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The Westgate Campaign Chronicles - serial

Carlo-One

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Shanni cursed as Dermot asked Aerikoth if the noise was from the child he had seen, to which the wizard dryly replied that it was very likely. More yelling was heard in the night and Dermot quickly used the sound to locate the boy, who was cowering a short distance away on the manor grounds. The child retreated against the nearest wall as Dermot came over, crossbow in hand, yelling at the boy to stop, while the ranger’s eyes attempted to seek out any threats lurking in the dark. Shivering, the boy muttered about seeing a dead body, which apparently had spooked him, then somewhat accusingly told Dermot that he wasn’t a ghost.

Sighing, the ranger put away his crossbow, as an invisible Aerikoth confirmed that was the child he had seen. When Dermot asked if he had seen any ghosts, the boy replied that he had seen the manor door open but no one was there, so instead of going inside he had run, thinking it was the ghost. The wizard explained that the boy had seen nothing because of the invisibility spell cast upon himself before exiting. Curious, the boy then asked them if they had seen the ghost, getting a no in reply from Dermot and Darrow.

Shaking off the momentary confusion, Dermot then inquired what the boy was doing at the manor – a haunted house in the middle of nowhere, in the dead of night – and what his parents knew about him being there. The boy, mustering some enthusiasm, said he had heard about the ghost and figured he would be the bravest kid in the village if he saw it. Shanni sarcastically asked how that had worked out for him, and the boy shivered in response.

Fente Bross, for that was the boy’s name, mentioned that his dad was Kente, who ran the Tallwell general store. Quickly shrugging off his previous terror, Fente with even more enthusiasm told them there was supposed to be buried treaure there, since the Beast’s hoard had never been found; the boy thought that it would help his dad out a lot to have it. Admiringly, he asked if the adventurers were those who had killed the Beast, getting a nod from Darrow in return.

Dermot congratulated the kid on having done what he set out to do, which noticeably brightened Fente’s mood. The boy nonetheless grasped the seriousness of the situation, so when Shanni suggested that Aerikoth take him home, the boy was excited at the prospect and jumped as the wizard suddenly appeared. Aerikoth dryly commented that they might as well return to Tallwell and bring the thrill-seeker with them.

Curious about the magic Aerikoth had used, Fente asked if he could learn to do that. Darrow explained to the lad that it took a lot of book learning, to which the boy replied that he had the time. Aerikoth reinforced the point to the child that a lot of effort went into wielding magic, but Fente declared that he was not afraid of hard work, or anything else, as his presence at the haunted manor proved. (While the boy's enthusiasm does not necessarily correlate with his ability to learn and perform arcane magic, I expect that this is in fact how many wizard's apprentices are first identified. As with the training for a monk's life, much discipline is required to learn the necessary skills, and not everyone has the personal attributes required for such pursuits. Yet a willingness to consider the prospect and lack of aversion to hard work are, to be sure, the fundamental requirements. --C) After some discussion, it was agreed that Aerikoth would teleport back to the village with Fente, then return shortly afterward to the bedroom inside, which the wizard had used as a destination for the assault on the Beast.
 

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Carlo-One

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Aerikoth took the boy – scared but eager – back to Tallwell using his magic, the wizard grasping the boy’s hand and speaking a word of power after a moment of concentration, the two of them vanishing afterwards. While Aerikoth was returning Fente home, at Shanni’s suggestion the others began looking for dirt and other dry, powdery materials that would reveal footprints. The wizard then returned quickly and suddenly, making Darrow think he had teleported directly back to where he and Dermot were located, rather than to the main bedroom. Aerikoth explained that he had returned the child to the innkeeper’s wife, who said she was willing to accompany him home.

Shanni, who had been scouring the manor for supplies, reappeared struggling along and hefting a large sack of flour. She thought it would help the cause, even if it was full of weevils. She started scattering the flour, heading back to the front door of the manor. Dermot and Darrow meanwhile started for the downstairs, the dwarf trying but failing to avoid stepping in the flour, leaving footprints behind. Shanni returned and scattered the remainder of her sack’s contents in the area around the two storage room doors. The petite rogue noted that there was one more sack left.

After some discussion about the chest they had found in the manor, which Aerikoth re-examined to ensure it was nothing special, the four adventurers headed for the basement. The wizard remarked that he had only been on the lower level once before and it had held implements of torture, which Darrow also recalled. As they descended, Shanni scattered the last of the flour on the stairs behind them.

With the agreement of the others, Aerikoth cast light as soon as they emerged onto the dark floor. Looking around, they all noticed that the visible bloodstains appeared to be old, but there were fresh urine stains by the floor drain. Darrow spotted a bedroll on the floor, which Aerikoth observed had not been there during their prior visit. The dwarf took a closer look and said that the bedbugs in it were fresh. Shanni came to the conclusion that someone had been bunking down there.

Dermot, looking at the torture implements, wondered who would do that, when there were untouched rooms up top. Both Aerikoth and Shanni made the point that whoever it was seemed to want to avoid the guards upstairs. Darrow half-jokingly stuck to his two-kobolds-in-a-robe theory about the ghost, despite being chided by the two of them. (Dermot's question reveals that the ranger maintains a sort of innocence about him, which is remarkable considering what he has seen in these chronicles, and what he must have experienced previously as an adventurer. Sadly, his personal aversion to torture devices and the stale signs of their use is not necessarily shared by everyone. --R)

Further examination of the downstairs revealed nothing new and the four turned to discussing the significance of what they had found. Dermot suggested that it might have been treasure hunters, but Aerikoth considered it more likely that it was an assassin fleeing the raid on House Cormaeril, who believed that the locals in Tallwell would be incapable of acting against him. Shanni and Darrow agreed, the rogue noting that the two murders might have been to scare folks away – which was working, until the adventurers had come along.

The wizard thought that whoever had been there had fled to a safer locale upon their arrival, which would explain the door sound that Shanni heard. He suggested that Dermot’s tracking skill would serve them best at that point, if the ranger could check the two entrances to the manor for recent tracks not made by the party. They then headed back upstairs, where Shanni noticed dwarf-sized tracks in the flour, which caused momentary confusion until Darrow explained that they were his.
 
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Carlo-One

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Once they were outside the manor, Dermot began sorting through the old and new tracks, commenting that it would be tricky. Moving around the area, the ranger searched the ground carefully in ways difficult for the others to comprehend, looking at boot impressions, divots and recent signs of rain to reveal what he needed. After examining what appeared to be an unremarkable patch of ground, he waved the others forward, moving along what seemed to be a trail. He explained that another had walked that way, not long ago, wearing boots, with a light, human gait that was too far apart to be the kid’s steps, and heading away from the manor. (The ranger's tracking ability shows the value of mastering one's skills in life. There is no magic to such mastery, only practice. --C)

Once they reached the main forest trail back to Tallwell, Dermot was unable to distinguish their quarry’s prints, but did note the presence of the child’s on the approach to the manor. The ranger’s companions eagerly searched for further signs in the vicinity, but came up with nothing. Dermot then led them back to the village, along the way evading roaming bear and boar in the forest.

By the time they reached Tallwell two hours later it was raining, to Shanni’s disappointment, which the ranger noted would probably hide tracks. The consensus among the party was that their culprit was not enough of an outdoorsman to stay in the wilds, so would likely be looking for a place to spend the night. Dermot raised the possibilities of a traveler having stashed their things at the inn, or that their quarry might even be a local inhabitant. Aerikoth cast doubt on this interpretation, still believing that their target was a member of the Fire Knives, running after their assault on Castle Cormaeril.

