The Durnhill Conscripts


My son Logan and I have decided to start up yet another campaign. We already have two active D&D campaigns going: "The Kordovian Adventurers Guild," which I DM (Story Hour link), and "The Adventures of Baabby and Sam (A Skylanders Campaign)," which Logan DMs (Story Hour link). The latter campaign is still going on, but a recent string of setbacks with the family we game with in the former campaign has caused us to go two months now without a gaming session - and circumstances are such that we won't have another opportunity to play the next adventure in that campaign until 18 Nov 17 - a full ten weeks since our last session. The latter campaign has the advantage of the DM and the two sole players (my nephew Harry and I) all residing in the same house, so we can theoretically play whenever we want, but traditionally we try to play every Saturday that we aren't having a Kordovian game session. (Due to our two families' respective schedules, Saturday works out best for our Kordovian sessions.)

The other family we play with consists of Dan and Vicki and their two sons, Jacob and Joey. Jacob is now in his third year of college (time flies - our families started gaming together when he was 8 years old!), and lives about 45 minutes away. The plan has been that he'd be back home every other weekend so we could theoretically game every other Saturday, but due to some family stuff (with both families), that hasn't been the case. Also, until recently, Dan and Logan used to go to the local game shop every Wednesday to paint minis, but the shop got overcrowded and they've pretty much gotten all the minis painted they need, so they stopped doing that. But we all kind of missed the Wednesday get-togethers, since Dan and I (who used to work together in the same office, but now work in different offices in the same building on the same Air Force Base) got to catch up with what had been going on in our respective lives before they'd go off to paint.

So Logan and I decided: what if we started up a new campaign to fill those Wednesday slots? His Skylanders adventures are usually only about 2 hours long on purpose (we've found out that's about the optimal length to match Harry's 10-year-old attention span), so we could have him DM a series of short adventures of about the same length. We could have Wednesday night be our traditional game night for that campaign, and with short adventures designed to be finished in one 2-hour span it wouldn't matter that we might not have the same player roster from week to week (if, say, Dan was free on a particular Wednesday evening but Vicki had something going on that night).

With that as our concept, we decided our characters would be more on the mercenary side of things. So as not to hamper Logan with decisions made in the Kordovian campaign (which is loosely set on Oerth but includes significant differences from the official campaign setting), we decided this new campaign would take place on a separate game world but with the standard D&D 3.5 races, spells, and deities - everything straight from the Player's Handbook. Logan further tweaked the idea into having our PCs conscripted by the king into going out on missions that needed to be done, but occasionally couldn't be performed by official members of the kingdom. (For example: the king wants a band of rogues slain that headquarter in the next kingdom over: if he sends his own soldiers in it would be an act of war, but if he sends a group of individuals with no known - or at least provable - ties to his kingdom, if they get caught he can always deny his involvement.) So it's basically a "Suicide Squad" set-up without our PCs necessarily having to be "bad guys."

In talking this over amongst ourselves (Logan, Harry and I) in the van one evening on the way to dinner (my wife Mary wasn't feeling well that evening and sent us out to eat and asked us to bring her back something), Harry came up with a full character idea almost immediately. He and Logan had been playing their way through some of the "Final Fantasy" console games, and Harry wanted to make sure monks existed as a character class in D&D because some of his favorite FF characters were monks. Upon getting that confirmed, he decided he'd run an elven monk, and then he spilled out a full back-story for his PC: he'd been through his initial training at the monastery and his master was ready to send him out into the world to do good deeds, with an understanding he was welcome to return any time he needed for training and weapons. All he was lacking was a name, and after a couple of days we went looking up elf name meanings from an old Dragon article and came up with Kaspar Hardstrike. (According to the Dragon article, "Ka-" means "dragon" and "-spar" means "fist" in the Elven tongue, so Kaspar's first name translates to "Dragon Fist.")

I wanted to run a dumb human fighter, and I ended up with Jace Syngaard. I came up with a somewhat elaborate back-story which I later related to Logan, but which I fully intend to keep hidden from the other players - I envision Syngaard (who goes just by his last name - only two people ever regularly called him "Jace" and they're both dead) as somewhat withdrawn. He's a bald, ugly guy with several prominent facial scars who used to work as a bouncer in a tavern; now he performs a similar function in a local brothel, where he works for room and board. He wields a morningstar as his primary weapon and has a very mercenary attitude, with money as his primary motivator. He's got lower-than-normal intelligence and charisma and his highest stat is constitution; I intend him to be a dumb brute who likes to take his pent-up frustrations out by killing things.

Dan took the opportunity of a new campaign to try out a human paladin and came up with Galen Thorne. The image he chose to represent Galen is somewhat interesting, as it looks more than a little like his older son Jacob when he first wakes up. Galen is a follower of Hieroneous and we're all looking forward to watching Dan run a lawful good paladin, considering many of his past PCs have been a little more on the shady side, ethics-wise.

Vicki jumped at the chance to run a halfling PC since I won't be DMing. (I have a well-known dislike for halflings and she has never dared running a halfling PC in my games, not trusting me not to try killing her PC on general principles.) She decided on a rogue with multiple daggers as her primary weapons, and chose Orion Nightsky as her PC's name. (Despite the Orion of Greek myth being male, Orion the halfling is female.)

Joey was the last to come up with a PC, wandering into the kitchen just as his parents were putting the finishing touches on their PCs. Looking over the other four PCs in the campaign thus far, he opted on a whim to run an elven wizard. He decided not to take a familiar at this point because he's seen in our past campaigns how much fun it can be with an Improved Familiar, so he's holding out for that. (Dan runs a wizard with a Small earth elemental familiar in the Kordovian campaign, and Logan had a conjurer with a Small fire elemental in the campaign before that one.) Coming up with names he likes has always been somewhat of a problem for Joey, so at this point his elven wizard is still unnamed. [Later edit: he eventually decided upon Daleth Stormsea.] But he has a 17 Intelligence and a 6 Charisma, so Joey's already decided he'll be haughty and treat the rest of us as if we were beneath his contempt.

Jacob won't be around many Wednesdays during the college year so we'll be playing without him for the most part. Once he becomes available as a player (maybe over Christmas break, or else during the summer), we'll have him make up a PC and add him into the roster. [Later edit: That never happened. A 45-minute drive each way isn't worth it for a 2-hour game session.]

So that's our starting lineup: LG elf monk, LG human paladin, CG human fighter, CG halfling rogue, and NG elf wizard. Logan's busy coming up with names for important NPCs like the king and his chief advisor (the latter being the guy we'll all get our orders from each week) and the name of our home city and such, as well as our first adventure. I'm building initiative cards for our PCs and printing out a spell sheet for Joey's wizard and a PC tracking sheet for Logan, and we'll see how things go. We're not worried about a lack of a healer; these will be short adventures so we're hoping a few healing potions here and there will get us through each session.

Incidentally, the way we have things planned, whoever shows up on Wednesday will run their PC through the week's adventure and those PCs will gain XP; the other PCs will be assumed to be on some non-XP-gathering duty, like staking out an inn and reporting to the king's advisor when a certain individual shows up, or tailing somebody to report on their movements or whatnot. That way, those interested in gaming (and available) that week can do so and those who choose not to don't have to. (I suspect there will be some weeks that Harry foregoes D&D for the alluring call of "Final Fantasy.")

Since these short missions will be things our PCs can't always admit to, we were thinking of calling this campaign - and our band of PCs - "The Shadowblades." But that's been used many times elsewhere, so we're going with "The Durnhill Conscripts" - Durnhill being the kingdom where our PCs live.
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When we make up PCs for a campaign, I always have the players hunt up an image of what their characters look like. These images get printed off the size of a standard playing card, cut out, glued onto the back of an index card, cut out again, their names written on the back, and then covered in clear Con*Tact paper and cut out yet again (leaving about a one-eighth of an inch border beyond the assembled card). The finished product is what we call an initiative card, because after initiative has been rolled for a given fight, the DM can arrange the cards in initiative order (mixing in the appropriate initiative cards made earlier for each of the monsters the PCs are facing). Once a PC or monster has taken his or her turn, the card goes to the back of the initiative deck and we can see who's up next.

In any case, here are the images for the PCs in this campaign.

First up is Galen Thorne, paladin of Hieroneous, played by my friend Dan. I expect we'll see Galen very frequently in the adventures to follow, because Dan was the instigator for us starting up our original campaign back in 2006. Galen wields a longsword and shield.

Next up is Kaspar Hardstrike, played by my 10-year-old nephew Harry, who lives with us. Harry had a hard time picking out an image for his elven monk, because he found most male elf portraits "looked too much like a girl" - so any long-haired male elves were out, and he didn't like the bald look either, even for a monk. He almost settled on an image of Link (from the "Legend of Zelda" games) that had been painted in a lifelike fashion, but then we found the image he finally settled on. Personally, I think he looks like he could pass as a hobbit from the "Lord of the Rings" movies, but he has sufficiently elflike ears and short hair, so Harry decided that was what Kaspar looked like.

Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue, is played by Dan's wife Vicki. Orion is a dagger-wielder, in that she has about half a dozen of them stashed away in her leather armor, ready for stabbing or throwing. There was an image of a halfling rogue with multiple daggers strapped to her armor that fit the character concept very well, but Vicki didn't like the "sexy" armor or the sleek build of the halfling; she greatly prefers the "hobbit" look and chose the following image (we'll have to ignore the name written at the bottom, on the ribbon - when I made the initiative card for Orion, I cropped off the bottom of the image).

Finally (for now), we have my PC: Syngaard, the human fighter. I decided I wanted to play Syngaard as a mercenary thug (rather like Jayne Cobb of Firefly), so I looked for "tough guy" images and found one I liked. Syngaard wields a morningstar and a shield, but has a dagger and a sling as backup weapons.

And that leaves only Joey's character, the elf wizard. Alas, as of the time of this posting, Joey has yet to come up with either a name for his PC or an image of what he looks like. Once he gets those figured out, I'll edit his image back into this post. But in the meantime, we went through our introductory adventure last Wednesday, and neither Vicki nor Joey showed. So Logan found a way to split the party into "the PCs whose players showed up" and "the PCs whose players didn't" (he'd planned for just this eventuality) - but, lacking a name for the elf wizard who we met up with in the first adventure, we just referred to him as "Wizard-Pants" at the table with an understanding that in the adventure itself, the term "Wizard-Pants" will have been retroactively replaced with the elf wizard's real name.

[Later edit: Joey finally decided on a name for his elf wizard: Daleth Stormsea.]

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PC Roster:
Galen Thorne, human paladin 1
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 1
Syngaard, human fighter 1​

Game Session Date: 8 November 2017

- - -

Syngaard was on his way to his favorite tavern - the Black Wyvern, where he used to work as a bouncer before he got his present gig - when he saw the old Dougal place was back in business. Old Dougal had died some months back and the inn bearing his name closed down; now it was apparently back open, and under new management, too, for the sign outside no longer read "Dougal's" but rather bore an image of a misty ale glass and the words "The Enchanted Flagon." Deciding to give it a shot, the burly fighter altered his course, crossing the street to check out the new place.

Stepping inside, Syngaard saw it was doing very well for itself - the place was packed, with busty waitresses gathering up orders and bringing them to the crowded tables. There was a crowd two deep at the bar, so he opted to grab a seat at the sole remaining table while that was still an option - after all, the bar maidens could take his order at the table just as easily.

The table sat six, and four of the seats were already taken: a young, well-groomed man with flowing hair; what at first looked like some chubby little girl until Syngaard belatedly noticed her figure - a halfling, then; a man wearing a hood and sitting quietly, looking around at the crowd with interest; and an elf in wizard's clothing. Syngaard plopped himself in the fifth seat and nodded to the others in a wordless greeting.

"I say, mind if I sit here?" asked a voice belonging to a young man, pulling out the remaining seat at the last table. The others looked at the newcomer: a young man with blond hair, wearing metal armor and with the symbol of Hieroneous painted on his shield. He smiled down at those seated around the table.

"By all means," replied the well-groomed man, rising up from his seat as he spoke. "And with you, we have our quota." He spread his arms as if in benediction, and all at once the sounds of the busy tavern ceased as all but those around this one table vanished.

"An illusion," surmised the hooded man, pulling back his hood to reveal a tousled head of brown hair and pointed ears identifying him as an elf.

Syngaard sprung from his chair as if shocked, his hand moving to the hilt of the morningstar he wore on his belt. The paladin, halfway through his sitting motion, sprang to his feet as well, looking about in surprise. The halfling merely looked around, to verify everyone else was truly gone, whereas the elf wizard stared at the standing man, apparently another practitioner of the arcane arts, in admiration for a high-level illusion performed with admirable attention to detail.

"My name is Skevros," said the well-groomed man by way of introduction. "Please, take your seats, and I will explain." Syngaard and the paladin looked at each other warily, then back at their host, and cautiously reseated themselves.

"I am the chief advisor to His Highness, King Leornic the Third," Skevros continued. "I have been instructed to gather a force of adventurers to work indirectly for the king, to perform those missions that need to be done for the benefit of the Kingdom of Durnhill...but discretely."

"Missions?" echoed Syngaard. "Paying missions?"

"You will of course be compensated by the king for your work," replied Skevros.

"How much?" pressed Syngaard.

"We'll discuss remuneration in a moment." Syngaard didn't press the matter, mentally trying to figure out if "remuneration" meant what he thought it should. "I believe introductions are in order. You, sir: your name?"

"My name is Galen Thorne," replied the paladin. "I am a paladin of Hieroneous."

"And you?" prompted Skevros, looking to the wizard at Galen's left. The wizard responded merely with his name and no further information.

"I'm Orion Nightsky," offered up the halfling woman, and likewise declined from detailing her profession - although the leather armor, numerous daggers, and the set of lockpicking gear at her hip gave the others a pretty good idea of how she made her living.

"I am Kaspar Hardstrike," said the other elf at the table. "I have completed my initial training at my temple and have been sent out into the world to do good deeds. It would seem as if this path was foreordained."

"Indeed," smiled Skevros, pleased to see that at least one of his adventurers was agreeable to his new role.

"Name's Syngaard," said the bald fighter, seeing everyone looking at him questioningly. He offered no further information.

"Syngaard what?" asked Orion.

"Just 'Syngaard'."

"Very well then," said Skevros. "Here are the details of your first mission. There have been a series of bandit attacks on caravans traveling out of Durnhill. We believe the bandits - a band of goblins - have their base of operations inside the boundaries of the kingdom to the north. Normally, we'd send in our soldiers to root them out, but doing so in this case could be seen as an act of war. Hence, you five will be joining a pair of caravans departing tomorrow morning, in two different directions. With any luck, at least one of the caravans will be attacked by the goblins, in which case you will fight them off and track them back to their lair to take care of the rest of the band."

"How much are we getting paid for this job?" asked Syngaard.

"A bounty of 10 gold pieces for each bandit slain, with an additional 100 pieces of gold to be paid for the eradication of the entire group. And, of course, any treasure you might find at the bandits' lair is yours to keep." Syngaard nodded appreciatively at the amount.

"I have some things to aid you," Skevros announced, reaching into a leather satchel and passing out five simple iron rings. "You will each wear one of these." he said, passing one ring to each of his new adventurers. "They are not magical, but they will allow me to track your progress." Surprisingly, each ring fit perfectly, making the more thoughtful of the bunch wonder just how much of this whole setup had been planned out beforehand. Surely Skevros hadn't simply decided to build his adventuring team of the first five people to wander into a closed tavern?

"I'm sure these will also come in handy," he said, passing a pair of glass vials to each adventurer. "They are potions of cure light wounds, since you have no healer among you."

"Given sufficient study, dedication, and prayer, I will one day be able to channel Hieroneous's healing energy through my hands," remarked Galen. He grabbed his two potions and stashed them in a belt pouch, adding "...but not for some time."

"You will report to the marketplace tomorrow at sunrise, to join your respective caravans," announced Skevros. "Galen, Kaspar, and Syngaard will be assigned to one wagon train heading north, and the others to a second one heading east. Now then, does anyone have any questions?"

"I do," replied Syngaard, pointing a meaty thumb at Orion. "If we're gonna have a prosti-tot in our group, any chance we could upgrade to a full-size model? I'm not one of those pedicures what gets off on little kids." His off-hand remark caused Orion to stand up on her chair, red-faced with anger, with a dagger in her hand ready to strike out.

Skevros raised a calming hand to fend off the halfling's impending attack. "Miss Nightsky is an adventurer, just like yourself," explained Skevros. "I believe you will come to value her worth on that front in short time."

Syngaard rubbed his bald head in confusion. "So she's like, what - the cook?" he asked, trying to figure out why else a band of adventurers would be bringing along a woman. This didn't do anything to endear him to the angry halfling, and Skevros decided it would be best for the group to disperse until sunrise the next morning.

On the way out the door, Syngaard looked in admiration at the longsword belted at Galen's hip, then looked over at Kaspar. "Where's your weapon?" he asked. The elf wasn't even wearing armor, merely a pair of loose pants and overshirt, with sandaled feet and his hooded cloak.

"My hands are my weapons," replied Kaspar matter-of-factly.

Syngaard let out a grunt of laughter. "Man, are you ever in for a world of hurt!" he admonished.

- - -

The caravan guarding job was pretty easy so far, Syngaard mused from the back of the lead wagon. They'd been traveling about an hour or so and now had forest on either side of the wide dirt path that served as a road. The bald fighter kept his eyes darting to the trees on the left of the road, while at the wagon driver's side, Kaspar did the same to the right. Behind them in the other wagon, Galen was to be focusing on both sides of the road, although his attention was continually being diverted to the rear wagon driver's daughter, who sat behind him.

A sudden furtive movement caught Syngaard's attention, and a beady-eyed, green face popped out from between the trees. Another did so at his side, and then another, until a trio of goblins had emerged from the shadows of the trees. "Goblins!" called out the fighter as he leaped down from the wagon and rushed the nearest, his morningstar gripped in his right hand.

Mere seconds later, Kaspar spotted a similar trio emerging from the right side. Each held a morningstar and a javelin, and had their ranged weapons ready for throwing. Calling out a warning, he slipped from the wagon and raced to the nearest combatant.

Belatedly, Galen noticed that combat was starting without him. He smiled an apology to his conversation partner and slipped the longsword from its scabbard, then leaped into battle.

Syngaard was the first to strike - and the first to strike out, as his goblin foe easily ducked underneath the fighter's weapon. But the grinning goblin had a morningstar of his own, and he had much better luck - not to mention a larger target - and the points of his little weapon went crashing into the side of Syngaard's leg, causing him to expel a stifled grunt of pain. At the same time a pair of goblin-sized javelins came flying at the fighter, one of them striking true.

Both wagons came to a halt, the drivers not wanting to leave their protection behind and race forward into what could easily be an ambush up ahead. They leaped down from their wagons and cowered among the horses.

Over on the right side, Kaspar was demonstrating admirably that "weaponless" did not mean "defenseless." He sent an open-fisted punch into one goblin's nose, causing it to gush forth in a torrent of blood. Then he was able to turn and face a second goblin who was rushing to the attack. The elf monk easily dodged the hurled javelin, then readied himself for the morningstar strike that would soon follow.

The third goblin on the right saw Galen's approach and made for him. He got in a low swing that ducked under the paladin's shield and crashed painfully into his knee, but Galen was able to return the attack in kind with his longsword, causing the goblin to undoubtedly swear all kinds of nastiness in its home tongue. But a couple more slashes with his sword brought the goblin down; then, seeing Kaspar had already dropped one of his foes and was dealing handily with the other, Galen dashed between the wagons to go lend a hand to Syngaard.

Syngaard, by that time, was in dire need of a helping hand. He was now fighting off three of the pesky goblins, and was concentrating his attacks on the first one he'd attacked, who - despite having been hit several times by the bald fighter's much-larger morningstar - simply would not drop. Worse, yet, all three goblins were pressed up in formation around the beleaguered fighter, smashing at him from all directions. Galen's sudden arrival, accompanied as it was by a battle-eager roar, caused the nearest of the goblin bandits to divert his attention to this new threat. This allowed Syngaard to finally slay his initial foe, leaving a single goblin for him to fight.

Galen and Syngaard finished off their foes at about the same time, and as soon as Syngaard's enemy dropped lifelessly to the ground he dropped to his knees, fumbling at his belt for one of the healing potions he'd been given by Skevros. He drank it down greedily as Kaspar ambled over, having easily dispatched his own two bandits using only the strength of his muscles, the quickness of his reflexes, and the knowledge of where to strike. A quick looting of the bandits' bodies turned up only their weapons and armor, but they figured the goblin javelins were about the right size for Orion to use, so they kept them. Then it took some encouragement to get the two-wagon caravan to continue on without their protective escort, but Galen explained that the bandit menace had been dealt with and the merchants had nothing further to fear. They continued on their way with worried glances all around.

"Okay, so anybody got any tracking skill?" asked Syngaard. He'd spent much of his life in cities, venturing into the woods only deep enough to bring down a few squirrels for supper with his sling. Of course, there was that cabin he'd built years before, but he didn't like dwelling on that...and it was all in the past, anyway.

"I do not think much skill will be needed to track these bandits back to their lair," replied Kaspar, indicating the spoor left behind by the goblins. These were no wilderness-based rangers, capable of passing through a forest while leaving no trail; these were roughneck goblins giving no thought about concealing their passage. Backtracking the way they'd come came as no problem for the adventuring trio.

Soon enough, they'd found what was surely the goblins' base of operations: a squat, stone keep in a clearing of the forest. There was a fence of wooden posts off to the right and what looked like the opening to a cave further back, but of immediate concern were the two goblins atop the roof of the three-story keep and the trio of goblins spaced around it at ground level.

"Bit of a fight here," surmised Galen, whispering to the others. "We can take the ground troops three on three, but I don't like the idea of being shot at from above."

"Yeah, me neither," replied Syngaard, "especially since the elf's got no way to attack at range." They whispered plans between themselves for a short while, then took up their designated positions. Kaspar and Syngaard headed to the right, hidden from view by a stand of trees and then by a series of large boulders. Syngaard would climb up on the largest boulder, from where he could take out one of the ground sentries with his sling; in the meantime, Kaspar would scout out the pen to see if there were any surprises along those lines. Goblins were rumored to sometimes raise worgs or dire wolves as war-beasts; if that was the case, better they find that out now. Galen, in the meantime, would position himself between two trees and snipe at another goblin ground sentry with his shortbow. The best part of the plan was that in their positions, Syngaard and Galen would each be visible to only one of the five goblins they'd spotted thus far.

After gaining their individual positions and waiting long enough for the others to get where they needed to be, the three moved when it felt like the time was right - they had no way to signal each other without making the other goblins aware of the attack. With any luck, they'd surgically strike at two of the goblins, leaving only one on the ground to deal with as a trio.

