Noble Intentions

An Audience with the Council
Elythia's Journal

Dear diary,

I must say I am not very impressed with this elven “meritocracy”. So tedious, and they seem to cling to their studying and books as if that is the best way to harness real power. Well I think they’ve got their heads stuck up their books so far they can’t even see that we are their best shot at destroying this plague and the demon that is ultimately the cause. Lucky for them, I don’t care what a bunch of elves in a tower think about our quest.

Today we left the Tower of Oror and made our way to the city of Baragzan and the Dorinder College. I sent a message to Rooke that he should finish up his business, grab Fordham, and meet us along the way. We encountered an elf pulling a cart. Highly suspicious. Thomas was “target shooting” but I think he was also expecting an attack. However we determined she was just a merchant who had been turned away from Baragzon because she’s sick. So we left and continued on our journey. She didn’t even have items worth purchasing. Clearly not a good merchant.

Rooke and Fordham (who was slung over Rooke’s back, like he didn’t want to come or something) joined us and our group arrived at the gates of Baragzan. There was a very long line to enter the city but clearly it was for the peasants, not important people like us. The guards were happy to oblige us after I showed them that little pearl… we learned more about why that pearl has been so helpful later. The peasants seemed resentful and one of them threw a cabbage at Thomas.

We walked past some lackluster shops. Nothing worth getting. After getting obvious directions from peasant children to the tower, we arrived at the tower only to find it does not have doors. Stumped, we headed to the Dorinder College instead and managed to gain an audience with someone who could give us an audience with the council. Ugh so annoying. I think Musushi was not a fan of the bureaucracy.

As we waited for our counsel appointment we chatted with Oror’s apprentices, Marie and Blanche. Apparently Arcona is the title of the head of the council. Each “school” of magic is represented on the council except necromancy. Also they think Druids and Clerics don’t have magic but what do they know. Also, that little shadowdancer pearl of mine had a soul trapped in it. This has to do with how the spellbound are created so theoretically I have the soul of some spellbound creature. People are intimidated by it because they believe I can call the spellbound… perhaps this is worth figuring out.

Anyways, we went back to the tower. Waited for our audience with the council in the tower. Layla got nosy and questioned an elf who was also waiting. Layla even listened through the door! It was a heated discussion so who knows, maybe there’s some juicy gossip to be had around here.

At last we had our meeting with the council. We (very) thoroughly presented our case. They weren’t particularly responsive but ultimately gave us a writ of passage through the barrier. They didn’t seem to care much about anything. We did learn that there is more than one “demon” behind the barrier, so that will be interesting. The prime demon may be near what they called “The Wormstar” so I guess we’ll head there.

After that thrilling journey through bureaucracy, we at last made our way to an inn called Naga’s cup. Musushi bought 3 bottomless cups of wine and generously shared with several party members. It seems like Latham is already making friends with the bartender so he’ll be fine. We also gave Fordum some money for school. Dorinder college is supposedly a good school and an expensive one. Not sure how much school will help him…

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The Tower of Oror
Thanks for the notes, Freddy!

[The Town]
When the sun rose on Heldelion one day in the early days of the Cyric War of the Nine, it was also on a group of champions recently freed. A scrape of imprisonment would change most folk, bestowing upon them a greater appreciation for the things in life so easily taken for granted: The taste of a cool ale, the joyous laughs of close friends, a good magic show to distract from the troubles of the day. The Champions of Naphrem were no exception. Armed with their freedom and a fresh win in the form of news from Kakhal, the team returned to the simple pleasures they adored so much: Accosting strangers with verbal and physical violence.

Literal minutes into the new day, they had managed to inundate a gaggle of bystanders with local questions and, their sensibilities wounded by a lack of information, gotten into a fight about the current price of eggs, during which the team threw around their own yolk of oppression (Ha. Ha. Ha) in a few unwilling faces.

