Noble Intentions

Teclis' Tower

The party’s first night in Brondoriand was in the wake of grief. Their hosts, Varnil and Floro of Forline had buried their son not a day before. Still, they soldiered on to give the Champions of Naphrem that which would aid them on their quest to save this land: Jambalaya. And after breakfast, the group received information as well.

The tale was a grisly one and matched much of yesterday’s overview. Here, magic reigned. Well normally, the Spellbound and a network of wizards kept the peace, but now an unstoppable pestilence had thrown them all in quite the apocalyptic tizzy. Plague burned through Brondoriand, while corpses galivanted (at a moderate pace) near Heldelion to the west. It was then the group learned of Teclis, the district’s local wizard. By the tell of the local populace, he was held in great regard by his constituents and his peers as the only one making headway against the blight. He probably has great hair and people who listen to him, too. Jerk.

That may not have been too far from the truth, for he had recently all but disappeared, locked in his tower. Not to be disturbed, they said. With the news that it had recently appeared to be abandoned, the group speculated disaster. Any progress, they reasoned, may or may not be recovered even if Teclis could not be found. Ever practical, they put Teclis’s Tower on their itinerary, notionally aimed at liberating any and all useful items from any and all dried, deep fried corpses that possessed them first. Sigh. Adventurers. They make me so proud.

And hey, if they found the cure that could save the locals, even better. The group set out quickly, that afternoon. There were a few shops open to barter, but the Champions of Naphrem judged that they were not niche enough to bully.

Mere hours later, the party came upon the Tower of Teclis. It did not live up to the hype. A ruin, it was, The gate smashed open, vines on the walls with the charred signs of a recent fire. What’s more, the ground was strewn with a handful of elves who had been slain in the scuffle, some garbed in armor of the guard and some more modestly. Not the largest battle this narrator has covered, but given the circumstances, <pause> apocalyptic nonetheless. The party approached with a sense of dread and on guard.

Soon, they saw that there were survivors. More elves (not of the guard) were burying their fellows and looking apprehensively to the inside. The party’s heads filled with questions as Musushi sauntered up in the Last Stone tradition: smile on the face, weapon in the hand. The elves seemed to care little as they found great affinity with Grog, much to Musushi’s dismay and the others’ amusement. Unfame was hard, the dwarf was finding.

After a few hours of petting Grog and singing his praises (what good narrator doesn’t embellish?), the elves told their tale. The leader was Jeremiah, and the followers, a motley crew of desperate elves seeking news on a cure. What they found was anything but. They came upon the aftermath of a siege. Doing the decent thing, Jeremiah and his compatriots sought to bury the dead while a number of their party searched inside for survivors……. And possibly loot.

Sigh. Despite having so much in common, the two teams eventually came to quarrel. The elves objected to the “sit back and wait while we handle this” attitude by the new group, championed by Elythia, Musushi, and Thomas. Our noble heroes objected to their objections, citing themselves as the expert demon hunters of Odisvalk… Which the elves had never heard of. To which the team objected further!

In the end, it was Layla who proposed a compromise. Both teams would sweep the tower together. Hopefully to meet up with those elves that had been sent ahead. And so they did. Navigating through fresh battle scenes and triggered traps, the coalition of adventurers pieced together the story of recent events. The tower was assaulted and no expense was spared in its defense. Acid vats were found without and within, some still functioning. Furniture was destroyed and half used weapons and fully used bodies lined the corridors.

It was quickly appeared that Jeremiah’s band were not warriors. The recoiled from the grim aftermath of battle and, Thomas noticed, had no weapons of their own. In the midst of his looting, he turned to Jeremiah and bestowed upon him a damaged crossbow, ironically as an olive branch. The elf grimaced, but took it, feeling a little more secure. The two exchanged a solid bro-nod and both groups softened. So began an alliance that would solidify over time into an unbreakable bond of fellowship and cooperation.

I’m kidding.

Jeremiah shot Elythia in the back of the head the first chance he got. At least he tried to on a spiral staircase leading up to the top floor, right after a vat of acid dumped on Musushi and Rooke. Luckily, Elythia’s magic tiara shattered the bolt before it, well, killed her. As the team turned to beat these pasty elves into pastier paste, they were shocked to find not elves at all. Some turned in time to see the transformation into wererats! Others could only see Jeremiah’s ratified advance party charging down from the top floor.

What ensued became known as The Battle on the Stairway to Hell. The wererats attacked, slashing with razor sharp claws and teeth. Jeremiah’s attack got close enough to nearly tear Elythia’s dress, a crime for which he paid with his life when he ate a Scorching Ray at point blank range. Tourists still come to see the hole his flaming corpse made in the tower.

The battle raged on, with the group acquitting itself well. Soon, the wererats were defeated with the team’s usual efficiency. As one wererat died, it croaked out its last words: “The agents of Cyric are many.” The team was shocked. All this time and they had no idea that wererats could talk. Oh and the agents of Cyric thing. They were concerned about that too. Burdened by the warning, they pressed onward and upward.

At the top of the tower, the group found something unexpected. An elvish guard had survived the assault. Well, technically. He yet breathed, but the boils and puss on his face suggested that he was not long for this world. Musushi approached, foolishly, it turned out. Detecting movement, the guard suddenly snapped awake and remembered his suicide pact with the kitchen staff in the face of invasion. Deeming it such, he ignited a crudely made tin of alchemist fire, incinerating himself and throwing the team back.

By the time the team hoisted themselves up, the floor was ablaze. They bolted for the door. As they did so, Musushi peeled off to grab something, anything of value. Unschooled in anything elvish, he acquired a mundane sword and several 3rd degree burns. The half elves knew that anything in that room was better off burnt (Musushi included). Layla’s celestial dog ended up being the wisest as he was out the door first. Good dog.

Outrunning the flames, the party sought to quickly search the basement. As they opened the door, they saw two remaining elves. This time, no words of any kind were exchanged. Vines, crossbow bolts, and various pointed sticks met claws, tridents, and chain lightning. Thomas took a trident to the gut and was hoisted like a protest sign, but the team was once more victorious as they concentrated their fire on the big one. They eventually brought the other low with ranged attacks as he ran to collect some nearby documents.

Then the team did what they did best. They divided the gold evenly amongst themselves and Rooke claimed the trident that nearly skewered his companion. Thomas was fine with that and had as little to do with that trident as possible. Among the loot was a diary. Flipping through its pages, Layla identified the wererats’ goal. As it turned out, they had been sent by the Angel Suriel. Faced with blank stares, Layla explained that Suriel was said to be Naphrem’s right hand angel. Their mission: To recover Teclis’s research to further pursue a cure, a mission that they executed violently. The mention of Cyric’s minion membership was not so much a warning, but a final “revelation.”

Whoops.

Sensing a trend, the Champions of Naphrem thought quietly about what they did.

They continued searching.

They continued searching, but didn’t really like what they found. Most notably, Musushi found a crossbow trap behind a particularly kick-resistant door (as Rooke and Thomas found, to great pain). The bolt knocked him (literally) senseless until he was quickly revived. He had to grab something. Layla and Elythia chastized him with great amusement. Grog was nowhere to be found.

Teclis’s notes and storeroom were filled to the brim, but neatly ordered. They spoke of a concoction which was the closest he had gotten to a cure. However, the plague mutated, rendering that cure ineffective. They found Teclis himself collapsed in his office, three days into rigor mortis. Those familiar boils and puss adorned his entire body and a pestilent death stench filled the lab.

From further journals hastily retrieved from Teclis’s office (on account of the smell), it became clear that Teclis was the victim of his own audacity. The plague was evolving. Previous potions that kept the disease at bay were no longer effective, so Teclis took bold strokes to meet it. From Teclis’s scribblings, he believed he had a cure for all. He was the most wrong individual this narrator has ever seen. And I covered the Rebellion of the Gouda Moon. Instead of curing all diseases, his latest concoction infected him with all diseases. Cause of death: Military grade nightshade to end his suffering.

As the temperature started to rise due to the aforementioned raging inferno, the group was faced with the possibility of joining Teclis in fire and noped out of that faster than an orcish baking show. They bravely scooped up all the research and loot they could and bravely ran away. As they sprinted into the dusk air, they watched all evidence of their follies burn away. They were accompanied by the charred remains of Jeremiah, who had flown quite far.

Eventually, the group made their way to Heldelion, where they were ushered in by a rather chatty gatekeeper, who Elythia described as “quite dreamy” and the rest of the party described as the “Latham,” because that was his name. (This narrator still ships Rogethia).

Anyway, they followed the guard’s instructions and became aware of a sick house and tavern nearby. The party was pleased to know that these were two separate buildings. As they made their way to the place of greatest need, the group was met by an old beggar woman, doing her thang. Layla provided food and, in return, the beggar distributed mysterious coins not of legal tender. They were freshly minted iron, adorned with a fanged skull; Death’s head. They looked up from their study of the coins with questions, but by then the woman was gone.

That wasn’t weird at all, for priorities shifted. Who wanted drinks at the Seven Moons Inn? Our heroes, that’s for sure. And boy, did they deserve them…

View
Celebrations and Leaving Ovisvalk for Brondoriand

When I came to it felt like waking from a fever, only I’m stumbling down a road instead of writhing in bed. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen a good bed in ages. Straw bedrolls and halfling inns can’t compare to a proper mattress. If only we’d encountered less pressing evils, I could slip away in search of spas and concubines…I digress.

My companions seemed similarly dazed, Rooke most of all. His eyes lacked the light of comprehension, his manner still, scarcely breathing. I thought perhaps he’d been possessed again. No matter. Layla and Elythia pointed out that the halflings were no longer with us, a fact more vexing than Rooke’s spiritlessness.

