Pathfinder 1E Way of the Wicked Playthrough - Updated 2023/03/28


Having been inspired from the tale of one of my friends who has been (at the time of this writing) running a campaign where one of the members of his playgroup committed what most would consider "cartoonishly evil" actions, I told my friend that I would love to get into a campaign to actually show what an "evil" character would behave like. He suggested that we play a module that he had owned for some time called "Way of the Wicked". I told him I would very much enjoy an opportunity to do so, and brought together a few of my friends in order to commence with the process.

Donovan - Half Elf Investigator (Empiricist Archetype)/Occultist
Tamsen - Tiefling Witch (Seducer Archetype)/Evangelist
Bebop - Shifter Alchemist (Beastmorph/Vivisectionist Archetype)
Lucius - Human Summoner
Kirim - Ifrit Anti-Paladin (Dread Vanguard/Tyrant Archetype)

Part 1: Knot of Thorns
Act 1: Prison Break!
Session 1: My Own Worst Enemy

Donovan always considered himself a smart individual. The son of an Elf Wizard and a Human Merchant, he was taught from an early age that knowledge and insight were the ultimate tools of power to wield. At a young age, he found a group of friends that with whom he would attempt to enter into the black market. He knew that there was a risk that the type of business he was planning to engage in carried the potential of drawing the attention of the authorities of Talingarde, but he believed that the risk would ultimately pay off with a long term connection. What he didn't anticipate was how difficult it would be to sway the opinions of the guards of Branderscar once he and his group were arrested.

By the time Donovan arrived at the cells in this prison, the rest of his team had already been present for a couple of days, each of them looking none too pleasant for their time spent. It hurt Donovan the most seeing the abuse that Tamsen had received at the hands of the guards, but there was little he could do to change things at this point. Bebop, quick to jump into action, would continue to provoke the guards to attention, causing the whole group to quickly fall to the beatings that would come for them every time. Donovan had been practicing his escape techniques in anticipation of being arrested, but he had failed to master the skill enough to successfully be able to free his wrists and legs from the cuffs. Donovan realized that even if he did escape, his options were limited. While he originally planned to have two weeks in which to ingratiate himself to the guards and discover a path to establishing some sort of relationship, word came to him that the executioner would be arriving in a scant two days. With such a small window of time to work with, there was no opportunity for Donovan to put all of his desired actions into motion. Worse still, the rest of the team was looking at him with anger and frustration, having felt as though he abandoned them to this situation.
Donovan thought to himself, "If only I had more time..."

Almost like a sign, Sergeant Tomas Blackerly arrived in the prisoner area, along with about a half dozen guards. Donovan sensed that Blackerly was almost certainly a corruptible individual, seeing as he was the most out of shape of all the guards, combined with the glee he took in applying the brand that he put on all the new prisoners that arrived at Branderscar. It didn't bother Donovan that Blackerly liked to administer pain; but he hated knowing the members of his family had suffered due to the miscalculations he had made. Oddly though, Blackerly didn't look like his "usual" obnoxious self. Indeed, some would say that Blackerly seemed very much out of sorts. Blackerly looked at Donovan, and told him that his sister had arrived to say goodbye to him.
Donovan mused to himself as he was led into a different room, "The sister I never had."

The woman was beautiful, to be certain. Platinum hair contrasting against her black dress, and haunting green eyed hidden behind a mysterious veil. She spoke commands to Blackerly, barely hidden in her sentences, and he was all too eager to comply. And behind all of it, she possessed the most wicked and knowing of smiles. Donovan questioned the origin of this woman standing before him. Who was she? What was she? Having mastered many languages growing up, Donovan was all too eager to see if he could discern the truth.
Opening his greeting in Celestial, Donovan spoke to the mysterious woman, "Are you the angel who brings my salvation?"
From there, Donovan immediately pivoted to Abyssal and spoke again, "Or perhaps a demon to tempt me in my final moments?"
Donovan watched her eyes and paid close attention to her understanding and response. Donovan noted that the woman’s eyes didn't seem to show acknowledgement of the second part of his sentence.
"Perhaps that is why I have come", the woman said to Donovan, smiling with self assurance. "My name is Tiadora. A mutual friend of ours is interested in seeing you, but is unwilling to come to this location, so you'll have to escape this place."
The woman paused momentarily to see Donovan's reaction, then continued. "Don't look so dour, just because it's never been done before is no reason you can't be the first."
Donovan countered, "Of course, my team and I can escape from this place. That was always the plan, Lady Tiadora."
Tiadora regarded Donovan with curiosity from his response, pressing forward with her explanation. "Once you escape this place, cross the moors on the outskirt of town. You'll find a house not too far from here with a lantern shining from the second floor."
With that, Tiadora removed the veil covering her face, and pressed it against Donovan's hand. "This should prove useful to you."
Donovan smiled, then queried Tiadora. "How long do we have to complete this test?"
"Three days.", Tiadora replied.
Donovan smirked, his curiosity piqued. "I hope your friend proves to be as interesting as you, Lady Tiadora." With that, Donovan quickly stuffed the veil in his mouth, as Tiadora called out for Blackerly to return.
Tiadora resumed her previous persona in order to present herself as a grieving woman, as she placed subtle suggestions into Blackerly's mind. Donovan was led back to his cell, as Tiadora sent one last message to Donovan, through a telepathic connection.
"Three days.", Tiadora reminded him.

Once Donovan returned to the cell with the other individuals, he momentarily feigned a coughing fit, in order to pass the veil from his mouth into his hand, and then his hands were shackled back up over his head. After the guards finally departed, Donovan addressed his family,
"It would appear that we have acquired a new client.", Donovan began. Looking over at Tamsen, he continued "She's a devil, unless I miss my guess about her."
Lucius chimed up, "And what was she wanting from us?"
"Apparently, her sponsor is wanting to meet with us, I suspect to have us perform a job for him.", Donovan continued. "I also assume that our ability to escape this location within the required time frame and arrive at his manor is the test we are being put to in order to prove our value." Donovan had pulled the veil open between his hands, looking over the images he saw sewn into the veil.
Bebop angrily pulled against the chains, "Is she planning to help us?"
As Donovan continued to study the veil, he distractedly responded, "It would appear that she already has." His eyes began to focus on the images sewn onto the veil, becoming more assured in his previous suspicion of the purpose of the veil.
"Veil of Many Items. Very clever, Tiadora. You're full of surprises, aren't you?" Donovan's fingers worked over the different patches on the veil, until he landed on a patch that caught his eye.
"Perfect.", Donovan mused to himself, as he pushed out a pair of lockpicks from the veil. Once he had the lockpicks, Donovan began working on the shackles binding his wrists. Donovan had only recently began practicing unlocking locks, and never once while actually held in them, so the progress was slow.
Tamsen teased, "What's taking you so long getting out?"
Donovan smirked at Tamsen, then replied, "You know it takes me a while to find the hole, my love. Be patient."
After a few more tries, Donovan was able to free his hands. From there, the process for unlocking his feet was a much quicker process. After he completed his own escape, Donovan gingerly moved over to where Lucius was located, “We’re going to need her aid, as it will take me forever to work through all the locks in this place.”
Lucius nodded, and then Donovan began the work of freeing him. Once complete, Lucius summoned his Eidolon to the cell with them. Donovan smiled at the creature, then handed her the lockpicks and walked away. As Donovan stepped over to the corner of the cell, he focused his attention on the remaining patches that were on the Veil. The bag looking patch intrigued him, so he pulled the patch away. Once separated, he discovered that the bag contained sets of clean clothing.
“Thank the gods.”, Donovan exclaimed as he stripped out of his prison attire and quickly began replacing his worn attire with something that would make it slightly easier to move around in this area.
He handed the remaining clothes to his teammates, instructing them to change as well, which they did. Donovan also was interested in the rope, the gold, and the vial (which turned out to be a potion of Cure Light Wounds). After pulling off additional patches and tossing the contents into the bag, Donovan waited for the Eidolon to complete all of the remaining locks, and finally to open up the cell door.

Lucius continued to direct the actions of his Eidolon through their shared telepathic link. He often found comfort in the familiar voice of her, soothing in its own way. While he could choose to speak with the others at any point, there was a sense of ease that she provided to him that they could not. Donovan was always tied up in his books and studies, and the other two simply appeared to be uninterested in the things going on, unless Donovan had specifically pointed them to a task. But the Eidolon was always there, always ready to listen to him. With relative ease, she began working through all the remaining locks of the other cellmates, and then had moved on to open the cell door. Donovan was continuing to examine the Veil, but Lucius had noticed a sound coming from a nearby cell.
“Donovan, I think there’s someone in here.”, Lucius called out.
Lucius watched as Donovan look up from the veil, then begin to walk out the open cell towards this larger cell that seemed to be even more secure than the one they were in. Donovan walked up to the cell door, recognizing the truth of Lucius' words. He gently tapped on the lock of the aforementioned door, then looked over to the Eidolon and smiled, “If you would, please.”
Lucius telepathically confirmed the instructions Donovan had given to the Eidolon, and she proceeded to unlock this larger cell door. Darkness greeted Lucius’ eyes, as there appeared to be even less light in this cell than they had been privy to in their own.
“Dancing Lights, my love.”, Donovan gestured out towards the dark space that was the cell room, and Tamsen responded by activating a spell, causing four globules of light to pour out into this larger cell, making it much easier for everyone to see what was in there.
And what a creature Lucius saw! The creature easily was much larger than the rest of the group, even Bebop. The creature had also been shackled to the cell, with far larger manacles than normal humanoids would be wearing.
Donovan smiled, and stepped into the room, seemingly unafraid. He switched to a different tongue, and began conversing with the mysterious and powerful creature. The creature spoke back to him, some of it in the language Donovan was using, some of it in Common. Lucius often noted how quickly Donovan would switch languages when he spoke, especially when he seemed distracted. Lucius and the others knew some languages, but Donovan was a true polyglot. Lucius made out one clear word, “GrumbleJack”, which he assumed was the creature’s name. He then watched as Donovan handed the creature the potion that had just been removed from the veil.
“You’re the boss.”, GrumbleJack spoke to Donovan. And just like that, Donovan had brought another individual under his wing.
Lucius was always surprised how easily Donovan was able to influence people, noting that Donovan wasn’t a particularly attractive man. Yet once Donovan was able to start speaking to people, attitudes just had a way of shifting in the direction he wanted them to go.
“Lucius, can we get our new friend unshackled? We have a lot of work ahead of us tonight.”, Donovan queried Lucius, while continuing to examine the Veil that he had been given.
Lucius nodded, and GrumbleJack was soon released to aid the rest of the group. Donovan handed GrumbleJack one of the daggers he had apparently pulled from the Veil. It was laughably small in GrumbleJack’s hands, looking more like an envelope opener than an actual weapon. “Alright everyone,”, Donovan intoned, “it’s time to leave this place. Get ready for a fight.”

At those words, Lucius instructed his Eidolon to pack away the lockpicks for the time being, and to wield the weapon she had been summoned to this place with. At Lucius’ command, the Eidolon took the front position, and waited for the guard to arrive. They did not have to wait long though, as the first guard on patrol walked through the doorway as part of his standard route. The guard, upon initially seeing the escaped prisoners, sounded his alarm. Moments later, Tamsen made a gesture with her hands and said some soothing words, and the guard passed out, asleep. The guard would not be asleep for long though, as the Eidolon immediately took advantage of the guard’s slumbering form, killing him in a single strike of her weapon.
“You know more of them will be here soon.”, Lucius sighed.
With that, the party organized themselves into positions in anticipation of conflict. Three more guards arrived in short order. Of those guards, two were killed almost immediately after opening the door, with the last guard dropping his weapon in panic at Donovan’s words, and being tossed into the cell where GrumbleJack was found.
Donovan hissed, “Stupid jobbers! Why throw away your lives for the promise of a few coins?”
Tamsen smiled at Donovan, “Now, now Donovan. They think they are being brave.”
Tamsen had found herself with easy confidence as of late. Until she met Donovan, her life was one of abuse and shame. But he had changed that for her, given her back her autonomy and freedom. And with it came a sense of power and control, especially over men. Her words could make them betray their employers, abandon their loved ones, and swear to her anything she would ask of them. How easy she found it to draw their attention, to speak the words they so desperately wanted to hear! Even here, she found several guards who almost broke at her promises of fulfilled desires. But, her thoughts never strayed far from Donovan, the one she most cared for in this world. And, since he believed this jail could be used for greater purposes, she would do all in her power to aid him in his efforts to secure it. But now that Donovan had a new task on his mind, she had no reason to show these men any more promises of desire or kindness, especially not the ones who had stolen her familiar and branded her body. They would all suffer now.
“We’ll make them understand they have no choice in this matter”, Tamsen responded, as she touched Donovan's face softly.
For his part, Donovan smiled at her, and kissed her hand.

Once the group had cleared the immediate surroundings, they decided to get a better understanding of where they were in the prison. After moving down the stairs, the group investigated some of the surrounding rooms. While a few more items were to be found, nothing in this area particularly stood out to them, until they came across a large flue which appeared to lead down into a cooking area. Tying knots into the rope for Tamsen to stand upon, Lucius instructed his Eidolon to lower Tamsen down into the lower level to find out what was down there. Tamsen discovered two individuals, apparently kitchen staff, who were surprised and confused at her presence. Tamsen noted that of the two individuals, one was male and one was female. Tamsen grinned wickedly, as she approached the male, her powers already beginning to rise up.
“Easy, my sweet. I’m not going to hurt you”, Tamsen spoke, the words slipping effortlessly from her lips. “You can trust me, you know that, right?”
Magic flared through her, and in a moment, the man had become hers. The man nodded with agreement, in rapt attention to Tamsen’s words. The female kitchen staff member was getting more nervous now, seeing what had happened to her co-worker. Tamsen’s eyes darted to the woman, and a thought crossed her mind. She took the man’s face in her hands, smiling and stroking his cheek.
“You see her over there, don’t you?” Tamsen turned the man’s face towards his co-worker. “You know she’s been secretly desiring you this whole time?”
The man looked over at the woman, a stupor written across his face as he nods clumsily to Tamsen’s words. “You could have her, you know. Right here, right now. I want to watch you be with her, seeing you two together.”
Tamsen pushed the man towards the woman, as his lust took hold of him.
Tamsen reached out to Donovan with her mind, “I’ve distracted the kitchen staff down here. The rest of the group can head down when you are ready.”
As if to confirm her success, a female's voice cried out in the kitchen, “What are you trying to do to me?”
The rest of the team were one by one lowered down the rope into the kitchen, with GrumbleJack simply climbing down on his own ability. After examining the kitchen to see if there were any provisions of interest, Donovan gave instructions to the rest of the team on where to go next. Afterwards, he approached Tamsen, who was sitting on one of the counters, as she watched the two co-workers having sex on one of the food preparation tables.
Donovan looked inquisitively at Tamsen, then spoke. “More of your handiwork, my love?”
“I’m just doing my part to help true love find a way, even in a place like this!”, Tamsen giggled, then kissed Donovan softly on the lips.
Donovan held Tamsen in his embrace momentarily, then made a request of her. “Please make sure no one comes in through that door, so they can’t sneak up on us.”
Tamsen nodded, then went back to watching her show. Tamsen wasn’t fully aware of what was taking place with the family over the next few minutes, but she remembered distinctly hearing Donovan yelling at a group of guards, then the sounds of metal against metal as a fight broke out.
Finally, she heard Donovan's voice chime up again, “So, we’re not killing all of them?”, to which Lucius responded, “I thought you would want to have one left, so you could interrogate him.” Tamsen watched as the co-workers finished with each other, then looked at each other with confused and terrified looks. The two of them look over at Tamsen, who smiled at them both, while putting her finger to her lips, “shushing” them.

Session 1 Ends.
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Part 1: Knot of Thorns
Act 1: Prison Break!
Session 2: Getting a Blackerly Eye

“We’re going to have more company.”, Bebop called out from the hallway where the bodies of guards were scattered about.
Donovan looked around the area near the kitchen, now strewn with the bodies of guards and sighed, “Do we really need to kill every single one of these people? Most of these idiots are barely trained for combat, much less trained to handle us.”
Bebop sneered, “They didn’t seem to have any problem beating us while we were chained up.”
About that time, Tamsen walked out of the kitchen, smiling brightly.
Donovan looked over at her, “If you’re finished with your fun, could you please heal the last guard that’s bleeding out? Apparently, Lucius decided he’s the one we’re going to save.”
Tamsen kissed Donovan on the cheek, then walked over to the injured guard. Most of his right arm had been torn away in combat with Bebop, GrumbleJack, and Lucius’ Eidolon.
She giggled at the guard, “This is going to sting a bit.”
Tamsen bit into her finger, drawing a slight bit of blood. She then pressed her finger against the wounded guard’s shoulder. A sizzling sound occurred as the wound began to close. The guard winced in even more pain, if such was possible to imagine. Bebop roughly helped the man to his feet, as Donovan approached him, smiling.
“Good evening soldier. As you can certainly ascertain by now, my friends and I are attempting to leave the facility this evening. It should be obvious to you that you are in no condition to fight us, and as my friend Lucius has selected you to survive this evening, I would very much like that to be the outcome for you. So, I’m going to ask you a series of questions. If you answer those questions honestly and provide no other resistance to us, I promise to bring no further harm to you, and you will live to see the sunrise. However, be assured that if you lie to me, or attempt to draw your comrades in arms to aid you, I will absolutely have you killed.”, Donovan said to the guard, without any malice or passion, as if he was simply explaining weather patterns.
Bebop snorted at the guard when Donovan invoked the word “killed”.
Donovan continued, “Do you understand what I am saying to you?”
The guard nodded, almost in a panic as he held his hand against the stump that was formerly his right arm.
Donovan smiled wide, “Excellent. Then let’s start with something simple: what is your name?”
And with that, Donovan began interrogating the guard, discovering information about the nearby rooms, the location of Blackerly, and the passwords used to move unmolested through the guard stations. Upon learning about the nearby presence of the Armory, Donovan flashed a quick glance over to Lucius, who nodded and took his Eidolon over to investigate further.

Bebop watched intently as Donovan interrogated the guard further. Bebop’s relationship with Donovan was always an interesting one. Donovan had literally pulled Bebop off the streets and took him to Donovan’s family estate to work as “muscle” and “clerk” for the shops that Donovan’s father owned. Yet, Bebop was rarely required to actually be “muscle”, due in no small part to the way Donovan would defuse situations with his words. Bebop was deceptively intelligent, which he used to his advantage when people assumed that his strength meant he lacked intellect. But, even with that, Bebop saw that Donovan was able to see into situations that others would miss. Of course, Bebop didn’t care about all of Donovan’s planning and scheming, as it simply meant more free time between him and Tamsen. Ever since their first encounter, Tamsen had found in Bebop a kindred spirit, and had often shown him her skill with physical pleasures. As a creature who some would call ugly, having the attention of such a beautiful woman was quite a boon to Bebop. But, to have Tamsen, Bebop would have to accept Donovan, so he did as such.
“See Connor, you’re doing so very well. I’m very proud of you.”, Donovan spoke to the guard, with an absolute sense of accomplishment in having stripped out all the information the guard could possess.

“Donovan, come check this out.”, Lucius called out.
The Eidolon had accessed the Armory, and there was quite a bit to discover. The group grabbed the guard named Connor, and walked over to the door where the Armory was located. Beyond a wide variety of weapons and outfits, they also found a fair amount of unused lantern oil, that could easily be employed to create a fire in an opportune location. Best of all, a collection of the brands that had been used to mark the party when they first arrived were located here.
“Excellent work!”, Donovan smiled at the Eidolon.
Bebop was very excited about the potential of the fire spreading chemicals. “We can burn the warden out of his tower!”, he said excitedly.
“Perhaps.”, Donovan tapped his lips in thought. “Let’s see what else is here to discover in these rooms.”
With that, the party grabbed some items they found interesting from the Armory, and proceeded to Blackerly’s office. Following some skillful lock undoing by the Eidolon, the group entered what was easily one of the largest rooms they had encountered in the whole of the prison.
“Of course you needed all this space for yourself, Blackerly. Meanwhile your men sleep within inches of each other.”, Donovan sighed, utterly nonplussed at the whole event.
“Trash the room, please.”, Donovan instructed the group, while he circled over a large desk, and the Sergeant’s logs, which rested on top.
Bebop especially enjoyed this part, an opportunity to let himself be aggressive and true to his animal nature. It wasn’t long before Bebop discovered a large chest like object near the floor. Picking it up, Bebop could feel the weight of it. He set it down on the desk next to Donovan, beaming with pride at his discovery. Donovan looked up at Bebop and nodded as if impressed, then made the all too familiar gesture to Lucius’ Eidolon. The Eidolon began working on this lock. Incredibly, she found herself stopped by the sheer complexity of it.
“Take your time, good lady.”, Donovan said to the Eidolon, mostly distracted in the information he was reading. “I haven’t finished going through this yet.”
Rosters, hiring forms, shift changes, accounting updates. All of the information led Donovan to one simple and obvious truth: Blackerly had been defrauding the prison system to line his own pockets. It was a very clever system, given the limited funds he had to work with. But in the end, Blackerly wouldn’t consider accounting to be the best part of his work; yet researching money was second nature to the son of a wealthy merchant.
Donovan pressed his finger against the page of the ledger, and laughed, “I told you my love, he is dirty! I knew someone in this prison was corrupt, there was no way a system this size couldn’t have a corrupt person in it.”
Donovan smiled at Tamsen, and Tamsen walked over to the desk to look at what Donovan was pointing at. Unsurprisingly, Donovan was pointing at a long row of numbers. Tamsen never had much interest in accounting or bookkeeping; but she knew that it made Donovan happy to hunt down secrets in books, so she merely smiled and scratched the back of Donovan’s head, “You were right, love!”
Finally, the Eidolon was able to access the chest, showing the extent of Blackerly’s efforts. There was easily over thirteen hundred gold in the chest, which excited Bebop to no end; but seemed less interesting to Donovan. Donovan drew the other knife taken from the veil across a specific set of pages from Blackerly’s ledger, then folded those pages up and held it in his hand.
“Damn, if only this client hadn’t come calling so soon. Think what we could have done with a few more days of being able to work the staff over instead of kill them!”, Donovan seemed disappointed at that statement.
For all his cleverness, he had failed to account for a time change at the prison, reducing his weeks of stay to mere days. Now, all of this research was effectively nullified, as Branderscar would be seeing a massive staff and policy change, following the discovery of all the bodies that the team had strewn through the prison.

Bebop was already annoyed at having to wait so long for Donovan to read through the material, so he pressed on to the next door, finding it locked as well. Bebop began pushing and pulling the door, as if he would tear it off its hinges. Lucius, seeing this, also moved into the hallway where Bebop was, and had his Eidolon open the lock barring access to the room. Compared to the chest, the door was a far simpler task. As the door swung open, Bebop found what appeared to be Blackerly’s bedroom. Without hesitation, Bebop anticipated what Donovan was going to ask the group to do, and began trashing this room as he had the previous one. Moments such as these, moments where he could revel in chaos and destruction, were brief opportunities that brought him happiness.
Donovan waved the folded papers at Tamsen, “Now that we have this, and his profits, I believe that we are ready to take our meeting with the Sergeant.”
Tamsen cooed, “Ooh, can we burn his balls off?”
“Now, now, my love”, Donovan retorted playfully, “We need him alive. I have plans for him.”
Donovan’s hands slid around Tamsen’s waist, as she pouted. “Boo, I wanted him to suffer like he made us suffer.”
“Oh, Tamsen, he will most certainly suffer tonight.”, Donovan said in a reassuring voice.

With that, Donovan stood up, making his way towards Blackerly’s bedroom. The team had gathered several baubles and trophies from this room. Bebop was smiling about the sudden influx of alcohol, but Donovan remained uninterested.
“If we’re done here, we should talk about how we’re going to get over to the poker game that Blackerly is currently holding.”
Bebop chimed up, an almost childlike grin crossing his face, “I have a plan.”
Donovan stared at Bebop for a while, listening to the details of his plan. Finally, he responded with a look of near exasperation, “Bebop, this is, without a doubt, one of the worst plans we have ever discussed.” Bebop continued to nod excitedly, and Donovan realized that this was important for Bebop to feel as though he was contributing.
Sighing, Donovan resigned himself to the outcome. “Ok, let’s go back to the Armory and get some guard uniforms.”

A short while later, Bebop, Donovan, and Lucius with his Eidolon were all wearing guard uniforms. GrumbleJack had manacles placed around his wrists in an unlocked position, and Tamsen was still adorned in the civilian attire she had originally gained from the veil. The group began walking over, with the intention of appearing to perform a “prisoner transfer” of GrumbleJack. As explained by Bebop, this would allow them to get closer to Blackerly, in order to surprise the guards inside the main tower. The group opened up the main doors leading into the guard tower. It was not lost on them the number of arrow slits that were located on the walls of this room.
The guards called down, “Who goes there?”
Donovan replied to the call with the password that he had extracted from Connor, stalling for time.
The guards, now clearly seeing the visage of GrumbleJack, responded in an obviously concerned tone, “What is that thing doing out of its cage?”
Donovan, still not making direct eye contact with any of the guards watching through the arrow slits, responded in what he hoped would appear as a disinterested tone, “Prisoner transfer.”
The guards called out to the Sergeant in confused, terrified voices. “Sergeant! The monster is up here!”
Blackerly, sounding incredulous, was dismissive to the guards at first; but when they invoked the word “monster”, his attention was focused in the moment.
“What the naughty word are you talking about?”, Blackerly roared.
Looking down from the upper area where he and the others were playing their poker game, Blackerly’s eyes grew wide. “Holy gods! What the fück is going on? Who the fück let that thing out? Connor, is that you, you incompetent buffoon?!”
“Yes sir”, Donovan replied, “I’ll take him back right now, sir!”
Blackerly began to scream even louder, “You don’t fücking move, you idiot! I’m going to come down there right now, and we’re going to get this sorted out! Gods damn it all!”
Donovan looked to the ground, his face barely able to hold back the sheer joy at watching Blackerly give up every advantage without a second thought. With that, Donovan decided to agitate the Sergeant even further, “You heard the Sergeant, we need to get this big guy back to his cell. Can’t believe the prisoner transfer was so screwed up.”
Donovan reached out to Tamsen through her telepathic ability, asking her to tell Bebop and Lucius’ Eidolon to move up closer to the guards that were now beginning to mill about near GrumbleJack.
Blackerly began screaming so loud, it sounded as though he would have a heart attack shortly, “I said don’t move you fücking idiots! Fücking stay right there, gods damnit!” Blackerly finally arrived at the bottom of the guard tower, nearly panting from all the screaming and shouting he had done on his way to the team. Accompanying him were four other guards, the majority of all the guards left in the complex by Donovan’s count.
Once Blackerly arrived and had a chance to get his bearings, he noticed the Tiefling. “And what in the nine hells is she doing here?!” Donovan continued to press into Blackerly by saying things that would frustrate him even more, “Entertainment, sir?”
Tamsen giggled and blew a kiss at Blackerly.

Then Donovan looked into Blackerly’s face and saw the one thing he wasn’t hoping to find: recognition. Blackerly was beginning to recognize the faces, the individuals who he had visited in their cells only a few hours prior.
Sensing there was no time to lose, Donovan seized on the window of opportunity, “Attack!”
In a moment, Tamsen applied her Slumber Hex ability to one of the guards, who began passing out just in time to be fully gored by Bebop. The guard next to that unfortunate victim was unable to do much of anything before Lucius’ Eidolon severed his head from his shoulders. GrumbleJack viciously attacked Blackerly, who was only able to withstand the assault because of his years of training.
Donovan cried out, “Lucius, Grease up that ladder, they are not getting away from us now!”
Lucius applied the spell to the narrow ladder that led up to the second floor of the Guard House. With this escape route gone, the two guards arriving right after Blackerly were effectively trapped in the adjoining Guard Room. Tamsen then applied her Slumber power to the Sergeant, and he passed out forward onto the ground. The other guards, seeing their leader pass out next to these vicious combatants, grabbed him and began dragging him into the Guard Tower, further trapping themselves. One of the guards attempted to push the door to this tower closed, but GrumbleJack effortlessly held the door open. Attacks continued to come in against the guards from the team, as Donovan flailed on his armor to get his helmet off.
Donovan drew his blade, pointing it at Blackerly and his guards, and shouted in a forceful tone, “Drop your weapons and I will call back my monsters. Otherwise, you die tonight!”
The guard closest to the door shouted back with resolve to Donovan, “The servants of Mitra will never yield to fiends such as you!”
The guard then looked back on Blackerly and the other guard, who have already thrown down their weapons and raised their hands above their heads.
The guard managed to stumble out, “What the…” before the Eidolon bisected his skull where he stood.

Bebop walked into the Guard Tower where the fearful men were standing, shaking in anticipation of what would happen next. He gathered their weapons, then moved slightly back.
“The brand, Bebop.” Bebop heard Donovan’s voice call out, and knew what he was asking for. He took the brand that had been recovered from the Armory, and moved to a fire source to begin heating it up.
“Lucius, have your Eidolon accompany Tamsen around the patrol area of the wall, and restrain all the remaining guards.”, Donovan requested of Lucian.
Lucius responded, “I’ll have her toss them off the wall.”
Donovan smiled and nodded at Lucius, “Very clever!”
Tamsen and Lucius Eidolon began working their way around the wall patrol area, taking advantage of their superior vision in the dark to get the drop on the few still standing guards. Donovan then approached the guard standing next to Blackerly. The guard was clearly panicked, as Bebop continued to snort and growl as he looked in the direction of the two individuals.
Donovan spoke directly to the guard. “Alright jobber, where are you going after you leave this area?”
The guard, confused and afraid of punishment, stuttered to get out an answer, “I… I don’t… where should…”
Donovan cut him off, “You’re going to walk across this yard over to that building.” Donovan pointed to the area where they had discovered the Armory. “Once inside, you are going to go into the dining area, and be seated. You will not leave that area until help arrives. If I find you outside the dining area, I will have Bebop kill you.”
Bebop smiled with anticipation to drive home the point, then Donovan continued. “Do we understand each other?” The guard nodded, seeing that his “safe place” was a short distance away. “Now, leave behind your keys, and go.” Donovan dismissed the guard with his hand. The guard, unwilling to take any chances, removed the belt that his keys were attached to, and let it drop to the ground. The guard then ran over to the building containing the dining area, his hands raised in the air the whole time.
Lucius approached Donovan, “I think I have a plan for dealing with the Warden. I’ll need to take GrumbleJack with me to move some of these bodies.”
Donovan nodded at Lucius, “Sounds interesting, I’m looking forward to seeing what you have planned.” With that underway, Donovan focused his attention on Blackerly. A malevolent smile crossed Donovan’s face.
Blackerly began to protest, “You said you would let me live.”
Donovan attempted to reassure him, “I have no intention of killing you Blackerly. On the contrary, I like you. You’re like me: corrupt. You robbed the prison system, replacing better paying jobs with worse paying ones, and pocketing the difference. You get your guards drunk so you can steal the remainder of the coin from your poorly trained force.”
Blackerly was about to say something, but Donovan immediately cut him off, “Save your lies and excuses, Blackerly, as I’m not interested in hearing them. I already have the pages from your journal that show all of your corrupt ways at this prison. And you know what? I don’t care! I think what you are doing here is great; and I hope that, assuming you somehow survive the investigation that is most assuredly coming to this prison, you and I can work together in the future.”
Donovan sighed, then looked toward Blackerly with an angry gleam in his eye. “However, you hurt my family, and that’s something I can’t simply abide. So now, we have to set things even."
Donovan paused to let the realization of his words set in, then shouted, "Bebop!” With that, Bebop took the “F” brand that was used by Blackerly on all the members of the family, and drove it forcefully into Blackerly’s cheek, directly below his right eye. Blackerly howled out in pain, shrieking and flailing about after the brand was removed from his face. For some time after, Blackerly laid on the floor of the guard tower, blubbering and crying.
“Alright Blackerly, it’s time to talk about the Warden.”, Donovan attempted to question the Sergeant.
Blackerly cried out an answer, “I don’t know anything. You burned my face!”
Donovan, looking annoyed at Blackerly, responded flatly, “I’ve been on play dates with Tamsen that involved more pain than what you just went through, Sergeant. Toughen up. Tell me about the Warden.”

At Lucius' instructions, GrumbleJack continued to carry the corpses of the former guards of Branderscar up the stairs to the living area of the Warden. GrumbleJack thought such things were odd; but this group of people had, up to this point, had amazing success with overcoming the challenges presented to them. Even with the members of the team spread out across the prison, it was apparent that they were in complete control of the compound. GrumbleJack was pleased that the fates had brought him in contact with a group who could make such quick and efficient progress. Once a sufficient pile of corpses had been brought to this place, Lucius thanked GrumbleJack for his help, and told him to wait until the rest of the team returned.
Donovan beheld the scope of what Lucius had put together. “You weren’t kidding about making a scene, I see.”
"Fitting that the guards will be the ones to kill the Warden, don’t you think?”, Lucius smirked.
Soon after, Tamsen and the Eidolon returned. As Tamsen walked up the stairs, her pace quickened. “I feel him, Donovan! Pooky is close now! He’s up there!” Tamsen pointed to the floor just past the circular staircase on the top floor of the tower.
Donovan nodded, then pulled the veil out of the sack he had been keeping it in. He placed the veil in Tamsen’s hand, guiding her fingers to a specific patch.
“Take this patch off, and set it against the floor beneath where you feel him. This will place a window that you can crawl into to get to Pooky.” Donovan then looked over at GrumbleJack. “GrumbleJack, please push Tamsen up to that ceiling, so she can crawl in.”
With that in place, Donovan instructed Lucius to begin, “Lucius, execute your plan, please. Time to take back what belongs to us.”
Lucius shared a moment in thought with his Eidolon, then returned her from whence she came. Once complete, Lucius made gestures at the pile of bodies on the floor. The first skeleton, peeled itself out of the damaged flesh husk that was holding it, then grabbed the blade the guard owned before moving into the Warden’s bedroom. At the same time, Bebop began bounding up the stairs, slamming himself into the Warden’s bedroom door. Before the Wizard could even fully prepare himself, Bebop rushed up to him in his bed and gored him through the stomach. Even as the first skeleton began attacking the Warden, Lucius was already raising the second one. Screaming and yelling came from the confused Warden, an old man poorly prepared to suddenly be attacked in such a vicious manner. Tamsen, having heard the commotion in the next area, pulled away the patch and placed it against the ceiling above her. A window appeared, which she opened before having GrumbleJack push her further up to look around the office. Sitting on the desk inside the office was a wire mesh cage, where her Pooky was waiting for her excitedly. Tamsen squealed, overjoyed at seeing her pet and familiar again. Looking around the room, Tamsen discovered to her horror that an owl was also present in the room, most likely the Warden’s retainer. Tamsen considered taking Pooky in the cage and fleeing back through the window, but she saw assorted arcane objects that drew her attention.
“Donovan would like these.”, Tamsen thought to herself.
Back in the Warden's bedroom, the sounds of growling and screaming continued, as the Warden's form was flung about the room from the force of attacks applied to him. Meanwhile, Donovan was captivated by the discovery of a nearby library of books, his mind completely drawn to them, ignoring the battle altogether. A few tomes caught his eye, which he scurried away into his hands, leaving the rest behind. The screaming and pleading of the Warden ended soon enough. Between the ruthlessness of Bebop and the nonstop assault of the undead skeletons, there was little he would have been able to do to prevent his demise. Before the life of the Warden had fully drained away, Bebop was already tearing through the rooms, looking for trinkets and baubles that caught his eye or that he thought Donovan would approve of. Impressively, he came across a portable Alchemist Lab, which he rightfully assumed Donovan would be thankful to see. For her part, Tamsen found the spell book of the Mage, as well as some other magic trinkets the individual owned. These things would indeed have value. Bebop even found a ring with a gaudy gem in its center. Donovan could tell with a glance that it had little arcane or magic value, but it made Bebop feel that much more removed from the days he grew up on the streets.

After dispatching the last two guards at the gatehouse in front of Branderscar, Donovan stopped to have a conversation with GrumbleJack.
“Well, here we are sir, as good as my word. I have delivered you outside of the prison that would be your tomb, in no small part due to your efforts. So, do you wish to part ways here, or would you like to keep traveling with me and my family?”
GrumbleJack thought on the half-elf’s words. Here was a man who seemed to be always on top of his environment. GrumbleJack could be free of this man, but he would never be superior to him.
“There is no place I can safely go, where they won’t eventually catch up with me. I will continue to work with you.”, GrumbleJack responded.
Donovan smiled, “That’s fine with me, I always appreciate finding new talent.”

Donovan pointed out in a direction overlooking a large moor, "Time to meet our benefactor."

Session 2 Ends
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Part 1: Knot of Thorns
Act 2: Into the Knot!
Session 3: Miles to go Before we Sleep

“I’m tired, Donovan.”, Tamsen called out to Donovan.
Donovan looked over the team, and saw the state of all of them. Of course they were tired. Beaten, underfed, forced to run around and fight for hours on end, how could he have expected any different?
“Maybe we should sleep somewhere in the prison for a bit?”, Lucius queried.
Donovan tossed the Portable Alchemist Lab onto the ground, and responded “We can’t do that, Lucius. We don’t know when the next shift will begin to arrive, and all the hells will break when they see what we have done.”
Snatching ingredients that he found throughout the escape from Branderscar, he began to craft together a grayish paste. “Come here, my love.” Donovan applied the first dose to a brush, and watched Tamsen approach.
She looked at him quizzically, before he spoke again. “Open your mouth and stick out your tongue.”
Tamsen complied, albeit hesitantly. Quickly, Donovan painted the paste onto Tamsen’s tongue. She retracted her tongue, then made a displeased face, “So bitter! What is this?”
Preparing the next dose, Donovan replied, “This should provide us with a few more hours. Enough time to get to the client, and then we can ask about rooms or a nearby inn.”
Donovan repeated this process with all of them, even GrumbleJack, who Donovan assumed would need additional doses due to his larger size. Donovan didn’t say it to the rest of them, but he knew that when this wore off, the group would be even more exhausted then they were before, so now it was even more crucial that they reached the client soon.

The last of the road ended, leaving only the less traveled moors to continue upon. The brackish water began to sink into their feet, as the local insects began to bite and feast on them. Surprisingly, the mood was unusually high, as the effects of the compound Donovan had given the group had caused them to become very perky and alert. Laughter was heard throughout the team, even as the annoyance of the marshes would continue to press upon them. The din of the insects chirping in the background had become a familiar sound now, a constant drone in the night. So, when several members of the party noticed the sudden absence of that sound, the change wasn’t lost on them.
“Shh!”, Donovan called out it in a curt whisper.
Total silence fell upon the group, as they began to look for the disturbance that had caused all the insects to flee or be still. The tension was rising in this moment, and it was unclear if it was this tension, or perhaps a reaction to the compound that Donovan had given Bebop a few hours prior that suddenly caused Bebop to have a case of flatulence.
Donovan glared at Bebop, when Tamsen meekly spoke up, “Guys, I think there’s something….”
Without a chance to even finish her sentence, a huge tongue lashed out from the water, grabbing Tamsen whole, and pulling her under the surface. A moment later, a huge frog like creature rose from the water, parts of Tamsen’s form still showing from its mouth. The team rushed in to attack without hesitation. GrumbleJack and Lucius’ Eidolon Lucinda were quick to wield weapons for attack. Bebop lined himself up to attack, then quaffed a substance from a glass vial. His form changed as strength came to him. Lucius came up to where Tamsen’s legs still emerged from the frog. While he lacked the strength to free Tamsen, he was able to apply a healing spell to her form. For Donovan’s part, his actions were little more than blind panic.
“No!”, Donovan screamed out, dropping the items he was holding and going for a longbow.
The massive frog like creature swung its tail about, attempting to knock away GrumbleJack, then attempting to hop away. The team continued to attack the creature, even as it attempted to flee. Before it was able to flee, the giant creature was slain, spitting out Tamsen in the process. She looked up, covered in the saliva from being in the creature’s mouth. Donovan rushed over to her, falling to his knees where she was laying.
“Are you ok?”, Donovan asked, clearly concerned.
“Ew, this wasn’t the goo I wanted to be covered in.”, was Tamsen’s response.
Bebop, hearing the comment from Tamsen, began laughing. Whether from a release of stress or the compound they were still under, all of them starting laughing after that.

Donovan asked Lucius and Lucinda if they could track the beast back to its lair. “We’re not leaving any possible children behind that could plague us when next we pass this area.”
Lucius, having become quite skilled at tracking animals for his ingredient collection, set to work on discovering the path in which it moved. Within about an hour, they were at the lair of the frog monster. It was an undergrown area, where the group needed to duck down even further into the murky water in order to fully access the location, but they had found it. Lucinda entered first, and notified Lucius that there were no other threats present within. The group proceeded inward, taking stock of what remained in this place. The first thing they noticed upon entering here was the remains of a nobleman who had apparently crossed paths with the creature a few weeks prior.
Donovan recognized the medallion as a member of a minor House within the city. “I guess I should return this to them, so they at least know their son has passed. In the meantime…”, Donovan handed the medallion over to Bebop, who took the trinket with excitement.
Tamsen hissed at Bebop, “I hope that medallion brings you comfort in bed tonight, for I surely won’t be.”
Her angry eyes made it clear that she was still unhappy about the previous encounter, and his actions that led to it. Collecting a few coins strewn about the mud, and finding no other creatures in this place, the team set back off for the manor. Time continued to pass, and the initial giddiness that Donovan’s compound had brought to the group had now worn off. It was merely willpower alone that continued to carry them all forward, as the dirt and grime covered every inch of their bodies. The insects had of course returned, and were now feasting on these easy targets. As a cold mist began to pour down on them, they saw the manor. It was a large place to be sure, aged from the years and limited maintenance, but Donovan knew the accoutrements of wealth when he saw it. At this point it could have been a shack and he would have taken some comfort; but seeing this at least meant that they could very well have spare rooms, some place where he could make sure his team was well rested. He felt that his mind was starting to fail him, unable to plot and plan out how he would negotiate with his would-be clients.

