The Westgate Campaign Chronicles - serial


Despite what had occurred, Jokull refused to give up, shouldering Marik's body and declaring he would go to all the temples in Westgate if he had to. The rest of the group was less sanguine about his prospects, but bid Jokull good luck. Brok-Tul, his temper building, led the others to the temple of Mask, where he shouted for entry, yelling Klendt's name and brandishing the dead female Mask's head - but received only silence in return. Some time later, Jokull returned to the guest house to meet the others, face bright, explaining that he had convinced a priest of Lathander to sell them a raise dead scroll - for the price of 1,621 gold. The others, minus an indisposed Aerikoth (Hah! --R), collected their gold and accompanied Jokull back to the temple, Brok-Tul relieving Jokull of carrying the burden of Marik's body. A Lathanderite priest by the name of Oravan collected the gold and gave over the scroll, saying to Jokull with compassion that it was deserved, and hoped it was worth the trouble. (Jokull's speech to the priest must have been quite convincing. Perhaps he forgot to mention Marik's patron deity. Nonetheless, his motives for helping a fallen comrade are admirable. --C). The grateful group departed, heading back to the guest house to prepare for the raising of Marik.

Brok-Tul prepared a ceremonial circle in the main room of the guest house and took the scroll in hand, while the others watched. Chanting his prayers to Mask, he raised the scroll, only to recoil in pain and shock. Trembling with the effort and reaction, Brok-Tul composed himself again and began new preparations - this time invoking Helm. When no untoward consequences manifested, Brok-Tul raised the scroll again and read its magical words, culminating in a burst of light and movement over Marik's former corpse, as Marik stirred anew - weak, but alive.

The next day, the 26th of Uktar, dawned. Rahnee and Brok-Tul arose and went upstairs, to check on Marik, knocking on the door to his room. Aerikoth, already awake, emerged from across the hall and inquired as to how Brok-Tul was faring after the previous night's efforts; Aerikoth was intrigued by Brok-Tul's need to alter the scroll ceremony. Brok-Tul, somewhat embarrassed, said that he had not slept and that he felt a hole in him where Mask had been. Brok-Tul felt that Marik should be told that a different god than his patron had brought him back, to which Aerikoth commented that it seemed both Brok-Tul and Marik shared the same fate.

A tired Marik answered the door and was greeted by all, Brok-Tul quickly informing him of the issue regarding their gods. Aerikoth then excused himself, departing for the Gatereach to break his fast. Marik, still appearing weak, said he needed to rest a little longer. The others deferred to Marik's wishes and left to join Aerikoth at the Gatereach, Jokull arriving first. Over breakfast, ably served by Janatha, the group discussed their next moves. Brok-Tul felt strongly that he needed to go to Turnton, in order to talk with High Cleric Carlin about Helm. Finishing their meal, the group returned to the guest house. Aerikoth on the way commented that he had little desire to travel to Turnton, but would accompany the rest if they felt his presence was needed.

In the main room, Brok-Tul noticed that Rahnee's trunk appeared to have been disturbed. After carefully tapping the chest with the tip of his sword, Brok-Tul opened it with a flick of his wrist, revealing a note where Rahnee's expensive black velvet dress had been. Brok-Tul read the note to the others: "Hope you don't mind, I borrowed some things I needed for traveling money. I consider all debts between us paid. Good luck with your ventures. Good luck with the Masks. --Marik"


Outbursts of outrage poured from Brok-Tul and Rahnee, while Jokull appeared dumbfounded. Aerikoth betrayed nothing beyond his usual calm, expressionless gaze. After checking the remainder of their belongings, it appeared that Marik had also made off with Jokull's "lucky" torch and a few of Aerikoth's books. Jokull expressed his anger, questioning how "all debts had been paid." Aerikoth reminded the others that, beyond Marik's actions of thievery, it was important to think of what information he possessed that could prove detrimental to them. Discussion followed, the group fluctuating between desiring to pursue Marik and exact revenge, or simply cutting their losses and resigning themselves to Marik's departure. Aerikoth dryly expressed his surprise that the others had ever trusted Marik. While checking over their gear, Brok-Tul attempted to magically identify one of the captured Night Mask crossbows, calling on Helm, but failed.

Aerikoth's remarks got the better of Rahnee's temper, causing her to stalk out of the house in anger. Brok-Tul pointedly wondered if there were others in the group whom it would be foolish to trust, provoking an exchange of words with Aerikoth. The wizard in turn accused Brok-Tul of being a fool for how he had acted outside the temple of Mask, commenting that retribution would surely come as a result. Rahnee had by then returned, her temper mastered, and called a halt to the recriminations. (Once again the group is held together by this remarkable young woman. --R). Aerikoth accepted one of the looted Night Mask daggers, placing it in his magic bag.

Deciding it was necessary to inform their Thalavar patron of what had happened with Marik, Rahnee and Aerikoth walked in the rain to Castle Thalavar. In the castle entrance hall, Rahnee "reminded" the steward Iono that she had delivered horses previously to him and wished to discuss a further shipment. Iono, understanding that there must be an urgent situation, commented that he had wished to see her in any case, regarding one of the horses who had come up lame.

Once in the privacy of Iono's study, Rahnee explained the situation and their concern over what information Marik could possibly reveal to their enemies. Iono considered Marik's actions unfortunate, but concluded that it was unlikely there would be significant repercussions if their former comrade did the smart thing and fled Westgate. In response to a question from Rahnee, Iono indicated that there was no geas on Marik, as Jokull had originally convinced him to work with Thalavar against the Fire Knives. Iono said that he would instruct Garis to meet with the party that evening at hour 21, at their usual meeting place, cautioning them not to return to Castle Thalavar except in case of dire need.

Returning to the guest house, Rahnee and Aerikoth gave an account of their meeting with Iono to the others. Rahnee asked Jokull about his initial encounter with Marik. Jokull explained that shortly after his own arrival in Westgate seeking the Fire Knives, Marik had been captured by Thalavar agents. Given the coincidence of Jokull's goals and Marik's background, Jokull had worked to convince Marik to collaborate with Thalavar. Jokull's Purple Dragon history had perhaps impressed Marik, but he thought Marik's decision to cooperate was more likely due to Thalavar gold. The party prepared for their meeting that night with Garis, although with low expectations as to its usefulness, and planned to travel to Turnton on the morn. (At least out of all this Brok-Tul has gained some clarity regarding his new, true deity - Helm. --C)


As they gathered prior to departure, Jokull asked why they should bother discussing things further with Garis, given what had occurred at Castle Thalavar. Rahnee replied that Garis might have some information on how Marik had departed and why. Hearing Brok- Tul rouse himself upstairs, where he had retired to nurse a headache, Rahnee ascended to see to him. Returning, she informed the others he would be down shortly. After Brok-Tul joined them, the party reviewed the equipment looted at the site of the ruined watchtower, Brok-Tul commenting that he had seen the Mask crossbows before in the hands of higher-ups; however, Aerikoth could not further identify the magic items without preparing additional spells.

The party left for the Empty Fish tavern, located in the district outside of West Gate, arriving without incident, although the bartender challenged Brok-Tul, who had a crossbow out. Brok-Tul quickly put it away, explaining that it was safer that way outside the city walls. Rahnee also apologized for him, saying that he had had a bad day. Smiling, Rahnee bought four ales, whispering to Aerikoth to at least pretend to drink his, and the group settled at a nearby table.

Shortly afterwards, Garis strolled in and asked the barkeep if he could strike up a game of dice at the tavern. The barkeep was dubious, but in return for matching a gold piece on the counter, Garis was allowed to solicit customers to see if anyone was interested. After bantering with Brok-Tul and Rahnee, Garis in a loud voice announced that he could be found at the Black Boot for a game, then briefly bent close to Rahnee's ear before sauntering out.

