Soanso's Fireside Chat: Rise of the Runelords (AE)


First Post
The Misgivings, pt 4

We came into what was once some sort of observatory, a battered telescope occupying much of the room. Two floor-to-ceiling paintings flanked one wall. One depicted a black-haired woman holding an iron staff, the other a handsome man wearing an ivory and jade crown. Though familiar, I could not place them.

Vohoi walked to the window and then back to my side several times, becoming increasingly agitated. I put my hand on his shoulder and he startled, turned and faced me. His eyes came back to him, as if he were somewhere else for a moment.
“Are you ok, mage?” I asked. I clasped his shoulder firmly.

He hesitated a moment before his reckless smile reappeared. “Yes, I am. I had heard… I wanted to throw myself out the window to the rocks below. But…”

I nodded. “This cursed place must be undone,” I said.
“She won’t like it, what you’ve done here,” Shaiira said in a voice not hers, that I refused to let echo in my heart. She stared out the window, fingering the loose frills of her scarf. Of Mum’s scarf. I felt my hand rise, but fought it back to my side.

We entered into the hall and, by Desna, I heard a sigh from behind a closed door. Noria opened it and we stood, fixated on the large, rose-wrought mirror in the corner. Before it stood an emaciated woman.

She wore the same garb of Iesha Foxglove in the portrait downstairs.
Iesha Foxglove. Iesha Farateldi. Mum. Mother.

“She’s not happy,” Shaiira’s weird flute-voice piqued in my ear. “It’s your fault.”

“It’s not my fault,” I said; but Shaiira was not behind me, nor even in sight.

Mum was saying something. Her lips moved. Her lips were slim, broken and black. Her face was mottled blue and green, and large sores covered her exposed arms and legs. Her hands were gnarled and knotted, and the fingers that once in my life plucked the strings of a lyre and braided my hair now ended in wickedly sharp claws. Her eyes stared into the mirror as her lips twitched, the black orbs possessing nothing but great sadness.

“Mundin, Caramour, do you see her?” I asked.
“Aye, the abomination is but an arm’s length from you. Come back to us,” Mundin whispered, axe drawn. From the corner of my eye I could see C preparing a spell.

I cleared my throat. “Mother,” I said. The creature did not turn to me. To be so close without provoking the undead horror meant but one thing- she was indeed what the Pharasmin priests call a revenant. Her soul belonged to only one thing- the death of her murderer. Suddenly I saw myself again, realized what a fool I was.

“Mum-” I had entertained taking her murderer to my own bosom, to trust him as she had. If I were to die in a split second I’d have welcomed it. Revenants do not just lust for the life of their killer, any blossom of memory will do. I stepped between Mum and the mirror, hoping to either break or inspire her rage. Her head snapped up, and the black orbs of her eyes crackled with pale green malevolent motes.

“Aldern! I can smell your fear! You will be in my arms soon!” I cowered in fear as her suddenly animated body made swift and powerful progress past the dwarves guarding the door and down the stairs.

“Should we follow?” C asked.

“Revenants know the exact location of their killer. If everything tumbles into place, we’ll find Aldern at the end of this,” I said, recovering from my fright and doubling my efforts to follow Mum.

We followed Mum through the house until we reached the first floor. She had stopped at the weird spiral-staircase motif on the hallway floor, shrieked and began ripping it apart. Mundin slid by me with his axe, but I stayed his arm. She would lead us to Aldern. Piecing things together, it was he we were after for the ghoulish atrocities that brought us here. It was he blighting the Misgivings. Revenants can find their killer unerringly, all we had to do was wait.

Mum tore through the floorboards, exposing a basement below. But as she began to lower herself in, C blasted her with a burst of positive energy. Enraged, she clamored back to the floor to attack us, wicked claws slashing away.
Mundin was first to move in, and she quickly grappled him as the rest of my mates fell in to combat. I stood, dumbfounded. How could they attack her? She was my mother, my mother! The one I’d traveled to Sandpoint to find, to liberate and to bring back to me. To me, I am the last of us. How could this be? This was not her, I knew I could find some way to bring her back. Who could have drained her of all her vigor, vivacity, her laughter?

Shaiira suddenly leapt into combat, wielding my mother’s scarf as a weapon. She struck my mother and she reviled, yet grabbed the scarf and then began choking my sister. Shaiira’s legs kicked at the creature’s legs, and her hands grabbed at the undead horror’s face, but the monster kept squeezing her. My sister’s face turned purple, her eyes bulging. My mother’s…

She was not my mother. My mother is dead. She was a beast, a monster, a cur, an epithet destroying what little I had left in my heart, mind, and soul. I drew my crossbow, clumsy as it was, and fired a shot at the revenant. It missed, but distracted it enough for the dwarves and casters to rain death upon it, setting my sister free.

