The One True Game: According to Hoyle, and Others


Upon Darius’s suggestion, Dalin and he visited Father Hedrick in hopes of learning what the symbols might mean. The two waited patiently outside the old man’s chambers until he returned from teaching Brothers Thom and Ben.

Father Hadrech said:
Father Hetrick: “The 3 rings are the heraldry of Sir Ronaldo of
Clares now deceased. The Chalice symbols place him in the Order of the Chalice. A smaller sect of the Order of the Crown. They believe in virtue above all else. The Order of the Crown holds allegiance to the Church only in matters that deal with the nobility. In all other matters they follow the tenets of the nobles. Some times this leads to disagreements between the Church and the nobles. But since most of the Church comes from the nobility... well let’s just say it is family squabbling.”

Dalin mentioned the directions the armorer had given him to the town of Clares and Ronaldo’s widow. “There are several places to pass through to get there. The nearest is called Hommlet. Have you heard of it?”

“Hommlet? Just a small quaint village. A farming community of the Old Faith for the most part. Although in the last few years a church has been built and has tried to convert the farmers. They have a reputable Inn. A decent brewer. And other amneties. Currently an estate is being constructed. The old estate fell into disrepair and was abandoned years ago.

Darius also asked Father Hedrick about how long he will be able to maintain the bond to his mount before Darius actually went to claim it.

”Having never been able to form the bond myself I'm not intimately familiar with its limitations or range. I've read that it is lifelong.”

Thanking the Father for his time, Dalin and Darius left the temple and decided to head in different directions. Dalin was interested in finding a soft spot to lay his head and warm ale to comfort him. Darius conversely was feeling anxious and strode through the streets unsure of where to head next. He thought about trading armor his with Dalin’s, but realized the cost of modification would probably equal the cost of the filigreed armor itself. Letting his mind wander as his feet did the same, Darius thought back on his knowledge of armors made of rare metals in the Dwarven lands, like Mithril and Adamantine.

Darius's Thoughts said:
The Dwarves were known for working with all types of metals. He had heard tell (but not seen) of Mithril and Adamantine. And he'd guessed that the Mastersmith in the Dwarfhome could in fact handle fashioning such material into something useful such as armor or weapons.

Elves too were noted in Dwarven history for working with Mithril. Where they get it is a mystery. But he had heard of a tale of a pact signed over the exchange of arts. The Elven art was reported to be made of Mithril. Though, no one has seen it for many ages. The Dwarves gave the Elves the secret of powder and Kargauthal the Loud (a cannon)

The memories of his home only caused more anxieties to surface in Darius’s mind.

Originally posted by Darius
He had been getting a bit suspicious of what was going on in the keep. It was one thing to turn away a Sergeant, he had no problem with that. But to turn away the representative of the Dwarven Nations? That struck him as odd at best, and down right insulting at worst. However, he knew diplomacy was the key, and would not share that thought with anyone. Darius's diplomatic tendencies were tempered with Dwarven pragmatism and temper. If she continued to refuse to see him, he may decide himself which course of action to take. Namely, riding to the Dwarves and giving his full report, including the existence of such a large force of Orcs.

Darius went to the front gate and inquired if a messenger came by there a month or two ago, carrying a message to the Dwarven kingdoms and the churches of the lands. He described the messenger well, and also described the sword he was carrying, and that it was wrapped in a certain color fabric.

Darius also went back to speak to Brother Thom about the differences in his religion and Thom’s. The paladin explained how he had attended mass each day, and each night prayed to Thor for guidance. On Thorsday (which he believed was Thunderday in Margrave), he fasted and spent at least 4 hours in prayer. He felt that during his travels he had gotten away from his faith, and wanted to renew it. He had asked for Thor's guidance and resilience during these meditations.

After listening patiently as Darius had outlined his religious practices, Brother Thom informed him of a place in the temple where no one would disturb him. Meditation chambers had been built for just that purpose.
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Meanwhile, as Darius sought solace kneeling on the temple’s stone floor, Igor was having an entirely different kind of revelatory experience.

Originally posted by Igor and Mouse
Igor: “So wait, I'm confused. How well known is the guild? Is this Merchant's guild perhaps like the one you are in? Or the ones I'm a part of as well? Is my profession now legal or something?

Mouse: ”There are a number of Guilds: the Merchant's Guild, the Artisan's Guild, the Actor's Guild, the Farmer's Cooperative (essentially a guild), the Guild of Extraordinary....and so on. These are all legal guilds. With charters and such purchased from the nobility.”

