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The Westgate Campaign Chronicles - serial

Carlo-One

Explorer
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The morning of Ches 22, the three adventurers found their wayward mage in the bar room of the Gatereach. Jandrico greeted them and then went to help Goruna prepare breakfast. Dermot asked Aerikoth what he had been up to and the mage vaguely replied that he had some preparations to see to, elsewhere, but it did not have anything to do with House Cormaeril. Darrow and Shanni indicated that they had come around to Aerikoth’s way of thinking about a more direct approach against Cormaeril, following their meeting with Losifan Urdo the previous morning. Dermot said that they had a bit of approval from some quarters to go ahead, as the ranger put it, but he was still in favor of only killing those that mattered.

Goruna and Jandrico placed an ample breakfast before them, then Jandrico excused himself to see if there was any word from his inquiries the previous night. Shanni and Dermot explained that the magistrate in charge of the Empty Fish assassins case was dragging his feet and keeping Rahnee in custody, because he was “ill” and unable to sign her release. They were for going to see about their incarcerated companion and leaving discussion about assaulting Cormaeril Castle until later. Given that their best option, put forward by Darrow, was to enter the castle via the sewers, the wizard said he was in no hurry for it.

Jandrico returned at this point and, after ensuring that everything was satisfactory with their meal, indicated that he had some information, if they were interested. The innkeeper revealed that his sources had told him that the magistrate Lemuel, who was responsible for the order releasing the Lady Rahnee, had been poisoned – and not by the Night Masks. Shanni was unsurprised by this. Jandrico further explained that the magistrate lived, but was too sick to act in his official capacity, and was expected to receive a visit from a temple healer that morning. The innkeeper expressed his hope that Lady Rahnee would be out by the afternoon, then excused himself to attend to business.

Following some discussion about what the poisoning tactic might mean for Rahnee, the four adventurers decided they should go to the Tower in the Market District, where she was being detained by the Watch. Once inside the main entrance, Dermot approached the clerk on duty and asked to see Jomo, the watchman who had visited the Gatereach the previous night, about the Roaringhorn case. After getting more information from Dermot about himself and the company, the clerk dispatched one of the guards to fetch Jomo.

After several minutes of waiting, Jomo finally appeared, approaching the company and being greeted by Dermot. The Watchman motioned to them to follow him to an interior room, where he gave them an update on Lady Roaringhorn’s situation. According to what Watch Commander Meynn had told him, someone had poisoned the magistrate Lemuel, who was supposed to sign her release order the previous day. Jomo observed that the magistrate was known for his drinking, so his actual condition was not diagnosed at first, but a temple cleric was expected to arrive to tend to him.

Shanni said that she found the situation a bit too coincidental and they were interested in how it came to happen. Jomo's face reddened and he told them that was all he knew, speculating that perhaps someone had slipped something into the magistrate’s drink to make him sick. Some further questioning of Jomo led them to the conclusion that there was nothing more that could be done, until the magistrate had recovered sufficiently to sign Rahnee’s release. (It seems that Jandrico's sources were on the mark about all the details of this rather embarrassing incident involving the magistrate. Poisoning him in this manner appeared to be a delaying tactic - perhaps thereby giving the Fire Knives a chance to regroup after the incident at the Empty Fish? --C)
 
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Carlo-One

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After the watchman had returned to his duties, the four adventurers ended up cooling their heels for another hour or so in the main entry area of the Tower, having nothing better to do. Around highsun, however, they suddenly heard some distant shouts and yells, apparently coming from the floor above them. Booted feet running were also heard, then all of the sounds stopped. As they wondered what was going on, Darrow declared that it sounded like a ruckus, the dwarf assuring them he had heard one before.

The City Watch members on duty in the entry chamber began to look uneasy, so Darrow offered them a hand in busting some heads, if needed. The Watch clerk, after somewhat nervously stating he was sure everything was under control, asked him to just wait. Shortly thereafter, the City Watch shift commander arrived, accompanied by a watchman, and pointed at Aerikoth. He then asked the watchman if Aerikoth was the wizard in blue robes he had previously described. After a bit of squinting and appearing somewhat crestfallen, the watchman indicated that was not the case, mentioning that “the other one” was taller and had an enormous moustache. As Shanni inquired after the problem, using colorful language, the Watch shift commander just sighed.

Dermot diplomatically offered to help, prompting the Watch shift commander to briefly introduce himself and mention that there had been an incident. He then went off to see if Watch Commander Meynn could be found. Shanni guessed that a wizard had escaped, or had come into the Tower and helped someone else escape, which led Darrow to wonder if it might not be Rahnee. Further speculation was cut short by the arrival of Meynn, who asked them to adjourn with him to an antechamber.

The Watch Commander first offered his apologies for the delay in releasing Lady Roaringhorn, although he claimed that was beyond his control. After first carefully looking Aerikoth over, Meynn told them that a short while ago, a blue-robed mage had appeared in the room that Lady Roaringhorn was being hosted in. Despite the scrutiny, Aerikoth showed no reaction and just stared intently at Meynn. The Watch Commander then related how the guards outside had not noticed the mage's arrival until Rahnee called them over and politely explained that she had go on “family business”, after which she and her companion disappeared.

Meynn explained that this had caused some consternation, as the guards at first thought the two had turned invisible and fled. The Watch Commander, although professing little knowledge of magic, believed that they were long gone by now. He also noted there had been some confusion among the Watch as to who was responsible, as the wizard's clothing was similar to that of Aerikoth’s. Shanni, looking as irritable as ever, folded her arms and questioned if there was any word other than “family business” to explain Rahnee’s disappearance. Meynn said he was afraid that it was all they knew, or would be likely to know. The Watch Commander indicated that he would have to sort out the mess on his end, but the others were free to leave the Tower whenever they wished.
 

Carlo-One

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With Rahnee now gone, it was decided to decamp back to the Gatereach and have a private conversation about what to do next. Jandrico Swift, as soon as they arrived, asked for news of Lady Roaringhorn and was told by Shanni that a wizard came in and whisked her away. After they had waited for a couple of hours, of course, she added with irritation.

Jandrico at first was puzzled by this, but when the petite rogue added that Rahnee had not tried to resist and had mentioned something about family business, the innkeeper nodded knowingly. Jandrico explained that Rahnee’s brother Madrigal had once made an appearance at the inn, on "family business". The innkeeper described him as quite a character, with his flowing blue robes and a great moustache.

Dermot thought he remembered the occurrence and Darrow confirmed the description matched that provided by the Watch. Jandrico, although demurring to speak of the Lady Rahnee’s business, noted that she had intimated having last left her family in Waterdeep on somewhat uncertain terms. Shanni found this at least somewhat reassuring.

