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The One True Game: According to Hoyle, and Others

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Three large rats ran out of the idol room and start biting at the lead walkers. The creatures did not seem a dire threat and only a few members at first pulled out weapons to repel these vermin. Darius swung at one hitting its side, but it did not fall. Dalin, Dram, and Mirel moved in with swords and dagger. The creatures did not seem easily damaged even when a blow was landed. In retaliation the rats soundlessly bit back at the four and each hero was bitten at least once. The damage was minimal, but the four swayed in place feeling nauseated from the wounds. Dram shook off the feeling pressing forward to attack again. Darius shook off the feeling too, but Dalin and Mirel had both succombed to the poison. Quick words were exchanged over who Darius would cure as he could only save one. Mirel was chosen as she was younger and probably more susceptible. Calming light poured out of Darius's hands when he laid them on her brow.

Igor then started screaming, "They're dead! they're dead! The dead have risen! We're all going to die". Unsure of what to do next he slumped to the floor paralyzed in fear and babbling to himself. Kayla and Brother Ben grabbed Mirel and Dalin pulling them back from the combat. Darius smashed one of the rats to pieces with is hammer and virtually no blood squirted out. The creatures were dead like the humanoid body wrapped in bandages first found in the pool room. The other two rats ran back into the idol room and Dram chased after. "Could these be the original three rats we fought when first entering Quesquaton?", Kayla thought. Brother Ben backed away preparing to defend those in the rear. Dalin wheezed and turned even paler. Darius followed after Dram and saw him beating at a 10" inch crack in the floor of the wall where a rat head was darting out of. Both made to guard the opening carefully keeping their hands clear from another bite attack. It was then Igor screamed once more.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaahhhh! The kobolds! The kobolds are dead too!" Igor was shrieking while jerkily pointing his finger down the passageway. Kayla, Ben, Mirel, and Dalin looked up. Advancing towards them in the torchlight was the first row of skeletal kobold forms. Wall to wall the undead walked forwards with easily a dozen or more swarming in from the shadows behind. Dalin strained to stand up and walked towards them bravely attacking with his sword. Darius ran out of the idol room hammer already held high and lowered it onto one of the monsters. Ben grabbed his flail to help as Mirel and Kayla backed down the hallway to fire over their heads. Dram could hear the commotion, but continued to slash at the rat hole and the elusive rats within.

Swiftly marching forward the creatures mired those in front in a swamp of undead kobold. Dalin continued to swing trying to hold back the flow from Kayla and Mirel. Darius swung furiously at all the short little creatures around him as they scratched in vain to get through his plate mail armor. Dram assiduously stayed put even as two skeletons ran into the idol room and flanked him with the rat hole. Ben held the left side of those trying to stem the flow out in the hallway. "These are the same fallen foes we left in the caves from the level below!" yelled Ben. Were they unaffected by the archway because they are now dead? That was strange. Wait a minute... Brother Ben swivelled to his right putting his back to the wall behind him. A kobold attempted to scoot past him, but Ben grabbed his own chainmail shirt and held one hand high. "Get thee back to the grave vile dead," he said. Power shone out from his form and several of the creatures retreated. Even the foes near Dram cowered giving him a chance to focus on them as well.

More kobolds swept over those backing away. Dalin and Darius swung with Dalin hitting off Darius's armor. Kayla and Mirel kept raining sling stones onto the oncoming kobolds while Igor shivered in fright. "What evil lurks before me?" quoted Ben as light continued to shine out from his form. Kobolds swarmed forward and back. Over the next several minutes the battle proceeded at a slow crawl. The creatures swarmed in mass confusion as Dalin and Dram stood like pillars in the sea. Mirel's and Kayla's stones flew doing what damage they could while Dram held off the dead rats and Igor babbled. Ben stepped back while his allies moved forward to where the wave of undead crested at the edge of his divine light.
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The creatures did not die easily. Hits did less damage than suspected. It was a battle of attrition as both humans and dwarf tired with each swing and the undead did not. The kobolds were gaining ground pushing past the room entrance. Darius grudgingly gave up foot by foot choosing to back into the idol room and protect Dram. Having no luck at all with the rats in the wall Dram's actions did stop anyone else from being bitten. He had also managed to kill the two kobolds that had outflanked him. Dalin was falling back to where Brother Ben stood as the swarm was split between entering the idol room and advancing down the corridor. He took a full minute to rest himself and between the scratches on Dalin's face and the poison working through him he looked near death himself. Kayla poured some of the healing fruit juice down his throat, but only the scratches healed. Ben stood tall with his hands held high continuing to try and hold back what seemed an unending torrent.