Their tantrum proved surprisingly fruitful. It turns out that even in anger, frustration, and bewilderment, most bystanders will reveal something of interest. They learned that the writer of Elythia’s letter, one Juvis Arcona (yes, that one) was something of an important figure. In truth, the group could be forgiven for not knowing who she was, but that didn’t stop the townsfolk from ridiculing the “pushy outsiders” and Montogmery the barkeep’s most valued (wealthy) customers.

Their quota met, the team sallied forth into the town, off to meet with Oror. All, save Rooke, who proved difficult to rouse from his slumber. And even after waking, he insisted on studying the Codex of Duri for additional clues. The party, bored by the alternative, allowed this and set out to settle their errands. They missed a series of misadventures of Rooke and the Codex, which became immortalized in later records as “Kumquat Rising: The Misadventures of Rooke and Book.”

The party was content to visit local shops to get some questions answered and lighten their purses. They first stopped at the Copper Potion, run by Perry the Slovenly Elf Dude, who they bullied and subtly threatened. Not their best work, as Perry was savvy to their false claims of alignment with the College, but this narrator remains proud of their effort. Still, they got a light healing potion identified and a reference to a caducetorium, so the group considered it a win. The bar just keeps getting lower and lower.

The caducetorium, however, was a highlight. They were well met by a young Gnome by the name of Rufus. In their brief time in the shop, Rufus dazzled the group with an overview of his wares and tales of his adventuring days. His laid back attitude was highlighted by subtle hints that none in the group were “of the right stuff” to wield his wands, but they didn’t seem to notice. They were content to have Layla’s discovered wand identified to contain the dancing lights spell. Musushi was pleased to speak to a fellow “small business owner” (though one was clearly more successful than the other).

Their business and questions in town settled enough, the group returned to find an inebriated, but basically functioning Latham. After some haggling, they acquired some horses that would prove to be more effective guides than the Elf, himself. Then they tore out of that dump like a rational being out of Heldelion.

[The Road]
I love cart rides. Or more accurately, I love watching adventurers on cart rides. Makes my job as narrator that much easier. It’s also hilarious. What happens when you give unwashed, self righteous jerks armed to the teeth an abundance of free time? This particular group fell into old habits. Thomas attacked nearby trees who had the gall to provide him with oxygen. Musushi took it upon himself to cook noodles for the only willing participant: Latham, who was somehow STILL drunk, STILL awake, and didn’t have much ability to refuse to anything. Layla invoked her celestial connection to play with some monkeys (not a euphemism). Elythia shook her head the entire way, but was otherwise watchful.

Their boredom was mercifully interrupted by a column of Elven militia, heading back toward Heldelion. United by a potential threat, the party hid and prepared to strike. However, they were feeling friendly that day and, riding the high of civilized conversation in Heldelion, the group decided to hail the warband and try to get some information out of them.

The militia as a whole seemed to care little as they continued to file past, but there was one soldier who shirked her duty enough to bestow upon our heroes “the skinny.” The platoon was led from Hazelwood by an Elf named Atticus, under orders from the local wizard Zenst. Each soldier was adorned with an array of magical charms and icons that were believed by the troop to ward off the plague. The group didn’t know who those were or whether the charms would actually help fight the plague. They asked about Oror. The soldier didn’t know who that was or whether finding him would help fight the shamblers. Agreeing that neither side really helped the other, both groups wished each other luck and carried on their marches to their very own brands of likely doom.

[The Dead]
It wasn’t long before the party stumbled on something troubling. Through a loose coalition of rodent and primate scouts (the Great Grog and the celestial Baboon Triplets, respectively), the group discovered (gasp!) a camp. They then spent nearly the whole afternoon creeping ever closer to view the site, exhibiting greater caution than their confrontation with Ahmdemos, a chief lieutenant (and right bastard) of the god of chaos.

Their reward was a clear sight from the bush of a group of seven men beside a swamp, all wearing black hoods, the historical mark of pure villiany. Six were hard at work planting flowers of all things in neat little rows. The flowers were of note; dark and decaying; sad dead things from cart to ground. The last man lounged by the fire, lost in a book. His supreme laziness clearly marked him as the leader. The whole thing made for an ominous sight that the group HAD to know more about.