As the team walked up the stairs to the front door, the door itself opened before they even knocked. The person answering the door was Tiadora, wearing a white dress, almost see through in its appearance. Her hair had also changed to a platinum blonde.
Looking at Donovan, she smiled vindictively, “Dearest, you took long enough! We were beginning to wonder if you’d ever make it.” Looking over at GrumbleJack, her expression became dourer, “And you brought a pet.”
On any other day, Donovan would have a thousand responses. Now, he questioned how long he had spent walking that evening. Had it been days? Had he missed the expected timeline? As Donovan questioned his actions, Tiadora continued to speak, berating him in a passive aggressive manner. Servants appeared, and were tasked to take the team into respective bedrooms for them to be cleaned and changed.
GrumbleJack also made his displeasure known to Donovan, “GrumbleJack no like this woman. One day, GrumbleJack eat her.”
Donovan replied, “You eat people?”, to which GrumbleJack nodded.
“Good to know.”, Donovan responded, “For now though, let’s get cleaned up. We have a lot to learn about our host.”
Donovan was taken to a room with a bath. The water steamed, as it was clearly warm, and pails of cool water sat beside it to adjust the temperature. After arriving, the servant spoke in an almost monotone voice about how he was here to help clean Donovan and assist him in getting changed. The servant stretched out his arms towards the bed, where a clean pile of clothes were laying.
Donovan was completely disinterested in what the servant was saying, interrupting the servant in the middle of their speech, “Do you know where the woman is staying?”
The servant responded, somewhat confused, “Lady Tiadora is with the manor, staying in…”
“No!”, Donovan snapped, “The woman who came in with me!” The servant nods, pointing down the hallway.
“Take me there, now.”, Donovan barked out to the servant.
The servant nervously grabbed Donovan’s clothes, then led Donovan to Tamsen’s room. Tamsen was already in the bath, rinsing off the grime from the day’s efforts.
“Hey there!”, Tamsen cheerfully greeted Donovan, as she saw him enter, “Care to join me?”
Donovan kneeled down next to the tub that Tamsen was bathing in. “I’m just glad you are ok.”
Donovan smiled weakly, then set his head down against the tub that Tamsen was sitting in. Tamsen reached out her hand and touched the back of Donovan’s head. She could tell that he was frustrated with himself and the situation.
“It’s ok, love. I know you’ll take care of everything.”, Tamsen reassured Donovan.
Donovan didn’t say anything, and she just let him sit quietly beside her as she finished cleaning herself off. Once finished, she coaxed Donovan out of his clothes and into the tub, then helped him clean the grime from his form. As he sat almost listless in the tub, she whispered encouraging words to him, while kissing him softly from time to time. As time passed, Donovan’s will began to rebuild, as he felt his awareness return to him. The smile drew back to his face, and he looked around Tamsen’s room.
Donovan finally spoke up, “This is the hard sell, my love. They wouldn’t go to this much trouble if they were going to make us a good offer.”
Tamsen nods at him and thought to herself, “There he is.”
She finished helping him get cleaned up and dressed, then momentarily considered offering even more of herself to Donovan in order to renew his confidence, before being interrupted by a servant walking in to collect them. “Lady Tiadora will see you now.”

Once they were all brought back together with the notable exception of GrumbleJack, Tiadora led them all into an office. Inside the office was a bald, handsome man with piercing eyes sitting in a leather chair and smoking a wooden pipe. Behind him, a fireplace was lit, showing off his expansive collection of books along the wall. Upon entering the room, Donovan smiled and handed offered the fine bottle of alcohol that the team had acquired from Branderscar to Tiadora, “Lady Tiadora, I wanted to take a moment to thank you and your employer for your aid in our recent departure from Branderscar, and your invitation to this wonderful home. I was always taught one should bring a gift when you are guest in someone’s home, so I hope you will accept this with my compliments.” Tiadora took the alcohol from Donovan, and set it on the desk in front of the man. The man sitting behind the desk leaned forward and smiled towards Donovan with a wicked smile.
The man began, “I believe you to be the first to ever escape from Branderscar prison. Well done! Of course, you had outside help, and still managed to muddle the whole thing up.” Donovan was taken aback by the last part of that sentence but held his tongue and let the man continue unimpeded.
“But enough with the pleasantries. You must be curious why I helped you. Rest assured, this is no random act of altruism. I have brought you here for a reason. My name is Cardinal Adrastus Thorn.”
Donovan began searching his memories to remember an individual with that name. Nothing occurred to him, yet he felt as though he should know this person. His eyes drifted around the room and caught Tiadora’s eyes. Her gaze had changed. She took on a predatory stance towards Donovan’s team. A dark realization came over Donovan, as it occurred to him that this wasn’t a sales pitch, he was listening to a cult leader with a conversion speech. Thorn went on about how he was the High Priest of Asmodeus, and how Asmodeus was once worshipped in Talingarde. It was clear that Thorn wanted revenge on Talingarde, but Donovan was trying to make sense of why Thorn was so passionate for revenge. Then the other shoe dropped. Thorn rolled up a sleeve, showing that he also had the brand of the Forsaken on his arm. Donovan was lost in thought for the rest of the conversation, but he was sure something was said about power and vengeance and war. But Donovan explicitly heard the last sentence with perfect clarity, and knew exactly what Thorn was saying under his words. “Will you swear your allegiance, or will you burn with the rest of the blind fools?” Donovan’s worst fears had come manifest as he recognized he was dealing with a lunatic that was probably capable of killing him and his team with very little effort. But Donovan was still a negotiator, and perhaps he could talk his way out of this situation. His eyes snapped over to Tiadora, still looking at them with a hungry gaze.
He smiled at her and quipped, “Your friend’s not given to foreplay I see.” Donovan chuckled slightly as Tiadora’s eyes narrowed, then he continued.
“So, Cardinal Thorn, what a delight to finally meet you! And I see you have yet another test for me to start with. Alright, I’ll play along. Do you mind if I stand, it helps me think?” Donovan stood up, trying to find the answer that had been chewing at his mind for the last few minutes. “I was trying to make sense of why you would want to destroy Talingarde. Destruction is such an inefficient means of gaining control of the city. Don't get me wrong, the black market thrives when governments are weakened. Of course, I could be misreading this whole situation if…”
Donovan’s head snapped back to Tiadora, as he whipped out his next question. “Lady Tiadora, what were your thoughts about the plan that was used to rescue me from Branderscar?”
Tiadora’s eyes looked over quickly at Thorn, then came back to focus on Donovan, “I think you need to be listening to the Cardinal…”
Donovan interrupted her immediately, “I understand. You have no real authority here, meaning that you too are under contract with Thorn. Since you’re powerful…”, Donovan looks back at Thorn, “… that means you are by extension powerful.”
Donovan put his finger to his mouth. “But you have the brand on your arm, and no one has ever escaped from the prison. You would want me to know if you had escaped, so you didn’t. That means…”, Donovan catches himself in a different answer, as Thorn watches him with something between curiosity and annoyance, “… no, heresy is punishable by death. Which means… which means you died! Yes, you died and were brought back to life. By your acolytes? By your compatriots? By a patron?” Donovan stared into Thorn’s eyes, attempting to see what the truth of his probing would reveal. Thorn was incredibly stoic, beyond Donovan’s ability to extract information through just his speaking. Donovan would not be deterred, however.
He continued to press in, “But that’s not enough, of course. Not enough for you to want to take down a whole city. So, something else. Something that was taken from you. Something that was…”, Donovan snapped his fingers and pointed at Thorn, “You had power! Real power in the city! You were someone high up in Talingarde, with true power and influence. And then you were betrayed by someone, one of the big three obviously. And that’s what got you to this place!”
Donovan looked over at the rest of his team, “Family, Lover, Co-Worker. Always the big three for betrayal.”
Donovan looked back at Thorn and smiled, despite the fact that Thorn was clearly annoyed now. Donovan knew he had poked and prodded hard on Thorn, hoping that Thorn would rather be rid of the lot of them then continue on with someone such as a merchant's son. Donovan’s hopes were stifled when Thorn replied, “We’re not here to talk about me, we’re here to come to an arrangement.”
Donovan pivoted, attempting to play a different card. “Well certainly Cardinal Thorn, I recognize that I am indebted to you; and as such, am happy to come to whatever agreement you would like to make. But, I see no need for my employees to enter into this arrangement.” Cardinal Thorn countered, “We rescued your team as well.”
Donovan moved his frame closer, smiling broadly, “With respect, sir, I’m the one who actually rescued my team. As such, I’m the only one who should be obligated to this arrangement between the two of us.”
Once more, Cardinal Thorn would broach no argument, “We invested considerable resources in the acquisition of your team, Donovan. Were we simply interested in you, we would have invested different resources in order to recover only you.”
The threat from Tiadora was palpable now, Donovan had played almost his entire hand and had not moved the negotiations an inch. Donovan sighed internally, “May I see the contract please, Cardinal Thorn?” Thorn smiled, then handed a copy of the contract to Donovan. Donovan’s eyes quickly scanned and absorbed the information in the contract.
Donovan, perhaps from the fatigue of the day or the stress of the negotiation, laughed out loud after reading the text of the contract. “Who wrote this contract, Cardinal Thorn?”, Donovan asked.
Thorn glared at Donovan, clearly displeased with the nature of the question.
“Ah, I see, sir.”, Donovan responded.
Tamsen spoke to Donovan inside his mind, “How are you going to sign a contract when you already have a contract with me?”
Donovan responded, “Not the same type of contract, my love. This is a contract for service.”
Bebop spoke out loud, “How long is this contract for?”
“Perpetual.”, Donovan replied flatly, “Exactly as stated in the first sentence of the contract.”
Donovan then addressed Cardinal Thorn again, “As you know, I will continue to acquire staff to assist me in my efforts. How exactly will the contract work with regards to my new hires?”
Thorn responded, “If you are referring to your large friend, rest assured those similar arrangements have been made with regards to him.”
Donovan pressed, “Wonderful, but I’m referring to employees that I encounter in my travels.”
Thorn was surprisingly dismissive, “If you find someone in your travels whose goals align with your own, you do not need to bring them back here in order to have them work for you.”
Donovan smiled, and thought to himself, “Idiot. Yet another hole in your so-called contract.”
Lucius spoke up to Donovan, “I’m with you, of course. But, don’t you think you need to speak with them on the terms of this contract?” Donovan replied tersely, “I have a plan.”
Finally, Bebop spoke up again, “This is a bad contract.”
Donovan, using Tamsen as a relay to communicate to Bebop’s mind, responded to Bebop. “Yes, Bebop, welcome to thirty seconds ago. Of course it’s a bad contract. You’re just going to have to have faith in me that I’ll take care of things. This contract has holes that I can exploit, but there’s nothing I can do about the way it’s written at the moment.”
Bebop nodded, then looked over at Thorn, “Ok, I’ll sign it.”
Thorn immediately noticed the change of demeanor of Bebop, and spoke to Donovan, “That’s a surprising change of attitude for a few moments of silence.”
“That’s a very astute point you make, Cardinal Thorn.”, Donovan replied coyly.
After all of the members had signed the contract, Tiadora spoke up, “They all signed? Such a pity. They looked so delicious, too.”
Donovan thought to the entire group, “Oh yeah, we’re killing that bitch when the needful opportunity presents itself.”
Cardinal Thorn said his final pleasantries, and encouraged the team to rest and recover.
As the group began to leave his office, Donovan chimed up, “Thank you again for the opportunity to meet with you tonight, sir. It was quite… illuminating.”
Thorn’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Donovan, “I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”
Donovan stared back at Thorn defiantly, “You can train a dog with a muzzle or a leash, but you’ll get different results.”
With that, Donovan left Thorn’s office. Exhaustion was setting in for all of them now, and the group felt the wear of the past twenty four hours pressing down against them.
Donovan grabbed Tamsen’s hand, “Stay with me tonight, please.” Tamsen nodded, and they retreated to their bedroom, where sleep would soon find them.

When Lucius opened his eyes, almost a full day had passed since he had closed them, “Damn Donovan and his compounds!”
Lucius began to take stock of his bearings. The accommodations were nice enough. The entire manor felt as though it was once something far more interesting and vibrant, before the current residents had turned this place into something static and... dying. Still, there was no time like the present to take stock of what was going on in this place. He noticed a tray of food that had been placed at the foot of his bed. He leaned over and took a bite, finding himself immediately disappointed.
“Does no one know how to cook around here?”, Lucius thought to himself. Getting dressed, he immediately called forth Lucinda, who bowed and smiled to him.
“Let us make our way into the kitchen, see what these people do for meal preparation.”, Lucius spoke to Lucinda.
She smiled and nodded, the conversation between them entirely wordless and unneeded. She was an extension of his will, understanding what he wished and seeking only to make sure the task was complete. Lucius began moving through the manor, attempting to find out where the kitchen was located. A short while later, Lucius found the kitchen, such as it was. The kitchen suffered from being far too clean, and looked as though it was rarely if ever used. Lucius and Lucinda began going through the kitchen cabinets and drawers, finding supplies and cooking utensils needed to complete their task. Once they had everything set up, Lucius set about cooking some simple dishes, just a few things to get a feel for how everything was set up in this area, and maybe to have food ready for the team whenever they finally awoke from their long overdue slumber. However, Lucius soon discovered that the sounds and smells of his cooking had drawn someone else into the kitchen area. The man was clearly a half-elf, Lucius had spent enough time with Donovan to know the telltale signs of one, but that’s about where the similarities would end. This individual was clearly muscular, with a large sword at his side. He was also very quiet, not saying a single word to Lucius, but instead just watching him cook. Being a cook, however, Lucius was always too excited to try a new recipe out on a willing individual, and this individual seemed extremely interested in what Lucius and Lucinda were doing in the kitchen. Cutting a small portion away from one of the meals he had been preparing, Lucius plated the sample of food, and placed it in front of his silent guest. The man began eating the meal placed in front of him, making happily pleased faces as he swallowed each bite. Lucius enjoyed watching different people eat his food and be happy. While working for Donovan had meant that he would never be unemployed again, it also meant that he was cooking for a much smaller group of individuals, and he knew their tastes all too well. So, having this unknown individual enjoy some random dish he decided to create, that reminded him of a different time when he was living a very different life. His friends soon awoke as well, first Bebop who began devouring the food that was placed before him, then Donovan and Tamsen. Tamsen was wearing her shirt partially buttoned and nothing else, as she walked sleepily with Donovan. Lucius was used to seeing this behavior from her back at the estate, but this was just a reminder of how comfortable Tamsen felt in her skin any place she went. Tamsen leaned over at Lucius, kissing him on the cheek and saying “Thank you” while she took the plate he had prepared for her. Donovan smiled and thanked Lucius as well, setting down the plate to take stock of the silent individual who he had not previously seen. Lucius smiled at seeing his family all together around a table eating his food. It had been a while since the four of them had been able to enjoy this simple pleasure. The pleasure would not last long, however.
Tiadora approached the group, looking to Donovan, “Cardinal Thorn wishes for you to have a tour of the house, and meet with the Actuary.” Donovan stood up, excitedly clapping his hands together, “Excellent! We’re going to be able to discuss transaction rights, find out what percentages they are acquiring goods at here.”
Tamsen and Bebop looked at each other, a look of regret on each of their faces. For all his uses, Donovan was often given to becoming very excited about the minutia of business transactions. This was something they were definitely not interested in from their many experiences of being dragged by Donovan to merchant meetings, where they would be forced to listen to Donovan drone on about exchange rates and market forces. Looking over at Tamsen and Bebop, Donovan said, “Let’s go, I am excited to see what their stocking procedures are like!” Tamsen, still in just a shirt, smiled and followed behind. Bebop got up from the table as Tamsen glared at him, following the two of them.
Bebop called back to Lucius, “Aren’t you coming?”
Lucius chuckled and looked back at Bebop, “No reason for all of us to have to suffer!”
Lucius picked up the plates of his friends, and set them to be washed, as Lucinda continued cooking. Shortly after, a couple of human men arrived, seating themselves next to the large Half Elf who was still enjoying the different plates being set in front of him.
One of them spoke to Lucius, “Are you the new cook?”
Lucius smiled and responded, “I’m the one cooking.”

“You’re paying full retail! Who does that?”, Donovan cried out in the Actuary’s room, berating the man sitting before him.
Pilkington, the Actuary who worked on behalf of Cardinal Thorn, meekly responded, “I agree sir. But, they won’t let me leave this place in order to deal with the merchants directly. I have to work with the prices they set via indirect interaction.”
Donovan groaned, then looked over at Bebop. “Give me your ring.”
Bebop thought about it for a second, then handed Donovan the ring. Donovan took the ring, plus a handful of other trinkets that the group had acquired from Branderscar, and set them in front of the Actuary, a clearly annoyed look on his face. “Fine, take these and the money that’s been allocated to our persons, and purchase a Haversack for us. You can liquidate things at wholesale rates, correct?”
Pilkington nodded, then responded in a confused voice, “Just a haversack, sir?”
Tiadora looked at Donovan, “The trials that the Master will soon send you on are lethal. If you are intending to acquire anything for your team, now is the opportunity to do so.”
Donovan, still annoyed at feeling overcharged for everything, responded curtly to Tiadora, “We killed every guard in Branderscar, ransacked their Armory, and looted nearly every object of value that place had to offer. What does lethal even mean at this point?”
Tiadora sighed, and looked at Donovan with a frustrated face.
Donovan continued, “But you are right, good lady, I don’t want to be unprepared.” Donovan looked back at the Actuary and said, “Add two bandoliers to that request, please.”
Tamsen looked up at Donovan, and in her sweetest voice, spoke to him. “Donovan, I’d like a ring.”
Bebop quickly followed up on her statement, “Better put a ring on that, Donovan.”
Donovan stumbled for words. Could Tamsen be asking him for what he thought she was asking for? Would she truly be willing to share that with him?
Tamsen followed up, “I have this bracelet that I really love, but a ring would be wonderful.” The realization of what Tamsen was actually asking for set in for him.
Donovan gritted his teeth, cursing his self-delusions, “As if she would ever be willing to…”
He immediately closed that thought off from his mind, and smiled broadly at Tamsen. “Of course my love, we’ll find you a ring you truly like once we are back in a marketplace.”
Tiadora, having had quite enough of their nonsense, continued the tour of the house. She introduced the team to a group of individuals named the White Ravens. They seemed a pleasant enough group of people, although they seemed to allow Elise Zadoria to do the speaking for them (a relationship Donovan noted, was very much like his own with his team). Elise was pleasant enough, although a little cold, which is perhaps to be expected. After visiting with them, Tiadora escorted the team to the remaining facilities of note within the manor. After which, she abruptly took her leave of the group, undoubtedly not wanting to have to deal with them any more than was required by dint of her position within the manor. As the stated provisions came in, the servants also brought in a set of silver holy symbols of Asmodeous, and some iron circlets. The servants explained that the circlets would allow them to assume any disguise .
“Look Bebop, you can appear as any individual you would like to look as.”, Donovan noted when the devices were provided.
Bebop was excited at the prospect, a momentary respite from his own persona. Tamsen and Bebop snuck away in order to try out the circlets for their own entertainment, while Donovan began assembling alchemical devices in the lab area that had been made available to him.

The three days passed, and the team was ceremoniously escorted into Thorn’s office once more.
“Have you enjoyed your gifts?”, Thorn said to them, self-confidence brimming in his voice. “The iron circlets will allow you to move among your enemies unnoticed. The silver amulets will remind you of your true loyalties. And the other items… well, you will need them now.” Donovan became excited at what the Cardinal was discussing. Finally, a chance to leave this place and begin unraveling the scope of the Cardinal’s plans.
As Thorn continued and the specifics were revealed, Donovan’s hopes were quickly dashed, “You have done well to escape Branderscar and to escape my offer. However, you are still not ready for my service. Tiadora will lead you to the basement of this domicile. There, you will find nine chambers, each more dangerous than the last. Somewhere, hidden within these chambers is a pendant of silver and sapphire. Recover the pendant and bring it to me. Let nothing and no one stand in your way.”
Donovan was drawn away from the rest of Thorn’s speech as he began to comprehend what had just been said. Cardinal Thorn was implying he had put some sort of “rooms” or “puzzles” in the basement of his own house? What could he reasonably build that wouldn’t endanger the manor proper or weaken the structural integrity of the building? Was he keeping monsters or people down there? Who was going down there to take care of them? Was the staff testing these chambers to make sure they were still in good working condition? The questions flooded his brain, as Thorn continued, “It is almost dusk. You have until dusk tomorrow to complete this task. Do not fail me.”
“Twenty-four hours!”, Donovan thought to the group, “How many creatures could he be keeping down there?” Donovan began to get nervous. Perhaps he should have put more stock into Tiadora’s words earlier.
“Tamsen, call GrumbleJack and tell him to meet us at the entrance to the basement. We’re apparently going to need help.” Tiadora led the group back to the basement, and then unlocked the door into the entrance for the trials. Tiadora looked like she wanted to say something, but Donovan wasn’t interesting in verbally sparring with her, so he avoided any conversation beyond a simple thanks. Once GrumbleJack arrived and Lucius had finished summoning Lucinda, the group proceeded down the stairs towards the first chamber. A sign next to the doorway was written in Common. Reading the words, the sign said, “Deception is a tool. Self-Deception is death. Deceive always thy enemy, but never thyself.”
Lucinda and Donovan took point for the group, as Donovan told her, “Look for anything that might suggest a trap.”
While Donovan did not notice anything with his analytical sight, Lucinda’s eyes were far more honed. Speaking to Lucius, she called out her findings, “Master, I see an area of the floor near that door on the opposite end. The floor appears to be inconsistent, as though it has been altered.”
Donovan, hearing that information, looked back at the section of floor Lucinda pointed out. “Damn good eyes, Lucinda. Yep, it’s trapped. I would have missed it had you not pointed it out.”
Lucinda and Donovan went to the walls that initially appeared to be blank, their eyes and hands tracing for seams in the walls. Almost at the same moment, each of them spoke out, “Hidden door.”
Donovan looked back at Lucinda’s find. After Lucinda opened the doorway, a hidden portal revealed a glowing blue gem. As Donovan inspected it more closely, he saw an inscription on the object saying “Thou hast seen through deception to uncover a useful tool.”
Donovan flicked the object about his fingers a few times, and then said, “Ah. Liquid Frost, very interesting.”
He stashed the object into one of his bandolier pockets, then opened the hidden doorway he had previously discovered. Lucinda and Donovan carefully stared down the hallway to confirm there was nothing of note.
Once complete, Donovan looked back on the team. “So, lesson one is… don’t step on traps? Ok. Odd sort of lesson, but fine.”
The group moved down the hallway to the next doorway. As with the first doorway, a sign in common bore an inscription: “Following the herd is for fools. Fear not their icy derision. Instead, fear only thy Infernal Lord.”
Donovan put his hand over his face, “Please don’t be something that requires ice. Please don’t be something that requires ice. Please don’t be something that requires ice.”
The door opens into another room similar to the previous one. Donovan and Lucinda check for any oddities in the room. Quickly, they noticed the traps on the doors located on the opposite side of the room. Donovan also noticed an odd chill in this room, several degrees colder than the connecting hallway. Darting his eyes around, he spotted a patch of mold on the other door not previously studied.
“Purple mold.”, Donovan nodded with understanding.
“What’s purple mold?”, Tamsen asked.
“Purple Mold is a fungus that survives by consuming the ambient heat of the nearby area. It can be extremely dangerous when exposed to fire or direct body heat…” Donovan sighed, knowing what the answer was going to be, “… and is destroyed by exposure to extremely cold objects, such as ice.”
The group chuckled, seeing the frustration on Donovan’s face. Donovan took out the Liquid Frost item retrieved from the previous room, and handed it to Bebop, “Good sir, if you would please, throw this at that.”, pointing to the Purple Mold on the doorway.
Bebop readied himself with a windup, then hurled the object at the offending mold. The object struck, splashing the mold with a chilling concoction, causing it to fleck away.
As this was taking place, Donovan's eyes drifted to the floor, when realization set in. "Follow not the herd! Ugh, it’s like child’s first dungeon. Why are these signs so on the nose?”
Exasperated, Donovan faced the group and spoke out loud, “Now, I want you all to imagine this. Lady Tiadora had a member of her staff come down here, clean up any footprints that would lead to the door over there, and add footprints to these trapped exits. All of this, just so this sign would have some meaning in relationship to this room!”
Donovan sighed again, as the last of the mold flecked away and the heat began to return to the room, “Let’s press on.”
As the next doorway is opened, Donovan and Lucinda check once more for any oddities about the hallway. Finding none, they move on towards the next area. Once more, the sign appears in front of them, written in Common: “Know your enemy. Shatter all that blinds you and then burn the adversary to ashes.”
Donovan paused to think on this room. “So, a Blindness spell when we open the door, or Darkness spell overtaking the room, right?” The group nodded at Donovan’s assertion. “Alright, so we line up to the side of the room, then open the door.” The group arranged themselves as Donovan suggested, then threw open the door. Blackness extended from within the room.
Donovan pointed at the state of the room, nonplussed, “Darkness, right.”
Bebop readied himself to head into the room, and Donovan barked at him, “No, there is one or more monsters in there that will take advantage of your lack of sight in order to attack you!”
Lucinda stared unblinking into the room, studying it. As an Eidolon, her eyes could pierce darkness that would limit many members of the party, including Donovan. “I see it Master, there is an orb sitting on a pedestal in the middle of the room.”
Lucius replied, “Can you shoot the orb down?”
Lucinda apologized, “I am not familiar with such weapons, Master. I am willing to try, but lack skill.”
Donovan slid the bow off of his shoulder, and readied an arrow. “Lucinda, please come guide my hand. I may not be able to see the object you are referring to, but if you put me in position, my shot will fly true.”
Lucinda placed herself behind Donovan, taking heed of his instructions on where the arrow will travel in relation to his form. Based on his instructions and her perception of the object, Lucinda adjusted Donovan's shoulders and hands.
“I believe the shot is ready, Donovan.”, Lucinda finally spoke up.
“Thank you, good lady.” Donovan took one more breath, then let the arrow fly.
The arrow flew wild, nowhere near the intended spot. Lucinda points to the spot in the room where the arrow struck, and Donovan readied another arrow.
“Let’s try that again, Lucinda. I think I get what you are trying to do.” Donovan began performing calculations in his mind, understanding how she might be perceiving the location of his shot.
Donovan lined up the arrow once more, as the calculations worked through his mind. Last second adjustments occur, based on what Lucinda relayed to him. The shot is released again, this time perfectly striking the center of the orb, knocking it off the platform and causing it to break into ineffective pieces. The room, no longer darkened by magic, begins to light up. Donovan nods his approval to Lucinda, with a sense of pride at the accomplishment of the group.
Just then, Lucius spoke up, “You know, I could grab that orb with Mage Hand, and we could stick it in the Haversack.”
Donovan slaps his forehead, “That’s a brilliant idea, Lucius! Such a very clever and creative solution! I wish you had said that about two arrows ago.”

Looking at the floor, the party noticed that it was covered in a series of holes, suggesting something could come up from underneath.
“Snakes?”, Bebop said, looking at the floor.
Donovan handed Bebop an arrow, which he broke the tip off the shaft in order to push down into the holes. But still, no response from the expected “creature” that would come forth once the darkness had been removed.
“We need to put something out there.”, Donovan said to Lucius. “Toss some creatures on the far side of the room.”
Lucius was concerned, as he knew that meant he would have to draw back Lucinda. But, for the sake of the group, he complied. A group of rabbits were summoned into the room. Suddenly, a red mist came up, grabbing one of the creatures. A piteous scream came out of the rabbit, and it was desiccated in a moment.
“Oh gods!”, Tamsen shrieked, pulling Pooky close to her.
GrumbleJack called to Dononvan, “You want me to smash that, boss?”
Donovan nodded, still trying to work out what this red mist was that he was seeing. GrumbleJack attempted to smash the mist, but missed with his powerful blow. Bebop grabbed one of the alchemical fires that Donovan had prepped for him, and tossed it into the room. Spinning wildly, the shot missed the mist, and instead landed on another one of the rabbits that Lucius had created. Lucius immediately began the process of recreating the Eidolon, but the process was long and arduous for combat. Tamsen meekly murmured some words to coax the mist to sleep, but the mist seemed unimpacted. Donovan fired an arrow at the creature, still lost in thought.
Suddenly, Donovan recognized the creature in his mind. “Vampiric Mist! Damnit! Bebop, hit that thing with everything you’ve got. GrumbleJack, get that far door open!”
Bebop pulled an Elixir from his bandolier and consumed it, while moving up to the creature, his form growing more bestial and monstrous. Meanwhile, the creature viciously wrapped a tendril around GrumbleJack’s arm, causing him to howl in pain. Lucius continued to focus on his ritual, as Donovan’s arrows proved to be largely ineffective against a creature made mostly of vapor. Tamsen moved away, cowered in the moment, as GrumbleJack attempted to peel the lock away from the door. The creature, not recognizing the potential threat from Bebop, continued to focus on the easy attack of the Ogre. GrumbleJack cried out in pain yet again, but was able to finish getting the door open, immediately bolting through the doorway. Bebop unleashed a savage assault on the Vampiric Mist, as teeth, claws, hooves, and horns smashed into the Mist. Even with its ability to absorb damage, it was apparent that it did not enjoy what just took place. The creature, more intelligent than one would have hoped, decided to retreat back into the ground rather than face another onslaught like the one it had just endured. With the creature down beneath the floor, Tamsen is hurried across the room to the open door on the other side. A minute later, Lucinda returned to the field, as her and Lucius also retreated into the far hallway. Finally, Donovan made his way to the doorway, with Bebop continuing to watch for an opportunity to strike.
As Bebop entered the hallway on the far side of that room with the rest of the group, Donovan threw down his bow in frustration. “What in the hells, Thorn? If you have the capacity to create and maintain Vampiric Mists, this war is already over! We just drop them on the enemy forces and let them do what they do best!”

Donovan grabbed one of the vials lining his bandolier, consumed it and placed his hands against GrumbleJack. The visible injuries that GrumbleJack had sustained closed up, and his confidence returned. Another doorway appeared before the group, with yet another inscription to be read: “The chosen are revealed by their might. The weak deserve no sympathy.” Pushing open the door, the room was well illuminated, with several metallic looking snakes in the room. Lucinda pressed into the room first, striking down one of the creatures. Her blades bounced off the side of the snake, and a spark flew up from the ground at the force of her impact.
Donovan yelled out quickly, “Iron Cobras. Cast Shield on all the frontline fighters!”
Bebop, empowered by the recent consumption of a Mutagen, felt a sense of rage and power that he unleashed on these metallic creatures. Between him and the other two, the progress was slow but consistent. Lucius and Tamsen applied protective magics to the melee fighters, making it nigh on impossible for the snakes to penetrate their flesh. Combined with the limited intellect of the snakes, this fight was ended in short enough fashion. Donovan looked over the wreckage of the metallic constructs that the group had just battled.
Looking at the metal, Donovan realized the composition of the snakes. “These aren’t iron, they’re Mithral!”
Looking around the group, he responded with both excitement and irritation, “Do you know how much these cost to make? He could have given all of us five times what he spent on us instead of making these things! Oh well, it’s our money now.”
With that, he had GrumbleJack pull apart the constructs and stuff the pieces into the pockets of the Haversack that Bebop was wearing.

Donovan leaned against the wall and shook his head, “It’s like my father, all over again.”

Session 3 Ends
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Part 1: Knot of Thorns
Act 2: Into the Knot!
Session 4: The Truths of Flesh

Donovan tossed his equipment onto the ground, frustrated. "Well, that certainly could have gone better.”
Digging through his equipment, he extracted a bowl and a small knife. “Bebop and Lucinda, go back down the hallway and make sure our little red mist doesn’t come back up.”
After confirming that order with Lucius, Lucinda followed Bebop to the edge of the hallway, watching for the return of the Vampiric Mist. Donovan cut into his hand, allowing the blood to drip into the bowl he was holding. “Lucius, summon an Unseen Servant, please. We’re going to see if these creature’s desire for food outweighs its desire for self-preservation.”
Lucius called forth the servant, and Donovan handed the blood-filled bowl to him. “Now, Lucius, command your servant to walk around the perimeter of the room the Mist is in, and we’ll see if it comes up. Once it does, those two can attack it.”
Donovan handed a bandage over to Tamsen and extended his cut hand. Tamsen smiled, and gently bandaged Donovan’s hand while he continued. “In the meantime, GrumbleJack can enter the room and free up the other door.”
Lucius nodded, then sent his telepathic instructions to the servant, who mindlessly began completing the task. Soon after the servant entered the mist’s room, the mist began to reform around the servant consuming the relatively small amount of blood that was in the bowl. Bebop and Lucinda wasted no time to take advantage of the creature’s poor decision, and assaulted it once more, still unable to place enough damage on it. The creature once again retreated into the holes within the floor. Irritated at being unable to finish off the mist, Bebop poured a flask of oil down into the holes that the creature had fled into. Tamsen walked into the room, and Sparked the oil, causing it to ignite and set a section of the floor aflame. The floor glowed brightly with the heat of the flames, then subsided as the heat died down. With no further response from the creature, GrumbleJack entered the room and pulled the other doorway open. The rest of the group entered the hallway in front of the door of another test.

Once more, another sign written in Common greeted them: “Cruelty is a tool, not a pastime. Be ruthless to thy enemy, but reward those who serve thee well.”
Donovan smirked, “I suppose no one got around to telling Lady Tiadora about this lesson.”
Opening the door, Lucinda and Donovan investigated the room for possible traps, of which none were to be found. The room itself held a torture rack, and some rusty implements. Donovan grazed over them briefly before moving on; yet Tamsen found herself strangely drawn to this room. Donovan’s fingers traced gently across the wall, staring carefully at the coloration of the walls. His eyes found an area where the spacing was inconsistent, revealing another secret door in this “dungeon”.
“Lucinda”, Donovan called out to Lucuis’ Eidolon, “Come take a look at this doorway.”
Lucinda moved to the door, then steeled herself for combat before throwing the door open. But, there was no combat to be found here. Instead, a young man, bearing the Talingarde imagery on his clothes, and hiding in the small closet.
The group was confused at the sight of the young man; but Bebop was quick to suggest a solution, “We’re supposed to put him on the rack! Let’s torture him.”
Donovan looked at Bebop in shock, and the boy cried out, “Please no!”
Donovan attempted to soothe the young man, trying to make sense of what purpose Thorn would have for placing this boy here. Was he an actor? Someone who had been mind controlled by Tiadora into believing they were captured? Donovan began to extract the information from the young man, learning that his name was Timeon, and that he was the Squire of Sir Balin. Donovan was well aware of the name, as Balin was the individual who was appointed to enforce the punishment that was given to prisoners of Branderscar. Timeon continued to begin opening up to Donovan, until the room was suddenly filled with the sounds of people having sex. Donovan looked back into the room, where he discovered that Tamsen had mounted Bebop, as he laid strapped down onto the table, and was riding his manhood for the whole group to see.
Donovan rubbed his face in exasperation, then Timeon looked back over at Donovan, “You’re not servants of Mitra, are you?”
Donovan coyly responded, “I’d like to think of myself as more open minded than serving a single god.”
Unfortunately, after that showing, Donovan couldn’t get any more information out of Timeon, even though he believed Timeon was possibly very well informed. After telling Timeon that he would be back for him once he had explored the rest of the dungeon, and leaving Timeon with some food, Donovan began to leave the room.
“Wrap it up, you two. We’re leaving now.”, Donovan barked out in an obviously displeased fashion.
Bebop snarked back at Donovan, “This is your fault, we were bored.”
Donovan stared at Bebop, annoyed and frustrated, “We’ve been down here for less than three hours. You two couldn’t keep it in your pants for that long?”

Not waiting for a reply, Donovan continued back into the room where the Vampiric Mist had previously attacked, then past the room where the Mithral Cobras were encountered. Not long after, the group was greeted by the next sign. “Suffer not the fool. Stupidity is our faith’s cardinal sin.” Opening the door revealed a room, much like the previous ones, with a set of staircases leading up on one wall. However, hanging from the ceiling was a silver pendant with blue gems for eyes.
Donovan pointed at the trinket, “Lucius, would you please use Mage Hand to fetch that for us.”
Lucius reached out with his mind, and pulled the pendant away from the location it was hanging in. Taking a closer look at it, Donovan knew that it was clearly silver and glass. While the object did have some monetary value, it was not the prize they were sent here to retrieve. Donovan then looked over at the stairs.
“Well, if I didn’t fall for the trapped passageways in the other rooms, I’m not sure why I would fall for this set.”, Donovan said to no one in particular. “Let’s search this place for secret doors.”
As had occurred many times before, Donovan and Lucinda used their collective training in spotting unusual patterns to discover unique features in the room. Lucinda confirmed that the stairs were indeed trapped, and Donovan was able to discover another set of hidden doors in the room.

Following the passageway revealed, another set of hidden doors were seen, with yet another sign in front of the door. “Beware the fallen, for they may rise once more to fight you.”
Donovan spoke on this, “So these are the drowned men that Timeon would be referring to. Isn’t it odd that they would use the term ‘drowned’?”
Carefully, the group pushed open the door, looking into the next area. They were greeted by a collection of barnacle covered coffins. Looking back at the group, Donovan made the “shush” motion with his finger.
Using the telepathy maintained by Tamsen, Donovan communicated with Lucius. “Have Lucinda move quietly through the area and open up the door to the right side of the room.”
Lucius nodded, then communicated his intention to his Eidolon. Lucinda quietly moved through the room, then opened the door into the next area. Quietly, Donovan closed the door they had been standing at, then instructed GrumbleJack to hold the door closed. Lucinda continued moving forward down the hallway, investigating the area to make sure no traps were discovered.
Moving on further, she stopped at a doorway that she encountered, then contacted Lucius, “Master, there is a door here with a sign next to it. The sign says, ‘Serve thy master well, and be rewarded.’”
After relaying the information to the rest of the group, Donovan spoke quietly, “I’ll wager copper to gold that Sir Balin is being kept in that room, and has the pendant we’re here for.”
After finding agreement in the group, Donovan continued. “Can Lucinda open the door?”
Lucius reached out to Lucinda, and she responded to him, “The door has iron bands on it, and the lock appears to be quite sturdy.” A moment later, she contacted Lucius again, “There appears to be a key next to the door. Shall I use it, Master?”
Receiving confirmation from Lucius, Lucinda placed the key into the lock, and unlocked the heavy door. A voice came from the other side of the door, “Who is there? Where am I?”
Lucius fed Lucinda the answers she was to give, playing the part of helpless maiden as she began working her way back towards the coffin filled room. She spoke on helping Timeon, and how scared she was to be in this place. Sir Balin, completely unaware of what he was dealing with, completely accepted the information that was being fed to him. Lucinda’s voice became louder as she entered the room with the coffins, pretending to be scared. Sir Balin, being the type of man who would be drawn to protect others, could not help himself. Lucinda arrived at the far side of the room where she had found Sir Balin, and opened the door just as one of the undead smashed out of the coffin they were previously lying in. Just at that moment, Lucinda stepped through the doorway, and closed the door behind her. The party heard the sounds of metal and wood crashing in the room.
Donovan smiled wickedly, “Thank you for your assistance, Sir Balin.”
The fighting went on for a short while, before everything became quiet.
Donovan looked up at GrumbleJack, “Get in there and destroy anyone still standing.”
GrumbleJack rushed in, to discover that Sir Balin was attempting to offer a potion to Lucinda, still behind the closed door, and then consumed it himself. It was clear that Sir Balin quickly understood the situation he was in. However, as he was quickly being assaulted on one side, Lucinda opened the door and began attacking him from behind. Even with his obvious strength and power, Sir Balin had fallen into a tactical trap that would quickly be his undoing. This was made worse by Tamsen’s spells, clouding his mind and causing him to have Unnatural Lust for Lucinda at the most inopportune time. In less than 30 seconds, the fight was over, with almost no damage being received by the party. Donovan had Tamsen Stabilize Sir Balin, in order to return him to Lady Tiadora for her amusement. And, as expected, the prize that the group was seeking was around the fallen knight’s neck. Stripping him of both his equipment and his holy symbol, Donovan instructed Lucius to have Sir Balin brought back upstairs. GrumbleJack protested, wanting to kill Sir Balin.
Lucius was unclear on the purpose for saving Sir Balin, “Why shouldn’t we just kill him, Donovan?”
Donovan realized this was an area where he wasn’t necessarily going to be able to get consensus from the group. “I think we should show this to Thorn to allow him to make the final decision; but I’ll let you make the call Lucius. You want to kill him, go ahead. I’m going to go get Timeon and get him out of here.”

