm, and dry off, their boots and cloaks, leaving a puddle of melted snow underneath them, but the conversation of the other travelers destroyed the illusion of peace.

“So then we had her in the hold of the ship, bent over a crate and the whole crew just lined up and took turns,” said the tall blonde man.

The weaselly man broke into a shrill laughter, “Took your turns! Took your turns! Sounds messy!”

“That is why I made sure that I was third in line,” the blonde replied. “Worked in enough for someone of my attributes, but not so much so that I might as well stick my tally-wacker in the ocean and get the same feeling!”
“Stick your tally-wacker in the ocean!” the weasel-man brayed. “That’s a good one. That’s rich!”

“It gets better. I’m getting my turn, and I am slamming into her for all I’m worth, and I can tell she’s really enjoying it, especially compared to all the rest of the crew. She was moaning and yelling and looking right into my eyes,” the blonde man continued.

“Oh yeah, sure. I’m sure she liked it,” said the weaselly man through his laughter. “Them whores always act like they don’t like it, but you know they do.”

The topic of the other group’s conversation was wearing the patience of the companions, and finally Ratchis turned to them and said loudly, “Keep it down!”

“I don’t think so,” said the blonde man, without turning to look. The weaselly-faced man bared his teeth and squat man’s knuckles turned bright white as his grip tightened on his axe.

The man continued his story, “The next day I wake up and the poor bugger is all red and sore and covered in yellow pus. The whore was diseased! If she had been around I would have given her such a slap!”

“Yeah, yeah, ya would’ve slapped her! Slapped her good! Yeah, yeah!” the weasel-man said, with his shrill laughter.

“So we were in port in Ursula City (12), so I went into town to the temple of Fallon and I go right up to the priestess in there and…get this… I whip out my tally-wacker and I say `lay hands on this, bitch!’”

The two men burst into gut-shaking laughter. The other two did not react very much, but the weaselly man could not stop.

“Lay your hands on this! Ha! Ha! Ha! That’s so rich! Oh! That’s a good one!”

The barmaid served their food, and the party ate with the joy of no more loud stories erupting from the other table. The bard played a soothing song, and then walked over to the other table where he seemed to know the others.

“Hey,” the weasel-faced man called over to the party’s table. “Hey, you guys hunting the dragon?”

“Yes,” said Jeremy.

“Well, so are we, and ya might as well give up because we are gonna find it first,” he said with his twisted grin.

“Well, I hope you run into it first, too,” replied Ratchis.

Suddenly, the wind outside the inn picked up into a howl that increased in pitch, ending with a loud thump on the roof that could be heard through the whole second floor above them, and several glasses in the common room bursting.. The boards creaked and moaned as if some great weight had been dragged across the building and the fire in the hearth flared up. The howling wind returned and this time seemed to come in gust straight down the chimney and all the lanterns and candles in the place went out, along with the hearth.

The barmaids began to scream, and the elderly couple just repeated “Oh my! Oh my!”
“Jana, we need a light,” said Beorth, and with a word from the young girl from Westron, the mug of ale before her gave off a bright light that filled half the common room.

Gibb, the barkeep, lit up a lantern and everyone looked around to determine what had happened. One of the barmaids was ducked behind a table, and the elderly couple immediately stood to leave, obviously shaken.
“Gibb, I am going to walk Nelin and Letia home to make sure they are safe,” said the brutish bouncer in a gentle tone, and began to lead the couple out. He took a moment t glare at both parties as he approached the door. “I had better not hear there was any trouble from you people while I was gone.”

“We were just leaving anyway,” said the tall blonde man. “We have a dragon to slay.”

“Yeah, no blizzard can stop us,” said the bard.

They gathered their gear and marched out after the bouncer and the elderly couple.

Ratchis and Kazrack decided to go outside to investigate the sound, while Martin and Jana spoke with one of the barmaids who still obviously nervous, was refilling their drinks.

“Does this kind of thing happen often?” Martin asked her.

“Oh, nothing this bad,” she said and then whispered. “Some people say this inn is haunted, but it is little things – figures out of the corner of your eyes that are gone when you turn your head, creaking footsteps in an empty room, that kind of thing.”

“Really? And it never has manifested itself so violently before?” Martin continued with his probing.

“Oh, I wouldn’t call that violent, sir,” the barmaid said. “Spooky, yes. Violent? No. But you are right to say that nothing that extreme has ever happened before, but please don’t tell Gibb I said anything. The owners like to keep such rumors hush-hush.”

“Is Gibb one of the owners?” Jana asked.

“No, the owners are away,” the girl replied.

The two men at the bar, bid the barkeep good night and went up to their rooms.

----

Meanwhile, outside Ratchis was climbing up to the roof. He used the uneven stones of the chimney, as Kazrack watched on from below. Ratchis could see a line of something about a foot and a half in with dragged across the length of the roof. Snow was pushed down to the edge of the slightly angled roof, and falling over in big clumps as more piled on it from the sky. He carefully made his way across the roof and examined the mark, while checking for any tracks, but could find nothing else unusual. As he approached the chimney again, his feet suddenly slipped out to his left and he slammed into the roof hip first, the bit of snow beneath him cushioning the fall.

Ratchis held himself in place and could feel the area beneath the snow was very slick, as if covered by oil, but he could not see anything there. He slowly began to get to his feet again, and this time when he slipped he tumbled feet over head and right off the roof, landing painfully despite the snow bank.

Ratchis was lying there for a second, trying to regain his breath, when Beorth came out of the inn, bearing the light-emanating mug.. Kazrack came around the corner.

“Hit an icy patch?” Kazrack asked.

“No, it was just slick. It was weird. I felt for ice, and there was none,” Ratchis replied, as Beorth helped him up.

“Well, Martin spoke with one of the barmaids and she said this place is haunted, but that nothing this extreme has ever happened before,” Beorth said. “If it is a haunting, I am duty bound to investigate it.”

“Well, I am going to go back up on the roof and checking out that slippery spot,” Ratchis said. “Kazrack, can you stand watch again?”

“For what?” the dwarf replied.

“Because I am climbing on the roof of an inn in a strange town and people might find that strange,” said Ratchis with a tone of exasperation.

Ratchis climbed back up the chimney and this time took a rope with him. At the top he tied the rope about the chimney and then tied the other end about his waist, keeping the slack looped in his left hand. He then examined the spot that had been slippery before and found it was just normal wetness from snow. Perplexed, he went back downstairs.

----

Back in the common room, Chance grabbed his pack and made to go up and choose one of the three rooms the party had rented, but Jana stopped him.

“Um, Chance,” she said softly. “I’m scared. All this stuff that is going on is freaky. Do you mind if I stay with you tonight?”

“Ya scared? Come now, Ah’ve seen ya face down that ondead thing n’ fight gooblins n’such. Why would ya be scared now?” Chance asked confused.

“I just am. Please?” A mischievous look came into the young girl’s eyes.

“Oh!” Chance said, with a sudden realization. “Well, if ya scarred, ah understand completely!”

Chance took her hand and led her upstairs.

----

Beorth and Martin went up to find a room to use. They found that the party had been given three adjacent room on the east side of the inn, and took on the northeast corner.

As they entered, Beorth thought he heard something skitter in the room.

“Did you hear that?” the paladin asked the Watch-Mage.

“No. What?” Martin asked.

“I’m not sure, let’s look around. It’s better to be safe than sorry,” Beorth replied.

Martin began to look under the beds while Beorth noticing movement in the window stepped over to it. He looked and saw it was only his own reflection in the glass pane. He stepped a bit closer to get a look out the window, wondering if maybe someone or something was behind the inn. Suddenly, his reflection move independent of his own movement, turning to look at him. Beorth was startled as the figure’s eyes turned red and actually taking form reached forward and wrapped its cold hands around the paladin’s throat!

“Well, there is nothing under here, Beorth,” Martin said, not seeing his companion struggling to pry the ghostly fingers from his neck. “Beorth?”

Martin the Green turned to see Beorth struggling, his throat turning black and blue beneath the translucent grip. Finally, he pulled himself free by pure strength, stumbling back into Martin who was moving forward to try to help.
They turned to look back at the window. It looked as any window would.

Kazrack, Jeremy and Ratchis came upstairs. Jeremy and Kazrack took the center room which had two beds, while Ratchis went to the end room which the innkeep had explained had a double bed and one normal sized bed.

The large half-orc pushed open the door, to find the lantern light turned way low and to hear a rustling of sheets and blankets in the double bed. Ratchis grunted and walked in, dropping his pack on the floor and slipping out of his armor. Chance’s head popped out of the top of the blanket, while girlish giggling could be heard from beneath it.

“Oh, we, uh… Yill beh stayin’ in here then, eh?” Chance said.

Ratchis did not reply, but pulled back the blanket atop the bed and lay in it.

“Aye, well that’s fine. Just sleepin’ anyway. Good night,” Chance added.

Ratchis pulled the blanket over his head and tried to fall asleep, but after a few moments he heard the rustling and giggling coming from the other side of the room.

----

Kazrack walked out of his room, trying to get away from Jeremy’s ceaseless jabbering. The dwarf wasn’t even sure what the young Neergaardian was saying as he just tuned out his foolishness. At the same time, Beorth and Martin came out of their rooms to report the incident with the reflection in the window.

“There is definitely something strange going on around here,” Kazrack said when it had been explained to him. “We should go talk to the innkeeper.”

Kazrack began to make his way down the stairs when he heard screaming from below. He immediately began to run down towards its source. Surprised by the dwarf’s sudden departure, Beorth and Martin were startled and did not hear the screaming until a few moments later, joining the dash towards the sound.

The screams were coming from the other side of the inn. Kazrack came around a corner to a doorway to a small bedroom. One of the barmaids was standing up on one of two beds in the room shrieking.

“What is it?” Kazrack asked, unslinging his heavy flail.

“Rats!” the barmaid cried. “Rats under the bed! Big ones!”

Kazrack let a slight chuckle escape his mouth and scratching his beard in bewilderment over how someone could be so frightened by a little creature, he knelt down to look at the vermin beneath the bed. In the shadows there, he saw three small rodents. They squeaked at him and then suddenly, their eyes turned into two points of pulsating red light, and they grew in size, actually causing the bed to buck upwards as they charged at the dwarf, biting him deeply on the shoulder.

Kazrack stepped back as the rats, now the size of small dogs and their gray fur interspersed with sharp red hairs that rolled across their body like fire. The barmaid began to scream even louder. Beorth and Martin arrived, but the tall and armored paladin blocked the doorway, not allowing the Watch-mage to see what was happening. Kazrack brought his flail down on a rat and smashed it with one blow. It exploded into a bright flash of light, which caused the two warriors to flinch, turning their heads away.

Kazrack and Beorth swung their weapons at the vicious fiendish rodents, but their size and speed such that the two warriors had a hard time connecting with their blows.

Upstairs, Ratchis sighed loudly and sat up, tired of the tittering, shifting, lip smacking and giggling from the other bed. Grabbing the blanket, pillow and his pack, he stormed out of the room. He began to walk down the stairs to spend the night by the hearth, when he heard the sounds of curses and battle from below. He dropped everything, but his sword and took off towards the sound.

Martin tried to get a look past Beorth who stabbed at the dexterous rats with all the skill he could muster, but failing to connect.

“What are they?” Martin asked.

“Demon rats!” cried Beorth. The barmaid’s screaming reached a new register.

Martin began to cant the words to his daze spell, but could not get a good enough line of sight for it to be successful, so he settled for remaining vigilant for an opportunity to cast the spell.

Kazrack managed to smashed any other rat and it too exploded into a bright flash of light, just as Ratchis arrived behind Martin in the narrow hallway.

“What is going on?” Ratchis asked.

“Demon rats emerged in the maids’ room,” explained Martin.

Ratchis stopped and listened. He noticed a cold breeze coming from further down the hall and around the corner and could hear the sound of door slamming over and over. He cautiously walked over and peered around the corner to see a side door to the outside flapping in the wind. Ratchis stepped into the doorway and looked around outside.
“Nephthys, grant me your light so that I may see what dangers threaten us and this place,” he said and suddenly his hand glowed brightly.

He continued to look around, when he noticed a larger amount of snow falling on him from above than the level of snowfall indicated. He looked up, and thought he heard someone or something move away from the edge of the roof and towards the other side of the inn. Ratchis took off around the back of the inn.

Kazrack and Beorth continued to struggle, while Martin waited, but finally Beorth’s sword found its aim and he buried the blade into the creature. Again the rat exploded into a bright flash of light and while, Kazrack was able to close his eyes in time, Beorth felt the light burn his eyes.

“I’m blind!” the paladin cried, and stumbled back out of the room into Martin, just as Gibb the barkeep came running up.

“What is going on?” Gibb asked.

“Demon rats attacked one of the barmaids,” Martin said.

The proprietor pushed past Beorth who was rubbing his eyes over and over to no avail, and made his way into the room. Martin began to lead Beorth back up to their room, while Kazrack tried to explain what happened to Gibb, while the barmaid refused to come down from off the bed.

Ratchis raced around the inn, and one the other side he came face to face with ghostly figure of a woman with a billowing dress and shawl. He could see it clearly, but could still see the snowy ground behind her. She floated a few inches off the ground, but was very tall regardless, nearly six and half feet.

“Go away!” the apparition said, her voice like a cracking ice. “You are not welcome here!”

Ratchis held the chain at his waist and called to his goddess, “Nephthys, fill me with you divine energy that I may expel this poor tortured soul from this world!”

“Don’t make me angry,” the ghost-woman said and floated closer to the half-orc. As it approached, its visage became twisted and its white translucents became corrupted, erupting into a black shadowy form with blank spots for eyes. It reached out to touch Ratchis, but he ducked and called to Nephthys again, this time to temporarily enchant his weapon.

Ratchis swung at the creature, but his sword passed straight through it, and despite the cold he could feel sweat begin to bead on his forehead. The ghost-thing continued to reach for him, and as he swung, Ratchis ducked and moved to avoid its touch – but he could avoid it for only so long. Ratchis felt the cold touch of the apparition on his chest and he could feel the very strength of his muscles begin to leave him, sucked out through the creature’s hand.
The struggle continued and Ratchis brought his long sword through the creature again, this time feeling the slightest bit of resistance, and he could see the smallest amount of shadow-stuff come spilling out from where the sword had been and then dissipate However, his moment of joy was brief, as he felt the cold touch of the creature again, and his arms became heavier, as his strength left him. The majority of his blows went right through the thing.

“Anybody! I think I need some help here!” Ratchis cried.

Upstairs, Chance cocked his head and moved the blanket from over him and Jana.

“Didja hear that?” he asked the girl. “Sounded like Ratchis.”

“I didn’t hear anything,” replied Jana. “Don’t worry about it.”

“It sounded like it came from outside,” said Chance, getting out of bed and going over to the window. “Ratchis is in trouble!”

The Wallbrookian ran towards the door buck-naked and realizing his nude condition snatched a blanket off the bed and wrapped it around himself and then took off downstairs. Jana glanced out the window and saw Ratchis struggling with the shadow creature and grabbed her crossbow and began to load it.

Chance came barreling down the stairs, holding the blanket around his waist in one hand and his short sword in the other, barely keeping from tripping. He raced past Martin and Beorth in the hall, and past Kazrack who was making his way to the common room downstairs and to a side door near where Ratchis was fighting. He then halted about fifteen feet away from the creature.

“Oh me god! Whut tha hell is that!?”

Ratchis looked for a moment at Chance and then regretted it. He felt the cold hand of the creature go straight through his chest and out the other side, as more strength than the two touches before was drained from him. His sword arm felt as if it were made from lead, and his legs felt anchored to the frozen ground.

Kazrack came rushing out of the inn after Chance, and despite the fact that he had never in his life ever seen such a creature did not pause to come to his companion’s aid. Jana, thinking she had a shot let a bolt loose at the creature, but it landed way short.

Martin began to slowly lead Beorth back down the stairs to see what was going on.

“I’ll make my own way down,” the paladin said. “Go ahead and see if someone needs help.”

The Watch-Mage did not pause and barreled down the stairs and out the side door.

“Oh Bes, grant us some luck!” Chance chanted, but it seemed that Bes was not listening because again, Ratchis felt the cold attack of the shadow.

Jana fired another bolt, and this one landed inches from Kazrack.

The yelling and frenzied combat was finally heard by Jeremy, who opened the window, and peered out from directly above the conflict. He watched as the shadow-creature turned on a surprised Kazrack and drew strength out of the dwarf with its cold touch. He watched both Kazrack and Ratchis’ blows ineffectively go through the thing.
Martin invoked his shield spell and stepped closer to the combat, so Jeremy did what any adventurous person would do. He leaped out the window, sword in hand, and joined the fray! He attempted to use the momentum of the jump to attack the shadow, but only stumbled into the melee awkwardly, distracting Kazrack who felt the deep cold of the creature’s touch once again.

And still the party’s blows were ineffective, Martin knew it was time to use magic in this offensive and cast a spray of a variety of bright color at point blank range. However, instead of having the effect he desires, the creature seemed to absorb the colors, and now they swirled over the surface of the creature.

“Isis preserve us!” Martin cried, as Jana fired her crossbow again, and the bolt landed between Ratchis’ legs.
“Run away!” Chance began to yell. “Weh cahnt beat it! Run away!”

The ghost-shadow-thing turned its now colorful swirling face toward Martin and when it reached out and touched him, the colors on its incorporeal body swirled down its arm and flashed upon the young Watch-Mage. Fortunately, Martin was able to resist his own spell, but he felt the cold strength drain of the creature’s touch.

“This isn’t real,” Martin said to himself. He rubbed his eyes, closed them and took a deep breath and said it again with more emphasis. “This isn’t REAL!” He opened his eyes, and the creature was still there. And yet, to the weapons of the others, it was as if it were not there.

“Run away!” Chance continued, but the ineffective blows continued, but at least the creature could not seem to decide which of the party to attack.

Beorth came stumbling through the doorway, “What is happening?”

“Stay inside!” Chance said to the paladin. ‘It’s a ghost!”

“A ghost! Where?” Beorth said, turning towards the sounds of the fight. Jana continued to send crossbow bolts into the thick if the fight, not doing much but creating a deadly rain.

The creature reached for Jeremy. “I will suck out all your souls!” it said in its eerie voice, finally speaking again. The Neergaardian leapt out of the way, and Martin ran from the combat and into the in.
“Help!” the Watch-Mage cried.

“Anubis! Hear my call and send this abomination away!” Beorth cried, clutching the silver jackal head around his neck.

“No, you are facing the wrong way,” Chance said, taking Beorth’s shoulders and turning him towards the thing.
But it didn’t matter either way, either this thing was not undead, or it was beyond Beorth’s faith to turn.

The thwang of Jana firing another bolt was heard by all, and it hit the creature dead on, and then passing through it buried itself in Ratchis’ thigh.

“Ow!” the Friar of Nephthys cried with rage. “Stop! Firing the damn crossbow!”
The shadow was finally able to touch Jeremy, but the hardy Neergaardian resisted sufficiently so that only the slightest bit of strength was drained from him.

Filled with rage Ratchis swung his sword right through the shadow again and felt the slightest resistance, pulling a huge chunk of shadow stuff free from the thing. It threw a fist into the air and dissipated with a shriek.

Both Kazrack and Ratchis slumped to the snowy ground.

End of Session #14

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

Notes:

(10) The part had found out about the “Ogre Scar” in the briefing. A mysterious deep tear in the earth, it is known to have been home to ogres, and a place than many Fir-Hagre orcs fled to at the end of the Orc War.

(11) Quark is the fourth month of the year and middle month of summer. Aquerra’s months are as follows (in order): {spring} Prem, Sek {summer} Ter, Quark, Keent, {autumn}, Ese, Syet, {winter} Oche, Nuiet, Dek, Onk.

(12) Ursula City is a medium-sized city in the northern portion of Sandspine Island in the Kingdom of Neergaard. It was re-named for the late Queen, mother of current king Edmund Crownen I.
 
Last edited:

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #15 (part I)

But there was no time to rest. . .

Even as Chance began to hop around because the adrenalin of the fight left him and he realized that it was damn cold and he was basically naked, a great clamor arose from inside the inn.

Martin ran back into the inn, and looked in the kitchen. Pots and pans were flying across the room. The utensils hanging from pegs on the way, sailed across the room one at a time. It looked as if some invisible force were moving around the room doing this.

As the Watch-mage cast hisDetect Magic spell to see if he could figure out what it was, Kazrack peered from behind him, and Ratchis looked in at the events through a rear window. He could see that it was a magical force moving about the room, and that its source was conjuration, but even as he was determining that it was a simple spell that posed no threat, the force leapt into the iron stove and banged around in there for a moment before exploding back out of it in the form of a small being of fire that cracked and moved as it came towards the two companions in the doorway.

Jeremy ran past them back into the common room where the bar-keep was drying mugs with a towel. He looked up from his chore, “Hey, what’s all the racket?”

“There’s trouble,” Jeremy ran about as if looking for something.

“More rat-things?” Gibb asked.

“What rat things? Jeremy asked as he approached the other door back into the hall, but further up he replied with, “Have you seen anyone suspicious besides my friends?”

The flame creature struck Martin with a flaming pseudo-pod and he cried out like a little girl as his robes caught fire. He turned and fled out of the kitchen doorway and back out the door past Chance and Beorth and throwing his flaming body into a snow bank and rolling around.

“What the hell is going on? Beorth and Chance said in unison, standing at the side door to the inn. And Ratchis came around the corner crying “Where’s the well?”

Karack thrust his halberd through the fire creature, to no avail. The flame-thing returned with another pseudo-pod, but Kazrack moved backward and avoided the blow.

Ratchis noticed that the well was beside the snow bank that Martin had thrown himself into and hustled over there. Martin got back up and ran back towards the inn, even as Kazrack scored a hit on the creature, which made it visibly waver for a second.

Jeremy came back out into the hall and began to open random doors looking for the spell-caster that he thought must be behind this. The flame creature struck Kazrack and set his tunic ablaze.

“Kazrack! Git aweh from the far,” Chance called from his vantage point by the outer door. “What are ya, stupid?”

Ratchis grabbed the well bucket and filled it with snow.

While Martin went into the common room, and Chance and Beorth stood there as if they were both blind, Kazrack continued to struggle with the fire-beast.

“What’s going on?” Gibb the barkeep asked Martin, noticing his charred robes and wet state “What happened to you?”

“What’s this about the inn being haunted?” Martin asked ignoring the question.

“Oh, don’t believe those stories,” Gibb said. “Uh…Is there a fire?”

‘See for yourself,” replied Martin. “Got a bucket?”

“Um,” sadi Gibb. Martin did not wait, he grabbed two mugs and filled them with dish water.
Kazrack cried out as the thing struck him with it searing tentacle of flame once again, and then began to retreat back into the kitchen.

“Git out of there!” Chance cried.

“Point me in the right direction, Chance,” Beorth said pulling his sword. “I have to help Kazrack.”
Chance turned the paladin towards the door and pushed him outside, making room for Ratchis who came running in with his bucket of snow.

Again Kazrack charged forward and drove his halberd blame into the flame thing, and it wavered and disappeared into a puff of smoke. Behind where it had been a figure seemed to be trying to put out the chopping block, which had been set on fire when the thing first emerged from the stove.

Jeremy could not see any wizard, so he decided that he’d better get other people to safety and ran upstairs yelling, “Fire! Fire! The inn is on fire!”

Meanwhile, Ratchis dumped his bucket of snow on the flaming chopping block, but for some reason ignore Kazrack who was now frantically trying to splash the beer dribbling from a beer tap on himself to put his flaming clothes out. Martin came running in and chucked the water at Kazrack, completely missing. Finally, Ratchis used his great strength to tip the table the chopping block was on and pour the snow on his dwarven companion. The fire was snuffed, but Kazrack lay there singed, wet and quietly hiccupping from all the beer he “accidentally” imbibed.
Ratchis lay his hand on Kazrack’s head, “Nephthys, heal the stone head of this dwarf who has fought for you many times.”

Kazrack immediately felt the worse of his burns soothed, as the skin magically grew over them.

Upstairs, Jeremy continued to run around knocking on doors screaming.

“Fire! There’s a fire downstairs,” he called. “Jana! We have to get our stuff and get out!”

The gentlemen who had been sitting at the bar earlier in the evening came stumbling out their rooms and ran out side in the nightshirts
.
Jana came out of her room and looked at Jeremy who was fracitcally grabbing as many packs and things from the room he shared with Kazrack as he could.

She sighed and went downstairs to see what was going on for herself.

Back in the kitchen, it turned out the figure who had been trying to put out the fire was this nearly dwarfish human named Stump, who was the inn’s cook.

“What’s going on?” he asked, as Chance led Beorth into the kitchen as well, and Ratchis helped Kazrack to his feet.

“It could be a mischievous spirit,” comment Beorth. “Have any children ever died here?”

“No. No children have ever died here,” said Gibb coming into the kitchen. “Stump! What happened?”

“I heard a ruckus going on outside and in the hall, so I came to the door of the kitchen to see what was going on, but as I walked towards the door I saw a gremlin run past the door down the hall. I hurried and looked and saw three gremlins disappear into the secret door,’ Gibb said.

“Gremlins?” said Martin.

“Secret door?” said Kazrack.

“Yes, Gremlins,” said Stump. “They were small and gray and wore red pointy caps.”

“The secret door leads to the storage basement,” explained Gibb. “The owners had it installed as a goof, I guess. No one is supposed to know where it is, but I think everyone in town does because at one time or another someone who works here has shown them.”

“Can you show us?” asked Kazrack.

As Gibb took the party down the hall to show the secret door, the three merchants came running down in their nightshirts yelling “Fire! Fire!”

Jana came down behind them, calmly.

“Is there a fire?” she asked Chance.

“Nut anymah,” said Chance. Jana turned around and went back upstairs.

“Stump, show them the secret door, I have to go catch up with our patrons,” Gibb said with a sigh.

Stump showed them how a section of wall near the stairs up, could be pushed in such a way that it slid out of the way on a rail, not really being stone at all.

“What’s down there?” asked Kazrack.

“Casks of wine and beer, spare dishes and utensils, dry food stuff, flour and the like,” Stump replied.

The party gathered in the largest room they were renting and talked about what they would do the next day. It was decided that Martin would go speak with the alderman and the group might spend some time resting to regain their strength sapped by the shadow creature – but to begin their investigation of the area below the inn the day after that.

As they got ready for bed Beorth said to Martin, “Everything is a big white blur now, instead of big black one.”

“Good,” said Martin. “Perhaps that is a sign of recovery.”

“Martin, I smelled something familiar before,” said Thomas’ voice in the Watch-Mage’s head.

“When and What?” asked Martin.

“Before now, and I don’t know,” said Thomas.

“Was it a plant or an animal?”

”I don’t remember,” said Thomas.

“I’ve been saving a hazelnut…”

“Ooh! Gimme the nut!”

“Was it a plant or an animal?” Martin asked again.

“An animal, maybe…maybe a person,” said Thomas.

“So it was a person from the Academy?”

“Maybe. Gimme the nut! You promised me the nut!”

Martin gave him the nut and Thomas greedily chomped it down.

“Gimme another nut!” the squirrel said.

“Later, Thomas,” said Martin getting in bed. “Tomorrow.”



Anulem, 14th of Syet – 564 H.E.

The next day, most of the party remained in bed as Jana went from person to person tending to their wounds and making sure they got the proper rest and treatment for what ailed them. Beorth awoke early and found that his vision had returned. Giving Anubis thanks, he ate a small breakfast and went exploring on his own to see if there were any local graveyards that might be a source for the haunting-like effects of the previous night.