Favoring discussion over going in crossbows blazing (absent said crossbows), the group devised a plan. Elythia changed her form to something approximately resembling a denizen of the dark arts based on recent experience and pop culture (dark robes, sleep deprivation, and the like). She then burst from the bushes to demand a “status report” from the hooded men, hoping to discover their purpose. The rest of the party was happy to let her do this, while hoisting their very sharp weapons and spells at the potential enemy, in the likely event that things go south. Her only bodyguard was Grog the Rat, which (considering that he laid low the demon Ahmdemos) was probably quite sufficient (haha).

The ruse almost worked. In true Elythia form, haughty demands and snapping at the help led to some basic forms of compliance. That didn’t last. Too many unspecific references to things they should both know tipped off the leader that some bullshit was about. After a few tense moments, he ordered his “men” to attack. In unison. With a wave of his hand. The clattering of their skeletons on armor revealed the nature of their foes: Walking corpses!

The group scrambled to react. Thomas rained arrows down upon the enemy, winging a pair. Musushi bound their feet with vines. Layla blasted them apart with a holy vengenece. Yep, all six. The battle was done in seconds; it was very interesting.

At that moment, Elythia moved forward to deck the leader to sample this physical violence that everyone spoke so highly of (and of course, to capture a prisoner). The leader, however, was one of those true believer types. He slit his own throat in a smooth, almost surgical manner that would be praise-worthy if it wasn’t so creepy.

As the leader died(?) his wound spoke, this disembodied voice revealed itself as an agent of Cyric’s Nine (sorry eight) and promised an unveiling of lies, futility of resistence, yada yada yada. That cabal was still finding their unique voice at this point in history, but would eventually go down as some of the best last-worders in the biz. Then the body deflated and emitted green smoke. They sure know how to make an exit.

Confusion struck the party at once. But they shrugged it off as their attention turned to the things left behind. They gathered the possessions of their departed foes, a dog-eared spell book featuring beginners magic (unbecoming of a nefarious necromancer), a bag of pearls, almost like payment, and a small bone statue akin to the one they found (and crushed) in Odisvalk. This one, they burned. Musushi regarded the flowers with a rare clarity of mind. He added a sample of the dead plant to his pouch (clearly segregated from his noodle ingredients) and burned the rest. For once, the party did not object to the dwarf’s habit for destruction.

[The Old]
Their bloodlust sated, the party returned to the task at hand. Gathering Latham and the cart, they continued down the road. It wasn’t long before they came to a well kept stone tower in the middle of a vast lake of crystal clear water. It was the polar opposite of Teclis’s in that it was, you know, not on fire. It was, instead, on water.

Upon knocking, the group was met at the door by Blanche, an Elven woman who held a simultaneously haughty and hospitible demeanor. She welcomed them into a modestly sized room, fully furnished, but with dirt floors. Guess they forgot that part. Tea, however, was prioritized, whereas information was not. Blanche did introduce herself as a student and gatekeeper to the Battle Mage Oror, who was, of course, quite busy. When the group in turn explained / blurted their journey thus far, she seemed at first skeptical, and then, upon believing the group, unimpressed.

They were soon interrupted by a second student, Marie; An actual dwarf above the surface. Though indistinguishable as female to the Elven and Human members of the party, Musushi noticed right away. And, to the discomfort of everyone else in the room, attempted to “do the wooing at her.” Below the surface, he may have been a charmer (He wasn’t. But he didn’t know that), but the interest in that exchange could only be compared to a Peloran sermon at a vampire coven. Eventually, the group turned to the “apocalypse is nigh” angle, because that has worked so well thus far. Instead of Oror’s immediate assistance, they received knowledge. Namely, what a Battle Mage’s apprentice does all day. It turns out, they mostly take physical abuse and menial tasks from their master, a time honored tradition in Magickdom and, indeed, society.