We tried to remember what happened. Someone called it a “verdant dream” – was it one of the others? Our recollections were scarce. Hralf was definitely there. Demons plotting against us. The women soon convinced Musushi to attempt to “reconnect” with the dream, but his druidic fumblings came to naught.

The dwarf started bleating about beer and taverns. We all blathered similar notions before setting off in the vaguely familiar direction of the halfling village.
Rooke followed, dimly.

The walk was surprisingly pleasant. The sky was certainly clearer. Approaching the village I could see the burned stockhouse being rebuilt, the halflings milling around town with purpose.
Until we were spotted.

A halfling child pointed and before I knew it, we all had more little ones hanging off each leg. Adults soon joined the gleeful throng, with bewildering applause. Thankfully that confusion didn’t last too long – one of the elder halflings stepped forward and offered a welcome. His explanation of the atmosphere only sparked more confusion.
Apparently Hralf had been skipping around town for about ten days, literally singing our praises (if somewhat twisted, and strangely rat-centric) to the entire town. How? The halfling could not answer our questions, but told us we were just in time for a celebration in our honor…so there was that.

We stuck to our tavern goal and whiled away some time. Layla broke out a mead barrel she’d been carrying, only for Musushi to stifle the nascent merriment with some ill-judged yapping, as usual. After a time Hralf arrived and yet again answers came with bemusement in tow. Hralf told us he’d woken up in some grave nearby, alone, having missed both the divine and sinister portions of our “dream”. He knew nothing of the fates of Scala or Gerda, and seemed rather unconcerned. Such may be it for our halfling walking companions. So it goes.

As part of the festivities, the halflings were to hold a boar riding contest. Ever brash, Musushi enrolled; the more enlightened of us think better of the wasted effort. Rooke hardly seemed capable of offering a thought either way.

We had time to fill until then. A round of provisioning started with Vari the bead merchant. Fora modest fee of 5 gold she appraised a blue gem I received from Scala to be worth 400 gold; I snatched at the chance to come out 395 gold ahead. Layla’s baubles suffered lower appraisals, but Elythia’s drew actual ire. Scala had given her some sort of pearl that seemed to contain a figure with it. The sight of it horrified Vari, who through terrified tremors demanded we leave.
The runaway princess had other ideas. She greedily pressed the shaken old woman for details, probably miffed that a commoner dare reproach one of
belongings. In desperation, Vari told us that the pearl contained a stolen soul and begged us to leave with it. We obliged. Layla tried to detect evil within the pearl, but could not read anything inherently evil about the pearl; the soul inside was beyond her reach, however.

After, I looked through the wares of the local blacksmith and came away disappointed with the heft of halfling weapons. Unearned haughtiness shone through the blacksmith’s way with apprentice and customer alike, but my words knocked him down a peg. I agreed to have him alter a lovely, ornate, but practical, buckler for my purposes, only 270 gold.

Lastly we haggled with the potion seller, but the lazy sod hadn’t whipped up any new health potions since we last saw him. Musushi contrived to buy a poison and its antidote. The latter is just as well, as for all his victories he always seems to teeter on the edge of calamity.

Before the boar riding contest the was some fuss about a play being prepared by the halfling children. Layla was christened “troll killer” but the rest of us fared rather poorly, in favour of the dwarf’s damned rat. The rat’s “smelly sidekick” reacted with typical bluster. Elythia despaired about which child might be playing her, seemingly desiring a portrayal fit for a princess, rather than whatever she is now. Pride may be her downfall. My pride mightn’t appreciate my own low place in the tale, but discretion demands I let my bravery go unheralded.

The boar riding seemed farcical and thus Musushi was in his element. We were charged 10 gold to watch, and I took 2/1 odds for Musushi to win (100 gold) and 3/2 odds for a mount of more than 20 seconds (25 gold). Naturally, he won doing something he wasn’t supposed to, but which wasn’t expressly disallowed. After surviving the mad scrum at the start, he got his hand on a hog’s tail but couldn’t gather it in. Cue his druid roots called up to entangle the boar, and hold it in place. The halfling competitors tried to take their own advantage, but Musushi’s cheat won him the day and me more gold. He has his uses. I just pray that I’m long gone when his tongue writes the inevitable promissory note that his exploits can’t cash.

A great feast followed, and the children put on the play they’d prepared. Elythia identified the child playing her, and made a point of prettying her up. I drank my way through it with equal parts amusement and bemusement, as did Layla and Musushi. Rooke, as he had virtually since the we came out of the “dream”, sat practically catatonic.

The party was forcefully pooped a couple hours in, however, by the rude entrance of Estalian goldcloaks. A why was quick in coming, or at least as quickly as a man round as he is tall can move. This rotund debt collector had come to enumerate Odisvalk’s ancestral debts. Musushi threw a petulant cabbage, and he and I approached His Corpulence and cohort, but the big man was undeterred from the reading of his massive scroll.
Hralf suggested we let it go and leave. Apparently the halflings are no strangers to these debt collectors. I took to considering my cups, but Layla took to one of the goldcloaks. She chatted to the fellow, amiably enough. She found that Estalia was calling in their debts, but with view only to themselves, not any particular threat. We probably won’t need to head there, at least not soon.

For where we will go, we decide on Brondoriand. It seems many halflings have been heading there in hope of better times, since supplies are running low after the stockhouse fire. I thought to squeeze some useful reward out of Hralf or the other elder, but nothing is offered. I suppose they’ll have to cede much to the Estalians.

We left the litany of leverage and found the crew at the trading post. An ornery Crosby tells us they’ve bought some furs, finally, and they’re all three itching to leave. A sickly Stenwall agreed to take us to Brondoriand if we crewed his ship, so we have both passage and destination. One hopes a change of scenery will do the captain good, allow him to get some rest. We novice shipmates will need steady leadership.

Walking back to the hall, Musushi and I considered the possibility of ransacking the Estalian ship, but Layla put her foot down. A overcautious little goody-goody that one, but useful.
I picked up my buckler, and we spoke with Hralf one last time. He wouldn’t be convinced to join our trip south, so we said our goodbyes. As we left, we passed a pile of gold and assorted offerings to the Estalians. The debt collector was still reciting his debtor’s litany, his goldcloaks were dozing on their feet, so all that spotted me pilfering a couple of small pouches was the disapproving gaze of Layla Larroque. When we got out of the hall she set off in a huff, as I found myself 500 gold richer and in possession of a small wand and flute. I considered offering her the wand to head off a lecture.