”There are other more nefarious guilds which are known, but aren't legal. They go by many names. Most commoners refer to them all collectively as "The Guild". "The Black Market" is the most talked of illegal Guild.”

Igor’s mind reeled at the possibilities; guilds for the highwaymen, the pocket pinchers, the second story girls, the organ grinders, the cherry pickers, the backstabbers, the grafters, the sewer freaks, the heavies, the highrope dancers. The list could go on and on. “Perhaps one could be made for chefs with a taste for blood,” he thought to himself. Above his workspace, the main shop of supplies buzzed with business. Everyone was excited about the coming Midsummer’s Day Feast.

The activity in the Keep 2 weeks prior to the Holiday is increasing. And everything gets more frantic as the Holiday approaches.

The nobility put on a big feast for all the people of the land. They serve the food. The one day of the year when the lowest is the highest. The people are preparing their finery to wear to the feast. The nobles would be wearing simple shifts; most made of burlap.

The highlight of the feast is the tourney afterwards.

There are feats of strength, riding, archery, arms, and words. The winner of the tourney is declared the Champion.

The MidSummer Feast takes place not just in the Keep, but all over the Kingdom.

Dalin wondered what sort of preparations he would need to make. Unsure, he asked Mirel. ”Yes, Dalin, there will be betting. Don't tell Brother Ben”. Happy to live the life of a carefree noble, even if just for a day, Dalin considered buying a fine suit to wear. He just had time to have something tailored. A suit made in the colors of his armor, embracing the Ronaldo connection, but being careful not to overstep his bounds.

You hear tell that Mouse is taking all bets. The current favorite to win the tourney is Capt Ratcliffe since Pendra and Certa are not around.

He had nearly 4 to 1 odds. Dalin, because he has seen events before, was about dead even with one of the Sergeants of the Watch.

Brother Ben inquired about the different tournaments. He was mainly interested in the test of words, but he also planned on entering the contest of arms. Hopefully these would cause equal distraction to his current thoughts.

The tourney of words is a contest of riddles. Tourney of arms is a nonlethal combat. First one to 5 hits wins. The tourney of archery is 5 shots. And the tourney of riding... involves multiple tasks... it is a race over obstacles... It is staying seated on the horse and it comes down to a chance to unseat your opponents at the lists.

Dram planned on entering all unmounted martial competitions and began practicing with his bow day and night in preparation. He also cleaned himself up since there would undoubtedly be watchful young women in attendance.

Originally posted by Elian and Kayla
Kayla prepared for the feast and then went to see if Elian had any free time so she could attempt to get in a few days worth of training.

Word was sent thru the guards at the Inner Bailey. Elian didn't leave her waiting long.

Elian: “For you I always have time.” He took her to his Quarters. They were of course barren of most furniture. Plenty of pillows and rugs and stacks and stacks of books and rolled up pieces of paper. He asked if she wished to learn some more of the spells from Zelligar's books.

Kayla: "Honestly I need a little help applying what I've learned so far." She pulled out her spell book and showed him the spell phantasmal forces and continued, "I haven't quite figured this out yet. It's starting to make a little more sense, but I still just don't understand. I was hoping you could help me draw on what I've learned so far to understand it little better. Even if I can't fully grasp it yet, I would like to work toward it."
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[DAY 65 – Thunderday, Jinto 26th, CY 81]

Darius pounded on the door of the inner bailey. The two weeks of training was almost over and he had received neither word from the Dwarves nor Lady Devereaux. Hearing the guards snicker on the far side he asked them if they received their orders directly from the Lady, and whether they had seen her recently.

Guards said:
They didn't know the origin of the orders. They were told by their Cpl. They assume he was told by the Sgt or Lt. And that the Sgt or Lt got the orders from the Capt. And the Capt. from Lady Devereaux. But that was purely speculation. They had't seen Lady Devereaux in some weeks. But again that was not unusual. And with all of the current trouble in the County from Bandits and the Giant's Army... and with preparations for the Feast. They did't see anything to be concerned about not seeing her.

Darius was concerned. As a dwarf it was difficult to trust in a person he had not met. Thor’s Might may run through his veins, but Lady Devereaux had yet to prove herself more than a myth. He wondered again about the message he had sent to the Dwarven kingdom.

So far as Darius had gathered from rumors and direct conversation, the letter and sword were delivered to the dwarves weeks ago. But dwarves were slow to make up their minds. They spend time in committees hashing out the best ways to go about things. What resources they will need, who will go, how much it will cost...etc... They are a longer lived race. They don't rush into anything without planning and with commitment on the part of those who are sponsoring the expedition. True the letter was from him, a fellow dwarf from a highly regarded family, but it would mean all the more reason to get it right.