Speaking of abuse, that’s when Oror descended the stairs, with machetes in his one remaining eye at those who would disturb his study. He was old, but powerful, and the air (and the conversation) chilled at his approach. And being old and powerful, he was not far from a history lesson (though it appeared to begrudging).

He had fought this war before, of course, and won; He thought for good. There was a place: Manain: An old battleground from 200 years ago that once held necromancers, but now held frozen and shattered necromanc-icles and was otherwise a wasteland. The Gravesworn, they were called, but they were gone now. However, their work and followers remained. Accordingly, walking dead uprisings were not uncommon here, but the Council had always dealt with it. The demons of Cyric were new, though. Oror shared (bragged if you ask this narrator) that it was their work with Oror’s consultation that kept the dead in the west via magical barrier, biding their time to wait out the decaying dead like a forest fire, never mind their victims. Oror’s faith in the Council and this solution were unwavering, him being on it and all.

The party was shocked at his matter of factly sacrifice of so many lives to the west, but it became clear that Oror had chosen his course, and it didn’t involve the Champions of Naphrem. Like at all. He didn’t even have the will to stop them when they told of their plan to neutralize the demon with the legendary, elusive, all powerful Heart Stone, which Oror regarded with as much interest as a kidney stone. “Better get on it,” he said, and left to smoke a corpse flower, for all they knew.

[The New]
Crickets remained in the wake of this living legend. With the Battle Mage’s priorities made clear, the team adjusted their plans. Although they had failed to recruit the Battle Mage, they turned their sights to his students. The less-than-gruntled trainees lacked field experience, and saving the world was one way to get it. They signed on to the group, though they knew not what they were getting into. Whether that be to Triddy College to meet with the Council, Khakal to lift the seige, or the Mire of Minain for more ancient secrets was yet to be decided. To boot, they had no idea of the shenanigans that so often found the group. But boy, would they learn.

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The Fulcrinarium...fulcrinabulum?...fulcrinalium?...?
Excerpt from the journal of Layla Larroque

The horrible, empty husks of men known as the Spellbound took Elythia up for questioning last. She was gone only a short time, and returned looking composed and being courteously escorted by the elven interrogator. It caused me great suspicion at the time, however she later explained that the interrogator—Sutton—mistook her for someone of great and covert importance due to her possession of the shadow pearl she received from Scalla. We are lucky Elythia is so practiced at acting superior to all others, else I suspect we would have rotted in that cell. She used her unexpected influence to have Latham freed as well.

Once freed, Elythia pulled a letter out of her pocket, read it, and then paced off determinedly. She didn’t respond to any of our shouted queries. Latham advised we let her go, as he knew the look of a woman who didn’t want to be bothered. I figured that was the last we would see of her, which would not have bode well for our party because her magic can be quite effective against the adversaries we regularly encounter.

We headed back to the Seven Moons Inn, as some party members were in desperate need of a drink after the trauma of being captured by the Spellbound, and I felt the least we could do for Latham was by him a drink since he was imprisoned for the poor luck of running into us.

We drank our ales and questioned Latham about the battle mage Oror, who is something of a legend. He cleaned up the countryside of necromancers and can allegedly “kill any man or elf he chooses to.” As per usual, Sir Thomas found the opportunity to take offense at something Latham said and fondle his dagger in a threatening manner.

We decided to continue pursuing our task of utilizing the Fulcrunalium (or something to that affect. None of us can recall the exact name). The only problem was, we did not know where it was located or how to use it. Musushi hatched a sickening plot to speak to the deceased Beauregard through the near-death necromancer Sir Thomas encountered in the sick house. We tried gathering the information from the nurse Scarlett first, but she said she had neither the skill nor permission to use it. She wasn’t particularly keen on helping us, as she blames us for Beauregard’s death.

Sir Thomas found the necromancer—Kallus—slumped on the floor, close to death. He agreed to help us if we put him out of his misery.