The voyage has been uneventful, and even with our crewing duties we can get a touch of rest and relative leisure. Land and likely life threatening danger beckons.

~~~~~~~~~

Land – fishing village. Buildings of rotten wood, frayed rope.

Approached elves digging a grave.
Varnil, male – missing eye, boils on face, no teeth.
Floro, female – healthy enough.
Burying their son.

They need medicine and healing services. Layla saw similar conditions back in Gemoor, so she has gone off with the couple, to help Varnil and presumably others. The rest of us have retired to the ship.

Varnil recounted a tale from traveling merchants he had met in Heldelion. They had traveled past farms further west of there, and claimed to have seen walking corpses, withered crops, etc. The Spellbound, employees of the wizard colleges, took the merchants away but not before they’d spilled the beans to Varnil and his friend McKeed. Mckeed may be worth talking to if Varnil is incapacitated.
Note also that the local wizard, Teclis, has been absent without reason for a few weeks. He may have gone “for one of the spiral towers”, one of which, if I understand correctly, may be in Heldelion.

Heldelion and its westerly farms seem to be our next target. McKeed and Teclis may be worth seeking out, if possible. I recall a lovely elven magistrate that might be worth seeking out as well, though I forget where exactly she resides. Whether she happens to be in Heldelion or not, I think we can get something out of the wizards councils. As I recall from court, they weren’t particularly shrewd negotiators.

If only we could take the ship inland. Rest while we have it.

View
Ahmdemos and The Odisfount

Scalla
-—————-
The night after the agents of Naphrem’s famed Battle on the Ice was full of nightmares, and not just for the usual reasons. Reeling from the legendary carnage of the battle and the effective loss of the House of Bearclaw, several of the adventurers had really scary dreams. The star of the show: A beast-like malevolence, chasing, seeking; and carrying a promise of doom in its wake. It found glee in fulfilling its aim: Submerging its cloven hooves in a shallow pool of water. Layla, Musushi, and Rooke all received this vision, and were startled awake.

They described these dreams to Skalla (less eloquently than a certain narrator, in my humble opinion), who confirmed the likeness to be that of Ahmdemos, Servant of Cyric, Corrupter of Halflings, and general asshole through time and space.

The druid then described the situation over a delightful breakfast of his famed tree-paste-leaf-dumplings, a delicacy so legendary it was never spoken of again. The nightmares had plagued all in Odisvalk, seemingly much more than had been affecting the adventurers. Some magical influence on themselves or their persons. A few gazes turned awkwardly to the Heart Stone, but Skalla did not seem to notice. Moving on to the matter at hand, he described his fellow druid. Halfrad was his name and, while he remained skeptical as a follower of Obad-Hai, personal honor and a personal debt bade him assist the Openhanded. Besides, what former traveling companion could resist a chance at an “I told you so?” He was sent ahead to guard the World Well. They would meet him soon.

Skalla then opened the floor to answer a flurry of questions, mostly from Musushi regarding the nature of Druids (starting with “what is a druid”). Scalla responded with a summary of Druidic orders, emphasizing their preference for the roads less traveled and distributed nature. Upon hearing the Druidish language escape Musushi’s lips (to everyone’s surprise, including Musushi), Skalla responded in kind. To those who knew the dwarf best, he appeared to have liked what he heard.

When bidden to appraise the Heart Stone, Scalla revealed little in the way of its use, but much in the way of its nature. Entirely new to him, if not for the energy with which it pulsed. A match to the very fabric of nature and the cosmos; And as old as them, too. Eons reside in this magical stone: An essence of the distant past and distant future; all there was and will ever be; as far reaching as time itself.

I’m paraphrasing.

Left reeling from metaphysics, the party reverted to the things they knew best. The first being the acquisition of material goods. After much scrutiny, the party identified a minor healing potion for Layla and an intact potion of mysterious origin for Rooke. Thomas picked up a flask of acid, which came with a promise of gleeful violence.

Second, battle plans to make sure that the ensuing violence would not be gleeful for the enemy. They secured safe haven for their wounded comrade, Gerda. Luckily for her, the party (championed by Layla and Thomas) successfully vetoed Musushi’s desire for a decoy and disregard for lives that aren’t his, citing such things as responsibility and decency. The group also made a willing ally of Hralf, the last Nightmare Seeker standing, for the demon slaying crew. Finally, the group learned of a potential weakness in Ahmdemos. It was a familiar failing that has plauged ne’er-do-wells dating back to Gobsmack the Unwashed Heathen: A penchant for monologuing.


backstories
-—————-
Their (torrent of) questions answered, the party made to set out. But their zeal was arrested by a suddenly inquisitive Skalla. A traveler at heart, the hardened druid yearned for tales of distant lands, which the party provided. Musushi recounted the tale of oppression and revenge from Last Stone, the glorious collection of shacks where he came of age. Rooke told the history of his ancient home of Lantan, now named Estalia (and in great need of financial debts repaid, as they learned in Gemor) and his generational feud with Cyric himself, the overlord of the Nine. Layla and Elythia’s stories were more personal, one common-born, the other from riches, but both seeking reunion with past loved ones. Thomas spoke of his flight from his nation’s capital, armed with skills honed on the battlefield and in court.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my eons as a narrator, it’s that a team that communicates is team that conquers™. Unfortunately, much of these stories were news among the travelers themselves: A clear sign of the group’s overall failure to communicate early on. So there’s that. Skalla got a kick out of them, though.


approaching the world well
-—————-
With a druidic shudder, the feel-goods ended as Scalla detected a growth in demonic power. Ahmdemos was near his goal. It was now or never. The adventurers set out into the Winding Wood. On the way to the Odisfount, the conscripts, Hralf, and Skalla were met with their first physical obstacle. A great creature, the Northworm, had carved a ravine in the very earth itself. Skalla and (surprisingly) Musushi both sensed the fear and panic that drove the ancient worm to flight. In any case, several schemes were hatched to cross the rift, leading in part to the discovery of rope, peddled from Captain Stenwall. Also included were dirty looks from Skalla as Thomas made to chop down a tree. Eventually, Layla sent up her owl, revealing a natural bridge of trees and crossed.


ahmdemos and halfrad
-—————-
From there, the journey was smooth walking, though a sense of dread grew stronger as the team grew closer to the Odisfount. Fog fell on the area, as though a physical manifestation of the feeling. Caution and paranoia were at an all time high as the crew crept closer and sent out Layla’s owl and Grog as scouts. Sweeping forward, the team utilized their carefully honed skills of stealth, slipping undetected from tree to stone. Their technique was masterful, disturbing no leaf or snowflake, in a legendary display of I’m just kidding, Musushi tripped on bacteria and gave their position away.

Ahmdemos had been perfectly content standing at an alter, cobbled together in a demonic ritual, as though pulled from the evilest parts of nature. But his head snapped to the sound of newcomers. And there stood the terror: The shaggy beast that had come to the party’s nighmares. Cloven hooved and massive, his long arms ended in claws like spikes. And the arrogance. The temptation to gloat and taunt the party overpowered the need to continue whatever he was doing and he spread his arms wide to “welcome” those who would cancel his mission. From a distance, the party lobbed spells, projectiles, and conjured weapons at the demon, all of which were dissipated on impact or nullified by the demon’s magic. This did not help with the taunting. Ahmdemos had reached the next level of insulting. He bade the party part with Naphrem and join his ranks! All in the party, seldom of a single mind on any one issue, shuddered and recoiled.

But Skalla was distracted. As the group drew closer, Ahmdemos revealed his interrupted work. Strapped to the alter lay none other than Halfrad, the druid indebted to Skalla. Or rather, what was left of him. He had died painfully, his face contorted in an agonized scream, vacant eyes staring upward at the moon he held so dear. But as Ahmdemos gloated, he also completed the ritual. The corpse formerly known as Halfrad began to stir. Then transform. Then stood. In the place of Halfrad stood a demonic boar, towering over even Ahmdemos. An animalistic cry of anguish escaped Skalla as he witnessed his friend of decades become a deadly mockery of natural creation. With that, he faced the charging foe to meet in single combat. As the duel of the druids shook the Earth, another climax burned itself into the annals of Odisvalk forever.


battle
-—————-
It began with a ruse. The party closed the distance under the guise of submission; their ploy to envelop Ahmdemos in the power of the Heart Stone. It worked. Ahmdemos scarcely noticed the power of the Heart Stone, engrossed as he was in his monologue. Amateur. In range, the party proceeded to unleash their full might on the demon. Magic missles rained from Elythia’s outstretched hands. Holy light poured forth from Layla’s shield to burn the evil off the terror of Odisvalk. Thomas sent arrows raining into his shaggy, ugly mug. Vines from the Earth, summoned by Musushi, kept Ahmdemos rooted for a time. Rooke unleashed crossbow bolts, an axe, and wheels of cheese at the mighty foe. All the while, Hralf belted out an epic song, much like

to lift the team’s spirits and fighting ability.

This formidible fighting force was well matched. One of Cyric’s Nine would not fall lightly. When faced with Ahmdemos, one takes note first of a stench, size, and arrogance only an equally grotesque mother could love. They would be forgiven to overlook his speed. Ahmdemos ran circles around the party, at one point, leaping to nearly squish poor Hralf and silence his song. Everyone’s a critic. Not even Musushi’s entanglement could contain the beast for long. In fact, Ahmdemos was crafty and entered Musushi’s mind for a time. Amidst noodle recipes and thoughts of general dissatisfaction with his situation, Ahmdemos pushed blind loyalty to him into Musushi’s mind. The dwarf barely stayed his spoon before it came crashing down into Rooke’s head.

Fighting was fierce. Ahmdemos wounded many in the party, but Hralf got the worst of it. However, under a sustained barrage of magical harm and projectiles, the once quick demon began to slow. Seeing their chance, Layla and Musushi enacted a move. They passed the Heart Stone to Grog and sent him to the Odisfount itself. To seal it, enable some weapon, but mostly to see what would happen with the most expendable I mean fastest member of the team. It was at this very moment that Ahmdemos was slain by a magic missle, was pulled cursing into oblivion, and Grog the Rat entered the annals of history.

With jaws tightly clamped on the Heart Stone, Grog skampered toward the Odisfount. His cargo then grew warm and began to glow as Ahmdemos hurled obsenities and downright lyrical portents of doom to no one in particular (He clearly had prepared his death speech well in advance). Soon, “warm” became “hot” and “glow” became “blaze with the light of a thousand suns.” The bright light from the Heart Stone, with the dire rat attached began to float and turn toward the prone demon. The last thing that Ahmdemos saw this side of the void was a frantic dire rat, eyes wide in panic, squeaking obsenities and deranged questions of his own before him. Ancient light poured forth from the Heart Stone and amidst demon screams, washed over Ahmdemos. When the light faded and the demonic smoke was scattered in eight directions, Ahmdemos, the scourge of Odisvalk, corruptor of House Mead Barrel, and general asshat was no more. And the sun shone once again in Odisvalk.


