Shades of Shadora

Millglade Part I

In the morning of the next day, the party went to see Lord Jonas. As they were escorted into his sitting room, their eyes were immediately drawn to the figure standing near the fireplace. He was a human, but taller than most. As he turned to see the new arrivals, he regarded them with forest green eyes that were bloodshot as if he hadn’t slept recently. His hair was raven black, his skin was deeply tanned, and his gear well used and well maintained.
Lord Jonas stood, “Gentlemen, and Lady, please meet Rory Storm,” he said, gesturing to the man near the fireplace, “He has volunteered to guide you to Ard.”
Rory stepped forward and shook each member of the party’s hand, revealing ink stains on his own. “Least I can do for such valiant heroes as these. I’ve travelled all over the Duchy of Foxrun, even spent some time in the employ of the Kingdom of Broadshoulders, though I can’t say that the army life was meant for me. What I can tell you is that our journey won’t be easy. There are foul things that walk the land in these troubled times.”
Rory drew their attention to a map on the table showing the area between Bystag and Ard and quickly traced over the route they would take. “We’ll need to skirt the edge of the forest. We should be able to make quicker time, but still be able to hide in the forest easily, should we encounter any patrols.”
“How many patrols are there likely to be?” asked Simon.
“It’s hard to say with any certainty. The fronts of the battle shift constantly, and what was in friendly hands this morning, might be in the hands of the enemy by nightfall,” replied Rory, “I would have you safe to Ard at the earliest possible time to prevent being caught in a large battle. We will stop at the town of Millglade for the night, and then proceed on to Ard. If there are no questions, I suggest you make whatever preparations you require and meet me by the town gate at noon.”
“We will meet you then,” said Simon, “Thank you for the assistance you have provided, Lord Jonas.”
Lord Jonas shook Simon’s hand, “It is no more than what I promised in return for your assistance with our missing children, and may wind up being a poor bargain in the end. However, if anyone can see you safe to Ard it will be Rory. I have every confidence in his abilities, and yours, for that matter. Good luck, and may the Gods watch over your journey!”
The party left the mansion and headed to complete their preparations, such as packing their gear, and going to the temple to replenish their spells. At noon, they rode their horses to the gate, and found Rory waiting outside on a light brown charger. As they rode out of town, Simon rode up next to Rory and said, “We have one more member of our party to join us, he will be along in just a moment.”
Rory said nothing but pulled up to wait for the new arrival. Itcharat came out of the forest with his cloak and hood pulled up to hide his features. Rory looked at him strangely, and could be seen to look back from time to time to see where Itcharat was. Finally, after about an hour of this behavior, Rory stopped his horse.
“Simon, I know a goblin when I see and smell one. You are a strange group to be travelling so with a creature of Chaos, but as you have proven your worth to Bystag, I will be silent on the matter. However, I will ask that you keep him some distance from me, as I don’t trust his kind.”
Itcherat held up his hand and stopped the protest Simon was about to utter. “This is why I don’t come to town, Simon, and I can’t expect for people to forget the things my people have done in the name of Chaos. I’ll stay away, and perhaps I’ll prove myself to him over the course of our journey.”
Simon thought better of fighting about it, knowing the goblin was right, and just nodded. Rory started down the path again, followed by the rest of the party. Not long after the exchange, Rory pulled up short and said “Into the woods, NOW!”
He rode a short way into the woods and dismounted, holding his hand over the nose of his horse and the rest of the party followed suit. Within a few minutes, the tromp of boots marching down the road could be felt reverberating under the feet of the party, as a horde of goblins passed by their hiding spot. After they passed, and with a significant glance at Itcharat, Rory moved the party back out to the edge of the woods and continued towards Millglade. Not long after getting started again, Simon began to have the feeling he was being watched. Looking around, he caught a glimpse of a couple of wolves following the party. He brought them to Rory’s attention.
“Yes, I see them, and it is unusual behavior for wolves.” Rory said, “I don’t like it, but we need to just keep an eye on them, since they are staying just out of bowshot.”
The wind changed, causing the horses to catch the scent of the wolves, and making them skittish. Now two more wolves had joined the chase, matching the pace of the horses and staying just out of range of the party’s bows. The trail had begun to wind through the woods, with turns coming in ever greater frequency. Just as Simon noticed the wolves were getting closer behind them, Rory and Trish noticed more wolves coming out of the woods in front of them. Rory dismounted, drawing his bow, “We have no choice but to stop and handle this now.”
The rest of the party dismounted, and Itcharat took control of the horses, which were prancing nervously because of the proximity of the wolves. Lasheur and Walac both shot at the wolves, killing their targets. Rory shot at one, but his arrow went wide, taking the wolf in the back leg, slowing it down, but not stopping it. Simon ran forward and cut one wolf in half with his katana, and wounding a second one with a spinning back kick. As Walac dropped another wolf with his bow, he and Simon saw more wolves coming in from the forest. Realization hit as Simon recognized what the larger wolves were. “Wargs!” he shouted, “The larger ones are Wargs! Be careful!”
“I’ve never seen anything like this!” shouted Rory, “I believe these animals are under some sort of control!”
Suddenly, one of the wargs was in amongst the horses, biting and snapping at their flanks. The horses danced around, almost impossible for Itcharat to control. Trish ran forward, executing a double slash with her swords, ending the life of one of the wargs. Rory shot the warg near the horses, killing it as Lasheur traded his bow for his sword and slashed open another. Itcharat saw another wolf, larger even than the wargs burst from the woods, its eyes aglow with a red light. This wolf ran in and with one vicious snap of its jaws ripped the guts from Simon’s horse, which went down thrashing. Itcharat let go of the horses and drew his sword to meet the threat of the giant wolf. Drawing his rapier, Walac rushed forward and pierced the giant wolf. He hit it, but it seemed like the creature just shrugged off what should have been a killing blow. Lasheur killed one of the two wolves that were snapping at him, narrowly avoiding being bitten by the one that was still alive. Simon killed the warg he was engaged with and ran forward to impale another near the horses with his fighting claw. Abandoning his bow, Rory rushed the wolf that Trish was fighting, killing it. As the giant wolf snapped its teeth at Itcharat’s midsection, narrowly missing eviscerating the goblin, Trish rushed forward and hit the creature, first with the Oblivion and then with Keller’s Razor. As the rune swords hit the giant wolf, mist began coming out of the cuts, and with an unearthly howl, the wolf’s face began to contort, becoming briefly human, then the wolf fell to the ground as the red lights in its eyes went out forever. More wolves appeared at the edge of the forest, but with the fading of the howl, the wolves all turned tail and ran back into the woods. Upon inspection of Simon’s horse, it appeared that the giant wolf’s saliva had a poisonous quality to it, as the flesh around the wound had already started to putrefy. Simon doubled up with Lasheur, as the next lightest member of the party (apart from Walac, but Walac’s pony would never be able to carry them both). The rest of the journey to Millglade was without incident, and as they got closer to town, Itcharat left the party to hide out until they were ready to leave the town. Once at the town gates, the guard challenged the party until they saw Rory, who vouched for his companions. Guiding them to the inn, Rory secured lodgings for the night, and told some of his acquaintances in the common room about the encounter with the wolves. He found out that the pack had been causing trouble in the area for some time, and the group was bought a round of ale for having taken care of “the wolf problem”. All the while, Walac’s whiskers were twitching, but he couldn’t put his finger on exactly why. He told the others that he had a bad feeling, but they all went to their rooms that evening with no answer for why he felt that way.
Walac was being chased through the forest, but he couldn’t see what it was that was behind him. He had stopped momentarily to catch his breath, having outdistanced his pursuer. Suddenly, a black form leapt over his head and spun to face him.
“I am the Shadow Wolf,” snarled the visage of the wolf they had killed in the forest, “and you cannot kill me. I am eternal, and you shall die for the insult you gave today.”
The wolf advanced on Walac and as he started to back away, he realized his feet had become stuck in the muddy swamp that had crept around him while he caught his breath. He couldn’t move! The wolf stepped forward and closed his jaws around Walac. The jaws started to close slowly, with increasing pressure around Walac’s midsection, soon, the teeth would pierce his skin and he would begin to bleed to death! With a start, Walac woke up, panting in his bed. He shivered as he realized he had been having a nightmare. As he shook his head to clear the cobwebs, he realized that Simon was no longer in his bed across the room. Stranger still, Simon had not taken any of his equipment with him. Walac got out of bed and opened the door out into the hallway. No one was moving around, as it was very early (or very late). Walac went to Trish’s door and knocked. After a few moments, Trish came to the door, looking groggy.
“I’m glad you woke me up,” said Trish, “I was having a very strange dream.”
Walac said, “Me too. I woke up, though, and Simon’s gone. He didn’t take anything with him, either.”
Shaking her head, Trish replied, “Go wake the others, I’ll get my gear on, something weird is going on.”
Walac went to wake Lasheur and Rory, and found that Lasheur had also left without his gear. Rory had been having a bad dream as well, and agreed to meet Walac and Trish downstairs momentarily to try and find out what happened to the others. As Walac waited downstairs for his friends, he realized no one else appeared to be in the inn. No other customers, no innkeeper, no one. Trish and Rory were downstairs quickly, and as they stepped out of the inn, they saw someone that looked like Simon turn the corner up the street. They ran to catch up, and as they turned the corner, they could see Simon and Lasheur being escorted by some of the town guard. They appeared to be herding them towards the docks area of town.
“Rory, go back and grab Simon and Lasheur’s gear,” Trish said, “Walac and I will follow them and see if we can figure out what’s going on. Meet us as soon as you can!”
Rory nodded in acknowledgement and rushed back to the inn, as Trish and Walac followed the procession through the town and towards the mill, located near the docks. Outside the mill, there was a group of the townspeople waiting for Simon, Lasheur, and the town guard. Once they got there, the guards near Simon and Lasheur began to talk to the group around the mill, but they were too far away for Trish and Walac to hear what was being said. When the conversation was over, one of the group that had been waiting by the mill turned and began to open the doors to the mill. As the doors opened, Trish could see that there were more townspeople waiting inside.
“Walac, we don’t have time to wait. We need to stop this now, before those others make it out, or they shut Simon and Lasheur in,” said Trish as she drew her rune swords.
Walac drew his rapier, and followed Trish to the group around their friends. He swung quickly at the guard, who jumped out of the way at the last second. Spinning, a second guard hit Trish with the flat of his blade, hastily pulled from its scabbard. Trish cut him down with Oblivion, and thrust at a second with Keller’s Razor, barely grazing his shoulder. Lasheur seemed to come out of a trance, and seeing the melee around him, reached down to grab a bow from the fallen guard. Simon, who had been brought past the doors of the mill, blinked and woke up from his trance. Taking in the scene in an instant, he spun on the captor nearest him snapping the townsman’s neck with a quick upwards strike of his hand. Walac pierced one of the guards through the heart with his rapier, as Trish killed one of the townspeople and wounded a second one. Lasheur dropped the bow and grabbed a sword, missing the guard nearest him with a hasty swing. The soldiers left on the inside of the mill began calling for help, and turned to run. As they turned to run, Simon leapt forward, killing one with kick to the chest that stopped his heart, and stopped another in his tracks by snapping his neck with a chop of his hand. The last guard ran down the stairs into the cellar of the mill, as zombies shuffled out of the darkness towards Simon. More zombies came up the stairs from the cellar and down the stairs from the second floor. Simon attacked one of the closest, which had shambled out of the western part of the building, from amongst stacked bags of grain. He hit the zombie with a kick, but it just kept coming towards him. Trish slashed out with Oblivion, killing the last of the townspeople near her, and rushed the nearest zombie, missing with Keller’s Razor. Rory came around the corner with the equipment, prompting Lasheur and Simon to come over to get their gear. While Trish attacked the zombie she had engaged, she tried to figure out why her attacks here not damaging them the way they should. Remembering her training as a disciple of Lord Artol, she cried out, “Lop off their heads! We can only kill them by removing their heads!”
Matching word to deed, Trish cleanly took the head from the zombie she was fighting, killing it once more, but missed a second that had shambled up. Simon killed the remaining two townspeople, as Walac moved to help Trish. Walac sent an arrow through the skull of one of the zombies, dropping it to the ground. Trish was suddenly surrounded by the zombies. She dodged the lumbering attack of one, then stopped and concentrated, calling upon the skills that had been granted by Lord Artol. With a blinding flash, she had consecrated the area, expelling the undead creatures from her. Moving swiftly, Oblivion and Keller’s Razor lashed out like twin lightning bolts, taking the heads from the two nearest zombies. Walac, who had been included in the area of the consecration spell, stepped out, and swept the head of another zombie from its shoulders with his rapier. Trish moved around the circumference of the consecrated circle she had created, killing two more of the zombies. Lasheur moved in, and within moments, another zombie was sinking to the floor with an arrow in its skull. As if understanding that they couldn’t break the consecration spell, the zombies shuffled away, with some going down to the cellar, and others going back up the stairs to the second floor.
“Come inside the spell,” shouted Trish, “They can’t get in, and we can plan our next move!”
Simon, Lasheur and Rory ran inside the building and into the consecrated circle. As Rory came into the building, the doors swung shut with a crash, locking them inside.
“Ugh, I don’t know what happened, but I feel terrible”, said Simon.
Lasheur was feeling the effects of being under the spell as well, but as they recovered, Trish let them know what had happened since they went to bed that night. Walac pointed to a red ‘x’ on one of the guard’s hand.
“Look at that ‘X’”, he said, “That’s what was wrong last night. Everyone here had those red marks on them. I just realized that was what was making me uneasy!”
After taking a few minutes to recuperate, Simon and Trish made their way up the stairs, while Walac and the others kept watch on the cellar stairs. The stairs were narrow, with only enough room for one person at a time, so Simon was the first to see the millstone of Millglade. The stone was covered with blood, as if it had been being used to crush living creatures, rather than grain. Zombies surrounded the millstone as if protecting it. Simon and Trish took little time in dispatching the creatures, and began to look around the room. Barrels of meal were stored in the room, but the meal had been soaked in the blood.
“I bet the bread we had last night was tainted with this meal,” said Simon grimly, “That’s probably what caused the trance. We need to destroy the millstone”.
A quick check showed that there was nothing that was of sufficient strength to destroy the millstone. They went downstairs and told the others what had happened as they searched the first floor for something they could use.
“This abomination cannot be allowed to continue,” said Rory vehemently, “I believe I can destroy the millstone. These people were my friends.”
Once he arrived upstairs, Rory cast a spell, causing lightning to leap from his fingers, destroying the millstone. As the millstone cracked, the spirits of the townspeople who had been killed appeared, then faded from view. Rory turned over the barrels, scattering the bloody meal and ensuring that no more of it would be used against the people of Millglade, if there were any left untouched by the magic. He returned to the main floor of the mill.
“Let us finish this, and determine who is behind this abomination,” he said through clenched teeth.
Simon led the way into the cellar with Trish, Walac, Lasheur, and Rory following up. Once in the cellar, zombies began to move towards the stairs. There were three guards at the far side of the cellar, just inside the doorway of another room. Lasheur took aim at one and killed him with an arrow through his heart. Rory killed the second guard, causing the third one to run deeper into the room. Walac jumped down from the stairs to engage the zombies, and within minutes, Simon, Walac and Trish had cleared the room of the undead. Moving into the next room, where the last guard had disappeared, Rory recognized the body of the miller, Neeth the Fat. A brief search of the room revealed a small spiral staircase descending into the darkness. Simon cast a shield spell and cat’s eye spell on himself, as Trish, Rory and Lasheur lit Journeyman candles and torches. Walac went first, to scout for the group, and headed up the stone corridor. A short way up the corridor, there was another spiral staircase, but the passage continued on past it. Walac got to a junction in the corridor, when suddenly four creatures filled the hallway. They were grey skinned, and looked as if they had clawed their way out of a dank grave. The ghouls (for that is what they were) began to howl, causing Trish and Rory to shiver. Lasheur took careful aim, and an arrow sprouted from the lead ghoul’s eye, dropping it to the ground. Walac wounded the one in front of him, and Trish stepped forward to finish it off, killing the one next to it with a well placed swipe of her second sword. Simon leapt over Walac and took out two in the back. Trish stepped forward and finished off the final two that had come down the corridor after their brethren. With all of the ghouls dead, the party moved to the end of the passage where a stone door barred the way.

View
Where Have the Children Gone?

Having spent the night on the plains, the party awoke early to continue their travels. After a morning of easy riding, they came upon the outskirts of a city, prompting Itcherat to leave the party to find a place to hide out, goblins being unwelcome in most civilized towns. Seeing them approach, the city guard snapped to their feet and awaited the arrival of the party at their gate.

“Hail, strangers,” said the older of the two guards, “What business have you in the town of Bystag?”

Simon stepped forward and said, “We journey to the port of Ard. We come from having fought the Lazuri in the Thicket.”

“I know not where or what the Thicket is, stranger, but the enemy of the Lazuri is welcome in our town!” replied the guard.

After a few quick directions, and a short ride later, the party found themselves firmly ensconced in the local inn. Harn, the innkeeper, took the clothes, armor and equipment given to him by the party and arranged to have them cleaned and repaired. He also sent word to Misstress Illana, the local seamstress, to take measurements to replace those items that had been destroyed during their travels.

While Harn was drawing up baths for the adventurers (well needed after the camp of the Kur!), he directed them to the common room for a meal. The prevailing attitude of the people within the common room was one of sullen glumness, with very little talk, and only slightly more drinking, as if they were trying to drown their sorrows in their flagons of ale. As the serving lad came with more food, it was obvious that he was just as affected by the somber mood as the others in the room.

Simon said, “Why so glum, boy?”

Arrin, for that was the serving boy’s name, replied, “My sister is missing, sir. Seems like a lot of children are missing lately.”

Hearing Arrin speak to the strangers seemed to open a floodgate of information. Different patrons started moving closer to the party, each describing their loss to Simon. There appeared to be no rhyme or reason to the disappearances, some were young, some were older, some were seen in the presence of a woman who was variously described as young, old, and middle aged, and were taken from all over the city and from every class, from lords all the way down to peasant farmers.

“Say, what business is it of yours,” piped up one oldster, a little further into his cups than the others.

“As travelling adventurers, we have helped others before,” stated Trish.

Simon added, “Recently we assisted some local miners with some supernatural events in their mines.”

“Aye,” said the old man, squinting an eye at Simon, “Then you best be off to see Lord Jonas, if ye’ve intentions of helpin’. He’s gonna be the one with the most idea of what’s turnin’ here, and more like to have a reward than this lot, if that’s what yer after.”