Her body lay prone on the floor. Sadness overcame me. What was once a grand part of me was irrevocably corrupted. Grief flooded my heart. I could sleep easy knowing she was dead or alive, but not this. Noria stood above the revenant, her eyes waiting for me.
I nodded, my head as heavy as a guillotine.

I ran to Shaiira, tears flooding my cheeks. Her eyes were as sodden as mine, and we took a moment to realize our worst nightmare.
Our friends were quiet. I turned to them, intent on delivering a soliloquy wrapped in bravery, timeliness, and history. Instead, I wept. I wept openly and unabashedly. I could not find the words that could make it right. Noria shouldered me as I calmed down.
“Best to rest tonight,” she said. “The casters are low in power, as are you.”

“Aye,” I said, wiping the tears from my eyes. I stood and smiled. “Maybe an extra ration of wine tonight, Mundin?”
The dwarf smiled. “I’m all ears, lass. Let’s get somewhere safe. There’s the ruin at the bottom of the road that might provide shelter.”
“On a clear night, we should be fine,” Vohoi said.

We headed towards the burnt-out servant’s quarters, where Vohoi pointed to the sky. A large, circling murder of crows preceded us, hovering near the ruin. As we came closer, they swooped in to attack us. Their bodies were emaciated and rotting, smelling of foul undeath and they swarmed us quickly. C sent out waves of positive energy, immediately dropping the crows. We spent an uneasy night in the ruin, knowing full well what dangers lurked in the damp below.

Halfway through my watch, I heard a companion rise and leave camp. Though quiet, the footsteps were obvious. The soft foot-pad and the tap of wood indicated Caramour was up and about.

“Sorry about your mother,” he said, his words quick to my ear like his feet on the ground. C is always faster than he looks.

“My mother is at peace,” I replied.

“But I-”

“You did what was right in your heart, Caramour. She had to be stopped.”
“You did not approve.”

I was silent. I did shriek when he blasted the area with positive energy. Mum would have led us to Aldern, I thought. But then again, what do we know about the next minute? Nothing but that which we assume.

I turned to C, our eyes hidden in the dark embers of the campfire. “I don’t know, C. I’ve always had stories, songs, jokes to get through. You all know that. I’ve always had my past on my terms. To see it laid bare, for what it is-”

Silence hung in the air for a moment. Crickets chirped, a sudden sign of life at the Misgivings.

“The past is real. It is no longer a vision you shape for your own definition. It becomes a hard concept within you. It touches your soul,” the cleric said, “but it does not mean that the past cannot be interpreted. Tomorrow is the journey we embark on today.” Caramour took a few long draws on his pipe, I poured myself another glass of wine, and we sat in silence for a while.

“What brings a Vudrani here to Varisia?”

Caramour smiled.

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First Post

“It is not from Vudra I have traveled, Sivoulette, but from the Kingdom of the Impossible, Jalmeray; my heart was never meant to study in the fabled monasteries there. We have an obsession with perfection,” Caramour said as he leaned into the fire, crackling it with his breath, causing flames to again jump into the night.

“My journey is one of wonder, ironically impossible if you may. From a young age I knew that my fate was to never stay too long in one place. I was destined to always be on the move. Why Varisia, you ask? Thassilon,” the cleric answered, puffing from his pipe. “Ancient civilizations intrigue me. There is so much to be learned from the past. I am sure you feel the same.”

“Aye,” I said. “But I never intended for this. I didn’t choose this,” I said, refilling my wine. “I never dreamed to find my mother. Shades, I never meant to find a sister- my Shaiira. I meant to live the life of my people, my family. Out on the Storval Plateau…” I trailed off, watching the flames leap into the air.

“That’s it, isn’t it? We don’t choose. Are we chosen? I cannot say,” C said softly.

“To whom do you pray? I see your symbol but I do not recognize it,” I asked, bolstered by the wine.

Caramour studied the fire for a moment. “You could say it is the ideas of goodness, of compassion, love, strength, and justice. Freedom, wind, waves, liberty. Growth, health, retribution. Consciousness. We Vudrans have a different path to enlightenment than you do here. There is not one force, but many that I pray to in meditation.”