Skalla’s Walk
-—————
Skalla approached the group with an air of melancholy. While the rest of the group celebrated the death of an unquestionable evil, the wandering druid’s victory against his foe also came with the loss of an old friend; for they were one and the same. He said a prayer as the group swept the area to see what they could recover.


loot
-—————-
Well, to the victors go the spoils. And Naphrem’s chosen were big damn victors today. Rooke gathered a bone white shoulder guard from the fallen Halfrad (and hoped Skalla didn’t notice (he did)). Thomas recovered a small blue gem from the alter, which he pocketed for later bartering or addition to his luchadore mask. Elythia gathered a fistful of strange herbs and an urn, which she decided was pretty enough to keep. Layla claimed a small stone rock statue of Cyric himself. Perhaps it even kept some of his soul (if he had one) as it appeared to follow Layla, as though acquainting itself with it’s new owner. Layla noped out of that faster than a half-orc at a halfling limbo contest. The statue showed no emotion as it’s “life” ended beneath her boot. Musushi was less concerned with the arcane with regards to a book of notes from that same alter. Despite being assaulted by physical pain upon attempting to read it (multiple times), he contemplated keeping the book to draw out its knowledge. In the end, he followed Layla’s example and burned the old rag.

What happened next surprised everyone. Darkness was pulled into the firelight and in place of both lay a small egg. But this egg was adorned with the symbol of Ahmdemos. The party identified it as the Eye of Terror, a magical stone that reinforced its bearer’s mental fortitude. This, they decided to keep. At this point, it passed to Elythia’s posession.


Skalla’s Other Walk
-————————
Just then, Skalla finished his prayer and regarded the team as they gathered round. To conclude their business, he bade them step into the extra-physical dimension and number one Druidic vacation spot: The Verdant Dream. As they stepped into the gateway orb that Skalla brandished, the world as they knew it peeled away. What appeared was beyond mortal comprehension. Stars. Worlds and worlds and worlds of stars and the planets and bodies and people around them. Throughout time. All there was and ever will be. All part of a singular grand design, marching forth to the beat of one unerring drummer.

Suddenly, the group was met with a towering figure, impossibly large. It was a woman, sitting upon a unicorn. She radiated light, which expanded through the cosmos. She was herself, yet everywhere. It seemed, that she wished for the adventurers to be elsewhere. The universe spun as the team was pulled away to a distant land as quickly as they had arrived.

It was the mortal realm, though they were not in it. A dark, fire lit cavern. A forge it was. A lithe figure bent over an anvil, deep in thought as bullets of sweat fell off her brow. She was muscled and weathered, the type not to be easily phased. Even as a smokey apparition adorned in robes winked into existence, she did not stir. The apparition spoke familiarly. He told of the death of Ahmdemos; and together the two criticized their fallen companion, confirming their membership to Cyric’s Nine. However, they also insisted on their differences to that arrogant and overeager blowhard. Yet they were quick to criticize each other as well. The forge mistress sent barbs at the apparition, Xasu Avar, citing the same recklessness seen in their fallen brother. Too quick to be modifying the dwarves, she claimed. Her modus operandi was one of stealth, to fade into the night as the job is done. Xasu Avar labeled this claim from his sister Aleoth with the slap of hypocrisy. Her work with the Orcs has not gone unnoticed, he fired back. In fact, the Orc bodies with bones removed were very noticed.

Suddenly, the siblings halted their quarrel to meet a common foe (typical). The group, derisively called Naphrem’s Welps, had been noticed. Amidst threats that they would meet the same fate as champions sent by the angel Inarius, the connection to the Verdant Dream was severed and the group returned to their reality. There was much gleaned from the conversation that they overheard, and much to decide. That also meant much to forget about over jugs of ale in a night of celebration in town. The group congratulated themselves! And tried to shake the feeling that the worst was yet to come…

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The Winding Wood
A Page from the Journal of Layla Larroque

Another day ends, another pair of dead compatriots. We saw a battle today more fearsome than anything I could have imagined.

The Nightmare Seekers operated our ice skimmer through the night, while we slept. It was an uneasy sleep for me, with strange, unsettling dreams that I couldn’t quite recall after I woke. Rooke and Musushi seemed to sleep even worse than I.

Garthar told us the story of the Tidewalker, the Halfling that established Kholedzund and Odisvalk itself. There were said to be trolls in the time of the Tidewalker, but he and his party were supposed to have hunted and killed them all. That we came across one yesterday still seems to trouble the Halflings. I have seen a demon and walking skeletons, so I suppose I am less shocked than most would be.

The sun had barely risen when another ice skimmer emerged from the fog. It flew red sails, signaling ill intent. A one-eyed Halfling, which I would learn to be Kalf the Ill Willed, stood on the prow blowing into a horn. A volley of arrows followed, killing poor Yergen, and resulting in the overturning of our skimmer. Elythia’s circlet, given to her by Naphrem, caused the arrows to snap into pieces mere inches from striking her.

Kalf’s crew set upon our scattered party. I summoned my spiritual mace, although I’m told it did no good at all. I have little recollection of the battle itself. Gerta had fallen, badly wounded, and haunted by the memory of White Lock I set all my attention to stabilizing her. I was vaguely aware of the sound of arrows whizzing overhead. Thank Pelor none of them hit myself or Gerta.

I did look up to see Garthar lose an arm. Far from handicapping him, the Nightmare Seeker seemed imbued with an otherworldly strength, and charged Kalf himself. Garthar’s rage did not sustain him long, and he was cut down by Kalf.

Rooke drew the axe given to him by Naphrem and threw it at the one-eyed Halfling. There was a bright explosion upon impact, and then all that was left of Kalf the Ill Willed were his legs. The battle was quickly won after that. Musushi helped me to stabilize Gerta.
After the bloodshed ended, Hralf sang a funeral song for his fallen friends. He had not yet finished when a colorfully dressed Halfling emerged from the Winding Woods. We were wary of another aggressor, but Hralf seemed relieved, even excited to see this individual.
It was Scalla the Open-Handed, the wandering druid we have heard so much about. He knew both of our party and the evil we pursue, a demon called Ahmdemos. The Ahmdemos intends to find a World Well, something akin to the veins of the earth, and poison it with his demonic taint. We must get to the Well before the demon and seal it with the Heart Stone. Luckily, Scalla believes he knows where it is.

We rest now inside a great tree, where Scalla has made his home. I know now why he is called Scalla the Open-Handed, for be bestowed upon each of us a gift, and I can see hanging on the walls what must be gifts both for those he knows and those he has yet to meet.

Scalla spoke to each of use familiarly, knowing our names and things we had not yet revealed even to each other. Of the mysterious Rooke I learned he is last of his line. He received a bandolier to hold his crossbolts. Elythia received a pearl with a shadowy silhouette dancing inside it, possibly a spirit. Sir Thomas received face paints, which they apparently wear in the courts of Gathela. Musushi—or Brodok, as Scalla called him—received a jar of wax to be used as a candle for meditation. And for me, a pair of feather earrings from Dorasea, that are said to be from a Pegasus.

Tomorrow we may die facing Ahmdemos, but for tonight I pray to sleep soundly and dream of great winged horses.

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Journey to the Serpent Hills
Elythia's diary

Dear Diary,

The so-called “Nightmare Seekers” are a rather odd bunch. I am personally not very impressed by them, considering their pathetic losses in the arena, but they do know how to operate an ice skimmer so I suppose we’ll be with them for some time. They are very short. And not good at throwing things. I will say they are quite brave. Gerda told me there are ICE SPIDERS out here, and yet the Nightmare Seekers continue to return to these hills.

So, we arrived by ice skimmer to one of their encampments, hoping to find members of a previous expedition. It was just a sad collection of abandoned snow-laden tents and huts. Honestly it was kind of creepy. Hidden in one of the tents was Ultar Goodwhistle (accused arsonist?) who was out of her mind. Thomas found her under a tarp but then she ran away from us, shrieking the entire time. So really it’s probably her fault that the troll found us.

Trolls are ugly and disgusting and huge. Supposedly they are not real, but this one was totally real. It must have heard Ultar’s meltdown and came to investigate. It was so large it shook the ground as it walked. Thomas shot it with an arrow but it didn’t seem too bothered and even began healing itself. Angrim (?) the spear thrower was basically useless. Gerda needs some target practice with that axe of hers. Hralf played us some inspirational music. And White Lock was very bold with his hammer and lack of self-preservation instincts. Sadly, White Lock’s bravery resulted in him standing resolutely in front of the troll and getting smashed. Basically it was a mess. They would have been completely lost without us. Musushi had a flaming sword. Layla had a really cool magic sword. Thomas tried really hard and got creative with his weapons and tactics. Of course it was terrified of my fire. In the end, the final blow was by Layla (who actually knows how to use a spear, unlike that useless halfling Angrim). Everyone was very sad about White Lock, especially Garthar who insisted that we leave immediately on the ice skimmer for revenge or something.

We’ve arrived at the Serpent Hills and located the crater. It is gross. It is full of thousands of dead birds, who look like they all crash landed there on purpose in a certain shape. The effect is quite disturbing, and I think Angrim may have just lost it. He started stabbing Gerda with a knife (much more effective than his spear, he’d been using the wrong weapon all this time), so in defense she axed him to death (for once her aim was true). I suppose it’s a loss as he did know how to steer the ice skimmer, but really…

We just met Yergen Bearclaw (cousin to Garthar), and thankfully he had some answers for us. He was part of the missing expedition, and they were attacked! The Mead Barrel clan has gone mad and killed many and captured some. Perhaps they are in the Winding Wood?

Anyways, that’s all for now.

PS: My new cloak is amazing.

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The Kholedzund Encampments
A Musushi Tale

Snow fell on the shores of Odisvalk as The Adventurers made landfall at the end of 3 day journey by way of Captain Stenwall’s Arturan. Though warmed after felling a belligerent yeth hound (their welcoming committee), many of the party were unused to the cold weather and dealt with the weather in their preferred ways, whether through magically enduring the elements, as with the Druid Musushi and Cleric Layla or through magically “enhancing” the material generosity of their new friends, as with the Sorceress Elythia. The Fighter Rooke and Ranger Thomas elected to rely on their fortitude to weather the… weather.