Jeremy and Martin had breakfast in the common room, while Gibb went out to fetch the constable so he could be told about the events of the previous night, and so that he might talk to Martin the Green.

So after eating, Jeremy went to explore the inn and Martin met up with Maxel.

Maxel was a man in his late twenties, with broad shoulders, dark hair and a round face with patches of peach fuzz. He had bright green eyes, and a friendly smile. He wore a long sword at his side, but no armor and he offered Martin a large and calloused hand.

“I serve as constable here,” he said. “Gibb told me there was some trouble here last night with…ghosts?”

“Yes, well, we are not sure what the cause of the disturbance, but it is imperative that I speak with the Alderman,” Martin said.


“Well, perhaps I can arrange for you to dine with the Alderman tonight or the night after,” Maxel said, looking uncomfortable.

“I have been sent by the His Majesty Brevelan IV. I am a Watch-Mage,” Martin said, gathering his confidence.
“Oh, really?” Maxel said. “In that case I will take you to see him right away.”

Maxel led Martin into the town, where people were clearing snow from the front of their houses and seemed to be visiting each other and talking friendlily. Many people waved to Maxel as he walked by.

“Maxel, I need my hoe refitted with a new head,” one man called. “I’ll be by the shop this afternoon.”
Martin looked to the constable, puzzled.

“I am the town smith. I only serve as constable when needed, which thankfully since the orcs were cleared out of Greenreed Valley has been infrequently,” Maxel explained.

----------

Meanwhile back at the inn, while Kazrack and Ratchis continued to sleep to regain their strength and Chance and Jana found an unoccupied linen closet to spend some private time together in, Jeremy was pushing at the secret door they had been shown the night before and finally got it open. He took a lantern off the wall and crept down the narrow stone steps into the basement storage room, and began to carefully explore it, as he could see no other way out of it other than the way he came in.

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

Martin and Maxel came to a humble cottage just off the center of the town. Maxel knocked on the door and after a few moments a young boy answered it.

“Hey, Phester, Your father home?” Maxell asked.

“He’s around back,” the boy said. “Feel free to go around.”

Maxell ruffled the boy’s hair, “You staying out of trouble?”

“Yes, sir,” the boy said with a embarrassed smile.

Around the back, a middle-aged man was mending the gate that obviously was used to keep animals penned in, but there were no animals there at the time.

“Henry, I have someone here that has to see you,” Maxel said.

“Really?” the man barely looked up. “Well, I kind of had my day filled up by fixing my pens, and I would like to get it done before my boys get back with the flock.”

“There have been strange things going on, and even if there hadn’t I have been sent by the King,” said Martin.
“You have?” The alderman looked up.

“I am Martin the Green, Watch-Mage and for the time being I am an emissary of the king, here to help with the hunt for the dragon.”

“Oh! You’re a Watch-Mage! Why didn’t you say so?” He wiped his hands on his apron and offered one to Martin.

“I don’t like to wave it around if I don’t have to,” Martin replied.

“Well, excuse me if I seemed rude, but I have a lot of people coming to see about the smallest things sometimes, and I need a way to avoid them,” He smiled an embarrassed smile that was the perfect reflection of the one his son had shown earlier. “Not that I shirk my responsibilities, but setting priorities and precedents are among the tasks of a leader. Anyway, I am talking to much and you aren’t all. I am Henry Horton, and I welcome you to our humble town of Summit.”

He turned to Maxel, “I assume you checked his credentials.”

“Um… Ahem…Uh”

“Here is my letter of introduction from the King,” Martin said, handing Henry the envelope. “And I also have a medallion he gave me that has his personal seal.”

The alderman looked at the letter and then handed it back.

“Come, let’s go inside and have some tea and be warm and talk in comfort,” he said.

“I would like that,” Martin said.

“Maxel, you are welcome to join us, of course.”

Inside, the alderman’s young son brought a tray with tea and small biscuits smeared in lard.

“You say there were strange things going on?” Henry asked, stirring honey into his tea. “Are you referring to the disappearances?”

“Disappearances?” Martin said, taking a bite of one of the biscuits.

“There have been a handful of people missing, shepherds mostly who have not returned with their flocks,” the Alderman said. “It started two weeks ago or so.”

“Really?” Martin said. “Do you think the events at the inn can be related?”

“No reason to think so. There have always been little stories about the inn, people jumping at shadows.”
“My dear sir, last night the shadows were jumping at people,” Martin quipped. “Something is going on. Do you think the disappearances are being caused by the dragon?”

“If so it has changed its behavior,” Maxell said. “All reports state that it attacks people on the roads mostly; Caravans and the like – Not lone herd boys out with their flocks.”

“Obviously this is going to take some measure of investigation,” Martin suggested.

“Well, the first thing we need to do is get your comfortable for your appointment here,” the Alderman said. “Maxel will take you over to the Widow Beatrice’s where she runs a boarding house. Then in the spring we can have a house built for you if it looks like you will be staying here longer.”

“The boarding house will be fine I’m sure, Alderman…”

“Call me Henry.”

“Henry…… but I also have companions who the king sent with me who may be using Summit as a headquarters in their hunt for the dragon.”

“I am sure the Widow Beatrice will have room, the young people she had staying there left a day or two ago,” Henry said.

“Do you think you could tell me the names of the people who disappeared, and where I could find their families? Maybe they can help provide a clue as to what is happening,” said Martin.

“Well, they came and reported it to me,” answered Maxel. “But if you think you might be able to learn something more from them, it’d be a good idea. Someone might even be able to lead you out to where they were last seen.”

“Why doesn’t Maxel take you over to the boarding house now, and then you can return with your companions for a late supper?” Henry suggested.

“I would be happy to return, but I am not sure how many of my companions will be able to as they are severely injured from last night’s unusual events. Could we postpone it until tomorrow?”

“That would be fine,” said the Alderman.

Maxel took Martin across the street and down two houses to a larger rectangular house.

The Widow Beatrice was a tiny little old woman. She greeted Martin happily and explained the rules.

“Well, it’s 15 cps a week for the larger room, which holds four, and 8 cps a week for the small one that holds 2. This includes two meals a day, but I won’t withhold ya some teas in the afternoon if ya want it – and of course curfew, one hour after sundown. I expect a month of rent in advance,” she kept a friendly look on her wrinkled prune face the whole time she talked. “Last kids to stay here were nice and all, but they took off without paying off the week. Nice girl, but she seemed mixed up in man’s business, which is never good. She was traveling with a pair of twins – odd little fellows, very talkative, very smart, wizards no doubt.”

“Was her name Maria, by chance?” Martin asked.

“Why yes it was?” the Widow Beatrice said. “Oh my! Is your name Martin the Green?”

“Yes, it is,” Martin replied surprised.

“Why, yes, she left a message for me to give to you. Told it to me right before she left; said it was really important, but for the life of me I can’t remember it.”

“Have you no idea what it was?” Martin asked with some urgency.

“Um, no…Well, something about you needing to know that she went somewhere to investigate something. She took them twins with her and there were two other young fellas.” The old woman scrunched up her face in deep thought, but came up with nothing more.

“Well, how long ago was this?” Martin asked.

“Oh three or so days ago, before the big storm,” Beatrice replied. “Wish I could remember what is was she told me to you.”

“I wish you could too,” Martin mumbled, and then added so that she could hear him. “Well, I must inform my companion about what I have learned and that I have secured us a place to stay while here in town. I will be back later this evening thank you for your time.”

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

Meanwhile, Jeremy was moving boxes around in the basement, checking the brick wall for irregularities. In the very back corner on the right wall he noticed what seemed to be a seam that was three feet by three feet about one foot off the ground. It ran counter to the line of brick in the rest of the wall.

He felt around the seam, and then pushed hard and felt something catch and then release, as the square of false stone swung downward and into the darkness beyond. A draft of cold air billowed up and out of the hole, and Jeremy raised his lantern to peer inside, when from the darkness emerged number of bat-like creatures that seemed to be made of the darkness themselves. They silently swooped at him with their tiny red eyes glowing, and he tried to bat them away, but only felt their cold bites which immediately made him feel dizzy and uncoordinated; his joints and muscles felt tight and swollen.

Jeremy leapt up and out of the storage room, but the bat-things followed, biting again and again, until it was a struggle to have the coordination to get up the narrow stairs. The Neegaardian felt fear wash over him as he leapt through the first secret door and pulled it closed behind him. He stood leaning there against, breathing hard when noticed the black shadowy forms of the creature slipping through the door cracks, coming out into the hall to continue their chase.

Jeremy backed away from the door and turned to run into the common room and the shadow-bats followed. Yet, as he came into the sunlight streaming into the inn from outside he heard the a hiss like a small flame being suddenly snuffed, but drawn out as if it were a cry of pain. He dared a glance and saw that was the bats came into the sun it was as if they were snuffed out.

---------

Upstairs, Jeremy told Martin (who had returned soon after from the Alderman’s) and Beorth about what he had found and what had happened. They agreed that the others must be told and that these “gremlins” must have accessed and escaped from the inn through there.

“Didn’t we agree to not do anything until tomorrow,” asked Ratchis annoyed, and still feeling very weak from his fight with the shadow thing.

“Yes,” said Jeremy.

“So what the hell were you doing down there!?!?” He lost his temper, but his lack of strength made it turn into a wheeze from a bellow as the question ended.

“I figured, why waste time? I thought I ‘d reconnoiter a bit and be able to give us a jump on what to do next,” Jeremy explained.

“But now that thing is open down there and we don’t know what is going on and what might be down there, and we are trying to rest a day and recoup our strength!”

“We can just block it up,” reasoned the Neergaardian, clearly confused as to why the half-orc was so angry.

“Because now whoever lives down there knows we’re coming and they can make a plan to come after us,” Ratchis sat up in bed and groaned, swinging his thick legs over the side. “Like we’re planning to go in there after them.”

“But weh dunn ahve uh plahn,” commented Chance incredulously.

Ratchis growled and began to strap on his armor and get his gear together.

“So, I assume we’re going,” said Kazrack, leaving the room to get ready without saying another word. He seemed slow in step from his drained strength as well.

Ratchis grumbled as he collected his things, and Chance kept looking over at him as he put his own leather jerkin on and got his gear together.

“Whutze sayin’?’ Chance asked Jeremy.

“He’s saying we’re all going to die or something,” the Neergaardian replied.

”Gungta dah!? What’s goin’ on?” Chance sounded alarmed.

Ratchis swung around on the two of them. “I will tell you what is going on,” he frothed, pointing at Jeremy
“Because this one here is so damn impatient, we are forced to go into a situation that might kill us all!”
The Friar of Nephthys stalked out of the room.

Jeremy turned to Chance, “I have no idea what he’s talking about.”

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

The party met in hallway outside of the first secret door, and after a delay involving what they should bring and not bring and who was strong enough to carry what, they made their way down into the basement, and Ratchis crept forward to examine the other secret hatch, and look with for tracks, before the others ruined any that might be there.

“There are small boot prints in here, like a child’s – and it looks like it was made by the kind of mud made by melting snow wiping dirt off a boot as it slides off,” Ratchis the others.

“Dahm, he’s good,” said Chance.

“Perhaps there is some truth to these stories of gremlins,” said Martin.

Ratchis explained that the tiny room beyond seemed as if it were naturally occurring and the basement must have just brushed it when it was dug. He also described how it led to a narrow and low passageway that seemed to slowly pick its way down.

It was decided they would follow it.

The way was long and hard. Beorth, Ratchis and Jeremy spent most of the journey crouch as to not bump their heads, and mid-way down Jana’s light spell ran out and she had to recast it.

They passed through a broader cavern that branched off into several more narrow natural tunnels. Ratchis spent a half an hour going over every inch of the floor. He found the trace remains of a campfire and half a muddy foot print that told him the way to go. After a short rest and eating some quick rations they continued.

Finally, after having traveled over two hours, the tunnel opened into a broad cave. Sunlight streamed down into the cave, and they could see a nearly plain of white ahead of them through a thick bramble at the very base of the bluff which they must be on the other side of and at the foot of. Again, Ratchis went ahead, down to the bramble and quickly found sight of the small boot prints in the fresh snow. They could be easily followed. He led the way.
The traveled northward along the edge of the large circular ridge that made Green Reed Valley. After marching for over an hour they saw what looked to be a column of steam or smoke several miles away to the west.

They continued onward, traveling through a nearly perfectly round tunnel through the ridge and out to the north.
On the other side, there was thick pine forest interspersed with pockets of barren deciduous trees. Ratchis continued on, and the party followed him, only stopping when he waved a hand and then hopped forward to examine some patch of ground. By now Ra’s Glory was very low in west and the shadows were long, but finally they came to something.
In one large patch of barren deciduous trees they found an area penned in by branches and vine in such a way that there was a canopy of snow over one small round area about 60 feet in diameter. Within, there was only random patches of snow, and there was pool where run off collected down a tree half-uprooted.

Within a dirt track led to a earthen home, whose walls were supported by the bowing roots of the half-rooted tree. They still sunk way down into the earth providing strength. It had a little rounded door and a small round window and a metal chimney sticking out of the top.

“What do we do now?” Ratchis asked.

“Politely knock on the door?” Martin suggested. Ratchis scowled.

“It looks like a halfling house, I think,” said Beorth,. “Or what I have heard they look like.”

“Or a gnome’s house,” said Ratchis.

“Gnomes!” cried Thomas’ voice in Martin’s head.

“What about them, Thomas?” Martin replied

“That is what I smelled that time before in the other place in the town,” Thomas chittered.

“Do you smell it here?” Martin asked.

“Uh, no… Maybe…” The familiar began to sniff the air. “Maybe I can sniff better with a nut in my tummy.”

Martin fed him a hazelnut.

The party approached the small house. Kazrack looked in the window, while Martin sent in Thomas to have a look and a sniff around.

“Gnomes! Smells like gnomes!” Thomas cried in Martin’s head.

“Any in there?” Martin asked.

“Nope.”

Ratchis and Martin went inside. The little place held four small bunks, a large trunk in the center covered with a table cloth, a pot-bellied stove, a pile of wood and a food store. They looked around a bit and Kazrack and Jeremy came in a few moments later and the tiny place was crowded.

“Um, guys,” Jana called from outside. “Could you come out here?”

Jeremy came out first, and a voice said from the edge of the clearing in the thick bramble that formed its border.
“Get to the center of the clearing and please don’t make any funny moves. We don’t want to have to hurt anybody.” The voice was nasal, and spoke quickly.

“Who are you?” Kazrack called out, coming outside.

Martin followed, but mentally commanded Thomas to stay in the house.

“Gnomes!” Thomas said.

Ratchis hesitated inside.

“Please come out where we can see you,” the voice called again. “And gather in the center. You have weapons trained on you, if you were wondering, and there are more than us than there are of you.”

“Who are you to command us to do so?” Kazrack called.

“I am asking the questions here,” the voice said, and now they could see a small stout form in a chainshirt with a warhammer in his hands. He had skin the color of slate, a bulbous nose and wore a helmet. “What are you doing in this home of traitors?”

“Traitors? What traitors?” asked Jeremy.

“Those who were staying here have gone against the commands of our interim chief. We were to bring them to him, but we have found you instead.”

“Oh so this is all a big misunderstanding and we can go,” said Martin.

“Not so fast,” said the gnome. “You have still trespassed on our territory and were found in the safehouse of the traitors. You must be brought before the interim chief.”

“We followed the tracks of what must be some of your people, these ‘traitors’, here from the town of Summit where they were up to much mischief and endangered people’s lives,” explained Ratchis.

“Again, I ask, who are you?” Kazrack added.

“I am Captain Fistandlus Ironhammer of Garvan, and you shall be our guests,” the gnome said, as two more armored gnomes silently came out of the border of brush. These two had shortbows aimed at the party. “Please drop your weapon belts and any other dangerous items, and lay down on your stomachs with your hands behind you backs.”

Kazrack reached for his halberd which was leaning on his shoulder, and the gnomes’ bow strings tightened as two more gnomes breached the border of brush to point their own bows at the rear of the party. Ratchis pulled his crossbow and aimed it at the gnomish captain.

Fistandlus Ironhammer came forward towards Jeremy, who was in the front of the group a bit, with his hammer ready to strike. Kazrack waited for the gnome to strike to charge him with his halberd.

Chance lay on the ground, face down with his hands behind his back. Jana followed suit.

“Do you not recognize the authority of the Watch-Mages?” Martin asked, desperately.

“There is no need for this,” said Beorth.

“There is no need at all,” said Fistandlus. “Like I said, there are more of us than you.”

“Get ready to fan out and shoot if someone attacks,” Ratchis said through gritted teeth.

Two small animals with heavyset body, short legs, dark fur, and a bushy tail came through the brush, one on each side of the group, between the flanking gnomes. They growled menacingly. They were wolverines.

“You must be brought to see the interim chief and that means getting bound and blind-folded to be led the heart of our lands,” the captain explained. “You are trespassers, but we will have you as our guests. No harm will come to you, but we cannot trust you to not reveal where it is we live.”

“I will not be bound,” Beorth said, with something close to anger and lifted his staff into a fighting position.

“Why don’t you send one of your men to go fetch your interim chief, and we’ll wait here and talk to him when he arrives,” suggested Kazrack.

“The interim chief is away and will not be back for a little while. He cannot come here regardless. You will be brought to our village and wait for him,” the captain said.

“Well, if we’re not going to go with you and your chieftain will not come here, then I might as well wait here in comfort,” said Kazrack and promptly plopped himself on the ground to sit, stubbornly.

Jeremy sat upon the cold ground as well, and Ratchis let out a long low breath of frustration.

“We will not let ourselves be bound,” said Ratchis. “But we have no desire to come into conflict with you.”
There was a moment’s pause, and the gnome captain hesitated as if contemplating his options.

“We will surrender our weapon and come with you peacefully, if talking to your chieftain –“

“Interim Chieftain,” the captain interrupted.

“Interim Chieftain, then. If talking with him is required, and also it might be helpful to us,” Ratchis finished.

Again, Fistandlus Ironhammer paused, and finally he said, “Surrender your weapons and consent to be blindfolded. You may walk unbound, but none may see the way to our hidden home.”

“I consent,” said Ratchis.

“Me, too,” agreed Chance from his place face down on the ground. The rest of the group concurred, and everyone sheathed or dropped their weapons and then loosened their weapon belts allowing them to slip to the ground. More armed and armored gnomes emerged from the brush and collected the weapons.

The party was instructed to get on their knees, allowing a gnome to come up behind and blindfold each in turn. Before his eyes were covered, Kazrack noted that that there were at least 8 gnomes here. The party's weapons were collected, and Martin felt the magical bag he carried being tugged from his belyt along with his satchel of components.

They were then marched in a single file line.

“It’s amazing what this group has to go through to make an oath,” Kazrack commented.
After they had walked for nearly an hour, the gnomes began to chatter among themselves in their fast and high-pitched language.

“Dunn worry, Jana,” Chance said, in not enough of a whisper. “Ah won’t let any gnomes hurt’cha.”
“Shhh!” said Martin from behind him.

“Ah kin kick a gnome’s arse!” He added fiercely.

“Shhh!” Martin repeated more vehemently.

One of the gnomes walking along side Kazrack spoke to him in the dwarven tongue, “We have one of your kin as our guest as we speak. I am sure he will be glad to have another of his kind to keep him company.”

“Guest?” Kazrack asked, pleasantly surprised to hear his mother-tongue – but still slightly worried.
“Yes, he came into our territory almost a moon ago, and has remained our guest until the interim chief returns,” the gnome said, with a friendly tone. “My name is Obenhammer, by the way, but you can call me Obie, everyone does.”

“It seems strange that one of your kind would be traveling with these humans and a dwarf,” the Captain said to Ratchis, as they walked. “You are lucky you were not along or your fate might not have been so pleasant.”
Ratchis grunted in response.

“But do not worry, you are our guest now and as such will be treated well and are safe,” Fistandlus added. “You do speak well, where are you from?”

“Nikar,” Ratchis replied.

“Never heard of it,” the captain said.

“It is a place where humans, gnomes, halflings and even dwarves live together in peace.”

“Sounds like a terrible place,” Fistandlus said flatly.

Onward and onward they walked, the gnomes directing them to step over large stones and roots, or round deep snow drifts.

“We are going underground now,” Captain Fistandlus Ironhammer said after they had marched perhaps four hours or more. “Reach your hand out and we’ll guide you down. You big folk will want to duck your heads.”
They made their way down a short rock embankment, and soon they knew they were underground because the wind dwindled to almost nothing, and that air had that damp earthy smell to it. The marched for about another twenty minutes and then stopped.

“You can take off your blindfolds,” Captain Fistandlus said.

The party did just that and found themselves in a barren and damp cave. Two of the gnomes were working on getting a fire going, while another seemed to be digging up a sack of dried food stuff that had been buried in the corner. They must have used this place often.

“We camp here and continue our journey in the morning,” the captain explained.

Martin let out a strangled sigh of anxiety.

“What’s the matter?” Jana whispered to him.

“I left my spell book and my other gear at the inn. I didn’t know we’d be gone this long,” the Watch-Mage whispered back.

“Heh,” Jana said with a smirk.

They settled down and the large dried mushrooms were passed around.

“I assume the humans of Gothanius do not know your community is here,” Kazrack said.

“No, and we want to keep it that way,” said the Captain.

“Yeah, the humans are greedy and settle in land and then claim it belongs to them alone. They try to make everyone follow their laws, and they rip up the trees and plant their own crops and drive out the animals. It is horrible,” said one of the other gnomes.

“Yeah, humans are terrible. They have no respect and think they can own everything,” added another gnome.
“And more and more of them are coming into the valley, and that is too close, I think,” another gnome said. Obviously, this was a point of contention because there were a few moments of heated discussion in gnomish, that ended with one gnome saying angrily, “I wouldn’t trust a human as far as I could throw him.”

“Excuse me, but some of us have feelings, you know. Can you keep it down over there?” Jeremy said between bites of the bitter mushroom.

“It’s not our fault you’re human,” said Obenhammer.

“But if the humans are taking a land where there is nothing, what harm does it do you?” Kazrack inquired.

“Nothing?” the gnome Captain raised his voice for the first time, and then composed himself. “I find that strange coming from you, a dwarf, because that is such a human perspective. A human can look at a beautiful field, alive with wild oats, and shrews and moles and gophers; he can look at a forest full of trees older than you or I, with squirrels and birds and all kinds of animals and see nothing. Nothing but a place to rip up for their own profit. Is the earth itself nothing? Humans tend to build against the world, and not with it. It makes no sense. They will hunt an animal to extinction. They will pluck every flower of a certain kind for miles around if they think it is pretty only to let it die in a vase in their house. It makes no sense.”

At that same moment, Martin remembered Thomas. The squirrel was not with him!

“Thomas!” the Watch-Mage thought reaching out to his familiar with his mind. “Where are you?”

“In the woods somewhere, trying to find you,” the squirrel replied.

“What happened to you?”

“You told me to wait in the house, so I did. But when you did not come back for a long time I decided to try to find you,” Thomas replied.

“Are you okay?” Martin asked.

“I’m going to sleep now in a hole in a tree. I’m tired,” Thomas said.

“Okay, find me tomorrow, and try not to get eaten!”

The conversation with the gnomes was still going on…

“Could it be that therein lies the reason we ended up where you found us?” Ratchis proposed to the Captain. “We have reason to believe that whoever lives in that house we found endangered not only us, but the humans in the town of Summit.”

“And you did mention traitors,” Martin added.

“No one is allowed-“ one of the gnomes was cut off by a glare from the captain.

“That is none of your concern. You will talk to the interim chief and if he deems it necessary he will tell you what you need to know after you have told him what he wants to know. Until then you will be our guests,” Fistandlus said. “But we have more marching to do tomorrow, so we should all get some rest.”

“Is it much further to your home?” asked Martin.

“No, not far at all,” said the Captain.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #15 (part II)

Ralem, 15th of Syet - 564 H.E.

The next morning the party was blind-folded again and continued their march. The day was blustery and the refreshing warmth of the sun breaking through the clouds and trees was infrequent. The walked on and on, at the slow pace of the previous day. Martin remained in contact with Thomas who was still following their trail.

At what they guessed was midday they stopped to eat, being handed slightly stale bread with slices of cheese on them.

“Is it much further?” asked Martin.

“We are almost there,” said one of the gnomes.

“You mentioned that the interim chief was away, how long will was have to wait for his return?” Kazrack inquired.

“Oh, not long at all,” Captain Fistandlus Ironhammer said.

They got up and marched for another hour, and then were stopped and turned clockwise a few times, and their marching order was readjusted and then they continued.

The sun was so low by the time they were told to halt, that through their blindfolds almost no light came through.
Around them, the party could hear the hushed tones of scores and scores of voices.

“You may remove your blindfolds,” the Captain said.

The party found themselves amid four hills situated in a diamond shape around them. The hills were scored with paths, stairways, doors, passageways and tiny round windows. Snow was deep in many places, but had been carefully cleared from paths and doorways.

But of course, what the party immediately noticed was that these paths and doorways and the greenway they stood on was filled with more gnomes than any of them had ever seen in their entire lives.

“Ah nevah sin sa many gnomes!” Chance said with a gasp.

The gnomes were dressed in woolen clothing died in bright yellows, greens, reds and orange. Many wore knitted long stocking caps and had white mustaches and an occasional beard beneath their prodigious noses.

“Cousins!” the Captain announced. “These are our new guests. They will be staying in our guest quarters with Distil. Please make them feel at home.”

He turned to the party, “Please step forward and introduce yourselves one by one, so that my people may know who you are.”

Martin stepped forward, “I am Martin the Green, Alumnus of the Academy of Wizardry.”

“Hello Martin!” the crowd of gnomes replied friendlily.

“Me name’s Chahnce,” Chance said.

“Hello Chance!” the crowd said, and Chance smiled broadly, filled with a welcome feeling.
Jana, Jeremy and Beorth took their turns, and when Kazrack announced his name the cheering “hello” had a few voices saying so in dwarven littered in the crowd.

Finally, Ratchis stepped forward and said, “I am Ratchis of Nephthys.”

“Oooooooh, It talks,” the gnome community said as one, and then after an awkward pause said, “Hi, Ratchis!”

“Obenhammer, Ashkenbach, take them to the guest quarters and tell your uncle I will come to see him shortly,” the Captain ordered two of his men.

Martin called to Thomas in his mind, “Are you near?”

“Yes, I met some moles. They told me which way to go. Boy, do they talk in a funny accent,” Thomas replied.

The two gnomes led the party up a narrow path that led to an arched doorway in the middle of the right hillside. Beyond the door was a low hallway of bare earth (about 7 feet high), they were led (Obenhammer in front, Ashkenbach in the back) past a bunch of smaller doors that lined the hallway to the left and right, and into a large round area that looked like a combination kitchen and common room.

“Uncle Distil!” Obenhammer called.

A small door opened n the opposite side of this room and out came an older gnome with a long pointy white beard, but nearly bald on the top of his head. He wore gray clothing which was at odds with what most of the other gnomes wore, and his particularly large nose was riddled with swollen blood vessels.

“Uncle Distil, these are new guests that we and Fistle, I mean, Captain Fistandlus brought in when we were looking for … well, you know who we were looking for,” Obenhammer said.