I nodded. We sat silently by the fire for a while; the trumpeting flatulence from Mundin’s bedroll announced his turn at watch. C smiled and pressed his hand to my shoulder.

“We are neither chosen nor called, we just are.” The cleric headed to his blanket under the stars.

Mundin coughed and stretched his frame as he came to the fire. “Miss anything?"

“No, friend. ‘Tis a quiet night, save the cicadas.”

He tilted his head. “First thing we’ve heard besides the screaming sage now aye?” He let out a chortling laugh. I smiled. Poor Vohoi had been tormented by the haunts inside the manor- I myself had seen more than I wished to ever recollect.

He took to sharpening his axe blades, then turned to me. “You best turn in, lass. You’ll need your strength tomorrow.”
“I’m not tired,” I said.
“Need ye be petulant still?” He paused his work, and laid eyes to me.

“She was a revenant,” I said after much pause.

“So she was murdered,” he said. “Have ye not seen now what foul things face us? Aye, you’ve met tragedy. I’m not a cold stone, but still stone must face the wind, for the wind never abates. Siv, we need ye lass, at your best.”

Tears rolled down my cheeks. I was never not in control, until now. Mundin was silent as I composed myself.

“There is time for sorrow, Siv. There is also time to rest. This ain’t one of your grand tales to tell, where everyone walks away fine, a good lesson learned. These are the dark times,” he said. I felt the grave in his voice. “You need to sleep.”

I wiped my eyes as the dwarf’s words sunk in. I looked at him, and saw the pain he had, that he carried every day. In sorrow I was not alone; the dwarf’s tale needed telling. We carry with us the stones of legacy. “We fight our ghosts,” Mundin said. “Not by choice, but because we must. Because our past defines us. It will, in time, embrace you, too, child.”

“I see your burden, friend. And you see mine.” I rose from the log and bid him goodnight.

He was right. There are tales to be told, true, but there is also a tale to be lived. Never has the Farateldi caravan been waylaid until now. Never has the clan suffered the injustice of silence. I am the clan, now. And I have a family, Shaiira being first. Mundin, Caramour, Vohoi, Noria are all here. Grandy Vin and PopPop are gone. Mother is gone. Now the yoke is mine, and I stepped to it, bolstered by the words of my brother, Mundin.

“When I sing our tale in my gray hair, good sir,” I said.

“I shall be there to raise a mug in spirit,” he replied. Such is a Varisian exchange, always a promise on both ends.

I was glad to have company by firelight. I retired to my blankets just outside the campfire’s reach. With the weight of the wine I felt sleep swiftly approach, and soon fell to it.


Nice interlude here, Soanso! Also likin' very much how the storyteller's own personal history is interweaved with the general plot unfolding in this adventure. Lookin' forward to further updates!


First Post
Hey thanks Azkorra!

It's my guilty pleasure to be playing the bard AND writing the Story Hour for this campaign. I play with a great group; I don't quote them verbatim, but try to capture their characters as the Players play them.

Thanks for following!

More to come!


First Post
Les Misgivings, denouement

We awoke, and the plague-stricken ravens were nowhere to be seen. Fully recovered and prepared to follow the path Mother had laid out for us, we approached Misgivings with a new feeling- hope.

Dropping into the exposed basement, we found something unnerving- someone had been excavating the basement in recent months. Perhaps the haunted house was less abandoned than we had thought.

The basement was itself a complex mix of rooms, the first being a shoddy kitchen. Waves of rat swarms plagued us, but were eventually overcome.

We came to a ruined arcane laboratory. A mural spanning the walls depicted a gaunt, gray-fleshed man imbibing a vial of viscous green liquid; his other hand clasped a seven-sided wooden box. I recognized the man as Vorel Foxglove, patriarch of the Foxglove line; he also appeared in paintings in the house proper.

We left the room, all except Noria. I turned in the doorway, and watched as her arm eerily and slowly extended itself at the bookshelf, as if it were pulled towards the dusty tomes unwillingly, and she touched one of the books. Her eyes rolled in her head for just a moment, and she gasped, withdrawing her hand and cradling it as if it had touched open flame or solid ice.

“Are you alright, Noria?” I asked, my hand moving to the hilt of my rapier.
“I, yes. It’s numb, that’s all. Yes, Caramour? Where is he?” Her stoic voice cracked as she asked for the cleric. Caramour came around the corner.
“Are you wounded?” he asked.
“No. But tell me, this mural here- it is familiar, yes?”

Caramour studied it, and walked to the seven-sided wooden box. “Phylactery,” he said.

