Pathfinder 1E Way of the Wicked Playthrough - Updated 2022/07/25

rchodges

Explorer
Part 2: Call Forth Darkness
Act 2: Taking the Horn
Session 16: Meeting and Beating the Neighbors

Looking at the creatures, Donovan quickly responded in Abyssal, “I take it you are a guardian of Vetra Kali Eats the Eyes?” The large creature appeared to stare at Donovan with curiosity before it responded. “Why are you here?”
“I am here to break the seal binding Vetra Kali.”, Donovan realized he was dealing with a Dread Wraith.
The creature paused the advance of its minions at that point, while continuing to advance on Donovan. The creature switched to Infernal, then continued speaking, “Who sent you?”
“I have been tasked to this quest by the High Priest of Asmodeus.”, Donovan responded, also switching to Infernal.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Donovan Thorn.”
“Who are these people who are accompanying you?”
“They are my family.” Donovan felt his breathing increased as the creature continued to approach. He cursed himself silently for not having already prepared some Ghost Salt.
“I assume these minions of yours are necessary to complete your task?”, the Wraith was now speaking in Celestial.
“Indeed, they are my family.”, Donovan repeated, this time in Celestial.
The Wraith seemed to be amused with Donovan, pulling itself away and appearing to smile. “And what does someone like you know of the ritual to free Vetra Kali?”, it asked, this time in Sylvan.
“Not nearly enough, unfortunately.”, Donovan replied in Sylvan. “I had hoped to find the Elf Aiden Kael, to see what insight he had gleaned.”
A dark chuckle came from the Dread Wraith. “Aiden Kael may have escaped from me, but he did not escape from the other guardians of this place.”
Donovan sighed, “Disappointing. This means we will have to find the answers within the walls of the Horn.”
The Wraith drifted about the room considering what had been said thus far. “What do you know of the residents of the Horn?”, it spoke once more, this time in Boggard.
Tamsen heard the familiar grunts, and prepared to activate her magics once more, when Donovan raised his hand slightly to her. Slowly, he croaked out a set of words that amounted to his admission that he had only begun learning the Boggard language.
The Wraith seemed amused at this, “In fairness, it was my most recent language as well.”, it responded in Common.
“So, how do you wish for us to address you, Guardian?”, Donovan asked the Dread Wraith.
“My name is Ezra. As you surmised, I am also attempting to see Vetra Kali restored to this world.”
Continuing to look around the room, Donovan noticed a small stand that held an emerald very much like the one that Halthus had delivered to the group. Fumbling through his coin purse, Donovan pulled out the emerald and said, “I suspect the ritual is connected to these two stones.”
Ezra saw the emerald in Donovan’s hand and rushed forward to where Donovan was standing. “Where did you find this stone?” Donovan could feel a chill setting in to him from the proximity of this creature.
“When we restored Halthus to his form, he revealed to us that he had grabbed the emerald before being turned to stone.”, Donovan replied while trying to hold back a shudder.
Ezra fixed his gaze on the flayer. “Halthus, yes, of course. Your assessment is correct, Donovan. The emeralds represent the eyes of Vetra Kali, and are a part of the path needed to seize control of the Horn.”
“So, is another emerald still within the Horn?”
“When I was observing the tribe of Boggards, I sensed a familiar emanation radiating from down there. Perhaps you should investigate further.”, Ezra appeared to smile, as he floated away from Donovan.
“In for a copper…”, Donovan thought to himself. “Lord Ezra, you mentioned that other guardians had caught Aiden Kael. Who are these guardians you speak of?”
“Ah, Hexor and Vexor. What a wonderful pair of Cuestodaemons!”
Recognition flashed in Donovan’s mind, “The creatures from the mural, the ones bound with the collars, correct?”
Ezra appeared to nod, “Yes indeed.” Ezra floated over to a pair of iron plates, “These plates allow someone to control those two, when used in conjunction with their collars.”
“Will you allow me to have those plates, Lord Ezra?”
“Yes, Donovan. But I expect for you to not use them unless necessary. If you have any skill at communication, you should be able to get these two to aid you in your task.”
Donovan nodded, and pulled the plates from the pile of treasures. Looking back at his family, Bebop was practically licking his lips at the sheer wealth that was to be had. “Thank you for your guidance, Lord Ezra. We will return once I have recovered the other emerald.”

The group left the hidden chamber, returning to the room that had contained the altar of Vetra Kali. From there, the group explored the rest of this floor of the Horn, while carefully checking for additional secret doors. While hidden places were discovered, including the teleporter on the third floor there was still something missing from the map.

Ezra reappeared from the dimensionally disconnected room and looked at the group as they continued to tap on the walls nearby, “What are you all doing?”, Ezra intoned.
“Where’s the secret door?”, Bebop blurted out.
“According to my estimates, Lord Ezra, there should be a staircase near here. For some reason, we have not yet found the seam that would open up the passageway to us.”, Donovan elaborated.
“You’ve heard the expression that you have to take one step back in order to take two steps forward?”, Ezra mused. “Now you have another reason to go visit the Boggards.” With that, Ezra returned to the hidden room.
“Back to the first floor?”, Tamsen asked the group.
General assent came from the group, and the party used the third-floor teleporter to return to the first floor. From there, they traversed back down the steps to enter the cave beneath the Horn.
Returning to the cave, the group reinvestigated some of the areas that they had previously visited. While down there, Donovan made a crude attempt to give a greeting to a group of Boggards that were watching them from a distance. He wasn’t sure if they returned the greeting, or if they were threatening to eat him. Donovan shook his head, determined to get more practice in on this language.
Spreading out around the caves, the group continued to search for secret doorways. Bebop’s eyes caught sight of a darkened area on one of the cave walls, something he had missed before. “I found something!”, he called out across the caves.
As the group caught up to his position, Bebop pried the rock wall away from the staircase that was hidden beneath it.
“Yes, this matches up with the rest of the floors.”, Donovan checked his maps. “We should be able to take this all the way up to the third floor.”
Lucinda unsheathed her weapon at her master’s command, and began proceeding up the steps slowly.

Arriving at the third floor, the group stumbled out into a room with a large dome above it. A partial wall separated this room from another, and two fur covered creatures could be seen standing against the wall. Seeing the family, the creatures approached, one of them speaking in Abyssal.
“I’m sorry sir, but I’m afraid I need to disembowel you now.”
Hatred filled Donovan’s eyes, as he spoke back in Abyssal, “Hexor and Vexor, have you so quickly abandoned your charge to Vetra Kali? Is it not your duty to see to it that he returns to this plane?”
“What does one such as you know of Vetra Kali Eats the Eyes?”
Flashing the emerald before them, Donovan replied. “I know a little.”
The creatures exchanged glances with each other, then looked back at Donovan, “We are charged to protect the Sanctum, to ensure that only those who are loyal to Vetra Kali are granted access. We failed this charge once, when the soldiers came and slew everyone.”
Donovan pressed on, “Have you seen an Elf recently?”
“He was so weak, such easy prey.”, the Cuestodaemons laughed at their accomplishment.
“He was here to break the seal and restore Vetra Kali to this world!”, Donovan responded in an accusing tone.
Hexor and Vexor seemed momentarily taken back by this information, but their nature still reveled in the act, “Prey trying to escape is such a rare delicacy, sir.”
Moving the rest of the way into the room, the group noticed the additional staircase. “This is the staircase to the Sanctum you are guarding?”, Donovan asked the Daemons.
Hexor and Vexor nodded, “We are unable to travel up there.”
Donovan realized that he had still been speaking Abyssal the entire time. When was the last time he had ever spoken Abyssal for this length of time? “Do you two speak any other languages besides Abyssal?”
“We also can speak in Infernal.”, they said, in Infernal.
Hexor focused his gaze on Donovan, “We also can communicate via telepathy.”, the voice rang out in Donovan’s head.
“That could indeed prove useful.”, Donovan replied to the telepathic communication taking place.
“Indeed sir, and we are able to communicate this way anywhere within the Horn!”, Hexor was very excited with sharing this information.
Vexor suddenly teleported himself directly behind Halthus, “And move anywhere we wish within the Horn.” Vexor moved close to Halthus, sniffing the air near him, before whispering “Failure.”
Donovan nodded. “I guess the only way we are going to discover the truth of the Sanctum is to go up there.”
As the group began walking up the stairs, Hexor also sniffed Halthus and whispered, “Failure.”

The group began the long and arduous climb up the circular stairway to the Sanctum. First fifty feet, then one hundred, then two hundred.
“By the gods!”, Donovan exclaimed, “How high do these stairs go?”
Bebop laughed, “Poor Donovan, you should never skip a leg day!” For his part, Bebop was carrying Tamsen up the stairs as he walked.
Donovan shook his head in confusion. “Is this what a leg day is supposed to feel like?”
As they arrived at the top of the stairs, the smell of ozone was strong in the air.
Carefully peeking out from the top of the stairs, Lucinda reported seeing some sort of moving electrical ball.
Donovan handed an elixir to both Bebop and Lucinda. “This should protect you against the electrical part of that creature’s attacks.”
They consumed the Elixir, and then headed out into the area. Bebop had already consumed a Mutagen on the way up the stairs. The two of them set out into the main Sanctum area, as Lucius, Tamsen, and Donovan remained in the stairwell.

The Lightning Elemental floated along the ceiling, but responded when the two of them entered the main Sanctum area. The creature continued to fly in circles around the ceiling of the Sanctum, diving down from time to time in order to strike the intruders. The Elemental lacked any tactics or cunning, choosing instead to lash out to whatever creature was closest to it.
Lucius caused an Evolution Surge in Lucinda, and wings spouted from her back. She took to the sky to face the Lightning Elemental head on. Bebop consumed an elixir to cause him to Enlarge Person, and then also attempted to fly up to where the Lightning Elemental was located.
Lucinda and Bebop continued to take advantage of opportunities to attack the creature as it continued to circle about without any thought for self-preservation. Lucius applied Haste to the combatants, and Donovan whispered words of hatred into his crossbow, causing it to take on the familiar sickly purple glow that his rapier had shown in the past.
Just as the Lightning Elemental caught sight of the remainder of the party hiding within the stairwell, Bebop caught the creature once more off guard, and the final damage caused the Elemental to discorporate, the remnants of its form landing on the ground with a wet thud.
Donovan applied healing to both Lucinda and Bebop, although the damage inflicted to both of them was minimal.
Bebop grabbed a vial from Donovan’s satchel, then moved over to the remnants of the Elemental. He proceeded to collect a sample of the fluid that remained after the creature was no longer animated, then handed the vial back to Donovan.
Donovan accepted the vial and shrugged, “I hope this is the ‘blood’ that was being referenced in the schematics. I imagine the energy that has coalesced around this area altered the Elemental in some way.”

The group took a closer look at the altar and seal in the room. While nothing stood out about the objects, it was obvious that the altar had been used for sacrificial pursuits. The group also came across a huge disc like object on the floor. “The Silver Seal.”, Donovan said what the group was clearly thinking.
Having finished this task, the group went back down the stairs, first moving to the third floor, then taking the other staircase all the way down to the cave.
“We should go back over all of the areas down here, perhaps we missed something the first time around.”, Donovan suggested.
“You know, we should look around for growing areas. I can imagine there’s a lot of places where we could start growing some exceptional drugs around here.”, Bebop responded with excitement.
Donovan looked back over the cave area. “Drugs? Here? In this darkness?”
“Of course! We even have a group of individuals to work the fields.”, Bebop pointed at some of the Boggards.
Donovan rubbed his forehead. “Ignoring the fact that the lighting here is terrible for almost all illicit drugs, I’m not sure we really want growing production to be controlled by someone who already has a drug addiction.”
Bebop snorted, “On the contrary, this keeps us from having to pay them!”
Lucius chimed in, “I’m going to go search the huts.”, then left with Lucinda.
Donovan continued, “If you want to produce addictive substances, your alchemical skills will produce far more results than you could simply by growing something and hoping for the best.”
Bebop thought about what was said, then him and Tamsen followed behind Lucius.
When the group arrived in the hut area, Tamsen detected magics coming from two of the different huts. It was about this time that Zikomo showed up.
Lucius queried the Shaman, “What is in these huts?”
Zikomo pointed at one of the huts, “This hut belongs to you, great warriors who defeated Kumanda!”
With that, Bebop entered the hut and searched for everything in there. He recovered several magic items of interest, but chose to hold onto them until Donovan could analyze them.
Lucius continued, “What about this hut?”, pointing at the other one that Tamsen had sensed magic within.
Zikomo began speaking in Boggard to the member of his tribe that was living in the hut that Lucius had pointed at. Some sort of argument took place, and then the Boggard fetched a sack containing some miscellaneous items which Lucius took.

“Walk with me, Tribe Leader Zikomo.”, Donovan walked up on the group, then led Zikomo away.
As the two of them walked, Donovan suggested to Zikomo that he move the tribe up into the first floor. Zikomo seemed concerned about why Donovan would make such a suggestion.
“There’s no mud up there, Zikomo likes the mud!”
“We can add mud there, if that’s what you want.”
“Why would you want us to live up there?”
“This is our home now, you should be able to stay up with us, so we can all protect each other.”
It was clear that Zikomo was nervous at Donovan’s proposal. Donovan was unsure of why the Boggards would be afraid of them, but perhaps the truth of it was that him and his family just represented creatures that would normally be hunting them. Trust would not be easily given, so it would seem.
About this time, the rest of the group showed up at the temple area where Zikomo and Donovan were speaking.
“Tell us how to make your Vision Juice, Zikomo.”, Bebop insisted.
Zikomo began to go through the ingredients in the compound. Donovan quickly realized that such a compound would quickly have detrimental effects on a creature. He imagined that Zikomo was probably completely addicted to this formulation by now, despite the harm it was doing.
Indeed, even as Zikomo was attempting to show the concoction to Bebop, he began applying it to himself, and ingesting the contents. Zikomo’s eyes rolled back in his head, and he fell backward onto the ground, apparently passing out.
Donovan grumbled, “Well, so much for any more conversations today.”
Suddenly, Zikomo sat up, his eyes white. “The cave of the blue slime conceals your future. Discover the truth or fail at your master’s charge.”
Zikomo began dancing around the temple, screaming at chanting, laughing with glee. He reached his arm up, as if reaching for the heavens, and then stopped moving. A moment later, Zikomo looked around at the group, apparently confused at what was going on.
“Are you alright, Zikomo?’, Tamsen asked with apparent concern.
“What’s going on?”, Zikomo looked around.
“You said something about the cave of the blue slime? Where is this place you are referring to?”
“Oh, yes yes! I know of this cave you speak of.” Having said that, Zikomo led the group to another section of the cave area.

Moving south back to a section of the cave that had previously been visited, the group came across the “blue slime” that Zikomo had spoken of in his vision. Paying close attention to this area again, the group discovered what they had once thought was a simple crack in the wall. Tamsen pressed one of her Dancing Lights into the crack, and it then became obvious that the crack continued on further into the darkness.
“Pooky, go check it out.”, Tamsen pushed her bunny into the crack, where it pushed its way slowly into the extremely small space. After a while, there was a small squeaking coming from the hole where Pooky had entered.
Tamsen was excited, “Donovan, Pooky found a skeleton holding a pouch and a book! I think it’s what you are looking for!”
“Can Pooky bring it back to us?”
Tamsen gave some instructions, and Pooky grabbed one of the objects. Lucius followed up by summoning several other creatures that were able to work their way into the hole in the cave and recover the remaining objects. Once Pooky appeared at the entrance to the small section with the book, Tamsen grabbed both excitedly, hugged Pooky close, and then handed the book to Donovan.
Donovan was thrilled when he first received the book, kissing Tamsen and thanking her. His eyes rapidly flipped through the pages the tome titled “The Dirges of Apollyon”. He knew this was priceless in its own right, and then to find the handwritten section at the end of it was even more exciting for him. However, as he read the details written into the sides of the pages, the excitement drained from his face.
“Seven months.”, Donovan finally said. “The Ritual takes seven months to complete.”
Silence fell over the group. No one expected the ritual to be easy, but how would they hold this dilapidated temple for the duration of the ritual?
Lucius’ creatures were able to obtain a pouch from the skeleton, in which was contained another one of the gems. “Alright, Donovan, let’s go show this to Ezra.”
Donovan nodded, and the group returned to the hidden room where Ezra was residing.

Upon arrival, the Dread Wraith looked over the party, “What did you discover in your search?”
Donovan held up the two gems, saying nothing.
Ezra appeared to be quite pleased, then looked around the treasure room. “All of this is yours.”
Bebop was thrilled beyond words. He stripped off his shirt, then kicked a large sack of coins across the floor. He threw himself onto the pile of treasure, rolling around in excitement. A moment later, he dashed back over to Tamsen, and the two of them began to make out with each other as he started to pull her clothes off.
Stopping as the two of them were mostly naked, Bebop looked over at Donovan, folding his hands together, “Please, Donovan?”
Donovan looked incredulously at Bebop, “Seriously, Bebop? Right now?”
Bebop nodded excitedly, and Tamsen pulled herself against Bebop.
Donovan shrugged, “Sure, whatever.”
Bebop picked up Tamsen, then threw the two of them into the nearest pile of loot.
Donovan rubbed his temples, then looked over at Lucius, “Let’s see if we can find any items of a magical nature. We’re not going be able to carry everything obviously; but we can bring the most valuable items back with us.
Lucius and Donovan began to work their way through the piles of treasure that has been stored in this room. Donovan calculated that there were hundreds and hundreds of pounds worth of gold and silver. Lucius located several different items that were radiating magic and brought them over to Donovan.
Donovan began the process of identifying the interesting items, while trying to block the sound of squealing coming from Bebop out of his head.

Once the group had completed the tasks they had set out to finish, the family instructed Halthus to wait behind, and left the emeralds with Ezra. From there, the family returned to Farholde with the goal of preparing for a very long stay within the Horn.

Session 16 Ends.
 

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rchodges

Explorer
Part 2: Call Forth Darkness
Act 3: Thirty-one Weeks
Session 17: Hurry Up and Wait to Die

“I’m going to go meet with the Baron. The rest of you should go with Bebop and see what you can discover.”, Donovan said with a sense of purpose, after taking the Haversack from Bebop and handing a stack of gold to Lucius.
“I’ll go with you, love.”, Tamsen replied.
“I wish you could. But the Baron made it clear that the rest of you were not welcome back to his home.”, Donovan was irked at this, but resolved.
Tamsen’s face was clearly pouting, but Donovan simply shrugged. Tamsen pulled herself against Donovan, then kissed him passionately. “You be safe”, Tamsen insisted.
Donovan smiled as their kiss ended, and nodded to Tamsen, “You too, my love.”

Heading off, Donovan headed back out to the home of Baron Vandermir. Following the instructions that had been given to him from the previous encounter, Donovan waited in the established meeting spot, and had notice sent to the Baron.
The Baron met Donovan after a period of time, and looked over Donovan with curiosity, “I take it you have found what you were looking for?”
Donovan nodded enthusiastically, “Indeed, sir! This is the reason my family and I have returned to town. According to the information we have discovered, the ritual will take around seven months. So, we’re going to have to set up some sort of shipping between us and Farholde in order to move goods between the two areas. As part of this, I’m in need of some… specialized items to complete the process.”
The Baron’s eyebrow pulled down as Donovan paused on the word ‘specialized’. “What exactly are you in need of?”
“A Portable Hole.”, Donovan said that with little fanfare, but also understood the complexity of his request.
The Baron was momentarily shaken by the request, and eyed Donovan closely. How much wealth could these younglings have possibly acquired in the span of less than a week? This Half-Elf and his companions were turning out to be more than advertised. The Baron pondered his choices momentarily, then he pulled an unusual golden key out of his pocket and showed it to Donovan.
Not waiting for a response or query, the Baron continued, “This is important, Donovan. There’s no room for your mind games or clever quips. If you damage my relationship with this individual, you will feel the might of my reprisal.”
Donovan nodded, unsure what was about to happen. A secret room in the Baron’s home, a connection to another world? Donovan’s thoughts were answered, however, when the Baron simply snapped the key in twain.
Moments later, a creature with blue skin arrived, accompanied by two insect looking humanoids. The man with the blue skin regarded Baron Arkov Vandermir. “This is not our agreed upon meeting time, Arkov. You had best have a good reason for calling me to you under these circumstances.”
Donovan stared at the creatures before him wordlessly. He recognized the subordinates quickly enough as Thri-Kreen. But who was the man in blue? An Ifrit? A Djinn? No, too many eyes and not enough fingers.
“Anagaz. I thank you for your time.”, the Baron began, “If it pleases you, I have brought an individual who is in need of rare and specialized magics that would not be available to any but the most discerning collectors. He is a bright young individual who I believe can continue to provide you with many trading opportunities.”
Anagaz scoffed, “Is he now? I’ll be the judge of that.” Facing Donovan, the blue creature continued, “And who exactly might you be?”
The revelation hit Donovan just then, that he was dealing with a Mercane. Donovan smiled his best merchant smile, “My name is Donovan Thorn, and the Baron is most assuredly correct, I am looking for an individual who will allow me to trade my magic wares for something even more exotic.”
“What do you consider exotic, Donovan Thorn?”, Anagaz asked.
“A Portable Hole.”
“I have two of them, but what do you have to trade?”
Donovan opened the Haversack, laying his recently gained goods on the table for Anagaz’ inspection. While Donovan wouldn’t say as much, he knew going in that he was in the weaker bargaining position. Going against a layperson, he could easily have negotiated for better terms and gotten out in the superior deal. But a Mercane was effectively a Merchant that had traveled many worlds and made lifetimes of negotiations. Donovan knew the Mercane could ask even more, and he would have to relent.
But, perhaps Anagaz realized that as well, and considered Donovan more of an investment than a resource. After picking up and looking over the items for a while, he handed back the Manacles of Cooperation, saying “These have been out of style for decades.” Anagaz then outstretched his hand over the rest of the pile and said, “This will do.” From another space, Anagaz drew out a large ornate chest, setting it on the floor. The Mercane drew a Portable Hole from this chest and handed it to Donovan. He then had his assistants take everything that had been agreed upon, and place it into the chest.
Once the transaction was complete, Anagaz addressed the Baron again. “It seems that this wasn’t a complete waste of my time.” With that, he handed the Baron another key that looked like the one the Baron had originally produced. Anagaz then turned his focus back to Donovan and pulled out a key, “Perhaps you and I will enter into a business relationship as well. If you are able to acquire more unique items such as the ones you have shown me here, you may call upon me.”
Aragaz began to hand over the item, but then as Donovan reached out for it, Aragaz pulled back, “To be clear, you will not call me in cases where you not in a relaxed and comfortable environment. I’m not interested in being involved in your conflicts. Impress me, Donovan Thorn, and you and I can continue having profitable dealings.”
Donovan bowed his head, “I thank you for your time, Merchant Aragaz. You’ve honored me today.”
Aragaz smiled, “Yes, I do think you understand.”
With that, the Mercane and his entourage teleported out of the building, with no trace of themselves left behind.
Donovan and Arkov regarded each other momentarily without words.
“Thank you again, Baron. I am truly grateful for what you have shown me today.”, Donovan finally spoke.
“Indeed, I hope you notify the Cardinal of what I have done on his behalf. Now, is there anything else you are in need of from me?”
Donovan smiled, “Well, now we should talk about the items that I will need to sell off from the Horn.”
The Baron waved his hand dismissively, “We’ve already agreed on this Donovan. You will deliver the goods to me, and I will acquire them, or resell them as I decide to.”
Donovan persisted, “Yes Baron, we have spoken on this. But, in the interest of full transparency, I need to clarify that I have come into possession of over three thousand stones worth of gold and silver items.”
The Baron’s eyes widened, “Uh, ok, you should probably have that delivered to one of my warehouse areas. I have an individual there who can reimburse you for the items, and then I’ll ship it out as needed.”
Donovan nodded, “Excellent plan. I will make those arrangements and have the goods delivered. Thank you again, and good evening.”