“Thank you, Obie,” Distil said, and then he turned to the party. “Welcome, Welcome! It is good to have more guests. I want you to make yourselves at home. I’ll show you to your rooms, and then while you make yourselves comfortable, I’ll rustle us up some dinner. We don’t have a lot of room, so it will be two to a room, if you don’t mind. My name is Distilbowden by the way.”


He led them back down the hall and the party took rooms. Martin and Ratchis took one room, Ratchis noted that the doors had latches on the outside that looked like they could be used to padlock the doors shut, though there were no locks.

“The bed might be too small for you,” Distil said to Ratchis. “But we can get a bigger bed built for you while you are here.”

“Um,” Martin interrupted. “How long do you expect for us to be here?”

“Oh, not long,” Distil replied.

“Oh, my…uh, friend, a squirrel might come around looking for me. I wanted to make sure he’d be let in and not hurt,” Martin said.

“Oh, you are a friend of the animals? We wouldn’t hurt a squirrel. You can speak his language?” Distil said.

“Kind of,” Martin replied.

Jana and Chance took another room together.

“I am feeling kind of tired,” Chance said through a yawn. He looked at Jana “What about a nap?”

Jana giggled and nodded. They went into their room and closed the door.

Jeremy and Beorth took the last room Distil made available to them.

Their gnomish host turned to Kazrack, I assumed you’d want to bunk up with one of your kinfolk we have as a guest here as well. He stays in a room beyond the common area.

Distil led Kazrack though another door and down a hallway similar to the one where his companions’ rooms were.

He knocked on a room door and a black haired dwarf with a long beard streaked with white answered the door.

“Belear, one of your kin has come to be our guest. I am going to have him stay with you, if that is okay,” said Distil.

Belear nodded silently.

Kazrack had to close him mouth. “Belear Gritchkar?”

"Kazrack Delver. I was expecting you. The runestones told me your name. You have traveled far," Belear said.

“Come in.”

Kazrack entered the room, and Distil left to prepare dinner.

"I am glad to find you at last Father,” Kazrack said solemnly. “Ever since I met your brother, Bardolph Gritchkar (13) I have sought your wisdom. Ever since leaving Verdun I have had a growing sense of being a hammer without an anvil... I have trouble with the group I travel with as well as why I am here in Derome - Delem to begin with. It seems to me that if I follow the ways of our people than I will be betraying my people. I need counsel Wise One."

Belear looked right into Kazrack’s eyes, “This is a grave thing you say, but before I protest I would like to hear why you say this. But I will tell you that at this point you are neither hammer, not anvil - you are but a hot piece of metal, shapeless and ready to be pounded into something for the first time in your life. Or you can avoid the hammer and become but just another piece of slag.”

“While in Verdun I was given the choice of fighting, and possibly dying, in a human war I neither believed in or, in my opinion, was obligated by law to participate in. At the time it seemed I was given the choice of becoming an outlaw or joining a band setting out to slay a dragon terrorizing the countryside. While it was true that the county was ruled by humans who had stolen the land from dwarves I reasoned that slaying the dragon would be the lesser of two evils as the people in the country rarely have anything to do with what their rulers decide. As I traveled through this land I decided that most of these people wouldn't care if they owed allegiance to a Dwarven King or a human one and thus I had even more reason to search for our lost King. So I felt I was doing the right thing clearing the land of a Dragon, helping innocents and making the land a better more stable place for a future Dwarven King to rule. Since then, however, I have encountered these Human kingdoms and if any are good it is only in comparison to the others. I'm not even sure a Dragon exists and since I'm sure there is a Land rightfully owned by Dwarves but instead held by the undead. (14) I am drawn south...And if the Dragon exists I am only making the position of what I view as an usurper more stable and thus more difficult to deal with when our King returns.”

Kazrack took a deep breath.
“Adding to this is the sense that I don't belong in the group I have traveled with until now. One amongst them betrayed us and while I was willing to forgive (thinking it an error in judgment not likely to be made again) I wanted the group as a whole to swear an oath of fealty one to the others. I felt it appropriate thinking codifying ones thoughts would effect later action. I was rebuked harshly by the entire group, which stunned me as I expected resistance only from those I expected needed the help of an Oath. One refused out of fear of a conflict between their God's ways and the oath. I respect this being devote myself, but quite frankly I feel this was only an excuse as most would request the oath be worded to avoid conflict or, as I would, just assume that one's oaths made to one's god or family supersedes any other oath. The others refused saying an oath would be meaningless - which I disagree with - but if they believe it true than they refused to do a small act which would make another happy - something they should have been willing to do for a friend - and if they did believe it to have meaning than they both lied and refused because they feared to be bound by an oath. Why should I travel with a group fearful of swearing to be faithful to each other?”

Belear remained silent.

Kazrack continued, “So I have two compelling reasons not to continue on this present quest but feel that to turn south to deal with the undead lands would be the right thing to do for our people but would be betraying the teachings of Hodenar (15) I know I have rambled... help me Father: how do I stay true to our ways?”
Belear was silent for a long time.

Finally, he spoke, "You think too much. Your thoughts are too much in the future, and even too much in the present, and not in the past - in the history of our people where all wisdom sits."

He sat and invited Kazrack to join him in a stone chair at his side. "I know of no dragon. And if you speak of the land of the Bzontra, once called Elgaard and other names - it lies to the east, not the south – and obviously you know nothing of that Black Land – or else you would not speak of it as if it were a kitchen to be cleaned. As for you companions, I know nothing of them and cannot comment about them specifically - but if one has truly betrayed you then he is not your friend and cannot be trusted – people should be judged on their actions - better an oath unspoken and good actions done, than an oath spoken and broken. Rune-throwers know words should never be spoken lightly, for in them is power. Was it not the mere word of Moradin that stuck against the raw ore of reality like a hammer would and made the world?"

Belear was silent again for a time.

"But all of this is moot. This is not what matters. What matters is your devotion to the gods. Are you ready to prove this? Are you ready to serve your people, or will you allow all these petty things to distract you and serve only yourself?"

“I have acted as I have always with the good of my people in mind and will always continue to do so – I have sought your wisdom to learn how best to do this. And since I respect your wisdom how should I speak of this land to the east? It is a land taken away from it's people and should be freed. I know not how to go about doing so but in time I will learn and then I will act on what I learn.”

Kazrack paused looking for words.

“I recognize the power of an oath which is why I wanted one made. I think words influence action - as proved by Moradin's making of the world - and bad actions are often the result of no forethought. A man with a hot temper is more likely to control his temper if he vows to do so. I feel everyone in my group has good intentions but may act improperly unless they have an oath to remind them. But I see the wisdom you try to give me - I cannot control them but can only control myself. But I need more wisdom to do so - can I learn that from you? It is especially important if you say there is no dragon you know of. I am ready to learn if you are ready to teach.”

Belear stood and let out a long low breath. He turned back towards the younger dwarf, "I am ready to show you how to reach for wisdom. But are you truly ready to learn? I said I know of no dragon. Does that mean there is no dragon? I sense much impatience in you, Kazrack. Now, it is my turn to tell you of oaths. The oath you make in devoting yourself to Moradin and the others of the dwarven pantheon is not one lightly made. Your own desire, your own opinion mean nothing in comparison. They will forever be second to this. Are you ready for this? Forget all other oaths for now. None should matter as much to you as what is immediately before you. Forget all other lands now, all that should matter is the earth beneath your feet."

Kazrack did not hesitate, “I have already sworn to devote my life to the will of the Gods. I am ready to learn from you how best to do that and will swear to it.”

Belear and Kazrack locked wrists and shook in the way of the dwarven tradition.

There was a knock on the door. “Dinner’s ready,” said Distil through the door.

---------

They ate at a low table in the common area.

Another blonde gnome joined them, along with Obenhammer and Ashkenbach.

The new gnome introduced himself as Briandel, “It’s an elvish name.”

The ate in silence for a while, eating the roasted mushrooms dipped in a spicy black sauce, with a bread that was so soft and smooth it didn’t need any butter, and a tasty grain paste. They also had a side of roasted beetles, which not everyone partook of.

After dinner they sipped kafka (16) and Martin posed a question, “How long do you think it will be until the Interim Chieftain is back so we can speak to him? You see I left some kind of important stuff back in Summit, and I need to get it.”

“Oh, he only went off to do some errand or something , very hush, hush, he’ll be back pretty soon,” Distilbowden replied. “What did you leave behind?”

“Uh, my spellbook,” Martin replied, dejectedly.

“Ooh, you are wizard?” Briandel said with great enthusiasm. “What can you do?”

Martin pulled a piece of wool from his pocket and spoke an arcane word with a gesture and a huge butterfly, with a three-foot wingspan and bright yellow wings with blue spots hovered over the table.

“That’s nice, I can make one too,” Briandel said, and with a word and a gesture a similar butterfly hovered beside the first and then roared like a lion.

“Oh, I would like to do that,” Martin said, looking happy for a moment.

“Maybe my brother and I can teach you, and you can teach us some good spells. We’ll talk about it soon, but now it is time to go to the public house,” Briandel said. “You guys coming?”


The party looked to Distil, except for Kazrack who looked to Belear.

“Of course, you are our guests, our home is your home and what is a fine evening without a trip to the public house?” Distil said. “You go ahead. I gotta clean up here and I’ll catch up with you.”

Belear spoke to Kazrack, “Go ahead and enjoy the evening with your companions, it is said ‘warriors that cannot drink together should not kill together’. Tomorrow, your training begins.”

The companions began to file out, but Ratchis hung behind helping Distil dump plates and bowls into a large wash bin.

“I wanted ask you, you keep calling your leader the ‘interim chief’, where is the real chief?”

“Oh, he’s away visiting the elves,” said Distil, matter-of-factly. “Trying to get their help in terms of what to do about the humans.”

“The elves? Which elves?”

“Don’t know.”

“And where is the interim chief?” Ratchis asked,

“No one knows. Off on personal business with his brothers, whatever that is,” Distil replied.

“And you said he will not be gone long, how long is that?” Ratchis continued with his questions.

“Oh not too long at all.”

“Can you give me an estimate?”

“Oh, he’ll be back by the end of winter at the longest, I’m sure. Not more than a blink of time,” Distil said dropping soap flakes in the water.
Ratchis thanked him and jogged out to c
atch up with the others.

-----

The public house was directly across from the door in the hill the party was staying at. It was a one of the few actual buildings in the place, but was still built into the hill side, and had a large wooden patio in front for lounging with one’s drink.

The place had such a low ceiling that Ratchis did not even try to go in. It was thick with gnomes in various states of drunkenness, and many were singing a long complicated fugue-like song in their language that went in rounds. The walls were inset with dozens of casks of beer and ale that were labeled with various runes. There was no barkeep, but only a pile of mugs which anyone could take from and help themselves to any of the varieties available.

Askenbach went in and got a mug of beet for Ratchis, who sat himself down on the cold patio. Jeremy went in and looked confusedly, mug in hand, at all the casks. A young gnome tugged on his sleeve and pointed to a cask way of his own reach.

“That one is really good,” the gnomes said. “Pumpkin ale. Could you get me some? I can’t reach.”

Jeremy helped the gnome and got some of his own and found it to be delicious. He topped his mug off again and went outside to sit with the others.

Kazrack got what the gnomes called a “Black Beer”, and sat near some of the singing gnomes and tried to join in, but could not get the right tone and cadence of the song, and his normally deep rich bass, sounded off-time and out of tune whenever the song came round to his group. The gnomes all stopped and laughed, pointing at the dwarf, good-naturedly.

Kazrack joined the others outside as some gnome drunkenly raised his mug in the air and said, “To our new guests!”

“To our new guests!” all the gnomes cried, and the party smiled and drank. A gnome began tune on a squeeze box and the singing began a new, and suddenly benches, table and chairs were moved out of the center of the public house, and dancing began.

Chance and Jana sat together on one side of the patio and Jeremy came to sit next to them.

Kazrack sat by Ratchis. Martin sat by himself.

“Where’s Beorth?” Ratchis asked.

“He stayed behind to pray and meditate,” the dwarf replied.

Jeremy frowned as Chance and Jana made eyes at each other, but suddenly Chance sat bolt upright and cocked his head. “Duh ya har that?”

Jana got a mischievous, flirty look in her eye and smiled, “Why yes. I think we should do something about that…” She moved to stand and go back to their room.

“I knew you’d understand,” Chance said hopping to his feet and kissing Jana on the forehead and then he ducked his head and ran into the public house. “Don’t wait up for me!”

In a back corner, they could see him joining a game of dice. The gnomes seemed to be playing for small bright gems.

Jeremy laughed and Jana shrugged her shoulders.

A female gnome walked up to them. She had wispy gray hair in a bun and had cute round blushing cheeks.
“Um, excuse me?” the gnome said, coming up to Jana. “But are you a girl-human?”

Jana was a bit taken aback, “Um…yeah.”

“Oh, no disrespect intended. I just never seen one before and I was curious what they’d look like if they were as ugly as human men, but you are kind of pretty, except for the nose thing…”

“Oh, I wouldn’t judge all human women based on her. There are a lot of better looking ones,” added Jeremy.

“Oh, whatever!” Jana said.

“Don’t worry,” the gnome girl said to Jana. “I know some make-up tips that will help extenuate your nose. My name is Gidda. Come find me soon and I’ll show you how.”

Jana smiled.
The party had one more drink, and then Ratchis announced, “Let’s go back to our quarters where we can talk in private. I have something to tell you all.”

So the party went back towards their rooms. Jana tried to signal Chance, but someone had put the dice in his hand and it was as if nothing else existed.

“Leave him to his fun. We can get more accomplished with him there anyway,” said Kazrack.

As the crossed the greenway, Thomas came barreling up Martin’s leg and onto his shoulder.

“Oh, I am so glad to see you, Thomas,” said Martin to the squirrel in his mind. “But you sure did take a long time.”

“Sorry, but I never been on my own in the woods before. It was scary, but kind of fun,” replied Thomas.

“Here is a nut,” Martin fed him a hazelnut.

“The ones I had in the woods were fresher,” Thomas said with a slight hint of disgust.

Without warning, Martin cuffed Thomas across the snout.

Everyone stopped their walked and just looked at Martin. Thomas paused and looked deep into Martin’s eyes and then leapt off his shoulder and disappeared into some nearby trees.

“Thomas! Come back! I’m sorry,” Martin cried aloud and then remembered to think it towards his familiar. “I am just under stress and worried. I didn’t mean it.”

But Thomas did not reply.

The party gathered in Ratchis and Martin’s room, and took spots around the place. Jeremy went and got Beorth. Martin hung his head.

“Well, I thought this would be as good a time to tell you as any. Actually, I have two things to tell you. I have already told Kazrack and Beorth the first one, which is I have reason to believe that the King of Gothanius plans to sell all of us dragon-hunters into slavery.”

Martin’s head came bolt up, “What?”

“That is why I originally agreed to join Crumb and you guys, to see that that would not happen,” Ratchis replied.

“What’s the other thing?” Jeremy asked.

Ratchis told him.

End of Session #15

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

Notes:

(13) Kazrack met Bardolph Gritchkar in Session #10, Part I.

(14) Kazrack is referring to the land of Verdaise, east of the Little Kingdoms and lost to powerful undead over a thousand years ago.

(15) Hodenar is the dwarven god of trade, travel and music.

(16) Kafka is a coffee like beverage made from steeped subterranean mushrooms. It is common to dwarves and gnomes.
 
Last edited:

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #16 (part I)

Ratchis told him.

“3 months!” Jeremy cried.

“At least,” Martin added.

“But they said ‘not long’” Kazrack said.

“I guess when you live as long as a gnome that isn’t long,” observed Jana.

“I live a long time,” said Kazrack.

“Gnomes live longer,” Beorth said.

“Are you sure?”

“If there is one thing I know, it is when things die,” Beorth said, his face deadpan.

“I think we need to return to Ratchis’ first point,” Martin said. “Which is, how do you know the King of Gothanius plans to sell us into slavery?”

“Well, I don’t know for certain, but I overheard some slavers I was tracking talk about it. They mentioned caravans of young men being brought to Gothanius to fight a dragon, but that they’d end up as slave. That is why I joined the group,” Ratchis explained.

“Then why the ruse?” Martin asked. “Why actually send them out to fight the dragon?”

“Fodder,” said Kazrack. “He probably thought he’d get the dragon problem taken care of and get some slaves at the same time and not have to pay anyone.”

“We have to get out of here,” Jeremy said. “I am not going to spend three months with these gnomes.”

“Well, I will be training in my religious studies with Belear and that may take quite some time,” Kazrack said. “I do not plan to leave before then unless Belear does. However, while we are here we can find out as much as possible about the area, Gothanius and the dragon. Perhaps we can talk to whomever the interim-Interim Chief is.”

There was a knocking at the door and it opened. Distil stood there.

“Time for Last Meal,” he said cheerfully.

“You mean the last meal of the day?” Martin inquired.

“Yeah, the fifth meal before you go to sleep. Anybody want some warm milk and muffins?”

The group sat around the table once again. The muffins were soft and delicious, with large chunks of walnut in them. Ratchis shoved to whole into his mouth and Chance (who had just stumbled in drunk) cleared his throat.
“Oh, you must really like those,” Distil said to Ratchis. “I’ll remember to make more tomorrow.”

At that moment there was a loud crashing sound at the door to the first room off the hallway the party was staying in.

Bang!

Bang!

Something or someone was slamming against the door from the other side arhythmically.

“Looks like our other guest is getting restless again,” Distil commented, clucking his tongue.

“Does your guest w ant to come eat with us?” Martin asked.

“We don’t know if it actually eats,’ Distil said. “It doesn’t really have much of a mouth as far as we can tell.”

“It?”

“Yes, I’ll let it out, but I have to warn you, it is not exactly a pretty thing,” Distil said, walking over to the door that still continued to bang.

The old gnome opened the door and jumped back. What looked like a long thin leg of some kind stepped out cautiously, and then suddenly it rushed out.

Everyone gasped.

Out of the room and down the hall into the common room came the strangest creature any of them had ever seen in their entire lives.

“Whut en da Nine `ells is at?” Chance cried.

The thing was about four feet tall. It was a four-sided pyramid of pure flesh. In the middle of each of the upper faces of the pyramid it had a spindly arm and a spindly leg, a single large eyes and what looked like some strange bill of some kind. The elbows on the arms looked like the bent in a 180 degree angle, and its hands were fingerless. And it made a sound like a stuck gear or a strangled goose or both.

“Haaaaahnt! Hoornt!” It said as it walked towards the table. It stopped by Jana and turned its body to look at her with another eyes. It was a large blue unblinking eye. She shivered.

“Haaaaahnt! Hoornt!”

“What is it?” Jeremy asked Distil as he walked back into the room.

“We don’t know. It just showed up in our territory one day,” Distil explained. “It will kind of follow you around, or go where you say if you push it hard enough. It tends to go in one direction until it can’t any more.”

And then as if to prove Distil’s point, the creature walked straight in the wall, its legs still moving futilely for a moment until it turned and then turn again walking back towards the table. It then stopped and laid the bottom part of its body on floor, tucking its legs upward.

“Is that some kind of talk?” Kazrack asked. “The noise it makes?”

“We think so,” Distil said. “When the master illusionist, Creedadal was here he cast a spell that allowed him to understand what it said, but it only said one thing over and over, Hurgun’s Maze.”

“Hurgun? Who’s that?” Martin asked.

“The Stone Wizard…” Distil said incredulously. “Where are you from?”

“Thricia,” said Martin.

“Don’t teach about important people in Thricia?”

“I guess not,” Martin said, sounding a bit offended.

“Haaaaahnt! Hoornt!” The creatire stood up again, putting all eyes on it again. It walked over to Beorth who handed it a spoon. It took the spoon squatted down and started trying to dig into the earthen floor with it. Everyone was enraptured by watching this creature use the spoon for such task. Even as the metal spoon, bent and failed to break the earth, the creature continued attempting to dig with it for a few moments. It then stopped, stood again and passed the spoon back to Beorth.

“Fascinating,” said Martin. “I would like a chance to work with him some and see if I can figure out a way to communicate with it.

“Sure, another time, though. Come on little fellow,” Distil said to the creature, walking around it to push it back towards its room. “We only keep it locked up for its own good, because it not it will hurt itself banging into things, or grabbing stuff. We let it out occasionally to stretch its legs when it gets restless.”

Distil was gone for a moment and then walked past the table towards the sideboard. Martin looked up and saw Thomas riding Ditsil’s shoulder.

“Thomas!” Martin called in his mind.

The squirrel turned and looked at him with a stern glare. He turned back as Distil fed him some nuts.

“I guess this is your squirrel friend,” Distil said to Martin. “I always feed squirrels nuts. Squirrels are our friends.”

“Thomas, would you like a piece of muffin?” Martin called to Thomas.

“Does it have nuts in it?” Thomas asked.

“Yes, it does.”

“Ummmm…okay,” Thomas leapt onto the table and over to Martin who gave him some muffin.

“I’m sorry I hit you,” Martin said, rubbing the squirrel under the chin.

“If you do that again I’ll have to report you to the familiar’s guild,” Thomas said.

“That’s fair,” Martin replied, wondering if there was any such thing.

Kazrack addressed Distil, “I was wondering if there was an interim Interim Chief we might talk to.”

“Well, that would be a silly title for someone, don’t you think?” Distil said with a smile. “The Interim Chief will be back soon enough. He has the authority to decide what there is to be decided. But as for myself I am deciding to go to bed.”

Jana was shaking Chance awake, as he had passed out with his head on the table. She helped him up and over to their room.

“Ahve got a present fer ya, Jana” Chance mumbled.

When they got into their room, he pulled a lovely pendant with a large sapphire on a silver chain from his pocket and put it around her neck.

“Ah got that fer ya,” Chance said.

“Thank you, Chance. It is very lovely,” Jana replied with a smile. She leaned forward for a kiss, but Chance was already crawling into bed, moaning about how the room had suddenly started moving.

Beorth and Jeremy also went to bed, their muscles aching from the day’s long march, but Kazrack and Ratchis slipped into the latter’s room to talk privately, leaving Martin alone in the common room. The Watch-Mage fell asleep on a comfy chair with Thomas on his stomach.

Meanwhile in the room,

“So what are your intentions in terms of the group?” Ratchis asked the dwarf.

“Well, since you have refused my friendship, I look upon you as partners. So I’ll treat you as I would treat a good partner: With respect, but little else,” Kazrack said.

“You are being ridiculous,” Ratchis said. “I have never refused my friendship to you. Nephthys is, in part, goddess of friendship But I saw no need to change my ways because you felt that getting some promise was more important than our friendship.”

“I didn’t see the need for you to change. I mean, I saw the oath as an instrument of change, but not for you specifically.”

“It is beyond my small brain to understand how this could be of such significance to you,” Ratchis said. “Unless in Verdun, such words have such significance.”

“An oath should have significance,” said Kazrack. “And someone who has no fear of breaking it or betraying his friends should have any reservations about making the oath.

“Well, I have to live by my own principles, and I will continue to let my actions speak for themselves,” Ratchis insisted. “And I don’t believe that an oath will change people’s behavior. Do you think Jeremy would not have gone into the inn’s basement if he had sworn the oath?”

“No, that has nothing to do with the oath; that was just Jeremy’s mind being too nimble for his own good,” Kazrack said.

“Well, I think you would be better served to simply judge our group by their actions,” Ratchis said. “I need to get some sleep. We’ll talk about it more another time.”

Kazrack went back to the room he shared with Belear, while Martin woke with a start hours later and stumbled to the room he shared with Ratchis.


Isilem, 16th of Syet – 564 H.E.

Morning came with a bell ringing in the common room, but Kazrack was already awake, on his knees his forehead pressed to his prayer stone. He would not be allowed to leave that position all day, as Belear surrounded him with burning blocks of incense.

The others came bleary eyed into the common area where Distil was cooking up flapjacks, and a whole stack of sausage lay on a plate on the table. A young gnome, with a full head of blonde hair and a big bright smile, was setting the table.

“Good morning,” he said cheerfully.

“That is my nephew, Cornelius,” Distil said.

The party took their spots around the table (except for Kazrack who was praying and Chance who felt too sick to get out of bed) and started in on the food.

In a few moments, two more gnomes came in. It was Briandel and a gnome dressed just like him, who looked just like him,

“This is my brother, Socher,” Briandel said.

“Yeah, I have a real gnomish name, not like his faerie name,” Socher said with an evil grin.

Briandel hit his brother with his hat, and then both burst into giggles. The joined the others at the table, eating heartily.

A few moments later Obenhammer came in, and joined them as well.

“I already had first meal (17), but I can nosh on a little something,” he said, wrapping up some sausage in a flapjack and dipping it into a bowl of syrup.

“I was thinking we can trade a spell or two today,” Briandel said to Martin.

“What kind of spells do you have?” Socher asked.

“Well, as I said last night, I am a student of the school of illusion magic, but unfortunately I appear to have left my spellbooks behind,” Martin replied.

“Oh, you should never do that,” Distil said, pouring himself some Kafka.

“Perhaps there is a way you can help me get a replacement while I am here,” Martin said looking at the gnomish twins.

The two gnomes looked at each other and finally Briandel said, “After First Meal , we’ll take you up to Creedadal’s laboratory. We can talk about it there.”

“Who is Creedadal?” Martin asked.

“The Master Illusionist,” said Briandel.

“He can do things that would drive you mad,’ said Socher in a mockingly creepy voice. “Like make you nightmares comes true and haunt you for the rest of your life.”

“Oh, I’m not sure I’d want to learn that one,” Martin said.

So after the meal, Martin went up to a series of chambers way up in one of the other hills, which required ladders to climb from room to room.

While this was happening, Ratchis spent the morning in deep meditation, praying to Nephthys for guidance, and Beorth and Jeremy went with Obenhammer for a tour of the community from, as he was off-duty that day. Jana spend the morning, caring for Chance.

“Obenhammer, how many gnomes live here?” Beorth asked.

“You can call me Obie,” the gnome replied

“You’re damn right I will,” said Jeremy.

“Huh?” said Obenhammer.

“Nuthin’” replied Jeremy. “Where are the gardens?”

“It’s winter… but I can take you to the moss and mold growing chambers if you want to see those,” Obenhammer replied, happily.

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

“So Briandel and I talked it over quickly and we’ve decided that we’ll help you get a new spellbook, if you help us,” Socher said.

”Wow! That’d be great. What can I do?” Martin asked.

“Well, you can help keep the lab clean. Organize and label material components and maybe scribe a scroll or two for use once you do get some spells scribed in you new book out of those you still have prepared,” Briandel said.

“That sounds fair,” said Martin.

“Yeah, normally Creedadal would make this decision, but he left me in charge,” said Briandel.

“No, he left me in charge,” Socher protested.

“No, me!”

“You wish!”

They suddenly fell into a lengthy argument in their own tongue. After about 20 minutes without their seeming to take a breath, Martin began wandering about the lab looking at jars of components. They seemed to be labeled in three languages.

After another half-hour, the two gnomes stopped arguing.

“Well, we’ve decided that we’ll alternate days for being in charge,” Briandel said.

“So, which of you is in charge today?” Martin asked.

“I am,” said Briandel

“No, I am!” said Socher.

And they fell to arguing again.

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

Meanwhile, Obenhammer had brought Beorth and Jeremy to the community smithy. Dozens of gnomes labored in leather aprons crafting metal goods of all kinds, from armor to farming implements, to wheels and cogs to weapons.