“I thought so,” Noria said, shaking her hand free of numbness. “This is part of the process the depraved take to become a lich.”

My head swam with confusion. What was happening? Where did the Open Road lead? A fortnight or so ago I had discovered a half-sister I never knew existed; today, my mother’s spirit finally released, I found myself on the trail of a lich.
Three iron bird cages cluttered one workbench, and I thought of the ghoulish ravens that had swarmed us. I shuddered to think of what pain my mother must have suffered under this evil roof.

Another room featured two bunks and appeared to be servant’s quarters. The room appeared to be recently used, but we found no evidence of any particular individual. A set of stone stairs led to the murky depths of the earth.

“We must save the child,” Noria said. It was her first utterance since the necrotic laboratory.

“What child?” I asked.

“We must save the child,” Shaiira repeated, her eyes again glassy and adrift.

Noria shook herself from some sort of fog. “There is great evil here,” she said. “Follow the stairs below.” The paladin was burdened by something, but I could not perceive her qualm.

Her voice was too monotone to be Noria, but we acquiesced. We followed the staircase into a natural limestone cavern, leading straight into darkness. Shaiira scouted ahead.

“She’s gone,” Noria said.

“What the what-” I stammered, not ready to lose another one so soon.

“Aye, something swooped in an’ took her,” Mundin said.

We followed the dwarves into darkness, albeit cautiously. Mundin’s war-cry prompted C to put light on his walking stick, illuminating the battlefield. Sha was huddled in a heap in the lair of a winged nightmare, bleached bones littering the floor. We finally brought it down, feeling weary from the fight. Caramour healed Shaiira; though dazed she seemed fine elsewise. There was life in her eyes again, and that made me smile.

“Some sort of ghoul-touched bat,” Noria said as she looked through the beast’s lair. Several fairly ripe bodies lay among the bones and guano.

“By the Goddess, it’s Bilger!” Shaiira cried.

“A friend of yours?” Mundin quipped.

“Nay, but he is a known criminal. He robbed a Magnimar merchant and there is a bounty on him,” Shaiira said as she stripped the dead dwarf of his belongings. “This should be enough evidence to collect the reward,” my sister said.

“Glad to have you back,” I said. She smiled oddly.
“I never left,” she said.

We decided to rest again at the burnt-out servant’s quarters, Caramour providing both protection from the cadaverous birds and the benefit of a nap stack. We were quickly back to the caverns beneath the Misgivings, thanks to his prayers.

A second tunnel was the lair of a small pack of ghouls, which were quickly dispatched.
We entered another natural cavern, this one was met by the sea. Green sea foam splashed up against the high walls of the cave, and four sickly goblins quickly engaged us, joined by a few more.

“Ghouls!” Caramour shouted, using his grace-given energy to lay them low.
We came to a locked stone door. As Shaiira investigated, I felt my stomach turn, my nose struck with the whiff of carrion. She opened the door onto a terrible scene.

A macabre sitting room greeted us. A rickety table stood to one side, what appeared to be a stack of paintings leaning on it. Lumps and heaps of rotten meat filled the air with the overwhelming stench of death. Lazed in a chair was Aldern Foxglove. My heart stopped.
It was Aldern, but not Aldern all at once. His frame and finery were intact, but his visage was that of a terrible monster. His purplish face split in a too-wide and wicked grin, a distended tongue lashing out from behind viciously sharp teeth. He donned a mask of horror, a sickly stitched thing from the flesh of the living.

“My Darling, you have arrived!” the corpse said, lithely sliding from its chair to the floor.

“I am not your Darling,” I said, drawing my rapier. What this undead abomination was, I was uncertain. I only knew it killed my mother, and that was all I needed to know.

“My Darling, I do love a woman with spirit,” the thing said.

“You killed my mother,” I said.

“No, my Darling, I gave her everlasting life. I freed her.” The horror’s fetid breath was that of a dung-heap left to wallow in the jungle’s heat.

“And now it is you who has come to me for salvation.”

“Can we kill it?” Mundin asked.

“Aye,” I said, and I lunged into battle, crimson with rage.

My rapier met the soft flesh of its belly, tearing it apart. The ghoul’s eyes widened with the blow.

Yet Aldern was powerful still, and soon I gasped on the floor of the cavern, unable to move. I faded in and out of consciousness, but I saw Noria strike the fatal blow, I smiled then spiraled into darkness.

It was the voices of Caramour and Mundin that brought me to light. “Can you hear me, Siv? You have been graced by the gods,” C said, his warm hand on my forehead.