The four adventurers tracked their wet selves into the village inn and were greeted by Yasia and Kablin Menson. Dermot remarked with some concern that they were up late. Yasia said that she couldn’t sleep after the wizard had showed up with the boy, not to mention what was going on with the ghost at the manor. A bleary-eyed Kablin told her that if it were a ghost, then it would be nowhere near town, to which his wife replied that if the wizard could move by magic, why not the ghost.

In response to a question from Dermot, Yasia indicated that no one had come by since Aerikoth had shown up with Fente Bross, the son of the general store owner. The wizard asked to see the two rooms at the inn and Kablin welcomed the four to stay in them for the night. They soon determined that no one else was present and debated where else their quarry might have gone to ground in the village, having hit a dead end at the inn. Dermot was confident that the tracks he had followed leading away from the manor house were no more than an hour old when he found them, meaning – as Aerikoth pointed out – the person had an hour head start on them.

Yasia stuck her head into their room, apparently concerned at continuing to hear voices so late at night, but was assured that everything was fine. Aerikoth took the opportunity to ask her some clarifying questions about her delivery of Fente to his father, then asked her about where one would stay in Tallwell if not at the inn. She struggled to understand what the wizard was driving at, saying she supposed that someone could stay with friends in town, but the inn was the only one. After some further reassurance that there was in fact no ghost, she departed and left the four to their discussion.
 

Carlo-One

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Darrow, having downed an ale, took a quick snooze while the others figured out what to do next. In the dwarf’s defense, by then it was three bells in the morning on Ches 25, and they had been up for some time. After his short “ale-nap” Darrow agreed to go talk to the shopkeeper to follow up on what had happened with the boy, the party having decided to split up. Dermot would attempt to uncover recent tracks, despite the rain, while Shanni would use her stealth skills to peep in various village windows. Aerikoth, apparently deciding that he had nothing specific to add to their efforts, declared he would retire to one of the inn rooms and await their return.

Perhaps twenty minutes later the wizard welcomed the other three back. Shanni and Darrow were sopping wet, the dwarf complaining about rain in his crotch as he poured water out of his boots, and the rogue cursing as she spread her outer clothes and boots out to dry. Dermot seemed less bothered by the rain, merely hanging his cloak on a peg by the doorway. Darrow reported first on what he had learned, that somebody had stolen some hardtack, a rain cloak and a bedroll from the general store. The theft was only discovered after the boy was returned, which the dwarf reckoned meant that their “ghost” was on the move. Shanni mentioned that the rain cloak might mean that the theft had taken place recently, seeing as how it was “pissin’ in down” outside, in her words. The petite rogue said she had found nothing regarding their quarry, although she had seen the Mayor still awake and sitting in his house downstairs, just looking at the fire, which made her wonder at the reason.

Aerikoth observed it seemed that their target intended to travel in the rain, which prompted Shanni to ask Darrow where he thought their quarry would be going. The dwarf said the only places he could think of were the village they stayed at on the way to Tallwell, it being the only other place nearby, unless the person knew of a cave or something; he couldn’t imagine anyone would be sleeping on the ground, given the weather. Shanni recalled that there was a cave back the way they had come, to which Aerikoth added that he believed it was the one that had one time been occupied by manticores. (The dwarf often gives the impression of being mostly concerned about his next ale, if not the one currently in his hand, but can be clever and insightful when it comes to the practical matters involved in dealing with their enemies. --R)

After some further discussion, Dermot suggested that they rest at the inn, then in the morning tell the innkeeper that they had decided to head back to Glees. They could then secretly head back to the manor, perhaps using a teleport from Aerikoth, to see if anyone had reoccupied it. Aerikoth said that he thought the matter of the “ghost” had been satisfactorily resolved, so had no further personal interest in it, but would assist in whatever manner they wished

Although further details still had to be worked out, all agreed that sleep was a priority. Shanni took one of the two inn rooms, falling asleep almost immediately, while the other three occupied the one next to her. Aerikoth took the bed and Darrow and Dermot unrolled their bedrolls, sleep coming easy to all of them after the long day of travel and their efforts at the manor.

It was early afternoon before Dermot arose, immediately observing that they had overslept a bit. The ranger pulled on his armor and cursed as he heard rain continuing to strike the inn’s roof; the lack of sun no doubt contributed to their long rest. Darrow, who had forgotten to take his armor off before falling asleep, joined him in heading to the common room downstairs as Aerikoth roused himself and began studying his spells for the day.
 

Carlo-One

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As the innkeeper Kablin was seeing to Dermot and Darrow’s breakfast, Shanni ran down the stairs breathlessly, having overslept as well. He mentioned that the mayor had said he would like to speak with them, when they were available. Dermot replied that they had been planning to head back to Glees, but after some meaningful glances with his companions, agreed to do so after breakfast. The ranger observed that maybe something had been keeping the mayor up, as Shanni had seen the night before.

After Aerikoth joined them in breaking their fast on the simple village fare, Dermot asked Kablin how the mayor had looked to him. The innkeeper shared that he had seemed tired and preoccupied, but did not find this strange, considering the circumstances the village faced. Kablin then asked if the adventurers would be staying another night, showing some disappointment when Dermot replied they should depart that day and head west. A little nervously, the innkeeper asked for five coins a head – whenever they were ready, of course! – and bustled off to the kitchen as they finished their meal. Dermot searched his belt-pocket for the requested amount of coin and left it on the table, with a little more added for Kablin’s trouble.

The four companions made their way through the rain and large puddles to the mayor’s house, seeing an occasional villager dashing for cover in the wet. Darrow knocked on the door and Haman Amraphel soon opened it and bid them to enter and dry off before his fire. The adventurers shook the rain from their outer clothing and moved to join the mayor, who pensively noted that he found himself spending much time in front of the fire, as of late.

Haman mentioned he had heard from Kablin at the inn and Kente at the General Store how things had been going, then asked the adventurers to confirm that it was a human hand behind what had happened. Shanni immediately answered in the positive, as did Aerikoth, who noted that he had been certain it was not an actual undead spirit prior to going to the manor. (The wizard rarely misses a chance to point out to his companions when he has been proven correct about a certain matter. --R) The mayor sighed and said he still found the deaths of the two guardsmen tragic, as they had been sent to protect Tallwell and paid the ultimate price; there has been too much death and sadness in the village, he felt, which Dermot agreed with.

Haman nonetheless expressed some optimism that once the rain ceased, the village could start down a more happy path. He said he understood that Darrow had offloaded his brewery supplies at the Winfall farm, which the dwarf acknowledged, saying that he hoped it would help start a new chapter. The mayor thought the extra industry would indeed be a boon for Tallwell.

The adventurers turned to the business at hand, declaring that they still intended to try and find the murderer. In response to a question from Shanni, the mayor said he could not think of any abandoned places near the village where someone could hide, besides the manor. Aerikoth explained that the individual was very skilled in stealth, but would need to eventually find shelter. The wizard, with his usual lack of emotion, noted that some among their group felt that this person would return, specifically to the manor, but Aerikoth himself was unsure of such, given the lack of information.

Haman then said he thought there were some strange things that had been left unexplained. Encouraged by Darrow to say more, the mayor raised the question of how this person had gone to the manor in the first place and where they had come from, remarking that certainly no one had passed through town. Shanni offered up the idea that they were good at hiding and didn't need to stop. Haman continued, stating that the incident had made him recall some instructions from Baron Hallton, when he was alive. He had insisted that if any travelers turned up unexpectedly - particularly noble ones - to treat them well and escort them to the manor. Specifically, if they did not arrive by the main road. The mayor had found this puzzling, given the lack of any other obvious means of entering the village, but stated that questioning the Baron's orders was not wise.