Sadly, it didn't work out that way. Syngaard climbed up onto his boulder perch with his sling, took careful aim, and let fly. The round stone hit true, but it was a glancing blow at best. Surprised, the goblin looked about for his attacker, sighted Syngaard at once, and let fly with a javelin - which dealt more damage to the fighter than his stone had done to the goblin. Enraged, Syngaard grabbed up his morningstar and charged, thinking he'd be able to do more damage to the goblin with his hand-held weapon than with a series of sling stones.

And he'd have been right - if he could actually connect with his morningstar. But these accursed goblins were so much shorter than the people Syngaard had fought before, it threw off his aim something fierce. Worse yet, his melee with the goblin alerted the closest other ground troop, who rushed over to help gang up on the bald fighter. Fortunately, the third one was too busy being sniped by Galen to interdict. The paladin missed with his first shot, and then the goblin returned fire with his javelin, striking Galen with practiced ease. With a snarl, Galen dropped his shortbow, grabbed up his shield, unsheathed his longsword, and moved in for the attack. It was just as well, for that idiot Syngaard was once again being outnumbered by goblin foes he couldn't seem to hit.

Kaspar had moved stealthily to the pen and peered over the back wall made up of a series of large boulders. To his surprise - and relief, and disgust - he had found not a dire wolf pen but a simple latrine, covered with swarming flies. Holding his breath, he made his way over to the others, glancing up at the top of the keep as he did so, eager to see if the sentries posted above were attacking from their perch above. But the sentries were no longer in place; apparently, instead of taking advantage of their near-unassailable position they had gone inside the keep, no doubt to gather whatever forces were there to come rushing out to attack the assailants.

Syngaard finally managed to slay the goblin he'd winged with his sole sling stone shot, but at the cost of several painful hits he'd taken himself, and he found himself woozy and the world blurring back and forth out of focus. But Galen had slain his own goblin foe by then, and now Kaspar stepped up to take on the one who was dealing Syngaard so much pain. The fighter gratefully stepped back and swigged down his last remaining potion, allowing the unarmed monk to take down the goblin he'd been unable to best with a hefty morningstar. Then, the ground forces dealt with, the trio healed up with their potions and crept up to the tower's sole door.

There was an arrow slit on either side of the door, through which the group could see a sole goblin with his back turned to the door. This was their favorite type of foe: one oblivious to danger! Several hurriedly whispered strategies were suggested and discarded; the oblivious goblin stood before the door, and thus the arrow slits weren't positioned to allow an arrow - or a sling stone - to hit the target at such an angle. "Got it!" whispered Galen suddenly, spilling the contents of his waterskin out onto the ground. He then filled it with a vial of oil he took from his belt, and positioned the tip through the arrow slit. He then gave the skin a good squeeze, spraying oil into the room. Lighting a tindertwig, the paladin dropped it through the slit, where it ignited the oil.

Had the spray of oil actually made it as far as the goblin, it might have been a fairly good plan. But the tactic merely caused a flaming patch of oil on the floor behind and to the side of the goblin, who turned in surprise at the smoke and heat. In exasperation, Kaspar gave the door a tug to try to force it open, and almost conked himself in the face since the door wasn't even locked. Glaring at his companions, the monk sprang into the room, slaying the goblin with a flurry of blows. "I think we'll relieve you both of the burden of coming up with the combat plans," he said, turning at the sound of pounding feet coming from the stairs in the corner. Belatedly, Galen and Syngaard raced into the room and took up combat positions. As each goblin came to the bottom of the steps, he was faced with three heroes attacking it all at once in a combined operation. But there were only two of them - the two sentries from the rooftop, as it turned out.

There were a dozen filthy animal skins scattered along the ground floor of the keep; belatedly, Syngaard realized they were sleeping furs for the bandit troop. The group did a quick head count: six dead at the caravan, three more on the ground here, the lone guy by the door, and now the two rooftop sentries - that was a full dozen! "We earned our hundred gold!" crowed Syngaard, already working out how he'd spend his share. In addition, Galen had unearthed a stack of stolen goods from previous caravans, which the group reasoned counted as theirs, as per Skevros's dictates. And each of the skins had hidden a small pouch of coins, neither holding much but, amassed, becoming a respectable sum. All in all, there was probably close to a thousand pieces of gold of value between the coins and the stolen goods.

"Let's check out upstairs, just to be certain," cautioned Kaspar. Syngaard took point, leading the way up the narrow stairs. Galen went next; despite Kaspar's demonstrated combat prowess, it still seemed somehow wrong to allow an unarmed and unarmored combatant to go into danger before the two wearing armor and wielding shields.

As it turned out, their celebration of a job well done was premature - for the second level of the keep was the domain of the bandit's leader, a battle-hardened hobgoblin. Syngaard was surprised to find that combat wasn't quite over yet, but he grinned at the thought that finally, he was up against an opponent his own size; no more of those stunted goblins dodging easily under his blows! He swung his morningstar for all he was worth.

It wasn't worth much, as it turned out; the hobgoblin caught the attack with the hilt of his longsword, deflecting the blow to the side and then stabbing his blade into the side of the fighter's torso. Syngaard staggered back in pain, stunned by the ferocity of the hobgoblin's attack. Behind him, Galen got in a good stab with his own sword, but seeing Syngaard so near death, he made a combat decision for the group. "Fall back!" he cried, pushing Kaspar back down the stairs. He dragged Syngaard behind him by the shoulder, and the wounded fighter didn't complain - it was all he could do to stay on his feet. He stumbled awkwardly after Kaspar, with Galen retreating behind him. "Faster!" goaded the paladin, feeling the hobgoblin just behind him.

The trio jumped over the dead bodies of the goblin bandits they'd slain as they raced to the front door, the hobgoblin just behind. However, Kaspar had instinctively figured out Galen's strategy, and upon reaching the outdoors once again took a stance at the right of the door. Galen readied himself to the left of the door, and Syngaard, seeing his new companions so readied and unable to do much himself, decided he could at least serve as bait. He took a few steps straight from the door before turning around and doing his best to raise his weapon, which now seemed to weigh at least twice what it normally did.

"Is that all you got?" he croaked, raising his shield in a ready position.

The makeshift strategy worked; the hobgoblin focused his attention on the near-dead fighter who was barely standing, allowing Galen and Kaspar to attack him from both sides as he exited the keep. Both strikes hit, and then for good measure Kaspar sent a rock-hard blow crashing into the back of the hobgoblin's neck, causing him to topple face-first into the ground. He didn't get back up.

"Now I think we're done," the monk announced.

"Good," replied Syngaard before crashing to the ground himself. But he was merely unconscious from blood loss; Kaspar was able to bind his wounds and wake him back to consciousness.

"Are you able to travel?" he asked the scar-faced human. Between the three of them, they'd consumed all of their six healing potions during and between the various fights.

"Yeah, I'll be fine," replied Syngaard. "Let's go back and get paid."

They weren't able to gather up all of the trade goods, but they did pocket all of the coins and the easily-carried items; they'd have to come back later with a cart or wagon or something to gather the rest.

"I dare say," said Galen. "That was quite a battle. I don't mind admitting it, but I wouldn't have minded one bit if that elf wizard or the halfling had been with us. To share the burden, as it were."

"I would've," replied Syngaard. "Then we'd be splitting the swag up five ways instead of three. We made it - that's what counts."

"Let's see if we can make it back to Durnhill in one piece," suggested Kaspar, allowing the wounded fighter to lean on his shoulder during the trek back home.

- - -

That was our first adventure, and what a harrowing start it was! I rolled like crap the entire night; it seemed no matter what die I used, it failed me in a big way. Logan, in the meantime, was rolling hot all night. He'd not only continue to hit us with his blasted goblins - despite Syngaard and Galen both having an AC 16 - while Syngaard floundered around getting low single digits on whatever d20 I rolled, but when I did hit I'd do lousy damage and his goblins were dealing 5 and 6 points of damage at a time. With 13 hp (more than any of the other party members), I figured Syngaard should be the "meat shield," but those 13 hp don't go very far under those conditions.

Finally, in desperation, I "subcontracted" my die-rolling out to Harry, who wasn't having any trouble at all hitting goblins with his monk's attacks. When it was Syngaard's turn to attack, I had Harry roll for me, and when it hit I reached into my pocket and gave him a dime. He ended up earning another ten cents a few minutes later; had I thought of this tactic earlier in the game I'd have been a few cents poorer but Syngaard would have made a much better first impression; as it was, he ended up staggered (0 hp) no less than three times in his initial outing.

Vicki didn't make it to the session because she was packing for a trip with Dan's sister the following day, which was kind of a shame because I had wanted to see her expression when Syngaard spouted out his sexist views about female adventurers. Joey didn't come either, probably because he still hadn't come up with a name for his elf wizard. (Once he finally does I'll have to edit this first post to at least get his name in.)

Logan used a full-sheet D&D tile for the tavern, a Paizo "Woodlands" Flip-Mat for the caravan battle, and a "Giant Lairs" Flip-Mat for the keep location. (He used a cardboard keep I had built for our first campaign as the bandit headquarters, plopping it down over the campfire.) That last Flip-Mat has a cave entrance, which Logan has mentioned is the site of our next adventure.

By the way, I thought splitting our team up among two caravans was a good way to separate those players who were running PCs for this initial adventure from those who didn't show, given that all five PCs needed to be introduced at the beginning. Next adventure, those who show up will have their PCs go load up the bandit treasure onto a wagon and then go check out that cave while they're there. It may be the same group of three or it might be a different mixture, but that's the way this whole campaign was set up from the get-go.
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PC Roster:
Galen Thorne, human paladin 1
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 1
Syngaard, human fighter 1​

Game Session Date: 15 November 2017

- - -

Upon returning to the city, Galen suggested the adventurers stop by the Temple of Hieroneous to have their wounds tended to. This turned out to be a very good idea, for not only were they healed at no charge - Skevros had left word at the Temple that the trio was to be healed, upon orders of the king - but the clerics informed their paladin that the royal adviser had left a message for them: to meet him back at the Enchanted Flagon upon their arrival.

"I say, I wonder if this is to be our full-time meeting hall," mused the paladin. "A bar seems a strange headquarters for an adventuring team, even one entrusted with stealthy missions for the kingdom."

"Works for me," admitted Syngaard, "although it would be nice if Skevros would get the taps flowing again."

Upon their entry, the bald fighter saw with dismay that such was not to be. Skevros was there waiting for them, but he hadn't bothered with an illusion of a working tavern, especially now that his adventurers knew that Dougal's old bar was still out of business. "Greetings," said the advisor. "I trust that all went well?"

"Well enough," muttered Syngaard, still not pleased with his initial showing and less pleased at the thought of Skevros having watched the whole thing by scrying on the group through the iron rings he had them all wear. "We took out the bandits - that's the main thing."

"Indeed," agreed Skevros, not pushing the issue. "However, there was a cave opening behind the tower. I would like you to check it out."

"Might as well," said Syngaard. "We need to go back there anyway, to pick up all of the caravan goods stored in that keep. Hey, you got a horse and wagon we could use?"

"I'm certain something could be arranged along those lines." Then Skevros pulled a leather satchel up onto the table and pulled something from it, wrapped in a cloth. "And this is for you - I had planned on giving it to you before your first mission, but it wasn't finished in time." He unwound the cloth from the wooden wand and passed it over to Galen. "It's a wand of cure light wounds," he said. "I have no doubt it will come in handy."

"No doubt," agreed Galen, looking over at Syngaard - and having no doubt at all who would be needing it the most in the days to come, if their first adventure was any indication.

"Is this mission important to the kingdom?" asked Kaspar.

"You may trust that all missions we send you on are important to the kingdom," replied Skevros. "However, this one is merely to ensure there aren't any other goblin bandits hiding out in the cave, but also, I must admit, to satisfy my own curiosity as to what might be hidden in there. In any case, here is your payment for services rendered thus far." Skevros handed over the bounties for the goblin bandits already slain - and their hobgoblin leader. Syngaard dumped his coins onto the table and gave them a quick count before returning them to the small pouch he'd been given. "Yep, it's all here," he announced, as the other two adventurers merely pocketed their own earnings without verifying their contents - trusting sorts, them!

"To be sure," agreed Skevros. "I will have a horse and wagon waiting for you in the morning. Good day, then, gentlemen."

"Wait," replied Kaspar. "What about the other two? Will they be joining us?"

"Not tomorrow, I fear. I have placed them on a different detail. I trust the three of you will be able to handle this mission by yourselves."

"To be sure," echoed Syngaard. "See you guys in the morning."

- - -

The three adventurers took off the first thing in the morning, Galen driving the wagon, Syngaard sitting beside him, and Kaspar sitting in the back. They had already spent some of their earnings the afternoon before; the paladin on a tougher set of armor; Syngaard upgrading to a thicker wooden shield; and even Kaspar investing in a set of ten throwing stars.

The ride back to the squat stone tower was uneventful, but the first thing they noticed upon arriving was that the bodies of the slain goblins and their hobgoblin leader that they'd left to rot on the ground around the keep were missing. There were bloodstains to show they'd been there, but no scuff marks to show them being dragged off or anything - just missing bodies. "Unusual," opined Kaspar.

"Let's check out the keep," suggested Galen. "In case there are any bandits still about."

However, a quick trip through the levels of the keep unearthed nothing unusual - no bandits, and the treasure the trio had been forced to leave behind the previous day still intact. Syngaard was all for loading up the wagon, until Kaspar pointed out they'd be better served by checking out the cave first. After all, why load up the wagon just to leave it behind while they went exploring? - that was just asking for it to be stolen.

"Yeah, okay," agreed Syngaard. But they unhitched the horse from the wagon and brought him into the keep, just to be sure no wild animals got to him or anything.

As they approached the cave opening, Syngaard thought he could hear a squeaking noise emanating from within. At first he assumed it was dire rats, but the closer he got, the squeaking noises sounded more and more like the stupid goblin language being spoken aloud. The bald fighter swore under his breath. Not more stinking goblins! He hated those little buggers! Not only were they a pain to fight, being so small and all, but Skevros had already paid them for having taken out the bandit gang - and that meant the only money they'd be seeing was the 10-gold-piece-per-head bounty.

"Wait," cautioned Galen as the fighter headed into the cave, morningstar at the ready.

"What?" countered Syngaard irritably, eager to get to the part where he crushed goblin skulls with his vicious weapon.

"We'll need light," replied the paladin. "At least we two will," he amended while looking over at their elven companion. Galen pulled out a pair of sunrods from his backpack - he'd bought nearly a dozen of them at a bulk discount - and passed one to the surly fighter. Syngaard grabbed it and held it in his left hand along with his shield, then resumed his trek into the cave opening. As much as he hated to admit it, the paladin had been right: the stone cave floor descended almost immediately, taking a hard left turn as it did so, leaving most of the light from the forest behind them. Before long, it would have been nearly pitch black in the cave had he and Galen not been carrying sunrods.

The squeaky goblin voices came from around the bend. Turning the corner, the light from Syngaard's sunrod illuminated a pair of the little pests, standing facing each other and deep in some sort of argument. They turned towards the unexpected light, saw a human figure approaching, and ran to attack. In the dim light - the goblins were at the far end of the sunrod's radius of illumination - Syngaard saw their approach and readied his stance, allowing them to come to him instead of charging right back at them. He hadn't had much luck with goblins; better they waste all of their energy running into battle rather than him doing the same.

Surprisingly, the goblins were both wielding longswords big enough for a human, although they also had their little morningstars clipped to their belts. Given the size discrepancy, they had to wield the longswords two-handed, the one racing up to Syngaard holding it over his head to crash it down at the fighter. Syngaard gave the goblin a good whack with his morningstar, not enough to kill it, sadly, but enough to mess up its aim with its oversized sword, which the fighter easily sidestepped. Galen and Kaspar had taken their places beside Syngaard by the time the second goblin approached, and Galen handily skewered it upon his own blade.

The first goblin, bloodied by Syngaard's weapon, apparently decided to try to live to fight another day and fled for safety. Unfortunately for him, the only safety was apparently the cave entrance the adventurers had used, for it tried running around the heroes to flee the way they'd come. Galen took a swipe at it and got a glancing blow with his longsword, but Kaspar was there to break the goblin's neck with a well-placed strike of his hand.

Looking about to ensure there were no other goblins approaching, the trio took a moment to check the bodies of the two they'd slain. They had nothing much in the way of value but their armor and weapons, and since the longswords were scaled for human use, Syngaard opted to claim the better-looking of the two. They then moved deeper into the cave.

Up ahead they saw a stack of crates, piled about five feet high and going from wall to wall across a narrow cave passageway. But as they approached the makeshift wall, they found two piles of bones scattered before the crates. Many of the bones had been crushed and broken, but they were intact enough for the adventurers to piece together that these had once been human skeletons. "There's no sign of any armor or clothing," pointed out Kaspar. "They may well have been animated, undead skeletons that were destroyed."

"Yes, and along with two skeletons, two human-sized longswords," added Galen. "No doubt these were the original wielders."

Syngaard looked down at his new sword stuck through his belt (for there were no scabbards), and decided he'd stick with his trusty morningstar for now. He turned his attention back to the crates, but glanced back at the piles of bones every now and then, fearing that at any moment they might spring back up and attack. There were no markings on the crates indicating their contents, so Syngaard pried open the top of one to find it filled with dirt and rocks. It was apparently meant as a wall of sorts, and once the fighter climbed up on top of the pile he saw goblin spears had been wedged in place, all pointing further down into the cave network, indicating the goblins had been trying to keep something further down there at bay - not an entirely comforting thought! Climbing over the pile, Syngaard held up his borrowed sunrod and saw the ceiling had collapsed just around the corner from the crate-wall, blocking off whatever passageway had been in place, but also opening up a sloped chasm down to a lower level. Once Kaspar and Galen had joined him, the three went cautiously down the gravel-covered slope, each step causing loose stones to tumble down the slope ahead of them and clatter on the stone floor ahead.

The slanting passageway led to a large, open room, carved from the stone given its rectangular shape. In the back of the chamber was a raised platform, upon which stood either a suit of plate mail armor or a statue - from this distance and in this lighting, it was hard to tell which. There was a passageway on both side walls, leading further into darkness. And on the floor were the slain remains of two goblins, their little morningstars still clutched in dead hands.

Fearful of undead, Galen cast forth his senses, seeking the telltale taint of evil. Neither goblin emanated evil - but then, there's nothing inherently evil about a dead body. However, there were four runes on the platform the armored figure stood upon, and three of them radiated evil to Galen's senses. Moving cautiously closer to the armored form - and once he got close enough, he could see it was a statue carved from stone - Galen's innate ability to detect evil suddenly sent alarms at the periphery of his vision, for at either end of the side corridors stood undead forms: a human skeleton to the left and two such creatures to the right.

"Skeletons!" the paladin warned to his friends, positioning himself to guard against the approach of the animated skeleton to his left. Kaspar and Syngaard likewise took up positions guarding against the two to the right. And, at some unseen signal, the skeletons all moved forward as one, advancing upon the adventurers. Kaspar struck out at the one who came toward him, shattering its breastbone with the power of his fist. Syngaard struck out with his trusty morningstar, grinning at the crunch it made as its solid metal head crunched bone. But neither skeleton was destroyed by these initial attacks, and they fought back with unnatural ferocity. Galen, too, was trading blows with his own undead menace, but the paladin had had the presence of mind to switch weapons to his mace, knowledgeable enough to know that blunt weapons were the best offense against an animated monstrosity whose body was composed entirely of unliving bone.

It didn't take long before the three adventurers had dealt with the undead menace and three sets of human bones littered the chamber floor. They checked out both side corridors; one led to a narrow room whose only contents were a sole bookcase holding books and scrolls written in a language or languages none of the conscripts had ever seen before. "Goblinigook," Syngaard named the odd writing. The other room was about twice the size of the bookcase room and it held only a wooden table and a chair crafted of bone; upon entering the room, Kaspar's presence activated a trap and the "chair" unlimbered and reconfigured itself into yet another animated human skeleton. Still, with three-to-one odds, the creature was handily dealt with. There were a few rolled-up scrolls littering the tabletop, but they were so brittle with age that they collapsed into fragments upon being disturbed.

Kaspar used his elven senses to confirm that there weren't any secret doors in the large chamber or either of the side passages or rooms, and then the trio examined the plinth upon which the statue stood. There were four runes carved into the floor beneath the statue, three of them glowing and one of them completely dark; of the three, one glowed at a mere fraction of the intensity of the others and seemed to be flickering. As for the statue, it was carved in one piece from a dark stone, of a (presumably human) warrior in plate mail holding a longsword by its hilt, with its tip touching a point between the statue's feet. The sword was quite obviously the real thing, not part of the statue, and seemed to be of masterwork quality.

"I don't like this," muttered Syngaard. "Betcha anything that statue's gonna come to life if we step on those runes or touch the sword or something and we're gonna have to fight it off."

"Possibly," agreed Galen. "But we won't know unless we try - and I'd like to get my hands on that sword, if possible."

"That may not be wise," offered Kaspar.

"I ain't touchin' nothin'," admitted Syngaard.

"Nor am I," agreed Galen. Then he got an idea. "Maybe Mister Goblin wants to check it out," he said, picking up one of the goblin corpses by its belt and the scruff of its neck. "What do you think, Mister Goblin? Do you want to go touch one of those runes and see what happens?" Switching one hand to the dead goblin's hair, he caused it to nod its head up and down, then flung it onto the flickering rune. Syngaard took an involuntary step backwards, cowering into a corner of the chamber as the dead body landed on the rune.

As it landed, a blast of black energy exploded from the rune and covered the room. The statue crumbled into chunks, the "held" longsword toppling forward onto the edge of the plinth. The heroes each felt a sudden draining of their life energy as a mass inflict light wounds spell effect was triggered. At the same time, the flickering rune blinked out, turning as dark as its neighbor, leaving only two still glowing faintly - and then "Mister Goblin" and his dead companion staggered back upright in an unholy semblance of life, the result of an animate dead effect.

Syngaard didn't notice at first; he was too busy staring at the chunks of the statue for the slightest movement, certain beyond all reason that it would reassemble, come to life, and attack them. As a result, it was Kaspar and Galen who began the battle with the animated goblin zombies. Galen dropped his mace and grabbed up the statue's longsword, using it to slash at the nearest zombie. Kaspar reached into his robes and pulled out a pair of shuriken, holding each tightly between his fingers and thumbs and slashing out with them rather than throwing them. He gouged two channels across the undead flesh of the goblin he was fighting, and even though the undead thing barely seemed to notice, the monk felt he had done it some harm.

Belatedly, Syngaard realized they were only fighting goblin zombies and that the crumbled stone statue was just that - a stone statue that wasn't going to shamble to life no matter how long he stared at it in expectation. He raced up to the nearest goblin - the one Kaspar was fighting - and dealt it a powerful blow with his morningstar. Had the goblin still been alive, the blow would no doubt have killed him; instead, the zombie barely seemed to notice that part of its head was now caved in. "Sword!" called Galen, scoring another gash across the torso of the one he was fighting. "Use your sword!"