With that, Donovan and Tamsen left Lucius to try and convince GrumbleJack not to pulp Sir Balin where he laid.
Donovan returned to the place where Timeon had been hiding. “Timeon, I have to tell you that we found Sir Balin, and he was defeated in battle. Perhaps if we had arrived sooner, it would have made a difference, but perhaps not.”
Timeon’s face fell, as he knew whatever hope he had for a rescue was now lost to him.
Donovan continued, undeterred by Timeon’s emotional state, “Anyway, you need to come with us, it’s time for us to leave this place.” Donovan, Tamsen, and Timeon returned to the manor upstairs, then retreated to Tamsen’s room. A bath had already been drawn for her in anticipation of their needs. “Perfect.”
Donovan said to the other two, “Timeon, you should get cleaned up, and then we can speak more about the…”
Timeon interrupted Donovan, “We have to get out of here! I can’t stay in this place. It’s not safe for me! I have to go. We must leave this place at once.”
Donovan sighed, frustrated at what appeared to be the opportunity that was slipping out of his fingers. Donovan knew for certain what would happen to Timeon once he cleared the inside of the manor. As an actual servant of Mitra with knowledge of the Cardinal’s location, Tiadora would annihilate him before he had cleared the light from the porch. Tamsen sensed Donovan’s frustrations, and began removing her clothes. Timeon was caught in his tracks, staring wordlessly at Tamsen’s naked form. A moment later, she was upon Timeon, kissing him, pulling his clothes off, and moving him into the bath with her.
Donovan was almost caught off guard by how aggressive Tamsen was with Timeon. “Uh, yeah. You handle that, my love. I’m going to go deliver the pendant.”

Returning to Cardinal Thorn’s office with the rest of the group who had returned from the basement, the Cardinal greeted the group with a mixture of surprise and confusion. Donovan pulled the pendant out of the Haversack that Bebop was carrying.
“Here you go, father. The object you requested.”, Donovan smirked as he delivered the object.
Thorn looked at the pendant, “I understand that you have expressed some derision towards the challenges you faced below. It is important for you to know that I have attempted to find individuals who would be able to overcome these trials, and all those who came before you have failed. Your group is… more than I could have expected, and are clearly the ones I have been seeking in order to complete my righteous task. Your group cleared all of the lessons I set before you; and the ones that were skipped were done so out of wisdom, not incompetence.” Donovan was struck numb by the words the Cardinal used. Was the Cardinal actually praising Donovan for his efforts? Was he showing appreciation for the team and the work they had accomplished, vastly ahead of schedule? What an unheard-of luxury! What a rare and precious commodity was being shown to Donovan!
Looking at the pendant more, Thorn continued, “This may well help you in the next mission you have ahead of you.” Thorn then looked over at the unconscious body of Sir Balin, “Why is he here?”
Donovan smiled widely, “I assumed Lady Tiadora would want something new to play with.”
Tiadora purred with delight at the suggestion, but Thorn would hear none of it, “We do not show mercy, and this one knows too much.” Donovan sighed, “Fine, we’ll go take him somewhere to finish this off.”
Cardinal Thorn was still unhappy, “I want to see the deed.”
Donovan locked eyes with the Cardinal and smiled, “GrumbleJack, smash.”
GrumbleJack needed no further encouragement. His club shattered the skull of Sir Balin, spreading the contents of it around the room. GrumbleJack continued to crush the remains of Sir Balin, until the Cardinal finally held up his hand, causing GrumbleJack to hold his further strikes.
Wiping some of Sir Balin’s exploded remains off his face, Cardinal Thorn responded, “I see you have no issues with killing. I am satisfied with this. Clean yourselves up and rest. Your training will begin soon.”

For Timeon, Tamsen’s training had begun in earnest. Where once was a devout believer of the Mitran faith, soon there was little more than a servant of the goddess Tamsen. Her commands were absolute to him, her desires his moral compass. All that she would ask him about, he would readily reveal to her. And in this, Donovan’s suspicions rang true. Timeon did indeed know about much in Talingarde, including information on House Balentyne. It was this very information which ended up impressing Cardinal Thorn yet again, when he questioned Donovan about why the young man was still being kept around.
“He’s proven quite useful.”, Donovan quipped, “Squire Timeon has knowledge on both Sir Balin’s position within Talingarde, as well as information associated with House Balentyne.”
Thorn was clearly pleased, “I did not realize that the boy possessed so much knowledge. You’ve done well in your information gathering.” Donovan, surprised by the praise being shown to him again when he was expecting dismissive scorn, responded less confidently. “Thank you, father. But it was Tamsen’s efforts that made this possible. I only acted on my initial suspicions.”
Thorn replied, “Continue your efforts, Donovan. They are very well thought out.”

For the party, training had not yet been seriously pursued for almost a month. During this time, efforts were being focused onto the White Ravens, the group of individuals led by Elise Zardaria. While Donovan was curious about the group of individuals, he was far too engaged in his studies to have time to spend with them. Every day while lunch was being served by Lucius and Lucinda, Donovan would have some collection of books that he was studying, while Bebop would attempt to seduce Elise. Donovan, having already gotten a sense of the relationship dynamic of that group, warned Bebop that he would certainly be drawing the ire of Trak, but Bebop rarely listened to Donovan when it came to matters of desire. Still, Donovan and the others couldn’t help but be amused at watching Bebop’s muddled attempts at swaying Elise’s interest. Lucius had made excellent inroads with some members of Elise’s group, at least from the standpoint of making them feel comfortable around him; but Bebop was not given to gradual or subtle ploys. Elise was gracious enough, attempting to dissuade Bebop while not making any obvious overtures in front of Bebop’s friends; but on the last day before Elise would depart from the manor, her patience had come to an end. Tamsen was, perhaps, a double-edged sword when it came to matters of seduction for Bebop. Certainly, her own desires allowed Bebop a very willing partner and reinforced his confidence; but it did little to help him gain nuance in the art of seduction. As the White Ravens were getting ready to depart, Elise turned around and walked towards Bebop. She moved her face right next to Bebop, placing her hand against his chin.
Elise whispered in Bebop’s ear, “Your game is bad, Bebop. You really need to work on this before you will ever have a chance with me.”
Bebop tried to pull away, but Elise used her hand to keep Bebop’s face in place momentarily, then let Bebop go. A wicked grin came across Elise’s face, and then she walked away, and out of the Manor. Donovan began to snicker, while Tamsen covered the lower part of her face to cover up her obvious laughing.
Donovan chuckled a bit more, then spoke, “What did you think was going to happen, Bebop? Elise has her whole team wrapped around her finger.”
Bebop shrugged, “She’s the only woman I haven’t slept with here, so I figured I had to try. At least, until you get me set up with Tiadora.”
“I’m not going to try to set you up with Tiadora, Bebop! She will kill you!”, Donovan interjected.
Bebop raised his thumb, “I can take it!”
Donovan shook his head is disbelief, then looked over at Tamsen. Tamsen smiled back at Donovan, then moved close to him and whispered something in his ear.

Later that evening, Donovan found himself lying naked in bed underneath an equally naked Tamsen. Tamsen was using a set of tattoo needles on Donovan’s exposed chest, while he winced and squirmed under her hand.
“Tamsen, when you said you wanted to spend time alone with me, I thought you had something different in mind.”, Donovan grunted in obvious discomfort.
Tamsen pulled herself up, her legs straddled around Donovan’s waist. A smile came across her face, as she looked at her work thus far, “I know what you want, Donovan. But if I had told you I wanted to put a tattoo on you, you would have suddenly needed to study First Age Talingarde history, or something similarly boring.”
Donovan looked at her coyly, “And if I had known you only wanted me in bed to tattoo me, I think I would have wanted to wait until later.”
Tamsen’s face turned hard quickly, as she set her fingers onto Donovan’s chin, “Only? How dare you! Have you ever left my bed unsatisfied? Have I ever refused your advances?”
Donovan looked at her, knowing the truth of her words, realizing he had spoken out of turn. Not once, not a single time since their first night, had she ever left him feeling alone or unwanted. “Of course not, my love. Never.”
Her expression softened immediately, as a smile returned to her face. “Exactly. So, be quiet and lie still.”
She leaned forward again, and resumed her task. Of course, lying still with her on top of him was far more challenging. Beyond the fact that he could feel her naked crimson form pressed against him, he was being frequently reminded that Tamsen’s tail was quite capable of moving across his naked body and touching any part of him that she wanted to. The sensation of her pleasuring him and then bringing him discomfort was almost dizzying; and it was clear that Tamsen reveled in getting a response from Donovan on all levels.
Donovan decided to keep talking, in the hopes of taking his mind out of this setting. “My love, could you at least tell me why you are using potions for these tattoos? You know I could craft you a far better-quality ink, with far cheaper ingredients.”
Tamsen continued to work, but smiled and looked up into Donovan’s eyes. “I am learning how to apply the potions as tattoos.”
Donovan seemed genuinely intrigued in what Tamsen was talking about. “Really? That’s… very impressive love. I didn’t know you were interested in that skill.”
Tamsen nodded, and continued working, “I worry about you when you’re in the middle of fights. You don’t have monsters to fight for you, or spells, or strength. I want you to be safe, and maybe this can help you.”
Donovan smiled, and reached for Tamsen’s cheek, “You’re so wonderful.”
Tamsen’s tail grabbed Donovan’s hand, pushing it down to the bed, then she looked up at him, smiling softly, “I said be still.”
Donovan nodded, then closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as Tamsen completed her work. Not too much later, Tamsen set the bottle and needles off to the side of the bed. She gently dabbed off the remaining ink with a towel, then blew softly onto the tattoo that she had completed on Donovan’s chest. Donovan shuddered from the sensitivity of his skin.
Tamsen whispered to Donovan, “Now, whatever should we do next?”, then leaned down as Donovan and her kissed each other deeply.

Bebop stood in front of the bottles placed around the lab area of the Manor. He had been working on potion creation for several days now, at Donovan’s request. Bebop thought back to when Donovan first introduced him to potion creation. Donovan was extremely meticulous in his methodology, keeping detailed notes on measurements and brewing order. While Bebop originally used Donovan’s notes and formulas, he began to have a more intrinsic feel for how potions were created, and just started making them without using Donovan’s notes at all. Soon after, Bebop was creating potions faster and more consistently than Donovan. Bebop remembered the time when Donovan’s father Alcott came into the shop where Bebop and Donovan were preparing potions. Alcott quickly noticed that Bebop was able to create far more potions than Donovan in the same amount of time.
“Great work, Bebop.”, Alcott clapped his hand against Bebop’s shoulder, smiling widely. “This is how it should be done! If only Donovan could learn to be useful like you.”
Donovan began to protest, “Father, I could….”
Alcott cut him off, completely disinterested in what he had to say. “Go home and play with your toy, Donovan. You’re useless to me here.” Donovan gritted his teeth, staring angrily at Alcott before moving his eyes over to Bebop. Without further words, Donovan walked out of the shop. While Donovan never spoke to Bebop about what happened that day, Bebop was certain that Donovan felt hurt by losing more face in front of Alcott. So, when Donovan asked him to craft potions on the team’s behalf, he never asked any questions about it, because he understood it was something that held memories for Donovan. Donovan had prepared a list of potions to make for a variety of situations. Bebop completed the task, and smiled proudly to himself at the proficiency of his work.

Training began for the group in earnest, and was brutal in many ways. Tiadora was able to lash out at the group with more fervor than previously available to her, and she relished the opportunity to do so. Donovan’s tactics to overwhelm Tiadora came up short, as he discovered the power of Tiadora was larger than he had previously anticipated. This situation was further exacerbated by the frequent unexpected attacks from the staff, as random weapons would be thrown at the members of the party when they would least expect it. Donovan spent night after night patching up members of the team, after each assault would leave the team battered and bruised. His skill with healing became more and more proficient, allowing him to even begin patching up the team without even needing the Healer’s Kits that he would once normally require. Additionally, the team overall got even faster and quicker with their reactions. Tamsen could snap her fingers and drop someone into a Slumber in the blink of an eye. Lucius could pull forth monsters that would assail the staff before they could get anywhere near him. As for Bebop, he became more terrifying, truly embracing a more monstrous part of his nature. While Donovan was never able to craft a set of tactics that allowed him to overcome Tiadora’s sheer power, his group eventually earned from her what some might call praise. “You are… ready enough for the Master’s use.”, Tiadora said to the group.

A banquet was held in the honor of the team by the Cardinal, which included the summoning of devils and human sacrifice. Donovan would say such things are unnecessary, but did not want to fall back into fighting with the Cardinal after the progress that had been built up. “The Nessian Knot is forged!”, Cardinal Thorn said to the group at the conclusion of the ritual. “And your ship has arrived!”

For the first time in quite some time, Donovan would say that things were beginning to turn around for his family.

Session 4 Ends.
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Part 1: Knot of Thorns
Act 3: Fire-Axe!
Session 5: Making a Splash

Donovan awoke to the splash of ocean spray across the deck of the Frosthamar. Opening his eyes, he saw his family sitting or sleeping around the ship, with a handful of crew members performing the routine tasks required for sailing. Donovan had been on board this ship for a few days now, having met the captain, Kargeld Odenkirk. Donovan remembered the odd introductions of Odenkirk.
“You will guard our boat all the way north, yes?”, Odenkirk asked Donovan.
After Donovan confirmed his team were there to perform that task, Odenkirk responded, “Then I will take you to the cursed north, past hope and life.”
Donovan smirked at that comment, having thought that the captain was being hyperbolic.

The first part of the trip was easy enough, although it was difficult for Donovan and the others to transition from residing in the estate of Thorn into being cramped together onto a single ship that had effectively no protection against the elements. Bebop made it clear very early into the journey that he was displeased with the arrangements.
“This sucks!”, Bebop complained quickly.
“The world can’t be found from Tamsen’s bed, Bebop. There’s things we’ll have to go do in person.”, Donovan curtly replied.
As they traveled, Donovan took some time to understand the cargo that they were carrying. The weapons, stacked together in barrels and crates, were fully made of metal and reinforced, clearly designed to accommodate the more powerful attacks that would be used by the bugbears wielding them. Odenkirk said that the trip would take several weeks, which made sense given the limited speed the ship would be able to achieve due to the massive amount of cargo being held.

After a week of moving out from the rivers where they first encountered the Frosthamar, they approached the open waters. One of the first major landmarks that Donovan and the others saw was the Watch Wall. Just looking at this impressive landmark, Donovan thought about how him and his family would soon be inside the Wall, attempting to dismantle it from within. Donovan had brought historical references to the Watch Wall in order to glean information that might be pertinent to their efforts. Donovan found it difficult to study, between the constant motion of the ship, and the constant complaints of Bebop resonating in his head. Donovan could overhear the voices of the ship crew speaking. They were conversing with each other in Norspik. Donovan rarely heard this language from when he worked at Alcott’s shop, but he was still familiar with it. It was apparent that the sailors assumed he and the other visitors on the boat had not learned this language, and Donovan had no intention of correcting them at this point.

Bebop was initially excited to get onto the water, thinking that it would be an opportunity for him to “catch a mermaid”. However, Bebop’s enthusiasm went dour quickly as Donovan explained to him what those creatures looked like, and how they generally interacted with humanoids. Bebop still continued fishing over the side of the ship, catching several fish. One of the fish was surprisingly larger than the others, causing Bebop to beam with pride as he attempted to hand it to Tamsen. Tamsen looked at him confused and slightly disgusted.
“What am I supposed to do with this?”, Tamsen queried.
“It’s a gift for you.”, Bebop beamed with pride back at her.
Wordlessly, Lucius took the fish from Bebop, and begin preparing it for dinner. Tamsen had an exasperated look on her face, as Donovan chuckled to himself.

Looking back out onto the waters, Donovan noticed a ship in the distance. He was about to call it out, when Captain Odenkirk bellowed out across the deck, “A Talingarde ship! They’re headed our way, and we can’t outrun them.” A harder look came across the captain’s face. “Once they get close to us, they’ll know we’re smugglers.”
Donovan responded, “Then we’ll convince them we’re something else.”
Donovan then looked over at Tamsen, “It’s time for you to take what you have gleaned from Timeon, and put it to use. You’re about to play the role of Sir Balin.”
Without hesitating, Donovan tapped the Circlet of Disguise provided to him by Thorn, and took on the role of a Talingarde soldier. Seeing his action, Bebop and Lucius follow suit.
“What do I tell them, Donovan?”, Tamsen queried Donovan, before changing her form into that of Sir Balin.
“You’re pursuing the escapees from Branderscar, who are believed to be headed to an enemy camp north of the Watch Wall. You’ve conscripted this vessel into service in order to prevent them from seeing the Talingarde heraldry and fleeing again. And Captain Odenkirk has graciously provided his aid in getting you to this destination. Simple enough, my love?” Donovan smiled warmly at Tamsen, who listened to all that he had said before nodding intently.
GrumbleJack quickly kneeled down and a tarp was thrown over him, while the crew awaited the arrival of the Talingarde vessel. Once the vessel got close enough, a voice rang out from the ship. “Heave to in the name of the King!” Captain Odenkirk gave the appropriate orders to assist this ship in the boarding of his vessel. Soon enough, the captain of the vessel and four of his sailors came aboard the Frosthamar.
The captain of the Talingarde vessel spoke up, “Who is in charge here?”
Without hesitation, Tamsen stepped forward, and began explaining her story to the Talingarde captain.

As the son of a merchant, Donovan was used to dealing with a fair share of grifters and con artists. Over the years, he had gained a fairly intuitive sense of when someone was selling stories instead of product, and learned to deal with both appropriately. But, listening to Tamsen weave her tale to this captain, Donovan would be hard pressed to know what was true and what was not. She was so naturally gifted with the power of deception, that every word and motion she made seemed completely honest and forthright. And it was in that moment that Donovan questioned everything he thought he knew about Tamsen. Had anything she had ever said to him been true? Of course, he wanted it to be true, but could he really know if things were as he wished them to be, or merely that she was allowing him to think as much? Quickly, he caught himself in those thoughts, and began associating other languages in his mind, remembering that she could read his thoughts at any point she chose to do so. By now, the conversation between Tamsen and the captain of the Talingarde vessel was winding down. Naturally, he was completely convinced, and even offered to aid “Sir Balin” by searching the waters for the vessel that the escapees had supposedly absconded with.
“May the blessings of Mitra be upon you and yours.”, the captain said to Tamsen before disembarking.
“And may His light guide you.”, Tamsen responded, calmly and with all apparent sincerity.
The sailors disembarked with their captain, and the ship pulled away, not a single blow having been thrown. Captain Odenkirk was clearly impressed. “Good work. You’ve saved my crew a fair bit of headache today.”

Time passed on the seas, and everyone began to fall into a predictable rhythm of activity throughout the day. Bebop continued to spend the bulk of his time attempting to flirt with Tamsen. Despite her general exhibitionist nature, the idea of having sex on the deck of a ship with six strange men watching them was a bit more than she was ready to get involved with. Finally, she found a clever way to stop Bebop from asking her, “I’m not having sex with you unless Donovan is involved.” Knowing Donovan as well as she did, she assumed that he would not even consider having such an activity on board a ship in these conditions. But, she also knew it would force Bebop to stop pestering her about it, and start pestering Donovan. Meanwhile, Lucius would engage in games of chance with the crew in order to pass the time. Donovan continued to study books as much as he could; but kept himself wrapped up in a tarp in order to protect the manuscripts from the spray of the waters.

And so it was that on one of these nights, Donovan and the others were stirred awake by the sound of the crew screaming. Looking around, Donovan saw several liquid looking creature aboard the boat.
Focusing his eyes and mind, the realization came to him quickly. “Water Elementals! GrumbleJack, Bebop, clear the deck of these things!” Lucius called forth a Hell Hound, who began assisting the GrumbleJack, Bebop, and the crew of the Frosthamar in attacking the Elementals. Meanwhile, Tamsen began applying Protective Luck to everyone, starting with Donovan. Odenkirk pulled out a large axe, and began assisting his crew in destroying the Elementals on deck.
Meanwhile, the crewman that was up in the mast shouted down, “Motion in the water!”
He cast a light towards a humanoid creature that was riding a dolphin just a short distance away from the Frosthamar. As Donovan’s eyes fixated on the illuminated spot that was provided by the crewmate, a flash of recognition entered his mind. “Tritons! Lucius, get some dolphins over there now!” Abandoning the Hell Hound he had already created, Lucius turned towards the water and summoned a group of dolphins. The dolphins, clearly altered by the dark energies that Lucius wielded, viciously followed the command of Lucius as he ordered them to attack the first visible Triton. Their attacks, brutal and savage, rended the Triton into pieces within seconds. Meanwhile, on the deck of the ship, the remaining Water Elementals had been hewn into puddles, only for a new group of them to be summoned up again. Bebop was especially ruthless, oftentimes destroying an Elemental in a single attack. While Donovan was not able to successfully attack anyone, his ability to continue healing the people onboard allowed them to continue fighting without faltering. And so the cycle would continue for several minutes. Lucius and the Triton summoner would continue throwing out waves of attackers upon the opposing groups, and those groups would attempt to battle back the summoned minions. Unfortunately for the Tritons, Lucius was a far better Summoner. The power of his minions easily outclassed the power of the Triton’s minions, and in due time, the Triton summoner found himself being pulled down to a bloody end at the hand of another group of vicious dolphins. With the death of the Triton summoner, the few remaining Tritons lost their nerve and fled, and all of the summoned Elementals turned back into the water from which they were drawn forth. Small puddles of blood surrounded the Frosthamar, before finally being washed away by the ebb and flow of the waters.
Captain Odenkirk looked at Donovan with a sense of concern and frustration in his face, “Why in damnation would Tritons be attacking my ship?”
Donovan, clearly confused from this event, responded uncertainly, “Why indeed, Captain?”

To himself, Donovan would wonder what sort of omen this event would represent. Only time would tell.

Session 5 Ends.
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Part 1: Knot of Thorns
Act 3: Fire-Axe!
Session 6: Old Habits, New Allies

The waves continued to roll and toss around the Frosthamar. Donovan had grown somewhat accustomed to the gentle rhythmic sensation that was caused by the travel through the seas. While sleeping was difficult, he had learned to master reading under these conditions. He also used the time to continue finding other ways to pass the time. He continued to work and polish the equipment that had been found recently, taking care to remove any identifying markings on the gear, and polishing it to make sure that it would be able to be sold for maximum value. Still, he felt useless to his family. Time and time again, he was unable to provide any real combat support beyond tactical assistance. He envied how easily the others could muster themselves to be useful in a real fight, while he did little more than simply throw sharp rocks in random directions. Donovan resolved to begin focusing his talents on improving his combat prowess.

As Donovan continued to polish and prime the equipment he was working on, he overheard Captain Odenkirk speaking with his crew in Norspik. Of course, Donovan understood what they were saying, but he continued to play the part of the ignorant tourist as he carefully listened in on their words. The crew and the captain were discussing heading to a location they referred to as “Seal Island”. Apparently, this location would add at least a half day onto the total travel time, not to mention the time they spent in the area. The captain was unconcerned about such things, his greed always at the forefront of his actions.
“Don’t worry, I’ll make some up some story for these idiots.”, Odenkirk said to his crew.
Donovan smirked to himself and thought about the conversation he had with Thorn before departing on this journey. Adrastus had spoken on the greed of Kargeld Odenkirk, and it was something that Donovan could appreciate. Unfortunately, Odenkirk broke a cardinal rule of the mercantile: Never change a deal after the terms are set. Odenkirk had demanded additional payment after he had received the goods and was getting ready to depart. Alcott Westermeyer would have marked Odenkirk and effectively put him out of business. Adrastus Thorn was a kinder individual, as he simply ordered the death of Odenkirk and his crew. Compared to a slow misery at the hands of Alcott and the other merchants, Donovan considered a swift death a mercy for this man. Donovan saw this situation as a pity, as in a different situation Donovan would have found a way to put a man like this under his thumb. Still, war is usually on a tight schedule, and perhaps killing Odenkirk was the most efficient option for dealing with problematic employees such as him.

“We’re a little light on water.”, Odenkirk began his prepared speech to Donovan. “We’re passing Seal Isle, and there’s a stream that feeds into the bay there. While we’re there, the area is home to some of the richest seal hunting areas in all of the coast. I’m thinking of organizing a hunting expedition, if you would be interested in traveling with us.” Donovan studied Odenkirk as he told this obvious lie. Of course, the lie was only obvious to Donovan because he was familiar with Norspik. Without that knowledge, Donovan realized that he would be hard pressed to detect the falsehoods in the captain’s speech.
Donovan responded, “Thank you for the generous offer, Captain. However, my assignment is to this ship and the cargo aboard it. I wish you luck in your hunting.”
Donovan smiled broadly at the captain, as a plan began to form in his mind.
“Hunting?”, Bebop chimed up, excited at the opportunity to escape the confines of the Frosthamar.
Donovan looked over to Bebop, and shook his head with somber determination. Bebop knew better than to argue with Donovan when he had his mind set that way, so he sighed and went back to how he was formerly occupying himself.

Soon enough, the captain and three of his crew manned two of the smaller boats, then begin headed towards the small isle under the pretense of fetching water. The ships didn’t even arrive at the island before they began the grisly work of clubbing and killing seals for their pelts. Bebop wasted no time in taking advantage of the lack of crew to attempt to seduce Tamsen yet again. While Tamsen was initially insistent that Donovan would need to be involved, Donovan suggested that the two of them could include Timeon if they really needed to have release with one another right then, as Donovan and Lucius kept their eyes focused on the horizon where the small boats were located. Bebop, Tamsen, and Timeon wasted little time as the three began enjoying themselves on the deck, while Donovan began planning with Lucius.
“Lucius, if you see an opportunity to take out Captain Odenkirk’s raft, you take it. This would be very opportune for us to remove a problem from this boat without even having him on the boat.”, Donovan spoke softly to Lucius in Infernal.
Lucius nodded with understanding, his eyes focused on the vessels, looking for an opportunity to act.

Meanwhile, on board the rafts, the crew had become somewhat competitive with one another. The vessel not holding Odenkirk had apparently had some good luck with finding some larger seals and were beginning to clean and gut the animals out on the raft in order to cut down on the weight inside their vessel. Blood and guts were spilled openly into the water, drawing the attention of nearby predators. Those predators soon manifested themselves to the surface, as they begin to strike the sides of the raft, attempting to knock it off balance. The captain called out to the mast of the Frosthamar, but the sailor manning the post was distracted paying attention to what Bebop and Tamsen were doing.
Finally, the shapes under the water made themselves visible to the surface where Donovan could see them. “Godsdamn it all! Bunyips!”
Lucius looked over at him, “Is this the opportunity we were looking for?”
Donovan replied, “Not if we don’t have someone to get us to the destination!”
Lucius nodded at Donovan, then gestured with his hands. A quartet of Dolphins came forth into being again, once more touched by the dark energies so familiar to Lucius. The dolphins swam out to attack the bunyips, striking them and moving away to force the bunyips to chase after them. The bunyips were clearly more powerful creatures, but the dolphins had both numbers and agility working on their behalf. Odenkirk roared out to his crew to return to the Frosthamar, using the opportunity provided to them by the dolphins to row free of the bunyips.
Looking over at Tamsen and Bebop, Donovan curtly spoke, “Wrap it up you three, they are headed back now.”

Once Odenkirk reboarded the ship with the rest of his crew, he appeared to have the slightest sense of contrition was over him. “Bunyips. Who would have expected that?”
Donovan, having reached his limit of patience with the greed of that man, was direct and to the point in his reply. “Captain, that could have turned out very poorly for you and your crew had we not been here as the situation developed. It should be apparent now that those bunyips have made this area their home for the season. Perhaps we should go to another location…”, Donovan paused to accentuate the obvious lie he had been told. “… for the water we so clearly need.”
Odenkirk thought about the situation he had allowed himself to get into, and then responded, “Perhaps you’re right, Donovan.”
Donovan smiled, holding back his frustration and annoyance. “Indeed, Captain. Indeed.”

Setting out the next morning, the Frosthamar came across a small group of boats that appeared to be kayaks and an open skinned canoe. The individuals manning those ships were attempting to make contact with the individuals on board the Odenkirk’s vessel.
“Yutak?”, Donovan queried. “I’ve heard of them, but never had a chance to actually meet them in person.”
Upon approaching the side of the Frosthamar, the speaker of the tribe spoke up in limited Common. “I am Joseph Calls-Fire-From-Water, this is Chief White Tusk. We trade?”
Donovan smiled almost ecstatically. Switching over to the Yutak’s native language, Donovan began speaking to the chief, “Greetings noble chief. My name is Donovan, and I am honored to meet you today. What are you offering for trade, and what are you interested in?”
While Bebop, Tamsen, and Lucius were all too familiar with Donovan’s prolific mastery of languages, the Yutak and Captain Odenkirk were both taken off guard at discovering how easily he slipped into a different language than Common. While this excited White Tusk, as he would now be able to speak directly on behalf of his tribe, Odenkirk felt a sudden sense of suspicion creep over him, as he had assumed up to this point that his guests were little more than muscle bound tourists with little to no experience with languages beyond the norm.
“Iron for our weapons, to make them sharp and strong. In exchange, we have this.” White Tusk had one of his tribe produce an exquisite narwhal horn from under the pelts and tarps that has been covering it.
Donovan’s eyes gazed quickly at it, and he realized just how valuable such a rare and precious item they were holding. “Are you sure it’s iron you seek, noble Chief? Perhaps I could interest you in a metal better suited to forging weapons.”
With that, Donovan walked over to the Haversack that Bebop was holding, reached in, and pulled out a small piece of one of the Mithral Cobras that they had been transporting.
Donovan returned to the side of the Frosthamar, and tossed the metal down to White Tusk. “I think this might meet your needs even more than simple iron.”
The Yutak looked over the metal that they were handling, unsure of what it was they were working with. The metal was light, yet when they pressed it against one of their spears in order to shear off a piece of mithral, they discovered that this metal was more than capable of shearing apart their current weapons.
The Yutak had not practiced holding in their eagerness for trades, so Donovan could easily read their excitement. “Yes, we find this metal acceptable. We wish for ten stones of this metal in exchange for the horn.”
Bebop whispered into Donovan’s mind via the connection Tamsen had made, “Take them for more, Donovan!” Donovan’s eyes met Bebop’s briefly.
“We just doubled our profit in a single trade. Don’t fight for coppers when dealing in gold.”
Donovan then turned back to the chief, “We’ll do that deal, White Tusk.”
Donovan had GrumbleJack bring out one of the Mithral Cobras from the Haversack, then reaching out across the edge of the Frosthamar to hand it to one of the members of the Yutak tribe. They spent some time weighing the object to make sure that the weight was the amount agreed upon. Once confirmed, they released the horn to Donovan and his family.

“Anything else I can interest you in today, noble Chief?”, Donovan’s voice perked at the end, making the statement sound less like a question, and more like a temptation.
The tribe produced miscellaneous pieces of ivory, and White Tusk spoke, “We seek more metal for our weapons.” Donovan smiled, “More metal you say?”
Donovan looked over at Bebop, “Open up one of the crates.”
As Bebop moved towards the crates, Odenkirk intercepted Donovan. “Not so fast. I was hired to make sure this shipment made it to the destination, and that doesn’t include you just opening it up and using it for your personal profit.”
Donovan’s eyes focused on Odenkirk. “I see, so what is it you are looking for here Captain?”
Odenkirk’s greed was transparent to Donovan, but he allowed him to say the words he knew was going to come from the captain next. “First, I want it to be clear that this isn’t on me. If Thorn finds out about this trade, you made this choice, not me.”, Odenkirk’s fear of Thorn was still present, even if just so.
Donovan tilted his head at Odenkirk at the words he said, then dismissively responded. “I’m sure my father will be fine with this.”
Odenkirk, undeterred by Donovan’s response, pressed on. “And I want seventy percent. You wouldn’t even be able to trade with the Yutak if it wasn’t for me.”
Donovan suppressed the urge to laugh in Odenkirk’s face, then quickly looked over at White Tusk. “Excuse me a moment, Chief. The Captain and I are discussing something of importance.”
His eyes then refocused to Odenkirk, “I need to find out if they’ll even make this trade before I can offer you numbers.”
Odenkirk would not be denied his prize. “No, you have to settle with me first.”, grabbing Donovan’s arm and holding him in place.
Donovan’s annoyance was apparent now, as he tried to appease the captain. “Fine, I’ll do fifty percent on the value of the cargo trade, since you are providing the forum for this negotiation to take place.”
“Sixty.”, Odenkirk attempted to counter with Donovan.
An air of menace crept over Donovan, as he stared at Odenkirk with a barely contained rage. “You’ll take fifty percent, and be thankful for having any profit for a deal that you are now getting in the way of.”
Odenkirk recoiled at seeing the sudden change of demeanor from Donovan, who had up to this point, been nothing but diplomatic and pleasant with all of the crew. Having resolved the matter, Donovan presented a handful of weapons and shields to the Yutak, in order to have them review any of them for possible options. There was some back and forth between the members of the Yutak and Donovan, with him attempting to keep the deal within the “break even” point, and still not make them feel as though they were getting a poor deal from him. Finally, there was a breakthrough for a small amount of profit on the items to be sold. The deal was nothing particularly exciting, yet it was enough to keep the Yutak tribe interested.
“Do you happen to have any furs or other fine garments?”, White Tusk chimed up.
Just then, Bebop remembered the collection of robes that had been taken from the Warden of Branderscar. The chief’s eyes grew wide with excitement when Bebop produced the first garment. Unfamiliar with the typical manner in which Talingarde finery was worn, White Tusk simply tossed the robe on top of his existing clothes. One of Odenkirk’s sailors began to chuckle at the sight of White Tusk poorly attempting to wear the robe, but that was immediately silenced when Odenkirk grabbed the sailor and threw him back across the deck. Odenkirk was angrily whispering something to the sailor, but Donovan couldn’t focus on what the captain was saying while attempting to reassure and encourage the chief. The chief asked if he was wearing the outfit the right way, and Donovan provided him some suggestions on how to properly wear the attire.
After removing some of his own outerwear, the chief placed the robe on him in the correct fashion, and was immediately excited about the look and feel of the clothing. “We will trade you all we have left for this robe.”, White Tusk said to Donovan.
Donovan smiled and responded, “Not at all, noble Chief. This robe is a gift for you. We wish for you to have it to express the beginning of new relations between us.”
The chief thought on this act of goodwill, and responded positively, “We will not forget you, or what you have done for our tribe today. What is your name?”
Donovan responded, “Please call me Donovan Thorn. I’m looking forward to continued relations with you and others of your tribes.” Donovan paused for a moment, “White Tusk, if you are still looking for an opportunity to trade your remaining wares, I believe we have additional robes that may also please you.” Bebop pulled out several other robes in different colors.
Without hesitation, the tribe chief spoke up, “We’ll trade those for all we have left here.”
Donovan smiled at White Tusk, “We most certainly have a deal.”
Not much later, the Yutak pulled away from the Frosthamar, having traded away all of their wares to Donovan in exchange for a few stones of Mithral, a handful of shields, and three robes. Donovan walked over to Captain Odenkirk, pulling a large handful of coins out of his bag. Donovan placed the coins into the captain’s hand. “Seventy five gold. That’s what I estimate fifty percent of the profit to be on those shields we ended up trading with the Yutak.”
Odenkirk took the money while smirking at Donovan, “That’s a really nice horn you got from them.”
Donovan nodded and laughed, then looked over at Tamsen. In her head, Donovan spoke to the group. “Hilarious! The fool is planning to kill and rob us, while we’re planning to kill and rob him. The irony of this situation isn’t lost on me.”

Time passed, and the ship continued to push north. The water was beginning to freeze up now, as the Frosthamar pushed through blocks of ice across the top of the water. The scenery was breathtaking, but hard to enjoy as the temperature continued to plummet.
Tamsen, who was naturally resistant to temperature fluctuations, wrapped her arms around Donovan. “Are you doing alright out here, my love?”, she whispered sweetly in his ear.
“Thank you for thinking about me. I’m better now that you are around.”, Donovan responded to her.
She pushed closer against Donovan and giggled slightly, “I’ll share my body heat with you anytime.”
Donovan pulled out a few blackened pieces of clay from his alchemist kit. “Help me work these into a pile, would you?”
Donovan’s hands, at first rigid and inflexible, began to gain mobility as the heat from the pieces of clay gained malleability. Tamsen noticed the change in temperature as well.
“Ooh, these get warm as you play with them!”, Tamsen commented as her hands spread the Blackfire Clay around.
“They do indeed, my love. And, they make heat without fire, which is quite useful in situations like the one we are in right now.”
Bebop and Lucius soon discovered what the other two were doing, and assisted in activating the clay for creating a small “campfire” that they could use for heat. As the darkness set in, the only light available on the ship was coming from the torches at the front and rear of the ship. Suddenly, Donovan and the others noticed that the temperature was dropping unexpectedly fast. Even next to the heat source they had created, the temperature was falling in a very apparent way.
Donovan stood up and began looking around. “Something’s coming guys. Probably some sort of ice creature.”
The temperature then took a vicious drop, as ice crystals formed along the railing and deck of the ship. A moment later, Ice Elementals appeared on the ship.

A voice called up from around the crow’s nest of the Frosthamar, “How dare you bring fire into my realm? Now you all will suffer for your arrogance!”
The voice was laughing and mocking them, but it was too dark to make out what sort of creature was up in that area.
Donovan called out to Tamsen, “Tamsen, light up the crow’s nest!”
Tamsen gestured with her hands and words, and a group of Dancing Lights were soon circling around that area of the ship.
With a clearer image of what was up there, Donovan was able to identify the creature that was haranguing the ship. “Ice Mephit! Lucius, put a Hell Hound up there, those creatures are vulnerable to fire!”
Bebop began his transformation, embracing his monstrous form and moving towards two of the Ice Elementals.
The crew, barring Odenkirk, were simply too terrified to act. GrumbleJack attempted to swing at the small creatures, but struggled for any of his hits to land. Odenkirk grabbed for his axe, then immediately dropped it as it became covered with ice crystals. Odenkirk was taken aback, but instead pulled out a pair of daggers he had been previously concealing. The Mephit laughed at Odenkirk, seeing the weapon dropped from his hand, but was then surprised by the Hell Hound that also was summoned up in the crow’s nest, and breathed fire at it. The Mephit screamed and cursed at the Hell Hound, flying away as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, back on the deck, Bebop was continuing to annihilate the Ice Elementals on the deck, with a small amount of support from GrumbleJack and Odenkirk.
Donovan screamed up at the Ice Mephit that was flying around the ship, “Get down here, or you’ll share the fate of these Ice Elementals.” The Ice Mephit laughed and refused Donovan’s order. Soon, though, the Ice Mephit watched as all the Elementals were destroyed from the deck. The Ice Mephit, perhaps annoyed or afraid of what would happen if it attempted to flee, decided to land on the deck.
Looking at Donovan, the Mephit hesitated, then spoke a single word.
“Parley?” Donovan scoffed at the creature. “Now you want to talk? Fine! Why are you attacking this ship?”
The creature, arrogant in its activity, responded to Donovan. “You bring the fire to my realm, and now you see my anger!”
Donovan sighed at this small creature, so confident in its talents and abilities. “Alright, then, what do you want?”
The Mephit, thinking it had finally gotten what it wanted from this ship, cackled with glee at Donovan’s response. “You’ll put out all of your torches and fires, and then I will allow you to pass.”
Donovan, whose frustrations had already been pushed to the brink over wasting even more time still dealing with yet another arrogant creature, tilted his head at the Mephit, then responded curtly, “Let me make you a counter offer.”
Donovan’s eyes flicked over to Tamsen, who immediately knew what Donovan wanted her to do. Tamsen spoke quietly, making small gestures with her hands towards the Mephit. The Mephit suddenly found itself unable to stay awake, and fell into a Slumber on the deck of the ship.
“Toss him in a crate,”, Donovan said to Bebop, “we’ll see if his temperament changes after a few days of not being able to leave.”
Odenkirk was angry with the Mephit, wanting to destroy it utterly.
Bebop, having also learned the way that Odenkirk was motivated, held him at bay with a simple sentence. “Wait Captain, we can sell this creature for profit.”
Odenkirk was frustrated, but was clearly moved by Bebop’s words. Donovan spent the next few days speaking to the creature from inside the crate, explaining to it that it had very few choices given the situation it had put itself in. Slowly, using a combination of diplomacy and intimidation, Donovan began to break the will of this creature.
After a while, the Mephit revealed its name to Donovan, “I am Killiketz.”
Donovan tossed in a Liquid Frost vial into the crate with Killiketz. “You work with me, Killiketz, and more of these will keep coming your way.” Killiketz soon proved itself quite useful, taking over the crow’s nest of the Frosthamar and functioning as a scout for the ship. The Mephit would fly out and scout the waters ahead of the path the ship was headed. It would then come back and report what it had discovered to Donovan, who was able to inform Odenkirk of what had been discovered. And, while the crew was annoyed at no longer getting away from everyone up in the crow’s nest, all of them could appreciate how efficient and accurate Killiketz functioned as a scout on behalf of the ship. “
You know, I bet we could get four thousand gold for that creature.”, Odenkirk spoke up to Donovan after seeing what the Mephit was capable of.
Donovan smiled and looked back at Odenkirk, “I like the way you think, Captain.”

