The One True Game: According to Hoyle, and Others


The sweet embrace of sleep was again enveloping Brother Ben as he lie on the hard barrack bunk. An irritating noise was bothering him though. Ire… Ire… Ire… “FIRE IN THE KEEP!!!!” Darius was shoving people awake and pulling them up to their feet. “THERE IS A FIRE IN THE KEEP! OUTSIDE!! AT THE INN!!” Ben shuffled to the door in his nightrobe. A bright blaze lit the street and sky down to his left. The tall, three-story Inn was cloaked in black smoke and orange flames. Fearing an attack Brother Ben put on his shoes and grabbed his flail. “There’s no time for armor”, he thought as he ran out the door towards the flames. As he headed down the road he realized the fire was beginning to spread to adjacent buildings. “The temple is right by the Inn!”

Igor was escorting Mirel back from her parent’s house. She guessed she should not be surprised he knew where her home was, but Igor was looking more paranoid than usual. When they turned the corner to the main street they saw the fire coming out the windows of the Inn ahead. “IIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEYY!” Igor screamed in lunacy. “We need to raise the alarm!” cried out Mirel. Igor let go of her and bolted towards the Inn. Mirel trailed after and started pounding on the closed doors along one side of the street. “Get up. There’s a fire! Please…get up!” People started coming out of their homes and pointing at the flames. As Mirel kept moving closer to the Inn, she spotted the front of the keep temple. Oddly, its large front doors were open and a figure lied on the ground in the shadows within.

In desperation, Igor sprinted with wild speed to the front of the burning Inn. A wooden sign with the picture of a man with fire in his hands still hung outside it. Igor dumped the water barrel outside the door over his entire body and ran into the building. Inside the flames covered most of the walls and were licking the ceiling. Near the tables in the common room several bodies were piled on the ground. Igor inspected them. They were the innkeeper and his family. All were stabbed in either the heart or throat. Bounding up the smoky stairs he began banging on doors. Opening each as he ran along he noticed every occupant had been stabbed. “The fire is only a diversion’, he thought. “They mean to kill everyone in the keep.” Pulling a cloth over his mouth and a couple of blankets over his body, Igor hurriedly looked for any possible survivors.

Darius was having difficulty waking the others inside the barracks. Kayla relieved him and he ran out after Brother Ben. Also fearing the fire was a sign of an attack the dwarven paladin stopped and ran backwards in the direction of the inner bailey instead. Quickly covering the short distance, he began pounding on the door. “It seems my life’s work is to forever pound on this damnable thing!” A watch called out from the near central gate. Darius answered, “We’re under attack! Where is Lady Devereaux? Is she okay?” The guardsman said he would pass on the message. Frustrated, Darius began running back towards the burning Inn.

Cautiously Mirel moved to the front of the temple. Lights like flame flickered within. Looking down at the floor in the vestibule she saw the body of a man with no head. It wore the clerical robes of a Brother. A scream built in Mirel’s throat but froze when she looked back up and straight at Turko and Zerk. The two men were holding torches on the far side of the entrance room. A rotund form with a cane in one hand was walking from the shadows into their light. Mirel’s feet grew wings as she flew from the temple’s doors. She ran up the road towards the Inn and her friends inside the barracks. People were congregating in the streets now. Some stared in shock. Others were talking about the fire. Mirel saw a form of a man in robes backlit by the Inn’s flames and running directly towards her. As the form drew close Mirel saw light flash over its face, the face of Brother Ben. Mirel screamed in terror.

“What? What’s going on?” Ben checked over Mirel who had gone white with fear. “Go to the barracks! Go to the barracks! Don’t go to the church!” Mirel shouted back. She started running again and arrived at the Inn where a crowd of people had gathered. Darius ran up to her from the other side. Shouting orders and moving people into a line he started a rough bucket brigade to help put out the Inn. Ben’s head swirled in emotion and pain. He had to know what was happening at the temple. Running forward he saw its main doors were open ahead. CRASH! Sound reverberated through the entire keep and a goodly, bright light cascaded out of a hole in the temple’s roof. Ben was slightly deafened by what he thought was a thunderbolt landing next to him. Across the entire keep faces turned startled by the noise. Mirel ran back to Brother Ben’s side and readied her sling as he pulled out his flail. Booming laughter echoed out over the Keep and its inhabitants. Evil laughter.
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Heading back down from the third level to the second, Igor looked for any rooms he may have missed. He believed he had inspected all the guests staying at the Inn. Every room had been full of visitors hoping to celebrate Midsummer’s Day Feast and to either watch or partake in the games. Now he knew all of those people were dead. Coughing and gasping for air, he fought to stay awake. Fortunately, the NO SLEEP potion helped Igor from passing out from the smoke, but it was also making him shake uncontrollably. He picked up the last body he found. “We’ll need evidence. Something to prove this was not an accident.” Stuffing it in his pack, he pulled over the thick blankets he had draped over himself to protect from the flames. Breathing in the fumes, he began to feel dizzy again. His reddened eyes searched for the nearest exit they could find. Locating one Igor leapt through.