“Get up lass, we’ve more business, and your songs keep us dwarves movin’!” Though his voice was gruff, it brought a certain measure of concern.

I smiled. I struggled to sit up.
“I won’t leave even if asked,” I said.

“A Varisian to the bones,” Vohoi said.

I forced myself to my feet, and took in the surroundings. Aldern, or what was once he, was dead. The cavern was littered with rotting meat yet was surprisingly put together in a horrific semblance of noble order. A fleet of canvassed paintings littered the walls and floor; a silver candelabra graced the table in the middle of the room; a rack of clothing stood in one corner. A wicked cleaver rested in the dead noble’s hand. But most curious was a man-sized silhouette of mold on the far wall, pulsing with energy. We searched the body of Aldern and the room, hoping for a clue.
I found a silver locket on the beast’s body; my mother’s portrait was held therein. I immediately clasped it on my neck, and it felt like the hug from a mother to a daughter after a moment of strife. The grotesque mask and a pair of rings were also magical; but the true find was Shaiira’s.

She approached us, her hands cupped. She walked gingerly, protecting her treasure.

“I found this,” she said, carefully depositing the splintered wooden box before us.

Noria looked at C, and they both looked at me; I nodded. Shaiira had found the splintered remains of Vorel Foxglove’s phylactery.


First Post
Interlude 2: Notes From the Grave

There are no words, no phrases nor linguistic tricks that can take away the terror of death. Death lurks behind every smile, every menace, every corner, under blue skies and black, with or without provenance in deeds or thoughts or circumstance. Death is a terror to the living, a sweeping, inevitable finality that we all dance around and spend most of our waking hours avoiding as a matter of fact. To those skilled enough or rich enough, death can be a mere inconvenience, waved away by powerful magic or an unheralded reservoir of determination and divine favor. For the rest of us, death will find us. Death has been a part of my life, always, and this fact does not set me apart from the rest. While I can accept that death is the inevitable terror of mortality; it is undeath that I cannot begin to comprehend. It is the terror of death manifest, it is the physical embodiment of the horror of loss, the foul corruption of life. Where life gives promise, undeath is a negligent and unrepentant hunger- and that hunger is unholy, unreal, and…

I beg your forgiveness, fellow travelers and tale-weavers, for my absence. My time spent trapped twixt life and undeath required rumination, acceptance, and reconciliation.

After battling Aldern Foxglove, his ghoulish visage corrupted by fate and hidden behind his terrible mask, I fell into a fitful, cold sleep. Wet cobwebs of nightmares cloyed at my soul, an unholy hunger rose like a fire in my belly; my soul was paralyzed, held in check as the dark, needling bits of memory and hatred flitted about the corners of my mind, trying to consummate the utter destruction of my soul. My psyche broke down, and a recurring nightmare from years ago, years I’d buried mile after mile on the road, resurfaced. Myself, holding my mother’s wedding scarf, bathed in blood. The caravan burned as I sobbed holding the tattered thing. Every nightmare ended the same- me, crawling from beneath the wagon, the smell of charred flesh so thick I wretched…

I woke to the songs of magpies drifting through the cobwebs that clouded my mind, songs lifted to my ear by the soft rays of morning’s first lights. I turned my head towards the sound and thanked Desna for renewing our journey. I opened my eyes, but found them crusted over and I reached my hand to wipe away the deterrent of my morning.

I was startled to find my hands and feet bound with crude rope, my hips lashed to the plush mattress. I tried to cry out for help, but my throat was filled with sand, my lips were a cracked, scorched surface no song or tale would survive. I struggled against my bonds, but found myself too weak, too clumsy to shake them. I shivered despite the warm sun languishing on my sightless eyes, and like a drunkard whose mind is suddenly flooded by the events of a night lost to the bottom of the glass, I remembered Aldern. I remembered the Misgivings, I remembered the crows, the stench of rotting meat, I remembered a hunger I could not sate, I remembered his mask, a foul thing stitched together from the hides of a half-dozen creatures, hideous and magical and then, again, the hunger, and the cold whisper of the grave.

A hand covered my mouth and warm water splashed over my eyes and cheeks, and it felt like a weight was lifted from me, a warm cloth wiped away the detritus that sealed my eyelids shut. I blinked as harsh sunlight filled my eyes and blinded me momentarily. Again I tried to speak, but words were lost in the sandstorm that was my mouth. I turned my head to the magpies, and saw the dwarf holy warrior, Noria, at my bedside. She held a cloth, and her eyes bore no malice. As our eyes met, she signaled to another across the bed, and I pivoted to see Caramour alongside, a pitcher and goblet in hand. He poured the water into the goblet, and held my head as my cracked lips touched the rim of the vessel and I drank deep. The cold water was an avalanche of relief into my body; I drank thrice before the sand and gravel left my throat and my soul rose from some unprepared grave to bring me again to the day.