“We make all the metal good our community needs right here,” Obenhammer said, and then waved over a gnome in goggles with long wavy black hair and a long burn scar on his nose. “This is Migdol, the head smith.”

“Well met,” Migdol said. “Enjoying your stay?”

“Pfft,” was Jeremy’s only answer.

“Oh yes,” replied Beorth stepping in front of Jeremy and stretching out a hand to shake Migdol’s.
Migdol just looked at his hand funny. Beorth took his hand back.

“So you make armor and weapons here?” Beorth asked.

“Yes, we are stocking up on such items for certain possible eventualities,” said Migdol. “Maybe if you are here long enough we can make you a nice suit of something.”

“Oh, that’d be great!” replied Beorth.

“Oh, I don’t think they’re skilled enough to make one in your size,” said Jeremy scoffed.

“What?!” Migdol cried. “I can make armor in any size!”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah!”

“Let’s see you do it then!”

“Fine!” Migdol called over two young gnomes who began measuring both Jeremy and Beorth for armor.
“You want a helmet?” Migdol asked Jeremy. “Let me get Herschel. Herschel! Herschel is in charge if making helmets and nose-guards, not that you have much of a nose.”

“Well, it is not as nice and shapely as yours,” Beorth said.

“Why thank you!”

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

Everyone was gathered back together for the midday meal, except for Kazrack who still had his head against his prayer stone.

The afternoon waned and evening fell, and some of the party went back to the public house, including Chance who was feeling much better.

It seemed they were settling in for what might be a long stay.


Osilem, 17th of of Syet – 564 H.E.

It was morning again. Another early meal, and the sound of busy gnomes passing by outside, or poking their head in to say hello.

Beorth followed Ratchis’ lead and spent his day in deep meditation, exercising his faith for Anubis. Ratchis did the same as he had done the day before, though in the afternoon he asked Distilbowden if there was perhaps some task or job he could help the gnomes with, and the elder gnome promised to find something for him.
Martin found his way to the quarters that Socher and Briandel shared and from there they went to Crededal’s lab and he began his chores. In the afternoon, he practiced illusions with Socher, while Briandel bound his new spellbook.

Kazrack spent the morning on his hands and knees on the snowy ground, while Belear watched him from a top a large stone. He was looking for the flat slate-like rock that would become the foundation for his runestones – they holy emblem and tool of the priesthood of the dwarven gods. The majority of his training would be focused on crafting these runestones – learning the letters of the xoth. (18)

Jana spied Kazrack just as he solemnly selected the stone he sought. She had spend the day wandering as far around the perimeter of the gnomish community; testing the bounds. No one stopped her, though those that saw her waved. One gnomish soldier told her that it wasn’t safe for her to wander so far, and later she saw him watching her from a distance, so she returned to her quarters.

Chance was just waking up when she returned. She noticed he was getting dressed, but had no socks or shoes.

“Oh hey,” he said weakly as she came in.

“Did you lose your shoes?” Jana asked him.

“Ah bet `em… annah larst” He looked up with a sad face. “Can I borrow that necklace I gave you?”

“Sure,” Jana said without thinking twice.

“I promise I’ll give it back,” Chance said.

“I know you will,” she said, and they fell into each others arms.

An hour later, Chance slipped the necklace off her neck as Jana slept and went off to get his shoes back.

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

Immediately after First Meal, an armored gnome arrived, asking for Jeremy.

“Um, I’m Jeremy,” the Neergaardian said,

“Okay, come on, you are supposed to come with me,” the gnome, whose name was Hatzel said. “We are going to need your help with drills and sparring today.”

“So you want me to teach the gnomes?” Jeremy asked as they left for the armory where he could pick up his gear.

“Not exactly,” Hatzel said. “We want to use you as sort of an example.”

“Like how to fight big folks?” Jeremy asked, being shown where his chain shirt and his short sword were.

“Exactly.”

At supper everyone gathered together in the common area to eat. They were joined by Obenhammer, Hatzel, and Cornelius. Jeremy was sore from the practice he “helped” with, and had to sit on a pillow. The game of gnomish tag (19) that they ended the drills with hadn’t helped either.

Before they knew it, another evening was spent in the pub (except Kazrack and Beorth) and another day was gone.


Tholem, 18th of of Syet – 564 H.E.

And another day came and passed much quicker than they thought days could pass.

Chance was not seen all day. Jeremy went out to help Hatzel with some other task and ended up watching gnomish children in the nursery. Martin started the long process of transcribing his prepared spells into his new spellbook, after doing more chores, which included equally distributing an amount of ectoplasm of a troll’s ghost from one large to several smaller containers. Jana wandered out in the nearly by stony hilltops and the forest, looking for a deserted spot. Ratchis continued with his absolutions in the morning and helped lugging stones out of the mine in the afternoon.

Kazrack continued with his priestly study, and began carving his first runestone.

Beorth spent the day much as Ratchis did, but in the evening he tried to tell a tale in the public house as a form of payment for the armor the gnomes were making him, but the gnomes all agreed afterward that he should avoid telling stories in the future.

“Let me tell the story of the 13 Tzaedikil,” Migdol said. (20)

And the day ended.
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And two days turned into a week…

Kazrack continued diligently with his runestones. The others continued with their tasks and pursuits. Jeremy came to like working in the nursery, and Martin joined in readily with Socher and Briandel’s playful fights. Snow began to fall heavily, and entire days were spent indoors, and when it cleared up the gnomes employed Ratchis’ strength to clear paths.

Chance would disappear for three days at a time, sometimes returning clad in jewels and with many gifts for Jana; other times, shivering, coatless and shoeless.

Beorth spent most of his time to himself, and sometimes would go an entire day without eating or speaking.
And every night there was the tradition of the public house.

However, despite how comfortable the party became, they still felt some anxiousness, and wondered when and if they could leave.
Jeremy began to ask Distil everyday when the Interim Chieftain would be back and Distil said the same thing,
“Soon enough.”

Then he began to ask that the party be allowed to speak to Captain Fistandlus Ironhammer, after Kazrack at dinner got Distil to admit that if there was an emergency while the Interim Chieftain was away that everyone would do what Captain Fistandlus said to do.

“So he is the leader,” Kazrack had said.

“No, he’s just the one who would know what to do if there was an emergency,” Distil replied.

“So he is next in command?” Kazrack insisted.

“No, he’s just smart, and everyone respects him,” replied Distil.

Finally one day when Jeremy asked for what seemed like the hundredth time, Distil said, “I have had word sent to him. He is out on extended patrol, but should not be back faster than you’d think.”

And so the party waited, and one day while Kazrack was repeating the Twelve Blessing of the Work Day, Belear cocked his head.

“Continue,” he told Kazrack. “I have to check something.”

He walked out of the room, closing the door behind him and down the hall to the common area. The place was silent. Distil was not around, and all of Kazrack’s companions were off doing one thing or another, and then he heard it again. It came clearly from Jana’s room – The screech of a fiendish and unholy beast!

Belear pounded on the door to Jana’s room. He could smell something like brimstone wafting out from under the door, and heard a shuffling inside and another low inhuman sound like metal being scraped against stone or bones, but in the cadence of a voice.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Notes:

(17) Much like halflings, gnomes have five meals a day. First Meal, Midday Meal, Tea, Supper and Last Meal.

(18) Xoth is the ancient dwarven language first taught by to the dwarven people by the god Lehrathonar. It is only used by rune-throwers now and is well-guarded secret.

(19) Gnomish Tag is a game that incorporates elements of tag, hide and go seek, and Johnny Ride the Pony. Actually, tagging someone involves tripping them, forcing them down by sheer numbers or leaping over them somehow and slapping them on the head.

(20) This gnomish legend speaks of There is a legend common to all gnomish communities about the 13 Tzaedikil. These gnomes are said to be chosen by Fezzik Istvan himself. They are said to be exemplar’s of good and gnomish behavior – kind, helpful, full of good cheer, never angry. There is no way to tell if a gnome is one of tzaedekil, but gnomes always treat each other kindly because you never know who might be one and to mistreat him would be to make Fezzik angry. Each time a Tzaedikil dies, another is born or chosen (or however it happens – the legends vary on this point), but they are always peaceful and it is said a tzaedikil would rather die than lift his hand to kill another living thing.
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #16 (part II)

“Open the door,” Belear said through the door. “What are you doing in there?”

“Don’t come through that door!” Jana cried.

A moment later (after Belear banged some more), Jana opened the door. She looked flush and the scent of sulfur surrounded her.

“What were you doing in there?” Belear demanded.

“And it became your business what I do when?” Jana replied in her best snotty tone.

“I heard the cry of fiend from in here,” Belear said.

“You heard no such thing,” Jana said, her regularly practiced frown curling into a smile at the edges.

“And what is that smell of sulfur then, girl?” Belear said. He cocked his head to look around the young witch. “And what is that!”

The old dwarf pointed to a circle drawn in blood on the ground, a piece of bone discarded beside it and what looked like the skull of some animal in the center of the circle.

“None of your business,” Jana replied. “Please leave.”

“Very well,” Belear said in his deep voice. “But understand that I am watching you.”

Jana slammed the door.

-----

Much later, as Kazrack finished a rune stone, Belear spoke to him.

“Kazrack, tell me of the one name Jana,” the priest said.

“Whenever someone was in danger, she would be the first to suggest not helping, but when we agreed to help, she would risk her life with the rest of us. This is a contradiction I have not yet resolved,” Kazrack replied.

“I think she is involved in something that is a danger to herself and all those around her,” Belear said. “There was a circle in her room and the smell of brimstone.”

“Oh, she controls demons,” Kazrack said casually.

“What?!”

“Yeah, she controls demons,” Kazrack repeated.

“You mean you know she summons demons?” Belear said incredulously.

“Shouldn’t they be controlled? I mean, they shouldn’t be let to go running around loose,” Kazrack said naively.

“She is summoning them first,’ Belear explained. “Who knows what kind of foul tasks she is having them accomplish!”

“Oh,” Kazrack said, finally truly understanding.

“This has to be told to the others, and to the gnomes,” Belear said.

“I agree,” said Kazrack. “Belear, I wanted to ask you about something else.”

“Go ahead.”

“We helped free this town of a curse of undead, but while doing it found this amulet that seems evil and cursed. We could not destroy it by strength. I was hoping you could look at it and tell me what you think?”

“I will look,” said Belear.

Later, Kazrack fetched Beorth and the Ghost-hunter of Anubis showed the old dwarf the amulet he had been carrying since back in Stonebridge.

Belear laid the amulet down on a table, spoke some words and let a handful of runestones scatter about the object. He examined the stones and then spoke, “Yes, this thing is evil. It comes off of it in waves.”

“I never thought to check for that,” said Beorth glumly. “How can we destroy it? Ratchis tried to smash it, but even his great strength failed.”

“An item of this power, has several ways it might be destroyed. For example, the fire of a dragon, the faith of a powerful priest, or being dropped into the Bottomless Pit of Derome-Delem,” Belear said. “Unfortunately, it is beyond my power to destroy. It seems that you may need to carry this burden longer.”

“The way of the Gods is revealed with patience,” said Beorth.

“You speak as a dwarf would,’ Belear said, with the first smile either Beorth or Kazrack had seen the old dwarf give. “Kazrack, this is a good companion. I can sense much stonish wisdom in him.”

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

At supper that evening the pyramidal-creature was let out of its room by Distilbowden again.

“Haaaaahnt! Hoornt!”

“You know it only makes two sounds,” Martin observed. “It could be a clue to its language. It could be similar to the samples of gnomish written language I have seen, only two symbols.”

“I wouldn’t know,” said Distil “I’m illiterate.”

“I’m learning my letters,” said Cornelius happily.

“Haaaaahnt! Hoornt!”

“Why don’t we take it outside and give it a shovel?” Kazrack said.

“Because the gnomes need big holes in the ground?” Ratchis said.

“To clear snow,” Kazrack said exasperated.

“He’d be good for digging graves,” said Jeremy.

“That’s morbid,” said Martin.

“Well, it’s true,” said Beorth.

“Haaaaahnt! Hoornt!”

“Martin,” Belear suddenly said, and the table was quiet. The old dwarf had never addressed any of them at dinner before. “Do you make circles in your own blood in your room?”

Martin paused and shot a confused looked at everyone else.

“No, that would be witchcraft,” Suddenly, Martin’s eyes widened and he looked over at Jana.

“Here we go again,” the young witch said with a sigh.

“Earlier today Jana summoned some fiendish creature. I heard it and smelled and saw the circle of summoning in blood on the ground, and notice the bandage on her hand,” Belear said.

“I told you before that is none of your business,” said Jana.

“If you are summoning creatures against their will to do your won, then it is my business,” Ratchis said coldly.

“I was not .summoning. I was merely contacting a token,” Jana explained.

“What is a token?” Kazrack asked.

“Remember the goblin shaman we fought when we first got to Derome-Delem? I took it from him. It is how those of my kind learn spells. Each token has a creature from another world that is bound to it,” Jana explained.

“Against their will?’ Ratchis asked.

“I do not know,” Jana replied.

“Nor do you care,” said Ratchis.

Jana merely shrugged her shoulders.

“Beorth,” Martin addressed the bald paladin. “Earlier when you told me about the pendant and what Belear told you mentioned being able to tell if something is evil. Can you do that to this token?”

“Yes, I can,” said Beorth.

“Perhaps you should,” Martin said.

“Perhaps I’d better,” Beorth added. “Jana would I be able to tell if the token was evil?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why are you summoning things you know little about?” Jeremy asked Jana. “You don’t seem to know very much about this, maybe you should give it up.”

“Why dunya give the garl ah break?” Chance said. “She’s never dun anything ta mick us thank she’s uh dann-ger ta us.”

“I cannot travel or work with someone who binds being against their will whether they be good or evil. Nephthys will not tolerate it and nor will I!” Ratchis said, his anger very evident. “It is akin to slavery.”

“I am sorry. I did not mean to be a destabilizing influence on your group,” said Belear. “I will adjourn to bed and allow you to sort this out on your own.”

The dwarf stood to go to bed and everyone watched him, but Chance who leaned in close to Jana and whispered, “But… you yourself are not a demon, right?”

“No, Chance,” Jana replied.

“Whew! Good,” Chance said, and then he suddenly stood speaking in a louder voice. “Time to be off. Got a game of Bartich Balls to bet on.” And with that he left. (21)

Ratchis stood as well. “I’m sorry, but I will not violate my own principles and those of my goddess. I want evidence that such a thing is both not evil and not a form or charm or slavery.”

“And who’s going to give it to you?” Jana said smarmily.

Ratchis grunted and walked off to his room.

“What if you summon it in front of us?” Kazrack proposed. “That way we could all see and undertand for ourselves?”

“No way I am doing that!” Jana protested. “I cannot risk that one of you might do something stupid.”

“What would happen?” Kazrack asked.

“Don’t worry about it. I am just not letting that happen,” Jana insisted.

“What if only one person was there with you and promised to not do anything, except listen to you instructions (if any) very carefully and to not interfere in the summoning,” Martin suggested.

“It is not a summoning, really,” Jana said.

“What about Beorth? Would you allow Beorth to come observe?” Martin said.

“Hmmm,” Jana mused. “Okay, but it can’t be until tomorrow.” (22)

“Beorth is that okay with you?” Martin asked the paladin.

“Yes, I’d be happy to represent the rest of the group,” Beorth said.

“And report back to us,” Kazrack said.

“Of course,” Beorth said. “I will give you a detailed account of what I observe.”


Osilem, the 24th of Syet – 564 H.E.

The next day began as all the others had, with First Meal, and then Jeremy going out to help take care of the young gnomes in the nursery. Kazrack continued with his training with Belear. Martin went to go help Socher and Briandel and finally learn a new spell from them, and Chance did not return even after the sun had come up. Ratchis began his first of what would be seven days of fasting and self-mutilation in an attempt to summon a vision from his goddess.

Beorth and Jana went to the room she shared with Chance after the first meal.

“Okay,” she told Beorth. “I want you to sit quietly in that corner and don’t say a word no matter what. And no matter what happens, do not approach the circle, address the creature or distract me. Okay?”

Beorth nodded.

Jana removed a piece of bone from her bag and placed it on the ground in front of her as she got down on her knees. She then pulled out her knife and cut her palm, squeezing it into a fist to make the blood flow faster, then dipping the bone into the blood, she traced a circle about four feet in diameter. She withdrew the baby wolf’s skull from her bag and placed it in the center of the circle and began her chant.

It was low and long, and became faster and louder. Suddenly smoke began to billow out from the skull’s eye sockets and mouth. The inside of the circle became obscured, but even though Beorth could smell the noxious odor coming out of the token, the smoke itself did not seem to leave the circle.

There was a sudden flash of movement in the smoke, and it dissipated a bit, lowering down to reveal a creature that made even the usually stoic paladin shudder.
What was standing with in the circle of blood was a skeletal creature nearly nine feet tall. It had decaying skin for a face, stretched taut on an oblong and inhuman skull. It was crouched to avoid the ceiling, and it had a tail curled up over its head with a cruel bony barb on the end.

It let out a horrific screech that could not be described to any who has never heard it. It could only be described as infernal. It’s head swung around wildly taking in its surroundings. The room seemed darker and colder to Beorth. Jana never flinched. Her gaze was directly on the creature’s face and nowhere else.

“You called us again, mortal girl,” It said, its voice was a sound like bones in being split by a butcher. “So frightened of us were you the first time that you sent me away quick, my delicious morsel? Do you not know that it does not do you well to anger one of my kind? Being summoned makes us hungry.”

“Your hunger is not what I summoned you to talk about,” Jana said steadily.

“Oh, you plan to sate us with that tender morsel we see in the corner?” The creature craned its head towards Beorth. It smacked its chops disgustingly. “Bring it closer to us, mortal-girl. We want to smell its fear better before we devour it. It looks pale and lovely. Delicious.”

“No one is being eaten today,” Jana said again.

“Let it speak to us itself. Let it say it does not want the pleasure of being devoured,” the creature insisted.

“No,” Jana said angrily, and the creature stopped its swaying and looked directly at her.

“You seem less scared of us than you did of whatever was at that door the fist time, sweetness,” the creature leaned way forward to meet Jana’s gaze at equal level. “Break the circle and we will take care of whatever bothers you. Free us and we will owe a great debt.”

“You will not be freed and you will not be fed,” Jana said. “You will do what you have been brought here to do and that alone. Tell me what you have to teach me.”

“Oh, we could teach you many things,” It straightened up again and it’s bones crackled with the motion. “We could teach you how to suckle the black sorrow from the breast of a new mother who has had her child murdered by its father. Ooooh, delicious.”

“No, you know what it is I want,” Jana said. “Spells. Magic.”

“You are mortal aren’t you?” Not appreciated the more delicate horrors of your plane and mine,” It crouched again, its tail swishing back and forth.”

Jana and the creature discussed several spells it might teach her for a few minutes, while Beorth listened.

“Or we can offer you a piece of information,” The creature’s face twisted into its version of a smile. “Something that you might want to find out before we find out.”

“What kind of information?” Jana asked.

“Oh, we hear things in the nether-regions, rumors, legends, news – Perhaps a piece of it would be interesting to you and yours. All you need do is free us.”

“I will not free you,” Jana replied.

It shrieked again in anger. “If not free in your world, then destroy the token and free us in ours. Do you know what it is like to serve a hundred generations of imaginationless goblin scum, lower than larvae they are. We long to roam our home freely without fear of being called back here.”

“I will consider what you have offered me,” Jana said and with that she waved a hand and dismissed the creature.
Beorth breathed for the first time since the thing had appeared.

“So?” Jana asked, breathless herself. “What will you tell the others?”

“I don’t know yet,” Beorth said, and returned to his room to meditate on what he had seen.

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

At lunch everyone (except Chance) gathered in the common area. Ratchis walked in, but sat in a chair away from the food and refused to eat.

“So, Beorth, what do you have to report?” Martin asked.

“Well, the creature she summoned… it was a ghastly creature,” the paladin said.

“Some of our own group aren’t all that attractive, but they’re good people. The question is: was it evil?’

“It was a tortured soul,” Beorth said.

“What does that mean?” Kazrack asked.

“Is it evil?” Ratchis asked.

“From all appearances, I would say… Yes.”

“So, this thing is basically your prisoner?” Ratchis said, turning to Jana.

“No, he is just bound to the token,” Jana said.

“So he doesn’t have to come if summoned?” Ratchis said.

“Well, some of them fight harder than others to not be summoned,” Jana explained.

Ratchis grunted.

“I don’t think any of the creatures I have bound to tokens can be called exactly innocent,” Jana said.

“How many of these token things do you have?” Jeremy asked.

“Some number,” Jana snapped. “Why do you care?”

“I cannot abide the enslavement of any being!” Ratchis roared. “My goddess does not give me the luxury of traveling with slavers. I do not differentiate between these beings and human life, gnomish life or orcish life. It cannot be tolerated. I will not tolerate it! Getting up from his chair, Ratchis grabbed a fork off the table and went to his room, slamming the door.

“Jana?” Kazrack said quietly after a moment. “Can you learn magic from Martin?”

“No.”

“Do you mean it’s impossible, or that you just don’t want to do it?”

“Are you suggesting that I renounce my ‘evil, witchy ways’ and start learning magic anew?” Jana asked, spewing sarcasm.

“Yes,” replied Kazrack.

“You are deluding yourself,” said Jana, folding her arms across her chest.

Kazrack stood and walked over to Ratchis’ room.

He found the Friar of Nephthys bending the tines of the fork back and forth to break them off, and then sharpening them.

“Is that a weapon?” Kazrack asked.

“Of course not, it is an instrument of cleansing,” Ratchis replied.

“How does it cleanse you?”

“Pain is a method I will use to prepare for my prayers,” and with that he pierced his left eyebrow with the sharpened bit of metal.

Kazrack winced, “Do you need help?”

“I need to do the preparations alone,” Ratchis said.

So Kazrack returned to his training, and Martin spent the afternoon practicing illusions with Socher and Briandel – That night the Watch-Mage slept on the floor in Beorth and Jeremy’s room, as he did not want to disturb Ratchis’ personal ceremony.

Tholem, the 25th of Syet – 564 H.E.

The next day Captain Fistandlus came to see them.

The party gathered sullenly, their foul moods evident on their faces. Chance had finally returned, but was sleeping.

“Distilbowden sent me a message that you wanted to speak to me,” Fistandlus said with less of a cheery air than the party had become used to in dealing with the gnomes.

“We want to know about the Interim Chief,” said Kazrack. “When is he coming and when can we leave. We cannot stay here all winter.”

“You are our guests,” the captain said. “Are you not comfortable? Are we not good hosts? Why this impatience? What are a few months spent somewhere warm with kind people?”

“We have other places to be. Things to do, the dragon for insistence,” said Jeremy.

“Dragons are a thousand years old if they are a day, what will one more winter matter?” the captain said. Then he sighed and sipped the kafka Distil had brought him. “Look, the truth is that the rules state you cannot be dismissed until the Chieftain or the Interim Chieftain get to ask you questions. I don’t know if I’d try to stop you from leaving, but you really don’t have much of a choice. The winter is hitting pretty hard out there and you’d never find your way back. In fact, as I came back from patrol not long ago I saw a big storm coming down from the northwest. You might as well stay comfortable. The Interim Chief will be back soon enough. I know you’re human, but show some patience.”

“I am not human,” Kazrack said.

Captain Fistandlus Ironhammer shook his head and spoke again, “I have the defense of this place and my people to worry about. I have to go. I hope you are enjoying your stay and tell Distil if you are wont for anything.”
The Captain left and everyone went back to whatever was they were doing to pass the time.

Teflem, the 27th of Syet – 564 H.E.

Ratchis did not eat the next two days, and followed the piercing of his eyebrow with that of his opposite one and then the right nipple, and then he cut open old scars on his arms and let the blood run fresh. He felt light-headed when he stood and would see or talk to no one.

Jana called Beorth to her room; Chance had disappeared the night before and was still not back.

“I am going to summon the token creature again,” Jana said to him. “I want you present again as a witness that I intend to use this thing for good and not for evil.

Beorth simply nodded.

Closed in her room, Jana began the ceremony again. She drew the circle in her blood, her hand now red and raw from all the times she had done it and began her chant.

There was a longer pause this time, and for a second Beorth thought perhaps that she had failed, but suddenly the acrid smoke billowed from the wolf skull a second time and in it appeared the fiendish creature. Again is bellowed a chilling cry, and seemed enraged, rocking back and forth in the tiny confines of the summoning circle.

“You summon us again, mortal-morsel,” the creature said, the cadence of its voice like an arrhythmic axe chopping wood. It looked around and settled its gaze on Beorth. “Have you changed you mind and will feed use this white tender giblet you have here?”

“No,” said Jana sternly. “I want one of the spells we spoke of.”

“Oh, is that all?” the creature drooped its head down to face the witch, menacingly. “You bore us. Let us free to stretch our legs and claws.”

“You know that is not going to happen,” Jana said.

“We are tired of this trap. We will give you something special. Something we have kept a long secret from the long like of vermin that had the token afore you did. Free us on our own plane and this we will give to you.”
‘And what is that?” Jana asked.

The creature paused and leaned backward, and Jana could see its hips bent equally far back, its huge rib cage and spine at an odd angle, it’s wide shoulders tipped forward. It was a mockery of nature.

“The ability to make more tokens,” the creature hissed. (23)

Jana smiled.

“Do you make the promise and know it is binding?” the creature asked.

“Yes,” said Jana.

The next six hour were spent with Jana and creature exchanging strange words and gestures that Beorth could not understand. The time stretched out into an eternity, and the paladin’s head pounded by the time the creature was once again dismissed.

Without pausing, Jana went outside and rooted around in the snow until she found a large stone and came back inside. Hefting it above her head, she brought it down on the skull smashing it into a million tiny pieces.

“We’re even,” she said to the pieces and then she looked at Beorth and smiled.

----

That evening at Last Meal the party was gathered together, even Chance, who again was looking glum and was not decked out in the gems and jewelry of before. He kept nodding off at the table.
Beorth explained to them what had happened that afternoon (omitting the part about Jana learning to make more tokens).

“…And the end result was that she set the spirit free,” Beorth concluded.

There was a pause.

“You don’t sound very happy about it,” said Martin.

“Oh, I am very pleased,” Beorth replied in his typical flat tone.

“How many more do you have?” Ratchis asked Jana. He looked pale, and his shoulders drooped some.
“Yeah, did you destroy all the other ones?” Jeremy added.

“There aren’t ‘all the other ones’,” Jana said. “The one you had objection to is now gone.”

“Beorth, you were there,” Ratchis said, weakly. “Tell me more about what this summoning is like. How does she coerce it to do her will?”

“I don’t think it was coercion,” Beorth said, as if he were thinking hard about it. “More like, it proposes something, she proposes something; an agreement is reached between the two.”

“But it roared in pain, I could hear it from my room,” Ratchis said.

“It appeared with a scream of rage, not necessarily pain,” Beorth replied.

Ratchis paused.

“Based on what I know,” he said. “I will not try to remove the token from you by force, but I cannot call you companion. When we leave here, I will go my own way and those who want to come with me may, but you are not welcome.”

Jana sighed angrily.

“As far as I can tell that creature was bound in punishment for something it did in its own plane,” Jana said. “It is paying its debt.”

“Where did you get that?” Ratchis asked.

“That’s what it told us,” Jana said.

The half-orc looked at Jana skeptically.

Frustrated, Jan woke Chance and dragged him off to bed.

Ratchis looked to Kazrack, “We agree that her actions are - -“

“Unacceptable?” Kazrack guessed.