Syngaard didn't really see what the big difference was, but what the heck - he had to try out his new sword some time, and now was as good a time as any. Kaspar performed another double-slash with his held shuriken and then kicked the zombie back with his foot, and Syngaard brought his longsword slashing across the zombie's back, neatly severing its spine. It collapsed in a heap and didn't move. About the same time, Galen finished his off with his own sword-work, noting that the cuts he'd gouged into the zombie's undead flesh looked somehow burned.

"Is everyone okay?" asked Kaspar, wiping off the blades of his shuriken and replacing them inside his robes.

"I'm fine," reported Galen.

"Me too," replied Syngaard. "But I don't think Mister Goblin's going to ever be the same."

There were no other ways out of the cavern complex, so the trio gathered up the books and scrolls from the bookshelf, making several trips back and forth to lug them to the wagon parked over by the stone keep. Then they spent the better part of another hour loading up the wagon with the caravan goods stored in the keep. Finally, they were ready to return to Durnhill, to report in to Skevros.

Skevros made their drudge-work well worth their while, marveling over the contents of the small library (most of the books were written in draconic, an arcane language favored by wizards and based upon the languages of dragons) and offering them an even 3,000 pieces of gold from his own coffers for the lot. As neither of the trio had any use for arcane books none of them could read, they readily agreed. Skevros also examined Galen's new longsword, first with a practiced eye and then with a detect magic spell. "Curious," he said. "It would seem as if this blade is in fact magic, but its aura is somehow subdued - difficult to detect at all. It's almost as if it were somehow...fighting my magical attempts to determine its arcane properties."

Passing the sword back to Galen, Skevros remarked, "There are some further tests I can perform on the sword, but I will need some specific reagents I do not currently possess. I will make up a list; I believe we have found your next mission!" He then dismissed the team, with a warning to be prepared for another trip to the field in a day or two.

"Sucker!" scoffed Syngaard as he left the Enchanted Flagon with a bag of gold and platinum coins over his shoulder. Why anyone would pay that much for a bunch of stupid books was beyond him, but far be it from him to argue the point.

"This is quite a lucrative business we've entered!" enthused Galen. "Even after tithing to the church, there'll be quite a lot left over to spend on upgrading my equipment! My first purchase will be a fine scabbard for my new weapon!"

"And let us not forget that we have also rid the world of a pocket of evil, not only the goblin bandits but also the undead creatures in the cave," added Kaspar.

"Yeah, that part's good too, I suppose," admitted Syngaard.

- - -

This time the dice didn't hate me quite so much; as a result, I had no need to resort to paying Harry any dimes for rolling d20s for me. And equally nice, Logan's dice weren't as ruthless as they had been to us during our initial game night. As a result, not only didn't Syngaard get staggered once during the game, Galen never had to resort to using the wand of cure light wounds that Skevros provided (although I'm sure it will eventually see lots of use).

As for the "Zehkar" of the title of this adventure, Logan's giving no clues. I assume it's likely the warrior depicted in the carved statue, and that this masterwork/hidden magic longsword is "the sword of Zehkar" or something, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see. (Man, it's a bummer at times not to be the DM who knows all of the secrets of the game world!)



PC Roster:
Galen Thorne, human paladin 1
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 1
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 1
Syngaard, human fighter 1
"Wizard-Pants" (actual name TBD), elf wizard 1​

Game Session Date: 29 November 2017

- - -

"These are the flowers I need you to fetch," said Skevros, holding up the book in his hand to show an illustration of two different types of flower, each of them with blue petals. "I require no less than three of each type." Orion examined the page with a quiet intensity, as if burning the images of the plants into her brain.

"Tell me again why we're going flower-picking?" complained Syngaard.

"The flowers are reagents necessary in the brewing of a magical compound called osteovox," replied Skevros. "Once I have a sufficient quantity brewed, it will enable me to learn more about the sword Galen found in the chamber below the cave."

"I've never seen flowers like these before," remarked Orion.

"That is not surprising, as they're relatively rare. However, they can be found in a place called the Azure Glade, about three days' travel to the east of Durnhill. The place is a nexus point of ley-line energy; you will likely find them growing in a graveyard, where pools of necromantic energy are common. You will find they glow slightly in the dark, as a result of the energies they have absorbed. I will provide you with a horse and wagon, as well as provisions. With luck, you'll be back within a week with the flowers - a minimum of three of each type - and I can begin brewing the osteovox. Now then, any questions before you set off?"

"Yeah, I got one," replied Syngaard. "What's a 'reagent'?"

"I believe that's when you hire an agent, then fire him, then hire him again," suggested Galen.

"Um, no, actually," corrected Skevros patiently. "A reagent is merely a term for a substance useful in transforming one substance into another."

"Wait a minute," said Syngaard, frowning. "I thought Leornic was our reagent."

"That would be 'regent' you're thinking of," submitted Skevros. "And no, Leornic is our king, not our regent. The regent just fills in, on a temporary basis, for the ruler when he is not available, or not yet of age." He looked across the table at his five adventurers. "If there are no other...pertinent questions?"

"Can we take this book with us?" asked Orion.

"Yes, of course."

"That's stupid," interjected Syngaard. "Just rip out the page with the flowers we need on it and leave the rest of the book behind."

"I'd really rather you didn't," replied Skevros. "I trust, Miss Nightsky, you'll be good enough to ensure the book remains in one piece?" Both the king's adviser and the halfling rogue looked over at the bald fighter with a look of distrust; Syngaard just shrugged. "Whatever," he grumbled.

As they exited the Enchanted Flagon, Syngaard was muttering to himself that sure enough, as soon as the halfling chick got assigned to one of their missions it involved picking flowers.

- - -

Three days later, Syngaard was in no better of a mood. The travel had been uneventful, but the scarred fighter didn't necessarily see that as a good thing: a goblin ambush would have at least have enlivened the boredom of trudging down the road for three days with two newbies, neither of whom he particularly liked. Galen and Kaspar had proven their worth in battle, but Syngaard couldn't see what use a halfling chick no taller than a three-year-old was going to be in a combat situation. And as for the elf wizard, he was being all silent and "mysterious," refusing even to tell them his name again.

"I told you once, when we first met," the wizard rebuked.

"Yeah, and I forgot what you said, so tell me again," prompted Syngaard.

"So you can forget it again? That's a game I doubt worth the playing."

"We do need to call you something," pointed out Galen.

"And you paid no attention either?" demanded the wizard. "You humans are pathetic. I heard each of your names but the once and had immediately committed them to memory."

Irritated by the haughty elf, Syngaard and Galen exchanged a look. "Well, we pathetic humans will have to come up with our own name for you," decided the bald fighter. "How about 'Foofy'? Or 'Turtle-Fondler'?"

"'Wizard-Pants'," suggested Galen.

"'Dick Flimsy'," offered Syngaard.

"Your childish antics merely serve to demonstrate your own immaturity," sniffed the wizard. "Call me what you will; I would not grace you with my real name in any case."

"I like 'Wizard-Pants,'" repeated Galen.

"Fine," agreed Syngaard, who was tiring of the game at this point anyway. "'Wizard-Pants' it is."

The sun was already most of the way down when they approached their target graveyard. A fine mist was rising up along the ground, obscuring the smaller of the headstones scattered along the hallowed grounds inside the fenced enclosure. Galen pulled off his backpack and passed sunrods to those desiring them. Syngaard and Orion each took one; the elves demurred, Kaspar because he wanted his hands free, and "Wizard-Pants" because he wasn't going to take anything offered to him by one of the irritating humans who couldn't be bothered to remember his name.

"Cheer up," replied Orion, using the wizard's real name - or at least the one he had used when first introducing himself to the others - while Galen and Syngaard opened up the gates to the graveyard and Kaspar tied the horse's reins to the fence in such a way as they could be released with a quick tug.

"I notice you didn't remind the others of my name."

"Nope," agreed the cheerful halfling. "It's funnier this way."

The gates now open, Syngaard and Galen approached with weapons drawn: the former with his traditional morningstar, the latter with his masterwork longsword whose mysterious nature was the cause of this current mission in the first place. Kaspar followed just behind, his elven ears alert to danger.

Just ahead in the graveyard, three forms materialized from the mist. Syngaard raced ahead close enough to see they were animated human skeletons, then stopped where he was and braced his heavy wooden shield in a defensive posture, forcing the enemy to come to him for once. (This was a lesson he had learned the hard way while dealing with goblin bandits.) Galen stepped up beside him, mirroring his stance.

The skeletons complied as the heroes had hoped, by sprinting up to them with weapons readied - in this case, ceremonial-looking daggers of excellent craftsmanship. But Syngaard and Galen each got in a good whack with their weapons as the enemies approached. Syngaard's immediate foe managed to duck away from his blow at the last moment, but Galen's longsword not only struck his opponent but caused the bone where it struck to blacken and crumble. Despite the skeletons' innate ability to shrug off the effects of most strikes made by slashing weapons, Galen's new longsword seemed to be an exception to the normal rule. Thus, rather than switch to his warhammer to fight off these skeletons, he maintained his grip on his longsword and gave it his all.

Kaspar managed to slay the skeleton Syngaard had been fighting with a well-placed blow to the neck, which snapped off the creature's skull and caused the rest of the bones to fall in a heap on the ground. Syngaard hit another with his morningstar but the blow failed to destroy it; a magic missile spell cast by the elven wizard finished it off. Galen's undead foe crumbled away into blackened ashes when he finished it off with his sword. "Quite impressive!" he remarked, then looked over at the piles of bones from the other two slain skeletons. The bones of these weren't burned away as his was, but they were covered in streaks of blood - and not the heroes' blood, judging from their lack of wounds.

Ahead, the heroes could see two rows of stone mausoleums, one row on either side of the central path to the back of the graveyard. "I'll go this way and start looking for the flowers," offered Orion, sneaking off into the mausoleum shadows to the west, holding her as-of-yet-inactivated sunrod in one hand and carrying a goblin morningstar in the other; despite Syngaard having failed to destroy any skeletons by himself with his own, much larger morningstar, it was a logical weapon to use against animated skeletons.

"Be watchful for undead," cautioned the elf wizard. The halfling favored him with a smile before slinking away.

There was a rune of some type carved into the ground just ahead, surrounded by a dozen piles of discarded flesh and robes. Galen strained his senses and announced there was evil just ahead, a mere moment before another four shapes shambled forward towards them out of the mist. It was a quartet of more animated skeletons, armed the same as the others had been. The wizard cast a mage armor spell upon himself and, having used up his daily quotient of his most powerful spells, pulled the light crossbow from his back.

The other three men surged forward into battle. Syngaard soon found himself surrounded on three sides, but Kaspar's deadly hands managed to destroy two of them seemingly in as many seconds. Galen's sword scored marks of charred bone across the ribs of the skeleton he fought, and while Syngaard managed to strike his own foe, his morningstar always seemed to just barely skim the surface of his enemy's bones. A crossbow bolt hit Syngaard's foe in the skull, but bounced off without doing much in the way of damage.

In the meantime, Orion had moved towards the back of the graveyard. Her halfling ears picked up the sounds of a struggle and a muffled whimper; silently she snuck even further back, noting another wave of three animated skeletons heading towards the sounds of combat behind her. But there ahead of her was the source of the sounds of struggle she had heard: a robed figure, a human by the look of it, was pulling a bound and gagged elf woman into place. The female elf looked terrified at the two other robed figures who helped pull her into position, in front of a wooden barrel.

As the wizard's back was to her, Orion targeted him as her first victim. She dodged from shadow to shadow, moving through the mist to her designated target.

Meanwhile, Syngaard was getting irritated by these skeletons. They didn't seem able to deal much damage to the heroes, but that wasn't the point. Galen had dropped a few of them into blackened heaps of ashes with that fancy sword of his, and the elven monk - who didn't even use any weapons, for pity's sake - had slain more than any of the rest of them. Syngaard's morningstar had dealt damage to more than a few of the skeletons, but he never managed to make the killing blow; it was always Kaspar or Galen finishing off his foes for him. "Wizard-Pants" kept hitting Syngaard's foes with crossbow bolts, but they just clonked off the skulls and didn't seem to have any effect. That was definitely a good thing to Syngaard; bad enough his companions were dealing all of the lethal damage to these undead foes, but he didn't want to owe his life to that annoying elf wizard!

Still, one by one the skeletons were felled, until only two of the seven from the second and third waves were left up and about. Kaspar, Galen, and Syngaard left them behind with "Wizard-Pants" as they rushed forward into what sounded like a more interesting battle at the back of the graveyard.

As Orion had snuck ever forward, the human wizard cast a spell that caused his hand to glow with an eerie blue light. Not waiting to see what that was all about, the halfling rogue struck out with her weapon, but while the spikes of the goblin morningstar tore gashes into the wizard's robes, it didn't seem to hurt him in the least. It did, however, reveal her presence to the wizard - who commanded his two robed minions to "Deal with her!"

Orion skipped back a few steps, dropping her goblin morningstar for her short sword - a weapon with which she had had much more practice. The robed minions advanced upon her...and as they got closer, Orion could see the skulls visible behind hoods of their robes. "Aw, crap!" she complained, sorry now that she'd dropped her goblin morningstar.

But by then her companions had arrived on the scene - all but "Wizard-Pants," who was still busy dealing with the two animated skeletons in the middle of the graveyard. Kaspar dealt a deadly flying kick to one of the robed skeletons, causing it to fall apart in its robes and collapse to the ground. The human wizard touched his elf captive with his glowing hand, causing her to swoon to the ground, unconscious. But Orion only barely dodged below a dagger-strike from the other robed skeleton, tumbling out of the way at the last possible moment.

Galen dropped out of combat once he saw a bound elf maiden in distress, running over to cut her bonds with his longsword. Syngaard stepped in to deal with the robed skeleton who had tried to kill Orion and once again managed to hit the thing with his morningstar yet still fail to bring it down.

"Get out of here!" demanded the human wizard. "You're ruining everything!" He cast another chill touch on his hand and struck out at Orion, catching the nimble halfling by the shoulder. She immediately winced as negative energy coursed through her body, staggering her on the spot. Instinctively, she pulled away from his grasp and backed out of his reach, pulling at one of the potions of cure light wounds at her belt as she did so.

The wizard had no time to deal further with Orion, though, for Kaspar was upon him. The monk hit the wizard like a striking cobra, pushing his extended fingers straight into his breastbone and hearing it shatter, then using the side of his other hand to crush the mage's throat. The evil spellcaster fell to the ground, choking on his own blood. He tried getting out a final spell, but died before able to finish it.

Galen finished cutting through the ropes binding the elf and saw that she was not only unconscious, but far on the way to dying herself. He pulled out his wand of cure light wounds and restored the young elf's vitality. She fluttered her eyes and woke back to consciousness, finding herself in the arms of a well-muscled paladin of Hieroneous. "You're safe now," he smiled at the young woman, as she removed an obsidian ring from a slender finger and flung it away.

"Well, I'm not!" griped Syngaard, still fighting with the last of the robed skeletons. They'd each managed to hit their respective foe several times, and each was close to being out of the fight permanently.

"Hang on!" called "Wizard-Pants," having snuck by the two other skeletons he'd been left with, to have them taken care of by Orion and Kaspar. He raised his light crossbow and took careful aim at the robed skeleton in combat with the scarred fighter.

"Yeah, like that'll do anything!" scoffed Syngaard, dodging another dagger-strike from his undead opponent. He'd seen the elf wizard bounce crossbow bolts off of skulls all night with nothing to show of it. But he ended up having to eat his words for the bolt struck true, lodging into the creature's skull and causing its bones to collapse in a pile.

Syngaard looked over at the elf wizard. "I softened it up enough for you to be able to do that," he said.

"No doubt," agreed "Wizard-Pants."

"So, what was all of this about?" asked Galen.

"Prescott here wanted my hand in marriage," spat the elf, a young woman (by elven standards) named Tia. "When I refused, he decided he'd simply turn me into an undead creature who would have to follow his every command."

"That's pretty skeevy," announced Orion.

"He was a sleaze," agreeed Tia. "He killed off a dozen of his fellow Nerull worshippers, just so he could have undead minions." She shuddered at the thought.

"He did not seem powerful enough to animate a dozen skeletons at once," remarked the elf wizard.

"Well, he didn't do it using his own spells, if that's what you mean," replied Tia. "He had them drink out of that," indicating the barrel. "Wizard-Pants" peeked inside the barrel and laughed aloud.

"What's so funny?" demanded Syngaard.

"Do you know what this is?" he asked the fighter, then answered for himself. "No, of course you don't. It's osteovox, already prepared!"

"Really?" asked Orion. "I thought it was used to determine magical properties."

"Oh, it is," agreed the elf wizard. "But it has many other uses. Drink it down, and it will not only kill you almost immediately but also cause your bones to slide out of your skin and become animated. Prescott didn't have to animate those skeletons, merely control them after they were created."

"It sounds like we'll be taking this with us," decided Galen, indicating the barrel.

"Beats having to pick flowers," observed Syngaard.

And that wasn't all they took; they gathered up the thirteen masterwork ritual daggers the Nerullians had wielded, as well as a ring of protection and a pair of bracers of armor from Prescott's corpse. Kaspar wore the bracers, while the ring was given to "Wizard-Pants." And then, despite the darkness of the night, they put a few miles behind them before camping along the roadside for the evening, on their way back to Durnhill.

- - -

"That will definitely save a lot of time," agreed Skevros upon seeing the barrel of osteovox. "Well then, let us dally no further!" He brought out a piece of parchment and wrote a quick inquiry upon it. "What is special about this longsword?" he wrote, then wrapped the parchment around the blade and immersed the whole thing in the barrel of osteovox. "It will require about an hour," he said.

"A shame this place never got restocked with ale," complained Syngaard. But, after an hour of painful waiting, Skevros fished the blade out of the barrel while wearing a pair of heavy gloves. Unwrapping the parchment, they saw the words had changed. They now read,

There once was a sword that was never forged,
From mithral that was never mined,
From a statue that was never carved,
Of a paladin who never died.

I am Zehkar.
"Holy crap!" said Syngaard.

"That statue of the armored figure, in the chamber below the cave," said Kaspar. "That must have been Zehkar!"

"But surely he died," argued Galen.

"If a person is turned to stone, that does not qualify as a true death," replied the elven wizard in full "talking down to everybody" mode. "After all, the process is reversible, in which case the flesh is restored. The soul does not pass on to its awaited reward or punishment merely upon the petrification of the body."

"Yeah, well, good luck getting this guy reversed," commented Syngaard. "His statue - petrified body, whatever - got shattered pretty good."

"It sounds like his spirit has already passed on, though," pointed out Kaspar. "'I am Zehkar,' remember? I think the paladin's spirit is now part of the sword!"

Galen looked at his mithral longsword with new respect. "Zehkar?" he called to his sword.

It did not respond.

- - -

This was the first time Vicki and Joey joined us for our Wednesday evening excursions, and we had a blast - it seems like it's more fun when you have more people in the game. Dan had filled Vicki in on Syngaard's "prostitot" comments, so she was already up to speed as far as "Orion's opinions about Syngaard."

My attack rolls sucked during this adventure, to the point where I started setting my d20s aside as soon as they had failed me. My first three attack rolls were 5, 3, and 4, so I had those dice lined up in a "rolls of shame" row, hoping to embarrass the other d20s into shaping up. My fourth roll was a hit, so I let that die be my primary attack die until it, too, failed me and was replaced.

Joey, in the meantime, kept hitting skeleton after skeleton with his light crossbow - and then dealing exactly 5 points of damage, which failed to overcome their damage resistance. Until that is, the very last attack of the game, when Syngaard had the robed skeleton down to 1 hp, and "Wizard-Pants" dealt the thing 6 points of damage, robbing my poor fighter of his last opportunity to actually drive home the killing blow at least once during this adventure.

But Kaspar, Galen, and Syngaard all reached 2nd level by the end of this adventure, so that's good.



PC Roster:
Galen Thorne, human paladin 2
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 2
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 1
Syngaard, human fighter 2​

Game Session Date: 13 December 2017

- - -

"A male half-orc was seen fleeing the castle and heading north, to the kingdom of Ashfall," announced Skevros. "After a brief investigation, it was determined he had broken into the King's living area and made off with a jade statuette of a serpentine dragon that belonged to the late Queen Katherine. Naturally, His Majesty wants the culprit caught and the statuette returned."

"Naturally," agreed Orion.

"And naturally, that's where we come in," added Galen.

"Naturally," agreed Skevros. "King Leornic doesn't particularly care whether the thief is returned dead or alive, but the theft itself is an effrontery to our kingdom and the thief must not be allowed to escape justice. The fact that he has fled to Ashfall makes it likely he's a citizen there, and thus it's possible the local authorities will not agree to turn him over to you. You will, therefore, need to find him on your own and return him here to Durnhill."

"Do we know what he looks like?" asked Kaspar.

"Alas, we have no better description than 'a half-orc dressed in dark clothing and a hooded cloak.' However, I do have a depiction of the dragon statuette." Skevros unfolded a sheet of parchment from his vest and passed it over to his team of adventurers.

"I think that's pronounced 'depicture'," advised Syngaard. Skevros paused, decided it wasn't worth the time to argue the point, and pressed on. "You will be paid a thousand gold pieces each for the statuette's safe return, and another thousand apiece for the return of the half-orc, dead or alive," he said. "That's all we know at this time. Daleth, I'd like you to stay here and assist me in my magical divinations; I suggest the rest of you head to Ashfall immediately, before the trail gets any colder." The group recognized that as a dismissal and, as one, got up from their chairs. Four of them departed The Enchanted Flagon, their makeshift headquarters, while Daleth stayed behind to assist the king's adviser. If he worried about whether he'd be compensated for his assistance at the same level as his four associates, his elven face never betrayed such thoughts.

"Daleth!" repeated Syngaard once they were outside. "That's the name of that stupid elf wizard!"

"Yes," agreed Orion. "Daleth Stormsea, as a matter of fact."

"You knew his name this whole time?" demanded Galen.

"Sure," replied Orion. "Some of us actually pay attention to introductions."

"I'm still calling him 'Wizard-Pants'," the paladin muttered to himself, and Syngaard silently nodded his agreement.

"Back to the matter at hand," said Kaspar, "we should leave at once for Ashfall."

"Wait," replied Orion. "I'll only slow us down. Let's head over to this dealer I know - I want to pick up a riding dog."

"Do we really need a halfling on the team?" griped Syngaard to himself - but just loud enough to ensure Orion could hear his complaint. She graced him with a grimace of mutual dislike.

"No, that's actually a good idea!" agreed Galen. "I should pick up a warhorse while we're at it! I've got enough cash on hand, and every paladin should have a warhorse."

"You could all purchase riding mounts," suggested Orion. "Kaspar could pick up a light horse, and Syngaard, you'd probably do best with an ass, much like yourself."