Bebop, Lucius, and Tamsen entered the Drownington area, with Bebop especially excited about the prospects.
“This place is perfect, guys! No real law enforcement, lots of areas to produce supply. It’s everything we could want.”, Bebop was salivating at the prospect of producing narcotics in this area.
Looking around the area for some familiar faces, Bebop found one of the individuals that they had been speaking with previously, “Hey! I remember you!”
The man, clearly indigent and not having the best of luck in his life, looked up to see Bebop. A look of concern came over his face, “Hello again, sir. I see you have returned already.”
Bebop continued, “So, when is the big fighting game? I’m ready to go!”
The man tilted his head, somewhat confused. “It’s still happening on Sunday.”
Bebop realized that only three days had passed since they were last in the town. “Damnit!”
Lucius sighed, clearly annoyed at the whole of this event. For Tamsen’s part, she appeared to be distracted, as if she was having a conversation in her own head that didn’t involve the rest of the group.
Bebop shrugged, figuring on different ways he could spend his time. “Oh, right. Well, thanks for your time, buddy!” With that, Bebop pressed some coin into the man’s hand.
The man looked around in almost a panic, “What are you doing?” His voice changed to almost a whisper, “Are you trying to get me killed?” With that, the man headed off to Drownington Manor.
The group followed the man into Drownington Manor, with Bebop looking around at the different females there who could accompany them. “I’ve had one of those, and one of those, and one of those.”
Lucius noticed the man who they had followed into the manor. He was apparently talking with a muscular man, whom Lucius assumed to be one of the hired hands. The man gave the help all of the coin he had received from Bebop, and they appeared to have some sort of conversation. “We all have our debts to pay.”, Lucius mused to himself.
A redheaded woman with Elvish features walked by the group, and Bebop stopped her as she was passing by, “Are you an Elf?”, Bebop asked.
The woman smiled and pushed her hair back over her right ear. “Sure baby, I am.”
Excited, Bebop took the woman’s hand, and headed off into a room for the two of them, leaving Lucius and Tamsen sitting at the table.
Lucius continued to be annoyed, “Why exactly are we here?”
Tamsen teased, “Maybe you need some closeness with a creature from this plane of existence?”
Lucius countered, “I think we’ve just been sent here as nannies.”
Just then, one of the patrons propositioned Tamsen, “Well, if you aren’t the most beautiful creature here! How much are you charging for your time?” The three other individuals who were with this individual were almost licking their lips in anticipation.
Tamsen giggled, “Thanks for the offer, cutie. But, I’m here with my boyfriend.” With that, Tamsen leaned over and started snuggling against Lucius.
The group of men seemed to be unphased. “Don’t be coy, pretty lady. No woman that dresses like you could just be a customer of the bar.” The lead man pushed up against Tamsen, his hands rubbing against her exposed thighs. “My mates and I will take good care of you.”
Lucius gritted his teeth in frustration, “Well damnit all, if we aren’t here now! Lucinda!” Lucius snapped his fingers, and the form of Lucinda appeared in the bar, wielding her weapon. Her form and demeanor were threatening to be certain, and the men who had previously found such confidence began to shrink away in the moment.
Tamsen locked her gaze with the man who had dared to set his hands on her body. “You are inches away from the worst decision in your pitiful life. Now, you can either take your hands off me and walk away, or you can find out exactly what it means to try raping a succubus.” All humor and mirth faded from Tamsen’s tone.
The group of men considered their options, then considered the less risky situation. They moved away from Lucius and Tamsen, and out of the manor. One of the “guards” within the manor briefly stopped by to make sure that Lucius and Tamsen weren’t trying to cause issues, but left the two of them alone after understanding what happened. It didn’t hurt that Lucius knew when to be generous with coin.
“Wasn’t that interesting?”, Tamsen giggled.
“No!”, Lucius replied, the irritation clearly growing in his tone. “That was an unnecessary risk! We could have avoided all of that if you would simply stop dressing like an open invitation.”
Tamsen’s gaze grew fierce as she leaned close to Lucius, “No! I won’t be told how to dress or how to live anymore! I spent my whole life being the slave of men who made all the choices for me. Men who decided how I would look, and dress, and who could touch me. I hated every moment of my existence, every choice I was denied. And then, I found the most wonderful man in the world who doesn’t tell me how to dress, or how to live, or who I can touch.”
Lucius tried to speak up, “I’m not saying you should not be able to express yourself…”
Tamsen interrupted him, “I can assure you, Donovan never goes to bed lonely or unsure of where he stands with me. So, I’m not changing for these men anymore. These men can change for me.” Tamsen continued to stare at Lucius, her frustrations clearly visible.
“I hear you, Tamsen. I shouldn’t have made you feel your choices aren’t valid. We’re just trying to navigate a very delicate situation where we are escaped criminals who are continuing to do harm to the kingdom. A little subtlety wouldn’t hurt us.”, Lucius attempted to defuse the matter, something he had become very good at over time.
As if the Fates themselves were intervening, Bebop walked up at this moment. “What’s going on? We should try and get a meeting with Rubal Thram.”
Lucius laughed in frustration, “Sure, let’s do that. Go ask one of the people who work here about having that meeting.”
Bebop walked over to one of the waitresses, who look confused, but said she would go fetch someone that could help him. Shortly afterwards, a man walked up to the group, and introduced himself as the manager of the bar. “How can I help you fine adventurers?”
Bebop didn’t hesitate to respond, “How do we get a meeting with Rubal?”
The manager smirked, “You don’t get a meeting with Mister Thram. If Mister Thram wants to meet with you, you will be meeting with him. It’s as simple as that.”
Bebop seemed quite cocksure in his response, “But Mister Thram will want to meet with us, we are going to help him become even more successful.”
The manager’s gaze seemed skeptical, but he continued, “And why is that?”
“Because we are going to help him succeed in the drug market.”
Lucius put his face in his hands, wishing that he was anywhere but where he currently was.
The manager snorted, “Ah, I see. Well, I’ll be sure to pass along your names to Mister Thram. What did you say your names were again?”
Bebop pointed at the members of his party, “I’m Bebop, this is Tamsen, and over there is Lucius. Donovan isn’t here now, but he’s with us as well.”
The manager nodded, “Understood. I’m certain Mister Thram will deal with this as soon as his schedule allows. Can I offer all of you something to drink before you leave?”
Bebop started to say, “Yeah, I’ll have a….”, before Lucius cut him off.
“No thank you, sir. We appreciate your time. Thank you for taking a meeting with us.” With that, Lucius set coin on the table for the drinks they had purchased, then began escorting the group out of the manor.

As the group began to walk away from the manor, Bebop confronted Lucius, “What was that about? The manager could have helped us get a meeting with Rubal.”
Lucius shouted in exasperation, “No, he could not!” Lucius’ immediately attempted to calm himself. “There was no meeting to be had, there was nothing we could offer him yet. Now I get why Donovan sent us on this little escapade. He didn’t want to deal with your nonsense, and wanted to make sure you didn’t get into trouble while you were there.”
Bebop dismissed Lucius’ cynicism, “Don’t be ridiculous. Donovan is all about making a profit.”
“If there is profit to be made! You don’t have a product, you don’t have customers, you don’t have distribution, you don’t have anything yet! If you want this narcotic plan of yours to take off, you will have to show him that there’s something that people will buy.”, Lucius looked intently at Bebop.
“I get that, ok. I know we have to put it all together, but I figured we weren’t going to be in town again for a while, so we should have our man on the inside before we get started.”
“Cart before the horse, sweetie.”, Tamsen patted Bebop’s face and smiled a knowing smile.
Bebop sighed, frustrated. From an alchemical creation standpoint, he was a genius of production. Unfortunately, he lacked the other pieces that he needed to put it all together. He had truly hoped that this was going to be an opportunity to get someone who could aid in some of the other points, but he began to realize that he would need a proof of concept to get the group to see his vision.
An excited smile came over Tamsen’s face. “Donovan is headed back, he wants us to go rent out rooms, and then we’re going to purchase items for the trip back.”
“Thank the gods!”, Lucius responded. With that, he and the rest of the group made their way back to the town proper.

Tamsen sat naked on the bed in her room. She was all too eager to see Donovan again, with this being their first opportunity to spend time alone together for some time. She looked out from the open window onto the town streets. From time to time, she would walk closer to the open window, looking out onto the street to see if he was close. More than one individual caught her in this state of undress, which she giggled about, thinking of the thoughts that would swirl through those person’s mind as they traveled home from having seen her. Heading back to the bed, Tamsen did not notice the dark spot in the sky that was flying directly towards her room. Tamsen closed her eyes, letting the words of her mind drift to Donovan’s head. “Hurry and come to bed, my love. I’ve been aching to feel you inside me.” Donovan was clearly in agreement, telling her how much he had been craving her.
Moments before Donovan opened the door to the room, a large creature came crashing into via the open window. At first, the creature looked like a massive bird with electricity crackling around it. Instinctively, Tamsen jumped up, startled at the appearance of this creature. She gasped at the creature, and its mouth opened wide, grabbing Pooky and crunching into its tiny body. A piteous shriek came from the rabbit, as Tamsen screamed in horror, “Pooky!”
Donovan opened the door, as a swirling mass began to spin around in the corner of the room. He moved over to where Tamsen had pressed herself against one of the walls, interposing himself between the mass and Tamsen. “By the gods, what is this?”
Where once was wings and beaks, arms and faces began to manifest themselves. The creature was changing, becoming smaller and more humanoid. The swirling slowed, and what was left behind was the form of a naked humanoid. The form appeared to be female, with wings along her back, long claws for fingernails, and talons for feet. By many standards, this creature was beautiful, but would not be mistaken for human. Seeing Tamsen, the creature moves over to the part of the room where she and Donovan are standing, and gets on her knees before Tamsen.
“My Mistress, my name is Camille. I have been sent by your mother in order to protect you and provide you guidance to assist you in finding out more about her.”, the creature was prostrate before Tamsen, her head bowed low.
“You… you killed my Pooky.”, Tamsen’s voice shuddered in disbelief.
“Forgive me Mistress, it was the only way I could pass on the abilities that you and the rabbit maintained, and allow you to speak them through me.”, Camille seemed unphased at her actions.
Tamsen stepped in front of Donovan, then pulled Camille up from her kneeling position, “You know my mother?’
Camille nodded with certainty, “Yes Mistress, your Mother wishes very much for you to be safe and protected when you travel. You are my charge for as long as you remain on this plane.” Camille’s eyes shifted to Donovan every so briefly when she said the word “Safe”. Donovan imagined he had earned himself more retribution for his failure in Balentyne.
Tamsen gently touched Camille’s face, then she said some words that Donovan couldn’t recognize, but he had heard before. This was the way her and Pooky had spoken in the past. Camille responded in the same “language” that Tamsen was speaking in, and Tamsen’s face brightened immediately, “It’s true. You really do know what Pooky knew!”
Tamsen hugged Camille excitedly, and Camille responded by hugging her back.
“I have so many questions for you Cami!”
“Of course Mistress, I’ll answer anything I can. I can even help you ask questions directly of your Mother, if you so desire.”
Tamsen looked over to Donovan, “Would you mind if I stayed in here and talked to her for a while? I can’t believe this is happening to me.”
Donovan smiled, “Of course, my love. This is a wonderful moment for you. I’m so glad you are able to have this.” With that, Donovan left the room and closed the door behind him.
Donovan went downstairs and found Lucius and Bebop, “So, ready to do some shopping? We’re going to need to find some crops that will survive those caves and the limited light.”
Lucius looked at Donovan, somewhat confused, and then agreed to his request. The group headed out through the city and began making purchases. Word soon got out in town about the unusual individuals who paid for stuff with exotic coins and opened up a huge hole in the middle of the room to load the goods into.

Several hours later, the group returned back to the inn for the evening. Tamsen and Camille were downstairs with GrumbleJack, talking and passing the time. Sitting next to them were the members of the Seventh Knot. Elise’s gaze caught Donovan and the others as they walked in, and she waved them over to the table.
“Tamsen tells me you have made a breakthrough with regards to the Ritual.”
“This is true Elise, and is the reason we have returned to the town. We’re going to need to prepare for the extended period of time that we will be at the Horn.”, Donovan responded.
“What do you mean by extended?”
“Seven months. The ritual will take seven months to complete.”
“If you aren’t going to be serious about this operation, then the Cardinal will hear of your betrayal.”
Donovan’s eyes narrowed, “You think I’m kidding?” Donovan pulled out the Dirges of Apollyon. “You want to see it for yourself?”
“Yes.”, Elise responded without hesitation.
Donovan handed her the book, which she stared at momentarily. Elise cast a spell on the pages to allow her to read them, which caused Donovan to chuckle ever so briefly. After casting an angry glare at Donovan, Elise continued to parse through the dark tome she had been given. Upon arriving at the ritual penned in at the end, she studied the words carefully. The group could see her confidence drain away as the text confirmed what Donovan had told her previously.
Elise handed back the tome to Donovan, clearly perturbed, “I know you are trying to make us fail, but we are simply following the orders that were given to us.”
“You misread my intentions, Elise. I have done nothing but make suggestions to increase the likelihood of our success, and you seem determined to ignore them.”
“And what exactly would those suggestions be, Donovan?”
“As I said before, I believe a member of your team should make a mental link with Tamsen, so that our groups can continue to make plans together, without having to worry about whether or not you can get a messenger out safely to us.”
Elise steepled her fingers together. While she wasn’t particularly fond of Donovan, his family, or his tactics, it would be hard to argue the success rate. “How would this work, precisely?”
Donovan smiled. “Simple, one member of your team would hold hands with Tamsen for a bit.”
Elise looked over her team, then settled on Trik. “You do it.”
Trik seemed nervous at first, but Tamsen’s disarming smile seemed to set him at ease. He began holding hands with Tamsen as she stared into his eyes.
Trak, Trik’s brother, decided to tease him lightly, “Look at you, finally holding hands with a girl.” Trik blushed at the situation, but found himself more and more drawn into Tamsen’s eyes. She was beautiful, even more beautiful than Elise. He started thinking about what it would be like to have a girl like this in his life. “I wonder what Tamsen thinks about me.”, Trik thought to himself. “I think you are a very handsome young man.”, a voice responded in his head, sounding exactly like Tamsen. “Can you hear my thoughts, Tamsen?”, Trik looked around the room as he continued to think to her. “I can when you want me to hear you.”, the voice responded again.
Tamsen and Trik released each other’s hands.
“Did it work?”, Elise asked curiously.
Trik nodded, “Yes, it worked.”
Elise sneered, “Good enough. We’ll set up a schedule for you two to communicate at set times, and relay any information each of us gets to the other.”
Donovan smiled and made a toast, “Here’s to our mutual success!”

Retiring to their room for the evening, Donovan was all too eager to make up for the missed opportunity that had passed them by when Camille first arrived. However, it would appear that Camille was not going to allow Donovan to get that close to Tamsen. Each time Donovan would try to touch Tamsen, Camille would lash out at him, her claws slicing open his skin. She would then stare at him with an odd look that one could describe as hunger.
“Gah! Why is she doing this Tamsen?”, Donovan exclaimed in frustration.
“She’s just settling in, she doesn’t know who to trust here.”, Tamsen tried to reassure Donovan, as she petted Camille gently.
“I feel like she does know, and she’s doing this intentionally.”
“Be patient, Donovan.”, Tamsen’s hand touched Donovan ‘s face. “She’ll get used to this, and I’ll always be yours.”
Donovan sighed, “Of course you are right. I just really want to be with you soon.”
Tamsen nodded eagerly, “Soon!”
With that, a resigned Donovan attempted to go to sleep. However, each time he woke up, he saw Camille staring at him. Her actions were so disconcerting that he eventually just decided to sleep on the floor.

The next morning, Donovan pulled himself off the floor and walked past the bed where Tamsen and Camille were cuddled up together. Donovan pictured this going on in the Horn for the next seven months, and a long sigh came out of him. “Alright, let’s get this show on the road.”
Donovan and the others availed themselves of the bathing room, not knowing when such a luxury would be available to them again.
Bebop was in his usual good spirits, as he interrogated Donovan, “What was it like having two girls in bed at the same time, huh?”
Donovan looked at Bebop with an irksome expression, “Restless.”
Bebop nodded with excitement, “Oh yeah, I’m gonna get me some of that soon.”
Donovan chuckled to himself, thinking about how well him and Camille would get along.
Finishing their baths, the group had their breakfast in plans for the long trek back to the Horn.
“Well Donovan, do we have everything?”, Lucius asked.
Just then, a voice from behind them spoke up, “Donovan… Westermeyer?”
All of the group looked at each other in concern. No one in this town should be using that last name. He never introduced himself to anyone as that name. Which meant, this was someone who knew him from before.
Donovan turned around in his seat, looked at the individual, and asked, “Instructor Diggle?”
“Hah!”, the female Halfling laughed, “I knew it was you!” Taking a drag from her pipe, she blew out smoke before proceeding, “How exactly did you get free from Branderscar?”
Donovan rushed towards her, kneeling down and trying to make sure no one was listening at that point, “Instructor, please. I’m happy to explain this to you, but I’m not going to do it out here in the open. Let’s go back to my room, and I can elaborate further.”
With that, Donovan and the group returned to his room.

“You really turned this into a catastrophe, didn’t you Donovan?”, Idrees Diggle spoke as she struck him over the head with her pipe. Idrees was looking at a copy of the Contract that Donovan and the others had signed with Thorn, after he explained what had happened to the group.
Donovan winced in pain as the metallic pipe rapped over his head in the all too familiar way. “I didn’t have a choice, Instructor. They were threatening my family!”
Idrees pointed at the others in the room, “Oh yes, your family. Another group of poor unfortunate kids you have dragged along into your harebrained schemes.” Idrees struck Donovan over the head again.
“It’s not like that! I didn’t know that things were going to turn out this way!”, Donovan protested again, red bumps appearing on his forehead.
“You mean, the woman Tiadora, whom you initially suspected was a Devil, but you had no idea what sort of agreement that her employer might put you under? That’s what you didn’t know.”, Idrees continued to accost him, but this time was chewing on her pipe rather than striking Donovan with it.
Donovan was immediately embarrassed at how easily his Instructor had seen something that he walked blindly into. “I… I had a plan.”
“Ah yes, the Donovan plan, is it? Another one of your insane concepts that destroys everyone around you, while you manage to avoid the worst of it.” Idrees considered striking Donovan again, but instead pointed the pipe at the rest of the group, “Any of you kids know why Donovan was expelled from the Academy?”
Lucius chimed up, “He told us that his dad didn’t want to have to keep paying for him when school wasn’t teaching him anything.”
Idrees snorted, “That’s true, but only in the sense that Donovan wasn’t learning anything from school.” Idrees pressed her pipe against Donovan’s forehead, “This prodigy here had already spent so much time studying books that he was done with anything the school was offering. But his dad didn’t want him around the house, for obvious reasons.”
A glare came across Donovan’s face, but Idrees continued, “So Donovan gets it in his head that he's going to figure out all of the questions that were going to be on the exam tests.”
“I never cheated!”, Donovan exclaimed, before Idrees struck him on the head again with her pipe.
“Now, Donovan isn’t going to try to steal answers, because he already knows the answers. Instead, he started studying the teachers, learning their body language and how they acted when they talked about subject material. From there, he gets a list of the questions that they seemed to emphasize, and the correct answers, and sells that to the other students.”, Idrees puffed on her pipe again, angrily relaying the story.
Tamsen chuckled, “That does seem like something Donovan would do, Instructor Diggle.”
Idrees smiled at Tamsen, “Call me Idrees, dearie. You seem like such a wonderful young woman.”
“Can you please stop telling them this story, Idrees?”, Donovan pleaded.
Idrees struck Donovan on the head yet again, “That’s Instructor Diggle, you shortsighted dunce!” Puffing on her pipe a few more times, Idrees continued. “Of course, for Donovan, none of this was about money, so he didn’t even spend the money, he just kept it to prove that he was successful. When I finally figured out what he was doing and confronted him about it, he freely admitted it to me, and then gave me all the money he had earned. Of course, that just made the Academy board assume I had helped him somehow, since why on the planes would a student charge money for something when he didn’t want money. I ended up losing my tenure, and now I can’t get a position in academia, thanks to this one.” Idrees pushed her pipe against Donovan’s face in a accusatory manner.
Lucius shook his head, “Yeah, that all sounds about right. That seems exactly like something he would do.”
Donovan rubbed his head in pain, “Instructor, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I put you in this position. What do you want from me? Money? Revenge? Take whatever you want out of me, but please leave my family out of this. These are my actions, and they shouldn’t have to pay for them.”
“Oh no, Mister Westermeyer, you don’t get off that easily. If I take money from you, you’ll just make more. If I try and get you thrown back in jail, you’ll just dupe another group of unfortunates into your plan and get back out.”
Donovan pulled out his rapier and pushed it against Idrees’ hands, “So, blood is it? Fine.”
Idrees looked at the rapier, and rapped Donovan upside the head again. “You’re not listening, Donovan. I’m very well aware that anything you set your mind to, you are going to accomplish. It’s my intention to follow you through this situation you have got yourself in, and make sure these other kids don’t have to suffer because of your brashness. In the meantime, you are going to pay me to help get your gear in better working order, since you won’t get far on what you’ve got currently.”
Donovan snorted, “Why would I need you to help with gear? I’m fully capable of doing that myself.”
Idrees chuckled, “And just when are you planning to do this, Donovan? While you are maintaining the ritual, and training the Boggards, and renovating the Horn, and growing the crops? When exactly are you going to be able to spend hours out of the day to work on gear?”
Donovan looked down at the floor. His Instructor was far too keen on his situation.
Donovan began, “I’ll just…”, before Idrees cut him off. “You’re a good kid, Donovan. You have the ability to see ideas and concepts most don’t. But you’re also impulsive and rash, and make decisions in moments without thinking of the consequences. You need someone to rein you in. Agree to my terms, Donovan. You have a lot left to learn from your instructor.”
Donovan looked at the rest of his family, and then back to Idrees, then nodded to her, “Yes, Instructor.”
Idrees nodded and chuckled, “Perfect.” She then pointed at GrumbleJack. “You, big fellow. Carry me.”
GrumbleJack nodded, “Yes ma’am.”, and picked up Idrees.

The group piled into a carriage summoned by Lucius. While they had the luxury of not needing to carry all the supplies due to the Portable Hole, they were still forced to move on the land due to the number of people they had traveling, and the size of GrumbleJack. Bebop excelled at moving through the undeveloped lands without drawing the attention of the local wildlife. His senses told him there were many other predators around that they would potentially need to deal with at some point in the future. But, for now, they were blessed with safe travels and no need to defend themselves.

Arriving back at the Horn, the group began to prepare for the ritual that was to be enacted. Tamsen went to speak to Halthus, while showing him the nature of the ritual. Halthus, seeing the specific sacrifice that would be required, wanted to write a document to discuss his hopes and dreams for what would become of the “new brotherhood” that Halthus wanted to see. Knowing that he would not live to see it because of his sacrifice, Halthus took final comfort in the belief that his actions would be a moment that would be remembered by those who came after him. Studying the set of instructions provided to him, Bebop created a strong sedative that would keep Halthus asleep throughout the initial ritual.

After Halthus consumed the sedative, Bebop brought him to the altar at the top of the Horn. Donovan instructed GrumbleJack to bring up the water from the fountain to the bowl in the Sanctum. However, when GrumbleJack arrived at the top of the Horn, he began to suffer from dizziness, and sat down at the top of the stairs.
“I’m so thirsty, boss”, GrumbleJack complained to Donovan, then grabbed one of the two tubs that he had brought to the top of the stairs.
“Sure buddy, you carried those heavy tubs all the way to the top of the stairs. Get yourself something to drink.”, Donovan responded, while taking the other tub and moving it over to the bowl at the altar.
Donovan poured the water into the bowl, and watched the transformation of the water take place. The water took on a quality that suggested it had been tainted by Abyssal magic.
For his part, GrumbleJack actually consumed all the water in the first tub he had been drinking from. Even though his stomach appeared distended from the consumption of water, GrumbleJack continued to ask for more water, “I’m still thirsty, boss.”
The rest of the group suggested that GrumbleJack should be brought downstairs, but Donovan thought perhaps something else was going on. “I can patch him up if something goes wrong.”
Pulling a cup of the water from the altar out, he brought the water to GrumbleJack, “Here you go, buddy.”
GrumbleJack smiled weakly, “Thanks boss.” GrumbleJack drank the glass, and then fell over and started groaning in pain.
The rest of the group looked at Donovan accusingly. Donovan fumbled through his bandolier to find one of his curative elixirs. As Donovan approached GrumbleJack, he saw that GrumbleJack was transforming. GrumbleJack’s body mass increased, and wings appeared on his back. GrumbleJack’s horns became far more pronounced than they were previously, and it was apparent that GrumbleJack’s fiendish heritage was manifesting along his body.
GrumbleJack stood up, flexing the muscles of his body. “I feel strong, boss! Stronger than I’ve ever felt in my life.” GrumbleJack pushed off the ground, and found himself floating in the air, powered by the strength of his wings.
The group celebrated GrumbleJack’s newfound strength and power, but Donovan reminded all of them that they were acting within a limited window of time. Stepping up to the sleeping form of Halthus, Donovan recited the words of the ritual that he had repeated to himself many times before. Donovan plunged the blade into Halthus, cutting out the heart and setting it into one of the designated bowels that were next to the altar. A voice rang out through the altar in Abyssal, speaking the words “I hear.”
Immediately following that, a flame burned across the outside of the Horn, burning away all of the vegetation that had creeped up the mountain, and hurling itself into the sky. A sickly green glow extended outward from the entire Horn, certainly alerting everyone in the area that something had occurred at this place.
Donovan took Tamsen’s hand as the group stared out from the balcony of the Horn and looked out into what they had caused, as they looked at each other.

“I guess we’ve woke up the neighbors.”, Donovan said, trying to be humorous.

Session 17 Ends.
 
Last edited:

rchodges

Explorer
Part 2: Call Forth Darkness
Act 3: Thirty-one Weeks
Session 18: Kiss Some Girls and Make Others Cry

Donovan pointed at the body of Halthus, “Bebop, grab that and let’s head down to the Alchemical Lab. We have work to do.” Bebop nodded in assent, and then grabbed the body as the group began to move down the stairs. Donovan and Bebop arrived in the Lab, the body of Halthus being carried almost effortlessly by Bebop. Pointing to a table next to the Golem, Donovan instructed Bebop to lay the body down. As Bebop was arranging the body into position, Donovan grabbed a set of surgical tools, then got into position at the top of Halthus’ corpse.
“You sure you can handle this, Donovan?”, Bebop teased.
Donovan merely raised an eyebrow, “I’ve studied this procedure many times over, I’m sure I’ve got it down now.”
Donovan began to cut into the skull of the corpse, working his way around, while being careful to not cut in too deep. Having already removed the cap from the Golem where the brain was to be placed, Donovan gingerly moved the now exposed brain into the area of the Golem where it is to be stored. Once that task was complete, Donovan and Bebop went over all the connections on the Golem to ensure that everything was in place and connected. Finally, Donovan reached up behind the heart pump and flipped the switch that activated the Alchemical Golem.