I thought about protesting, insisting we find a different way. How can I condone this perversion of divine gifts? Perhaps because I have already done so many morally questionable things on this quest from Naphrem, and time feels short. The longer we dally, the more people die. So, I chose to be complicit in the necromancer’s dark ritual.

Musushi went to fetch Beauregard’s head and came back looking sickly, with a bundle under his arm. We stood close to Kallus, attempting to provide some protection from the view. The necromancer used Musushi’s blood to make symbols on his pillow. I thought it wasn’t working, until Kallus’ eyes rolled back in his head, and Beauregard’s snapped open. The dead cleric tells us the rituals we need to use the Fulcrinarium can be found in a book sitting on a pedestal before a portal. We weren’t able to get any additional information out of him before the spell faded. To my great surprise, the pillow Kallus used to draw his blood symbols shriveled and turned brown. Another reminder that necromancy is a defiling art.

Thomas went to make good on our promise by smothering Kallus with the shriveled pillow, but I couldn’t stomach it and stopped him. The dying man didn’t object. On our way out I asked a nurse if anyone ever recovers from this pervasive strain of disease. She herself was a survivor, and pulled back her mask to show me the horribly disfigured jaw it left her with.

With our new information, we headed to the temple of Boccob. It was a functional building, looking more like an office than a temple. Elythia is the first worshipper of Boccob with which I’ve spent any amount of time. He is called the Uncaring God. I assume those that worship him are mostly interested in personal gain of knowledge or power. Beauregard was administering to the sick, however.

We knocked on the door of the temple. Rustling was audible from inside, but no one answered. Finding the door unlocked, I entered cautiously. Once I walked into rooms without any particular care. This quest has caused me to look for danger and traps around every corner, behind every door.

We find a pair of elves in a side room. A woman sitting in a chair looking traumatized, a man kneeling beside her whispering words of comfort. Musushi spun a falsehood that we were the evening cleaning crew here to clean to Fulcrinabulum. He no doubt would have gone on to speak about his expertise as a small business owner, however the man simply remarked “she said this might happen” and directed us to the second level. Again wary of a trap, I summoned a celestial dog- which oddly took the shape of a small terrier.

We ascended the stairs and were shocked to find Elythia standing atop a pedestal in a large room, reading from a book in some arcane language and gesturing abstractly with her other hand. She had an intense focus and seemed to be exerting herself more than her physical movements should warrant. She was frustrated we took so long to join her, as if we should have read her mind when she went wandering off! I do not understand why she started the ritual by herself and did not inform us of her plans, unless she thought she could use the Fulcrinarium on her own and didn’t want us present. Something in that letter must have set her off.

Showing us the book while she continues chanting, we learn that there are specific phrases we must get the stone archway set in the back wall of the room to say in order to speak to designated locations. Yes, a talking wall. It wasn’t hesitant to speak once we greeted it. We decided the best location to communicate with would be Triddy College, as the scholars there might have more insight into the strange illness and rumors of walking corpses.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t solve the wall’s riddle to make it say the passphrase, “closer to the heart.” Bribery didn’t work either—it wasn’t interested in Sir Thomas’ offer to “polish” its stones.

Eventually we settled on an easier passphrase, “Dawn tomorrow,” and were able to reach Khakal. A scene materialized in the archway—a study in disarray. An elf lay on a bench, pinned there by a fallen bookcase, and seemingly asleep. He stirred when we called to him. He told us the city of Khakal was under siege by shamblers. Half the town was overrun, and it would have been worse if it weren’t for the Halfling refugees who built fortifications and were fighting ferociously. Luckily the shamblers don’t climb well—in Khakal, at least. Reports from Gwari Tower, also under siege, were that the shamblers had started piling atop one another to reach higher on the tower.

There wasn’t time to gather any more information. The portal started to fade from the edges, and as it did an oily black substance appeared in its wake and peeled off the wall like an old scab. It formed a puddle on the floor, which grew slowly outward, seemingly increasing in substance. Elythia, still on the pedestal in the center of the room, collapsed from exhaustion. Someone had the presence of mind to pull her to the staircase and away from the spreading goo—as it is with recalling moments of extreme emotion, my memory is hazy as to who.