Once the group was out of the Empty Fish, Rahnee explained in a low voice that Garis had whispered the name of the Old Beard tavern and told her to knock four times at his room door - the mention of the Black Boot evidently being a blind for any others who might be curious. It took some time to make their way across the city, but the group eventually turned up at Garis' door and was let in. Close on their heels was a man in monk robes, whom Garis allowed to enter and introduced as Veran Bron, a monk of Kelemvor. (The legendary member of the Order makes his first appearance! In my earlier studies, his companions were barely mentioned. I expect part of the task before me is to better understand the roles played by all who fought the abomination, not just that of Brother Veran. --C)

Garis indicated that full introductions would be made shortly, but he would turn to the matter of Marik first. In short, Garis' sources had turned up no information on Marik being in Westgate, so Garis assumed that Marik had taken a ship or caravan out of the city as soon as possible. Garis said that he would keep an eye out, but he doubted that Marik would ever be seen again - not necessarily a bad outcome from the House Thalavar point of view. Garis pointed out that Marik could have done more damage if he had wanted, and had probably resumed the life of a petty criminal.

(So ends the tale of Marik in these chronicles - except for one small thing, which we shall see later. Despite - or perhaps because of - his roguish nature, it is hard not to smile at the recounting of his doings. The farewell note he left for the party after stealing their effects was priceless; one cannot help but imagine the expression on their faces while reading it. --R)


Turning to the newcomer, Garis explained that Veran had come to House Thalavar's attention as part of their ongoing investigation of necromantic activity in Westgate, inviting Veran to tell his story. Veran, often speaking using somewhat obscure metaphors, informed the party that a prophecy of his order had brought him to Westgate. The prophecy stated that a great kingdom of the dead, which had risen and been vanquished, would rise again; this fit Westgate's history. Garis said that in the ancient past, prior to Dalereckoning, Westgate had been ruled by the vampire king Orlak. Veran stated that Orlak was eventually defeated by a group of holy warriors, but the prophecy said that it would occur again. (The perpetual struggle involving good and evil, light and darkness, life and death, has not ended nor will it end, until the universe ceases to exist. A sobering thought, yet one which also gives purpose. --C)

In response to a question from Rahnee, Garis commented that the prophecy was indeed vague, but that it fit with Thalavar reports of vampire activity, including what the party had previously run across. Garis said that if this prophecy were true, then Westgate faced a much more serious threat than a few stray undead. Since Veran was unlikely to make much headway on his own, and the party already had some experience with the matter, Garis believed it would be useful to introduce them. Garis also said that he would be willing to pay the additional 100 gold bonding fee for the Mercenaries Guild, should the group accept Veran. He addied that Veran was currently at the temple of Lathander, but could not stay there much longer.

Rahnee led the group in questioning Veran about his skills, which appeared to be satisfactory, and his willingness to work with the party in the Mercenaries Guild. Garis passed a gold pouch to Rahnee, to use for Veran’s bond, and excused himself, appearing a little relieved. On the way out, Garis was pulled aside by Jokull, who asked for a private meeting with Iono; Garis said he would try to arrange one. Brok-Tul, curious, engaged Veran in a discussion about Kelemvor and the afterlife, commenting that he had not seen Kelemvor before being raised. Veran made several profound - if difficult to fully decipher - remarks in reply, which left Rahnee chuckling and Jokull confused. (The description of Brother Veran's speech reminds me of some of our Order's more esoteric members, whose remarks can be either profound or baffling, depending on the day. --R)

Having been provisionally accepted by the group, Veran accompanied them out of the tavern. The monk commented that he did not need to stop by the Lathander temple to retrieve any belongings, since he carried what he possessed. Brok-Tul and Jokull broke off to stop by the Mercenaries Guild, while the others headed for the Gatereach, where they checked Veran in with Jandrico Swift and informed him of Marik's departure.

At the guild, Brok-Tul and Jokull were informed by the clerk that registering new members required the newcomer to be present, along with at least two members of the company to be joined, in order to vouch for the newcomer. Returning to the guest house, the two discussed travel plans to Turnton with Rahnee and Aerikoth, and were joined by Veran, who had been given a room upstairs for the night. Before going to bed, Jokull mentioned that he might not be able to depart the city with the others, given his upcoming match at the Quivering Thumb. Veran was interested in why Jokull fought, asking if it was for coin or glory. Hesitating slightly, Jokull replied that it was perhaps both.

The next morning, Jokull was convinced to accompany the rest of the group to Turnton, although he said he would return early the following day, citing the need to keep an appointment. Heading east across the city, a stop was made at the Mercenaries Guild to put Veran on the rolls of Helm's Shadows, and another at Shalush Myrkeer's shop to obtain additional supplies. The party then made their way outside the South Gate, finding the road marked for Turnton.


New Friends and Old Enemies

As they reached the Turnton/Glees fork area, with night falling, the group was surprised by two owlbears emerging from trees close to the path. Quickly overcoming their initial surprise, the party defeated their attackers at minimal cost. Further down the road, two baronial soldiers were encountered on patrol, who warned them (somewhat tardily) of an owlbear presence in the area. According to the soldiers, the Baron had recently re-established patrols in the countryside, the first time he had been able to do so since the war with Hallton. The patrol then headed for Glees, thanking the party for dispatching the monsters. The soldiers' warning was not entirely useless, as shortly thereafter the party spotted another pair of owlbears in their path, this time getting the jump on them.

At the outskirts of Turnton, the party was halted at the walls and then recognized by the guards. Veran was introduced and welcomed as their new companion. Rahnee raised the encounter with the patrol and the owlbears with the guard captain. He lamented his reduction in forces - only two could patrol where twelve had previously - and commented that “things” had always come out of the forest. The captain mentioned that the Baron was visiting some outlying farms, but that High Cleric Carlin was present in Turnton.

Continuing on to the temple of Helm, they were informed by the priest on duty that Carlin had retired for the evening, but could be waked if the matter was urgent. The party declined to disturb him, but Brok-Tul - after being queried by Rahnee about his intentions - decided to maintain a vigil at the temple that night. The others made their way to the local inn, the Traveler's Cheer. There, innkeeper Karl cheerfully welcomed the "heroes of Glees" and told them room and board for the night was on the house.

In the morning, on the 28th day of Uktar, Jokull departed at sunrise, true to his word. After their breakfast, Rahnee and Aerikoth were proudly introduced to the crowd at the inn by a smiling Karl as the heroes of Glees, receiving cheers and compliments in return. A baronial soldier arrived and requested that the group stop by the barracks at their convenience, as the guard captain wished to speak with them. After finishing their business at the inn, Rahnee, Aerikoth and Veran made their way to the barracks and were escorted back to see Guard Captain Halon.

Halon expressed his pleasure at meeting Rahnee and Aerikoth, and greeted Veran as a new companion of theirs. Halon immediately got down to business, starting off by mentioning that he was severely undermanned following the war with Hallton, despite the presence of a few mercenaries. Once he heard the party was in town, he thought he would take advantage of the opportunity to enlist their aid. The captain explained that following the defeat of the Sess goblin tribe and the truce imposed on them – a sequence of events in which Aerikoth had originally taken part – the Sess had faithfully adhered to the truce conditions. However, the monthly Sess emissary was nearly a tenday overdue and a patrol sent into the Amee Pass had encountered no sign of them. The captain was unsure of the significance of the event: were the Sess readying for an attack, or had something spooked them? In response to a question from Rahnee, the captain said he would be grateful for the party's help in simply determining the truth of the situation.

Rahnee, seeing no objections from her two companions, told the captain that they would be glad to assist. Halon then provided some further details on the mission. The patrol sent into the pass had encountered a rock wall blocking the normal route through, apparently set up recently by the Sess tribe. The patrol had not wanted to risk the alternate route, which meant taking the fork in the pass that served as a home for ettins, so had returned and reported their findings. The captain offered a guide to the pass, which was approximately three hours' travel away, which the party accepted.