After their travels, they came upon an unspoiled area of land, well behind the Watch Wall. The area was still cold, but the waters were no longer covered with ice. The Frosthamar glided gently down the waters, until it finally came upon a crudely built pier. Looking around, the members of the Frosthamar could see a large collection of bugbears moving around the area. As they approached the pier, the group could see four Bugbears walking up the pier, with violence in their eyes.

Donovan sighed, “Oh, this is going to be interesting.”

Session 6 Ends.
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Part 1: Knot of Thorns
Act 3: Fire-Axe!
Session 7: Hostile Takeover

As the sailors tossed the dockline over to the group of bugbears, one of them grabbed the line while speaking to his compatriots in his native tongue. “It looks like the food is being delivered to us now, yes?” Donovan heard the group of bugbears, and frustration set upon him. It had been far too long since he had been able to set his feet on land, too long since he had been able to do anything but read and pace about a small deck; and he would not be held in fear by these ignorant brutes.
Rushing over to the side of the boat where the bugbears were assisting in pulling the ship across the dock, he screamed at them in Goblin. “You go and fetch Sakkarot for us now, and maybe you live to see this night pass, yes?”
The uncertainty of what to do next was plainly visible on the faces of the bugbears. The small humanoid creature was barking orders at them, and seemed completely unafraid. One of the bugbears called out to the myriad smaller goblins back up the way, “Go and get the Fire Axe! Someone is here to see him!” The goblins, hearing the orders from the much larger bugbears, rushed away in compliance. Still, the bugbears would not be easily denied their food. “Maybe we eat you now, give your gifts to Sakkarot when he arrives, yes?”
Donovan gritted his teeth in barely controlled rage. “And maybe I kill you all here and now, yes?”
Snapping his fingers, Donovan switched back to Common, “Bebop, deal with them!”
Bebop dropped down onto the pier, having already consumed one of his Mutagens a few moments earlier. Despite the obvious and massive increase to his body mass, Bebop was clearly giving up over a foot in height and hundreds of pounds to just one of these creatures. One of the bugbears snorted as Bebop approached them, thinking to crush the little insect. The bugbear swung wide. Bebop dodged the blow, and then snarled with a fury none of them expected. Fear gripped the bugbear who had attempted to attack Bebop, and he began to retreat from the smaller humanoid. The other bugbears mocked the one that was moving away, calling him a coward, then pushing him off the pier into the water and laughing. Another bugbear moved up to Bebop, confidence brimming in its eyes.
“I’m not afraid of you!”, the bugbear shouted at Bebop before taking a swing.
The blow connected against Bebop, who didn’t even flinch as the club sunk down onto his shoulder. The bugbear barely had a moment to realize how ineffective the attack was before Bebop exploded onto the creature in a blur of teeth and claws. Within seconds, the bugbear was turned into a bloody mass on the pier, clearly dead. The last two bugbears were visibly unsure of themselves now, as GrumbleJack’s massive weight stepped onto the pier, causing the entire structure to bob up and down in the water. The grabbed their weapons, readying themselves for a fight. Just then, a voice rang out in the distance.

“Hold your attacks!”, the powerful voice spoke out across the area where the ship was moored. A bugbear, covered in black fur and wielding an actual flaming axe, approached the pier and the Frosthamar.
Looking at Bebop, the bugbear asked, “Who sent you?”
“Thorn.”, was the terse reply of Bebop.
The bugbear seemed somewhat unconvinced at the single worded reply, and Donovan continued forward, “We are the Ninth Knot, and your delivery has arrived! GrumbleJack, show him!”
GrumbleJack, hoisting one of the crates that weighed several hundred pounds, tossed it in the air to the black furred bugbear, who caught the crate in his arms with a thud that shook the pier once more. Tearing the crate open, the bugbear saw a collection of weapons bearing the symbol of Asmodeus. “These people are my guests, and I will deal with anyone who brings them harm! They have brought us steel!” The bugbear held one of the weapons from the crate up in the air, and a cheer came from all the creatures nearby. GrumbleJack began assisting the bugbears, as crate after crate is removed from the Frosthamar. While Donovan knew that many crates were being held in the ship, it wasn’t until he saw them spread about the beach area that he truly began to grasp the scope of how many weapons had actually been provided.
The bugbear, having spent some time watching Donovan and the others, finally approached Donovan and spoke directly to him. “I am Sakkarot, the leader of this group.”
Donovan smiled and responded back, “I am Donovan, and this is my family. We are delighted to finally meet with you, great War Chief.” Bebop approached the bugbear that he had scared briefly, who was still avoiding him even now.
“Where are your women?”, Bebop asked excitedly.
Sakkarot set his hand on Bebop’s shoulder, “I appreciate your enthusiasm for life; but perhaps you would first like to enjoy a feast with my people in order to celebrate these weapons you have brought us.”
Donovan sighed, once more frustrated at Bebop's choice of words. As they were getting ready to head into the camp, Odenkirk told Donovan, “I’m not going in there with them.”
Donovan nodded to the captain, “I would have expected no different from you, Captain. We’ll be back soon enough.”
Wordlessly, Donovan instructed Lucius to stay behind, “Keep an eye on these individuals. We’ll take care of the captain when I return.”

Massive dire boars were placed on spits, ready to be cooked over open fires. Sakkarot had the honor of taking the head of the first one. While Donovan and Tamsen ate enough to show proper respect, Bebop and GrumbleJack gorged themselves on food and drink. It wasn’t long before Bebop had left the feasting to enjoy a different sort of flesh.
“Your friend is given to his indulgences.”, Sakkarot spoke amusedly.
Donovan nodded, “Bebop fully embraces each moment in life. It’s something I admire about him.”
Sakkarot took another drink of his wine, then continued, “You said you were the Ninth Knot of the Cardinal, correct?” Donovan nodded, and Sakkarot continued, “I am the leader of the First Knot.” He paused briefly, “I am the only true member of the First Knot. The rest are fools.” Revealing a brand that Sakkarot had placed onto his chest, Sakkarot exclaimed, “I am a true servant of Asmodeus.”
Donovan pondered Sakkarot’s words for a moment, then responded, “So you are first and foremost a servant of Asmodeus before you are a servant of the Cardinal.”
Sakkarot snorted, “That man seeks to call himself a Cardinal, yet he was only a Cardinal of the Mitran faith.” The words hit Donovan like a greatclub. Thoughts sped through Donovan’s mind, until the one obvious conclusion was dialed in on: Thorn wasn’t betrayed by the Talerians, he betrayed them. And in that moment, Donovan realized that he wasn’t employed by a man seeking to upend to status quo for the benefit of all religions including those of Asmodeus, he was simply working for a petty creature attempting to lash out for the consequences of the betrayal that had been taken against the kingdom.
“A man of Mitran faith, you say? How very interesting.”, was the only response that Donovan could muster as his mind was working through all of the ramifications.

Bebop entered back into the tent where the three of them had been previously speaking, the scent of sex and sweat covering his body. It was quite apparent how he had been spending his time, as he had a look on his face of self-confidence.
“Ah, I see your friend has returned.”, Sakkarot stood up, appearing to be intending to leave.
Donovan gathered his thoughts. “Before you go, War Chief, I was hoping to make a couple of requests of you.”
Sakkarot focused his attention on Donovan, “What is it then?”
“First, for the next task that we are being asked of by Thorn, we will need to employ more discretion. As such, I was hoping that my friend GrumbleJack would be able to remain with you until your invasion has been made manifest.”
Sakkarot nodded approvingly, “GrumbleJack is welcome to stay with us. I’m sure he will not need any protection from me, as he is a powerful warrior in his own right.”
Donovan smiled, “Wonderful. As to the other request, would you be interested in taking a slave from us? Thorn wishes to have the captain of the Frosthamar killed, so I was hoping I could leave him in your care until your men got bored with him.”
Sakkarot tilted his head slightly, “I thought your team was sailing on to the town?”
Donovan affirmed, “Yes, but I only need the sailors for that, I don’t need him.”
Sakkarot chuckled, “You are certainly an unusual creature, Donovan. And yes, we’ll be happy to take him off your hands. My army can always use more slaves.”
Donovan smiled and clapped his hands together, “Wonderful, have some of your men wait down at the edge of the pier. We’ll get him ready for you.”
Sakkarot handed Donovan a simple flare gun, then spoke solemnly, “It will take me two weeks to bring the remaining troops here, and then move into position. Once there, I will be able to keep them in line for another two weeks. You have that long to bring down the defenses of the Watch Wall. Can you accomplish this task in that time?”
Donovan smiled and said, “Thorn believes this to be true.”
Sakkarot grunted with a pleased look on his face, then responded once more, “Do this and your names will be legend. Hail Asmodeus!”
With that, Sakkarot left the tent. Donovan reached out to his family through the telepathic link created by Tamsen. “Prepare yourselves, it’s time for us to deal with the Captain tonight.”

Lucius was making the most of his time on the Frosthamar. Taking some of the Blackfire Clay that Donovan had left behind for him, Lucius began trying out some simple dishes with ingredients and spices that he had been thinking about over the last several days. Odenkirk and his crew were having a wonderful evening, with Lucinda even playing the part of a bar wench who would fetch drinks and plates for them. Odenkirk reveled in card games, especially as he frequently changed the rules to suit whatever he thought gave him the best chance of winning. Lucius didn’t give too much thought to such things. It was all well enough that Lucius was being appreciated for his work, by people who didn’t consider service to be a sign of slavery. When the instructions came in, Lucius began silently instructing Lucinda to align herself to the side or rear of Odenkirk as best she could. Even as Lucinda maintained the ruse of a simple drink server, she began sizing up the Captain, seeing how she would dispatch him. Lucius saw Donovan and the others walking up to the pier, with a group of bugbears in tow. Donovan observed what was going on at the deck of the Frosthamar, and handed Bebop a stack of gold coins. The group stepped up on the ship from the pier, as Lucius kept trying to pull different sailors away from the group playing with Odenkirk. Odenkirk, seeing Bebop with a stack of coins and no understanding of the rules, was nearly salivating at the chance to have Bebop play. And with Bebop directly in front of the Captain, and Lucinda to his side, the plan was about to take place. Tamsen whispered her soft words of Slumber, cutting across the deck of the ship into the Captain’s ears. Odenkirk drooped over and fell asleep. As Donovan shouted out a warning to the crew, Lucinda let the platter she was holding in her left hand drop, while her right hand simultaneously unsheathed her blade. The two hands latched on together to the weapon as the blade made contact with the captain’s neck, severing his head in a moment. The sailors were struck numb with terror, having seen Odenkirk killed faster than some of them could even blink. They began to panic, considering their odds if they went for their weapons.
Donovan raised his hands in a non-threatening pose. “Relax gentlemen. I’m here to talk to you about employment opportunities.” Donovan began to question the sailors on how much they were being paid for the journey, and how much of that they had received thus far. After learning about the relative pittance they were being paid, Donovan offered to double their fees and increase their advance in exchange for getting the Frosthamar to Alderncross.
Donovan finally ended his sales pitch with, “Unless some of you are still loyal to Odenkirk.”
One member of the crew responded from the Crow’s Deck by spitting at the former Captain's corpse.
Donovan chuckled briefly, “Good enough. Then, unless some of you want to stay here for some reason, I suggest we make distance from this camp on our way to our destination.” A few hours later, the ship was back on the lake, having left the corpse of the captain behind with the bugbears.
One of the sailors named Asghan approached Donovan, “We’d like to know what your plans are with us.”
Donovan calmly responded to him, “I understand your concerns, but we have no issue with any of you on this ship. Odenkirk was a fool, who attempted to change the terms of the deal after it had been agreed upon. He sealed his fate when he did that. But, his actions are not yours, and I’m not planning to punish you for the greed of your former captain. My instructions were simple. Kill Odenkirk and his crew. I killed Odenkirk, and now he has no crew.”
Asghan shook his head vigorously, “No, we are not part of Odenkirk’s crew.”
Donovan smiled, “Exactly. So, I have fulfilled the instructions that I was given.” Donovan then looked at the sailor intently, “But, you need to understand. I need you to keep quiet on this matter. When you get into town, you need to remember the expression about loose lips and what they sink.” Donovan quickly changed his form into that of the sailor.”
The sailor responded, “We don’t feel comfortable in that town.”
Donovan returned to his true form, and cursed himself silently. Of course they don’t fit in, they are poor and don’t speak enough Common. Why would I assume that they would be treated as people?
“We’ll figure something out, Asghan. But, for now, know that neither I nor my family bear any of you ill will or intend any harm towards you.”, Donovan spoke to the sailor in a calm and reassuring voice.
Perhaps the words did end up having some positive effect on the sailors, as no violence occurred on the deck that evening.

The next morning, the ship resumed its heading to Aldencross, and arrived there within a couple of days. Donovan paid the sailors the remaining amount promised, then stepped off the ship with his family. “I’ll figure out how we’re going to manage all this, so stay docked for now.” The sailors nodded, and the family left to explore the town and all it had to offer. Donovan and the others had collected quite a number of trinkets and baubles over the course of the last few months, and Donovan was all too eager to unload these goods and purchase better supplies. Before that could occur, however, a few things had to be wrapped up. First, Tamsen sent Timeon back to Balantyne, with instructions on how he should reingratiate himself back into the local military here. While Timeon did briefly protest, Tamsen was quite effective at getting him to bend to her will. Once he was on his way, the group decided to find the nearest Inn in order to get a bath. The group only found one place of note in the town, and that was the Lord’s Dalliance. The Lord’s Dalliance was apparently at one time a brothel of sorts before the restrictions in the laws allowing prostitution. Since then, it has clearly gone through several redesigns in order to allow for more rooms to be provided. The group stepped into the Inn, taking in the sights and sounds of the establishment. Sizing up the business, Donovan went to the individual who appeared to be the owner, named Bellum Barhold. Donovan smiled and introduced himself to the owner as “Donovan Thorn”. Donovan asked if any rooms were available, and Bellum listed several rooms at different prices. Naturally, Donovan rented out several expensive rooms for him and his family, including the largest room that Bellum offered. Bellum listed an amount for two weeks of rental time, and Donovan countered by making an offer that included several fine bottles of alcohol that he had procured from Odenkirk’s personal stash. Barhold was very pleased with this transaction, actually spending more time trying to understand the motivations of these wealthy travelers.
“I’m attempting to establish a merchant trading route in the area.”, Donovan responded when asked what his business was in Aldencross. Bellum thought about what he had learned thus far about the man. “I must say, I’m not familiar with a merchant family by the name of Thorn.”
Donovan smiled at his query, “I’m not using my birth name. I want to be judged by my own actions and not by the name I was born to.”
“You are quite an impressive young man!”, Bellum responded with approval. “If only more of your kind were in our world.”
“Thank you for the compliment, Bellum.”, Donovan replied. “As part of our return to land after all these weeks, I would like to pay for all the drinks over the course of the next few hours. If you could give me an appropriate amount that you think it would cost to facilitate such a thing…”
Bellam’s smile grew wide, as he began to go into the detail of the powerful drinking ability of the Dwarves who stayed at the Inn and worked to maintain the Watch Wall. After a while, he finally came around to the number, “I think that would be 20 Gold.”
Donovan placed the Gold onto the bar, and smiled weakly. “Now, my good sir, I must retire to the rooms you have provided for us and have a bath. I will be back shortly to celebrate with your fine patrons.”
As Donovan and Tamsen walked up the stairs to their room, Bellum made the announcement to all of the patrons that drinks would be on the house for the next couple of hours, and thanked the generous donors who made the event possible. A roar came up from all of the bar, and people began to place their orders.

Tamsen and Donovan entered their room just as the servants finished adding the water into the bath. As the servants departed, Tamsen pulled off her minimal clothing and climbed into the bath.
“Come join me, love.”, Tamsen invited Donovan with a devilish grin.
Donovan looked back at her, “I don’t think it’s big enough for the two of us. I can wait until you are out.”
Tamsen sighed, then began washing the days of travel from her skin. Donovan assisted Tamsen in bathing.
As he gingerly touched her back and shoulders, Donovan frowned. “I’m so sorry, my love. I wish you didn’t have to live in a world where you had to hide your wings and tail. This world seems to only accept people who look a certain way and believe a certain way.”
Tamsen rolled over in the bathtub, facing Donovan. “I don’t care about how people see me, Donovan. I care about how you see me.” Donovan took Tamsen’s hands, “I love you, Tamsen. You are everything to me. I want the world you live in to see you as I do.”
Donovan leaned forward with an intensity that Tamsen rarely saw from him. She leaned against him, her forehead pressed against his as her arms draped around his shoulders. “The way you make me feel Donovan. I have never felt anything like this before.”
Donovan smiled at her, their heads still pressed together, “And how exactly do I make you feel, my love?”
In a single motion, Tamsen grabbed the back of Donovan’s shirt, then pulled him into the bathtub with her. The bathtub water sloshed around the two of them, as Tamsen’s arms wrapped around Donovan, who was now soaked in his clothes.
Donovan laughed, spitting out the water that had gone in his mouth. “I told you we both couldn’t fit in here.”
Tamsen kissed Donovan, pulling his clothes off of him. “I don’t care lover. I just want you.”
Donovan quickly found himself lost in the embrace of Tamsen; and spent for the first time in what seemed like a very long time, being completely alone with the woman he loved.

When Tamsen and Donovan finally returned from their rooms, the patrons were well into the enjoyment of the free alcohol that had been provided to them. Bebop and Lucius were already moving around the room, engaging the crowd and listening to the conversations that were being had. Bebop was up to his usual antics, attempting to outdrink the Dwarves in order to get the attention of some of their females. After spending some time drinking with them, Bebop reached his limit; but was able to impress the group in some small way. Listening to the different stories, it was hard to make sense what was true and what was self-aggrandized elaboration; but the group knew that any information could be vital to understanding weaknesses in the Watch Wall.

A few hours later, the group began to move through the town, finally selling off the items that they have collected for months. Donovan used his knowledge and skills with mercantile products in order to improve his buying power within the city. Among the many items he purchased for his family, he acquired a single ring.
He placed the ring onto Tamsen’s finger. “For you, my love. Perhaps not the ring I would truly wish to give you, but one I hope you can accept for the time being.”
Tamsen looked at the ring on her finger, then touched Donovan’s face gently, “A ring for me from you? It’s exactly what I wanted.”
Donovan smiled, kissing Tamsen softly on the lips, “We have a long road ahead of us, I always want you to walk it with me.”

Looking up at the Watch Wall just beyond Aldencross, Donovan knew that the next steps of their walk would be a challenge for his family.

Session 7 Ends.
Last edited:


Part 1: Knot of Thorns
Act 4: Burning Balentyne!
Session 8: Dangerous Drinking with Dwarves

“Tamsen”, Donovan whispered softly to the naked female lying curled next to him in the bed. The group had enjoyed their first night in Aldencross, having spent time shopping and then drinking with the residents of the town who were enjoying their evening in the Lord’s Dalliance. The hours and customers went, and with the stillness Donovan and the others had retired to their respective bedchambers. After the many nights Donovan and the others had been forced to sleep on the deck of the Frosthamar with the rest of the crew, being alone with Tamsen was pure luxury. But the silence was new now, the lack of hearing talking or the waves lapping against the boat; and in the absence of those sounds, Donovan found himself hearing things taking place downstairs in the main part of the Inn.
For her part, Tamsen slightly stirred. “Mmm, Donovan, you’re so feisty tonight.” Her arms, legs and tail began to coil and wrap around Donovan’s form, especially her tail that found its way closer.
While Donovan may have craved such attentions from Tamsen, he was more curious on the unfamiliar noises going on. “Tamsen”, Donovan called out again, more insistently. Tamsen opened one eye, looking over at Donovan.
“What?”, Tamsen whined, not wanting to be moved from her position.
“Wake up, Tamsen. Something is going on downstairs.”, Donovan insisted.
Tamsen rolled on top of Donovan, “And?”
Donovan smiled back at Tamsen, “And I want you to go check on it.”
Tamsen made a pouting face, not wanting to be pulled from her prey. “Why me?”
Donovan chuckled, “Because you can put on my shirt and go downstairs. I have to get fully dressed.”
Tamsen resigned herself for the time being, “Fine.”
Grabbing Donovan’s shirt, she threw it on over her form. While the shirt was slightly large for her, it left little to the imagination, and Tamsen made no effort to button it up. Tamsen carefully opened the door, moving to the edge of the walkway on the second floor and staring down onto the ground floor. Tamsen could now hear the individual who was moving around. Bellum Barhold, the owner of the Inn, was moving to what appeared to be the cellar area. Gingerly, Tamsen stepped down the staircase to the first floor. She was attempting to be quiet, but was hardly practiced in the arts of subtlety and remaining hidden. Still, luck was with Tamsen tonight, as she was able to get down to the area where Bellum was standing in front of a wall. A click was heard by Tamsen, and then she saw a section of the wall Bellum was standing in front of slightly move forward.
“A hidden passageway.”, Tamsen thought silently to Donovan.
“As the soldiers has spoken of in their discussions last night. What a fortunate opportunity for us.”, Donovan’s voice echoed in Tamsen’s mind.
Suddenly, as if he was able to hear them talking, Bellum spun around, seeing Tamsen standing not too far from him. In an effort to conceal his actions, Bellum leaned back against the wall, causing it to close with another barely audible click. “Good lady, what are you doing out of your room? Do you need something?”
Tamsen moved closer to Bellum, a gentle smile on her face. “Donovan heard something from our room, and he wanted me to make sure you were ok.”
Once Tamsen’s form was fully visible in the lantern light, Bellum’s face became flushed with embarrassment, and he made an effort to look away. Bellum stumbled out some explanation, caught between the lie he was attempting to tell and being in complete shock at the brazenness of this woman who was approaching him. “Oh, everything is fine, good lady. Thank you so much for worrying about me. Let me get you two a bottle of our better wine to express my gratitude.”
Tamsen giggled slightly, watching another man fall over himself in her presence. “You’re so sweet, Bellum. Are you sure everything is ok?” Bellum quickly cast his eyes over a few bottles of wine, then pushed one in Tamsen’s direction, all the while making pains to avoid looking at her.
“What do you want me to do, Donovan?”, Tamsen thought in her mind.
“Come back to bed, my love. We can share that wine together.”, Donovan responded happily.
Tamsen sighed with glee, slid one of the glasses off the bar while watching the diverted gaze of Bellum, and softly made her way back up the stairs and into the bedchambers.

Morning came, and while Donovan did hear other noises at the start of the day, chose to instead spend a few extra hours in the company of Tamsen. When they did finally awake, they met with the rest of the group downstairs. Lucius had already been looking into the activities of the kitchen and had started working with the chef that Bellum had hired for dishes to be prepared for the evening. Bellum seemed genuinely interested in the work, and even offered to pay for each plate that he sold.
Lucius smiled at the offer. “Thank you for your generosity. I need to go pick up a few ingredients for these dishes.”
Having said that, Lucius left the Inn with Donovan and the others.
“First things first,”, Donovan said to everyone in the group. “We need to go pick up some supplies.” Donovan took the group shopping through the town, picking up clothing and costume jewelry.
Bebop was confused, “Why are we buying fancy clothes and fake jewelry?”
Donovan simply flashed a knowing smile, and Lucius chimed in, “I see what you are up to, Donovan.”
They then stopped off at an equipment store, picking up some dehydrated food and potable water. As they were headed back to the docks, Lucius suggested that they should also buy some fish hooks.
“Ah, very interesting. I hadn’t even considered that possibility.”, Donovan replied.
With all of their gear and supplies in hand, the group returned to the Frosthamar.
Donovan pulled one of the member of the crew aside. “Take these supplies, and return to the place where you found the Yutak. Once you arrive there, hand them this envelope, and make whatever trades they offer to you. Return with what they provide, and I’ll split the profits with you and the rest of the crew fifty-fifty.”
The crew was surprised at these instructions, but they agreed with Donovan’s terms, and set sail for the last known encounter with the Yutak. “With any luck, they’ll be able to begin taking advantage of this trade opportunity.”, Donovan spoke out loud, to no one in particular. Donovan clapped his hands together, “Alright, time to get some poison!”
Lucius chimed up, “Poison you say? I know a lot of sources of poison, let me go speak to the dockmaster.”
Finding the individual Lucius was seeking, he regaled the dockmaster with tales of Donovan and his unique culinary tastes, and then suggested that if the dockmaster would have a ship go fish for those specimens, Lucius would reward the dockmaster handsomely. Lucius seemed very convincing, at least by any reasonable measure. The dockmaster said that he would attempt to find a boat that would seek out those fish, and would bring them back for purchase.
“I assume you are planning to poison members of the watch wall leadership with these, correct?”, Donovan queried Lucius after departing the dockmaster, a handful of gold poorer.
“Right. We won’t be able to get everyone with the stew, so we’ll need different options for the other people in the castle.”
Hearing those words from Lucius, Donovan nodded. “That’s all fine and well, but we’re still going to need a chemical compound to place into the stew for the majority of the soldiers.”
With that, the group found a local alchemist shop that was selling arsenic. Donovan purchased every bit of the substance that they had in stock, talking about developing a new potion for resisting poisons. “Alchemy is science, and science requires experimentation.” The shop owner smiled and nodded, wishing Donovan well in his experiments.
After leaving the store, Lucius made a suggestion, “We should cause a rat infestation now.”
Donovan and the others laughed at the sheer capitalistic notions that had been put forward by Lucius.
“We’ll have to figure out the proper ratio needed to create the desired affect when ingested.”, Donovan explained to Lucius.
“You want me to try it out on the dwarves to see what it will take, Donovan?”
Donovan shook his head, “Not yet. First, I’m getting the money back from them that they stole from Bebop in those so called ‘card games’ last night. Barnabus thinks he’s quite the drinker, but he has no ideal what an Alchemist can do.”

Donovan returned to his room, unpacking the portable lab he carried around, and dug through various herbs and ingredients before setting them on the table. He began preparing a tincture that he believed would assist in the upcoming challenge. While Donovan was performing this task, Tamsen and Bebop were downstairs interacting with a few of the patrons that had already showed up for the evening, and Lucius returned to the kitchen in order to begin efforts on the evening’s meal. While nothing of particular interest was said, several soldiers offered Tamsen their available coin in order to get her more personal attentions. Tamsen teased and toyed with them, working them into a respective frenzy as they offered to pool all of their monies together just so one of them could have a one-on-one session with her.
Tamsen felt Donovan’s mind reach out to her, “My love, please have Bebop come upstairs, I’m ready here.”
Tamsen relayed the telepathic communication to Bebop, and Bebop went upstairs into Donovan’s room.
Donovan produced a flask, filled with a milky white substance, and pushed it towards Bebop. “Drink.”, Donovan said without fanfare.
Bebop looked warily at the flask. He knew that Donovan was quite good at creating substances that accomplished the goal that was trying to be accomplished, but the taste could be of very poor quality. Bracing himself, Bebop put the flask to his lips, and tilted it back, causing the substance to pour down Bebop’s throat. While the taste of the substance wasn’t bad, it was quite chalky and thick. Even after drinking it, he still felt the liquid coating his mouth and throat.
“Blech.”, was the only response from Bebop.
Donovan stared at Bebop momentarily, as if checking for a possible reaction, then smiled. “You ready to go win that money back?”
Bebop shrugged, “Sure, why not?”

Donovan and Bebop headed downstairs, finding Barnabus Eisenbauch and his retinue at the usual place in the tavern. Donovan, facing the Dwarf, opened his widest smile before he spoke, as Barnabus smiled and pointed at Donovan. “So Barnabus, I hear that you are the greatest drinker in all of Talingarde?”
Barnabus’ ego was on prime display, “You mean all the world, aye!”
Donovan chuckled, “Now that my good friend Bebop here has had a chance to get off a boat and get some real food in him, I think he can outdrink you, and I’m willing to put a wager on it.”
Barnabus, feeling even more confident at Bebop’s poor showing the previous night, was emboldened, “Your friend can only handle his drinks some of the time, how pitiful.”
Donovan smiled, gritting his teeth. “Very funny Barnabus. Let’s make it a simple wager. Five hundred gold.”
Barnabus had been laughing up to that point, but then hesitated when he heard that number. “What? You expect me to go fetch the five hundred gold from my room?”
Donovan shook his head and opened his hands wide in front of Barnabus. “Not at all! I know you’re a man of honor. Besides, you’re going to win anyway, right?”
Barnabus chuckled and smirked again, “Obviously.”
“Then Barnabus, we have a bet.” Donovan spun around and called out to the tavern owner, “Bellum, open a tab for me. We’re having a drinking contest!”

A roar came out of the patrons of the Lord’s Dalliance, as the first of what would be many drinks were brought proffered to the two challengers. As the crowds of the tavern gather around the two, Lucius took the opportunity to summon Lucinda, tasking her to investigate the hidden passage that Bellum had opened earlier that morning. Even though patrons were around in the area, the excitement going on from the drinking game kept the attention of the audience. While Lucinda didn’t know where the switch was located, her expertise in locating such things made it a relatively simple process for her. She quietly pulled the wall open enough for her to enter into the hidden area, then pulled it shut behind her. There was no light currently available in this passageway, but such issues were no problem for an Eidolon. She began making her way through a long stone worked passageway, clearly formed using a different building style than what was used for the Lord’s Dalliance. Lucinda continued to relay this information to her master, making note of the items that had been placed in the long winding hallway. At the end of the hallway, another doorway was discovered with wine crates nearby. Thinking about this, Lucius and Donovan agreed that Bellum had undoubtedly been using this for a while to swap out high quality alcohols for lower quality or spoiled alcohol. Pushing open the door on the other side, Lucinda discovered the presence of a storeroom filled with food and potable water, clearly for hundreds of individuals over a long period of time. This would allow the Watch Wall to continue to function during a siege. Lucinda identified a hole in the ceiling, which assumedly would connect with the rest of the castle. With this information, the group would be able to get into and out of the Watch Wall on their schedule. Discovering this information, Lucius unsummoned Lucinda back, in order to prevent her from having to open the doorway again.

The drinking contest continued for some time, before one of the Dwarves stood up, “It is customary at this time to allow the contestants to use the restroom and stretch their legs.” Barnabus and Bebop both agreed to that, and Bebop left to use the restroom. One of the female dwarves followed up surreptitiously behind Bebop, which attracted Tamsen’s attention. She followed the two of them into the restroom. Barnabus quickly returned to his seat, still as confident and chatty as ever.
Looking up at Donovan, he guffawed, “I bet he passes out in there! Or maybe he’s too much of a coward to return to the table.”
Donovan laughed along with Barnabus. “You don’t think he’s going to return, Barnabus?”
“I doubt it.”, the Dwarf confidently replied.
“Well then, why don’t we raise the wager to six hundred gold?” Barnabus licked his lips, his greed and pride apparent for Donovan to read.
“I knew you liked to spend money, Donovan. I didn’t know you liked to give it away! We have a bet!”
And with that, Barnabus confidently raised his tankard. Meanwhile, in the restroom, Bebop was finishing up and getting ready to return. Just then, the female Dwarf confidently pushed her way into the area that Bebop was using. She had apparently decided that Bebop’s stamina and endurance probably translated well into other parts of his anatomy, and was curious to find out more. Bebop was very excited, pushing himself into the female, losing himself in the moment. Tamsen pushed open the door, and caught the two of them becoming very interested in each other.
Bebop laughed in an almost half stupor, “Wow, threesome!”
Hearing that and seeing the smirk on Tamsen’s face, the Dwarven female began to lose her nerve, “I don’t know what you were expecting, but that’s not what I am here for. You people are weird.”
The Dwarf fled the bathroom, and a frustrated Bebop attempted to go after her, but Tamsen stopped Bebop before he could leave.
“What the hells, Tamsen?”, Bebop gave Tamsen an annoyed look.
Tamsen’s eyes narrowed as she grabbed Bebop by the jaw. “Donovan expects you to finish the contest, and that’s what you are going to do. I’ll take care of the girl, you get back to the table, now.”
“Fine.”, Bebop stormed out of the restroom and back to the table, sitting down with a grim look on his face.
Barnabus, seeing the determination coming from Bebop, actually began to feel somewhat concerned. Each of them were somehow even more determined to push forward than when they began.

Tamsen took the opportunity to find and speak with the Dwarven female who she had encountered in the restroom. Tamsen apologized to her, then played up the excitement of Bebop.
The Dwarf was somewhat confused, asking Tamsen, “I thought you and Donovan were together.”
Tamsen smiled, “We are, which should tell you just how good Bebop must be for me.”
The Dwarf was clearly curious about what was being said to her.

Bellum approached Donovan as he was watching the contest, “Things seem to be going pretty well!”
Donovan smiled at Bellum, “Have you ever seen two people drink this much?”
Bellum shook his head, “No, I honestly have never seen anyone go this long against Barnabus Eisenbauch.” Pausing momentarily, Bellum attempted to probe Donovan further, “Have you heard about the passageway between the Lord’s Dalliance and the Watch Wall?”
Donovan turned his head to pay more attention to Bellum, “A couple of the soldiers had mentioned that last night. Is that a real thing?” Bellum shook his head, “No, of course not. But, I thought it to be an interesting rumor.”
Donovan’s eyes narrowed, “Yes, I agree. Can you imagine how much space that would represent if it was real, however?”
It was apparent to Donovan that Bellum was attempting to get information out of him; but he wanted Bellum to confirm the presence of the passageway before Donovan confirmed that Tamsen had indeed seen the opening. Donovan was not planning on being intentionally dishonest; but he also would not reveal his hand without seeing what Bellum knew. Still, Bellum’s lie actually revealed more than perhaps he would have realized, since Donovan now understood that Bellum wanted to make sure that no one in the town knew of the presence of this passageway. That meant that the members of the Watch Wall would not be looking for this passageway once Donovan and his family began exploring.

Meanwhile, Barnabus and Bebop were continuing to drink; but now, the drinks were beginning to show signs of impacting Barnabus. The signs were simple at first, the glasses were dropped off the table or on their side. Then Barnabus failed to finish his drink, spilling it on himself.
Donovan began to sense the weakness, “Is this the way people normally participate in drinking games, Bellum?”, to which Bellum shook his head.
Barnabus, getting frustrated, stood up, “I need to use the restroom.”
Donovan smiled, “Already? It seems like we just stopped for a break.”
“I need to use the restroom!”, Barnabus roared.
“Please, Barnabus, be my guest. You’re doing great so far!”, Donovan stared intently at Barnabus.
The group of Dwarves, who had up to this point been laughing and talking with one another, begin to get quiet as they watched Barnabus’ resolve slowly dissolve. As Barnabus moved into the restroom, Donovan looked up at Tamsen across the room. Without even needing to express the thought, Tamsen knew what Donovan wanted her to do. She followed him into the restroom. Paying attention to Barnabus as he stumbled through the room, Tamsen watched as Barnabus struggled to even manage to relieve himself. After a few moments, Barnabus regained his footing somewhat as he moved back into the tavern. It was clear to everyone in the room that there was little left of Barnabus’ constitution. Donovan decided to push Barnabus into quitting.
“How are you feeling Barnabus?”, Donovan feigned concern.
Barnabus, still somehow feeling confident enough to mock, toyed with Donovan yet again, “I’m feeling like I’m about to have quite a bit of your gold!”
Donovan smirked, “Great, then let’s raise the wager to an even one thousand gold.”
Barnabus’ eyes widened. “You don’t even have one thousand gold!”
Without even looking away, Donovan’s hand slid into his purse, rolling effortlessly through the different coins he was carrying in order to set out even piles of money on the table, adding up to exactly the agreed upon number. “One thousand gold. So, are we agreed?”
The entire company of Dwarves, barring Barnabus, stared in fear at the stacks of money on the table, as they knew what it represented. Barnabus was too far gone to realize what was taking place, so he once agreed to Donovan’s terms. The next drinks were brought forward. And, as the third drink of the set was being consumed, and Barnabus set the mug to the table, his body began to fall limp to the side, only stopping when caught by one of the other Dwarves.
Without a hint of levity on his face, Donovan looked at that Dwarf, and speaking in Dwarven, said “Is that enough?”
The Dwarf looked back at Donovan, and responded to him in Dwarven, “The Engineers are retiring for the evening. Barnabus will speak to you about the wager in the morning.”
“Yes, yes he will.” Turning around, Donovan called out to Bellum, “Can I get some water here, please?”
One of the ladies brought the glass in, and Donovan poured a powder into the glass, then handed the fizzing substance to Bebop. “Drink. This will help stop your hangover tomorrow.” The concoction was salty, but otherwise pleasant enough.
“You did great work tonight, Bebop.”, Donovan patted him on the shoulder. “You probably should try and get some rest and fluids into you. You’re in for a rough day tomorrow.”
Donovan then walked over to Bellum, gold in hand. “Thank you again for helping to provide tonight’s entertainment, Bellum.”
Bellum smiled at Donovan, “Don’t I owe you and Lucius for the food plates that were purchased tonight?”
Lucius shook his head, “We’re not worried about that.”
Donovan smiled at Lucius, “Thank you for your help with everything tonight. We’ll have to make a decision regarding our engineering friends, and then go forward. But for now, we can take comfort in the fact that we have basically broken that group financially.’
With that, Donovan took Tamsen by the hand, and led her upstairs to their room.

As night fell, the Dwarven girl snuck out of her own room, and into Bebop’s.

Session 8 Ends.
Last edited:


Part 1: Knot of Thorns
Act 4: Burning Balentyne!
Session 9: Opening Bids

“Good morning, boss!” The voice of Kiliketz snapped Donovan awake from his slumber.
Donovan’s eyes focused in on the Mephit, and he sat up in the bed.
“And good morning to you as well, Kiliketz.” Donovan rubbed the sleep from his eyes, then he continued, “Did your notice anything important on the watch wall last night?”
Kiliketz nodded, “Yes, I noticed it’s too damn hot!”
Donovan chuckled, then he stood up and walked over to his bandolier, taking a vial from the belt. “Besides that, Kiliketz?”
Kiliketz began to give details on buildings and structures of note around the compound, taking care to point out how many guards he saw at each of the locations.
Kiliketz also mentioned a structure that he called “a large birdcage”, to which Donovan said, “Ah, the rookery. I’ve heard mention of that as well.” Donovan handed the vial over to Kiliketz, thanking him for his efforts over the evening.
Kiliketz moved to a chest in the corner of the room, then emptied the contents of the vial into the bottom of the chest. Instantly, ice crystals began to form around the inside of the chest, cooling it down substantially. Kiliketz got into the chest, and his, demeanor brightened right away. “Ah, now that’s much better.”
Donovan smiled, walking over to the chest and setting his hand on the lid. “I’ll see you tonight, Kiliketz. Good night!”
“Sure thing, boss.”, Kiliketz replied as he laid down inside the ice coated chest.

Donovan closed the lid of the chest, then walked back over to the bed, sitting gently on the side of the bed where Tamsen was still asleep. Donovan gently placed his hand onto her exposed thigh, then leaned down and softly kissed her on the cheek. “Good morning, my love.” Tamsen stirred, moaning softly. “Why are you up already?”
“Kiliketz got back from his scouting mission, and he wanted to fill me in on the details of what he discovered. He found some very interesting information.”, Donovan responded while pondering the information given to him.
Tamsen nodded, still half asleep. “That’s nice. Get back in bed, I want to play with you for a while.”
Donovan hesitated, “That sounds wonderful, but we have a busy day ahead of us.”
Tamsen sat up, letting the bed sheets fall off her unclothed body. “Are you really too busy to spend time with me, Donovan?”
Donovan knew that look all too well, Tamsen wouldn’t be told no.
He leaned close to Tamsen’s face, then said “As if I could ever resist you” before pushing her back onto the bed in a shared kiss.

Lucius had already woken up for the morning. He was a creature of habit, and was given to wake at a specific time, even when he would stay up late the night before. Last night was no exception, as he watched Bebop and Barnabus continue to drink each other down, mug after mug, until Barnabus was finally brought low for the night. Donovan had cheated, of course, but it was truly Barnabus’ ego and hubris that caused him to lose for the evening. Lucius was not a man given to drink, so he never had to worry about getting himself into such issues. Lucius came down from his room, went into the kitchen, put on an apron, and began assisting the chef in preparing breakfast for the guests of the Inn. Lucius found these events comforting. There was simplicity in attending to such tasks, moments when he could simply just enjoy his current state, while Donovan continued to scheme and plot for the destruction of Balantyne. Lucius saw the Dwarven company come down from their rooms, sitting at their usual seats and taking their meal plates. Surprisingly, Barnabus looked as though he was in good shape for a man who had literally drunk himself into unconsciousness. Still, when Barnabus’ eyes caught sight of Lucius, it was apparent that he was none to pleased about the current situation he found himself in. Lucius had known Donovan for a while now, and though he certainly saw Donovan as remarkably intelligent, Lucius was keenly aware how much Donovan’s pride impacted his actions. Throughout the drinking contest, Donovan used his advantage in wealth to continue to exploit Barnabus’ arrogance and confidence, and all of it because the Dwarves had taken 150 gold from Bebop in a card game. Lucius wasn’t mad at Barnabus and the other Dwarves so much as he just pitied them for landing on the wrong side of Donovan’s ego. Still, Lucius understood the advantage of leverage, and knew that Donovan would continue to attempt to exploit them until he had put them in an impossible situation.