Bone-colored creatures emerged from the black substance, each with a single eye and curved horn. Elythia recovered just in time—before the battle began. Thomas charged forward heedless of the black goo, which he immediately began to sink into as if the floor was not there at all. My celestial terrier was surprisingly effective against the demons, making several successful attacks and avoiding blows. Rooke wielded his fiery axe, Musushi his giant ladle. Elythia let loose another of her scorching rays, reducing a demon to ash and causing some structural damage to the temple.

Downstairs, the shaken-looking male elf confirmed that demonic goo is not a normal byproduct of using the Fulcrinibulum, and informed us that by doing so we had broken the quarantine. Seems like something he should have mentioned beforehand.

We returned to the tavern, finding Latham exactly as we left him—swigging an ale with his boots propped up on the table. He was quite pleased to see Elythia in a more sociable mood. As Latham is now out of a job, we convinced him to guide us to the Tower of Oror, where we will either help him secure new employment or pay him for his services. Hopefully, we will find Oror present, alive, and amenable to helping us root out the cause of the shamblers.

Also, we ran into Fordham again, and expressed our interest in circumventing the blockade with him after we returned from the Tower of Oror. He indicated that if he came up with enough coin to reapply at Triddy College before we got back he would not wait. Seeing his poor skills as a stage wizard, I doubt that will happen. I’m also pessimistic that he will be of any use with a blockade, seeing as he can barely cast a puppet show.

TLDR: We used necromancy to speak to Beauregard’s disembodied head, used the Fulcrunalium, found out shamblers are terrorizing Khakal and Gwari Tower, and decided to go find a battle mage named Oror to see if he can help us defeat the shamblers.

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Heldelion and the Seven Moons
DM placeholder until Kevin's notes are in

You started out in Heldelion, just outside the Seven Moons. On Blackstone Street, east of a major crossroads. Its neighbors include Moneychanger’s shop, Abel’s Exchange. The inn is a single storey stone-walled building, with a reinforced wooden door and a large cellar. A collection of tankards from many lands sits upon a shelf. Accomodations consist of a single large room with wooden cots and several hammocks in the common room. The innkeeper is a heavyset male elf named Montgomery.

When you went inside, you had a brief confrontation with Montgomery, the barkeep, who held you at knifepoint to check for boils under your arms. Had to make sure you all ’weren’t sick’, of course.

The Seven Moons is slightly cramped, and brightly lit. The tables are a touch too close to the wall, and the bar area is the front of the kitchen, which doesn’t seem to be a very efficient set up. The establishment is clearly in need of an extension to relieve the somewhat small chiseled stone pub of its congestion issues. The inn is kept wonderfully toasty, and the warm air makes you comfortable and sleepy

Shortly after being checked for infection, you asked about living dead and corpse eaters, and got this response:

“People comin through Heldelion stop into the seven moons pretty often, probably the nicest inn establishment they’ve got unless you know somebody with a private residence to stay in. Coulda just been tall tales, but we don’t know, especially since the spellbound up and absconded with him after he kept yappin’ about it. The kind of thing you might chalk up to nerves, or too much drink, but seein how serious the authorities took it, maybe there’s something real bad going on out west.What I don’t know is whether they took him because they knew where he been, or they took him cuz he was talkin about it in my establishment. And I ain’t gonna run no more risk than I need without proper remuneration, so that’s all yer gettin outta me.”

It wasn;t long before you decided “Monty” wasn;t worth your time, and you decided not to bribe him. You DID, however, drop a whole lot of golden coin into the performer’s bucket – a nervous show wizard doing light puppeteering (poorly) was the target of a lot of attention (and abuse) by the party, Elythia particularly. You eventually learned this wizard was named Fordham, and he was a failed applicant to Triddy College who planned to run the blockade and try again this year.