Dermot’s face betrayed his own puzzlement as Shanni asked if anyone had in fact arrived, to which Haman replied no. The mayor said it had got him thinking, though, about how the “ghost” had arrived, since now obviously it was no such thing. He then shared that the only other “empty place”, as they had said, could be the old smuggler cave in the forest. According to him, it hadn't been used for years, because of the beasts that moved in. The village’s hunters and loggers were aware of it, but once the trail to Glees was cut and the beasts moved into the forest, no one would dare to go. Haman explained that under Baron Hallton, the cave was sometimes used to store goods to avoid taxes, to which the mayor turned a blind eye.

Shanni asked if manticores had inhabited the cave and was told aye, along with other beasts. Dermot noted that it was on the way to Glees and they could look into it. Haman, suddenly becoming teary-eyed, declared that they had done so much for the village and that he could not thank them adequately. The awkward silence that followed was broken by Darrow, who joked that he shouldn’t be thanked until the mayor tried the beer, getting a chuckle from Dermot as well.

Haman then turned towards Aerikoth and said that Kente the shopkeeper had mentioned something about his boy wishing to become a wizard. Kente was unsure about the idea, but Haman told him that he would support an apprenticeship, should Aerikoth wish it. The wizard stated that it might be possible if the child had the potential and the diligence to work hard. Aerikoth knew he had courage, but it needed to be tempered with intellect. If there was time, he would explore the boy's potential further. Haman replied that he was a smart lad, knowing his letters and figures from the work at the general store. As a last remark, the mayor noted that people were afraid of magic and unsure of wizards, but he believed Aerikoth taking a local apprentice would be welcomed.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
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Before the adventurers departed, Darrow asked if the mayor had ever met any of the nobles from Westgate, meaning the Cormaerils. Haman said that “met” was perhaps not quite the right word, but he had seen a noble party come through one time the previous year, well-armed and armored. They had arrived by the road from Glees, prior to the war with Baron Pahar, and the villagers had been asked to provision them before they headed on to Hallton manor. In response to a question from Shanni, the mayor indicated that it had been perhaps close to a year ago. He also noted that the Cormaeril nobles’ red armor had been very distinctive. Aerikoth remarked that the visit made sense, as it was the Cormaerils that gave Hallton numerous enchanted weapons to assault the lands of Pahar.

Under further questioning from Shanni, the mayor related how the nobles had stayed only the minimum time required. The village blacksmith had to reshoe one of their horses, but they did not do anything beyond the ordinary, treating the villagers like servants. Haman suggested they speak with the blacksmith, if they were interested in such details. After some further discussion about the possible identity of their quarry and a meaningful nudge from Shanni, the four adventurers exited the mayor’s house, saying they would go see the blacksmith.

Outside in the rain, which continued to drown the village, the petite rogue explained on the way to the blacksmith’s that she was now not sure they should leave town, saying that it suddenly made more sense that one of the Fire Knives was behind the killings at the manor. However, she thought that maybe they should still go check that cave in the woods. Reaching the door to the smith’s house, she knocked and then slightly awkwardly responded to the deep, masculine voice from inside asking who was there. She responded that they were “folk from the city” and in reply received an invitation to come in out of the rain.

Inside, they were greeted warmly by Horvath, the blacksmith’s brother, whom they had earlier encountered as a reluctant member of the Beast’s forces. He thanked them again for what they had done at the manor, which was reinforced by the smith, Larent, who stated that without the adventurers, his brother would not have found a new life in Tallwell. Shanni, Dermot and Darrow modestly accepted the praise as Aerikoth stood by, silently regarding them with an unblinking stare.

Shanni said it would be a favor if the smith could cast his mind back to when the group from Cormaeril came through. Larent’s brow furrowed in response and he mentioned that it had been nigh on a year, as he recalled. Shanni then asked about his changing of a horseshoe for them and what he remembered. The shoe work itself was easy enough, said the smith, but he sweated doing it under the gaze of the Cormaerils and their blades, which were never far from their hands.

He observed that they had seemed to resent having to stop in the village on their way to Hallton manor. It was a party of five or six travelers, the smith recalled; one appeared older than the others, but carried himself well. He was the one that Larent had feared the most, looking at the smith with hungry eyes as he worked. Larent said he made sure the re-shoeing went well and fast, so that was that. Shanni asked if he knew their names and the smith replied that they had not asked his, so he did not ask theirs; speaking to them seemed dangerous.

Shanni then turned her attention to Horvath, who explained that during Hallton’s time he had mainly served with the borderers in the forest. He had heard some camp talk of the nobles' visit, no more, although there had been reference to an alliance and conquest to come. In response to a question from Shanni, he said that there was no road coming from the direction of Westgate through the forest, other than the one from Glees. Beyond the village there were logging trails and such, but they did not lead to any other town.

Aerikoth then interjected a change of subject, noting that there had been a lot of talk heard about some elusive treasure hidden by the Beast, and asking Horvath if it had ever been mentioned during his association with the bandit leader. (This was something of a surprise to read, as I would have expected this kind of query about buried treasure to come from Shanni, rather than the wizard, who has not displayed much in the way of overt greed in these chronicles. --C) Horvath made a face at the mention of “treasure” and called it the Beast’s blood money. The bandit had made a great show of placing it into the chest in the main hall, saying that it would put food in his follower’s bellies forever – along with wenches and such, Horvath shamefacedly acknowledged. But as they discovered after the Beast was slain, there was nothing in there, and so began the tales of buried treasure in the forest.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
After some final pleasantries, the four adventurers left the smith and his brother and decided to stop in at the guard barracks before heading out of the village. Guard Captain Calen greeted them and mentioned that the mayor had been to see him, in order to explain that they had been tracking someone unknown – not a ghost - who had been hiding at the manor. Shanni said they had just dropped by, to make sure the soldiers knew that. Calen immediately informed her that the guardsmen would now go recover their dead, mentioning in a grim tone that it would not be difficult to stay away from the manor afterwards, which was Shanni’s suggestion. He furthermore observed that there was nothing up there left to guard, and it would be easier for him not to have to split his forces defending the village.

Dermot was curious if any of the guard patrols had scouted the outskirts of the village, including the logging trails. Calen replied that they typically kept to the village itself, the path out to Glees, and until recently the manor, since there weren’t enough men to do more. The ranger then flipped a lazy salute to the guard captain, receiving a crisp one in return, as the adventurers departed the barracks. (It appears that Captain Calen made no mention of the adventurers' failure to bring back the bodies of the guardsmen as they had previously promised. While perhaps it would have been within his rights to complain, in light of the adventurers' efforts to resolve the matter of the killings at the manor and the inability of the guard captain to deal with the matter himself, I believe it was prudent of him not to raise the issue. Holding others to their promises, regardless of circumstances, often helps no one. --C)

As they headed for the village’s western outskirts, Shanni in rather coarse terms expressed her confusion over what it meant that the Mayor had been told to report on folk arriving without coming down the Glees road. Perhaps the continuing rain had something to do with her foul mood, as Darrow encouraged her and the others to get a move on, since he wasn’t getting any drier. As they walked along the road, the Winnfall farm came into view and Aerikoth observed to the others that the door was open. The wizard wondered why the family would have the door open on such a foul day, as both Shanni and Darrow cursed at the possible implication of foul play at the farmhouse.