Through a coordinated effort of magical coersion, charm, and good old fashioned pestering, the group pried information from the surviving halfling, Fustar the Living Coward. He spoke of an inland camp, and whispers of druids. Namely, the existence and return from abroad of a fellow named Scala the Open Handed. Though his whereabouts were unknown, the group made note of him and prepared to trek inland. By nightfall, Fustar agreed to guide the group. Also in tow was Grog the Rat, new animal companion to Musushi, and what little remained of the Arturan’s stores, to the legendary annoyance of their captain and employer. The group made plans to sleep and make that trek in the morning.

Which they did. There was one nightmare (Thomas’s) and much walking.

It was along the way to the inland camp that the group encountered a gaggle of migrating crows, huddled around objects of great interest. One shout (Elythia), one arrow (Thomas), and a handful of resigned shrugs (everyone else) later, the birds became agitated and attacked! A fierce battle broke out that ended in an avian dinner for the party (to the joy of Musushi). As the flock of crows were largely murdered to death, the team investigated that which captured the birds’ attention so. Lo, it was the rotting carcasses of the remaining halfling patrol that were not as alive and cowardly as Fustar. A gruesome sight, it was. One still clung to a medallion; a badge of his house. And they had cloaks. Holey, but warm. The group collected these and proceeded to the forward camp.

As the team came to the ridge overlooking the forward camp, they witnessed the aftermath of a local cataclysm. The debris-ridden crater in the middle of the town marked the epicenter of a monstrous explosion. The charred district surrounding it marked the subsequent fire. No teams could be seen repairing the damage, but halfling citizens walked the spaces between huts that served as streets. And smoke rose from the hearths of larger mansions. Steeling themselves for the unknown, the group made to enter the town and moved toward the crater.

They were met by a curious fellow; A warmly-dressed halfling with an entire inventory of bead products on his person and a wild look in his eye. His name was Henrik, a local merchant down on his already bad luck. Through broken common, he attempted to sell his wares to the party, but they were having none of it. Musushi offered gold for information, Thomas waved their most expensive spear menacingly, and Rooke nearly force-fed the halfling a head-sized block of cheese! That made the halfling speak… slightly more fluent common.

The report of Henrik was a grim tale of hysteria and dark omens. And began with a non-descript oaf by the name of Olaf Twistfoot, marked by his name as the local invalid. However, he put the entire town to shame when he alone journeyed to the Serpent Hills to investigate the fallen star that everyone was so panicked by. With no word for a few days, he was soon followed by a band of outriders1… who also discovered his charred remains. They brought the burnt husk that was once Olaf back to Kholedzund. He had barely pushed up his first daisy before calamity followed him. The central storage facility, home of the stores that would sustain the town, suddenly exploded.

Mystery washed through the town. For many, it was the only kind of washing to be had for many years. And as usual, the next order of business was to root out the cause of past and future misfortune, wherever it was to be found (or not to be found, as it were). Neighbor turned on neighbor. Brother on younger brother. Many a halfling was thrown over the edge of a cliff by those who had known them since the time when they were halfling-lings. Present company included.

Yes, Henrik himself admitted to participating in the executions. He was not proud of it, but had since come to his senses and lived a more peaceful life of beads and coin. And amulets. When bidden, Henrik recognized the deceased halfling’s amulet as that of the Warmhearth house. Pursuing the only clue they had, the group wanted to learn more. Rooke holstered his cheese.

When they made their way to the Warmhearth manor, they were introduced to a wizened halfling woman. It was Ingond, the matriarch of the Warmhearth family. And she was loaded. A sizeable retinue of councilmembers was gathered around a… well, warm hearth laden with food and drink. She confirmed Henrik’s story while he danced in a corner or something. After some poking, they learned that she was from Raduun. And very interested to hear of that land’s political machinations.

Beset by strange happenings, Ingond seemed slow to believe that the group could help her town. Nevertheless, she was quick to offer an array of furs, which many of the group purchased. Elythia in particular turned her finely tuned eye to highest quality furs and gained a garment that would assist her greatly in her quest to not freeze to death.

Soon (but not as quickly as most), Ingond grew bored of the group and passed them to a younger halfling well practiced with a harp that influenced the smoke in the wide hall (by halfling standards, anyway). He introduced himself as Hralf, the grandson of Igond. They spoke of the song of the history of the land of Odisvalk (jeez louise), which he exquisitely recited, and, more importantly, druids. It happened that Hralf was acquainted with Scala the Open-handed, but knew not where he was or even that he had returned. He did mention a few likely hideouts, should the need arise to seek him out.

After recounting some of the society of the area, Hralf revealed that there was indeed some way to gain the favor of the Warmhearth house. Being all about that favor of local powerful people, the group agreed. And were quite surpised when they were led to an arena.

It turns out that there’s not much to do at the edge of druid territory. And with the sudden cancelation of a dancing troupe and duel with a Dorasean knight, Khaladzhun was fresh out of entertainment. There were half joking whispers of a second purge of the city (hahaha but seriously, though).

After an afternoon of banter, Hralf entrusted the entertainment of the town to this new group of strangers (mainly because he had no choice). When bidden, Musushi gladly and, historians agree, somewhat stupidly agreed to play the part of Ethwulf of Dorasea, who had left his armor. His metal plate armor. Made of metal. More on that later.

The rest of the group eagerly joined in the opportunity to crack some skulls in fights of their own. All but Layla, ever the pacifist. However, she did remain to cheer on her team in their pursuit of violent entertainment.

Then it was on. First up, was Thomas, facing down not one, but two opponents. One of the halfling variety and the other a gladiator beast (call it a one-and-a-halfling). In a series of deft attacks and strategic betrayals, the crowd cheered for the victor, “Danger Ranger.” Even his halfling opponent, White Lock was impressed after digging arrows out of his arm.

Next, Elythia squared off against a feral goat, most deadly of feral things. It was thenthat the team discovered that they could place bets on the outcomes of the fights, which they employed in support of Elythia (after non-zero consideration of alternatives by some). In the end, an elegant and vicious dance as Elythia dodged charge after charge ended with a corpse of a ram thoroughly cooked by sorceress fire. Elythia marched out of the arena amidst cries of “Incinerator.”

The third to fight was Rooke, who stared down Garthar of house Bearclaw, a fierce halfling, all of three and half feet, with a two handed hammer to match. Theirs was a mighty match, pummeling strike after pumeling strike. Rooke literally used every weapon in his pack, including many wheels of cheese. To everyone’s surprise, these were the least effective weapons employed. The halfling’s boasting got the better of him. A handful of crucial strikes brought the champion of House Bearclaw to his knees. He conceded as the crowd chanted “Man of Cheese.”

And then… the main event. A dwarf from a far away land faced Gerda Flatnose: A tough as nails warrior who held the title of champion in Khaludzun. None had defeated her, but now someone was once again foolish enough to try. As Musushi donned the METAL armor of Ethwulf, the druid gods were unamused. They worked their magic as Musushi worked his. After blessing his staff, he focused his druidic energy to return to alignment with his environment… and felt nothing. Again. Nothing. Then he was smacked in the face by Gerda’s axe. He felt that.

Picking himself up, Musushi realized that he must turn to his instincts forged in the night guard. Staff met axe and both met armor (and lots of air) as the two warriors attempted to batter each other into submission. The fight was filled with sailing axes, close parries, and (many more complete misses) that proved the reputation of Gerda Flatnose. But Musushi’s training served him well-ish. The addition of armor left him too clumsy to hit and too protected to harm. Soon all ceremony was lost and the two were nearly wrestling in the mud. When the victor stood, the crowd could hardly tell who it was. Well, they knew it was dwarf sized, but they continued to chant “Ethwulf” and nobody had the heart to correct them.

The group made a killing for their hard fights. Musushi went away with 400 gold pieces (which he learned was significant somehow). All the other fighters left with 50 more gold to their names. Layla kept her morality.

Hralf was there to congratulate the adventurers on their winnings and thank them for their help in keeping the town together (for another day anyway). He also revealed that he and their opponents were members of a band of monster hunters known in the region as Nightmare Seekers. And that this was a job interview of sorts. They were gearing up to investigate the Serpent Hills properly and invited the team to join. High on victory, they jubilantly accepted.

But first, they had unfinished business with one Mr. Twistfoot. Remember him? Nobody else does, but for his cautionary tale. Layla, Rooke, and Thomas went to the tree where he was buried and searched it for clues, runes, signs of magic.

They found none of these things and went home.

Soon, they were off to the Serpent Hills on a wide outrider ice skimmer, which is exactly as it sounds. As the team embarked, the Codex of Duri flapped open, revealing the dates of the falling star and explosion in the inside cover… Whatever lied in wait for the Nightmare Seekers (and friends) perhaps laid in wait in the pages of the Codex of Duri…

But the sled was super fun, so no one noticed.

1 The locals’ name for druids

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Voyage to Odisvalk
From the diary of Layla Larroque

I remember my father talking of ships and oceans, of course, but to experience them first hand is another matter entirely. And being expected to pilot a ship moments after stepping aboard one for the first time! I was not the only one in our little crew that was new to ships—Musushi had not even heard of them before! Then again, he doesn’t always seem to hear what beats against his ears.

Fortunately, we were able to cast off without wrecking the ship, although it was a close call. Railey, first mate of the Arcturan, immediately solicited us with dice games and grog. I must say gambling was a bit thrilling, although I only lost gold pieces.

We hadn’t made it far off the coast when we spotted a Grewfert Merchant ship attacking another vessel. These “merchant” ships are apparently little more than pirates. Without means to match their mysterious weapons—which launched destructive spheres at the fleeing ship—we could only stay on course and hope they remained preoccupied with their victims and didn’t pursue us as well. Rooke seemed strangely moved by the site of the Grewfert Merchant ship, as if he admired the technology, even as it claimed innocent lives.

The rest of the group, save Rooke and myself, decided breaking into Captain Stenwall’s quarters was a wonderful idea. They searched the room for signs of possession by the Nine, although Thomas seemed mostly interested in finding the captain’s stash of stimulants. I refused to participate in the invasion of privacy and theft, although I didn’t go so far as to try to stop them or alert the captain. I am learning that in this quest to preserve life as we know it, sometimes I must set aside my own moral inclinations. Although they were able to put the room back in order, we bungled the lock quite badly on the way out. Not only was the lock broken, a pick had broken off inside. I attempted to mend the lock, but only managed to fuse the pick to the lock itself! The captain never seemed to notice. Perhaps he assumed he had done it himself in his sleep-deprived state.