Luring him to your private room in the cellar, you convinced him to give you this information, after promising to pay him (though I;m not sure you ever actually did):

Far as he’s concerned, ain’t nothin goin on out west or nowhere else neither. I;m just gonna work my business and live my life – a long life, free from any kind of magical torture. I’m just gonna stay here in Heldelion, where I know my neighbor and ain’t nothing bad happening. If you gotta go in to town, or try and see wizards at the colleges, go right ahead. you can even deliver a letter for me. Or go get someone to make up a potion for Maybelle and her fever. Which Is just a regular fever and weren’t no corpse eating fever, which ain’t real. never even heard of it.

OK, ok So I d hear it’s worse further west, out here we haven’t had it nearly as bad as some of the dispatches have told us about it. Maybe overhear somebody saying no business contacts from cities back west, or a guard saying his friend was stationed out west, and he hasn’t heard from them in a long time, or yadda yadda – west is where the worst of the sickness is, apparently – so WE ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO GO THERE – quarantined, by order of the wizarding council. Triddy College, nobody goes in or out. Tower Nandoladh, doubly so. At least that’s what my Uncle Mortrud tells me… told me, few weeks back. Last message he got out I guess.

Eventually you asked him about the spellbound, and he, like everyone else you’ve spoken to so far, was shocked that you might actually want to talk to them. He explained:

– They’re some sort of cross between soldiers and police really – like a town guard but ain’t guarding the town, just the college’s assets, per se. Overall they’s here to help keep the peace and make sure everything goes smooth, but they’re real trouble if they mean to be. Most of them don’t never speak, far as I have heard, and they’re big. Enhanced, I think. Like the wizards give them enchantments or transmutations to make them better at their jobs. But they are almost soulless they say or well, they have souls, but not in their bodies no more.

He might take you along to run the blockade if you can help pay his application fees and some tuition, and you said you’d think about it if you needed to find a way west

Afterward you shooed him out and took some sleep. But not before buying a feast from Monty with more than double the cost in tips – ‘keep the change’, Thomas said. You’re quite the big spenders!

You continued this big ballin’ free spender lifestyle rolling the next morning when you went to the shops. You started at Heldelion goods, and bought lengths of chain and blowgun darts from a man named Buford. He had a grudge against Abel Fringe, the money changer, claiming he was the source of the counterfeit iron coins, and he invited you to go reckon with him. You didn’t take him up on the offer. Layla did buy parchment and she and Elythia set about copying Teclis’ potion recpies

Next you went to The Copper Potion, and dealt with the very tall and very messy alchemist Perry, who bought your acid flasks and sold you some healing potions. You asked about his special Iron Skin potion, but didn;t buy it (threatened him to test its worth, if Rooke is to be understood) and then gave him a copy of Teclis’ notes. This made him very suspicious indeed, and he may have thought you stole or murdered for them.

You then all went to the sick house. You were met by Scarlett, the makeshift nurse/orderly who invited you in to Gertrude’s old manse.
The first thing that you noticed was the smell. It was a pungent reek of unwashed bodies and unchecked decay. Scattered about the floor were beds of woven fiber, upon which lay scores of filthy, moaning figures, all wrapped in rags. Between these stricken wretches drifted figures in white robes, their faces wrapped in handkerchiefs of white cloth, their hands gloved and their heads covered by dark skullcaps. They looked almost wraith-like in the gloom.

She ointroduces you to Beuregard, a Cleric of Boccob who is ministering to one of the dying.
‘You’re currently staying in one of the city’s most delightful hospices, A fine establishment indeed, beloved of the lame and the ruined. Cheap beds with fine linen sheets and a host of eager bed-lice whose bites will keep you warm through the long nights.” – He’s sarcastic, and has greying hair at his temples – indicating he is very old for an elf indeed. He’s glad to hear that you can help, though he really is only interested in talking with Elythia, after he detects that she’s the only magically capable among the party that meets his standards.