It was at that moment when Igor's instinct for self-preservation finally overcame his irrational fear. "The truth of undeath affects each person differently," Ben would reflect later. Swinging Guido's old sword two-handed, Igor filled Dalin's place in battle. Darius and Dram stood back to back in the idol room. Its smashed offering bowl lent little assistance as a dozen kobolds pressed their attack. Unguarded one of the zombie rats darted back out of the hole. Shouts for help were called and Kayla and Mirel focused their fire on the kobolds attempting to enter the room. Brother Ben paced forward chanting. Divine light had poured out of him for nearly ten minutes. Courageously, Dalin struggled to stand up as the poison coarsed through his body. Step by step he advanced on the kobold skeletons cutting one in half with his sword. "Seven", he counted aloud.

Dram and Darius were finally having some luck in killing the kobolds. It was difficult to focus on destroying one when they moved over each other and then retreated due to the divine light. Igor and Dalin waded forward to the room entrance and seeing their allies' tactics within stood back to back in the door way. Dalin worked to keep further skeletons out while Igor swung his massive sword trying to destroy the ones inside the room. Ben moved forward as bites and scratches began to affect Igor. The cook had neither chainmail nor plate armor like the others. Having fought without rest for over ten minutes straight Darius was staggered by an attack and fell to his knees.

The light from Ben dimmed as he stopped chanting for a moment and grabbed at his waterskin. He rushed forward through the doorway. The creatures clawed and bit at him as he advanced. Igor stepped forward to back up Dram and help him guard Darius. The crooked man Darius had straightened was in a frenzy frothing at the lips while hitting the small skeletons. Many of the monsters in the idol room were now destroyed thankfully. Dram worked the rat zombie back into a corner while guarding his shins from both its bites and the kobold's. Ben made it to Darius's side and poured a mouthful of healing juice down his throat and the dwarf's stamina returned. Now moving out into the hall Dalin ran to his left trying to stave off any attacks on Kayla and Mirel. Both women danced side to side trying to stay in Dalin's torchlight but away from the kobolds. They slung stones at point blank range into the oncoming mass.

Once again standing Darius called out "Retreat!" and began hammering a path through the kobolds to the room's entrance. Ben called on the power of the Gods again and the job was made easier. Dalin made it back to Kayla and Mirel effectively inacting a fighting withdrawal. The zombie rat darted back into it hole as Dram desperately tried to destroy the creature before retreating himself. Igor somersaulted out into the main hallway with the large sword in his lap. Swinging back and forth he managed to hit another kobold. Ben kept calling on the power while standing in the entranceway. Darius pulled Dram back from the rat hole and the four of them ran headlong through the remaining skeletons trying to reach Dalin and the others. Finally together the group was harassed by the few remaining kobold skeletons all the way back to the main corridor. Darius and Dram kept up a rear defense while the others ran down through the main entrance. Igor shouldered Dalin up as he swayed side to side.

Calls were made up the well for a rope. Apparently no one was nearby, but after a couple minutes one was lowered down. Dalin was tied and pulled up and in that time Mirel had already climbed to the surface. Darius and Dram who had been continuously pushed back decided to turn and ran the last few yards out the entrance door. "QUASQUETON!!" everyone yelled. And the stone door slammed shut.
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Back up in the outpost Dalin had already been moved upstairs to the infirmary. The band was breathing heavily as many of the militia stared at them. "I cannot heal anyone else for the day" said Darius. "And Brother Ben says the healing juice is not working. Men! Build a stretcher. We are leaving immediately for Margrave Keep. Double-time damn it!"

People ran in all directions grabbing gear and asking what was necessary for the trip. Brother Ben ran upstairs to check on Dalin and saw him sleeping in a bed with the Gresslam Brothers shyly staring at him. Ben had them fetch more waterskins and bandages for the trip while he cleaned the rat bite on Dalin. Stripping him of his chainmail was more difficult. The noise downstairs had begun to decline when Dram and Igor walked up with a makeshift stretcher. Carefully laying Dalin on it he was moved downstairs. The stretcher was tied between two horses which were lashed with some wood in a makeshift double-yoke. Darius took lead with his horse. The other's horses were saddled and bridled as well. Darius explained how Pendra and Certa could not lead them to the Keep as they had gone off scouting a few days ago. And they had not yet returned.