The Dwarves took their leave, and Lucius watched as Donovan and Tamsen came down the stairs, arms wrapped around each other. Lucius always found it amusing to watch how Donovan’s mood was impacted by how much attention Tamsen was paying to him. Back at the manor, he watched as Donovan would go from almost puppy dog affection to Tamsen when she spent all of her time with him, to complete bookworm when she spent time with others. Donovan and Tamsen sat down at their usual spot, and Lucius brought plates of food out to the two of them.
“Good morning Lucius, and thank you for the food!”, Donovan smiled and greeted Lucius.
Tamsen simply kissed Lucius on the check and said, “Thanks!”
Donovan looked over at the tables where the Dwarves would be sitting, “Did they ever get up?”
Lucius nodded, “They got up at their usual time, and all of them appeared perfectly fine.”
Donovan’s eyes widened, “Amazing! That man is truly something else.”
As Tamsen was enjoying her breakfast, she suddenly showed an annoyed look on her face, “Apparently, Timeon has information for me, and needs to see me alone.”
Donovan laughed slightly, then looked at Tamsen, “Oh my, well I guess if Timeon needs to see you, you had best go and attend to him.” Tamsen’s eyes showed concern as she looked back at Donovan. “What did you want me to ask him about?”
Donovan pondered her question briefly, then replied, “Troop sizes. Guard shifts. Locations of importance.” Donovan smiled and looked warmly at Tamsen, “I trust you, my love. I know you’ll get the information we need.”
Tamsen quickly wolfed down a couple more bites of her food, then she stood up, gave Donovan one last kiss, and left the Inn.

Shortly after Tamsen left and Lucius finished providing breakfast to everyone, Bebop sleepily departed from his room. It was apparent even at a distance that the man looked like he had been through quite the ordeal the night before, having not only consumed far too much alcohol for any reasonable person; but then engaging in sexual activities with one of the Dwarves after that. Bebop saw where Donovan and Lucius were sitting, and plopped down in a seat next to them. Lucius pulled out a plate of food that he had kept warm from breakfast, and set a glass of water next to it.
Donovan poured in a compound into the glass of water, then slid it closer to Bebop. “Drink, idiot.”
Bebop’s eyes squinted as he began to drink the familiar fizzy compound. “How am I an idiot? I did what you told me to.”
Donovan’s eyes narrowed, “I didn’t tell you to stay up half the night having sex with one of the Dwarves after that. You were supposed to be sleeping or drinking water or something to help yourself get over the hangover.”
Bebop tilted his head, “I had sex with one of the Dwarves? Which one?”
Donovan put his head in his hands. “Perfect! So glad this was how you spent your night!”
Lucius just began to laugh at the way Bebop could so easily get under Donovan’s skin.

Donovan looked over at Lucius. “Speaking of Dwarves, you and Lucinda should go and check out the Dwarves’ rooms. I suspect there could be something of use there that might aid us in dealing with the Watch Wall.”
Lucius turned his head over to Bellum, “Sure, but I think we might be noticed.”
Donovan nodded, “I’ll keep him busy. You just get in there and find out what information they might have that we can use.”
With that, Donovan walked over to the bar, sat down on the nearest stool in front of Bellum, and began talking to him about different alcohols, and where Bellum had obtained these products over the years. Seizing the opportunity, Lucius worked his way upstairs, and had Lucinda pick the lock for the door to Barnabus’ room.

Tamsen and Timeon were lying naked next to each other in the bed. Timeon was clearly very anxious to have Tamsen sexually, but she was much more interested in getting the information that Timeon supposedly had gained over his time spent in the Watch Wall.
Timeon touched and poked at her, plying her with urgency and need, “Please, Tamsen, you’re so beautiful. I just want to be with you.”
Tamsen smiled knowingly, holding her annoyance at bay, “I understand that sweetness, but I want you to tell me about the things you have learned.” Timeon groped her, grabbing her bare breast with his hand.
Tamsen pushed away, more insistent now. “Stop Timeon, listen to me.”
But Timeon wasn’t listening. The urgency and hormones running through him, especially with a naked woman this close to him, made him lose his sense of perspective. “All you ever do is pester me for information, Tamsen! Maybe you should spend more time thinking about what I want!”
With that, the rage seethed up inside of Tamsen, and she acted in a flash. She pinned Timeon to the bed with her arms and torso, and then pushed the sharp part of her tail against Timeon’s left eye.
Her fangs exposed, Tamsen leaned down onto Timeon’s naked body and whispered in his ear. “Do you know why you are alive, Timeon? You are alive because Donovan willed it so. Adrastus Thorn wanted us to torture information out of you, and then kill you. But Donovan believed you were worth more, and then gave you the greatest kindness by allowing me to be the one to bring your worth out of you. How many times have I attended to your desires Timeon? When have I ever left you unfulfilled? You were even allowed to have your way with me on the Frosthamar, as all the desperate pirates could do nothing but watch and envy your position.”
Timeon was shaking now, somewhere between terror and desire, “Please Mistress, forgive me.”
Tamsen straightened herself up on top of Timeon, as her tail slowly pulled away from his eye. “You’re a healthy young man, Timeon. I understand you have needs.” Tamsen’s tail began to work down, between Timeon’s legs. “And I can do that for you Timeon. I can mold you into the type of lover that will make your future wife ecstatic.”
Tamsen’s tail twitched, and Timeon grimaced in pain. “But, you will do what I say and when I say it. If Donovan allows me to come to you for information, you will give me everything without hesitation or questioning.” Tamsen paused momentarily, as the look of pain continued across Timeon’s face. “Do you understand me, Timeon?”
Timeon nodded rapidly, “Yes mistress. I understand.”
Tamsen relaxed her tail, and Timeon’s breathing began to slow. Tamsen smiled and touched Timeon’s face softly. “Good, such a sweet young boy. Now, let’s pick up where we left off.”

Lucius casually strolled around the outside of Barnabus’ room, acting as lookout in the hallway in case anyone of import came looking around. Meanwhile, Lucinda began to investigate the paperwork that Barnabus was working on, for the sake of Balentyne. While the majority of the documents were naturally written in the Dwarven tongue, Lucinda was able to find a complete map of the Watch Wall that she traced to create a copy for their use. Lucius explained to Tamsen what Lucinda was seeing, and she in turn relayed that information to Donovan. While there was no way for her to impart to engineering specifics of the documents that she had seen in his room, she was able to express to Lucius the number of structures in the Watch Wall that were being worked on, which ultimately gave Donovan some clue of how many devices would need to be disabled once they were inside. Lucinda also came across a lockbox, which Lucius instructed her to open. Inside of the lockbox, 400 gold was found.
Lucius chuckled to himself, “What Donovan doesn’t know…”, and then instructed Lucinda to remove the coins, relock the lockbox, exit the room and relock the door. Donovan was very excited to hear that Lucinda had acquired a map of the complex.

Time passed, and Captain Eddarly finally appeared at Lord’s Dalliance Inn. Paying attention to the whispers of the crowd, Donovan discovered that Eddarly had apparently been a childhood sweetheart of Kaitlyn Mott, and the love affair that grew between them was based in something that they had known for some time. Donovan was torn now. Was Eddarly a man that had discovered true love, or was he simply a cad who was enjoying the company of another man’s wife?
Donovan reached out to Tamsen’s mind. “Come back to the Inn, my love. I need your help.”
Tamsen let Donovan know she was returning, and Donovan silently watched as women approached the dashing young Captain and his retinue of soldiers. Tamsen returned, wearing nothing more than the sheer silk gown she had left with this morning, which left nothing to the imagination. Eyes began to draw to Tamsen’s arrival, as she walked over to where Donovan was sitting, and placed herself on his lap.
Connecting to Donovan’s mind, she asked “What can I do to you?”
Donovan tilted his head ever so slightly and smirked. “Very cute. Do you see the man I am looking at?”
Tamsen turned her head to face in the same direction as Donovan. Her eyes caught sight of Eddarly. “I see him, Donovan. What of him?” Donovan turned back to face Tamsen, as they continued to wordlessly address each other, “I need to know what sort of man he is. I want you to use your charms and seduce this man. Make him take you to bed.”
Tamsen’s face took on a wicked grin, “Is that all you need, lover?”
“But no magic, Tamsen. I want this to be his decision. If he’s loyal or not, it needs to be who he actually is, not simply the product of what your spells can make him.”, Donovan gave an oddly specific challenge to Tamsen.
Tamsen’s finger drew around Donovan’s lips as she considered his request. “Of course, my love. I will do anything for you.”

Tamsen stood up, and walked over to the table where Eddarly and the others were sitting. You could see the room part as she moved closer to Eddarly. Her eyes connected to his, and her smile was warm and inviting.
“May I sit here, Captain?”, Tamsen pointed to an area near Eddarly.
The chair closest to the Captain was currently occupied by one of the soldiers. The soldier, a young man who barely appeared to be out of his teenage years, stood up and slid the chair out for Tamsen to sit in. Tamsen smiled at the young man, then sat directly in Eddarly’s lap, her arms around his shoulders. Tamsen said nothing at first, her hands slowly drawing across Eddarly’s shoulder and neck, as her fingertips gently rested on his face. A hush came over the people sitting around the table, wondering just how far this woman would go with Eddarly in front of all of them.
Tamsen leaned in to Eddarly, and spoke almost breathlessly, “I want you right now. Do you want me?”
Eddarly placed his hands around Tamsen’s waist, holding her close as he stood up. “Can we go to your room, please?”
Tamsen smiled, taking Eddarly by the hand, and leading him upstairs to her room.

Donovan scoffed as he watched the ease with which Tamsen led Eddarly upstairs. “Pathetic.”
Lucius leaned over to Donovan, “I think we should reveal the affair between Eddarly and Mott’s wife to Mott.”
Donovan nodded, “I agree. What a transparent individual. I don’t know why I was thinking there was more there.”

When Tamsen and Eddarly arrived in her room, Tamsen sat herself down on the bed and smiled. She touched a spot on the bed next to her, in a clearly inviting way.
Eddarly looked at her briefly, then his eyes drifted to the floor. “Forgive me lady, but I am merely here to keep up appearances. While you are perhaps the most alluring creature I have ever met, my heart belongs to another, and I cannot do anything inappropriate with you.”
Tamsen leaned forward, an intrigued look on her face. “Oh my, Captain. What an unexpected turn of events.”
Tamsen then immediately reached out to Donovan, “He said no to me, my love. He told me that his heart belongs to another.”
Donovan began to laugh in the Inn, even though no one was speaking to him.
Donovan stood up, and walked towards the part of the cellar where the secret passageway was. “Lucius, Bebop, come with me. I need you two to find out what he has of hers.”
As the three of them were walking towards the cellar, Donovan began pulling several vials out of different pouches and pockets.
Lucius asked, “How are we going to get in there without being seen?” Donovan pushed Lucius a vial, “Drink this.”
Lucius looked at the vial skeptically, and Bebop gave a knowing smile. The mixture tasted something like liquid wax, briefly hardening around his gums and tongue. Lucius was clearly less than thrilled, but had become used to accepting random tonics from Donovan.
Donovan then handed Lucius another potion. “Put this in your mouth, but don’t swallow it.”
Once more, Lucius complied. Soon enough, Lucius had turned Invisible. “Now spit the liquid back into the flask.”
After Lucius had completed his series, Donovan repeated the same actions with Bebop. After finishing the Elixir, Bebop made a face about putting the same potion in his mouth that Lucius had just spit out.
“Yes, yes, you two are sharing cooties. Get over it.”, Donovan admonished Bebop.
Bebop complied, and the two of them were invisible, proceeding into the tunnel without further incident.

“Tell the two of them to disguise themselves as guards when they come up. That way, they can be carrying supplies out of the storeroom.”, Donovan contacted Tamsen, who relayed those thoughts to Bebop and Lucius while she listened to Captain Eddarly go on about his love for the fair Kaitlyn Mott. She smiled and encouraged him on, giving the two time to get into Balantyne before he left the Inn. Bebop grabbed one of the potable water barrels, and drug it up into the Armory of the Watch Wall.
“Captain Eddarly’s making us take this barrel and replace it, all because I said he was making Captain Mott a cuckold.”, Lucius said to the guard as he passed their station.
The guard looked at him in disbelief. “You’re lucky that’s all you got out of that. You want some advice? Keep your mouth shut about that, and you’ll get less of this.”
Lucius, continuing to appear as one of the guards, smiled and nodded his head. “I’ve learned my lesson.”
Working their way over to Eddarly’s quarters, Lucius and Bebop set the barrel down next to the door. Lucius hid himself behind the barrel, and summoned Lucinda, who then unlocked the door for them. As the three of them searched the room, Lucinda discovered a hidden storage area in Eddarly’s clothing store, in which he had placed a collection of romantic letters from Kaitlyn Mott. The letters, clearly explicit in nature, were even perfumed to garner more arousal from Eddarly towards her. Having completed the task that Donovan assigned to them, Lucius unsummoned Lucinda, and the two of them took the barrel out through the rear exiting gate which led to Aldencross. Once more, Lucius repeated the story about why him and his compatriot were being asked to carry this barrel, and once more, the soldiers mocked and chastised him for such a poor choice of actions. Still, the lie was easy enough, and no one they encountered even found it shocking that Captain Eddarly was in an affair with Kaitlyn Mott.

Tamsen, having given Bebop and Lucius enough time to complete their task, gently kissed Eddarly on the cheek and wished him well with his relationship, complimenting him on the fidelity and commitment he showed to this woman. Eddarly bowed politely, then stepped out of the room, to the cheers of several of the soldiers downstairs. Soon after his departure, Bebop and Lucius returned, handing the set of letters over to Donovan.
Donovan scanned the letters briefly, then smiled at the three people sitting around the table with him. “Excellent work, all of you. Now this is leverage!”

Evening came, and with it the return of the Dwarven Engineers. Lucius had already returned to the kitchen in order to help out, but Bebop was expecting trouble, and imbibed one of his Mutagens. The effect on his physique was dramatic, and certainly gave him an intimidating persona.
“Good evening Barnabus, I’m glad to see you are doing well after that rousing game you and Bebop took part in last night.”, Donovan smiled, betraying the obvious advantage he was holding over Bernabus. “I suppose it’s time we settle our wager.”
Barnabus looked at Donovan, a broken and defeated man, “How am I supposed to settle up with you, when hard times continue to come my way?”
“Hard times, you say?”, Donovan queried.
Barnabus soured further, “It would appear that someone entered my room while I was at work, and stole 400 gold from me.”
Donovan thought to himself, “Lucius, did you….”, and then quickly responded to Barnabus, “I know nothing about that, Barnabus.”
Barnabus studied Donovan’s face to see if he could read dishonesty, but as Donovan actually did not know, there was none to be found. “Be that as it may, how am I supposed to pay back our wager? A wager that, if I may say, should never have been won by your man anyway. This whole thing seems designed to put me and mine in a precarious position.”
Donovan reached to Tamsen’s mind, “Does Barnabus or his team have any magic items on them?”
Tamsen’s eyes opened to the potential of magic, and looked across the group of engineers. “He has something on his back, Donovan.” Donovan’s eyes focused on Barnabus’ cloak, and immediately knew what he was looking at. “I see you are wearing a Cloak of Resistance. I would consider that a settlement of our debt.”
Barnabus’ rage was creeping to the surface, but he was clearly without any other option. “Because I am a man of honor, I will give you my cloak. And then, you will darken my doorway no longer.”
Donovan spread his hands wide, “You wound me, friend. And here I wanted to give you a way to help you out of your hard times.”
Barnabus fixed his eyes to Donovan, as the smile came across Donovan’s face, “How exactly would you help me out of my hard times, Donovan?”
“I could employ you and your team, you know. A short-term contract that would allow you to recoup your lost monies.”, Donovan offered.
One of the female Dwarves leaned in and spoke up, “It sounds like you are asking us to walk away from our current jobs on the Watch Wall.” Donovan looked around the room. “Perhaps we could go upstairs and discuss this in a more private setting. There are too many ears here that speak your tongue.”
Barnabus looked over at the female, a Dwarf by the name of Grenneth. “I want her to accompany us for this discussion.”
"Of course, Barnabus, whatever makes you more comfortable.” Donovan locked eyes with Bebop, and nodded.
Bebop knew exactly the message that was being sent, and followed Donovan upstairs. The four of them walked into Donovan’s room, and closed the door.

Tamsen was nervous when the four of them went upstairs. For all his abilities, Donovan was not particularly skilled in combat. She wanted to be there to protect him in case things went wrong, but she had to believe that Bebop would be the better choice for that anyway. Looking around the room, her eyes caught a familiar face.
She approached the table and smiled, “Hello there, do you remember me?”
The man, a portly fellow with glasses, looked up at her and smiled. “Well hello, pretty young lady. You’re Donovan’s… girlfriend, right?” Tamsen nodded, “Sure.”
The man nodded eagerly, having remembered the previous transactions with Donovan, “He’s a wonderful man, he’s brought so much business into this community lately. Does he need to purchase something else from me?”
Tamsen swallowed, “Um, no. I was hoping to surprise him. It’s a special day for us, and I wanted to buy him something to remember it.”
The man clapped, almost giddy with excitement, “Oh, how exciting! You’re buying jewelry for your special man! What a wonderful young lady you are!”
Tamsen took the shop owner by the hand. “So, would it be possible for you to open up the store to me after your normal hours? I don’t want Donovan to know I’m buying this, so I wanted to wait until tonight.”
“Oh, precious girl! Of course we can do that for the girlfriend of Donovan!” Tamsen smiled and thanked the man, still trying to figure out how she was going to separate Donovan from his money without him knowing about it.

The discussion between Donovan and Barnabus was not going well. Donovan first tried to appeal to his sense of honor, showing how the people of Aldencross mistreated the Dwarves. But Barnabus was too cynical to be phased by such things. He then showed how the military had taken advantage of the engineers, claiming to have no room to house them even though the Watch Wall could easily have accommodated them. Finally, Donovan turned to the lack of religious support that was available for individuals who did not support Mitra. The Dwarves understood what Donovan said, and while they didn’t agree that the racism in Talingarde was as bad as Donovan had presented it, that their people were clearly not being treated as well as other races. Through all of this though, Barnabus was still unmoved. He believed that he and his team had an obligation to continue work on the Watch Wall, regardless of their financial state. He also continued to suggest that Donovan was solely responsible for their current financial woes.
Donovan had reached his limit with this circular discussion and decided to put an end to it once and for all. “Let’s put all the cards on the table, Barnabus. This whole thing started because you decided to take advantage of Bebop by making him play a card game where you poorly explained the rules and made him continue to drink. And that’s fine, all’s fair in gambling and games of chance. But I don’t take lightly to my family being taken advantage of, so I decided to put you in a game of chance where I could control the outcome. And even then, I only set the stakes at 500 gold. Once I saw that you were losing steam, I raised the bet thinking you would take the loss and just let it go; but no, you kept implying that Bebop wasn’t confident enough to keep participating. Finally, I raised the wager to 1000 gold, just so you would have to walk away and take the loss. Not only did you not walk away, but you also insulted my honor by asking me to show coin, implying that I would make a wager that I couldn’t back up. All of that despite the fact I told you that I trusted you to have the coin, and you didn’t need to show it to me. So, you lost, and got yourself into this position. Now, I’m offering you a fair way out of it, and you are sitting there bemoaning how you deserved to win the challenge. But here we are, all’s fair in gambling and games of chance.”
Hearing that, the rage on Barnabus boiled over, and it seemed certain that it would come to blows. Grenneth would have none of it though, and after trying to talk sense into him, she ended up pushing him out of the room, shouting “Stay there!”, and slamming the door in his face.

When Grenneth got back to Donovan and Bebop, she took a breath, and then began to speak, “I understand how you see that we insulted you and your family’s honor. That was not our intention, and we don’t see it that way; but I do understand where you are coming from now. With that said, I feel like I don’t want to know why you would ask us to go on an expedition to nowhere for thirty days just to earn 1000 gold, and I suspect I wouldn’t like it if I knew.”
Donovan nodded, “You are clearly a very intelligent woman.”
Grenneth continued, “If you have the coin, then we will leave on this expedition the day after tomorrow.”
Without hesitation, Donovan dug into his money pouched, snapped out the requested amount of coin, and placed it in Grenneth’s hand. “We are at an accord.” Grenneth stared at the money momentarily.
Despite what was being said, she had a fairly good idea of why Donovan wanted her to leave for thirty days, and imagined there would be no work to return to when the job had completed. But the coin was needed, she had employees who had to be paid, and Donovan clearly had the funds to make it happen. Grenneth walked out of the room, and grabbed Barnabus by the arm on the way down the stairs.

Following that conversation, Donovan had little desire to go back downstairs to deal with the public, so instead chose to go over the documents that had been retrieved throughout the day. At some point in the night, the rest of the group came into the room.
Donovan handed Lucius the Cloak and smiled, “For you, good sir.”
Lucius smiled and handed Donovan a small bag of money, “And for you.”
Donovan felt the weight of the pouch in his hand and the sound it made. “Lucius, is this…”
Lucius smiled, “I think that’s about 400 gold I made in tips today.”
Donovan started to laugh out loud. “You’re a genius, Lucius. For 600 gold, we just bought a Cloak of Resistance, and the Dwarves threw in a map of the Watch Wall with blueprints of all the projects they are currently working on. What a deal!” The group laughed and talked for a while longer, before each of them headed off to their respective rooms.

Tamsen couldn’t sleep, of course. She knew that she needed to be at the jeweler’s store before too late. Trying to make sure Donovan would fall asleep quickly, Tamsen focused her attention into his pleasure for the evening. Donovan sighed and smiled at her after they finished, “How did I ever find someone like you?” Tamsen simply kissed Donovan on the lips, “You asked me to stay.” Donovan contentedly fell asleep shortly after that, and Tamsen saw her opportunity. Tamsen gently eased herself out of the bed, and over to the money bag Donovan had set on the table. Sadly, for all of Tamsen’s skills, being quiet was not one of them. Donovan’s mind caught things that were not in rhythm with the room, and his attention brought him back to a state of wakefulness. He opened his eyes in time to watch Tamsen clumsily sneak out of the room. Donovan gently moved closer to the still open door, attempting to see where Tamsen was going. He saw her open Bebop’s door, and go inside.
“Ah, of course.”, Donovan said, with a tinge of defeat in his voice.
He assumed the two of them were heading out for a night of sex and debauchery. Donovan went back to bed, and laid there for a while waiting for sleep to reclaim him.

“Bebop, wake up”, Tamsen said, shaking Bebop from his sleep.
Bebop opened his eyes, and as he gained his focus, a smile crawled over his face. “Mmm, it’s been a while Tamsen. I’m glad to see you are still in the mood.”
Tamsen sighed, “I didn’t come here for that Bebop, I want you to walk with me over to the store. I’m buying a present for Donovan.”
Bebop groaned, “Why do I have to go with you to buy a present for Donovan?”
Tamsen showed an irritated look on her face, “You’re seriously going to make me walk around this town alone and after hours with a sack of money in my hands?”
Bebop sighed, “Fine, I’ll come with you to the store. But first…” Bebop’s hands slid across Tamsen’s thighs.
“Bebop, I said I didn’t come here for that tonight.”, Tamsen's irritation with Bebop was rising.
Bebop whined to Tamsen, “Come on Tamsen, don’t leave me like this. You know you’re the best I’ve had.”
Tamsen saw Bebop’s naked form in the bed, and bit her lower lip slightly, “Fine. But we’ve got to be quick. I told the man we would be there at a specific time.”
Bebop grabbed Tamsen by the back of her head, and rolled himself on top of her.

“Good morning, Donovan my love!”, Tamsen was on top of Donovan in their bedroom, smiling as she looked down at him.
Donovan’s eyes snapped open, as he looked up at Tamsen. “Well good morning to you beautiful! I didn’t expect you to be up already.”
“Give me your hand, Donovan.”, Tamsen spoke with barely contained glee.
Donovan got a curious look on his face, then opened his hand palm up to her. She turned his hand over, then slid a ring across his ring finger. “Happy anniversary, my love!”, Tamsen said excitedly.
Donovan, still looking confused, responded. “Anniversary? What do you mean?”
Tamsen smiled, “Today marks the day that I found you in the market.”
Donovan thought back to the day she referred to, a warm sensation spreading over his entire body. “The market… the happiest day in my entire life.”, Donovan replied, his eyes watering.
He looked down at the ring she put on his finger, then kissed it and kissed her. “This is so thoughtful, you’re so wonderful. I never…”
Tamsen kissed Donovan fully on the lips, their embrace held for several minutes as he pulled her against him.

Time passed, and Donovan opened the chest that Kiliketz was in. “Sorry to wake you early today, but I need you to scout out a house for me.” Kiliketz grumbled briefly, but he complied, “Where do you need me, boss?”
Donovan gave the address of a house that Kiliketz was to begin watching at 4PM. “Let us know when you see a man, most likely cloaked, enter the house. I’m sure that will be the individual we are looking for.”
Donovan and Tamsen went downstairs, and had breakfast as normal, then explained to the group what they would be doing. “It’s time to invite Captain Eddarly to find the relationship he has with Kaitlyn Mott.”

After finding a relatively shaded area that gave him visibility to the house in question, Kiliketz waited. He did not have to wait long, as only a few minutes after 4PM, a cloaked man did indeed appear in front of the Mott residence, and went inside the home without knocking. After Kiliketz notified Tamsen of the discovery, Donovan and the others quickly arrived at the home in question. Lucinda skillfully picked the front door lock and moved quietly to the bedroom. Once she had their attention, the rest of the team moved into the house to find Zack Eddarly and Kaitlyn Mott naked and recently enjoying each other’s company.
“Relax, Captain Eddarly. My friends and I are not here to hurt you or the lovely lady.”, Donovan spoke to the couple with a gentle ease in his tone.
Upon seeing Tamsen in the same form that she had been using previously, Zack came to an understanding of what was taking place.
“What do you want?”, Zack insisted as forcefully as a naked man in another man’s bed could.
Donovan smiled, “I’m here to talk to you two about true love, and the relationship you two have.”
With that, Donovan pulled out one of the letters that Kaitlyn had written to Zack, perusing the contents briefly. “Missus Mott, may I just say that you are a talented writer. I think you could have an amazing career in erotica, if you so choose.”
Kaitlyn gasped, “Zack! How could you show that to them?”
Donovan shook his head, “Oh no, Missus Mott! We stole these, Zack did not simply give them to us. And let me just say, he is the most loyal and dedicated man I have ever seen. Most men would do terrible things to have an opportunity to be with Tamsen. He was freely offered, and refused her for you!”
Zack and Kaitlyn looked each other in the eyes, their mutual love apparent even in the face of what was happening to them. Donovan steepled his fingers together, “But this brings us to our problem. If I were to take these letters and provide them to Captain Mott, what do you think would be the outcome? Do you think he would come home and ask for a threesome with you two?”
Kaitlyn snarked, “That would be terrible.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that Missus Mott.”, Donovan said, somewhat concerned at her response.
“You might as well call me Kaitlyn now”, Kaitlyn said to Donovan, looking at her naked form being covered with only a bed sheet.
Donovan continued, “So what I want for the two of you, Zack and Kaitlyn, is to explore what your relationship actually is. I want you to find the love that you have for each other in a different place. And I think you understand what’s at stake here, Zack.”
Zack placed his head in his hands, thinking on the impossible choice Donovan had presented him. Sure, he could go and notify his Commander that there was someone asking him to abandon his post, but what would happen to Kaitlyn at the hands of Captain Mott was almost unthinkable.
After a while, he looked back up at Donovan, “Can I have four hours to pack and get us ready?”
Donovan smiled, “Of course Zack, that sounds fine.”
Zack pressed, “I need to head back to the Watch Wall to grab a few things.”
Donovan looked intensely at Eddarly, then returned to his previous smile, “Sounds fine, we’ll help Kaitlyn get packed up here while you are doing this.” Zack understood clearly the implication that Donovan was making in that sentence. Donovan continued, “And while I’m at it, let me give the two of you a present to make things easier for you as you travel for the next month.” Donovan fished out 250 gold from his purse, and handed it to Kaitlyn. Her eyes grew at the sight of so much money shown all at once.

Before they left, Donovan had Bebop claim Eddarly’s magic armor, and gave him a mundane version in exchange. “I truly hope you two last. True love is a very rare thing, and I was blessed enough to find it in my life.” Zack and Kaitlyn looked back one last time at the house they were in together. Zack realized there was a good chance something ill would happen to this house before they returned in a month.

After the couple had departed, Lucius looked at Donovan, who was still evaluating the work that would be needed on Eddarly's gear. "What's the long term plan here, Donovan? Are you going to try and save every single soldier in Balantyne?"
Bebop's face hardened, "These are the very people who would torture and hurt me!" Bebop pointed at Tamsen, "They would torture and hurt her! Are you really ok with them simply walking away from all of this?"
Donovan looked at Tamsen, whose face showed her disappointment. "It's not like that Lucius", Donovan attempted to explain, "I know that we can't save all of these people. And I know we shouldn't try to, some of them are truly terrible to the core. But, not all of them see you as less than themselves. Not all of them are tied to their simplistic monotheistic absolutism. Look at Timeon, he's..."
Tamsen interrupted Donovan, "Timeon is a tool! He isn't righteous, he serves a purpose for the time being."
Donovan turned to Tamsen, almost in disbelief, "But you have helped him see the world with greater eyes. He was only that way because he had been raised to think like that."
Lucius chimed up, "As have they all, Donovan. They were all raised that way, to see all of us as lessers and to do with us as they pleased." Donovan countered, "So, every soldier is guilty? Every soldier is irredeemable?"
Bebop replied without hesitation, "Yes."
Donovan tested further, "Is that so? Then is every merchant equally guilty for providing the funds to the kingdom? Am I guilty for being the child of merchants, and profiting from their wealth?"
Lucius looked at Donovan and smiled, "You're one of the good ones."
Donovan said nothing in that moment, just stared at his family in sudden realization. In his mind, he thought to himself, "These are the people who are going to kill me one day." He looked over to Tamsen as that realization took hold, and a sadness washed over him.
Donovan focused his thoughts, and answered them aloud, "Perhaps you are all disappointed you didn't get to kill anyone tonight. But keep this in mind. Until the rookery falls, anything we do that draws attention to the absence of the staff of the Watch Wall will be met with further reinforcements. Everything must land exactly in place, or all our plans will be made manifest, and our work will have been for naught." Without further words, Donovan left the room, holding back the grief that was beginning to overtake him.

Bebop clapped his hands together. "Well, I'm going to go find myself a woman to entertain me tonight! These reviews aren't going to write themselves." Bebop went out into the streets of Balantyne, allowing himself a brief opportunity to come out of his shifted form. It took time and patience, considering the training that had been imparted to him by Tamsen, but he was able to find a lovely Halfling lady who was feeling daring and randy. The two of them retreated to his room, where his thoughts of the day melted away into the enjoyment of this feisty creature in his bed.

Session 9 Ends.
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Part 1: Knot of Thorns
Act 4: Burning Balentyne!
Session 10: Heartfelt Bloodshed

Tamsen stirred as the rays of morning light cut across the window of the Inn they had been staying in. She began to unravel herself from the bed sheets, reaching out with her eyes still closed over to Donovan’s side of the bed. However, as her arms continued to reach out across the mattress, there was no one else in the bed with her.
“Donovan?”, she muttered somewhat confused.
Opening her eyes, she began to take stock of everything in the room, even with the limited light. Tamsen saw Donovan sitting at the provided desk, surrounded in papers and books while muttering to himself.
“What are you doing, lover?”, Tamsen called out to Donovan, hoping to coax him back into the bed and her waiting arms.
Donovan continued to stare into the papers on the desk, absently responding. “Good morning, Tamsen.”
Tamsen’s face soured at his words. Donovan rarely called her by her name, especially when they were alone together, as he had an affinity for using pet names of affection towards her. Tamsen exited the bed, her naked form moving slowly towards Donovan. As she approached him, she could see the piles of notes and charts that he had been poring over. How long had he been awake? All night, perhaps.
“Everything ok, my love?”, Tamsen spoke softly, as her hands rested against his shoulders.
She could feel the tension and focus running across his muscles.
“We’re falling behind on scheduling and funds. I’m going to have to make more aggressive decisions.”, Donovan responded flatly.
And with those words, Donovan confirmed her suspicions. The “planner” was now working.

When Tamsen first began living with Donovan in the Westermeyer manor, she noticed the sort of family that he had. Donovan’s mother was a sweet woman, always warm and kind to her whenever they would speak. But Donovan’s father Alcott was an entirely different creature altogether. After he attempted to “make a move” on Tamsen and was immediately yelled at by Donovan, Alcott focused all of his anger and disappointment into Donovan. Anytime books were out of balance at one of his shops, or there was a discrepancy of how to deal with staffing issues, Alcott would drop everything on Donovan without a hint of warning. Any complaints or questions from Donovan would be met with by a vicious tirade from his father. And, on the rare occasion where Donovan’s mother attempted to intervene, Alcott would howl about how much he had spent on Donovan’s failed education, and how he could have hired a slew of bookkeepers for the wasted coin they spent on him. Tamsen watched as Donovan would focus himself, attempting to prove his worth to his father over and over again, only for Alcott to snort and tell Donovan that he arrived at the obvious and simple answer. During those times, Tamsen remembered how cold and distant Donovan was, desperate to prove his worth, desperate to please a man who would never be happy with his actions. And somewhere in all of that cruelty and beratement, the “planner” was born. It was still Donovan, but with a focused sense of purpose that prioritized results over elegance. Donovan was never cruel to her in those moments, but Tamsen saw the loneliness and rage in Donovan’s eyes, and she hated Alcott all the more for what he had done to the man she cared for so deeply.

Not wanting to interrupt Donovan’s studies, Tamsen dressed herself and went downstairs. Bebop and Lucius were already downstairs, enjoying their morning and celebrating the victories they had seen achieved.
“Heh, looks like the dwarves are off for their expedition now.”, Bebop snorted happily, as he stuffed his face with food. “Now no one will be coming to repair the worn-down watch wall.”
“Now we need to see what we can do about Mott. Maybe he’d be willing to pay for information on where his wife and Eddarly slipped off to.”, Lucius spoke up, thinking about the potential opportunities. “I suspect for a man as career driven as himself, Mott’s going to be none too happy about this public embarrassment.”
Tamsen said nothing, just ate her food and smiled weakly at the two boys sitting with her. If she knew anything about Donovan, she knew he wouldn’t prioritize any decision that continued to delay progress or incurred additional expenses. No, the “planner” would want the most efficient resolution possible, which probably meant he would kill his way through the whole fortress to get back onto his perceived timeline and budget, if that was the most efficient route. Lucius looked down at the uneaten plate of breakfast,
“Where is Donovan?”, Lucius laughed. “Did you wear him out again last night?”
The two boys laughed at the implication.
“He’s still upstairs looking over some things. I’ll just take his breakfast to him. Thanks, Lucius.” Tamsen kissed Lucius and Bebop gently on the cheek, then grabbed the plate and returned upstairs.

If Donovan had even moved once since she went down to eat breakfast, it was impossible to tell. He was continuing to mutter numbers and statistics to himself.
“I brought your breakfast up, my love.”, Tamsen said sweetly to Donovan.
“Sure, thanks.”, Donovan’s hand waved across the desk. “Just set it down somewhere, and I’ll get it in a bit. Thank you again.”
Tamsen knew Donovan all too well not to accept that answer. If she didn’t pull him away from the work, he would literally go without food or sleep until he was finished. Tamsen sat herself down on Donovan’s leg, interposing herself between him and his work.
She cut a bite of the food away, and pushed it into his mouth, “Say ahh.”
Donovan was caught unaware in that moment, as the food was forced into his mouth before he could respond.
He chewed it briefly and smiled at Tamsen, “Thank you, my love.”
“There you are, baby. I thought the desk was going to eat you whole.”, Tamsen giggled as she touched Donovan’s face.
Her unease began to dissipate, thinking she could pull Donovan back from his obsessive ways.

“Hey Pretty Lady”, the voice of Kiliketz rang out in her head, “Boss told me to contact you when the man who lived at the house showed up. He’s here now.”
When had Donovan given these instructions to Kiliketz? Tamsen realized that Donovan had already been planning his actions since last night.
“Damnit.”, Tamsen mumbled weakly.
“What’s wrong?”, Donovan responded, touching her arm gently.
“Kiliketz contacted me and…”, Tamsen could see the almost immediate shift in Donovan’s face.
“It’s time, let’s get the guys and head over.” Donovan stood up, pulling Tamsen up with him.
Tamsen knew there would be no romantic breakfast, or much romance of any kind for the time being.

Tamsen reached out to Bebop and Lucius through her mind’s connection. “Kiliketz says Mott is back home. Donovan wants you to get dressed and be ready to go in five minutes.”
Donovan was already planning the battle strategy in his head. Clearly, there would be no discussions with this man before he died.

The family made their way over to the Mott residence, taking care to make themselves appear as members of the Castle Guard. Arriving at the doorstep, Donovan finally spoke up, “He’s going to be tired from having to take a longer shift, then being confused at the disappearance of some of Kaitlyn’s belongings. With any luck, he’ll have already removed his armor.”
Donovan’s eyes flashed to Lucius, “Lucinda will enter the home under cover of invisibility, then lay the initial strike.”
Handing Bebop a pair of flasks, Bebop performed the all too familiar ritual of consuming one, then holding the other in his mouth before spitting it back into the container, after becoming invisible. “Once she attacks, Bebop will follow up with the killing blows.”
Lucius applied Invisibility to Lucinda, and then she unlocked the front door and let herself and Bebop in.

To say the attack was a slaughter would be an understatement. Without preparation or armor, Mott was in no position to employ his usual tactics, and the sheer brutality of their sudden and unexpected attacks would have killed far stronger combatants. Bebop took a brief moment during the onslaught to mock the Captain for being a cuckold, before finishing him off. Donovan, Tamsen, and Lucius walked into the room a moment later, only to see the slaughter that had been wreaked on Captain Mott. Emotionless, Donovan asked Tamsen to scan the room for items of magic, while he took the love letters and the “Dear John” letter penned by Kaitlyn, and covered them in Mott’s blood. After completing that, he scattered the letters about the room. From there, Bebop took out the sword that belonged to Mott, and stabbed the corpse through the back. For the remainder of the items, Donovan had Bebop take the set of armor and the Halberd that Mott used, following Tamsen’s notice that the weapon displayed magic. Finishing up their actions, the group resumed their disguises, and left the property.

Donovan looked to the rest of the group, “I need to do some research in town. I’ll catch up with the rest of you later."
The group looked back at Donovan somewhat confused, and then headed back to the Inn.
Once Donovan got out of earshot, Lucius spoke up, “That was weird, right? For Donovan to spend all of that time worrying about everyone, only to immediately turn around and order everyone dead, that’s not normal.”
Bebop nodded, “Yeah, he’s kind of psychotic now, I guess.”
Tamsen’s displeasure was obvious, “You two did this! This is your fault! You both make him feel like he’s unwanted in his own family, and now he feels pressure to make you happy.”
Lucius protested, “How exactly did I make him feel like he’s unwanted?”
Tamsen pushed up closer to Lucius, the rage written plainly on her face. “You made him feel guilty because he was born privileged. He’s always looked out for both of you, but you make him feel like he’s the same as the others.”
Bebop growled, “Then maybe he shouldn’t support all of these scum!”
Tamsen’s face turned to Bebop, her eyes burning with barely contained anger. Bebop looked away, knowing that he had reached Tamsen’s limit.
Lucius raised his hands and smiled, attempting to defuse the situation, “Ok Tamsen, we understand. How can we make things better?”

Donovan moved through the streets, walking into and out of stores, his eyes darting over the different products, searching for something, or perhaps several different somethings. Most of the different store owners recognized Donovan, and greeted him enthusiastically. Donovan, however, seemed to appear distracted or disinterested. He made passing attempts to engage the shopkeepers, but his mind was clearly pulled into other places. When he asked questions, it was about weights and measurements of odd products, such as chocolate and salt. Most of the store owners were confused by Donovan’s actions, but still attempted unsuccessfully to aid him in his search.

Time passed, and as the bar of the Inn filled back up for the evening’s activities, the discussions about what had occurred at Captain Mott’s home were beginning to escalate. People were speaking about what could have happened, if Captain Eddarly was really involved with Mott’s wife and worse still, if he had something to do with Mott’s passing. The discussions were worrying to be certain, but Bebop had other matters that were on his mind.
Bebop kept looking over at Tamsen, and he could see that her annoyance at him had not abated through the evening. “Talk to me Tamsen, please.”
Tamsen’s eyes met Bebop’s and he knew that she was still unhappy. “And what would you have me say?”
“I’m sorry, ok? I didn’t know how much this meant to you.”, Bebop was genuinely upset, and Tamsen could see it in his eyes.
Tamsen pushed up closer to Bebop, her features softening, “HE matters to me, Bebop.”
Bebop nodded, “I know, and I understand. You and I, we’ve had to see the worst of things. We’ve had to experience all the prejudice and hate this place has to offer. I don’t want to forgive them, Tamsen.”
Tamsen’s hand slid across Bebop’s face, and she nodded briefly before kissing him.
After they released, she spoke, “I need him, Bebop. Please.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes, for both of you.”, Bebop’s forehead touched against Tamsen, and they were both quiet in the moment.

Donovan walked into the bar, seeming annoyed even as several of the people there cheered his arrival.
He walked up to the table where everyone was seated and spoke briefly. “We’ve got a lot of riding ahead of us tomorrow, so you all should probably rest up.”
Without any further discussion, he walked up into his room, and closed the door. The three of them sat there a while longer, not knowing what to say to each other.
Finally, Lucius spoke up. “Well, I guess we have our marching orders. Good night, kids.” With that, Lucius retired to his room as well.
Bebop wrapped his arms around Tamsen’s waist. “Do you want to come to my room tonight?”
“I don’t think I should right now.”, Tamsen sighed.
Bebop grunted, displeasure in his tone. “Ok. But I’m here if you need me to be.”
Tamsen kissed Bebop softly once more, and the two of them returned to their respective rooms.

