The Scaled Advent

Battle on the High Seas
In Which Risto Returns to Exact Revenge

With the seas alive, the Millenium Albatross cut through the waves under the competent care of its larger than life captain, Scarif. The captain swaggered the quarterdeck, alternating between shouting orders and guiding the ship. His crew of eight scattered about their various tasks. They worked, ate, and rested in shifts.

Syl began the day by ritual casting Water Breathing on all the crew. One, the first mate whose name was Kamino, refused his efforts and claimed to get along just fine without it, thank you. Shrugging his shoulders, the elf wizard retired to his quarters and cracked open the Tome of Understanding to spend the next ten hours deciphering the text within.

Igneel amused himself by swinging to and fro on ropes and sail lines. He vaulted along cross spar and mainmast alike to the bemusement of Scarif and his crew.

Down below, Foradjinn, after some time spent getting used to the motion of the sea, gingerly crossed the fo’castle deck to approach Tinuviel. “I have been thinking about yesterday,” he said. “About my strengths being others’ weaknesses and my weaknesses being others strengths. And how I am to help this tribe,” he motioned to Kaven leaning on the rail across from them, to Igneel as the monk reached the crowsnest again, “to the best of those strengths.”

Tinuviel let him speak.

“There is someone I must kill.” Foradjinn scratched his jaw and realized how awkward that sounded. “He killed a dear friend of mine and so I will kill him. His name is Rabastan.” Unbuckling the flametounge dagger from around his waist, the bard sighed. “I planned to kill that necromancer with this blade. But,” he winced, “I am not the hardiest fighter.” He handed the dagger to Tinuviel. “Now, if you ever leave this group, I’ll want this back. And I eventually want to give it to his father.” An intense gleam entered his eye. “And if I find it in my back one of these days…” he left the threat unfinished.

“I will use it well.” The half-elf rogue nodded and buckled it around her own waist. “And I have your back, Foradjinn.”

“You remind me of my friend. Sneaky, but less prone to rush into things than he.” Foradjinn half-smirked.

Tinuviel chuckled. From her pack, she pulled out paper and a quill. “You know, I have something for you, too.” She drew out a series of symbols. “Do you know what a ‘cipher’ is?” For the next few hours, she taught the bard a secret language only the two of them could understand.

As evening fell, the sails full with the rising wind, Igneel lounged up in the crow’s nest. A light rain accompanied the coming twilight but over the hiss of water upon wave, he caught another sound: flapping wings.

From the east, two wyverns and a third, more massive creature flew through the air in pursuit of the Millennium Albatross. The third beat massive leathery wings and boasted three heads, one of a ram, one of a dragon, and one of a lion.

While Scarif tolled the alarm, Tinuviel wisely decided to yell for Sylarese who was still below and oblivious, nose deep in wisdom. The wizard appeared and his irritation soon disappeared as the wyverns pounced upon the hapless crewmembers. Scarif himself fell before the large beast, now recognized as a chimera, the stuff of legend.

Syl skipped through the battle, casting Greater Invisibility upon Tinuviel as he passed. Setting aside his differences for the moment, Kaven cast bless on himself, Foradjinn, and Tinuviel before misty stepping atop one wyvern to divine smite it. Igneel took it upon himself to engage the chimera as it roared in triumph over the body of the slain Captain Scarif. Syl hid himself away in order to maintain invisibility and Tinuviel soon made good use of the advantage, shredding away at their foes.

Foradjinn, recalling his efforts to remain out of harm’s way, made the other wyvern’s life miserable with his vicious longbow from the fo’csle. In the thick of the fight, he spotted another wyvern approaching, this one with a familiar rider. “Risto!” he bellowed. “You traitor!”

The copper-colored dragonborn, peeved to find Kaven riding one wyvern and Igneel patting the chimera which Syl had suggested take a nap, cast hold person upon the monk and paladin. He then proceeded to cast a series of fireballs to set the ship ablaze.

Peeved to hear someone else using fireball instead of him, Syl burst out of the cabin he’d retreated to and returned fire. Tinuviel appeared and soon rained punishing strikes upon Risto’s wyvern. The dragonborn dodged away, casting Kaven and Syl into the sea in a frustrated telekinetic rage.