The heroes embarked with a small group of regular army soldiers surrounding them on the road. Only Chervac had been back to the Keep since the heroes and their militia had originally been assigned, but now he stayed behind as did Kayla and Mirel. The trip was long and the dirt road very bumpy. Keep Margrave came into view just as the sun was going down for the day. The team hustled up the pathway to the Keep. It was built upon the raised hill cleared of the surrounding forest and leveled off. "Ho on the road!" came from the watchtower. "Hail" cried Ben. Then Darius spoke up. "We are from Outpost X to the east. I am Sergeant Darius. We have a sick man and need to be let in." The doors creaked open. The troops entered and Dalin's body was rushed to the temple within. Brother Thom who the group had met from their initial stay met them at the door. "The guards brought the news ahead of you. Please come in and bring your friend."

Brother Ben watched and prayed while Brother Thom prepared Dalin's body on a raised plinth. He said Brother Hetrick was now the Father of the Temple. But he could not help Dalin until after he awoke and prayed the next morning. Ben decided to stay and help as he could. The rest of the group went outside and spotted a sign for the local inn. The placard looked like a man with fire in his hands. So that was what Dalin called it. Darius the Dwarf had other business to conduct. He spoke with the guards at the inner gate in an attempt to meet with Captain Devereaux who was in the fort side of the keep. She was the one who originally sent the proclamation conscripting the militia troops. Elion had said he was her advisor as well as advisor to Lord Margrave when he was in the county. Elion had entrusted Darius with delivering a letter to her, but the watchguard were not helpful at all. Finally the Keep's Quartermaster Sgt Keenan came out and told him to wait until morning as "the castellan of the Keep is not taking visitors this evening."

[DAY 10 - Fastday, Mao 27th, CY 81]

Early the next morning Brother Ben met his friends as Brother Thom let them in through the temple's side door. "Come in. Come in. Father Hetrick is about to start." The others watched while Father Hetrick placed leeches on Dalin's body. Brother Ben and Darius each channeled what healing power they had into the body too. Dalin's eyes flickered and he awoke. Negotiations for donating to the temple for services were discussed the previous night, but no one had any regrets in paying that morning least of all Dalin. The sky was clear for a Mao day. The group split up and went in different directions. Some hoped to purchase supplies while other explored the Keep as they had little chance on their previous stay. Darius went straight to the inner bailey and asked about meeting with Lady Devereaux.

The Keep was split in half between townsfolk and guardsmen by a dividing wall. The far side was the inner bailey and headquarters for the guard and the castellan Lady Devereaux. The other half was a small village which the main entrance opened in on. The main gate was constructed in the usual mott and bailey design and a curtain wall surrounded the entirety of the keep with a total of seven guard towers. On the villager's side were a large inn, stables, a smithy / armorer, a tavern, a trading post, a fountain, the temple, a few merchant buildings, and some private homes as well. Ben did not really see what was on the ruling side of the Keep, but he did spot a small fortress rising up along the far wall across from the inner bailey.


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After knocking, Darius spoke with the Keep's quartermaster Sgt Keenan again. "Lady Devereaux is not taking visitors this morning."
"What!" replied the Dwarf, "How come?"
"Her orders. She is not receiving visitors this morning."
"But, I was here yesterday! I have urgent news.
"That's not my problem."
"Fine. I'll wait."


The other members of the group had a little more success. Igor was one of those who had split off on his own. Unbeknownst to the group he had a contact named "Mouse" who ran the local general store. The others met many of the keepfolk too. To them Mouse looked like a very small human always with a smile on his face. What Igor and Mouse talked of Ben could never have known, but after leaving Igor's backpack was much lighter and of a different color to boot. Dram and Dalin both bought extra supplies and personal food seeing the fare was better here. They spent the morning drinking and Dalin tried to get a little dicing started with some inn patrons without luck. Brother Ben stayed holed up with Brother Thom. He had a few interesting things to say himself when Ben asked him about rumors of the fabled Quesquaton.