Outside Darius was shouting at the bucket brigade to keep tossing water. But every eye in the keep was turned toward the light shining out of the top of the temple. No one saw the flaming body leap out of the Inn’s second story window until it was too late. Igor landed on three of the onlookers and buckets went flying. Back at the barracks Kayla finally managed to rouse Ormand the Redd. She asked him to watch Dram and Dalin who still slept in their drunken slumber. Holly had left hoping to escape the keep altogether. She believed it was an unsafe place even under normal circumstances. “I hope she made it out okay”, thought Kayla. Going to the door she looked up at the mysterious white light flowing towards the night sky. Suddenly, startlingly, a figure appeared in the brightness as if from nowhere.


A large black reptilian flying creature hung in the light. It was as dark as the night sky above it. Upon seeing the creature, an ice-cold shiver of fear ran down the backs of every onlooker in town. The wave of fear was almost visible as those closest were affected first. Mirel closed her eyes and bravely ran torward the temple. Brother Ben panicked and chased after her hoping some safety could still be found in that holy place. The crowd near the Inn began to scream. Terrified, the people began running in different directions, some even went inside the Inn. Igor ran under a covered alley close by, huddling in the shadows. Kayla and Ormand the Redd dived under bunks when the wave of dread reached them. Only Darius was not afraid. He eyed the creature, daring it to make the first move. “No one comes in to my house…” he thought.

Dram and Dalin sat bolt upright waking from their stupor. Dalin began pulling on his armor, but Dram simply grabbed his sword and shield and ran outside in his nightclothes looking for the source of danger. Brother Ben grabbed and crestled Brother Thom’s headless body in the doorstep of the temple. Mirel moved past him into the vestibule and hid underneath a bench. Looking around she was glad not to see anyone else. All the fear suddenly drained from her body. The crowd’s screams stopped from the street outside too. Darius saw the light go out from above the temple. He could not see so far in the dark, but he felt the creature had disappeared too. Captain Radcliffe arrived at his side and said in awe, “That… that was a Dragon! A real true Dragon!” Darius dragged the captain behind him and ran to the temple.

Inside Brother Ben saw all the interior doors were closed, but the main one leading to the congregation hall. It had been torn off its hinges. Father Hedrach appeared in its doorframe just as Darius and Radcliffe ran in from the outside. The Father was bloodied, swelled up, and wobbling on his feet. Ben ran over and tried to hold him up as Darius’s hands sent healing power into the old man’s body. BOOOM! Father Hedrach expanded and exploded blowing away the entire front half of the temple. Brother Ben experienced a weird floating sensation, as time seemed to slow. Bits of six different bodies floated in the bloody mist as the blast continued to expand. “I am dead”, Ben realized. Then he felt his soul detach itself from the last fragments of his natural form. He began floating upwards way from the carnage below.


Sorry.. No cliffhanger ending

Reflexively all of Brother Ben’s muscles twitched. He opened his eyes and realized he was face down on the floorstones of the temple. “It was an illusion,” said Darius. “An elaborate hoax. I bet even the dragon was fake too.” Slowly four people stood back up. Mirel pushed the very real corpse of Brother Thom off of her. Father Hedrach’s was nowhere to be found. “If this was an illusion, why did they do it? Unless…” Darius’s eyes grew wide. “It’s another distraction!” He ran back out into the street with Captain Radcliffe following after. Ben helped Mirel to her feet. Lighting a torch the two went into the congregation room. Each had a weapon ready just in case.

The gate to the inner bailey was raised at Captain Radcliffe’s command. A small contingent of the guard had gathered to watch the events beyond. Darius started shouting. “Lady Devereaux! Lady Devereaux!” The captain led him and several of the guards to the castellan’s chambers. Her metal door was closed and locked. It took several attempts before they could break it down. At that moment Mirel and Ben had found Father Hetrick’s room and entered inside. Both rooms were examined at the same moment in time. Lady Devereaux’s was large compared to the Father’s small compartments, but each had its roof tore off from above. Brother Ben put his hand in the massive gouges the dragon’s claws had left in the stone.