I approached the captain and convinced him to take some poppy’s milk to help him sleep. While the captain had his first night in a while without terrible nightmares, Thomas, Rooke, and I were plagued by our worst fears.

The next day we were asked to clean the storage area. It was there that we were surprised by a dire rat. It reminded me of the were-rats we encountered outside of Desheb, and I was not keen on keeping company with it. Musushi, however, had somehow formed a communion with the rat that called itself Grogg. Grogg was a refugee from Odisvalk, where a premonition of evil sent him fleeing. I must admit, hearing about how the rodent had lost his entire family attempting to board the Arcturan did inspire empathy.

We had terrible nightmares again that night, and although I know them to be dreams, I have started to worry that they may be something more. Thomas remained awake with the assistance of stolen stimms, and overheard a conversation between the captain and his first mate. They had failed to mention to us the discovery of an outpost where everyone was found dead and literally boneless. We also learned that they are much more to each other than captain and first mate! They share a wife and family in Inyamand. Stenwall fears that their wife and daughters are dead and does not wish to return. Railey pressed him to have faith in the resilience of Orcish women.

The site of a giant sea beast, larger even than our ship, heralded our arrival off the coast of Odisvalk. It is apparently a place of monsters, another detail the captain conveniently left out.

A one-footed dwarf by the name of Crosby Cooke greeted us as we made it to shore. He is the chef for a roaming group of Halfling hunters. Musushi immediately bonded with Cooke and began preparing a meal for him.

Shortly after, a Halfling came bursting out of the forest, chased by a beast that looked to be a cross between a wild hog and a canine. We were able to put down the rabid beast, which I had assumed to be another sign of the Nine’s influence, but evidently these “yeth hounds” are naturally occurring in this land. Land of monsters, indeed!

The Halfling Fuskar told us that a star had fallen here too—just like the one that destroyed Memphun. Pelor, let us be prepared for the battle ahead.

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Gemoor, on the Salt Coast
A DM's Accounting, and a Lee Accounting

THE DM’S TALE

Leaving The Ilecin Delve, our valiant, battered heroes were now in possession of The Heart of Stone. They were now deep in open desert. The roadway they had been following is little more than a suggestion, but they think you can still follow its course, tracing the bulge it made in the hardpan through a landscape of scattered boulders and strange stunted trees, and the endless sands around them, beneath a boiling sun that had bleached them of all color. The breeze hadn’t so much died as collapsed, the air was motionless, the heat vibrating around them like insects wings. Everything around looked both close and far away, the sense of perspective distorted by the immeasurable horizon. How easy it would be, one would think think, to get turned around in such a place to wander aimlessly until darkness fell.

At this time, they spotted a horse trader with a caravan traveling in the opposite direction. Informing the man that there was no benefit to trying to sell his wares in either Memphun or in Desheb, a brilliant plan formed in Elythia’s mind; they would volunteer to escort him back to The Salt Coast and the City of Gemoor. This man knew the way, and had horses. In time they made it to their destination, but not before losing some horses to viscous hyenas after nightfall, and then battling the tattered remnants of Uzgash’s orc dynasty, driven from their battle with Drekha the day before. Riddled with arrows and doused in magic flames, the orcs met their last, and it would seem that for now, at least, Drekha ruled supreme in the Salt Flats of The Desert of Raduun.

Eventually, after what seems an interminable and thirsty journey through the desert, they spot the glittering Salt Coast – it appears at this distance as a vast blue carpet of twinkling gems, stretching ever onward to the horizon. Imagine a place where the ground simply stopped, and beyond that a place of tumbling endless blueness, like the sky turned upside down. And sitting there atop it, the rusting ribs and creaking planks of a dozen ships, great in size and stretching up and out of the blue, like a whole village of man’s creation, jutting from the waters further than a dwarf could throw an axe.

It’s perhaps a more welcome sight than they’ve had in a long time. Just of the road into Gemoor, a monastery stands several floors higher than the smaller buildings around it in this district, at the outskirts of the city. The Monastery itself is wrought from sandstone, and has intricate stained glass windows depicting the radiant sun, Solar angels in flights, and the stern face of Pelor looking down upon the city of Gemoor. Inside they met a singing priest by the name of Meron, and learned of several things: First, that a ship had come in from Brondoriand with its crew in terrible sickness, and they had not received any scented oils in shipments from Lorione in weeks to cover up the smell. Layla volunteered to help tend the sick, and dragged the limp form of Kayras toward the sick ward to tend her wounds as well.

Second, Moron told them of scandalous rumors from Grewfert that implied that the sun was dimming, and that their Enginseers in the Astronomicon had proof. Then, an acolyte ran up to Meron and delivered a sealed, beautiful paper folded into intricate designs, with gloriously colorful dyes forming a royal crest. Meron took some time to read it, furrowing his brow deeper, and then further so, over time. “My my, it’s as if things couldn’t get any worse. This is news from Dorasea, the Deacon of the Westcrown diocese presents me with this report that the congregation there is dwindling, and She has requested aid for the church – both in terms of clergy for services and promotion of the faith, and clerics for the treatment of the poor children, for their ward is overcrowded as ours is. Though this is a different sort of ailment, it would seem – She lists terrible depictions of birth defects rising in the area: Children born with extra arms, no eyes, a second head sprouting from the shoulder, horrible discolorations, legs with too many joints, etc. In many cases it seems there is nothing to be done, they are simply treating the pain more than anything, and the family’s loss. Dwarven children are so rare as it is, such a tragedy. But I have so little to spare as it is, there simply isn’t anything to be done, even for the likes of her holiness Madame Leonhardt” As he crumpled the paper and tosses it into a wastebin beside his desk.

Leaving Layla to do her healer’s work, the party then descended towards the Bay of Nakarn, meeting Captain Stenwall, who had just returned from The Dominion of Odisvalk, and was fearful to return. They decided to board his ship, the Arcturan, to head there with him to investigate his stories of mad beasts driven into the sea. First, however, they headed deeper into town to meet with Lady Seema Idhan and deliver news from Desheb.

Approaching the walls of the Palace seen from outside the city, it becomes apparent that this series of buildings is particularly large – bigger even than they had thought from atop the hill. A number of people are milling about in front of the gate, some are beggars, and others are merchants peddling wares. Eight guards stand watch at a massive double doored gate, which stands open at the moment. Occasionally people pass through after handing documents or showing things to the guards and are allowed passage, while others are turned away. “You’ve come from Desheb, you said? Lady Seema has been expecting you. Come with me”, and so they proceeded indoors after talking with the guards.

Two more of the guards peel off of the group to follow alongside as the first begins to escort them through the gates and into the palace grounds beyond. He says nothing as he walks you up to the front of the largest building in the compound, an elaborately carved door opens as he leads the way, the guards at the front of the palace stepping aside. Brought through the open foyer through a long hallway, several artistic pottery works in recesses along the walls before them and at a large, open chamber with several couches gathered around a low table. There are pitchers of water and wine at the table, with several brass cups. Sunlight filters through a slatted roof above, as the guard leading says to wait, and heads up a set of stairs at the far end of the room.

The conversation with Lady Seema was brief, but insightful. She cannot help them, despite believing their tale. She told them that the Ivory Clan are slavers, and they have unwittingly aided in their business, fighting off The Vultures, a band of rebels under her command. Black Marten was their leader, and Rooke was able to kill him, despite his renowned sixth sense – almost as if could practically read minds. Apparently she didn’t know of anyone who ever surprised him, snuck up on him, or ever defeated him – he was a monster to fight because he always seemed to know your next move, Greiz always said. As Rooke fiddled nervously with the ornate ring he was gifted by Naphrem, the party left to return to the docks and board the ship.

Approaching the bay itself, they can see a number of docks and launch points scattered across the water. Several are empty, but many contain ships moored there, some with full rigging and multiple masts with square sails, other smaller craft and many in between. There is a wide variety of ships present here, most tied off or at anchor in the recesses of the bay. Many of these wooden ramps and slips converge onto a single platform, at the hub of the varying shipways and portage locations. There are sailors and dockworkers hauling crates to and from the ships, nets full of fish, or guiding passengers, and they all pass by a man fussing over a large book, taking note of the people who pass by him – collecting or giving coin, and having to occasional passerby write or sign something in the book itself. On his shoulder rests a bright yellow and blue parrot, rustling its feathers every so often as it attempts to maintain balance – a difficult task, it would seem, since the man was in an animated argument with a merchant, who has just stormed off angrily back toward the shore.

They discerned that there was a ship in quarantine – the one from Brondoriand, it would seem, and the merchant Malazzan wanted them to board it regardless and get back his shipment of pearls and crab meat for sale, fearing a significant loss of his personal investment and an Ivory Clan loan if he could not recover his wares. Talking with the Harbormaster Faiza, the party decided not to go on board after all, after Faiza told them "let’s just say this is one of the few quarantines I actually agree with. He’s one of the lucky ones, really (Parrot cries “lucky ones!”) – his ship is actually here. I’m sure hes frustrated that he can’t get to it, but at least the ship is here. Many boats that are scheduled to be here haven’t arrived yet, some are late by over a week. I’ve been getting my ear yelled off by so many merchants these days – it’s been made all the worse by that edict that came out of Estalia this week."

“The bank of Estalia is a huge player in our business here in Gemoor – nearly everybody has a loan or two from them they got at some point. Earlier this week, we got in an edict from the Master of Coin declaring that all outstanding debts are to be repaid to the Realm Immediately. Not sure how well they’re able to enforce that, but I don’t have the ability to repay mine at the moment. Many of the merchants are panicking, and maybe even the Ivory Clan likely can’t repay all of theirs today if they needed to. Even the Idhan family probably doesn’t have the assets they need at the Palace to cover their debts, after what happened at Memphun and all that. I have no idea why they would demand the repayment without a warning like that, and the delayed ships isn’t making my job any more comfortable.”