The Dwarves were, at least as much as he'd gathered, probably fashioning some form of transport or war machine before they came. And that could take even more time.

Still he knew in his heart, “The dwarves would've at least sent a response by now.”

It was official. In Brother Ben’s mind at least. He had worked and studied and prayed fervently, but his strength in the divine seemed to have stagnated. Long hours spent memorizing temple doctrines, reciting prayers, reading scripture, and methodically repeating ritual phrases and gestures had led to nothing but near constant head pain. Sometimes the pressure in his skull throbbed so strongly it seemed to block out any thought at all. Father Hedrick said he did not know what the problem was. But Ben’s novitiate training was coming to an end. He had completed all of the requirements for priesthood. Father Hetrick would stand beside him during the ordination on the coming Holyday.

Brother Ben felt ashamed. As one of the few clergy proving capable of channeling divine power he desperately wanted to use that power to aid others. Only now he was unsure whether the forces he already controlled would continue or be revoked. The Gods could be fickle in their choice. Many of the faith grew to old age becoming important figures in the temple’s hierarchy without ever being imbued with divine power. Ben knew this, but still could not help feeling as if he had failed somehow. At least his prayers were still performing as needed. Constant practice had taught him that much. It was a penitence he placed on himself for his feelings of guilt.

Father Hetrick came up behind him quietly. “Your sequestration is complete. You should take time now to prepare yourself to receive the mantle of your religious Fatherhood. Your fast is at an end too. It might be best to go out this evening and celebrate with your friends. It is a lifelong obligation you will take. Something to lighten your heart would serve you well.” Brother Ben nodded in response. Straightening from his prostrate position on the stone floor of his meditation chamber he went to clean himself and bind the wounds on his knees. “How could this be what my parents wanted when they sent me to Father Stauk-Flezr?” he thought. “It was not for my protection or gain I entered his conclave.” Fear was the real reason. And now the voices had returned.

Quoted from Darius
Darius found each of the members of the party during their off time and asked if they could all meet at the tavern at night after their training for that day. It wouldn't take long, He had something he wished to discuss, and missed the company of his friends. He would even purchase drinks for everyone (ale for those that preferred it, wine for Kayla, and whatever was appropriate for Mirel).
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Dalin arrives before the appointed time and enjoys a couple of Man with Fire in His Hands Ale while waiting and wondering what the dwarf has to discuss.

Dram is probably already there. Best to fight fire with fire. More ale it is!

Kayla shows up at the requested time & politely accepts the wine Darius offers.

Brother Ben limps in on time with tired eyes and sores on his knees. He will be drinking water.

That completely unnerves Mirel, and she settles quietly by a wall, trying very hard to be unnoticed.

The innkeeper at the Man with Fire in His Hands Inn explains that his normal supply of Hearty Mug Ale from the Breumeister of Hommlet is running a little late. He assures you his ale is just as good but not as aged.

Mirel is no vintner, nor is she very educated in her palate. She is willing to try the ale.

Darius isn't particularly worried. To him, most human ale probably tastes the same.

Darius stands: “My friends, I have prayed to Thor for guidance, and he has directed me to that which will become my mount, provided I am truly worthy of the honor.”

“My vision came after hours of fasting, praying, and paying homage to Thor. He sent me a vision of a winged creature, with great talons that would be large enough to carry off a white stag. A magnificent creature, truly. There are several kinds of creatures that my vision can be of, and I have spoken to Father Hedrick and Elian about this.”

“My call is to the South, in the mountains known as the Kronheim. I will seek assistance from the gnomes there, and perhaps bring goats for the trip. I am not certain about that yet.”

“I ask that you consider us going to claim this. It will not be easy, and I am endeavoring to learn as much about the Kronheim as possible. The climb is not an easy one, which is why I will look for the gnomes for assistance.”

“Thank you, my friends. I will abide by our collective decision. Now, please, drink, and discuss anything you wish.”

*With this, Darius lifts his ale up high*

"To Friends, Comrades... to Brothers and Sisters!"

“Hear, hear... Innkeep another round.” (A heavy set gentleman in loose robes and a rope belt belches. He is bald on top.)