The furniture within was trashed and torn. Sword cuts had demolished most of the contents of each room. Books, paper, maps, and nearly every scrap of planning had disappeared. A thorough search revealed Lady Devereaux and Father Hedrach were gone too. Darius led his team to the Advisor’s room and pounded on Elion’s door. Again there was no answer. Unlocking the door this time, they saw destruction similar to the other rooms. No clues seemed to be left. A dragon had come and either stolen or eaten all three. Radcliffe inspected his own room adjacent to the Lady’s. The torn up conditions were the same. Brother Ben was in despair. “Every book, every scrolls, every holy instrument in his compartments. Gone. All gone. Father Hedrach has been utterly destroyed!”

Mirel went and inspected Brother Thom’s room and Ben’s as well. Neither area had been touched. “Did Brother Thom walk in on a raid?” she wondered. Outside the Inn continued to blaze, but Dalin and Dram had arrived and were leading the bucket brigade. The building burned quickly as night returned to normal. With the keepfolk’s efforts, a small portion of the Inn was saved. The remains smoldered as the light of dawn rose over the wounded keep. Gathering together once again, the team decided to sleep within the temple as no was left alive but Ben to oversee it. When Igor wobbled in the others saw what the potion had done to him. He looked as if he suffered from conniptions. Unfortunately he could still not sleep, so he kept his promise and watched over the others as they fell into deep slumber.

[DAY 66 – Fastday, Jinto 27th, CY 81]

Only four or five hours passed when Igor roused the party. It was already midmorning and the streets were crowded with people. Igor tried explaining the situation, but his stuttering was near constant. He led the group outside and to the Inn. A circle of people stood around it. Many of them were from the bucket brigade the evening before. Apparently they had been ordered to let no one enter. Darius quickly remanded his order. The people were ordered to go home and sleep except for those who had rested through the night. When the entire circle dispersed, Darius ordered a few watchguard to protect the Inn instead. Igor walked the team to the front gate of the keep were another group of people was trying to get out. The guard had closed the gate and was not allowing anyone to leave the keep. When Darius arrived they saluted him.

In an outer bailey tower the guard were questioning a strange woman found last night. It was Holly. Darius asked the guards to free her into his custody. Brother Ben wondered why the guards were following any of Darius’s orders, but so far it seemed to be better they did. Another order was given to find all visitors still left in the keep and to assemble them for questioning. The gate would be kept closed, but all locales could enter or leave if they wished. Holly was escorted back to the temple where the crew asked her if she had survived the night all right. She had also seen the light and felt the fear, but not one person leave the keep. Barth, Turko and Zerk must have left by a different means or were still within.

Since they were awake and it was morning, they decided to find out what was going on in the rest of Keep Margrave. At the door to the inner bailey they were welcomed in right away. They did not even have to knock. “There’s firsts for everything,” thought Darius. Inside the guards looked nervously at them and escorted the team to Lady Devereaux’s chambers. Inside Radcliffe was standing at a cracked mirror holding up finely sewn suits in front of him. They stared at him in disbelief. “What do you think? The red or the yellow? I like the yellow. Yellow is my favorite color you know.” Darius had always known Radcliffe was slow to speak, but it quickly became clear he was even slower to think. “He must have been told what to do his entire life”, thought Ben. Radcliffe paraded around in front of them. “I mean I REALLY like yellow! It’s the best color of all colors. Beats the rest hands down.’


Darius began asking what was going on and what Radcliffe’s plans were now. “I have not forgotten all of your brave deeds last night. I have a reward for you. All of you. Kneel.” Darius kneeled and was dubbed by Radcliffe as Captain of the Watchguard. He then went on to entitle Dalin as Sergeant, Kayla as Advisor to his Lordship, and Brother Ben as Father of the Temple. Dram backed away from the ceremony while Mirel hid in a corner behind Holly. “I’ve left the military. I want no more part of it”, declared Dram. Tears began to well up in Ben’s eyes. It was not how he envisioned his ordination at all. Now he was responsible for the entire temple. “I must now continue with my duties as Lord of Keep Margrave. You can go.” He began picking through the anarchy of the jumbled room. “Now where could that chalice be…?”