The Alchemical Golem’s fluids began moving through the piping that it contained, as movement began in the extremities of the device. All at once, the Golem lurched to its feet, and moved right next to Donovan, “What is thy bidding, my master?” A smile crossed Donovan’s face, as his efforts had been validated. “What is your designation, Golem?”
“This vassal has been named Artephius.”
Donovan noted that the device appeared to refer to itself in the third person, “And what do you remember prior to being activated?”
The Golem hesitated briefly, then responded. “Your servant has always been activated since you activated it.”
Donovan considered the truth of the creature’s words. Whatever existence it had known before was most likely lost with the previous brain that had been installed. Still, another capable hand at this point was more than welcome. As Donovan and Bebop finished up making sure the last of the connections were in place, the rest of the family showed up to see how the progress was going. Idrees climbed up the back of Artephius, and inspected the back of the Golem. “Hmm…”, Idrees said very little about the efforts, but she wasn’t showing disappointment.
“Artephius, accompany Instructor Idees to the forge, and assist her in whatever way she asks of you.”, Donovan began snapping out orders to the group. “GrumbleJack, escort Tamsen to the end of this barrier, where she can make contact with the Seventh Knot. Bebop, help me start getting the rooms emptied out, and we’ll start building up the Alchemical Concrete over the upstairs entrances.”
Lucius looked at the group, “I’m going to go check out the situation in the Tavern and Kitchen, to see if I can get anything going. Lucinda and I will get some food ready for all of us once we have some working equipment.” There was a general cheer from the group at the thought, and then everyone went off to their own separate tasks.

Tamsen was being carried by GrumbleJack, as Camille was sitting in Tamsen’s arms using her bird form. The group watched as they passed through the glowing barrier that had extended outward from the Horn. From there, GrumbleJack flew down and landed on the ground. After patting GrumbleJack on the cheek and smiling, Tamsen reached out from her mind to Trik.
“Are you there, Trik? It’s me, Tamsen.”
Trik’s voice came flooding back, almost as though he was shouting, “What happened over there? We saw a huge bright light coming from where you said you were headed.”
“Yes, it appears the first part of the ritual was successful.”
“And all of you are alright?”, Trik queried to Tamsen.
Tamsen smirked to herself, “We’re all fine. But thank you for worrying about me sweetie. I appreciate knowing I can count on you.”
Trik was trying to hold his thoughts back, but his mind was focused on the allure of Tamsen. His brother Trak loved Elise, and Trik was happy that his brother was happy, but a part of him resented Trak for having a relationship that he could not experience. But Tamsen was beautiful, and made him feel important when they were speaking together.
“Could you do something for me, Trik?”
“Yes, of course.”, Trak regained his thoughts, “What do you need, I’ll speak with the group about it.”
“One of the requirements of this ritual is something called the ‘heir of the Victor’. I was hoping that you could learn more about that from within Farholde.”, Tamsen’s thoughts in Trik’s mind were soothing, like she was holding his hand.
“The Victor, you say? I’m sure I can find something out. Anyway… be safe.”
“Thank you so much for everything. I’m looking forward to speaking with you again.”, Tamsen’s voice echoed in Trik’s mind, and then went still.
Tamsen looked over at GrumbleJack, “I think we’re finished here for now, big guy. That was a productive conversation.”
GrumbleJack grunted in assent, and took Tamsen in his arms, heading back into the sky.

Back in the Sanctum, Donovan and Bebop were performing the proper mixing to create the Alchemical Cement to cover the entrance from the Balcony. As usual, Bebop was proceeding far more rapidly at mixing the ingredients than Donovan, which prompted Bebop to continue with his teasing nature.
“You need me to take care of this for you, Donovan? I’m sure you would struggle to even lift all this material.”
Donovan sighed, “And then, once you finish making the cement, how exactly do you plan to frame and cure it?”
“Cure it? What, is it sick?”, Bebop looked confused at Donovan’s words.
“Exactly, Bebop. There’s more to cement than just the speed with which you handle your stick.”, Donovan scoffed.
Once Bebop began completing the mixture of the cement, he followed Donovan’s instructions to set up the cement against the hole in the Balcony, using a wooden frame to brace it while it began to dry.
“So, is there a way we can make it look like the rest of the mountain?”, Bebop asked, noting the color of the cement.
Donovan shook his head, “Not really. But trust me, once cement this thick finishes curing, anyone wanting to come through here would have an easier time just smashing through the mountain side.”

Lucius entered the darkened area that was once a Tavern. Tossing a Light cantrip onto one of the torch sconces, he took stock of the state of the room. The tables and chairs were in disarray, almost all of the plates and cups were damaged, and the cooking stove seemed to be out of alignment. Summoning up a pair of Fire Elementals, Lucius instructed them to go through the pipes exiting the stove and confirm that nothing was blocking access. The Elementals efficiently performed their task, burning away stray shrubbery and some small animals from within the piping. After that was completed, Lucius summoned up Lucinda, and the two of them got to work in straightening up the Tavern. Lucius took notes of the extra things that he would be needing in order to make this a more viable kitchen area. Lucius was annoyed at the design of the Horn putting the pantry away from the Kitchen in this manner, but it was a relatively small complaint. Some of the furniture would also require repair if not outright replacement. Lucius noted that Donovan had purchased a fairly large amount of lumber, which suggested that he was planning to rebuild the furniture himself. Lucius opened up the Portable Hole in the Tavern, and had Lucinda drag all of the broken items into in in order to carry it outside and throw them away. Finishing that, Lucinda and Lucius reconnected the piping in the oven, started up a fire, and got to work making dinner for the family.

A short time later, the group gathered in the Tavern, and Lucius and Lucinda proffered the food and drinks for everyone. There was a sense of excitement in the air.
Donovan stood up, “I want to thank you all for being here. This could not happen without the help of all of you. I know we have a lot of struggles ahead of ourselves, but I know we’ll get through this together.”
Raising his glass, Donovan exclaimed, “To family!”
The group raised their glasses and returned the cheer, “To family!”
Blindly optimistic, Donovan would soon discover the scope of the struggles that laid ahead of them.

Week 1:
Tamsen laid naked in her new bed next to an equally naked Camille. To say the bed was massive would be an understatement, it was the most oversized and luxurious thing she had ever slept in, even surpassing the beds in the Westermeyer Manor. The two of them often found free time together, and Tamsen found a connection with Camille that she could not have possibly know with Pooky. Camille climbed on top of Tamsen as she laid on her back, looking up at her retainer.
“My Mistress, I think it is time for you to begin learning the path to get closer to your mother.”
Tamsen expression became excited. From the beginning, Camille had stated that she was specifically sent her by her true mother, and that her mother wanted very much to get closer to her. “What do I need to do, Cami?”
Camille leaned down to Tamsen’s face, with them so close together as they had been many times before, “You’ll need something like this.” With that, Camille slid off the bed, walked over to the nearby stand, and opened one of the drawers. She pulled out a mushroom and smiled at Tamsen.
“Those are the mushrooms you told me to have Donovan buy.”, Tamsen said with curiosity in her voice.
Camille nodded, “Yes Mistress. And now it’s time for you to understand what they can do.” Returning to the bed, Camille gingerly placed a piece of the mushroom in Tamsen’s mouth, and Tamsen swallowed it.
Camille and Tamsen began to touch and explore each other’s bodies as they had several times before. Camille was every bit as forward as Tamsen in matters of sexuality, so their connection was a very easy process. As Tamsen began to relax under Camille’s touch, the effects of the mushroom became pronounced upon her. Tamsen felt her mind slowly drifting and sliding. “Cami, this feels so good.”
“I am so happy to hear you say that, my Mistress. Now, for the second part of what is needed.”, Camille was gentle and quiet, whispering her instructions into Tamsen’s ears.
Tamsen touched Camille’s cheek, “What else do we need, Cami?”
“Blood.”, Camille responded, the smile never leaving her face.
“Blood?”, Tamsen asked. “Blood from me?”
“It could be from you, my Mistress. But I think someone else would make a better donor. You like that boy Bebop, don’t you? The way he makes you feel when he’s inside you?”
Tamsen’s eyes closed, as she smiled and nodded, the moments of them together flashing in her memories.
“Then call him, Mistress. Call him here right now, and enjoy yourself with him.”, Camille continued to guide Tamsen in her semi lucid state.
It was easy for Tamsen to call Bebop to her bedroom. The simple suggestion of being in her bed was all the encouragement he needed. Opening the door to her bedroom, he found the two of them naked in the bed waiting for him. He rushed to the bed, almost throwing himself into it and Tamsen’s arms. The two of them shared a passionate embrace, before Tamsen rolled herself on top of Bebop.
“You love me, don’t you Bebop?”, Tamsen asked in a tiny voice.
“You know I do, always.”, Bebop responded with urgency and enthusiasm.
“And you trust me, right baby?”, Tamsen’s finger slid down Bebop’s exposed chest, as Camille moved up closer to him.
Bebop nodded, with absolute certainty in his eyes.
“Thank you. I want you to share Cami with me.”
Bebop was more than excited. To have not one but two beautiful women in his bed, it was a dream come true. Camille’s lips pressed against Bebop’s, as a mischievous smile appeared on her face. Her lips moved off of Bebop’s lips, and down his neck. A moment later, her fangs sank into Bebop’s skin, and the sweet redness was released. An audible moan escaped Camille’s mouth, as she indulged herself.
Bebop felt a momentary tinge of pain, but became so caught up in Tamsen’s desire, he soon ignored what else was taking place. Camille’s face came up to Tamsen’s, her lips red with Bebop’s blood. The two of them kissed passionately, as Tamsen felt a surge of desire and power wash over her. Camille then bent down to kiss Bebop once more, as he tasted his own blood in her mouth. It was a dizzying sensation to be in the arms of these two, and Bebop soon realized that he was fully at their whims.

“Donovan!” An angry voice rang out from the Alchemical Lab. Donovan heard the voice of his teacher, and immediately started headed towards where the sound was coming from. He ran into Idrees just outside of the lab. Her clothes and hair was singed from what had apparently been a fire attack that she had endured.
“What happened, Instructor?”
“Leave it to you to create a Golem that attacks the people it’s working for!”, Idrees spat out, clearly livid.
Donovan was in shock, and rushed inside the Lab where Artephius was standing there as though nothing was going on. Donovan, with a confused look on his face, confronted Artephius about the accusations made by his instructor.
“Artephius, what happened in here?”
“This vessel is performing the tasks you have assigned to it.”, Artephius responded flatly.
“And what happened to Instructor Idrees?”
“They were attacked by unknown assailants.”, Artephius stared at Donovan blankly.
Idrees scoffed, “Unknown assailants, my bony ass! You attacked me!” She pushed her pipe against the Golem’s torso.
Artephius pointed at Idress, continuing to look at Donovan, “They were attacked by unknown assailants.”
Donovan put his head in his hands in frustration, as Idrees snarled at him. “I should have known that anything you put together would blow up in everyone’s face but yours! Just like all of your other plans.”
“Artephius, you are to accompany me in all of my daily activities, and not leave my sight unless otherwise instructed by me.”, Donovan said, a look of exasperation on his face.
“Yes, my Master.”
“My apologies, Instructor. I’ll have GrumbleJack continue to assist you with anything you need.”
Idrees nodded, “GrumbleJack, he’s a nice young man. Why couldn’t you be more like him?”
Knowing there was no correct answer to that question, Donovan simply shrugged and walked away, Artephius diligently following him as he moved around the Horn.

At the bottom of the Horn, Lucius was still attempting to make headway with the Boggards and their dietary requirements. He had already purchased a collection of vegetables that could survive under the limited light within the cave, and now it was just a question of finding out what these creatures could eat. Donovan believed that the only way to guarantee this tribe’s long term survival was to provide them more food choices than simply meat. Applying the Tounges spell to himself, he went to meet with chief Zikomo, several food options prepared and ready to go.
“Zikomo, so glad we could meet today. Are you ready to try out some of these food dishes I have prepared for you?”, Lucius said, trying to be hopeful.
Zikomo looked at his skeptically, “Why Boggards need new food? People so delicious!”
Lucius sighed. “I understand, but sometimes you don’t succeed in hunting, and you need food you can farm and prepare here.” Lucius pulled out his first dish. By human standards, it looked and smelled delicious. But Zikomo remained unconvinced.
Sniffing the plate, Zikomo protested, “Where is meat? I smell no meat here.”
Lucius pressed on, “This is a delicious mushroom and barley soup. It’s very warm and filling, and something we can make with very few ingredients.” Putting a spoonful of it up to Zikomo’s lips, Lucius smiled warmly, “Try it, you’ll like it, I’m sure.”
Zikomo seemed unconvinced, but guessed he should play along with the people who were attempting to free his god. Zikomo tasted the soup. To him, it seemed mostly like water, although it wasn’t an unpleasant taste. Certainly, the mushrooms in this dish were far superior to the ones they had been growing. “Not as good as meat.”, Zikomo grumbled out.
Undeterred, Lucius pulled out his second offering. Zikomo’s lips visibly curled at the sight of all the white in the bowl, but his nose gave him more hope. “Is that fish?”
Lucius smiled confidently, “Yes, this is a nice fish risotto. We can grow the rice down here, and use the cave fish to help add some needed protein to the dish. Once more, Lucius produced a spoonful of the product to Zikomo, who took it with a bit more eagerness than he did on the last dish.
“This not terrible.”, Zikomo grudgingly admitted.
“Ok, now we have something to work with. If we’re going to make dishes like this, we’ll need to take some of that empty space at the front of the cave, and turn it into rice fields. This place is plenty wet for the area, and I think we can get enough sun if we plant at the opening.”, Lucius was very knowledgeable in his suggestions, and Zikomo listened to him, although he remained confused by the idea of planting more crops.
Lucius left the bowls with Zikomo so he could continue trying them out, wrote down some notes about the space in the cave opening, and headed back upstairs.

Tamsen, Camille, and Bebop laid across the bed in different places, the three of them sated from their recent escapades. Bebop, for his part, felt like he had just exerted himself at a level rarely before experienced. His whole body was tired. Tamsen and Camille, however, were giggling with delight. Camille sat up on the bed in front of Tamsen, her arms outstretched to where Tamsen was laying. “So, my Mistress, are you ready to speak with your mother now?”
Tamsen perked up, elated at the prospect. She sat up on top of the bed as well, grasping her arms with Camille.
“Your mother can use me as a channel in order to Commune with you. Now, keep in mind that I probably won’t hear her specific words, but I can tell if she’s saying yes or no about something. Please try to keep your questions in the form of yes or no, so she can respond.”
Tamsen was so eager to know more about this, so she did not hesitate at all to agree to what Camille asked of her.
For Bebop’s part, he simply enjoyed watching two naked women sitting on top of the bed holding hands with one another.
“Alright Mistress, I’m ready now. Close your eyes, and ask your questions.”, Camille spoke softly, her voice fading away.
“Mother, do you hear me? It’s Tamsen. Are you there?”
Camille’s voice was gone now, replaced by another woman’s voice. “Yes, my sweet child. I hear you.”
Tamsen’s eyes welled up with tears, excitement filling her voice.
“Mother, my family and I, we’re in a dangerous place right now. Is anyone coming to harm us in the next couple of days?”
“No.” The voice was terse, but confident.
“We’re in an old temple of some kind, with Donovan and the others sealing up all the entrances so we can be safe. Is there any other way into this temple beyond the entrances in the wall and the staircase?”
“Yes there is, my daughter.”
Tamsen’s eyes shot open, as Bebop and her exchanged worried looks. “Mother, is there another teleporter to this temple, beyond the three we have discovered.”
“Yes.”
A sinking feeling fell over Tamsen, a threat to her family. “Is this teleporter within the boundaries of the Horn?”
“I’m afraid it is not.” The voice began to confirm her fears.
Bebop spoke up, “Ask her if there is a teleporter outside of the barrier protecting the Horn.”
“Mother, is there another working teleporter beyond the range of the protective barrier that gives access to this place?”
“Yes, my child.”
Camille drew back her breath, and fell over onto the bed.
“Wait, mother, don’t go! I have so many more questions!”, Tamsen was concerned for Camille, and worried she had lost her connection to her mother.
Camille opened her eyes, and pushed herself up. “Do not fear, Mistress. I will be able to repeat this for you again. Just give me a few days to recover my strength. It takes quite a bit from me to hold that connection with her from so far away.”
Tamsen squeezed Camille tightly, “Thank you Cami, thank you so much!”
“Anything for you, Mistress.”

Week 2:
The group was now beginning to settle into the routine of everything. Donovan delivered one of the gems to Hexor and Vexor, so that they would be able to notify him if any divine activity took place within the confines of the Horn. Thanks to Idrees, Donovan was able to complete his plans to build a working shower with hot and cold water in the nearby room. The girls immediately loved it, and started using it with regularity.

Tamsen and GrumbleJack continued their regular excursion outside of the barrier in order to allow her to communicate with Trik. It was during one of these meetings where Trik notified Tamsen that a group of adventurers were going to be headed to the Horn. Trik listed off the names of the individuals, which included Hallack Amon, Bianca DeVallya, James O’Toole, Yorgun the Smith, and Sister Marta Dian. Trik told Tamsen that they were a poorly equipped group of individuals, and that they had mentioned going through the caves to get to the Horn. Tamsen thanked Trik profusely for his efforts, as she continued to spin her web around him, bit by bit. Tamsen was thrilled to have actual news to deliver to Donovan. “We’re going to have visitors soon, my love.”
“Oh, is that so? Well, we should be gracious hosts then. Let’s learn more about our guests so we can properly engage with them. With any luck, perhaps we’ll end up with additional hands.”, Donovan seemed happy to hear her news, but Tamsen sensed something was wrong with him.
“Are you ok?”, Tamsen cooed, running her hands along his shoulders.
“Just a lot of work left to do.”, Donovan attempted to reassure her.
Tamsen started to lean in to kiss Donovan, but Camille grabbed her wrist and pulled her away, “Come, my Mistress. Your Mother could help us gather more information on these interlopers and the undiscovered teleporter that threatens this place.”
It had become obvious to Tamsen that Camille held some sort of animosity towards Donovan. Of course, any time Tamsen asked he about it, Camille denied it. “I don’t hate Donovan. What would you have me do with him, Mistress, should I sleep with him?” Tamsen chuckled at the thought of a boy like Donovan trying to have sex with something like Camille. But, she was hoping the two of them would come to some resolution, and soon. She missed touching Donovan and being near him.

“Lucius, when you head into town next time, could you check on these people for me?”, Donovan approached Lucius, with a list of names in his hand.
Lucius studied the list of names, “Who are these people?”
“Well, if the Seventh Knot is correct, these are a group of people who will be coming to visit us in a couple of days. I was hoping you could dig up some information on them, so maybe we knew their motivation and could entice them into employment.”, Donovan smiled that familiar smile of his.
“Sure, I’ll check it out.”, Lucius pocketed the note without fanfare.

On Lucius’ next trip into Farholde, he swung by some of the more well-traveled taverns in town, hoping to gain some more insight on these individuals who would go to such trouble to travel to an unknown shrine of a dead god. Unlike Donovan, Lucius wasn’t nearly as optimistic about the prospects of people trekking all the way to the Horn merely to accept an invitation of employment. But, Donovan was a naive individual who had lived a life where people did walk into his place of work to look for employment, so of course he would think the world worked that way. But, perhaps he could deal with these individuals before they even arrived at the Horn, and in doing so, prevent Donovan from having to face the situation as it actually was.
Lucius began to interrogate people who knew about the names on the list, being sure to keep everything lubricated with frequent glasses of ale being served as often as required. At first, it would have appeared that the leader of the group, Hallack Amon, was a simple army recruiter who had quit his position before the war came knocking. However, the truth would end up being that Amon was simply a former military individual who had paid off his dead father’s debt, and was looking for a slightly less dangerous option with which to make some money. As for his friends, many of them had known each other for years, and were all attempting to make some small name for themselves by encountering the “mysterious evil” that had awakened in the Caer Bryr. He also learned that Hallak and Bianca had affections for one another, which could potentially be exploited to extract compliance from one or the other of them; and that the Sister was a member of a military religious order within the city.
“Yes Donovan, I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to take you up on your offer of resurrecting the plague god to return to this world.”, Lucius chuckled to himself.
A very real part of Lucius wanted to summon Lucinda, find these adventurers, and slaughter them to the last. That would prevent them from doing any harm to the family. Lucius knew there was no way they would ever agree to Donovan’s terms. But then, a whisper echoed inside of Lucius head. Was he sure that Donovan couldn’t convince these people to do what he asked? It would seem laughable by almost any stretch of imagination, but then, Lucius never doubted that Donovan could summon miracles from time to time. Lucius laughed, shook his head, and purchased the rest of his supplies before heading back to the Horn, with the information he gathered about this group in hand.

Back in Tamsen’s bedroom, the three lovers lay around each other, with Camille and Tamsen interlocking fingers and looking into each other’s eyes. “Are you ready, Mistress?”, Camille smiled and waited for Tamsen to open up her mind, as she reached beyond the current Plane and to the other. Tamsen picked up her questions where she left off, first confirming which day that the visitors would be arriving, then beginning to attempt to divine the specific location of the other teleporter. Once again, Camille regains her own voice as Mother leaves her. Bebop and Tamsen study the map from the information relayed to them via Camille.
“It might be near the river.”, Bebop offers a suggestion.
“Donovan should see what we’ve found thus far.”, Tamsen responds.

Donovan walks into the area on the third floor, next to the stairs leading to the Sanctum. “Hexor, Vexor, we’re going to be having company soon. I want you to keep them from leaving, but not kill them.”
The Cuestodaemons regarded Donovan with a sense of confusion and disgust, “Excuse me sir, I think we must have misunderstood you. Did you request of us to not kill those who would intrude on this place?”
Donovan nodded, “I know this seems unusual, but I believe we can add new recruits to our growing group.” The daemons shrugged in disappointment. Per Ezra’s request, Donovan had continued to refrain from showing the amulets of control to the brothers, but he wondered how much longer he could maintain compliance from such destructive creatures without feeding into their more base desires. Donovan provided Hexor and Vexor with a different one of the Eyes, this one allowing them to review any area within the Horn. He provided instructions to them to notify him when the visitors arrived.

Time passed, and the appointed day arrived. Donovan was continuing to perform upgrades to the Horn with the assistance of Idrees when the voice of the brothers rang in his head, “Our guests are here.” Donovan replied to their thoughts, “Excellent work. Position yourself at the entrance of the caves, to make sure they can’t flee. I’ll be down there shortly.” Donovan immediately reached out to Tamsen in her thoughts. “Love, I am in need of your aid, please gather everyone together on the first floor throne room.”
Once all the family arrived in the throne room, Donovan explained what they would be doing. “Lucius, you’ll take Bebop down to the bottom floor. Tamsen and I will meet you there.” With that, Donovan extended his hand to Tamsen, “I’m all yours, my love.”
Tamsen smiled and grabbed Donovan’s hand, willing the two of them to be on the lower floor of the caves, where Lucius and Bebop appeared next to them. The group had slid through the Dimension Door to the area where the Boggards lived in their huts. The Boggards were already falling back as the adventurers approached their homes, not realizing they had already walked into a trap of their own making.
Yorgun approached the group first, and was immediately greeted by Donovan, “Hello to you, good sir.” The dwarf was caught off guard, and he fell back to the rest of his company. A tad later, the rest of the group showed up where Donovan and the rest of the family were waiting. The five individuals were exactly as relayed by Lucius. Even without introductions, Donovan knew their names based on the information that had been relayed to him. Donovan welcomed the group to the Horn, and greeted them all.
And then things began to go exactly as Lucius had predicted. Sister Marta Dian was immediately hostile to Donovan, going on about how he and the rest of his group were clearly evil, and the actions they were taking were evil. Donovan attempted to counter her arguments, suggesting that perhaps the people who were invading the homes of the Boggards that were doing nothing more than farming and fishing, might be more indicative of evil. Seeing that they were unfazed by that suggestion, Donovan pivoted to suggest that the actions he was taking within the Horn were essential for the good of the kingdom. Unfortunately, anything that Donovan would be said was pushed away by the words of the Sister. The group told Donovan that they wanted to leave, as they didn’t know what they were encountering. This immediately was a problem for Donovan, as he could imagine what would happen if the Sister was allowed to return to the rest of her people. Telepathically, Donovan instructed Hexor and Vexor to move up behind the group of adventurers. Once the two brothers appeared behind the adventurers, the Sister began screaming vitriol towards Donovan.
Frustrated, Donovan finally came to his solution. “As you are my guests here, let me provide you with a set of options that you can select from. First, you can return to your homes, but you are never allowed to speak of what you discovered here. And to be sure, I will know, as I have ears within Farholde. Second, you can accept my offer of temporary employment, and I will gladly pay you the amount of money that we have agreed upon for your stay. Finally, you can test your skills against my menagerie, and see how that turns out for you.” Hexor, Vexor, and Bebop showed a vicious grin on their faces, salivating at the opportunity to test their mettle against these meager opponents. For her part, Bianca broke out in tears, almost falling to the floor as the hopelessness set in. The adventurers looked at each other, realizing how bad their situation had just become.
Hallack Amon spoke up, “May I have a moment to discuss this matter with my compatriots?”
Donovan smiled, “Of course, feel free.”
Seeing the adventurers huddle together, it was transparent to tell that the Sister wanted to combat the evil that was taking place. The rest of the group was clearly more sane, not wanting to simply throw their lives away in an impossible fight. However, none of them were interested in the offers that Donovan has made thus far.
Hallack spoke up once more, “We’d like to make a counteroffer?”
Donovan chuckled, “Certainly, I’m a man of profit.”
Hallack stammered, “We’d like to offer you the… uh, profit of not revealing your secret in exchange for safe passage to another city.”
Donovan nodded, “Agreed. You will all stay as our guests in the Horn until I can secure safe passage for you on a vessel, at which point we will escort you to the ship, and we may part ways.”
The adventurers looked at each other. Even knowing that they would be trapped here for a few days was an obviously superior choice to dying in a muddy Boggard cave.
Looking at the Sister, Donovan addressed Hallack, “Please disarm Sister Marta Dian until we get up to the first floor. We wouldn’t want to have any accidents that would cause people to fall and hurt themselves.”
Sister Dian growled at Donovan, but James O’Toole moved up behind her, sliding the sword out of its sheathe before she could respond.
With that concern out of the way, the group made their way up to the first floor. Once inside, Donovan gave the group a small tour, where he pointed out the Tavern and Kitchen, and pointed out several rooms for them to stay in. “These are your choices of living quarters.”
James spoke up, “Are we not going to be put in a cell?”
Donovan looked at him, confused. “You are my guests; we have agreed to terms. I have no reason to detain you forcefully.” Looking back to the larger group, Donovan continued, “If any of you are in need of anything, please let me know and I’ll get it taken care of for you.”
Having said that, Donovan walked away from the group. Hexor and Vexor continued to make intimidating glances at the group, which was very apparently terrifying Bianca.
Tamsen snapped at the brothers in Abyssal, “Don’t be rude, you two.”