The innkeeper then took orders from the four adventurers, including a top-up for Dermot’s flask and an ale for Darrow; Aerikoth required nothing. Shanni had been talking about a bubble bath, but sighed and said she was not sure how long they would be there for, so settled for whatever Dermot was getting in his flask. After the ever-efficient Jandrico had met their needs, they retired upstairs, where once behind closed doors they discussed in detail how and when they wanted to hit Cormaeril Castle. While they talked, Shanni sorted and packed Rahnee’s leftover belongings, followed by her own, in preparation for departing the Gatereach.

The consensus was to wait past midnight and enter the castle via the secret sewer entrance, which would give them the best chance for achieving surprise, as well as for Aerikoth to prepare his spells. Dermot summarized the plan thusly: wait for cover of night, just after midnight. Head to the Shore, get into the sewers, and try their luck at the way in they found down there. Look for signs of the Fire Knives and the Cormaeril family, and do what they can to hurt both, looking for any useful information on the way that might help finish the job. The Black Boot tavern in Market would be where they could rendezvous afterwards if they succeeded but needed to scatter; if they failed, they would try to get out of the sewers and head outside the city to take the road to Teziir.

Dermot then raised the question of what they should do with the heads of the family, Tagreth Cormaeril and the others. Shanni asked if he meant that literally and the ranger nodded, saying he wished he had something better as an option than “eliminating” the threat, as Darrow put it. Dermot and Shanni agreed it would be helpful to look for something that would serve to bring down the House for good, by destroying their power.

Dermot also brought up the matter of disguises and covering their tracks. Although Shanni was short on extra clothing, the idea of leaving behind at the scene some of their previously looted Night Mask equipment was approved, to help point the blame elsewhere. Dermot then volunteered to go to the Market and procure some extra clothing and dyes, so they could all prepare dark outfits for the coming night assault. Shanni and Darrow decided to go along as well.
 
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Carlo-One

Explorer
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The remainder of Ches 22 was passed in preparation for that evening's efforts. With midnight close at hand, Darrow, Dermot and Shanni made their way to Aerikoth’s house outside of West Gate. The sunny day had turned into a rainy night by then, perhaps slightly dampening the spirits of Darrow and Shanni; Dermot claimed that he welcomed the rain. The wizard’s place was found by memory and spotting his raven familiar Zeluth perched under the eaves. Dermot knocked a couple of times and was told by Aerikoth to enter.

The three adventurers dripped on the wizard’s floor as Aerikoth welcomed them inside, although he noted he had no food or drink there to offer. Zeluth flew in and found a perch, coming in out of the rain and curiously watching his master’s guests. Dermot offered the wizard a bundle, saying he hoped it would fit. Aerikoth regarded the dark robe and indicated he was loath to remove his enhanted robes for it, but would comply. Shanni mentioned that she had the same situation with her tunic, but needs must. The adventurers then split up to change into their new, darker gear. Aerikoth also donned (with a frown) a helm provided by Dermot, which provoked a derisive squawk from Zeluth, evidently amused by the wizard’s change in appearance.

The plan for the assault on Castle Cormaeril was reviewed again, summarized by Darrow as: they bust in through the sewer entrance, fight whoever fights them, and kill or capture whoever they thought was related to the Fire Knives. Dermot added a reminder to cover each other's backs, use the corridors to their advantage in fighting, and if all went well retreat to the Hidden House in the Temple District. If things went bad, the ranger concluded, they would hightail it and not stop until Reddansyr. Aerikoth said that as soon as they entered the sewers, he would work some protective magics on each of them.

From Aerikoth’s house they made their way to the sewer entrance located in a cave in the Shore district. Once inside, Darrow reminded Aerikoth via pantomime that it was time to cast spells. The wizard began to chant words of magic over each of his companions and himself, giving all of them stoneskin protection. Progressing further into the sewers, the party was ambushed by a group of large spiders, but had no difficulty defeating the creatures, along with some other vermin, both large and small, encountered in their path. Darrow guessed that at least their Fire Knives foes had not come through the same passage that night, something which was confirmed by Dermot and Shanni’s searches of the area.
 

Carlo-One

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In the western part of the sewers, the four adventurers reached the secret door leading into the basement of Cormaeril Castle. They were uncertain whether House Cormaeril actually knew about it, as Dermot had slipped through it undetected earlier; the area it lead to was guarded, in any case. The ranger held up three fingers and silently counted down, Shanni quietly opening the door and letting Darrow through on the count of two, followed by the others. They immediately were involved in a melee with men they recognized as Fire Knives assassins, from their garb. With Aerikoth’s protective spells and the others’ fighting abilities, however, their foes fell quickly.

Shanni, while snaffling some arrows off the corpses, noted they now had proof of the link between the Fire Knives and House Cormaeril. Darrow, checking out an adjacent room, grabbed a map he found on the floor. The party kept up a quick pace moving through the castle basement, passing through a barracks and a corridor lined with storerooms, before arriving at a large room with a shimmering archway in its center. Aerikoth declared that he had expected to find a portal, believing it led to the chest that they had found in Hallton’s manor house.

Further exploration yielded more storerooms, then a corridor with several prison cells, one of them occupied. Its occupant appeared to be raving mad, babbling about them carrying him off to the Abyss. Shanni nonetheless picked the lock on his cell door and opened it, allowing the prisoner to run off while loudly cackling. The petite rogue then slipped into the shadows and set about looking for more loot, while her three companions explored the remaining cells.

She returned after a short time, observing with some disgust the bodily remains in one cell as she handed over a sheaf of scrolls to Aerikoth. Although slightly injured, Shanni waved off Darrow’s ministrations, saying she had a potion to heal herself. Aerikoth however insisted that she use one of their rings of regeneration, offering her his own, which she accepted after some hesitation. She mentioned that she had found some gold and also some holy scrolls, in addition to the arcane ones she had already passed to Aerikoth.

The four located the stairs leading up from the castle basement and went all the way up to the top, skipping the main floor. Shanni spotted the tripwires of a trap on the entry door and set about disarming it. Once on the upper floor, they saw that all the doors were trapped. They slowly started to work their way around the corridors and enter the various chambers, but were ambushed by several Fire Knives assassins. After dispatching their foes, they also began leaving behind “evidence” of their passage, as Dermot stabbed a Night Mask sword into a handy corpse. (This type of misdirection is common among thieves guilds and other such organizations, but is not often used by adventurers. It never hurts to sow confusion among one's enemies, although the party's various attempts at this have not always been successful - or sometimes have lead to unintended consequences. --R)
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
It took some time to clear out the remaining Fire Knives from the upper level, but eventually Shanni’s careful trap removals and their melee skills brought the party success. A separate set of stairs down was discovered, along with a well-trapped study. Aerikoth swiftly looked for any pertinent information in the study's desk and shelves, while Shanni took care of the chest in the room. Aerikoth confirmed that it was the same chest they had originally found at Hallton’s manor and had been removed from the burned-down Gatereach guest house. Aerikoth again hypothesized that the portal in the basement led to the chest, being how Cormaeril had supplied magical equipment to Hallton’s forces.