”The Kronheim is not a place to go it alone. I have friends who can show you the area. They practically grew up there. They are putting our horses up in the livery as we speak.” (he smiles a big broad grin)

"No, no Darius. This should be a shared celebration." Igor throws 10 gold on the counter. "Barkeep, drinks for everyone in the Inn for as long as that lasts." Igor slowly cracks his knuckles and gives the group a smile. "Now, let's get down to some SERIOUS celebrating"

Darius looked at him closely. He wanted to gauge everything about him to learn more of what he might be about. "Greetings, my friend. Who might you be, good sir?"
Brother Ben sat resigned and tired on his stool. To him the new man looked like a friar with homespun clothes and a small walking stick leaning against his leg. But his dress was different enough from his own religious robes to leave him unsure.
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Darius guessed he should have mentioned the toast was just for those at the table. He looked at Igor strangely, his eyebrow arched. "I take it you wish for us to undertake this adventure then?"

“I am Goodman Barth. My companions and I have come here to join in the feastivities this MidSummer. But I couldn't help but overhear you wish to travel South. Back to our homeland.”

Igor: "Sure, once we deal with the other business at hand."

Mirel chuckles (a rarity), she seems vastly amused at Igor's comment.

Darius: "Yes. I seek to travel to the Kronheim. There is a task I must perform there. What can you tell me of the people and creatures of the land?".

Goodman Barth: “Tell me what you know of the people there. I'm better at filing in the gaps then just taking off the top of my head (he rubs his bald pate) about subjects.

I overheard you are seeking a mount. And that the mount can fly and has talons. And... (he approaches and whispers more to the table) it slew a white hart. The white hart is a protected, sacred creature of the hill people. Don't tell my friends about that when they arrive. They are hillmen.

Darius: "Duly noted. What I know of the mountains is that it is inhabited by gnomes. Some of cautioned me against their 'trickery', but other than that, nothing. I believe there are nomadic humans or tribes that live in that area, but I know little of them. Please, sit with us."
Darius pulls an extra chair to the table.

Goodman Barth: “Why thank you. Thank you very much. My legs aren't as strong as they used to be.” (he plops down and the chair groans). “We ran into some trouble on the road here. Bandits. They demanded a toll. Which since we were outmanned and outarmed, handed over our coin with not much protest. In my youth, (he doesn't look that old now) I would've taught them all a lesson.”

”The gnomes are a secretive bunch. They tend to keep to themselves. But they do on occasion mix and exchange words with the hill people. And I get this only second hand mind you.”

”My own monastery is located at the base of the Flat Irons. The front of the Kronheim. I regularly deal with the hill people when they come down from the hills to trade for items they can't make themselves. I took 2 of them as my guides years ago. And Turko and Zerk have been with me ever since..”

Darius hands the friar 5 gold coins. "Hopefully that will help make your stay more pleasant. Tell us, are the hill people friendly?” (pause) “Where are my manners? These are my comrades and friends: Kayla, Mirel, Dram, Dalin, Igor, Brother Ben, and I am Darius. Your monastery... might they be able or willing to assist? We need little, save food and shelter, and I would be willing to compensate them."

Goodman Barth: (accepting the coin) “Why thank you again. The kindness of others is always appreciated, especially when you've lost your way in the world. It does a heart good to know that not everyone is like those bandits.”

”The hill people are... well... just people mostly. But not overly known for their civility. They are a more practical people. And tend to live on the land. They follow the totem magic. And part of my duties there... is to teach them the lessons to be learned in learning the Path to Righteousness.

”The monastery is a small place. Myself, Turko, Zerk, Goodman Walli and Goodman Kifu are the only inhabitants. We came to join the celebration. Buy and trade for another year's worth of supplies. And to catch up on the ways of the world outside. It is a lonely existance but one I wouldn't trade for anything. It gives us time to mediate and really have an impact of others... like the hill people.”

”Consider our place your place when you visit.”

Darius: "When are you planning on making the trip back? We have something we wish to look into, but if my friends agree, then we may be able to accompany you on your trip back. Bandits are not likely to attack an armed caravan."

Goodman Barth: “Well not at least until the MidSummer Feast is over. And with the offer of an armed escort we can surely wait. Is a week enough time?”

Brother Ben patiently listened to the conversation. He had never heard of the Path of Righteousness in his religious studies.
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Darius: “That's up to my friends. What suggestions do you have for climbing the mountain?

Goodman Barth: “Rope. Good strong sturdy Rope. A lot of muscle and will power. And a means to carry water and food in and out. But whatever you do, don't and I will repeat don't take the offered smokeweed from the hill people. I did and well... that is what happened to my leg. Or more... what I woke up to the next day. I don't remember any of it. But I imagine I fell down and did some injury to it while so induced.”

Mirel is still less than half way through her first mug of ale. She is listening carefully, and nodding sometimes. She asks the barkeep for dinner, and after a bit, gets a plate of black bread and butter covered with a bean porridge. She settles back down and listens.