The party decided that it would be prudent to go recover their spells at the local temple before going to see the local lord. It was a practical thought, borne forth by the fact that they didn’t want to be sent out on a mission without being as strong as they could at the start. It was a small building, with a tiny shrine dedicated to each of the elements. Walac and Trish both gave the priest a tithe of the money they had made up to this point in their adventures, as well as spending the required amount of time in prayer to recover their spells. With the party as ready for battle as they could possibly be, they turned their footsteps to the house of Lord Jonas. As they made their way through the town using the directions given to them at the temple, Walac kept his eyes open for a likely target for him to use for his worship of Ratona. Once they made it to the pathway in front of the lord’s house, Walac had already spied a rare book shop, general store, money changer, and armory. The book shop really got his whiskers twitching for some reason, and he was impatient for the audience to be over with so he could do some “browsing”. Moving up the pathway towards the house, the party was intercepted by the household guards. Once they heard of the errand, the guards sent an emissary to Lord Jonas, to determine if he wished to interrupt his repast with a vagabond troop of adventurers. A few minutes later, the guard returned with another servant from within the house, who was to take the group to see the lord. As the party walked into the dining area, the lord greeted them from his seat and asked, “Please, tell me more about yourselves.” Simon said, “We have come to get some information concerning the missing children that we heard about in the inn. We are adventurers headed to the port of Ard, and we sometimes help towns with their difficulties. We would like to know more about the disappearances to see how we may be of service to Bystag.” Satisfied with the answer, Lord Jonas told the party what he knew. “We have been losing many of our children, as you have heard,” began Lord Jonas, “but what I have been able to find out is this: There is no connection between the children that we can find. The first few that went missing were older children, mostly in the young teens, and the most recent have been younger and smaller ones. The one common thing is that there is always a woman involved in the disappearances. Some say young, some say old, some say beautiful, and others haggard, but it is always a woman.” He sighed as he continued, “I have three main suspicions that I would like for you to follow up on. See if the thieves’ guild on the waterfront is involved, and is waiting for enough children to be within their grasp to call for ransom. Check into a travelling carnival that came through town recently and is currently camped within a half day’s travel of the town. Finally check into the old woman who lives in the woods, who is rumored to be a witch, and may have some link to the disappearances.” He wiped his greasy hands on a linen napkin as he stood. “In return for your checking out these three leads, I will offer my knowledge of the local area. There is many a bloody battlefield between here and Ard, and setting out without some assistance in direction would be foolhardy.” The party agreed to assist by checking out the leads, starting with the carnival, but it would have to wait until morning the next day, as light was already fading towards dark. Taking their leave of the lord, the party made it back to the inn, where the water had finally been heated for their baths. After cleaning the road from their skins (and fur) the party retired to their rooms to work on any equipment that had not been sent away for cleaning and repair. As soon as he was sure the party wouldn’t miss him, Walac snuck out of the inn. He followed his twitching whiskers straight to the book store he had seen that morning, and started taking a closer look. He looked in the windows, and saw that there was indeed a load of rare books inside, and even better, he now knew there was a local thieves’ guild where he could sell anything he got quickly. They would have their own network for getting anything that was too “noticeable” out of the local area. It was so perfect that the Lir was quivering with excitement. “I’d love to make this a memorable theft, one that would make Ratona proud!” he thought. He decided that rather than doing the “mundane” thing and pick the door or a window, he’d go down the chimney. “It’s great,” he thought, as he continued going around the house, “I’m small enough to go down the chimney, and no one will know how I got there!” He turned the corner and saw a doghouse, but the dog hadn’t heard or smelled him yet. “Whew, that was close,” he said to himself as he backed up, “time to do this”, and with that, he scurried up the outside of the building, and down the chimney. Coughing quietly, he stepped out of the chimney, with a black puff of soot, which was now all over the rug, which was white. Walac, now regretting his dramatic choice of entry, tried as best he could to clean the area up, or at least remove his tracks. Having done the best he could to remove the soot from his fur as well as from the area around the fireplace, Walac turned his attention to the green gemstone sitting on the table in the room. He stared at it for what seemed ages, and then, blinking, he looked out the window and realized it had been ages; the moon was in a different position than it was when he first clambered into the house. Impulsively, he snatched the gemstone up and placed it in his pack. Turning to the bookshelf, he found two tomes that seemed likely to be worth some money, which he placed in his pack, nestled snugly beside the green gem that seemed to hold his attention so well. Relatively pleased with himself, Walac went back up the chimney, and headed for the Broken Bridges pub, where he heard he could make contact with the thieves’ guild. On the way to the pub, Walac cleaned himself up as much as possible, using items he found along the way. Arriving at the pub, he entered and ordered an ale, taking a seat along one wall of the building where he could see who was entering and leaving, and keep his back to a wall. Once seated, he made some of the secret signs he was taught as an initiate, and within a few moments, a lady came up and sat down across from him. “So, little one, you appear to have had a busy night sweeping chimneys”, she said, pointing to some soot Walac had missed on one of his whiskers with a smile. “Indeed I have, lady, a devotion to Ratona can lead to some strange places,” he replied, “In fact, I have found some trinkets while cleaning that I might be ready to part with.” “Interesting,” said the lady, “follow me and I’ll look at your trinkets someplace more private. I’m Mirriam, by the way”. With that, she stood and led Walac to a small room off the bar. Shutting the door behind him, Walac pulled out the books, and with a reluctance he didn’t understand, put the green gem on top of the books. When she saw the green gem she hissed, “You little fool. That’s a guardian gem. You must put it back. You have soot on you, how much did you leave at the scene of your crime?” “I cleaned up as best as I could. What is a guardian gem? I’ve never heard of one,” stammered Walac, taken aback. “Did you find yourself staring at it? Did you find that a great deal of time had passed while you were looking at it? It’s designed to fascinate you and hold you enthralled until the owner comes, allowing him to catch you in the act of thievery. If they don’t catch you, they can lead the owner to you! They aren’t common, but they aren’t uncommon either. You mean to tell me you’ve never heard of one?” snapped Mirriam. “No, I’ve never heard of one before. Rather than putting it back, can we just get rid of it?” asked Walac. “Hmm,” considered Mirriam, “I think we can do that, come with me”. Scooping the books up, Mirriam headed straight for the front door, with Walac right behind her with the gem. A few minutes later saw Mirriam and Walac by the docks, and Walac struggling with himself before finally throwing the gem as far as he could out into the bay. “Now, young one,” said Mirriam, “Let’s see if we can fix this mess you’ve gotten yourself into.” Walac led her to the book store, and Mirriam told him to pick the lock on the window. Walac did this effortlessly, causing Mirriam to complement him on his technique, “I guess you do know something after all,” she said, smiling. Once inside, she pointed out to Walac where he had left hand and foot prints. “You need to be more careful, how many humanoid mice do you think are in a town like this, and you’re newly arrived?” Shamefaced, Walac took direction from Mirriam on what to clean and how, and once the scene was cleaned to her satisfaction, they left, locking the window behind them. “Mirriam, thank you for your help. Please, keep the books as payment for saving me from myself,” said Walac as they walked back towards the docks, “Have you heard anything about the children going missing? I’ve heard rumor that the guild might be involved.” “No, little one,” replied Mirriam, “There’s no money in kidnapping the children of farmers. We have had some losses to guild members as well, but we have no idea who might be behind these disappearances.” Reaching the crossroads, Mirriam and Walac parted ways, and Walac took a cold bath before heading to bed.

The next morning, Walac told the rest of the party that he had made contact with the thieves’ guild and that he felt they had no reason for going after the children (which was an argument he had made the night before, but now that they had confirmed what he said, it lent further weight to the argument). As they took a quick breakfast, the party found out from the bartender that more children had been taken in the night from all over the town. They decided before they left to go to the carnival, they should see Lord Jonas and find out if there was any new information. Lord Jonas told them there was no further information, with the exception that there were more children missing. Walac told him he didn’t believe that the thieves’ guild would be behind the disappearances because of the lack of ransom demands. Lord Jonas replied, “That may be, but I will be checking them out for myself today.” Taking their leave of the lord, the party headed to the gate out of town. “I’ll be right back, have to get something at the inn”, said Walac, and with that, he headed to the inn until he was out of sight of the party, when he headed to the guild pub. Once inside, he made the proper signs again, and this time was met by a man who introduced himself as Garim. “Can we speak privately?” asked Walac anxiously. Taking him to the same room as last night, Garim bade him speak, “I heard you already had some adventures last night from Mirriam,” he added. “Lord Jonas is going to be sending people to search here today for clues regarding the missing children,” said Walac, “Just thought you should know.” “Thank you very much,” replied Garim, “but I am already aware of Lord Jonas and his ideas. We have taken appropriate measures, and he will find nothing to alarm him.” His warning delivered, Walac hurried off to meet his friends and investigate the carnival.

A few hours travel saw them to where the carnival had set up outside the town. The gaudily painted wagons were drawn up in a circle around a central fire, and there were a large number of people moving around in the circle that the wagons made. There were games of chance, acrobats, food, and amongst all of the entertainment, children of the carnival chased each other happily around. A barker approached the party as they arrived, and asked Simon if he and Trish would be interested in games of chance. As they disappeared into the crowd, Lasheur went to a game to watch youngsters shoot bows. Walac had other plans, as he mingled through the crowd. About an hour later, however, all he had to show for his pick pocketing efforts was a couple of copper pieces, and a palm sized wheel of cheese with black wax on the outside. To make matters worse, he almost got caught on the last “game of chance” he took. It would have been bad for the man to turn around and find a Lir elbow deep into his pouch. As Simon sat gambling, a man came up and touched his elbow, whispering, “Master, this is beneath you”. Simon turned from the gaming table as the man took his hand and kissed it. As he did so, Simon recognized him as a Bandar cultist. After explaining why he was at the carnival, the cultist showed Simon around the camp, and proved there was no trace of the missing children. As they went around the camp, Simon remembered having heard of these carnivals during his training as a way to spread the word of Bandar throughout the land as well as supporting the cultists. Gathering up the remainder of the party, Simon let them know what he had found out, and they headed back to town to let Lord Jonas know what they had discovered. In the house of Lord Jonas, they found that he had rounded up the local thieves’ guild and had found no trace of the missing children. After being informed of the results of the search at the carnival, Lord Jonas asked, “Do you trust them?” Waving off the reply, he continued, “Nevermind, I have more information concerning the most recent disappearances. The guards at the east gate were sleeping, and one saw a woman emerge from the woods prior to dozing off. I suspect magic is afoot.” He arranged to have the guards show Trish and Lasheur the area where the woman had been seen, while Walac and Simon followed up with the old lady in the woods. After arriving near the east gate, it took Lasheur very little time to find tracks, as well as a child’s jacket near the area the woman was reported to have been seen. They began following the tracks as Walac and Simon found Itcherat, and headed towards where the old lady’s cabin was located. Not long after meeting up with Itcherat, and explaining the situation as they went, they found a small cabin in the woods which seemed in good repair, with the old lady that lived there just bringing back some herbs from the forest. “Well, not many visitors I get these days, and suddenly I get three at once. What’s the occasion?” she asked the group. Simon explained why they had come, and Riarra, as the old woman was called, said, “Now that you mention it, I do remember seeing a woman leading a child through the forest not too long ago. Didn’t think much of it at the time, thought maybe they were going on a picnic or something, even though they were a little further out than most people come. I’m not welcome in the city anymore, although, when they need a potion or a salve, I’m welcome enough for them to come see me.” Simon asked if she had any potions that she would sell, and she replied, “I don’t have much use for silver, but what I could use is some fresh water from the river, some wood chopped, and my thatched roof repaired. In exchange, I’ll give you two healing draughts.” A couple of hours later, all of the tasks were complete, except for the chopping of the wood. Itcherat had made a good start on it, but it would take a little while longer to complete, even for someone with as sturdy a back as the goblin had. “You guys head on back to town and find out what the others have found out. I can stay here and finish this; they won’t let me into the town anyway.” Simon went and talked to Riarra and told her that Itcherat would be staying to complete the task, but he and Walac would be heading back to town. Riarra opened a chest near the fireplace and brought out three flasks. Two of the flasks were easily recognizable as healing draughts, but the third was a potion unlike any Simon had ever seen, filled with a grey colored liquid. “I have a feeling you may need this,” said Riarra, “I don’t know why, but thinking it over, I think the child may have been too happy, if you take my meaning. I think there is the possibility he might have been under some sort of mind control. If that is the case, you’ll need this, which is a remedy for that sort of magic. Good luck on finding the youngsters.” With the potions tucked safely away in his pack, Simon and Walac headed back for town, leaving Itcherat chopping wood, with a promise that he would catch up once the wood was finished.

Meanwhile, Lasheur had followed the tracks to the entrance of a cave, and he, Trish, and the guards from town were some distance away, observing it. While watching the cave, a couple of children came running out, chasing each other and laughing. Moments later, a woman stepped out of the cave, and called the children, who came running up to her and went back inside at her bidding. The woman turned to go back inside, but she stopped, and it appeared that she was sniffing the air. She turned and looked directly at the thicket where Lasheur, Trish and the guards were hiding for a few minutes, then without a sound, went back inside the cave without a backwards glance. Once she was gone, the guards excitedly confirmed that she was the woman that had been seen, and the children were some of the ones that had gone missing. Lasheur sent the guards back to town to bring reinforcements, including Walac and Simon if they had returned. Lasheur helped Trish hide; covering her with brush and leaves to camouflage her while they continued to observe the cave. This done, Lasheur moved quickly to the other side of the cave, but as he did so, he heard the woman’s voice from the cave. “So you would seek to take my children? Lay down your bow and come with me.” Lasheur felt a strange compulsion to do just that, but managed to shake it off and shot in the direction of the cave entrance, where the strange woman had emerged, missing her completely. Hearing the bow twang, Trish stood and rushed to the cave entrance, however; she missed with her attack. The woman cast a spell, which caused her whole body to glow briefly, then told Trish, “Lay down your weapons” Trish’s swords dropped slightly as she almost gave in, but then she took a swing, hitting what felt to be armor, even though the woman was only wearing a robe. The instant her sword touched the woman, a flame travelled up it, bursting with a flash, and knocking her back. Lasheur teleported behind the woman, using his matrix, and began to try to strangle her with his bow. The woman and he grappled, and he heard her tell Trish, “Lay down your weapons”, and with a suddenly blank look on her face, Trish laid both of her weapons on the ground and stood back up, staring straight ahead. Dropping his bow, Lasheur drew his sword and cast a slash spell on it, and swung at the woman. When his sword connected, fire travelled up his sword to his arm, and blew him back. She turned to him and said, “Lay your weapon down”, and Lasheur did. If anyone had been left to see, they would have seen Trish and Lasheur follow the woman into the cave, leaving their weapons on the ground in front.

The guards made it back to the town at the same time Simon and Walac arrived. The guards quickly briefed them on what happened, and then one went to get reinforcements from Lord Jonas, while the other one led them to the spot where the cave was. Arriving in the area of the cave, Walac and Simon could hear the sounds of children playing, and see just inside the cave that torches were lit. Additionally, and perhaps more frighteningly, they could see Trish’s distinctive swords, along with Lasheur’s bow and sword laying near the entrance of the cave as if they had been casually tossed aside. Fearing the worst, Walac cast silence on himself and Simon to enable them to move without a sound, and cast dark walk on himself. They moved warily into the cave system, and Simon picked up the swords and bow as he moved past, after giving Walac the anti mind control potion. After a short while, moving past playing children who didn’t pay them any attention, Simon and Walac found Trish and Lasheur towards one of the rear passages of the cave, as if they had been discarded. Walac moved forward cautiously and administered the potion to each of them. Trish came to first, saying, “I could hear her in my head. I can still hear her!” Lasheur came to, and they both retrieved their weapons, and told Simon and Walac as much as they remembered. Lasheur gave Walac his luck ring, so the Lir could pass his luck on to Trish if need be. With that done, they began to move through the caves administering the antidote to each of the children. The smaller children were terribly frightened, but the older kids helped to keep them quiet, understanding the need for silence. Once all of the children were treated, Simon sent them out to the waiting guard, who without hesitation started taking them back to town. Simon went back inside, and a quick search revealed no trace of the woman who had taken the children and held them captive. Simon led the others back to the entrance of the cave, and just as he emerged, he heard a voice from the edge of the woods to his east. “What have you done!!” shouted the woman as she emerged from the forest. “What have you done, you fool?! Now you will know true fear!”, and with that last word being drawn out, she dropped to all fours and her form began to change. Within moments, she had completely transformed into a large dragon! Walac was the first to act, and ran to the far west of the cave, readying his bow as he went. Trish ran forward, swinging both swords at the dragon, hitting her and stunning her briefly, but doing no real damage against her scaly hide. Simon came at the dragon at a slightly more oblique angle, standing between her neck and the folds of her wings and his attacks caused blood to start streaming down the dragon’s flanks. Itcherat, who had arrived some time ago but stayed in hiding to prevent frightening the guards, and then the children, rushed out of the forest and attacked from the dragon’s left flank. Lasheur fired an arrow at the dragon’s head, but the arrow simply bounced off the scaly hide. Walac joined Lasheur with his bow, but the arrow he released stuck in the dragon’s hide without doing any real damage. Roaring, the dragon reared back and flapped its wings in an effort to knock Itcherat and Simon down, but they both managed to stay on their feet. At the same time, she ripped forward with her talons, wounding Trish. Trish concentrated and cast a healing spell on herself, while Simon cast fire blade and attacked the dragon, wounding her. Walac shot another arrow, which bounced off the dragon’s face, but got her attention. The dragon took a quick intake of breath and suddenly a cone of fire erupted out at Walac who danced just out of the way of the flames. Trish aimed for the dragon’s head, and a couple of well placed swipes of her sword had the dragon bleeding profusely from her head. The dragon leapt into the air, flapping her wings, and breathed fire at Trish and Simon, missing them both. As she started to gain altitude, Simon slashed the membrane of her wing open with his katana, causing her to crash to the ground, where he finished her off by jabbing his fighting claw through her eye and into her brain. After removing the blood red pearl from the forehead of the dragon, Simon cut the head off the dragon, and the party conducted a thorough search of the caves, finding nothing else of value. With that, the adventurers gathered up the dragon’s head and took it back to town. The town held a tremendous party in honor of the deed, with much food and drink had by all during the celebration. The next day, Lord Jonas advised the party on their choices of routes, and offered the use of some of his scouts to ensure their safe passage, as far as the route was concerned. There were the Plains of Mist Voice, where the voices of the dead were heard within the fog, the Lazuri fire temple, or the path to the town of Millglade through the ruins of Glynn, and on to Ard. The discussions lasted for a long time, but the party finally settled on going to Millglade. However, for the rest of the day, they would bask in the glory of another job well done.