The team was still in shock as they moved to the hallway outside Lord Radcliffe’s new chambers. They were in now charge of protecting the keep and their leader would be no better help than a common imbecile. “At least he can fight well”, whispered Dalin trying to look on the bright side. Ben saw Kayla stop and her eyes flutter. “She’s been possessed!” The others gathered around her, but were careful not to touch her still standing body. After a few minutes she stirred and told them she had received a message, but did not mention from whom. Taking them to Elion’s quarters she asked everyone to help her search for any books that might have been left. The room was in a shambles. “What is going on?” thought Ben to himself. A small white rat scampered out into the middle of the room. It turned and looked solemnly at each one of them in turn.

“I’llkill’it,” said Igor trying to draw his sword with great difficulty. Stopping him Kayla picked up the rat and placed it on a table. “Who are you?” she said. It looked at her strangely. She began trying other questions, but it seemed quite bored sitting there. “That’s unnatural,” thought Ben. “Wait. It…it couldn’t be. It must be Elf-friend Elion cursed into a rat!” Ben could think of only one way to help, but it meant daring forces he utterly distrusted and testing the will of the Gods. Fixing his gaze on the rats, Ben thought in his mind as clearly as he could to himself, “Who are you?” It shook its head. “Are you Elion?” It nodded. Aloud he told the others with a big smile that the rat was Elion. Kayla tried another question out loud. “Elion. When was the last day you saw Lady Devereaux?” It tapped its front paw four times. She confirmed it was Elion, but then she remembered the message she had received. Mirel, Dram, and Dalin all looked rather skeptically at the white rat.

Kayla tried to tell the others a voice claiming to be Elion had contacted her mind from far away. The voice had said he was in Greeenwillow Forest. Now she was feeling far more dubious about whose voice it could have been. “I believe it was a ruse,” Ben told her. Kayla was not quite so sure. Elion the Rat was picked up and placed in Kayla pocket. They resumed searching for another hour, but found no trace of books. They decided to question Elion the Rat some more. For the most part he only nodded or shook his head. But as they asked increasingly pointed questions, he did confirm that Goodman Barth was responsible for the attack on the keep. And that Goodman Barth was the dragon. And he was a powerful illusionist. Turko and Zerk were hired killers. Barth was looking for Lady Devereaux. And he stole her. Elion did not answer when asked if Lady Devereaux was killed or not.

Satisfied they had learned what they could at present, they told the guards to clean up Elion’s old quarters. Kayla would move in as soon as they were ready, and Darius into Radcliffe’s old chambers. Stoneworkers would need to begin reconstructing the inner bailey’s rooftops as soon as possible. Kayla took the lead and brought everyone to Questri the Alchemist’s shop. She needed dragon’s blood, but did not explain why. Dram peeled off unnoticed by the others. Curious, he went to Mouse’s supply store and broke in. He quietly explored the backroom and found a secret stair leading to a basement below. It seemed the supply store was very well stocked with a variety of goods. Dram searched the basement floor and found what he suspected was there: a trapdoor leading down.

Pulling it open a small shaft led down to a tunnel below. Dram figured he could scoot down it and shimmy through the tunnel if he took off his armor. Instead he closed the trapdoor and covered it back up. Carefully he closed all the other doors behind him, but had to leave the front one unlocked. Meanwhile, the others were hearing bad news from Questri’s assistant Bert. “It’s Bert, not Al. Never Al. And I’m a chemist. Sorry, we have no dragon’s blood. But, um… if you find some, I’d be willing to trade for it.” Outside cleaning crews were working busily made up of both keepfolk and the watchguard. Still feeling tired from lack of sleep, the party headed back to the temple again. It was only early evening, but Igor was finally running out of energy. As they carried him to his bed with his eyes closed, his body still shook like that of an enfeebled old man. The rest set watch and closed the windows for the night.


[DAY 67 – Holyday, Jinto 28th, CY 81]

Father Ben woke early. He knew what day it was and had much to prepare for it even if there was to be no ordination. He supposed Lord Radcliffe’s appointment might have been official enough. Everyone else at the temple woke early too. Except for Igor who slept like a dead man. “At least he looks better than yesterday,” thought Ben. The team was collected again and discussed what would be needed to manage the keep now it was left in their hands. Darius took Dalin and Mirel away to help question the visitors who the guards had been collecting. Their work did not last long as most of the keep’s visitors had been killed in the attack on the Inn. Kayla went back to the inner bailey for more searching of the rooms and help with moving the larger stones. While there she verified Radcliffe had met with Lady Devereaux four days prior to the attack. Father Ben asked Dram and Ormand the Redd to help him with a very difficult task. He needed to spread the word that the Holyday ceremony was to be held outside in the square instead of in the temple.