Brother Ben: "Pardon me, Goodman Barth. I would be greatly interested in learning more of
what you call the Path of Righteousness. As well as the Gods or Goddesses of which your folk venerate… But I get ahead of myself. Your offer for stay at the monastery, after our last work as mercenaries for the County Margrave, sounds propitious. I look forward to such a refreshing and secluded stay."

Goodman Barth: “Why thank you, Vicar... it is Vicar is it not? We follow the One True Path. The Way. The ever waxing and waning form of Truth.”

”We seek all the things that are good in this world and try to caterogize them. We spend endless hours writing, drawing, and meditating of the True Form of All things.”

“We call in T - on - T - Og.”

”We are always looking to get others to learn Tantog. We have volumes of books on the subject.”

Mirel shakes her head and seems to find her dinner far more interesting than lectures of the cloth. Dalin is similarly disinterested in the religion-talk, but tries to feign interest. He whispers a little with Mirel but tries not to be impolite.

Brother Ben: ”You speak of the ever waxing and waning form of Truth. Aye, Truth does seem to waver depending on the day and the season. Perhaps a focused hiatus within the temple might aid my fevered brain. Our current troubles weigh heavily on my mind and it might be better to give it rest.” (looking slyly at Goodman Barth) “Tell me. Have you categorized any us yet?”

Dram: "Sounds like a GIANT waste of time! Not to be rude sir, but what truth do you speak of? If it is 'ever waxing and waning' and whatnot, it seems to me to be not so 'true'. But what do I know! Care to arm wrestle for another ale? Strength. A well plucked arrow. Solidly forged metal. Now that's what I call true!" Dram quaffs another ale.

Goodman Barth: “Aye, a good question in truth my large friend. And one we ask ourselves all the time. Unfortunately, it is one of the ways of the Path. To be always questioning and to be always vigilant and attentive to the answers.”

”Another of the tenets of the Way is when one achieves an answer to the True Path you take your first step upon it. And when you have answered all the questions you can ask you shuffle off this mortal coil for you have achieved Enlightenment.”

Brother Ben: “Ah yes. There was another thing. You mentioned your friends, Turko and Zerk I believe. You said that they were actually from the Hills themselves? That they are Hill People?”

”It is probably nothing, but I cannot help but wonder if they might have known two honorable acquaintances of ours named Pendra and Certa. [perfect sleeper] They had a manly look about the two of them like your friends here. Only we fear the two may have met with unfortunate circumstances. If you or your men know of them, or might have seen them around, it might help us in our search.” Brother Ben gave the most detailed description of Pendra and Certa he could manage.

When Brother Ben mentions Pendra and Certa, Mirel pauses noticeably and looks up hopefully. Dinner suddenly got much less interesting.

Goodman Barth: “Pendra and Certa are missing?” (he gasps)

”Pendra was the Champion of so many Feasts. He was well known among the hill people. But alas he was not one of them. Certa too will be missed and mentioned in prayers I am sure around their camp sites.”

Brother Ben: “Well let them know full of it then. To my knowledge, it has been well over a month since anyone saw hide or hair of them. They were scouting out in the forest Greenwillow at the western edge of the County Margrave; outside of the outpost ring.” (looks to the group for assurances) “Any help in their rediscovery would benefit us all and much appreciated.”

Kayla is also quite disinterested in matters of religion. When the conversation turns to that topic she pulls a book out & quietly begins to review the things she learned with Elian that day. She does however look up long enough to take note at the mention of Pendra & Certa.
Brother Ben then realized he had forgotten to properly introduce himself. He did not want to be taken as an ordained cleric before he truly was. Standing up he raised his open palm in greeting.
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”Brother Benedict Selzkin from the Temple of Law on the far side of the County. Truth be told this is the farthest I have traveled in my day. Perhaps this is the root to why your exotic offer intrigues me so.” (he laughs)”

Mirel looked very, very disappointed. When the subject changes back to religion, she goes back to her dinner, talking quietly with Dalin. Mirel just quirks an eye at Igor. After a moment, she shakes her head slightly and looks away.

Dram, not too far yet into his cups figuratively speaking, stares intently at the center of his mug. Now that the flurry of activity surrounding the outpost and the evil caverns has somewhat subsided and been replaced by the normalcy of the annual festival preparations, his mind begins to turn on personal matters that are suddenly weighing heavy. After all, Northmen, and their ancestors are prone to dark brooding are they not? Dram has fond memories of the festival from his youth. His thoughts turn to his father, wrongfully imprisoned, and his brother, conscripted and missing in action. As Darius made his impassioned plea to quest south, albeit for his own personal reasons, Dram was inspired and almost totally taken by a wanderlust that seems to infect his people to the point of recklessness at times.