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Dealing with the Kur

As morning light streamed into the cave that the adventurers called home last night, their camp was a flurry of activity. There was a sense of anticipation that their problems with the Kur would finally be behind them, one way or another. As they made their way across the 10 marks that separated their campsite from the lair of the Kur, Itcherat filled Simon and the others in on what to expect. “We have to go in and confront the tribe for the right to challenge the blood oath,” said Itcherat, “Simon will have to go in under a flag of truce.” “Wave a white flag?” asked Simon, “I’d be surprised they’d honor that.” “They won’t, which is why I have these,” stated Itcherat as he held up a necklace made up of ears; human ears and freshly “donated”. “Where did you get those?” asked Trish. Shaking his head sadly, Itcherat replied, “You don’t want or need to know, Trish” and refused to say more about the necklace. Changing the subject, Simon asked, “How do we challenge the blood oath?” “Traditionally, there are three tests, a race to find something that has been hidden, a test of bravery, and mortal combat with a tribal champion,” replied the goblin. “What those tests will be, or even if they will grant us the chance, I cannot say.” The party retreated to their own thoughts, steeling themselves for the tests to come. The party arrived at the outskirts of the Kur camp a short while later. Drawing up short near a grove of trees, they observed the creatures and decided who would approach the camp. Simon was finally elected the representative of the party, since his skills as a warrior of Bandar would make it more likely for him to survive until the rest of the party could reach him if something went wrong. Itcherat would go as well to act as translator. As Simon and Itcherat approached the encampment, the guards spotted them and raised the alarm. As the guards approached at a loping run, Itcherat told Simon, “Hold the necklace up high, where they can see it.” Simon and Itcherat stopped and waited for the guards to arrive. When the approaching Kur saw the necklace, they came up and sniffed the ears, licking their chops, barking and snarling to each other. Itcherat started speaking to them in their snarling language, “We’ve come to see the chief and end the blood feud.” At this, a group of guards surrounded the two and started prodding them with swords and spears towards the entrance to the compound, as a couple of runners sped off to tell the chief of the arrival of the human and goblin to their camp. As they got closer, Itcherat said in a quiet voice, “Steel yourself for the atrocities you are about to witness Simon. I do not speak of the physical abuse; that you will shrug off; I speak of the assault on your mind. The camp of the Kur will unhinge an unprepared mind; stay strong Simon." As they arrived at the entrance to the camp, a gauntlet had formed. Simon held the necklace of ears high as the Kur jabbed and spit at him. Some threw stones, or worse, their own wretched spoor. Itcherat, walking behind Simon suffered the same indignities. As they walked through, there were narrow gaps in the line, and Simon could see into the Kur camp, where there were Kur defecating on their weapons to make them carriers of “holy disease”. Pregnant, human female thralls were tending cookfires. Simon shuddered in horror, because he knew that the females would never see their offspring, because when they reached term, they would claw their way free of their mother’s womb, killing her in the process. There were giant black cauldrons bubbling over cook fires, with piles of human bones and skulls heaped about them; their soup being certainly made from human meat. Kur and Varl were erupting into mortal combat over scraps of rotting meat near the cook fires, rolling around and over each other until one of the combatants were dead or ran away. Cyclops lay in drunken stupors around the camp, slapping blindly at the small Varl who get too close, like a man swatting a fly, snuffing the life out of the small canines. There are human hides stretching out to dry in the sun, and many of the tents are made from human hides. Finally, Simon and Itcherat were led to a small Kur (only six feet tall), who had mangy brown fur that changed to a bright orange color about his head and neck. His head was that of a jackal, and his tongue lolled out in a laughing sneer as the pair were led to his throne and made to bow before him. His eyes had a feral, half sane intelligence behind them as he regarded the pair kneeling in the filth before him. He was wearing a wooden crown set with gold coins, and was sitting on a wooden throne crudely inlaid with silver and copper. On either side of the throne stood two towering Kur warriors, well over seven feet tall, who appeared to be either runelords or berserkers, and who were certainly the king’s personal bodyguard. Itcherat whispered to Simon, “His name is Volgar Madeyes.” One of the runners from before was standing near the chief, and pointed to Itcherat, saying something in the Kur language. Chief Volgar barked at Itcherat, who replied in kind. There was a flurry of barking and growls around the throne, which was suddenly silenced at a snap from the chief. Itcherat told Simon, “I have been accepted as Rann-izil, which means “bloody tongue”, or translator.” Chief Volgar rose from his throne, pointed at Simon and said in slavetongue, “Why you come here?” Simon said, “I wish to end the blood feud,” and threw the necklace of ears to the Kur chieftain, who caught it easily. The chief sat back on his throne, and pulled an ear off the necklace, popping it into his mouth with great delight, and drooling in anticipation of the next one. (Human ears are a delicacy for the Kur). “Your gift is acceptable,” said the chieftain as he finished off the last of the ears. “You must prove your worth. You must pass through Gim-bark-la, or ‘Fire of Change’.” Itcherat told Simon quickly, “Gim was an ancient warrior who petitioned the mad gods to make him a Kur. They gave him three impossible tests of speed, bravery, and strength.” To Chief Volgar, Itcherat said, “My friend here has other companions, we would like for them to join him here for the test.” With much barking and snarling, it was finally agreed that Itcherat would be allowed to bring the rest of the party through the gauntlet to join in the test.

Once the rest of the party arrived in the camp, the chief looked the team up and down. “First test is race, choose your champions”. Itcherat explained to the party that they would be matched against the tribe’s strongest and fastest members, and they would have to race to find a totem hidden several miles away. Sabotaging the other team would be acceptable, as would fighting them outright. Simon, Trish, Walac, and Lasheur all decided to compete in this event. Once the chief was told of the decision, he laughed and called for his champions. Each of the Kur champions stepped out of the crowd when their name was called. Bolog Fastjack had the legs of a jack rabbit, Durba Onehop had the legs of a grasshopper, Amog the Many Footed had the body and feet of a centipede with the head of a Kur and Gargash the Tall strode from the crowd to stand next to his companions at over nine feet tall, with legs like stilts. The chief stood and led the procession to the location of the first test, a large canyon system. He sat on a small camp stool and motioned to the herald to announce the race. The canyon walls had begun to line with Kur that were looking forward to eating the humans after they were beaten by the Kur champions. The champions were at the starting line, both Kur and human, and the herald started the race with a bestial howl. Durba shot into the air on his grasshopper’s legs, and when he landed a good distance away, began running and gathering himself for another jump. Bolog also leapt into the air, though not so high or far as Durba, and ran, following closely behind. Amog scurried away from the starting line at top speed, and the rest of the runners began their race with a more traditional start. Even with his long, stilt-like legs, Gargash the tall wasn’t putting distance on the humans as fast as his brethren. That wound up being his undoing, as Simon leapt towards him just inside the canyon, cutting him down with a vicious combination from his katana and fighting claw. The two jumpers began to jump up and run across the tops of the canyons, gaining precious distance on the human runners. Simon leapt into the air and went effortlessly up the canyon walls, touching down only lightly on the tops of the canyon by virtue of his Bandar training. As Simon gained on Bolog, Trish and Walac ran down Amog, and with a vicious swipe of her two swords, Trish took the Kur head from the centipede’s body. Trish, Walac and Lasheur continued to run through the canyon with as much speed as they could. Meanwhile, Simon caught up with Bolog and cut him down with ease. Durba was still far away, but Simon began to close on him, finally catching him and killing him almost instantly in a whirlwind of steel. A howl went up from Chief Volgar, and he demanded that four more warriors enter the race. Four more Kur warriors ran into the canyon after the runners. As Simon made it to the end portion of the course, word had spread of the demise of the Kur champions. The crowd lined around the canyon barked, snarled, and howled with distain, all the while raining filth and rocks down on Simon. One particularly well aimed rock, larger than the others, struck Simon a stinging blow to the head, sending blood running from his scalp into his eyes, and stunning him briefly. He took cover as best he could and wrapped the wound up while waiting for his companions. Walac and Trish had outdistanced Lasheur, and he was overtaken by one of the new warriors from behind. Trish, hearing the commotion from behind her, turned and saw Lasheur in trouble, fighting one of the Kur, with three more coming up close behind. She turned and ran back to help Lasheur while telling Walac to find and help Simon if possible. Trish arrived back to help Lasheur just as a second warrior ran up, who she cut down with two short, brutal chops of her blades. Walac came around a corner in the canyon and saw Simon almost at the end of the race, where a flag had been placed at the end of a box canyon. As Simon neared the completion mark, Walac could see Kur descending on ropes, well armored Kur who would outnumber Simon five to one! Trish killed the second Kur as it took a wild swing at Lasheur, and stood to catch her breath as Lasheur readied his bow. The last two Kur came around the corner and one was rewarded with an arrow in its face, which killed it instantly. As the second attempted to lunge at Lasheur, Trish stepped forward and cut him in half with a scissor cut from her two blades. Another roar came from the chief, sending flecks of foam flying from the edges of his mouth as he sent four more warriors into the race. Itcherat pleaded with him about the unfairness of sending so many, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Simon was surrounded by the Kur at the end of the canyon as Walac arrived, even though he had already killed one. Due to his small size, the Kur had not noticed him approach and Walac used that to his advantage. “Always watch your back,” thought Walac as he slid his rapier into the spine of the Kur in front of him, severing it and piercing upwards into its heart. Simon killed one of the Kur closest to the one that Walac killed when the body fell into the way of its swing, giving him the opening he needed to slice through with his katana and take its head. Now aware that they were in a fair fight, the two kur that were left began to fight with more care. Trish and Lasheur made it around the corner and saw the fight occurring near the race end flag and put on a burst of speed. Once Trish engaged with one of the two remaining Kur, Walac began to frantically search for the hidden totem, well aware that the race would not be over until it was found and returned. Trish and Simon finished off the last of the Kur warriors and began to help Walac search. After a few minutes, Walac discovered an area of disturbed dirt halfway up the cliff wall. A few minutes of digging revealed a stone skull that was so big and heavy that it took both Trish and Simon to lift and carry it, and then they could only walk with it. They began to walk with the skull and as they got to where Lasheur was at, the last four warriors dispatched into the race came around the corner. Lasheur took one down with a well placed arrow, while Trish and Simon put the skull on the ground and prepared to defend it. Lasheur shot another arrow into the throat of a Kur, as Trish and Simon stepped forward and killed the two remaining warriors. Picking the skull up, the party made it the rest of the way back to the beginning of the race with their prize, winning the first contest, much to the displeasure of Chief Volgar.

Looking intently at the party, Chief Volgar said, “You survive first challenge, but you not survive next challenge. No armor, no weapons. Go kill enemy of Kur, take head of beast and bring back. Choose champions.” Since it was unarmed combat, the party decided that Simon was the one to go. He was best at unarmed combat, and hardest to hit, even without armor, because of his training. “Take Walac with you, though, he’s hard to spot, and he can use these rings.” Trish took the rings that linked her and Lasheur, allowing them to share luck back and forth when it was needed, and gave them to Simon and Walac. “Take them to caves, General Gnawbone know what to do.” That said, the chief turned his back on the party and headed back to the camp. While they were getting ready, Walac hid his rapier in Simon’s bag, “Just in case we need it”, he thought to himself. Simon and Walac followed their guards to a cavern not far from where the race had been held. There was a detachment of Kur outside the cave, and there were numerous Kur bodies on the ground in front of the cave. Simon moved in, and Walac followed him, trying to be as quiet as possible. As they got further into the cave, the path continued straight, but there was a branching off to the right. Simon caught movement out of the corner of his eye and jumped across the opening. As he moved, an arrow clattered off the wall behind where he had been standing and he heard scurrying sounds in the darkness. “Greetings, enemy of the Kur”, shouted Simon, but the darkness was still and quiet. As he stood quietly, he saw motion again, and saw a very large scorpion’s body, with the torso and head of a man. He also saw Walac starting to sneak down the corridor towards the scorpion, but realized due to the angle that Walac wouldn’t be able to see him until he was right up on the creature. Simon ran forward and attacked the creature, breaking its legs and carapace, and finally jumping on its back and snapping its neck like a twig. Picking up the rusty scimitar the creature was carrying, he cut the head from the body and with Walac headed back to the encampment. “Not bad for humans,” said General Gnawbone under his breath to himself as he saw the pair emerge with the scorpionman’s head even as the crowd standing outside groaned.

Back in front of Chief Volgar, Simon presented the head of the scorpionman to him, much to the amazement of the chieftain. Standing without a word, Volgar stalked off, motioning for the guards to follow with the prisoners. After a brief walk, the party was at the mouth of a canyon which had been made into an arena. This arena had been used many times, as evidenced by the amount of blood that covered the floor of the natural amphitheater. At the far end was a large pit, whose purpose was unclear. In the middle of the arena stood an enormous cyclops, much larger than the normal ones seen around the camp, and it held an uprooted tree in its hands. The creature would beat the ground and bellow as he awaited the chance to tear apart yet another victim. Itcherat told Simon, “The chief is furious that you haven’t been killed yet. It wouldn’t be against the rules for all of you to go in and fight it, but it might give him enough of an excuse to declare the contest void. He has to play by the rules to a certain extent, because this is a holy event, revered by his people, and even he can’t change the custom.” “Beat our champion, human. Choose your champions,” growled Chief Volgar. Simon and Trish decided that it would be enough for them to go into battle, and have Walac and Simon hold onto the luck rings. Kur had lined the seating around the arena and were jeering the humans while cheering their champion. Trish and Simon walked forward into the ring. Simon took a shield potion, and Trish cast protection on herself. The cyclops cast a spell on himself that caused him to glow briefly, and stepped forward to meet his enemies. Simon took a swipe at the cyclops, but was short as he and Trish both dodged when the tree swept in a giant arc towards them. Trish ran in and threw her shoulder into the cyclops, throwing it off balance, while Simon cut it with his katana. Trish took a step back and executed a double slice with her blades, causing it to drop to one knee. Simon then severed the muscles of its other leg, causing it to fall towards him. As it fell, he danced forward, his katana cutting a bright red line across the neck of the cyclops. Simon jumped back as the cyclops’ head fell back and his lifeblood began to pour out of his neck, staining the floor an even brighter red than it was before. After a stunned moment of silence, the arena burst into activity as Kur began shouting amongst themselves. Chief Volgar drew his sword and began to move towards the champions, but his bodyguard stepped in front of him. A brief argument ensued, where the chief pointed angrily at the party and his guard shook their heads at him. When the chief tried to go around them, the guard fell upon him, killing him instantly. After it sunk in that whoever survived would be the next chief, the guards began to fight amongst themselves, as the crowd of Kur in the arena began to fight amongst themselves as well. “We need to leave now,” said Itcherat, leading the party out of the canyon and back to their horses, and the miners who were guiding them through the mountains. The party mounted up and rode as hard as they could away from the Kur encampment, finally making it through the mountains as night fell. They would camp that night on the plains, having officially left the Thicket behind.

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Farewell to Tessen's Folly
Leaving the mines and finding the kur

Duke Wesgrove, the noble that accompanied Edderick to the mines, orders the mine sealed forever and the miners in the camp move to execute his wishes. Within a day the mine is collapsed and sealed. Valmour begins walking the long road to redemption by supervising the closure of the mines insuring that reaching the chamber of bones would be the work of decades by and army of miners. Edderick places strong glyphs and wardings about the entrance and warnings in earthspeech and slavetongue are etched onto wooden signs.

The job finished, the group returns to the mining camp where the miners gather up their meager belongings and bid farewell to each other amidst much back slapping and hand shaking. These are men that lead a hard life and their sense of brotherhood is one of their few joys. Two of the miners, Maras and Hanric, have decided that they will accompany the party across the Stonerims into the Kingdom of Broadshoulders in search of work on the other side of the mountain range. You are glad to have them as they have intimate knowledge of the mountain passes in this region.

Duke Wesgrove has his men at arms lead Valmour away in chains as he bids farewell to to the party. “Your bravery and heroic deeds have done a great service for the Duchy of Glenlar warriors. You will always be welcome here. Safe journeys to you and may your god walk with you.” Wesgrove and his men ride off with Valmour in chains, stooped in his saddle muttering, “It was my last chance. There was nothing left.” He is a man shaken to his core and broken by defeat.

Master Edderick lingers to discuss matters with the party. "Eibon, the Sinooth priest you defeated, kept a detailed journal. The cult and its chaotic allies have been looking for the prophet’s tomb for over a century. This talk of sorcerer priests simply heaps another mystery upon the pile of lost journeyman arts. Can you imagine it? A man that is both servant and master of the elements. It would leave a normal man’s mind unhinged. "

“I will study the documents you have recovered more closely in the coming days and send word to Ard with what I find. One thing is certain, these villians were taking orders from the Palace of Lost Hope. Thier greasy hands are all over this act as a piece in the dark ritual to establish the 6th element. They are well organized, too well organized for my comfort. This failure will set them back years, a bold strike for the forces of order. One last question, you traveled to Velu while you were adventurign inthe Thicket. Did you ever come across an artifact called the Ring of Velu?”

You tell him of the bitter dying words of Lord Igmar’s lazuri bodyguard, "“Ha! You think you have won! You may have taken this day. You may even drive us from the Thicket, but the war is already lost. For we still hold the Ring of Velu and with it we smash Thenga Velu and burn this realm to ash.” You also relate how the sorcery masters had no knowledge of this relic and were planning to research it in the Vaults of Eman. Edderick strokes his naked chin and muses thoughtfully, “What is the nature of this enchantment that it insipres so many to risk so much? There is a great mystery here, I pray that Emancia unravels this complex knot.”

“Enough talk. It is time that we both were off to other matters. Before you go lady Trish, your god and I wish to tank you for takign on this quest and convincing such powerful allies to join our cause. I prayed to Artol last night for guidance on the nature of your reward. Artol came to me and said that you needed a sword worthy of an angel of death. I asked him where I woudl find such a blade and he said simply, ‘Give her yours.’ While a bit surpised, I see the wisdom in his advice. However, you will not leave you master unarmed initiate, so I propose a trade. Your berserking scimitar for my runesword, Oblivion

Though uneducated, illiterate and a bit clueless at times, Trish knows a good bargain when she hears it. “Yes my master, if it is Artol’s will, I would be a fool to ignore it.” You unbelt the stout scimitar that you have seen as both blessing and curse and hand it over to Edderick as he does the same. His sword is light and strong and hums with energy. You strap it on as he mounts his horse and calls back to you. “Watch for my word at the Artol temple in Ard. May death watch over you and come swiftly to your enemies.” In a cloud of dust his massive black charger departs and he is gone.

Maras and Hanric trot up and with packs and picks and a pair of donkeys in tow. “Well masters, we had best be on our way while we still have daylight. There are some empty caves higher up that would provide a warm dry place to spend the night.” You agree and mount up taking to the well worn trail that winds past the mining camp up into the Stonerim mountains. Hours later, with Kala’s fiery chariot returning to its stable within the great volcano Atan Scalsur, the party sets up camp in the caves that appear to have been the overnight home of many a traveler. Maras and Hanric have a fire going in minutes as Lasheur walks in with a brace of the abundant rabbits that populate these hills. “Look what I found,” he says as he drops the rabbits by the fire. As he steps aside another figure comes into view that it takes you a minute to recognize. “Itch!” shouts Walac a s he bounds upon his shoulder.