After everyone else had left, Ben closed and locked the temple doors and went to the keep’s quartermaster. The new man was named Roland. Seeing how clean and organized the place looked, Ben was instantly impressed. “I need all the men you can spare and digging tools for burying the dead.” Roland admitted that he was supervising the clean up effort by order, but he would help. Hesitantly, he mentioned a graveyard outside the keep. Several soldiers were marched out and instructed to follow Ben’s orders. Holly relieved him and headed up the detail as Father Ben went to prepare for his first sermon as Father of the Temple. After bathing and dressing in the vestments he tried to calm himself and collect his thoughts. Shortly before noon he headed towards the keep’s square in front of the inner bailey gate. An enormous crowd of people had already gathered, over 250 in all. The whole of his team had also arrived early too. “This is everyone in the whole Keep!” exclaimed Mirel. Ben moved to the gates in front of the crowd. Their faces looked up at him in eagerness.

Ben introduced himself as Father Benedict Selzkin. He noticed Dram narrowing his eyes at him when he heard the name. Staring out into the crowd he felt nervousness in his stomach. Ben’s head pain returned, but fighting past it he started talking. He talked of how the keep needed faith to overcome its tragedies, how the people should stay true to themselves and not give in to outside enemies, how the men and women at the front lines were counting on them to protect Margrave County. He talked about remembering the dead who had perished in the fire, how each needed to be identified and have their families found and informed of their loss. Pausing he looked around and pointed at the remains of the Inn behind the crowd. “We will repair and rebuild. We will strengthen our keep to withstand those who would see us fall. We will renew our faiths and set aside old differences. We will venerate our dead and cherish our living.”

The crowd began to clap and cheer. Father Ben was a little startled. He began talking again about how the Inn would be rebuilt and the stone refortified. He said that when they finished services everyone needed to lend a hand and prepare for the next day. The crowd quieted down after that. “But it will be in preparation for the Midsummer’s Festival. We will hold the feast and the tournament and we will raise a glass in good cheer for all those who we remember here and gone.” Applause and shouting erupted from the audience and Ben smiled feeling relief surge through him. Before finishing he mentioned a funeral would be held outside at dusk in the graveyard. All those who wished to could attend. He pointedly did not mention any of the three missing persons or the dragon. He did not want to verify whatever rumors had already been spread. The new leadership would be learned of soon enough.

Afterwards nearly everyone stayed to help finish cleaning and decorating the keep. The mood was happy and people seemed to have looked past the horrors of the previous night. Darius, Dalin, and Kayla looked through the remains of the Inn again, but found nothing so others were allowed to clean the space for rebuilding. Father Ben went outside and inspected the gravesite. One large pit had been dug. The crowd was much smaller at the funeral. The relatives of the innkeeper’s family stood in front as well as many of the visitors to the keep. The bodies were placed in graves. Father Ben gave a eulogy for Father Hetrick who he felt sure had died. Darius spoke as well for those lost at the Inn. None of the family members volunteered to speak. It was a somber occasion. Afterwards, Holly led the soldiers in refilling the grave. Back at the temple, Ben saw Igor still lying motionless on one of the beds. He had slept the full day and missed the assembly.


[DAY 68 – MidSummer Feast 00, CY 81]

MidSummer’s Day was the longest of the year. When Ben awoke he saw that many of the inhabitants were already awake and celebrating. Even Igor was awake, but looking thoroughly exhausted. “At least he looks better than last night,” Ben thought. Outside, Captain Radcliffe was gallivanting around dressed in a fine new suit with yellow lacework and a long bright yellow cape. Everyone else was dressed in his or her finest clothes as well. Many had obviously worked on their suits and dresses for many months in advance. Tables had been set out in the main square and people were lining up in front of the food line. Lord Radcliffe stood up on a table and started speaking. Ben could not quite make out what he was saying. Many in the crowd were talking and Dalin was pointing at Radcliffe’s clothes with a puzzled look on his face. “Did he forget he’s a peasant?” Trying to talk over the noise, finally Lord Radcliffe shouted, “LET THE FEAST BEGIN!” Huzzahs and hoorays came from all around.