Elythia learned he had a device called a ‘Fulcrunalium" or something like that, which allowed him to communicate with other clerics. It was through this device that he had learned about another hospital, further west, where the gravedigger ran out of space to bury people so they have an overflow, then he died, so the bodies are just kind of tossed into the bog. Apparently one of the bodies got back out of the bog and went to lay back in their bed – he was surprised to hear it because oit either meant he wasn;t dead and they threw hoim out by accident, or she was seeing things and imagined a corpse walk. He chalked it up to overwork in their sick ward. elythia wanted to use this fulrcunalium and pressed you all into ointment duty to ’free up some time’ to use it.

During this ointment aplication session, Thomas came across a man who said:

“Are you here to kill me?’ he said in the rattling hiss of a man dying from blacklung. ‘Normally I’d take offense at that, but frankly with the way I’m feeling, death would come as something of a relief. So get about granting it if you’re going to.” – The man was previously in Khakal, north, but was run out of the town for necromancy. The plan had been to raise corpses to study them, ask them questions about their symptoms, see if they still felt them, see if he couldn’t use it to stop the spread. Give unlife to the body to stop the growth of the disease, that sort of thing. People didn’t like it, but they really didn’t like it once the Shamblers started showing up. Said I must have been trying to raise an army of the dead for myself, ran me out. I’m pretty sure it was the damn Halfling refugees, but that’s irrelevant now.

He was on the way to the tower of Oror to speak with the Wizard there – he has a record of old necromantic sites that were destroyed – hoped he might steal some information and go dig something up to try again. Oror wouldn’t like that too much though, seeing as he killed half them necromancers in the first place. Well, woulda done, ‘cept I got the filth fever on the ride over, slumped on my horse, and woke up here. ’spose somebody brought me in, and now they won’t let me leave.

Thomas didn;t kill the man, and didn;t save him either, but gathered the party to hear the story. They thought about going to Oror to eaither meet the battlemage, or to learn about necromancy by stealing the info like the dying ,man was going to. They also considered going to Khakal to see these shamblers. However, Elythia decided it was time to use the fulcrunarium and demanded they leave to try it out.

On the way there, the spellbound blocked their path.
Dark figures tall and lithe in their ornate and unmistakably arcane plate The armor was Deep red, and each hefted a halberd or spear taller even than the elves themselves. Incorporeal wisps came off them as they moved, their masks expressionless,.Grim and silent, the spellbound walked your way, in no apparent hurry. One swung her weapon idly, the air filled with crackling contrails in its wake.

Beauregard insisted yo uall submit, and kneeled with his hands outstretched. They were fused together like cuffs of flesh, and the party in turn eith followed to stood defiant, but all were eventually bound and hooded. Beauregard was unceremoniously beheaded, and you were al led to jail.

In jail, there was an insane man, cackling and bashing into the bars, telling you that ’yo’re next’ and to tell them everything they wanted and it might be only a little painful. there also was a stoic, unmoving spellbound, and across the way, Latham, the gatekeeper – arrested for aiding you, not reporting the death of Teclis, and speaking ill of the colleges. Not technically illegal, that last one, but not smiled on regardless.

In turn you were each pulled to an interrogation room with a bald elf. grabbed by the sleeve and straight through the bars as if they were transparent. Unless they weren’t, as rooke found, painfully, multiple times.

You were each asked direct questions about your whereabouts, your items you had possessed, what you knew about teclis, and so on. Some were more forthcoming than others. eventually, Elythia was taken up to the room, and the elf identified himself to her as Sutton, apologized for detaining her, saying he would not have done so if he knew she was working for the council – at which point he returned the shadowy pearl she got from Skalla. He didn’t;t understand why she kept such company, but knew it wasn;t his place to ask. You were all freed immediately following, though he confiscated the notes and potions. Elythia convinced him to let Latham go as well, since she ‘needed him’ – whatever that meant. Either way you all re-collected your belongings, bewildered, and stepped out of the spiral tower. the end.

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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…

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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.

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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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