Provoked to attack the bard who had been bothering him with arrows, one wyvern swooped down in a vicious flurry of talons and tail. Foradjinn fell unconscious but the now-visible Tinuviel sprang to his aid. The bard gulped the proffered healing potion, enough to get him on his feet again. He cast invisibility upon the rogue, cried, “Remember: Dragon Enders!” and staggered behind the mizzenmast for some cover.

He caught a glimpse of Syl floating up out of the sea, having had his pixies cast fly upon him and Kaven. Igneel and Tinuviel took down the remaining wyvern and the chimera, then continued to pummel away at Risto’s mount. The dragonborn looked about to run.

“Risto! Going somewhere?” Stumbling out again, Foradjinn notched an arrow to his longbow once more and let fly. The shaft pierced through the wyvern’s eye and Risto fell from its back to the deck of the ship.

Back shattered, Risto raised himself up on his elbows. Opening his mouth, he spat a stream of acid at the approaching Igneel. The monk dodged it with ease and halted next to the helpless opponent. Igneel gazed down, a look of pity upon his face.

An expression passed between them and in that moment they understood one another perfectly. Risto’s eyes closed and his shoulders lost their manic tenseness as Igneel’s fist drove down into the center of his ki.

And the party stared down at their vanquished foe as the ship continued to burn around them.

Rousting about For Risto
In Which Neglected Treasure is Examined and the Dragon Enders are Born

In the early evening, Syl traipsed around from house to house, casting his mending spell with enthusiastic abandon. Mordis scrambled after him, the wizard happily explaining magic in his usual convoluted manner and teaching the young boy the basics. Foradjinn and Tinuviel chatted about their heritage. The latter’s mother turned out to be a drow who lived a reclusive life in Port Cecil, attempting to stay out of the limelight.

Slipping away, Kaven visited Ilin, the dwarf fruit seller. She was glad to see him and he asked of her a favor. “Please, hold on to this for me.” And he handed her the mortar and pestle. He dodged the questions of its purpose but she assured him of her discretion.

Tinuviel also slipped away to train in the swamp, practicing her mother’s teachings until she at last learned the spell blur. She returned to the house where the rest slept and discovered Syl up early as usual, busily learning invisibility. They congratulated each other on their successes.

Heading out into the day, the party passed through the busy crowds. One third of the population numbered the casualties, wounded and dead. Those who had passed on were laid to rest in what ground there was, roots and vines placed over their graves to outline them and slowly fade into the swamp. Some distance beyond the town, hooded figures could be seen – the druids kept their distance, always watching. Once the gnomes assisted the best they could, they, too, retreated to beneath the city.

Over breakfast, Tinuviel turned to the group and asked, “So what is the goal? What will you all do now once we ensure the lair is safe? What is this group’s purpose, anyway?”

The rest looked at one another. Syl spoke up, “Not much unites us but,” he pulled himself up to his full height with a proud gleam in his eye, “It is the duty of superior beings to assist lesser mortals.” The gleam turned fanatical. “If I can learn all the magic I want along the way, so much the better.”

Foradjinn rolled his eyes and also offered a little of his backstory, about his mentor David and how he taught the half-elf bard how to become the Voice of the Kabir against the tribe’s wishes.

The group then decided to find Alder and ask him to take them to the dragon lair again. They found the hermit having breakfast in the ruins of the foodcourt near Ilin. The dwarf fruit seller overheard them ask about the lair and was amazed to hear of its location in the school where Xavvoril taught. “I’d heard stories of her and how wonderful it was to learn there,” Ilin said. “She was a druid with the rest of them, but friendlier, more willing to share her knowledge. They didn’t care for that as much.”

Meanwhile, Alder was less than enthusiastic about guiding the group back to the lair. Wishing to spare the hermit the danger and not desiring to row, Syl suggested hiring a boat to take the more-traveled way to the library.

Mayor Jakku, whom they visited while he was clearing his shattered front porch, suggested they hire Captain Umbara. Before heading out, Syl asked if the dead wizard Yavin had any next of kin. The mayor knew of none. The elf wizard professed interest in the magic user’s belongings if the city did not need them. “Let me think on it,” was all the mayor replied.