The dwarf circled around back of the building as Shanni sneaked up to a window to peek in and Aerikoth stood in front of the door. Hal the ox driver then emerged from the opening, carrying a sack, and almost bumped into the wizard’s staff. The drover immediately apologized and said that he was just getting feed to the oxen. Shanni lingered a moment at the window to make sure that nothing was in fact amiss inside, then shook her head and said it was a false alarm, although she commended Aerikoth on his observational skills.

The four adventurers left Hal to his duties as he grumbled about the rain and they continued on the path west into the countryside. Once in the forest, the little-used track became effectively invisible, but Dermot and Shanni recalled where the cave occupied by the beasts had been, leading the others to it across a rain-swollen stream. Shanni asked if they wanted to go in quiet like and Darrow motioned as if to shoo her in, the dwarf evidently deciding he would make too much noise. She and then Dermot crept into the opening, as Darrow listened for any sounds of fighting.

The two re-emerged shortly afterwards and cautioned the others not to enter, saying that the entrance was trapped. Darrow commented ironically that it was crafty for a manticore. Shanni volunteered to use her "little fingers" to shift the tripwires out of the way, as Aerikoth asked Dermot if there were any tracks besides theirs in the area. The ranger, somewhat tense, replied that in those conditions, he had no idea. He then accompanied Shanni back in, to cover her while she attempted to deal with the trap.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
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Outside, Darrow began tapping his foot impatiently, waiting for his two companions to return as he discussed potential tactics with Aerikoth. Shanni after a while exited the cave, apparently successful at her task. The petite rogue asked if Aerikoth could get something to guard the door, in case whoever was inside tried to sneak past them. After a moment’s thought, the wizard said he could summon a large bear, which could remain by the cave entrance. Satisfied, she re-entered the cave, asking the other two to follow when ready. Aerikoth cast his summons spell and an invisibility spell on Darrow as well, then they entered.

In the gloom of the cave, they came upon Shanni finishing up the placement of one of her own traps, covering its tripwire with dust. She hissed softly at Dermot, who was further ahead, keeping a watch on the far end of the cave. Aerikoth commanded the bear to stay by the entrance and started to move further into the cave, but was then stopped by Shanni putting an arm on his shoulder. At the same time, Dermot emerged from the shadows and yelled a challenge, leveling his crossbow at the dim figure of a man who had just stepped into view.

The man, dressed in expensive red-dyed leathers, first inquired why Dermot was troubling a poor traveler, voice dripping with evident scorn. He then wondered out loud if it was just the ranger there – which an invisible Darrow immediately contradicted – and queried if they were frightened of one poor traveler, as he put it. The ranger was blunt in his response, saying that in Westgate he imagined the man was wanted for all sorts of reasons, as well as hereabouts for murder.

This earned a scornful laugh from the man, who inquired if Dermot was a bounty hunter. He then drew two short swords and with a sneer told Dermot to collect the bounty, if he could. Dermot warned him to put the swords down, as he could be sure that the ranger had not come alone. Suddenly the man disappeared, after making a quick motion, but the ranger was not fooled. Keeping his concentration and his senses alert, he waited a moment, then threw some magic dust next to him, just as the man attempted to pass, stripping him of invisibility. Aerikoth then hit him with a spell that held him in place, frozen.

After a moment, Shanni took the initiative to start binding Tagreth’s hands together with some rope, then ran it up into a noose around his throat. The man gritted his teeth and submitted, having no choice, as Darrow also pried the two swords out of his hands. Once they had finished, Dermot asked who they had caught. Reluctantly, the man declared that he was the Lord Tagreth Cormaeril. (And so the loose end from the adventurers' raid on Cormaeril Castle is tied up, with the head of the Fire Knives assassins caught on the run. But their troubles are not yet over, where Tagreth is concerned. --R)
 

Carlo-One

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Darrow observed that the red armor fit the description, not that anyone doubted Tagreth’s statement. The Cormaeril lord and head of the Fire Knives berated and insulted his captors, only falling silent after Aerikoth pointed out that they could have killed him, so he should take solace that he was still alive. In the meantime, Shanni had tossed his bedroll in the back of the cave, finding nothing of value.

Aerikoth told their captive that killing the guardsmen at the Hallton manor had been unwise, expressing curiosity about why Tagreth did not just hide from them. Darrow chimed in, observing that if he hadn’t done that, they never would have been tipped off to Tagreth’s presence. The Fire Knives leader replied that he had wished the manor for his own, asserting that the superstitious peasants would have stayed away for months, at least. Dermot, showing his kind heart, said he could not believe that the two guardsmen had been murdered just so Tagreth could have a nice bed. In response Tagreth glared at the ranger and commented that they were the ones who had destroyed his home in Westgate, evidently recognizing their descriptions.

In response to further probing from Aerikoth, Tagreth said that he expected no one else in Tallwell would have known about him and questioned why they had come out to this godsforsaken place, as he characterized it. Shanni, smirking, said he was going to cry when he found out. Darrow then told him that he was starting a brewery. Tagreth, eyes bulging, was incredulous that a drunken dwarf’s desire for more drink, as he put it, had led to his defeat. Aerikoth, with his usual lack of humor and inflection, told him that Baron Pahar, who had been at war with Hallton, had occupied the town and would have informed them of the murders.

After some additional pointed comments about the deaths of the two guardsmen, Tagreth stared bitterly at the pool of water as the party debated what was to be done with him. Darrow was against hanging him – which Shanni was fine with – so they had two options in front of them: to turn him over to Baron Pahar’s men in Tallwell, or to have Aerikoth take him directly to the Baron in Turnton. Shanni said she didn’t think the locals would be able to handle him.

Dermot said he was fine with either option, as justice would be done – this prompted a sneer from their prisoner – but then the ranger raised the rumors of the Beast's treasure and asked him he if knew anything more about it. (Yet another member of the party brings this up, unexpectedly to me. It seems the lure of "free" wealth is a powerful one. --C) Tagreth, a smile growing across his face, rhetorically asked what treasure. This led Shanni to start grinning as well, as she described how answering questions helped with avoiding falling into deep pools of water with a foot on one’s head. Tagreth, still smiling, offered that perhaps he could simply lead them to the treasure. He pointed out that this would be hard to do if they handed him over to Pahar’s men, of course.

Some additional honeyed words from the Fire Knives leader, including the fact that there would be enough for all, made the party exchange glances and Shanni’s face twitch underneath her hood. Aerikoth broke the spell by asking their prisoner whether he had intended on rebuilding the assassins’ organization after taking over the manor. Tagreth said that escaping the fall of his castle in Westgate had been the first priority and that it seemed a good idea to leave the city for a while. Darrow chuckled at this, noting that the party might have had the same idea.

In Aerikoth’s opinion, Tagreth could have done better by hiding in Westgate, unless there were other enemies of his there. At this, the Cormaeril lord shook his head and stated that the wizard was still a callow youth in the ways of Westgate. He questioned whether storming Castle Cormaeril was their idea, observing that others in the city had benefited. (Looking at the record of events in the chronicles, I am forced to admit that this observation may well be true. House Urdo seemed especially keen on it and apparently manipulated the City Watch to look the other way regarding - even encourage - the party's plans to assault the castle. I am not fully sure how I feel about all this this, but in the end the Fire Knives got what they deserved, I am sure. --C)

Returning to the topic of the hidden treasure, Dermot asserted that if it existed, it would be found one day, but at the moment they had a job to finish. Tagreth asked pointedly who was paying them for this ‘job’ – no one, as he presumably had figured out – prompting a small sigh from Shanni. Dermot said that it was not that kind of a job, to which Tagreth replied that perhaps they could use a new employer.
 