However, he responds to Darius as such, "Brother” (he addresses Darius in a familiar manner now that his military service has been completed), “your speech is inspiring and your quest worthy, however, I cannot in good conscience commit to such an undertaking without first setting my mind at ease regarding the fate of my family, namely my father and brother. The caverns of chaos be damned. They mean nothing to me personally. I have lost a man there (Rogg) and care not to do so again on my watch. Your call for a march south appeals. The south has always been mysterious to me and I welcome a fresh start. However, until my father is freed from debtors' prison, and I know the fate of my brother, I cannot in good faith, by Thor, abandon this county. Aid me in my humble quests and I shall become your right hand in yours. Freeing my father from prison is a simple financial matter. Finding my brother is another. Every time I've made an inquiry into his fate I have been met with rumours of a caravan. Perchance that mysterious caravan was headed south? I know not. Brother Darius, give me some hope in finding my elder brother and I shall pledge my life to your beast-quest."

Darius: "I am truly sorry, my friend. I will assist you in any way I can. However, I do not believe that leaving the caves alone is good for the people here."

Dram: "I was under the impression that you were proposing abandoning the caves for now in lieu of a steed search."

A large framed but very muscular man enters followed closely by a smaller wirey fellow. The smaller man seems to be almost wound like a spring. Like he is ready to strike at any and everything within reach. The larger man has a hard expression on his face and a long scar down the rightside of his face. the scar runs all the way down his neck and vanishes beneath his tunic. They are both dressed in simple hides with padding underneath. Something that is obviously too hot for the current weather. Stains mark both men's armor beneath the underarms.

Goodman Barth waves to them. You smell them long before they reach the table. Manure, sweat, and something else altogether foul permeates the air.

"This is Turko and Zerk." (Barth doesn't seem to notice the stench)

Dram: "Welcome fellas! Have a drink on me and enlighten us humble folk in the matter of Truth!" Dram buys them each an ale.

Both eye him strangely. The smaller man, Zerk, does look ready to strike him.

Goodman Barth stands and bows to them slightly. "Please, join us. Our new friend here wishes to buy you a drink." (he turns to Dram) “Their customs don't allow them to consume fermented grains, so please don't take it as an offense if they decline ale. They don't speak much either. In fact, Turko lost his tongue for speaking out of turn to an elder when he was a boy."

Dalin looks up the two new gentlemen and asks "Do your customs allow for a friend game of cards?" He produces and begins to shuffle a deck of cards, glancing around the table to see if there is any interest. He also orders a fresh mug of ale.

Both Smile with the biggest grins you have ever seen . Many missing or misshapen teeth. Turko's tongue or lack of one is noticeable when he smiles.

They both bow to the table and seem to be waiting for something.

Goodman Barth turns to the ladies, Kayla and Mirel. "They can't seat themselves until you invite them. The women of the hill people rule."

Mirel clearly defers to Kayla, the elder, establishing a hierarchy in a nonverbal language the hill men will understand.

Throughout the religious part of the discussion Mirel looked moderately bored, though Dram's and Dalin's arguments almost made her smile. When Dalin mentioned cards, Mirel looked interested.

Brother Ben listened to the others as the night of revelry slipped past. Realizing the conversation would stop soon and that Dalin would likely convince the others to gamble for the rest of the evening, Ben decided to take some initiative and join in. One night would not corrupt him and he would be with his friends awhile longer.
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At an opportune moment, like when a band of entertainers or a succubus-like creature enters the tavern creating a distraction, Dram bends Darius' ear and whispers, "Why do you impart these Southerners, who you know not at all, with such trust. Are not the reports of banditry to the south? Unfettered offers of kindness and aid are often ruses for abuses....or so I've been told. These men may mean well, or not, how do I know? Just a word of caution. What is the expression, 'Loose lips sink ships'?"

Darius whispers back, "I doubt he is leading an army of bandits. Since when were you so paranoid?"

Dram tends to get moody and a bit paranoid when he drinks too much. “Paranoid? Just a bit cautious after everything we've been through. I too doubt that he leads an army of bandits but that's not to say he mightn't be in cahoots with them in some capacity."

When Kayla notices that attention has turned to her, she looks up from her book. "Please, join us," she says. Once they are seated, she turns back to her reading.

They sit. Neither comfortably though. Zerk still looks like a spring. And Turko can't fit his feet under the table just right. Both turn to Dalin and the cards.