"I ain't buying no dumb animal," retorted Syngaard, missing out on the insult entirely. "Then you gotta feed 'em, and care for 'em - I ain't signing up for none of that!"

"Then it's probably for the best that you don't," agreed Orion. "The gods know you couldn't possibly take care of your own ass anyway."

"You seem awful hung up on my ass," remarked Syngaard. Orion chose not to respond to the retort. She was silent for the rest of the trip to the riding mount dealer; Syngaard had nothing further to say either, until they got there and the halfling asked the owner as to the status of any riding dogs.

"Be sure to get a female," the fighter suggested. "Then we'll have two bitches on the team."

"Your words are not harmonious," chided Kaspar.

"Hey, you noticed," snarled the scarred fighter.

In the end, Orion ended up with a male dog, which she immediately named Carl. Galen also found a warhorse he liked and purchased, but then opted not to name him quite yet, and further decided it would probably be best to leave him behind rather than take an untrained mount into potential combat.

"So, we wasted enough time yet, or can we actually start on our mission?" griped Syngaard. "Them thousands of gold pieces ain't gonna just jump into our hands if we don't deliver the goods!"

"Be at peace, friend," suggested Galen. "Ashfall is but a two-hour hike to the north; we will make it well before lunchtime."

The paladin's forecast proved to be correct: the group encountered no difficulties on the road north to Ashfall. Beyond the small kingdom stood the Baator's Breath Mountains, where plumes of black smoke rose into the sky from several different points and it was rumored there were gateways to the various Lower Planes, home to both demons and devils. Carl seemed to enjoy the stroll, bothered not in the least at wearing a small saddle or the insignificant weight of his new halfling owner.

Ashfall was a walled city, the capitol of the kingdom that shared its name, but the gates were open during the day and guarded by a meager force of elderly men. That was actually the second thing the adventurers noticed, the first being the fact that most of the city seemed to be covered in a light coating of soot and ash. "The place seems aptly named," observed Kaspar.

As a precaution, Galen opened his senses in the way he'd been taught at his training academy, scanning the area for evil. "Hmm," he scowled.

"What?" asked Orion, looking over at him from her perch on Carl - the first time she was roughly eye-to-eye to the human paladin over twice her height.

"I'm getting a low-level sense of evil permeating this entire area," he replied.

"The whole place is evil?" asked Kaspar. "How is that even possible?"

"I'm not sure," admitted Galen, then focused his attention on a good-looking woman strolling in their direction. She wore a tight-fitting leather outfit, which seemed to have been designed to show off her figure. Smiling directly at Galen, she glanced at the symbol of Hieroneous he wore around his neck and smiled even brighter, emphasizing the sway of her hips as she approached even closer.

Out of habit, Galen focused his attention on her unseen aura - and gave out a gasp of pain as he staggered a few steps backwards.

"What is it?" asked Kaspar, placing a hand on his shoulder to steady the paladin.

"Overwhelming evil," croaked Galen, looking at the approaching woman in black leather.

<That's right, Galen> said a voice inside the paladin's head, and inside all the rest of the adventurers' heads as well. <My name is Serenity, I'm a demon, and I have the free run of this place - in fact, I'm the Royal Executioner.>

" know me?" asked the paladin, still unsteady on his feet. His hand strayed to the hilt of the Sword of Zehkar strapped to his belt.

<Ah-ah-ah!> scolded the demon. <Best not to start a fight you can't possibly win. What brings you here to my fine city? A dragon statuette, is it?>

"You know of it?" demanded Orion.

<I do now> Serenity admitted. <By the way, how's Skevros? Are you all enjoying your secret mission?>

"I don't know what you're talking about," bluffed Syngaard.

<I'm surprised you know what you're talking about half the time, Syngaard> smirked Serenity. <It's awfully empty inside that head of yours. But never mind: you'd be best served by checking out an establishment called 'Dirk's Cloaks.' He might be able to help you find your missing trinket.>

"And where might we find 'Dirk's Cloaks'?" asked Orion.

<Look around; it's not far.>

"Screw this nonsense," muttered Syngaard, walking up to the nearest guardsman. "Hey, old-timer: you know where 'Dirk's Cloaks' is?" He did, and he pointed to the place, a nondescript building thirty feet or so down the street. Syngaard led the way and the others followed; Galen's gaze strayed back to Serenity, who gave him a seductive smile as she sashayed away, swinging her hips wildly at him as she walked.

"Ash-hole," muttered the bald fighter as he entered "Dirk's Cloaks."

Orion was the last to enter the cloak shop as she had to tie Carl's reins to a post in front of the building. Dirk turned out to be an elderly dwarf with grey in his hair and beard. "I help you folks?" he asked.

"We seek a half-orc, wearing a dark cloak," answered Kaspar. "He may have been trying to sell you an item of some worth: a small, green statue of a dragon."

"Yeah, that'd be Eric," agreed Dirk. "He was in here a couple of hours ago."

"Did he have the statue?" asked Orion.

"Sure did."

"And do you have it now?" pressed the halfling eagerly.

"Sure don't. That thing was carved out of solid jade, it was. Jade's very rare in these parts, and the craftsmanship was exquisite - dwarven carved, or I'm a bearded monkey. I told him I couldn't afford what it was worth."

"What was it worth?" demanded Syngaard, wondering if he could talk up the bounty for the statuette once they brought it back to Skevros.

"Practically priceless," replied the dwarf. "Too rich for my meager business, in any case."

"Where did this Eric go when he left here?" asked Orion. "Do you know?"

"Do I know? No," admitted Dirk. "Can I guess? Yep - I'd bet he's over at the new thieves guild, just outside of town. Serenity burned down the old one years ago, and she won't let another one get built within the city walls."

"She's a strange one," put in Galen. "What's her deal?"

"Well, I dunno if you've noticed, but she's a succubus," replied Dirk with a twisted grin. Orion shook her head sadly; she had figured it was probably something like that.

"And you let her roam around the city?" asked Galen in disbelief.

"Oh, yeah, sure," admitted Dirk. "She's in real good with the king."

"I'll just bet," remarked Orion.

"Naw, nothing like that," replied Dirk. "She showed up, did some mind-reading among the locals, and found out something nasty: the local thieves guild at the time had kidnapped the princess, asked for a ransom, and then sent a doppelganger in her place once the ransom was paid. The blasted thing lived in the castle - as the princess - for damn near nine years, with nobody any the wiser! Anyway, Serenity stormed in there, rescued the real princess, burned the place down, and killed the doppelganger right there in front of the king. That sort of thing buys you a lot of good will, demon or no demon! The king appointed her the Royal Executioner, and she's been nothing but good for the kingdom ever since."

"Do you mind a few more questions, off the subject at hand?" asked Galen.

"You folks aren't here to buy cloaks at all, are you?" asked Dirk.

"No, not really," replied the paladin. "We're just trying to track down the stolen statuette for the person from whom it was stolen. Serenity suggested we talk to you. I assume you don't just sell cloaks either - you're a fence, I take it?"

"Fair enough. Ask away," replied Dirk, purposefully not admitting to his status as a fence for stolen goods. But he was able to explain all of the elderly guardsmen at the gates and patrolling the streets: all able-bodied men in the kingdom were up in the Baator's Breath Mountains, fighting off an excursion of fiends trying to break through into the mortal world. He also happily directed the adventurers to the location of the thieves guild outside of the city. "They're a bunch of wannabes, mainly," admitted the dwarf. "I don't rightly expect them to be able to amount to much. You clean them out and want to get rid of any of their stuff, though, you come pay me a visit."

"We...may very well do just that," replied Galen, marveling at the fact that as a secret representative to His Majesty King Leornic the Third of Durnhill, he was now openly dealing with a fence of stolen property - he, a paladin of the virtuous Hieroneous! Verily, Fate did work in strange ways!

Outside the city of Ashfall, the group followed the old dwarf's directions and soon found themselves on a winding path leading up into the hills. Ahead, at the end of the path, they could see a dark, shadow-covered opening into the hillside that hinted at a cavern network - the perfect place for an aspiring group of thieves to want to set up shop.

Unfortunately, there was a sentry on duty. At the top of a rise stood a hooded half-elf, longbow at the ready. "Who goes there?" he demanded. "State your business!"

"We're looking for Eric," called Galen to the archer.

"He has something of ours, and we'd like to get it back," offered up Kaspar, thinking that a truthful explanation would be the quickest way of resolving the situation. Having spent so many years in a monastery perfecting his body, mind, and spirit, he often made the unfortunate assumption that everyone else was likewise striving to live a simple life of inherent goodness.

Sadly, Silas Oakenarrow proved the hopeful monk wrong about his assessment of the situation, by the simple expedient of releasing his readied arrow - to fly directly at Orion, who was at the front of the group's procession. Crying out in pain and grabbing at the arm now sporting an arrow shaft, she rolled off of Carl and scampered to the protection of the short, nearly vertical rise between herself and the archer. Carl, tongue hanging out, wandered over to the halfling with a friendly expression on his canine face, not realizing the inherent dangers of the situation. When Orion yanked the arrow from her arm with a hiss of pain and flung it to the ground, Carl grabbed it up in his mouth, assuming this was a short-range version of "fetch the stick."

"It's on!" announced Galen as he scampered up onto a nearby boulder, giving him an excellent vantage point from which to shoot Silas with his shortbow, catching the half-elf with a shot that sliced through the outer edge of his shoulder.

Syngaard scampered up onto the boulder beside the paladin, readying his own ranged weapon for use. His wasn't anything fancier than a homemade sling, but it usually did the trick - or it did when the fighter actually hit his target with it, which unfortunately wasn't the case this time, as the bullet went whizzing past the half-elf's ear without connecting. Syngaard cursed the fates for somehow messing up his otherwise perfect shot.

Seeing that combat was now a surety, Kaspar ran along the bottom of the incline beside the path, calling out to Silas as he ran. "There's no need for violence!" he cried as he turned the corner and approached the archer's position, no longer shielded by the steep incline. "Let us talk, elf to elf!"

Silas was having none of it. Instead, he notched another arrow and let fly, this time shooting at Galen. The paladin dodged and let fly with an arrow of his own, having no better luck than his adversary. And then another combatant entered the field, stepping out from the darkness of the cave opening. This was a young woman dressed in black combat leathers - a leather outfit of an eminently more practical nature than that worn by Serenity. "We've got intruders, Reiki!" called Silas.

"So I see!" replied Reiki, a short sword gripped in each hand. She ran down the hill towards Galen and Syngaard.

Kaspar reached inside his robe as he raced up the hill towards Silas, pulling out a shuriken and flinging it at the archer. It clipped the side of his ear but did no further damage to the half-elf. Galen, in the meantime, dropped his shortbow and pulled out his longsword, rushing to advance upon Reiki. He swung it and caught her in the side; she rolled with the blow to lessen its effect, but it gouged a line of blood along her torso nonetheless.

Orion followed Kaspar's path up the hill, pulling and throwing a dagger from her belt as she did so. It, too, missed Silas, but she continued her advance just the same. Behind her, Carl followed, desperately trying to return the "stick" to his new master so she could throw it again (hopefully a little bit farther this time!).

Silas pivoted towards Kaspar and let fly with another arrow, opting to take out the enemy with the ranged weapons (whatever those shuriken were - he'd never seen one before) rather than the one who had dropped his shortbow to the ground. Kaspar twisted as he ran and the arrow merely grazed the side of his thigh in its passage.

Over on the boulder, Syngaard likewise dropped his sling and grabbed up the morningstar at his belt, swinging it in a powerful arc at Reiki, who tried to dodge but didn't quite make it, the spikes of the metal weapon crashing into her combat leathers and eliciting a cry of pain from the young thief.

"Reiki!" cried a voice from the direction of the cave, as yet another thief entered the fray. "Hang on, I'm coming!" This, Syngaard was pleased to see, was a half-orc male wearing a dark cloak. The scarred fighter wasn't quite as pleased to see the javelin in the half-orc's hand come flying in his direction, but he was pleased that he managed to bring his morningstar up in a defensive position in time and deflect the thrown weapon off to the side. Then, he was even more pleased to see the javelin rise up and return by magic to the half-orc's hand. "I'm claiming this weapon after we kill the half-orc!" he cried.

Reiki let her guard down a bit as she glanced over at Eric, and Galen took the opportunity of the lapse in her attention to strike her down with his sword. She gave a final cry and collapsed to the ground, unconscious and bleeding out. Grinning proudly at a job well done, Galen turned and faced the half-elf archer. Syngaard swung his morningstar at Eric, who leaped back but not before being grazed by the multipointed weapon. But he had leaped back far enough away to throw the javelin at the scarred fighter; fortunately, Syngaard ducked under its path of travel and it soared over his right shoulder - only to return course and reappear in the half-orc's hand once again. "I'm gonna like me that weapon!" the bald fighter announced, racing up for another swing at the thief.

Galen's longsword took out Silas, the path of its swing burning a deep gash across the half-elf's chest. He fell to the ground where he stood, leaving Eric as the group's only still-standing foe. Orion, having reached Reiki's fallen form, used one of her many daggers to slit the young human's throat, to ensure she wouldn't be reviving to cause them any further trouble. Kaspar, having reached Silas's unconscious form by this time, briefly considered doing the same with one of his shuriken, but opted instead merely to strip the archer of his weapons. That way, if he awakened, he'd be of no threat to the group, and the noble monk need not have the death of the misguided half-elf on his hands.

Galen stepped over to help Syngaard in his fight against Eric, but then the half-orc saw the blood spilling from Reiki's throat and gave a cry of despair. "Reiki--no!" he sobbed, all of his focus against the two combatants gone as he saw the lifeless corpse of his betrothed. Galen swatted the javelin from the half-orc's numb fingers and it fell to the ground; Syngaard immediately dived for it and cried out "Mine!" in triumph as he rose with the coveted weapon in his hands. Eric merely dropped to his knees in despair.

Galen, standing over the half-orc with his longsword raised, seemed hesitant to slay an unarmed foe - it wouldn't be the same as killing a foe in heated combat. Kaspar took the opportunity to place his hand on the paladin's shoulder, silently urging him to relent. "He is beaten," observed the monk.

"Yeah, so he is," agreed Galen, allowing the Sword of Zehkar to drop down to his side.

"I believe you have a green dragon statuette that doesn't belong to you," said Orion as she sauntered up. "Hand it over and we might just let you live."

Eric looked up at her - or rather, over at her, for even slumped over on his knees he was taller than the halfling. "I don't dare," he replied. "It has to be destroyed--it's evil!"

"Evil?" demanded Galen. "Says who?"

"Dave," replied Eric, leaving the heroes none the wiser. "He said it was a source of great power, and great evil. He called it a phylactery, I think it was. Anyway, he hired me to steal it from King Leornic so it could be destroyed."

"Nonsense," snorted Galen. "Do you have it here?" Wordlessly, Eric reached inside his shirt and handed over the jade statuette of a coiled dragon. Dirk had been right: it was exquisitely carved.

"Do you recognize this?" asked Galen, holding up his holy symbol of Hieroneous for the half-orc to see. When Eric nodded, Galen continued, "A paladin learns to be able to spot the auras generated by evil, and that includes objects as well as people. I tell you, man, this statue is not evil." Somewhat disconcertingly, Eric himself was also not generating an aura of evil, as the paladin would have suspected. "I think this Dave fellow sold you a bill of goods."

"So what now?" asked Eric.

"Now, we return you to Castle Durnhill and the statue back to King Leornic," replied Galen.

"No! You can't! They'll kill me!"

"He's probably right," observed Orion. "He stole from the king; they're not likely to let that pass."

"It seems like Eric's theft was not motivated by greed," put in Kaspar. "Perhaps, given the circumstances, the king would understand if we let him go."

"Nuh-uh, no way," objected Syngaard. "We were told to bring him in, dead or alive, as simple as that. Skevros ain't gonna pay us no thousand gold each for lettin' him go!"

"Under the circumstances..." began Kaspar.

"Hey, I got an idea," interrupted Syngaard and brought his morningstar down hard upon the back of the half-orc's head. Eric fell forward, face-first onto the ground.

"What?" complained Syngaard as Kaspar glared at him with a look of betrayal. "I hit him with the metal shaft of the weapon, not the pointy bits! He'll be fine!"

"I would not see our prisoner slain out of turn," argued the elven monk.

"Fine," snarled Syngaard, pulling a coil of rope from his backpack. "Then you can be in charge of tying him up and carrying his sleeping carcass back to Durnhill."

- - -

As expected, once they returned home with their unconscious captive and had briefed Skevros on the half-orc's tale, the king's adviser denied the statuette's status as a phylactery. "Such an item is used to house the soul of an undead monstrosity called a lich," he informed the team. "Are you suggesting that the late Queen Katherine is a lich?"

"I don't rightly know," admitted Galen. "But I think we should destroy the statuette, just in case Eric's story is true."

"Out of the question!" stormed Skevros. "The statuette is a treasured reminder of His Majesty's deceased wife! He would never allow it!"

"Plus, we ain't getting no reward for no smashed statue," pointed out Syngaard.

"Why not?" reasoned Galen. "The reward was to be paid for its return, which we have done. But now, given the possibility that something's not right here, I think we should destroy it, just to be safe."

"Give it here," demanded Skevros. Not wanting to disobey his appointed leader, Galen passed it over. Then, surprisingly, the king's advisor raised it over his head and brought it smashing down upon the table, shattering it into pieces. "Are you satisfied?" he asked Galen. "Had this been an evil artifact, like a phylactery, it would not have been so easily destroyed." Then, casting a spell over the shattered pieces, the adviser caused them to fly back together and reform the dragon statuette once again, once again whole and as good as new.

"Yeah, okay," admitted Galen.

"I shall expect no further talk about Her Majesty being an undead abomination," warned Skevros. "Not only because it's distasteful and untrue, but because it borders on treason." He glared at the paladin and added, "I should think some sober reflection and atonement would be in order."

"Agreed," admitted Galen in a quiet voice, looking down at his boots.

"In any case," replied Skevros in a more normal tone of voice, "you have fulfilled the requirements of your mission. I will have the promised rewards sent to your individual homes immediately. That is all."

"What about Eric?" pressed Orion. "What will happen to him?"

"He will be turned over to the castle guards, to await a ruling by His Majesty. I expect he will be executed shortly thereafter."

"Poor dupe," sighed the halfling.

"He made his bed when he stole from the king, whatever his intentions or beliefs," replied Skevros curtly. "Now he must answer for his actions."

The group left the Enchanted Flagon deep in thought. "I think we should return to Ashfall," announced Galen suddenly.

"Whatever for?" asked Orion.

"Why, to slay that succubus, of course," answered Galen, with a tone of voice indicating mild incredulity that the question even had to be asked. "She's a demon, parading around in the world of mortals!"

"She seems to be doing some good up there, though," pointed out Kaspar.

"And the King of Ashfall seems okay with it," added Orion.

"We ain't ready to fight off no succubus," announced Syngaard. "Hell, she practically knocked you on your ass just by you lookin' at her!"

"...I was simply unprepared for the aura of overwhelming evil," countered Galen. "Now that I know what to expect..."

"Overwhelming," repeated Syngaard. "I ain't in no hurry to get overwhelmed. Besides, we told Skevros about the situation and he ain't given us no assignment to go kill her off. So no reward, no way I'm going back there to start no trouble with no demon." And the bald fighter took his new javelin of returning and headed back to the brothel where he worked and slept between assignments for the kingdom, whistling a merry tune.

- - -

Joey stayed home for this adventure since he wasn't feeling very well - hence Skevros deciding he needed Daleth's help as a spellcasting assistant. But he had sent prior word, via his dad, of Daleth's name. However, he still hasn't decided on an image to use to represent his elven wizard. So, as a gag, I did up a series of eight potential "Daleth Stormsea" images to be used for his initiative card, consisting of such things as the Keebler elf; Dobbie the House Elf from the "Harry Potter" series; Hermey and his stern elven boss from "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"; the Elf on the Shelf; the title character from the "Elf" movie; and a bunch of other cartoony elves too ridiculous to warrant serious consideration. Naturally, I didn't get to share these with Joey himself when we played through this adventure, but Dan and Vicki got a kick out of them, as did Joey and Jacob the following Saturday when they showed up for our next "Kordovian" gaming session. Joey's been put on notice to come up with an actual image for his PC, but he's half-tempted to call my bluff and use Hermey's boss as the image for Daleth Stormsea.

Incidentally, we got confirmation that "Daleth" is pronounced with a hard "a" - which is fortunate, because had it been a soft "a" I would have assigned him "Tekthith" as a middle name.

Logan used the "City Streets" Pathfinder Flip-Mat for the section of Ashfall containing "Dirk's Cloaks" and the "Hill Country" one for the fight with Eric and his two thief companions. Incidentally, Logan hadn't anticipated us letting Eric live - he was sure we'd cut him down with no questions asked. DMs are constantly being surprised by their players' actions, it seems.
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PC Roster:
Galen Thorne, human paladin 2​
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 2​
Syngaard, human fighter 2​

Game Session Date: 3 January 2018

- - -

Having been mentally summoned to the Enchanted Flagon by a message spell from Skevros, Syngaard walked into the abandoned tavern and found Galen and Kaspar already there with the king's adviser. That wasn't all he found, though: the place was badly burned, with black soot and ashes covering the floor and burn-marks along two of the opposite walls.

"What the Hell happened here?" asked the bald fighter.

Skevros grimaced at the question. "I...may have had some bad news...and didn't handle it very well, I'm afraid," he admitted. "Fireballs, actually."

"That must have been some really crappy news," agreed Syngaard, pulling up a chair and joining the group around the table. He mentally made a note not to antagonize a person who threw fireball tantrums when things didn't go his way. "So what's up?"

Skevros sighed before answering. "I received a telepathic sending from Serenity, of Ashfall," he began. "She knows all about your status as secret agents of King Leornic, about your having been sent to their kingdom to extract Eric the thief and retrieve the property he stole from the castle--"

"He got what was coming to him!" interrupted Galen indignantly. "He stole from our king!"

"That's not the point!" yelled Skevros, slamming a fist onto the table. "Your whole reason for existence is to do the missions the king wants kept secret! Having this...succubus woman knowing all about this group, your ties to the undoes all that we're trying to accomplish here."

"Are we to disband?" asked Kaspar, getting straight to the point. Syngaard's eyebrows rose in surprise; he hadn't given that possibility any thought. And while he had been an unwilling conscript at first, the money that was pouring into his lap as a result of these missions the group got sent on - he wasn't eager to see that particular avenue of riches turned off anytime soon.

Fortunately, Skevros was of a similar opinion. "No," he sighed. "I could shut down this operation and start again with a new group, but anyone we sent into Ashfall would likely face the same situation. Having a mind-reading demon working directly for their kingdom...."

"I know," agreed Galen. "It's underhanded and despicable."

"No, it's brilliant, actually," replied Skevros. "I'm half tempted to see if we can broker a similar deal somehow. But that's not why I called you all here."