“Easy little one, you’ll pull a muscle.” Walac settles down and you can’t help but notice that Itch’s easy smile has been replaced by melencholy and sadness. “I have found them Simon. Their camp is but 10 marks from here. We can be there tomorrow.”

View
Mines Finale

Having completed their search of the room, the party moved to the opening to the north of the sea of bones. Walac headed down the corridor to scout. He noticed what appeared to be a small barricade made out of bones and rubble about halfway down the long, natural stone passage. As he tried to figure out the purpose of the barricade, he saw two figures dressed in miner’s garb poke their heads up to look down the corridor. Almost immediately afterwards, arrows whizzed towards Walac, missing him, but causing him to retreat back down the tunnel. He advised the rest of the party about the blockade of the passage. Simon borrowed a teleport matrix from Lasheur, and moving into the mouth of the tunnel activated it, appearing behind the two startled initiates. In a whirlwind of action, Simon cut down both of the initiates almost effortlessly, ending their attempt to guard the hallway. As he looked around behind the barricade, there was a grinding noise on either side of the hallway as stone doors slid down, revealing hidden alcoves. Out of the alcoves stepped two large skeletal creatures, one on either side of the barricade, and they were each flanked by two burning skulls, rising ominously into the air. Zelnos and Talacir cast turn undead spells at the skeletal apparitions, and all four of the flaming skulls exploded into burning shards of bone, but the humanoid creatures were unscathed. The skeleton behind the barricade lunged towards Simon, missing him with his flailing limbs. The skeleton closest to the rest of the party lumbered forward, and attacked Zelnos, stunning him with a well placed arm to the head. Walac, Agmor, and Annalor all attacked the skeleton, without any noticeable effect. Simon lashed out with his katana and fighting claw, knocking the creature in front of him to bits, which fell to the ground with a sound like a bundle of firewood. Trish connected solidly with the remaining creature, which fell apart as an arrow launched from Lasheur’s bow sent it back to the darkness from which it came. A search of the initiates revealed that each of them had a tattoo on their chest, of a circle with two horns inside, which denoted them as initiates of Sinooth. Turning their attention to the alcoves that housed the skeletons, the party discovered a small trove of treasure that had been buried in the tombs with the creatures. There were necklaces, rings and jewels, but the party’s attention was most captured by three items that were obviously of magical origin, a fine chainmail hauberk, and two rings. Agmor determined that one of the rings was a ring of pain resistance, and the other ring had air and motion runes on it, showing that it had the power of teleportation. “There may be other properties to this ring, though,” cautioned Agmor, “and I cannot determine what they might be.” Trish was given the chainmail hauberk, as it was obviously in better condition than the plate that she was currently wearing, and Walac was given the ring of pain resistance, since as the party scout, he wound up on the front lines more often than a respectable burglar probably ought to. Simon took the teleportation ring, because the matrix he had borrowed from Lasheur had proved extremely useful during the last encounter. The rest of the treasure was distributed amongst the party for division once their current adventure was over (or as it might be needed to provide for the needs of the party in the meantime).

Walac completed his scouting of the tunnel, coming out to a large chasm at the end. There was a trestle cutting across from west to east and the cavern continued to the north. Walac looked at the maps of the lower levels and said excitedly, “If I’m reading this correctly, this is the end of the line to the east! Let me check the area to the north out first, though to make sure there aren’t any surprises waiting.” As he went to the north, Simon grabbed a rope and went running up the wall to secure the eastern ledge for the rest of the party. As Walac passed under the trestle, a hissing sound was the first indication that he was in trouble. Two worms came out of the darkness, tentacles waving as they tried to catch Walac. At the same time, Simon landed just beyond the trestle and was attacked by two worms from the darkness of the cavern, their attacks missing as he spun like a dervish on the narrow ledge. Trish rushed forward, blades slashing and ended the life of one of the worms menacing Walac, as the Lir slashed ineffectually at the second one. Agmor floated up to the ledge to assist Simon just as he split one open with his fighting claw, spilling its guts on the ground and ending its foul existence. Lasheur began to climb the trestle in an attempt to help his friend, slowly making his way up the forty foot structure. Trish leapt forward and cut down the worm Walac was engaging. As it hit the ground, Walac saw another worm emerge from the darkness, and he thrust at it with his rapier, impaling it. Trish used the fact that it was immobile to her advantage and swept the head from the worm in a single slash. With a quick move, the worm Simon was fighting managed to get one of its tentacles wrapped around his arm, but quick as lightning, Simon snapped his arm backwards, flinging the worm over the edge and ripping its tentacle from its face as it fell. Lasheur made it to the top of the trestle and seeing that Simon had dispatched all of the worms from the area, he began looking at the trestle. He noticed that some of the beams on the trestle had been intentionally damaged in such a way that anyone who went across them would cause it to fall underneath them. With a sigh, Lasheur began to climb back down the trestle, as it was clearly too dangerous to try and cross over from this point. With the battles over, Simon tied off the rope he had brought up with him and the rest of the party made it up to the cavern. A quick search revealed that this abandoned dig site was indeed the “end of the line” as the only exit was over the trestle to the west. “With the trestle damaged, the best thing we can do is to take some of these spare iron tracks and lay them across the damaged portion of the rail That should give it enough stability for us to make it across,” said Simon. The party quickly moved the rails into position, and began to cross. As he made his way across, Talacir slipped on the rail, and began to fall. Seldia attempted to steady him, but lost his balance and fell through as well. Talacir hit heavily injuring himself, but Seldia managed to land on a soft pile of dirt at the bottom. Annalor was lowered down on a rope to heal Talacir to make his recovery to the trestle easier. With the party once again on the trestle, Simon took the lead, heading to the west. As he moved across, only his training and quick reflexes saved him as the portion of the trestle he was walking across gave way. With a mighty leap, he made it to the other side without injury as the twisted metal and rotten wood hit the floor below. The rest of the party jumped across the chasm with little incident, although most of them had to be caught on the other side and hauled up by Simon, lacking the grace of Bandar. Once again on solid ground, the tracks ran both to the north and the southeast, and the decision for which way to go once again fell on Walac’s shoulders. “According to the map this area to the north shouldn’t be here, so let’s go this way,” reasoned Walac. He went a short way up the northern passage and as the passage opened out into a larger, rubble strewn cavern, he could see that he was in trouble. Miners rushed forward with their pickaxes raised, “Defilers!” shouted the one closest to Walac as he hit him a glancing blow in the midsection. With the wind knocked out of him, Walac was quickly surrounded by the miners, who tried to hit him, but with his small size and speedy nature, Walac somehow managed to avoid all of their attacks. Trish ran to aid Walac, cutting down the closest miner as she arrived to help. In a now all too familiar scene, a greasy black smoke rose from the mouth and nose of the dead miner. Rushing forward, Gimrik slashed over Walac’s head, wounding the miner who was about to swing his pick at Walac, driving him back. Lasheur took a shot, and suddenly an arrow sprouted from the face of the miner Gimrik had hit, killing him instantly, and causing smoke to pour out into the melee. Walac lashed out with his rapier, taking another miner in the throat, killing it, and as suddenly as it began, all of the attacking miners lay dead on the floor in front of them. From the darkness ahead, there came a guttural howling, and the sound of scraping stone. As the party moved forward, they could see a wall of rubble blocking the passage ahead, with aging mine machinery crushed beneath it. Before the wall, misshapen creatures were clawing at the stones, howling as they tried to tear their way through. At irregular intervals, pulses of black light flared through holes in the wall of rubble, knocking the twisted ones back. “What is that black fire,” asked Simon. Agmor replied, “I’m not sure, but perhaps it is madness magic. The followers of Sinooth prefer the use of chaos and madness in their spells.” As Gimrik and Talacir engaged and killed the last of the misshapen miners, Simon threw a poison grenade through some of the rubble to the other side, and was almost instantly rewarded with the sound of coughing and gagging. Simon, Trish, Walac and Lasheur quickly drank shielding potions, and pushed through the rubble to the other side. As they fell into the room, they could see two initiates nearest to the rubble, and there were three priests near the far wall. Seeing Simon and the others come into the room, the priest in the middle reached behind him and pulled a head from the pouch at his waist. The head’s eyes darted this way and that, and its mouth moved in a silent scream. The two other priests touched the head, and with a flash, the three sank beneath the ground. “A tunneling spell,” shouted Simon to the others. Trish stepped forward, and easily cut down the initiate closest to her. Simon turned to dispatch the remaining initiate, and as he did so, he saw the head dangling at the belt of the man. The head of a humanoid cat, a Fel – his adopted people, stared at him from the initiate’s belt with its eyes wide. Something within Simon snapped, and he went berserk. He killed the initiate with ease, but continued to chop and hack at the initiate’s dead body with a fury and speed that was truly terrible to behold. Behind them, Trish heard Zelnor cry, “They’ve gotten into a mine cart, they’re getting away!” Unable to help or calm Simon, Trish and Walac ran back to the main cavern, just in time to see the mine cart disappear into the distance. “There’s another here, we can chase them”, shouted Walac, and with that, Walac leapt into the “driver’s seat” of the mine cart. Lasheur, Trish, and Zelnos jumped in after giving it a push to start, and Agmor floated along beside as the cart began to pick up speed. Within a short amount of time, the other cart came into view, and the priest, who had been going slowly for safety since he did not anticipate being followed, quit riding the brake and began to pick up speed. A bright flash of light went off next to the cart, as Agmor cast a sever spirit spell, instantly killing the priest driving the cart. The priest slumped forward, falling onto the brake and one of the lesser priests moved him out of the way to try and take control of the now runaway cart. As they headed around a curve, Walac managed to pilot the party’s cart closer to the priest’s cart. Lasheur took a shot, and an arrow sprouted between the shoulder blades of the priest in the back of the cart. Zelnos tried a shot, but his aim was not as true, and his arrow stood quivering from the side of the cart as they raced into the inky blackness. As the carts inched closer, Trish stood suddenly and leapt forward into the other cart. Hearing a thud behind him, the last remaining priest stood, and pulled a long haired, grey bearded human head from one of his many pouches. He held the head up, speaking strange and unwholesome words, and suddenly a dark energy flew from the eyes of the head hitting Trish squarely, and she screamed as the wave of pain took her. Agmor cast a recovery spell on Trish to prevent her wounds from overcoming her, but though she was standing, her sanity had fled with the pain. Her face a grimacing skull of pain and bloodlust, Trish stepped forward and executed a double slash with her swords that sent the headhunter priest’s own head spinning to the floor of the cart. Her hair streaming out behind her, Trish began to laugh maniacally as the body hit the floor of the cart. Walac, realizing that all of their enemies were dead, began to slow down his cart to keep it from going off the rails, but Trish’s cart continued to pick up speed. He watched in horror as it came up on two wheels, and Trish threw herself against the side of the cart, still laughing crazily, causing it to come back down with a crash on the rails. Walac’s blood ran cold as he saw his friend suddenly come out of her berserk state and realize that the cart was speeding towards a section of trestle that had fallen. Trish grabbed the brake of the cart, but it was too late, she screamed as the cart was swallowed by the darkness beneath the trestle. Minutes later, the party came to the bottom of the cavern and found Trish’s broken body, barely breathing. “She got lucky,” said Agmor as he cast healing magics that began to repair Trish’s almost fatal wounds. While Trish recovered, Walac and Zelnos searched the cart and the bodies of the priests. The head of Magros was found within a silver case covered in funerary runes in the head priest’s robes, along with a journal that Agmor said had hints about the ritual they were going to try and perform on the head. “This will require further study to determine exactly what they were planning, but it’s a valuable document”, said the spirit. The priest also had a suit of obviously magical leather armor, stained blood red, and covered in runes. “These runes are odd, and I cannot determine their origin,” said Agmor. Finally, two human, one elf, and one dwarf head were recovered from the bodies, and secured so they could be taken back to the Darkness temple and laid to rest properly.

After a long hike back to the rest of the party, Trish was feeling almost like her old self again. They told the rest of the party, to include a now reasonable, but still furious Simon about what had occurred with the mine cart chase. They decided to head back to the chamber with the bone sea to replace the head, and terminate the curse in the mines. As they walked back to the entrance of the caves, Agmor told them what had to be done to lay the curse to rest. “Take the head and the rest of the bones, put them into the sarcophagus, close it, and replace the capstone, and the curse should be lifted,” said the spirit. As they approached the entrance to the cavern with the tomb, Walac said, “Wait, I hear voices ahead”. Rushing forward, the party came into the room just in time to see figures around the golden statue in the room. Getting closer, the party saw that Lord Valmour and a group of miners had managed to unhook the statue from its golden chains and were in the process of toppling it. “We’re all going to be rich, boys, just like my father said,” gloated Valmour. Before the party could interrupt, Valmour suddenly screamed. Wreathed in the acrid smoke vented from the statue’s mouth, his skin began to blister and boil. His bones warped as first him, then the others, were transformed into twisted ones by the power of the tomb’s dark curse. “Hand me the head,” shouted Walac. Agmor cast countermagic on Walac, and taking the head, he began to scramble as quickly as he could across the sea of bones while the transformation was taking place. Trish began to concentrate, and cast a consecration spell around the capstone to prevent the undead that Valmour and his men were becoming from being able to approach the area Walac needed to work. As Walac made it to the area of consecration, the transformation was complete. Eight of the miners emerged from the smoke with bone spurs jutting through their misshapen flesh. One had grotesque distended jaws and clutched a staff made of its own bones. Two had transformed to creatures of ogrelike proportions, muscles writhing beneath their skin. Valmour’s misshapen body is wreathed in the glow of purple lightning and he suddenly wheeled towards the party. With a shriek, he and the others rushed forward to attack. Simon moved forward and engaged one of the smaller skeletons, knocking it completely apart with a flurry of slashes, strikes and kicks. One of the creatures teleported and appeared suddenly with a scream and shower of magical sparks on the eastern edge of the consecration spell. It slumped to the ground, stunned by the strength of the spell, as it prevented it coming close to the capstone. Lasheur took quick aim and let an arrow fly at Valmour, but it harmlessly passed by as he came ever closer. One of the ogrelike creatures moved closer to Simon, a wave of icy cold coming before it, and a sword with blue black flames running the length of it stretched out before it. Its twin stalked closer and attacked Trish, missing with a hastily swung sword. Gimrik moved into the cold and engaged the creature, missing it with a sweep of his sword. Two skeleton creatures moved towards Walac, but in a shower of blue sparks, were kept from him by Trish’s spell. Two more skeletons moved in on Simon, hitting him and stunning him. Zelnos moved forward to assist, and was attacked as well. Valmour moved in on Simon, but wasn’t able to get close enough to hit him with the other creatures that used to be his men being so close. Walac moved forward and tied a rope to the capstone, not trusting his skill at climbing against a glass wall. As he hurried to get the knots tied securely, Trish engaged the ogre creature, hitting it hard enough for her blades to ring like a church bell. The initiates, Talacir, Seldia and Zelnos pressed in and as they moved forward, Seldia was struck full on the skull and dropped to the ground. Simon used the ring to teleport to the capstone to assist Walac (and get away from the less than tender attentions of a bunch of crazed monsters). Trish got caught across the abdomen by the flaming sword of the large bone creature in front of her. With the rope finally tied securely, and to his liking, Walac disappeared under the capstone and down the shaft to the tomb. With Simon gone, the two smaller skeletons moved forward, and knocked Zelnos to the ground, where he lay, unmoving. Valmour came around the large creature, and attacked Gimrik, but Gimrik dodged underneath his attack at the last instant. Agmor began to attack Valmour in spirit combat, attempting to possess the once human lord to try and take at least one combatant out of play. With Walac safely down the shaft, Simon ran back to assist his friends near the entrance. Arriving like an avenging angel, he cut one skeleton down with his katana, burst a second apart with his fighting claw, and knocked a third to the ground with a spinning kick. Arriving at the bottom of the shaft, Walac gathered the bones with all the speed he could, and replaced them and the skull in the sarcophagus, closing the lid with a snap. Turning, he began climbing the rope as quickly as possible. Trish slashed out against the giant skeleton in front of her, but her strength was failing, and the cold it was emanating had sapped her stamina. Annalor cast a healing spell to try and bring some of her strength back to her, but it unfortunately drew the attention of the creature, which lashed out and flung him against the floor. Sudden flashes of light came from the southern entrance to the cavern as Edderic came through with several of his acolytes. They began to strike the undead with flashes of magic, as an individual strode in behind them surveying the scene. He wore clothes that identified him as of noble blood, and he watched the battle with a detached interest from just inside the southern corridor. As Walac emerged from under the capstone, smoke began to pour from the toppled statue. With a wave of his hand, Edderic caused a wind to come up and blow the smoke away from Walac, and came forward to help him close the capstone. Agmor finally succeeded in taking possession of the creature that used to be Valmour, and he caused him to simply stand there, arms hanging by his sides. One of the last small skeletons swung forward with its weapon, dropping Talacir heavily to the ground, and beginning to advance on the small knot of remaining adventurers. With a resounding snap, the capstone fell into place, and the remaining creatures began to writhe in pain as they returned to their normal state. Once transformed, they fell to the ground unconscious. The priests began to move through the bodies and determine who could use their help. Within minutes, Zelnos and Seldia were propped up against the cavern wall, shaken, but with no permanent injuries. Unfortunately, their friends Talacir and Annalor would be dining at the table of Lord Artol this evening. As Lord Valmour and his miners regained consciousness, Edderic and the noble pulled Valmour aside and told him that he would be brought before a tribunal to answer for his actions. As the party patched themselves up, Valmour approached Simon and gave him the 4000 silver talons that he had promised him, as well as a well worn leather belt. “The belt is magical, and that is the last of my wealth. My estate and the mine are both worthless, but perhaps the magic of the belt will help to make up for the trouble I’ve caused, it will increase your strength to amazing proportions.”