Hugging the coast and taking the larger tributaries, Umbara ferried them to the library. He could not get as close due to the shallows.

“No worries!” said Syl. “I cast waterbreathing on all of us this morning?”

“Really?” Tinuviel appeared quizzical.

“Of course! I do it every day.” With that, the wizard hopped into the water. Tinuviel shrugged and followed. Kaven proved a little more reluctant, having fallen into the shallows the day before and retched on the swampwater as a result. Behind him, Igneel and Foradjinn exchanged mischievous glances and shoved the hesitant halfling over the side.

Sputtering, Kaven made for the closest land while the other four swam and surfaced near the main hall where the lair was. Though they searched and kept on guard, none of the five encountered Risto. Those inside the main hall shoveled the remaining gold and platinum into the bag of holding.

Reaching down, Syl’s fingers encountered a familiar shape in the water near the pile of gold. He groaned, realizing it was a book and figuring the water would have ruined it by now. But when he pulled it up out of the water, the beads of moisture sloughed off the leather cover, revealing the pages as completely dry.

Tinuviel, with a grunt, hoisted up a gleaming copper-colored set of plate armor. “This looks useful.”

Spotting a gleam in the water, Igneel pried at it and Foradjinn felt the ground under his feet move. He fell over with a splash as the monk revealed a beautiful sword.

With his magic, Syl identified them as the Tome of Understanding, Dwarven Plate, and a Dancing Sword. Also in the coin pile, Igneel pounced on a set of golden masks, one of a human face, the other of a bird. Tinuviel discovered a small idol of Sune, the goddess of love and beauty.

Still on patrol, Kaven cast detect good and evil. A sense of evil caused him to jump and clutch his hammer close. He headed in the direction, wading through the water, into the main hall where the group shoveled the final coins into the bag of holding. Syl straightened and dried himself off, grumbling at the aches in his back. “Come along,” he said. “Time to go back.” He passed Kaven, heading toward the break in the wall.

The tinge of evil the paladin sensed followed the elf wizard, emanating from his book bag.

The party exited. Nearby, Kaven pointed out some grey slabs and small stone arrangements half-submerged he had noticed. Syl examined the strange writing, identified it as druidic, and declared it to be Xavvoril’s grave.

Following a brief stop to ransack the ruins of the Conquered Dawn, the ship the dragon had picked up and dropped nearby, for one solitary healing potion, they all returned to Umbara’s boat and he set out for Telfore once again.

The sun tilted toward the horizon as they came in view of what remained of Telfore’s harbor. At the sight of a large unfamiliar ship there, Umbara mumbled, “Oh, great, he’s back.”

“Scariff?” guessed Foradjinn.


Back at Jakku’s, the party revealed the gold and the staggered mayor directed them to conceal it in the abandoned house they had slept in the evening previous. “The wine cellar will do nicely.”

Foradjinn cast sending to Lander. “We hit a small snag and can’t teleport back. Can you send someone to fetch us?”

“None of us have been to Telfore. It’s risky and comes with a high cost.”

“Well,” the bard said to the rest. “We might find our ride back to Port Cecil on that.” He waved a hand at the masts of Scariff’s ship towering over the town.

The group agreed and they found the boisterous captain in the food court, telling tall tales. Foradjinn wandered up and attempted to match his charismatic manner. "Good evening! Are you Captain Scariff? "

“You indeed have the pleasure of speaking to him! And you are?”

With a smirk, the bard crossed his arms. “I am Foradjinn, leader of the Dragon Enders.” He gave an expressive wave to the rest behind him. “You have us to thank for that stinking carcass in the middle of town and subsequent clear seas.”

“Do I indeed?” Scariff chuckled, though looking faintly impressed.

“And we find ourselves in need of transport back to Port Cecil to continue our good service. Might you be for hire?”

After some haggling, Scariff knocked fifty gold off the price and held to his price of twelve hundred gold for passage. Tinuviel’s references to the good graces of the crown and Foradjinn’s assurance of mutual reputational benefit did little to talk him down to any lower sum. Syl solved the impasse by dipping into the funds they had retrieved for Jakku and, satisfied, Scariff told them to return in the morning.