"Not all pools are water. Some are beneficial and blessed, holy sites. Others are cursed by the Gods. Some have guardians. And some are the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Of course, no one believes these fairy tales." Ben took note and remembered what Elion had said about the importance of the place. He also remembered how quickly the army had arrived after word of it was sent from Outpost Yung. Brother Ben said nothing more of Quesquaton and resolved to tell no one else of it's existence. Thankfully Brother Thom still seemed in the dark. Seeking help anyways Ben asked about any adventuring advice Thom might have. "Keep your gear clean, repaired, and handy. Any item may be useful, and save your life. I’ve known men buy 11’ poles, pounds of iron spikes, and rope by the armloads." Ben thought that was good advice.

Much later on that same morning the paladin Darius banged on the heavy wooden door of the inner bailey again.
"Open up!"
"What do you want?" Sgt. Keenan replied after coming to the opposite side of the door.
"I have a letter for Lady Devereaux from her advisor Elion. It is addressed to her personally."
"Give it to me and I will get it to her."
"No. I have orders to give it to her myself."
"Then it will have to wait until she is accepting visitors."
"When will that be?" asked Darius.
"Who knows? It's been several weeks since she has last seen anyone she does not know well."
The dwarf stood in silence. "I'll tell you what. I will give you the letter, but I need some things from you too."
"Like what?"
"Well, we need more troops and supplies at Outpost Xavier. An extra smith, and. ....."

Darius listed off the necessary equipment the group could use and needed back at the tower. Sergeant Keenan actually turned out to be a pretty nice fellow after learning of the troubles at the outpost. Replacement troops were assigned for the tower militia killed but the number was only enough for what a normal tower was manned with. That meant 20 militia troops in all, not the original 40. A second smith was assigned as well as some extra food supplies and pack mules. A wagon was loaded to haul the whole load.
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In the meantime, Mirel and Kayla worked hard to organize the militia back at the outpost. Mirel tried to sneak out of becoming a supervisor by working at mucking the stables herself; the worst job she could think of. Her plan did not quite work. After the caravan had left Kayla asked some of the militia to organize a watch around the well to make sure nothing came out of it and no one went in either. Mirel could see how nervous the men were when stationed there. Having been put in charge of the tower watch by Kayla she made sure to change the well guard often. In the evening hours Mirel listened in on the soldier's stories around the campfire. Scooting about underfoot she was rarely noticed and always made sure to have a broom or shovel in hand in case anyone got too suspicious about her presence. Kayla, on the other hand, worked hard directing a top to bottom cleaning of the tower. Mirel had noticed her talking with Darius and Elion before the others left with Dalin to the Keep. She also observed Kayla sneaking in and out of Elion the Elf's tent late at night. Sadly the guards around the large tent were too attentive for her to get near enough to hear inside. Mirel set her mind on devising ways to get close enough in future nights to listen in without being caught.

Darius, Dram, Dalin, Brother Ben, Igor, and their new militia recruits left Keep Margrave shortly after midday. On the road back, Igor, Dram, and Darius were having difficulty riding as they were still injured from the underground combat the day before. Then Darius remembered the dozen berries the dryad had given him for saving her tree. He handed one out to each of the injured and took one himself. Igor asked for a second and that was when the dwarf noticed most of the berries looked to have gone bad. Igor ate the second berry anyways. The three felt healed from the meal, but their minds began to reel. For the rest of the trip they needed to trip in the back of the trip, as they could not stop tripping loudly as they tripped along the road. After the trip they arrived at the outpost just after dark. It was fortunate for all they were not attacked on the road. The supplies were unloaded and three sick men sent to the infirmary. Dram and Darius seemed better later in the evening and were reissued their weapons. Igor on the other hand still sang bawdy songs as loud as possible, muffled though he was. "For an unlearned man his vocabulary was quite extensive," Ben thought. It was a long night for Ben and the Gresslam Brothers.

[DAY 11 - Holyday, Mao 28th, CY 81]

At sunrise the next morning Darius woke everyone for their next excursion down the well. He and Ben prayed while Kayla studied from her book. Ben also made plans with the Gresslam Brothers to prepare for a Holyday ceremony with both militia and army regulars when Brother Ben returned. Igor had stopped singing and pointing at invisible snails, but the sleep he had was poor and it showed. Still, Ben was happy he was coming along with the group again to explore Quesquaton. He saw Igor putting quite a bit of food in his pack for a possible group meal later in the day. Darius pulled out the seeds he had saved from the dryad's berries eaten the day before. He had been talking with Kayla the evening before and it was planned that wine might be made from their fruit. With the help of a spade he dug a trough around the back of the tower along its edge. Planting each seed carefully in a line he packed them with dirt afterwards and watered them. After everyone's preparations were complete, the seven traveled back down the well.