View
Into The Mines Part 2

With the room clear (and the Lir’s curiosity sated), Walac resumed duties as scout for the party. He headed down the tracks to the south and soon came to where the tunnel opened into yet another room. He could see from the faint light coming from where the rest of the party was waiting on him that the room appeared to be another supply room for the miners. There were mining carts in various stages of repair, equipment, some good and some broken, and there were two pulley lifts. To the north and the south of the room, there were exits, but other than being able to see that they were both covered in grates, he couldn’t tell much about them. Satisfied that it would be safe for the rest of the party, Walac scurried back to them and gave them the all clear. Once in the room, Walac could see from the light of the lanterns and torches that the pulley on the southernmost lift was damaged, and he pointed it out to Simon. “We should check the exits, who knows what might come out from behind those grates”, said Walac. Simon checked the north passage and Walac checked the south, but nothing more was discovered except additional supplies that had been laid away for the miners. “All clear,” said Simon, “I guess we’re headed down below”. “I can climb down the shaft and scout some more,” offered Walac, “If you tie a rope around my waist you can haul me up if something bad happens!” Simon chuckled slightly at the image of the Lir being dangled into the hole like they were fishing, but agreed that it would be a safe way to check out the area below the lift. He tied a rope around Walac’s waist. He noticed the Lir’s whiskers twitching with concentration as he stood by the edge of the unbroken lift, and wondered what he was doing. “Hey, can you hear me now?” Simon gave a small start as the Lir’s voice sounded inside his head. “This spell is pretty good for staying quiet, but being able to let people know what’s going on!” chuckled the disembodied voice. Walac clambered over the side and started climbing down the rope with practiced ease. Approximately thirty feet down the rope, the depth of the darkness was starting to strain even Walac’s impressive ability to see in the dark, and he made a quick connection with Simon, “Hey, it’s pretty dark down here. Can you light a Journeyman’s candle and toss it down the other shaft to give me some light?” Moments later, he heard a slight thud and could see a dim glow coming from the bottom of the shaft. He continued down the rope until he could see out into the chamber at the bottom and take stock of the situation. As he scanned the room, Walac could see much of the same clutter of equipment that had marked most of the other rooms in the mine. There were picks and handles and supplies strewn around, and the only obvious opening to the room was to the south. As he took stock of his surroundings, his breath caught in his throat as he noticed a shape moving forward out of the edges of the room towards the candle. The first thing that he could see clearly was a great, featureless misshapen head that moved close to the candle. He could see no obvious eyes, and the head seemed to be made up mostly of a large mouth with sinister looking teeth. What appeared to be gills covered it’s long, sinewy neck and the rest of its body appeared vaguely reptilian, with thick, stumpy legs topped off with evilly curving talons. As he breathlessly watched the creature investigate the candle, Walac could make out the forms of at least two more of the creatures standing just around the edges of the room. Having seen enough, Walac began climbing back up the rope, relating what he had seen to Simon via his mindspeech spell, with Simon relaying the information to the rest of the party. As Walac made it out of the shaftway, the plan had already been developed for the fighters and the acolyte to go down on the operational lift, with Walac, Trish, Simon, and Lasheur descending on ropes dropped through the other shaft. Agmor, the Allied Spirit, would float down to the other level. Simon and Lasheur cast protection spells on themselves, and Agmor cast protection over each of the initiates, as well as Trish. With that, the party began their descent into the lower levels of the mine. As they approached the bottom, Agmor told Simon that it appeared the creatures had left the area. The climbers dropped to the floor of the room as the lift touched down, and all was quiet. With a noise that was part growl and part gurgle, two creatures rushed out of the darkness. Lasheur lifted his bow and let fly with an arrow that pierced the heart of the closest creature. Walac whipped his rapier towards a second creature, missing its neck by mere inches. Two more creatures exploded from the darkness, and as they came towards the party, an unholy humming began. It was coming from the necks of the creatures, and swelled and burst like waves on a beach, causing all of the metal equipment they had, to include armor and weapons to begin to vibrate painfully. Talacir swept his longsword through the neck of the creature nearest him, cutting its humming into a gurgling sigh as it died. Zelnos carved a long red streak along the side of the one he engaged, but didn’t manage to do much more than a superficial wound on its flank. Simon’s katana flashed in the candle light and severed a head from the body of his opponent, and he spun on his heel, killing the one Walac was engaged with by driving his fighting claw down into its brainpan. Seldia and Trish hacked the final one to pieces with their swords. As they examined the twitching bodies, it was evident that these creatures had been affected by the same curse that the miners had been under, due to the waxy melted look of their skin. The tracks that led out of the room had carts with lanterns on the front of them, enabling people riding in them to see for a considerable distance down the tracks. Walac lit one of them, and saw that the tracks went on for as far as he could see. After a brief conversation, and inspection of the cars, the party decided that it would be quicker to ride in the carts down the rails. The handbrakes were operational, so there was no reason not to ride through the mines in style!

Climbing in, three to a car, the party started the carts rolling down the tracks. The turns, hills and valleys the tracks took them on were actually quite fun for the adventurers, almost leading them to forget about their grim task in the thrill of the moment. Suddenly, up ahead on the tracks, the lantern got lost in a deepening gloom, and Simon brought the lead car to a stop, yards from the beginning of a rickety trestle bridge over a dark, foreboding chasm. Simon climbed out of the cart and looked at the bridge. “I don’t think we’ll be able to make it safely through here. Looks like we’re on foot from here on out,” he said. The party gathered up at the edge and looked at the thick pylons holding the bridge up, estimating the depth of the chasm to be about forty feet. Walac and Lasheur brought out their bows and set up on either side of the tracks, ready to let fly against anything that might rise up out of the darkness against anyone crossing the bridge. Two by two, the party went across the bridge without incident. As Talacir and Gimrik went across, there was a cracking sound under Talacir’s feet and the board he was standing on gave away, dropping him into the inky darkness below just feet from the other side. Long moments passed before Talacir’s voice could be heard, “I’m injured, and there’s something down here with me!” Gimrik threw a torch down into the crevasse, hoping he didn’t hit his fellow initiate, the light arriving just in time to see Talacir gripped by two tentacles coming from an enormous worm like creature. The other two tentacles surrounding the creature’s beaked mouth flailed wildly, trying to gain a purchase on Talacir to help draw him towards its fiendish maw. Lasheur and Walac both loosed shafts at the beast, but the arrows simply bounced off the creature’s thick, slimy hide before dropping harmlessly to the floor of the cavern. Simon, using his training, ran down the wall to confront the beast, dropping lightly to the ground before slashing out with his katana and fighting claw. The tentacles dropped free of Talacir as the worm dropped heavily to the ground, dead. “Tie this around your waist,” shouted Gimrik as he threw a rope down to Talacir. As Talacir tied the rope around his waist, more of the worms began to appear from the darkness. Zelnos and Seldia began shooting with their bows, but in their haste to fire, the arrows whistled harmlessly by the worms. Agmor cast a befuddle spell at the beast furthest away from the party, causing it to stop in its tracks and sway listlessly in place. Lasheur put a well aimed shaft into the gaping maw of one of the hideous worms, wounding it, and Walac’s shot followed it through, piercing through the roof of the beast’s mouth and into its brain, killing it, and causing a thick, fetid smoke to come out of the creature’s body. Trish began hauling on the rope to bring Talacir up, as Simon bounced up the wall back to the trestle of the bridge. Gimrik helped Trish haul Talacir over the edge of the trestle as the creatures retreated into the darkness to find prey without such sharp teeth. Annalor used his skill at healing to mend Talacir’s wounds from the fall making him just as healthy as if he had never been injured. Walac and Lasheur came across the trestle without incident, and the party continued down the tracks. After a short time, they came to another trestle over another chasm, and Simon pulled out the map of the lower levels. “This cavern has a question mark drawn in on it”, he said to the rest of the party. Just a short way from where they were at, there was also a rope ladder leading down to the floor of the cavern. Simon picked up Walac and descended down the walls as quickly as his training as a follower of Bandar allowed him. Trish came down the rope ladder with a torch and placed it down near her feet. There were two tunnels that opened out to the north. The western tunnel appeared to be unnaturally smooth and there was a pile of lumber just outside the tunnel, as if it had been boarded up before. The rest of the cavern and the tunnel to the north appeared to be rough hewn or natural formations. Suddenly, there was a motion coming from the tunnel to the east, as three humanoid shapes burst forth from the darkness with an unholy roar. Gimrik and Seldia both fired their bows at the creatures. Gimrik hit one square in the head with the shaft, dropping it to the floor. Seldia’s shot sliced open the face of another creature, but appeared to have no effect, other than the green ichor dripping from its chin. With amazing speed, the creature Gimrik killed leapt from the floor, the arrow still protruding obscenely from its forehead and rushed forward to attack Trish. “Wights,” she shouted, “These are wights! You’ll need magic or silver weapons to permanently kill these”. With that, she engaged the wight that was attacking her, sending its head bouncing along the ground, arrow still embedded, with a sweep of her runesword. Walac drew out the dragonbreath wand and activated it, sending forth a cone of fire at the two remaining creatures. The creature closest to him dodged out of the way, but the further creature’s leathery skin began to smolder as it was caught in the intense heat of the blast. Annator cast a Sharp Sword spell on Simon’s katana, making it glow with mystical energy. Simon lashed out at the creature in front of him, slashing across his ribs, as Trish stepped forward and slid her runesword through the creature’s ribcage into its undead heart. Walac triggered the wand again, starting the remaining wight smoldering once more, and Simon stepped up and drove his katana through the creature’s breastplate and out its back, killing it once again. A quick check up the eastern tunnel revealed no more enemies hiding in the darkness. While searching the bodies, Simon realized that the creature wearing miners clothing was in fact, the missing mine boss, Garig. A search of his clothing revealed a potion and ten fire opals in a belt pouch, but no clue as to how he wound up as an undead creature in his own mine. “These people were killed, and then raised again,” said Agmor as he floated over, “This is different than the miners above you told me of, and different even than the curse Gimrik was under when you brought him back. This disturbs me greatly.” He spun to speak to Walac, “As for you, my good rodent, you may wish to discontinue your use of the wand of flame you’ve been using so freely. You may be a novice, but the penalties for using magic opposed to your own element can be great indeed. Ratona would be most displeased, I think.” Taken aback, Walac stashed the wand deep into the bottom of his pack. Leaving Talacir and Zelnos to watch the area near the bridge, the rest of the party traveled up the smooth tunnel. The straight-walled tunnel opened into a huge cavern whose floor was a macabre carpet of bones. What must be the skeletal remains of thousands of creatures were strewn from wall to wall, piled so thickly that there was no sign of the real floor beneath them. In the center of the chamber rose a jet-black pedestal. On it stood a huge golden statue of a hideous demon, hunched and stooped. Gold chains as thick as a human wrist trussed the statue to the outer cavern walls by its hands and feet, while a fifth gilded chain bound the creature’s throat to the tomb’s capstone. The expression on its face seemed broken and defeated. Thin coils of sulfuric smoke vented from its nostrils and lips. Agmor and Annalor both confirm that the cavern appears to be very old, some of the bones possibly being thousands of years old, in fact. Simon drank a potion of shielding and began moving into the room as the rest of the party foundered near the entrance, trying to move across the bones, but not having the ability to move as lightly as he could. As he neared the center of the room, five eruptions occurred in the sea of bones, revealing three humanoid figures, each larger than a man, and with four arms, and two large skeletal snakes, each with the skull of a man! Simon stepped forward to the nearest humanoid and with a swift slash from his katana, the skeleton fell apart into the sea of bones. Simon felt a weird tingling sensation in his head as well as hearing a vague whisper, “Join usssss”. At the entrance of the room, Gimrik and Seldia turned to their training as initiates and both attempted to turn the undead creatures. The naga that Seldia cast his spell on began to sway uneasily. Walac decided it would be better for him to try and shoot one of the skeletons rather than try and swim in a sea of bones, and hit the one closest to him with an arrow hard enough to make the bones rattle, but not hard enough to cause them to fall apart. Meanwhile, the one nearest to Simon slashed at him with all four of its arms holding a different weapon. Simon became a whirlwind of activity as he dodged each of the attacks with a grace only a Bandar warrior could match. Running like a drunken sailor on shore leave because of the rolling, unstable bones, Trish made her way across the room and attacked one of the humanoid skeletons, battering it apart with her swords. Annalor cast Sharp Sword from the entrance of the room, causing Simon’s katana to glow once again with mystic energy. As his sword began pulsing with blue light, Simon hit the closest serpent skeleton hard enough to dislodge small shards of bones with an eerie rattling sound. Trish arrived at his side in time to batter the stunned skeleton into pieces. “Join usssss…” came the voice to Simon’s mind once again, and his eyes glazed over as he answered, “Yessss, my masssster…” He turned toward Trish with his sword raised. Seeing what had happened, both Agmor and Annalor began praying fervently to Lord Artol. “If it is your will my Lord Artol, please save the warrior so we can continue your work against the headhunters.” With the sound of a gavel hitting a judge’s podium, a voice came forth, “Agmor, I will grant your request and save this warrior of fire, but there will be a price.” said the voice contemptuously. As suddenly as it happened, Simon’s eyes cleared, and he stood for a moment, with his sword raised, blinking and wondering what had just happened. Walac and Lasheur loosed shafts simultaneously towards the remaining humanoid skeleton. The force of the arrows hitting at the same time caused the bones to fly apart as if they had been swatted away with a monstrous hand. Annalor attempted to cast a disrupt spell on the remaining snake creature, without success, but Simon and Trish took little time battering it apart with their weapons. As the party surveyed the room, Agmor floated over to the capstone and after reading the runes flew without warning into the passage hidden underneath the capstone, which was slightly askew. Upon his return, he told the party what he had found. “The inscription on the capstone reads ‘Woe to those who seek to call forth the Prophet before the time of reckoning, for they bring upon the world a plague of curses. None shall find peace until the Prophet sleeps.’” He continued, “Under the capstone is a glass walled cylindrical passage, which leads to the tomb of the prophet. There are hundreds of mystical runes etched on the glass, and I can’t read many of them. At the bottom is a black iron sarcophagus. The runes on the wall tell about the prophet, a sorcerer priest named Magros. His servants bore him to the tomb so that when the time of his prophecies came, he could be reborn and speak the wisdom of the ages and open the way to the future. His servants also placed wards on the chamber to ensure that anyone who disturbed him would be cursed, which is likely what is causing the problems here in the mine.” Agmor paused, “The worst part is that all of the bones are there in the sarcophagus, with the exception of the skull of Magros! We need to find that skull, and I can only presume that it is in the possession of the headhunters.” A further search of the room determined that there was an exit to the north, and Walac found a small suit of black leather armor inscribed with runic enchantments that was just his size.

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Into The Mines Part 1

The party awoke with the rising sun. Steeling themselves for the assault they expected from the missing miner from the night before, they traveled cautiously up the hills to the mines. Strangely, they came across no obvious signs that the missing Bert had come this way, as the path was well worn by the miners coming to and fro from their shifts. Relief and apprehension mixed as they arrived at the mine which sat like the gaping maw of a monstrous creature about to swallow them whole. Could they expect an attack within from Bert and his friends?

As they entered the mine, the thing that all noticed was the intense silence. For a mine that was supposed to be bustling with activity, there were no discernible sounds, no lights, and no people in evidence. “Eerie,” thought Walac, who had lived in tunnels all his life. Of course, the tunnels that he lived in were altogether homier and well kept than this monstrosity of a hole. Although Simon and Walac could see well in dim and dark light, the dark beyond the mine entrance was the kind of impenetrable murk that only exists in the bottoms of wells and deep under the roots of the earth. After a few minutes of rummaging through packs and looking around the entry area, a lantern, several torches, and some Journeyman candles were produced. The candles were affixed to armor and equipment by melting candle wax. Journeyman candles are almost impossible to put out by accident, and they would serve for a light source (although a poor one) if something should happen to the lantern or torches. “Here,” said Simon as he handed Walac one of the dwarven smoke grenades, “you might need this if you run into trouble”. Due to his abilities as a burglar, Walac went ahead of the party, with the light they cast from behind being almost like a searchlight to his eyes once he started down the shaft. There were iron tracks set into the floor where carts could be brought out with ore for processing. A rope was affixed to the wall to aid people coming into the mine, as the ground was very slick from recent rains. Walac wondered how many people had fallen before they installed the rope, chuckling to himself as he nimbly followed the tracks into the darkness. Shortly, he came to an area that opened out to make the tunnel very wide indeed. There were all sorts of supplies, such as helmets, pickaxes, blankets, in fact, pretty much any common item you might need for running a mine was located here. Deciding he had scouted far enough ahead of the party, he scurried back up the mine shaft to the others. “I’ve gone as far as a supply room,” he said to the others after he made his way back. “It’s safe at least that far. It’s very slick, though, and you will probably want to use the rope.” Picking their way down carefully, the party followed Walac to the supply area. Once the lights arrived, it was evident that in addition to a supply area, they were at a crossroads of sorts. There was a shaft with an iron grate on it to the west, a path to the east, and a path to the south. Being a curious Lir, Walac wandered casually over to the grate and looked at it. A sign over the grate read “Passage Ends Abruptly”. Walac reached forward and tried the latch. It opened easily, and he went inside to have a look around. A small way into the passage, there was wooden flooring, but he could see that it had given way and there was a gaping black hole in the middle. Moving cautiously to the edge, whiskers quivering, he looked over into the inky darkness. Even his vision couldn’t penetrate the blackness in the hole, and though he had a powerful urge to drop a rock (or a candle!), something in the back of his mind convinced him not to. He backed away from the edge and went back and told Simon and the others what he had seen. After a brief discussion, it came time to decide which direction to go, and the decision fell to Walac as the scout. He decided to head down the southern tunnel, because it seemed to him that it led down. As he headed down that path, he glanced up, and saw a sign that read, “Shaft B, Shaft C, Danger, Low Ceiling”. After moving quietly down the path a short way, Walac froze when a large explosion ripped through the shaft, seeming to come from the southeast. Noticing a cloud of dust heading his way, Walac grabbed a cloth from his pouch and covered his mouth and nose with it so he could breathe. “I hope there are no dust devils in this stuff,” he thought as he closed his eyes to wait for the dust to settle. Meanwhile, as the rest of the party tried to make sense of what had just happened, Simon could hear people coming running from the eastern tunnel, marked “Tunnel A”. As they came out of the tunnel at a full run, the miners stopped short and raised their picks threateningly when they saw a group of four strangers standing in their storage area. “What are you doing here?” demanded one of the miners at the front. Simon replied, “We were sent here by Lord Valmour to look for some missing miners. What just happened?” Somewhat mollified, but still wary, the miner replied, “We were working in the shaft here, opening up a tunnel when we heard that cave in. Glad to hear they’ve sent someone to look for the miners; Garig was as good a miner as there comes, but them others was city boys. No clue about mining, surprised some of them knew which end of a pick to hold. Now they are all lost.” Behind him, some of the miners were muttering as they headed up the tunnel to the exit, “Not enough money in the world to get me to work here, this place is cursed”. Simon said, “Perhaps you could take us to where the cave in might have happened, we can see if we can help.” As the remaining miners and the party started down Shaft B, a dust covered Walac scampered up and told Simon that he had heard an explosion before the rocks came down. Not far into the shaft, the group came upon a pile of rubble where the ceiling had come down, sealing off the tunnel. Simon and Walac could both hear the sounds of voices on the other side of the rubble. More disturbing, though, was the remaining timber that had shored up the roof. It had been burned, as if by a nearby explosion. “What would make burns like that”, said the miners when they were shown the damage.