“Reprehensible,” Ratchis said. “No better than a slaver’s.”

“Perhaps we can influence her actions, help her to make better decisions,” Kazrack mused.

“Perhaps, but I do not have time for that right now,” Ratchis said. “I plan to offer my aid to the Interim Chief in dealing with the humans of Gothanius – that might mean that I may stay behind when the rest of you leave.”

“But what about the contract?’ Kazrack asked. “If it turns out the king brought us here under false pretenses then breaking the contract is not a problem for me, but if not, we have a responsibility to help with the dragon.”

“We’ll see what the Interim Chief says,” replied Ratchis. “My mind is not totally made up. I am still awaiting a vision from my goddess. Only then will I know for sure.”


Anulem, the 28th of Syet – 564 H.E.

Ratchis woke up to a blurry world. His stomach lurched and squirmed and he and tasted bile come up in the back of his throat. He drank some water and quickly spat it out. It had been four days since he had eaten.
He walked into the common area where some of his companions and gnomes were gathered eating some meal. Ratchis was not sure what time of day it was. The spoke to him, but the voices sounded as if they came far down a long narrow cave.

Ignoring them he scooped up some firewood from over by the stove and walked outside, just forcing his massive frame through the deep snow.

Digging a hole in the snow, he plopped down the wood and began a fire, which he sat over, a blanket positioned over the hole so he could breathe in the smoke and feel the intense heat. He did not know how long he had done this, when he suddenly stood and swayed in his disorientation. (24)

Ratchis heard the warped and distant sound of a metal cup being dragged back and forth against cell bars. And then there were voices…

“Come on McCreevey. Time to go to the salt mines,” said a gruff voice.

“Oh going to make a slave out of me huh?” a voice like a mouth full of greasy cracker crumbs said. “I ain’t done nothing.”

“You killed a man, and this is your debt. Work,” the other voice said.

Now Ratchis could see cell bars before him and the form a dwarf and two humans dragging a manacled man away.
“Their making me a slave, junior,” the man said, as he dragged past Ratchis’ cell.

But then Ratchis a familiar voice of another man - It was soothing and reassuring.

“I understand your worry Ratchis,” the voice said. “But that man made a choice and that choice cost him his freedom, but the choice was made freely. He has a debt to pay.”

Had time passed? Ratchis thought he might have spoken, asked a question about the manacled man that someone was answering across a table. Where did the table come from? He did not remember speaking. Ratchis could see a swirl of bright colors before his face twirling faster and faster, until he felt a sensation as if he were floating a few feet off the ground and moving feet first to somewhere else.

Ratchis awoke to a strong smell and a warm towel being pressed to his forehead. He tried to lift his head up, but felt dizzy.

“What were you doing out there?” Distil’s voice said. “You nearly killed yourself.”

Ratchis opened his eyes, and could see Cornelius handing Distil a large steaming cup of something.

“I was trying to talk with my goddess,” Ratchis croaked.

“Next time, try praying,” Distil said, “Now, I want you to sit up and drink this.”

Ratchis obeyed, but his mind was on his vision. What did it mean? He did not feel any closer to knowing what to do about Jana, and he still felt a red hot fury that cloaked his disappointment when he thought about her summoning beings against their will.

“It is going to take you a few days to recover,” said Distil.

“Where do I have to go?” Ratchis said, lifting his head and sipping the black tea.

End of Session #16

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

Notes:

(21) “Bartich Ball” is a gnomish game that is playable inside and outdoors. It involves rolling a ball on a stony surface and trying to get it as close to a line 10 yards away without crossing it.

(22) A witch may only summon a token creature once per day.

(23) DM’s Note: Jana is the first witch being played in Aquerra – so it is really a playtest. Originally, Create Token was going to be a series of spells – on reflection I decided it worked better as an item creation feat. Even though Jana did not have an available feat slot – we made compromise later. She could have the feat if she agreed that her next available slot (at 6th level) would have to be used for that and I would grant her one extra known spell of 2nd level from a specific list of spell that token creature had available to make up for the change. She chose blindness.

(24) Ratchis was actually using what he knows of orcish shamanism to gain his vision, hoping that Nephthys would indulge him.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #17

Days became weeks and weeks passed into a month and more of time. The party continued to do the things there were doing. Kazrack was nearly done his dwarven runic alphabet. Ratchis recovered and continued with his intense prayers to Nephthys, expanding the spell repertoire he had access to. Beorth also supplicated Anubis for days on end, until he too found that he could channel his faith and the divine will of his god to have spell-like effects.

Jana kept to herself, walking in the nearby woods or spending days locked in her room with Chance (who still spent more time gambling with gnomes than with the rest of the companions). Jeremy continued helping the gnome with their “big people fighting” training sessions, and helping in the nursery.

The snow spilled from the sky like a million exploded down pillows, and some days, Martin stayed with Socher and Briandel, for it was just too hard to get back through the snow to the guest quarters. He learned a couple of new spells in this time as well, trading them for ones he had. Ratchis helped to dig trails from entrance to entrance, but Chance, Jeremy and Jana had snowball fights against groups of gnomes who had dug bunkers in the deepest snowdrifts.

Overall, despite the occasional impatience waiting for the Interim Chief and the tension between Jana and Ratchis, they were fun days of games, talks, good food and parties in the public house.

One morning in deep winter, Kazrack woke up extra early to grab a bite to eat before what he felt would be one his last days of training. He had already channeled the powers of the dwarven gods to cast some simple spells – and he felt closer to casting the spell of curing and the spell that would temporarily enchant his weapon. The snow was nearly four feet deep outside.

Cornelius came into the common room from a door leading to another hall of rooms.

“How did you get here?” Kazrack asked. As far as he knew the door buried under tons of snow was the only way in and out of this place.

“Through the door,” said Cornelius, putting water on to boil.

“That door?” Kazrack pointed down the entrance hall to the door that led outside.

“Course not! I used the other door.”

“What other door?” the dwarf asked quizzically.

“Oh, I can’t tell you about that that door!” Cornelius said with a sly smile.

Everyone else soon was waking up for First Meal, which young Cornelius began to prepare.

“You must store a lot of food and resources for weather like this,” Kazrack commented.

“Yes, we do,” said Cornelius with a smile. “Some people are ants and some are crickets.”

“I like that story except for the end,” Jeremy said.

“What’s wrong with the end?” Cornelius asked.

“Well, I liked that cricket…”

“Yeah, everyone does,” said Cornelius. “The ants take him in and give him food and take care of him all winter.”

“Oh you must be talking about a different story,” said Jeremy. “The way humans tell it, the cricket dies.”

“What?!” Cornelius spat out his porridge. “That is just stupid. That sounds like a typical human way to look at things: `Hoard what you have. Don’t share with others. We don’t care of other people die.’”

He fetched a rag to clean up his mess, obviously upset.

“Who told you that is a human attitude?” Martin asked.

“No one had to tell me, that is just how it is,” Cornelius said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends because what does it cost someone to be friendly? It is nice to be nice.”
“Yes, it certainly is,” said Beorth.

The day passed as many had, and evening came to find the party in the public house drinking ale and crunching on roasted beetles, which filled the bowls in the center of the tables. Ratchis stood outside the door looking in, while the other crammed inside where it was warmer.

The music was loud and the singing boisterous. It seemed to the party that these gnomes never had any lack of energy for partying. Every night was as raucous and enthusiastic as the last.

Suddenly, Captain Fistandlus burst in and the crowd immediately cheered. It was not often that he graced the public house with his presence in recent months.

He raise his hands in the air, “Quiet down everyone! I have an announcement!”

Melting snow dripped off his gray fur cloak and hat, and a puddle collected as he spoke, “the Interim chief is back!”
The cheer of “Yay!” punctuated by a few low “Boos” came out of the crowd of gnomes. A gnome handed the captain a frothing mug of ale and he raised it in the air.

“To the Interim Chief!” he toasted.

“To his finally getting back!” Jeremy croaked into the silent moment before a roar of gnomish voices repeated the captain’s toast.

The party returned to their quarters for Last Meal soon after, and found Distil serving walnut muffins, and warmed goat’s milk, while the pyramidal creature wander around the common area. As the party entered it let out a loud “Haaaaahnt! Hoornt!”

Everyone sat to eat, but Martin experimented with the creature, casting an illusion of it and having it intercept the creature’s progress around the room. However, the pyramid-creature walked right through it as if it were not there.

“Fascinating,” said Martin, and Thomas leapt from his shoulder to the table to grab a muffin.

“Haaaaahnt! Hoornt!”

The creature settled itself down on the ground, and a moment later Captain Fistandlus came in.

“Captain,” Distil said. “Can I get you a muffin?”

“Yes, Distil, that would be nice,” He looked at the party. “The Interim Chief is going to want to talk to you right away.”

“Does that mean in a few weeks?” Ratchis asked dryly.

Fistandlus Ironhammer frowned, “He’ll be ready to see you first thing tomorrow morning.”



Balem, 19th of Nuiet – 564 H.E.

The morning began as all other mornings had, with First Meal. Obenhammer was there, after having been gone for more than a week on “deep patrol” with Captain Fistandlus, as was Briandel and Cornelius.

The party ate in silence, just hoping that today would be the day when they’d at least get some answers and have an idea when they might get to leave this place. However, First Meal came and went and lunch was coming soon before the Captain arrived, with two other soldiers and a fat gnome with hairy nostrils in a green tabard.

“Are you prepared?” the Captain asked.

“Yes,” Kazrack said.

“Yeah, it’s about time,” Jeremy sighed.

“I trust you know what behavior is expected of someone before a Chieftain?” Fistandlus looked each one of the eye.

The group nodded and said, yes. Jana called to her familiar, who had remained clinging to the warm stone chimney for weeks now. It did not want to come, so she allowed it to remain behind.

They were led outside, and up steep step made of flat rocks meandering up the side of an adjacent hill. Through a large set of doors, and down a bricked corridor, which was decorated with the profiles of gnomes. At the end of the hall, a circular room had stair leading up along with several set of doors going off in all directions. The party was let through one set of door, through what appeared to be a sitting room of some kind, and into a huge room with a high ceiling.

The scent of burning incense filled the dim room, which had earthen floor, but was strewn with large pillows. Seven of these pillows were positions in front of a cushioned dais, upon which was a mound of pillows. Two braziers provided light and warmth, and the incense smoke could be seen wafting from them. On the dais was also a low table holding some glasses and a bottle of wine in a bucket of snow. The walls were hung with think burgundy curtains, except the rear wall which was bare stone and had a staircase going up to darkened split level of the room.
A burly gnome of usual height (nearly four feet) stood from the mound of pillows and stepped forward. He has whitish-green hair, and bright green eyes. He had an impressive nose with a hairy mole on it. He smiled broadly.

“Welcome,” he said friendly. “It is good to meet you finally. I have heard much about you all since last night. I trust your stay has been pleasant?”

“But long,” said Jeremy and Martin elbowed him.

“The only thing greater than our hosts’ hospitality is the size of our hosts’ proboscises,” Kazrack said, returning the Interim Chieftain’s smile.

“Ah, a flatterer,” the Interim Chief said, and then turned to Captain Ironhammer. “Captain, you may leave us. Everything will be fine.”

“Yes, Interim Chieftain,” said the Captain and he left with his two soldiers. The gnome with the hairy nostrils bowed to the Interim Chieftain, as he walked out and closed the door behind him.

“Please sit,” the Interim Chief said to the party, and they each took a pillow. “I will stand, if you do not mind, so I can look you in the face as we talk. It will make both our necks much more comfortable in the long run, don’t you think?”

He giggled, and party politely smiled.

“I am Mozek Steamwind, Interim Chief for the Garvan Gnomes until our true chief, Grallick Goldfist returns from his mission for our people,” he said.

“Now, I know you probably have a lot you want to ask me about, but I have a lot I want to tell you that just might answer your questions,” Mozek said. “And of course, I have some questions for all of you. I have tried to learn something about each one of by talking to some of my people since last night. They seem to really like you, and tell me you were all very appreciative and nice and entertaining.”

He looked at each of them. “But I know more of the outside world than many of my people. They are sheltered and comfortable, and it is my job to keep them that way – but we both know that is harder than it sounds – Especially with the human of Gothanius encroaching on our territory and looking to expand into what they call Greenreed Valley. However, the responses of some my hurtle us towards conflict, which would be unfortunate for all sides involved.”

“Um, Lord Steamwind,” Martin said meekly. “I am sorry to interrupt, but what is it that you want to happen?”
“I want peace between our people and the humans, and any other race… except kobolds,” Mozek replied.

“Well, it seems to me that our coming here and talking to you is good fortune for everyone then,” said Kazrack. “Martin represents the King of Gothanius and we are his companions, perhaps he can arrange for you and the king to talk, in order to make some agreement over the dispensation of Greenreed Valley.”

“Your intelligence and wisdom evident Mr. Delver,: the Interim Chieftain said with a smile.

“I’m told that I have a great deal of mind, Lord Steamwind. My greatest difficulty lies in making that up,” Kazrack responded, and Mozek laughed.

“Unfortunately, what our people’s position shall be on the Kingdom of Gothanius is not in my hands, but in that of our true Chieftain,” said Mozek. “I am only a temporary leader, and do not have the authority to make such long term decisions.”

The Interim Chief paused and looked them all over one more time. He paced back and forth as if in deep thought and then he spoke again.

“Mr. Delver, I admire your recent immersion into piety and the service of the Dwarven Pantheon. The dwarves are a wise and venerable people, steeped in rich customs and traditions. You make your clan and your people proud,” Mozek said, looking right at the dwarf. “However, I do find it strange that you are working for the crown of Gothanius, for they are no friends of the dwarven people – But perhaps you seek to change that. As I said, you are wise.”

“And Mr. The Green, the esteemed representative of the Academy of Wizardry, Watch-Mage. In find your presence here most curious; such a remote part of the world,” Mozek continued.

“All places in Aquerra are of interest to the Academy,” said Martin.

“Oh, I am sure they are,” Mozek replied. “So, what was your mission in being sent here?”

“I was sent as a temporary replacement for Tom the Silver, the former Watch-Mage of Gothanius, and have been assigned by the King of Gothanius to help oversee the hunt for the dragon that has plagued these lands in the last year.”

“Oh yes…the dragon,” said Mozek. “So that is the only business the Academy has here?”

“Yes,” said Martin. “As far as I know.”

“Oh,” Mozek stopped his pacing and walked over to the table by his mound of pillows, grabbing s few more blocks of incense, and he tossed one each into the braziers. “So, you would be surprised to learn that there is another Watch-Mage in the area?”

“Most certainly,” said Martin, wondering what the Interim Chieftain could mean.

“So, you are telling me that the Academy does not seek to interfere with how this area in ruled and who lives here?” Mozek asked.

“Not in anyway aside from hoping that people are well-treated and that peace is kept and magic is not abused,” Martin explained.

“Because you know that can look bad,” Mozek said. ”Some foreign organization sticking their nose in someone else’s business, could make things messier than they already are.”

“Lord Steamwind, I assure you that the I serve the Academy in no other vein but to avoid such ‘messes’ and to help facilitate peace and happiness between all people.”

“Ms. Jana, no surname that I can find out,” he turned to the girl. “Jana of Westron then? Is that not how humans name themselves sometimes?”

“Yes,” Jana replied politely.

“It is less than appropriate to summon a creature of the Nine Hells to a place that has given you succor, don’t you think?”

Jana sis not reply, but her eyes opened widely, all of her companions turned to look at her.

Finally, she found her voice, “I have not knowingly summoned any creature of the Nine Hells as you call it.”

“Come now, Ms. Jana,” Mozek said. “I am not so naive. I am only very curious as why you would do such a thing here. Why here? What is your connection to such creatures?”

“I have no connection to any creatures of the Nine Hells,” said Jana. “And anything that was summoned, no matter where it was from, cannot be summoned again.”

“Why not?”

“Because the means to summon it is destroyed,” replied Jana.

“Oh, good,’ said Mozek his face turning from stern to a smile in less than a second. “I find it worrisome that someone would summon such a creature here.”

He turned suddenly to Ratchis.

“Mr. Ratchis, in times of old our fathers were taught that you could not trust humans, except for Friars of Nephthys.”

Ratchis smiled.

“Did they not help to keep that human kingdom of conquering the surface of Derome-Delem not too long ago? It was during my grandfather’s and father’s time,” Mozek said.

“Yes, the church of Nephthys decreed that the invasion by the Kingdom of Herman Land was an unjust war, and Friars were given leave to do what they could to stop it,” Ratchis explained. “But that was several hundred years ago.”
“Not too long ago to a gnome or dwarf, or an elf,” Mozek said. “And yet, one must wonder if those who would trun their backs on their own people are trustworthy at all…”

“A Friar of Nephthys has no obligation to any king or borders, but only to his own conscience and to his goddess, and even that he takes on willingly. We can be trusted to always fight for freedom,” Ratchis said, with pride. “I for one would give my life to defend the freedom of Greenreed Valley, especially if I felt the people of Gothanisu would exploit and pose a danger to those who still dwell in it or near it.”

“I know you would,” said Mozek with a smile. He walked over and placed a calloused hand on the half-orc’s shoulder. “You are a credit to your kind.”

The Interim Chief walked back up to the dais and now turned to Beorth.

“Mr. Sakhemet,” Mozek said. ‘It seems strange that you would be here and not in Rhondria…” (25)

Beorth simply waited.

“That poor nation of humans living within the shadow of the Broken Land Verdaise,” Mozek stopped and thought.

“Then again, it is perhaps wise to not be there, for what else but your own death would you find there – that place cannot be overcome by one man, nor by a hundred,”

“If that is so perhaps I will find my peace there one day,” Beorth said softly.

“Nobody who dies there finds peace, Mr. Sakhemet,” Mozek said, in a serious tone.

“Ignoring a problem does not make it go away,” Kazrack said. ‘I too want to help do something about that land of undead, but that is not germane we need to discuss Greenreed Valley.”

“Yes, we do,” said Mozek. “But we also need to discuss you and your companions, Mr. Delver. Don’t you think I deserve to know something about you? You were found in the area inhabited by suspected traitors to our people, and trespassing in the land we guard. We have treated you well and given you all you could ask for. I only ask this slight indulgence in return. Impatience gains us nothing.”

“Master Chance,” Mozek continued, plopping down on a pillow. “My people spoke very highly of you. They said you were an excellent player of games of chance and skill, and they you gamble with a knack they’d never seen before.”

“Ya blokes aren’t sa bahd yasleves,” said Chance through a laugh. “A coople ahve tams Ah thought they was gunn layv meh with na trousers!”

Mozek laughed and grabbed his belly. Jeremy, Jana and Marin laughed too.

“Oh, you are something, Mr. Chance,” Mozek said, standing up and looking to Jeremy. “You, Mr. Northrop are a strange one. There is not much I could find.”

“Well, how did you do your finding? I’ve been among your people for a while no and I’ve been pretty open around them,” the Neergaardian replied.

“You’re pretty clever aren’t you?” Mozek said slyly.

“I do my best,” Jeremy responded.
“Well, we need to discuss ways to avoid having your people and the Kingdom of Gothanius come into conflict,” Kazrack insisted, in his usual relentless manner.

“Oh, I yes, I want peace, but I have to wonder if the Crown of Gothanius even cares if we are here. If the knowledge of our existence would slow them in the slightest. They basically wiped out the Fir-Hragre orcs, and while we are not orcs (no offense Mr. Ratchis), I think that is just how they deal with anything that gets in their way.”

“You seem to be implying that Gothanius knows about this community,” Martin commented.

“Oh, they most assuredly do,” replied Mozek.

“I thought this was a secret community,” Jeremy said.

“A secret to the majority of the people of Gothanius? Yes. To the Crown of Gothanius? This I doubt.”

“Anyway, I assume you do not want to stay here forever,” Mozek paused. “I assume you have obligations to investigate this…dragon…”

He paced back and forth twice and then spoke again, “But what if there were a way we could help each other? What if I helped you achieve your obligation and you helped me achieve mine, which are really nearly the same thing, peace?”

The party waited expectantly for the Interim Chief to continue, his face melted down from bright and friendly smile to one of grave concern and almost sadness.

“Grallick Goldfist, our Chief, has been gone, I am sure you know,” Mozek continued. “And perhaps you have heard that he has gone to seek the help of the elves that live near the human town of Ogre’s Bluff – advice on what to do about the encroaching humans. But he is a mischief-maker, but goes to far and perverts the ways of Garl Glittergold. I am afraid that he wants an excuse to fight the humans.”

“He wants war?” Martin asked.

“He wants war,” Mozek replied. “And he has said he will get the elves help in the conflict by any means necessary, and I am afraid that if he cannot convince the elves, he will use illusions and deceit to make an attack on the elves and make it seem as if humans had done it.”

“This guy tahcks a lutt, dunn he?’ Chance yawned quietly in Jana’s ear. She shushed him with a wink.

“Furthermore,” Mozek had not stopped talking, “Evidence suggests that the dragon you hunt does not even exist at all – but is a work of spellcraft. You see, the Chief took the Master Illusionist, Crededal with him.”

“The dragon isn’t real?” Ratchis asked.

“No, it is not,” said Mozek. Martin let out a low breath.

“So, here is my proposition,” Mozek continued. “I will allow you to go, instead of making you wait for Grallick to return as I probably should, but your investigation of the dragon would take you to him, and then you could stop him from his plans to spur on a war, and I would be free to be named full chief and negotiate peace and compromise with the humans.”

There was a long pause.

“How did you become Interim Chief? Did Grallick choose you?” asked Kazrack.

“He chose my father, but he passed away unfortunately and he assigned the position to me until Chief returns,” Mozek explained, the look of sadness never leaving his face.

“Why not simply tell your people?” asked Martin.

“My people are innocent. They are naive about their chieftain and would fail to believe that he was capable of such a thing, or their spirit would be broken if they did. It is in their own best interest not to know, especially if it is unavoidable and does come to war, then their morale would be low.”

“So what are we to do?” Beorth raised his hand as he had done as a child to Monks of Anubis when he sought o interrupt their lessons with a question. “Are we to bring him back, alive for judgment, or to kill him outright?”
Mozek was taken aback and his mouth fell open a bit and seemed flustered as he answered, “Uh, if it can be done without killing I would prefer it. Unfortunately, he is still technically the chieftain, and while the people might turn against their leader, it is unlikely.”

“There is no way in the Nine Hells I am going to go kill your chief for you!” Ratchis suddenly announced with great vigor.

Mozek smiled and let out a tittering laugh, “Something must be done and I do not see much alternative. My father was the chieftain’s most trusted advisor, and I overheard many conversations I was never meant to hear, and I know that Grallick’s idea of good mischief is one where the most people are hurt. His family suffered much during what humans call the Mountain Wars.” (26)

“Can you offer us, before we do anything, any evidence that you not just trying to become chieftain by any means necessary?” Ratchis asked.

“I can give no evidence, except my word,” said Mozek.

“But will not you people be angered? Would not this action lead to war?” Beorth asked.

“He would be far from home, and it would be many years before he was deemed truly gone and the cause of his disappearance investigated. In the meantime, I would use my position as Chieftain to prevent war. I think that in a year’s time if the chieftain does not return I could present my proposal to be full chieftain to the people.”

“I will go an find your chieftain and talk to him and make my decision based on that. At least that way you’ll have chance, which you will not if you expect us to go kill you chieftain,” Ratchis said in his usual gruff tone.
“We are not assassins, Master Steamwind,” Martin said.

“You must understand that the chieftain needs to be stopped,” Mozek said emphatically. “Talking to him is too dangerous. He has ways to cloud the minds of others.”

“I am willing to seek out this gnome,” Ratchis repeated. “And Nephthys will keep my mind from being clouded.”

“This is most unfortunate,” said Mozek, he stepped over to the brazier on the right and crushed a block of incense and crumbled it into the flame. “I really wanted to give you a chance to help. For example, Kazrack, I figured your loyalties would lie with the people of the earth and not with humans, but this course of action will only lead to the humans having the excuse they need to wipe us out. When this is all done, are you going to marry a human princess?”

“There are mot of us than there are princesses anyway,” Kazrack said.

“Oh, and the girl will marry one, or the half-orc?” Mozek’s smile just got wider and wider. ”Okay, then we come back in a circle then… The other way you can help me. Mr. The Green is the one with that tidbit, I think.”
Mozek paused and looked straight at Martin, “What is a second Watch-Mage doing in Gothanius? Where does the Academy stand in all of this?”

“I have already told you. The Academy has no other goal but peace,” Martin said.

“Oh, and tell me of what race are most of the alumni of the Academy of Wizardry?” Mozek asked.

Martin paused, “Human.”

“And you are saying that they will not side with Gothanius, that they are not seeking to have influence here, to use its resources for its own agenda?”

“What agenda? What resources? And what Watch-Mage? I do not know what you are talking about,” Martin said.

“I do not believe you, Mr. The Green,” Mozek said, through gritted teeth. “I do not believe it is coincidence that you both are here. I do not believe that you do not know what is really going on, and why this place is important. I do not believe the Academy of Wizardry really cares about some backwater kingdom in the wilds of Derome-Delem. You will tell me what the Academy really hopes to do. You will tell me about the other Watch-Mage.”

“Martin?” Thomas’ voice sounded soft and weak. Suddenly, the squirrel’s body stiffened and fell like dead weight in Martin’s hood.

“Thomas!” Martin said aloud.

“Ugh, Ah dun fell sa well,” Chance said, doubling over and holding his stomach.

“Poison!” Martin cried, as he felt his own muscles begin to stiffen, and felt his lips and tongue gain the tingling sensation of numbness.

The whole party began to feel the effects of some toxic entering in their systems. They moved to stand, but found their bodies did not obey their thoughts. Only Ratchis was not overcome.

“The incense,” Jana croaked.

“You…can’t…do…this… to…us, we’re human,” Jeremy said with great difficulty.

“Give up!” Mozek cried, his smile taking a cruel turn. He suddenly seemed to grow in stature, and his green eyes shone brightly and unnaturally; his skin took on a textured look almost like a scaly green hide. Two small green horns emerged from the top his head, and his fingernails turned into long black talons. “Don’t you know what you are facing now? Don’t you know that this bigger than all of you.”

Ratchis leapt up and charged at Mozek slamming his big hammy fists into the gnome’s face, but Mozek just smiled, ignoring the powerful blows as if they had never happened and casually drawing a handful of colorful powder from a belt pouch and spoke an arcane word. A spray of rainbow colors washed over Ratchis and he fell backward stunned.

Mozek just laughed. Ratchis shook it off and charged the gnomes again, hoping to tackle him, but the gnome tightened his hands in fists like stone, and sent one into the large man’s gut, making him double over and miss his own blow. He felt as if his stomach had been ruptured, the Interim Chief’s strength was like nothing he had ever encountered.

Ratchis stepped back and called to his goddess, “Nephthys, please heal my wounds so that I may defeat this fiend and save my friends!” He felt the divine healing power of his goddess fill him, but again he felt another hard blow, this one on his chin. Ratchis tried again, punching Mozek twice more in the neck and face, but there was no apparent effect. It was as if Ratchis were punching a stone wall.

And the stone wall struck back, plunging his fist into Ratchis’ crotch. The half-orc let out a yelp and doubled over incapacitated, waves of pain flowing up and down his body.

“Now,” Mozek said, kicking Ratchis over on his back with the tip of his foot and turning to face Martin who was still paralyzed. “Where was I? Oh yes, the other Watch-Mage.”