"Then why?" prompted Kaspar. "And why only the three of us?"

"I have assigned Orion and Daleth other duties. They are assisting in the implementation and testing of improved defenses around the castle, to avoid a repetition of Eric the thief's relatively easy infiltration and escape. You three, however, are to report to Ashfall. There's been an incident at one of their mines and you're being sent to check it out."

"Wait, now we're working for Ashfall?" demanded Syngaard. "Since when? And more importantly, how much are they paying?"

"In order: yes, but with any luck just this once; since Serenity insisted this be our repayment for the deaths of the two Ashfall citizens whose bodies you left near a cave just outside their capitol city; and not even a single copper piece. You are doing this for Serenity - gratis - and she won't press the issue on the deaths of those two other thieves."

"Hey, Orion slit that elf's throat," pointed out Syngaard. "I knew she didn't belong on this team! All she does is get us into trouble!" In his indignation, he had already forgotten to ask Skevros what "gratis" meant.

"Half-elf," corrected Kaspar.

"Whatever," replied Syngaard, already irritated about doing a "freebie" job.

Galen shared his irritation. "I must say, I do not like the thought of performing work for a demon," he stated.

"And I must say: I don't care," snapped Skevros. "Here are the directions to the mining complex" - and here he passed a sheet of parchment to Galen - "see that you go there directly, do whatever needs to be done, and report back here immediately. And do not, under any circumstances, do anything to further antagonize Serenity. I want this to clear the slate between our two kingdoms - I don't want her to be able to demand anything from us ever again!"

"In this, we agree," Galen replied.

"And upon your return," said Skevros in a voice filled with contrition, "I will have this mess cleared up."

Syngaard saw an opening and decided to take it. "Hey," he suggested, "maybe while you're at it you can get the taps working again." It irritated the scarred fighter to work out of a tavern that didn't actually serve drinks.

Skevros looked up at him in puzzlement. "What do you mean?" he asked. "The taps have been working since we started meeting here. All one need do is ask."

"Really?" replied Syngaard. "A mug of mead!" he demanded to the room at large. Immediately, a glass mug rose up from the bar, floated over to a barrel of mead, and the tap was triggered, filling the mug to the brim. Then the mug floated over to Syngaard's place at the table, lowering itself gently before him. Syngaard's outlook immediately approved.

Then Skevros reached over and took the mug for himself. "You may imbibe to your heart's content upon the completion of the mission, not before." He waved the group away in dismissal, taking the first sip of Syngaard's drink. The fighter's outlook dropped back to its original setting: pissed at having to work for free. As the three conscripts left the Enchanted Flagon, Syngaard said, "I seen what happened there. That was one of them invisible servants, wasn't it?"

"'Unseen'," corrected Kaspar.

"Whatever," shot back Syngaard.

- - -

Kaspar and Syngaard arrived at the mines on foot; Galen rode behind them on his new warhorse, which he had named Seneca. Skevros had given them accurate directions and they had encountered no difficulties on the trip, but the mines were located in the northern part of Ashfall, beyond the capitol city, into the Baator's Breath Mountains.

A sign just outside a cave in the side of a mountain showed them they were in the right place; a cry of pain from within told them they had arrived just in time. Rushing inside the cave, they saw a dwarf in mining gear surrounded by a pair of short, squat bonfires - or at least that was what it looked like to Syngaard. But these bonfires were moving, lashing out at the dwarf with limbs of flame, and the fighter could swear he saw a pair of greenish eyes staring out from the farthest flame-thing, who in attacking its prey faced Syngaard's general direction.

"I say!" declared Galen. "Fire elementals!" He kicked Seneca's flanks and the warhorse dashed forward, towards the fighting trio. Kaspar and Syngaard followed immediately behind. Seneca ran past the dwarf; as he did so, Galen bent to the side and pulled the dwarf up into the saddle behind him. They raced beyond the immediate reach of the fire elementals before Galen slipped from the saddle, landing on his feet and giving Seneca a slap on its rear for good measure. "Away to safety!" called the paladin. "We will handle these monsters of flame!"

Syngaard had already attempted to deal with the first "monster of flame" - by throwing his new magic javelin at it. He missed, but by the spellcraft put into the weapon during its creation, it immediately returned to the fighter's outstretched hand. Kaspar raced up by his side, while the farthest fire elemental took a swipe at Seneca as he rode past, making contact with a flaming fist. The warhorse reared in pain, nearly causing the dwarf to fall off, but then regained its footing and spun off to the side, away from the immediate combat.

The other fire elemental had moved up to engage Syngaard, but the fighter danced back in time to avoid its blow. Then he swung out with his morningstar; it wasn't magically enhanced like his javelin but he'd had it for a longer time and was much more proficient with it. He managed to connect, but the blow was a glancing one at best.

By then, Kaspar had reached the fire elemental as well. As he had approached, he'd run through his possible attacks in his mind. His foe looked to be made of living flame - could he strike at it with his fist quick enough to avoid being burned? He decided to give it a try. The answer, of course, was no - attacking a being of living flame was a sure-fire way to get yourself burned. But the monk had managed to strike quick enough to prevent his sleeve from catching on fire, and he seemed to have dealt more damage to the elemental's core being than its flames had done to the elf's skin. All in all, it had been a good learning experience for the monk, and he was content with his lesson.

Galen's longsword slashed out at the other fire elemental and the blade carved a line of green fire across the creature's body. It hissed in pain, its green eyes flashing a look of hatred at the paladin - who could sense, through his training, that the burning creature before him radiated evil. This came as a surprise to Galen, but he wasn't going to allow any creature of evil to get the best of him!

The creature did manage to strike the paladin on the leg, but failed to set its foe ablaze. At the same time, Syngaard was smashing his morningstar on the other elemental's head; it slashed out at him in retaliation but missed. Kaspar, having learned his lesson about hand-to-hand combat with flame-monsters, pulled a pair of shuriken from his robes and flung them at the creature. They cut straight into its flame-body, and the elemental gave a final shriek, like a knot popping in a campfire, before falling to the ground, dead. The fires of its body sputtered, then went out, leaving absolutely nothing left of the creature behind it but a smudge of ash.

It wasn't long before Galen had slain the other fire elemental, then he went in search of his warhorse and the dwarf he'd rescued. The dwarf, Taklinn, was grateful for the rescue but seemed even more happy to climb down off the horse's back and return to the stone floor of the cave. "I thank ye," he said. "Come with me t' me camp, and meet th' boys!"

Walking behind the dwarf deeper into the cave - Galen holding Seneca's reins behind him as he followed Taklinn - the conscripts saw a partially-collapsed stone building. There were three miners inside, but these seemed to be solely miners; Taklinn's holy symbol of Moradin he wore around his neck indicated he was a cleric as well as a miner. "Here's what's happened," Taklinn began. "A breech opened in th' mine, a kind o' portal between this world an' th' world of demons. There's plenty o' breeches openin' an' closin' around these parts - it's how these mountains got their name. So out of th' portal pop these fire beasties. We fought 'em off as best we could, even managed t' kill a bunch o' 'em, but more'd just pop on through all th' time. These mines, they got wards t' prevent that sort o' thing, keep demons at bay an' whatnot, but they weren't a-workin' so very good."

"No doubt because your wards are aimed at demons, whereas these are elementals," suggested Galen.

"Be that as it may," continued Taklinn, "We need ye t' take care o' these elementals fer us, so we kin get back t' our jobs. While ye're doin' that, I'll see about upgradin' our wards."

"While you're at it, you can start looking into our rewards as well," suggested Syngaard.

Taklinn spit on the ground by the fighter's feet. "Ain't no rewards t' be had," replied the dwarf. "Serenity said you was performin' a sorta free community service."

"She did, did she?" asked Galen. "Tell me, how can you work for a demon like that?"

"I don't," countered the cleric. "We work fer th' king, same as Serenity does. If'n th' king got no problem with a demon doin' his biddin', then I guess I don't neither." He looked at the trio before him. "I tell ye what, though - I'll give ye these; they may be o' some use t' ye." He pulled two glass vials from his belt and passed them over to Galen and Kaspar.

"These are potions?" asked the elf.

"Them're vials o' holy water," corrected Taklinn. "Mebbe they'll help; mebbe they won't. I dunno." Kaspar and Galen each stowed the vials into their own belts...where they were both immediately forgotten about.

"Let's go, then," prompted the cleric, leading the way into a mine shaft. The conscripts saw a set of metal tracks hammered into place in the stone floor, which were puzzling until they saw the metal cart that rolled on top of the tracks. "Ingenious," admitted Kaspar.

Galen stopped before the tracks and grabbed out a sunrod for himself and another for Kaspar; Syngaard waved the one offered to him away. "Got my hands full with my weapons," he explained, holding his morningstar in one hand and his javelin in the other. Galen held his sunrod in the hand supporting his shield, whereas Kaspar tucked his into his belt, keeping both hands free. Then they followed the dwarf deeper into the mine shaft; as a dwarf, he needed no illumination at all.

The tunnel soon forked off to the right, with flickering illumination coming from the side-tunnel. Thinking it could either be another breech or another fire elemental, Galen stepped forward and saw it was the latter. Kaspar stepped up beside the paladin and took a defensive stance. "Evil," Galen announced. That was all Kaspar needed to hear; he threw a pair of shuriken at the flame-beast, hitting with one.

Behind them, Syngaard advanced, but he continued on along the straight branch, noting it veered off to the left a bit further down. There was flickering light coming from that direction as well, only it seemed to actually be getting brighter. The fighter saw another fire elemental turn the corner at a speed he wouldn't have thought such a small creature could attain; before he knew it the elemental was striking out at him with one of its arms. Syngaard ducked back and the swing missed.

The other fire elemental had also advanced, lashing out at Galen and setting his armor ablaze. The paladin either didn't notice he was on fire or ignored the danger to himself in his zeal to continue fighting his enemy. He swung his longsword in an arc at the little flame-beast, but it ducked beneath the blow. Behind him, Taklinn stepped up and smothered the flames on Galen with a tarp he had grabbed up from one of the carts.

"I reckon I'll leave th' fightin' t' you lot, then!" the dwarf called.

Syngaard hit his foe again with his morningstar, doing a minimal amount of damage, but at least it was something - the elemental had a difficult time even touching the battle-scarred fighter. Kaspar threw another pair of shuriken at the other elemental, hitting it with each, and causing it to wince in pain long enough for Galen to get past its guard and slay it with his longsword. The beast's flames burned green in its final moment as it died at Galen's sword.

Syngaard managed to hit another glancing blow at his own foe, then it lashed out again and missed; Kaspar put an end to the long-lasting battle with another pair of rapid-fire shuriken which tore through the fire elemental's body and snuffed its flames for good.

"Are ye done wit' them, then?" asked Taklinn, approaching warily and casting a healing spell upon Galen's burned and blistered body. Syngaard followed the straight path around the corner and to a dead end, then backtracked and rejoined the others at the fork. As a group, they followed this side-path, which curved back and led to a larger cavern ahead. This larger cavern was a different hue than the stone of the rest of the mines; it was a glistening silvery color, which reflected any light nearby into a dazzling brilliance. The floor of this new cavern was about 10 feet lower than the mine tunnel leading up to it; the slope was fairly steep, and several burned and blackened ropes dangled down from pitons pounded into the mineshaft's end. "Th' boys an' I dug right into this cavern," explained Taklinn.

"What's that?" asked Kaspar, pointing to a dark slab of metal on the floor of the silvery cavern. It was nearly black, but more importantly was almost a perfect square some 20 feet on a side, indicating this was no natural rock formation, but something that had been carved or otherwise fashioned into its present shape. It was only about an inch above the surface of the cavern floor beneath it.

"Go see fer yerselves, if'n ye want," offered the dwarf, helping Galen pound a new piton into the stone floor. "Th' cavern's mithral, an' th' black slab's even more valuable: adamantine!" Greed immediately filled Syngaard's eyes, for he recognized both metals as extremely rare, and extremely valuable. While Galen pulled a length of rope from his pack and attached it to his piton, the fighter dangled his feet over the edge of the ledge and dropped down into the mithral cavern. He looked around to make sure he was alone in the vast chamber, then made straight for the adamantine, wondering how much something like that weighed and if there was any way to get it back to Durnhill intact.

Of course, Syngaard had only looked laterally for fire elementals on the floor of the cavern; he'd failed to look up at the ceiling, some 30 or more feet above him. He became suddenly aware of the oversight when the enormous spider dropped down to the ground immediately before him. It bit at the fighter with its wicked mandibles, dripping with poison. Fortunately, Syngaard had been very lucky this whole day avoiding attacks, and his luck continued on its present course for at least this current attack. The mandibles snapped at the space the fighter had occupied a scant second before, while he was busy scooting backwards as fast as he could go.

Kaspar ran to the edge of the shaft and flung a pair of shuriken at the spider, hitting with one, which buried itself into its ghost-white body. Then a second spider dropped from the ceiling beside Syngaard. This one was more successful in its bite, for it caught the fighter in the leg and pumped venom into the wound. With a roar of pain Syngaard wrenched himself free.

Galen approached the edge of the tunnel and peered down at the spiders fighting Syngaard. "They're both evil!" he called to his friends. "But oddly enough - the one to the left is MORE evil than the other one!"

"How is that possible?' asked Kaspar.

"I'm not sure," admitted Galen, dropping down into the pit and racing toward the spider to the left. Kaspar sent two more shuriken digging deep into the abdomen of this "more evil" spider, then dropped into the pit as well.

The first spider bit at Syngaard but missed; the second spider did the exact same - apparently Syngaard's luck was back after a brief hiccup! Galen swung his sword at the second spider and dug a deep gash across its body, causing the spider to cry out in pain and start cursing in some infernal tongue. This seemed to be extremely un-spiderlike behavior, but the paladin focused his attention on combat.

Syngaard swung his morningstar down on the first spider but missed. He then backed up as fast and as far as he could, until his heels were against the slope up to the mine shaft. He hoped the first spider would come after him, which would allow Galen to give it a good whack with his sword as it passed him by.

The fighter's plan didn't work out that way; instead of following Syngaard the spider attacked Galen, who was now its closest target. It got past the paladin's shield and bit him on the leg; Galen hissed in pain but immediately thereafter put it out of his mind. Kaspar, meanwhile, had closed the distance to the first spider and struck out at it with the open-handed "hardstrike" that he was so proficient at, and which he'd taken as a last name. His hand punched through the spider's body, the force of the blow driving his arm into it up to the elbow. Kaspar pulled his arm back at once and watched as the fiendish spider died. It might have been born on an infernal plane, but the monk noted its legs twitched in death just as did those of a terrestrial spider.

Rushing back into battle, Syngaard threw his javelin at the remaining spider, piercing it deep into its abdomen. As the javelin returned to the fighter's hand, the spider looked to be on its last legs. Galen finished it off with his longsword, which seemed to deal extra damage to evil foes: first the undead in the tomb and at the graveyard, then the thieves outside of Ashfall, and now these evil elementals and demons. The spider swore a final oath as it died, then started shrinking upon its death, its eight legs retracting into its body as the rest of it remolded itself into the demonic form of a winged imp. The imp lay still on the ground, bleeding from the deep cut inflicted by the Sword of Zehkar.

"Ah," exclaimed Galen. "That would explain how it was more evil than the other one. One was just a spider, but the other was a demon!"

"Devil, I think," offered Kaspar.

"Is it?" asked Galen. "I can never get them and quasits straight."

"Whatever," scoffed Syngaard, finally approaching the square slab of adamantine. Kaspar and Galen approached behind him, and Taklinn dropped down into the cavern as well. "Look at it!" admired the dwarf. "It's worth a fortune!"

"Let's try to lift it," suggested Syngaard, and the three conscripts gave it their best shot, but it was soon apparent that the thing wasn't going to budge.

"How did it get here?" asked Galen.

Kaspar gave the whole cavern a look-over. "Look at the mithral," he commanded. pointing along the walls. It was apparent, closer up, that the entire cavern wasn't covered in mithral, merely the bottom half of it. Along the walls, the mithral was splotched in a splash pattern, with dots of mithral scattered above where the solid mithral ended and the normal rock began. "It looks like this was molten mithral," suggested the elf. "I would suggest the adamantine might have been used by the imp and the spider as a sort of raft, to float through one of the planar breeches into our world."

"Makes sense," admitted Galen.

There were wards along the sides of the pit, which Taklinn began examining with great interest. "These'll need t' be updated," he announced to himself. "To ward off elementals as well, like ye said." The others weren't paying him any attention, as they were prying out chunks of "splash" mithral from the stone portions of the wall and hiding it in their pockets. Maybe they'd be getting paid for this mission after all!

If Taklinn noticed the low-level pilfering going on behind his back, he didn't mention it. He might have decided he could easily afford it (after all, the mithral and adamantine in the cavern would make Ashfall quite prosperous!); he might have felt the three conscripts from Durnhill deserved some sort of payment for their services, despite what Serenity had said; or he might have simply not noticed. Neither of the heroes cared enough to ask why - they considered themselves lucky they were getting to leave with at least something to show for their efforts.

On their way back to Durnhill, Syngaard expressed his opinion of the whole matter. "Well," he said, "we cleaned up that damn halfling's mess. None of this would have been necessary if she hadn't slit that elf's neck."

"Half-elf," corrected Kaspar.

"Whatever," repeated Syngaard, rolling his eyes in exasperation. They'd done the mission, he was tired, but more importantly: he was ready for his well-earned tankard of mead back at the Enchanted Flagon!

- - -

Vicki and Joey stayed home for this session (they had a sick cat), which is why Daleth and Orion had been assigned to castle security upgrade duty. Naturally, with two fewer players than intended Logan cut back on the amount of fire elementals we encountered in the mines. But he's learning DM flexibility with the setup of this campaign, and he's been designing his adventures to be usable for groups of three to six PCs. (If none of the others show up and it's just Harry and me on any given week, we've decided we'd rather postpone the session for a week than go through an adventure with just Kaspar and Syngaard. That hasn't happened yet, though.) In fact, although Jacob is usually in college when we play through these Wednesday night sessions, he was still home over Christmas break when we played this adventure. Having planned for the eventuality (we had invited Jacob to join us), Logan did up Taklinn's stats as a PC for Jacob to use as a one-shot character. When he didn't show, the dwarf cleric suddenly got less interested in joining the others in combat.

Logan used a "Wasteland" Flip-Map for the initial part of the mines, then a bunch of cards from the "Mines" Game Mastery Map Pack. For the mithral cavern, he drew 1" marks on sheets of a silver, glittery material he picked up at a hobby store.
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PC Roster:
Galen Thorne, human paladin 2
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 2
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 1
Syngaard, human fighter 2​

Game Session Date: 10 January 2018

- - -

The conscripts had gathered up their gold and headed off to the market, where they planned on upgrading their adventuring equipment. Galen, Kaspar, and Syngaard had each sold their chunks of purloined mithral to a weaponsmith more than happy to pay for the rare metal; Orion could only look on longingly from the saddle of her riding dog Carl as gold coins were handed over to the men, wishing she'd been sent on such a lucrative mission instead of testing the castle's defenses. In fact, it seemed as if Skevros had held both her and the elf wizard Daleth back from dangerous missions more than once; she made a mental note to ask him if that had been the case the next time she saw him.

For now, though, Galen had himself outfitted in heavier armor, "as befitted a paladin of his standing," as he put it. Orion was impressed with the craftsmanship of the armor, but realized there was nothing even the most talented armorsmith could do about its weight; like it or not, the human paladin would be moving no faster than her own little halfling legs could move her. Kaspar eschewed both armor and weapons, but he did purchase a magic amulet which increased the toughness of his skin, the better to deflect damage. Syngaard, not surprisingly, purchased a morningstar almost identical to the one he already owned, but this one had a magical enhancement guiding the wielder's aim.

Orion, whose pockets were not as heavy with coin as the men, had to content herself with the purchase of a few healing potions. Galen did likewise; it must be nice to have so much money!

But then the screaming began, and the halfling put aside all thoughts about money, urging Carl forward towards the commotion. The three men followed behind on foot.

The crowd was rapidly dispersing away from the front gates of the walled city and away from the staggering reptile who had wandered in, only to fall in the dirt of the street with a plop. Blood began pooling around him almost immediately.

Arriving at the scene, Galen whipped out his sword of Zehkar and looked about for any menace. He cast his senses down at the dead kobold at his feet, and declared, "He's not evil."

"Of course he's not evil, Galen," replied Orion. "He's a dead body. Dead bodies aren't inherently good or evil - they're just dead." Kaspar approached the kobold and put a hand to its neck, feeling for a pulse. He looked back at the others and shook his head.

"Nonetheless," declared Galen, "I would have expected at least a lingering sense of evil coming from a kobold."

Syngaard, in the meantime, had approached the guards at the gate, and in doing so, saw a trail of bloodspots leading away down the road, indicating the path the kobold had taken. "You guys let a kobold enter the city?" he accused.

"We did," answered one of the guards. "What's it to you?"

Syngaard wanted to tell the guard that he was an important adventurer working directly for the king - or at least the king's adviser - but knew he wasn't supposed to make that public knowledge. "I'm just wondering why it's a good idea to let monsters wander among us, that's all."

"We got our orders," replied the gruff guard, while his partner explained, "We are to give dark-scaled kobolds, such as that one, free access to the kingdom. This one looked hurt, so I directed him to the Temple of Pelor."

"He did not make it very far into the city," explained Kaspar, joining Syngaard and the guards. "He is dead."

"Not my problem," snarled the gruff guard. "The city watch can deal with him. We guard the gates, nothing more and nothing less."

Returning back to Orion and Galen (and Carl, who was sniffing at the kobold corpse), they found the pair unrolling a scroll. "Orion found it on the kobold," the paladin explained, opening the scroll to reveal a bunch of unreadable symbols. "What in the world is this gibberish?" Syngaard gave it a quick look and then ignored it; he was no scholar of languages - he had trouble enough making sense of written Common. Neither Orion nor Galen understood the writing either, but Kaspar at least recognized the language. "I believe that is written in Draconic," he offered.

"Oh yeah? What's it say?"

"That I do not know."

"So what should we do now?" asked Orion. "Do we just leave him here?" The skittish crowd was cautiously returning to the market stalls, giving careful looks to the dead kobold and the group of four adventurers standing beside it. Some were concerned that they might have killed the thing, but nobody felt like confronting them about it - they might be dangerous!

"Let's leave the stiff for the town guard," suggested Syngaard. "We need to go talk to Skevros." The bald fighter started walking over to their official meeting-place and impromptu headquarters, the abandoned tavern with the "Enchanted Flagon" sign by the door. As they approached, Galen held the steel ring he wore - they all wore one such - up to his mouth and spoke into it: "Skevros? We need to talk to you. We found a dead kobold and a scroll. We're heading to the Flagon. Meet us there."