Later that evening, Donovan took out some writing tools, and composed a letter to the Baron. The letter was a request for space on a ship to take five people to another city out of the Farholde area. Donovan intended to have Lucius drop off this letter during his standard supply run. As he was finishing the effort, Ezra approached him.
“What’s this I hear about you granting hospitality to our enemies?”, Ezra hissed at him.
Donovan maintained his composure, despite the unexpected appearance of the Dread Wraith. “Lord Ezra, how kind of you to check in on me. I’m attempting to recruit these guests into becoming additional help for securing this place.”
Ezra scoffed, “Why should we bother with them when I can simply turn them into loyal pawns for our service?”
Donovan faced Ezra, smiling, “Because, we need actual hands and feet to attend to tasks around here. Despite your incredible abilities, I still need to rebuild furniture and secure entrances.”
“And I also understand you are teaching the Boggards how to farm now. How incredibly mundane you have made the protectors in the cave area.”, Ezra was attempting to assert his knowledge of all that Donovan was doing.
“Of course, Lord Ezra. If we are to grow the Bane-Wog tribe, we will need for them to have a reliable source of food. Hunting is unreliable at best, and continuing to spread out the tribe to go further looking for prey only weakens our guardians.”, Donovan was brimming with his usual confidence.
“Your arrogance is matched only by your weakness, Donovan. I have half a mind to just kill you now, and see if the next group that your master Thorn sends proves to be more worthwhile than you.”
Unexpectedly, Donovan laughed at Ezra. “Oh Lord Ezra, if you killed me, then you would have the undeniable pleasure of meeting the Seventh Knot. I’m sure you would truly enjoy spending time with the quality individual that is Elise Zadaria. But, be aware Lord Ezra, she doesn’t even have the capacity to speak Abyssal, much less an understanding of the nature of the ritual that is required to return Vetra Kali to this world.”
Ezra stared at Donovan with momentary contempt, realizing that Donovan had already accounted for the possibility of a double cross. “Hmph.”, Ezra said, then floated away.
Lucius did all that was asked of him by Donovan, and the Baron provided information on a ship that would provide safe passage for each member of Hallack’s crew.
Stubbornly, Donovan returned to Hallack and the rest in the hopes that he could somehow convince them of his well-meaning intentions. He realized that there was no ground to be had with the Sister, but surely the others could see the opportunity he was extending them. Donovan even found himself having a pleasant conversation with Hallack and Bianca on the last night, where it seemed like he was perhaps getting through to them. Unfortunately, it was at this time that Bebop, Tamsen, and Camille came strolling through the Tavern, naked as the day they were born, and acting without shame or hesitation. Bianca burst into tears and ran back into her room, Hallack shrugged and apologized as he soon followed up behind her. Donovan set his head down on the table, realizing he had utterly failed to impress any of them, despite all of his clever words.

Week 3:
The day had arrived when the ship that would carry Hallack’s crew would arrive. Donovan and the others saw off the group, and they watched as each of them stepped into Lucius’ summoned carriage. As James was about to get into the carriage, he looked at Donovan, “So, would you still grant me safe passage after I completed your contract.”
Donovan smiled, “Of course. The offer is still open.”
James looked back at his friends, “I’ve decided to work for him for a while.” They began to protest, but he raised his hand to silence them, “I’ve made my decision, and I wish you all well.” The rest of the group rode away, with the Sister yelling at James and Donovan the whole way off.

As Donovan headed back to the caves, Zikomo approached him and told him that his warriors had found something similar to a building not far from the Horn. Donovan had previously asked Zikomo to begin looking for some sort of man made structure based on the information that Tamsen had received from her mother, so he was happy to see that there was some payoff to this whole matter.
“Bebop, take GrumbleJack and Idrees, and go investigate this structure. If you find another teleporter there, and the place cannot be secured, I want you to destroy it. Otherwise, make sure it won’t fall into the hands of the enemy. GrumbleJack carried Idrees on a special harness she had designed to ride on his back, and both him and Bebop flew out to the site discussed by the Boggards. Upon arriving, they discovered what appeared to be some sort of abandoned Keep. It was hard to tell the specific function of the building, as so much of the structure had been reclaimed by nature. Bebop, however, was able to locate the teleportation circle, with the help of Idrees.
“Very good, Bebop. You have a sharp eye there.”, Idrees praised Bebop for his keen awareness and clever insight.
Bebop smiled, as he also found the keyword for the teleporter. “Ah hah!” Stepping onto the teleporter, Bebop quickly issues the word for the First Floor throne. He arrives suddenly, and immediately goes to find Donovan. “I found it!”, Bebop declares with pride.
“Excellent work! Can it be secured?”, Donovan looks at him in anticipation.
Bebop is unsure what to say, “Let me work on that.” Heading to the teleporter, Bebop says the trigger word to return to the Keep.
Upon returning, Bebop looks at Idrees. “Donovan wants to know if we can secure this.” The three of them look around the ruined Keep.
“GrumbleJack smash teleporter?”, GrumbleJack asks inquisitively.
“Wait, wait!”, Bebop interjects. “There has to be something we can do. Maybe we can cut the teleporter away from the rest of the Keep, and then bring it back?”
Idrees chuckles, “Did Donovan suggest for you to do this?”
Bebop shakes his head, “No, this is my idea! Think how impressed he’ll be when we bring the whole teleporter back to him.”
Idrees laughs a bit, then shoos Bebop away from the teleporter. “Step back boys, this Is going to be something.” Magic extends from her, causing the floor where the teleporter is located to pull itself up and away from the ground. When all is said and done, a massive 11-foot diameter circle was pulled away from the rest of the Keep.
“You’re amazing, Idrees! I can’t believe you did that.”, Bebop exclaimed with excitement.
Idrees tipped her pipe downward with flourish, and winked. “Now you have to figure out how to get that thing all the way back.”
“No problem! GrumbleJack and I will just carry it.”, Bebop’s enthusiasm at what was going to be accomplished was on full display.
GrumbleJack grunted with concern, sizing up the massive disc. However, the two of them successfully began to move the circle back towards the Horn. It was a slow and laborious process, but those two were certainly not lacking for strength. About halfway back to the Horn, the group noticed that the sounds of insects had gotten quiet around them. Paying keen attention to his surroundings, Bebop noticed the silhouette of a large jungle cat. Immediately, he started growling and roaring in the direction of the shadow. “Come on GrumbleJack. You have to show that you are bigger than that thing.”
GrumbleJack let out a mighty roar, one that would certainly be heard by a large part of the forest.
The shadow remained very still, as though it was attempting not to be seen. After waiting for what seemed like half an hour, the party decided to continue heading back. The shadow made no further attempt to follow them.
However, their problems were not yet over. As the sight of the Horn came fully into view, a thunderous crash could be heard behind them. The shape of a huge tree began approaching, and the group started running as fast as they could, while continuing to move the massive stone disk. The group crossed over the protective barrier, and Bebop called out to Tamsen’s mind. “Help, that Treant is coming after us!” Tamsen immediately contacted Donovan who was somewhere else within the Horn. “Donovan, Bebop and GrumbleJack are in trouble. Jurak is coming after them.”
“Damnit all!”, Donovan shouted to himself. Donovan had truly been wanting to talk with Jurak, but he didn’t think he was going to have a way to explain the actions he had taken recently. Donovan found himself left with little choice. “Hexor, Vexor, fly out and hold back that Treant! We have to give Bebop and GrumbleJack time to safely return.”
The brothers followed their instructions perfectly, annoying the Treant who was unable to attack them at the range they flew at, and disgusted at the sight of seeing daemons flying out from the Horn, “What evils have been wrought upon this place? I will stop you all! It is my sworn charge!”
Looking out from the first floor entrance, Donovan sighed. He knew that Jurak was a true protector of the forest, and he hated to see something so rare suffer as it was, but he couldn’t avoid the conflict indefinitely. As he watched, Bebop and GrumbleJack moved in a massive stone disk into the caves area. Just then Donovan saw Lucius flying back on his mount, with someone unconscious lying behind him. Lucius flew in to the first level, as Donovan stepped back.

“What happened, Lucius?”, Donovan asked as he saw Lucius flip the unconscious form of Sister Dian off the mount and onto the ground.
“I’ll tell you what happened, Donovan.”, Lucius pointed at the Sister. “This one decided to be clever, waited until the boat started pulling away from the dock, and dove into the water to attempt to escape. I should have just had my dolphins pull her down to her death, but you have another sacrifice at the halfway mark of this ritual.”
Donovan looked down at the Sister and frowned, “Sheesh, you can’t trust anyone these days, can you?”
Bebop arrived upstairs, having outrun Jurak’s wrath. “What did I miss?”
“Take the Sister and lock her in the third floor cells. I’ll figure out what to do with her later.”, Donovan instructed Bebop, a pained expression on his face.
“Ooh, the Sister has been naughty, maybe I’ll have my way with her.”, Bebop teased.
“No you will not!”, Donovan roared in anger. “We are better than these people, we are the saviors of this Kingdom. They are monsters who hide behind their religious dogmas. I will never allow them to think that they have any moral high ground over me and my family, and neither will you!” Donovan stormed away.
Lucius looked at Bebop suspiciously.
“It was a joke. I was just saying that if she was being uncooperative, I wasn’t going to actually do anything.”, Bebop chuckled nervously, then picked up the body of the Sister, and took her upstairs.

The next day came, and Tamsen’s communication with Trik had gleaned another piece of useful information. Apparently, the Sisters of Saint Cynthia Celeste had posted a 500 gold piece reward for information about their missing Sister. Donovan took this information to James O’Toole.
“Hey James, are you interested in making some extra money?”
“Possibly, what do you have in mind.”
“Apparently, Sister Dian’s convent is looking for her, and has posted a reward for information regarding her whereabouts. If you wanted to go and deliver the information that she got on a boat headed out of Farholde, that might be a useful way to placate them for the time being.”, Donovan made the suggestion to James.
James pondered the offer for a bit, “I’d like to, but I know that group. I’m not particularly good at lying, and those individuals have ways of getting the truth out of you.”
Perturbed, Donovan continued, “So, can you think of any way we could throw that group off the scent? I’m frankly not very interested in having to explain my actions to every religious zealot who comes calling.”
“To be frank, I think your best solution would be to give them something that made them think someone else had come after her. That way, you don’t have to make enemies, you just stay out of everyone’s way.”, James offered an intriguing solution.
Donovan pondered that idea for a moment, “That’s very clever, James. That really would solve a lot of problems for me. Thank you for your insight.”

Later that evening, Lucius found Donovan sitting outside of the first floor entrance, staring at the area just past the barrier, watching Jurak the Elder as he continued to pace and storm around. “What are you doing, Donovan?”
Donovan continued to stare out into the evening, “Am I really a bad person, Lucius? I keep trying to find solutions to save as many people as I can, while trying to fix a system that is broken and hurts people. Yet everywhere I go, I seem to only make more enemies.”
Lucius placed his hands on Donovan’s shoulders, “Donovan, I think of you very much as my family now. I would do anything to help you. But you need to come to terms with the fact that you can not hope to change everything and at the same time save everyone. Either you want what’s best for your family, or you want to keep the status quo in place.”
Donovan turned his head to face Lucius, “So, I am the bad guy then?”
Lucius chuckled, “You know, you could just ask me to do this and stop wasting our time.”
“Would you do this for me, please Lucius?”, Donovan asked.
“Yes Donovan, I will go kill Jurak for you. I told you I would do anything to help you.”
Donovan hugged Lucius. It was hard for Donovan to realize that he could rely on his family in the same way that he wanted them to rely on him. “Thank you, Lucius. I appreciate you.”
Lucius smiled, “Now go eat your dinner.”

Session 18 Ends
 
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rchodges

Explorer
Part 2: Call Forth Darkness
Act 3: Thirty-one Weeks
Session 19: Burning the Mysteries

Week 4:
Jurak the Elder stretched his arms out, allowing the local wildlife to approach him and rest in his branches. The birds and local animals came close to him, to whisper their daily activities to him. Jurak enjoyed these moments of serenity within the forest. Unbeknownst to Jurak, Lucius had been flying around the Horn for a few hours now and had been looking for an opportunity to catch the Treant unaware. “Too bad for you that Donovan finally realized what a liability you are.”, Lucius whispered to himself, as he glided invisibly over Jurak’s relaxed form.

A moment later, a huge tiger, swathed in fire, landed on the ground behind Jurak. The tiger didn’t hesitate, and immediately rushed in to attack the Treant. Jurak didn’t realize the threat he was in until the teeth of the tiger began to cut and burn his form. Jurak recoiled in pain, shocked at the unexpected attack. “Why?”, Jurak cried out to no one in particular, or perhaps the creature that was attacking it. The tiger continued the assault, unfazed and unmoved by the fear that Jurak was quickly experiencing. Jurak’s huge arms reached out, striking the tiger, which seemed to do nothing to dissuade it. Claw and bite continued to fall, as the flames continued to burn across Jurak’s trunk and branches. Jurak raised his arms to the sky, as though he was reaching up for some divine aid. For a moment, Lucius thought perhaps Jurak had discovered where he was hidden in the sky, but the Jurak fell flat onto the ground, as the fires continued to burn his form. After Jurak was laid silent, the tiger began to lash out at the animals that were watching the events unfold. The remaining animals flew off, as Lucius landed on the ground. Lucius patted the tiger a few times as its head nodded to accept the attention, then snapped his fingers, dismissing the creature. Lucius then called up a Hound Archon, having it tear off the part of Jurak that appeared to be the face. The Archon found the piece and handed it to Lucius, at which point Lucius put it into the Portable Hole with a letter and the Holy Symbol formerly carried by Sister Marta Dian. Donovan had a plan that involved the former guests of the Horn.

Lucius reseated himself upon the mount, before instructing the Archon to continue tearing apart the remnants of the Treant. He then took off for Farholde, with purpose in his intent.

Donovan had completed the letter that was to be delivered covertly by Lucius to the convent that Sister Dian attended. Given Hallack Amon’s history, Donovan assumed that Hallack would be responsible for sending the next of kin notifications in the event of a death in the ranks. Extrapolating on that, Donovan assumed that Hallack would continue performing that action even after he left his commission. As such, Donovan believed that a letter sent to the convent on behalf of Sister Dian that was written by Hallack Amon would be accepted at face value. He gave the letter, along with the Holy Symbol and a part of the Sister’s clothing. The Sister was unsurprisingly reticent to let go of those things, but her options had been removed once she had decided to go back on her word. From there, Donovan believed that the other members of the convent would either consider the matter resolved, or would lash out at the other guardians of the forest. Either choice would be beneficial from Donovan’s perspective. After Donovan handed the objects over to Lucius, he felt another wave of fatigue wash over him. Donovan had been skipping on sleeping for the last couple of weeks. Between the work on improving the various rooms, the farming efforts with the Boggards, the time on the rituals, the time spent feeding Sister Dian, and going over the engineering designs with the Instructor, there simply was not enough time left in the day for sleep. Besides, even when he tried to sleep near Tamsen, her retainer would stare relentlessly at him, forcing him to sleep on the floor. It was just easier to skip the effort and help with some of the other things needed around the Horn. Still, even using alchemical compounds to help push off the need to sleep, Donovan felt the exhaustion setting in each day, and wondered how much longer he could reasonably maintain his current pace.

Lucius returned successfully, and no other messages were sent between Trik and Tamsen with regards to the convent. Perhaps they felt the matter had been resolved, at least from the standpoint of them not needing to research it further. A couple of days later, there was a terrible wail that came from the forest. Even with Donovan’s instruction to Zikomo to have the tribe recover the wood from Jurak’s form, he was certain that one of Jurak’s friends had discovered some part of the Treant, and was undoubtedly upset at the discovery. The group discussed the possibility of investigating the origin of the sound, but Donovan reminded them that it was almost certainly the Elves and the creature that appeared to be a Lamia. Considering the possibility of a fight with a group of Elves, the family elected to remain within the Horn instead of setting out to investigate the sound.

Tamsen continued her daily communication with Trik. Trik had mentioned that there was another potential group of adventurers, called the "Brendam's Breakers" that may be coming up, but he was looking into it. Later that week, Trik bragged to Tamsen about he and the others had dealt with them, boasting on how he had "broken the Breakers". Tamsen played fully into her role, excitedly praising Trik for his bravery and martial capability. Trik and Tamsen's time continued to grow and stretch, as he would find more and more things to talk to her about. Tamsen gave Trik all of his fantasies in words, luring him ever closer in to her grasp.

Week 5:
A few days later, Donovan found himself working on some furniture for one of the living areas. Wrapping up, Donovan grabbed a shower in order to clean the sweat of the day off of him, and then got ready to continue on to his next effort. Suddenly, he was struck with a desire to see Tamsen. How long had it been since he had been able to be close to her, and to feel her skin against his? It seemed like it had been an eternity. He approached the doorway to her bedroom, and then he heard the moans coming from it. He could see Tamsen’s bed in the reflection of her dresser mirror, and watched as Bebop and Tamsen continued to passionately connect to each other. Donovan watched Tamsen’s face, the look that she had for Bebop, the way that she truly desired him inside of her. Her arms reached out to grab him, to pull him tighter. Bebop lifted up one of her legs higher in order to feel himself enter her more fully. Donovan didn’t move, he simply stared at the reflection in the dresser, trying to wrap his mind around what he was seeing. It wasn’t until Camille appeared from behind the partially opened door to confront Donovan that his gaze was drawn away. Stumbling for words, he could only muster a simple, “I… was just…”, before Camille sneered and closed the door the rest of the way. Donovan bowed his head in shame, then walked to the teleporter on the second floor, and issued the command word to return to the first floor.

Donovan continued to curse himself as he entered the rooms on the first floor, “So stupid! Of course she’s with the other people here! Did you think she was going to sit around waiting for you?” Donovan’s path led him into the entrance hall, as his head was looking to the floor, trying to find his words. Donovan failed to notice the white furred creatures who had just turned the corner at the entrance, and were now moving towards him. He opened the door to the Alchemical lab, “Artephius, please assist me in my efforts.” “This servant obeys your orders, master.”, Artephius responded, as its lumbering metal frame came stomping out of the lab area it had previously been waiting in. Seeing the metal goliath, the Moon Dogs, reconsidered their attack on him, hoping for a more opportune target.

Fully spent from their encounter, Bebop, Camille, and Tamsen laid in Tamsen’s massive bed, slowly catching their breath. For his part, Bebop was almost feeling lightheaded, both at the efforts him and Tamsen had made, plus the vampiric behavior he had grown accustomed to from Camille. Kissing the two ladies softly, Bebop sat up in the bed, “I’ve got to get something in my system, I feel drained from you two.” Tamsen giggled, “Oh, I’m pretty sure I know which of us got your different fluids.” Bebop chuckled, then pulled himself up out of bed, “Do you want anything?”, pointing at the two girls. Tamsen replied, “Whatever you get, bring a plate. You’re not getting crumbs on my bed again.” Bebop nodded, then walked naked out into the hallway.

Approaching the fountain, Bebop issued the command for “Chill” in Infernal. A slight blue light emitted from the metal plate that was attached to the center of the fountain, and suddenly ice began to form around the plate. Bebop took up a handful of the water and swallowed it. It was a remarkable design that Idrees had put together, able to create both hot and cold water with just a verbal command. Bebop remarked that it was perhaps the most luxurious thing he had experienced, at least in matters of home plumbing. A few moments later, the blue light faded, and the chilling effect ended, allowing the water a chance to return to room temperature.

Bebop started the trek down to the throne room. This was the only aspect of the Horn he didn’t like, the long distance between the living quarters on the second floor, and the tavern on the first floor. Bebop told himself he needed to ask Donovan to install a staircase in the room next to Tamsen’s. That way, he could go downstairs and have some food, then come back upstairs and have some Tamsen. “It’s a perfect idea, Bebop!”, he told himself with much confidence. He arrived at the throne room, and mumbled the command word to take him to the first floor. Bebop felt slightly woozy as he completed the transport between the two floors, “I’ve got to tell Camille to take it easy on me. That girl always pretends to be so hungry, but I just think she likes the taste of me.” Bebop then laughed to himself, “Heh, so does Tamsen.”

The first floor always sounded busier than the other floors, primarily because Donovan was always working on room improvements in this area. He could hear the sound of metal slamming against wood or stone, and imagined Artephius performing some other engineering tasks per Donovan’s instructions. Still, to look at the place, it would seem there was much more left to do. The rooms were still undone, even the entrance had not yet been installed, despite the equipment being moved into place. Fortunately, the other floors had been sealed up. Bebop finally reached the tavern at the other end of the first floor. Lucius had already completed making dinner for the evening, but he left some food out, since Bebop and GrumbleJack were often known to try and get late night snacks for themselves, and Lucius would prefer they ate the cooked food, instead of the food to be prepared into dishes.

Bebop went to the bar area, and took several of the meat slices laying out, eating a few before he grabbed a handful of others. He then saw a fruit that caught his eye, “Maybe Tamsen would like something.” He turned around to leave, then remembered something, “Oh, don’t forget a plate!” As he walked towards the plates, he realized some… things were on the ground, staring up at them. They had white fur, but their front hands were not paws. They looked at him, and began to growl. “Oh, sh-it!”, Bebop said, as he dropped the food and dashed for the door, with the creatures close on his heels. Quickly communicating a thought to Tamsen, Bebop warned her of the attack, “There are some kind of dogs in here! I’m headed for the throne on the first floor!”

Alerts began to go out throughout the Horn, as individuals used their telepathic connections to inform others of the issues at hand.
“Donovan, we have intruders! Bebop is under attack on the way to the first floor throne!”, Tamsen connected herself to Donovan’s mind.
“Damnit all! How did Hexor and Vexor miss this?”, Donovan thought to himself, as he headed for the door. “Hexor! Vexor! We have intruders near the first floor throne room. I need you there at once!” Looking over to Artephius, Donovan summoned him into action as well, “Artephius, we must defend the Horn!”
“Yes, my master!”, the response from Artephius.
“Lucius, Bebop is at the first floor throne, he is being attacked!”, Tamsen continued to call out to others.
“Come to me, my servant of fire and fur.”, Lucius commanded, and a tiger appeared at his side.

For all of Bebop’s efforts, he could not outrun these creatures. He made it to the throne room entrance, before the creatures pinned him down and started attacking him on the ground. Naked and lacking armor, Bebop was in a poor position to defend himself from these attacks. A moment later, the Brothers Hexor and Vexor appeared in the throne room, able to take stock of what they are seeing. In Abyssal, one of the brothers says, “It would appear we have Moon Dogs to welcome as our new guests.” The brothers seemed mostly amused at the naked man attempting to hold off these angry creatures. Bebop forced his horns into one of the dogs and tried to run away, but the Moon Dogs were already well and truly engaged with him, unwilling to allow his escape.

Tamsen continued to broadcast out warnings to the group, making her last announcement to GrumbleJack before she had Camille grab Bebop’s bandolier and return to her side. Both her and Lucius used their Dimension Door in order to appear at the throne room a moment later. Donovan continued to move as quickly as he could, not having the benefit of motion that so many of the others possessed. The Moon Dogs continued to capitalize of Bebop’s precarious situation, biting and attacking him at each opportunity.