As the four were ransacking the study, they heard the faint sound of an alarm gong coming from the level below, along with children wailing. The adventurers quickly took stock of the situation, concluding that they had not yet found the Fire Knives’ leadership, although they had found some evidence in the form of a ciphered document and Hallton’s chest. Shanni also pointed out an amulet that she had looted which had the sign of Kelemvor on it. Aerikoth in response noted that it might have belonged to the monk Veran, a former member of the company killed at Hallton manor. Darrow showed the map seized in the basement to Dermot, who observed that it seemed to show a specific part of Westgate.

Dermot opened the new door leading downstairs and saw several guards and nobles, some with children in tow, running about. The ranger relayed this information and put it to a vote whether they should continue the assault. All were in agreement that they did not need to abandon it at that time, but should take care not to injure any of the children.

Descending to the main floor, the adventurers encountered several Cormaeril guards who were shouting to save the women and children, as well as to kill the intruders. The party dispatched the first pair of guards they saw, then Dermot kicked in the door to a noble’s bedroom. The noble begged for he and his wife to be spared, shrieking that they had done nothing. Dermot, looking grim-faced, demanded to know where Tagreth Cormaeril was. The noble claimed in response that Tagreth lived upstairs, where the nobles had never gone.

The ranger menacingly repeated the question, saying Tagreth wasn’t up there, but was interrupted by another noble, yelling at them and accusing the adventurers of killing defenseless women and children. Darrow helpfully clarified that they had not killed any women or children yet. Dermot again asked about Tagreth and received the same information – that Tagreth’s room was above and that the other Cormaeril nobles did not go to the upstairs or basement floors, since all that was there were servants’ quarters and dungeons. Meanwhile, Shanni had investigated two other bedrooms, one with kids and another with screaming idiots, as she put it. She and Darrow worked to barricade the civilians inside their rooms, to keep them out of the way as the party moved to search the rest of the main floor of the castle.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
The four adventurers soon found the Cormaeril’s seneschal, Lyter. With as much dignity as he could muster, the man asked if they had come for his life. Darrow’s curt reply was to ask where Tagreth Cormaeril was. The seneschal stated that if he were in the castle, they would find him upstairs. Dermot demanded to know where the House accounts were and Lyter pointed to a ledger by the table in his room. The ranger cursed, realizing that Tagreth must have escaped them. The seneschal began to berate them for plundering the castle, but his speech was cut short by a punch to the gut from Dermot, who hauled off the big ledger book and departed the room along with his companions.

The party avoided one group of guards on the main floor and then charged through another, before heading back upstairs to see if they had missed anything. They began to wonder if the exit portal might have been used by Tagreth; Aerikoth admitted that the portal might lead to somewhere other than Hallton’s chest. The four took the stairwell down to the basement and returned to the portal room, where after some further examination and discussion, Darrow attempted to dive through the magical doorway. Shanni tried to grab the reckless dwarf, but he was brought up short anyway, bouncing off the shimmering portal rather than passing through.

Endeavoring to discover the portal key, Aerikoth borrowed the thin book on the Cormaeril cipher that Shanni had purloined, comparing it with a ciphered note previously found in Hallton’s mansion. The book referred to a key word of seven letters; the only potential clue were the words “exit portal” scrawled in the margin of the first page. Shanni hoped that they might be able to use the book to find the code word to activate the portal.

The wizard took some time poring over the cipher. Shanni used the break in the action to rearrange her inventory. Darrow, growing impatient, pulled out a spare hand axe, wound up and lobbed it underhanded at the portal, where it bounced off and fell to the ground. The dwarf, disappointed at the lack of excitement, retrieved the axe and stuffed it into his pack.

Looking up from the book, Aerikoth observed that he would need seven letters or a seven-letter word to decipher the note. Shanni suggested ‘arsehole’ but then immediately observed that it was eight letters. Darrow began mumbling to himself and counting on his fingers. Dermot spoke up and suggested “Tagreth”. Aerikoth reached into his magical bag for some writing equipment, saying it would take some time to check against the cipher. Dermot and Shanni were uneasy about the time factor, while Darrow figured they had plenty of it.

Dermot and Shanni were about to argue further when they both noticed a peculiar draft coming from the far corner of the room. When they went over to check on it, they found a hole in the ceiling which had not been there previously. The hole was man-sized and appeared to lead to a steep passage. Dermot cupped his hands and gave Shanni a boost up, but she fell back down, after wobbling and scrabbling at the opening. Blaming the tightness of her tunic, she made some adjustments and made it through the opening on the second try, boosting herself to the lip of the hole and getting a stable hold on its edge. She called down to the others that the passage was slippery, going up a bit and then around a curve, probably up at least one floor.

Shanni observed that it might be a way to slip down fast from the above floors. Dermot said that if he had to guess, it led to Tagreth’s rooms; Shanni agreed with this. As Aerikoth continued to work on the cipher, Darrow kept a watch out for any signs of pursuit by Cormaeril guards. With Dermot’s help, Shanni lowered herself back down to the floor. The ranger then asked Aerikoth if there was any chance he could figure out how to open the magic door in the next minute or two. Aerikoth indicated that “Tagreth” had not been the correct word and said it was unlikely he could resolve it so quickly. Darrow helpfully offered “AleBeer” as a suggestion, noting that “BeerAle” was also possible, but he thought somebody like Tagreth would go in alphabetical order.

After some further speculation, Aerikoth announced that the word was “Hallton”. He had been able to partially decipher the note taken from Hallton’s manor, which began “This is the last shipment...” The wizard then inquired whether he should continue working on it, or if they should move on. Shanni, anxiously looking over her shoulder at the room’s entrance, observed that if it didn’t tell him how to get into the portal, then it wasn’t of much use right then. Darrow agreed they should probably head back out through the sewers, although he thought they could give Aerikoth a bit of time to figure out the cipher.

The wizard took a few moments more to reveal the entirety of the message: "This is the last shipment for now. Continue to guard the location that was shown to you and more may come in the future. Do not fail us." Unfortunately, he noted, it did not include any clues as how to operate the portal. Aerikoth then stowed the thin book and deciphered note in his magic bag.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Feeling that they had worn out their welcome at Castle Cormaeril and with Tagreth, the head of the Fire Knives apparently on the loose, the party decided to depart. Dermot asked Darrow to bring out the map they had found, which after some examination was found to show an area of the Castle District, not far from the headquarters of House Urdo. The four adventurers headed back through the sewers, following the map carefully.