Darius and Dalin stood in front with weapons out while the others held bow or sling when "Quesquaton" was spoken. Oddly, no kobold skeletons attacked. The group kept their eyes peeled for the remaining kobolds and began another room-to-room search. The poolroom was checked first and a rather depressing discovery was made. The pools looked to have lowered over the last few days. Ben tried to think back on how high the liquid levels had been when they originally discovered the room. It was hard to tell, but he believed they might have been full to their lip edges. It was decided the loss was due to the kobolds as they had made it through the archway.


Recent footprint activity led downstairs to the second level and the caves below. Igor took the lead with Darius beside him. Igor was their best scout and noticed more point like tracks as well. "Spiders again" he said. Sure enough two large spiders barreled down the long cavern jumping into the torchlight. Darius moved forward and swung at the lead spider. Both look dried and desiccated. The dwarf could see deep cuts in the first spider’s sides with which the band had originally killed it. The second spider looked just as dead, but without the cuts. Igor moved into the shadows and sliced at a spider's legs with his large sword. Ben gave him credit for not running or screaming upon seeing the undead. Mirel and Kayla pelted slingstones on the carapaces of the spiders as Dram's arrows punctured their sides. Brother Ben used his flail to try and break their legs. He was saving his divinely aided strength for turning back the kobold undead when they finally decided to show themselves.

All and all the combat went quickly. The spiders were easy targets after cutting their legs out from under them. And when the kobolds were met, Ben channeled his divine power driving off most in fear so each combat was against small numbers giving the party the best odds. On reflection only a handful of kobold skeletons ended up attacking, but Ben thought they might have learned their lesson. Also, the group might have just destroyed the majority of them during their first fight two days ago. Both possibilities seemed likely to Ben. As they entered the bat cave the group was attacked immediately by thousands of undead bats. Most of the seven backed out of the boulder hole while those with swords or hammers swung at the undead bone-like bats around them. Ben did not want to think about what unearthly power gave them flight, so he channeled his power to drive them off. To his surprise all the bats in the divine light burst into pieces. It was only a matter of time to destroy the tens of thousands still in the bat cave. It took a few hours, but the cleaning was highly successful.
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[SBLOCK]I will be at Disneyworld the next few days. Please enjoy the double post in the meantime.

EDIT: Back from the Magic Kingdom :)[/SBLOCK]
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Our heroes traveled out into the forest from the geyser cave and emerged out into what was a very cloudy day. They made their way back down the hill, to the riverside and headed upstream to visit with the dryad again. The team was hoping she could answer some questions about what was going on in the forest, and also to learn where the Giant laired. Each pulled out a weapon as they walked quietly through the tree grove preceding the dryad’s glade. It was possible more orcs had returned in the intervening time. As a further precaution the group took bits of wax they had brought from the tower supplies and filled each of their ears in case the dryad tried to charm them again with her singing. Entering into the glade of the great fallen willow tree they spotted a large brown bear nearby. Cautiously everyone halted at the very edge of the trees a good 100' away from the creature. Upon seeing the group the brown bear roared and rose up on to its hind legs. The dryad was nowhere insight. No one said anything, but it was suspected that this was the dryad's new companion.

Walking forward Darius bravely called out to Greenwillow the dryad. The Bear roared again as Darius approached. It sounded muffled and underlying it was the sweet hint of a song. "Greenwillow we have returned!" Darius yelled out into the empty air, but none in the party could hear him. Darius walked toward the Bear forgetting his sword was still in hand. The Bear roared a third time in response and charged forward. It rushed into Darius and knocked him to the ground. Everyone saw the dwarf’s armor cave in from the seriousness of the blow. But Darius was made of stern stuff. His platemail had helped protect him from the worst. His hands moved slowly and he lifted his head in agony. The group let go a sigh of relief. Kayla the wisewoman moved forward a few feet into the clearing so she could be seen more easily.