Tamsen ordered Camille to deliver the Elixirs to Bebop, while Lucius released his tiger against the Moon Dogs. GrumbleJack came flying in, swinging his massive weapon, and the Demons got themselves in an opportune position to place one of the dogs into a vulnerable position on the battlefield. Finally, Donovan arrived on the scene, and ordered Artephius to close distance and attack. The battle was fully joined. The Moon Dogs showed themselves to be powerful combatants, able to withstand punishment that would have bested much mightier creatures. The family’s allies did their best to make themselves useful, with varying levels of success. Once Bebop was able to use his Mutagen, he became a more powerful combatant, but found himself worn out from the constant barrage of attacks that had occurred before the group had arrived to assist him. For his efforts, GrumbleJack was also knocked into unconsciousness, but not before helping to aid several others to receive healing. Camille, while not having the strength of others, knew how to bypass the Moon Dog’s incredible resistances, allowing her attacks to be more deadly than might have been expected from her, as she transformed into a dinosaur on Tamsen’s behalf. With time and patience, the battle was brought to heel, and the enemies were all slain without hesitation or discussion.

Donovan moved through the group, providing healing to everyone before Idrees floated in on her disk, angrier than she had been in some time.
“Donovan Westermeyer, what in the nine hells was that back there?”, Idrees exclaimed in furious tones.
“Moon Dogs, Instructor Diggle. Bebop was caught by surprise when….”, Donovan attempted to answer her question, before Idrees struck Donovan with her pipe hard enough to put a cut across his eyebrow.
“I’m aware of what they are, I’m not an idiot. My question is what was that joke that you made as an excuse for battlefield tactics?”, Idrees pointed around the room.
“Instructor… they had just arrived here and were not sure where to position themselves.”, Donovan struggled to keep the blood from spilling out.
Idrees sneered, pushing her pipe under Donovan’s neck, “They are children, you are a product of the Academy. How could you sit there and watch that fight without sending instructions to them?”
Donovan’s face was confused, “How did you see….”
Idrees held up one of the Eyes, “You risked all of their lives tonight with your incompetence, Mister Westermeyer!”
Donovan cursed silently to himself as his gaze momentarily shifted over to the Demon brothers, “No wonder they didn’t give me advance warning.”
“Forgive me, Instructor. I have been attending to the improvements of this facility.”, Donovan’s head was bowed, even as his hand was holding back the blood from the cut.
“Yes, your improvements. You’ve continued to build bedrooms, while you should have been putting the doors up on the first level.”, Idrees was making her displeasure known now.
Donovan could retort with nothing. He knew she was right. He had become so fixated on everything else, that he had forgotten basic security.
“And if you’d spend less time leering at Tamsen and her lovers while they are together in bed, you might have time to get the work done around here that needs to be done!”, Idrees struck him again, but Donovan didn’t even flinch. What she had just said was so humiliating that he simply had no responses to give, no arguments to make. Donovan simply looked to the ground, hoping that this conversation could end so he could escape all the eyes now staring at him.
“Yes ma’am.”, Donovan’s voice was barely audible.
Idrees, seeing that Donovan was out of the discussion, floated away on her disk, “Come on GrumbleJack, I guess we’ll have to get to work on things around here.”
GrumbleJack nodded, and followed along.
Hexor and Vexor, having killed all that could be killed, teleported back to another area of the Horn.
“Well, I guess I’m going to go get another plate of food, since I dropped the first one.”, Bebop muttered, and walked away.
“And I guess I should go clean up the mess I’m sure you made dropping that plate.”, Lucius laughed, and followed Bebop.
There was an awkward silence in the throne room between Donovan and Tamsen, the first such one that the two had ever known. Donovan turned, and started walking out of the room.
“Donovan, is what she said true?”, Tamsen reached out for Donovan’s hand.
There was no answer he could have given, so Donovan assumed he should just pick the one that would hopefully end the conversation quickest. “Yes, I did.”, Donovan said curtly. Donovan attempted to walk away, but Tamsen blocked his path.
Tamsen pushed Donovan’s hand away from the cut on his face, and applied healing magic. “Donovan, when it comes to what I do in my bedroom….”
Donovan gritted his teeth and thought to himself, “Go on, say it. Tell me to mind my business. Tell me to leave you be. Tell me to go back to my work.”
“… you are always invited.”, Tamsen smiled as she completed the sentence. “If there is something you want or desire from me, tell me.” Tamsen kissed Donovan sweetly, then took Donovan’s hand. “In fact, let me show you.”
In an instant, Tamsen cast Dimension Door, and the two of them found each other in her bed, kissing as though nothing had even needed to be said.

Session 19 Ends.
 
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rchodges

Explorer
Part 2: Call Forth Darkness
Act 3: Thirty-one Weeks
Session 20: A Woman’s Place is on Her Throne

Tamsen was lying in her bed next to Donovan. Last night, they had finally been able to spend time together after so many weeks. She enjoyed finally being able to be close to him, it was something that they seemed to have less and less opportunity to do so. By the time the two of them were finished, she could see the exhaustion had taken its toll on Donovan. He tried to get up and leave her bed the night before, but she insisted he stay. It was so easy for her to whisper the words he wanted to hear.

Dawn had already approached, and the Golem came looking for Donovan, “My Master, it is time for the ritual, your servant has come to awaken you.” Tamsen raised her hand to Artephius. “Enough. Return to your post until time for Donovan’s next instruction.” The Golem complied, retreating back to whatever location Donovan has assigned to it when it wasn’t actively working with him. Tamsen kissed Donovan softly on the cheek so as to not wake him, “I’ll be right back, my love.” With those words, Tamsen teleported herself via Dimension Door into the Sanctum, and performed the ritual. It was easy for her now, the words came from her as second nature, almost as though she were speaking in her native tongue. Having finished the ritual for now, she decided to go and pick up some fruit for her, Donovan, and Camille to share. These early morning moments were nice, as it was still quiet inside the Horn. The light coming through the first floor was beautiful, and the promise of the day stretched out before her.

As she returned to her room, she saw Camille’s form moving up on Donovan, to attempt to feed from him. “Stop that, Cami!”, she hissed at her cohort, but quietly as to not wake Donovan from his rest. “I’m hungry, mistress.”, Camille replied with pleading eyes. Tamsen moved closer to her, “Then go play with Bebop. I’ve told you before how I feel about you taking from Donovan.” Camille made a pouting face, then relented to her Mistress. With Cami having left the room, Tamsen set the food down to the side of the bed, and climbed back in to be next to Donovan. Donovan’s eyes fluttered and opened, then he looked over at Tamsen, “Good morning, my love.” Tamsen smiled, “Good morning, my love.” Suddenly, realization set in for Donovan. “What time is it? I’ve got to go perform the ritual. Tamsen sat up, pushing Donovan gently back onto the bed, “I already took care of it. I could see how tired you were, and I wanted to let you rest a while longer.” Donovan, who had already begun to start worrying, relaxed as he was pushed down onto the bed, his eyes gazing up at Tamsen.
“Thank you so much, Tamsen. I don’t know why I overslept through that.”
“It’s because you don’t get enough sleep, baby. You can’t keep taking potions to avoid it indefinitely.”, Tamsen was now sitting on top of Donovan, her hair draping down on his face.
Tamsen looked into Donovan’s eyes, she always found herself pulled by his gaze, the way he made her feel loved and accepted.
“Marry me, Tamsen.”, Donovan blurted out, completely unexpected.
Tamsen stared at Donovan in disbelief, “What are you talking about?”
Donovan rolled himself over onto Tamsen, holding her close in his grasp, “I know this sounds impulsive, my love. But when I think about every truly happy moment in my life, you are there. I can’t imagine a world that I want to be in, where you are not present. I truly love you, Tamsen. I’ve never loved any person the way I love you. You are everything to me. So please, Tamsen, marry me. I’ll do all I can to bring you the happiness you have always brought me.”
Tamsen touched Donovan’s face, looking into his eyes. Even if he had never said this to her, she already knew that this was the way he had felt about her for a while. Tamsen understood that Donovan came from a different world, a different family, and this was his genuine way to show his devotion to her. Tamsen shook her head somberly, “No, Donovan. I don’t want that.”
“Oh.”, Donovan replied, struck numb with her response. Tamsen could see it in Donovan’s face, he was hurt and didn’t understand. Donovan tried to play it off with a nervous laugh, “Yeah, I guess that was a lot to approach you with, especially before we had breakfast." Tamsen watched as Donovan rolled off her, laying back down on the bed and trying to prevent himself from showing the emotions he was experiencing currently. Tamsen got out of bed, walked over to a dresser, and pulled something out. As she turned around, she could see that Donovan was starting to slink out of the bed, the sadness clearly showing in his eyes. “When I first met you, and you took me to your parents’ house, you told me that you wouldn’t reveal my secret to your family, and that I would be safe with you.”, Tamsen returned to the bed, something small in her hand. “I didn’t know what secret you were talking about, but you said that you knew I was a succubus, and that you wanted to sign a contract with me in exchange for staying with you. Tamsen took one of Donovan’s hands, and set what appeared to be a crumpled and folded up piece of paper into it. “I didn’t know what you meant at the time Donovan. I thought you were just some weird rich boy who was trying to find a way to get me to sleep with him.” She began to delicately open the piece of paper that was in Donovan’s hand, taking care not to damage it any more that it had already been. “But, after our first time together, I realized that you meant every word you said in the contract, that you would do anything to keep me by your side. You never once saw me as less than you, never once asked of me what you were unwilling to do yourself. And I found myself falling in love with you, Donovan, as each day turned to the next.” The paper was open in Donovan’s hand now. His eyes looked at the contract that he had scribbled out so long ago for her, and he smiled, “You kept it, even after all this time.” Tamsen kissed Donovan on the lips, “This is the most precious gift I have ever received in my life, Donovan. Of course I kept it.” Tamsen slowly pulled the paper away from Donovan’s hand, returning the paper by each fold that it had been in only a few moments earlier. “This is our bond, Donovan my love, and the only thing I need to know where my heart belongs. And no priest, no king, no church, no god will ever tell me who I can be with; or grant me permission to love whom I choose.” Tamsen climbed back on top of Donovan, pushing him back down onto the bed. “You and I, Donovan, we are the only ones who define our rules.” Donovan seemed disappointed, “Is it so bad to imagine a life where you and I are together, my love? A life with children and a home of our own?” Tamsen couldn’t help but giggle, “Oh my sweet Donovan. All of that is in our grasp, and anything else you desire.” Tamsen kissed Donovan, feeling his urgency and need as he kissed back at her. She could tell their passions were rising in the moment.
“Do you love me, Donovan Westermeyer?”, Tamsen asked Donovan with all sincerity.
“Yes, Tamsen my sweet. I have loved you since I met you, and it has only grown with time.”, Donovan’s eyes revealed the truth of his words.
“You are mine, Donovan Westermeyer. Body and soul, heart and mind, now and forever.”, Tamsen began kissing Donovan as the words came out, their hands exploring each other.
For his part, Donovan nodded and whispered, “Yes, I am yours.”
Tamsen pulled her lips next to Donovan’s ears and whispered, “And I am yours.”, as the two of them fell into each other’s embrace once more.

After the two of them spent a while longer in their intimate embrace, Donovan finally mustered the strength to pull away from Tamsen.
“Don’t leave, baby. I’m not finished playing with you.”, Tamsen cooed seductively.
“Somehow I feel like you would never be finished playing with me.”, Donovan chuckled.
“Is that so bad, love? Do you hate my attentions?”, Tamsen replied in a mock pout.
“Not at all, but the work here in the horn must continue. I’m sure you’ll find something to occupy your time.”, Donovan teased back.
Tamsen sat up on the bed, wrapping her arms around Donovan’s waist, “But it’s you I want to occupy my time.”
Donovan simply smiled, kissed Tamsen once more, and said, “Thank you, my love, for this moment.” Then, he left the room.
Tamsen laid back in bed, content and enamored in her feelings. A moment later, Camille pounced on the bed next to her, “Mistress, why won’t you let me have him? He’s clearly given himself to you now.”
Tamsen’s eyes were still closed, “Donovan is delicate, Cami. He needs a gentle touch.”
Camille insisted, “I can be gentle, Mistress.”
Tamsen smirked as she opened one of her eyes to look at Camille, “I’ve seen you with Bebop. Gentle isn’t the word I’d call what you do.”
Camille tried to protest, but Tamsen put her finger to Camille’s face, “Show me what you can do with Bebop, and I’ll consider it.”

Tamsen and Camille met up with the rest of the group at the front door. Tamsen watched as Idrees’ magic created a double portcullis system in front of the entrance on the first floor. It appeared that shadowy minions were taking the materials that Donovan had set out and assembled them into a desired form. The work went surprisingly fast, taking up only a few minutes of Idrees’ time. When the work was completed, Donovan complimented Idrees for her efforts. “Amazing work, Instructor! This is a huge help!”
“Of course it’s amazing Mister Westermeyer. It’s not one of your schemes.”, Idrees cackled, puffing on her pipe.
“Now, I need to go meet with Zikomo to have him provide us some staff to monitor the gates. In the meantime, Instructor, I want you to shrink down that cube that was taken from the remote transporter site. Once that’s done, Bebop will take the shrunken teleporter all the way up to the Sanctum, and set it in a position where we can take advantage of it there.”, Donovan gave his instructions to the group.

Tamsen watched Donovan and smiled. It was good to see his confidence returned to him, the sharpness of his mind back in place. Tamsen also found herself annoyed with Idrees. Why would Idrees punish Donovan for not doing something over the course of hours that she could do herself in minutes? Tamsen found herself getting a clearer picture of the woman Idrees actually was. Tamsen slid up on Bebop, putting her hand around his waist, “Are we headed downstairs now?” Bebop nodded, “Putting the cube on the top floor, that’s helpful.” Tamsen watched as Donovan walked over and started talking with Zikomo. It surprised her to realize that less than two months ago, Donovan didn’t even speak Boggard. Now he could fall into and out of that language as easily as he was able to do for a dozen others. The chief didn’t seem to like what he was saying, and Tamsen couldn’t help but activate one of her Hexes in order to listen in on what was being said. Apparently, Donovan was asking Zikomo to provide a couple of sentries to monitor the first floor entrances, and provide his consorts to act as waitresses in order to raise morale for the individuals who were assigned to that post. Zikomo was complaining that he was already struggling with having enough troops for hunting, but Donovan reminded him that they were supposed to be supplementing their hunting efforts via the crops and fish they had been provided. Tamsen considered walking over there to assist Donovan with his negotiations, but he soon had the matter under control, receiving not only the desired sentries, but additional troops to train in basic healing principles. Meanwhile, Idrees had completed her magics upon the cube, shrinking the portal to what amounted to a large cube shape, one that Bebop was easily able to pick up and carry around. The group returned to the first floor of the Horn, and Donovan instructed the Boggard sentries on what their tasks would be during the time they were here.

Shortly after, the group met inside the tavern of the first floor, and Donovan spoke up, “Now that Instructor Diggle has begun work on the upgrades to our gear, we need to discuss the next security plans for this place.”
Bebop spoke up excitedly, “We need to get Shere Khan!”
Donovan had a confused look on his face, “I don’t know what a Shere Khan is, who or what is that?”
Bebop continued, “One of the tigers of the forest. We could get some catnip, and get ourselves a pet that would live with us!”
Donovan frowned, “While I’m not opposed to saving a creature that might otherwise be an issue for us, keep in mind that even if we capture the beast, and have the Instructor craft something so we can communicate with it, and successfully negotiate with the creature, we would still be dealing with a creature that is inferior to what Lucius can summon any time he desires.”
As if to make a point, Lucius called forth one of his flaming Dire Tigers, that roared and purred briefly before Lucius unsummoned it.
Bebop nodded, “Oh, right.”
Donovan continued, “Lucius, I need you to place an Alarm spell on each floor of the hidden staircase. As we’ll need to have you repeat this spell every day, we probably should have the Instructor craft some Pearls of Power.”
Lucius nodded, “What should we use for the password, then?”
Bebop blurted out, “My dick!”, and laughed.
Donovan sneered at Bebop, “We’ll use the Infernal word for Secret. That should secure it to just us.” After hesitating for a moment, Donovan continued, “Also, we need to apply Magic Mouth to the outside entrance of the first floor. This will give us another verbal warning if someone is approaching.”
Bebop pressed on, “Ooh yeah, Gonna get me some of that Magic Mouth.”
Donovan stared at Bebop with incredulity and sighed, “I’m going to go get back to work, the ritual is going to start soon. Lucius, you got your game plan?”
Lucius nodded, “Got it, boss.”
Donovan kissed Tamsen on the lips, before heading off, “Love you.”
After Donovan walked away, Tamsen stood up and reached out to Bebop. “Come on, you. I can tell you have some pent-up energy to work off.” Tamsen led Bebop back to her room, with Camille following closely behind. As the two of them got to her doorway, Bebop shoved Tamsen roughly against the wall, and started kissing her, “I’ve missed you.”
Tamsen grinned wickedly, “Then stop missing me and start doing something about it.”
Bebop’s desire surged through him, and he lifted Tamsen off her feet, before walking her over to the bed and tossing her down.

As Bebop, Camille, and Tamsen laid naked in her bed, Tamsen climbed onto of Bebop’s spent form, “Why do you do that?”
Bebop looked at her and grinned sheepishly, “I thought you liked when I did that.”
Tamsen slid her right leg between Bebop’s legs, pressing down into his manhood, “Ha ha!”, she mocked. “Why do you play the fool in front of Donovan?”
Bebop’s face turned serious, “Do you know what it’s like to have someone already plan out everything you are interested in accomplishing? How it feels to be around someone who speaks fluently in almost every language without the use of magic, and already has calculated everything you are going to say or do, with the measured response to it? How is a guy supposed to stand out in a world like that?”
Tamsen raised her eyebrow, “Are you jealous, lover?”
Bebop sighed, “It’s hard not to be a little jealous when the most desirable woman I’ve ever known is on top of me, and just out of reach.”
Tamsen kissed Bebop’s chest, “There’s a very small piece of me that only he has; but if it brings you any comfort, I’ve heard him whisper of his jealousy about you.”
Bebop snorted, “Jealous of me? I want to be like him. You know, the version of him that doesn’t have to work all the time of fixing up this place.”
Tamsen smiled, her fingers running through Bebop’s hair, “You’re not going anywhere, lover. I need you in my life. And despite what you think, I know he loves you like family.”
Bebop smiled, “I hope you are right.”
Tamsen, “Of course I’m right. So, relax and trust in your family.”

Week 6:
One of the Boggards approaches Donovan as he was working in one of the first floor living areas, “Oh great master, there is an unusual group of plants that have sprouted up inside our cave, and Zikomo seeks your wisdom in deciding how to deal with it.” Donovan nodded to the Boggard, telling them he will send someone to research it.
Donovan reached out to Tamsen’s mind, “My love, would you ask Bebop to go speak with Zikomo? Apparently, there is an unusual plant growth.
Tamsen smiled, as she received Donovan’s voice in her mind. Having been several days since her talk with Bebop, she was excited that Donovan was giving Bebop an opportunity to prove his cleverness in resolving problems. Looking over to her side, Tamsen tapped on Bebop’s shoulder, as he and Camille were intertwined. “Donovan is calling for you, lover. You and Cami will have to pause for the time being.” Camille sat up, licking the blood off her lips. Bebop also tried to sit up, but the blood loss caused him to feel woozy, “How long have I been under her?”, Bebop asked Tamsen. “About fifteen minutes, baby. You’ve been making her very happy.”, Tamsen giggled, as Camille nodded with enthusiasm, “I love you, Bebop. Hurry back where you belong.”
Bebop smiled at the two naked ladies, then stumbled out of the room.
Bebop worked his way down to the cave area where the Boggards reside, asking around for Zikomo. Upon finding Zikomo, the elder Boggard asked Bebop, “Where is Donovan?” Bebop sighed to himself. Even the Boggards had already turned to Donovan as the person to interact with among the group. “Well, Donovan sent me to take care of the matter.”, Bebop said defensively. “I see, I guess my foolish tribemate did not properly convey our need to the great master.” After the initial irritation, Bebop was finally able to discover the issue that the Boggards were experiencing. Bebop recognized these as Assassin Vines that were not yet mature enough to attack anyone just yet. However, Bebop estimated that these vines would be dangerous in less than a week, and should be moved soon in order to protect the Boggards. About this time, James O’Toole came over, having had yet another frustrating session trying to train the Boggards to do anything besides attack everything that wasn’t a Boggard in their cave. On more than one occasion, he ended up getting into an “unintentional training session” where him and a few of the more riled up Boggards would fight. Fortunately, James was a competent fighter, and the Boggards were soon settled down; but James found himself needing to be patched up by Donovan on more than one occasion. After speaking with Bebop, James suggested that perhaps the plants could be moved to another location that was away from the residents.
Bebop nodded, “We could install them on the second and third floors, in case people try to break in.” James agreed, “We also would have food for them. As Boggards join the ranks, some refuse, and are killed by Zikomo’s warriors.” Bebop seemed enthused by this news, and relayed his discovery back to Tamsen, “Tamsen, please let Donovan know what I’ve discovered, and see what he says.” Tamsen left her room to seek out Donovan. Finding him on the first floor, she went into the room where he and Artephius was working, then explained Bebop’s discovery and proposed solution. Donovan nodded and smiled, “Very clever, I’ll install some tubing down near the floor on this side that runs through the cave wall, so we can feed them animal blood when they don’t have sentient blood to work with. Please tell him to move forward.”, Donovan kissed Tamsen and smiled. Tamsen relayed Donovan’s approval to Bebop, who began the process of moving the plants.

Donovan pushed Tamsen up against the wall of the living area he had been working in, “While I’ve got you here…”, Donovan looked at Tamsen excitedly.
Tamsen wrapped her arms around Donovan’s neck, “Yes, love?”
Donovan grabbed Tamsen’s wrist, “Follow me, I want you to see what we’ve made for you.” Donovan led Tamsen into the Alchemist Lab, where Idrees had been working, “Instructor, have you been able to finish work on the pieces for Tamsen?”
Idrees nodded, “Of course, her are your bracers, lovely lady.” Idrees handed Tamsen the Bracers of Armor that she had completed.
Tamsen looked at the bracers, “Thank you Idrees, they are lovely.”
Donovan nodded, “Now you won’t have to use that silken armor anymore. And there’s something else.” Donovan looked over to Idrees, who made a disapproving face.
“Of course you would try to get her naked, Donovan. Some times, you can be quite disgusting.”, Idrees chastised Donovan again.
Donovan shook his head, “It’s not like that, Instructor. Tamsen is a beautiful woman, and should have access to any outfit she can imagine.”
Tamsen sounded excited, “Any outfit? Please show me, my love.”
Donovan smiled, “Here you go. These are Sleeves of Many Garments. You wear them around the part of your arm near your wrist, and they can change into whatever you picture.”
Tamsen excitedly put on the Sleeves, then removed all of her other clothing. She pictured an outfit that she thought would be desirable to Donovan. She felt the cloth slide up her arms, and across her body, covering up and exposing just what she wanted to. Her eyes watched as Donovan drew a breath in looking at her. “Oh, Tamsen.”, was all the words he could muster.
“I love this, Idrees. Thank you so much.”, Tamsen was happy with the new magic item, but was also annoyed with Idrees, and determined that she would have a talk with her soon.
“It’s my pleasure, Tamsen. You’re such a good girl, even with Donovan trying to make you inappropriate.”, Idrees nodded, and went back to work.

Donovan and Tamsen left the room. Just as they got outside of the room, Tamsen stood in front of him, “So, see anything you like?”
“Literally everything.”, Donovan responded excitedly.
Tamsen licked her lips, “What are you going to do about it?”
Donovan moved close to Tamsen, the thoughts on his mind apparent. Just then, Lucius approached Donovan, “I just got back from Farholde. It appears that Baron Vandermir is holding a celebration for his birthday. The Baron is expecting you to attend in order to visit with some of the contacts you have been attempting to make.”
Donovan nodded and sighed, “Thank you Lucius, I appreciate the information.”
Right after Lucius explained his newfound knowledge, Bebop returned, looking quite proud of himself after delivering the Assassin Vines to their new location.
Donovan nodded, “I should probably start getting to work on that tubing then, so those plants don’t decide to run off.” Looking back at Tamsen in her stunning outfit, he appeared to have a moment of hesitation, and then returned to his work.
Bebop looked at Tamsen, and suddenly realized that her clothing was different, “Wow, your boobs look amazing in that outfit!”
Tamsen smirked, “Nothing gets by you, huh?”