After departing the barracks, Rahnee took the others to check at the temple for Brok-Tul, but was told by the temple priest that he was already in communion with the High Cleric and would likely be that way all day. Rahnee inquired regarding the potential harmful effects of her being separated from Brok-Tul, given his geas to protect her, but was told that her temporary absence should not be troubling, especially since Brok-Tul himself was currently close to Helm. Aerikoth, playing off the priest's words, pointedly questioned whether Brok-Tul's service to Helm was voluntary, asserting bluntly that they had enslaved him. When asked by the priest which god he served, Aerikoth refused to answer, and the priest coldly, if politely, indicated that there seemed nothing left to discuss. (The wizard appears to have some serious issues with others' - and it seems his own - relationships with the deities of Toril. Perhaps something in his past? --C)


The three adventurers – Rahnee, Aerikoth and Veran – returned to the inn to retrieve their equipment, where they were met by their promised guide to Amee Pass, a soldier named Farog. Farog led them to the outskirts of the town and then started overland, apologizing for lack of a road. Three hours later, the group arrived at the baronial outpost at the entrance to the pass, and were challenged and recognized by the outpost's soldiers. The captain welcomed his "distinguished visitors" and considered their arrival opportune, given the situation. When asked about the ettins, the captain indicated that they occupied the eastern fork in the pass; the western fork was now blocked by a crude but effective stone barrier. In response to a question from Aerikoth, the captain said that the barrier clearly had been erected to keep others out of Sess land, the question being whether they were scared of something or were preparing another attack. Taking their leave of the captain, who promised to assist them if they were driven back through the pass, the group headed for the pass entrance.

The three first carefully made their way down the western fork of the pass, Veran taking the role of scout. They examined the crude wall at the end of the pass, which was as the captain had described. Rahnee estimated that dwarves with pickaxes could break their way through in a day, but with anyone else it would take much longer. Even more carefully, the group made their way to the eastern fork in the pass. Aerikoth suggested leaving a trail of gold coins for a greedy ettin to follow to an ambush point and Veran volunteered to accomplish the task. Unfortunately, Veran was spotted by an ettin as he neared the eastern fork’s exit, but the monk's speed successfully carried him back to the ambush point, where his companions helped him defeat the two-headed giant. As the first one was put down, another came running into the fray, but a dire wolf summoned by Aerikoth savagely knocked it to the ground, where it became easy prey.

Exiting the pass, the group found indications of goblin movement heading generally north. Rahnee and Veran scouted ahead, discovering a group of goblins in a heavily forested area. Aerikoth confirmed they were Sess, based on Rahnee's description of their insignia. As Rahnee and Veran had seen only a handful of them, Aerikoth suggested they approach and ask to speak under conditions of truce, since the party could easily handle them if they turned hostile. Rahnee moved forward slowly towards them, holding empty hands up in full view of the goblin band, who quickly turned in her direction as she was spotted. The band's leader, a shaman, held his hammer up and dropped it, signifying a truce.

Rahnee stepped forward calmly and was asked by the Shaman - in halting Common – about her intentions. She indicated that Aerikoth would speak with the Shaman, who said he recognized the human "spell-man" from before. Aerikoth, hands folded in his sleeves, asked the shaman why Chief Harakkah had not honored the terms of the truce with the baron. In response, the shaman said the chief was now deep in the hills, having decided it was best to leave the pass along with the rest of the tribe, and had no intention of hurting the humans. All were gone save for the shaman's band of "brave ones" who were there to watch for "the coming."

Under further questioning from Aerikoth, the Shaman explained that old tribal lore said "it" had come before and had killed goblins unless "it" was served. The Sess believed "it" had been served also by Zagath, the necromancer defeated by Aerikoth's previous adventuring company. After Zagath was killed, the goblins had thought "it" would not come. However, recent signs - the bitter early winter, the nearby forest which remained darkened, and the suicide of the forest's druid - had convinced the Sess it was time to leave.

When asked by Aerikoth what "it" was that was coming, the shaman rattled off a long, unintelligible word in the goblin language. Veran asked the shaman, with Aerikoth's permission, whether "it" was coming or returning, the shaman indicating yes in both cases, and also confirming that it smelled of death. The shaman was, however, confused by some of Veran's questions. Veran took the shaman's words as additional confirmation of his own prophecy. Aerikoth praised the shaman's bravery and told him that he could now depart, just as the adventurers were planning to. The shaman saluted the party and barked orders to the goblin band, who immediately headed into the woods. Aerikoth, Rahnee, and Veran then turned back toward Amee Pass, with much to think about.

(Aha! The above passage marks an important point in our understanding of the Order's prophecy, which I admit remains somewhat controversial to this day. Prophecies are slippery beasts and it is rare that we succeed in understanding them - even if genuine - before the foretold events have already come to pass. Veran assumed, after arriving in Westgate, that it was the resurgent vampire kingdom of the Night King Orlak he should be concerned with. What the Sess goblins and the necromancer Zagath once served, though, is an entirely different evil. --C)


At the pass outpost, the three gave the captain a thorough account of their encounter, then continued back to Turnton with their guide in order to report to Guard Captain Halon at the barracks. Brok-Tul greeted them warmly on their return and accompanied them to their meeting with Halon. There, Rahnee and the others repeated their account, to Brok-Tul's astonishment, of the defeat of the ettins and the Sess tribe's departure. Halon was relieved to hear that the goblins were not planning another attack and expressed his hope that the Sess' fear was simply due to overblown goblin legends. The captain thanked the three for their efforts and bringing back the information. He said that the Amee Pass outpost would now be abandoned, due to the lack of a Sess threat; the soldiers used to reinforce baronial forces elsewhere, something which was badly needed. The captain also saluted Brok-Tul as a new addition to the Helmite temple. (Legends always have a reason for existing, although the truth contained within them may be difficult to recognize. I do not fault the guard captain for his desire to move on to other concerns, especially because there was little he could personally do, in any event. --R)

Departing the barracks, the group returned to the Traveler's Cheer inn, where they made arrangements to stay the night - Rahnee and Brok-Tul choosing to share a room - and then depart in the morning. Innkeeper Karl saw them off the next day, the 29th of Uktar, with a broad smile, waving off their attempt to pay their bill, saying it would be compensation enough for them to tell their friends of the Traveler's Cheer. On the way out of town, the group stopped at the general store. Brok-Tul was unsuccessful in finding any leather dye for Rahnee, but picked up some additional crossbow bolts for himself. Stepping through the town wall’s gate, Brok-Tul’s attention was drawn to a blasted-looking dead tree a short distance away, the half-orc noting that it was the only dead one nearby and wondering out loud why it was there.

The group made their way back to Westgate without further encounters, although the bitter cold reduced their traveling speed and Veran was driven to wonder if it would be an inappropriate time to curse Auril. Rahnee, teeth chattering, stumbled into an oblivious-looking Jokull, who was sitting outside of the Gatereach compound. Collecting Jokull, the group entered the guest house and set about drying off and warming up. Jokull was told of the defeat of the ettins and asked Brok-Tul how it went with the High Cleric. Brok-Tul replied that it went well and he now had focus; he was to dedicate his missions to Helm and bring back proof of his doings. Jokull, for his part, said he was confident of the match on the following day at the Quivering Thumb, especially since it was only for first blood. The companions agreed it was getting late and retired to their individual pursuits.


First Blood

The morning of day 30 of Uktar, Veran rose early and gave a message to Jandrico Swift at the Gatereach Inn, to be delivered to Veran's superiors at the monastery outside of Archenbridge. He and the others then spent the daylight hours pursuing individual projects: Brok-Tul and Jokull spent time collaborating on ideas for smithing, while Rahnee bought some leather dyes and Aerikoth spent many hours in magical study. An hour before Jokull was due to depart for the Quivering Thumb arena, the companions reunited to prepare for the evening and discuss their plans.