"They are easily amused," Goodman Barth tells the others.

Dalin gets out a small stack of coin, antes and begins dealing, asking to each person at the table in turn "are you in?"

Mirel suggests playing a few hands without coin to make sure that everyone uses the same rules.

Dalin agrees with that suggestion. "But just to keep it interesting I'll fund the pot for the first few rounds. It's the least I can do with all the ale others have been buying." He tosses 10 copper into the pot and starts to deal, suggesting whatever the most common and simple game in the area is.

Kayla politely turns down the invitation & takes this opportunity to excuse herself as it sounds as though all of the important discussion is completed.

Igor will also take this opportunity to excuse himself.
Ben observed the witchwoman and her remarkably deadly chef leave the Inn. He wondered what exactly they were up to. Pain flared in his skull as his headache returned.

Mirel dodges any glances from Brother Ben and joins the game.

Darius gives a stern look to Dalin and Mirel, then shakes his head. He turns to the friar. "I would like to know more about the lands there. My friends and I have other tasks to attend to, but we hope to be back within a week to accompany you on your trip there. What can you tell me of the beasts in the region?"

Mirel squirms a bit under that look, and mentally adds Darius to the category of people who just don't know how to let other people have fun. She'll dodge his gaze too in the future.

Goodman Barth: "Goats, Wolves, Mountain Lions, Deer, the usual assortment of animals. Also wherever gnomes are found their offspring and their enemies aren't far behind. So kobolds, goblins, and gnolls are there too. Hillmen have encountered many things over the ages and they have myths, legends, and stories of many mythical things. Snakes with colorful wings. Lions with spikey tails and human's faces. Creatures part goat, part serpent, and part lion that breathe fire. It would probably due you some good to read at the monastery awhile before you went up into the hills."

Ben suspiciously eyed Mirel as she sits at the card table. With a weary step he goes over and sits near her. "You better deal me in Dalin. But before you try any of your own 'magic' know that all of my winnings are going to the temple. No one cheats the Gods, as they say."


Mirel is completely stunned as Brother Ben sits down. She just stares at him for a moment. Then she regains her head and looks over to the friar and the hill men. As Kayla has taken her leave, that leaves the courtesies to Mirel, darnit. "Would you care to join the game?"

Remembering what Dram had said about his father being in debtor’s prison, Brother Ben looks at his cards as he casually speaks. "I don't recall you having told us about your brother and father Dram. Maybe you could regale us with the stories of your family while we play?"

Dram is touched by the outpouring of concern among the other party members for his father. He suggests that the next time training needs to take place, and he is not among the active trainees, that he and whoever else is free make a side trek to his home town to bail his father out.

Both Turko and Zerk are very eager. They pull out an assortment of rocks and place them on the table as money. Goodman Barth declines. He is enjoying the conversation and the ale too much. Although, he did seem to spend some time watching Igor and Kayla leave.

Mirel glances at the rocks. Do any of them look like they might be something other than generic riverstones?

There is a glint of something shiny from a couple of them that have rubbed together. Otherwise they are very light gray and dull.
Dram began reminiscing as the others played out each hand of cards. He recalled the face of his father in his mind. Prison was not something he liked to contemplate.

Dram's father owed a constable of his town. He would have to ask the constable what the tally was now. Dram knew the amount his father owed before he left. The Keep was in the NorthEast fringe of County Margrave... right on the Borderlands of the Wilderness. Dram's home was almost due West 4 days travel by foot.
Goodman Barth lazed contentedly in his chair as he enjoyed the Inn’s ale silently. A variety of card games were played into the late evening hours. Enjoying the other’s friendly company and the festiveness of the common room, Ben felt as if the holidays had already begun. The trials of Outpost Xavier were behind them. He and his friends were secluded from the entire world. The others began talking about what they planned to do next. There were many possible options now they had time to address their own lives again. Darius had a duty to find his holy mount at some point. Dram was still thinking about his father in prison and his brother who was lost. Brother Ben was worried about the bandits attacking others on the roads around the keep. Dalin wanted to find the widow of a man named Ronaldo in some far off town. Only Mirel kept quiet about her desires.

Everyone wanted to continue fighting at the caves, of course. But defeating all of the forces living there would be a long and arduous battle. A long-term strategy was needed on how to best overcome the forces within. Then the members, minus Kayla and Igor who had left, took a series of votes attempting to determine what should be done first. Each gave a short list of priorities they felt needed to be addressed. Talk continued about the possibility of temporarily splitting up as some goals might best be accomplished either alone or in smaller groups. The MidSummer’s Feast and Tournament were in two days time as well and everyone wanted take part. Downing another swig of ale Dalin expressed with heartfelt sincerity “We need to have some fun! I sat in the rain so long I don’t think I’ll ever be dry again.” Everyone laughed and agreed that time off from both training and adventuring was sorely needed. Still suffering from head pain, Brother Ben excused himself to return to the temple for sleep.