While still in the western part of the sewer network they heard loud chittering and then came face-to-face with some large spiders. The monstrous creatures were dispatched quickly, Dermot finding the soft underbelly of the last one with his sword. Having had enough of the sewers, they exited in the West Gate district, then made their way towards the Castle District, taking a somewhat circuitous route through Market. Dermot and Shanni felt somewhat exposed and conspicuous, but the group was generally ignored as they made their way through the dark streets in the wee hours of the morning.

Once in the Castle District their sense of direction did not improve much, but they did manage to find the sewer entrance marked on the map, and with some reluctance descended it. Darrow complained the most about the stench, while Aerikoth had to remove his helm to recover his breath after his exertions. After confirming that they had located the starting point of the path marked on the map, they gladly returned aboveground, the mage even more tired after repeatedly clambering down and up.

The pathway marked on the map ended at a wall, next to which Dermot concealed himself as the others continued looking about the area. Not finding anything else of interest nearby, the ranger decided to scramble up the wall, only to be discovered by a male commoner who happened to stroll by. Both seemed equally surprised, then the commoner started yelling that they were thieves and calling for the Urdo guards. Dermot immediately dropped down and joined Darrow in hightailing it away from the site, the ranger complaining that things were so much easier in a forest. Aerikoth meanwhile had moved away, unnoticed, and Shanni was able to conceal herself in the shadows and watch the guards as they fruitlessly searched the area.

Both the wizard and the rogue soon caught up with the other two. Shanni told them that she heard the guards say the place they were looking at had been used by some assassins a tenday ago to try and get in the palace. This made her conclude that they had evidence of the culprits, in the form of the map. Aerikoth agreed that House Cormaeril must have had intentions of assassinating the current Croamarkh.

After some debate about where they should hole up for the night, they opted for heading to the River Gate district, further east into the city and away from their known haunts. At Shanni’s suggestion, they went to stay at the Black Boot inn, where they had previously met the elf wizard Lomilith. The innkeeper found three rooms available for them - if they weren’t picky he said - although Aerikoth declined to stay for the night. His three companions, despite expressing a certain amount of cautiousness, each quickly went to sleep in their individual rooms, exhausted from their long day.
 
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Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter

Laying Low, Adventurer Style

The morning of Ches 23, Darrow arose and got a drink from bartender Marshby to start his day at the Black Boot. The dwarf then wandered outside for a short walk, to see if there was any unusual activity. He soon ran into Aerikoth, who had just teleported in, and the two decided to go back into the inn.

After settling on a table, the adventurers overheard two thugs talking nearby, mentioning plans to knock over an abandoned building. After the apparent criminals had departed the premises, Darrow wondered if they were talking about the Hidden House. Aerikoth said he thought it more likely they would be headed for someplace in the Shore district. The wizard and the dwarf then spent some time reviewing how the assault on the castle had gone, among other topics. As they could raise neither Shanni nor Dermot, they decided to go to the Mercenaries Guild and present the results of the raid on Cormaeril Castle to Losifan Urdo.

Some time later, after returning from the meeting at the guild, Darrow departed in search of supplies for his Tallwell brewery project. Shanni then walked into the Black Boot and saw Aerikoth standing at the end of the bar, nursing an ale. The petite rogue did a double take at the spectacle and queried if the mage were feeling unwell, having never seen him consume anything but water. The wizard corrected her, stating that he at times preferred to drink the red wine named after the city, but admitted that the libations at their current establishment were limited.

The two adventurers moved to a small private meeting room at the end of the hall, which Darrow had paid for before leaving; Aerikoth left the ale behind. The room’s seating left much to be desired, despite the long, well-used and stained table in its center. The wizard therefore leaned his staff against the wall and stood with his arms folded into the sleeves of his robes, as Shanni closed the door and perched on the table.

Aerikoth related that Losifan Urdo had been pleased with what was discovered within the Cormaeril compound. Shanni interjected that there were some new rumours flying around the city linking House Cormaeril to a bunch of assassins. The wizard noted that this was vague but accurate. The map they had found linking the Fire Knives assassins to a recent attempt on the Croamarkh was something Losifan was especially interested in; the Urdo noble commented that it would be more than enough for them to move on House Cormaeril. He also stated plainly that the adventurers’ absence over the next tenday would be opportune, since their actions were not officially sanctioned. That said, Losifan had reassured the adventurers that they would not be considered criminals.

Aerikoth informed Shanni that he and Darrow had spoken of possible destinations to spend the next tenday, which had prompted Darrow’s current errand. Shanni did not disagree with the idea of laying low and inquired after Darrow’s plans for Tallwell. Before speaking of that, the wizard first mentioned Losifan’s belief that Castle Cormaeril would soon be available for purchase, given the disgrace of the noble family and its seizure by the city administration. Shanni half-jokingly responded that if the Ironhelm dwarves could advance her share of the dragon hoard, she might be in the market.

Turning back towards discussing their next destination, along with Tallwell, Aerikoth mentioned that Starmantle would also be a possibility, along with Turnton and Teziir. Shanni thought Tallwell might not be so bad, especially given the presence of the Beast’s undiscovered hoard. Aerikoth also noted the past desire by party members, by Lady Roaringhorn most of all, to see that settlement changed for the better. As for Reddansyr, the wizard saw little to do there, other than spend time at the inn.
 

Carlo-One

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It had reached highsun by the time the two adventurers reached a pause in their conversation. As Shanni’s backside was getting sore from perching on the Black Boot’s meeting room table – there being a lack of chairs in the room, for whatever reason – she and Aerikoth decided to head back to one of the other rooms rented the night before, at the risk of apparent impropriety. The petite rogue confirmed with the bartender, Marshby, that the room was still available. He generously said he would throw in her next ale for free if she cleaned the bloodstain out of the corner, but Shanni demurred and passed over a gold coin instead for her drink.

Just as she and Aerikoth were heading for the room, after overhearing some thugs talking about a job, Dermot entered the inn. Shanni complemented him on his timing and the three adjourned to more private quarters, Shanni eagerly resting herself on the comparatively soft bed. Aerikoth filled in the ranger on the visit to Losifan Urdo and Darrow’s subsequent quest for brewery supplies in the city, which he was still out on. Dermot in return shared some of the rumors he had heard, mostly to do with soldiers moving into the Cormaeril’s castle.

Talk again turned to their next destination, given the need to lie low for a while. Aerikoth noted that Darrow was set on going to Tallwell, which the wizard was willing to do; however, he expected he would nonetheless teleport away shortly after arriving, to check in with Losifan at the Mercenaries Guild. Shanni somewhat wistfully mentioned the Beast’s hidden hoard in Tallwell, but admitted that the trail might be cold. She then brought up some of the loose ends they had left in Starmantle, including rumors of strange magical activities, which Aerikoth stated he had not focused on while there, due to their urgent search for Teziir Council Member Queron Ulanthar’s daughter Janatha. Shanni appeared keen at the prospect of tracking down a rogue wizard in Starmantle and, perhaps more to the point, taking whatever treasure he had. They agreed to confirm their plans with Darrow, whenever he returned later that day.
 