The next morning came, and Tamsen discovered Donovan already awake again, studying and restudying the map he had received from the Dwarves. It was clear to her that Donovan was already beginning to piece together the different locations and what they represented to the Keep, even without having someone on the inside to give him a room for room breakdown. Schedules and guard shift rotations were now also in place, even though Donovan could not know what those schedules were.
As soon as Donovan heard Tamsen waking up, he set down the paperwork on the desk. “Another busy couple of days ahead of us Tamsen, we’re going to be in the woods for a couple of days.”
Tamsen groaned and flopped back on the bed. She had just woken up, and everything was already terrible. Without waiting for her response, Donovan left the room.

Donovan walked downstairs, stopping only briefly at the table where Lucius and Bebop were sitting. “I’m going to go rent us some horses. Be ready for an overnight stay. It’ll take us a couple of days to get there and back.”
Without waiting for questions of comments, Donovan walked out of the bar and into the street. Tamsen came downstairs shortly after Donovan departed, and she sat down next to Bebop and Lucius.
Lucius looked at Tamsen, once again less than pleased, and chimed up, “So, are things… better now?”
“Are you asking me if we had sex Lucius? Because no, we did not. Donovan stayed up all night studying.”, Tamsen replied curtly.
Lucius shrugged, “I don’t know what to say. It seems like he’s worried about how long everything is taking right now. But, I guess I better go pack some stuff for us to eat overnight.”

Having acquired a group of horses for the group to ride out on, Donovan returned to the Inn and asked anxiously, “Are we all ready to go?” The group looked over at each other, then back at Donovan. They then proceeded to leave the Inn, putting their gear and then themselves onto the horses. As the group proceeded, Donovan engaged with Kiliketz from time to time and suggested to him places where he should be scouting ahead. In between those conversations, Donovan and Lucius spoke about different creature types, and which ones are most effective in this type of setting.
“I’m guessing we’re not having a conversation with these individuals either?”, Bebop asked of Donovan.
“No Bebop, we’re killing them in their sleep. Any questions?”, Donovan replied in a very matter of fact tone.
Bebop simply looked over at Tamsen, who looked back at him wordlessly. When the group finally arrived a reasonable distance from where Kiliketz told them the soldiers were camping, they dismounted from their horses, and began walking to the campsite. Pausing just out of sight range, Lucius summoned Lucinda, then applied invisibility to her. She moved as silently as she could behind the one standing guard. Donovan then instructed Tamsen to apply Slumber to the one soldier who was on guard. She complied, appearing directly in front of the soldier before using her magics to put him to sleep. With that, Donovan pulled out his rapier, speaking softly to the blade as it took on a sickly purple hue.

Donovan and Bebop moved up on the group of soldiers who were now all sleeping. With the assistance of Lucinda, the three of them positioned themselves over three different individuals, one of whom they believed to be Captain Varning. Timing their attacks together, the three of them slaughtered three of the guards. However, Bebop could not contain his excitement, and his squeals of delight woke up the remaining guards.
“Blistering Invective, Bebop.”, Donovan spoke to Bebop, unfazed by the change in the situation.
Donovan had explained how this particular Elixir worked, and Bebop was all too excited to try it out. The liquid ran down his throat, and a guttural angry sound escaped his lips, hateful words being spewed out at these unfortunate guards. Of those guards who were still alive and able to wake up, two of them burst into flame, while the other two seemed disturbed by what they were seeing and hearing. Tamsen reached out with her Hexes again, applying Slumber once more to one of the guards not currently on fire. All the soldiers still conscious were cut down as so much wheat, with the other sleeping soldier to be murdered in his sleep a moment later.

Lucius called forth an Earth Elemental to dig a communal grave for the soldiers, as Bebop and Donovan went to work stripping the corpses of their gear. Most of the mundane equipment was left with the bodies, but a few items of worth were discovered on Varning. Once the bodies were finished being buried, the group set up their own camp, almost directly on top of where Varning and his soldiers were slain.
“You all did great work tonight.”, Donovan said, a smile traced weakly on his face.
That night, as Donovan laid asleep next to Tamsen, Tamsen could feel the wetness on his face, and she silently cursed Alcott again.

As the next day arrived, the group headed back to Aldencross, unsure of what the next task would be. Donovan described the Rookery to the group, and told them how long the play would be running.
Donovan described the specific actions that the team would need to follow, and what rooms they would expect to pass through. “This is our only window of opportunity. We take out this, we’ve stranded Balantyne once and for all.”
This was heartening news for all the group to hear. Not only did it mean they were in a good position to take over the Keep, but perhaps this would mean the end of Donovan being so reckless. Tamsen and Bebop seemed to be in an especially good mood with the shift in Donovan’s demeanor.
“This sucks Donovan, I’m not getting any treasure or pleasure!”, Bebop complained, although mostly in jest.
Tamsen looked suggestively at Bebop, “Let’s get you in a bath, Bebop, and I’ll help you take care of that last part myself.”
A laugh came over the group, one that they hadn’t shared in some time together. The group arrived back at the Lord’s Dalliance late into the evening, with all of them feeling somewhat tired from the day’s travel. Still, Bebop and Tamsen were able to find time to enjoy each other, in the way that made each of them feel connected to the other.

Donovan allowed himself to sleep in the morning that Ye Merrie Men were slated to perform in the Keep. All of his efforts had seemed to come together, and he only needed to wait until later in the evening to act out his envisioned plan. Indeed, he even allowed himself the luxury of some intimate time with Tamsen, which he had completely denied himself these last several days. However, fate was to decide a different course for the group, as rumors began to swirl up at the Inn that Commander Havelyn had denied entry to the performing troupe, citing a threat to the Keep that was in place. Donovan was deflated at the sound of this news, and began to second guess all of his efforts thus far. What did he not tie up? What aspect of the plan had been overlooked? Did Eddarly somehow get a message through to Havelyn? Donovan’s frustration grew at all of these unanswered questions, but he was resolved to see this matter through.

The group got together to discuss their options.
“We can’t delay on this, if they get a message out now, all our efforts thus far will have been for nothing! We have to go in!”, Donovan exclaimed.
Lucius queried, “What’s the plan then?”
Donovan had considered using the tunnels again, but having to wait on an opportunity during the day was risky for the four of them, and waiting all night left too much uncertainty.
“We’re going to disguise ourselves as guards, and claim that we are transfers from another Watch Tower. Given the recent issues, it’s not out of reason for them to have put in for such a transfer. Once we get in, we’ll make our way to the Rookery and take that piece off the table.” “And if they don’t let us in?”, Bebop asked worriedly.
“Then we’ll improvise.”, Donovan gritted his teeth in that answer, and the group knew what that meant.

Heading down to the Watch Tower, things had changed quite a bit from a mere three days ago. The entrance into the compound now had multiple guards, and their appeared to be additional troops that had been brought in. Worse still, everyone entering or leaving was being actively stopped and questioned. Donovan again raged at himself, allowing something to slip through his notice. Tamsen, sensing Donovan’s growing frustration, took Donovan’s hand momentarily. He heard her voice in his head.
“Please focus, my love. We all need you right now.”, Tamsen was almost pleading in her request.
Donovan felt his heart racing, and he knew she was right. He walked up to the individual manning the guard station and introduced himself. “I’m Grant, me and my guys got orders from our Commander to come down here. Apparently, there’s been some trouble.”
The man in the station looked at Donovan through his disguise, “What group are you with?”
“We were told to report to Captain Varning, sir.”, Donovan responded, attempting to sound nonplussed.
“And where did you come from?”, the guard continued to press.
“East Tower.”, Donovan mumbled.
He was unsure which Keep would be able to send resources. The guard stared at Donovan, seemingly unimpressed.
In his mind, Donovan called out to Tamsen, “I think we’re going to have to kill them all.”
“Wait, love. Just wait.”, Tamsen shot back.
The guard shrugged, then went into the Keep. In Donovan’s mind, all he could see was his failures. He was convinced that somehow, someone had gotten a message through to them, despite all his efforts. Donovan could barely hold his breathing in check now, so certain he was that a fight was about to commence. Finally, a grizzled soldier came out of the Keep. Donovan could tell this individual had been in the military for some time, and had authority here.
“You boys say you were to be transferred to Varning’s team, is that right?”, the man spoke. He had authority, but not cruelty.
Donovan responded, “That was our understanding, sir.”
Captain Barhold shook his head, “No one around here knows how to do paperwork properly. I’m guessing you four don’t have the paperwork for your transfers, do you?”
Donovan, feigning dejection, replied, “Sorry sir, I just follow orders and keep my head down.”
Barhold smiled at that response, “Well, we can at least get you boys a meal and a good night’s sleep before we send you back.”
With that, Barhold led the group into the Barracks, pointed at some cots for them, and then returned to his work.

The group looked around the barracks, with people coming and going, while others were attempting to sleep. Donovan estimated there were around forty people in the room.
Donovan spoke quietly in Infernal, “We can kill them all.”
Donovan began analyzing the room dimensions, thinking about the group’s powers and what could be accomplished in the relatively small space they had to work with.
“We’re with you, Donovan.”, Lucius responded, the fear resonating slightly in his voice.
In that moment, Donovan realized what he was doing, and what he was risking. His impulsiveness would cost him the only family he had ever had or loved, and all to maintain some personal absolute that he had created for himself. Donovan began to slow his breath, letting himself calm down and enter the moment. He walked up to one of the soldiers that was standing around the barracks. “I heard that food was still available?”

Having been given the directions to the different doorways and some of the rooms beyond them, the group left the barracks and began the trek up to the rookery. They momentarily stopped on the second floor so as to not catch the guards’ attention. Donovan handed an Alchemist’s Fire to Lucius and told him to throw it out past the guards, so as to draw their attention away from the staircase. Completing that, the group went up to the top floor, finding a heavy door with the sounds of birds cawing behind it.
“Time for Lucinda”, Donovan looked at Lucius.
Once Lucinda and Bebop had arranged themselves into the position where Donovan had suggested, Donovan went up and banged on the door. “Master Martin, the Commander seeks your counsel, right away.”
After a short while, a feeble old man opened the door, looking confused at the “soldier” standing in front of him. “What’s that? What does Havelyn want?”
Donovan insisted, “Apologies Master Martin, the Commander seeks your counsel regarding some messages to be delivered.”
The old man seemed appropriately annoyed, “Why can’t he come up here? Fine, fine!”
The bird handler then went through talking to several of his birds, assigning them tasks they were to complete while he was away. Donovan thought it was cute, albeit somewhat sad.
Finally, the man was ready to leave. “Alright, son, lead on.”
“Yes sir.”, Donovan replied.
As Martin and the others began walking towards the steps leading down, Lucius carefully moved in and closed the only open window within the bird filled rookery, effectively sealing the creatures in. From there, Lucinda snuck up behind Martin, decapitating him in a single blow. Martin fell, his lifeless form crumpled in a moment. Bebop picked up his body and tossed him into the fireplace within the rookery. Shortly after, Lucius summoned a Fire Elemental, instructing it to kill all of the ravens inside the room, as the group began the trek downstairs.

Upon returning to the third floor, Donovan uncorked another bottle of Alchemist’s Fire, and poured the content over the collection of arrows that they had discovered there on the way to the Rookery. Finishing that task, the group proceeded down to the second floor where the guards that they had previously encountered were still standing around the area that had momentarily burst into flame.
“Fire in the Rookery!”, Donovan cried out to the guards! “We need water now! Fire in the Rookery!”
The guards, panicked at hearing the news, ran off in order to find buckets and water. With that, the group finished their journey by passing through the Armory, and returning to the Lord’s Dalliance Inn via the tunnels.

Later that night, as a very satisfied Donovan laid naked next to the woman who had made him feel that way, he stared wistfully up at the ceiling of the Inn, reflecting on what had occurred over the last few days. Whoever this Commander Havelyn individual was, Donovan realized that the man was no fool; and all of his plans thus far had just been the easy part of tearing apart Balantyne. If Donovan planned to continue assaulting the compound, he would have to create some new strategies to deal with this man.

“I hope you’re ready Commander, I have plans for you and yours.”, Donovan mused to himself.

Session 10 Ends.
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Part 1: Knot of Thorns
Act 4: Burning Balentyne!
Session 11: Do Wizards Dream of Electric Cheetahs?

“We need to have this discussion.”, Donovan said flatly to the group, as they sat around the largest of the rooms they had reserved at the Lord’s Dalliance Inn.
“I can make a plan either way, but the actions will be influenced by the survivability you want to see.” Donovan looked at the rest of his family: Bebop and Lucius, who were each sitting in chairs, and Tamsen who was in the bed with him, her arms wrapped around him from behind as he was sitting up.
Donovan continued, “Put simply, do you want to attempt to save the rank-and-file soldiers of Balantyne, or do you not care about their outcome?” Donovan wrapped his hands together, then put them against his chin, waiting for their response.
Bebop was first to respond, “Whatever outcome brings the least amount of risk to us is all I care about. Those soldiers can live or die for all I care.” Donovan nodded to Bebop, then looked over to Lucius.
Lucius pondered his answer for a minute, then began, “You know I’ll follow you anywhere Donovan. I just don’t understand why you were so adamant about saving everyone originally, and then going on a killing spree immediately following that.”
Donovan touched his fingers to his lips, “I let Havelyn dictate my timeframe and actions. But I’m not doing that anymore. He wants to fight me like a warrior, I’ll fight back like a merchant.” Donovan smirked at the end of his answer.
Tamsen didn’t say anything, and instead merely continued to stroke Donovan’s shoulders and hair. Of course, no one expected her to say anything, as they were all keenly aware that Tamsen would save or kill whomever Donovan asked of her, with no moral compulsion on the matter.
Pausing a moment, Donovan went forward with his discussion. “Alright, so it sounds like we’re going to kill all of them.” Donovan clapped his hands together and nodded, as if affirming his thoughts. “We’re going to be very busy tonight, let me go over the plans with all of you.”
The discussions between the four of them went on for several hours, and day moved into night.

As night approached, the group split into two parts. Donovan and Lucius moved over to the north side of the compound, taking care to stay out of distance. Meanwhile, Tamsen and Bebop worked their way back under the tunnels between the Inn and the Keep. The two groups communicated with each other via the link that Tamsen held with all of them. Once all of them were in the assigned positions, the operation was underway. Lucius began by summoning a group of Earth Elementals. Donovan gave the Elementals specific instructions for them to follow with regards to the Keep. They were to move underground for a specific distance, then come up into the Keep proper. The rooms they were to surface in corresponded to the Pantry, the Kitchen, and the Storeroom. From there, they were told to destroy all objects they saw in the room. Donovan’s hope in all of this was that the Elementals would cause damage to the remaining food supply that was nearby the Kitchen. The Elementals began their cruel task.

Meanwhile, Bebop and Tamsen went to work on the food stores that were being kept under the Armory. Per Donovan’s instructions, Bebop moved a group of crates and barrels to the other side of the secret door where the tunnel began. Tamsen summoned her dark magicks, and caused the food stocks to be Putrefied. Given the sheer volume of food that was stored here, the process would take some time. Crates filled with foot became rotted and spoiled, and the smell in the vault began to get worse. Once the two of them were finished, they retreated back into the passageway, and pulled the door closed.

As the first wave of the Elementals completed their task, Lucius summoned up another group of Elementals. These Elementals were instructed to push directly through the closest walls. This would lead the Elementals directly into the Barracks, which from there they were instructed to attack and kill any individual they discovered in the room. Once the Elementals molded through the Barrack’s wall, Donovan and Lucius began their own retreat from the Keep. While they were unable to hear what was happening beyond the wall, Lucius could imagine that the summoned creatures were shedding a great deal of blood, given the time of evening and the number of soldiers who would be clustered together in that room.

Once the group had completed their onslaught against the Keep, they returned via their different methods back to the Inn. The family sat down at a table, and Lucius went into the kitchen area to begin cooking the fish that had been purchased from the docks earlier that day. During a previous discussion, Lucius had put forward the notion of getting poison glands from some exotic fish, and using that poison to take out some of the more influential individuals in the Keep. Now that the plan had switched to a “siege” mentality, they had no reason to purchase the poison sacs on these fish, but Donovan still intended to pay the fishermen for their efforts, since he had already agreed to the commitment that had been made previously. Donovan was congratulating the family on their individual efforts, and they were regaling one another with the tales that had taken place during their individual actions.

After the discussion, Donovan spelled out the next part of his plans to the group.
“Tamsen my love, I’ve already assigned Kiliketz to night watch duty, and told him to contact you if he sees anyone attempting to leave the Keep. You will stay in Lucius’ room at night, and wake him up if anything occurs so that we can intercept them right away.” Tamsen nodded with understanding at Donovan’s instructions.
“Meanwhile, we’ll work together as a group within the area during the day to make sure no one comes out. If we see someone, we’ll stop them before they have a chance to resupply.” Donovan looked at each of them to make sure they understood what was being asked of them.
Lucius queried Donovan, “Don’t we want to question some of these people to see what all we have accomplished in there?”
Donovan shook his head, “Not until we see someone worth questioning. Otherwise, we have to continue applying pressure to the group. An army is only as good as the food they eat.”
“Depending on how well things go, I’ll shop around the town and begin creating a buying frenzy on food supplies.”, Donovan continued, to no one in particular.

The food and company were both delicious, especially so as they considered that the people inside the Keep were by now realizing that they had no food available to eat. How long would that group be able to go without having food available? Donovan calculated that the situation inside the Keep would become fairly dire after three days. After another week, there would certainly be casualties. And, all of this would have a devastating impact on morale.
“Your move, Havelyn.”, Donovan thought to himself.

The night passed, and the family retired to their respective rooms. Lucius was beginning to feel his connection to his summoned monsters continue to grow. He could picture them in different ways, seeing creatures as more than just the habitats they would traditionally dwell in. As Lucius laid in his bed, he imagined what it would be like if his creatures could swim or fly instead of simply run. A certain glee occurred to him as he began to ponder the possibilities. Unceremoniously, Tamsen entered his room.
“Hello Lucius.”, Tamsen said, a sly smile on her face. Tamsen dropped the silk clothing she was wearing, revealing her naked form underneath, and climbed into the bed with Lucius.
“Do you not have any other clothes?”, Lucius asked, somewhat surprised at the boldness of Tamsen. Lucius understood very clearly the function that Tamsen served in the family. On the most obvious level, Donovan was clearly smitten by Tamsen, and she could do no wrong in his eyes. Tamsen also had Bebop under her thumb, and he was a powerful warrior available to Donovan in large part due to Tamsen’s manipulations. For those reasons, Lucius was always guarded when dealing with Tamsen. He could easily imagine getting lost in that woman’s embrace, and become another one of her toys.
Tamsen smirked at him, “I would be naked all the time if Donovan would allow me to. Why, are you not comfortable being around a naked woman?”
“I’ve been around plenty of naked women, but usually we’re doing more than just sleeping.”, Lucius responded teasingly, and then immediately regretted that choice of words.
Tamsen rolled herself on top of Lucius, her legs straddling his waist. “Oh, are you saying you want to do more?” Tamsen ran her finger across Lucius’ chest.
“No thanks, Tamsen. You and Donovan have a complicated relationship.”, Lucius replied, although he felt his body responding to her caress.
“It’s not complicated at all.”, Tamsen insisted. “I love Donovan, I enjoy whomever else I please.” Tamsen leaned forward, her eyes locked with his. “You only like to play with your dolly?”
“Eidolon.”, Lucius answered
Tamsen giggled, enjoying getting underneath Lucius’ skin. She whispered, “Do you want to have a threesome with her? Have you ever wanted to see her with a woman?”
Lucius eyes narrowed, “Very funny, Tamsen.” Lucius began feeling his pulse speed up, and was unsure how he was going to disentangle himself from her if she refused to stop.
Tamsen shrugged and sighed. She kissed Lucius on the cheek, then rolled back off him. “Good night, Lucius.”
Lucius wiped his face with his hands and spoke quietly to himself, “The things I do for this family.”

The next morning came, and Lucius awoke to find Tamsen wrapped around him.
“Mmm, Donovan.”, she mumbled quietly in her sleep.
Lucius was already irritated, “Is this how it’s going to be every morning?” Lucius pulled away from Tamsen’s grip, simultaneously attempting to wake her up. “Get up, Tamsen! I need to go fix breakfast for everyone.”
Tamsen whined as she reached out across the bed, “Cuddles…”
Lucius became more insistent, “Get up woman! Go cuddle with Donovan.”
Tamsen looked up from where she had been sleeping, annoyed at having already been awoken. She stood up and grabbed her silken clothing, not even bothering to put it on. Opening the door, Tamsen walked across the hallway of the Inn, and back into Donovan’s room. Everyone who had arrived early at the Inn for breakfast was suddenly shocked to have seen a naked woman simply strolling across the hallway.
For his part, Donovan was already awake, planning out possible moves and actions by the soldiers in the Keep and how he could counter their actions. Upon seeing Tamsen, he smiled and greeted her. “Good morning my love, I hope you slept well. Did anything of…”
Tamsen cut Donovan off, throwing herself onto Donovan, and wrapping her arms, legs, and tail around him. “Cuddle me, Donovan.”, she said, already falling back asleep.
Donovan smiled, and kissed Tamsen softly on the forehead, “Obviously, that went well.”

The family settled into their usual routine as the morning continued on. The group got wind of a rumor that a Talingarde soldier was visiting with the Mayor of the town. Donovan told the group they would need to go and respond to this, the soldier could not be allowed to gather reinforcements for the Keep.

The group headed out to the center of town, where there was a large gathering of civilians around the Mayor’s office. Apparently, there was quite a lot of buzz about the handsome soldier who had come from the North. The soldier left the Mayor’s office and got on his horse without fanfare, then immediately took off to ride to the next destination.
“Stop him!”, Donovan instructed Lucius.
Lucius summoned forth a Cheetah, allowing the Cheetah to take on aspects of the Plane of the Air. The Cheetah literally flew out towards the horseman, electricity crackling in its wake. The Cheetah struck the soldier from its midair position, biting and clawing the soldier, knocking them off the horse. As the crowd was struck numb in shock from seeing a cheetah flying down onto the horseman, it began to devour the flesh of the soldier.
Donovan looked over at Lucius, surprise on his face. “That’s new.”
Lucius smiled, “It’s been something I have contemplated for a while now.”

The group headed back into town, and then further on towards the Keep. On the way, they began hearing the sound of a group headed towards them. Hoping to gain the advantage of an ambush, the family retreated into the trees, and watched the individuals who passed by. A group of eight soldiers were on the way into town, undoubtedly to collect food for the Keep.
“Surround them with creatures, and end them.”, Donovan communicated intention to Lucius via Tamsen.
Once more, Lucius called forth the power of his summoned monsters. This time, he called forth a collection of Hell Hounds, surrounding the group at the cardinal points.
“Incinerate!”, Lucius commanded the Hell Hounds. All in one action, the Hounds simultaneously erupted fire from their mouths, catching the soldiers inside of a massive gout of flame coming from all directions. The soldiers, unprepared for the attack, were scorched utterly. Burnt flesh and warped metal was all that was to be found from the group.

Feeling bolder now, the four began to push closer to the Watch Tower, in order to get a better understanding of what sort of damage had taken place. With Donovan’s keen perception, he was able to notice a figure on the walls of the Keep. An unarmored figure, to be precise.
“Lucius, the Mage is on the wall! Let’s take advantage of this opportunity!”, Donovan spoke excitedly.
Lucius called forth yet another one of the Cheetahs tied to Air, launching it with its amazing mobility at the Wizard who was hundreds of feet away.

Tacitus was no fool. He had heard of the recent attacks that had been coming from summoned monsters, and had an idea of what to expect. More impressively, he had agreed to continue to provide aid, even as Father Donnagin had continued to bemoan the wickedness and danger of Arcane magic. But nothing in his life could have prepared him from what he saw coming at him from the ground. It was a Cheetah, but not running across the landscape as one might expect. No, this Cheetah was literally hurling itself at him through the air. Thinking quickly, Tacitus fired off a collection of Magic Missiles, then followed that up with a large Fireball. Wasting no time, Tacitus immediately applied Fly to himself, and readied himself to take to the air.

Lucius sensed the demise of the previous monster, which prompted him to immediately spawn another one. This one hurtled out again towards the Mage, who began flying away from it as fast as possible, getting out of the creature’s initial attack range. Once airborne, Tacitus continued to zoom around the air, all the while being quickly followed up by the flying Cheetah. Finally, Tacitus flew into one of the larger structures of the Keep, closing the windows behind him.
“Godsdamnit!”, Donovan cursed. “He got away. Have Lucinda get into the main courtyard area. We need to get some kind of confirmation of how much damage has been done.”

Lucius called up Lucinda, who would be able to provide far more information than his typical summoned monsters. Lucius applied wings to Lucinda, and had her fly up to the area where the Wizard had been walking around. As Lucinda moved through, it became clear that the soldiers had been pulled away from the Keep walls, a clear response from the attacks that had been taking place over the last 24 hours. Lucinda continued to relay information back to her master, notifying Lucius of the things she was discovering.

As Lucinda attempted to move into the section where the soldiers were typically quartered, she encountered a large contingency of soldiers. For Donovan, this was confirmation that the soldiers were continuing to hold up inside of a small section of the Watch Tower. Lucinda began fighting her way through the soldiers, killing several of them in the process. It was then that Captain Barhold appeared, Great Sword in hand. Knowing that Lucinda would not be able to single handedly hold back Barhold and a half dozen guards by herself, Lucius decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and had her recalled to her home Plane.

With that, Donovan and the others decided that this would be as far as they would be able to press into the Keep for tonight. It was clear that Haverlyn was continuing to coalesce his forces into a limited area, unwilling to continue taking losses by being spread out throughout the Watch Tower. As they left, the group felt a searing heat, and flames lapped at their flesh. Looking up, it was clear that Tacitus had taken the opportunity of their withdrawal as a chance to hurl down a Fireball into their midst. Donovan patched up the group, and they began to return to the Inn.
Suddenly, Lucius had an idea, “What if we take all those bodies that are up the road just a bit, and spread them out around here?”
Donovan laughed aloud at the suggestion, “How clever, Lucius! Let Haverlyn find a group of his men clearly burned to cinders from a Fireball attack, and we’ll see how he responds!”

Bebop and Lucinda collected the bodies of the soldiers that had been attacked further up the road, then placed their burnt corpses at the center of the Fireball explosion. While Donovan didn’t know if anything would come of it, he was delighted at the thought of the “Detective” Donnagin discovering these bodies and coming to the “obvious” conclusion of what had happened to them.

“Oh, that wicked Arcane magic!”, Donovan laughed.

Session 11 Ends.
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As we enter the holiday season of 2021, and near the completion of the first Book, I thought this would be a good time to go over my thoughts on the characters, and the decisions I made towards putting them together. As I am the most familiar with putting together character builds for Pathfinder, I took up the task of assembling the four characters that would be used for the game.

Our DM (David) didn't give me a lot of information about the game, only that we would be playing characters that had to have an Evil Alignment, and that we would be starting the game in a Prison setting (which I interpreted to mean no gear of any type).

Player: Robert
Character: Donovan
Class: Investigator (Empiricist)/Occultist

Donovan was simultaneously the easiest and most complicated character that I put together of the group. From the beginning, I pictured a support class similar to that of a Bard, but I wanted to avoid a heavy Charisma character, since I knew we would have a "face" character. I had initially considered a Class like Wizard, but I felt like that was something I had already been involved with previously. Picturing this character, I was thinking about a "Hannibal from A-Team" concept.

What I Like: Investigator is a fun class to play if you want to be the "Knowledge Guru" of the game (assuming Knowledges get used in your game). Between the Feats Skill Focus (Language) and Orator, the Traits Clever Wordplay and Precise Treatment, and the benefits of the Empiricist Archetype, so many Skills are running through Intelligence that it allows you to become proficient with just about everything your Party could possibly need. It certainly doesn't hurt that you are awarded 6+ Intelligence Skill Points per level. I also really like the Inspiration ability, which gives you an extra D6 on all of your rolls. One of the things I discovered in Way of the Wicked was that the DC challenges in the very first act were insanely high, with tests coming in at up to 30+, with no gear at that point of the game. Tests at that difficulty for Level 1 characters isn't exactly easy, so any ability that can help provide additional bonuses is a welcome asset. If you are playing a game where Knowledge tests are a thing, this is certainly one of the better Classes to accomplish that.

What I Dislike: This character is not good at combat, at least not currently. This character is also not good for buffing until you get the right Elixirs, and get the Infusion Discovery. It's a Talent Tax for this group, plain and simple, but something that other support classes don't have to deal with. I decided to multiclass into Occultist in order to resolve some of the Challenges with combat. By Using the Transformation School of Occultist, I was able to pick up Physical Enhancement (which I used for Dexterity) and Legacy Weapon. The great thing about Legacy Weapon is that it allows me to apply the Bane Enhancement to my Rapier, and since I know the type of creature I'm fighting (thanks to all the aforementioned Knowledge Skills), the character can constantly set the Bane correctly. It's not ideal, but it's at least a partial solution.

Where I'm Headed: Since the background of the character is in the Merchant Profession, I've been considering making more investments into Crafting Skills. This would allow me to get permanent "buffs" onto the Party at a faster pace with this character than I might be able to with my character otherwise, since the cost would be much lower than "retail".


Continuing on with the previous post, this is another character recap for the efforts that our Party has made with our characters thus far, and my thoughts about the characters from the experiences we have seen.

Player: Debi
Character: Tamsen
Class: Witch (Seducer)

My wife Debi plays two sorts of characters: The Librarian with the Heart of Gold, or The Vamp. Since we were going into an evil campaign, I felt like the choice in this case was pretty apparent. But, with Tamsen, I wanted to do more of a specific challenge. Since my goal from the beginning was to have Debi play a vamp character in an evil campaign, how could I get as close as possible to the stereotypical "succubus" character, without actually having a succubus? Oh, the contortions I went through for this one. I kept looking for characters that embraced similar powers and themes as the succubus, and finally landed on what I considered a pretty close compromise, a Tiefling Seducer Witch. However, the Tiefling in of itself wouldn't be close enough, so I had to beg my DM (David) to allow Debi to use the Variant creation rules for a Tiefling, and to substitute the native Evil Telepathy that a Tiefling could acquire for a watered down version of Profane Gift.

What I Like: Wow, Hexes are amazing! Throughout the first part of Way of the Wicked, Debi could simply end fights with the Slumber Hex. Why fight anyone when her character's Hex allows our Party to go for a quick Coup de Grace? Also, Protective Luck is not discussed a lot in most guides, but is far and away one of the best Hexes a Witch can use. Forcing a reroll on any character that makes an Attack Roll on a Hexed character with no Saving Throw to prevent the effect? Yes Please! Witches also appear to have one of the most interesting Spell lists, improved further by the choice of Patron.

What I Dislike: Skills are a bad area for Seducer Witches. Between their limited Skill Points (2+ Intelligence Modifier), and the fact that most Charisma skills are not Class Skills for them, it is hard to find a way to shine with Skills. Additionally, Seducer Witches are saddled with the Charm Hex as their first Hex, meaning you will be spending your first Feat to buy Extra Hex. Because she has to use Cackle every round, it's hard for her to do much else beyond apply one buff or debuff per turn. She also has the worst AC, Saving Throws, and HP currently.

Where She's Headed: The next steps for Tamsen will be to continue evolving her towards her "succubus" destiny, while also resolving some of the weaknesses that are currently present in her build. Additionally, we've discussed having her become our resident "tattoo expert", since we can combine tattoos with Equipment (given the available funds).


Moving on with my next willing participant, this is my interpretation of the "hitter" for the Party.

Player: Brian
Character: Bebop
Class: Alchemist (Beastmorph/Vivisectionist)

Brian is a friend of mine I've known for some time, and when it comes to character designs, he generally prefers characters that can be explained in a sentence or two, and mechanics that aren't too complex. Sure, the Character can be all sorts of "broken", as long as he can quickly wrap his head around how he can maximize the damage output. As the DM explained this campaign to me as starting out in a prison, I wanted to put together a hard hitting character that didn't need any weapons in order to pull their combination. As such, the SkinWalker race seemed like a really natural fit, especially with the Extra Feature feat.

What I Like: There are so many synergies that play together well with this character. Feral Mutagen quickly adds on more attacks, and Strength. Sneak Attack can quickly be applied to all of the attacks, effectively multiplying the damage output. As I'm also pushing this build into an Intimidate Demoralize build, it's nice that the Mutagen provides a buff to Intimidate. The ability to use Blistering Invective also combines well with a Demoralize build, and Alchemists have a ton of great self buffs and Discoveries that go well with melee combat. It's easy to see how quickly Brian's character can tear through ranks of enemies, which we were made aware of when the DM started maximizing the NPC's hit points. That's generally a good clue you're probably on the right path for a direct damage character.

What I Dislike: The Demoralize Build takes a Lot of Feats, starting with Weapon Focus and Dazzling Display, and then working up to the next tier of required Feats. This is preventing me from selecting other Feats that I might use for durability. The build also requires a lot of different Stats, from Strength and Constitution for combat, Dexterity and Wisdom for Saving Throws, and Intelligence for Elixirs and Skills. It's not easy to bring all of those different Stats together. Survivability is also a concern that we have to work with, as this character isn't exactly the hardest to hit.

Where He's Headed: The next steps for Bebop are to continue to advance the Demoralize game, and continue to increase the survivability of the character. Additionally, the character will continue to function as the "comic relief" in my writeups, as Brian is generally given to being humorous during games.


The final Recap in this group was one of the most challenging ones for me to nail down, not because of the difficulty of building the character, but because of the parameters required in putting it together.

Player: Chris
Character: Lucius (& Lucinda)
Class: Summoner

When thinking about the last character for our group, I knew we were going to have to have someone who had the "rogue" skills. The thing is, I hate rogues. So, I knew that I was going to have to find another way to get those sweet rogue skills (Disable Device/Stealth) in another form. Then Chris told me that his wife might want to play as well, but he didn't know what sort of schedule she would be able to play. With that in mind, I started thinking about ways that he could have his wife's character around when she wasn't there, and allow her to "run" the character when she appeared. This train of thought led me into the Summoner build, and the Skilled Evolution placed onto all of those key rogue skills that we needed to represent.

What I Like: Simply put, (Chained) Summoners are close to one of the best character classes I have ever seen. Not only can you design builds around the Eidolon side of your setup, you can also instead focus in on the quality of Summoned Monsters that are an aspect of their builds. Finally, Summoners have a great spell list, meaning they can serve in so many functions for the team. If you are considering playing Way of the Wicked, you are going to quickly need a way to deal with Flying and/or Aquatic creatures; and your party will suffer if you don't have a good solution for that. Summoners not only can fill all of those roles, they can also put additional pressure on the NPC's by having summoned monsters that will outlast almost everything on the field. They have low Feat requirements, and can really serve in a lot of functions, especially due to their required stats (Charisma and Intelligence).

What I Dislike: I can't really think of any specific complaint that I have about this class, other than the fact you do need to choose between focusing in on an amazing Eidolon, or having armies of Summoned Monsters. But that's not a bad issue to have to deal with.

Where He's Headed: As I'm trying to work the Eidolon into a Trip based build, more of the Eidolon's Feats will continue to go into those pieces. Outside of that, I'm very happy with the current direction of this character, and excited to see what it can do next. Maybe I'll request the Leadership Feat for this character. I mean, it's already pretty overpowered anyway, right?