Back in the wine cellar, the group indulged in a few bottles. Igneel practiced his coin weaponry with the vast multitude of ammunition while they conversed. “Good initiative,” Syl said to Foradjinn. “Stepping up as leader and naming us.”

The bard shrugged. “I remembered in the stories – there are groups of heroes who have many different names. ‘Dragon Enders’ does not have to be our only name, nor I its leader. We each have our strength and each can lead this group when those strengths are needed. That is when our names will multiply.” Bringing out the flame tongue dagger, he turned it over and over in his hands. “There is much I cannot do and will have to trust each of you to help me. But there is much I can do that each of you cannot do and will have to trust me to help you.”

Foradjinn’s eyes flickered to Kaven and Tinuviel. “And yes, we may not agree with how each of us does things. The importance lies in checking each other. When Kaven is worried about Gwendolyn’s motivation, when Syl’s obsession with magic becomes harmful to himself, when…if my helping Anaya- if my debt to the hag hurts people,” he nodded to Kaven, “We need to hold each other accountable.”

He poured himself more wine. “So, do we fight the dragons? Not for Gwendolyn, or a king, not necessarily, though it’s fine if we do. But for the people or for whatever good reason we have?”

Syl tilted his glass in salute. “To the Dragon Enders!”

Each of the others followed suit, echoing the toast.

The next morning, they headed out, bidding farewell to Jakku. Kaven dropped in to grab breakfast at the food court.

Ilin happily dished the paladin up some oatmeal and fruit. She oohed and aahed over a silver necklace Kaven had kept back from the dragon’s horde. “You want your mortar and pestle back?” she asked.

He nodded and told her of the gold in the abandoned house. “If you find it’s not getting distributed right, you know where it is,” he added.

“Jakku may not be the best mayor,” Ilin shrugged, “But he’s not bad. I’ll make sure.”

“Fair enough.” Kaven finished his oatmeal. “You’re a great leader, Ilin. You really jumped in and helped people after the dragon helped. They are lucky you’re here.”

“Thanks, dearie. Take care of yourself.”

Boarding the ship, the group was greeted by the bombastic Captain Scariff. “Are you ready to sail the sea, to chance our fate against the face of the ocean itself?” he demanded with a flourish.

“Can I sit up there?” Igneel pointed at the crow’s nest.

“If you can climb up there- oh, this will be interesting.” Scariff grinned as the monk ascended in short order and with great ease.

And as the wind filled the sails, they headed out into the forty-ninth day.

Foradjinn Goes Ape
In Which Pursuit Leads to Bittersweet Victory

To the unsettling sound of jengu calling and the ruckus of trees being uprooted, the party paused within the tiny hut. But only for a moment.

Grabbing the front of Tinuviel’s shirt, Kaven threw her from the hut. “Who do you work for?” he roared. “Why were you helping Risto?”

Before she could answer, Foradjinn poked his head out of the hut. “Look, you idiots – I have to get back to Anaya,” he snapped. “Whatever argument you have, argue in here, in safety.”

Each exchanged glares as they returned to the hut. “I work for Gwendolyn,” Tinuviel growled. “Just as I said.”

“All I know is you came running out with Risto. Did you know he attacked the dragonborn monastery with that black dragon before?” The halfling’s fingers tightened on the handle of his warhammer.

“What about you? I didn’t see you helping us! You went off with Igneel somewhere,” the half-elf fired back.

“Wait, Kaven,” Foradjinn raised his hand. “She snuck up on Risto and then tried to cast a spell upon him. I shot him with an arrow but he dodged her magic. He was going to strike back but gave us a choice to help him.” Shrugging, he crossed his arms. “I still didn’t trust him and I covered him while Tinuviel and Syl helped. I didn’t want to fight him and the dragon both again.” His eyes flickered towards the edge of the hut dome as another distant crash announced yet another tree falling in the dragon’s rage.

Not entirely convinced, Kaven cast Zone of Truth upon Tinuviel. She repeated the answers: she worked for Gwendolyn. “Gwendolyn works for the king,” Tinuviel added. “and I don’t know Risto.” She sighed. “Gwendolyn truly wants to help the people. I know you care about them. We need to trust each other.”