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Carlo-One

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Perhaps tired of Tagreth’s words, or simply needing to study his spells, Aerikoth retired to a side part of the cave with his summoned bear, asking not to be disturbed. The Fire Knives leader continued verbally sparring with his three remaining captors, attempting to undermine their confidence in each other and dangling the promise of riches in front of them, but they refused to bite. Dermot did a thorough search of the man, extracting some potions and jewelry from his pouches.

Since they were being so chatty, as Darrow put it, he asked Tagreth if the noble could tell them about how he had arrived in Tallwell, seeing as how he got there ahead of the adventurers. For once the Cormaeril lord did not appear to dissimulate, instead with an evil grin telling them that there was an escape portal in the bowels of Castle Cormaeril. He stated that only those of noble blood had its secret, enabling them to take a one-way trip that deposited them in a field near Tallwell.

After some more back-and-forth with their prisoner, Shanni being notably riled about the two murders which Tagreth had committed, the three adventurers decided to march Tagreth back to Tallwell and turn him over to the guards there. When he saw the bedraggled-looking noble, Guard Captain Calen questioned Darrow, Dermot and Shanni about how they knew he was the one responsible for the deaths of his guardsmen. Despite Tagreth’s protestations of innocence, the adventurers stated they had all heard him confess, as well as noting various pieces of evidence, including the thin blade found in his possession which no doubt would match the wounds on the corpses. Calen, his face impassively neutral, took possession of the prisoner, saying that their word was the only thing needed.

The three then stopped at the Mayor’s house, in order to inform him of Tagreth’s capture. He was very pleased to hear that they had caught the “ghost” and considered their suggestion about keeping up the stories of the ghosts of Hallton’s victims inhabiting the manor, to help discourage anyone else from going there. They then quizzed the mayor about having seen any signs of the Cormaeril portal’s egress point in a nearby field, but there seemed to be no knowledge of such a thing in the village. Nonetheless, their enthusiasm for exploration undimmed now that it was no longer raining, Darrow, Dermot and Shanni roamed the fields and country tracks near the village, searching for something that might be a sign.
 

Carlo-One

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Despite gaining much knowledge of the surrounding countryside, the three found no tracks or other signs of the portal exit. As they headed back to the village, suddenly a panting, running guardsman came into view and headed to meet them. At first they were concerned his appearance meant Tagreth had somehow escaped, but the guardsman – after catching his breath somewhat – denied that and insisted instead that they needed to find Captain Calen, saying he wasn’t sure what the captain was going to do with the prisoner. Shanni was all for going back at a leisurely pace, given what was likely to happen to the Fire Knives leader, but Dermot pointed out that a summary execution would make Calen a murderer himself. The three adventurers then took off at a run themselves, leaving the out-of-shape guard to walk back to the village on his own.

After Dermot, Shanni and a puffing Darrow (in that order) arrived at the barracks, they found Aerikoth and Mayor Haman Amraphel there, but none of Baron Pahar’s soldiers. The mayor was at a loss and suggested that a search was in order, saying he would warn the villagers to be on the lookout. Aerikoth suggested other possibilities besides Calen going to execute the prisoner, such as the guards having departed to escort him to Turnton, or perhaps even having been bribed by Tagreth to set him free.

While Shanni was impatient to get moving immediately, the wizard calmly suggested that Dermot should first try to find evidence of their departure, an idea seconded by Darrow. Dermot welcomed the wizard back, then started cursing as the rain began again. He said he wished he knew the guard captain better, explaining that if he were a practical man, he would just take the Lord out to the forest for execution, but if he were a sentimental one, he would do it at the manor, thought the ranger. The group then began casting about for any visible tracks, Shanni and Aerikoth being the first ones to spot a group of bootprints in the mud, heading west along the road out of town.

They moved as rapidly as they could to the western outskirts of the village and saw Calen and his squad lined up in an open space past the Winnfall farm. Tagreth was on his knees in front of the guard captain, who had a naked sword in his hand. Calen looked up as Dermot yelled from a distance to attract his attention, asking what was the meaning of this. The guard captain remained silent as they approached. Once they finally reached him, he replied, “Justice. That is the meaning.”
 

Carlo-One

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Dermot told Calen that he was a watchman, not a judge...nor a headsman. This earned a curt retort from Calen that his skills would suffice. Darrow then raised the question of whether Baron Pahar would back the guard captain’s decision. As Shanni regarded the bound Tagreth thoughtfully, Calen replied that the Baron gave great latitude to his commanders, looking upwards as the skies darkened.

Dermot made the additional point that Tagreth was on his way to swing, so there was no need for the guard captain to wet his sword like this. Calen, with more heat, accused the adventurers of not understanding what the loss of his men through cold murder meant, and said that Tagreth deserved no less. Calm as ever, Aerikoth then asked if he could speak before Calen took any action. The wizard stated that he understood a great deal and asked Calen to consider the fact that Tagreth had harmed a great many, beyond his two men. Did the guard captain intend to rob all the others of the justice they deserved, by continuing with his actions?

At this point Garens Winnfall came out of his house, to see what was going on. Shanni explained that Captain Calen was about to murder Tagreth, although she couldn’t say she blamed him much. Desperate, the Fire Knives leader appealed first to Garens, saying that he did not deserve to be slaughtered on the farmer’s land, then broadened his appeal to all those listening, claiming he did not deserve this fate. In response, Calen looked down at his prisoner and told him to shut up.

Dermot argued that it wasn’t about what Tagreth deserved, but what about Tallwell deserved: fairness, openness, a place where people aren’t taken from their cells and beheaded in the wild. The ranger pointed out that the villagers would never see the guard captain in the same way afterwards. Darrow, perhaps trying to be helpful, told them that however humans treated their judgements was on them; if Tagreth were a dwarf, he’d be left naked in the deep delves for the umber hulks to have some fun...after a proper trial, though.

Throughout the exchange, the farmer Garens had remained silent, looking down at the headstone which stood next to him. As Calen put his sword to the prisoner’s throat, though, the farmer asked if he might say a word to the guard captain. Without moving his sword from Tagreth’s throat, Calen briefly indicated to Garens that he might speak.

The farmer gestured to the adventurers, saying that these folk had delivered the village from tyranny, more than once. Looking down at the grave marker again, Garens also declared that no one had paid a higher price than he, mentioning the name of Aratae, his son who had been murdered at Hallton’s order. He then looked back at the guard captain and stated simply that he knew what justice was, and this was not it.

Calen, who had been impassive until then, blanched in response, the farmer’s words hitting home. Shanni verbally prodded Calen again as well, asking if he was better than his prisoner. Calen’s sword dropped slowly as he struggled for a response, while Dermot’s eyes flickered as he looked around the circle of guards’ helmets, to see if they would intervene in some fashion. Darrow reminded the guard captain that sometimes shortcuts weren’t shortcuts.

Finding his voice, Calen bitterly asked what they would have him do, then, as Tagreth’s kind never paid the price for their crimes. (The guard captain throughout these chronicles has shown a keen understanding of how the world in reality works, while doing his best to uphold his values and his duties. This time is no exception. --R) Darrow replied that the Baron would give the man his moment to speak, and do it right and proper. Calen nodded slowly at Darrow’s words and Dermot quickly followed up, telling Calen that he should accompany the adventurers to Turnton when they delivered him, to speak for the dead men. Regaining his composure, the guard captain acknowledged that they were right and justice would be served, as Helm would want it to be. Aside, Shanni nodded to Aerikoth and told the wizard that it might be an idea to get the prisoner there fast.
 