The bear stood up again guarding its kill. Ben moved forward too trying to soothe the beast. He held one hand up and walked forward very slowly with his flail in one hand behind him. As he came within a few feet of Darius on the ground he could see the blood running from the Dwarf’s wounds. The stench of the bear was overpowering and Ben tried not to run in fear. Bending down Ben reached forward to the dwarf with the power of healing shining from his open hand. SMASH! The bear hit Ben tossing him 20' backwards through the air and knocking him unconscious. His lungs and chest felt as if they had collapsed. It would be a long time before he awoke again. Only later he would hear the tale of how he survived.

What he was told was told shocked him. The others slowly moved out of the wood calling out to Greenwillow. The bear was still angry and could smell the fresh blood in the air. Darius pulled out the wax from one ear. His head promptly fell back on the grass. He was asleep. The dryad Greenwillow walked out from behind her tree. Her mouth was moving and a slight trace of her song could be heard. In the meantime Mirel slowly crept up in the grass and began bandaging Brother Ben's wounds. The bear eyed her disapprovingly. But still the bear did not move forward to attack the others. It kept its huge paw on the dwarf. Dalin tried pulling the wax out of his ears too. Unfortunately the song affected him as well and he fell back into the grass asleep.

"We need your help" called out Kayla barely hearing herself. "We want to learn about the orcs who attacked you. They are our enemies as well." Weapons were purposefully stowed and the rest of the group moved out of the woods to stand near Kayla. This seemed to catch the dryad's attention. She motioned the bear back to her and off of Darius. The dwarf stood up slowly his wounds still bleeding. He bandaged himself while trying to take control of the situation. The dryad scowled at the group and Darius heard her ask what they wanted. The others pulled the wax out of their ears as well. Ben was still unconscious, so Mirel woke Dalin to help her drag his body back to the wood's edge.

"I helped you heal your tree. This was only two days ago," said the Darius. The dryad looked at him without recognition. "Don't you remember when your lion was killed?" Only then did the dryad remember. "What have you done with him? Where is he?" she screamed out. The bear looked agitated too. There were several tense minutes where Darius attempted to jog her memory. The dryad mentioned how it seemed like only yesterday she had befriended the lion as her mate. She seemed to have no memory of the group or her rescue and her responses reflected that. The dwarf called out, "We need your help now too. We are looking for a Giant's lair nearby. It has attacked our home. It has been stealing our supplies and eating our livestock. We believe we have the strength to destroy it now. But we need your help in finding the beast."

The dryad stared back with an inscrutable look of innocence on her face. "What of the orcs then?" exclaimed Darius. "They attacked you and destroyed your tree." Upon hearing this news the dryad began to openly cry. "But we want to stop them for you. We want to hunt them down and destroy them before they do the same to anyone else!" But the creature only shook her head. Darius was getting frustrated at this point. His wounds were affecting him. Dram kept one hand on his bow and the other on the nock of an arrow. Igor and Kayla advanced forward to back up Darius now the bear had backed away. Wisely they left their weapons in their packs.

Kayla called out, "We come on word of Elion the Elf, advisor to the County Margrave. We are aids to him and seek your counsel for protection of the Greenwillow Forest." The dryad perked up at this. "I know of Elion. He was here yesterday." The group looked at each other knowingly. "Was he with his brother Marevak" asked Kayla slyly. "They are children" the dryad responded. "I am teaching the ways of the forest. But I was much younger when they were here. Nearly 80 summers have passed since then. Who are you again?" Kayla seemed slightly surprised at the response, but she continued on. "We are messengers of Elion. We are looking for his brother. We also bring news of Greenwillow the Ent who was recently killed. The orcs and the Giant did this." The dryad began to cry again. "We want to stop them before they kill you or your bear." The dryad pleaded for the band to stop the orcs. She cried over the Ent's passing, but her answers seemed incoherent to the group. From that point on she seemed inconsolable. Unable to approach the dryad with the bear next to her, they backed away carefully leaving the woman in her sorrow.
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Darius used Thor's power to heal his wounds, but they were very deep and only the gashes had covered over. He could still feel large purple bruises under his armor. Ben seemed stabilized, but he had lost a lot of blood. Mirel and Igor looked over him while Dram and Dalin scouted back the path back to the riverside. The forest floor was rough and they needed to find a means to transport Darius and Ben back in one piece. Darius felt he was more than up for the walk, but swayed visibly when standing. Ben was down for the count. Mirel suggested building a travois to drag Ben back. It was then Igor spoke up. "We can put 'em both in me pack. I don't mind carrying 'em." Ben slept, but the other took turns in expressing their disbelief. It seemed to them the chef was still a bit daft in the head.