Asking about other locations, Faiza tells them “I haven’t heard anything is particular, most sailors see me as an obstacle rather than a friend, so they just do their business quickly and get off to the shipwreck lounge or wherever they’re headed. What I do know is that despite the fact I’m missing some ships, There are a lot more passengers coming off board than I’m used to – not tourists, really, almost like refugees, travelers who seem to have decided that staying where they were wasn’t the best idea. I’ve seen more desperate and wild eyes than I’m comfortable with recently. Not sure what to make of that, but it’s probably not good.”

With their discomfort growing ever more, the party decided to recover Layla from the church and head out on the ship with Captain Stenwall, and learned shortly thereafter from Railey, the first mate, that Stenwall has not slept for some time, in part thanks to recurring nightmares of his time in Odisvalk. According to some onboard rumors, dreams had become a place he no longer wanted to visit. Stenwall had been able to conceal the effect of stimms he used to stay awake, at least at first. But now he was afraid the others could see it. Afraid that the others could smell it on him. He was afraid a lot of the time, in fact. Especially since the dreams had started to bleed into his waking life.

And so, with dawn breaking, the Arcturan set out from the Bay of Nakarn towards the distant shores of Odisvalk, with Dark Omens swirling in their minds, and the chill of ice in the wind.


THE LEE’S TALE

In the wake of the last battle of the Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Twenty First Great Orcish Civil War (Part XXVIII), our band of adventurers struggled to return to civilization, with the newly acquired Heart Stone in tow. As luck would have it, the first non-orc they encountered was a traveling horse merchant. In desparation, they waved the aspiring businessman down and sought his aid to return to Gemoor. After much bartering from Elythia and Thomas, it was the former diplomat Sir Thomas Harbrooke that convinced the man to take them thence, free of charge. It should be noted that this horse merchant would soon die an ignoble and accidental death as a penniless street urchan after this failed endeavor. But none of them knew that.

The man would have been slain much sooner, were it not for the band of adventurers. After a brief wolf attack, they were encountered by none other than Uzgash himself and his closest band of whatever loyal orcs managed to survive the slaughter. Desparately seeking a win of any kind, the orcish squad attacked the caravan. However, much like the wolf attack, the orcish variety was also short lived. Elythia of House Valoran put her overnight study of spellcraft to work, unleashing a new spell: A Scorching Ray that burned the everything off of the Orcish leader. And so it was that, in a forgotten spot in the middle of a desert that the great Uzgash was felled by a random band of yahoos with no stake in the line of succession. A fitting end, all who knew him would agree.

However, some wounds were sustained as the team dispatched the remaining Orcs. That process went by expediently as the group had grown wise in their dealings with Orcs who don’t speak common. Having successfully ended a potential dynasty (and a little fearful of their companion), the group pressed on.

Their efforts were well worth the journey. For they came upon the grand city of Gemoor, The jewel of the Desert of Radhun (a dubious honor, its critics would say). The city was formed into districts and dominated by a large palace at its center. The outskirts of the city held the first structure: A sizeable temple to the god Pelor, as identified by Layla, who recognized the symbols of her patron god. Seeking first contact, they made their way there first.

The priest in charge of the temple was an older man named Meron. At this point in his life, he had his hands full as the chief medical authority dealing with multiple health crises, on which he briefed the group. He described the plague ship, fresh from B. Its crew and cargo were ridden with a mysterious sickness and required assistance. Layla could not help but spring to the aid of others, and left the group to assist the sick. Meron, temporarily relieved with the extra helping hand, continued to tell the adventurers of the troubles of the land. There was also talk of a spike of birth defects in the Dwarven theocracy of Dorasea, which made Musushi absolutely livid to think of the suffering of his dwarven brethren. Through it all, of particular concern to Meron was the alleged dimming of the Sun in the land of Gwerfert. Though described with a torrent of mistrust for the Astronomicon there, the group recognized the symptom to be similar to the work of Hol Boloth of the Nine. Concerned by this grave news, the group steeled themselves and came to the realization that the work of the Nine continued. And must be dealt with. With no decisions, but great concerns, the group pressed deeper into the city.

Oh, and he didn’t know anything about the Heart Stone. Nor did he care about the Nine (Musushi welcomed the familiar pain of disappointment).

Their next stop was a crossroads where travelers could pray to Fharlanghn, the god of travelers. At Rooke’s beckoning, the group stopped for a while. There, they met Captain Stenwall, a sailor fresh off the boat for resupply. He’d been having trouble sleeping from the sights he saw on his last voyage. Herds of wildlife, rushing into the sea in an act of mass suicide as he and his crew helplessly watched from off-shore. He still heard the knocks of their antlers when he closed his eyes. He pointed them to his ship, the Arcturan, bound back to Odisvalk, land of druids. Bidding farewell and half-hearted good lucks, the group departed.

Their destination was the Palace in pursuit of their quest to find answers for the missing shipment of Desheb. Again relying on the connections and negotiating power of Elythia and Thomas, the group earned an audience with the de facto ruler of the Desert of Radhun. Who they met was not as expected. All talk made mention of the Lady’s inexperience, but the woman to whom the group spoke was shrewd, though young. It was revealed that the rebellion of Desheb was, in fact, financed and organized by Lady Seema herself. And for what cause than the freedom of all. Yes, the Ivory Clan, the group’s chief (earthly) employers thus far were slave traders. The lost shipment they sought was no exception. It had miraculously made it to Gemoor, whereupon Lady Seema freed those in bondage.

The group took a (few (dozen)) moments to collect themselves.

And executed a total reversal of position. They expressed their ignorance, then outrage at their former employers. They disavowed them immediately and swore their efforts to Lady Seema and her righteous mission (in 1 week’s time upon return to Desheb). They did, however, leave vague the precise events that led to the demise of Black Martyn, the freedom movement’s local leader.

The meeting concluded, and Lady Seema being very busy, the group was then excused, but not without partaking in some of the offered (and unoffered) refreshments. Reeling with new information, the gang set to the warpath (especially Elythia). They went down to the docks to inspect the plague ship from Brondoriand. There, they caught the end of an argument between Malazzan, an Ivory Clan merchant with business interests in the cargo (allegedly pearls and crab meat) and Faiza, the harbor-master, duty sworn to keep it quarantined. As Malazzan departed in a huff, he lobbed an ill-timed deal to the group: Retrieve the cargo and be rewarded. Newly suspicious of all things Ivory, the group decided to launch their own investigation, starting with the harbor master. Faiza told them of the Estalia banking edict, which called for immediate repayment of all outstanding debts. Noting the panic of the banks, Estalia made the list of the provinces of the Nine.

Pressed for time and eager to counter-act the Nine (and after a few cons thwarted by a too-wise harbor master), the group turned back Captain Stenwall, to join the second Odisvalk voyage, slated to leave by the next morning. After collecting Layla, the group disembarked aboard the Arcturan with its sleep deprived captain and concerned crew. And adventure!

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The Illecin Delve
It's a Trap!!

Dear Diary,

Finally, some time to write. We are somehow still alive, in spite of some of our best efforts otherwise (Musushi) and the booby-trapped cave we just left.

To start, after climbing/leaping down into the depths of the Great Maw we decided to stabilize Musushi and get some sleep. Rooke was nominated to keep watch, and he accepted this post without complaint. In fact, Rooke hardly said anything because he was staring at that book, the Codex of Duri, from Naphrem. Apparently he performed his duties well enough because we all survived the night.

We then began our exploration of the Illecin Delve. It isn’t a very nice place – too much gross fungi growing on all the dead things. Oh, and the traps. We came across some stupid dead orcs who had gotten impaled by spikes. Presuming the orcs didn’t throw themselves onto the spikes on purpose, we decided the corridor was likely booby-trapped. That pot I’ve been carrying around (to keep it away from Musushi) turned out to be useful – I just banged it around (using magic, obviously) the path ahead of us to ensure safe passage.

Next, we entered a room containing a stone golem and were promptly trapped by a stone door. We turned to Rooke to ask him to check the Codex to see if the heart of stone might be in this golem. The answer was No, but it wasn’t Rooke who was talking. Well, it was, but he was kind of possessed by the Codex… Anyways, weird. I became rather concerned, as there was a starved orc inside this room who had clearly not been able to escape. Layla, out of the goodness of her heart (far too generous, I don’t understand her sometimes), attempted to give the orc some food (which we should have saved for ourselves, seeing how we were trapped) but Musushi decided to grab the food back from the orc because he wanted to ask it some questions first. This give and take of food did not sit well with the orc, and it was obviously angry. So we had to kill it. I think Layla was mad about this… but we had bigger problems to deal with, because it turned out that the stone golem wanted us to answer a riddle. And he wasn’t very nice about it. Musushi and I argued about the answer and even though we were BRAINSTORMING the golem decided to just attack us with lightning. Thankfully Layla gave it the correct answer. The door opened, and we escaped.

We escaped into a hallway that floods with very little warning. My shoes got wet (not okay) which I immediately noticed, and this gave me a good running head start. We barely made it to safety, which happened to be another room with a very heavy stone door. In the center of the room was a clock-like device that began counting down from 12. As the count down continued, the panic in our group increased. We pulled a lever attached to the clock, and this reset the countdown. This was repeated many, many, MANY times as I had to keep pulling the lever while everyone else relaxed. I came to believe that this lever was a trick and distraction meant to keep us in the room. Also I was tired of pulling the lever. It took many tries to convince everyone to let the clock count all the way down to 0… but finally it happened. Lo and behold, we escaped.

More traps and tricks followed until we reached a narrow stone path leading into a void of darkness. We bravely continued on until we were met by a large boulder that took up the entire width of our path. It approached us when we approached it. It seemed to be mimicking the movements of the person in front… This was a tricky puzzle, but Layla (she’s pretty smart) had the excellent idea of using her owl to lead our group. The owl plan worked, and as the owl flew to the side of the path, the boulder tipped off over the edge. Our way forward was clear.