The gnomes still looking as if he sprung from some fiendish pit walked over to Martin, and traced his jaw-bone with one clawed finger.

”Shall we start simple? What is the Watch-Mage’s name?” He asked Martin.

Martin tried to shake his head.

“He doesn’t know anything,” Kazrack said through his swollen lips.

“I am not a fool to think that the Academy of Wizardry can be ignored, nor fool enough to believe their intentions are always benevolent. I know they want in on this, but how? To what end? What do they know? Martin, you will tell me.”

“I…don’t…know,” said Martin.

“Oh then who does know?” Mozek said. “Or better yet, how can I help your failing memory?”

The Interim Chief walked over to Ratchis and lifted his head up and held it locked in both of his arms.

“Who do I have to kill to make you talk, Martin?” Mozek asked. “Who’s death do you want on your head?”

He laughed long and loud. “Probably not the half-orc,” he said, and dropped Ratchis’ head heavily to the ground. Martin tried to wince, but the muscles in his face did not obey.

“Shall it be the dwarf? Or how about the girl?” Mozek walked over to Jana and caressed her cheek. “It would be a shame for such a one who might be so useful to us would have to be hurt.”

He was looking straight in Jana’s eyes, but then turned back to Martin, “Because I want you to have no doubt that I will kill each and everyone of your friends if you do not tell me. Or perhaps, the Academy trains you to see your companions as expendable?”

Mozek walked over to Jeremy, “How about this one? The mastermind behind the whole thing! Yes, I am not fooled, no one is as stupid as this one – No he knows more than he lets on. Is he the real power behind this group? Is he the leader? TALK!”

Mozek’s scream shook the room, and Martin felt himself fading fast, all he could do is mouth, “I don’t know, please don’t…”

“You can choose if you like Martin,” Mozek said. “One of them shall die, who shall it be? Or perhaps I should just cover my eyes and point at one of your friends randomly. Yes, perhaps we should just leave it to chance. . .”

Mozek laughed again. “Leave it to chance, I like that, very fitting don’t you think?” He walked over to Chance and grabbed him by the head. “I love it when my puns work out.”
And with that he pulled on Chance’s head with both hands and turned it abruptly to the right. There was a sickening crunch, and he continued to turn and jerk the gambler’s head until it popped off the body. Blood exploded from Chance’s headless corpse spraying the companions and the body collapsed on the pillows.

“Looks like his luck has run out,” Mozek said through a laugh, and then shoved a hand into Chance’s head and scooped out the insides and shoved in his mouth.

“Where I come from we feast like this every night!” he said happily, talking with his mouth full of Chance’s brains, spewing bits as he spoke that fell into Martin’s eyes, and he could not blink them away. “Ooh, I’ve missed feasting like this, but it looks like I will be eating well the next few nights thanks to you, Martin. Every night I will bring you all in front of me, and every night that you do not tell me everything about what the Academy is trying to do, another of your friends will die. It is in your hands, my friend.”

Mozek chucked Chance’s head against the wall without looking, and it crumpled like a dried husk.
The party continued to struggle to move, even as the darkness of unconsciousness overcame them. The poison finally finished the work it had started, and all was black.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Notes:

(25) The Principality of Rhondria is one of the Little Kingdoms and border the Broken Land of Verdaise.


(26) The Mountain Wars began in 409. H.E. when the Kingdom of Herman Land invaded Derome-Delem to annex it.
 

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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #17 (part II)

Kazrack stirred.

Belear was wiping the young dwarf’s sweaty forehead with a rag.

“Huh? Wha. . ?” Kazrack coughed, trying to sit up.

Belear gently pushed him back down.

“Rest, you have been poisoned, but I think you have sweated it out by now,” Belear said. “Now you will need a little rest.”

“How long have I been unconscious?” Kazrack asked. “How did I get here?”

“I was doing my prayers when you were tossed in here and the door was locked behind you,” Belear said. “I am not even sure what happened, though I assume we are now their prisoners as opposed to their guests.”

Kazrack explained what had happened to Belear. “I suspect the Chieftain is already dead and he just wanted us to take the blame.”

“Perhaps, but we must be ready at a moment’s notice to get out of here,” Belear said.

-----

Ratchis stirred. He was on the floor, his head pounding and foggy. He looked over in the dark and saw Martin lying on his bed. The Watch-Mage groaned and then sat up quickly with a gasp and then swooned. He held his head up with one hand, massaging his temples.

“Are you okay, Martin?” Ratchis asked.

Martin suddenly scrambled to reach into his hood and pulled the stiff form of Thomas the Squirrel out. Martin’s eyes widened as he held his poor little familiar in his hands.

“Is he…?” Ratchis began, but Martin held Thomas up to his ear and heard his shallow little breathing.

“No,” replied Martin. He laid the squirrel gently down on the bed and went over and lit the lantern on the nightstand.

There was the sound of a key in the door, and Ratchis motioned for Martin to be quiet, and he crept over to the door.

It opened and a tiny form carefully stepped in. Ratchis stepped forward with a fist in the air, and Cornelius dropped his ring of kings and let out a cry of fear.

“Don’t hurt me!”

Ratchis lowered his hand, “I won’t hurt you, Cornelius, but we need you help.”

“I think bad stuff is happening,” Cornelius said, meekly, scooping up the keys quickly.

“Yes, it is,” said Martin going back over the bed to look over Thomas.

“You have to help us get out of here,” Ratchis implored.

“Uh, I…uh, I don’t know if I can, I’ll get in trouble,” Cornelius said, backing towards the doorway.

“We need the keys,” Ratchis said. “We need to free our friends and get out of here, or many people will die.”

Cornelius held the ring of keys to his chest,” I snuck the keys from Uncle Distil’s room, if he finds their gone I’ll get in trouble.”

“I will not force the keys from you,” Ratchis said as gently as he could. “But we need them.”

“I’m gonna lock the door back up and then I’m gonna go get Cousin Obie. He’ll know what to do,” Cornelius said.

“Okay,” Ratchis said with a sigh.

“Don’t talk to anyone with green eyes,” added Martin.

The young gnome closed the door behind him and they heard the key in the lock. Ratchis turned and saw Martin clearly in the light for the firs time since they had woken up.

“Whose blood is this?” Ratchis asked, pointing to the large brown stain and dried bits of unidentifiable stuff on Martin’s robes.

“Not mine,” Martin paused, and cleared his throat. “It must be…I must be Chance’s.”

“What happened to Chance?”

Martin was silent for a moment and then he choked back a sob and breathed in deeply, “He’s dead… It… It tore his head off.”

The Watch-Mage buried his face in his hands and cried. Ratchis stepped up to him and clasped a hand on his shoulder. “You must be strong.”

“I will,” Martin said, wiping his tears on his sleeve.

“I don’t feel good,” Thomas’s voice said weakly in Martin’s head.

The Watch-Mage stroked his squirrel lovingly, “Ssssh, it’s okay. You’re going to be okay.”

------

Jeremy awoke a start. Beorth was standing at the door to their room listening at the door.

“I think someone just went down the hall,” he said.

“What is the last thing you remember?” Jeremy asked, shaking his head clear of its fog.

“Chance…” Beorth paused. “…dying.”

“What was that thing?” Jeremy asked. “It wasn’t really a gnome was it?”

“I don’t know,” Beorth replied. “It was some kind of fiend, I guess.”

“We have to get out of here,” Jeremy said, and then suddenly Beorth, without replying, took a few steps away from the door and ran shoulder first into it. The door shuddered, but remained intact. The paladin ran back further and slammed into it again, to no effect. He rubbed his shoulder.

“I don’t think that is going to work,” he said.

-----

Ratchis and Martin waited for nearly an hour when finally they heard a voice at the door.

“Martin? Ratchis? I am going to unlock the door, but keep it down.”

It was Obenhammer.

The gnome wore a face of deep sadness. He unlocked the door, and then moved down the hall to let out Jeremy and Beorth, and then Kazrack and Belear.

“We have to get you out of here fast,” Obenhammer said. “Mozek’s supporters will be checking on you soon, so gather your things. He moved down to the door to the room that had belonged to Jana and Chance. Beorth knocked on the door and there was no answer. He swung it open and said softly, “Jana?”

There was still no reply. Beorth stepped into the dark room, followed by Ratchis. They found Jana curled up into a ball in the corner of the room silent.

“Jana, we have to go,” Beorth said gently. She did not reply. She did not even look up.

“Grab her things,” Ratchis said to Beorth. “And any of Chance’s things that might be around.”

Ratchis gently scooped up Jana in his mighty arms and carried her out of the room. Her eyes just stared forward, not registering anything around her, but swollen and encircled by black.

The party gathered in the common area and spread out their gear among themselves for easy carrying. Jana’s familiar came off the wall and crawled up Ratchis’ leg and into the folds of Jana’s skirt.

“We are going to need our weapons,’ said Kazrack to Obenhammer.

“It is already being taken care of. I am leading you somewhere safe, for now, and others will meet us there with your weapons and from there we will direct you as to how to get out of here,” Obenhammer explained.

“What is that thing that returned pretending to be your chief?” asked Ratchis.

“Unfortunately, I think that really is Mozek,” Obie said. “I am going to take you somewhere where someone might be able to explain things to you a little better. We have to get out of here, follow me.”

Obenhammer led them through the door to the hallway that led to Distilbowden’s rooms and through that cozy suite out into another hall, and then down a series of shabbier and shabbier passages, and down a narrow stairway, and through several doors. Except for Kazrack, the party had to duck most of time as they moved at the frantic pace, Obenhamer set. Ratchis carried Jana the whole time and she did not respond at all.

Finally, they were traveling down a round dirt tunnel only about 5 feet high. It went straight for a long time and then came to a round door, which Obenhammer unlocked and ushered everyone though.

Inside the round, there waited four other gnomes, the party had never seen before. The party could see their weapons and armor on the floor in the corner, and Obenhammer went over and began to distribute them. One of the gnomes stepped forward. He wore his long silvery hair back in a pony-tail, and was dressed in studded leather armor and had a hammer at his side.

“My name is Greddadiddlerun,” he said. “You don’t know me, but I know you. Unfortuantely, I was part of the group involved in what went on in Summit.”

The party looked at him with surprise, except for Jana who still remained curled in a ball on the floor where Ratchis had placed her.

“We have been trying to frighten the humans,” Greddadiddlerun explained. “In the Chieftain’s absence, the Interim Chief would not allow us to take that course of action, but we did it anyway and the next thing we knew we were declared ‘traitors’, howeer, family and friendship cannot be undone by the words of an usurper.”

“What in the Nine Hells is he?” asked Ratchis.

“We are not really sure. We have reason to believe he is some kind of fiend.”

“How did he live among you so many years and no one notice?” Kazrack asked.

“Well, everyone always had their suspicions that he might be a vicious gnome (27) , but there was no evidence,” Greddadiddlerun explained. “His father did take a foreign bride, a gnome from far to the northwest people said, though we know of no gnomish settlement there. Strange things always happened around him and his brothers, and they were bullies.”

“We are going to kill him,” said Ratchis quietly.

The gnomes just nodded their heads, and then Greddadiddlerun spoke again,” This is going to be hard on our people, but I fear for the life of our chieftain. Mozek left for several months as we know and some of us think he might have been trying to go after the chieftain and do something to him. We need you help. We need you to go to the elves near the human town of Ogre’s Bluff and seek out our chieftain and if not then to talk to the elves and get their help as to what we can do to get rid of Mozek, and help with the encroaching humans.”

It was silent for a time.

“So the haunting and such in Summit was you and other gnomes?” Martin asked.
“Yes, though something went wrong. Our spells began to act strangely and we are not sure why,” Greddadiddlerun said. “We have been using spells and illusions to try to slow the human advancement. This was our chieftain’s original plan though he never instituted it while he was here.”

“So the dragon was part of the chieftain’s scheme?” Martin asked.

“A dragon?”

“So there is no dragon?” Martin asked.

“I don’t know of any dragon, but it is possible that the chieftain himself is behind it, since a complicated illusion like that would probably only be possible because the Master Illusionist is with him.”

The weapons had been divided, and Beorth was kneeling beside Jana. He offered her water, but she pushed it away, and cradled her face in her hands, and began to sob quietly.

“Jana, you are among the living,” Beorth said. “You must act like it. Chance is gone and …”

Jana began to shiver uncontrollably. The paladin just embraced her and did not say another word.

“Will you help us?” Greddadiddlerun asked.

“Yes,” replied Kazrack speaking for the group. “It is not your fault that you have been led astray by this leader, and we want an opportunity to avenge our friend.”

Kazrack noticed that Belear was speaking quietly in the corner with another of the gnomes.

“Listen, we are going to need something from you to bring to your chieftain,” said Jeremy.
“A token,” added Martin.

“Yeah, otherwise why would he believe us?” Jeremy said.

“I will write you a note in our language, it would be nearly impossible for anyone to forge that,” said Obenhammer.

“Excuse me, Obenhammer,” said Martin, stepping up to him and kneeling to speak quietly to him. “But when we were taken, I had a small red bag of leather that was confiscated. Would you know where it is?”

“Yes, I remember. It was given to Greddadiddlerun’s group to use in their work,” said Obenhammer, pulling out a piece of parchment and a quill to write the note he had mentioned.

“Yes, I was about to explain to you the way to go,” said Greddadiddlerun, overhearing. “We are sending you to an outpost of one of our groups. You will find a cache of food there, your red leather bag, a scroll with a spell you might find useful, and some other resources.”

“Oh I have no weapon in the meantime,” said Martin.

“Here take my dagger,” Obie said, passing the watch-mage a fine silvery-dagger of gnomish make.

”Thank you,” said Martin, putting the dagger in his belt without looking at it.

“If you go out through that trap door,” Greddadiddlerun said, pointing to a wooden door in the ceiling. “Travel a quarter-mile south, to a hollowed out dead oak tree, very old and still standing. Hidden to look like part of the tree is a trap door which leads to a tunnel through the ridge and into the northern part of Greenreed Valley, from there you can go south out of the valley and to Ogre’s Bluff, perhaps a day or two away. While in the tunnel, just keep going as straight as possible, avoid any of the turn offs. You will find a room similar to this where the cache is and a trapdoor that opens up into a large thorn bush.”

The party shook hands with Greddadiddlerun and Obenhammer and wished them luck.

“We will be back with help,” Kazrack said, he looked to Belear, who beckoned him over.

“These gnomes are going to lead me somewhere else, so I can get back to my own people and try to gain their help as well,” the older dwarf said.

“But…”

“You have your mission ahead of you, do not forget what you have learned. You are ready to be a full Rune-Thrower, all you need to do is pray to Moradin in the morning and gain the spell that will infuse your runestones with the divine power they were made to hold, just as we spoke about.”

“May Moradin and all our dwarven fathers watch over you on your journey, and may we meet again,” Kazrack said. The two dwarves clasped wrists and shook.

The party climbed up through the trap door, Ratchis hefting Jana up to Beorth who waited above.

“I can walk on my own,” she said as came up.

------

They marched for about thirty minutes across the deep snow, the sharp wind cutting deep into them. The cold was intense and they were happy to climb back underground when they finally found the oak tree and the secret passage below it.

After a few moments discussing which direction to go in, they decided to follow the way that went vaguely southward, as that was the right direction. The passage was raw earth, and rounded, only five and half feet high at its tallest points, and sometimes so low, Ratchis had to nearly crawl to make it through.

Occasionally, they passed the tangled roots of trees above them, and passageways and doors that led off to the left and right. They marched for what seemed an eternity, exhaustion and the after-effects of the poison whittling away at their alertness, until after many hours, they were walking mindlessly, and many could not even feel their legs any longer. Eventually, Martin swayed and nearly fell over. (28)

“We have to stop,” said Beorth to Ratchis, who was leading the way.

Ratchis’ grunt of a response betrayed how tired he was as well, and they made a make-shift camp in the tunnel, just past where it had split into three directions (they took the one directly across the one they had come through).
The others slept fitfully as Ratchis watched over them, and then he woke Jeremy.

“Your turn,” Ratchis said.

“Yeah, okay,” said Jeremy groggily.

Ratchis handed him a skin. “If you start to slip into sleep take a sip of this stuff, but only one sip! It will help you stay awake.”

“What is it?” Jeremy asked curiously, and looking a little more awake.

“Narsh’che,” Ratchis said, slipping into his orcish accent. “Orcish Bloodwine.” (29)

Jeremy stood watch for several hours, until he felt he was nodding off. He stood and paced and whistled quietly, but his lids still threatened to close, so finally he took a mouthful of Ratchis’ drink. He felt the heat of the foul-tasting and viscous liquid pour slowly down his throat and spread out in his stomach like a wildfire. He gagged, and tasted his own bile mixed with the bloodwine come up to the back of his throat and then subside.

“The orc wasn’t kidding,” Jeremy commented quietly, surveying the darkness with his new-found alertness.

A few hours later, he could no longer remain awake and did not dare drink more of that horrid stuff, so he awoke Beorth, who kept watch for another four hours afterward.

Finally, the party awoke, prepared spells and continued on for another three hours, finally coming to another round door, beyond which they found a round room very similar to that which they had regained their weapons.

In a wooden chest they found about enough food stored to last them about three days, the red leather bag of animals (which Martin took) and a bone scroll tube. Inside the tube Martin found a spell scroll he could decipher without the read magic spell.

Jana however did cast it, and saw that it was a spell that created a tiny hut that provided shelter from the elements.
Ratchis boosted Jeremy up through the trap door, and he found himself in the middle of a thick thorn bush, which a little hollow just in the center. The area around them was a thin forest of barren scrubby trees, interspersed Kazrack followed, also boosted by Ratchis, and hefted into the small area by Jeremy. Jana and Martin cam after, but now the entire area beneath the bush was full and there was no room for Beorth or Ratchis to come up unless someone else left the cover the thorns.

“One of us is going to have to go out there,” said Kazrack.

“Do you think it’s safe out there?” Martin said.

“Well, we are going to have to go out there eventually,” said Jana flatly, and began to crawl out of the bush. Kazrack stopped her.

“I hear something over there,” the dwarf said, gesturing beyond thorn bush to a clump of trees about forty feet away. “Sounds like gnome voices.”

“Martin, do you think you could send Thomas to look around?” Jeremy suggested.

“Thomas? Did you hear that?” Martin thought.

“I don’t wanna go,” Thomas said. “I’m scared.”

“If you don’t want to go I won’t force you,” Martin said, reassuringly, taking Thomas from his robes and scratching him under the chin. “But you can just climb this tree right here and look around and tell us if it’s safe. Where would you be safer than in a tree?”

“Oh, okay…” Thomas leapt deftly from Martin’s hand, over the thicker branches of the bush and up onto a nearby pine that was very tall. He climbed up quickly at first, but then slowed down.

“Something isn’t right about this tree,” Thomas said.

“There is?” Martin inquired.

“Yeah,” Thomas crept up to the halfway point of the tree. “I smell… AHHHHHHHHH!”

An animal leapt from the shadows of the upper tree branched down at the tiny familiar. It was a wolverine clinging to the trunk and coming down head first snarling viciously. But it was no ordinary wolverine, it had dark red fur like a smoldering fire, that bristled in waves like a flame, and its eyes shone bright red; its breath like steaming sulphur.

“Thomas!” Martin cried aloud, as the fiendish wolverine leapt forward to tear Thomas in half with one powerful bite.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Notes:

(27) Vicious Gnome is the catch-all terms for gnome who had gone evil, making their usual tricks and jokes into cruel and often deadly things for their own enjoyment.

(28) DM’s Note: At this point, if Martin had taken even one more point of subdual damage from the forced march he would have passed out.

(29) Narsh’che is orcish bloodwine, used to instill bravery and alertness in orcs, it is brewed from nut of the sarvann tree (which is found in fetid swamps) and the dung of wild boars.

(30) The spell was Tiny Hut.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #17 (part III)

The wolverine’s jaws snapped, but Thomas deftly moved out of the way, dashing back down the tree and into the hole the party had emerged from.

Jana and Jeremy began to load their crossbows, while Kazrack hurried towards the voices he heard thinking they were behind the appearance of this creature.

“They’re over here!” he yelled, charging halberd in hand.

“Kazrack, don’t…” Martin called after him, but the dwarf was intent.

‘We need to make room for the others anyway,” Kazrack cried.

Jana fired her crossbow at the wolverine, which made ready to spring down. She missed.

Beorth began to pull himself up and out of the hole, just as a second wolverine looking as the first did, burst through the thorn bush and tore through Martin’s robes and flesh with terrible blows from its claws.

Martin turned and stepping back looked through the pain of his wound and with a flick of his wrist, a handful of colored powder and an arcane world, a burst of colors exploded from his hand at the new creature. It reeled back, stunned, yelping with an unnatural voice.

“Jeremy, quick, kill it before it recovers!” Martin cried.

Beorth was through the hole and Ratchis was right behind him, but Beorth was taken by surprise when the wolverine in the tree leapt down upon him, tearing at his shoulder with a bite. The paladin pushed it off desperately, while Jeremy moved out of the thorn bush and fired his crossbow at the wolverine that had attacked Martin. The bolt buried itself in the creature’s flank, as did another bolt from Jana who followed suit. The creature seemed to ignore the pain and the torrent of blood, and leapt at the young witch, ripping a huge flap of skin with flesh still attached to it, from her forearm. Jeremy dropped his crossbow and was reaching for his blades when he flinched, seeing two balls of light zooming towards him from his right. He felt the impact of the magic missiles and let out a groan, but turning his head, all he saw was darkness and shadow in the bushes from where they had emerged.

Kazrack meanwhile had slowed his pace and was swinging wildly in the air convinced there were invisible gnomes nearby, their voices drawing him further and further away from the fight.

Martin spoke some more arcane words, but there was no visible effect. Beorth stabbed the wolverine that attacked him with his longsword, while Ratchis moved in front of Martin and took an awkward swing with his own sword at the other one, missing.
Cringing from Beorth’s blow, and losing steaming blood, the first wolverine began to back away from the fight, through the thin thorn bush, followed by Beorth, who pressed the attack.

Jeremy ignored the unseen spell-caster and stepped towards the wolverine slashing it in the face with his longsword to keep its teeth at bay while cutting a slice in it’s flank with his short sword. He held his blades crossed in front of him to block the incoming counter-attack, and gritted his teeth. Martin unslung his own crossbow and frantically tried to load a bolt into it, cursing himself for not paying more attention in weapons class at the Academy.
Beorth hurried past the tree that the wolverine had leapt from to finish it, but he was blind-sided as a small, but stout form emerging from behind the tree as the paladin passed it. He felt the heavy crushing blow of a warhammer against his armor, and heard the metal scales crunch, and his rib cage contract in agony. He was thrown down to the ground by the force of the blow. (31)

Ratchis ran past the fallen paladin to hold the wolverine off, as it looked as if it were going to take advantage of Beorth’s vulnerability. It took the bigger target instead, striking a superficial blow to the half-orc’s shoulder.

Kazrack finally gave up his futile search of the origins of the voices, and turned running back to support Ratchis. “The voices were an illusion,” he cried. However, as he came close to the area Ratchis was in, the ground became extremely slippery. Nearly falling, Kazrack slowed his pace, and Ratchis slipped back and forth trying to stay on his feet. The half-orc took a swing at the wolverine, but the intended blow sent him off balance and he fell on his stomach with an “oof!”

At that same moment Jeremy was finishing off the wolverine on the other side of the tree, driving both his blades deeply into it’s left and right fore-shoulders. As Jana reloaded her crossbow and waited to see if the figure that attacked Beorth came into clearer view, Martin stepped forward and fired his crossbow right into the head of the unconscious wolverine. It shuddered, and then disappeared into a puff of acrid smoke.

The figure stepped clearly away from the tree. It was gnome wrapped in a shabby jacket of some kind of scaly hide. He had white hair with yellow and green highlights, and bright green eyes, above his head a dull gray warhammer was as its apex and it swung down on Beorth (still on the gorund) smashing into his hip. The fauld of Beorth’s armor crumpled like paper and he cried out from the pain. Everything became blurry for a moment, and he shook his head to clear it. Jana fired at the gnome which had stepped into view, but the bolt went wide.

“Anubis, please do not call me to you yet, so that these abominations may pay the price for their evil,” Beorth implored his deity, and place his hands upon his chest, feeling the healing power of Anubis enter his body.

The remaining wolverine leapt upon Ratchis, who scrambled away but suffered a deep scratch on his forehead, and blood boiled over into his eyes, blinding him. (32) Kazrack stepped forward, keeping his footing and slammed the wolverine away from the Friar of Nephthys with his halberd, drawing steaming blood from the creature. It growled in anger, steaming drool pouring from its now bloody maw. Kazrack took a moment to look up, and he saw as did all the others (except Ratchis) that the gnome with the warhammer, began to grow, he increased a foot and a half in height with great laugh, swinging the hammer above his head with delight.

“The Watch-Mage is coming back with us,” it said, its voice the scraping of metal against metal. “Killing the rest of you is just the icing on the cake.”

Jeremy ran around the other side of the tree, and putting his head down, and his arms out he bullrushed the now five foot, three inch gnome, but the gnome whirled around, and slammed the Neergaardian in the side with his mighty warhammer. Jeremy gasped for breath and coughed up some blood, and though he felt he might be able to keep his feet, he fell to the ground anyway.

Jana moved behind Martin who was now on the rear side of the tree from the perspective of the actual fighting. The Watch-Mage pulled a piece of raw wool from his pocket and with a word and a gesture a long sword appeared hovering before him. Beorth leapt to his feet with a roar and felt the resistance of the gnome’s chain shirt worn beneath his shabby jacket, but the heavy blow was still enough to make the opponent wince.

Ratchis pulled his wine skin from his side and poured the contents in his eyes to wash out the blood, giving a silent prayer that the wolverine would not rip out his kidneys while he did this. His prayer only went partially answered. He felt the claws in his back, but he was able to spin and fend off the thing, finally being able to see. Kazrack ran forward to beat the thing off of Ratchis once again, but the ground was still unnaturally slippery, and he fell on his back with a yelp.

Jana stood immediately behind Martin, as they both crept forward to surprise the gnome from behind. However, they heard and tinkle and crash and Jana looked down to see a clear crystal vial roll at their feet and crash. It was empty, but a shadow was cast across the ground from their left. She looked up in time to see a second smiling gnome. He pursed his lips and a jet of flame erupted from his mouth enveloping both Jana and Martin.

Martin was able to leap clear of the worse of it, bringing the illusory sword around to float between him and the gnome while casting another spray of color. The spell fizzled away around the gnome to no effect, as it pulled a light mace from its belt. Jana on the other frantically patted at the flames that were licking up her furs and clothes. Even Beorth’s great cry of pain as the first gnome’s warhammer crunched into his shoulder did not distract her, but Beorth wobbled and saw sparks of light floating in and out of his field of vision. The paladin slashed fiercely at his foe, striking him across the chest and drawing black steaming blood from it, but he over extended himself and felt something pop in his shoulder, as a new gout of blood erupted from the wound, and he fell over unconscious.

Jana fell over also, but to roll in the snow. However, the gnome took his opportunity, and she felt the glancing blow of the mace against her head. Meanwhile, Ratchis had crawled away from the vicious and fiendish wolverine and was calling to Nephthys to make his faith into a shield to protect him from the villainous blows of these fiends.