Carlo-One

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The sun had arced across the sky some more before Darrow finally made the planned rendevous at the Black Boot. (Another point in favor of this chronicle being an accurate reflection of the events contained herein. Bardic sagas rarely feature extended periods of waiting while various adventurers get their business sorted. --R) The dwarf informed his companions that Jandrico Swift had helped assemble all of the brewery supplies needed, as well as arranging for two drivers and wagons, waiting outside the South Gate to accompany Darrow to Tallwell. When asked if they were ready to hit the road, the others were not quite as enthusiastic about the prospect of the wagon journey. Aerikoth explained that the three of them had discussed the possibility of going to Starmantle, then meeting Darrow’s caravan when it arrived in Tallwell.

The dwarf had no problem with this, saying he would accompany the carts, but asked why they were heading to Starmantle. Dermot and Shanni mentioned unfinished business and potential opportunity there, although the ranger also said he preferred the thought of them sticking together, while the petite rogue thought the magical mystery could always wait another tenday. The group eventually decided it would be best to first see about transporting the brewery supplies to Tallwell.

As the adventurers made their way across the city, Darrow mentioned that Jandrico had told him they should not expect to have rooms open at the Gatereach the next time they stopped in, as business was picking up. However, the new guest house was almost done and the innkeeper would be willing to lease it to them – assuming it didn’t burn down again, the dwarf added. (As the recently defeated Fire Knives were apparently responsible for the original destruction of the first guest house, hopefully that shall not occur again. --C) Dermot wondered out loud if they could afford it and was reassured by a cheerful Shanni, who patted her purse.

Passing through the South Gate, the four were spotted by two ox drovers, waiting by their pack animals, who introduced themselves as Hal and Lally. They seemed ready and willing to head out with the adventurers, although Aerikoth’s wizard staff earned some side glances. Darrow, who they recognized as the boss, assured the drovers that there would be nothing to worry about in getting to Tallwell, with his crew along. Lally mentioned they had no idea where this Tallwell place was, but they would follow as long as they were paid. They had been told it was located “off-road” so carts would not be a good idea, hence the pack oxen. (A most prudent measure. Traveling cross-country on wagons is painful enough when a road is available, and the path to Tallwell was described as wild country with thick forest. --C) Meanwhile, Dermot successfully made friends with an ox.
 

Carlo-One

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The small caravan had been traveling on the road for two hours when they had their first stop. Hal made sure to rope the oxen together so that they wouldn’t run off, he said, in case they met any wild animals. The adventurers’ innate sense of danger led them to carefully check their surroundings before moving further along the forest road. It was Aerikoth who first spotted a group of worgs to the south.

The wizard warned the drovers to stay with the oxen as Shanni eeped and loaded a crossbow bolt. The beasts, smelling prey, quickly loped towards the oxen as the group engaged. Some of the beasts made it past the front line of defense, despite Darrow’s vicious axe swings and archer support, but were then surprised by Aerikoth’s summoned bear and mauled to death. The drovers Hal and Lally had pulled out clubs to protect their animals; after calming down from his battle rage, Hal complemented Aerikoth on his bear. The wizard was nonetheless not amused, narrowing his eyes at Lally and scolding them for not listening earlier to the wizard’s directions to stay out of the way.

Dermot went over the area for beast spoor, finding traces of the worg pack but no other predators. Aerikoth dismissed his bear and Hal successfully calmed the oxen down, with the other animals gone. After another six hours of travel, the group reached the Turnton/Glees fork. By this point it was nighttime and snowing, which was both unexpected and unwelcome for most, although Dermot was unfazed by it. Complaining about the weather, the drovers indicated the animals would also need rest soon. Darrow conferred with Aerikoth and it was decided to head for the village of Glees, since the wizard did not have a secure shelter spell prepared and it was not much farther.

Outside the village inn, the drovers roped the oxen to a nearby tree as the adventurers entered the building in search of rooms. Inkeeper Undt was pleased to see them, especially Aerikoth, welcoming him again to the establishment. Bustling about, Undt made sure all four rooms were ready for occupation. Shanni, grumpy from the cold and snow, asked which was the warmest and was told she was welcome to see for herself. She also asked if there was a hot bath and was cheerily informed there was a bath.

As Undt went outside to check on the drovers, Darrow and Aerikoth discussed their recent stint acting as caravan guards, which the wizard dryly noted was not his original expectation of what he would be doing after sacking Cormaeril Castle. The dwarf found this amusing, also observing that their enemies would not expect it either. They also talked of improvements that could be made on the road to Tallwell, as Darrow pondered what could be done in that respect via the Mercenaries Guild.

(This seems like a natural place to put down some thoughts on the Cormaeril Castle matter. I am in fact surprised that my predecessor as senior initiate, "R", had not yet done so by this point in the narrative. I wonder at the reason. Perhaps his practice of engaging in commentary only after having read through the entire chronicles has something to do with it. That would therefore imply that the matter is not, in fact, fully resolved. He indeed has shown care to not bias any subsequent readers - in this case, myself - with too much foreknowledge. In any event, the chapter so far has seen the effective destruction of one of the main Houses of Westgate, albeit one populated by recent Cormyrian exiles, by the adventurers known as "Helm's Shadows". The Fire Knives assassins, hidden within the House, also have apparently been eliminated, with the exception of their leader Tagreth. Although this outcome sprung more from past conflict with the party, whose guest house at the Gatereach Inn was burned down by Cormaeril agents and who was targeted by a squad of Fire Knives assassins, it cannot help but have greater repercussions in Westgate. Losifan Urdo at the Mercenaries Guild alluded to this, also highlighting that the castle itself might be up for sale. Perhaps it could even end up being the new stronghold for the adventurers. However, it seems they find themselves far from such concerns at this point. --C)
 

Carlo-One

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Innkeeper Undt got his guests settled, with Hal and Lally gratefully taking one of the rooms. Darrow ordered an ale for bedtime and trundled upstairs, while Dermot preferred a mulled wine to take the edge off the cold; Aerikoth followed the ranger’s choice. Meanwhile, Shanni had discovered that the bath in her chosen room was not warm, but at least was not as cold as outside. Dermot and Darrow shared quarters, with Aerikoth occupying the last of the inn’s four rooms for the night. Tired from their journey, the adventurers easily fell asleep in their respective rooms, despite Darrow’s snoring.