All agreed that they were ready to ask for another assignment from the Mercenaries Guild, while Veran expressed interest in further investigating the Amee Pass area. Brok-Tul commented that he and Jokull would like to set up a small forge in Turnton, given the difficulty involved in establishing one in Westgate, then perhaps set up a stall in the Market to sell their products. In addition to the profit motive, Brok-Tul was driven by the idea of dedicating the work to Helm, and eventually establishing a shrine in the city. The conversation wandered to the blasted tree outside of Turnton which Brok-Tul had observed, as well as the “talking tree” and the disturbing encounter at the shrine of Garagos in the Seven Hills area.

The hour of Jokull's departure was reached and Rahnee and Brok-Tul wished him the blessings of Tymora and Helm as he left. He said he would be angry, if by chance his opponent landed the first hit. A short while later, the others made their own way to the arena, paying the five gold per-head entry fee at the door. Once inside, they saw a lively crowd, and Rahnee and Brok-Tul placed bets with Oddsmaker Drugo.

The first match featured the barbarian Ru'allah against a lion, which arena master Stanslav informed the crowd had been captured by a tribe of wemics in the Shining Plains. The lion severely clawed its barbarian opponent, who just barely managed to dispatch the beast and save his own life with a well-timed sword thrust. After Ru'allah did a limping victory lap around the arena, it was cleared for the next match, which featured Jokull (introduced as "Josurr" the exiled Purple Dragon) and a hooded man whom Stanslav called the "Sembian Blademaster." Stanslav's booming voice informed the crowd that, since Cormyr and Sembia had come to blows in the city, the Sembian was challenging Josurr's presence in the arena. Jokull emerged from the gladiator pit, roaring and banging his sword on his shield as he entered the arena to the cheers of the crowd.

The Blademaster, who had been anonymously loitering in the back of the main room, quietly walked down the arena ramp, drawing his sword and saluting Stanslav. Both duelists sheathed their swords as Stanslav activated the arena barrier, which would be lifted once one of them had drawn first blood. Jokull berated the Sembian, daring him to go farther than first blood, then removed his own helmet, revealing a portion of Jokull's hooded face painted purple. The Sembian casually dropped the point of his sheathed sword to the floor, asking Jokull what he was waiting for. As soon as the words were out of the Sembian's mouth, Jokull cried "enough!" and threw his helmet at his opponent, who ducked to avoid it, but could not avoid Jokull's follow-up draw and sword thrust, wounding his arm. Wincing in pain, the Sembian cried foul, but Stanslav declared "Josurr" the victor of a fair fight. Jokull bowed to his opponent, who complemented him on unexpectedly fighting with his brain rather than just his swordarm. Before departing, the Sembian warned Jokull that if they met again, the advantage would be the Sembian's.


The last bout featured the half-orc Gagh, the undefeated champion, versus one Lamish Cooper. Lamish, Stanslav informed the crowd, had struck a deal with House Bleth to be accepted as a guard if he could defeat Gagh in the arena. It appeared that Lamish, a small man armed with a pair of daggers, had no other hope of being hired on, although he was introduced as a skilled master of knives who had hamstrung many an opponent. Gagh's laughing taunts goaded the man into attacking and he came at Gagh with both knives flashing. The large half-orc quickly raised his greatsword and split Lamish from head to waist in one blow, drawing cheers from some and boos from others who had wanted a better fight. Gagh paraded around the arena, grinning and saluting Stanslav with his sword before returning to the gladiator pit. Rahnee and Brok-Tul collected their gambling winnings and discussed Gagh's tactics, while Jokull quietly slipped out of the building, alone.

Jokull finally returned to the guest house, a half hour after the others had decamped from the arena. Looking disheveled but with a strange fire in his eye, he tossed a note on the meeting room table, explaining that he had received it from Stanslav after arriving at the Quivering Thumb. The note directed "Josurr" to go alone to a sewer entrance in River Gate, where a "friend" who knew about his personal quest would meet him. Jokull softly said that it was, of course, a trap, and that he had killed five men who attacked him in the sewer.

He showed the others a scrap of paper, which apparently was an IOU collectible from someone named Rancel at "the Boot." Jokull was sure the Fire Knives were involved in setting up the trap, which was personally aimed at him. At the urging of Rahnee and Brok-Tul, Jokull explained to the others that he knew they were after him because of “Josurr” - not the random alias of a supposed gladiator, but the name of Jokull's long-dead brother, who had been murdered by the Fire Knives in Cormyr. Rahnee grimly told Jokull that she understood his blood vow, as she had also suffered the violent loss of a brother. She described how Khael Roaringhorn, a priest of Tymora, had been gutted and left in a pool of blood at his own temple. The events of the day having drawn out grim and terrible emotions, Jokull took his leave of the others and all made their way to their rooms, tired from a long night's activities.

(Blood calls to blood, and only more blood will satisfy it. --R)


A Giant Problem

The first day of Nightal, 1372 dawned cold and rainy, so the group was informed by Janatha as she brought in the breakfast tray. Brok-Tul had risen early and departed the Gatereach guest house to search the city for suitable smithy supplies. Aerikoth asked to see Jokull's notes and observed that the IOU in Rancel’s name likely placed the person at the Black Boot in River Gate. Jokull also passed Aerikoth an arcane scroll that he had recovered, for which Aerikoth thanked him. Veran expressed interest in finding a library in which to further research his prophecy, but no one could think of any in the city, besides the one at the Naturalist's Guild. Speaking of that guild, Rahnee and Aerikoth both commented that neither of them had obtained the rare spider venom they were searching for. They decided that day to visit the Naturalist's Guild first, then the Mercenaries Guild, and end their trip at the Black Boot, although Aerikoth cautioned that little useful would likely be found at their first destination. Jokull decided to dress himself in a set of black armor taken from one of his attackers the previous night. (The Cormyrian seems to like to work all of the angles in a situation. This is not always a recipe for success. --R)

Once at the Naturalist’s Guild building in Westlight Harbor, Veran was indeed disappointed at finding no texts on astrology; the guild clerk suggested trying one of the temples. Rahnee asked if any sage's libraries existed and was told that Mintassan the Sage had his home in South Gate, but that it had been magically warded and appeared abandoned. It was decided that visiting Mintassan's home would be a fruitless exercise. (It seems that sages are not in high demand in a place like Westgate. --C)

On the way to the Mercenaries Guild, Jokull detoured back to the sewer entrance where he had been ambushed the night before, but discovered that sewer rats had been at work and there was nothing left of the bodies larger than a finger. At the Guild, the clerk recognized them as belonging to "Helm's Shadows" and told them of the two contracts on offer.

The first was sponsored by the City itself, the clerk explaining that caravans had been attacked over the previous two days on Trader's Road heading towards Teziir. Apparently, a hill giant had moved into the area and decided the caravans were easy prey. Although loss of life had been low, the giant attacks had disrupted travel along the road. The contract would pay 200 gold to the company; in addition, they would get to keep whatever was found with the giant.

The second contract was sponsored by House Urdo, who wished to explore a small island that was a candidate for their use as a supply depot. The island had remained unvisited for a long time, and Urdo wanted to hire mercenaries to ensure there was nothing dangerous on it. This contract paid 600 gold to the company; however, they would not be allowed to take anything off of the island. No time frame was specified for the Urdo contract, but the city’s contract against the giant had to be completed within 3 days.

The group privately discussed their options, Rahnee and Jokull arguing for taking the contract against the giant as the easiest and quickest, although Rahnee acknowledged this type of work was disliked by Aerikoth. Aerikoth, with his usual neutral expression, commented that he had agreed to accompany the group, even in such menial tasks; he thought it worthwhile to leave the option open of taking the second contract, at least.

Veran expressed no preference either way. Rahnee approached the clerk and informed her that they would take the first contract. The clerk made the appropriate notation and told them that proof of the contract's fulfillment had to be delivered by day 4 of Nightal. In addition, the clerk informed them that the giant had been spotted with a bestial companion in the Seven Lost Gods hills area, coming up from the south to attack caravans on the road.
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Departing the Mercenaries Guild, the companions walked out into an even colder day, with snow now falling from the heavens. After they had made their way to the Black Boot, Jokull approached the barkeep and asked after Rancel. The barkeep informed him that Rancel was a gnome and a regular at the tavern, asking Jokull not to rough him up too bad. In reply, Jokull tossed a couple coins as thanks and headed to the corner where Rancel was standing. Rancel, seeing Jokull approach in his new black armor, looked nervous and greeted him mistakenly as one of "Edvar's boys." Rancel promised that he would be able to pay what he owed in three days.