Stepping into the Enchanted Flagon (Orion entering after the others as she took time to tie Carl's leash to the post just outside), they found an attractive woman standing behind the bar - a woman they'd never seen before. Galen pulled out his longsword just in case, and cautiously asked, "...Serenity?" He half expected the succubus working for the kingdom of Ashfall to the north of Durnhill to come looking for the stolen nuggets of mithral they'd taken. But the buxom woman said nothing, merely looked at the four adventurers expectantly with a half-smile on her face.

Skevros teleported into the room, frowning. "What's this all about?" he demanded. "I am not in the habit of being summoned from my duties--"

"We found this," interrupted Galen, passing over the scroll. With an irritated look, Skevros snatched it up and unrolled it on top of one of the tables. "Oh dear," he said, reading it over.

"What's it say?" asked Orion.

"A band of the shadowscale tribe of kobolds has been captured by a rival tribe, the flamesnouts," Skevros explained. "They ask for our help."

"Well, they're out of luck," snorted Syngaard. "We don't work for a bunch of stinkin' kobolds!"

"Quite the contrary," argued Skevros. "The shadowscale kobolds are allied with the kingdom."

"What?" demanded Syngaard. "Why do we need to ally ourselves with a bunch of kobolds? They ain't nothin' but a bunch of lizards who wanna be men. And they can't even get that part right - they're just lizard-halflings!" He looked over at Orion to make sure she'd heard the dig about halflings; her narrowed eyelids indicated she had.

"The fact that their tribe is led by a black dragon no doubt factored into the decision," remarked Skevros.

"Wait a minute - black dragons are evil!" observed the paladin.

"They tend to be, yes," agreed Skevros. "But one hopes that continued association with King Leornic will alter the young dragon's natural inclinations. In any case, this is a legitimate plea for assistance by valued allies; I will send the four of you at once to rescue the shadowscale kobolds from their enemies."

"Wait: We're risking our lives for kobolds now?" demanded Syngaard.

"Yes, and for the 500 gold piece reward - each - you will be paid to do so." That shut Syngaard up at once.

Then, thinking it best to make this point clear, the king's adviser reinforced, "The black-scaled kobolds are on our side. The red-scaled kobolds are the enemy. Please constrain yourselves to killing the red-scaled ones only. I see you already have your gear with you, so if you're ready to go--?"

"Wait a minute," Syngaard said, holding a finger up. He then announced to the air, "A mug of mead!" The fighter expected the permanent unseen servant spell effect Skevros had placed on the room to deliver him a floating mug of mead. Instead, the smiling young woman from behind the bar delivered it.

"Thanks, babe!" Syngaard said, grabbing up his mug, while Kaspar frowned at the woman. "She is the spell effect, isn't she?" he reasoned aloud.

"Er, yes," admitted Skevros. "I thought it might seem a bit more normal than having mugs float around, seemingly by themselves."

"So she's a seen, unseen servant," surmised Galen.

"Does she do more than serve drinks?" asked Syngaard knowingly, smirking at the king's adviser with a leer. Skevros colored slightly but chose to give no answer. "I will teleport you to the edge of the Sanguine Swamp, at the southernmost part of the kingdom," he said. Orion ran outside to fetch Carl and then Skevros began an arcane incantation. Within seconds, the adventuring quartet (and a riding dog) stood in an inch of water, looking at a swamp spreading out before them. Gnarled trees and scraggly bushes provided bits of cover here and there; ahead, they could hear the unmistakable sounds of snoring.

"He's totally sticking it to her," Syngaard whispered to Galen knowingly. The paladin smirked at the comment but held his tongue.

"Now's not the time!" whispered Orion fiercely, dismounting from Carl and motioning for the others to duck down, the better to not be seen.

"Now's the perfect time," Syngaard countered in a low voice. "He just got rid of us, and they've got the place all to themselves. I'll bet he's sticking it to her right now, as we speak!"

"You're a pig!" snarled Orion, keeping her voice low.

"Yeah, we'll you're worse," countered Syngaard. "You're a halfling!"

"Perhaps we should focus on the problem at hand," suggested Kaspar. "The kobolds we seek seem to be on the other side of these growths. From what I can tell, it looks like solid ground between us, although with numerous puddles. I don't think they're very deep, though - we should have firm enough footing for a frontal assault, if that's how we wish to play it."

Orion peered through the undergrowth at the clearing ahead. Three black-scaled kobolds were tied up, sitting with their backs pressed together and vines wrapped around them. Their wrists and ankles were similarly, but separately, bound. Around them, sprawled on the ground, were seven red-scaled kobolds, sound asleep; they were responsible for the loud snoring the group had heard. Kaspar was amazed that such sounds could emanate from bodies so small. But standing alert, with spears in hand, were four kobolds on sentry duty, squinting into the unaccustomed light from the four corners of the kobold assembly.

"We'd do best attacking the sentries first," observed Orion softly to the others. She gathered up her sling in one hand a dagger in the other and started making her way silently forward, toward the sentry to her left. He faced diagonally away from her and she was in dark armor; with any luck, she could creep close enough to take him down with a well-placed shot from her sling.

Over from the other end of the scraggly bushes, Galen crept forward, his bow in hand and an arrow nocked and ready for action. Unfortunately, he wasn't nearly as silent in his heavy armor as Orion was in her combat leathers; worse yet, he missed with his initial shot. Both of the closer kobold sentries turned at the commotion, spotting both Orion and Galen. They began yipping in excitement.

Orion's intended target leaped forward with his spear at the ready, but Kaspar raced up to him and delivered a flying kick that sent him sprawling - although the little flamesnout managed to keep a grip on his weapon. The elf monk squared off with him, declaring him to be his and waving the other heroes forward.

Syngaard stepped forward by Galen and threw his magic javelin at the same kobold the paladin had missed with his arrow. That kobold must have had a charmed life or something, for the javelin missed as well - but at least it popped back into the fighter's hand, ready for future use.

Seeing the kobold's grip upon his longspear and realizing he intended to use it as a hand-to-hand weapon, Galen flipped the bow over his shoulder and unsheathed the sword of Zehkar. He charged the sentry, hoping to fare better in melee combat than he and Syngaard had managed thus far in ranged warfare. He struck the reptile a glancing blow, but then Syngaard followed Galen's charge and swung out with his new magic morningstar, bashing the kobold's head in.

Kaspar and his kobold foe traded multiple attacks, neither hitting the other. Orion threw a dagger at Kaspar's foe on her way over to the rest of the kobold group - some of which had been awakened by the sounds of combat around them. The dagger missed, and the halfling decided to leave her other knives in their sheathes and use her sling from now on - she was just as likely to hit with a sling stone as she was with a dagger, and she had more of the stones at hand.

Two more kobolds approached, weapons at the ready. One hit Orion with a sling stone, causing her to explode in a torrent of vicious-sounding Halfling cursing; Syngaard didn't speak the language, but he knew cursing when he heard it and was surprised the little halfling was capable of such impressive linguistics. Then she called out a single word, in Common, that the fighter did recognize: "Carl!"

The riding dog bounded up to his mistress, tongue wagging to the side. "Attack!" the halfling commanded, and Carl did his best, snarling as he advanced upon a red-scaled kobold. He bit at the reptile but it backed up quickly enough that the dog's teeth snapped on empty air, but Carl pressed on with the attack. Meanwhile, the other kobold newcomer to this fight stabbed at Orion with his spear, catching her in the side. She felt herself starting to pass out and called her faithful dog to her. Carl dropped the kobold whose throat he was busy ripping out and bounded over to Orion, who pulled herself up onto the saddle, fumbling awkwardly at her belt for the healing potion she had just purchased that morning. Carl carefully backed out of combat, giving his mistress time to down the contents of her potion vial.

Fortunately, Galen had come over to the remaining newcomer and threatened it with his sword, keeping it from focusing on Orion. Syngaard, in the meantime, saw another kobold getting up from the group and both it and the sentry in that section of the assembly started over towards the bald fighter, yipping and yapping fiercely. Syngaard helped them close the distance by sprinting into battle, practically removing the first one's face with the power behind the underhand swing of his morningstar. The kobold was bodily lifted from the swampy ground, to fall several feet behind the point of impact. Syngaard roared and faced the other kobold, who was actively cowed by the fierce assault.

As Kaspar and his initial kobold foe circled warily and made ineffectual strikes at each other, Galen found himself faring little better against his foe. He managed to strike a glancing blow against the reptile's side, but it wasn't enough to drop him. This irritated the paladin greatly, for he could tell these were evil enemies before him; a paladin of his standing shouldn't be having this much trouble with such foes!

Syngaard wasn't having much trouble at all, though. Unlike the goblins he'd encountered on his first mission - which had given him no small amount of trouble - these kobolds, while about the same size as a goblin, were falling left and right before his magic morningstar. He bashed through the skull of the frightened kobold he'd been fighting and turned to seek out new foes.

By this time the whole camp was awake and alerted to combat. Of the eleven red-scaled kobolds, four lay dead on the swampy ground, one stood in battle against Kaspar and another fought Galen, while the other five rushed over to join their comrades. Orion took one out with her sling as she rode Carl back into battle, about the same time that Kaspar finally managed to best his foe.

Three of the four latecomers focused their attention on Syngaard, rightly seeing him as their biggest threat. They attacked the scarred fighter from range, striking him multiple times with their stone bullets as he ran through the wet muck to get to them. Blood dripped down the side of his face as the fighter closed the gap with his foes, striking out again with his morningstar and bringing another of these flamesnouts down.

Galen pierced his kobold foe with the sword of Zehkar, noticing as he did so that the blade seemed to be burning through the reptile's torso - whatever enchantments the sword might have, it definitely seemed to be geared towards slaying evil.

There were now three flamesnouts left on the battlefield. One stood taller than the others (by a matter of mere inches - these were kobolds, after all) and had slightly better weapons; this one strode confidently towards Syngaard, who was starting to feel the wounds he'd picked up in combat thus far. Syngaard recognized in the kobold a fellow fighter, one well-trained in the use of his weapons. This was proven when the kobold's spear lashed out, getting past Syngaard's defenses and stabbing him in his side. The bald fighter staggered, but held himself upright and gave his all in a return blow with his morningstar. The weapon's spikes tore through the kobold fighter's skull, dropping him instantly. The other two kobolds shared a gaze between them and Syngaard could feel their fear; he gave a primal roar that made one of the kobolds visibly blanch and the other turn around and flee for his miserable life.

Galen ran up to Syngaard's side and tapped him with the wand of cure light wounds, sealing up the bleeding hole in the fighter's torso. The paladin then dodged a blow from the kobold, and swung his longsword at the beast in return. The kobold fell to the muck, dead.

Kaspar had by this time raced to catch up with his friends, and saw the last of the kobolds fleeing. He was at the edge of the range the monk felt comfortable in targeting foes with his shuriken; nonetheless, he pulled one of his metal throwing stars from his robes and hurled it at the kobold with all of his might. It whizzed through the air, coming to a wet thud in the back of the kobold's head. He pitched forward, unmoving.

Orion pulled another dagger from her belt and advanced towards the bound, black-scaled kobold captives. They struggled in fear, until the halfling chided them. "Hold still, you lot! I'm going to free you, not hurt you!" They gazed upon her with fearful eyes, but she was true to her word, and began cutting the vines binding them.

Then, with the flapping of wings, a final combatant entered the scene. This was another kobold fighter, sporting batlike wings (dragonlike wings, as it turned out) as red as the rest of his scales. He dropped down from the sky and slashed at Syngaard with a short sword sheathed in flames. Syngaard could easily have backed away and gulped down the contents of one of the healing potions at his belt, but he was fueled with the adrenaline coursing through his system and the phenomenal success rate he'd had during this whole battle with these kobolds. He parried the sword-strike with his morningstar, then caught the flying reptile a blow with the weapon, causing it to hiss like a teakettle. Syngaard half expected it to shoot fire at him like a dragon (he might not be the most intelligent of the group, but he figured the term "flamesnouts" had to come from somewhere), but it was the flaming short sword that struck out at him, slicing the side of his neck. Syngaard dropped instantly.

Galen stood by the fighter, sword of Zehkar in hand. He could have easily leaped at the winged kobold and swung at him with his blade, seeking the glory of having slain this group's apparent leader. But he was a paladin of Hieroneous, and he knew his duty. "Orion! Kaspar!" he cried out, then dropped to a knee and fumbled at the expensive healing potion he'd purchased earlier that day. As Orion and Kaspar kept the half-dragon kobold busy with sling stones and flying shuriken, Galen cradled the fallen fighter's head and poured the healing liquid down Syngaard's throat.

The cut in his neck sealed itself back up. Syngaard stood - with Galen's help - and faced the foe who had taken him out of the fight. Then he tried another primal scream - it had worked rather well with those other two kobolds. "YAAAAH!" cried the fighter. "DEATH ITSELF CAN'T HOLD ME BACK!"

"Idiot!" retorted the winged kobold in perfect Common. "I saw your friend feed you a healing potion. But let's see if I can't grant you that meeting with Death after all!" He struck at the fighter with his flaming sword, catching him in the chest when Syngaard wasn't able to leap back fast enough. But that didn't end up mattering all that much; he swung his morningstar at the kobold fighter, catching him in the wing and shattering bones. The creature fell to the ground with Syngaard looming above him. He looked up in terror - and the last thing he saw was Syngaard's terrible morningstar advancing into his field of vision, until everything went first blood-red and then quickly black, forevermore.

At that moment Galen's vision suddenly went dark as well and he found himself standing in a vast, open space surrounded by dark clouds flashing even darker streaks of ebon lightning. An unseen voice from all around him said, "Beware the coming tide of darkness. Beware he who would claim my brother's legacy." It then mentally imparted to the paladin the abilities of the sword of Zehkar: it dealt extra damage to evil beings of all types, and even more to undead abominations. Then, just as suddenly as the vision had engulfed him, Galen found himself back on the battlefield. Scarcely any time had passed; Orion was picking up the flaming short sword and claiming it as her own. (Not only was it perfectly sized for a halfling but it had also proven capable of taking down that blowhard Syngaard - the perfect weapon for her!)

"Yes!" cried Syngaard in triumph, standing over the downed half-dragon. "That's five hundred gold apiece! Let's go collect!"

That ended up being easier than anticipated, for rather than a long trudge back to the walled city, Skevros - who had been observing the action via a scrying spell - teleported to the group, then teleported back to the Enchanted Flagon with them. "You have had a visitor during your absence," he advised Kaspar, indicating an elf woman wearing similar robes to the monk conscript.

"Kaspar Hardstrike," she said, standing and approaching the monk. "I have come to inform you that Master Phae has had a vision: the sealed chamber of Tenryutsume in the monastery is open. Those who would wield it are welcome to enter the chamber and be tested. Thus far, none of those who have entered have returned. But should you seek to wield Tenryutsume, now is the time to prove your worthiness. Will you return to the temple and enter the chamber?"

There was no hesitation in Kaspar's voice when he said, "I will."

- - -

This was a fun adventure for me, as Syngaard was a melee monster against those kobolds! Whatever caused me to continuously roll miserably when Syngaard was fighting goblins in the first adventure, the opposite force was apparently in place when he was fighting kobolds. I've informed Logan I'm entirely okay with it if we only ever face kobolds for the rest of the campaign, but I doubt he'll go for it.

Still, Harry gets full credit for that awesome shuriken throw that took out the last fleeing kobold. He was at the very edge of a thrown shuriken's range, and Kaspar could only hit with a natural 20. Harry didn't want to even give it a try, but we egged him on and he finally gave in - and proceeded to roll a natural 20 that had the whole table erupting in laughter and high fives.

As for the sword of Zehkar, it hasn't spilled all of its secrets yet, but we now know it will increase in power over time. Right now it's effectively a "lesser holy" weapon - +1d6 points of damage to evil creatures - and can also bypass 2 points of damage reduction against undead as well as deal them an additional 2 points of damage. At this stage, we're not sure if that "message" Galen received was from Zehkar (who, we believe, was the statue in the tomb - hence the "paladin who never died") or possibly from Hieroneous himself. If the latter, then we'll need to look out for a worshiper of Hextor.

The next adventure, naturally, will focus on Kaspar getting a cool weapon of his own. "Tenryutsume" is apparently a Japanese mishmash of the words for "sky dragon's claw" - which fits in nicely with "Kaspar" meaning "dragon fist" in the Elven language. (This was something of which Logan hadn't even been aware when creating the monk weapon - it was purely serendipitous.)



PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 1
Galen Thorne, human paladin 3
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 3
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 2
Syngaard, human fighter 3​

Game Session Date: 17 January 2018

- - -

Daleth had caught up with the others before they headed out of the city and south to Kaspar's former training temple. "Where have you been, Wizard-Pants?" asked Galen, astride his warhorse Seneca. The elf opted not to answer.

"I said--" began Galen, before being cut off.

"I do not reply to those addressing me in such a manner."

"I see," replied Galen, smirking. "Well then, Mister Stormsea, sir, if it please you, sir, may we ask about your recent whereabouts?"

Daleth heard the mockery in the young paladin's tone but decided he preferred it to being called by a ridiculous name. He deigned to reply. "I have been away to the Azure Glade, performing research there at the behest of Skevros."

Syngaard could easily have asked what the research was all about but he really didn't care. Instead, he interjected with, "Yeah? Well we been going out on actual missions - and gettin' paid a ton of money to do so."

"Indeed," replied Daleth. "And this current mission - going with Kaspar to his monastery so he can investigate a room - this is another of your lucrative missions?"

"This isn't really a mission," admitted Orion, mounted on her riding dog Carl. "Skevros said we could go because he doesn't currently need us, but he didn't assign us this task."

"I see. And so you are accompanying our monk out of the goodness of your hearts - and for free," Daleth added, looking directly at Syngaard as he said the last part.

"Wouldn't say for free," argued Syngaard. "No tellin' what all's in that sealed room. Could be treasure. Could be other weapons besides that ten-foot soomy."

"Tenryutsume," corrected Kaspar. "It means 'sky dragon's claw.' I am going on the assumption that it is a weapon, but even that is uncertain. But yes, the others have offered to travel with me back to the monastery and I have gratefully accepted. You are welcome to travel with us, should you desire."

"I will accompany you," Daleth decided. "But I should like to make a few purchases before we leave town." That was no problem, as the marketplace was just inside the south gate. The elf wizard picked up a few potions and several scrolls of the magic missile spell. He recognized it as his most powerful attack spell, but he'd been neglecting his wizardly training while off performing various tasks for Skevros. He knew as he progressed through the wizardly ranks over time he'd be able to cast the spell more times per day than was currently possible, so scrolls to make up the difference was a logical choice. "I am ready," Daleth announced after his last purchase and the group exited the gates and started down the road to Kaspar's temple.

The first part of the day was uneventful. They stopped around noon and ate rations beneath the shade of trees, Carl and Seneca drinking at a nearby brook winding through the woods. Then several more hours passed on the road before they met up with trouble.

Kaspar estimated they were less than half an hour from the monastery when he met up with a fellow monk on the road, one who had studied the basics with him during his years of training. "Kaspar, is that you?" asked the burly dwarf. Kaspar had once known his real name, but everybody at the monastery had always called him by his preferred nickname, Stonebeard. "What are you doing out here? I thought you'd been sent out to travel the world!"

"I had," agreed Kaspar, glad to see Stonebeard again. They'd never been close friends, but his was a known face in a world of strangers outside the temple. "I have returned to enter the chamber of the tenryutsume and face the trials."

Stonebeard's face fell. "Aw," he said, clear disappointment in his voice. "That's too bad. 'Cause that means we're gonna have to kill you."

Kaspar dropped into a defensive stance as the words left Stonebeard's lips; Galen and Syngaard both picked up on the "we" of the dwarf's statement and cast their eyes about, looking for his hidden allies. The paladin also checked Stonebeard's aura for the distinctive taint of evil and was surprised to see it lacking in the dwarven monk who had just stated his intention to kill them all in cold blood.

But then Galen saw one of Stonebeard's allies step out from the forest to the group's right. This was a human woman, wearing robes of the same color as both Kaspar and Stonebeard - and her aura was most definitely evil. Galen wheeled Seneca in her direction and charged. Knowing his foe to be evil, he channeled the positive energy of his patron deity Hieroneous through his sword, smiting the monk heavily as Seneca raced up beside her.

Stonebeard, in the meantime, had a foe standing right there before him. Adopting an attack stance, he struck forth like a mantis, whirling as he advanced to strike Kaspar with his hand and then a swiftly-kicking foot. The elf deflected the hand with his own arm but took the kick in the side of the ribs. Stonebeard may have had the build of a traditional stocky dwarf, but he was as nimble as any elf!

Several attack strategies came automatically to Kaspar's mind, but he shelved them for the moment in an attempt to reason with his former fellow trainee. "Why do you attack us?" he asked of Stonebeard. "If you wish to enter the chamber with us and go through the challenges of the tenryutsume, we will welcome your presence."

"Only one can wield it!" argued the dwarf. "No use in bringing along the competition!"

"Surely the tenryutsume will choose the most worthy to wield it," suggested Kaspar. "If that is you, I will not contest its decision."

"Ain't gonna be me," Stonebeard admitted. "But ain't gonna be you either!" He punched a fist at Kaspar which the elf easily dodged, and then, seeing the fruitlessness of further discourse, Kaspar subjected Stonebeard to a flurry of blows from his own fists, catching the dwarf in the side of the head with one well-placed strike.

Syngaard looked off to the trees on the group's left and saw two more figures stepping out: a human male to the front of the group by Orion and Carl and an elf back by him. He threw his javelin straight at the elf's face, and was greatly disappointed when the monk swatted it away as if it were nothing more than an irritating insect. Then the elf monk let his own weapon extend: it was a lengthy chain with a weighted ball of metal at one end and a bladed weapon rather like a small scythe at the other; Kaspar would later identify it as a kusari-gama but Syngaard had never seen anything like it. The elf swung the bladed end over his head in the same manner as the bald fighter used his own sling, then sent it flying at Syngaard. It hit him before he could dodge and Syngaard began appreciating just how deadly this weird-looking weapon could be. And, just as Syngaard's own javelin of returning had returned to his hand after its failed strike at the elf monk, this kusari-gama was still in the elf's hand despite his having just thrown it - or one end of it, at least.

The wounded female human monk fighting Galen suddenly crouched, then leaped straight into the air and kicked out at the mounted paladin as her body pirouetted, nearly knocking him from the saddle. In the meantime, her male human counterpart stepped out from between the trees and sent a punch at Orion's face - even on Carl, the little halfling was at a much more even height with her foe. Orion dodged the blow by sliding off the saddle, landing gracefully on the dirt of the road through the woods and racing around behind her attacker as soon as her feet hit the dirt. She missed with her follow-on attack, but in distracting the monk with her flaming short sword she allowed Carl to clamp down on one of his arms, holding the appendage between his teeth and crunching down.