Days passed, and the new routines began to settle in. Lucius performed his patrolling duty, now adding the Alarms to the three floors of the hidden staircase. Idrees and GrumbleJack continued to craft new gear and improve existing gear to make the team more durable in conflict, Donovan continued to make improvements to the various areas of the Horn, while checking in on Sister Marta and seeing to her wellbeing, and Bebop continued to make himself available for Camille and Tamsen’s attentions. For her part, Tamsen enjoyed the relative quiet of the Horn. Once more, she thought back to Donovan’s excitement when they first arrived. It was hard to imagine a dead place such as the one they had found being worth anything, but the family had slowly turned it into a place that wasn’t so bad to be in. It still lacked in personality, but she saw the work that was being done, and the work was good.
Tamsen moved around the Horn during the midnight ritual, one of the few times that Donovan was able to sleep. It gave her a chance to check in on everyone, to make sure they were all sleeping as well. Tamsen found Lucius’ door open, and she peeked in on him. He was sitting in his room, looking despondent and subdued, “Hey sweetie, are you ok? What are you doing up at this time of night?”
Lucius waved to her, “Hey Tamsen, I’m fine. Just not able to sleep right now.”
Tamsen slid into Lucius’ room, closing the door behind her, “You want to talk about it?”
Lucius shook his head, “Naw, I’m good. Thanks for checking on me though.”
Tamsen could very clearly see that something wasn’t fine with Lucius, “Maybe I could just sit next to you, and we could pass some time together?” Tamsen sat down on the bed next to Lucius.
Lucius looked at Tamsen, her gentle smile and warm eyes shining. He clearly wanted to say something, she could see it on his lips, but he was held back.
Tamsen gently placed her fingers against Lucius’ cheek,
“I feel so alone, Tamsen.”, Lucius began to open up. “I didn’t notice it before when other people were around, but now that we’re so far from everyone, I feel so isolated here. I don’t feel like I belong.”
“Lucius, you know we all love you. You’re a part of our world, a part of our family. It’s not an accident you are here.”, Tamsen attempted to comfort Lucius, speaking in soothing tones.
“It’s just, when I hear you and Bebop together, or see Donovan smile as he’s sitting next to you, I feel like such an outcast in this group, like I’m just an employee here.”, Lucius described his pain to Tamsen. “Do you even need me anymore?”
“Lucius, I’m so sorry we’ve made you feel that way. But, here’s what you should know.” Tamsen leaned over to Lucius, and kissed him ever so softly on the lips. “You are a part of the family, and I don’t want you to think otherwise. Donovan loves you, and so do I. If we’ve seemed distant with all that’s been going on, it’s not because we are closing you out.”
Lucius smiled weakly, “Thank you for saying this to me, Tamsen. I really needed to hear it.” Lucius stared into Tamsen’s eyes for a moment, then he leaned over and kissed her. Reconsidering his actions, Lucius quickly attempted to make amends, “I’m sorry about that Tamsen, I don’t know what came over me.”
Tamsen smiled, “Never apologize for your desires with me. I know how to make my own decisions.” With that, Tamsen stood up, “I guess I’m going to head back to my room now, unless you can think of something else I should be doing.”
Tamsen’s hand touched the doorknob of Lucius’ bedroom door before Lucius finally spoke up, “Tamsen, I…”

Week 7:
The night of the party arrived, and Donovan was getting ready to attend to the festivities as was expected of him. Donovan still knew all the appropriate protocols for interacting with the well-connected of the city. As he was finishing getting ready, Tamsen walked into his room. She was dressed in a full body red slip dress that was slit all the way up the right leg, and allowing her cleavage to be displayed.
“What do you think, my love?”, Tamsen said to Donovan.
“You are perfection, Tamsen. But why are you dressed up like this?”, Donovan responded, overwhelmed with her beauty.
“To go to the gala, of course.”, Tamsen sounded quite eager.
A look of disappointment crossed Donovan’s face, “Oh, ok. Yes, yes, you should go my love! Go and take Lucius with you. You two will be the hit of the show.”
“Don’t be silly, Donovan. I want to go with you.”, Tamsen insisted.
“But, we can’t both go, Tamsen. One of us has to stay here and do the ritual. I’ll stay, you should go.”, Donovan clearly wanted to make Tamsen happy.
Tamsen thought about what Donovan had just said. He was right, unfortunately. Both of them could not go and get back in time to perform the ritual. One of them would have to stay behind, and Tamsen knew it had to be her. Donovan had already made the connections; Donovan already knew the merchants. Donovan was the right choice, and Tamsen hated that she couldn’t be with him. “Donovan, I wanted them all to see me like this, I wanted every person to know that this was what you had, and they couldn’t have it. I wanted to make every person there jealous just for you tonight.”
Tamsen watched as Donovan blushed at what she was saying. She knew he was thrilled to be receiving such attention.
“But, since I can’t make all those people jealous of you tonight, then I just want you to remember what is waiting for you when you get home. So, hurry back to me, because you know I’m not a woman that likes to be made to wait.”, Tamsen finished her thought.
Donovan nodded, “Gods, yes! I can’t wait to be back home and in your arms again.”
Tamsen kissed Donovan quickly, “Good, now go.”
And with that, Donovan and Lucius left for the gala.

With Donovan gone, Tamsen decided to take care of one last thing that had been on her mind for a while now. Her and Camille grabbed up the dinner plates that Lucius had made in advance, and headed over to the Alchemy Lab. “Dinnertime, everyone!” Tamsen and Camille handed plates and drinks to GrumbleJack and Idrees, who were grateful to have their food delivered.
“How is it going for our two hardest workers?”, Tamsen said, a sweet smile across her face.
GrumbleJack grunted a happy nod, as he began indulging himself on the food.
Idrees was equally pleased, “You’re such a wonderful young woman, Tamsen. Truly we’re all so lucky to have you here. If only Donovan was even remotely at your level.”
Tamsen’s teeth gritted together, “GrumbleJack, would you be a dear and let us girls have some private time together? We so rarely get to talk to each other nowadays.”
GrumbleJack shrugged, nodded, and picked up his plate as he began walking out of the room.
Tamsen continued, “Idrees, can I just tell you how amazing it was that you were able to seal up that front door so quickly?”
Idrees chuckled, “I’ve learned a few things about how to make a place secure, yessiree!”
Tamsen looked at her, “But, you still punished Donovan for not doing that work, even though you could have taken care of it any time you wanted?”
Idrees smirked, “It’s his fault for not asking me for help in the first place!”
Tamsen stared angrily at Idrees, “Cami!” With a single word from Tamsen, Camille acted, slashing Idrees across the face.
Idrees fell back, “Oh gods! What’s happening?”
Tamsen rushed up to Idrees, shushing her and holding her face, “There, there, Idrees. I’ve got you. Let me help you make that all better.” Tamsen applied infernal healing magic to Idrees’ injuries, causing the wounds to slowly close up. “That night, Idrees, as I watched you sit there and strike my Donovan, making him feel guilty for wanting to look at me, I realized the kind of woman you actually are, and I knew I had to deal with you.”
Idrees pulled away, “You don’t understand Tamsen, Donovan deserves this, he made me lose my job!”
Tamsen put her hand up, “No, he didn’t. There’s no possible way a school would let you go for returning all the money that had been made from a student selling answers. I suspect that what really happened is that you have abused other children during your tenure, and the school realized this was as good of a chance as any to be done with you.”
Idrees made a nasty face at Tamsen, and Tamsen immediately knew she was right, “But Donovan is too loyal to take it out on you, and he simply allows you to abuse him in order to resolve the guilt he feels for your failure.”
Idrees tried to move away, but GrumbleJack was already blocking the door out of the Alchemical Lab, having been instructed by Tamsen telepathically to do so.
Tamsen continued to threaten Idrees, “Donovan needs you, Idrees, and all of us like you here, but I’m not going to watch you hurt him anymore because of your anger at something he didn’t actually do. So, what you are going to do is guide him, teach him to reach his potential, help him grow into the man I know he is meant to be; and you are going to do this without humiliating him or beating him senseless with your pipe.”
Idrees looked at Tamsen, “And if I say no?”
Tamsen smiled, “If you hurt Donovan that way again, then the next time you sleep with be the last time.”
Idrees looked over at Camille, seeing her bared fangs and claws, and realizing she had no real choice in the matter. Idrees nodded to Tamsen, and Tamsen smiled, “See, I knew all of us girls were going to get along together!”

Session 20 Ends.
 

rchodges

Explorer
Part 2: Call Forth Darkness
Act 3: Thirty-one Weeks
Session 21: Swelling Members

Week 8:
“You have such skillful hands, Idrees.”, Bebop said flirtatiously to the instructor. “You really know your way around these tables.” Idrees looked up from where she was working on the crafting table, then chuckled, “What do you want, Bebop? I’m working as quickly as I can on your amulet. It isn’t going to go any quicker from your flattery.”
“No, no.”, Bebop attempted to reassure her. “I’m here to spend time with you.” Bebop’s face made overt gestures to Idrees to indicate his interest.
Idrees chuckled, “Is that so, Bebop?”, as she puffed on her pipe in amusement.

The family was expecting an arrival over the next couple of days, having received information from Tamsen’s mother, as well as information from the Seventh Knot. According to the information received, a party of adventurers, led by a woman named Traya DeMarco, would be coming to the horn in the first part of the week. Trik, in his continued efforts to impress Tamsen, was dutiful in reporting the details. He listed off the four people who were involved in the upcoming incursion, and gave some information regarding their attempted method of access. Of course, since they were attempting to access the “Center Eye”, Tamsen smirked to herself, knowing that Donovan had already sealed off the top three entrances via a combination of Alchemy and Magic. Still, she had no reason to enlighten Trik on this matter. Donovan had continued to warn that Elise’s jealousy would cause her to attempt to derail the group’s plans in some form or fashion. Still, Tamsen believed that Trik was pliable, at least enough so that she would be able to extract his hidden desires.

Things had fallen into a comfortable routine around the Horn, with each member of the family knowing their activities. With the addition of the teleporter to the top floor, Donovan found himself with more time and energy on his hands, of which Tamsen was all too willing to provide a noteworthy outlet. Still, even with the additional freedom, Donovan had many tasks to attend to, leaving Tamsen with empty time on her hands. Bebop had been spending the last few days having his gear outfitted with magical enhancements, but that usually meant he had to spend his time in the Alchemical Lab in order to assist Idrees in her enchantments. Following her last talk with Idrees, Tamsen had given the instructor distance, since there had been quite a falling out between them. The effort had seemed to pay off, as Idrees had not struck Donovan again since their last communication. Donovan actually seemed to be doing better with her as well, feeling more confident in approaching Idrees with questions and concerns. About that time, GrumbleJack was walking by the area where Tamsen was. A smile crossed Tamsen’s face, and she got an idea for how she would be spending her time.
“Hey, cutie.”, Tamsen cooed as her fingers ran down GrumbleJack’s armor. “What are you doing up here today?”
GrumbleJack nodded, “Donovan sent me to clean out the empty room back there.” GrumbleJack pointed towards the unused rooms next to her room.
“How fun. Maybe you’d like to spend some time with me and Camille?”, Tamsen said flirtatiously.
GrumbleJack seemed eager enough. His hands ran across Tamsen’s naked form, as her eyes gained an intensity. Tamsen’s form was fluid, able to change both her body and her clothes in order to appear as the type of person that the focus of her attention would be attracted to. It would be easy enough for her to get GrumbleJack to take her now, but she was determined to resolve something else first. Her hands took hold of his, and she started to lead him into the shower areas.
As the group approached the shower area, GrumbleJack pulled his hand away, “I don’t like showers.”
Tamsen was insistent, “I don’t like men who smell like hairy dogs. You will do this for me, right?” Tamsen’s face made a small pout, as her words sunk into him.
GrumbleJack sighed, as he allowed the two women to pull him into the shower area.
“Let’s make this process a little easier.”, Tamsen said, as she cast Reduce Person on GrumbleJack. GrumbleJack’s form, including his gear, shrunk down to a more manageable size. While it would only last a few minutes, it made the act of moving him around the room simpler. Seeing GrumbleJack’s size reduced, Tamsen realized that he actually was a reasonably attractive man. His affable personality contrasted against his powerful frame, and she could imagine that he would do well for himself leading a group of people. As Camille helped pull GrumbleJack’s armor away, Tamsen pulled the chain holding back the spray of water, and allowed it to wash over the three of them.

Time passed, and the day came when the visitors to the Horn arrived. Hexor and Vexor, using the Eyes, quickly noticed the group of four adventurers as they were outside the dual portcullis that protected the first floor. Reporting their findings to Donovan, he instructed them to go and “greet our guests”. Hexor and Vexor took that as an opportunity to teleport directly outside on the first floor area, and begin attacking the group of adventurers. To say that the attack was unexpected would be an understatement, as the adventurers had no real room to move around or get into a more ideal position. For her part, Traya attempted to muster her fire magic, but quickly discovered that the brothers had a healthy amount of fire resistance. The Ceustodaemons also were resistant to the blades of the warriors of the group, and they reveled in the fear that their endurance was causing this poorly equipped party. Meanwhile, Donovan and Artephius came up to the entrance of the first floor from the inside. The rest of Donovan’s family quickly assembled around him.
“Hexor, Vexor, return to me!”, Donovan called out.
The brothers returned, positioning themselves near Donovan.
“Greetings to you, visitors.”, Donovan spoke to the area in front of the horn, where the adventurers were attempting to hide themselves behind the mountain wall. “My apologies, we anticipated your arrival, but I was expecting you to arrive someplace differently. I hope you are unharmed, as I was looking forward to speaking with all of you.”
A feminine voice came from the area outside the Horn, “We did not know that this place was already in use by someone. We were led to believe that this place had been abandoned so many decades ago.”
Donovan responded, “I assume you are the one named Traya? Indeed, you are not the first person to think this place so emptied out. I know it was not a fight you came here for, but an opportunity to profit. What were you hoping to find in this place, if I may be so bold?”
“Emeralds.”, Traya responded flatly, “According to information I discovered in a journal, there were three emeralds that had been left around this place after the knights assaulted it.”
Donovan nodded his head, “I’m impressed at your level of knowledge of this place good lady. But, you and your accomplices should know the truth of these emeralds. If you would all care to join me for a drink, I’d be happy to elaborate.”
Donovan quickly shifted his words to Boggard, “Open the gates up!” The Boggards hiding in each of the guard rooms next to the first floor entrance pulled their respective levers, and the gates opened to Traya and her group. Returning to Common, Donovan coaxed Traya inside, “Please, join me. I’m sure we have much to discuss.”
Donovan heard that Traya and the Ifrit Hassan were speaking together in a language he wasn’t yet familiar with, but expected was Ignan. His tone suggested concern, but Traya seemed to say something reassuring back. The group ended up following Donovan and his family to the tavern, where they sat down and were brought drinks by one of the female Boggards who had been trained to serve as a bar wench. Once everyone was settled, Donovan began a longer conversation.
“I understand that you are interested in the emeralds. While the emeralds do exist, they are no what you think they are. The emeralds are actually the eyes of a powerful demon from another plane, and anyone who would try to take them from this place would face the wrath of the guardians.”, Donovan looked over at the daemons on that last part, which appeared to distress Traya greatly.
“So why are you here?”, Traya looked fiercely at Donovan, almost accusingly.
“For some time now, the magics that held the demon who controlled those emeralds has been… leaking. It is my belief that nothing would have prevented it from breaking free. So instead, I am choosing to perform a ritual that will release that creature into our world, so the matter can be resolved once and for all.”, Donovan considered his words carefully, given the different individuals who were standing around.
“You’re planning to unleash a demon on this world?”, Traya cut to the heart of the matter.
“I’m planning to see this demon returned to where it belongs.”, Donovan looked carefully at Traya. While Donovan was quite skilled at lying, he was loath to do it unless there was no other option. Donovan could see the eyes of Hexor and Vexor paying attention to the conversation as he was speaking. Each word he said held the potential to alienate some part of the creatures surrounding him, so the words he selected were designed to leave as much ambiguity as possible.
Traya and her group looked nervously at each other.
Donovan pressed forward, “Of course, I still believe there is opportunity for your group to profit, even though you won’t be able to take the emeralds. I am in need of a group of sell swords who can assist me in defending the Horn until the ritual is complete.”
Traya attempted to be courteous, but dismissive. “While your offer sounds appealing, Donovan, my group and I value our freedom greatly. I don’t know if this is something that we can do with you.”
Donovan took a moment to look at Traya. She was clearly a beautiful and confident woman. Were Tamsen not in his world, Donovan could picture himself being swept up in Traya’s masterful words. Unfortunately for Traya, an attractive face would have little impact on Donovan’s determination.
“I can respect your situation, Lady Traya. So allow me to put all the options on the table. Option one, you can each come work for me. I will pay you three hundred gold each, plus another twelve hundred once our work is done. Option two, you can stay here as my guests, but you will be unable to leave the Horn until the ritual is complete. Option three, you can discover if the skill of my retinue is superior to the skill of you and your accomplices.” There was no mistaking what Donovan meant by the last choice. “May I have a moment to discuss this with my group?”, Traya asked Donovan, to which Donovan nodded and smiled.
There was clearly a lot of concern being expressed among Traya’s allies. It was apparent that there was a combination of fear and interest, depending upon the individuals in question. After some discussion within the group, the Dwarf approached Donovan.
“What god do you serve?”, Posca asked tentatively.
“I don’t consider myself a religious person, Posca.”, Donovan responded tactfully. Looking at the religious symbol that Posca was carrying, Donovan continued. “And you are clearly a follower of Abadar.” Donovan smiled at that knowledge. He believed that Posca’s belief was something that could be utilized.
Posca’s face soured, “I’m sorry, but I can’t follow the plans of an evil god.”
Donovan rubbed his face, “I understand. However, I think I can make you a different offer from the rest of your compatriots, since you and I are both interested in the value of profit.”
Posca took on a confused look, “What are you referring to?”
“I assume you are planning on opening a store here in Farholde?”, Donovan queried.
“Actually, I was going to open a temple. A temple that is also a store.”, Tosca corrected Donovan.
Donovan nodded, “Good enough. So, here’s the offer I’m willing to make for you. I’ll forward you five thousand gold, which you will use to open up your temple here in Farholde. Once you get going, you will split the profits of your store with me fifty-fifty, until you have repaid your debt. Afterwards, you’ll pay me fifteen percent of your profits going forward, and I’ll operate as your silent partner.” A smile crossed Donovan’s face as he completed his explanation.
Posca contemplated the offer presented to him momentarily, then returned to his companions. Traya emerged from the group and addressed Donovan, “It would appear that my group has come to a decision, not that you actually left us with one.”
Donovan smiled, “I am a man of my word, but I will do what it takes to make sure my family survives.”
With that, Donovan led Traya and her allies around the Horn, and showed them the possible rooms for them to stay in while they were here, after handing each of them the agreed upon retainers.

A few days later, Donovan sought out Lucius who was patrolling around the Horn.
“Lucius, I want you to assemble a team and recover the Dire Tiger that the Boggards have been warning us about. I have been concerned about your safety in the event that you are temporarily rendered unconscious. Having a permanent ally could prove useful to you. With that in mind, I asked Idrees to make this.”
Donovan pulled out a very large iron collar, which shimmered with a magic that had been implanted into it. ‘This will allow us to speak with our animal friend once you acquire it.”
Lucius nodded, and went off to speak with others inside the Horn.

Lucius, sitting at a table with Bebop, Traya, Hassan, and GrumbleJack, began explaining the expectations to the rest of the group. “Donovan has tasked us to capture the Dire Tiger that had been attacking the Boggards and other creatures. We’re going to travel out to the area shown to us from the Boggards, and then we’ll knock the tiger unconscious. Does anyone have any questions about what’s expected from everyone?”
Traya responded, “We’re not exactly animal hunters.”
Lucius smiled, “You’re obviously skilled enough for Donovan to put you to work, so you must have some value.”
Traya and Hassan looked at each other wordlessly.
“Alright then, let’s get to work. We have a tiger to bring in!”, Lucius said with excitement.

Lucius gathered together the group, and headed down into the Maw. Finding Zikomo, Lucius told him that he needed a couple of his warriors who were familiar with the location of the powerful beast that hunted them. Donovan came down to see how things were progressing, and he nodded at Lucius’ selections. Seeing the members of the Boggard tribe that had been selected, Donovan taught the pair of Boggards how to say “Enemy Near” in Common when they came upon signs of the tiger. The Boggards were clearly scared, but Donovan assured them that Lucius and his team would return them all safe and unharmed.
The group set out across the area, following the instructions given to them via the Boggards. The group came upon a large rocky structure near the water, which would seem like an ideal place for the tiger to make its home. However, there was no tiger to be found. Bebop went into the cave, attempting to see what else could be discovered. There was some evidence that something had lived here, as pelts and bones were stacked fairly neatly along one side of the cave. Still, the beast was nowhere to be found. Lucius, Bebop, and GrumbleJack took the air around the cave, attempting to locate the tiger. As the three of them took to the sky, they noticed the tiger who was attempting to hunker down and hide from the group. Lucius called out to the creature, “We have found you, noble hunter. Your hiding will not avail you. You have been attacking the Boggards of our tribe, and we wish to discuss this matter with you. Will you speak with us?” The tiger did not respond, of course. In fact, it did not even move. Perhaps it still held firm to the belief that it was out of the sight of Lucius and the others. Lucius sighed at the tiger, then looked over at GumbleJack and Bebop. “Put it down, but do not kill it.” With one mighty swoop, GrumbleJack ascended high into the air, before coming down onto the tiger with his Butchering Axe.

As the unconscious form of the tiger was dragged into the room next to Tamsen’s, which had a chain loop against the wall. Donovan had already had this room cleared out, and had placed furniture for Lucius to use as his room. Lucius hooked the collar that Donovan had provided to him around the tiger’s neck, and connected a chain between the collar and the wall. Posca came into the room to take a closer look at the tiger. Inspecting his injuries, Posca noticed that the tiger’s left eye had become overgrown with scar tissue.
“It looks like this tiger has something pushed into its eye socket. It might have to be removed before the injury can be healed.”, Posca mused to Lucius.
Lucius nodded, “I’ll have Donovan check that out, once this animal and I have a talk.”
Posca offered to heal up the other injuries of the tiger, but Lucius was concerned that the animal might wake up in an unpleasant mood for obvious reasons.
Donovan came into the room that Lucius had been studying the tiger in. “So, how is our guest?”
“He was easy enough to catch, but we should remove the other injuries from the tiger before we begin.”, Lucius nodded in agreement.
Moving close to the sleeping form, Donovan noted that the tiger had a large variety of injuries, both recent and old. “We’re going to need to patch our new friend up.”
“Just be careful, Donovan. He moves fast. We found that out over the course of the hunt.”
Breaking out his healing kit, Donovan began the process of applying salves across the tiger’s body. Donovan was so focused on his work, he didn’t even realize that the tiger had already opened one eye. Fortunately, Lucius noticed what was happening immediately, and pulled Donovan back behind the line before the tiger sprang to its haunches. Still heavily injured, the tiger began to stretch and move, as it sized up its current situation.
“Welcome back.”, Donovan spoke to the tiger, speaking in Infernal. “Around your neck is a collar that allows you to understand me, and for you to speak. So now, we’ll be able to speak with you.”
The tiger growled with primal fury, but limited its response to a single word, “Why?”
Donovan smirked, “You are far too intelligent to be a simple beast of the land. That means, you must want something. I’m attempting to find out what it is you want.”
“I want to kill you.”, the tiger responded with controlled rage.
“You don’t know me, so why would you want to kill me now?”, Donovan leaned forward, but not close enough to cross the line in the room that Lucius had marked as the length of the restraining chain.
“You killed the one who traveled with me.”, the tiger showed sincerity in its answer.
“Me?”, Donovan asked incredulously.
The tiger nodded.
Pointing at Lucius, Donovan asked again, “Did he also kill the one that traveled with you?”
The tiger looked over at Lucius, and said “Yes” once more. But then, a realization came to the tiger. He noticed that Donovan and Lucius’ ears were different. “More like him than you.”, the tiger admitted.
And there it was, the tiger was able to rationalize. He wasn’t simply speaking, he had intellect greater than a true animal. Donovan suspected he was most likely the companion of a Druid or a Ranger.
“You want revenge.”, Donavan said to the tiger, awareness on his face. “Revenge for your other who was murdered.”
“Yes. I will kill and eat all of them.”, the tiger spoke in agreement.
“And that’s something we can help you achieve. Up to this point, you’ve been hunting for little more than survival. But, you and I want the same thing.”, Donovan smiled.
The tiger looked at him oddly, “To eat those who killed my other?”
“To punish those who have brought harm to people like your other. You should join us in pursuit of this goal.”, Donovan replied.
The tiger looked around in his current situation, “You speak of this while you have me chained up.”
Lucius spoke up, “Trust is something that is earned. But it should be something that we also have to earn from you. My name is Lucius, his name is Donovan, what is your name?”
The tiger responded with a word in Iraen. “Fierce.”, Donovan spoke up. “Your name means fierce.”
Fierce smiled at that notion, that his name represented a type of confidence and courage.
Lucius continued, “Donovan would like to treat your additional injuries, Fierce. Would that be alright?”
Fierce looked around his body and saw that Donovan had been successful with the limited time he had. “Yes, he may.”
With that, Donovan smiled and continued applying his healing efforts. Fierce saw a notable improvement in his form as Donovan worked. How long had it been since his injuries had been so well tended to? It was a reminder of a different time, a time when Fierce didn’t see all humanoids as the enemy.
Completing his task, Donovan moved back out of the area, “Well, I’m sure the two of you have a lot to discuss Fierce. But I do hope you decide to stay with us. It’s nice to know you’re not alone in this world.” With that Donovan left Lucius and Fierce alone in the room.

Lucius looked over at Fierce, “So, would you like to tell me about what happened with your eye?”