"Watch this!" said Igor. Expertly the cured cripple looped the opening of his backpack over Ben's feet and proceeded to pull it over the rest of his body. The peculiar thing was, the pack was of normal size and could never have held Ben. Only it did. "How can your backpack hold so much?" asked Dalin. "Can't yours?" Igor responded. "Well I've never tried actually," responded Dalin sheepishly. And that was that. Kayla looked on Igor with a newfound respect and Dram looked on his pack with a newfound avarice. "Where can I get me one of those?" he inquired sternly. "Anywhere. They sell them at the trading post in Margrave Keep. But you have your own, so why do you need another?" The archer did not answer. He eyed the chef suspiciously.

Still at the edge of the tree grove the party decided on a plan. Brother Ben would ride in Igor's pack with Darius inside to watch over him. Dalin, Dram and Mirel would help get the team back to the cave and safely up the well to Outpost X. Kayla would accompany Igor in case the pack became too heavy for him (or if he away ran in fear, or changed form, or any other trouble the ex-humpback decided to make). Darius carefully climbed into the bag. After entering he seemed to float downwards. 20' down at the bottom he saw the figure of Brother Ben and supplies he took for Igor's. The space was large. The "floor" was about 10' square and seemed to be made of just blackness. The hole above could be seen, but its light did not illuminate into the space within. Fortunately Darius could see given his dwarfen eyesight.

He tried to jump and climb his wait back out without success. Then an enormous hand reached in the top. It searched around in the first few feet of space, but the dwarf could not reach it. Yelling out he heard no response back or outside noise. Then he felt himself drifting upward and all of a sudden the hand yanked him out of the sack. Outside of the backpack the others slowly saw the dwarf emerge like some charlatan's trick in a passing gypsy carnival caravan. First his head emerged, then his shoulders, until Darius was completely out. It was a good first test and everyone was amazed, even Igor, though he tried to hide it. "I called out your name and felt your hand upon mine. We are lucky it worked." said Kayla.

After the initial experimentation, the band traveled back to the cave as planned: Ben and Darius inside the sack. When they reached the archway Mirel and Kayla quickly remembered that those inside the sack could not travel through without being hurt. Unsure if Igor, who could travel through, was enough to ensure his passengers safe passage the group decided on another solution. Mirel was slowly lowered into the sack too. Although she was scared and could not see she bravely explained what those outside the bag had planned. With that she grabbed Ben and Darius's hands and waited to be pulled back out. Igor and Kayla walked through while Dram stood in the archway to ensure everyone safe passage. Only Mirel, Igor, and he had passed through safely before.

Once in the stairway room with the magic archway Kayla stopped the group. Remembering she had not cast her spell for the day she started mumbling words under her breath. The strange sigils in the frame of the archway came clear to her. She finally learned the answer to the riddle. "Speak my name," it said. She told those outside the pack the answer to the archway riddle was the same as the circle. Zelligar needed to be said if they wanted to pass through safely. This explained why the kobolds and rats and spiders could not pass through before, but not why they could once dead. In any case, the band did not stick around to ponder the contradiction.

Now safely above ground, the well guards were let off duty for a few minutes so the discrepancy of the number of the group exiting the well was not noticed. In the privacy of the infirmary Ben and Darius were pulled out of the pack by calling their names. Each was put abed while the others rested for the day. It would be awhile before they would enter Quesquaton again. Brother Ben could not be safely moved, so a second trip to Father Hedrach at Margrave Keep was not an option. Instead, the Brothers Gresslam watched over the two, while rest of the crew took up their daily chores. Later in the evening dark storm clouds gathered over Outpost Xavier. The wind picked up and cold rain began to fall. The soldiers in the yard all stayed in their tents except those unfortunate few who were on watch or patrol. The storm churned wickedly above the tower blacking out all light such that it was difficult to tell when the next morning had come.
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[DAY 12 - Sunday, Juna 1st, CY 81]
– [DAY 18 - Holyday, Juna 7th, CY 81]

For the next five days Ben slept without waking. The wounds he had received from the bear were healing slowly and he fluttered in and out of sleep. The Brothers Gresslam watched over him spoon-feeding soup to him when awake. The rest of the Outpost was in sour spirits. The rain poured down and the sun was blotted out from the sky. A morose humor seemed to take hold of the men and several complained of aches and pains. The beds started to fill around Ben by soldiers and militia alike.