After a few hours of digging, a small passageway had been opened through the tunnel, and it was discovered that none of the miners on the other side had been injured in the explosion, which was a minor miracle in itself. As they worked to finish opening it up to be large enough to get the miners out easily, Trish noticed a leather pouch with a torn strap as she lifted some debris. She opened it up, and found a notebook with writing inside. She pulled Walac aside, “I just found this, can you read it?”. Walac took the notebook, and saw that it was a bunch of weird looking runes, magical writing. As he thumbed through the notebook, a piece of paper fell out and fluttered to the ground. On it, in Earthtongue, he saw written “Our path is marked, seek the signs”. Walac took the notebook to Simon and Lasheur to see if either of them could read it. After they looked at it, they said that it appeared to be a book of prophecies, or perhaps a political treatise, from what they could make out of it. They put it into a pack until they could have a chance to study it further to see if it had any information about the headhunters. After the last of the trapped miners was brought out, the head of the rescue party asked the lead miner what had happened. “Well, I saw someone by the entrance just before it happened. It was one of them city guys,” said the lead miner, “I tell you what, though, I’m not staying here a moment longer. That one was too close for comfort, and nothing is worth all the stuff that’s been happening. I won’t come back unless Garig was to come back, and I don’t think that’s going to happen!” After a short conversation with the miners, they agree to show the party quickly through the areas they had been working in, in Shaft A and Shaft B, and help set up lights for them to move easily through the mine as they searched for the missing miners. “I reckon you should check down Shaft C, though, because we’ve been all through these other shafts. And they ain’t here for sure.” With that last bit of advice, the last of the miners trooped out of the mines towards the surface, leaving the party on their own.

Checking the map they had been given by Lord Valmour, the party decided to head down to a rectangular shaped room which appeared to have two tunnels coming out of the northern side of it. As they got to where the fork in the path was, it was obvious that the path on the eastern side of the room was going to do them no good. It appeared to have suffered a cave in at some point, and the iron tracks disappeared under tons of broken rock. When they went down the western fork, they found that an iron gate, similar to the one that prevented entrance to the area with the pit had been constructed to shut the path off. There were no warning signs, but Lasheur noticed that the sign marking it as Shaft C had the “C” recently underlined. The gate opened easily, and the party entered, deciding to stay on this side as Walac explored further into the shaft. Walac headed quietly down the tunnel, and when he reached an area where the tunnel began to angle to the east, he decided to go back to get the rest of the party. It would be impossible to go much further anyway without at least some residual light; the darkness was simply too thick. As he scurried back up the tunnel to his friends, he snagged his foot on a root. Except that he suddenly realized it wasn’t a root when the concussion from a massive explosion threw him from his feet. As he stood back up, he realized the tunnel was collapsing around him and the safest thing for him to do would be to run headlong into the unexplored portion of the tunnel. The party heard the explosion and as the tunnel started collapsing behind them, they began to run towards where Walac had been headed. Once the dust settled and everyone had been accounted for, two things became obvious; they had made it into the square room, and Gimrik was still in the tunnel. As they tried to get their bearings, the party noticed that there had been a lot of recent disturbance in this room, the tracks had been torn up and there were at least three rooms and a tunnel coming off this room. Suddenly, a man with a crazed look on his face burst from a room on the northeast of the main room. “Kill me quick, just don’t turn me into one of them!!” cried the man as he ran towards the party. After several minutes, the party manages to calm him down sufficiently to question him. As he calms down, he says, “Do you have whiskey?” When he realizes that no one has whisky he sat down sadly, “I was on crew with bossman Garig when we was sent to find the lost miners. There was a big chasm in the lower chambers, deep ones where the crawlies live. In the bottom, we found another cave with runes and skulls, bossman said it weren’t on the map. Then we came to a room full of bones. I started shaking. In the middle of the room was a huge golden demon, twenty feet tall and breathing smoke like a dragon. Then something rose out of the bones,. There was screaming everywhere, but I never looked back. Ain’t nobody got out but me.” As they began to dig the tunnel out to look for Gimrik, the party asked the miner questions, learning that the crawlies were big worms that lived in the lower levels and ate people when they could get them. They also found that he had switched the signs on the lifts, putting an out of order sign on the one that worked in a bid to keep others from going down and being eaten by “the crawlies”. Luckily, Gimrik was not far from the room entrance, a beam had fallen on him, both trapping him and keeping the falling rocks from crushing him. The damage to the tunnel was not too severe, it would be passable, if slow, but any of the falling debris could have easily killed them if it had hit them. The miner took a torch from the party and ran up the tunnel, vowing never to return. Searching the room, Simon noticed a sign on the southernmost alcove with a sign that read “Beware of Falling Rubble”, with the “E” on the end of “Beware” being underlined. He went into the alcove, and found two cases carelessly hidden under some rubble. Opening the cases, Simon found that once contained lenses and the other had pieces of a device of unknown origin and purpose. It did remind him somewhat of instruments that he had seen scholars observe the heavens with, and the notebook had drawings of stars in it, causing him to deduce that it was likely something to do with the notebook’s owner. Walac, looking into the room to the west saw a device of some sort sitting in the room, and walked in to check it out. As he got closer, he could see that it was a wheel that appeared to be used for crushing rocks and removing the ore from it prior to sending it up for further processing. Additionally, and much more disturbingly, there was a body lying on top of it, drenched in blood! He was so startled by the sight that he almost didn’t see the figures lurching out of the shadows. The creatures were wearing the same clothes as the miners, and holding picks, but they appeared to be deformed, as if they had been made out of candle wax and partially burned. Their skin seemed melted somehow, and they were hunched and shrunk. “Defiler!” shouted the closest one as he shambled out of the darkness towards Walac, pick raised high. With that, the rest of the group took up the call, “Defilers must be destroyed, they must not defile the tomb of the prophet!” Walac cried out, and dropping the cases he was examining, Simon rushed in and quickly dispatched two of the creatures near the door, one with a sweep of his katana and the other with a devastating kick that broke the creature’s neck with a loud snapping noise. Walac drew his rapier and slashed at the nearest creature, cutting it across the midsection, and causing it to cry out in pain and take an involuntary step back. Lasheur took careful aim and his arrow pierced one of the former miners between Walac and Simon in the heart. As it sank to the floor, a foul, greasy smoke issued forth from his mouth, nose and ears. Gimrik and Trish rushed into the room and lopped the heads off of two more of the foes. The head of Gimrik’s foe bounced at his feet, emitting a foul smoke that drifted up into his face. As Walac flicked his rapier, disemboweling his final foe, Gimrik’s face began to contort. He spun on his heel, slashing at Lasheur, cutting him severely from the shoulder down to his leg. “You are defiling the tomb of the prophet,” he cried, lunging forward to attack Lasheur again. Simon finished off the last miner standing, and the entire party fell on Gimrik, finally beating him into unconsciousness. “He is under a curse,” stated Trish, “The same one as the miners, but he is not himself.” They worked on staunching Lasheur’s wounds, but it was obvious he was in a sorry state. Walac checked the body on the top of the stone crusher, finding as he rolled it over that it was Bert, the missing miner from last night. A further inspection of the body revealed a pendant of a skull and a pouch. As Walac eagerly opened the pouch, he dropped it with a surprised squeak. The party turned their attention to him just in time to see a small shrunken head roll out of the pouch, eyes open and looking around in terror, mouth moving in a silent scream. Walac scooped the head back into the bag with a shudder, and began looking around at the rest of the bodies. Trish found a wealthy looking jeweled dagger and a map of the lower levels was found. “That’s odd,” said Simon. He pulled out the map given to him by Lord Valmour. “These were drawn by the same hand!” After a lengthy discussion, the party decided that it was time to leave and get reinforcements, especially healing for Lasheur and Gimrik. “Besides,” reasoned Trish, “we have actually fulfilled the terms of the quest I was given by Edderic. He said to find proof of the headhunters, and we have it. We are up against more than we can handle on our own, perhaps he can lend us some assistance on this.” As they passed through the mining camp on the way back to town, Simon stopped to have a word with Lord Valmour. When confronted with the map, he told Simon that they were both maps drawn by his father, and that he had given the map to the lower levels to Garig when he went to find the miners. Simon was not convinced, but he had no further proof to confront him with, so the party continued to town.

Upon arrival at Stockward, the party made its way to the Temple of Darkness. Once they were ushered in to see Edderic, they related the tale of their adventures thus far. “I knew of the untimely death of Salden,” said Edderic, “His spirit appeared to me on the way to serve Lord Artol and he told me of the battle with the Kur.” When Trish brought forth the shrunken head, Edderic called to have acolytes take it away. “It is good that you did nothing with it. Banishing them is tricky, and if not done correctly, will involve the vengeful spirit being released trying to kill you. Gimrik is having the curse removed from him now as well, and will join you again shortly. However, I would like for you to investigate further, and this time, perhaps remove the threat from the mines completely, if it is within your power. I will send four warriors, an acolyte, and my allied spirit with you. I have never heard of this golden demon, but I am afraid it might be a Journeyman site. If that is the case, I can only imagine the horror that would ensue if the headhunters could retrieve a Journeyman’s head for use in their foul magics.” He stood, “Do not worry about Lord Valmour. You do not have the resources to deal with him as I do. I will go to the king and get a warrant to bring Valmour in to see if he is an agent of Chaos.” With that, the party made preparations as quickly as possible, recharging spells and stocking up on equipment. Gimrik and Lasheur had both been healed, and were ready to leave along with their new companions. Heading as swiftly as possible back to the mines, the party stopped only briefly at the camp, where Lord Valmour was surprised to see they had returned, having figured the party would not have come back in the face of such stiff opposition. Arriving back at the mine, the party went back in as far as the area where they had been attacked before. “Hey, I want to check something out, be right back,” Walac called over his shoulder as he disappeared down the tracks he had seen earlier at the back of the room with the rock crusher. As he made his way to the end of the tunnel, he could see a bunch of flitting shapes in the room at the end. Just then, he saw a glow begin in the middle of the room, and start to take the shape of a spirit. Suddenly, with an unearthly shriek, the shapes began swarming out of the door directly towards him! “Oh no, blood crows,” Walac called out as he ran quickly back up the tunnel, passing the allied spirit that had followed him in. With a motion, the allied spirit cast a spell, bathing the tunnel in a wall of light, preventing the undead, vampiric crows from following after Walac. The party formed up in the rock crusher room, ready to fight the crows and spirit when the wall of light dissipated. Trish and Simon went into the tunnel to be the first line of defense against the enemy as it came. The light became fainter and fainter, finally popping out like someone snuffing a candle. With a massive fluttering of wings, the blood crows came up the tunnel. “Here goes nothing,” shouted Walac as he thrust his dragonbreath wand between Trish and Simon and triggered it. A cone of flame shot forth from the end of the wand, singing some of the crows and causing them to swirl in place as they tried to figure out what had happened. Simon rushed forward, spinning and kicking, killing many of the evil birds. Trish slashed and windmilled her swords, but only chopped a few of the birds out of the air. The ghost, clearly visible in miners clothes floated past Simon and Trish to engage the allied spirit. As the ghost floated out, Lasheur cast a Disrupt spell at it, striking it directly, causing it to shatter like a dropped pane of glass and blink out of existence. After many minutes, all of the blood crows lay on the ground, dead, and two of the fighters, Talacir and Zelnos had been slightly injured where the crows had managed to latch on to them, pecking and lapping up the blood they drew. Walac headed down to the end of the corridor and began searching the room as Annalor bound up the wounds of the injured fighters. A search of the room revealed only the mummified corpse of an adventurer. In addition to gold and jewels (about 400 Silver Talons worth!), Walac found a shirt of superb chainmail, and Keller’s Razor, which he gave to Trish.

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A Dark Day

Early in the morning, the party went to the Temple of Darkness to meet Edderic. Waiting with him were two men in their mid-twenties wearing simple tunics but with equipment that showed they had seen their share of battle, even if they were not full-fledged adventurers. Edderic introduced them as Gimrik the Grim and Salden the Sullen, and told them these were the acolytes who would accompany them on their journey to investigate the possibility of headhunters near the mine. Introductions over, Edderic said a quick blessing to Lord Artol, and bade them be on their way.

On the way out of town, Simon told Gimrik and Salden about their friends, Itcherat and Max. Gimrik looked at Trish and said, “You travel with strange companions”. “Be that as it may, they have proven their worth in battle on more than one occasion,” replied Trish. Max and Itcherat joined the party once they were a good distance from the town; after all, few towns would welcome the sight of a goblin riding a gargoyle! In the late afternoon of the day, as they were coming to the foothills of the Stonerim Mountains, Walac and Simon began to feel uneasy for no discernable reason and called a halt. “Itcherat, you and Max do some scouting and see if the path ahead is safe,” asked Simon. “Sure thing,” stated Itcherat as Max began flapping his powerful wings to gain altitude. It wasn’t long before the pair returned. “Your feeling was right,” Itcherat began, “there is a cyclops just over the crest of the hill.” A cyclops! Creatures of legend, they were rumored to be able to fire lightning bolts and use crude magic, but through the rare examples that had been taken by hunting parties, they were known to be large and powerful creatures of Chaos. As the party debated their next course of action, a hissing sound began coming towards them; an ambush! Arrows were flying from the south side of the road and javelins from the north. Simon was hit a glancing blow from a javelin as it skittered past, clattering to a stop on the road beside him. Lasheur luckily shifted when he turned towards the source of the noise, causing the javelin to stick in the ground behind him, quivering. Their first flights spent, a group of varl and kur came bounding out of the woods toward the party, the larger kur coming from the north and the varl swarming out of the woods to the south and down the road from the east, yipping with excitement. Trish rushed forward to the nearest varl, her sword neatly passing through the mangy creatures midsection, killing it. Max flew towards the larger kur to the north, cleanly killing a kur Lasheur had injured with a swiftly fired arrow. Itcherat calmly dispatched another with an arrow through the eye socket from the harness where he sat on his friend’s back. With an enormous crash, the cyclops burst through the stand of trees and rushed forward, with a kur berserker following closely behind. The berserker leapt towards Simon frothing and sputtering, and hot arcs of red blood stood out on Simon’s chest where he barely avoided the strikes. At the same time, the cyclops swung his club made of an uprooted tree, simultaneously stepping on a varl that got too close and stunning Trish with a glancing blow from one of the roots as it passed by, trailing clumps of dirt behind it. Lasheur loosed a flurry of arrows northward towards the other kur berserker as it came out of the woods, ending its life with a well placed arrow which neatly severed its windpipe. Simon spun around, slashing at the kur berserker he was engaged with, scoring deep cuts with his katana and his fighting claw, driving the kur backwards. Gimrik and Walac rushed northward to join Max and Itcherat against the kur warriors who were still pouring out of the brush, with Gimrik neatly running through the closest warrior to him with his sword. Max fought desperately against the two kur warriors who had joined with him, with his claws and wings creating a seemingly impenetrable barrier against them. As he swiped at the one on his left, the warrior on his right slipped in, and drove his javelin straight upward into Max’s stony heart. With a final roar of defiance, Max fell to the ground, lifeless. Itcherat rolled out of the harness, and screamed, “No, no, no, NO!!! Salar, don’t let this be!!! Not Max!!!”. With tears beginning to stream from his eyes, he fought to defend himself from the kur who killed his oldest friend while praying for Salar to intervene on his behalf. Salar, who had been watching the battle, turned his face silently from the carnage below, knowing that the gargoyle’s fate had been sealed. To Itcherat’s left, Gimrik killed another kur, as his friend Salden continued firing arrows into the fray. Abandoning his bow, Salden rushed forward to the nearest kur brandishing his sword and singing a war chant. With a swift chop, the kur’s head separated neatly from his body, spinning away down the road. Itcherat missed cutting the kur in front of him, but managed to catch it with the flat of his blade, stunning the vile creature. The cyclops swung his club again, this time catching Trish squarely in the midsection, driving the wind out of her, and almost knocking her out. As she fought to catch her breath, she could feel her control slipping away as a red curtain slipped down across her vision, and flecks of foam began to form on the sides of her mouth. Lasheur turned towards the cyclops and aimed for the single eye set high in its forehead. The arrows slid harmlessly by the creature as it twisted this way and that, wielding its mighty club against its foes. With all of the kur warriors near him dead or dying, Walac ran to help his friend slicing his rapier deep into the massive calf of the cyclops. Salden felt a sudden wrenching pain as the kur warrior, tongue lolling out of his mouth like a dog on a summer day, drove his sword up under his guard and into his stomach. Salden’s intestines fell out with a sick, wet thud and he called on Lord Artol for strength as he fell. As he hit the ground, his already sightless eyes began to glaze over with the dust of battle as the kur warrior advanced on the rest of the party. Simon dodged the repeated attacks of the kur berserker, searching for an opening. Both combatants were beginning to tire, and suddenly Simon saw his moment. Driving quickly forward, he feinted with his katana and drove the fighting claw up to the chin of the kur and into his brain, killing him instantly. With a quick snap kick to his rear, he cracked the skull of the varl approaching from behind, hoping for an easy kill. Lasheur’s arrows were rapidly beginning to pepper the face of the cyclops like the quills of a porcupine as he continued in his attempt to blind the giant. Itcherat killed one of the kur warriors in front of him, as one came in from the side and gave him a glancing blow to the head. The remaining varl, seeing how many of the kur had been killed, and how many of their own were dead, decided to run away, leaving the cyclops to deal with the adventurers. The cyclops swung his club in a giant arc, just missing Simon, and whistling harmlessly over the head of Walac. The club connected with the now berserk Trish, with her armor absorbing most of the impact as it threw her to the ground. Itcherat dispatched the last kur warrior in front of him, and dropped to his knees beside Max, sobbing. Lasheur fired another volley of arrows into the monster as Walac ran forward, slicing the tendons in the giant’s legs. The cyclops tottered, finally falling to the ground, where Walac administered the coup de grace, stabbing him in the brain through his evil eye.

The victory over the enemies was a hollow one as the party gathered around the sobbing form of the goblin, holding his friend. Night was approaching, and they had two of their own to bury. They found a spot on a nearby hill and Trish and Gimrik made all of the appropriate observances, but there was no time to grieve. The open road was no place for them to stay with enemies nearby. As the party gathered its equipment together and prepared to continue the journey to the mining camp, Itcherat told Simon, “I will not be travelling with you this evening. I would like the time to spend grieving for my friend. There is no way for you to know how much I have lost here today with his death. I will return to you, though, because I swear to you that I will help you in your quest against the kur. They now owe me a debt, and I’ll be with you to help you make them pay…in blood.” With that, the goblin headed back to the cairn that covered his friend’s remains. Before they left, Simon took Salden’s horse to Itcherat. “This will help you to travel, when you are ready”. It was a somber party that left towards the mining camp.