Forced into taking a seat by an intimidating Jokull, Rancel acknowledged the scrap of paper in Jokull's possession as his IOU. After Jokull threatened him with a cut throat if he did not explain what was going on, Rancel decided that Jokull had not in fact been sent by Edvar and started yelling for help, eyeing Jokull's drawn blade. The barkeep and a number of thuggish patrons appeared, the barkeep explaining that no drawn weapons were allowed inside; in response to Jokull's intent to drag Rancel outside, he told Jokull kidnapping the patrons was not allowed either. Rahnee, jingling her gold pouch suggestively, stepped in to calm Jokull down and he put his sword away, but departed the tavern in anger. Rahnee and the others spent some time talking to Rancel, Aerikoth lingering in the tavern and then emerging a few minutes after Rahnee and Veran had joined Jokull outside. (It seems that the gambit with the black armor worked well for Jokull and was a clever idea - at first. Rahnee and Aerikoth - surprisingly enough - seemed to have more patience with the situation. Although I wonder why the wizard would care, as he seems mostly unconcerned with his companions' doings. --C)

That afternoon, Brok-Tul caught up with the others, who had returned to the Gatereach guest house. Discussing the contract, the companions reviewed what they knew of the giant's depredations and exchanged ideas for combating it and its presumed wolf companion. It was decided to set out after the giant the next morning, so as not to be hunting it in the dark. Aerikoth then took his leave, departing the guest house and leaving the others to their own devices. Veran departed the house as well, saying that he must seek out a storehouse of knowledge to make progress on interpreting his prophecy. (Brother Veran is nothing if not persistent. This is not always a recipe for success. --R)


After awakening on the morning of the 2nd day of Nightal, Rahnee took some time to admire the dye job Brok-Tul had done on her leathers, deeming it quite stylish. Brok-Tul appreciated the compliment, but was skeptical of the new color’s value for sneak-work. As the group had risen earlier than usual, they made their way to the Gatereach common room for breakfast, rather than wait for Janatha. Jokull inquired if any messages had arrived, and was disappointed to hear a “no” from Jandrico.

After Janatha had brought their breakfast, including a new tea from Mulhorand, Jokull slapped his forehead and said that he needed to take care of something, grabbing an apple on his way out. After tasting the tea, Aerikoth commented that it was indeed genuinely from Mulhorand, acknowledging that he knew much of that sacred land, although he was not from there. (This still begs the question of the wizard's origin. --R). Jokull returned at the end of breakfast and, after Rahnee had some tea leaves packed for her to take away, the group headed for Trader's Road. Jokull, of note, had switched to his purple armor for the expedition.

Once they had traveled some way west of the city, the group came upon a group of smashed wagons and broken rocks, with giant tracks all over the area. Brok-Tul and Jokull made their way to where they had previously met the treant, but could find no sign of him this time, and returned to the attack site. The party made plans for defense if necessary, then began slowly making their way through the hills in search of the giant. Rahnee took the lead, carefully searching for tracks and discovering a series of them that lead to the south, only to disappear on rocky ground. She continued carefully, exploring this new area, with Brok-Tul and Aerikoth in tow. Jokull, less patient, explored the other side of the area and discovered a cave entrance with giant tracks outside it, then informed his companions.

While the others waited a short distance from the cave mouth, Brok-Tul circled the rocky terrain, trying to find a back way into the cave. Failing to find an alternative entrance, the group then decided to try and lure the giant out of the cave and ambush it it in the open. Rahnee bravely volunteered to enter the cave and draw the giant's attention. She emerged a short time later, running from the giant's worg companion, with the giant himself close behind. With help from Aerikoth's summoned dire wolf, the worg was quickly finished off. The giant was also dispatched, although it managed to catch Aerikoth and Rahnee glancing blows with hurled boulders and got a pounding in on Jokull. Jokull severed the giant's head, wrapping it in a used cloak for delivery as proof of their accomplishment.

In the aftermath of the battle, Rahnee sipped from a potion bottle as she watched Brok-Tul pray to Helm first for a healing spell on Jokull, then on her. The group entered the cave and first carefully searched the giant's possessions for traps, finding none. Aerikoth's warning on entering the cave of possible additional enemies proved correct, as more worgs attacked the companions while they were occupied with the loot. The summoned dire wolf helped the party make quick work of the beasts, however. Among the sacks and barrels of looted caravan goods, they found a large supply of dyes, some foodstuffs, a magical cloak, and a selection of rings.

After they made their way back to the city, Rahnee halted the others outside of the Mercenaries Guild to discuss whether they should also take the other available offer, the House Urdo island exploration contract. Brok-Tul was reluctant to go out on the water, but was eventually convinced that the benefits would be worth it. Upon entering the guild house, Jokull placed the cloak-wrapped giant's head on the clerk's table with a loud thunk. The clerk enlisted one of the guards to help her carry it upstairs, then came back down to inform the group that Varen Malavhan was waiting to see them.

When they arrived in his office, he paid their fee with a smile and asked if they wanted to take on the Urdo contract as well. When Rahnee answered in the affirmative, Varen said they would therefore be expected at the Urdo docks in the Market district, midday of day 4 of Nightal. The contract terms were reviewed, Varen cautioning the party that the clause about not taking anything off the island would be rigorously enforced. The island, to which an Urdo ship would take them, was small and it exploring it was not expected to take more than a day and a night. It had been previously known as a pirate stopover and Varen said that Urdo was concerned that traps and other dangers might still be present.

The party thanked the clerk on the way out, stating that they had accepted the Urdo contract. Back at the guest house, Rahnee divided up the individual shares of the contract fee and associated loot. Aerikoth meanwhile had locked himself in his room, becoming engrossed in his magical studies.


The Vulture

That evening, Aerikoth emerged from his room and went to the Gatereach for dinner, while the others remained in the guest house. Returning there, he indicated to Rahnee he would take his share of the rewards from the guild contract and then retire for the night, having exhausted himself with use of the magic arts during the earlier fights. While they were talking, a tall man dressed in fancy, dark clothing entered the guest house, asking in cultured tones to forgive the intrusion as he shut the door behind him. As Brok-Tul turned to see who the intruder was, his face drained of color once he saw the man, who introduced himself as the Vulture. Although Jokull bluntly told the man he was uninvited, the Vulture seemed unruffled, saying that he believed they had pressing business to discuss. The Vulture thanked Brok-Tul by name after receiving Brok-Tul's hesitant invitation to come in, drawing a somewhat surprised exclamation from Jokull, who resignedly accepted the uninvited guest's presence.

The unfailingly polite Vulture seated himself in the common room and directed his initial words to Brok-Tul, saying that he was surprised not to be expected. Brok-Tul countered by saying that their blood debt had already been paid, to which the Vulture replied that several Masks had also died. The Vulture's words made it clear that he had decided to pay a visit as a result of the party's encounter with the group of Night Masks outside Klendt's hideout.

During the subsequent verbal cut-and-thrust between the Vulture, Brok-Tul and Rahnee, the Vulture stated that he wished to know the party's relationship with the Night Masks they had killed and with Klendt. In a cool gesture, Rahnee drew and then gave one of the Night Mask swords to the Vulture, who smiled and thanked her for returning it. Rahnee explained that they had been in the area on a contract with the Mercenaries Guild, pursuing Klendt, and had been forced to defend themselves after being attacked by the Masks.