Rooke/Codex took charge at this point, leading us through another set of (fake?) booby traps into a large empty room. Empty except for one large stone golem, with a sparkling stone hanging around its neck. We immediately believed this was the heart of stone. Musushi climbed up the golem and reached for the stone, which awakened the golem. It didn’t like us. Layla’s owl retrieved the shiny stone hanging around its neck, but the battle was going rather poorly with poor Kayras taking most of the damage. Miraculously (praise whatever gods were watching and caring), Thomas awoke at precisely the moment we needed him. Rejuvenated, he grabbed his longbow and shot off his arrows, some of which hit the golem directly where the stone used to be. Defeated, the golem sank to the ground. At this point we thought we had already gotten the stone via Layla’s magic owl, but Rooke/Codex told us that we were wrong. The Codex of Duri (the book) began to talk to us… yes, a book… and it told us that it (the book) was actually the golem we just defeated, and he also used to be some sort of shamen who trapped the heart of the world in his physical form. It’s all a lot to take in and keep track of, but basically we figured out that we needed to dig around inside the fallen golem for the REAL stone. We found it! We asked the Codex of Duri what we should do with the stone, and he responded by showing us ancient visions of shamens using the stone to fight back demons. Quite a handy artifact.

Our last task was to figure out how to LEAVE, no easy task considering a large orc encampment surrounded our exit. Sir Thomas, fully recovered from his bout with postofficius, valiantly volunteered to be our ambassador to the orcs and parley with them. Through a combination of flattery, showmanship, and lies, Thomas managed to convince Drekha that the shiny stone was the real heart of stone AKA the heart of the world AND that we were offering it to him because he is soooo cool. This pleased Drekha greatly, and appeared to give him and his followers a big moral boost right before heading into battle with Uzgash. Perfect timing, and a great way for us to make a discrete exit.

We are now in our way to the city of Gemoor on the coast. Who knows what we will find there, but hopefully we can find out where some of the Nine Eyes of Cyric have been sent and use our new weapon to defeat them. I hope I can also get word of Roger. I miss him.

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Journey to the Illecin Delve

After being tasked by the archangel Naphrem to prevent the oncoming apocalypse, the group of reluctant heroes decided to make haste back to Desheb to resupply and hopefully recruit allies. They had only a week before the next date listed in the mysterious Codex of Duri. Musushi thoughtfully prepared a breakfast for his companions—however none dared try it, skeptical of what ingredients he could have scavenged from the corpse-strewn city. It was during the ensuing bickering that Sir Thomas wandered away from his fellow adventurers.

Layla spotted Sir Thomas as he clutched his throat and collapsed, but could not identify his ailment. Luckily, Musushi recognized the rare Postofficius fungus growing where Sir Thomas had fallen. Inhalation of the spores sometimes lead to a condition colloquially referred to as “Going Postal.” Thankfully it was not a fatal illness, and Musushi knew that most people recovered in approximately 8 to 9 hours. Sometimes longer, if it was near a holiday.

The party fashioned a stretcher for Sir Thomas, and headed out. Not long after, they observed a band of looters digging through the rubble, with four horses tied to a post and tantalizingly unattended. Thanks to a few clever spells from Elythia and Musushi, the adventurers were able to make away with the horses before the looters knew what was happening.

Despite living underground for the majority of his life, Musushi proved to have a strong sense of the cardinal directions, and was able to lead the party out of the ruins of Memphun. The hot sun and arid climate took its toll on the party.

Pillars of smoke were visible as they approached Desheb. Bloody, armed corpses littered the outskirts of the small village, and sounds of battle carried from further in. The adventurers recognized some of the deceased as members of the Ivory Clan. They decided to look for Kayras at the Stuffshack first, to gather more information about the situation before engaging. That plan didn’t work out too well, however, because they almost immediately stumbled across Greiz facing off with a man in a dark grey cloak.

Although his weapon was coated with blood and had obviously been used to deliver grievous wounds, the ex-adventurer was looking worse for wear. His opponent appeared unharmed, and even had an air of enjoyment. The adventurers called out inquiries and demands to cease the violence, which went largely ignored. While Rooke ascended to the roof of a nearby building for a better vantage point, Layla stepped forward and used her sun shield to temporarily blind both combatants. This seemed to have a greater impact on Greiz, who started slashing wildly at invisible enemies. Greiz would only answer “kill him!” when asked again what the holy hell was going on. Since their attempts to end the conflict peacefully had failed, the party decided to take Greiz’ advice.

With the prowess and agility of a masked vigilante with a penchant for hoods, Rooke jumped from the roof of the building, broke his fall with a roll, and popped up to fire two arrows at his foe. The first entered the cloaked man’s temple with such force that the point emerged on the opposite side. The second lodged itself in the man’s chest.

Once his opponent was dead and he was no longer fighting for his life, Greiz was more forthcoming with information. The man they had defeated was known as Black Marten, head of a group of mercenaries that resented the Ivory Clan’s power. Some in the group were unsure whether they had just put down a vicious usurper, or a civil rights leader.
After another bout of bickering, the adventurers decided to report their findings to Muini. If she was suspicious of their return sans shipment and sans Ivory Clan companions, well, they could fight their way out if necessary.

Muini was indeed displeased with their news, but chose to believe that they truly had not found the shipment and were not keeping it for themselves—because they would have been idiots to return if that were the case. Nonetheless, the decorated woman paid them each 100 gold for their efforts. The group pried for more information regarding the mysterious shipment, but learned only that it was meant to go to Lady Seema Idhan on the Salt Coast. After the destruction of Memphun, Lady Idhan was likely next in line to rule Raduun.

While uninterested or unable to provide the group with resources for their quest to find the Heart Stone and prevent the decimation of all life, Muini did procure a flask and a request for orc blood. It adds a nice spice to wine, apparently.

The party decided to look again for Kayras, hoping her affinity for Sir Thomas would convince her to accompany them north, into the orc-inhabited Salt Flats. Kayras was found in the Stuffshack, wrapping her impressive wounds from the town skirmish. She was happy to see them, particularly Sir Thomas. His state of limited consciousness did not dampen her mood. “The last thing he said before passing out was your name,” Rooke lied.

So invigorated by her recent battle, Kayras volunteered to accompany the party before they could even ask. Although her hands were too damaged to use her favored greatclub, she had taken a liking to a simple sword. It leaves a hand open for rude gestures, you see.
Kayras told them what she knew of the orc tribes in the Salt Flats. They were always warring one another, for territory, status, or perhaps just out of boredom. Kayras believed an orc named Drekha to be the dominant leader of the territory they would pass through. She was also familiar with their destination, the Ilecin Delve, although she referred to it as “The Great Maw.” Orc culture considered this to be the mouth of the world, and they had a practice of throwing sacrifices into the pit to feed it.

The adventurers devised a plan. They would bring a supply of weapons with them as an offering to Drekha, in exchange for safe passage to the Ilecin Delve. Failing that, they figured they might as well allow themselves to be captured and thrown in. The end destination was the same, anyway.

They filled a few sacs with weapons collected from the dead mercenaries and Ivory Clan members, and spent the night at the Ambersand before heading north. Sir Thomas still had not regained consciousness, but the party remained hopefully that he would recover at an opportune moment, and thus loaded his prone form onto a horse for an almost-certainly-perilous journey.

It wasn’t long before they encountered a group of orcs. “We have brought a supply of weapons for Drekha!” the adventurers announced immediately. Unfortunately, these guys weren’t fans of Drekha, and were very interested in acquiring new weapons for themselves and some guy named Oosgash. It appeared Drekha wasn’t the dominant orc in these parts afterall. While the more diplomatic members of the party attempted to bargain, Kayras stepped forward and greeted the orc leader with a head-butt.

Then it was on.

Two of the four orcs were dispatched in short order, leaving one standing and one gravely wounded. Rooke honorably offered the last standing orc the chance to surrender, but the concept seemed foreign to the heavily scarred brute. Layla wanted to heal the injured orc in exchange for safe passage, but he did not speak Common and Kayras informed them he would only attack again once healed. So they left him a crowbar to fend off the descending vultures, and continued on their quest. Before leaving though, Musushi collected some of the wounded orc’s blood in Muini’s flask. The bond between gourmands surpasses social niceties.

The adventurers tried their ploy again with next group of orcs they encountered (“We have brought a supply of weapons for your leader!”). The results were basically the same. Elythia surprised them all with a spell that completely removed an orc’s head. It didn’t decapitate him—no, his head just disappeared, leaving the nerveless body standing a short second before slumping to the ground.

Finally, the group looked down upon the valley surrounding the Ilecin Delve. More than a hundred orcs were gathered around the great pit, singing with deep, ululating voices and carrying their weapons unsheathed. Several metal structures had been erected around the pit, but the adventurers could not discern their purpose. Rather than confront a legitimate horde of orcs, the group decided to wait until nightfall and sneak into the Delve.

They hid when a patrol approached…unfortunately they didn’t manage to finish dragging the unconscious Sir Thomas into concealment, and his protruding leg alerted the patrol to their presence. Another battle ensued, and more orc blood was spilled onto the salty sediment.
After the sun set, Musushi artfully defiled the orc corpses by propping them up to appear standing and alive. Elythia cast a spell to illuminate the dead patrol from behind, and projected an illusion of human voices to lure the orc horde away from the Delve. Once their attention was drawn to the pretend intruders, the adventurers made a mad dash towards the pit.

The ruse didn’t work for long. The orc horde spotted the party racing across the valley, and immediately attacked. Layla and Musushi lost their horses to spears, and themselves took several arrows. All in the group managed to reach the Delve and descend by rope, save Musushi, who for some inexplicable reason decided to jump.

Musushi managed to cast an entangle spell to break his fall. Coupled with the soft, spongey fungus that coved the floor of the pit, he just managed to survive.

Moments after Rooke and the rest of the group reached the floor of the Delve, the Codex of Duri began to vibrate. Rooke flipped open the book, and they watched in fascination as another cryptic messaged appeared on the second page.

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