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Carlo-One

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Aerikoth indicated that he would be able to take Tagreth and one other, preferably Captain Calen, with him immediately to Baron Pahar, if that was desired. Before any transfer occurred, though, they decided to get out of the falling rain and return to the barracks, Calen tugging harshly on Tagreth's bindings as they went. Along the way, Aerikoth let his companions know that he had left word with the watch of Westgate about their prisoner. Watch Commander Meynn was unfortunately unavailable, so the wizard had left word with his aide to meet the next morning. Aerikoth remarked that Lord Tagreth's crimes were not just committed in Tallwell, and was sure there were those in the city that would have an interest in him. (A careful read of these chronicles indicates that Aerikoth must have teleported to Westgate from the forest cave where he was studying his magical texts, after his companions had decided to bring Tagreth back to Tallwell and place him into Calen's custody at the earliest possible moment. From what is described below, the wizard seems to have made the rounds of those in the city who might have an interest in the prisoner. --C)

As Calen threw their prisoner to the floor, Darrow – ignoring the groans coming from Tagreth – wondered who else would be interested. Aerikoth mentioned that he had attempted to see Losifan Urdo at the Mercenaries Guild, but was told that he had left the guild for family business. The wizard was sure Lord Urdo would like to handle any situation with the man that had orchestrated an attempt on life of the the current Croamarkh's, his father. Darrow thoughtfully expressed an interest in getting what he thought would be a bigger payoff from Urdo for their captive. Shanni pointed out that Urdo should owe them one anyway, and the dwarf said he would be good with delivering Tagreth to Baron Pahar, if that was the consensus.

Although Aerikoth professed personal indifference to the outcome, he further observed there were others beyond just Urdo and Pahar if all facts were presented. The wizard noted the likely interest of the Sembian Embassy in Westgate, as one of their ambassadors had been assassinated by the Fire Knives, and of course that of the Watch of Westgate. Shanni, impatient as ever, said that the politics of it didn’t matter, they could all queue up to kick the stool out, so they should just take him to Pahar.

Captain Calen ordered his men to barracks for the evening and queried the four adventurers if they wished to depart that evening or in the morning. Darrow replied that they needed a minute and Calen said to take their time for deliberating. Shanni offered to just flip a coin to decide between Pahar and Urdo, but Aerikoth calmly asked the guard captain what his preferred option for travel was. As Calen pondered, Shanni took out her coin, but paused before flicking it into the air, waiting for the response. Calen then said it would be good for his men to see Turnton again, not just himself, so he would prefer to take half of his men and march there in the morning. Polite and respectful, the guard captain then withdrew to let the adventurers finish their discussion.

The wizard specified that would take perhaps a long day of travel overland to reach Turnton, if that option were chosen. Darrow favored the simpler choice of just whisking their prisoner there, as the dwarf put it. Shanni said she thought that marching back and forth would take too much time, while there was Darrow’s brewery to set up, an innocent expression on her face. Although the petite rogue likely was just looking for an excuse to get out of the trip, the dwarf perked up and said she had a point.

Calen returned and asked if they had reached a decision. Darrow told him that Aerikoth would transport the prisoner and him directly to Turnton, with which the guard captain concurred. He asked only that it be in the morning, since he needed to organize his men before departing. The wizard acknowledged Calen’s wishes and the guard captain said goodbye to the adventurers as Shanni herded them in the direction of the inn for food and drink.

At Kablin’s Inn they ran into the mayor, who was relived to hear that the matter had been sorted and the garrison returned to the barracks. Haman left to go check in with Captain Calen as the others, hungry and thirsty from the day’s efforts, dug into the local inn fare with gusto. The four talked with animation about House Cormaeril’s involvement with Baron Hallton in Tallwell, the past conflict with Baron Pahar, and prospects for gaining some leverage with the players in Westgate.

As they finished their meal, Aerikoth stated that in the morning he would go to the Watch Tower in Westgate to see Commander Meynn, if he was available. The wizard would then return to Tallwell to teleport Calen and their prisoner Tagreth to Pahar and leave him in the Baron’s hands. Dermot expressed the desire that gods willing, that would be that. Aerikoth replied that, in all candor, somehow he was dubious of that. (As I have commented previously, the wizard's words often prove prescient. --R)
 
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Carlo-One

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Shanni, begging tiredness, went upstairs to her room. Aerikoth indicated he would depart for the evening, leaving the remaining inn chamber to Darrow and Dermot. In response to a question from Darrow, the wizard briefly reviewed for them how matters stood in Westgate, including the fact that no one appeared to be searching for them after the Castle Cormaeril assault. The castle itself was under control of the Watch, as were the Cormaeril nobles, who were being held due to the information about an assassination attempt on the Croamarkh previously delivered by the adventurers to Losifan Urdo. Aerikoth’s two companions wished him safe travels and Darrow called for another pint before going to bed.

The night passed and Ches 26 dawned. Shanni, Darrow and Dermot gathered in the common room of Kablin’s Inn, having to be content with porridge in the morning. The innkeeper had mentioned hearing some strange noises in the night, but Shanni eventually determined that it was just Darrow’s snores. After finishing their simple meal, they headed over to the barracks to see about Tagreth.

Guard Captain Calen saluted the three as they entered, ordering one of his men to watch the bound prisoner while he spoke with their guests. A few moments later, Aerikoth joined them, brushing the rain from his robes. The wizard confirmed that he had seen Watch Commander Meynn in Westgate, who had found the information on Tagreth’s capture valuable. Aerikoth noted that Meynn planned to speak about it with House Thalavar, which was an ally of Baron Pahar.

The wizard indicated to Calen that he was ready and the guard captain in response barked an order and jerked the rope binding Tagreth, forcing the prisoner to his feet. Shanni begged off going to Turnton along with them, somewhat redundantly, as Aerikoth was only capable of bringing along two others with him via teleport. Calen became slightly confused when Aerikoth asked him where they should appear, but then understood the wizard meant where exactly in Turnton.

After some thought, the guard captain chose the Temple of Helm, saying it would be fitting; Dermot and Shanni agreed. Aerikoth said he had spent a significant time within Turnton and suggested that a safer place would be just outside the temple, as the wizard had found the devoted of Helm fairly unforgiving with his magical skill used in such a way. Calen nodded at that and then asked what he needed to do. Aerikoth explained that he needed to be in physical contact with Lord Tagreth, or he would not be transported with them. Calen did not find this a problem, taking a firm grip of Tagreth's bound arms, then waiting with a deep breath as the wizard placed a hand on his arm in turn, speaking an intense word of power.
 

Carlo-One

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After Aerikoth and the two men accompanying him disappeared, Darrow, Dermot and Shanni did some more searching in the vicinity of Tallwell for a potential site for the dwarf’s brewery, while keeping an eye out for portal signs or potential sites for the Beast’s buried treasure. They met a lumberjack named Fallir and his dog Growler, who cornered a razorback boar in the forest for them. Having found a suitable location nearby with running water and road access, Darrow negotiated with Fallir to have a brewery building constructed there, which the lumberjack promised they could do in a tenday.

Aerikoth returned magically to Tallwell around midday, surprising Darrow by suddenly appearing in front of the dwarf, who was drinking alone in the inn. The wizard related how Baron Pahar had taken charge of Tagreth and would keep him imprisoned in Turnton, pending a decision on his disposition. An emissary of House Thalavar in Westgate planned to journey there, to confer with their ally Pahar and see if Tagreth had any useful information. Aerikoth said he had been allowed to speak to the prisoner and would return to do so again, at the request of the Baron. The two discussed the situation with Tagreth for a time, then Darrow departed to see about the delivery of his brewery supplies to the work site.