The remaining wolverine decided it liked the look of the prone dwarf struggling to right himself better than Ratchis who was now roaring like a wild beast, and took a swipe at Kazrack. The sudden pain was enough to get Kazrack to his feet, and with a deathly blow cut open the side of the creature and it let out a gasp and collapsed in the snow, melting it with the pool of blood collecting beneath it.

Blood billowed up beneath Jeremy, and formed a larger pool forming around Beorth.

Martin tried yet another color spray on the gnome, to no avail, while Jana leapt up to her feet and cast her cause fear spell. This also failed.

The gnome still enlarged charged at Kazrack leaping over the obstacle formed by Beorth and Jeremy’s bleeding forms and slammed the side of his hammer into Kazrack, who stumbled. Ratchis stepped up to his dwarven companion’s side, and felt his sword strike bone in the gnome’s shoulder.

“I am going to kill you for that!” the gnome roared.

“You will meet whatever infernal gods you serve this day!” Kazrack replied, thrusting his halbered head into the gnomes stomach, ripping away at its armor, and making it grunt in pain.

Unphased by their attacks, the second gnome stepped forward and with a word and a gesture, a fan of flame erupted from his fingertips, and both of the party’s arcane spell-casters collapsed - the snow around them thankfully smothering the fire before they burned to death.

The large gnome with the warhammer, brought a blow down on Ratchis’ thigh that almost droppped the hulking half-breed, but the Friar of Nephthys returned an equally devastating blow. The gnome stumbled and raised his hammer again, but Kazrack blocked the blow, and yelling, “My gods have judged you and found you wanting!” he dealt a powerful counterstrike.

The gnome staggered for a moment, and whispering, “Mother,” fell over.

“I feel sorry for your mother, but not for you,” Kazrack spat, and he suddenly found himself cloaked in darkness. He could not even see Ratchis who he knew was standing only inches away from him.

Ratchis who was also enveloped in darkness called to his goddess, ‘Nephthys, grant me your holy light that I may defeat these servants of tyranny!” The darkness was countered by the light now emanating from Ratchis’s sword, leaving the normal gloom of the morning to see by.

Kazrack moved past the tree the fight had been happening near in time to see the second gnome swallow a living spider and takes off up the tree behind him with arachnid-like skill, disappearing into the top branches.

Kazrack began to march in the direction of the tree.

“Kazrack, stop and help the others,” Ratchis called.

“You help them, I will take of this remaining fiend,” he said, pulling his crossbow from his back.

Ratchis sighed and grunted and kneeled beside Beorth, laying a hand on him and hold his belted of scored and broken chain links, “Nephthys, heal this brave warrior.”

He stepped over to Jeremy and said the same words; both stopped bleeding to death. Ratchis went over and checked on Jana and Martin, but they were stable and safe for now.

Meanwhile, Kazrack was covering the tree the gnome had disappeared into, waiting for a clear shot.

But then he heard a voice from the top another nearby tree, “Yoo hoo! I’m over here! I’m up here!”

Kazrack began to step backward slowly keeping the first tree in sight, but adding the second to his possible trajectory just in case.

“Kazrack!” Ratchis called. “I hear voices!”

“I think it’s a trick,” the dwarf replied. “They did it before.”

“Come and get me! I’m over here,” the gnomish voice continued.

“Keep covering the first tree!” Ratchis commanded, and he began to gather twigs, branches and leaves and gather them beneath the tree the gnome had climbed into. Taking a flask of oil he began to splash it on the gathered wood, and prayed to his goddess, “Nephthys, forgive me as I sacrifice this tree, but much more will be lost if I do not get rid of this evil which is a blight!”

Ratchis lit the tinder and watched it go up.

End of Session #17

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Notes

(31) Knockdown rules are used in the Aquerra setting – These rules are posted in the Rules Information section of the Aquerra website, under Knockdown.

(32) The Aquerra Campaign Setting uses a chart of critical hit (and fumbles) results.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #18

“Nephthys, guard me from the danger of this fire I use to flush out the enemies of freedom,” Ratchis said, invoking the power of his goddess.

The gnome up in the tree began to shake it, dropping snow on the fire threatening to put it out. But Ratchis was waiting with another piles of brush and branches and tossed it into the dying fire, while Kazrack took a shot at where he though the gnome was shaking from as he could see a silhouette of movement.

The fire went up brighter this time, with less snow in its way. The tree shook some more and the ifire hissed, but did not die. Kazrack took a second shot, but could not tell if he hit anything.

The fire crept up the trunk of the tree, and a column of black smoke lifted into the air. The tree sap popped and crackled. After a few moments the tree began to rock again. It was fast at first, and then the arcs became slower and wider, and the shadow the tree fell over the spot where the prone bodies of Jeremy and Beorth lay.

Kazrack grabbed Jeremy’s leg and pulled him towards where Jana and Martin lay and out of the way of the tree if it fell, and ran back for Beorth as it began to come down with a might cracking roar. The small gnomish figure tumbled out of the tree and is landed with a thud and cloud of smoke and tossed up snow around it.

Ratchis charged, and before the gnome had gotten to its proper footing it cried out in pain as Ratchis’ sword cleaved through it armor on the left side. The gnome spun on the half-orc with a forced titter and stepped back and lifted his hands to speak the words of a spell, but the pain made him lose his focus and the spell failed.
“Damn,” the gnomish voice said.

Kazrack picked up his halberd and ran into the fray, flanking the creature and striking it on the shoulder, the huge axe-head of his halberd catching for a moment on the gnome’s armor. Checking over his shoulder at the newly arrived foe, the gnome felt the bite of Ratchis’ sword again.

And again he felt the weight of a blow from Kazrack, knocking him to his knees. The gnome climbed back to his feet, swinging around for a glancing blow against Kazrack’s side. But it would not be enough, Ratchis struck again and this time the gnome went down with a grunt, green and black blood pooling beneath him and hissing in the snow.

Ratchis called upon his faith to have his goddess heal Martin and Jana, while Kazrack stripped the gnomes’ bodies, looking for anything useful or valuable.

Martin and Jana were able to groggily sit up, while Ratchis hurried to prepare Jeremy and Beorth’s unconscious forms for travel.

“How are you feeling?” Martin asked Jana.

“Lousy,” Jana replied, rubbing her head where the gnome’s mace had struck her and wincing as her singed skin cracked when she moved. “We should rest here for an hour or two. I don’t feel up to moving.”
She retrieved a balm from her healer’s bag and taking some passed it to Martin. “Rub this on your wounds. It takes the sting out.”

“Are we ready to go?” Kazrack said, walking over with an armload of stuff.

“Not quite,” said Ratchis, walking over to the second gnome’s body and driving his long sword through its neck. “Nephthys, forgive me.”

The gnome’s body hissed and dissolved into a smoke. Ratchis did the same to the other gnome and the remaining wolverine corpse.

Kazrack handed Martin a vial of clear liquid, “One of the gnomes had this. I know your kind might have a use for this sort of thing.”

Martin took the thing and put it away, scratching his head.

“Thomas?” Martin called mentally. “Where are you?”

“In the hole in the ground,” came the frightened reply.
“You can come out now,” Martin reassured him.

“I don’t ever want to come out again,” Thomas said. “Those things didn’t smell right. They were unnatural.”
“I know, Thomas, but they are dead now and we have to go,” Martin the Green said to his familiar and the squirrel hurried out of the hole and into his robes.

“Would you like a nut, Thomas?” Martin offered.

“I’m not hungry.”

Martin turned his attention to Kazrack and Ratchis who seemed to be having a disagreement.

“The weather is getting worse,” Kazrack said, the snow billowy around him, and covering his beard in a white layer.

“I know, but those gnomes might have been an advance force for more gnomes,” Ratchis replied. “We need to get as much distance between here and ourselves as possible.”

“It won’t matter much if we freeze to death,” Kazrack said. “That hole is the best and closest shelter we have and the only we know for who knows how long.”

“You are going to have to trust in my ability to keep us alive in the wilderness, I guess,” Ratchis said. “And we have the scroll the gnomes gave us.”

Ratchis turned to Martin, “Be ready to cast that thing as soon as you can. It could mean someone’s life.”
Marin gulped and nodded, “Tomorrow morning would be the earliest. I need to prepare the spell that will let me read it.”

“You didn’t prepare it this morning?” Ratchis asked incredulously.

“Uh, I didn’t think we’d need it,” Martin responded weakly.

“I don’t know how far I can go,” said Jana interjected.

“You will go as far as you go, I guess,” Ratchis said more roughly than he meant. “Uh, I mean, we have to get moving.”

Kazrack reluctantly agreed, and they began to march what Ratchis thought was southward, Kazrack and Ratchis pulling Jeremy and Beorth along on blankets.

---------

They marched on for an hour, until Ratchis decided that he should run ahead and scout out the coming terrain for a place to hide and/or rest. The half-orc took off, leaping through the thigh-high snow, while the rest did their best to trod onward and drag the unconscious party members.

Ratchis came running back into view an hour or so later.

“I think there is a place up ahead that might suit our needs,” he said. “I will have to check it out more closely, but we have another hour before hitting it, so I wanted to come back.”

It was closer to two hours by the time the others saw what he was talking about. It filled their gray and limited horizon - A stretch of steam or smoke that washed the sky into a looming grayness.

“What is this?” Kazrack asked.

“It could be a hot spring,” replied Ratchis. “Or at least I hope it is. You wait here. I will be back soon.”

Again, Ratchis took off out of sight, but this time he did not have far to go. The steam swallowed him when he was less than forty feet away. The wait seemed long in the billowing windy snow. Jana shivered.

Finally, Ratchis returned, and led them into the steam.

The transition was slow at first. The air within the steamy area grew slightly warmer and the snow became rain, and then the rain became mist. They walked down a slushy embankment to a depression where the ground was flooded with a foot and half of water in places. And the water was warm, and comforting, and small barren trees grew on small islands of muck.

They marched onward. Jana and Martin stumbling, while Kazrack and Ratchis hoisted Beorth and Jeremy from island to island.

“What manner of place is this?” Kazrack asked.

“It is a swamp,” Ratchis replied.

“I have never been in swamp before,” the dwarf said.

“They don’t usually occur in snowy areas like this, not this kind of bog anyway. But since it’s here, we’ll take advantage of it.”

“We should find out if this is a safe place of these men to recover,” Kazrack said.

“We have no choice,’ Ratchis replied. “We will have to stay here 2 or 3 days.”

“Then we better make a more permanent shelter then,” Kazrack said.

They chose a larger and drier islands than any other that had a barren tree and a small shrub, and Kazrack hung blankets between branches to make a make-shift tent to keep the wounded beneath.

Martin fell to the ground and fell immediately to sleep.

Ratchis helped Jana clean and dress Beorth and Jeremy’s wounds, and Kazrack looked for some firewood. Along with wood, the dwarf also found some strange things half-buried in the muck. It looked like burnt case of crossbow bolts, and a crossbow snapped in half and singed. He also found the charred skeleton of a human, still draped in a ring mail shirt.

“This isn’t good,” said Kazrack.

“No it isn’t,” Ratchis replied. “We will just have to keep an eye out.”

“I found this on one of the gnomes,” Kazrack said, handing Ratchis a warhammer. “It is of exceptional quality and has some runes on it I do not recognize. I figured you might use it.”

“Are you sure?” Ratchis asked.

“Yes, I have my halberd and that takes two hands,” the dwarf explained.

The dwarf and the half-orc split the night’s watch, with Jana not getting much rest in order to wake up occasionally and administer to Beorth and Jeremy.


Anulem, 21st of Nuiet – 564 H.E.

With morning came prayer, and cold porridge crammed in a clay jar by the gnomes. Kazrack did not have time to cast his spell to enchant his runestones and be able to call on his gods’ power, for Ratchis called Nephthys’ blessing upon the injured and by midday they were aching, but able to walk without help.

It was decided that the best thing might be to simply get out of the swampy/steamy area and back out into the “normal” weather since they did not know what had caused the burned items and bones they had discovered the night before, and because they could feel the water around their feet growing constantly hotter and hotter, until it was almost too hot to walk through.

The mist seemed thicker today, and the party’s visibility was severely limited. Beorth and Jana and Martin walked in front, while Ratchis and Kazrack took the middle flanks and Jeremy brought up the rear, complaining that his legs and back hurt.

As they came up one of the larger islands, happy to be stepping, however momentarily, from the near boiling water that they walked in, they heard the sound of something slither ahead of them in the muck. They had barely registered the sound, when coming over the other side of the tiny island, came four flaming balls at about head height, bursting through the mist with a loud hiss.

“What the…?” Martin almost said, as the thing in front of him sank into his vision.

It was like a giant snail, with shell five feet high and long, but its shell was black and was glowing red hot in places. Steam blasted out from under its shell, and it long snail head was actually four heads like swollen flails, but made of flame. They swung around wildly and menacingly.

Martin reached into his red leather bag and felt for the ball of fur and tossed it at the thing, thinking “attack it!”. The ball of fur transformed into a large wild boar, that gored the creature in its fleshy fore-belly. The boar squealed in pain as the creature’s steam burned its face, but it did not retreat compelled by Martin’s command.

Ratchis called out, holding a hand to his chest and another to his belt of broken and scored chain links, “Nephthys, protect me from this monster’s flames!”

Beorth moved forward stepping in front of Jana and Martin. Jana stepped backward and with an arcane word the now familiar ray of green light emitted from her finger, but she missed the creature entirely, too worried about her footing. Jeremy moved out towards the creature’s right flank and loaded his crossbow.

However the flaming flail-like snail’s heads moved faster than its body did, and the two of the balls of flame came down toward the boar, that dodged forward out of the way of one and stepped right into the other. It’s fur lit up in flame and it squealed pathetically, standing there until Martin commanded it to roll away and put itself out in the nearby water. Both of the other two heads crashed on Beorth’s head and shoulder, and the paladin let out a cry and collapsed, tumbling head first into the water. Fortunately, this put out his burning fur cloak, unfortunately he was not headfirst underwater while unconscious.

Ratchis ran forward longsword drawn and stabbed the thing, getting a splash of steaming ichor on his hands, while Martin prepared his crossbow. Jana ran forward without thinking to help Beorth, but came to close to the thing, who struck her down with a flaming head, and soon she too floated face first in the water. Jeremy finally go into position and his bolt struck the thing below the shell, and it let out a loud hiss.

With more force than the first time it swung all its heads to strike Ratchis, and he ducked and weaved, but still two made contact, but his clothes did not catch fire, though he still felt the heavy thud of the monstrous flesh behind it. Kazrack stepped up and tried to cut one of the heads from the body with his halberd, but it reared up out of the short dwarf’s reach.

Martin had the boar attack from the rear, but a jet of steam escaped from under its shell by the tail and the boar was burned again, and again it cried out in agony. Ratchis shoved his blade into the pulpy thing again and again it hissed and reared and swung its heads, avoiding another bolt from Jeremy and coming down to strike at both Kazrack and Ratchis. Kazrack ducked and struck the creature, but against the shell and it seemed to do no good. Ratchis avoided one, but the other slammed him heavily and he nearly fell down.

Martin and Jeremy were having no luck piercing the thing’s shell with their crossbow bolts, and the boar was attacking half-heartedly despite Martin’s urgent commands to gore the thing.

Ratchis felt another hard blow from the flaming snail, but the second head that swung his way swung too long and chopped the water and the head went out, leaving a muck-covered round lump on the end of the slimy neck. Kazrack dropped his halberd and pulled out his flail, hitting the snail dead in the center top of it shell.

The creature let out a sound like a gasp, and a crack went through the shell and steam expelled outward in all directions, and then the thing stopped moving.

Ratchis yanked Beorth and Jana out of the water and lay them across his knee as he called for Nephthys to heal each of them.

Martin called the boar as he held his magical bag open, and it leapt up into the air and twirled back into a ball of hair and into the bag. Jana could barely walk, but they had to carry Beorth out of there, up the embankment and back past the perimeter of steam, where the snow still fell ceaselessly from the gray sky.

Ratchis began a fire, and Kazrack took a hatchet to a small nearby tree and made more wood. As Martin plopped himself on the ground, Ratchis plucked the red bag from his belt.

“Hey!”

“Don’t use this thing again,” Ratchis said of the bag.

“Why not?” Martin asked.

“It could be evil, and as far as I am concerned it probably is,” Ratchis replied. “It depends on how it works. Do you know?”

“Depends on what you mean by how it works,” Martin said. “Are you asking if it makes a magical animal to do your bidding, or it summons one from somewhere else and binds it to your will?”

“Exactly.”

“I don’t know,” said Martin. “Though I haven’t thought of it before. But it could be too useful not to use.”
“Give him back the bag,” said Kazrack. “He is a wizard and would best understand its use. And we must trust him to not abuse its power.”

Ratchis sighed and tossed the bag back to Martin, “Don’t use it unless you absolutely have to, or if we do use it, we can use animals for other less painful tasks than the one you set the boar to do.”

“That seems like a reasonable compromise,” Martin said, putting the bag away. “I will send a letter to the Academy about it , at first opportunity.”

The day was long and they sat huddled about the fire in the cold, as Jana tended to Beorth groggily.
“I hate this place,” Jeremy muttered. “I should have stayed in Neergaard.”

No one replied, and suddenly Martin fell to his hands and knees with dry heaves. He turned and looked at the rest of the group, that just watched him numbed to the spectacle by the cold and misery.

“I’m sorry I have been so useless,” Martin choked out.
No one replied.

Night came and went with almost no discernible difference in light. Everything was a miserable gray.


Ralem, 22nd of Nuiet – 564 H.E.

With morning came indecision as to witch way the party should travel: cut through the swamp area directly to what they thought was south, or go around it to the east, until they could move south again without being in the swamp.

“We saw some burnt equipment and the new saw something that can explain that, and we can keep watch for it,” Kazrack said. “I should hope that we can move faster than a slug.”

“But look at how hot and strange that area is,” Ratchis said. “There could be hundreds of those things in there, and we don’t know how far south it extends, what if we end up having to spend another night in there?”

“Are we even sure that south is the right way?” Kazrack said.

“That is the way the gnomes said to go,” Beorth said.

“Where on the map would this place be then?” the dwarf said pulling out the map the castle steward had provided all the groups of dragon-hunters.

They could not decide though they all generally agreed that it had to be somewhere in the top left had corner of the map.

This of course did not help them come to a decision at all. In the end, only Kazrack wanted to go back through the swamp, and the will of the others won out. They began a slow march, Beorth still aching and hardly conscious, to the east by southeast, hoping to get around the steamy area.

They journeyed for hours, only stopping infrequently to ration out water and a bite of hard tack. The wind blew the snow up in great whirls and right into their faces.

Their feet had grown numb as they found they could finally turn back to what they thought was the west, but in the distance was the looming shadow of the rocky ridge that marked the perimeter of Greenreed Valley.

“I hope we will be crossing to the right side,” said Kazrack.

“Look!” Jana said pointing to the darkness of the earthen incline. There was the flickering of a fire light about halfway up the side, I looked as if it was emerging from with the ridge. It must be a cave.

“I’ll go check it out,” Ratchis said, and made to take off.

“Wait!” Kazrack said, grabbing his cloak. “Shouldn’t we have a signal for you to let us know of we should go forward or run away?”

Ratchis rolled his eyes, “Sure, I’ll yell.” And the half-orc took off.

The rest of the party waited what felt like over an hour, so finally they began to march towards the ridge, but were met up with Ratchis before they arrived.

“Maybe next time we should settle on two kinds of yells one that can mean move forward and the other which means run away,” Kazrack said.

Ratchis ignored him.

“It is a precarious ascent,” Ratchis said. “I found a cave, and there were voices speaking in common up there.”
“Anubis, the journey is long and I am tired. Lend me your strength so that I may continue,’ Beorth said, laying his hand upon his chest.

“Do you know what manner of people are in there?” asked Kazrack.

“No, but I do not trust anyone speaking common in this area,” Ratchis replied.

“But if they are speaking common then that means they are men,” Kazrack said.

“Men can be dangerous,” Ratchis said.

“Anything can be dangerous,” Kazrack said.

Jana nodded.

“I will go alone and ask to share their fire, that way I only endanger my own life,” Kazrack said.
“In our encounters so far, without any one of us, we’d all be dead. We all go, or none of us go,” Ratchis insisted.
“I agree,” said Jana. “It is too dangerous for anyone to go alone.”

“What about Thomas?” suggested Jeremy. “Martin could send him ahead to see what is in there. It’d look like an animal just coming in from the cold.”

“They might try to eat him if they are waiting out the storm and are hungry,” Kazrack said.

“But we need a place to wait out the storm,” said Beorth.

“No, we could go back northward a bit and Martin could use that scroll,” said Ratchis.

“Um…” Martin gulped. “I could?”

“Couldn’t you? Didn’t you prepare that spell you need?” Ratchis said his voice becoming a growl.

“Well, I kind of forgot,” said Martin.

“Don’t forget again,” Ratchis said through gritted teeth. “Now, can you ask Thomas if he’ll go scout for us.”

“Does he think I can’t hear him?” Thomas said to Martin mentally. “I’m not going anywhere that people might eat me!”

“He refuses,” Martin replied to Ratchis.

‘Fine than we have no choice, but to make our way up there as a group and maybe find another cave we can fit into. If so, we can avoid a confrontation, if not we will go and talk to these strangers,” Ratchis decided.

“We can go up there as a group, fine,” said Kazrack. “But we shouldn’t all go in at once, that might scare them into thinking they are being attacked. I’ll go in first, and if it looks too dangerous and we could all die I will say, ‘I’ll take some of you with me!’ and you’ll know to run. If it looks like we can take them, I will say ‘come forth my friends!’”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what we are going to do,” said Ratchis sarcastically, as he led them up the narrow rocky trails that switched back and forth up the face of the ridge. They could not find any other cave, so finally, Ratchis led them up to where the low mouth of the occupied cave was.

Kazrack stepped in first and walked down the narrow way, near to where the cave turned to the left and obscured whomever was in the rear with a fire and sounding as if perhaps they were playing cards.

“Ho! I am a traveler seeking shelter from the cold!” Kazrack cried out.

There was the sound of several pairs of scrambling feet, and a voice returned, “Who’s there?”

Ratchis slipped into the cave and clung to the wall, wrapped in a shadow.

“I am called Kazrack Delver,” Kazrack replied, and came around the corner.

The fire was smaller than the great shadows on the cave wall made it seem. There were three men standing with weapons at the ready. One was short and stocky man with a truncheon, he had dark eyes and hair and a swarthy complexion. He wore a shirt of rings. The other beside him was gangly and tall, with patches of black hair seeming to be equally spaced on his face as it was on the top of his head. He wore a suit of studded armor in poor repair. Behind these two was a third dark man of medium build. He held a loaded crossbow aimed at the dwarf.
At this men’s feet, leaning against the cave walls, with their hands tied behind their backs were four other men. They were immediately familiar to Kazrack.

“I am seeking some shelter,” said Kazrack to the armed men. “How is it that you have these men bound here?”

“Let’s move,” Ratchis hissed to others hearing what Kazrack had said, and began to creep forward.
“What business is it of yours?” said the stout man.

“Shh, Torsius!” said the man in the rear. “Let me do the talking. These men are deserters. We are bringing them back for the bounty.”

There was the sound of movement as the others came up the cave.

“Who is that coming?” the man in the rear asked.

“Do not be alarmed,” Kazrack said lifting one hand from his halberd and showing the men his open palm. “It is my companions.”

“Easy boys,” said the tall gangly one as if he has a mouth full of marbles.

Ratchis, Jeremy, Martin and Beorth came up behind Kazrack.

“It’s Martin!” said the stout one.

“Blimey! It is Martin,” said the tall one smacking his dry cracking lips loudly.

Martin waved weakly, “They are part of the group I traveled to Gothanius with from Westron.”

“We have no objection to sharing our fire,” the man in the read said. “Come on in. You are all welcome.”

They could not w all see who was bound there. It was four of Crumb’s boys. Finn. Carlos, Frank and his brother Gwar.

“Karack!” said Finn excitedly.

“You keep it quiet,” said the man in the rear.

“How do you know they are deserters?” Kazrack asked.

“They were running away,” said the man obviously in charge.

“Yeah, they were running away!” echoed the stocky one.

“Carlos, did you desert?” Kazrack asked the dark-skinned foreign boy.

“Es verdad que estababamos corriendo cuando el glaive nos encrontramos, pero es porque viemos el mostro,” Carlos replied, rapidly.

“Just as I thought,” Kazrack said, looking at these men’s faces. “They did not desert.”

“Listen, we don’t want to fight or anything,” said the man in the rear, who Martin knew as Phillip. “We were deputized by this bounty-hunter who is working for the king, and he got us to help him round up these four, and one more who I think he is still looking for, because he had seen them run away from the dragon.”
“The dragon?” Martin said incredulously.

“Finn, you saw the dragon?” Ratchis asked the Herman-Lander youth.

“Yes, we did,” Finn replied. “It was huge and scary and it swooped down out of the sly and flew above it us. It was like a wave of fear hit us, we all just started running, except Josef, we don’t know where he is. We had no choice.”

“Sounds like these men are strategic retreaters, not deserters,” Kazrack commented.

“Where did you go after you saw the dragon, Finn?” Ratchis asked.

“We tried to get back to Summit, where we have been staying out the winter,” Finn explained. “But the Glaive and these guys came out of nowhere, and wouldn’t listen to us. I tell you one thing that old guy can fight. Oh and yeah, you know who is he, he is the old guy that wouldn’t talk to anyone when we traveled with Crumb.”

“These men are being unjustly held,” Ratchis said to the three armed men.

“Says you!” said Torsius.

“Hold on,” said Phillip. “Like I said, we don’t want to fight, and we are acting under the bounty-hunter’s orders. Why don’t you stay here out of the storm, dry off, warm up and we’ll all wait for the Glaive to return., and then you and he can work this thing out.”

“That seems reasonable,” said Martin.

Kazrack nodded.

“Put your weapons down, boys,” said Phillip, lowering his own crossbow. “Make yourselves comfortable in our little cave.”

The party walked deeper into the cave and took spots around the fire, and waited. Ratchis noticed, a narrow crack at the back of the cave that seemed to lead to another chamber beyond.

“It is quite a coincidence that you ran into us, Martin,” said Phillip to the Watch-Mage, who was holding his boots above the fire.

“Yes, there are a lot of coincidences happening around here lately,” Martin replied dryly.

End of Session #18
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #19

“How did you become deputized?” Kazrack asked the three men, who were now circling up to return to their card game.

“We ran into him, the Glaive that is,” Phillip explained. “And he convinced us that it would be a good idea for us to become deputies, and we agreed – figured has ta be less dangerous than hunting for a dragon.”

“Finn, do you promise not to run way if we release your bonds?” Kazrack asked the Herman-Lander.

Finn Fisher opened his mouth to reply.

“You can’t do that!” Torsius shouted.

“I am not trying anything, these men just aren’t very comfortable,” Kazrack said.

“”They’re not uncomfortable,” he turned to Finn. “Are you uncomfortable?”

“Well, actually…”

“See? They are fine,” Torsius said.

“Can we not leave things at the status quo until the bounty-hunter returns?” Phillip said. “He will be back soon enough.”

Jana tried to make herself comfortable in the rear of the cave, but Torsius kept looking at her and licking his lips.

“I just thought if they were untied, they could rest easier,” Kazrack said.

“Listen,” Phillip intoned. “You have to understand, we are just trying to do a job here. We’re not trying to cause you any trouble, so we don’t understand why you’re trying to cause us trouble, especially when we been trying to be hospitable by sharing our fire.”