During the ride, they looked over the items they had acquired from the search of the bodies. There was a wand with a dragons head on it that they determined was a dragon’s breath wand, as well as two rings marked with fate runes which allow the people wearing it to assist each other in battle. Trish and Lasheur were given the rings and Walac was given the wand. Various other potions and baubles were put with the party’s equipment store for such time as they might be useful. As they approached the area where the camp was located, the camp guards challenged them. Learning of the party’s mission, the guards welcomed them with open arms and led them into the camp just as night was falling. A runner had been sent ahead to tell Lord Valmour of the party’s arrival and mission, and he greeted the party as enthusiastically as his men had. “Welcome, welcome to my camp…Please, let us take care of your beasts, and I’ll tell you what I can of our situation, and perhaps you can tell me how you can help”. Leading the party into the center of the camp (and the largest tent), he stepped inside and bade the group make themselves comfortable. “Now, my men tell me you’ve come to help us with our….situation here, is that correct?” Simon nodded, “Yes, it is. We had heard rumors of spirits in the mine, and as adventurers, we were interested in helping…for a fee, of course” “Of course, of course, these things do take money, don’t they,” chuckled Valmour, “I presume four thousand silver talons would be enough to keep you interested?” He continued, “As for what has been going on, I can only thank the Gods that you’ve come. Several days ago, I lost an entire crew in the lower mine, but have since found no trace of their fate. The rescue party that went in after them vanished in the same way, with no sign found of attack or natural disaster. They are good men, most with families, and many of the other miners now refuse to enter the shafts for fear of what befell both crews; I need your help!” He pulled out a ragged sheet of parchment with a crudely drawn map on it. “You should meet with the two crews I have there who are in the upper level of the mine, here. They were among the last people to see the missing miners. The ‘X’ on the map shows where the missing men were last seen. The mines are about 10 miles from here, but the path is clearly marked, if somewhat treacherous going in the dark.” With a flourish, Lord Valmour rolled the map into a tube and presented it to Simon, “Now, if you’d be so good, I do have some further camp business to attend to this evening before I can turn in. If there are no questions, please join the men at the campfires for some food, before you head to the mines tomorrow.”

The party headed out to the campfires for food, and a little careful questioning of the miners. They soon determined that the mines were clearly marked for safety, since new crews were always being hired, and it didn’t pay to keep paying blood debts out to families of miners killed by falling into an unmarked hole. Attacks by goblins were one thing, but workplace accidents were something else altogether! Many of the men who had been lost belonged to a group of men who had been recently hired. They were a strange group, and mostly kept to themselves. There were also a considerable number of the new folks on the crew that went in after the first, led by mine boss Garig. Some sections of the mines were marked off because of creatures (such as blood crows), but generally, as long as you didn’t go into the marked off areas, the mine was as safe as any mine could be. One theme that continued to be brought up throughout the evening was the fact that it seemed odd that the work hadn’t been mining. For the most part, the miners were searching through the caverns as if looking for something Lord Valmour knew was there… Armed with this information, Simon decided to confront Lord Valmour about his suspicions. “I can’t afford to work for someone who is trying to keep things from me, Lord Valmour”, he stated bluntly. “I can understand your concern, but I can only tell you this is campfire chatter,” replied Valmour haughtily, “I am not in the business of looking for some obscure object of a miner’s fantasy, I am in the business of trying to run a copper mine. I can’t do this, however, if my men continue to disappear in this way!” As they left the Lord’s tent for the second time that evening, Walac told Simon, “Hey, someone’s missing. There were ten miners here before, there are only nine now!” Questioning the others, it was determined that a miner named “Bert” had gone to answer the call of nature. “Hey, where is that?” Walac asked, “I’ve got a powerful urge to go myself.” Walac got directions to the privy and headed out. Lasheur joined him after a short wait. They searched the area around the privy and determined that no one had been there recently. They expanded the search around the camp, and found a fresh pair of tracks…headed towards the mine. Returning to the group, they decide to wait until morning before setting out, because of how treacherous the path was reputed to be. They set a watch, but pass an uneventful night.

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Bugs, Loggers, and Stockward

The party left Sharsbridge early in the morning, in order to get Max and Itcharat out of the town without alarming the populous. Karn was deliriously happy that he had been able to spend so much time with the party (and with a gargoyle and goblin into the bargain!) and was sad to see the group go. “Please, feel free to stop by if you are in the area again,” he said, “My house is always open to you!” With this farewell, they started down the still soggy road out of town. “It was nice to be in a real lodging,” said Itcharat longingly, “Probably going to be a while before I sleep under a roof and in a real bed again”. Silence then reigned as each person moved forward with their own thoughts. Karn had advised Simon to follow the creek near the town, which would then turn into a river where they would come upon a logging camp near their next destination, a town called Stockward. This would keep the party from having to hide Max and Itcharat from other travelers, while ensuring they would come upon the town as easily and quickly as possible.

About mid-morning, Simon and Walac both began to get an uneasy feeling, like they were being watched. No one could find a reason for this feeling, but it set the hairs on the back of their necks to twitching. Max flew over some of the nearby clearings, but neither he nor Itcharat (secure in his saddle on the gargoyle’s back) could find anything amiss. Walac clambered down from the back of his pony. “I’ll do a quick bit of scouting and see if there’s anything that can be seen from the ground,” he said, as he scurried up the bank of the creek. Once on dry land, he could see that at the base of many of the trees, there were holes, as if some animal had burrowed between the roots of the trees. They were large enough that the Lir could walk upright in them, and were about three to four feet across. Walac went back to the edge of the water and called to his friends. The party dismounted and came over to where Walac was standing and looked at the burrows that he had found. Lasheur examined the ground around the burrows, “I cannot make out anything regard what might have made these burrows, except to say that whatever it was isn’t human”. “I can go in there a little ways and see if there is anything to see,” offered Walac, “It’s like a regular hallway to me and I’m the only one really suited for the job”. With that, the Lir nimbly ran into the nearest hole. Once inside, he moved several feet into the hole, then the tunnel sloped suddenly and severely down. As he looked at the drop off, he heard a scuttling noise in front of him, drawing nearer. Walac turned and ran out of the tunnel, “Something’s coming!” he shouted to his companions. Almost on cue, a giant centipede burst from the tunnel Walac had just left, speeding like a bolt from a crossbow after him. Trish, who was standing nearer to the horses saw movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned towards it, and saw more of the insects heading towards the horses! “By my ancestors!”, came Trish’s battle cry as she leapt forward to attack the centipede nearest her. Lasheur also saw the giant insects near the horses, and let loose two shots in rapid succession at the one that had gotten nearest to the horses, pinning it to the ground, dead, but still thrashing. Simon chanted a quick spell under his breath that made his sword shimmer with magic after which he used his blinding speed to hit a centipede that had rushed in under his guard between the eyes with his hilt, stunning it. Walac twisted around, drawing his rapier, and speared the one that had followed him out of the hole through the skull, jumping back as it began curling and uncurling as it died. With a couple of flaps from his massive wings, Max flew across from the clearing, missing his target with a swipe of his claws. Itcharat launched himself from his saddle, cracking one of the bugs on its head and stunning it. Simon shifted and attacked two centipedes with a spinning attack, killing one and wounding the second one. Itcharat quickly finished off the one that Simon wounded with a quick chop, cutting it into two convulsing pieces. As the party dispatched the last of the centipedes, beetles burst forth from the foliage on the other side of the creek, rushing towards the horses and Walac. Lasheur sent two more shafts at one of the beetles attacking a horse, killing it. Trish rushed forward to cut the head off a second one, slicing through its lightly armored neck. Max lashed out with his stony hands, crushing the last of the centipedes. As Walac danced around, avoiding the beetle’s pinchers, Max flew to his aid, dropping onto the back of the beetle like a stone thrown from the hand of an angry child, killing it instantly. Simon leapt into the air, and landed near the horses to join the fray with the beetles, wounding one near the edge of the water. As it spun to where he had been standing, he was already leaping into the air over it, cutting it in half as he landed. Trish finished off the last beetle by the horses, and as suddenly as it had started, the fight was over. Once everyone had caught their breath, Walac decided to venture into the burrows again. “If they attacked us like that,” he reasoned, “There might have been some less fortunate, and wealthier, folks who didn’t make it!” He traveled further into the burrow, stopping every now and again to check if there might be any more attacks about to occur, but he could hear nothing nearby. Eventually, he came upon the corpse of a large man, who was outfitted in chainmail, and had a large axe near him. Securing the axe by sliding it through the corpses moldering belt, he drug it towards the surface. Once on the surface, the body was stripped of all useful items (the two handed great axe, the chain mail (in remarkably good condition), and two potions from a belt pouch), and Trish began preparations for a burial ceremony. Walac went back into the tunnels, but this time he took a rope with him to trail out behind him as a way to find his way out. “Even as used to burrows as I am, that place is confusing!” he told the others as he knotted the ropes together. Thus secured, he went back in, coming out about twenty minutes later with the corpse of a dwarf and two halves of a rope. “Something bit clean through the rope, so I think that’s the last time I’m going in,” he said as he relieved the dwarven corpse of a rusty musket and plate mail. After burying the remains of the two unfortunate adventurers, the party set forth once again down the waterway.

A few hours later as night was beginning to fall, they came upon the logging camp the sage had told them about, hearing it before they could see it. “Sounds like a fight,” said Simon, “Itch, you and Max should stay back while we check this out". As they stepped out of the edge of the forest into a clearing, the party could see a priest standing between an obviously agitated elf and a crowd of loggers. The lumberjacks were taking turns to try and get around the priest to damage the elf, and for his part, the elf was trying to damage the lumberjacks as they got close. Seeing the party emerge from the edge of the forest, the lumberjacks calmed down a little and waited to see what the party would do. Trish stepped forward towards the loggers and asked, “What is going on here?” One logger, somewhat older than the rest stepped forward, “I’m Perry, and this here elf and his kin have been murderin’ us, far as we can tell, and we mean for him to pay. Nasty, slinking, filthy creatures!”. The man spat on the ground towards the elf as he finished his statement. “Wait just a minute,” interrupted Trish, “Keep a civil tongue in your head. One of my companions is an elf, and I won’t stand by to hear you talk about them in such a way.” The man took a step back, nervously. Another man stepped forward, “I’m Zack, the head man here, and what Perry said is fairly true. We’ve been losing men for the past few weeks; they’ve just been disappearing during the day. We reported it to Lord Borstein, who sent emissaries to the elves. There have been some problems like this in the past when we’ve gone into sacred groves by accident, but this place isn’t one.” The elf spoke up, “This is accurate. This area is not sacred to my people, and we were contacted about the problems in this area, but we are not responsible for the disappearances. In fact, I was sent here specifically to investigate what has been happening. We have no issues with these men harvesting the forest in this area.” During the conversation, darkness had finally fallen completely, and the decision was made (with the help of the priest) to wait until morning to look into the matter. In the morning, the party began scouting around the area with the elf and one of the lumberjacks for evidence of what had been happening in the area. As they scouted, both Walac and Simon kept getting whiffs of something that smelled rotten…or dead. About midmorning, as they came through the clearing, Simon noticed something sticking out from the bushes near a particularly large tree. He walked forward to get a better look, and found that it was the leg of a man. The logger stepped forward as Simon examined the body, which appeared as if it had been mummified. The body appeared to have been pierced by a spear. The logger exclaimed, “That’s Bart!! But…he was only eighteen, he looks like he’s fifty or sixty, and been here for a long time!!!” He started to back away. Nearby, the corpse of a deer was found, similarly mummified and speared. As one of the party noticed the body of a dog, the face of the elf went white with realization. “Oh no,” he said, looking around nervously, “Oh, no, no, no, NO!” Just then, the branches of the tree at the center of the bodies began to lash out at the party, attacking the logger, Simon, and Lasheur. The logger flew in the air, speared through the midsection by one of the limbs, and almost immediately, the life drained from his face, aging years in seconds. Simon was speared through the leg and could feel the limb sucking the vitality from him. Lasheur was struck through the arm and could see his flesh begin to wither. With a whimper, the logger died, and the tree threw the husk that used to be a living person to the ground. The party began to hack at the limbs of the tree, with Trish, Walac, and the elf attacking the trunk of the tree. After breaking free of the limbs that held them, Lasheur and Simon joined in hacking at the trunk of the tree until with a final quiver, its limbs ceased flailing. “We must burn this tree,” said the elf, “I have heard of them, and it is not yet dead, only dormant. They live throughout the forest, and drain the life force from creatures that pass too close. I’ve never seen one before, though, I have only heard the stories” he finished with a shudder. The party went back to the camp and enlisted the aid of the loggers in burning down the tree, as well as carting the bodies of the dead loggers back to camp. Trish and the priest got the bodies prepared for burial, which the leader of the camp assured would be sent to town with the next load of wood. “We will never forget the good you have done for us this day” said the leader of the camp as they took their leave. “Indeed,” agreed the elf, “My people too will remember this day for a long time to come”.

After arriving in the town of Stockward without incident, the party went to the inn (Max and Itcharat being sent to the outskirts of town to hide out of sight as usual). Lodging at the inn was better than usual, as the priest at the logging camp had been kind enough to write a letter of introduction for the party to the innkeeper, who was an old friend of his. After their meal, Simon and Lasheur went to the local temple to pray and recharge their spells, while Walac and Trish were left to enjoy some ale and listen to the local conversation. Walac’s whiskers were quivering with the laughter he was holding inside listening to the miners sitting at a nearby table talk about the horrors in the local copper mine. The deviltry there grew with every round of drinks, starting at goblins, and working its way up to the dragon that they now all agreed had to live at the bottom of the mine. As they sat there, Trish noticed an old man in a corner of the common room that seemed darker than the rest. As she looked, she noticed that he was watching her, which made her uncomfortable, but then he made a complex movement with his hands that revealed he was a follower of Lord Artol. She got up and made her way across the room to him and sat down on the bench across from him. “Greetings,” he said, “I am Edderic, priest of Artol. I have a problem I would like your assistance with, but first, who are you and what is your business?” “I am Trish, follower of Artol, and adventurer. I am here with friends on a quest”, replied Trish. “A quest?” said Edderic with a smile, “Excellent. That will do nicely. I will also give you a quest. A divine one”. He shifted on the bench, leaning closer to prevent his words being overheard. “A group of cultists of Sinooth has infiltrated the local copper mine. I charge you to find these cultists and report back to me. Meet me at the temple with those of your companions as will accompany you tomorrow. I will send you with two acolytes, but the mission is yours. Do not throw away their lives, or yours, vaingloriously. I will answer any questions you or your companions may have on the morrow.” Trish nodded and moved back to her table, to find that Simon and Lasheur had returned. She told the group about her mission. “These are the headhunters!!!” Simon exclaimed, “They kill you, take your head, and keep it alive by magic means to do their bidding. It couldn’t be worse than this!” Trish listened to the tales of the miners for a little bit longer before going to question them. She found that in spite of the talk of dragons and vampires that the mines had become dangerous lately. They weren’t profitable to begin with, having been sold to their original owner by a dwarf who knew that they were mostly mined out, with little real worth left. The owner now was the grandson of the original owner, and though the mines had been reopened about two years ago, it had only been in the past couple of weeks that the mines had become dangerous. Trish bought the miners a round of drinks and went back to the table to talk the mission over with her friends.

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Sharsbridge

As the party headed further towards their goal, a rain started, growing steadily worse as they went. Just as the storm built to a crescendo, Simon spotted the edge of a town in the distance. “Itch, I’m sorry to do this to you with the weather, but I don’t think you and Max would be welcomed there”, said Simon sadly. “No matter, my friend,” Itcharat replied with a shrug. “Max isn’t really bothered by the rain, and I’ve had to sleep in worse conditions without the wings of a gargoyle to provide shelter!” Leaving Max and Itcharat to make camp in a copse of trees, the rest of the party made their way up to the town. As they came closer, they could see a group of guards huddled around a small, cheerless fire next to a sign that read Sharsbridge. As they drew closer, the group of guards warily rose from their meager shelter and approached. “Ho there,” challenged one of the guards, who was larger and wore a heavier scowl than the others, “What be yer business in Sharsbridge?” Simon replied, “We are travelers on a quest, who are seeking shelter from the elements this evening. Do you perhaps have an inn hereabouts?” The other guards looked the party over as their spokesman continued, “Yer, that we do, stranger. Ye can find the Inn of the Suckling Pig within, should ye take the right hand fork within the gate. Mind ye to watch to yer manners while in our town, though, we don’t take kindly to people disturbin the peace here” As they moved into the town, Simon stated, “There are no good fights”, leaving the guards looking after them, perplexed.

As they rode down the road towards the inn, the travelers noticed that the heavy rain seemed to cast a pall over the town, keeping the streets quiet and the people indoors. The houses seemed well kept up, if not fancy, and the only thing that seemed out of place was the ruins of a building (possibly a temple or a shrine) in the northeast corner of the town; it appeared to have burned down at some point and been left to fall apart. Soon, the party came upon a building with a picture of a gigantic sow laying on its side while an equally large (and certainly grotesque) piglet suckled at its teat. “This must be the place,” thought Walac as they dismounted and stable hands took charge of their animals. Inside the inn was more cheerful than outside, and it was a relief to be out of the rain. A fire could be heard crackling and spitting in the common room to the left, and the warmth of the entryway caused their sodden clothes, already dripping on the floor, to start to steam. A skinny man wearing an apron appeared in front of them as if by magic. “Welcome, welcome, my friends. Please, come in out of the rain, and make yourself comfortable in my establishment! I am Krim, the barkeep and proprietor of this fine establishment. How may I help you this evening?” “Some food and rooms would be appreciated, barkeep, and some information as well”, began Simon, “Are there any temples nearby where travelers may worship?” “Indeed there are, my good sir, indeed there are. In fact, Sharsbridge has all of the amenities that a traveler may need. Lodging is two silver talons for your group and one silver talon for your fine animals, per night.” Krim moved towards the common room, “Please take your ease in the common room, the fire will help dry your clothes while I can arrange food for you.” The party followed him into the common room which was strangely empty for this time of day and took seats at the table closest to the fire. They began removing their cloaks and other outermost garments to allow them to dry better, as well as to let the heat from the fire penetrate the cold that the rain had brought. “The meal will take a small amount of time to prepare, but perhaps I can get you something to drink? I have many different things you may partake of except… Well, except water…” began the barkeep. “Water?” asked Simon, surprised. “Why no water?” “Well,” began the barkeep, as he leaned in towards Simon as if telling a secret, “all of the wells are poisonous. None of our local healers can figure out why. No diseases or anything, just turned bad, and anyone who drinks it becomes violently ill, and that’s a fact.” “How long ago was this?” asked Simon. “About the same time as this thrice cursed rain began falling, in actual fact.” stated Krim. “About a week ago, it started raining, out of the clear blue sky, as it were. One minute, nothing, the next minute, it was like the Gods were dumping their wash water over our heads!” Krim shook his head, “Then the rain turned weird, as if it coming up from nowhere wasn’t weird enough. It changed color and started to burn everything. Like acid it was, burning skin, crops, animals left unsheltered. Then it changed back and just kept on raining. Most unnatural. I’m worried too about the dam just up the road. With all this rain, who knows if it will hold, or wash our town right off the map!!” “That is unusual,” stated Simon, “Not to change the subject, but we noticed a burned out building on our way in to town, and were a little curious about it.” “That’s a bad business and all,” began Krim “ used to be a water shrine there, but vandals came into town and burned it down one evening. In fact, about a week or so ago, a water priest came into town to look into it. Told him it wasn’t much use poking around up there, because done is done, but he went just the same. Never came back, though…Name was Turn, if I remember correctly.” “Turn? I knew him,” exclaimed Simon. “Really? Perhaps you know where his family is? I have some of his things still in the room he rented from me,” finished Krim. “I knew him a long time ago, so wouldn’t know how to contact his family, but perhaps we could look at the things he left for a clue as to his whereabouts?” asked Simon. “Certainly, sir, after your meal would be an excellent time for that, let me get your orders and see about the food,” Krim replied.