Session 21 Ends.
 

rchodges

Explorer
Part 2: Call Forth Darkness
Act 3: Thirty-one Weeks
Session 22: The Zealous and The Jealous

Donovan relished the hours just past midnight. Throughout the day, there was work to be done, plans to be laid, and efforts to be made. But the night was a time of rest. And there was no better time in the night that those moments just after Tamsen returned from her midnight ritual to Vetra Kali. She would return to their bedroom, and he could sense her arrival. The touch of her flesh, the scent of her form. The lights were already out, so his vision was imperfect, but he knew her hands and lips so well. It was in these brief moments that he felt his strongest connection to her, when he didn’t feel as though he was competing against every other beautiful and powerful creature in this sanctuary. For those few hours, they were truly alone with only each other. “Are you awake, my love?”, Tamsen would say those familiar words to him, an invitation to desire. In a few hours, everything would begin again; there would be more work to do, more plans to lay, more efforts to make. But right now, in these few precious hours between midnight and the dawn, Tamsen was his and his alone.

Week 9:
Tamsen entered Idrees’ lab, where her, GrumbleJack, and Bebop were working. Idrees regarded Tamsen with suspicion, given their last encounter. Tamsen gave instructions to Idrees through their telepathic connection. There was a special modification that Donovan wanted Idrees to make to Bebop’s amulet, and it was important that no one in the Horn speak out loud about this change. Idrees paid attention to what Tamsen was requesting and understood the implication. It had become clear that Donovan was now making plans for the Dread Wraith that was residing within the treasure room, and those plans were unwavering. Idrees grinned wickedly, it was these moments that reminded her that Donovan was always plotting something, even in those times where he appeared to be completely distracted with other efforts.

Week 10:
Lucius continued to struggle with Fierce. Although he was making a genuine effort to connect to the large beast, Fierce continued to complain about the lack of freedom and mobility. At some level, the call of the wild had reclaimed Fierce. For all of the beast’s talk about revenge and hatred, it had become fond of a simple time where it could merely hunt and eat. Lucius still believed that he could reach the heart of the beast, and convince the creature that him and his family meant Fierce no harm, and were attempting form a kinship with it. Per Lucius request, Donovan and Idrees began to modify the area on the first floor near the throne room into an “animal sanctuary” of sorts. Perhaps the larger moving area would prove to be a comfort to the creature.

“Hello, beautiful.”, Bebop approached Traya who was sharing a drink with Hassan in the tavern. “How are you doing today?”
Traya raised her eyebrows and looked skeptically at Bebop, “Is Donovan in need of our services currently?”
“No, I was just wanting to spend time with you.”, Bebop chuckled in an awkward manner.
Traya and Hassan exchanged curious glances with one another. “Thank you, Bebop, I appreciate your interest. I’m good right now, just enjoying some peace and quiet with my friend here.”
“I was just thinking that you and I should spend some time together…”, Bebop began.
“Bebop!”, Donovan hissed, “What are you doing?”
A smile came across Traya’s face as she watched Bebop being questioned by Donovan.
“I’m not doing anything, Donovan. Just making small talk.”, Bebop smiled disarmingly.
Donovan regarded Bebop, then looked over at Traya. “Please don’t do anything inappropriate with the help, Bebop. I can’t be awake twenty-four hours a day.”
Bebop grinned impishly, “I’m just talking! Besides, don’t you have work to do for Fierce’s area?”
Donovan grumbled, and returned to his efforts. “It always seems like I’m doing work, and you’re enjoying free time.”
“Now, where was I?”, Bebop considered to himself, and looked back into the tavern. Traya and Hassan had already left, so Bebop considered how else he could enjoy his time.

Week 11:
Tamsen rushed to the room where Donovan and Artephius were working, “I have news from Mother, my love.” The concern was apparent on Tamsen’s face.
Donovan wiped the sweat from his brow and set down his tools, “What’s going on?” He stood up, and began walking towards her.
“A silver dragon is coming!”, Tamsen continued. “It’s currently in Farholde.”
Donovan tried to comfort her, “A silver dragon? Very interesting. We’ll have to make new plans. Fortunately for us, we’ve already got the right people in place. I’ll need to have a conversation with Traya later on. We can handle this.” Donovan smiled reassuringly.
Just then, Bebop came in to the room where Donovan and Tamsen were speaking, wrapping his arms around Tamsen from behind, “What are you two talking about?”
Tamsen’s hands slid across Bebop’s arms, “Mother told me we’re going to be dealing with a Silver Dragon at some point.”
Bebop turned Tamsen around, “Don’t worry Tamsen, I’ll protect you from the dragon. You know I won’t let anything hurt my Luxury.” With that, Bebop picked Tamsen up as she giggled.
“I need to speak with Lucius about making up some Energy Resistance formulae for cold, not to mention we’ll need something to reduce the damage from its claws and fangs.”, Donovan appeared to be lost in thought.
“You do that, Donovan.”, Bebop said as he carried Tamsen out of the room.
As the two of them left, Donovan gritted his teeth, suppressing the scream of frustration he wanted to let out. “Why couldn’t I do that? Why couldn’t I be the comfort and strength that she needed right then? Why is it always one of them?”, Donovan whispered to himself.
“Because you are weak and ugly, and they are strong and beautiful.”, Donovan heard the voice of Artephius respond to him as his hands covered his face.
Donovan looked up angrily at Artephius, who was still diligently holding the piece of furniture Donovan had asked him to several minutes ago, “What did you say to me, Artephius?”
Artephius looked at him, “This servant has not spoken for the last half hour.”
Donovan blinked in confusion. Was he hearing things from spending so much time alone? Fatigue and stress were taking their toll on him, apparently. Donovan slapped his face, “Right, let’s get back to it.”

Near the end of the week, Tiadora appeared to the family outside of the Horn. As Tiadora approached, Donovan and the others gathered on the other side of the portcullis’ walls.
“Lady Tiadora, what a delight to see you.”, Donovan greeted Tiadora, then quickly switched to Boggard, “Open it up!” The gates rose, as Tiadora slinked into the Horn, smiling broadly.
“Hello darling, I’m so glad to see you. I bring the will of the Cardinal. Let us go somewhere and speak.”, Tiadora engaged Donovan in her usual manner.
Donovan walked with Tiadora back to the Tavern, as many individuals stopped to take stock of the commotion going on. Bebop was, as usual, naked within the confines of the Horn; and took delight in reminding Tiadora of his confidence in his masculinity. Tiadora made it clear she was irked at Bebop’s lack of improvement; but it was clear that he was the right tool at the right time. Arriving at the tavern, Donovan and Tiadora took a seat, while Bebop stood uncomfortably close to Tiadora.
“Be decent or be gone!”, Tiadora chastised Bebop.
Donovan smirked, then continued, “It’s such a delight to have you here, Lady Tiadora. I am so thrilled you could join us this evening, and share your stories and adventures with us.”
“I’m not here for that, Donovan.”, Tiadora rebuffed Donovan.
Donovan sighed lightly, “No, good Lady. You are here to deliver my Father’s will, and I am here to carry it out. What is the message you have come to send?”
Tiadora smiled, and began to tell the story of an Asmodean Anti-Paladin, who was formerly from an area near Chelliax. According to her, Cardinal Thorn believed that this individual would be an important addition to the Ninth Knot, given their current initiative.
Donovan’s eyes narrowed, “Are you certain that we are the best destination for this individual? It sounds as though they could be an extremely powerful boon to the First Knot or the Seventh Knot.” Internally, Donovan suspected that Adrastus Thorn was beginning to make his own contingencies. It was not an entirely unreasonable assessment. After all, Donovan and his family had shown themselves quite adaptable at changing outcomes in unanticipated directions.
Tiadora smiled, “The Master feels like your Knot is the place where he belongs, unless there’s some sort of issue…” Tiadora’s statement felt more like a threat, to see if Donovan would give her cause to suspect their disloyalty.
“Not at all, Tiadora. If Father believes he would be of use here, then we are honored to be gifted such a talent.”, Donovan smiled broadly. Conversations with Tiadora always reminded Donovan of the days when he would accompany his father to negotiate vendor contracts. Every turn of the word mattered so much in those conversations, and the slightest weakness would be exploited. Insinuation and nuance were at a premium.
A wry smile crossed Tiadora’s lips, “Very good, Donovan. I will be returning with this individual tomorrow.”
Completing their pleasantries as each of them subtly threatened the other, Tiadora departed the meeting with Donovan, and left the Horn.
After Tiadora was gone, Donovan spoke with Tamsen, “I guess this proves your theory. Obviously, Father cannot spy on us via these devices inside the Horn.”, Donovan gently tapped the headgear that had been gifted to them.
Tamsen nodded, looking concerned at Donovan, “So what are we going to do about it?”
“The same as I always do, my love. Create a new contingency.”, Donovan smiled and kissed Tamsen softly on the lips.

The next day, as if on clockwork, Tamsen arrived with an Ifrit bound in bold metal armor. After Bebop opened the doors to allow the pair to enter, only the Anti Paladin actually stepped foot into the Horn. Tiadora smirked, and left the place quickly. Bebop reached out to Tamsen, and soon the whole family was present to greet this new individual.
Donovan regarded this individual. He was handsome of course, as would be expected of many of his race. His form was stoic and controlled, as he addressed each person while maintaining his own composure. It was also clear that under all the steel was a powerful man with broad shoulders and muscular arms. He lacked the raw strength of Bebop, but much of Bebop’s strength had been granted to him via his Alchemical understanding. He looked over at Tamsen, and saw that she also appreciated his many desirable traits also, and gritted his teeth once again, “Hello good Sir. Welcome to our home. My name is Donovan Thorn, and this is my family: Tamsen, Bebop, Lucius.” Donovan’s hand swept outwards to the other people standing around. “All of these people have joined us with a like minded purpose, to help accomplish something that would have at one time been considered impossible. I’m so glad you have considered joining us in this quest. May I ask your name?”
“Kirim Titho.”, the Ifrit responded.
Donovan began to question the Anti Paladin on his history and the things that led to his arrival at this place. As the conversation progressed, Donovan found his heart beginning to soften to this individual. He had clearly suffered much in order to arrive at this place. Judged for both his race and religious beliefs, Kirim found few allies in Talingarde. If not for the actions of Cardinal Thorn, Donovan could easily picture a world where Kirim would have been summarily destroyed.
The family continued to listen in as Donovan interrogated this new arrival. His story rang true to the sufferings many of them had endured.
Camille began to approach Kirim, “He looks so delicious, Mistress.”
Tamsen pulled her back, “Not yet, Cami. We must be patient.”, as a soft giggle left her lips.
“I’d like to see your capabilities, Kirim.”, Donovan’s gaze focused on the Ifrit. “Mister O’Toole, I am in need of your services.”
James “The Man” O’Toole stepped forward, “What do you need me to do, boss?”
Donovan smiled, “Nothing serious, just a simple sparring match between you and our newest guest. I need to get a feel for what I’m working with.” Looking back at Kirim, Donovan continued, “If that’s alright with you, Kirim?”
Kirim drew his Great Sword, “If that is your wish, Donovan.”
O’Toole stretched out, while grinning widely at the Anti-Paladin, “I’ll go easy on you.”
“Of course you will.”, Kirim responded with nonchalance.
“Remember gentlemen, this is to yield. I expect both of you to stop when the other cannot continue.”, Donovan’s gaze confirmed his sincerity, then excitement shone in his eyes, “Begin!”
O’Toole was slightly out of practice, having spent the last several weeks fighting with creatures much smaller and weaker than he was. As such, he was not ready for the barrage the Anti Paladin would bring. The first strike threw him off guard, as O’Toole found himself suddenly afraid of this force attacking him. The next strike came through a split second later, as the blade landed once more, and O’Toole found himself suddenly wracked with a sickening feeling.
O’Toole put his hands up in surrender, and Donovan moved up to him, patching up the multiple injuries that O’Toole had sustained, “Take the rest of the day off, James. That was great work you did there.”
“Uh, sure thing boss.”, O’Toole was both terrified and humiliated at what he had seen.
After O’Toole was helped back to his room, Donovan considered Kirim once more. “Apparently, we’ll need something more challenging for someone of your caliber. Lucius!”
Lucius grinned, and called up a monster from another plane of existence, “Let’s see how well you handle a Hound Archon.” The powerful creature came into form, and brandished its weapons.
“Don’t hold back, Kirim.”, Donovan encouraged the Ifrit. “This creature certainly won’t hold back on you.”
The Anti Paladin swung at the creature, but found himself held back by the Magic Circle that it possessed. Even as a summoned creature, the Hound Archon loathed Kirim, “Evil.” The weapons the Archon possessed swung and found a mark against Kirim.
“Your piety betrays you!”, Kirim retorted, and a surge of power entered his blade. The Anti Paladin’s massive weapon pierced the magics holding him at bay, and carved into the flesh of the creature. The Hound Archon howled in pain. The fight ended moments after that.
As Donovan applied his talents to heal Kirim, he looked at him with an obviously impressed face, “Tiadora said you were quite a talent, and you certainly do not disappoint her high praise!”, Donovan smiled as his work was completed. “I would be honored if you would join our group Kirim.”
Kirim smiled a contained smile, one of the first Donovan had noted from him since he arrived, “I’m looking forward to it.” Kirim returned the handshake offered by Donovan.
Donovan began to walk away, and then turned back around, “Before we show you to a room, I’m going to need you to hold Tamsen’s hand.”
Kirim took on a curious face, “What will happen when I do that?”
Donovan smiled as Tamsen seductively approached Kirim, “You see, Tamsen is a succubus. By allowing her to connect with you in an intimate way, she can reach out and touch your mind. This will allow her and you to communicate with each other, regardless of distance, in the event on of you has information the rest of the group needs to know.”
Kirim removed the gauntlets covering his right hand. Donovan noted a brand that had been placed on his forearm, and considered what Kirim’s life must have been like when he received such a mark. “Alright Tamsen, I’m ready.”, Kirim answered flatly.
Tamsen’s hand delicately moved over Kirim’s face first, as her naked body pressed up against his armored form. “Relax your mind, Kirim. Let your thoughts travel freely.”
Donovan watched with curiosity and surprise as Kirim responded to her. Amazingly, Kirim seemed unfazed by her advances. Donovan hated himself for being happy about that fact.
Kirim and Tamsen’s hands met, as they each gazed deeply into the other’s eye for about a minute. Tamsen tilted her head and Kirim and smiled calmly, “Thank you for sharing that with me, Kirim.”, as she pulled away from him.
“Let’s get you into a room.”, Donovan spoke up, as the group headed up to the second floor of the Horn.

Week 12:
Tamsen’s information gathering was as spotless as ever, and the family soon knew about the arrival of several individuals of the Mitran faith that would soon be arriving at the Horn. Trik had mentioned to Tamsen that these individuals had entered the Abbey and had learned four important “Infernal Words” that they were planning to use upon arrival. It didn’t take long to realize that the words in question were the activation words for the four teleporters used in the Horn. Donovan and the others recognized that, had it not been for the actions of Tamsen’s mother, the group would have been caught completely unprepared as these zealots entered the Horn with impunity.
“Your mother may very well have saved our lives in this matter, Tamsen.”, Donovan smiled.
Tamsen kissed Donovan on the lips, “I hope you remember that when you are picking out a gift for her.”
Donovan chuckled, “You’re right. I really should think of a way to thank her properly for sending me the most wonderful woman in the world.”
Tamsen climbed into Donovan’s lap, “Sheesh, lover. You already have me. You don’t have to spend all your time seducing me.”
Donovan and Tamsen spent some time kissing each other, before Donovan started to pull away, “I guess I should get back to work.”
Tamsen interlocked her fingers with Donovan, “You spend so much time not doing the one thing you really want to be doing here, my love. Why do you do that?”
Donovan’s eyes connected with Tamsen’s. She was saying the truth, and he knew it. For all the distractions and efforts he was making for himself, the thing he really wanted to do was just lay next to her, and enjoy her company in every way, “I didn’t want to take up your time. I know you have...”, Donovan hesitated from saying the word he wanted to, “…obligations you must attend to.”
Tamsen’s lips reconnected to Donovan’s. He was falling again, she was carrying him to another place, a place of desire and ecstasy, “Stop doing this, you dumb boy. I’ve made everything clear to you.”, Tamsen’s lips pulled away as she confronted him.
“But…”, Donovan was going to protest, and Tamsen immediately cut him off.
“There’s no ‘but’, my love. Come to my bed when you are ready, it’s always there for you. I’m always there for you.”, there was no callousness in her words, only warmth and acceptance.
Hearing her words, Donovan was swept up in passion. He kissed her madly and with the need and hunger that had been building up in him for days, and she responded back in kind. A few moments later, he begged, “I’m so ready, my sweet love. Please…”
Tamsen nodded, and the two of them teleported back to her bedroom.

Hexor and Vexor knew what to be expecting, and generally when the incursion would take place. Donovan had given them the gem to watch the Horn for the arrival of the newest interlopers, and their excitement grew when those individuals arrived. They moved themselves immediately into battle, only momentarily stopping to notify Donovan of their actions.
Shortly after they began, they returned to the bedroom, “Our deepest apologies Master, but this group has protections that make attacking them impossible.”
Donovan nodded his understanding, “A Magic Circle against Evil, you say? Well, I guess we will see if our newest member can handle this sort of challenge.”
Bebop had already been camping out at the front hallway of the Horn, but it wasn’t until the bell that he had installed onto the gates started ringing that he recognized the assault that was taking place. Excitement took over, as Bebop allowed his body to be flooded with Alchemical compounds and his body morphed in response.
Before Bebop could act, Lucius and Fierce teleported onto the scene. Fierce’s massive form rushed into the fray, a blur of claws, fangs, and hatred. The rest of the group came together, as Bebop and Kirim began their assault on the zealots.
Donovan watched these people throw away their lives with fascination. He couldn’t help but be amazed at the confidence and conviction with which they acted. There was never a moment in which they had control of the battlefield, never a point in which they had inflicted any real harm onto the group. And yet, their faith never wavered. They never doubted they would succeed. Even as their ranks dwindled, they never attempted to change tactics, never requested any mercy or compromise. One of their number did break and flee for his own safety, but Donovan ordered Hexor and Vexor to kill that one once he cleared the divine protections. The demons fulfilled that order with mirthful glee and malice. And as the last of these pious warriors stood before the Anti Paladin, the individual never questioned if their actions were wise or correct, they simply assumed that they must be right, whether in this life or the next one.

As the battle winded to its end, Fierce ran to the front exit of the Horn. Looking back upon the group once more, he fled back into the jungle. Donovan could have ordered the Cuestodaemons to stop the beast, but what good would such things have brought? In that moment, Donovan began to realize that all these creatures, both the zealots and the tiger, had one thing in common: they were bound by the limits of how they could grasp the world. Lucius of course wanted to go back after the animal, to bring it back home. And, Donovan understood that desire, the need to help others who had also suffered at the hands of an unjust system. But Donovan now realized he was never going to be able to save so many of these people, simply because these people couldn’t grasp a life outside the one that they had known for so long.

Donovan and Bebop began collecting all the gear from the fallen inquisitors.
“We’re back in business, Donovan!”, Bebop grinned, looking over the valuable items the fallen enemies had been wearing.
Donovan looked over at Bebop, and then back to Kirim, “Indeed, it would appear as though Asmodeus has provided a solution for us after all.”

Session 22 Ends.
 

rchodges

Explorer
Part 2: Call Forth Darkness
Act 3: Thirty-one Weeks
Session 23: Facing Our Fears

Week 13:
Lucius, undeterred by the departure of Fierce, set out to find his newfound companion. Over the course of several days, Lucius discovered the beast, and spent some time talking with it. The creature was distrusting, but not obviously hostile. As the conversation between the two continued, Lucius realized that Fierce had left not because he felt mistreated or abused at the hands of Lucius, but rather Fierce no longer desired the easy comforts and security of family. Perhaps, in its own way, Fierce felt guilt for the loss of their former companion. Realizing that there was nothing more that could be done to change the state of their relationship, Lucius said goodbye to his new friend one last time, and wished him well.

The family was notified to the existence of a Hangman’s Tree northwest of the Horn. Donovan had suspected this creature for some time, given that the Boggards said there was a different dangerous tree like creature, and they had learned to avoid that area for hunting grounds. Donovan wondered to himself if perhaps something could be done with such a creature, but knew he already had far too many mouths to feed to continue attempting to add on new obligations.

Kirin was beginning to become more confident within his new found family, and began to understand the dynamic that the members shared. He found it amusing to watch as Bebop would irritate and frustrate Donovan to the point where Donovan would begin yelling at him, only to run away to the comfort and safety of Tamsen’s arms. Kirin was reminded of a simpler time when he was younger, before he was harassed by the Talireans because of his appearance and beliefs. In many ways, this was a reminder of a simpler and happier time, and he found himself comforted by it.

Week 14:
“Hello, my love. I just got finished speaking with Trik. We need to talk.”, Tamsen’s mind reached out across the Horn to her Donovan, lighting against his thoughts.
Donovan responded, “Of course, what did you learn?”
“Come to my bedroom, and I’ll tell you more.”, Tamsen teased and toyed with Donovan.
Moments later, Donovan approached Tamsen’s bedroom. Just being near it sent shivers through Donovan. The room was kept very dim, with only enough light for silhouettes. There was a floral scent that Tamsen kept in the room, always so inviting. And the bed was so large, it seemed it could hold a host of people. Tamsen sat on the bed, wearing almost nothing, as she usually preferred to.
“Come in.”, Tamsen beckoned Donovan with her soft voice, but the words hit like they were charged with power.
Donovan moved swiftly up to where Tamsen was sitting. Trying to focus his thoughts, he spoke, “You said you had something to share with me… from Trik.”
In a flash, Tamsen grabbed Donovan’s wrist, pulling him down on top of her, and wrapping her legs around his waist. Tamsen giggled with glee. “Mmm… all mine.”
She was so close now, Donovan could smell her skin next to him. His mind was racing, his heart pounding in his chest. “You always know I’m yours, my love.”
Tamsen and Donovan’s lips connected, as Tamsen softly moaned.
“Tamsen, my love. This is wonderful, but you said you had something to tell me.”, Donovan felt his breath ragged, as he looked across her body.
Tamsen sighed, “Fine.” She released her legs from Donovan’s waist. “There is a preacher in Farholde by the name of Ezekiel Hawthorne. According to the people they have been talking to, this individual is beginning to stir up trouble for us, by convincing the masses they need to march on the Horn.”
Donovan leaned back, still on top of Tamsen, “That could be a problem for us. If people start acting up, the local military will have no choice but to come investigate. And we don’t want that.”
Tamsen nodded with agreement. “What do you want to do about it?”
Donovan considered his options. He could ask Bergill Mott to send out the orphans to dispatch this individual, but would that make the man a martyr? Perhaps he’s secretly corrupt, and simply attempting to fleece the scared and angry. Or, maybe he’s one of the truly righteous. Whatever the truth of the matter was, Donovan knew the exact method to deal with him. “It’s you, my love. You have to go out there and deal with him. He needs to be corrupted, not killed. And there’s no one better at showing people for who they actually are than you.”
Tamsen giggled, “You always send me to seduce your problems, Donovan. Maybe I just want to seduce you.”
Donovan smiled, “Oh Tamsen, you and I both know that you already have seduced me. I have no resistance to your charms.”
Tamsen slid out from Donovan’s grasp, “I’ll take care of this, my love. But know that you will have to pay me back in cuddles.”
Donovan nodded, “All that you will let me give you.”

Leaving with Lucius, Tamsen returned to Farholde to meet this individual directly. Tamsen explained the expectations of Donovan’s request to Lucius, and he understood what was being asked. The two of them agreed to play the part of the doting couple, in order to facilitate interacting with Hawthorne. Lucius watched as Tamsen’s clothing shifted from something provocative to something more elegant.
“Does this please you, lover?”, Tamsen stared at Lucius briefly, before giggling.
“I’m sure it will be fine.” Lucius attempted to be nonchalant as he looked at the clothing draped across Tamsen’s body, but he found himself subconsciously responding to her, and blushed.
Stepping out into the city streets, it wasn’t long before Lucius and Tamsen located the individual in question. His unkempt form, body dirty with no consideration of hygiene, and wild eyes that spoke of an internal madness, Ezekiel Hawthorne was not at all what the two of them were expecting. The two pulled close to the preacher in the middle of the street, as his fiery ramblings continued.
“I say unto you that I have seen the growing darkness that is coming from the Horn of Abaddon, and Mitra himself has come to me in a vision that all of Farholde will be consumed in darkness and disease should we allow that evil to go unchecked! We must rise up, take arms and destroy the foul wickedness that spawns from that place, burning all of the evil away once and for all.”
Despite the fact that Hawthorne appeared to be quite mad, it was apparent to the two of them that the people were moved by the passion of his speeches.
Lucius approached the man, “Good sir, I am very concerned of this evil you have spoken to me of. I would like to contribute to your funds in order that you may be able to recruit an army for your efforts.”
Ezekiel responded, “Thank you for your kindness. But it is not money I need. Nay, I need only those with the strength to carry arms against that wretched place. Besides, money is the trappings of fools, and no man of faith would want for such things.”
Lucius thought to himself, “Oh yeah, you and Donovan would get along famously.” Looking over to Tamsen, he watched as she began to bend the people watching to her will. Several men were looking at her with lustful eyes, even a few who had brought their wives with them. And that’s when Lucius felt those pangs of jealousy. Why was he jealous? Tamsen belonged to Donovan, not him. Yet, he could not deny that a very real part of him wanted to pull her away from them, to claim her as his own. Lucius pushed those thoughts aside, and continued speaking with the preacher.
“But surely, this money will help you employ the type of soldiers who could help you overtake this evil. How can you ask humble commoners of the city to be as well trained as men at arms?”
Ezekiel was unmoved, “It is only faith you need to be successful! Mitra seeks those who are true believers, not those motivated by the value of coin.”
Lucius was becoming annoyed, and a part of him wanted to lead this man wand whatever witless fools that would follow him out to Fierce’s cave. They could all learn the worth of their so-called faith.
However, it was not meant to be. Tamsen approached the preacher, and silently mumbled some words to the man, causing him to be overcome with Unnatural Lust. Ezekiel threw himself at Tamsen in front of all of the people watching in the street, as Tamsen cried out in mock fear.
“Help me, please! He’s trying to force himself on me! Please help me, Lucius.”, Tamsen’s arm reached out to Lucius.
Lucius was overcome in the moment. Him and several other individuals pulled Ezekiel Hawthorne off of Tamsen, even as she sobbed and pretended to be grief struck. Lucius felt himself struck with grief and anger, holding Tamsen tightly, “Are you alright?”
Tamsen pretended to recover from her shock, as the city guards hauled Ezekiel Hawthorne away, “I am better thanks to you.” Her hand slid across Lucius’ face.
“Good… good.”, Lucius responded, as he attempted to regain his composure. Why was he so overcome in that moment? He knew it was staged. He knew she has used a spell to change the preacher’s behavior. And yet, when she reached out to him, he was convinced for a moment that she needed him.
As the two of them left Farholde and returned to the Horn, Lucius resolved himself to discover the answer to a question that was brewing in his mind.