I raised my voice to speak, but instead fell into a fit of coughing and wheezing. I pointed my left hand inwards towards the bonds that held the wrist in question.

Noria and C shared a glance; they knew I was safe, but they waited. I recognized the valances and the pitcher and goblet as those of the Rusty Dragon.

“You fought bravely at the Misgivings,” Caramour said as he loosed the bonds on my wrist. “Yet what was once Aldern infected you with a disease I could not cure.”

Noria also worked to loose the restraints around my hips. “It was ghoul fever, Sivoulette, and we needed to take precautions after you tried to attack your sister,” the dwarf said. “Do you remember anything since the attack?”
“Hunger,” I said. “Nightmares. My mother, killed by Aldern. Massacre of people I didn’t know. Flames, cold, dark shadows. Is Shaiira…” my voice fell into a fit of coughing.
“She is fine,” C said. “We were able to… subdue you and the good preacher Zantus was kind enough to aid in your recovery.”

By now the coarse rope was away from my body and I felt as if I were truly rising out of a nightmare and into a dream.
“I… words cannot… I regret,” I said. “Thank you, for not…”

Noria rose and helped me from my bed. We went to the common room, surprisingly devoid of customers. At the great table sat Vohoi, Shaiira and Mundin. They each rose as I entered on Noria’s arm, still feeling weak from days lost to ghoul fever.

I smiled.

For the first time in my life, I had nothing to say.

“Well, then, mystics,” Mundin said, hefting his axe, “Is she an abomination or not?”
“Sorry to say she’s alive, Dwarf,” C said, chuckling. Mundin’s cheeks grew red as tomatoes.
“Ha! You owe me! I told ‘im you’d rise from the grave! That’s ten crowns, my good man,” Shaiira said, holding out her hand to Mundin. To his chagrin, the dwarf clinked the gold coins into my sister’s hand, and after a pause approached me. “Glad you’re here, lass, we’ll be needin’ ya soon enough.” He gave naught but a look and a slight nod to me; a gesture as good as gold from his kith. I knew Mundin had a story, too.

After a spell, patrons began to float in and the Rusty Dragon assumed its typical mid-evening pace of food, drink, and tales. For the first time, I did not feel compelled to join the storytellers at the hearth, or mingle with the wenches and barkeeps, or even slip into the scullery to pare potatoes or chop onions or prepare chickens for roasting. I felt connected yet aloof, involved but alone.

I never actually held my mother’s scarf after she left. After the massacre, it was she that brought me to Sandpoint and to Shaiira, what seems like a lifetime ago now. As far as I knew, when I arrived in Sandpoint, Mum was dead and buried in the boneyard, her stone bought by an artist of local repute. As I approached her simple stone in the cathedral’s sideyard, I passed the half-elf, and her scarf was unique: it was Mum’s. And so death brought life to me, and my people. This might be my last night in Sandpoint; I found my mother and can again join the Open Road. Yet something else keeps me from calling my horse and departing to Magnimar, or Riddleport, or beyond; there is something here, an energy that is like a vortex disallowing me to leave. So death again gambles on my fate; Desna keep me close.

I nursed a mug of mulled wine, simply happy to be free of the cold touch of the grave. I harbor no compunction regarding my recent plight; ghoul fever is serious and I counted myself blessed to have escaped its terrible fate. My companions lilted, laughed, and caroused with exuberant life. I had never forgotten the joy of existence, but now I appreciated the gift much more than ever before. I smiled to myself as I watched Mundin, half-tipped, instruct a few of the locals on the finer points of axemanship. C was withdrawn to his customary nook, engaged with Vohoi in an intense discussion, both puffing contentedly on their long-stemmed pipes. Noria, always uncomfortable in gatherings, had a mug of ale in one hand, listening to the troubadours strum a solemn song of Aroden’s glory. Shaiira skulked in the shadows, and I beckoned her. She lit across the floor and joined my side, sliding into the booth to sit next to me. We watched the crowd, silent. A new halfling server brought Sha a small glass of whiskey. She shot it back and nodded to the lad.

I took a sip of mulled wine. “Tell me about Mum,” I said.

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