Part 1: Knot of Thorns
Act 4: Burning Balentyne!
Session 12: Shards of the Broken Wall

“They’re coming out!”, Lucius excitedly relayed to the rest of the group, “I think we’re about to have our conflict!”
Donovan was confused by this. While the situation in the Watch Wall could not be going well for the soldiers, it was only three days since the food supplies had been cut. There was no way Commander Havelyn could already be desperate. “What is Lucinda seeing exactly?”, Donovan pressed Lucius for more information.
Lucius elaborated further. According to the information he was receiving from the Eidolon, two groups of soldiers had come out in front of Balentyne, each of them in a Chevron formation. Additionally, archers were standing on the top of the primary Keep wall leading back into Aldencross. While Lucinda could hear shouting coming from the groups of soldiers, she couldn’t make out the specifics of what was being said.
Bebop spoke up excitedly, “They are going to attack the city for food supplies. I know how this military is, as soon as things start going bad, they’ll take what they want from the civilians.”
Donovan pondered Bebop’s statement and smiled briefly. Oh, if only that were true! It would be a way for his family to show Talingarde for all its shortcomings. But Donovan remained skeptical. “I would suspect they are performing drills, trying to see if there’s any response.”
Bebop nodded, “It’s a trap.”
Donovan looked at Bebop momentarily, then started moving towards the Wall. “Lucius, summon up some Aerial horses, we’re riding for Balentyne now!”
Lucius began his chanting and motions, and soon there was a group of horses who could ride the air almost as well as the land.
The horses stormed towards the groups, and behind those soldiers, the prize that they sought. Donovan explained to them that he believed they could cut off the soldiers from the Keep by closing the doors behind them, then sealing up the mechanics that made the doors unpassable. This would allow them to have free reign of the building in order to cause as much damage as possible.
As the horses and riders approached the Watch Wall, the archers who had fallen into formation with the rest of the group began loading up their weapons. “The invaders are coming!”, shouting was heard by the soldiers as they readied themselves to fire. The rest of the soldiers fell into line, bracing themselves for a calvary based attack. Arrows began to fly in, with most of them missing, but a few of them connecting with members of the family.
Just as the group was about to strike the line made by the soldiers, Donovan gave the order to fly up and towards the top of the wall. Most of the soldiers stared in stunned silence as a group of horses literally flew over them, while others cursed the group for their cowardice in battle. The horses were coming to the other side of the wall when Donovan saw him: the man in gleaming Full Plate. Donovan knew exactly who that man was, and what his position here meant for his original plan.
“Gods damn it all!”, Donovan cursed. Quickly looking around, Donovan pointed at the highest structure in the Keep. “Head for the roof!”, Donovan called out to the rest of them. The man in Full Plate armor stared at the group as they flew out of range.
Once the team was all on the roof, everyone went to work. Donovan barked out orders that the others efficiently completed. “Lucius, unsummon and call back Lucinda.” “Bebop, imbibe your Mutagen and wait on the next floor down. Make sure no one gets past the staircase.” “Tamsen, get into position behind Bebop and be ready to summon Grasping Tentacles.” With that, Donovan took a breath, and began working on dismantling the machinery that was located on the roof.
Bebop and Tamsen went downstairs through the trap door in the roof. Bebop consumed a flask that he had prepared earlier this morning, and his body one more begin to shift and change. Tamsen whispered soft words of a Protective Ward on him, then drew a breath, “We’re going to fight every single person left in the Keep right here?”
Bebop gritted his teeth, “Donovan usually has a plan for everything.”
A few seconds after Donovan finished dismantling the weapon, Lucius had resummoned Lucinda. “Great work! Now we need to use her and Bebop in order to pin down everyone coming up the stairs.”, Donovan considered the shape of the room, and the choke point that the stairway provided.
The rest of the team joined Tamsen and Bebop downstairs, and Lucius and Bebop organized their positioning to take advantage of the area they had to work with. Meanwhile, Donovan began to investigate the separate rooms near the staircase, with Tamsen following, her curiosity piqued.
In one of the rooms, Donovan found a chest. His face grimacing, Donovan pulled out a pair of thieves’ tools, and began picking the lock. “This is not my forte.”, Donovan said exasperated. This statement turned out to be quite timely, as Donovan missed the trap switches in the back of the chest, causing him and Tamsen to receive a small electrical shock, and setting off a loud and annoying alarm.
Breaking out his Healer’s Kit, Donovan pulled out a soothing balm and began to apply it to his fingertips where the electricity made contact. He then offered some to Tamsen, who was also singed, but had some natural resistance. “Sorry, love.” Tamsen merely smiled and kissed Donovan on the lips, “Tsk, tsk, Donovan. You’re distracted right now.”
Donovan pressed on into the other room, which he surmised to be the Commander’s bedroom. His eyes were drawn to the portrait of a beautiful woman. “His former wife.”, Donovan spoke in passing. “Former?”, Tamsen queried Donovan. Donovan’s hand stretched out over the candles surrounding the portrait, “Remembrance candles. I would never let you go like that, my love.” Donovan’s eyes faced Tamsen with grim focus, and she looked back at him, “Obviously not, Donovan. You’ll never find another like me.” Tamsen giggled, clearly trying to lighten the mood.
Looking around further, Donovan found a holy book of Mitra, well worn and taken great care of. As Donovan idly flipped through the pages, he found a family tree for Commander Havelyn, which also showed the man had a son. More interesting, however, was the part of the book that had been altered, as if a name was being removed.
Voices could be heard approaching the stairs now, and Donovan instructed Tamsen to help aid the group in keeping the soldiers from climbing the stairs. Donovan was about to join her, but something about that book drew him back. He focused on the page longer, attempting to read the maligned text. “Samuel Havelyn, Cardinal of Mitra.”, Donovan spoke to himself.
Something about those words continued to ring in his head. Why would the Commander attempt to cover up his brother, a priest of Mitra? “Not a priest, a Cardinal.” Recognition began to flash through Donovan’s mind. He remembered the conversation he had with Sakkarot. “That man seeks to call himself a Cardinal but is only a Cardinal of the Mitran faith.” Donovan looked up again at the picture of the Lady Bronwyn, and the candles surrounding her. All of the pieces fell together into Donovan’s mind.
Donavan put his face in his hands, and began to laugh, ignoring the sounds of the battle taking place just outside the door.
Bebop reveled in destruction when he chose to, and this moment was pure mitigated destruction. Between the quick and powerful moves of Lucinda, the effortless mental attacks of Tamsen, and his own enhanced abilities, the soldiers were little more than nuisances waiting to be swatted away. And oh, how Bebop could swat! His powerful attacks could easily rend through these soldiers before they could even realize they were dead. “Come on, I thought you were Talingarde’s finest? Is this all you have for us?”
Lucinda, being an Eidolon, was not one given to braggadocio. She was content in that her master was pleased with her, and that her efforts were proving effective. The stairs indeed proved to be a terrible choke point for the soldiers, being unable to fully protect themselves while moving up the staircase. Those few halberdiers who planned to move into Bebop were struck low by Lucinda’s own long weapon.
Eventually, dozens of soldiers lay dead on the staircase or at the bottom. As Bebop looked down the stairs for the next person he would be able to slaughter, he saw two men standing there. One of them was the man in Full Plate that Donovan seemed to want to avoid. The other was clearly a religious man of some sort. “Uh, Donovan, there’s someone else here.”, Bebop called into the bedroom.
Donovan strolled out, tapped Bebop on the shoulder and said “Enlarge Person.”, before looking at the two soldiers and smiling weakly. The two men reached the top of the stairs unimpeded by the group. Donovan sighed, “Commander Havelyn, it’s an honor to finally meet you. I don’t suppose there’s any way I could convince you to take the rest of you men, and help get the citizens of Aldencross to safety, is there?”
Havelyn stared at Donovan with a surly look, “Lay down your arms lest your endanger your lives and your very souls with this villainy.”
“Right, I thought as much.”, Donovan continued, not expecting much different. Looking over at the religious man, Donovan continued, “How about you, Father Donnagin? There’s a lot of good you and your Acolytes could do for this town. After the bugbears move past, having a group of devoted healers could really give the people hope.” Donovan looked Donnagin in the eyes, hoping to find some sense of empathy or common ground they could unite behind; but Donovan only found the eyes of a zealot staring back at him. “The forces of Mitra will never fall to the likes of you scum!”
Donovan shrugged his shoulders. Going in, he knew that this was the most likely statistical outcome; but he truly wanted to turn things around before it was all lost. “Kill them.”, Donovan stated without enthusiasm.
The family had already coordinated the plan of attack before the battle was even engaged. Tamsen brought up a set of Grasping Tentacles at the officers’ feet. Unwilling to remain in such an obvious sacrilege, Havelyn stepped out between Bebop and Lucinda. This spelled the beginning of the end for the officers, as Lucinda immediately took advantage of Havelyn’s position in order to trip him to the ground. Once fallen, Bebop exploited the opportunity to fully unleash his rage. It was all Donnagin could do just to heal up Havelyn to prevent him from passing to the great beyond. Havelyn would right himself, but the advantage of range that Bebop and Lucinda possessed put Havelyn in an impossible situation.
For just a moment, they all thought it was far too easy.
It was in that moment that Tacitus appeared leaning in from the trap door above them. Apparently, Tacitus had used the onslaught to fly over to the roof, and attack from a different prong. Donovan had not calculated for this. Donovan, Tamsen, and Bebop reeled from the force of the Fireball that was launched in such close proximity.
Donovan consumed a flask, granting him Expeditious Retreat. Quickly, he sped up to the top of the trap door, only to find that Captain Barhold was waiting to attack. A quick slice cut into Donovan’s flesh, as he almost fell back down the trap door, and scrambled to the bedroom doorway in order to gain a moment of cover.
Lucinda and Bebop continued to press their advantage, even as the flames licked across Bebop’s flesh. Donovan rushed back to the group, attempting to use Cure Light Wounds in order to grant the team some respite. “Finish him already, we have to get to the roof!”
Another blast came down from Tactitus, continuing to wither away the health of the family. In frustration, Donovan grabbed his blade, already full of the hatred he had for these people, and stabbed it into Havelyn’s fallen form.
It was in that moment that the next blast crashed through the room. Tacitus was no longer even attempting to distinguish friend from foe. Donovan saw the tentacles fade away, as Tamsen’s body hit the floor.
Bebop screamed and cursed as he saw Tamsen fell. He grabbed her form, quickly moving her into the room furthest away from the trap door. He set down her broken form, and administered healing to her.
Lucius and Lucinda followed behind Bebop, only waiting just long enough for Donovan to enter the room before bracing the door behind them.
Donovan threw open his Healer’s Kit, as vials and ingredients skittered across the floor. For the next few moments, Donovan sat over all of them, administering healing in every form and way he knew, leaving nothing behind. The group looked markedly better, although their injuries were still somewhat present.
“Now what?”, an exasperated Lucius asked.
“Bebop, hold the door. Lucius, unsummon Lucinda and summon Earth Elementals. We’re going to force him to use up every spell he still has left.”, Donovan’s voice was shaking now, continuing to look back at Tamsen who was laying on the ground.
Lucius and Bebop complied, and soon a group of Earth Elementals was engaging whatever was on the other side of the door. A force attempted to push through the door, but it was no match for Bebop’s enhanced strength.
Seconds continued to pass, Donovan was sitting next to Tamsen, looking down on her, watching her breathe. Lucius called out, “Are we going now?” Donovan did not respond, continuing to observe Tamsen, his hands shaking. Frustrated, Lucius walked over next to where Donovan was sitting, and slapped him hard in the face. Donovan’s gaze snapped to Lucius, fire in his stare.
“Are we going now?”, Lucius repeated the question forcefully.
Donovan listened to the sounds outside the door, “It sounds like the combat has died down. At the very least, I don’t hear the distinctive sounds of a Fireball eating up all the air in the room.” Donovan then turned his gaze to Bebop, “The next person that tries to come through, let them. We’ll start killing our way out.”
The door was pushed again, but this time Bebop let the door fall open, and immediately closed it behind the individual. Donovan ran the person through, realizing only too late that it was merely another unfortunate soldier who had gotten in over his head. Donovan felt his remorse at killing such a hapless fool, but considered if the soldier would have shown him any mercy were the situations reversed.
After stopping only briefly to allow Bebop to annihilate Captain Barhold, the group took stock of the remains within this room. Bodies were once again stacked on top of each other, as the debris of rock was strewn across the floor. There was far too much to carry inside of the backpack, so Donovan threw the bedding from Commander Havelyn’s bed onto the floor, tossed all the items of interest onto the sheet, then tied the whole thing up with a rope and instructed Lucius to have Lucinda carry it down the stairs.
On the next floor down, the group discovered what was surely the workshop for Tacitus. Wherever the mage had decided to go, he had not made any effort to reclaim his possessions. Taking advantage of their good fortune, they found a few items of note, including some Wolfsbane and a Cauldron of Brewing. But, the true find for the party was to discover the spell book of Tacitus. Bebop grinned wickedly, “Aw, no more spells for that bastard!” For spite, Donovan had Bebop toss one of the holy symbols of Asmodeus into the box that once held the spell book. Donovan pondered who might be the first person to discover that amulet, and what their reaction might be.
As the group entered the lowest level of the Keep, and then exited out into the courtyard, the remaining soldiers and acolytes began to take up defensive positions where they stood. It was obvious from a glance that the remaining soldiers were in no position to keep fighting. With the loss of their leadership and having witnessed the brutality in which some of their numbers were killed, they hoped only to bring some semblance of honor to their passing.
“Alright gentlemen, it’s time for you to pack up and leave this place.”, Donovan stepped forward, opening his hands and approaching the group. “It’s not safe for you to stay here. The bugbears will arrive soon, and you will not survive their numbers.” The remaining soldiers, confused now, relaxed their military stances. “You don’t mean to fight us?”, one of the soldiers meekly asked? “Fight you?”, Donovan replied with a sound of shock in his voice, “My goal was always to get you out of here, so that you could help evacuate as much of Aldencross as possible in the time remaining.” The soldiers were now all clearly befuddled at the impossibility of what this man in front of them. “Sadly,”, Donovan continued, “your leadership would not heed my warnings, and now they are no longer among us.”
The soldiers congregated amongst themselves. Could it really be as easy as being described by this young man and the individuals accompanying him? Would they actually let them go if they so chose to leave? Some of the soldiers were unconvinced, and instead went into the nearby church, while saying, “Mitra will protect us in there!” Others, however, were more pragmatic and hopeful. One of them approached Donovan, “Sir, we’d like to leave.” Donovan nodded at the young man. “Below the Armory, in the section where the foodstuffs are held, there is a doorway against the western wall, made to look like the rest of the wall. There is a discolored stone towards the bottom of the wall. Push that stone, and you will have access to a passageway that leads back to the Lord’s Dalliance Inn. My family and I have taken several of the barrels of food and water that were being stored, and moved them over into that passageway. Take your men, get as many people as you can, and take refuge in there for the next few days. Once the bugbears have moved on, you and the other soldiers can help provide aid to the many townspeople who will need it.” The soldier stared at Donovan aghast, “Why are you doing this? You’re my enemy!” Donovan shook his head, “In the end, we are all citizens of Talingarde.”
With that, the family departed and headed back towards Barhold’s quarters. A simple man, there was little of worth in his room, but they did find a Commendation Medallion that he had earned in his service to the kingdom. “We should give this to his brother.”, Donovan said solemnly. Bebop was clearly unimpressed, especially at the thought of losing gold, but he had long since knew that Donovan would do exactly what his mind was set to.
The conversation with Bellam did not go well. Bebop was holding Bellam back as Donovan tried to explain what had happened to his brother, and how the only thing that could be done now was to attempt to save as much of the city as possible. Bellam said he would speak with the Mayor of the town about what was coming, and the plans that could be made. Donovan and the rest of the family even met with the Mayor in order to discuss what should be done. “Every available ship must be used to get the people out of this area and into the safety of the lake.”, Donovan insisted. “If you try to flee this town on foot, you will be caught and killed by them.” The citizens had all the expected emotions: denial, rage, grief. But none of these would change the outcome of what would take place in a few days.
As the last few days counted down before the bugbears were in place, the family went through to make sure all the gates were open and disabled, and all the tools that would be used to repel invaders were deactivated. While they continued to work, Donovan would find and attempt to dissuade any remaining soldiers from continuing to stay there.
Finally, on the 14th day, Donovan made one last attempt to save the people in the church. Knocking calmly, he called out to the soldiers. “Please, I urge you to leave this place. There is no time left, and you will be killed if you remain here. Don’t you want to go home and see your families?” The remaining soldiers rebuffed Donovan once more, “We have nothing to fear! Mitra will protect us from you monsters!” Donovan sighed, knowing their fates were sealed. With that, the flare gun was handed to Lucius. “Have her go to the highest point in the Keep and fire the pistol.” Lucius nodded, then gave wings to Lucinda as she flew up to the tower. From there, she pulled the trigger, as the red light ascended to the heavens.
Time passed, and the bugbears would soon arrive. However, there was no war for them to fight, no battles to be won. For Balantyne, the building was almost deserted, with everything of value picked clean. A few “fortunate” bugbears ended up discovering the church where the remaining soldiers had holed up. Apparently, there was a group of Lantern Archons located within, enough even for them to be able to merge their forms together. While a few bugbears were slain by the Archon, the impact to the army was almost negligible. Balentyne was ended in a whimper, with little to entertain the troops. Even moving out into Aldencross proved generally uninteresting, as the Mayor had successfully coordinated with all the shipping vessels to pull just far enough out into the lake to be an unappealing group of targets. And, while the city would burn, the individuals who had taken refuge in the tunnels were safe, and would be able to provide assistance to the town once the bugbears had taken their leave.
Sakkarot Fire-Axe took notice of all these things, then looked at Donovan. “You are quite effective at eliminating our enemies.” Donovan looked back at him, his face unchanged, “It would appear that way.” Soon after, Grumblejack arrived next to the group. The family smiled and Tamsen hugged him. Sakkarot spoke up once more, “Your friend here is a powerful warrior. He would be welcome among my ranks.” Donovan smiled at Sakkarot, “That’s not my decision, that’s his.” Grumblejack nodded, then pointed to Donovan, “I’m staying with you, boss.”
With that, Sakkarot opened the clay tablet that was given to him, and whispered into the center, “It is done.” A brief flicker of light came from the center of the tablet, and then it faded. Donovan also broke open his clay tablet, but nothing appeared to happen at first.
Shortly though, Tiadora appeared, with a chest in her hand. Bebop moved up and held the chest in his arms, so Donovan could take a better look at it. “Platinum. Five Thousand Gold worth, unless I miss my guess.” The chest included a note from Adrastus Thorn, which immediately brought thoughts back to his mind. Yes, he would need to speak with Adrastus about the meaning of the book, why critical information was left out of the mission.
Tiadora led them along the bank to a waiting ship, far from the docks. As she walked, Tiadora continued to elaborate about the events taking place throughout the area. She clearly was bragging about the efforts she had made to set certain events up, but doing it in her “Tiadora” way. Donovan played along, smiling and doting on the events along the way, feigning excitement about her efforts. “Come, my Lords. Your ship awaits.”, she said as she motioned to the entrance of the ship.
“Ah, back on a boat again. It seems like we were just here.”, Donovan laughed. “That’s fine, I have a lot of work ahead of me anyway.” As before, there were no sleeping quarters, as even the limited Captain’s Quarters had been taken over by Tiadora. Talking to the sailors was useless, since she had already done to them what she did to all the servants in Thorn’s manor.
“We sail for Farholde.”, Tiadora spoke up, before returning to her quarters. Donovan would estimate that Farholde was almost two weeks away, assuming a ship was to anchor for the night. However, when the ship did anchor, it appeared that it was always near a coastal town, during which Tiadora would apparently teleport herself away. Each night, after she left, Bebop would begin harassing Donovan, “Come on Donovan, you have to help me get some alone time with Tiadora.” How many times had Donovan told Bebop that Tiadora was not humanoid, and certainly didn’t have any of the “parts” that would make the experience worth the trouble. But Bebop would press on, wanting to prove something to himself.
After the third night, Donovan’s patience had reached its end. “No problem, Bebop, I’ll take care of it for you.” Bebop’s eyes lit up at the prospects. Tiadora had just returned from one of her coastal visits, and when Donovan approached, she assumed he was there for information. “I imagine you have questions, Donovan.”, Tiadora stared intently at Donovan. “Actually, good lady, I was hoping you would do me a favor. My friend Bebop is clearly an idiot, but he won’t stop pestering me on this matter. So, if you would please, I’d like you to spend some… intimate time with Bebop, in order that he might better focus on the task at hand.” Tiadora’s eyes narrowed as she gained understanding of what Donovan was asking for, “My evenings are busy Donovan, I don’t have time for…” Donovan interrupted her, “Please don’t mistake my request, I’m not asking for you to make him happy. I’m asking for him to make you happy.” A sly grin came over Donovan’s face. “I think he needs insight on the sort of… woman that you are. And, I think you would enjoy the opportunity to indulge yourself with him as you please.” Those words reached Tiadora’s ears, “Do you mean what I think you mean, Donovan?” Donovan pointed at Tiadora, “Don’t do anything to him I can’t fix by the time we reach Farholde. But beyond that…” Donovan shrugged, and stepped back smiling.
A wicked, almost inhuman grin appeared on Tiadora’s face. She picked up Bebop, and walked into the Captain’s Quarters with him. Bebop was enthused about the opportunity, and Tiadora went to great pains to show him what he was actually asking for. Bebop watched as Tiadora’s legs became a mass of tentacles, wrapping around him and pushing him onto the bed. Amazingly, almost impossibly, Bebop still managed to get out of his pants, his erection fully visible to Tiadora. Disgust filled her eyes as she grappled him against the frame of the bed, almost crushing it in the process.
“You are a pathetic creature, and deserve to suffer as few have known. If it were not for your commander asking that no irreparable harm was to come to you before Farholde, I would tear that member of yours off. Perhaps then, you could be of better service to my master and your leader.” With that, Tiadora’s tentacles crushed and tossed him around the quarters. After becoming bored with the activity, Tiadora threw him out onto the deck of the ship, still naked and now bruised and sore. Bebop rose to his feet, showing everyone on the deck the state of his manhood, then passed out.
Donovan began applying healing salves to Bebop’s body, snickering to himself at what transpired. “You’re the only guy I know who would pass on a Succubus to have a shot at a Handmaiden.”

Session 12 ends
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Part 2: Call Forth Darkness
Act 1: Farholde
Session 13: Lies of the Land

Donovan was dragged, shackled and in rags, towards a makeshift bench by Tiadora. For his part, Donovan was attempting to resist her, pulling as hard as his muscles would allow. However, it was to no avail, Tiadora was far too powerful for Donovan to resist her. As Tiadora laughed and continued to drag, Donovan could see that Adrastus Thorn was sitting behind the bar, staring at Donovan with contempt and disappointment.
“You have broken the Pact of Thorns and failed me, Donovan Westermeyer. What do you have to say for yourself?”, Thorn’s voice boomed down, where Tiadora had lashed Donovan’s shackles to a set of posts.
“That’s nonsense!”, Donovan snarled at Thorn. “I have never failed the tenets of the Pact!”
Thorn wagged his finger at Donovan, almost as if he was chiding an infant, “You forget the Third Loyalty, Donovan. By your hand was a member of the Ninth Knot slain, and now you will share in their fate.”
Donovan stopped fighting against his restraints when he heard that statement. “No…”, Donovan spoke meekly, “… that can’t be true. I would never hurt my family! They mean everything to me.”
“See the truth of your betrayal, Donovan.”, Thorn pointed out in the distance, and an area previously out of Donovan’s sight became clear.
Donovan’s family stood around a casket, looking down onto the form of a person laid within. His eyes could not make out who the person was, but he could see Bebop, Lucius, Lucinda, and GrumbleJack. He didn’t see Tamsen in the group standing around, and panic beset Donovan, “Nonononono! This can’t be! What has happened? Please, no! Someone tell me what’s going on!” Donovan was screaming at the top of his lungs, but the people near the coffin didn’t hear him or wouldn’t respond.”
Tiadora laughed wickedly at Donovan, as Thorn continued. “Face your executioner, Donovan.” A form began to float towards Donovan, and he quickly made out the features of the man.
“I will kill you Tacitus! Please, all of you, don’t let this man get away with hurting her! You have to kill him!”, Donovan howled and cursed, pulling with all of his might against the shackles that held him, even as they begin to cut deeply into his wrists.
Tacitus grinned at Donovan’s plight, as the fire magic he was conjuring built up larger and larger.
As the last of Donovan’s strength was spent, he looked over once more at the coffin surrounded by his family. “I’m so sorry, Tamsen.” The fireball roared towards Donovan, and Donovan closed his eyes for what was about to occur.

Donovan’s eyes snapped open, and he looked around quickly. The dawn was just beginning to break over the waters as they continued to sail to Farholde. Looking around, he could see that all his family was there, not yet awakened for another day on the waters. Donovan looked down and saw that Tamsen was peacefully sleeping in his lap.
It was the dream again, as it had been almost every day since they left Balentyne. As a sense of relief washed over him, Donovan’s eyes welled up and tears fell down onto Tamsen’s cheeks. Tamsen was awakened by this, and she looked up at Donovan’s face. Seeing his watery eyes, Tamsen reached up and touched Donovan’s face.
“Are you ok?”, Tamsen said softly and sweetly.
Donovan nodded, “The cold air across the water gets to me in the morning. Are you ok, my love?”
Tamsen sat up, then leaned on Donovan. A mischievous grin crossed her face, and she whispered into his ear, “I can’t wait to get you into a bed and show you how much I’ve missed you.”
Donovan kissed Tamsen softly on the lips. He hesitated briefly, then spoke, “I’m sorry for what happened in Balentyne. I hope you can find some way to forgive me.”
Tamsen tilted her head and smiled, “Silly boy, there’s nothing to forgive. Now cuddle me Donovan.” With that, Tamsen pressed herself against Donovan, and became still again.

The routine on the boat had become very familiar to the group. They each knew their assigned roles from the time they spent aboard the Frosthamar and were comfortable with the situation, even if only because they knew this trip was less than two weeks. Compared to their last voyage, this was a simple task. As the last full day approached, Cardinal Thorn made an appearance aboard the “Halstyn’s Folly”. He briefly spoke with Tiadora from within the Captain’s Quarters, before he instructed her to fetch the Ninth Knot.
Without ado, Thorn began his discussion, “You have served me faithfully, my ninth knot, and I have rewarded you both in treasure and vengeance. Thanks to your efforts, the Fire-Axe has been unleashed.”
Thorn would go on to discuss the victories of Sakkarot and his armies, then he began to discuss the Caer Bryr and the Horn of Abaddon. Thorn discussed with the group about a powerful demon that had been sealed within the Horn called “Vetra Kali Eats the Eyes”. Thorn believed that this plague demon had a particularly formidable disease referred to as the “Tears of Achlys”.
Thorn revealed that he had originally entrusted this task to a different group of individuals, specifically the Fourth Knot. The Fourth Knot was comprised of an Elven tracker by the name of Aiden Kael and some Iraen Barbarians. According to Thorn, Kael stopped communicating with him almost a month ago.
Thorn’s new plan was to send the Ninth Knot along with Elise Zadaria and her team. His intention was to have Elise’s team function as logistics and information from within Farholde, while Donovan and his family would actually travel to the Horn of Abaddon in order to determine the process needed to break the seal that was holding the demon, and convince it to provide the plague to them.
Thorn then mentioned that there was a follower of Asmodeus who could possibly be of aid. He was called Baron Arkov Vandermir, and apparently well connected within the city of Farholde. Thorn encouraged the group to gather whatever aid they could from the Baron, but to assume treachery from him if the opportunity was provided.
For Donovan’s part, he hated everything about this assignment. But, before he would be dragged into this long running quest, he was determined to prove out the theory he had put together regarding the last undertaking that had just been completed.
“I imagine you have questions.”, Thorn intoned to the group.
Donovan began digging through the Haversack that Bebop was carrying, “Certainly, Father. But first, I’d like to speak with you about this.” Donovan set the book retrieved from Commander Haverlyn’s office in front of Thorn.
“And what is this supposed to be? Why are you showing me a Mitran religious book?”, Thorn seemed annoyed.
Donovan pressed, “This is a record of the family tree for the Haverlyn bloodline. I thought you would want it, since it was kept by your brother.”
Thorn’s eyes narrowed at Donovan, “What are you suggesting, Donovan?”
Donovan smiled, “Obviously Father, I’m suggesting you were formerly Cardinal Samuel Haverlyn, a High Priest of the Mitran faith, before you were burned at the stake and returned as Adrastus Thorn.” Donovan could feel Tiadora’s gaze hardening at him. But that’s not the reaction he was interested in.
Thorn tapped his lips, “Let’s say I go along with your theory, Donovan. What of it?”
“Perhaps you would be inclined in the future to tell us that we would be encountering a member of your family, so that we could alter our tactics for dealing with them?”, Donovan queried. “There’s still the matter of your nephew to deal with, after all.”
Thorn raised his hand to halt Donovan, “I see no member of my family here. Now, is there anything else you wish to ask me about?”
Donovan sighed, “The Tears of Achlys. Do we know how it’s spread, or how it is treated?”
Thorn seemed to have been caught off step to that question, which actually made Donovan even more concerned, “I… have people who can study and understand the workings of this disease, so that we might use it more effectively.”
Donovan continued flatly, “I assume you want us to kill Aiden Kael should we encounter him?”
Thorn’s response was confused, “No, why would you think that? I don’t believe he survived.”
“Fine, Father. Now with regards to the Seventh Knot, which of our teams will be taking lead in coordination regarding the efforts?” Donovan was generally interested to see whom Thorn favored more.
“Neither.”, Thorn replied. “Each of your groups have different assignments, and those assignments are independent of one another.”
Donovan frowned, “I don’t like being dependent on someone who isn’t invested in the cause.”
Thorn looked coldly at Donovan, “Do you have an issue with Elise? You all seemed to get along fine back at the manor.”
Donovan shook his head, “She’s not committed to anyone but herself. I don’t like being dependent on someone like that.”
Thorn smirked, “You’re no different, you know.”
Donovan interjected, “Merchants live by a code of honor. Our words are our bond!”
Thorn waved his hand dismissively, “Enough Donovan! Follow the instructions I have given you. Bring me the Tears of Achlys!”
Donovan gritted his teeth, “Yes Father.”
With that, Thorn teleported away from the ship, leaving the group to ponder their thoughts.

Lucius approached Donovan, clearly annoyed, “Could you please not try so hard to get us killed?” Seeing that Donovan was about to say something, Lucius cut him off, “Yes, I know Donovan. You want to prove to everyone that you’re right. But you being right won’t keep us safe from his ire. You need to be practical and not always one up everyone.”
Donovan let out a long sigh, “You’re right.”

Not too much later, the boat arrived at the docks of Farholde. Tiadora stepped off the ship first, followed by the family. Looking at the group, she smirked and said “I have arranged for us to meet with the Baron tomorrow. You should find something presentable to wear.” From there, Tiadora teleported away, leaving the group to find their own curiosities.

Donovan fished out several of the platinum ingots from the chest and handed them to Lucius. “Take GrumbleJack and buy him a new set of Full Plate armor. Also, see if you can find any information on Aiden Kael, and locate an Inn that has seven available rooms.” Donovan quickly amended, “With baths!” Lucius nodded and smiled, then he and GrumbleJack walked away.

Donovan then handed two hundred gold worth of coinage to Bebop. “Find out what you can about Baron Vandermir. Might as well have some knowledge about the man before we go in to meet him, who knows what difference it could make.”
Donovan paused a moment as he set the coins into Bebop’s eager hands. “Please don’t die. There’s nothing we need more than you coming back.”
Bebop grabbed the money excitedly, then took off down the street with purpose.
Donovan consumed a Flask, lifted up the sack of goods that he had to trade off, and took Tamsen’s hand, “Ready to go shopping?”
Tamsen nodded and smiled, as the two of them begin to work their way into the city.

Lucius first stop in Farholde was a pleasant armorer who apparently offered steins with the armors he made. Requesting armor of the size and quality that Donovan wanted for GrumbleJack was no easy task, but the merchant was quite accommodating, and said he would be able to complete the task. While Lucius was a very charming individual, he lacked the intimate knowledge of the armory business that might have given him an additional edge in negotiating prices. Still, he was able to secure a five percent discount, and a fine collection of steins to use whenever he was at a tavern.

Lucius then began to work his way around the city, asking around about different inns within town. Farholde had several inns to choose from, varying in both price and quality. It occurred to him that Aiden probably had been frequenting an inn as well, and certain locals might remember such an individual. While his first choice was little more than a flop house, the second choice was actually an inn that would meet the needs for his family to stay at. He purchased the rooms and additional spa option, then continued on looking for another inn that could be an option.
His search led him to a place called the Wandering Friar Inn. After spending a small amount of time talking to a man that insisted that angels were going to protect Farholde from the bugbears, he was actually able to meet with the owner of the bar. Lucius was very persuasive, and was able to convince the tavern owner to allow him to pay the outstanding room fee (a mere 25 gold), in exchange for unfettered access to the room contents. Once inside the room, Lucinda was able to discover several items of interest, including a map that showed several failed attempts and one successful attempt to discover the Horn of Abaddon; and a sack of coins. Holding one of the coins between his fingers, Lucius smiled to himself, “You’re not the only one who can make a profit Donovan.” Taking the items of note, Lucius continued around the city to hear more tales from the people. Lucius found it interesting the lies that people would tell to themselves in their time of fear. Maybe the lies gave them comfort or hope, maybe they gave the people some sense of control in a world that seemed so out of control. Lucius was far too practical to bother with such things. “Reality doesn’t change simply because you don’t like it.” Lucius made his was back to the inn to meet with the rest of the family, and to discuss his findings.

Bebop’s searching took him to exactly the place he wanted to be, the worst possible place in the city. Bebop loved the feel of places like this, the sound of places like this, and even the smell of places like this. He’d never want to have to live in a place like this again, certainly not. But seeing the harder side of the city reminded him of his roots, and gave him a sense of self confidence he never found in the high society places that Donovan and his family would frequent. Bebop didn’t have to be nice or polite here, he could say and do whatever he wanted.
Bebop asked around about Baron Vandermir, but the truth was that the Baron’s reach here wasn’t as influential as it probably was in other parts of the city. No, in this part of town, a different person was in charge, and he was curious about who this person was. Rubal Thraam was apparently the person in charge here, and Bebop wanted to know more about this person.

Bebop went to a building called Drowington Manor. The building appeared to be protected by a stone slab that kept it high enough off the ground that it didn’t flood like so many other residences around this place. The building itself had everything Bebop could want: drinking, gambling, fighting, prostitution. Bebop began looking around the wares, but nothing stood out to him. Bebop sighed, annoyed at the prospects. There was nothing new, nothing different; and he always found himself craving more time with Tamsen. Tamsen was the best and worst that had ever happened to him. Her touch could thrill him on levels he had never known, but there was always a line between the two of them that could not be crossed. But having her made so many other women trivial and uninteresting to him. So, he kept searching for something different, something unique that could sate that desire.

Bebop tried to get a meeting with Rubal Thraam, but all he got for his troubles is some guy trying to give him a hand job for a free drink. Bebop nearly tore the man’s head off, but then thought better of it, and left. Still, Bebop knew that he had to come back to this place with the rest of them, as they could open doors that he might not be able to break through.

For Donovan and Tamsen, the two of them moved almost effortlessly through town. Between his insight into the workings of commerce, and her overwhelming force of personality, there was little impediments that could come between them and their goals. Donovan traded off most of the goods that he had acquired at Balentyne, with the notable exception of Haverlyn’s armor. After the Commander had been slain, the armor reformed itself into an obviously unholy machination. Donovan was unsure why this had taken place, but attempted to weave it into a story about how his family defeated the “monster that caused the fall of Balentyne”. Still, he could not find any buyers for the gear. Tamsen used her familiarity with the boys’ bodies to give shirt and pant sizes to the local tailors, acquiring the necessary outfits for everyone. Once they had completed their task, Donovan and Tamsen returned to the inn that Lucius had reserved for them. Arriving there, the two of them were able to spend a leisurely bath together, and then to their bedroom for the rest of the night.

The next morning, the family gathered together in the tavern and enjoyed breakfast, while discussing the information that each of them had gathered while moving through the city. Donovan listened carefully to the information, and was impressed with what had been discovered. “Great work, everyone. This will be very helpful when we start our first attempt to the horn.” As the day pressed on, the group went into Tamsen’s bedroom, where everyone was fitted to be sure the sizes were correct.
“My handsome boys!”, Tamsen beamed at them as she fussed over different parts of their outfits.

The arranged time soon arrived, and the Ninth Knot found Tiadora waiting outside the inn dressed beautifully in white. The group greeted her, but a frown quickly came over her face.
Pointing at GrumbleJack, she stated coldly, “He’s waiting here.”
Donovan sighed, then handed GrumbleJack some money, “Go get some dinner buddy, we’ll be back for you later.”
Tiadora then looked over at Bebop, “Do you need to wait here also?”
Donovan interposed himself between Tiadora and Bebop, “He’ll be fine Lady Tiadora. Shall we be off?’

Tiadora led the group to an area of Farholde called Calliver Green. It was clearly the nicest area of the city, with walled gates surrounding massive homes. It was truly a testament to opulence. And, within this area, Tiadora walked to what appeared to be the nicest home in the group. Guards were standing in front of the gateway to the huge manor that was the residence of Baron Vandermir. Tiadora told the guards that she and her group were expected, and the guards complied. However, the guards refused to allow any weapons to be brought in, so Donovan surrendered his rapier, and Lucinda waited behind.

As Donovan looked at the uniforms of the guards, he noticed what they were wearing was a variation on the House Barca emblem. Communicating in his mind to Tamsen, he said “House Barca, how interesting!” Tamsen wasn’t sure what to make of such things, but she imagined this was something Donovan was excited about and responded, “Yes indeed.”

The group was led into a lavish building, clearly almost a century old. The group was fed delicious appetizers and drinks. Bebop was getting ready to grab a huge handful of food to stuff in his mouth, but Tamsen interrupted him.
“Behave, sweetness, and I’ll give you a treat later.”, Tamsen whispered in Bebop’s ear.
Bebop caught himself, and delicately took single appetizers as the plates were brought by.

Donovan found himself walking through the library of the manor, finding a large selection of books. Perhaps the most interesting discovery Donovan made from that was the absence of any religious material. Walking further down a hallway, Donovan noticed a Mitran holy book set onto a pulpit, with a bookmark laid across the current page. Donovan chuckled to himself, “Yes, I see what’s going on here.”

The Baron, an extremely handsome man, joined the family as the dinner event commenced. Minor pleasantries were exchanged, but nothing of interest was discussed during the dinner. However, once the dinner was complete and the servants were dismissed, the Baron was ready to come to the truth of things.
“You come to me as beggars, the last remnants of a forbidden faith. You will promise me much, of that I have no doubt. But all that I am likely to earn from helping you is the inquisitor’s pyre. Tell me, why should I help the likes of you?”
Donovan felt himself dumbstruck. Why would the Baron deny his own faith? Why would he refer to the family as the “likes of you”?
“Are you talking about points, sir? We can do points.”, Donovan offered up percentages in an attempt to feel out the conversation. “Were you thinking five, or perhaps seven? We also could do right of first refusal, in case you are worried about the option of missing goods.”
“Ah, the merchant’s son. So, you want to talk about points, eh? Tell me about points.”, Vandermir smirked.
“Damnit, Thorn.”, Donovan cursed silently to himself, “You played my card ahead of time.” Donovan sized up the Baron, and realization began to set in. “Oh, now I understand what you are asking for Baron.”
The Baron smiled, “I agreed to meet with you, I never agreed to anything else.”
“Do you mind if I stand while I talk, Baron? It helps me think.”, Donovan smiled broadly.
The Baron simply stretched his hand outward.

Donovan walked over to Tiadora, leaned close to her, and then spoke in Celestial, “Lady Tiadora, you always brighten my day. I am especially glad you are here now.”
Tiadora sighed, knowing what was about to happen.
Donovan began, “So, the first thing we have to talk about is the fact that Tiadora is here. And why is Tiadora here?” Donovan looked over to the rest of his family. “The reason that Tiadora is here is because the Baron knows Cardinal Thorn.” Donovan continued to walk around the dining room. “But the Baron knew the Cardinal back when he was Samuel Havelyn. Indeed, the Baron was aware that Samuel Havelyn was destroyed on the inquisitor’s pyre, before becoming Adrastus Thorn.”
As Donovan continued to move around the room, Bebop carefully was eating his food, making sure that Tamsen noticed how neat he was being. For her part, Tamsen was watching Bebop, amused at the effort he was making to impress her. Lucius was attempting to keep up with what Donovan was saying but was oddly mystified at the sight of Bebop behaving the way he was.
Donovan pressed on., “Of course, none of this gets to the heart of why you are interested in the struggles of Cardinal Thorn. In truth, all of that can be traced back to the loss of your father, who passed away during the war between the House Barca and House Darius, which ended up being fought to the man, leaving only Markadian the Victor behind. While the Victor was a peaceful man, he required that all individuals who did not share his Mitran faith were to stop their public worship of other gods. Thus, you lost not only your father, Baron, but also your religious freedom.”
At this point, Tiadora was rolling her eyes at Donovan. Still, the Baron made no attempt to stop him, so she wasn’t going to interfere.
Donovan pressed on, “And all of this worked out very well for you Baron, from a financial standpoint. You became well connected in the city, and loved by the people. You even had time to set up an orphanage.” Donovan looked directly at Tamsen when he said the word orphanage, but didn’t elaborate on that further.
“But then came Markadian the Zealous, and with him the Asmodean purges. Whatever personal expressions you once had now had to be completely removed from your home, and replaced with all Mitran iconography, such as you have now. Of course, by that point, you really didn’t care too much, as you were not heavily invested into your faith. Still, the recent fall of the Balentyne Watch Wall has given your pause, since you don’t want the bugbears stomping all over your home when you actually do share their beliefs. Put simply, Baron Vandermir, you follow the winds of change.”, Donovan paused on that thought, amused at the implication.
Quickly, Donovan continued, “And that, sir, is the question you are really asking me tonight. You don’t want me to offer you something, because the only thing you need is to have an opportunity to have vengeance on those that brought your house and family down; but you aren’t sure if the people involved can pull it off. So, for part one of your question, I would tell you that the Cardinal shares your concern, and the very reason he has sent us into Farholde is to seek out the Horn of Abaddon, where he believes a tool that can push the war in his favor exists. And for part two of your question, the Cardinal gave me two weeks to take down the Watch Wall. Not only did my family do it in eleven days, they also had time to clear out the residents of Aldencross so they wouldn’t be caught up in the fighting and they helped me set up a shipping trade lane to see if we could take a little extra profit with our free time.”
Donovan returned to his seat, “And that, sir, is the answer to the question you actually wanted to ask me tonight.”

The Baron stared at Donovan and the group of people who accompanied him. For their part, they seemed largely disinterested in what Donovan had been saying, as if this was just simply the kind of thing he did on a regular basis. Then there was Donovan, the man who had in a single setting, managed to list the Baron’s history and motivation for nearly a century.
“I will not be meeting with the rest of you again. If needed, I will meet with you again Donovan. There are several things a man of my talent can offer you, including access to merchants, relative immunity to the local law enforcement, and my skills as an Enchanter. However, I will not be travelling to the Horn with you.”
“Nor would we want you to, Baron.”, Donovan reassured the Baron. “Your place is here, where you can apply assistance to us.”

Once the details had been discussed and set in place, the group left the Baron’s home. After getting to the outside of Culliver Green, Tiadora addressed the family, “Don’t forget that you need to meet the Seventh Knot at the dock. You should work with them to find out how to see the Master’s will done. Or don’t, not my problem. Goodbye, dearests!” Tiadora teleported away, with the same mannerisms she showed each time proceeding.

The family met the Seventh Knot at the dock as requested. Unsurprisingly, Elise quickly revealed her general annoyance with the situation, both in her travels, and on being in the city.
Lucius attempted to console Elise, “We have baths and rooms waiting for you, and food if you would care to join us.”
While the Seventh Knot did use the amenities provided, only Elise chose to meet with Donovan and the others.
“My group is tired, so they are just going to head to bed.”, Elise explained.
“I understand. I’m interested to hear what your plans are for our efforts going forward.”, Donovan asked intently.
“It is my intention to set up a spy network at every inn, tavern, and other places explorers would congregate, and intercept any information regarding people attempting to travel to the Horn of Abaddon. If there are any individuals we cannot deal with directly, I will send a messenger to you with details.”, Elise replied flatly.
“That’s a good plan Elise. But, I think the messengers are a potential weak spot. We need something that isn’t so vulnerable to attack or discovery.”, Donovan countered.
“What did you have in mind?”, Elise asked suspiciously.
“You can establish a connection with Tamsen. This will allow the two of you to use telepathy when you need to communicate with one another. That way, there will be no issues with our messenger failing us.”, Donovan smiled.
Elise narrowed her eyes. “I don’t think I’d like to have Tamsen in my head. No offense, dear.”
Donovan chuckled, “I see. Well, how about we agree to meet at a location in between the two spots at a fixed time each day? That would allow us to communicate quickly, and we wouldn’t have any loose ends.”
Elise yawned, “I’m going to bed now. I’m not interested in talking about this further.”
Donovan nodded, “Of course, Elise, your team has had a long trip. I hope you all have a wonderful evening.”

Shortly after Elise returned to her room, Bebop went upstairs and knocked on her door. One of the twins answered the door, and shooed Bebop away. Bebop grumbled, and walked into his own room. On the bed sat Tamsen, in a gorgeous piece of almost translucent clothing. “I believe I promised someone a treat.”, Tamsen giggled to Bebop. Bebop rushed towards the bed in excitement, almost pouncing on Tamsen in his enthusiasm.

Donovan laid in his bed, pondering the events over the last several days. “Lies and more lies.”, Donovan said to himself. “Thorn lies about his human life, in order to prevent me from having any sort of leverage on him. Vandermir lies about his connection to Asmodeus in order to protect his reputation. Zadaria lies about her frustration with this mission in order to find an opportunity to make me look bad.” Donovan hesitated momentarily, and then continued, “And I lie to Tamsen in order to hide my shame.” Donovan turned onto his side, tracing the outline of where Tamsen would be. “I can’t even be honest with her about the dreams I was having. Why can’t I be more like her?” Frustrated, Donovan blew out the candle in his room, and laid back in the bed.

Tamsen could feel the heat from the Fireballs that had been repeatedly dropped into the room. She could hear the yelling as Donovan was trying to coordinate with the rest of the team, “Put him down now, we have to get up to the roof!” The pain was searing across her whole body, as she watched Donovan rush by, stabbing the form of Haverlyn to prevent him from being healed. Another blast of fire roared across the room, and everything went black for Tamsen. There was nothing: no pain, no sound, just blackness. In that blackness, she could make out a beautiful woman that she didn’t know but seemed somehow familiar. The woman looked at her and said, “There you are, my daughter.”
Tamsen’s eyes opened up. She was in Bebop’s bedroom, both of them naked and wrapped around one another. In a soft voice, Tamsen uttered, “Where are you, mother?”