Brok-Tul then turned to Aerikoth, saying that Aerikoth "spoke the Vulture's language" and could help clear things up for the group. Aerikoth dryly replied that he thought the Vulture had spoken quite plainly about the situation. The Vulture seemed pleased to hear Aerikoth's words and agreed to answer a question from Aerikoth about the Masks' interest. The Vulture said that their association with Klendt was unfortunate and accidental. The Vulture explained that the three Masks the party encountered had apparently struck an unsanctioned deal with Klendt, who had murdered his fellow mercenaries and escaped with the wealth of their merchant employer. Apparently the three were on their way to collect from Klendt, who likely would not have survived the night in any event. The Vulture said one might even consider that the party had done the Night Mask organization a favor by eliminating these rogue elements.

Aerikoth told him that the others' reactions to the Vulture’s presence had been influenced by their emotional response to Marik's death, an opinion Brok-Tul swiftly reinforced. The Vulture was unmoved by Brok-Tul's words about Marik, instead raising the issue of the missing merchant's wealth that Klendt was supposed to have stashed. When it was clear no answer was forthcoming, the Vulture took his leave, but not before offering the group a business opportunity: should they wish to engage in business with the Masks, they were to leave word with the fence at the Blind Eye, outside West Gate. (The Vulture shows himself to be a cool, calculating, risk-taker. Given his role in the Night Masks, this is not a surprise. Although perhaps there was little true danger of the party going to the Watch with this information. --R)

After the Vulture's departure, Brok-Tul explained that the Night Mask representative was a master assassin, sent in by the Masks whenever business needed to be "made right." Often his visits ended with the people in question being staked out or strung up. On that note, Aerikoth declared he was retiring for the evening and bid the others a good night.

All of the companions went to sleep with troubled minds and experienced remarkable dreams, waking in the morning with memories of them fresh in their minds. Aerikoth took his breakfast at the Gatereach, having risen earlier, while Janatha brought a meal tray for the others at the guest house. Brok-Tul told her that they would be taking meals in the Gatereach common room from then on, mentioning that a strange, dangerous-sounding man had visited them the night before. Brok-Tul walked Janatha back to the Gatereach and encountered Aerikoth finishing his meal. The two discussed the possibility of informing the Watch of the Vulture's visit, which Aerikoth believed was a poor idea; it was agreed not to inform the Watch, at least for the time being. Brok-Tul returned to the guest house, while Aerikoth departed for the city. In preparation for their impending sea voyage, the adventurers pursued their own agendas for the rest of the day.

(An eye-opening account of Night Mask affairs and the party's first introduction to the organization in Westgate. It makes me wonder, though, how the Vulture knew of their presence at the Gatereach guest house. --C)


The “Mermaid’s Lance”

By late morning of Nightal 4, everyone had assembled in the main guest house room to depart. Veran's return was welcomed, although he was less than scrutable regarding the success of his researches. Jokull excused himself, saying that he had some messages to deliver before meeting the others at the Urdo docks, from where they would set sail to explore the island under the Mercenaries Guild contract. The rest of his companions left the guest house shortly thereafter, heading for the Market district.

At the docks, the Urdo guards informed them that the ship would be ready to depart shortly; they would be let on board, as soon as all of the adventurers hired by House Urdo were present. While the guard was explaining the situation, an elf walked up to the docks and was recognized by the guard, just as Jokull was arriving. The newcomer, Velduin Leafwalker, introduced himself as a recent arrival in Westgate and new member of the Naturalists Guild. Apparently House Urdo had seen fit to hire him as an expert for the expedition to the island, since "Helm's Shadows" had no one in their company with significant wilderness lore. Velduin commented that this was his first task as a Naturalists Guild member.

The Urdo guard instructed the group to board the ship, since the captain was ready to depart. One of the sailors graciously assisted Rahnee across the boarding plank, the others boarding without incident except for Brok-Tul. The large half-orc needed a few moments to get up his determination to cross over, quickly moving to the center of the ship once aboard and as far away from the water as possible. The captain, after welcoming the group to the Urdo ship "Mermaid's Lance," shouted orders to his crew to raise sail and cast off the mooring lines, explaining to the group that he wanted to depart the harbor soon to avoid getting in the way of the larger merchant ship traffic.

Once the ship had cleared the harbor and turned its prow northeasterly, heading into the Dragonmere, Captain Kelteel invited the group belowdecks and made proper introductions, sharing out some "grog" for those who wanted something stiff to begin their journey. The captain explained that the voyage would take around four hours, the gods willing, and explained the rules of the ship. These, it seems, boiled down to obeying the captain's commands at all times.

He told the group that the "Mermaid's Lance" was a small, fast ship and should be able to outrun any pirates spotted, but he hoped to avoid any contact with other ships. In the event the ship was attacked, the adventurers were expected to help repel boarders, and could use the crew's weaponry stored on the top deck (heavy crossbows and halberds) if needed. After arriving at the island, it was expected that the party would have several hours of daylight remaining for their initial exploration. The ship would anchor at the island overnight, then head back for Westgate in the early afternoon the following day. The captain reminded the party of the rules of the contract: no one was to remove anything from the island - except for Velduin, who was allowed to take wildlife samples - and all of them were subject to search before and after landing.


Not unexpectedly, the captain received several inquiries from the adventurers after he had finished his introduction. Responding to Velduin, Captain Kelteel said he had been to the island only once before, to chart its location. Kelteel explained that the place was known to be an old pirate stopover, but lay off normal sea lanes and was not on present-day maps. It was not a large island, but could hold hidden treasures, traps, and "Oghma knows what else" as the captain put it. In response to a question from Rahnee, Kelteel confirmed that House Urdo had recently rediscovered and claimed the island for its own, as no one else knew the way to it.

After answering the group's questions, he excused himself to go abovedecks, saying that they were welcome to come up if they desired, but should stay out of the crew's way. The companions fell to discussing their voyage and what might be found on the island. Velduin could offer no additional insights on what might be present there, but did mention that the Naturalists Guild was seeking the rare Bloodback Spider, which Rahnee confessed with a laugh she was seeking as well, for her wizardly brother's use in spell components. (Coincidence? Nay, I would bet a fair sum - were I still a gambling man - that the guild is now interested in the creature because of the Roaringhorns. --R). Jokull, looking exhausted, told the others he needed some rest and lay down in a corner, rapidly falling asleep as the ship rocked gently on the waves. Aerikoth, meanwhile, announced that he would be on the upper deck if needed, and climbed up the ship's ladder.

About two hours later, Captain Kelteel called everyone belowdecks for a meeting, since the ship was due to make landfall soon. Kelteel reminded them that they had agreed in the contract not to take anything off the island during their explorations, with the exception granted to Velduin, who would be allowed to remove wildlife samples. The captain explained that they would not be submitted to any embarrassing pat-downs, unless something untoward occurred. Instead, each adventurer would privately tell the captain what they had in their possessions, which would be recorded. Upon return to Westgate, a cleric hired by House Urdo would then "truth-tell" them all to see if what they were carrying matched their previously declared possessions. (A clever way of approaching the problem, as the adventurers could have many ways of physically hiding items on their persons. I must remember this, if I find myself in a similar situation. --C)

Rahnee volunteered to go first, the others moving up to the top deck to wait. After some time, Rahnee came up and Aerikoth volunteered to be next, with Jokull, Brok-Tul, Veran, and Velduin each taking their turn. Once the inventories were through, the captain returned to the top deck and informed everyone that they were about ten minutes from making landfall. After giving some orders to the crew, he asked the party to go belowdecks and wait there, since the approach to the island was tricky and the crew needed the deck clear.


Urdo Island

After a short while, the group felt the ship turn hard to starboard, then heard the splash of an anchor hitting the water. Captain Kelteel descended the ladder to the hold and informed them they had reached the island, and that he and the crew would remain with the ship. If the party ran into trouble, the crew would back them up at the anchorage site, but under no circumstances would they go further inland. (The insistence of the Urdo captain on this matter, consistent with what the party had been originally told about the contract terms, makes me wonder what had happened previously with the island. What was House Urdo afraid of finding there? --C). The captain described to the group what was known about the island: the inlet the ship was in was the only good place to anchor; a large, old wreck was nearby; and cliffs were on the south side of the island, with forest appearing to occupy much of the rest. The party was advised to wade across the shallows from the ship onto the island, when they were ready. Kelteel said that while the adventurers were exploring, the crew would be refitting the ship for the journey home, with their departure planned for the following afternoon.