Alder cleared his throat. “I dunno about all of this, but I’m starving. What do we do next?”

“Good point,” said Syl. His eyes rolled back into his head and his vision projected out through Sai. The owl familiar ascended and peered around, searching for the dragon. Just it time, it seemed, for the flying black lizard to also rise out of the foliage and wing east.

“That’s toward Telfore,” said Foradjinn. He cast sending to Jakku to warn him and heard the mayor’s panicked reply of disbelief.

The party debated on how to pursue. While Syl weighed the merits of polymorph with his pixies and sprites, one of the massive trees on the island stirred. Stretching its rotted limbs, it arose from the ground and lumbered toward the hut. With a few whacks to shake the hut to its core, the mute rotting wood behemoth gave a little more urgency to establishing departure plans. Syl cast minor illusion to distract it.

And thus it was that Kaven and Foradjinn were transformed into giant eagles. Their new sizes dispelled Leomund’s Tiny Hut and the corrupted tree’s fist connected with Eagle Foradjinn to give him a gentle lift onward minus a few feathers.

Above the treetops, the eagles carried the rest high into the heavens. The swamps dropped beneath them and they could see the winding waterways through the shrubs and trees. The gloaming wither stretched away to the north and they winged east. After some flying, they spotted a black speck in the distance. It appeared lizardlike as they drew closer, and it descended toward the familiar set of buildings of the town center.

“Drop us on him!” Tinuviel poked Foradjinn’s feathery chest and Igneel nodded in agreement. Foradjinn obeyed, diving toward the black dragon. By now the beast had destroyed the mayor’s house. The food court was aflame and the Dragon perched atop the burning building, tearing into the wounded. Foradjinn let out a screech, Syl cast invisibility upon Tinuviel, and she and Igneel leaped to the attack. The giant eagle bard clamped talons on the dragon’s neck, driving his beak toward its eyes.

Kaven, meanwhile dropped Alder off away from the fight. The hermit barreled towards the decimated house of the mayor, seeking to help. Syl hid himself away in a house on the other side of the plaza and focused on maintaining the invisibility. He heard a whimpering noise drew his attention to a table on the other side of the room. “Stay hidden,” he whispered to the boy hiding there. “Stay quiet. What’s your name?”


Outside, Kaven flew back to the half-destroyed docks and picked up a net to entangle the dragon. The dragon let out an earth-shaking roar which caused Tinuviel and Kaven to shrink back in fear, unable to move closer or attack as effectively.

Foradjinn attempted to stay out of the dragon’s way once his eagle form fell due to the dragon’s attack. Unfortunately, he soon fell unconscious. Syl, watching from the window, sent Sai through whom he cast Cure Wounds upon the wounded bard. Then, motioning one of his pixies to cast Polymorph upon Foradjinn, he closed the window once again.

Eyes snapping open, Foradjinn let out an undulating bellow. Fur burst from his skin, greying across his chest, blackening over his back, and he flipped onto his now massive feet. Now a huge ape faced the dragon who appeared a little quizzical then a little annoyed then a lot more annoyed as the ape’s fist soon had him hopping and flapping around in a most undignified manner.

The fight continued and dragon’s acid breath soon took its toll on the polymorphed bard. As the bard collapsed once more between the claws of the angry foe, Kaven overcame his fear long enough to drop the net upon the dragon. The halfling then tore at the tangled foe with his eagle beak until an irritated series of snaps from the dragon’s jaws popped him out of the form.

It was enough of a diversion for Syl to lean out of the window, send Sai to heal the bard once more, and order his last sprite to cast polymorph once again.

Difficult as it was to tell over the burning odor of buildings aflame, the slight whiff of acidic brimestone could very well have been a sigh of frustration from the black dragon. The giant ape charged once again, trading blows. Then as the blood leaked between the scales, the giant ape stooped to scoop up a certain charging halfling. Foradjinn hurled Kaven at the reeling dragon, the light of Yondalla gathering around the paladin’s hammer. In an explosion of holy energy and a high screech, the dragon fell dead.

Then Yondalla’s hero wiped off his hammer and wandered off to find Schwarma.