The morning of Ches 24, Dermot was up shortly after the sun rose, waking his grumpy dwarven companion, who complained about the light, then stomped downstairs only to return shortly afterward with a half full ale glass in his hand and a sour expression. Dermot and Shanni wandered downstairs in hopes of hot food, while Aerikoth and a still-grumpy Darrow spoke about preparations for the next stage of their journey.

Undt managed to conjure up some hot porridge for the group and found a bit of honey to sweeten its taste, at Shanni’s request. He mentioned that the drovers were outside tending to the animals and excused himself, saying that he would make sure they were fed. When the innkeeper returned, Darrow asked if he had heard of how dangerous the way to Tallwell had been lately. Undt replied that there had been a couple of loggers from Tallwell who had ventured to Glees, but otherwise not much traffic from that way. The trail was still overgrown, he also warned, but at least it was better than it had been previously.

Darrow shared that he was planning to start a brewery up there, which appeared to satisfy the innkeeper’s pent-up curiosity about their business. Undt said that if he could get good quality brew, he’d be happy to be a customer, also commenting that it would be another reason for folk from Turnton to stop in the village. Darrow replied that they would see how the first batch turned out, and if it was to the innkeeper’s liking, they could make arrangements. Of course, who wouldn't like a Dwarven brewed ale, he rhetorically asked.
 

Carlo-One

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The adventurers finished up their breakfast, Dermot scraping out a last spoonful of porridge and gobbling it down before heading outside. Darrow threw on his armor and joined the others by the oxen, as Hal and Lally got the animals ready to move. Lally observed that they usually weren’t so friendly with other people, as Dermot patted an ox and Shanni rolled her eyes at the touching display. As they started north towards Tallwell, Aerikoth cast a stoneskin spell on Darrow, to provide protection against any wild beasts encountered.

Once into the forest, Lally pointed out to Hal that his ox looked like it had a lame hoof. The drovers inspected the animal as Darrow guarded them and Dermot used his senses to detect any possible danger. Aerikoth warned that the longer the beasts remained, the more likely they would attract predators. Lally informed them that one of the oxen had a stone bruise on its hoof, but should be all right after a short rest. Shanni took the opportunity to stealthily slip away into the forest. She returned after a while, having found what Dermot recalled as a former manticore cave, but was currently unoccupied. Aerikoth observed there was the possibility of a creature moving in there at some point. (The wizard's logic often proves prescient, this being another example. --R)

To pass the time, Lally asked about the cargo and was informed by Darrow that he was setting up a brewery in Tallwell. The hin drover, who mentioned that he was originally from Luiren, said he’d been in Westgate for a while, but had never heard of Tallwell, nor had Hal, who’d been born in Westgate and lived there all his life. Darrow said that between the brewery and a new road, he was hoping to make the town more of a mark on the map. Lally was all for any place with new supplies of dwarven ale.

Dermot attempted to help the injured ox, but the beast just wanted to be left alone for a bit, as Hal explained. The ranger decided to give the forest another look, bringing Shanni along with him. Once they returned, the small caravan was ready to go and they moved out into the woods, heading east, with Dermot flanking them on the north and Shanni on the south. At a forest pool, Lally stopped to water the oxen, being warned by Darrow not to dally too long, as there might still be things around that saw the animals as lunch.

The dwarf’s words proved to be prescient, as a pair of owlbears suddenly emerged from the trees, attracted by the oxen’s scent. Dermot cried a warning and Aerikoth immediately summoned a bear in response. Darrow charged the nearest owlbear with a war-cry and his axe Haelgrim sliced clean through one of the magical beasts’ beaks, sending it flying. The other one was quickly put down as well, with no harm to the oxen. Shanni, attracted by the sounds of fighting, returned from her scouting and appeared puzzled by the corpses of the strange aberrations. Before getting the skittish oxen moving again, Aerikoth had to unsummon his bear.
 
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Carlo-One

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The remainder of the journey to the western outskirts of Tallwell was unventful. As they reached the first farmhouse, Aerikoth observed that it belonged to the Winnfall family, whose son Aratae for a brief time was a comrade in their company. (Aratae's story was a sad one, his head being delivered to the others in a box, after being tortured to death by the self-styled "Duke" Hallton's men. It is good to see that his former companions have subsequently done what they could for his village. --C) Seeing a small herd of cows out for pasture, Lally asked if they could put the oxen there as well, while Shanni needled Dermot about going to talk to them (the cows, not the family).

Darrow went up to the farmhouse door and knocked. It was soon opened by Garens Winnfall, who greeted the dwarf and welcomed Aerikoth. Darrow offered to pay for pasturing the oxen, explaining that they were carrying supplies to set up a brewery in town. The farmer said he welcomed the business, mentioning that times were hard but he would take good care of the animals. He also thanked the party for their defeat of the Beast, the bandit lord who had occupied the old Hallton manor. Aerikoth queried if any others had taken up residence there since his renewal.

In reply, Garens asked if they had not yet heard about Hallton’s ghost. The farmer went on to explain that it had killed two of Baron Pahar’s guards and screamed a bloody warning to the rest to leave the manor. The men, fearful for their lives, would no longer go near the place. The wizard found the tale intriguing, commenting that Hallton’s residence was something of a magnet for problems in the area, while Shanni evinced some skepticism. Darrow, ever-practical, reckoned that they should sort it out, ghost or not.

Asked if there were any other news, Garens mentioned that the local woodsmen were starting to trade again, which was good for business, despite the thin market in the village for their logs and such. More construction work would be welcomed, such as for the brewery. Aerikoth and Darrow also raised the idea of making a decent road through the forest, which would provide employment for the woodsmen. The grateful farmer said he would see to their animals and the drovers, while the adventurers continued into town.
 

Carlo-One

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At Aerikoth’s suggestion, their first stop was at the barracks, to visit the leader of Baron Pahar’s guards. Darrow knocked on the door and entered, being greeted warmly by Guard Captain Calen, who immediately inquired if they had come about the ghost. The dwarf said he had just heard about it and planned to look into it. Aerikoth then asked the guard captain to tell them what he could about it.

Calen, after a glance at his men clustered in the rear of the barracks, described how the previous night they had two guards stationed outside on the manor perimeter, with the rest staying inside out of the rain. In response to a query from Shanni, the guard captain explained that although there was no specific reason to keep a watch outside, with nothing around the manor hill, he had insisted on it as standard protocol. He called the manor a source of evils, which Dermot contradicted by saying it was just bricks and tile.

After the interruptions, Calen continued by relating how when the morning shift guards had gone to relieve their comrades, they were found with their throats slit and warnings written in blood next to the bodies. The guards came running back inside, only to see blood being drawn upon the walls of the manor itself, warning that Hallton had returned to claim it. Calen believed it was indeed a ghost that wrote those words, for no hand had been seen drawing them. Aerikoth bluntly asked whether a ghost had slit his men’s throats, while Darrow suggested it could have been someone invisible, even someone who might have hopped through a gateway.