“Just seems strange,” Jeremy interjected. “If he saw them run away then he was following them before they were deserters.”

“Yes, does sound funny, doesn’t it?’ Ratchis added.

The tension in the room began to build again.

“We’re guests here,” Jana suddenly said, sitting up straight. “We should wait until their leader comes back to discuss it. I’m sure we’ll get all our questions answered.”

“Yes,” said Beorth. “We do want to make sure that the law is being properly adhered to.”

Kazrack leaned forward and whispered to Jana, “If we let them take these men they’ll be killed.”

“Yeah?” Jana said, without an iota of caring more than was needed in here voice.

“If we keep them tied up and it does come to a fight, they could stab them as they sit there,” Jeremy commented.

“Hey!” Torsius cried. “We wouldn’t stab a defenseless man! What do you takes us for?”

“Yeah?” Kazrack said, surprised, and turned to the tall lanky quiet one. “And you?”

“Mumma-numma-summuh-uh,” Cottonsmouth said.

“See? Him neither,” said Torsius.

They broke out the rations, chewing on what was last left of the meat pies the gnomes packed them.

“We got jerky if you want some,” Phillip offered. “I’m gonna get some from the back, and some more firewood. Ratchis, would you help me?”

Ratchis and Phillip went through the narrow crack to another smaller chamber. There was a bedroll in there and the signs of another smaller fire once having been lit in here. There was a pile of neatly stacked wood back there and a large pack.

Jeremy moved over to sit between Frank and Gwar.

“It sure is good to see you guys,” said Frank.

“Yeah, any luck yet? Have you seen the dragon?” Gwar asked.

“No,” Jeremy replied.

“You don’t want to see it!” Gwar said and he and his brother shuddered at once.

“Why?” Jeremy asked.

“Peligroso. Muy Peligroso!” Carlos said, from across the narrow cave.

“What is ‘peligroso’?” Kazrack asked.


“Danger, much danger,” Carlos replied.
“It was green, like the sun on the water,” said Finn.

“Sounds beautiful,” said Jeremy.

“Yes, but terrible as well.”

“Hey, I just noticed something,” Finn said. “Where’s Chance?”

The group was silent. Ratchis walked back into the main cavern and dropped a pile of wood beside the fire and began to break pieces in half and chuck them in. Finn just looked from face to sad face.

“He’s dead,” Ratchis finally said.

“Whut? What happened?” Gwar asked, his face sinking into one of consternation and sorrow with others.

“Wilderness is dangerous,” Ratchis replied.

“What do you mean?” asked Gwar. “Did he fall off a cliff, or freeze to death or something? Was he killed by a bear?”

“He was attacked by orcs,” said Karack.

Jana curled up in a ball again and wrapped her blanket around her, suddenly finding her sleepiness.

Martin meanwhile had leaned over to whisper in Beorth’s ear.

“Don’t trust these three,” the watch-mage whispered. “They’re thieves. Second-hand reports, but evidence enough to be cautious. I am going to sleep.”

Martin too, picked a spot and nodded off.

And soon everyone nodded off except Beorth and Ratchis, who kept watch and then later work Jeremy and Kazrack to do the same.


Isilem, 22nd of Nuiet – 564 H.E.

The wind’s last howl turned into a gasp just before the sun rose, and everyone awoke to the brightness of Ra’s Glory peering into the cave mouth.

Martin stretched and looked up to see Ratchis standing right above him.

“Prepare that damn spell you need,” the half-orc growled.

“Uh, yeah,” Martin replied weakly. “I was planning on it.”

“You guys have magic?” Phillip asked.

“Don’t sound so surprised,” said Martin standing up.

“What do you mean by that?’ Phillip replied, the Watch-mage just went over to his own pack and pulled out his spellbook. He turned to Ratchis. “How about you? Do you do magic?”

“I am a Friar of Nephthys,” Ratchis replied.

“I like Nephthys!” cried Torsius, excitedly.

“Really?” asked Ratchis. “Why?”

“Because if you get in trouble and you are on the run, you can go to a temple of Nephthys and they’ll hide you,” Torsius explained. “That’s what me Pa always said. If you’re in trouble, go to a temple of Nephthys.”

The hours of the day passed without event. The party took turns going outside to feel the warmth of the sun on their face, and they nibbled what little food their was, and collected snow for melting into fresh water. Mostly, they rested out the aches and pains of the long journey and the rough weather, and they waited for the Glaive to return, but the sun began to sink and he still was not back.

They sat around the fire once more, spread out and trying not to think about food, and the night was a deep and dark blue, turning blacker all the time.

“I don’t plan to leave these people behind,” said Kazrack, leaning into speak softly to Ratchis.

“I think it’s obvious what the King intends to do with them, or at least the people under him,” said Ratchis.

“I’m starting to wonder if there is any connection between the King and our friend in the valley,” said Kazrack.
“I know the agents of Set have the power to disguise themselves, and Menovians worship Set,” Ratchis mused.
Martin stepped over to the two of them and joined the conversation.

“Ratchis, I heard rumor these men are pick-pockets and thieves, so you should keep your eye out for that,” he said.

Jeremy must have overheard as well, because he scooted over to talk as well, “We have no reason to think the king is involved. For all we know they are just obeying the law and our friends here really did run away, and if that is so if we try to stop them we’ll be breaking the law.”

“Jeremy, I joined up on the rumor that the king would sell these men into slavery. Now, on the first indication that people are running away he has someone ready to take them captive?” Ratchis said. “Now he can give these men ‘mercy’ and just sell them into slavery for 10 years, instead of prison or killing them.”

“Then why didn’t he just snag us all at the castle, then?” Jeremy asked.

“Word would have gotten out that all these would-be dragon-hunters disappeared or were taken captive,” Kazrack said.

“This whole plot allows them to have some legitimacy in the eyes of others and not visibly ally themselves with Menovia or anger Herman Land,” Ratchis added. “Even if this is not a slave plot, I neither trust, nor like the King of Gothanius.”

“I just don’t know if we’d be doing the right thing freeing these guys if the laws of the land say they have to go to jail,” Jeremy said.

“Jeremy, there are the laws of man and then there are the laws of the gods. The first tell us what we ought not do in order to keep peace. The second tells us what is right and what is wrong, and these are more important than the first.”

“Hey, what are you guys all huddled here talking about?” Phillip asked stepping over into their circle.

“We’re philosophizing about what is right and what is wrong,” said Kazrack.

“Well, count me in then,” said Phillip. “I love this stuff – once was gonna enter the seminary and become a priest of Ra, I was.”

“I was just saying that the laws of any given society are their own and no more right or wrong than any others and should be obeyed whenever possible,” said Jeremy.

“That’s ridiculous!” Phillip said. “Look at Thricia!”

“Excuse me?” Martin said, coughing into his hand.

“Come on, Martin. You know what I am talking about. Thricia is decadent. You hardly have any laws there at all!” Phillip expounded.

“I think I know what Jeremy means,” said Kazrack. “Like the way your opinion is no more valid than any other man’s.”

“What?” Phillip was now astonished. “Of course it is more valid, I am Herman-Lander. We are the richest and most powerful country and why? Because we have a strong leader and a strong leader’s opinion is more valid than all of ours put together. Where are you from that you would say any man’s opinion would be worth the same as a king’s? That is crazy talk, next thing you know people will want to throw down governments because they think they are just as entitled to rule, as if the gods did not pick the lines of kings for a reason!”

“I am not talking about toppling kings,” said Jeremy, flustered. “I am just saying that the laws set up for a community are just as good or bad, depending on how well they govern.”

“You are the most arrogant man I have ever met,” said Kazrack to Jeremy. “Look at Wallbrook, from what I hear they are really lawless, if Malcolm was anyone to judge them by. Have the power to take something and it is legally yours. If you can’t hold on to it, you don’t deserve to keep it, they say down there. Is that a good law?”

“Jeremy, you’re saying that if the Black Islands Barony ruled the world, then slavery and murder would be good because they were the only society?” Martin inquired.

“No,” said Jeremy. “Because there would always be people like us who would fight their tyranny and form our own societies.
“I’m glad to see you are willing to do your part to keep the Black Islands Barony from ruling the world,” said Kazrack sarcastically. (34)

“How did you get on this conversation anyway?” asked Phillip.

“It was going fine until you got into it,” snapped Martin.

“Cranky, aren’t we?” said Phillip, mocking a hurt face.

“Oh, enough of this!” Martin stood. “I am going to practice some illusions. Jeremy would you help me?

Suddenly, a figure came stumbling into the cave, his hands tied behind his back, and landed face first on the hard ground.

“Looks like we have some guests,” came a booming voice from the cave entrance.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Notes:

(34) As I am sure you all remember, the party first ended up in Derome-Delem to avoid in fighting in the war against the Black Island Barony.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #19 (part II)

“It’s Josef!” cried Gwar, craning his neck to see the figure that had stumbled in.

A figure stepped into the light provided by the fire in the cave. He was tall and lean, but broad, with a weather-worn face and brown hair that was mostly gray poking out of his helm, and wrapped around his face in a beard. He wore studded leather armor and had a long sword at his belt and a spear in his hand. He dropped a small pack on the floor.

The party (except Martin) immediately recognized him as the man that had traveled with them wordlessly from Verdun. They knew now that he went by the name, The Glaive.

“That one is pretty good at hiding,” The Glaive said. “I had to track him for two days.”

The bounty-hunter kicked Josef in the rear-end and sent him towards his bound friends.

Ratchis stood and Kazrack quickly followed.

“Why do you have these men bound?” Kazrack asked.

“My, right to the point,” he cleared his throat. “I’m sure my assistants have told you. These men are deserters, and I have been hired by the Crown of Gothanius to return deserters and contract-breakers to justice - that is all I need say.”

“Maybe you can tell us how the dragon-hunt goes,” said Ratchis.

“That is not my job,” replied The Glaive, dryly.

“What is your job then?” Ratchis asked.

“I already told you, to bring deserters to justice.”

“I have heard the dragon is very fearsome,” said Ratchis.

“And?”

“So, doesn’t make sense that some men would run to save themselves when the finally face it?” Ratchis conjectured.

“That is not my concern,” said The Glaive. “And I don’t have to justify myself to you.”

He walked closer to the fire and squatting down by it leaned his spear against his shoulder in order to warm his hands. He then looked up at Ratchis.

“Anyway, I overheard them planning on leaving the country,” the bounty-hunter added.

“Finn,” Ratchis said turning to the young Herman-lander. “Were you planning on leaving the country?”

“What? No!” Finn said, but not very convincingly.

“So, you assignment from the King of Gothanius was to look for deserters?” Martin asked.

The Glaive sighed, clearly annoyed at being asked the same question over and over.

“Yes, while Crumb was recruiting you boys, he was also recruiting me,” The Glaive said. “I have spent the last two months combing this backwater place, learning the lay of the land and keeping an eye on these ‘dragon-hunter’” He spoke the last word with contempt. “And these five are the first deserters I have caught, and I plan to take them back for the bounty.”
“What will happen to them?” Beorth asked.

“Not my concern,” The Glaive replied.

“How much are you getting for them?” Ratchis asked.

“Seventy-five pieces of silver each,” The Glaive replied. (35)

“What if someone else paid you that amount?” Ratchis suggested.

The Glaive paused and smiled.

“I might be convinced to let them go for a competitive price,” he said.

“Or, we could just free them,” Kazrack said.

The Glaive’s smile turned into a scowl. “Go ahead. I won’t try and stop you, but you’d be in for a whole world of trouble if you did something like that,” he explained.

“Well, I am willing to pay to free Finn,” said Ratchis, untying his money pouch from his belt.

“What?!?” Frank and Gwar said at once.

“I’d have to sell them as a set,” the Glaive said, his scowl turning back into a smile. “If I am going to save myself the trouble of going all the way back to Twelve Trolls, I don’t want any of them.”

“Can we have a minute?” Martin asked.

“Take all the time you need,” The Glaive said, grabbing some jerky and leaning against the wall to eat.

The party retreated to the back of the cave and began to talk about how much money they could pool together.

“I have almost nothing,” said Martin the Green.

“Don’t you get a salary as a Watch-Mage?” Jeremy asked.

“I sent it to my parents,” Martin replied, and Jana rolled her eyes.

“It chafes me to buy their freedom, but it seems to be the only lawful way,” Beorth said. “The little money I have I will donate to this cause.”

The party soon determined that they did not have enough coinage to pay for all five of the captives.

“I’m not sure the buying them will help anyway,” said Kazrack. “What if he frees them and once we’re gone he just captures them again?”

“We will have to bring them somewhere safe,” said Beorth.

“Aren’t we in a hurry to get to the elves and get their help?” Martin said.

“Can we allow five innocents to die just so we can avenge our friend?” Ratchis said.

Jana opened mouth to speak, but stopped herself.

“They are not exactly innocent,” whispered Beorth. “I think they probably were going to desert.”

“Not innocent compared to what?’ Ratchis replied in a hiss. “We all know they are good kids who are mixed up in something bigger than they are.”

“Point well taken,” Beorth replied.

“Wouldn’t they be safe with the elves?” Jeremy asked.

“Why would they be safe with the elves?” Ratchis said, frustrated with Jeremy as usual.

“He doesn’t know what he is saying,” said Kazrack. “he thinks elves will pop up everywhere like they are some kind of magical creature.”

Ratchis left the circle and walked over to The Glaive.

“What of we give you 40 silver pieces for each?” Ratchis said.

“Why would I agree to that?” The Glaive said, chewing on his jerky.

“We are saving you the trouble of brining them all the way back to Twelve Trolls,” said Ratchis.

“And that includes the trouble and expense of keeping them alive and fed until you get there,” Martin added coming up behind Ratchis.

“I still have to split the bounty with my deputies, and 40 each does not leave me with much,” The Glaive said. “Make it 60 silver pieces and you have a deal.”

The party huddled up again and pooled their money, Jana paying a particularly large chunk. They paid The Glaive 300 pieces of silver. The Glaive tossed the money to Phillip to count.

“Can we share your fire for one more night?” Ratchis asked.

“Sure,” The Glaive replied. “But they stay tied up until morning and then you’d better be moving along.”

Everyone bedded down for the night, and Jeremy and Kazrack took turns staying up to keep an eye out, but by morning no schemes or ulterior motives became evident, and barely bidding adieu to their hosts, the party marched out of the cave and out across the field of snow back in the direction of the steamy area and general direction of Summit.


Osilem, 24th of Nuiet – 564 H.E.

When they were a few dozen yards from the ridge the cave was in, Kazrack and Ratchis began to cut the bonds off of the wrists of Finn, Frank, Gwar, Josef and Carlos.

“What a waste of rope!” Jeremy cried as the cut strands fell into the snow. “You should have untied them.”

Everyone ignored the blonde Neergaardian.

“Thanks so much for saving us,” said Finn. They all shook the party’s hands and smiled despite the cold. “We’ll find some way to pay you back every penny and then we’ll still owe you one. Right guys?”
The rest nodded enthusiastically, though Frank and Gwar’s faces seemed to be wondering how they were ever
going to afford to give up such a large sum.

“We can get back to Summit with no problem,” said Finn. “You don’t have to walk us all the way.”

“Just so you know, we believe you were planning on deserting,” said Ratchis.

“Oh, of course we were,” said Finn. “This is the thing, I wanna go back home. I wanna get back to Herman Land. We used the “patrols” as an excuse to hunt for ways out of Gothanius and back to civilization. We weren’t all going to go, just me and maybe Carlos.”

“I met a nice girl in Summit. I don’t need to marry a princess,” said Gwar.

“Yeah, and Carlos isn’t very popular with the fathers in Summit, if you know what I mean,” added Frank.
Carlos smiled bashfully.

“My advice to you is that next time you see the dragon and run away, scream ‘Regroup! Regroup!’ or something in case that bounty-hunter is watching,” said Kazrack.

The walked half the day, and east part of the way around the unnaturally steamy area.

“It is less than a day to Summit from here,” said Finn Fisher. “I think we can make it from here.”

The party discussed it and decided that it would be best to head to Ogre’s Bluff and let the others go the rest of the way to Summit on their own. They only waited long enough for Martin the Green to hastily pen two letters, one for the Alderman of Summit, and one for the Alderman to send to Alexandra the Lavender. (36)

Finally, they were ready to part ways.

“Good luck with the dragon,” said Gwar. “I’m sure you’ll be the ones that do it.”

“May Nephthys protect you,” said Ratchis, and the party headed back southward, but moving a bit to the west to avoid the Glaive’s cave.

They climbed the ridge and made camp in a circle of small trees. On the other side of the ridge a forest went as far as the eyes could see.

They looked at their map, and decided their best bet would be to follow the eastern edge of the forest until they came to Ogre’s Bluff.

But first they slept.

Ratchis and Beorth took the first watch, and then awoke Kazrack to take the second.

The dwarf walked in circles ever-vigilant and trying to stay awake for the four hours he had to watch. However, he had barely watched for an hour when movement in the sky caught his eye. He turned and looked to see a large winged form, with a long neck and tail and a large body fly across the sliver of moon that shone that night.

He immediately woke Ratchis and Martin.

“I think I saw the dragon,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Martin asked groggily, and the dwarf described what he had seen.

“It looked like a dragon to me,” said Kazrack “And if that’s so our working theory has some holes in it.”

“It could have been the gnomes,” said Ratchis. “Using their illusions like Mozek said.”
“If we have to take into account that there is really a dragon around here then we have to start worrying about being seen from the air,” Kazrack said.

Ratchis sighed, “Well there is nothing we can do about it now.”

“And the gnomes could have made an illusion from far away to help lend verisimilitude to their attempts to frighten people,” said Martin, laying back down.

Ratchis also went back to sleep and Kazrack finished his watch, waking Jeremy about three hours later as the sun came up.

“We didn’t wake you,” Kazrack said as Jeremy stood and stretched.

“Yes, you just did,” Jeremy replied.

“No, we had an incident earlier, and we didn’t wake you up,” Kazrack explained.

“Thanks,” said Jeremy. “I’d rather not get woken up in the middle night for nothing.”


Tholem, 25th of Nuiet – 564 H.E.

The party ate and discussed the dragon sighting and then began moving down the other side of the ridge into the forest.

“Didn’t Mozek say the dragon was fake?” Beorth said.

“And you believe him why?” Jeremy said, shaking his head.

“Why would he lie about that?” Ratchis asked.

“To get us killed by a dragon we are not ready for maybe?” said Kazrack.

“We aren’t ready for a dragon whether we know it is real or not,” said Jana dryly.

“Another possibility,” said Kazrack, the wheels and gears of his mind turning noisily. “Is that a real dragon heard the rumors and came to check them out for itself.”

“Well, then it is a friendly dragon because,” Ratchis said this next part emphasizing every word very precisely. “IT HAS NOT EATEN ANYBODY.”

“That we know of,” said Kazrack.

They dropped the subject as they had to turn to their left to follow the edge of the wood and not walk into it. They crossed a narrow strip of plain and then back into another forest, and skirted the edge of it. Ratchis noticed a low rock wall poking up through the snow. He led the party that way and they walked along the outside of the wall that seemed like some kind of property marker.

Jeremy leapt up on to the wall and began to walk atop it.

“We should look for a gate?” said Kazrack.

“Why should we look for a gate?” asked Ratchis.

“This could mark the border of the town, pr it could mark the property of someone who might know where the town is, or where we can find the elves,” explained the dwarf.
“I think we should keep the fact that we are looking for the elves as close to our chest as possible,” said Ratchis.

“The less people who know what we are really doing the better. We will just claim to be hunting the dragon like everyone else is. Martin, you can ask about the elves as if a curiosity or something.”
Martin had been looking at the top of the grassy hill on the other side of the wall, hardly paying attention to what was being said, when he saw two armored figured come over the crest and begin walking quickly in their direction.

“Ratchis! Armed men!”

The party stopped, and Jeremy hopped off the wall.

“Ho! Hold there!” one of the men called. They both looked young. The younger looking one was taller, and looked as if he were trying hard to grow a mustache to go with the brown curly locks that stuck out from under his fur-lined helm. The other had a full mustache, but was half a head shorter then the other. They looked like brothers.

They wore studded leather armor and both wielded crossbows. They had long swords at their side and the shorter one had a spear strapped to his back.

“How now? What are you doing so close to the Alderman’s estate?” said the shorter one.

“We are…” Martin began.

“We’re hunting the dragon,” Ratchis said quickly.

“…dragon-hunters,” Martin shot Ratchis an annoyed look. ‘We’d like to speak to the Alderman if possible.”

“Well, you can’t come onto the property through here,” said the taller guard. “You have to go through the gate.”

“Yes, follow the wall around to the gate. I will run up to the manor and speak with the alderman if I can,” said the shorter one. He turned to the other guard. “Bryce, escort them around from this side, I’ll be right back.”
The guard named Bryce scowled, but obeyed as the other went jogging back over the hill. The party followed the wall, escorted by the guard who kept his crossbow trained on different members of the group the whole time. The wall turned eastward and went up the hill and the party followed.

Ratchis whispered to Martin, “If anyone asks you why you are asking about the elves, tell them we have reason to believe they may be in league with the dragon. That will sound reasonable.”

“We certainly don’t want to give the Gothanians any excuse to make war on the elves,” Martin replied.
“Then say we want to avoid them then,” said Ratchis.

“Ya know,” Bryce said loudly interrupting the whisperings. “The alderman is a busy man, he probably won’t have time to talk to you today. Every Tom, Dick and Harry who claims to be a dragon-hunter has been wanting to talk to him.”

“Would it help if we had a Watch-mage with us?” Ratchis asked.

“Well, maybe if you had said something before my brother went off to go tell the alderman you were here,” he said with some disgust.

They cam to the wrought-iron gate and beyond it they could now see a very large house with three chimneys poking up from the roof. Shrubs and topiary were covered in snow, giving their decorative shapes a melancholy look. This alderman was obviously very rich.
Twenty minutes later the other guard returned.

“I’m sorry but the alderman is very busy at the moment. He said he might be able to see you in three or fours days and that you should come back and try again,” the guard said.

“Oh, could you show him this?” Martin handed the guard his letter of introduction to the guard, who looked at it puzzled. “It is a letter of introduction from His Majesty the King.”

“Why didn’t you give this to me before?” the guard said with a sigh. ‘I’ll be back.”

As he turned to head back to the manor, Bryce said, “Brochard, you already had the alderman’s answer. You shouldn’t bother him again.”

“If I don’t tell him that an emissary of the King is here, we can kiss our jobs good-bye,” replied Brochard.
They waited out in the cold for another twenty minutes, and finally Brouchard returned, this time with an older man also armed and armored. He also bore a family resemblance to the young brothers.

“I am Morton Oldhall,” the older man said. “I am in charge of the alderman’s security. I am sorry to keep you waiting.”

He paused and looked at Ratchis up and down and then shot a glance at Kazrack.

He cleared his throat. “Please follow me.”

Bryce opened the gate and the party was led up to the house, where the butler, Dornast led them into a parlor.

“Sir, Martin the Green, and…” The butler cleared his throat. “…friends. This is Alderman Silvestri”

The alderman stood from a divan. He looked to be in his mid-forties, but still head full head of golden blonde hair. There was a young girl of about 15 years, with the same wispy corn silk hair sitting on a wingback chair. She looked at the party and then turned her sad face back towards the fireplace.

“Welcome, welcome,” said the alderman with a broad and obviously fake smile. His lips curled a bit as he approached the party, looking at their wet and muddy and bloody clothing, and noticing the smell of days and days spent in the wilderness wafting off of them. “And these are your…guards?”

“They are my associates,” said Martin and introduced the party. Despite his ever-present smile, the alderman seemed none to pleased to have them in his house.

“You’ll be wanting to talk about the dragon then?” the alderman asked.

“Yes, and other creatures and races that we have heard rumors of,” Martin said. The others shifted awkwardly where they stood.

“What, you mean the elves?” Silvestri said.

“Yes, among other things,” Martin said.

“Well, there is not much to say about them,” Silvestri said. “They keep to themselves in their enclave out in the woods, and we keep to ourselves. But, why don’t you go into town and get yourselves rooms at the Golden Plough and clean yourselves up and rest and then come back for dinner and we can talk about this at length.”

“That sounds fine,” Martin said, and then continued delicately. “I ‘m sure you’d be willing to help us in anyway you can to fulfill the King’s business.”

The alderman’s mask of good cheer was flawed for nearly a second, but then the smile came back, “Of course! Let me right you a note so that the inn-keeper will put your room on my tab. It is the least I can do for the King’s servant.”

The party was escorted out after being told to return in three hours time and Dornast gave them directions into town and the Golden Plough.
The marches on a dirt track up ah hill and through what appeared to be groves for growing apples and pears in warmer months.

“I don’t think gold would make a very good plough,” commented Kazrack as the marched, more to himself than to anyone else. “It’s very soft.”

They noted buildings in the distance and increased their pace with thoughts of a warm inn and real food.

“My people aren’t great farmers, but I’m sure gold wouldn’t make a good plough,” Kazrack continued.

-------

The Golden Plough was full of loud and raucous people. A bard could barely be heard chanting a tune in a corner, and over the hearth was a mural of huge golden ram pulling a gold plough across a field, while a farmer and his family watch from the foreground. The common room was cozy, and the inn-keep led them to a table and took their food orders and asked them if they’d need rooms for the night. Martin handed him the alderman’s letter.

“This here says only one room and three meals a day on the alderman and only for Martin the Green. Is that you?” Wilson the inn-keep said.

‘Yes,” replied Martin.

“Got a special room for you,” replied the innkeep. “The rest of you need rooms too?”

The party nodded.

“I don’t like inns,” said Thomas to Martin from his safe perch in the Watch-Mage’s robes. “But at least it is warm.”

“Yes, it is,” replied Martin. “I’ll try to get you some fresh nuts.”

“Thanks,” said Thomas happily. “Or cheese!”

“Are we going to find the elves tomorrow?” Beorth asked the group quietly.

“Well, are we in a hurry?” asked Kazrack.

“Somewhat,” replied Ratchis. “But we need to balance our need to hurry with our need to be prepared. For example, my armor is nearly falling off, and I need to get it repaired.”

“Well, there is one last ritual I need to perform, before my place in the priesthood of the dwarven gods is officially granted. I need to enchant my runestones,” said Kazrack. “And once I do that I can use them to ask the gods for some glimpse into the fruitfulness or futility of our choices. But I will need a full day for this.”

The party contemplated it.

“Beorth? What do you think?” Ratchis asked.

“I think that Kazrack’s devotion to his god should come first,” the ghost-hunter replied.

“Then it is agreed. I will spend tomorrow enchanting my runestones and the rest of you can do whatever errands you need to run,” Kazrack said.

The party fell to diving up tasks for the next day. Jana would be going to the general store. Martin and Ratchis would go to the pawn shop and the armorer. Jeremy would be going to the town constable and asking about sightings of the dragon.

The quiet bard had finished his song and some cried out, “Let us hear the tale of those who faced the dragon again!”

The was a round of resounding cheers, and the party noticed that most everyone in the common room was now paying attention to a table occupied by five young men. Four of them were unknown to the party, but Kazrack, Ratchis, Jana, Beorth and Jeremy knew one of them. It was Guisel. (37)

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Notes:

(35) Aquerra uses a silver standard. Seventy-five pieces of silver is quite a lot of money to most folks.

(36) The party met Alexandra the Lavender in session #7 (part I). Martin the Green also met her during his journey to Gothanius.

(37) Guisel was one of Crumb’s Boys.
 

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