Daleth, with the least amount of field experience of the five conscripts, was the last to react to the sudden scuffle. Still, he was able to summon up the appropriate words and gestures to send a magic missile streaming from his fingertip to go crashing into Stonebeard's broad chest. The dwarf acknowledged the attack with a quiet grunt but continued his own assault upon Kaspar, catching the elf in the breastbone and causing him to stagger backwards, scrambling for a healing potion at his belt.

Galen unconsciously followed Orion's tactic in sliding from his mount, but he was focused upon his own foe and couldn't what see his halfling partner was up to. He swung the sword of Zehkar at the human woman before him, who dodged below its arc with ease. She, in turn, made a sweeping kick that likely would have sent the armored paladin falling to his back, prone, had he not stepped away in time.

Syngaard, realizing that if this elf monk could swat away his javelin once he could likely do so again, opted to close to melee range. Let's see him swat away my morningstar! he thought, racing forward. But in the span of time it took him to close the distance, the elf managed to strike out with his kusari-gama again, carving a slash along Syngaard's cheek with its blade. The bald fighter swore heavily, not because of the scar (he already had plenty of those - one more wouldn't even be that noticeable) but because the damn cut hurt! He channeled all of his anger into his strike and managed to hit the elf, but the nimble monk rolled with the hit and took minimal damage from Syngaard's attack - which only made the bald fighter than much angrier.

With a quick tug, the male human monk managed to extricate his arm from Carl's grip, do a quick flip, and strike out at Orion with a bare foot. He connected heavily with the halfling's head, sending her reeling for a moment. But then, still flanking him with her riding dog, she stabbed out at the monk with her flaming short sword, catching him in a vital spot. His hand dropped to his side, covering the wound but failing to staunch the sudden flow of blood, and he made the mistake of glancing down at the wound to see how bad it was. His gaze wavered only for a moment, but in that moment Carl pounced, dropping the monk to the dirt on his face and biting down on the back of the monk's neck.

The Durnhill conscripts had made the first kill in this fight - and it was courtesy of the riding dog.

Orion took a moment to stab out at the monk's corpse with her blade, but it was merely to sever the strings of the monk's purse from his belt. It was a practiced action that she'd performed many times before; she didn't even bother to look inside to see what she'd just pocketed - that would come later. Right now, there was still a battle going on. And a dog to praise. "Good boy!" she called to Carl, and the dog lolled his tongue over the side of his mouth, panting in pleasure.

Daleth targeted Stonebeard with another spell, this one a color spray - and was disappointed when nothing happened. Mentally going over his own actions, he was convinced he'd performed the spell as required; the dwarf must have just overcome its intended effects. The elf's face soured at the realization. Stupid dwarves! Stonebeard had meanwhile moved up to Kaspar and the two monks were trading blows, each engaged equally with striking out at the enemy while simultaneously avoiding or deflecting his foe's attacks.

Galen swung his sword laterally at his enemy and caught the monk in the side. She flopped to the ground and the paladin saw her aura of evil start to fade as the life ebbed from her body. He stepped into the stirrups and swung his leg over the saddle, leading Seneca over to the elf monk fighting Syngaard - in a wide enough arc to stay out of range of the odd-looking chain weapon he was using against the fighter. But the elf was fighting craftily, using the kusari-gama's greater reach to his advantage: he'd strike at the fighter and back away, allowing him to get in another attack while Syngaard moved to close within striking range of his morningstar. Thus, the monk was getting in two attacks for Syngaard's every one. And even when Syngaard managed to strike his foe, it always seemed to be a mere glancing blow. Stupid monks!

Sensing the paladin's approach - not difficult, giving Galen was mounted on a warhorse and wearing noisy metal armor - the elf monk swung around and brought his weapon to bear against this new threat. Fortunately for Galen, he managed to deflect the blade against his shield just in time.

Orion ran quietly behind Stonebeard and stabbed him in the kidney with her flaming short sword, calling for Carl to go help Syngaard - who, predictably, looked like he needed all the help he could get. As the riding dog bounded up to the elf, Stonebeard crashed to the ground, dead. Kaspar thanked the halfling, who seemed disappointed for some reason. Orion was actually glad she'd taken down the dwarf monk; she was just irritated she couldn't get to his purse in front of Kaspar without him noticing.

Daleth was drinking down a potion, which struck the halfling as odd - she didn't see any wounds on him, and while she'd been concentrating on her own battles, she'd seen from the corner of her eyes that the wizard had stayed well away from any of the hand-to-hand skirmishes. "It's a potion of mage armor," explained Daleth, seeing the puzzlement in the halfling's face.

"Now?" she scoffed, rushing over to aid in the fight against the last opponent, the elf monk with the chain weapon. Silly wizards!

Galen hit the elf monk with his longsword, leaning over in the saddle to do so. Then he brought Seneca around and the warhorse reared and lashed out with his hooves, striking the evil elf a blow to the chin. Kaspar took a moment to drink down another healing potion; Stonebeard had been a fierce opponent! Then he, too, ran over to see what aid he could give.

Syngaard struck out with his morningstar, missing his foe entirely. The elf directed his next attack the fighter's way, switching his grip on the chain to send the blunt end crashing into Syngaard's forehead and sending him staggering. Still too far away for melee combat, Orion sent a dagger flying at the elf, but he didn't even exert any effort to swat it away, merely moved his head at the last possible second to let it sail harmlessly past him. But he was now surrounded by enemies on all sides and it didn't look good for him, despite his obvious combat superiority. He was convinced he could take each and every one of these idiots out one by one, in sequence, but all together like this...? Even an elf had his limits.

Galen proved the point by getting past the monk's defenses and stabbing him through the side with the sword of Zehkar. The elf's head snapped to the side to stare up at Galen in surprise, and then he died without a word.

After this unexpected battle, the group took time to heal their own wounds, some by healing potions, some by Galen's laying on of hands, and some by good old fashioned bandages. "You know these guys?" Syngaard demanded of Kaspar.

"Only Stonebeard," replied the monk conscript. "The others must have come to the temple after I left - or left it before I showed up for my training." The latter seemed the most likely, at least in the case of the kusari-gama-wielding monk, for he seemed to have advanced beyond Kaspar's initial teachings. Kaspar had gathered up the chain weapon, not for use by himself - it was a difficult weapon to master - but to return to Master Phae at the temple. He'd be able to put it to good use, no doubt.

Syngaard had been untying the sash at the robe of the slain female human monk. Orion finally noticed what he was up to as he stripped the robe from the corpse. "What are you doing?" she demanded.

The bald fighter looked over at the halfling, a look of puzzlement on his face, as if this was a trick question of some sort. "Pulling off her robe," he answered, holding up the item in question as evidence. The dead woman was now bare from the waist up.

"Creep!" exclaimed the halfling, turning her back and storming away. Galen heard the commotion and stepped over. "I say, Syngaard..." he began. "Is that really appropriate?"

Syngaard pulled out his rarely-used longsword from its scabbard at his belt. "I needed a sack or something," he answered, sawing through the woman's neck with his sword. His grisly task finished, he dropped the severed head onto the woman's unfolded robe and moved over to the next corpse.

"That's hardly necessary," offered Daleth with a look of distaste as Syngaard began cutting through Stonebeard's neck.

"It's proof, is what it is," countered Syngaard, dropping Stonebeard's head next to the woman's.

"And of the four enemies, you chose to remove the woman's robes?" demanded Orion. She looked at the now-headless woman and saw Galen's gaze kept focusing in that direction as well.

"What?" replied Syngaard innocently. "She happened to be the closest." Then, seeing Galen's obvious discomfort at the woman's exposed breasts, he kicked the decapitated corpse over onto its stomach with his foot. "Get a grip, Galen - they're just boobs. And not even very good ones," he added. "I seen better." He went to fetch the heads of the other two dead monks, noticing as he did so that their coin purses had already been liberated from their belts.

"That's absolutely disgusting," offered Orion as Syngaard piled the four heads together.

"Yeah?" asked the fighter. "Then you're probably going to really hate this!" And, hoisting the male and female human heads up by their hair, he held them so their faces were grinding their lips together while he made appropriate kissing noises. Orion stormed off again, which had been Syngaard's hope in any case. He piled the heads back together on the robe, then folded the edges of the garment together and tied the whole thing into a package with the sleeves and sash.

"You guys ready?" he asked, the four severed heads held over a shoulder. As a professional courtesy to those with daintier dispositions, the bald fighter even stayed several paces behind the others as they trudged the last half hour down the road to the monastery.

The monk on duty at the gate of the training temple recognized Kaspar at once. "Kaspar!" he cried in delight. "Are you here to undergo the trial of the tenryutsume?"

"I am," Kaspar replied. "But we had a little trouble down the road. We were attacked by Stonebeard and three others."

"These three," pointed out Syngaard, who had unpacked his grisly bundle and had the heads all lined up for inspection. "You seen 'em before?"

The monk's face showed distaste, but whether due to recognizing the faces before him or just the fact that there were four severed heads on the ground at his feet was difficult to discern. "Indeed," the monk sentry replied. "They were banished from the monastery. Stonebeard chose to leave with them."

"You guys got some pikes or something you wanna display these on?" Syngaard asked, looking around at the temple's walls for the best place to put his trophies on display.

"Syngaard!" exploded Orion. "Have a little decorum! Try to act like you're at least somewhat civilized!"

"I'll, uh, I'll go fetch Master Phae," the monk sentry stammered, calling another monk over to take his post while he fetched the temple's leader.

Master Phae beamed with pleasure upon seeing his former pupil. "It pleases me that you intend to take the challenge," he said. "You were one of my best students." Then he looked down at the heads lined up in a row on the ground and frowned. "Oh dear," he said. "I feared such would eventually be their fate." Then, looking back up at the group and giving the severed heads no further thought (he'd have a couple of the acolytes bury them shortly), he addressed the group at large. "You are welcome to spend the night in the monastery," he offered, then looked directly at Kaspar. "It would be best for you to take the challenge refreshed. I will have rooms prepared for you and your friends."

"What about our animals?" asked Galen. "We have a warhorse and a riding dog."

"And a halfling," added Syngaard, earning him a narrow-eyed glare from Orion.

"The animals will be cared for," promised Master Phae, ignoring Syngaard's rude comment. "This way, please." And the elderly monk led the others into one of the temple buildings.

"How many have taken the challenge thus far?" asked Kaspar as they went to their assigned rooms.

"Five have entered," Master Phae answered promptly. "None have returned."

That made for pleasant thoughts that evening while trying to sleep.

In the morning, however, the conscripts did indeed feel refreshed; the temple was quiet and relaxed and their sleep had been uninterrupted. After enjoying a breakfast of simple but nourishing temple fare - and after Daleth had had time to prepare the spells he deemed best suited for the task at hand - Master Phae led the conscripts to a door deep inside the largest of the temple buildings. It stood wide open but nothing could be seen within, due to the dark mists spilling out from it.

"None have returned," reminded the elderly monk. "You are invited to enter and face the trials within, should you choose to do so. There in no dishonor in declining."

"And there's nothing preventing my friends from accompanying me?" asked Kaspar.

"Not at all, if they choose to do so. But those entering will also face the trials." Syngaard seemed to be reconsidering the risk, as there was nothing stating for certain that there would be any treasure inside the chamber. He'd be risking his life for the mere possibility of a suitable reward. He looked at the others, and Daleth and Orion stepped up beside Galen and Kaspar before the door. Well, that clinched it - nobody was ever going to be able to say that Syngaard lacked the courage of a damned halfling! He stepped up beside the others.

"I wish you good fortunes," intoned Master Phae, bowing to his former student. Kaspar returned the bow and then stepped into the mists. The others followed.

They soon found themselves in a strange place. A 10-foot-wide corridor stood before them, with two niches on either side the same size as the niche they'd just stepped out of, each with runes carved above them. The walls of the corridor were 20 feet tall but lacked a ceiling; the noonday sun burned down on them from above, despite the fact it had been early morning when they stepped through the mists.

Kaspar recognized the runes above the four niches before him: Air, Water, Wood, and Metal; looking behind him, he saw the glyph for Fire above the mist-filled doorway they had just exited. Then it is true, he thought. He'd been told his monastery was but one of five such throughout the world. "Come on," he said, striding forward down the corridor.

Ahead, there stood a large, open chamber with a door on both of the side walls and a throne perched against the back wall. The floor was strewn with dead bodies, a score or a couple dozen by the looks of them. Strangest yet, a dark mist hung oppressively along the top half of the room, leaving only the lower ten feet visible. It was like having a cloudy day for a ceiling.

Kaspar stepped to the end of the corridor, stopping just before the doorway into the chamber. Syngaard stood at his side, as if to demonstrate his courage. Directly behind the monk stood Galen, who scanned the room with his paladin's sight. "The room itself radiates no evil," he stated.

"Of course it doesn't," said a voice from the mist as it formed a twisting funnel, like a miniature tornado, aimed at the throne. The mists were all absorbed through this funnel, finally coalescing into the form of a human-shaped woman sitting on the throne. She had pale skin - almost white - and dark blue hair streaked with bronze. She smiled a greeting at the five conscripts peering into her chamber; for their part, they were noticing that they could actually see through her body to the throne upon which she sat. "Are you a ghost?" asked Syngaard.

The woman smiled and answered simply, "I am Tenryu. Welcome to the four trials." She began putting on something that had been resting upon one of the arms of the throne: it was a glove of sorts, formed of bronze rings that went over each finger joint, with a bracelet around the wrist and a metal plate along the back of the hand, all of which were held together by delicate chains. She held up her right hand when she was finished, and modeled the glove for the conscripts. There was a claw at the tip of each finger. "Tenryutsume," she announced. "Pass through the four trials, and it is yours."

Kaspar stepped boldly into the room. "Perhaps you would like to just present it to me," he suggested. "I assume you have some way of sensing my worthiness?"

Tenryu laughed. "What an absurd notion! You silly mortals never cease to amuse me! Yes, I have a way to sense your worthiness! They're the four trials: the Trial of Wealth, the Trial of Cunning, the Trial of Strength, and the Trial of Commitment." Nervously, Galen looked down the corridor at the way that they'd come, but the mists were now gone; the doorway back to Kaspar's training temple was shut off from them, as the wall beneath the Fire rune was now solid stone. It seemed the only way to return home was to overcome these trials...or end up like the dead bodies in the chamber if they failed.

Tenryu indicated the door to the left of the group. "You trials begin in there," she said, smiling. Galen stared at her with intensity, but he could sense no evil in the ghostly woman.

"Let's go," suggested Kaspar, walking to the indicated door. Orion stopped him from touching it before she could give it the once-over, provoking another smirk of delight from Tenryu and a shake of her ghostly head. "It looks safe," the halfling announced. Kaspar opened it to find a short corridor and yet another closed door. This one bore a legend:
What desire has the one who has everything? Only one with true wealth shall leave unscathed.

Opening this second door, Kaspar saw another large room. The back wall was filled with bookshelves, while in the center of the room sat a shallow pit filled with gems, jewelry, and coins. "Treasure," pointed out Syngaard to Daleth, who merely shrugged in annoyance.

"I suggest we don't touch anything," advised Kaspar, giving meaningful looks to Orion and Syngaard. The fighter raised his hands in a "Who, me?" gesture and Orion merely nodded her understanding. She advanced to the edge of the pit and looked at all the loot sitting there temptingly. Syngaard stood beside her, doing the same. There had to be the equivalent value of hundreds of thousands of gold pieces sitting right there, all for the taking....

Daleth, in the meantime, had walked around the pit to examine the bookcases. Kaspar and Galen followed, the paladin keeping the bald fighter and the halfling rogue in the corner of his eye, to ensure they didn't try anything foolish. "Interesting," observed the wizard.

"What?" asked Kaspar.

"The titles of these books," replied Daleth. "They're all in Draconic."

"That's not all," added Galen. "Look at them: they're all metal, every last one of them." Looking over at Kaspar for permission and getting a nod in return, he picked up a random book and flipped it open. "Even the pages are metal!" Sure enough, the Draconic characters on the pages were etched into the metal of the pages making up the book.

"I have heard of such things being done with spellbooks," Daleth mused, amazed at the vast amount of spellpower before him if all of the tomes before him were indeed spellbooks. He cast a quick detect magic spell and observed, "All of these books are magic." Then, looking back over towards Syngaard and Orion, he added, "As are the coin and gems."

"So what's the trial here?" asked Syngaard. "Find the right treasure?"

"The inscription did mention 'true wealth'," observed Daleth. "Even a man with everything would still seek to increase his knowledge."

"So which book?" demanded Galen. "There's got to be hundreds of them here!"

"I don't imagine it makes much of a difference," replied Kaspar, reaching for the book in Galen's hand. "If the answer is 'knowledge' any book should do. You guys stay here." And he walked out of the door, down the short corridor, and through the door into Tenryu's chamber. She was sitting on her throne, a grin of anticipation on her pale face.

Before Kaspar could pose a question to Tenryu, he stifled a cry of pain. The book had been warming up during his short trek down the corridor, and now it was blazing hot! He dropped it to the stone floor, then kicked it back towards the treasure chamber with his toe. The metal seemed to cool the closer it got to the bookcase. Kaspar tentatively touched it with his fingertips once it hit the wood of the bookcase, then picked it up and replaced it where it belonged. "It isn't knowledge," he said.

"Betcha I know what it is," offered Syngaard suddenly.

"What might that be?" scoffed Daleth, amused that this human oaf would think he could figure out the answer to a puzzle sooner than his betters.

"Nothin'," replied Syngaard. Daleth smirked even harder, assuming the fighter had backed off from his ridiculous claims. But then the fighter pressed on, "If the guy's already got everything, then he don't need nothin', right?"

"I don't get it," replied Galen. "What about the 'true wealth' bit on the door? That doesn't make any sense."

"No, it does," admitted Kaspar. "A wise man realizes he has no need for material wealth. Good job, Syngaard." He went back to the central chamber, this time taking with him nothing from the treasure chamber. The others followed, likewise having left the contents of the room alone.

"Oh, very good!" complimented Tenryu upon seeing the five return from her treasure chamber. "You have overcome the Trials of both Wealth and of Cunning. Now you must overcome the Trial of Strength."

"And what of the Trial of Commitment?" asked Kaspar.

"You passed that one merely by entering this chamber the first time, knowing that to do so meant your deaths if you failed. So: three down, one to go."

"So what is this Trial of Strength?" demanded Galen.

"It's quite simple: demonstrate your worthiness to wield the tenryutsume by defeating those who would wield it in your place." She gestured to the corridor through which they had first entered the testing chamber and the heroes could see mists billowing out from one of the side niches - the one with the Wood rune above it, if Kaspar's memory served. From within the mists strode three young women, two wearing ornate armor and helmets with fearsome horns and face coverings made to look like leering demons and one wearing the robes of a monk, similar to those worn by Kaspar but all black in color. She wielded no weapons, whereas the two samurai flanking her carried large, curved swords in their hands and had smaller ones tucked into the belts at their waists.

"It's a common question, asked and answered throughout the ages," observed Tenryu as the three women entered the chamber. "Which is stronger: good or evil?" Galen observed the auras of each of the women were tainted with evil and called this out to his friends.

"Only one of you can wield the tenryutsume," the ghost-woman reminded the assembly. "I will leave it to you to decide who that will be."

Surprisingly, Daleth was the first to respond, by casting a magic missile spell at the samurai on the east side of the doorway. She grunted in surprise at the sudden attack, then readied her sword in a two-handed grip and prepared to rush into the room. At her side, the other samurai did likewise. However, it was the slender monk who beat both of her bodyguards into combat. She slipped into the room with an unearthly speed and grace, targeting Galen with an ear-splitting scream and open-handed strike, likely assuming the heavily-armed paladin with the longsword was the most powerful foe in the group. Galen took the blow - in truth, it had been delivered too swiftly to dodge - but then brought his sword of Zehkar down on his opponent, channeling Hieroneous's power in a mighty smite that nearly brought the monk to her knees.

Off to the side of the chamber by the door to the treasure room, Orion had too many people in her way to get a good bead on any of these foes, so she gripped a throwing dagger and waited for an opening. She got it shortly thereafter, when the samurai moved up, the first one attacking Kaspar and the other going for Galen. Orion's dagger hit Kaspar's opponent in the shoulder, causing her to take a moment to pull it out. Kaspar tried to take advantage of the distraction but the samurai had enough combat experience to be able to fend off his open-hand attack while tossing Orion's dagger to the floor.

Syngaard swung at the monk with his morningstar, reasoning that anybody with two such heavily-armed bodyguards had to be pretty powerful and should probably be taken down quickly. However, his swing was clumsy compared to the swift-moving monk, who easily dodged the weapon-blow.

Seeing all three enemies clumped together relatively close, Daleth stepped forward and lined up a color spray spell that encompassed all three enemies without getting any of his friends in the cone. Both samurai managed to deflect the spell's effects, but the monk's movement slowed to a crawl and she visibly shook her head, trying to shake off the effect. Galen took the opportunity to strike out at the stunned monk, but her closest bodyguard pulled her physically out of the way, stepping forward to shield the blow with her katana.

Orion raced around the cluster of combatants, ending up in a flanking position with Galen. She struck out at the samurai with her flaming short sword, catching her in the leg and causing her to stumble. But at the same time the other samurai struck Kaspar with her katana, drawing a line of blood across the monk's forearm. And her counterpart surprised everyone by aiming her counterattack not at Orion or Galen, who were pinning her in from two opposite sides, but Syngaard, who was within reach.

Kaspar struck out at the first samurai with a fist, but she dodged to the side at the last possible moment. Syngaard, still focused on taking out the monk, failed to stay out of the range of the samurai who had cut him with her blade. She caught him again as he tried to move past, and the fighter dropped to the floor, unconscious and bleeding out.

Daleth unrolled a magic missile scroll and hurriedly read off the words, watching each one disappear from the parchment as he spoke them aloud. The missile struck the samurai who had just taken Syngaard down, but it failed to likewise take her down.

The black-clad monk, no longer stunned, did a cartwheel flip across the room and attacked Kaspar, likely having focused on him as her primary opponent as a potential wielder of the tenryutsume. The elf took the kick to the side but rolled with it in an attempt to lessen the damage. Galen swung at the monk as she passed by him, but he missed - causing him to swear an unpaladinlike oath of disgust.

As much as she couldn't personally stand the man, Orion realized that they were losing this five-to-three fight and were now facing four-to-three odds without Syngaard. His battle prowess was questionable; while he seemed to do just fine against those kobolds, he was currently getting his ass beaten by these Eastern women. Still, if nothing else, he could better serve as an additional target and a "damage sponge" if he was up and about. So, part of her hating herself for her actions, Orion cradled the fighter's head on her knees and poured the contents of her most powerful - and expensive! - healing potion down his throat.

"Wha--?" sputtered Syngaard, coming to sudden wakefulness among the sounds of combat and finding himself practically lying in Orion's lap. He struggled to his feet, gripping his morningstar in his right hand and looking to get some vengeance on that samurai chick that brought him down.