Ben’s bed was soft and welcoming at the temple. Fasting and praying the previous two weeks had really taken a toll on his body and he relished the chance to sleep in the next day before the ordination. Unfortunately, he slept for less than half an hour before he was shook awake. Surrounded by total darkness, fear welled up in his gut. Darius’s voice spoke. He was collecting the party again for an urgent meeting. Exasperated, Ben dressed and followed the dwarf to the barracks of the keep. The group had been given a room of bunks for their own use within. Everyone inside looked very tired. Then Ben noticed one new person, a rather strange woman who was dressed in animal skins and what looked like tree limbs.

“This is Holly Greenwillow”, Darius said. “She has heard rumors of us from, uh… different sources. She sought us out to join in our fight. She wants to help us defeat the Giant and those at the caves.” Ben looked at Darius. “This is why you woke me up?” Darius grimaced. “No. Igor has learned something very important. We were waiting for you to arrive before beginning.” Ben sat down grumpily next to the others. Darius began telling the story of how the team had met and their adventures at Outpost Xavier. As Holly listened intently, Dram, Dalin, Mirel, and even Brother Ben took a part in explaining all of the details. Ben felt a little in awe of everything that had happened now the whole story was voiced at once. Afterwards, Holly related how she had learned of the party’s deeds and explained further about the carnage the Giant’s forces were inflicting on the surrounding wilderness. Listening to her Ben felt tired, but he could understand why the others had trusted her intentions.

Pointing to the barrack’s walls, Darius revealed how they were now paying for the privilege of staying within. He had found out earlier in the week from one of the sergeants that militia soldiers were to serve for only one month. Then they were free to return to their families and homes. Several groans were heard around the room. Ben rolled his eyes and Igor’s left eye began rolling in a completely different direction than his right. Darius went on about how essentially they were operating on their own. “We no longer hold any rank within the military of Margrave County. You will need to remember this when dealing with the soldiers here and if or when we appeal for aid with the Chaos Caves.”

Darius nodded to Igor and the chef stood up. Holly was escorted out of the building for the time being as they felt she was still too unknown to them for what would be said. Igor began by telling them in his raspy, whispery voice that the message had to remain secret at all costs. “We ‘re bein’ ‘unted. And the Good Man Barth ‘s one o’ those ‘unting us.” He would not explain how he knew they were being hunted, but Kayla backed Igor’s assertion completely. A number of people were looking for the team. These hunters had two motives in mind. One was to find out what information the party knew. The other was to stop them from giving that information to anyone else. Kayla said if one of them were caught, he or she would be tortured and killed. Dram spoke up anger. “And we sat and discussed our own plans right in front of them!”

Igor continued with another piece of news he believed was related. He had visited Mouse’s shop before calling the meeting. Only Mouse had not been there. In fact, Mouse had packed up and left the keep. “Only none o’ the watchguard saw ‘im leave”. His shop was locked and his supplies stored away. Igor explained how earlier in the morning he had learned some of the books from Quesquaton had been traced back to Mouse’s trading post. When Igor informed Mouse of the news, he acted strangely and kicked Igor out of the shop for the rest of the day. “I was tryin’ to get ‘em books back,” but Mouse must have started packing directly afterwards. “Well, what happened to the books then?” asked Brother Ben. “And how did he get them in the first place?” Igor would only say Mouse had sold them several weeks ago and the books were no longer in the Keep.

It was a lot of information to digest. It was agreed it would be better to discuss what they needed to do in the morning when everyone was more coherent. As they were finishing talking, Mirel hurried to her family’s house. Holly was brought back inside told to find a bed near the others. She explained she preferred the outdoors and would rest on the floor if necessary. Darius and Kayla kept watch and talked in hushed tones in the corner. It was only then Darius really hit on the reality of their situation. A much tighter security needed to be kept and it had to start immediately. Igor volunteered to keep watch and to fetch Mirel back to the barracks for safety. He pulled out a potion he had purchased from the alchemist shop. “NO SLEEP” Ben read on its label. Downing the mixture, Igor’s body tensed and his eyes began to water and spin like never before. Brother Ben wondered just what ingredients were in the elixir. Igor bounced up and ran out the door and into the street. For all the world, he looked like a madman on the loose.

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