The adventurers thanked the captain and went above decks, splashing ashore from the eastern side of the ship. From the position of the sun, they could tell it was mid-to-late afternoon. The first thing to catch their eye was what was left of the old shipwreck, which on closer examination by several party members appeared both waterlogged and scorched. The hull of the wreck could be seen below the water. Rahnee, shielding her eyes against the sun, queried if the others thought they could see ruins on the bluffs to the east of the ship, but it was too far to tell.

Brok-Tul moved inland a short distance to examine what appeared to be an old well and was surprised when a mass of sharp vines on the ground slashed up at him, drawing blood and wrapping around his legs. Jokull ran over to assist and was similarly entangled, although he cut a vine to pieces in the process. Once everyone else joined the fight, the vines were soon killed, although Brok-Tul and Jokull had several painful wounds to show for their troubles. Brok-Tul tested the well by yelling down its shaft and thought that there was still water in it, albeit deep down.

Deciding that the best course of action was a methodical search, the party headed to the western shore of the island, north of the ship, and began circling the island's perimeter, moving clockwise. Velduin stopped several times to examine some plants, and the party exchanged speculation about the uses House Urdo might have for the island, but they saw little of interest until they reached the southern bluffs. Reasoning that the interior of the island could be seen from higher elevation, and the bluffs themselves should be explored, the party agreed to attempt the climb. Rahnee, boosted by Brok-Tul, scrambled up a cliffside to a small plateau, carrying a rope with her. After she tied the rope around an overhanging tree, the others were able to ascend with little difficulty - except for Brok-Tul, who fell heavily on his first attempt. After his pack was hauled up separately, he made the climb successfully on the second try.

Nearby, the party found a small mound with an unusual arrangement of six unmarked stones over it. Aerikoth hypothesized that the arrangement was either a marker for the spot, or a burial site for someone smaller than human-sized, which was also suggested by Velduin. Rahnee wondered aloud if the sought-after Bloodback spiders would make a nest like that. (Ah, the wishful thinking of youth. --R). Meanwhile, Brok-Tul cast a detect magic spell, and received faint indications of something magical under the mound. Veran reminded the others that if something were buried, it had been buried for reason, and that in any case they were not allowed to take anything off the island. Aerikoth suggested that, given the previous inhabitants of the isle were pirates, it might be their rudimentary buried treasure, although he could be mistaken. Jokull asked if anyone had a shovel, and although no one did, he commented that they should try to find out what was under the mound; however, he took Rahnee's point that it was not going anywhere.


Abandoning the strange mound for the moment, the group moved to the east along the top of the bluff and entered a cul-de-sac, discovering a cave entrance. Velduin's elven ears detected what he thought was a rumbling from the cave, although he wasn't sure of it. Brok-Tul, leaning into the cave entrance to hear better, commented that it sounded like his idiot father snoring. Readying themselves, the party carefully entered the cave, which smelled sulfurous. Jokull took the lead, wrinkling his nose against the smell, and told the others that the sound was getting louder the further in they went. Grunting in frustration, Jokull took another few steps, then turned and yelled at the others to RUN! Immediately obeying Jokull's command, the party headed for the exit, as a large red, scaly head loomed out of the cave's darkness toward them. Brok-Tul magically summoned an angry badger in the hopes of creating a distraction, but Jokull, Brok-Tul and Velduin froze in their tracks, paralyzed by a wave of fear before they could escape from the young adult dragon's reach. Its tread shook the cavern as it approached them, then it opened its mouth and said in Common, "Wait! Don't leave just yet! Are you weregnomes too?" (What the ...? --C)

Stupefied by the dragon's question, Brok-Tul and Velduin struggled to provide an answer, while the dragon blithely squished Brok-Tul's summoned badger under a claw. After a short pause, Rahnee, Aerikoth, and Veran cautiously entered the cave, to see what had happened to their comrades. While looking at the dragon in amazement, they also were asked if they were weregnomes. The party denied this (thus breaking the rule that if you are asked if you are a weregnome, you say yes. --R) and Brok-Tul, Jokull, Velduin, Veran, and Rahnee introduced themselves. The dragon poked his snout toward Aerikoth, declaring that he smelled different than the others. (A telling indication that the wizard is, in fact, different from the others. Yet they seem to ignore this, just as they do his other unexplained activities. --R)

When Brok-Tul explained that he followed Helm, the god of guardians, the dragon - whose name was Gonzo - declared that his weregnome father had taught him about the gods, and that in addition to being lord of the island, Gonzo worshiped and was a champion of Garl Glittergold, lord of weregnomes. This pronouncement managed to flummox even Veran and left Rahnee gasping for words. Aerikoth took the opportunity to address the dragon in a reptilian-sounding language, which Gonzo exclaimed he recognized as what his mama had spoken. The dragon, however, shamefacedly confessed in Common that he could not speak his mama's language well, it being so long since he had seen her. In response to another phrase in the strange language from Aerikoth, Gonzo cocked his head and asked him to speak in Common, which Aerikoth acknowledged.

In response to questions from Aerikoth, Gonzo said that his mama and father had brought him to the island as a wyrmling, maybe fifty years ago. Nobody else had come to the island since she died, but his weregnome father lived with him for a long time before he died. Brok-Tul asked if the group of stones on the bluff was their memorial; Gonzo confirmed that it was his father's burial mound. Aerikoth queried Gonzo how he had lost his parents, deferentially indicating that the party had not previously been aware of Gonzo as the island's ruler. Gonzo, sniffing and with a sad expression on his face, said that he didn't remember much himself. His father had told him that evil men had killed mama, but she had burned them all up, saving Gonzo; her resting place was in the forest.

Brok-Tul then asked if he could talk to Gumble, a gnome acquaintance, to see if he knew about these weregnomes Gonzo had mentioned. Gonzo was indifferent, saying that he already knew all about weregnomes, but in an excited tone asked the party if they wanted to see his treasure. Brok-Tul, after a moment's pause, agreed, and Gonzo led the group to the back of the cave, where a few small bags and an old chest lay against the wall. Gonzo preened while the party looked it over, saying that his father had said it was important to have a hoard. Brok-Tul and Veran made appropriately appreciative noises, Brok-Tul saying he had only heard of such things in bards' tales. (The half-orc shows some sensibility, for once. Never tell a dragon their hoard is not up to snuff. --R). Gonzo opened the chest with a claw and, showing his generosity as lord of the island, allowed the party to remove an old, tattered logbook. Jokull and Aerikoth agreed to remain with the attention-starved dragon, while the others left the cave to explore the remaining part of the island while daylight still remained.


Later, back at the ship and after making themselves as comfortable as possible, the group quickly dropped off to a dream-filled sleep. In the morning, some compared notes on their dreams, while others went up on deck to see what the new day looked like. One of the sailors had a kettle going over a firepit, heating up some beans to go with hardtack for breakfast. The scent of the food cooking drew everyone outside, with the exception of Aerikoth. The fine day, coupled with breaking their fast, served to heighten the group's spirits.

Aerikoth eventually emerged, petting and feeding his large raven familiar, Zeluth, who then flew back up to the top of the rigging. Those who needed to readied their equipment, and the group set off towards the center of the island. In the clearing surrounding the old dragon bones, the group carefully went over the large dirt mound nearby, which appeared to be covering a buried underground entrance; however, too much dirt and rock was in the way for any of them to clear it out. Brok-tul commented on the rusty blades found by three skeletons, which were laid out on the edge of the mound facing the dragon bones. Velduin wondered if Gonzo could be convinced to dig out the entrance; Brok-Tul commented that Gonzo would probably be spotted from the ship.