"You'd better never say anything bad about halflings again!" warned Orion. "You owe your life to one!" That did nothing but put a sour expression on the fighter's scarred face and further fuel his rage.

As Syngaard was looking for his samurai foe, the other one was knocking Kaspar unconscious to the stone floor. Orion sighed and rushed to the monk's side, preparing another flask of magical healing. Then Syngaard spotted the samurai across the chamber, squaring off with Galen. Her katana scratched across his armor, making sparks fly. But then Syngaard noticed the monk was closer to him and, better yet, her back was turned. Returning to his original plan of taking out the leader, the fighter struck at her with his spiked weapon. He missed, but he drew the attention of both samurai who were tasked with protecting the monk, and Syngaard once again found himself as Enemy Number One.

"Take out the boss!" cried Syngaard, hoping somebody else could do the job he was having so much trouble with. Across the room, Daleth used his last magic missile scroll following Syngaard's advice; the missile struck the monk but seemed to do the minimal possible amount of damage. In fact, the wizard wasn't even positive the monk had noticed his magical attack, focused as she was in taking down Galen. The paladin sliced at her with his sword and missed - he was doing far too much of that against these samurai!

Kaspar woke up in Orion's grip, the taste of her healing potion still on his tongue. "Thank you," he said before rising to his feet and looking to see how the combat was faring.

Not good. Syngaard was squaring off with both samurai, swinging his morningstar like a madman but seldom connecting, whereas they seemed to have no trouble stabbing at him with their swords. Fortunately, none of their cuts were very deep, but it was only a matter of time.

Having used up all of his scrolls and his most powerful spells, Daleth realized he was down to his dregs. Still, any amount of damage had to be good for their team, so he cast an acid splash spell on the monk. She must have been fighting on her last ounce of energy, for the piddly little spell was all it took to drop her to the stone floor. A cry of relief arose from the other conscripts - these women weren't invincible after all! At the same time, the samurai gave forth with cries of horror - they had failed in their mission to protect their mistress! Now there was nothing left but to die in combat slaying as many of their foes as they could.

With renewed vigor, Galen swung his longsword at one of the samurai. As had been his fate for most of this fight, he missed - but it allowed Orion to sneak in from behind and get in a crippling strike with her flaming short sword at the back of her foe's knee. Hobbling in pain, the samurai turned to face the halfling as if to retaliate, but then made a surprise midair swerve with her katana and brought it swinging back at Syngaard, stabbing him deep in the shoulder. He cried out in pain and actually caught her with his morningstar, but it was merely a glancing blow that slid off her armor. "Oh, come on!" cried the fighter, cursing the fates as he tried not to pass out again.

Daleth cast his last remaining acid splash spell at the other samurai and was amazed when he couldn't even hit her with something so basic. He also realized that was pretty much his last remaining attack spell - from now on, he'd have to rely upon the light crossbow he used only in emergencies. As he pulled it from his back and dropped a quarrel into place, Galen attacked the samurai, hitting like Syngaard had done and seeing the majority of the force of his blow deflected along her armor. "We can't let them beat us!" the paladin cried out.

Fortunately, the team had a spry halfling on their team. As she had done to the other one, she snuck in underfoot, all but unnoticed, and cut deep with her flaming short sword. This time, it wasn't a hobbling blow to the knee, either - it was a deep cut through the lower torso, slaying the beleaguered samurai instantly.

Ignoring the fact that she was now the sole combatant left from her team, the other samurai struck at Galen with her katana - but missed. She parried a retaliatory strike of the sword of Zehkar with her own blade, then dodged back out of reach of Syngaard's swinging morningstar. But she was now surrounded on all sides, and it was only a matter of time before one of the conscripts would take her down.

As it happened, it was Orion again. Even Syngaard had to admit (silently to himself, of course) that she had really saved their bacon in this fight.

After the clashing blades of combat, the silence that followed was almost jarring - until it was broken by the sounds of clapping. Looking in the direction of the sound, the group found Tenryu clapping in appreciation of the spectacle. "Very entertaining!" she said. "You mortals never cease to amuse me! Now then, which of you is to wear the tenryutsume?"

Everybody looked immediately at Kaspar.

"I thought as much," Tenryu smirked, gliding over to the young elven monk without seeming to even move her legs. She passed her right arm through Kaspar's, her elbow backing through his hand and arm, and in the process the tenryutsume ended up on his right hand instead of hers. "Wear it well," she advised. "It's yours for the rest of your life - I'll take it back after then, but not before. In the meantime, you're more than welcome to increase its power - simply pay me the right amount and I'll be more than happy to unlock its powers for you."

Kaspar looked in amazement at the glove he now wore, turning it front and back and admiring its workmanship. Then he looked back at the pale woman. "You're a ghost," he began. Tenryu nodded her head in silent acknowledgement of the fact.

"...of a dragon," added Kaspar.

"Oh, very well done," smiled Tenryu. "What gave it away?"

"Several things," replied the monk. "All of your books were written in Draconic, for one thing."

"That's not uncommon among spellcasters," pointed out Daleth. "Draconic is often used for treatises on arcane writings."

"Yes, but I don't imagine every single book in there is a treatise on arcane writings, is it?" countered Kaspar. "That looks like a small library covering a wide variety of topics."

"Indeed it is," admitted Tenryu, her smile even broader. "Please continue."

"And the treasure scattered in a pile there, in the middle of the room," Kaspar added. "It seems very...dragonlike. And then finally, there's the tenryutsume itself, the 'sky dragon's claw.' You introduced yourself as 'Tenryu,' which would translate as 'sky dragon.' I assume that isn't really your real name?"

"No, but it's the name by which I have chosen to be known," replied the ghost, smiling in admiration. "Yes, I'm really a dragon, and a rather unique one at that: my mother was a bronze; my father, a blue. One traditionally good, one traditionally evil. Hence my interest in the conflicting concepts of good and evil, since I myself am neither."

"So what's behind this door?" asked Syngaard abruptly, pointing to the door on the wall across the entry to the treasure chamber.

"That is my own lair. There you may not enter."

"Can we take the weapons off of these dead bodies?"

"You may not. Those who entered and failed the trials are never to return - and that includes all of their equipment. I will add their belongings to my own treasure pile - some habits die harder than others, you understand." Syngaard didn't, but he wasn't going to argue the fact with a ghost-dragon, neither of which he felt like their group could handle right now.

Tenryu waved a hand at the entry corridor and mist began spilling from the Fire niche. "You have successfully passed my trials," she said. "You may return to your own lands. I can see my 'claw' is going to a truly worthy wielder, Kaspar. Good luck - to you all!" And with that, her translucent body became misty itself, dissipating into cloud and filling the top half of the chamber once again.

The conscripts each passed through the mists and returned to Kaspar's temple, and home.

- - -

Wow. What a difference between two subsequent adventures! The last time, my dice were rolling hot - Syngaard was hitting with his attacks and dealing significant damage. During this adventure, however, I continually rolled like crap, and on the few occasions I did manage to hit anything my damage was minimal. Dan had the same problem, as did most of the others to a much lesser extent. Logan, on the other hand, couldn't stop himself from rolling natural 20s for the enemies, to the point where we threatened to kidnap his red 20-sider, which was inflicting the most pain upon our hapless PCs. And it's pretty bad when the whole table is leaning forward, praying that the 1st-level wizard's acid splash spell will hit because we desperately need to inflict those 1d3 points of damage. I can't be the only one who regretted the PCs having left the warhorse and riding dog behind when entering the trials.

Still, this ended up being Vicki's turn to shine, as she managed to kill two of the three enemies in the final battle, plus save the lives of both Syngaard and Kaspar. I just hope she's not holding her breath about Syngaard never insulting halflings again - that kind of restraint is really not in his nature.
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PC Roster:
Galen Thorne, human paladin 3
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 3
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 2
Syngaard, human fighter 3​

Game Session Date: 24 January 2018

- - -

"I wonder what's up this time," grumbled Syngaard as he approached the Enchanted Flagon. It was too early in the day for secret missions, as far as the scarred human fighter was concerned - he was still nursing his morning hangover.

"We shall find out soon enough," reasoned Galen as he tied Seneca's reins to the hitching post just outside the tavern. Carl was already in place at the post, panting happily in the sunlight. "I see Orion is already here."

"There's a big cause for celebration," muttered Syngaard to himself as the two warriors entered the tavern that was their de facto headquarters. Not only Orion but also Kaspar had beaten them in; they were seated at the table they'd jointly decided was their official conference table. (It was no different than the other two round tables that each sat four - but it was the one they had sat at when they had first been conscripted into service to King Leornic and thus had the dual advantages of history and familiarity.)

"Ah, you're all here," Skevros said, looking up at Galen and Syngaard's approach.

"What about Daleth?" asked Orion. "Won't he be accompanying us?"

"I have already assigned him to other duties," explained the king's adviser without going into any detail. "You four will suffice for the mission at hand."

"What's the mission?" asked Galen.

"And what's it pay?" added Syngaard without missing a beat.

"Four thousand gold pieces, to be split equally among you," Skevros answered the bald fighter first, realizing that until Syngaard got his answer he'd keep interrupting. Then, returning his gaze to Galen, he added, "There have been bandit raids in the kingdom of Ashfall. You have been selected to take care of the problem, with extreme prejudice."

"Extreme prejudice?" repeated Syngaard. "We ain't prejudiced!"

"Not prejudiced?" sputtered Orion, "How can you say that with a straight face? You've got nothing but dislike if not downright hatred for halflings, and make snide comments about me and my race at every opportunity!"

"That ain't prejudice," scoffed Syngaard. "That's just plain common sense." Then, turning to Skevros and ignoring Orion's red, angry face - and the fact that Kaspar was holding her arm, silently entreating her to refrain from pulling her short sword out and inflicting bodily harm on the crass fighter - he asked, "So why are we doing Ashfall's work for them - they oughta be able to handle their own bandit raids."

"Several reasons," admitted Skevros. "First of all, this was a direct request from King Renaldos and it will do well for us to maintain a strong alliance with Ashfall. Secondly, I am always willing to take money from their coffers. And finally, all of their able-bodied men - and women," he hastily added, for the benefit of the easily-offended halfling rogue, "are fighting off incursions from the Lower Realms up in the Baator's Breath Mountains. It is to our advantage to allow them to maintain a strict focus on that problem, as keeping the demons at bay advances our own interests as well. Thus, they handle the demon incursion; we'll gladly handle their bandit problem - and even get paid to do so."

"That's more like it," Syngaard agreed. "And four thousand gold - that's a thousand apiece! Hell, more, if not all of us make it out alive!" And without saying a further word, he slowly turned his head to stare suggestively, straight at Orion.

"You'd better hope I do make it," advised Orion. "If I don't, you'd likely break your brain trying to divide four thousand gold pieces into three even shares!" Syngaard opened his mouth to rebut her accusation but then got caught up in the mental dilemma of trying to actually divide 4,000 evenly by 3. It was more than 1,000, that was for sure. Couldn't be 1,500, though, that was too high....

While the fighter was busy with his mental calculations, Skevros had turned his concentration to the crystal ball before him. "I am scrying upon several Ashfall farming villages," he explained. "Thus far, the bandits have targeted the smaller villages on the outskirts of the kingdom, avoiding the bigger cities."

"And thus avoiding Serenity," observed Galen. "Good call on their part."

"Ah," said Skevros, a hint of satisfaction in his voice. "Here we go. It seems our bandits are in the midst of an attack as we speak. Quickly! Outside, to your mounts! You must depart at once!" He scrambled out from behind the table and ran to the tavern's door, the others following behind them. Galen leaped atop his warhorse; Orion did likewise on her riding dog. "How do we get there?" asked Kaspar, expecting the adviser to give them directions.

He did something that got them there even faster: with the words to a spell, the four heroes and their two mounts were instantly teleported across the miles to the site of the current bandit attack.

They arrived in the middle of a marketplace, with overturned carts and bodies already sprawling in the dirt of the street. Scanning quickly around them, the conscripts saw no less than five archers on the outskirts of the marketplace, shooting at the villagers and the few older guardsmen who dared give an attempt at defense. Other bandits attacked with swords. Screams echoed across the village, evidence of frightened townsfolk falling under the attacks of the raiders.

Orion spotted an archer shooting at a guardsman on the other side of a table of various hand-held weapons for sale. She leapt off of Carl's saddle and scampered across the table, while her dog scooted underneath it. Orion let fly with a thrown dagger, sending it into the surprised archer's shoulder and destroying his aim, allowing the guardsman to get in a strike with his sword. Then Carl bounded up and clamped down on the archer's leg. He let out a scream of pain as Carl brought him down to the ground, his leg still in between the dog's teeth - but he was quickly silenced as the halfling rogue ran up and slit his throat with her flaming short sword.

Galen, in the meantime, spurred Seneca forward towards another bandit, a female rogue standing off to the left of a church devoted to Pelor and stabbing another guardsman with her twin short swords. As the paladin swung his sword of Zehkar at the surprised woman - where in the Nine Hells did a paladin of Hieroneous come from? - Syngaard spotted another bandit about to enter the church, a rapier in his right hand and a light crossbow balanced over his left shoulder. "Well, well, well, what riches have we here?" the bandit asked the terrified commoners who had taken refuge inside the church, huddled in the pews.

"Hey!" called Syngaard, charging forward. He threw his returning javelin at the bandit, yelling "You can't go stealing from a church of Pelor!" as he closed in on his target. The throw went wild, but the javelin popped back into Syngaard's hand as he ran in through the open doors of the church, trailing his prey.

The bandit spun around, a smirk on his lips. "Oh, can't I?" he asked, bringing the crossbow off his shoulder and sending a bolt flying at Syngaard. It struck the scarred fighter in the side of the arm but Syngaard barely seemed to notice.

Kaspar saw a female bandit stabbing down at a cowering peasant, killing him with a single forward stab with her bastard sword, piercing his chest and sticking the end of her blade into the dirt as he lay on the ground begging to be spared. The monk frowned in anger, pulling a pair of shuriken from inside his robe. He sent these flying at the female bandit; the first missed but the other cut off a chunk of her left ear and zapped her with electricity from his "sky dragon's claw," causing her to cry out in pain and surprise. The two combatants locked eyes and closed to melee range.

All around the marketplace, the militia began noticing these unannounced reserve troops coming to their aid. They seemed to be doing well against the bandits, so the guardsmen began shifting to a more defensive focus, pulling the remaining villagers to safety. Not all of the villagers were interested in safety, though - more than a few were willing to put themselves on the front lines against their attackers. A burly dwarf rushed up to another archer and tried punching him in the jaw; the archer backed away just in time, but then Orion and Carl came bounding up to give the dwarf some much-needed assistance. Having seen the brave, unarmed dwarf facing off against the bandit archer, the halfling raced Carl around behind the bandit and attacked him before he was even aware of her existence. Between Orion, Carl, and the enraged dwarven commoner, the archer was put down quickly. However, another female rogue raced up to attack the dwarf, stabbing him in the back with a sharp blade.

Galen, likewise, had cut down his initial opponent and had ridden Seneca forward to strike at another bandit, this one another archer shooting at him with a longbow. The paladin caught the arrow against his shield and Seneca raced forward, striking out with his hooves at the frightened bandit, who was fine with shooting defenseless villagers but wasn't quite ready to face off a full-fledged knight on horseback. Galen swung Seneca around, allowing his sword arm the range it needed to cut the archer down with his magic longsword.

Inside the church of Pelor, Syngaard roared at the huddled villagers to flee to safety; they responded by cowering along the walls, none of them eager to leave the imagined safety of the church to re-enter the madness outside its walls. Nevin stabbed at Syngaard with his rapier; he pierced through the bald fighter's chain armor with his first strike but Syngaard managed to deflect the follow-on attacks with his own morningstar. "You're gonna pay for this!" Syngaard promised his foe.

"For what?" asked Nevin innocently. "For this? Or this?" With each question he stabbed out at Syngaard with his weapon, the point of his rapier puncturing the fighter's chest again and again in rapid succession. But then Syngaard responded with a mighty swing of his magic morningstar, catching the bandit leader a solid blow to the side of the head, which caused him to drop to a knee. Syngaard overcame Nevin's best attempt to block a follow-on blow, and another full-power swing of the morningstar crushed the side of the bandit's head in.

"For messin' with Pelor's church," replied Syngaard to the dead body. He absently tucked the wooden amulet he habitually wore around his neck back beneath his chain shirt, out of view. One of the townsfolk saw what looked to her to be a carved holy symbol of Pelor being tucked into the ugly fighter's armor and approached him with thoughts of thanking her rescuer. But she shrunk back when Syngaard felt her gaze upon his amulet and snarled, "What are you lookin' at?"

Outside, Kaspar had dropped his bastard-sword-wielding opponent with a well-placed flurry of blows - the electrical damage caused by the tenryutsume likely having finished her off - and moved on to see who else nearby needed his help. Galen was doing the same, spotting the female rogue who had just downed the dwarven commoner. He raced Seneca forward, while Orion did likewise with Carl, catching the rogue in a pincher maneuver. At the far end of the marketplace, the last remaining archer decided he'd had enough and turned to flee. He was chased for a bit by the guardsman he'd been fighting before these reinforcements showed up, but the elderly militiaman's best days were well behind him and he couldn't catch up.

A barbarian suddenly stepped out of a building he'd just looted and looked around in puzzlement - where was the rest of his band? He saw several of his former raiding partners lying dead in the street and found it difficult to believe the elderly guardsmen had managed to take them out. Then he spotted an elf monk running up to him. "Are you part of the assault force harming the people of this village?" Kaspar demanded.

"Who wants to know?" spat Hogarth, bringing up his greataxe - but too slow to prevent Kaspar from striking him in the face with a well-placed, powerful flying kick. The barbarian was propelled back a few steps by the force of the monk's blow; then he responded with a rage-fueled retaliation that sent Kaspar into the welcoming arms of unconsciousness.

Fortunately, the bandit forces were getting to be few in number by this time and as Kaspar was dropping to the ground, Orion was bounding up on Carl. The halfling leapt off Carl's back with a command for her dog to drag Kaspar out of harm's way; Carl obediently bit down on the collar of Kaspar's robes and dragged him back to safety. That left Orion facing off with a burly barbarian in hide armor well over twice her size. She gripped her flaming short sword tightly and readied herself for the barbarian's impending attack, which she imagined would be an overhead chop as he tried to cut her in twain like a piece of cordwood. She was absolutely correct about the attack and nimbly dodged the blow, but she knew very well that a single such hit would likely kill her. "I could use some help here!" she cried out, not afraid to ask for assistance from her friends.

Assistance came in the form of Galen and Seneca, riding up behind the barbarian. They arrived just in time, for the hulking brute managed to catch the halfling in a mighty swing of his greataxe; even rolling with the blow wasn't enough for Orion to avoid a deep gash in her side. But then Hogarth was forced to turn his back on the halfling to fend off Galen's attacks; the paladin had dismounted from Seneca and was coming in swinging with the sword of Zehkar. Hogarth snarled in wordless fury and faced this new attacker - and was cut down from behind with Orion's flaming short sword. He dropped like a stone, but the paladin detected a pulse in his neck and saw he wasn't yet dead, merely unconscious and bleeding out. He applied just enough healing power to prevent the barbarian from losing any more blood, then set about tying him up for questioning later. Orion, in the meantime, healed both herself and then Kaspar with the judicious application of healing potions.

Syngaard stepped outside the church of Pelor and looked around - he saw a bunch of dead bodies, but no active combatants and none of his fellow conscripts. "Where you guys at?" he called, and Galen hailed him from across the marketplace. When the scarred fighter approached, he saw the rest of his combat crew interrogating a bound barbarian. "They're mostly dissenters and deserters," Galen explained to Syngaard, "dodging the military draft and plundering their fellow Ashfall citizens instead of helping in the fight in the mountains."

"Don't deserters get the death penalty?" asked Syngaard.

"Indeed they do," replied Galen. Then, nodding his assent to Orion, he watched dispassionately as the halfling slit the bound barbarian's throat with her flaming blade.

"Was there any treasure among the bandits?" asked Kaspar. He wasn't particularly greedy but hoped they might have had a healing potion or two on their persons; the thoughtful monk felt bad he'd been saved by Orion by consuming a potion she'd purchased for her own use.

"Guy I killed in the church had a rapier and a light crossbow," Syngaard offered. "Both had pretty fine craftsmanship." Indeed, as the bandit leader, Nevin had hoarded the best weapons for himself, and both were of masterwork craftsmanship.

"Would you like either for yourself?" Galen asked.

"Nah," scoffed Syngaard. "I got a sling and a javelin for ranged attacks, and my javelin don't never run out of ammo. And that rapier's a pretty sissy-looking weapon. It just pokes - it don't cut none."

"We should bring the crossbow back for Daleth," suggested Orion. It was easy for the greedy rogue to think of others in this situation - none of the bandits' weapons were sized for her own use.

"Well, we're done here, then," observed Syngaard after they had fetched the masterwork light crossbow from Nevin's corpse for their elven wizard's use. He brought the nondescript iron ring on his hand up to his mouth. "Skevros?" he said to his ring. "We're ready - teleport us back."

Nothing happened.

"Skevros? You there?" Syngaard repeated.

"It would seem," Kaspar noted, "Skevros is either preoccupied with other matters or has deigned to allow us to return to Durnhill on our own."

"What?" cried Syngaard. "That's crap! It's like, two hours or more back on foot!"

"Language," quietly admonished Kaspar.

"You should have bought a riding mount when you had the chance," commiserated Orion, the smug expression on her face showing just how little concern she actually had for the grumpy fighter's situation.

Kaspar sighted the mountains in the distance to the north and turned his back to them. "Durnhill should be this way," he stated and started walking in that direction. Galen followed on Seneca, with Orion and Carl just behind and Syngaard bringing up the rear. The bald fighter fired daggers at Orion with his glaring eyes the whole way back home.

Despite not being able to see Syngaard's expression as he trudged behind her, Orion could feel those daggers of hate aimed at the back of her head. The smile never once left her face the whole trip back home.

- - -

Logan used the "Slums" Map Pack from Paizo to lay out the small farming village in Ashfall. He said he'd opted to build the foes in this adventure with "quantity over quality" in mind, having sent us up against a smaller number of more powerful enemies in the previous adventure. These bandits weren't as powerful as our PCs, but there were more of them than there were of us. And there would have been even more - including a wizard with a lesser metamagic rod - had Joey joined the group for this adventure, but he had opted to stay home. Logan says he's using Daleth's frequent absences as a future plot hook; he's off doing research on the paladin Zehkar, which may well pay off in the near future. (Skevros is intrigued with the sword of Zehkar and is interested in its background and history.)

As a result of this adventure, Orion leveled up to 3rd level. Since we finished the session rather early, we helped her upgrade her character there at the gaming table immediately after the game concluded. (And, as usual, Harry scooted away from the table as soon as the adventure was over to go play videogames before his bedtime struck.)

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