The “peasant” Radcliffe served the meal for the day: gruel and gruel. It was wet and runny, but had a strong flavor, a truly horrible one. Fortunately some of the “nobles” had cooked sweetcakes on the side. It was not in tradition, but everyone was still hungry. Mirel explained how the day’s events would go. The tournaments were to be run one after another. And the feast of gruel would last the whole day. Not really done serving food, Radcliffe ran over and began the Archery Contest. Dalin, Dram, Mirel, and Ormand the Redd all joined in to compete. There were a number of other competitors too. Everyone shot five arrows and who ever had the best score would be winner. Ormand the Redd had a bad case of stage fright and shot poorly. The others did well, but Dram far outscored anyone else in the competition with a 74. As a trophy, Radcliffe awarded him with a life-sized golden arrow. “Ooohs” came from the audience. A cask of ale was opened and everyone cheered. Mugs of ale were had by all.

The Strength Contest was next. Dram, Dalin, Mirel, and Ormand competed again. Darius arrived and joined in too. He introduced a friend he had made named Pax. Pax was easily the largest man any of them had ever seen. He looked as strong as a bear, even stronger maybe. Muscles bulged all over his body. The contest rules were outlined. Radcliffe handed the first in line a long, thick steel bar. Each tried to bend the bar as best they could. Amazingly, the two who did so the best according to Radcliffe were Dalin, who was a slim man, and young Mirel. “It must be how they leveraged it,” thought Ben. Pax had done no better than the others using only his two hands. Still, Father Ben could see no difference in the bar from when the contest started. Mirel and Dalin each made one more attempt to bend the bar. Dalin prevailed handily. “You’ve won…... a brand new bar!” called out Radcliffe. And ale was had by all.

The third contest was the Tournament of Arms. Contestants were given wooden swords and randomly paired off. The first to reach 5 hits while sparring would win their match. Roland the quartermaster competed and beat Mirel. The large man Pax beat Ormand the Redd who looked unsteady with his weapon. Dram beat Father Ben quite easily who also did not know how to swing his blade. Dalin bested a youth who was scared and had just seen him win the strength competition. After a short rest the second round began. Pax was fooled by Dalin and lost before he knew what had happened. Roland and Dram fought in a long pitched battle, but Dram persevered and landed the final blow. After another pause, Dram and Dalin squared off against each other for the tournament championship.

Each had fought and caroused together since the first time they had met. It was strange watching them compete head-to-head, friend against friend. Both fought spectacularly and the fight was a marvel to watch, but in the end Dalin won out and took the prize. Lord Radcliffe asked him to kneel and presented him with a finely crafted sword. Ale was broken out in celebration. Pulling it from the scabbard Dalin saw it had the dwarven forge mark of an anvil with two hammers crossed above. It was just like his other sword found in the armory below Xavier. Darius ran over and inspected the blade too. “This is the sword I sent as tribute to the dwarven kingdoms! Someone has stolen this sword!” Darius explained, as Radcliffe came over that he had sent a letter and the sword he had found in “you-know-where” to the dwarven nation in petition for their aid. “This sword was traded in for supplies,” said Radcliffe. Two men, both had smelled ghastly, had traded the weapon for black rope, daggers, and other supplies a few days ago. The party understood. Turko and Zerk had killed the messenger and stolen the blade. “Now the dragon knows we were petitioning the Dwarven Kingdom,” whispered Darius to others.


The tournament started again with the fourth, a riding contest. The challenge was just like jousting, but with a snubbed lance. Many contestants were still tired from the previous competitions, but Dram still had plenty of energy and Mirel wanted to ride the horses. The riding tournament was the largest by far as many had come from far away to compete. Dram did fairly well felling his first two opponents by knocking them from the saddle and beating them on the ground. But then he was knocked off himself twice losing the match. Mirel wore only her leather armor and clung to her horse on a small saddle. It was highly unorthodox, but she was a good rider and nearly impossible to hit being so small. She managed to score marks on every opponent she faced. In the final round the crowd was cheering for her to win, as she was well known as a resident of the keep. Remarkably, she hit her final adversary three times in a row. Cheering the crowd pulled her off her horse and paraded her around the keep. Plenty of more ale was had by all.

As an award, Mirel won her own riding horse. She had known the prize from previous Feastdays, but was stunned nonetheless. When she was brought back, the fifth and final tournament began, the Riddle Contest. The whole team from Xavier decided to enter hoping at least one might win. Strangely, no other contestants joined in. Perhaps it was the next full keg of ale, which had been rolled out. Lord Radcliffe stood in front of the table where they sat and opened an old book with a sheet of paper in it. Ben could tell the Lord was squinting when he looked down at it. He was perplexed. “This is new. Don’t tell me he can actually read,” Ben thought. Father Benedict was up first. “What creature is small and barks like a dog?