Walac decided to check around the area for any likely targets while the others waited for their meal and discussed the events the barkeep had mentioned. Ratrona, his Goddess, (may her footsteps never be heard and her shadow never seen), would be cross with him if he couldn’t find a mark for this month, and being out in the wilderness was certainly keeping him from exercising his abilities to their fullest extent. As he wandered the streets, he saw an old man sitting on his porch and smoking a long pipe while watching the rain. Walac walked over to where he sat and before he could speak, the old man sat up and exclaimed, “My goodness, are you sir, a Lir? Please come out of the rain and speak with me a moment. Perhaps you’d like some of my pipe weed?” Walac scampered up to the porch, “No thank you sir, I don’t smoke, but I am in fact a Lir”. “As I live and breathe. And are you from the burrow in Velu, or perhaps even the New Crystalton Burrow?” queried the old man as he looked at Walac with piercingly clear eyes. “Why, yes, I am from the New Crystalton Burrow. You must be very well travelled”, exclaimed Walac. “No not me,” continued the old man, “I’m just a collector of manuscripts, a guardian of a library of lore here in Sharsbridge. I was a sage in Valu, and a teacher here in my dotage.” “Well, as a sage, have you heard of anything like the rain that has been occurring here before?” asked the Lir. The sage replied, “No, I’ve never heard of such a thing before; and I have been researching it lately, especially after the burning rains. It is quite outside my experience, and the experience of those whose writings I have access to.” “How about the temple being burned down? Any ideas on how that happened?” asked Walac. The sage stroked his beard thoughtfully, “I can only guess that there were some rogue fire worshippers in amongst the migrant workers that we hired to help with our crops. Such a shame, but I can’t imagine that it could be anyone from Sharsbridge. By the way, my name is Karn, what is yours, my diminutive friend? Do you have some time to tell me of your travels?” “My name is Walac,” replied the Lir, “Perhaps I can come back another time, as my friends are waiting on me at the inn.” “Your friends? There are more Lir in town? How extraordinary,” exclaimed the sage. “No,” laughed the Lir as he started towards the inn, “my friends aren’t Lir, they’re human, and an Elf. Perhaps we’ll have some time later on to sit and talk.” Walac ran through the rain back to the inn, and sat down just in time for a hot meal, during which he informed his friends of the information he had gained from the sage.

After dinner, Simon asked Krim about the belongings that Turn had left in his room. The barkeep led the group back into the sleeping area of the inn, where they came to a private room with a door. “I left his belongings alone until it seemed fairly certain that he wasn’t planning on coming back, Then I gathered them up and placed them on the table here,” began the barkeep, “Normally, I’d store them in the attic, on the off chance that people come back. You adventurer types are prone to go off and then come back after a year, wanting to have your things back with nary a thought of paying for the room that it took up. I just haven’t gotten around to moving this lot, with the rain and all.” Simon began to sift through the items that Turn had left behind, finding little of value, with the exception of a few scrolls. Simon rolled them out, but none of the party could make out the writing on them, or even positively identify the language. Krim showed the party to their rooms and bade them to make themselves comfortable. After the group was settled and began looking after their equipment, Simon got directions to the local temple. He set out towards the north side of town, and as he walked, he was hailed by an old man on his porch. “Well met, follower of Bandar,” the old man called. “This must be the sage Walac told us about,” thought Simon. He replied, “Hello, how are you this damp evening?” He and the sage spoke for a few minutes about Bandar, and Simon thought to ask about the tokens the party had found on the Kur that had attacked them. Karn asked to see them and studied them for a few minutes, turning them over in his hands and muttering to himself in an almost distracted way. “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you and your friends are in dire danger. You are being followed, you see,” he told Simon as he handed the totems back to him. “Well, yes, although it seems odd that they always appear ahead of us” replied Simon with a sardonic chuckle. “No, my lad, you misunderstand. It’s not the Kur that are following you. Those are spirit totems, you are being followed by ghost trackers, summoned by the Kur to help them ambush you,” said the old man sadly, “You will need to employ the services of a shaman, or else someone who can communicate with spirits to aid you in this. They can be located in major temples or sometimes as hermits, but I know of none close by.” Simon asked about nearby Journeyman portals, and finding that there were none, left to go to the temple.

Once his companions had settled down, Walac crept out of the inn to scout the town. He found a general store across the street from the inn, but decided against trying to break in there. “No sense in risking being caught for a sack of flour!” he thought. To the south of the inn, there was another building, but as he started to look around, he heard the tramp of booted feet. He hid in the bushes, and watched as a patrol of the city guard passed by. After they left, he looked again to the building he was in front of, looking through the window, and determining that the building appeared to be a money changers. He went around the entire building, finally settling on going in through the window of what appeared to be the main office. Walac concentrated and cast a silence spell on the window and on himself, then he went to work with his lockpicks, his deft Lir hands dancing like acrobats jumping around a ring, until the lock on the window sprung open soundlessly. He slid the window up, and clambered quietly through the opening into the room beyond. Once inside, he pulled the window close enough to be hard to see as open to the casual observer, and yet still open and easy to exit if the need arose. He then began to quietly search the room, checking for secret passages, or anywhere someone may have tried to hide their valuables. As he turned his attention to the desk, he noticed a fine writing set, which he placed into his sack. He noticed that one of the drawers seemed to be sticking, so he checked it, and found a scroll case underneath. Whether it had been set there purposely or not was unclear. He quickly unrolled it, and found that he could not read it, but decided to put it in his pack anyway. As a bonus, there were two flasks of whisky in the drawer, which he also took. He carefully opened the door to the office, and saw to his left the bars of the area where the money would most likely be held. Whiskers twitching at the thought of the money in the safes before him, Walac moved without a sound down the hall, stopping suddenly when he saw a shadow move across the wall behind the safes. He watched for a moment and then crept towards the bars, still unable to make out what the shadow was. Thinking quickly, Walac turned and made sure that his escape route was still clear, and gently rattled the bars in front of him. With an explosion of fury, three large, wolflike dogs sprang across the room at the bars, snarling and barking like mad. With no way around them, the Lir hastened down the hall, and closed the office door behind him. Glancing around to ensure he had left everything the way it was when he entered (minus his newfound treasures), Walac opened the window, and climbed out without a sound, closing it behind him. He could still hear the dogs barking inside, but now there was a new sound coming from the path to the south; boots crunching in the roadway. Walac ran to the corner of the building nearest the inn, saw no one coming, and slipped around the side to the front of the building, where he could be a respectable person out for an evening stroll. Behind him, the guards yelled for the dogs to quit barking. Walac went into the inn, and hid his take for the evening in the room of the missing water priest. “Wouldn’t do for a little Lir like myself to be caught with things that have gone missing from a respectable establishment like that, people might get the wrong idea,” he thought to himself as he got ready for bed.

Unsurprisingly, the party awoke to the sound of heavy rain outside; it did not appear to have lightened in the least since they went to bed the evening before. After a quick breakfast, it was decided to head to the sage with the scrolls from Turn’s room to see if he could translate them. The party had ventured only a couple of yards up the street when the rain turned to a blood red color, and began to take on a consistency similar to blood. Without warning, the puddles in the street began to churn and seconds later, two water elementals, undines, exploded into being in front of the party. Trish tried to use her possession magic to disrupt the elemental in front of her, knowing that her weapons would be useless against it. She succeeded in drawing its attention, but little else. Lasheur cast a slash spell on Simon’s blades to allow him to hit the undines. Walac used his possession magic to befuddle the undine closest to him, which caused it to stop in its tracks and stand without attacking. “Don’t attack this one, it can’t do anything” he shouted to his comrades. Meanwhile, the one that Trish attacked slapped a wet arm at her, hitting her in the head and stunning her. The limb then flowed down her face and body, trying to enter her body through her mouth, nose and ears, withdrawing its pseudopod from her when Simon slashed through it with his enchanted weapons. As the creature turned to face Simon, Lasheur unleashed a disruption blast, which blew it into tiny droplets. The party could hear the sounds of combat elsewhere in the town as the city guard dispatched the other creatures that had appeared. Karn was happy to receive the adventurers and was overjoyed at the prospect of chatting with a Lir and Elf into the bargain. “Chance of a lifetime to chat with adventurers like you. I’ll be happy to help you in whatever way I can, provided you’d be willing to sit down with me afterwards and tell me of your adventures, and of the Battle of Summerford that Simon mentioned last night,” beamed the sage. Simon showed Karn the scrolls from Turn’s room, which Karn promptly unrolled and began to read. An increasingly alarmed look came over his face. “It appears that Turn was on a mission,” he stated as he rolled the scrolls back up, “He was following a vision of Uarnuth the Seer, who saw an atrocity committed against the elements here in Sharsbridge. He was under orders of the high priest of New Crystalton to see if action should be taken against the community. Oh dear, this is quite serious, especially as the priest is now missing! You should go to the ruins and see if you can find any trace of the priest.”

The party left the house of the sage with a promise to return as soon as they found anything, and directed their feet to the ruins of the water temple, which was looking increasingly ominous in light of the recent revelations. As they searched around the ruins, Walac kicked something which clattered out onto the cobblestones in front of him. Stooping down, he noticed a rusty dagger, which he picked up and showed his friends. As they looked at the dagger, Lasheur stated, “Look on the pommel; I recognize that mark, but I cannot place it.” A voice came from behind them, “I think you had better be leaving, strangers. This isn’t a place to be wandering about without permission.” The party turned to see a group of the city guards that had come up on them while they were searching. “We were just leaving,” said Simon. Back in Karn’s house, Walac handed the dagger they had found to the sage. The sage’s eyes grew wide, “This…This can’t be! This is the mark of the city guard on the pommel.” He looked around, and then quickly drew the shades to his windows. “Quickly, come with me to the back room. I have a spell that I haven’t cast in a long time…” The party followed him into the back room, where he began to draw a magic circle on the floor. When he finished, he placed the dagger into the middle and began to pray. As he prayed, the dagger began to glow; then without warning, it shot up into the air and floated in the middle of the circle at about waist high on a large man. Then a vision formed that everyone in the room could see. It showed the dagger sitting in a sheath in the belt of a large man; then the vision expanded to show the man sneaking up behind another man wearing blue robes. “Kestrel, the captain of the guards,” whispered Karn. The vision then showed Kestrel draw his dagger and stab the man in blue robes in the back. The man crumpled to the ground, and Kestrel directed some of the guard to pick up the body, which is then carried off. The vision blurred and then showed the body being carried through the woods to a cabin where the men, laughing, throw the priest’s body onto a pyre then light it. A light rain begins to fall, growing in strength as the vision fades out to show a different scene. As the vision comes back into focus, the rain is falling harder, and the men are gathering the bones up out of the pyre, taking them away as the vision fades to black. The dagger falls to the floor in the middle of the room with a clatter, startling everyone in the room. “What villainy is this that one of our town should do such a thing? I always knew Kestrel for a fire fanatic, but this…this is beyond all thought!” exclaimed Karn, “You must find the bones and give them a proper burial, because surely this is the cause of this cursed rain and all that has happened recently. Kestrel has a house in town, and I have heard that he has a hunting lodge in the woods. I would go to the lodge to see if you can find any clues to where these remains may be.”

Back in the inn, the party discusses what they should do. “Surely this is something the town brought on themselves,” said Simon, “We don’t need to get involved.” Trish looked at him sternly and said, “As a follower of Artol, I am duty bound to ensure that Turn gets a decent burial. I’ll do this with or without you, because I cannot let it be.” Thus decided, the party then rode out to tell Max and Itcharat about what had happened. As they were leaving, Walac sneaked into Turn’s room and recovered his hidden treasure from the night before, as well as taking all the money he could find, about five silver talons worth, in the goods of the priest. “Well, if he’s dead, he’s not going to need this anymore,” he thought to himself. A quick trip out of the town and the party were reunited with their goblin and gargoyle friends. Simon told them of all that they had learned in town and asked if Max could do some scouting for the cabin. “No problem, be good to stretch,” stated the gargoyle as he took off with a leap. During the next few hours, the party discussed various plans, with the most likely one being for Walac to attempt to break into Kestrel’s house if they couldn’t find the hunting lodge before nightfall. Max returned shortly, however, and told them of finding a cabin that he thought was the one they were looking for. The group followed Max to a clearing, where they could see a small path leading to a cabin that looked exactly like the one in the vision. Dismounting, they started moving towards the cabin, and both Simon and Walac began to get uneasy, increasing their caution. Suddenly, movement caught Simon’s eye, and he shouted, “Ambush”. The party could now see small groups of tough looking men moving towards them with bows drawn. Trish ran forward to the nearest, which was to her left. With a neat slice, her scimitar sliced completely through the midsection of the thug, causing him to fall over into two pieces. Not to be outdone, Simon rushed the thug who was next to the one Trish killed and severed his head from his body, an astonished look forever frozen on his face. Itcharat shot at one of the thugs, missing him, but Walac putsan arrow into the eye of another one, killing him instantly. Max bellowed in his stony voice and leapt through the air, flying swiftly to engage another. As Max landed, an arrow sped forward by Itcharat sprang up in the chest of the thug to his left, stilling his heart. As he furled his wings, two arrows bounced off his stony hide, shot from thugs to his right. The rest of the battle is short and violent, with each member of the party dispatching one thug apiece, before the remaining two threw down their arms and ran into the woods.

A quick search of the bodies reveals no incriminating evidence (or real loot beyond twelve silver talons, disappointing Walac immensely). The remains of a bonfire is evident, and the door of the cabin is slightly ajar. Walac checks the door for traps and then enters the cabin warily. There are no more enemies or apparent traps, so the friends enter and begin to search. Simon finds a bundle of hides and pelts, and Trish finds some potions, and puts them in her pack. Finally, Walac says, “I’ve found the bones, they are here in the fireplace.” Trish bundles the bones up, while Simon and Itcharat pack the hides onto the pack animal. With that, they mounted up and rode towards the dam. Trish fashioned a raft of reeds plucked from the water’s edge, which she laid the bones on. Then, sprinkling water from the dam onto the bones, she asked Artol to help the spirit of Turn on towards his final rest, thereafter pushing the little raft with its grisly cargo adrift on the water. As the bones drifted towards the middle of the lake and sank, the rain, which had not slackened up to this point, immediately stopped. As they moved from the edge of the water, a mist began to form in front of the group, slowly taking the form of the murdered priest. “Thank you for your kindness, strangers. I am Turn, priest of Aguala, and I greatly appreciate you burying me. Now if I can ask for one more boon, I can rest easy. Additionally, I will give you a treasure hidden in the city as a reward. Please slay the foul captain of the guard who slew me.” Simon replied, “We would be happy to do so, and without the enticement of a reward.” At this the ghost vanished, leaving nothing but a chill spot where he had been standing.

Hours later, after telling the tale to the sage, it was decided that the best way to proceed with the plan for vengeance would be to talk to the lord of the city, Lord Marlin, rather than to confront Kestrel directly. “Besides, we have evidence in the reconstruction spell, as well as the testimony a follower of Artol to fall back on,” said Karn as he led the group to the manor house. Once inside, Karn convinced the butler that he had a message of the utmost importance for Lord Marlin. The butler leaves and comes back a few minutes later and leads them to the dining room of the house. After introductions, Trish and Simon tell the tale of the adventures they had since arriving in town. “Amazing tale, but is it true, Karn?” asked Lord Marlin. “My Lord, you have my word as to the truth of what was seen with the reconstruction spell, and the lady is an adherent of the God Artol, and therefore considered to be as true a witness as possibly available,” replied Karn. Lord Marlin considered this, and put his plate from him with a sigh, “Let us go and see what Kestrel has to say for himself, then.” Rising, he called for his servents to bring his cloak and strode towards the entryway of the house, with the party in tow. A short walk took the procession to the house of Kestrel, and people began to look out of their doorways as they passed. However, the town guard took the most notice, and fell into step behind the group, which soon came to a stop outside Kestrel’s house. Hearing the commotion, Kestrel came out and said, “To what do I owe the honor of the Lord of the town coming to my front door so late in the day?” Lord Marlin stated, “Kestrel, these strangers bring grave charges against you. They say that you murdered a water priest and are responsible for the rain we’ve experienced lately as a result of you desecrating his body. Is this true?” Kestrel laughed; a hateful, evil sound. “What if it is?” he sneered, “What are you going to do about it? I run this town, and this was no crime, it was a fitting end to an inferior man worshipping an inferior god.” Then, something happened that the townfolk who witnessed it would never forget, and would tell tales of for the rest of their lives. Simon sprang suddenly forward, seemingly from the back of the crowd, flipping through the air like a feather blown on the wind. As he landed in front of Kestrel, his sword flashed out five times as if guided by divine providence, too fast for the eye to follow. He stood up straight and watched as Kestrel’s suddenly lifeless body fell to the ground, with each limb and his neck sliced clean through, silencing his hateful laugh forever.

Later, after the party had been feasted in a now packed common room of the inn, and they were getting ready for bed, the ghost of Turn once more formed from mist. “Now is time for your reward,” he said with a smile, and led them to the ruins of the water temple. In the pool there, he showed them a hidden trap door, which contained a small box with a ring, a pendant and one hundred gold fangs. With that, he disappeared once more, with a final “thank you” floating like smoke on the wind. Back at the sage’s house, he identified the treasure the group had found (including the scroll that Walac studiously refused to answer questions about). Karn also told them that in order to rid themselves of the ghost hunters, they would have to use totems to work as a “flag of truce” to get to the Kur’s headquarters and defeat the chief, either in battle, or in a contest of some sort, but that his research into the matter had yielded little else in the way of advice on that situation. Afterwards, they sat telling of their adventures in the Thicket over the next few days as payment for the sage’s work, until they were ready to continue on their journey.

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