At Rahnee's suggestion, the group returned to the well, to better examine its shaft with the sun high in the sky. A pebble and a lit branch were sent down the well, which was thereby determined to be deep and still have water at the bottom. Aerikoth, bored with the well, indicated he was going to go speak with the dragon, and the group decided to accompany him. Using the rope they had left tied to a tree at the top of the cliff plateau, they carefully ascended, although Brok-Tul pulled a little too hard going up the embankment and again ended up sprawled on the ground.

The party cautiously re-entered the cave. Gonzo welcomed them back and thanked Aerikoth and Jokull for entertaining him the previous day. After the party offered some polite greetings, Brok-Tul told Gonzo that he had bad news, that the people who had hired them were interested in the island and might bring an army and wizards to kill Gonzo and take his hoard. (Not incorrect, perhaps, but certainly not wise to mention at this time. --C). Gonzo roared in anger at the thought of his rule of the island being challenged. Brok-Tul, trying not to flinch, asked Gonzo if he could leave the island, avoiding the confrontation, and come with them secretly, following the ship from a distance. Gonzo said that his father had warned him not to fly too far from the island, or he would get tired and fall into the sea. Brok-Tul then asked him if he could look like a person. Gonzo shook his said, saying that he could not assume another form, the weregnome curse having died out with his father, and the dragon not knowing such magic otherwise.

Aerikoth vehemently objected to the idea of Gonzo being taken back to Westgate, calling it foolhardy. He and Velduin attempted to explain the threat of discovery to the dragon, who made the point that if no one returned from the island, then he could not be discovered. (It seems that even an orphaned and somewhat batty dragon was smart enough to figure out the obvious solution, to the party's detriment. --R). Both Brok-Tul and Aerikoth quickly averred that another ship would follow to see what had happened, regardless. Gonzo, sniffing once again, turned to Aerikoth for advice, saying that since Aerikoth "had some of the blood" he should be able to understand. Aerikoth explained that although Gonzo was lord of the island, his presence should not be revealed, lest it cause a future confrontation. Gonzo was unhappy about the idea of more "bad men" coming to the island and vowed not to let anyone take his magnificent hoard.


Brok-Tul, as a friendly gesture, offered to bless the island in the name of Helm. Gonzo however disliked the idea, asserting that since he guarded the island as champion of Garl Glittergold, no other gods were needed. (The dragon takes seriously his role as upholder of the gnomish pantheon, it seems. Commendable. --C). Brok-Tul persisted in his effort to convince Gonzo of the blessing's usefulness, only desisting when Gonzo put a massive claw down on the floor in anger. Rahnee, seeking to distract the dragon's attention, asked about the dirt mound by the dragon bones. Gonzo explained that he had not disturbed the area where his mama's bones lay, his father having cautioned him not to, so he had no idea what was under the mound. Rahnee then asked what shape his father had assumed when not a gnome. Gonzo said that his father of course was a dragon like Gonzo, only the curse had made him assume gnome shape. As his father grew older, he could no longer fight it as well and was nearly always a gnome, Gonzo explained.

Aerikoth asked Velduin if the Naturalists Guild could declare the island a sanctuary and a risk to travelers, thereby halting any development by House Urdo. Aerikoth said he doubted that the word of the party alone would be sufficient to keep Urdo from the island, but it might work if others intervened as well. Velduin was unsure of the possibility of success of convincing the guild, but was willing to try. Aerikoth, with Rahnee's qualified support, queried if all were in agreement to block House Urdo from developing the island.

Aerikoth's attention was then distracted as Brok-Tul, who had muttered something about the "real hoard" earlier, started explaining to Gonzo that, based on the ship's logbook they had read, "they" had tried to fool the dragon and hide the rest of the hoard. White smoke began issuing from Gonzo's nostrils as he asked how he could be fooled. Brok-Tul, ignoring Aerikoth's hissing entreaty to shut up, said that although he wasn't there, he thought wizards had hidden the hoard in the burial mound, and that they should go out to it.

Growing increasingly suspicious and angry, Gonzo accused Brok-Tul of disrespect, saying that maybe he was like the other evil men that mama had burnt up. Rahnee was able to calm Gonzo down by pointing out the misunderstanding regarding the dirt mound in the forest and the burial mound of Gonzo's father. Gonzo meanwhile was also listening to entreaties from Aerikoth spoken in a tongue foreign to the other party members. (Another hidden ability by the mage is revealed. --R). Gonzo told Aerikoth that he understood, but sullenly asked the party to return later, to give him time to think and check on his hoard. The adventurers beat a rapid retreat from the cave, to the sound of clinking gold in the back.

A safe distance from the cave, the group debated their best course of action. Brok-Tul pointed out the obvious conclusion from the information available: that Gonzo had been charmed by a gnomish illusionist mentioned in the old logbook and was raised by the gnome on the island until the wizard's death. But, as Rahnee countered, that knowledge did not lead to an obvious solution of what to do with either Gonzo or House Urdo.


Brok-Tul and Veran returned to the ship, partly to get Brok-Tul out of the now-grumpy dragon's way, while the others made another sweep of the island and debated their next course of action. The group reunited shortly after midday and indicated to Captin Kelteel that they were ready to depart, having fully explored the island. Once below decks, the party heard the captain shouting the necessary orders, telling the crew that they needed to beat the rough weather coming in.

After the ship had steadied on its course for Westgate, the captain came down to give a status report. He put their chances at even for outrunning the weather and asked the adventurers to stay below, unless told otherwise, as rain had started up and the deck was slick. Velduin asked how long the return voyage would take and was told three hours, give or take. The captain returned abovedecks, leaving Brok-Tul and Jokull looking a little green as the ship rolled up and down over the waves.

Rahnee mentioned that after they returned to Westgate, she expected to receive the results of a title search done on an old temple that she, Brok-Tul, and Jokull, had discovered in the city. Rahnee explained to Aerikoth that they had investigated a burned-out building, discovering a pathway from its basement that led to a cave with huge, foul-smelling beetles. Further in, they had discovered an altar that had shown recent signs of use. In response to a query from Aerikoth, Brok-Tul indicated that symbols to the dead god Leira, Lady of Mists and Illusions, had been on the altar. A woman had come upon them while they were in the altar room, but immediately fled up a tunnel, which collapsed behind them after they pursued her up it onto the streets of Westgate. Brok-Tul and Rahnee thought that the place might be suitable for setting up a shrine to Helm, and perhaps a forge in the basement. (Evidently, the active shrine of a dead god run by a secretive preistess is an excellent place to set up shop. --R)

Jokull crawled into a corner, not at all impressed by the exhilaration of the power of nature, as Rahnee put it, and rolling thunderclaps were soon heard, along with a hard rainfall and wind gusts. Drops of water also began falling down from the upper deck hatch. Velduin initially expressed some desire to go above and experience the storm, perhaps tying himself to the mast to avoid falling overboard, although deciding in the end to remain with the others. Some light banter was exchanged on the prospect of taking over Castle Cormaeril, suspected home of the Fire Knives; Rahnee said she would have to introduce Velduin to the place. She also needled Aerikoth about the possibility of having a wizard tower there, commenting that her brother in Waterdeep had a corner tower of the family castle.

With thunder echoing in the distance, Captain Kelteel descended the deck ladder and requested Aerikoth come up and bring his raven. Aerikoth complied, then returned to the hold several minutes later, as the captain shouted to his crew to put on full sail. Aerikoth informed the others that the "Lord of the Isle" - Gonzo - was about to overtake the ship. Brok-Tul responded enthusiastically to the declaration, getting up quickly (albeit wobbly) and ascending to the upper deck, with Veran and Jokull close behind. The captain yelled at them to get below and prepare to fight, if need be. Brok-Tul made a confident assertion that the dragon was unlikely to fight, which the captain met with an incredulous look and reiterated his orders to clear the deck while they tried to outrun the dragon.