Apparently unwilling to further debate the matter, the guard captain lowered his voice and described how his men had panicked and now refused to return to the site. He described them as good men who had seen battle, but not ghosts killing in the night. Looking shamefaced, Calen admitted that the two dead guards were still there. He asked if the adventurers could at least recover the bodies, which would put him in their debt. He said he had convinced his men to stay on in Tallwell for the time being, but was not sure how long that would last. The manor was too close for comfort and some spoke of a curse on the land.

Aerikoth stated that he was starting to believe, from the information given, that this was not the work of a ghost; a ghost would act differently, if what the wizard had read were accurate. Dermot volunteered them to recover the fallen fellows, earning a grim nod of assent from Darrow and a disturbed look from Shanni. After some speculation about what they might find, Calen said he would tell the others about the adventurers’ plans, which hopefully would ease their minds, and gave them a farewell salute. (It might be easy for those who read these chronicles to feel superior in their logic and knowledge, and so to dismiss the fearful tale of a ghost as that of uneducated, panicked soldiers. I would first query any such reader whether they had seen the bodies of comrades slaughtered as their companions slept and bloody warnings scrawled on a wall, appearing before their very eyes. Reality is not so easy to deal with, in contrast with the comforting distance of events that are but words on a page. --R)

Outside the barracks, the topic of fighting ghosts was discussed, Aerikoth saying that it could be done with magic and enchanted weapons, which did nothing to improve Shanni’s mood since she had neither. Darrow offered to lend her some magic arrows, while Dermot reminded them that the business at hand was to collect the fallen lads. Aerikoth expressed his curiosity as to if it were a true ghost, or just something or someone frightening off the guards, which is what Darrow thought was the case.

The coincidence of the ghost appearing the previous night, when the night before that House Cormaeril had fallen, was not lost on either the wizard or the dwarf. Aerikoth remarked that he thought a skilled assassin could make an appearance as a ghost if needed. In response to a question from Darrow about a mage being responsible, the wizard pointed out that a potion or ring as well as a spell could be used to render the person invisible. He also recalled to the group that Hallton had been supplied by House Cormaeril in the war against Baron Pahar, some nine months past, and there was a portal in the cellar of the castle that was used to transfer supplies to Hallton magically. Shanni observed that Aerikoth must be thinking someone had skipped through the portal, as indeed the wizard did. Darrow also pointed out that if Hallton were to have come back as a ghost, why would he have waited so long after his death.
 
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Carlo-One

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By this point even Shanni, albeit reluctantly, agreed that they should try to unravel the mystery at Hallton manor. Aerikoth reassured her that this time they would not have to “whoosh jump” inside again and could use the front door. (The party's choice to teleport inside the manor to attack the Beast was the source of much vicious contention, even after its success. This time it seems a more reasonable discussion took place, likely with the previous experience in mind. --C) The wizard made some further observations to support his theory that it was not in fact a ghost at the manor, including the fact that the dead guards were killed outside the manor, instead of the men inside the supposedly haunted structure, and that ghosts could kill with a touch and would have no need of weapons to cut a throat.

Darrow wondered if they should stop by the mayor’s house, or if it would be best to head for the manor immediately, while there was still daylight. Aerikoth felt it would be appropriate to let the mayor know they were there, noting that the manor was roughly an hour and a half journey east from the town. The wizard confirmed that he had his magical shelter spell prepared, if needed while they were outside the town. While the others headed to talk to the mayor, Shanni decided her time would be best spent plying the guard captain for more details on the occurrences at Hallton manor.

Mayor Haman Amraphel answered soon after Darrow knocked on his door and welcomed the adventurers inside, asking if they had heard about the ghost. Dermot indicated they had heard about it a lot, all of a sudden, receiving in return a compliment from the mayor on their (unintended) fast work in coming. Darrow mentioned that he had brought the makings of a brewery, although it sounded to the dwarf like they had been brewing trouble recently in the village. Haman was pleased that Darrow had decided to follow through on the idea of the brewery, to the benefit of the town.

Once they had gathered around the fireplace to take the chill off, the mayor brought up what he called the strange, horrible doings again at the manor, fearing that the place was truly cursed. Aerikoth dryly expressed his doubt at the existence of an actual curse, although he acknowledged circumstances would appear to lend it to such a belief. Darrow affirmed that they would go out to recover the guardsmen and probably investigate this ghost. Haman was grateful for their assistance, especially since no one else was able to help. In that regard, he said not to blame the Pahar guards and sympathized with their plight, having had two comrades slain in such a frightful manner. Since the adventurers’ previous departure, after having slain the bandit lord called the Beast, the guards had been good to the town and helpful when possible, with even the local woodsmen tolerating their presence.

Aerikoth picked up on the mayor’s last comment and queried whether the woodsmen of the community were difficult. Haman explained that they normally kept to themselves and came into town little, being fiercely independent. He noted that they grudgingly had paid taxes to Hallton, but had respected his strength. The mayor believed they considered the townsfolk weak and dependent, yet the woodsmen themselves had a need of more work and coin. Darrow mentioned that they might have some work for the woodsmen, but they could talk more after the ghost was taken care of.

Looking concerned, Haman said that the adventurers had done much to liberate the villagers from the tyranny of men, referring to Hallton and the Beast, and expressed the hope that the ghost would not prove too much for them. Aerikoth, with the usual lack of any inflection in his speech, stated that would be determined in the near future, it would seem. With a glance at Dermot and Darrow, the wizard asked if they should go, receiving an aye from Darrow, and the ranger silently assenting.
 

Carlo-One

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By the evening of Ches 24, the party had finished resting from their exertions on the trail to Tallwell, at least sufficiently to contemplate the two-hour hike to Hallton manor. Shanni protested at the idea of going to look for a ghost in the hours of darkness, but was rebutted by Darrow’s argument that they were damn sure not to find it in broad daylight, comparing the idea to looking for a sober dwarf in a tavern. He and Aerikoth again expressed skepticism that it was in fact a ghost, which earned a “you got me there” shrug from Shanni. Dermot agreed that they should get a look at the place and if it was haunted, maybe spend the night, since that was the traditional thing to do.