Week 15:
The time for the halfway Ritual point had arrived. Donovan knew there would be no more delays. Sister Marta would be tasked to face her outcome, by the choices she had made. The Sister’s body was gaunt and thin, from repeatedly refusing food and her causing self-harm to foil their attempts to proceed with the Ritual.
Donovan came into the prison area, a somber look on his face. “It’s time, Sister.”
Marta spat her hatred into Donovan’s face, “You will all suffer for eternity for your crimes against Mitra and Talingarde.”
Donovan had no more anger left for her. Now, all that was left was sadness. “Sister, I have one last offering for you.” Donovan produced a vial that he had Bebop produce earlier. “If you drink this, you will fall asleep, and there will be no more suffering for you. You will not feel the pain of the ritual blade. Please allow me to do this last mercy for you.”
Marta would not be moved from her hatred, “A mercy from you? I intend to lash out at you until the last moment. I want you to know what a monster you truly are.”
Donovan nodded, “I know, Sister Marta. I know.” Returning the vial to its case, he motioned for Marta to be taken to the Sanctuary, and placed onto the ritual table.
All of the family was waiting there when he arrived. Even Kirin had specifically requested to be present for the performance of the sacrifice. Donovan was comforted in their attendance, as he took no joy from slaughtering a helpless woman. But, in the choice between his family and another individual, there was no choice to be made.
Donovan intoned the words of the Ritual, words that he had repeated over a hundred times before. Words that would be ingrained into him for the rest of his life. For her part, Marta continued to scream and howl at Donovan, even through the gag they had placed on her mouth. Donovan’s hand shook as he readied the dagger strike, and then in a moment, the deed was done. Skillfully, Donovan cut the heart away from Marta’s chest, placing in next to the other, still beating heart.
A resonating voice echoed from the chamber, “Tezathra Vo!”
“I see.”, Donovan repeated the Abyssal words back into Common for the group.
The gems in the altar radiated brightly, and suddenly Donovan was struck by a beam of light extending from them. Donovan was pushed back momentarily, and the beam faded.
Tamsen rushed up to Donovan, “Are you alright, love?” The tension rose in her voice.
Donovan looked at her and nodded, “I’m fine.”
The energy from the beam shot into the sky, blackening out the sun, as the Horn shook in response.

Whatever was happening, had just moved one step closer to fruition.

Week 16:
“Oh, Tamsen, it feels so amazing!”, Donovan was connected to Tamsen, intimately knowing all of her. In the darkness of her room, the two of them were so tender and delicate to one another.
Tamsen nodded, gripping and pulling Donovan, trying to somehow pull all of him into her.
“I want you forever, my love.”, Donovan moaned, feeling himself being lost in the moment utterly.
“I’m yours forever.”, Tamsen whispered back. In these moments, as they made love, Tamsen allowed herself to say the words she knew he most wanted to hear.
Voices began to cry out in Tamsen’s head. There was something happening on the lower floors. The family was under attack. Tamsen knew that Donovan needed to be there, and as much as she hated it, she had to take him immediately. “Please forgive me, my love.”
As Donovan looked into her eyes in confusion, Tamsen created a Dimension door, moving the two of them into the area of the first floor near the bathroom. Donovan rolled off onto the floor, as he saw that several people had been injured, and there was some sort of entity that was attacking the group.
The entity seemed to be an amalgamation of several people, bodies and arms and legs fused together in great fire and suffering. This place had always been one of suffering, and it was not hard to imagine that when the Horn was attacked, some of the people that died here perished in the most gruesome of ways. It seemed that there was some connection to fire in all of this, as Tasker Twelve Knives had also been burned across a large portion of his body.
GrumbleJack had also been attacked, but his fiendish origins provided him some measure of defense against fire. GrumbleJack took the unconscious form of Tasker, and set him down in front of Donovan. Donovan began to apply his healing touch across Tasker’s burnt body.
Kirin arrived in the room a moment later, walking in through the door closest to the Tavern. He spoke some words, and a dark force began to emanate from his body.
“Kirin, come closer.”, Donovan waved over to Kirin as he entered the room.
Kirin had an odd look on his face. The group was clearly in combat, and Donovan appeared to be naked. Was the man fearless?
More of the residents of the Horn began to appear around the area. Bebop came rushing in, and attacked relentlessly as soon as the opportunity allowed.
The smaller creatures that were accompanying the larger entity appeared to made of fire and ash. “Combusted!”, Donovan spoke up, “Get these things into the fountain!”
Vexor and GrumbleJack slashed viciously at the undead creatures, driving them back into the fountain.
Donovan worked his way over to Kirin, grabbing the blade of the Anti-Paladin, and focusing his thoughts. The blade took on a light blue glow, as its energies tuned to the extraplanar. “Take out that Ashen Nighmare!”
Kirin looked at Donovan and said flatly, “You are naked.”, before charging off to fight the entity.
Donovan felt his embarrassment continue to grow in this group of people. Donovan was surrounded by all these powerful and beautiful creatures, and here he was, weak and plain. Naked and seen to the world. It was so easy for Tamsen to stroll out without clothing, she was a goddess. Donovan did not see himself anywhere near that. But he had to focus, his family needed him. GrumbleJack passed out asleep next to where Donovan was standing. The Ashen Nightmare was manipulating sleep abilities.
Lucius arrived, and brought forth Lucinda to aid in the combat. Bebop, Kirin, and Lucinda attempted to surround the creature, but it had something more sinister planned. The creature called forth a Phantasmal Killer, which focused in on Bebop. Bebop was lost in the vision in his own mind, drawn back to the time before family, back to the time before Donovan and Tamsen found him. He was that helpless orphan again, scrawny and weak, frail and ugly. He was the child spit upon and viewed with disgust by the elders of Talingarde, those who could have reached out to help, but instead slapped his hand away. He had lost them all, the people he loved and cared for more. Never to be supported by Donovan, never to feel the loving embrace of Tamsen, he was alone, truly truly alone. And that moment brought him unimaginable fear. Bebop ran from the room, screaming in utter panic and despair.
Kirin, because of his connection with the Divine, found it much easier to shake off such meager attacks, and continued his relentless assault upon the Ashen Nightmare. Donovan continued to aid those who were injured, ignoring his own personal shame at being naked in front of them. Once the Corrupted had been driven into the fountain, Vexor left, “Master, this creature returns every year. It’s hardly worth the trouble.”
As Tamsen handed Donovan his tunic, and he put in on, trying awkwardly to pull it down for some modesty, Tamsen looked concerned, “I need to go check on Bebop. I’m sure he needs our help.”
Donovan nodded weakly, as Tamsen left the room, then went about the business of attempting to heal up the other injuries that had been sustained during the fight. After tending to everyone’s injuries, Donovan made sure that there was no other entities that were going to attack, Once that was done, Donovan returned upstairs to Tamsen’s room, only to find the door closed, and the sounds of Bebop and Tamsen enjoying each other behind the door. Sighing, Donovan sat down outside of her room.

Lucius came walking by, “What are you doing out here Donovan? And why are you still naked?”
Donovan chuckled, “I left my clothes behind when Tamsen teleported me to the battle. And now…” The sound of Bebop and Tamsen’s moans could still be heard.
Lucius shook his head, “How do you do it, Donovan?”
Donovan looked down at his tunic, “Mostly just unbuttoning the top of the tunic so I can stretch it down lower.”
Lucius scoffed, “No, how do you put up with that? How do you let that go on when you’re the head of this family?” Lucius pointed at Tamsen’s door.
Donovan smirked, “Let it go on? Tamsen spends her time with whomever she chooses to spend her time with. I have nothing to do with that.”
Lucius replied, “If she was my woman, I’d never let her do that. She would be mine, and I would be the one taking care of her needs.”
Donovan flashed Lucius a stern gaze, his mirth gone. “When I found Tamsen, she had spent years of her life with people deciding who would get to be with her. She never got a choice in the matter, she was just expected to go along with it. I didn’t need a lover, Lucius. I needed a friend. And that’s all I ever asked her to be to me, a friend. She gave me all that I ever asked of her, and so much more than I could have possibly expected. She is my world now, and I would desperately love to be the person in the room with her this very moment; but I’m happy just knowing that she’s happy. Without her, I would have never found any of you.”
Lucius let the words fall from his lips, “What if I told you I was going to be with her? Would you try to stop me?”
Donovan chuckled, “You didn’t listen to me, Lucius. That’s not my decision to make, or to prevent. Tamsen chooses her partners. If Tamsen chooses you, I’m not going to interfere in that.”
Lucius sighed, surprised at the response coming from Donovan, “And you are telling me you are never jealous? You never want her all to yourself?”
Donovan put his hands on his temples, “Listen to me, my friend. Never play the game of jealousy. You can never win; you can only lose more and more of yourself as you keep playing. Trust me.”
Lucius could hear the strained tones Donovan made when he said the words, “Trust me.” A part of Lucius wanted to leave the hallway right then and there, to not add more burden onto his friend. But another very real part of him also wanted to be the person in the room with her, and Lucius realized he was slipping the same way the rest of the family had.

Week 17:
Bergill Mott had been a friend of the family since they initially arrived in Farholde. Bergill was introduced to Donovan via Baron Vandermir, and had continued to prove themselves a loyal ally. So, when Bergill had delivered a message to the horn saying that they needed assistance, Donovan was happy to help.

According to Bergill, a new gang had appeared in town, going under the name of “Thatcher’s Crew”. They were apparently interfering in the areas that Bergill’s group were normally invested, so this was bad for the group, and bad for the bottom line. Donovan was clearly displeased, and dispatched Bebop and Kirin to resolve the matter, “Make it clear to them that the only option is to agree to our terms. If they fail to see the wisdom of your words, show them the strength of your force.” Bebop and Kirin seemed especially eager in that second option. Heading out to Farholde, the duo quickly found the location of this rival gang, and made their way to the leader of the group with all haste. They discovered the leader of the group, a Mickey Thatcher.
Bebop began the talk, “We have been sent here on behalf of Donovan Thorn. You will work with the gang controlled by Bergill Mott, and not act independently.”
Mickey sneered at the two of them, “And why should we do that?”
Kirin unsheathed his massive blade, “Because otherwise, you will die.”
Mickey laughed at Kirin, “Aw, cute. Is that supposed to be a substitute for your tiny dick?”
Without hesitation, Kirin chopped Mickey’s head off. As his body slumped to the floor and the head rolled to the side, Kirin called out, “Anyone else have questions?”

The silence in the room was a sufficient answer for Bebop and Kirin.

Session 23 Ends.
 

rchodges

Explorer
Part 2: Call Forth Darkness
Act 3: Thirty-one Weeks
Session 24: From Above As Below

Week 18:
Donovan stared at his notes over and over again, meticulously working through the details that had been discovered over the course of the previous week. He knew for certain that a group of adventurers would be approaching the Horn over this week, he knew for certain that they would gain access via the lower section of the Horn, and he knew for certain that his group was to be betrayed. All of this was what had been revealed by Tamsen’s mother and Patron. Still, Donovan could not shake the feeling that he had missed something, that there had been some detail that he had overlooked.

Not knowing the specific day that the attack would take place, Donovan had Kirin take up a guard position near the maw of the cave at the entrance to the hidden staircase. Bebop continued to guard the first floor. And work proceeded as it generally would, with the different residents attending to their typical tasks. James O’Toole was still attempting to harness this fighting force into something worthwhile, despite the fact that they were effectively worthless. James often suspected that Donovan was simply keeping him around in order to not have to kill him, which wasn’t exactly great for James’ ego. Still, the food and wine had continued to flow without hesitation, and he was never once tasked with doing something that he would have considered callous. It was on this night when James saw what appeared to be some sort of mud or earth creature rising up from the ground. Confused, he looked at the creature, wondering of this was another one of the Summoner’s creations. Then, what appeared to be a small Gnome was released from the side of the earhen creature. The Gnome gestured to Zikomo, and Zikomo hurled himself at James. Tossing Zikomo off momentarily, James looked around and saw that all of the Boggards were sizing him up for attack. James readied himself for the fight, knowing there was little he could do to stop all of them.

Kirin heard a small commotion on the other end of the Maw. He was unsure what to make of the sound, but was hesitant to abandon his post. Reaching out with his mind to Tamsen, he notified her that something was possibly going on, and he was going to check on it. Tamsen relayed this information to Donovan, who immediately sprung to defense. Contacting the Daemon brothers, he told them to secure the entrance of the Maw, and to assist in taking out whatever threat was down there. Donovan then began to move down to the lower floors himself, assuming that the attack was soon to take place. When Hexor approached Kirin, the two of them headed over to the section of the Maw where the sounds had been coming from. Arriving there, Hexor and Kirin found that the Boggards had ripped apart James O’Toole, and were feasting on his innards. Hexor relayed this information to Donovan. Donovan pondered the news, “Could this have been the betrayal we were to expect this week? An attack from the Boggards?” Donovan told Hexor to grab Zikomo and bring the elder to where he was. Donovan needed more information.

Meanwhile, even as Donovan was attempting to understand this issue with the betrayal of the Boggards, there were other betrayals taking place within the Horn. Back in the Forge, GrumbleJack also saw the Gnomish man, and then realized that he needed to attack Idrees. While Idrees was able to activate her invisibility power and escape his onslaught, she still had been severely wounded in the fracas. Even within Traya’s group, infighting had begun to take place. Donovan quickly realized that there was Charm magicks being used to sway the minds of the weaker individuals, but still didn’t know how these people were able to move around the complex without triggering any of the alarms.

It wasn’t until Hexor brought forth Zikomo and angrily wrung the confession out of him that Donovan understood the scope of what was happening. These individuals were using some sort of earth gliding ability that allowed them to pass through the floors and walls of the Horn unimpeded! While it would bring no comfort for the fallen retainer, it still meant that Zikomo and the Boggards had not as of yet betrayed the group, as they were taken off guard just as easily as everyone else had been. But this brought a greater concern for Donovan and the others: How were they to stop the invasion of an enemy who could pass undetected through the floors and walls? “How are they able to survive indefinitely within the walls themselves?”, Donovan pondered the nature of the attack. For her part, Tamsen spent the large majority of the day up in the Sanctum, scanning through the individual rooms, trying to discover where the interlopers were hiding. The Horn was a large place, however, and her scans did not end up revealing where they were hidden. Meanwhile, Donovan went from area to area, helping to end the commotion that was taking place, and patching up those who had been injured through the day.

Even with the Cuestodaemons watching the exit of the Horn, the individuals were never caught. After hours of the residents being on guard, Donovan finally decided that they must have somehow already fled. Taking stock of all that had been assaulted, Donovan realized that they had failed to actually remove anything of value from the premises. Still, he knew that these individuals were searching for treasure, they had even gone to the trouble of searching through Tamsen’s “toy chest” in their search for items of value. That meant that they must believe there was something here worth stealing. This would be the chink in the armor that Donovan and his family could exploit, “Lucius, GrumbleJack, begin a flyover of the area. I don’t expect that they are stupid, but I imagine that our guests have set up camp nearby. We’ll take this fight to their doorstep.” Lucius and GrumbleJack nodded, then took the sky via their varying means. Donovan sat down next to one of the spots he suspected that the intruders had entered the Horn from. He was tired from running around the whole of the day, and frustrated from his inability to have stopped the invaders, or to save the people who were depending on him. Donovan’s hand lightly traced against the wall. Just then, Tamsen entered the room where he was sitting. She could innately sense the state of mind Donovan was in. Sitting down next to Donovan on the floor, she pulled Donovan’s head onto her lap, and brushed her fingers through his hair gently. Tamsen could feel the built up tension releasing from Donovan, as his breaths became fuller and slower. “Three-dimensional fighting. They are very clever, my love.”, Donovan finally spoke up. “I’m sure you’ll think of a way of deal with this issue, Donovan. You always do.”, Tamsen’s voice was almost a whisper now.

“My love, Lucius is saying he may have found something, and is on his way back.”, Tamsen touched Donovan’s face gently, as he startled awake. He realized he had fallen asleep on her lap, and she had simply sat there and watched over him. “Oh, good, when he gets back here, we’ll send out a group of individuals to deal with these people.”, Donovan kissed Tamsen gently on the lips, enjoying a precious moment of alone time with her. Once Lucius returned, Donovan pulled Kirin, Bebop, and Lucius into the main chamber area, to discuss with Lucius what he had seen. “I want the three of you and Lucinda to find this renegade group of interlopers, and put them down! They cost me in blood this time, and I intend to repay the favor fourscore!”, Donovan looked in each of their eyes to confirm their understanding of the task. Donovan could read the eagerness and anticipation in some of them, and the cold dutiful acceptance in the others, but all of them were more than willing to extract vengeance. “Find them and take care of this matter. No mistakes.”, Donovan stared directly into Lucius’ eyes. Looking back at the rest of the group, the instructions were simple: “Get it done, and return safely.” The group nodded, and began to walk out of the room. “Lucius.”, Donovan called out. Returning to Donovan, Lucius smiled, “Is there something else?”
“Do you know the Feather Fall spell?”, Donovan queried.
“Of course, I’ve known that one for a while now.”, Lucius replied confidently.
A wide grin came across Donovan’s face. “Perfect. Now let me tell you what you’re going to do when you encounter their campsite. They aren’t the only ones who can engage in three-dimensional combat.” Donovan explained the battle tactics, and soon Lucius shared Donovan’s grin.

As the group began flying out based upon Lucius’ previous observations, they each began to pay careful attention to the ground several hundred feet beneath them. While it would be unlikely that the group would be on guard from an aerial attack, the presence of flying horses could still easily catch the eyes of anyone. Fortune proved to be on the family’s side, and they were able to get within range of the campsite without being detected. Lucinda spotted them first, four individuals whose descriptions matched some of the aspects of the information that had been received from the people who had encountered them within the Horn. From there, the group began to circle around, getting in position to allow Lucius to place the Feather Fall spell on all of them. As the four of them allowed themselves to fall off their respective flying mounts, Lucius applied the spell to the group. The sensation of the sudden fall turning into a gentle drop was disorienting at first, but the group took advantage of the opportunity, allowing themselves to apply spells and abilities to bolster their effectiveness. Meanwhile, Lucius, getting a closer look at the layout of the campsite, took advantage of their relatively close proximity to one another, and applied Black Tentacles to where they were sitting and standing around.

Panic set in on the group of adventurers, as some of them were being crushed by the tentacles, while others managed to extricate themselves before the tentacles began to take hold. As the group of attackers gently set down onto the ground, the two individuals who were not being held by the tentacles rushed up into the fight with Bebop, Kirin, and Lucinda. A Dwarven Barbarian was the first individual to attack into the group. Unfortunately for him, he encountered the full rage of Bebop as the enlarged monster exploded onto him. Between his onslaught of attacks and lack of protection from the casters, the Barbarian found himself falling to the fury of fangs and claws. The Anti-Paladin rushed up onto what appeared to be the Druid of the group, and let his blade tear into her flesh. As her fear began to take hold of her, he pressed the attack further still. The blade tore into her once more, knocking her unconscious to the ground.
“Pathetic!”, Kirin scoffed at his fallen prey.
Lucinda assisted the work of the Black Tentacles by causing the Gnome to be knocked to the ground, making their efforts to grab him that much easier. It was clear he wanted to cast a spell, but the Tentacles bound his wrists in a way that made spells impossible for him to cast. Lucinda continued to strike the Gnome from just outside the radius of the tentacles to continue attacking.
The Elven Ranger appeared to break free of the Tentacles, but remained inside of their influence to allow herself an opportunity to attack. She drew back her bow, and released a powerful attack onto Bebop, who seemed unfazed by her efforts. Pushing up closer to the Tentacles, Bebop finished off the Gnome who was still struggling to cast a spell.
With bloodlust in his veins, Kirin marched through the Tentacles to attack the Ranger.
“Donovan is going to want one of them for interrogation.”, Bebop shouted across the campsite, a moment before Kirin struck the Ranger down with a brutal slash of his sword.
“If Donovan wants survivors, then he’s going to have to give me opponents that are worth my effort.”, Kirin said with a haughty tone in his voice, as he sheathed his sword.
Irritated, Lucius set out the Portable Hole. “Toss all of them in here. Donovan can make sense of all of this when we get back.” The bodies were soon tossed in with careless disregard, and then the group returned to the Horn. Summoning up a new group of flying creatures, Lucius and the others headed back, their prize in tow.

“Excellent work!”, Donovan congratulated the group when they arrived. “Let’s see what we can discover about our ill-fated intruders.” Donovan began to dig through the objects on their possession with Bebop close at hand, pointing out the ones that he wanted to have saved. Coming across what appeared to be a corked bottle, Donovan’s interest grew, “Well, what do we have here? A Bottle of Air!” Donovan inhaled the contents to confirm his suspicions. “Now I understand how they were able to stay hidden within the walls for so long. Very clever, indeed!” Handing over the bottle to Lucius, Donovan’s eyes caught the sight of a journal that was being carried on the Gnome’s corpse. “And what do we have here?” Donovan began flipping through the journal, reading the last section out loud in front of the rest of the family.

What an interesting development today. We were approached by a so-called holy man full of talk about visions and angels and so forth. He claimed these spirits had driven him to stop the wickedness going on in the Horn and to rally us to our “destiny”. Mentioned us almost by name the angels did! I’m flattered.
He delivered us his pitch and then gave to us an immense pile of information including maps, names and so much more. Really, he did everything but give us the keys to the front door.
Of course I don’t accept such gifts without a fair degree of skepticism. I had Vethia trail the “Holy Man” and our fears turned out to be justified. She saw this angel-speaker slip into a side alley and transform back into a dark haired and much younger human.
My tracker followed the human through the streets of Farholde and saw the young man rendezvous with a strange white-haired woman with a white raven on her shoulder. He called her “Z”.
They didn’t say much to each other. All he said was “It is done. The Ninth is finished.” I am unsure exactly what that means, but clearly, we are being used in some sort of double-cross between various factions of the cult that occupies the Horn. Ah, evil doers. They never change.
So, they want us to be their assassins, eh? Well, it’s a job we don’t mind doing. We’ll be cautious about this information obviously. But I think it’s likely to pan out. They wouldn’t want their dupes to fail after all, would they? Of course, when we’re done, I think we’ll pay the “holy man” a little visit as well. Vethia is pretty sure the woman in white must be staying in the nearby inn -- “The Auld Briarhall” in Auld’Irey.
What a piece of work is my elven tracker! She tracked a shapechanger through almost a half mile of city, managed to eavesdrop on a private guarded conversation and reported back without even a ripple of trouble. Hah! Remind me to give that girl an almost even share of the treasure!
Tomorrow we attack the Horn. I can feel it my bones. This is the big one! After this, I just know that our wee little band will never be the same.


As Donovan closed the journal, he looked down upon the corpse of the Gnome, “Well, on that last part, I certainly agree with you.”
“We were betrayed by the Seventh!”, Tamsen hissed disapprovingly.
“Of course we were betrayed, my love. That was always going to be the outcome. I knew it the second I showed her the ritual book. She was never going to accept us performing this task.”, Donovan nodded.
“They need to be punished!”, Bebop spoke up, his anger rising.
Donovan raised his hands in a calming gesture, “Of course they are going to be punished. But this needs to be an object lesson for Father. I warned him of this some time ago.”
“What do you want to do?”, Lucius looked curiously at Donovan.
Donovan smirked, “First, we act like nothing has changed here. We continue on as though we never encountered these individuals. Second, you are going to scout them out to see when they are at the Auld Briarhall.”
“And then?”, Kirin smiled expectantly.
“And then, we show them exactly what happens to those who betray the family.”, a cruel smile crossed Donovan’s face, as his next plans began to work themselves out in his mind.

Session 24 Ends.
 

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