Ben believed it had to be a trick question. “A dog,” he responded. “Wrong. Dalin what is your answer?” Dalin answered kobold of course. “That wasn’t a riddle,” said Ben aloud. “Question Two. How many kobolds are in the word… in the world at night?” Dalin considered it. “All of them?” Wrong. Mirel was next. “None?” “Yes!” Radcliffe went on. “Question three. How many kobold’s are in the Giant’s Army?” “How can he be asking this!?” thought Ben to himself. “Um… None?” Mirel was wrong too. The same question was asked of Dram, Ormand, Darius, and Pax, but all answered incorrectly. Kayla was last to go. “Maybe… All that are part of the Giant’s Army?” “Correct! Very good.” Radcliffe stared at the sheet awhile longer. Ben tried to sneak a peek at it, but could not quite see it. “How many Kobolds are in the Giant's army, if we know there are none in it at night, but there are kobold's in the giant's army?”

Kayla looked dumbfounded. These were not the type of riddles they were expecting at all. “All that are in his army during the night?” Wrong. The group looked around at each other. They were trying to understand what had just happened. Radcliffe took Kayla’s arm and raised it into the air. “The winner of the Riddle Contest!” Shouts came from the crowd behind, but nearly every one was drinking at that point and not paying attention. Handing the old book to her, Radcliffe gave his congratulations to all of the winners. Kayla looked at the book. She handed the paper stuck inside it over to Darius. It was blank. The book was a research study about opening locks with magic. It would come in handy she was sure.

Standing back up on the table Radcliffe called out “And now for the declaration of Lord for a Day!” The crowd began cheering again. He put his hand in his left pocket then tried the other one. Looking like he had misplaced something Radcliffe straightened instead and declared, “MIREL is the NEW LADY of KEEP MARGRAVE!!” Huzzahs and boisterous applause broke out. Mirel was picked back up again and paraded back through the streets of the keep. The throng did not let her down for over an hour, but did keep her thirst quenched by pouring ale over her head. Mirel spit back what she could. Her face had gone beat read from embarrassment. She had never been so thoroughly the center of attention before. Once released Radcliffe told her she needed to select a Champion for Keep Margrave. Mirel chose Dalin who was a winner in two of the tournaments, not to mention roguishly handsome. Partying and celebrations continued into the late hours of the night.


[DAY 69 – Sunday, Jinto 1st, CY 81]

Father Ben woke at the crack of dawn. Quietly tiptoeing past Dram and Dalin, he spotted Igor still curled up in his bed. Ben felt sad as he been tired at the festival yesterday. “But he did try and save the Inn and the visitors,” he reflected. “And he was smart to take a body as proof of the crime. Even Radcliffe could not deny that evidence of assassins in the Keep.” Ben believed Igor was a good man, if a bit misunderstood. He still was not sure if he could trust him though. According to Mirel he had been meeting with Kayla almost daily and always in secret. Ben wondered if Igor was part of the occult conspiracy as well. Then he heard the knocking on the temple’s outside door.

A small crowd of men and women were waiting outside. “Have you come for the Sunday congregation?” The group stared at him confused. “No, we’re ‘ere to collect our bets” said one of the rougher looking gentlemen. Ben roused Igor and explained the situation. Igor handled it with aplomb. He was very happy to pay out the winnings. Apparently he had come out ahead in the rolls. Lord Radcliffe was favored, but had not competed, so all bets on him were null and void. Or so Igor said. Ben pondered it, “Even Dalin winning big for himself was still money for the group.” He decided to go for a walk and saw the guards and a few keepfolk cleaning up after the Feast’s revelry. At the Inn several stoneworkers were shaping pieces to begin building the main wall. Farther on in the square a small audience had gathered to see Mirel who was feigning a strained happiness. She sat on a dais in the center and, as had NEVER happened before, she was wearing a dress.

Ben smiled and kept walking. He tried to think of the responsibilities he had assumed as sole cleric in the temple. He was never taught how to be the head of the temple, only the standard work of a cleric. He decided to write Father Stauk-Flezr for help. It had been weeks since his last letter and he had much to report, but he worried about Turko and Zerk using the bandits on the road. Ben felt in his heart he was not ready to run the temple. He would ask the Father to send a replacement for him instead. Back at the temple he sat in Father Hedrach’s old chambers and began writing. He still did not feel comfortable about moving into Hedrach’s room. As it was, chunks of stone covered everything, as the roof repair for the temple was a lower priority than the inner bailey.