As they headed towards the forest path leading to the manor, it was eerily quiet in the village, with no one abroad in the twilight. An uneventful moonlight journey deposited the four adventurers on the manor grounds, the building silhouetted against the sky at the top of a hill. Dermot, moving silently and carefully, took the lead as the others wondered if any of the manor’s previous defenses were still there. During their approach to the building, a raven briefly circled overhead, then flew off. Aerikoth observed that it was an odd time for the raven – which was not his familiar, Zeluth – to be about. Shanni expressed concern that it might mean someone knew they were there. (Carrion feeders venture forth whenever there are victims to be had, however. --R)

After climbing up the winding path to the hilltop, the first dead guard lay in view, sprawled on the ground. Darrow, with his dwarven vision, quickly spotted the second victim’s boot and then confirmed it belonged to the guardsman’s companion. Dermot squatted on the ground next to the first body and began checking to see what had killed the man. Darrow did the same and was the first to call out that it had been a thin blade, placed right in the neck. Aerikoth, standing over the same body Dermot was examining, dryly commented that this was not the usual tactic of a ghost. Dermot, after some careful study, stated that the man he was looking at had his throat slit from behind. The ranger also mentioned that the ravens had got to him, as one of his eyes was gone.

Shanni walked over to Darrow and confirmed by demonstrating on the dwarf how the killing blow must have been made. Given the height of the guards, the petite rogue concluded that whoever had done it was not short. Darrow jokingly remarked that it ruled out kobolds, echoed more seriously by Aerikoth noting the same about gnomes or halflings. The dwarf then pointed out, somewhat tongue in cheek, that one could stand on another’s shoulders.

With the examination of the two guardsmen’s bodies complete, the four adventurers turned their attention to the manor building. In response to a question from Shanni, Aerikoth and Dermot recalled that bloody writing had been reported on a wall inside the manor, which had triggered the panicked departure of the other guards. Shanni pointed out, looking at the closed manor door, that someone else therefore had likely shut it after them. Dermot carefully listened at it, looked at his companions and nodded, then mentally counted to three and opened the door.
 

Carlo-One

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Aerikoth quickly cast a light spell as they entered the manor halls. Dermot scanned in front and then waved his companions toward the open door to the right. Once through, they saw words scrawled in blood on the wall of the hallway: "The Manor is Mine." After a grunt of displeasure at the scene, Shanni backed into one of the corners, watchful of their surroundings. Darrow stuck his head through another doorway and reported nothing more concerning than a bunch of bunks and footlockers.

Dermot held up a palm and gestured for others to follow, pointing down the corridor to signal an alert. The cautious ranger indicated that he could hear something moving. Aerikoth volunteered to cast an invisibility spell on Darrow, allowing the dwarf to sneak up on whatever it was, and also declared he was ready to summon a beast from another plane to assist in battle. Shanni muttered softly, asking which way was the noise, hugging the corridor wall. Dermot checked the corridor again, this time seeing several rats clawing at the door on the end of it. Dermot let out a small oath of disgust as the vermin scurried into the nearest fireplace. (An anxious mind conjures up fearsome opponents where there are only rodents. Yet it is wise to be cautious. --C)

Approaching the next door, Shanni at first thought there was blood by the wall, but the smell of sour wine along with urine soon confirmed that it was a dark wine spill. Darrow wondered if it was left over from the Beast’s men occupying the place. As they contemplated the scene, Shanni looked around, frowning. The petite rogue declared that she might be paranoid, but she was sure there was someone else there, besides the party; it was like an itching on the back of her neck. Darrow, ever-practical, agreed that she was paranoid.

The next set of rooms appeared to be untouched. As they came upon a set of stairs, Darrow asked if they should head down them. Shanni, still cautious, thought it would be best to be sure no one was on their current level first. Darrow agreed that made sense. Shanni then cocked her head slightly, declaring that she had heard the sound of a door opening and closing in the distance, probably back towards the main entrance, although it was difficult to tell. She then slipped around the door in front of them and started sneaking down the corridor.

Dermot’s face betrayed his frustration as he shook his head at the others and then followed her, Darrow clanking in his armor as they moved to catch up with the rogue. Ahead, they saw Shanni open a door quietly, then gasp as the smell of rotting meat assailed her. She nevertheless poked her head in quickly, to confirm there was nothing of interest, before shutting the door again.

At the end of the corridor, cool night air wafted in from under a doorway, which presumably led outside. Darrow pulled his helm off so as to hear better as Dermot surmised that their quarry had flown the coop already. Shanni agreed that they could have gone outside, as the storeroom was a dead end, telling the others that it had really sounded like a handle rattling to open a door and a clunk of it closing. Dermot checked out the remaining room on the floor, only finding rotten meat once again. That left two options: going outside, or down.

As they pondered their choice, they returned to the barracks room, where Shanni went through the footlockers, declaring that someone had been in them recently. Given that Pahar’s soldiers had just fled from the manor, it was presumably them who had been using the room, since the Beast’s followers and Hallton’s men had not been there for some time, as Aerikoth pointed out. Shanni observed that whoever it was in the manor, they were either hiding where the party couldn’t see them, or had snuck past without being noticed, which she found worrying. The wizard agreed, noting if that the person was still there, they were watching the adventurers, and were quite skilled at stealth.
 

Carlo-One

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After some more discussion and the setting of a trap by Dermot, Shanni came up with what she called a tactical plan. She suggested that Darrow and Aerikoth watch the doors that led outside, to make sure they didn’t open and close. She would watch the door leading downstairs, while Dermot did a sweep of the main floor of the mansion; she figured the ranger’s eyes were even better than hers. This met with general agreement, Darrow moving to set his back to the wall, next to the door exit near the storage room. The dwarf, attempting to listen intently, managed to bang his ear against the door and let out a mild curse. Meanwhile, Aerikoth took up a position in view of the main exit. (I give credit to the "petite rogue" for her canny and organized approach to addressing the problem. She has shown herself to have a disciplined and focused mind, when she wants to employ it. I also suspect some of the soldiers' possessions in the footlockers they searched earlier have been "appropriated." --R)

Dermot crept through the manor halls again, but when he returned to where Shanni was waiting, the ranger reported seeing no one. Shanni beckoned Aerikoth over, as Darrow rejoined the group from his post, but the wizard had his attention focused on something else. She shared the lack of results with the dwarf and indicated that the last place to look would be down the stairs. After waiting for Aerikoth a little longer, Darrow went over to where the wizard was standing and informed him that they were going to check out the lower level, not having found anything. In response, Aerikoth, an intent expression on his face, told him there was something outside moving.

Armor clanking loudly, Darrow went to fetch Shanni and Dermot, telling them the wizard said he had heard something outside. Dermot was ready to go after it, but Shanni objected, wondering what would happen if they came back inside. This did not bother Dermot, while Darrow pointed out that they would likely hit Dermot’s trap.

They caught up with Aerikoth just outside the main door on the manor grounds. The wizard, now invisible, explained that there had been a child there, further clarifying that it was a living one, not a ghost one, in response to a question from Dermot. Aerikoth related how the child had immediately run away as soon as the wizard had opened the door, having apparently hid in the shadows next to it. Just as Shanni began shaking her head in disbelief, they all heard the scream of a boy nearby.
 
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