In the early afternoon, a cheery-looking Dermot and somewhat desperate-looking Shanni arrived to join Aerikoth at Kablin’s Inn, having just spent the last two hours examining the flora around Tallwell. Shanni perked up quickly as the innkeeper brought around drink and some select cuts of meat, thanks to one of the woodsmen who had had come by to sell a large haunch of venison. Kablin mentioned how more of the loggers were coming into town and business was up, in part thanks to Darrow’s project. After the innkeeper departed, the three adventurers discussed their plans.

Aerikoth had no interest in staying longer in the village, while Dermot and Shanni acknowledged that their hopes of finding the Castle Cormaeril portal exit and the Beast’s hidden treasure so far had come to nought. They discussed possibilities in Starmantle, Reddansyr and Teziir. Regarding Westgate, Aerikoth reminded the others that they had planned to stay away for a time following the assault on the castle, but with the Cormaeril nobles all locked up, reprisals seemed unlikely now. The wizard also informed them, as he had with Darrow, that Tagreth had shared the information that House Vhammos was deeply tied to the Night Masks; this was relevant, as Shanni had been freed from the hold of a ship at the Vhammos docks.

The petite rogue by this point had finished her meal and mumbled something about going off to search for herbs and whatnot, as Darrow came in the door. Dermot carved off some venison for the dwarf, who came in grumbling about the weather. Between the dwarf and the ranger, they finished off the haunch, as the three companions caught up on their plans, without coming to a final decision.
 

Carlo-One

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By the time the sun began to set, Shanni had returned and Aerikoth had locked himself in one of the inn rooms, in order not to be disturbed while studying his magic. A meager supper of flavored broth was served in the common room to Darrow, Dermot and Shanni by the Kablins. The lack of available food highlighted the village’s penury, although both the innkeeper and his wife seemed optimistic about the prospects for future trade and local hunting, now that the manticores were gone from the woods. The three adventurers decided they should supplement the inn’s food stores, so Dermot lead a hunt into the countryside, despite the ever-present rain.

They first returned to the area where the local woodsman’s dog had cornered a boar and found its companion, which wounded Shanni in the leg with a charge before being killed. She soon healed, however, after Darrow lent her his ring of regeneration, and watched with interest as the ranger and the dwarf set to skinning the boar and storing its meat in their packs. Dermot heard some activity off to the northwest and suggested Shanni check it out, while they finished with the boar.

The petite rogue soon returned with a description of lots of huge rabbits in the forest, which Darrow thought would be good eating. The three moved toward where she had the rabbits and were surprised when they came leaping and bounding towards the adventurers, huge teeth exposed. A flurry of axe and sword work soon cut down the animals, however, leaving Darrow breathing heavily but grinning along with Shanni as they exchanged fluffy bunny jokes. The smiles soon turned to swearing, however, as the three set to dragging as many rabbit carcasses as they could handle back to Kablin’s Inn.

The exhausted adventurers, partly covered in rabbit blood, deposited their loads at the inn and were bemused when Kablin welcomed them enthusiastically, calling to his wife to come see the rabbits. The innkeeper explained that they had used to roam in packs in the woods before the manticores came, as Yasia enthused about various recipes. The three companions said that the rabbit meat would be all theirs, for the price of three baths.
 

Carlo-One

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Next morning on Ches 27, the adventurers awoke relatively clean and rested, leading Darrow to seriously question whether they actually had fought a bunch of giant rabbits the day before, or if he had overdone the bedtime ale. Dermot assured him that was actually a thing that had happened. The dwarf nodded, then wondered if they would be having rabbit for breakfast, as they headed downstairs.

They found Kablin mopping the floor, which was still slick with rabbit blood. He nonetheless greeted them cheerily enough, as Dermot apologized again for the mess. The innkeeper mentioned that Shanni had been up earlier, taking some bread and heading out quickly. Although he was evidently curious about what she was up to, Kablin did not ask further about it, saying he would fetch them some brown bread for breakfast.

Shortly afterward Aerikoth joined them, apparently having finished studying his spells. Darrow and Dermot discussed with the wizard plans to return to Westgate, which could be done either on foot or via teleportation. Darrow thought they had a good chance at finding work at the Mercenaries Guild, even without Losifan Urdo there. Aerikoth in turn speculated that Losifan might wish their assistance in any case, noting that their efforts against Cormaeril had not been sanctioned by the guild.

As the other three were finishing their meal, Shanni arrived back at the inn, complaining that it was raining – again. Darrow tweaked her about searching for treasure, but in response the petite rogue tossed a note down on the table for them to read. It said for them to come pay their respects at the Winnfall farm and they would talk, but had no signature. Darrow said it seemed like they had a date, while Shanni pointed out that it may mean for them to meet at the grave, rather than the farmhouse.

Aerikoth then asked the obvious question, where she had obtained the note, and was told in the hollowed-out tree out by the logging camp. The wizard observed that he was unaware of such a tree, then asked when she had found the note. Drawing out the explanation further, the petite rogue innocently stated that she had just gone for a walk the previous day and dropped it off, then checked back that morning. The wizard further questioned, staring at her, what she had dropped off, being told in return that it had been a note and a gold coin, suggesting to whomever was using the hollow that they should meet. The wizard found this intriguing, but did not inquire further. (Here we have an apparently deliberate reveal of Shanni's extracurricular activities in Tallwell away from her companions. I cannot believe that she simply randomly put a note and a coin into a local tree hollow, in the hopes that someone - who? - would respond. What is her game? --C)
 

Carlo-One

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As Kablin cleared the rough-hewn inn table, he inquired if the adventurers would be taking the road out that day. Dermot replied that it looked like they would be, one way or the other. The innkeeper said he and his wife had been right proud to have them there, which earned a smile and a return compliment from Darrow as the dwarf headed upstairs to put on his armor.

Aerikoth unblinkingly watched Kablin finish up and depart, and a now-armored Darrow arrive, before inquiring about the smell of raw meat. The wizard asked if his three companions had provided the inn with game, which Dermot acknowledged and Darrow elaborated on by describing the big rabbits they had slain. Aerikoth expressed his doubts as to the actual threat posed by them, only to be contradicted by all three, Darrow saying that goblins could have ridden them as mounts and Shanni likening them to boars.

After departing the inn, the four discussed how they wanted to do the meet at the site mentioned in the note. Dermot suddenly remembered he had meant to bring up the fact he had taken a couple of trinkets off Lord Tagreth Cormaeril, including a ring of invisibility. They agreed to have Darrow use the ring, since Aerikoth had his own magic and Dermot and Shanni were adept at sneaking. Once they all were hidden from casual sight, they made their way to the grave at village’s western outskirts.

After taking up their positions in view of the site, they saw the two ox drivers, Hal and Lally, having a conversation about getting ready for the road. Lally went inside the nearby farmhouse as Hal finished cinching up his ox in the pasture, apparently inured to the constant rain. Darrow, as had been previously decided, was the first to initiate contact, surprising Hal as he appeared seemingly from nowhere. The dwarf gave a friendly greeting and confirmed to Hal that the adventurers would be leaving soon too. Some small talk about Darrow’s brewery plans occupied them for a while.