After a few hours he finished. He went to Sergeant Roland and gave him the sealed scroll and instructed him on where to send it. Back at the temple, Darius had gathered the team in the main hall. Mirel looked relieved to be out of the eyes of the populace and had already changed out of her dress. Darius suggested they go back to the caves for a few days as the keep was secured with a constant double guard and a few men he actually trusted in charge. The discussion took awhile as they argued whether or not to go. Some wanted to stay as they had suffered so long at the outpost and did not like the idea of another cave attack. In the end though the plan to leave won out. Father Ben was skeptical and did not want to leave so soon, but agreed exploring the caves was still highly important. “A couple of days is not long,” he thought. The commanders in charge of the watch were been notified of their decision.

After packing and preparing, the team left through the rear temple doors as Father Ben locked the front ones. He hung a sign outside: “Cleaning and Blessing”. He wondered if anyone could even read it. Darius did not want to leave out the main gates as he felt spies might still be in the keep. Dram mentioned he knew of a tunnel they could take to the outside. Leading them around and below to Mouse’s store basement, he opened the secret trapdoor. Darius descended and began crawling down the tunnel. It was narrow and hard to navigate. He wondered who else could even fit. Mirel went down after the Darius, but with a torch. As the dwarf crawled ahead of her she searched for secret doors. She found one, and then another, and another. It looked like they had crawled into a maze of different honeycombed passages with no known map. They decided to head out before becoming lost.

After more discussion and Ben’s arguing, the team decided to ride in Igor’s pack. Igor disguised himself and Holly too as she still relatively unknown and spent most of her time outside the keep. The two exited without incident and released everyone from the pack about a mile down the road. The team walked a little ways off the roadside and followed along its edge. Igor and Holly led using what Ben noticed were very different tracking abilities. The road led to the east and the sun shone on their faces. By late evening they had reached the large pit where the remains of Outpost Xavier had been. Glancing back in the hole again, they noticed it was even shallower than before. Only 60 feet down a large pile of dirt had built up. All the mud had dried out since their last visit.


Kilnstone Abbey
Silverton Falls
Margrave County

Sunday, Jinto 1


Father, it is with grave news I write to you this letter. There are certain forces at work in our world, which I fear greatly. Numerous tragedies have befallen the lands and peoples around me and now I fear for the very lives of all our family and flock. The home my companions and I sheltered within and protected was destroyed. The edifice below proved a dark and insidious trap. Like the seed of a venomous lie it corrupted the lands and skies around it. Nurturing wickedness in the hidden darkness of buried earth, it spread its hollow deceit until it collapsed upon itself and the secrets within forevermore. My friends and I were fortunate to escape before we too were perpetually crushed. Alas, our homestead’s doom was certain when the ground opened as a maw and swallowed it whole.

The Fates’ string of triple misfortune did not end with one loss. Three days ago, our honorable lady matron was stolen. Fire and chaos played their part when spies masquerading as learned teachers of a holy order proved their true identities as assassins and torchers. Several neighbors died in the flames and one large home was lost. It is my belief the current master shepherd, which I spoke to you of in my previous letter, was burst asunder by a chaotic curse. Working in concert with the impostors was a creature of terror so frightening as to stop the heart and mind of every soul. A lizard with wings like a bat and scales of a darkness beyond a fire’s light. Divine vision was upon the shepherd as I saw a goodly light shining above his home. This light gives me hope of a blessed end and not the lie of illusion.

The third calamity is my own to bear. The shepherd’s good son was also killed in the raid. With no other shepherd I find myself as sole tender of the flock. I fear for their safety and humbly ask for another man of faithful heart to relieve me of this position. Every lamb needs food here, so I will continue to provide what I can. But obligations of larger importance call me away now. My friends and I seek a greater wealth for all our neighbors. We believe we know of such a treasure in some caverns of the nearby wilds. Fierce creatures lair within and offer us our deaths, if we be not careful. Please pray for us and for this fortune to be won for us all. Look for me in the stars above, if I do not write again.

One last piece of news, a wholly real mouse was taken on as a pet by my companions. It behaves quite like some familiar fey creature always larking bout. While playful indeed, it has also proved quite the advisor on good cheeses. I am sorry to say, his brother is lost and we cannot find him. I hope to show it to you when we meet again.

I hasten to add, please use all expediency in finding another shepherd for our flock. Stinging nettles surround our fields and I could not bear to lose another lamb, which stumbled into danger.

Your Faithful Son,

F. Benedict S.

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