Session 13 Ends.
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Part 2: Call Forth Darkness
Act 2: Taking the Horn
Session 14: How to Build Friends and Murder Enemies

“Oh Tamsen,” Donovan murmured, his breath quickening. Donovan had awoke from his night’s sleep to find Tamsen’s form on top of his, kissing her way down his body. “I thought you were still in Bebop’s room.”
Tamsen smiled, as her eyes looked up to his. “Would you prefer I was there instead of here?”, Tamsen teased.
Donovan shook his head, his hand running over her face, “I’ve missed these moments with you.”
Tamsen smiled mischievously, then moved up to Donovan’s lips, kissing him. “You want me, don’t you baby?”
Donovan nodded eagerly, “Gods, yes!”
Tamsen slid her body on top of Donovan’s, “I want you too, lover.” With that, Tamsen reached her hands between Donovan’s legs, staring at him in anticipation.

Just then, the door to the room where Donovan was staying was thrown open, banging against the side wall. “We’re going to Drowington!”, Bebop said excitedly. “We are going to do the fighting thing, and the gambling thing, and the prostitutes’ things. “ Bebop chuckled to himself at the end of his sentence, having used “things” in such a creative way.
Donovan put his hands to his face in frustration, having missed his moment with Tamsen. “What are you talking about, Bebop?”
Meanwhile, Lucius followed in behind Bebop, “We should make a run to some of the markets in town. I’ve been using up more of our spices than I planned.”
GrumbleJack pushed his massive frame through the doorway to Donovan and Tamsen’s room, “GrumbleJack hungry!”
Donovan began to rub his temples with his eyes closed, “Ok, it sounds like we have a lot to take care of today. I should get dressed.” Having said that, Donovan reached out from the bed to where his undergarments were lying on the floor, grabbing them and putting them on while still under the bed sheets.
“Sorry love.”, Tamsen cooed as she touched Donovan’s face. “I wasn’t trying to tease you.”
Donovan smiled and shrugged, “I know that my love. I don’t believe you would deny me on purpose.”
Tamsen moved up close and whispered sweetly in Donovan’s ear, “I don’t care if they are here, I would still have you if you let me.”
Donovan scoffed, “Yes, Tamsen, I’m sure if I was as gorgeous as you, I would also be comfortable showing everyone my naked body.” With that, Donovan grabbed his remaining clothing from where it had been set on the back of a chair, and finished getting dressed.
Tamsen pouted momentarily before getting up out of the bed, and putting on the piece of silk that she called her clothing.
Donovan looked at the group and smiled, “Alright then, shall we be off?”

Sitting around a table outside of a local bar, the group continued their previous conversation.
“Alright Bebop, now what are you talking about with regards to Drownington?”, Donovan asked, looking curiously at Bebop.
“I told you, when I went out to Drowington yesterday, I found out all about what’s going on in that area. We need to get you in touch with Rubal Thraam, you’ll be able to set up connections throughout the city!”, Bebop spoke excitedly about the area.
“And I’m guessing you want to spend more quality time with the ladies of the land, right Bebop?”, Lucius teased, saying what everyone was assuming.
Bebop shrugged nonchalantly, “Eh, maybe, but I have Tamsen for that. I’m only interested in finding something I haven’t been with before.”
Donovan and Tamsen’s eyes met, the annoyance painted clearly on his face.
Bebop continued, “But the important thing is the fighting games. Donovan can bet on me, and we’ll make a ton of money!”
Donovan chuckled, “And you’re certain that you’ll just win every match, and nothing will be a challenge for you?”
Bebop puffed his chest up, “No one can beat me!”
The table laughed uproariously at this comment, especially GrumbleJack. “GrumbleJack like brave pig man!”, GrumbleJack said as he slapped Bebop on the back.
“That’s all fine and well Bebop, but if Thraam is as important as you say he is, then he’s undoubtedly already being influenced by the Baron. “, Donovan replied, clearly unconvinced on the value of this individual.
“Sure, but you can convince him. Besides, you want extra eyes in the city, since you don’t trust Elise.”, Bebop pressed Donovan, then continued. “Speaking of which, why exactly don’t you trust her? She seems nice.”
“How do I know?”, Donovan said incredulously, “Let me show you how I know.” With that, Donovan pulled out a deck of cards, briefly shuffled them, and dealt one card face up in front of himself, and one card face down in front of Bebop. “Look at the card.”, Donovan instructed.
Bebop looked at the card, then set it back face down.
Donovan smiled, and locked his gaze with Bebop, “Is your card higher or lower than mine?”
Bebop responded “Lower.”, before his gaze shifted away.
Donovan snorted, “So higher, and this is exactly how I know. I spent years in my dad’s stores, listening to people come in and lie about the value of their goods, and how they obtained them. Always another story of how people just needed to be trusted.”
Tamsen turned Donovan’s face towards herself. “Want to try that trick with me?”, she said with a giggle.
“It would be a coin flip with you, my love. You are quite skilled at saying whatever you want.”, Donovan sighed in his response.
“Then what’s the plan, Donovan?”, Lucius queried.
“We need to head off to the Horn now, in order to determine what we’ll need for staying there long term.”, Donovan looked over the group , resolved in his decision.
“Boring!”, Bebop jeered. “Why do you always have to be so efficient, Donovan? Don’t you have any sense of fun?”
Donovan continued, unfazed by Bebop’s response, “GrumbleJack, take these funds and keep our rooms rented for the next couple of days. We’ll go out there briefly and then head back once we know what we are dealing with.”
After GrumbleJack departed, the group walked to the end of the town, and Lucius summoned a pair of mounts. Lucius and Bebop took hold of one mount, with Donovan and Tamsen using the other. A few minutes into their ride, Lucius issued a command word to the mounts, and they began to fly towards the Horn of Abaddon.

Looking out over the forest canopy, Bebop began shouting over to Donovan, “You think we can find some Pixies or Dryads out here?”
Donovan shook his head in frustration, “Focus on finding the horn, Bebop.”
After several hours of travelling across the sky, Lucius alerted the group that the magic was coming to an end. The group located an open area, bringing their mounts to the ground. As they began to land, they could see in the skyline the Horn of Abbadon that they had been seeking.
After they landed, Bebop looked around the area where they arrived, noticing some tracks. “Looks like some sort of frog prints. I wonder if these are the same creatures that attacked us when we left Branderscar.”
Donovan studied the tracks carefully, “No, these are humanoid shaped. Notice the pairs of prints moving around?”
Bebop replied, “Oh, so froglings?”
Donovan gave Bebop an odd look, “Froglings? No, there’s no such thing. But there is a humanoid creature that has froglike attributes. What is that creature called?” Donovan became lost in thought, trying to remember the name of the creature as they continued to move towards the Horn.
About twenty minutes later, Donovan cried out in exclamation, “It’s Boggards! That’s the name of the creature! Finally!”
The rest of the group stared at Donovan, and he realized he had been overly loud in his realization. Another realization took hold, “Oh no, I don’t speak Boggard.”
Bebop laughed, “Yet another language you don’t speak Donovan! How are you going to speak for us if you don’t have any language skills?”
Donovan looked at Bebop with irritation, “Another? Would you be referring to the time we encountered a Vampiric Mist, and I didn’t speak Aklo?”
Bebop nodded and laughed, holding up two fingers.
Donovan growled, “You know, there’s not a lot of customers who come through the shops needing to speak Aklo or Boggard. Why in the planes would I learn a language that would never come up in my work or personal life?”
Bebop shrugged, “Just saying.”
Tamsen grabbed Donovan’s hand and smiled, “It will be fine, love. Stop overthinking everything!”
Donovan looked at Tamsen, “How is it going to be fine? I don’t have any way of communicating with them.”
Tamsen ran her fingers across Donovan’s lips, “You aren’t the only one with a talented tongue.”, she replied, winking at him.

In the distance, a loud crash could be heard. Looking out towards the sound, it initially appeared that a tree had fallen over. That thought was quickly dismissed as the tree began to move towards them. The tree had what appeared to be facial features on one side of it, as it continued to stride towards the family. There was no doubt what was approaching them. “Treant.”, Donovan spoke with confidence.
As the creature approached, Donovan stepped forward, shifting his words to Sylvan as he began his greeting, “Hail to you mighty Treant. May the winds blow cool, and the sun beat warm through all your travels.”
For its part, the Treant seemed pleased to receive such a greeting. “Hello, little one. It is so rare to see one of your kind who speaks with such words. My name is Jurak the Eldest, and I am charged to guard this land from the corruption of the Horn of Abaddon. You should take leave of this place for your own safety.”
“You honor me and my family, Jurak the Eldest, by giving us this warning. My name is Donovan, and this is my family. How long have you maintained the harmony of these lands?”, Donovan spoke, slipping into his all too familiar role.
The conversation proceeded, with the Treant telling the group about the man named Victor who came to this place about eighty years ago, defeating the residents of the Horn over a matter of a few days.
As the two continued to speak with one another, Donovan told the Treant about the group’s search for the Elf named Aiden Kael. While Jurak knew nothing of the individual, he warned Donovan of the Boggards that resided in the caves below the horn, and said it was likely that the Elf had died in the accursed Horn.
Their conversation complete, Donovan thanked Jurak the Eldest for his time and wisdom; and each of them went their separate ways.
“What was that?”, Bebop asked Donovan about the conversation that had taken place.
“I’m not sure.’, Donovan pondered his response, “Perhaps an ally, perhaps a complication. I’m hoping the former.”
Having met with the guardian of the Horn, the group continued on to the caves beneath the Horn.

Dusk came, and it was clear that there would be little to no light inside the cave. Donovan pulled a flask off his bandolier and handed it to Lucius. “Drink this.”, the all too familiar instruction came from Donovan.
Lucius looked suspiciously at the flask, but grabbed it from Donovan and swallowed it quickly. The fluid was thick, like he was drinking something that was barely liquid. Once Lucius finished drinking the contents, he noticed that his eyes gained the ability to see beyond the normal spectrum of light.
As the party began to move through the unlit cave, the forms of the Boggards could be seen darting away and moving into hiding positions.
“What are we doing, Donovan?”, Bebop questioned, as he consumed his mutagen.
“We’re not going to provoke them. This is their home, let’s make it easy for them to move around us.”, Donovan replied, somewhat nervously.
It did not take long before the largest Boggard approached the party, brandishing a greatsword that seemed clearly oversized in its hands. The lead Boggard had a coterie of followers that accompanied it up to the group.
It was then that Tamsen addressed the group of Boggards in their native tongue, “Hello there. I am Tamsen, and these are my servants.”, Tamsen motioned to the group as she spoke. “We have come here in search of access to the Horn.”
Donovan stared at Tamsen in disbelief. When did she learn to speak such an obscure language? Even more oddly, she appeared to have no delay in translating between languages, as he had while he moved between different tongues.
Another Boggard approached the taller one, and began to have a conversation with it. This Boggard appeared to be a shaman in some ways, carrying a staff with fish heads They appeared to have some sort of disagreement, with the taller one ending up pushing the shaman appearing Boggard to the ground. “All who trespass in the home of the Bane-Wogs will perish.”
Tamsen attempted to reign in the conversation, being confident but firm. “We are sorry to have invaded your home, and are willing to pay a toll to pass through. But make no mistake, if you threaten us, we will end your life here and now.” At the same time, Tamsen communicated into the minds of Bebop and Lucius, “Be ready, we’re about to fight.”
Hearing Tamsen’s threat, the warrior Boggard gripped his blade with both hands, then released a primal scream. Before the angry creature could even take a single step towards the group, Tamsen muttered some words, and the Boggard fell asleep where it had stood. A moment later, Lucinda and Bebop each surrounded the fallen creature. The other Boggards considered making a move to stop the group, but the shaman seemed to ward them off. In a single vicious blow, Bebop struck the Boggard warrior dead, then grabbed its greatsword in his bloodied hand and held it aloft.
The Boggard shaman said some other words that referred to its belief. Donovan could make out the word “Dagon”, and understood that to be a deity of the Boggard people. Tamsen filled in the other details about what the shaman was saying, The creature referred to itself as “Zikomo Hears the Father”, and spoke of a vision that he had regarding the arrival of the family. Zikomo spoke of the hard times that were to befall the Boggards in order to receive the blessings of Dagon, and how the strongest of them would survive to see their Father’s reward.
Zikomo continued his story, but Tamsen apologized midway through the Boggard’s discussion, “I’m sorry, Zikomo, I can no longer speak in your language today.” Tamsen’s words had returned to Common.
“Magic.”, Donovan realized to himself, as he began to pay more attention to the Boggards.
Zikomo replied, “You have spoken in my language, now I will speak in yours.”. Zikomo continued his conversation with the group in Common, as he showed them around the cave area. He took great pride in the efforts that his people had made to build a home out of this relatively hostile environment. Donovan began to take over the conversation from Tamsen, pointing it in the direction of the size of the Boggard group, and the advancements they had made in making this area hospitable for them.
Zikomo was almost gleeful in showing off to the new guests. There were several points of interest. Donovan noted the mushrooms that were growing throughout the cave, to which Zikomo replied that they were only used if no other option was available. Donovan also noted that the cave held a collection of fish that were being caught by some of the Boggards. While Zikomo continued to lead the group around, Lucinda quickly grabbed one of the fish and handed it over to Lucius. As they continued to walk, Lucius began preparing a section of the fish for consumption. When he was finished seasoning and preparing the uncooked fish, he pushed it over to Donovan. “Eat.”, Lucius said without fanfare.
Donovan was confused, but took a bite of the fish, and nodded in approval, “Excellent as always, Lucius.” Donovan handed over a section of the fish to Tamsen, who intentionally put her mouth around both a part of the fish and Donovan’s fingers, while staring seductively into his eyes.
Donovan shuddered slightly, as Tamsen tittered to herself while chewing the food in her mouth. “It is tasty, Donovan.”
Donovan put the rest of the meal into Bebop’s hands, then continued to follow Zikomo. Zikomo pointed out an unusual section of the cave. The liquid that was pooling up in one area had been heavily affected by the stalactites that were dripping into it, and now the pool was effectively a very concentrated acid.
“Ooh, we should take some of this.”, Bebop said excitedly.
“Why would we want to carry around acid?”, Donovan asked, clearly concerned.
“It could be valuable.”, Bebop insisted.
Donovan looked at the acid. Perhaps a vial could be worth around 5 gold per vial, but that was hardly worth the potential risk in Donovan’s mind. “There’s no reason we will ever need this.”
Bebop was undeterred. He pulled out several vials from one of the kits, then filled them with acid, shaking around the fluid as he finished filling them.
Zikomo continued showing different areas to the group, The group passed by the spawning pool of the Boggards, which Donovan explained to Bebop. “See, Bebop. This is how they breed, in the same way as frogs, with eggs placed in the water that are externally fertilized.”
Bebop nodded, “Ah, I get it. That makes sense.”
As Zikomo continued to lead Donovan, Tamsen, and Lucius around the cave, Bebop stayed behind, staring at the pool.
Finally, Bebop pulled down his pants, “Well, when in the stranger’s land…”

After receiving a tour of the cave, Donovan told Zikomo that he would back to discuss more with him later. The group was shown the stairway that led up to the first floor of the Horn, bypassing the cave altogether. Upon entering the first floor of the Horn, the damage was apparent throughout the hallways and rooms. It was apparent to see that the struggle between Victor’s forces and the Sons of the Pale Horseman was a brutal affair, with blood splatters and weapon damage throughout.
Several rooms in, the group encountered what appeared to be some sort of metal construct. Donovan’s eyes widened, “An Alchemical Golem! Do you know how much building one of these would cost?” Donovan’s hands moved over the different sections of the golem, looking to understand the level of damage that the device had sustained. “If only I had the schematics for this construct.”
Almost on cue, Lucius handed a piece of vellum to Donovan, “Look what I found!”
Donovan’s face brightened with excitement, “Yes! This is exactly what I need!” Donovan opened the schematics, studying the material components required compared to the current state of the construct.”
Pointing at the four reservoirs that were in the arms and the legs of the Golem, Donovan reviewed the schematics, “Ok, so we need Alchemist’s Fire, Liquid Ice, the blood of a Lightning Elemental, and…”, Donovan paused as he saw the next component, “… and Acid.”
Bebop laughed, mocking Donovan, “What’s that you said in the last one?” Bebop rolled one of the vials of acid he had gathered from the Boggard cave.
Donovan sighed, “Yes, you were right Bebop. Apparently, I should have accounted for the appearance of a Alchemical Golem lying around for the last eighty years.”
Bebop pushed the vials of acid to Donovan, smiling wickedly the entire time.
“We’ll also need a glass lens for the eye, mithral for the heart cog, and the brain of a recently deceased humanoid.”, Donovan said, continuing to stare at the schematics. “I guess I better get to work on prepping up the items I can do myself.”
Bebop interjected, “Don’t bother Donovan. I bet you we’ll find all of these things lying around somewhere in this castle.”
Donovan looked at Bebop, “We’re going to find Alchemist Fire, Liquid Ice, and a Mithral heart cog just lying around?”
Bebop nodded his head, “Exactly. Have some faith.”

As much as Donovan wanted to stay behind, the group convinced him that they needed to explore the rest of the area. The rooms continued to show destruction and disuse. Donovan remarked that it was going to be somewhat expensive to properly renovate this place for long term use. In one of the rooms, a collection of wall plaques was to be found. While the people weren’t familiar to Donovan, he was immediately taken by the way the plaques were written.
“Do you hear that?”, Donovan addressed the group, “The iambic pentameter of these words. There’s a pattern here. Notice the numbers and the letters within the phrases. Could it be a cipher?”
The last plaque, bearing the name “Ergun Nigma”, caught Bebop’s attention. Pushing around the plate, it fell off to reveal a safe behind it. “Take a look, Donovan.” Bebop stepped away, as Donovan rushed over to where the safe was located.
“Yes, the numbers! I knew there had to be a code in all of these plaques.” However, once Donovan looked at the safe, confusion set across his face. The safe had no numbers, just four lines marking the cardinal positions. “Wait, no, that doesn’t make any sense. What about all of these numbers?”
As Donovan continued to run around the different plaques, staring fervently at each one, Bebop approached Tamsen, “Hey Luxury, I want you tonight.”
Tamsen’s face grew annoyed as she caught Bebop’s gaze, “Are you serious? Especially after that stunt you pulled this morning?”
Bebop put his hands up, smiling, “How was I to know you two hadn’t already had quality time?” Bebop slid his arm around Tamsen’s waist, “But, I can tell you are very ready to enjoy yourself.”
Tamsen remained cold, “Yes, with Donovan. Not with you.”
Bebop chuckled, “Come on, look at him. He’s so caught up in all of the things going on right now, you could be standing naked next to him and he wouldn’t acknowledge it.”
Tamsen’s eyes flicked over to Donovan. She could see how fixated he had become on the safe and the codes in the room, mumbling to himself. This was always his way, since she first started living with him. Tamsen returned her gaze to Bebop, sighing.
“Hah! I’ve got it! It’s three to the left, two to the right, and one to the left!”, Donovan spoke up as he opened the safe up. While the limited amount of gold and a ruby was hardly interesting, the presence of a pair of Manacles of Cooperation was more appealing, as well as a ring hidden inside another plaque.
Donovan handed the objects to Bebop, who stored them in the Haversack. “Well, I guess we need to find a room to secure ourselves for the night. We’ll finish up here tomorrow.

The family found a room that was inside another room, limiting the number of creatures that might be drawn to investigate any disturbances. Donovan instructed the group that they would not be able to leave the room until the morning. With that, he painted the frame of the door with Shrieker Paste. Once the room was sealed up, Donovan pulled out a Candlerod, and began to review the schematics.
Bebop crept over to where Tamsen was lying on her bedroll. “Ready to show me that talented tongue of yours?”
Tamsen looked over at Donovan again, who was fervently studying the schematics and taking notes. She then pushed Bebop down on the floor, as her lips traced their way down Bebop’s chest and stomach.
Bebop closed his eyes, lost fully in the sensations, “Oh, Tamsen.”

Session 14 Ends.


Part 2: Call Forth Darkness
Act 2: Taking the Horn
Session 15: A Beginner’s Guide to Flipping Dungeons

Donovan rubbed his eyes and looked around the darkened room, illuminated only by his Candlerod. How much time had he spent on studying the Golem schematics? The group had been asleep for hours, and a stillness was in the air. Donovan looked over at Tamsen and Bebop, their bodies curled up together, and sighed wistfully. Donovan grabbed a flask from his bandolier, consuming the liquid contents held within. This would be yet another sleepless night for him.

Pulling out some blackfire clay, Donovan got to work on setting up a small, heated area in the center of the room. Once that was complete, Donovan took out some basic dishes for making breakfast, then set them next to the heated area. Donovan began brewing coffee for his family. There was a comforting peace for Donovan in any sort of brewing, whether it was beverages or alchemical items. Something about the consistency and repetition set his mind at ease. Soon after, the group began to awake from the smell of the heated liquid. As the group began to awaken, Donovan tossed in spices specific to their individual tastes, and then handed them a cup. “Good morning.”, Donovan smiled as he greeted each of them. The three of them smiled and took the coffee. Once Tamsen had finished her first cup, she came over to where Donovan was reorganizing his gear and kissed him deeply.
“Did you sleep, my love?”, Tamsen asked Donovan, smiling and looking into his eyes.
“I studied.“, Donovan responded curtly.
A frown came across Tamsen’s face. “You know I don’t like it when you stay up all night.” A moment later, a playful grin crossed Tamsen’s face as she leaned in closer. “Next time you have trouble falling asleep, let me know. I’m sure I can think of a way to wear you out.” Tamsen’s tongue slid across her lips as she said the words, though there could be no doubt of her intention.
Donovan chuckled, as he kissed her again, “I lost track of time. I would have gladly spent it with you otherwise.”

By now, Lucius had already pulled out some provisions for making breakfast, and Bebop opened the door in order to find a place to relieve himself. Unfortunately, Bebop had forgotten that Donovan had coated the door in Shrieking Paste, so the group was subjected to a jarring screech as the spores painted on the doorway were suddenly jostled apart. Bebop ran on, unconcerned with the sound, but Lucius was none too pleased. “Gods, Donovan, turn them off!”
“Sorry, Lucius. This is why I said for no one to open the door.”, Donovan replied, as he attempted to cover his ears.

After the group finished breakfast and packed their gear up, they resumed searching the rooms throughout the current level of the Horn. Bebop and Lucius led the group by entering each room first, with Tamsen and Lucius following behind while attempting to sense anything of magical origin. Finally, Donovan entered the rooms, with pen and paper in hand, as he took notes for each of the rooms.
Bebop looked at Donovan curiously, “What are you doing?”
Donovan replied, “Getting an estimate of what it will take to fix up this place as a permanent residence for us.” He was clearly excited about this discovery.
Bebop’s face curled in confusion, “Why would we want to live here?”
“This place easily rivals the Westermeyer estate. Think what we could do with a place of our own!”, Donovan’s enthusiasm was palpable.
“Leave it to you to try and turn an abandoned cult temple into a vacation destination.”, Bebop shook his head, and continued exploring the area.

Most of the rooms in the Caer Bryr were living quarters used by groups of individuals. Given the number and size of rooms that were discovered, it was possible to imagine that this place would have been able to quarter several hundred people. There was also several security areas that would give this location some defense against a siege from the outside. Also of note was a fountain that appeared to provide an unlimited amount of fresh water, and a room that held the preserved form of a slain Minotaur. The room had a magic in it that prevented the decay of organic materials. It would be very easy to imagine that this room would make a perfect place for long term food storage. Beyond that, there was what appeared to be the remnants of a tavern in one corner of the lower floor, with a stove and chimney that was worked through the mountain wall. The sheer inventiveness and creativity of all this effort impressed Donovan, who was quick to point out all the potential benefits a location like this would allow for a long-term residence. The rest of the group seemed generally uninterested in what he had to say on the matter. One of the rooms also held a journal which had somehow survived the assault all those years ago. Lucius handed the volume to Donovan, who gingerly snapped it up and lovingly opened the ancient text.
“A personal journal. Maybe they wrote about… no, there’s nothing here about the assault. I’ll have to study it more later.” With that, Donovan placed the book away, and continued researching the floor.

Beyond the debris and destruction that filled most of the rooms, two other rooms also caught the group’s attention. The first one was a large throne room. Tamsen noticed magic on the throne itself, and investigated further. Abyssal script caught her eye, and she read the word that was made of it. “Yah.”
“Yah? What’s a Yah?”, Bebop asked, as he continued to search the room.
“Yah isn’t a word, at least not a word that I have ever seen mentioned before.”, Tamsen looked inquisitively over to Donovan, who nodded in agreement at her answer.
“A cipher perhaps? Part of a longer word that we haven’t yet found?”, Donovan queried the group rhetorically.
Bebop tapped on one of the columns, “Donovan, check it out. This is hollow!”
Donovan walked over to the column that Bebop had discovered, placing his ear against it and tapping different sections of the column. “Indeed it is. I wonder if it could be a staircase running through the length of it.”
Despite their best efforts, they were unable to find any access point that would let them get into the column. Donovan considered having Bebop smash his way through the column, but realized the damage could make whatever was inside the column unusable.
The other room that appeared to contain magic was what looked like a blackened out room, something that had been the target of a powerful spell, such as a Fireball. Despite all the time that had passed between the assault and the day that the group came, Tamsen and Lucius still saw evidence of embers glowing ever so briefly, as if the spell was still burning to the very day. Unsure of what to do about this, the family decided to leave the room for the time being, and Donovan would continue to research the matter more.

The last room of interest on the lower floor was what appeared to be a torture room of some kind. While Donovan was not particularly interested in this room, Tamsen’s eyes lit up with excitement, as Bebop looked over at her with fear.
“Now this could be fun.”, Tamsen giggled.

Having spent some time mapping the area out, Donovan stared at the map, somewhat confused. “I can’t believe we haven’t found a single set of stairs. There should be some way for people to get between the floors.”
“I’ll take care of it.”, Bebop exclaimed as he trudged back towards the section of the floor where the broken cell door and bars were discovered. From there, Bebop consumed his Mutagen. His flesh warped and morphed in strange ways, and wings began to tear and jut from his form. Using his newly gained wings, Bebop clumsily flew and climbed his way up the chute towards the higher floor.
Bebop arrived at the higher section, with a mere plank of wood blocking his path, which he effortlessly pushed aside. “I got it!”, Bebop called down to the rest of the group.
Once he had properly positioned himself on the next floor, Bebop lowered a rope back down to the family. Donovan took the rope and tied small circles in it, to be used as handholds and footholds, allowing Bebop to simply pull the members of the team up without worrying about them safely climbing the distance.

The group began to work their way through the long-abandoned rooms. As before, they continued to examine and peruse everything that caught their eyes, and Donovan continued his running cost analysis for repairs and improvements. In one of the first rooms they discovered, Lucinda again noticed a small scrap of paper with faded writing on it, which she handed to Lucius. The writing was unintelligible to Lucius, so he handed it over to Donovan, who stared at it briefly. “Abyssal again, huh?”
Staring at it a moment longer, Donovan was able to make out part of the note. “Evacuate now …the throne… stairs a deathtrap… only way out… Yah.”
“The throne is a summoning point?”, Bebop queried.
“Or an escape route.”, Donovan responded, still pondering what he read.

Pressing on, the group discovered more living quarters and holding cells. They also came across a room that was filled with statues. Curiously, the group discovered that there were more stone heads in this room than bodies to match them up to. Next, they came upon what appeared to be nice sized living area. What was remarkable about it was the impressive four-poster bed that was still sitting here, undamaged.
“I want this.”, Tamsen said insistently.
Donovan’s fingers slid across the top of the varnished wood, letting his eyes run across the remarkable craftsmanship required to make such a piece of work. “This would be worth around 2500 gold if we sold it.”
Bebop’s eyes lit up, “Yes! This gets us closer to a Portable Hole!”
Tamsen scratched the back of Bebop’s neck, “I thought I was your portable hole.”
Bebop pulled Tamsen close to him, “You know you are.”
Bebop and Tamsen, followed quickly by Lucius and Lucinda, proceeded on to the next room. For his part, Donovan continued to write notes about the room.
The group entered a room where several huge manacles were found. These could easily have been used to hold massive beasts. They also noticed a mural showing some unusual images.
“What is this, Lucius?”, Bebop pointed at the images in the mural.
Lucius stared at the images. He recognized that they were most likely creatures from the Lower Planes, but wasn’t able to be more specific than that. “Demons.”, he responded to Bebop.
“Donovan, get in here!”, Bebop roared out into the temple.
Shortly after, Donovan came rushing in, still furiously scribbling notes onto his paper. “I’m here, what’s going on?”
Pointing at the mural on the wall, Bebop asked, “What are those things?”
Donovan’s eyes flicked up from the notes he was taking, as he scanned the mural briefly. “Ceustodaemons.” Pausing briefly, Donovan walked towards the mural, focused on a particular aspect. “Oh, and look at this! These demons are being bound to service. Do you see the bands around their necks? These are control amulets.”
“Fine, whatever. Let’s keep going.”, Bebop was already bored of the discussion.
Donovan pulled out a magnifying lens and stared carefully at the amulets. “Damn, they didn’t actually write the names on the collars. It would have been nice to have these creatures’ true names.”
Bebop sighed, flipping Donovan off as he walked into the next room. Arriving there, Bebop discovered a skeleton impaled to the wall, with writing above it. The writing ominously warned that this was the fate of all those who abandoned Mitra and did not return to the light.
“Quite the hard sell.”, Lucius mused, chuckling.

Bebop, Tamsen, Lucius, and Lucinda continued their progress forward, opening the door into the next room. This room had apparently been damaged, as both the sunlight and vegetation from the side of the Horn had now begun to enter this room. Lucius moved towards the sunlight, and suddenly found himself grabbed by the vegetation that had become so heavy in this room. Seeing the plants attack her master in this way, Lucinda pulled out her weapon and sliced through the vegetation. Donovan, seeing into the far end of the room, rushed into the room and screamed, “Get out!”
A mist began to fill the room, causing both Lucius and Bebop to fall asleep. Donovan felt himself also beginning to be affected, but he concentrated on working through math problems in order to keep himself awake long enough to drag Bebop out of the room. Lucinda picked up Lucius and left the room with him, while Tamsen slammed the door shut.
“Move away from the door, Tamsen!”, Donovan ordered in panic.
Tamsen complied, and the group waited outside the room to see if anything would cross the doorway. Fortunately, nothing came out from that room.
After a few minutes, Donovan began to unpack the Alchemist Laboratory that he carried around. “Verdorous Oozes. What a terrible blight to fall on this place.”
Tamsen asked, “So, you are saying we should just throw some fire in there and burn them out?”
Donovan shook his head, “No, they are unaffected by fire, as well as many other things. We’ll need a very specific tactic to deal with these problems.”
Bebop shook his head, recovering from the poison that had been released. “What happened?”
Donovan looked down where Bebop was laying on the ground. “Good, you are awake.” Donovan scribbled out a recipe to Bebop and tossed it to him. “Make several of these.” As Bebop studied the note, Donovan began his meticulous formulation process, focusing in on the precision of the ingredients and time.
Bebop stretched and yawned, then looked carelessly at the recipe. “Oh, I got it.” Bebop crumpled up the recipe and let it fall to the floor, then grabbed up some larger vials and the different ingredients that Donovan had listed in the note.
Donovan watched with exasperated frustration as Bebop snapped through his work in a fraction of the time it took Donovan to complete one concoction. Donovan hated that Bebop was so much better, so much more naturally gifted than he would ever become. Bebop didn’t even need precision, he had raw talent.
“You finished yet, Donovan?”, Bebop said teasingly.
“Take off your clothes. The creature uses acid in its attacks, and anything you wear is going to be damaged heavily.”, Donovan replied, trying to hide the resentment in his words. With that, Donovan made one final test of his sprayer.
Bebop did as asked, without even giving it much thought. If he was ever an individual given to shyness, that had long since been removed around this group. “I’m ready.”
“Yes you are.”, Tamsen said coyly.
“Alright, I’m going to head in there and spray the oozes with this compound.”, Donovan explained the plans to the group. “Once that’s done, Bebop will get in there and hit the creatures as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, Tamsen and Lucinda will throw the flasks Bebop made at the ooze he is attacking.” Donovan took a breath, “Everyone ready?”
The group nodded in agreement.
Donovan rushed in, dodging through the grasping vines. Once he was close enough, he released the Congealer Spray onto the oozes. A hard, leathery shell formed over both oozes. “Now!”, Donovan called out.
Bebop rushed in, assuming his Giant Form. Lucinda and Tamsen followed up behind him, flasks at the ready.
Bebop exploded into a flurry of kicks, bites, hooves, and claws. Sprays of acid went everywhere, burning into Bebop’s exposed flesh. The girls tossed the vials onto the first ooze that Bebop attacked, and the ooze withered and became still.
Bebop repeated this assault upon the second ooze, with the girls once more repeating their efforts to coat the ooze in Alkali Flasks. A moment later, and the fight was at and end.
Bebop rushed out, his flesh sizzling from the acid as his melted into his flesh. “Ow, ow ow! Donovan, do something!”
Donovan snapped out his healing kit, applying a neutralizing salve across the parts of his skin that had been burned from the acid. First his hands and forearms, which had taken significant damage, then working onto his chest, neck, and thighs. The healing nature of Donovan’s ointments took effect immediately, repairing most of the damage.
“Don’t forget Mister Winky.”, Bebop said, pointing at his genitals.
Clearly irritated, Donovan completed the application of the salve onto the rest of Bebop’s injuries. “Get dressed. You’ll be fine.”
Tamsen slid up to Bebop, looking at him alluringly. “Aw baby, do you need me to kiss all your spots to make them better?”
Bebop nodded, “Yes please, I’m so very sensitive from all that abuse.”
Donovan picked up his pen and paper, “We’ll need Alchemical Cement to patch that up.”

Passing by the fountain, Donovan became excited again. “You see this? With this, I could run plumbing down to the lower levels! We could set up baths!”
Unfazed by Donovan’s excitement, the group kept walking to the next room.
Donovan became quiet, “Oh, ok.”
More quarters were passed through, none of them holding anything of importance. Beyond that, the group discovered an altar.
Tamsen studied the writing on the wall, “An old holy tongue. Who would have expected to find that here? It says… Mitra shines on all, Mitra rules all.”
Donovan scanned the writing and nodded, “I imagine this was built by the knights who conquered this place.” He then paused a moment, “I guess we should keep it here, it might make it easier to sell this place to someone else.”
Tamsen took Donovan’s hand, “Why would we sell this place, love? This could be our home together.”
Donovan took Tamsen’s hand and smiled. “You think so?”
Tamsen nodded.

The group continued into the next room. A statue was found here, with a missing head. It was also apparent this status didn’t have a base like the other ones.
“Bebop.”, Donovan began.
“Yes, I’ll go get the heads.”, Bebop interrupted Donovan, realizing what he was going to say.
Experimenting with a few of the heads, the group found the one that seemed to match the breaks most correctly. Once the head was in position, Donovan applied the Stone Salve to the form. Quickly, the stone became flesh, and the flesh returned to life. The formerly frozen person began gasping and choking.
“Water.”, the former statue croaked out.
Producing a flask, Donovan pushed it into the man’s hand. “Here you go.”
Once the man consumed the flask, he began to interrogate the group. “Who are you and why are you here?”
Donovan smiled in his most disarming way, “My name is Donovan Thorn, and this is my family. We have come to this place seeking answers towards the way to summon Vetra Kali.”
It became clear that the man was lost in what was going on. “What happened to my bothers? Did we defeat the invaders?”
Donovan nodded with understanding, “I know you are very confused. But you must understand, a great deal of time has passed since the attack that occurred here.”
The man asked to know the current year, which Donovan provided. “Eighty years.”, the man said, almost in shock. “Did anyone survive?”
Donovan looked around, “We have found no other living creature here. Even if they did survive, with so much time having passed…”, Donovan trailed off, unsure on how to complete the sentence.
The man stood in quiet reflection for a while, then turned back with realization to Donovan, “But you said you were here to restart the brotherhood!”
Donovan put his hands up slightly, “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I said I was here to return Vetra Kali to this world. I cannot speak to the state of your brotherhood.”
The man waved him off, “It’s fine, things will work out. We will establish a new brotherhood here from the remnants of the old.”
“First things first,”, Donovan tempered the man’s expectations, “we need to know more about what happened, and what the process is to perform the ritual. What can you tell us about what has taken place?”
The man introduced himself as Halthus the Flayer, and said that he was a relatively low level Acolyte specifically trained in “information extraction”. Halthus attempted to give the group some details about the events that took place the day of the assault, but didn’t know much due to all the associated chaos.

The group decided to keep exploring the Horn, with the hopes that Halthus could provide additional information as they went along. The first room they entered with Halthus was a large temple area, very similar to the one on the lower floor.
“What can you tell us about the throne in this room, Halthus?”, Donovan asked the man as they continued to explore.
“All I know is that I have seen someone use the throne to teleport away.”, Halthus replied.
Donovan nodded. He was certain that he understood the mystery of the thrones now. Going over to the throne, he searched for Abyssal script, which he soon discovered. “Rah. I knew it.”
Donovan sat confidently on the throne, and shouted out, “Yah!” He was gone in an instant.
Fear gripped Tamsen, as she considered the possibility that something terrible had just happened to Donovan.
Bebop took Tamsen’s hand. “He has a plan, he always has a plan.”
A moment later, Donovan reappeared in the Throne, laughing at his discovery. “Very clever. Teleportation thrones to move between floors. This is how they could secure the place. Now all we need is the other code words.”
Tamsen rushed up to the throne and hugged Donovan.
Donovan smiled, “Come on, isn’t that interesting, my love? It explains so much about this place.”

“Are we ready to move on to the next level? I’m sure that there are more secrets waiting for us to discover!”, Donovan said eagerly.
The group followed a hallway directly outside of the temple, which was adorned with murals and writings about the history of the Sons of the Pale Horsemen. It was clear to Donovan that, inscribed within these stories, was rituals that could be used to summon and bind creatures to this place. He told himself he would return later to explore these writings further. Donovan also asked for the jewel that Halthus had recovered from the ground while his group was under siege, which Halthus agreed to quite willingly.
The stairway to the Third Floor had been completely destroyed. While Bebop was suggesting that he could fly up and hand a rope down yet again, Lucius had a better idea. Lucius summoned a group of flying horses, electricity cracking over their forms.
“This is indeed a powerful new brotherhood that has come to this place.”, Halthus spoke up.
The group flew up to the third floor, and the opening that was there. After the group dismounted, Halthus muttered the phrase “Hail Vetra Kali”, before pressing a set of buttons that were located in the eye sockets of a statue of Vetra Kali placed just outside the entrance.
“What was the purpose of that?”, Bebop questioned Halthus.
“It is to disable the trap located at the entrance of this place.”, Halthus replied without hesitation. “There is a matching statue inside that can be used to activate the trap as needed.”
“So, when you came up to this floor, where did you typically go?”, Donovan asked.
Halthus pointed to the end of the hallway, “I went to that door, where a prisoner would be waiting for me.”
“Then I guess that should be our next destination.”, Donovan nodded and smiled.

The group proceeded down the hallway and into what appeared to be a smaller temple area. On the far wall was yet another image of Vetra Kali in the center, and set off to either side an altar to one of the four horsemen. Bebop approached the statue of Vetra Kali in the center, but felt a sense of fear that forced him to leave the room. Donovan also felt that sense of fear, but his mind was hardened to such things, and he remained unafraid. Donovan also noticed that Halthus approached the statue as well, without any sense of trepidation.
“Were you not afraid?”, Donovan asked Halthus.
“I was not afraid. Why would I be?”, Halthus replied confidently.
“Why did you say those words before you approached the altar?”, Donovan asked again.
“One must always praise Vetra Kali before approaching him.”, Halthus answered.
Meanwhile, Tamsen was drawn to a wall over on the side of the room. “Something is in here, love.”
Donovan walked over to the wall where Tamsen was standing. His eyes could just make out the seam of a secret door leading into some other room. “Could there be a mechanism nearby?”
Halthus replied almost incredulously, “Perhaps the statue at the altar works the same way as the one at the entrance?”
Donovan chuckled, “Well that makes perfect sense when you say it like that.” Donovan approached the statue at the altar, ready to press in the eye sockets as he had seen Halthus do at the entrance.
Just then, a thought occurred to Donovan, “Do as the acolytes would do.” Stepping back, Donovan approached the altar and spoke in Abyssal, “Hail Vetra Kali.” Donovan pressed in the door, and a click could be heard at the secret door.

The group approached the door hesitantly. As the door was first being opened, the room appeared to be nothing more than an old storage room, filled with decayed religious objects used for this temple. A moment later, something overlaid the previous room, as though another room had been magically sealed away. The family walked into this newer room, and their eyes widened. They were beholding a treasure horde vaster than any they had ever seen. Gold and silver, jewels and coins. It was almost too good to be true.
Then Donovan’s eyes locked onto the Wraith that was in this room, and knew it was too good to be true.
“Come my pets.”, the Wraith said to the other piteous creatures it had undoubtedly killed, “Let us consume these interlopers.”

Session 15 Ends.

Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition Starter Box

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