Shanni, evidently losing patience, showed herself and approached Hal, inquiring with a pointed look if he were there to pay his respects, echoing the language used in the note she had found. He said aye, paying them before heading back to Westgate, and the petite rogue said she was there to do the same. They then bantered about business opportunities in Tallwell and taking the road to Westgate, which Hal indicated he would do after waiting for the rain to let up a bit. Darrow said that he would prefer to do the same, although it wasn’t up to him, then excused himself, as did Shanni, citing the need to get out of the rain. Hal wished them fair travels and Shanni reciprocated.

Darrow and Shanni met up with Dermot and Aerikoth, who were puzzled and underwhelmed by the results of the meeting. Aerikoth speculated that one of the drovers might have known Aratae in the past and wished to pay his respects, if they were from the village and knew the Winnfalls. He also pointed out that it was likely they were illiterate, given their occupation, implying that the note was note from them. Shanni just continued cursing the rain, while making it known that she had been put out by Darrow’s forthright approach to the conversation. This made the dwarf grumble, as she refused to explain further, saying she had been intrigued but was bored now. (It seems that the dwarf was unaccustomed to the requirements for clandestine-type meetings, unlike the "petite rogue" - but then again, if that is what Shanni truly was expecting, why did she bring Darrow and the others along in the first place? I have to think there was more to this incident than is reflected in the chronicles. --R)

With nothing keeping them in town, the four set out across the countryside. By the time they had reached the neighboring village of Glees, it had stopped raining, to Dermot and Shanni’s delight, but the petite rogue started complaining again when the skies opened up as they reached the Turnton/Glees crossroads, as did Darrow. From there, they walked the rest of the way to Westgate, arriving as the sun was setting.

Being in the large city again apparently made them lose their bearings, as they took the long way to the Gatreach Inn, although were able to pick up some additional rumors in the streets. Inside, Jandrico Swift and his new half-orc employee Barzog welcomed them back, Barzog leaving with a cheery wave to his friends from Starmantle. The four adventurers then caught Jandrico up on the results of their travels and were also informed by the innkeeper that the nearly-rebuilt Gatereach guest house was available for them to occupy, if they wished. (A generous and noble gesture by Jandrico, considering that the previous one had been burned down in order to get at the party's possessions. Of course, the Cormaerils were the original culprits and by this point were no longer a threat, but it still must have given some pause to the innkeeper in his considerations. --C)
 
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Chapter X: An Ancient Evil

Message from the Past

On the morning of Ches 28, the company trickled into the Gatereach’s back room for breakfast, Darrow being the first despite his late night “research” for his brewery business. The dwarf confessed to not really liking most of the ales he sampled, neither did he have any luck finding a brewer who was looking for work. In reply, Jandrico Swift thoughtfully tapped a finger on the bar, saying he might know someone who would be looking for a change of venue, and that had the required skills. Darrow described the virtues of the quiet location of Tallwell and agreed to meet with the man, if Jandrico could set something up for that evening.

Aerikoth arrived at this point and confirmed to Shanni that he had stayed at his Westgate home the previous night. In response to the wizard’s question about their own doings, Darrow mentioned he had gone out for a wee bit of research, as the dwarf put it, while Dermot had slept in. Shanni said she went for a walk to get some air before dinner, but then had stayed in for the night. As the four dug into Goruna the cook’s fresh griddlecakes, they discussed the uptick in street activity that Darrow and Aerikoth had noticed, the wizard relaying what his raven familiar Zeluth had observed the night before.

As the adventurers were finishing their meal, Jandrico took the opportunity to raise the matter of the guest house in more detail, mentioning that it should be completed by the following month and inquiring about their interest in renting it at 400 gold per month, for the group. The innkeeper hoped it would be worth their consideration and retired to the kitchen, to allow them to discuss the matter. In response to a question form Dermot about what the guest house was like before, Aerikoth said that before it burned down, the guesthouse had been a quality place to stay, as each member of the company had a separate room and there was a central meeting area.

Shanni expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of having a room of her own, for the first time. She thought that they should be good for the gold, especially with their share of the profit from the dragon hoard due soon after the guest house would be available. Dermot considered that one hundred gold each a month would not be too bad at all, only to be corrected by Aerikoth, who saw no reason to stay there when he had his own home. The ranger then corrected the sum to one hundred and thirty four each, still considering that wouldn’t be too bad at all. Finishing his food and taking a sip of water, the wizard qualified his earlier statement, saying that even though he would not be staying at the guest house, he would be willing to assist all of them, if there was a need.
 
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Carlo-One

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As the four adventurers were coming to agreement on taking the guest house, a tired-looking man dressed in monk’s robes and carrying a staff walked into the room, announcing that he was seeking Jandrico Swift. Jandrico came out of the kitchen and identified himself, as the others looked curiously at the traveler. Looking both exhausted and relieved, he explained that he was seeking a brother of his order, pulling out a note and showing it to the innkeeper. At this point Darrow lost interest and returned to inhaling his griddlecakes.

Jandrico, while reading the note, saddened and said he was afraid that Brother Veran has passed on to his Judgment, as he believed they put it. The monk traveler indicated that this was sad news indeed, although not unexpected. He explained that it had been two months since the message from Veran had been received, with nothing further. Brother Millerjoi, the head of their order, had therefore dispatched him to determine what had happened. Shanni and Dermot appeared intrigued by the turn of events, as Jandrico looked over to Aerikoth, mentioning that the wizard had been one of Brother Veran’s companions, for a time. (It is with great anticipation that I see the Order introduced again as an actor in this drama, including the prospect of obtaining more detail on Brother Veran's legacy. It is heartening to see that they did not give up on him, despite his already having passed on to his Judgment. --C)

Aerikoth said that he could inform the traveler of what had happened to his monastic brother, first asking his name. In response, the monk gave formal greetings to Aerikoth, stating that he was Brother Vendalus, of the Order of Kelemvor in Archendale. Aerikoth rose and took up his staff, as Vendalus offered to show them the message by way of explanation, fumbling a little for it before placing it on the bar table. He explained that Brother Veran and his companions had defeated an ancient lich, yet it seemed that the task was not fully completed, when the note was scribed and sent. Vendalus also mentioned that he had other information, related to the prophecy Veran had been researching.

Darrow – managing a dignified nod to their monk guest despite the griddlecake crumbs in his beard – Dermot and Shanni all recalled hearing the story in the past. The dwarf assured Vendalus that the lich had been well and truly destroyed, noting that his lair was underneath the Ironhelm clanhome. The monk welcomed this news and noted down Darrow’s offer to have him speak with the Ironhelm dwarves. However, Vendalus still feared that he needed to seek assistance on the matter of the prophecy. (Although the dwarf is not wrong, neither is he fully correct. The matter of the lich Ashnakzeroth is not yet concluded within these pages. One should be wary of making such kinds of assumptions, however one might wish them to be true. --R)

Showing some concern for the tired-looking monk, Jandrico observed that it appeared he had been traveling for a good while. Vendalus acknowledged this, having just arrived that morn on a ship crossing the Dragonmere. The innkeeper offered to help break his fast then, and provide a room for the night should he need one. The monk was appreciative, but indicated that he could not fully rest until he found some assistance in Westgate, which he had hoped to obtain from Veran. Darrow, Dermot and Shanni expressed an interest in hearing about this, While Aerikoth finished thoroughly perusing the message.

Vendalus queried whether Veran's last message made sense to the wizard, who agreed. The monk said he therefore considered the matter of the lich to be at an end. Yet that left the matter of the prophecy that Brother Veran was originally researching, before he journeyed to Westgate. It concerned the return of a vampire king to Westgate, a resurgence of the evil of old. The Night King.
 

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