Dram helped with the smithy as he could during the day. As a smith had raised him, he knew his way around the anvil and irons. With three ironsmiths pounding away inside the tower it was amazing Ben slept as much as he did, but the work they completed aided enormously in shaping the new third story walls of the outpost. A rebuilt and completed stone tower looked more and more like a real possibility than a dream. In the evenings during that week Dram still felt restless. His large arms were tired from hammering, but his legs were not. So he took off into the wet woods to hunt for food and scout out the land. While he never ventured far into them, he spotted little game or tracks nearby.

Dalin took up with the pikemen he was training from the militia guard. Even with heavy rain pouring down he put them through their practiced routines. Mirel expressed an interest in learning as well. Dalin was willing to train her completely, but she was only interested in shield work. Mirel smiled secretively. In her mind Dalin had failed in tricking her into fighting in front. The whole group improved over the course of the week. By Holyday each of the pikemen instinctively knew their place in the formation wall. They had become experienced in using their shields and weapons as a unit. Mirel proved to learn quickly and with Dalin’s teaching she was using her newly issued shield as well as anyone.

Kayla stayed in her room on the second floor and read. She only came out for food, sometimes for more candles to read by, and to meet with Darius or Elion the Elf. She seemed energized, but did not speak openly about what she was studying. Darius did take interest and started spending time with Kayla throughout the week. What was discussed and learned in private only they could say. Brother Ben, Darius, and Kayla were the only literates among the militia. And though Elion the Elf could read of course, none of the army troops looked to be able to. Captain Radcliffe the leader of the platoon encampment was popular with his men, but he showed a distinctive lack of intellectual training.

After returning from the disappointing meeting with the dryad, Igor looked very upbeat. He made the dinner that first night and started helping more and more with chores. The next morning he helped clean the tower’s floor of much to the dismay of Mirel and made friends with the well guardsmen therein. They were laughing in no time at his wisecracks and humorous antics. Darius made a point of sticking nearby though when he spotted the chef. Apprehensive about being supervised, Igor spent the rest of the week going out on patrols with the army soldiers. He made more friends with the soldiers as well, but it meant he was almost always wet. But neither could he be watched closely either.

Darius managed to supervise in many areas at once. The first night back and for the entire next day he slept in the infirmary. It did not take nearly as long for him to heal as Ben, but his wounds had been potentially lethal as well. On Moonday he met with Elion and Captain Radcliffe. It was decided 50 army soldiers should be reassigned to the Keep. Reports had been coming in. According to Elion bandits were attacking people on the roads around Keep Margrave. The soldiers were deployed later that day. For the next three days Darius split up his time between reading books with Kayla, chatting with the army corporals, reporting to Elion, restructuring the militia duty roster, and assisting in repairs.

On Thunderday night, while Darius was praying to Thor, Ben’s fever finally broke. "Glad to see you up and about. We were afraid we'd seen the last of you" said Grizzard Gresslam. The Brothers filled Ben in on the events of the days he had missed. Dalin related to him his rescue from the dryad. Ben was shocked he had slept so long and felt weak when he tried to get up. More training was planned for the coming week and Darius was sending Ben to Father Hedrack’s temple in Keep Margrave for clerical study. Ben agreed. With the strange weather and sinking spirits a strong faith was needed more than ever within the tower. Fastday morning Ben was packed, his horse saddled and bridled, and by evening he was talking with Brother Thom. Brother Ben’s lessons began right away, but he felt barely up to the task. Holyday was very busy at the temple, but Ben spoke to almost no one but Father Hetrach. He had 29 verses to memorize before nightfall and his head still hurt from the sickness.

Diaglo said:
The storm rages all week long. It rains nonstop. It is overcast and grey when the Sun should be out. And at night it is darker than pitch with streaks and flashes of lightning along with very loud roars of thunder. Work is slow due to the constant downpour. Repairs are slow. Firewood is at a minimum. Morale would be even lower if not for the constant vigil by the NCOs. Brother Ben notices the Keep is clear of all the weather. With the fewer men now occupying the Outpost and Palisade the patrols don't range as far. No signs of Pendra or Certa all week. No signs of the orcs, wolves, kobolds, or the Giant either.
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