Still in ape form, Foradjinn set about collecting trophies. From the window, Syl called, “Toss me one of the dragon teeth.” He caught it and handed it to Mordis. “Congratulations! You survived a dragon attack.” Rubbing his hands together, the wizard cleared his throat. “Right. We should probably find your parents.”

“My mom works in the mayor’s house.”

Recalling the flattened building he had seen when they flew in, Syl gulped.

As their hearts slowed from adrenaline rush, the party realized how devastated Telfore truly was. The wounded and shell-shocked filled the streets. The flames still raged and those who were able formed a bucket chain.

Syl escorted Mordis to the mayor’s house and discovered Alder there, comforting Jakku. The mayor sobbed amidst the ruins, the hermit with his hand upon his shoulder. “Your mother, Mocalla, is dead, son,” the latter said to Mordis. The boy joined the mayor in his tears and Syl left them to grieve.

Meanwhile, Kaven helped the cheery dwarf merchant perform triage and assist the wounded. Tinuviel suggested checking on the gnomes in their tunnels. As they headed that direction, Syl mused over the possibility of returning to the lair upon the morrow. “I’m sure that eldunar is in there,” he insisted.

Kaven exchanged glances with Igneel. “No. I have it.”

Eyes lighting up, the wizard clapped his hands. “You do?! Where did you find it?”

“It wasn’t among the treasure. It was in another building.”

“Can I see it?”

Pausing before the entrance to the tunnels, the paladin fixed him with a stern, searching gaze. “Why?”

“It’s magic! I want to study it.”

“Later.” Following Tinuviel into the tunnels, Kaven ignored Syl’s protests. Beneath the ground, they found many gnomes clustered together. They had yet to surface due to hearing the battle and promised to do so to assist.

Once in the city above, Syl again pressed Kaven to allow him access to the eldunar. “You can hold on to it; I just want to identify and see what it does!”

Kaven knew the elf was hiding something but at last produced the mortar and pestle. Syl, through his magic, found it indeed increased the wisdom of one who attuned to it and would substantially increase the effects of the potion created with it as well.

“This…this magic is a deep magic I have seen nowhere else.” Syl’s brows knitted. He did not protest as Kaven tucked it away once more. The party checked Yavin’s house to find the circle intact but most of the ceiling collapsed. Yavin himself lay dead in the middle of the rubble.

As the day drew to a close and the survivors huddled close against the night, Foradjinn turned to the rest. “It would be good to return to the lair tomorrow.” He motioned around at the shattered buildings. “They will need the gold to rebuild.” Tracing his thumb over the flame-tongue dagger in his belt, his eyes narrowed. “But we had better make sure Risto is not there.”

How to Row Swamps and Loot Lairs
In Which Mr. Black Dragon is Out but Risto is In

Dawn broke over the swamp. The heat of the day boiled the humidity into heaviness around the party as they awoke to the smell of frying meat. “When y’all wakin’ up?” Alder stood over them, a pan with clouds of smoke in his hand. “Morning’s half gone!”

Contrary to the hardy man’s statement, it was about seven in the morning. He had been up since five. Over a breakfast of flibbet, he revealed he knew where the line of dragon befoulment began. “Now, before we set out, a few ground rules. There are all manner of creatures out there. If I tell you to somethin’, you do it, no questions asked. If I tell you to drop down and lie still, you do it, right?”

Agreeing, they all finished breakfast and set out. Alder rowed the skiff deep into the tussocks and floating mud islands. Mist hung over the landscape, muting most of the sound but for the odd bug chittering, the water lapping, and sometimes a strange birdcall.

“Jengu,” Alder identified it when Foradjinn asked. “Butt ugly. Tasty meat, though.”

The winding swampways now took them past massive trees. Large roots trailed own into the water, holding the floating sod together. Alder pointed out useful plants to Foradjinn, then pointed up at one tree to the right. “See what’s wrong there?” he said to the rest.

The tree roots trailed into the waterway like the others. But the water around it was not brown – more muddy than cloudy, with strange bubbles nearby. The treebark appeared to be sloughing and melting off. “That’s the line of befoulment,” the lines in Alder’s face deepened in sober guardedness.

Syl sent Sai up to scout in that direction. As his eyes rolled up in his head and he projected through his familiar, Alder grew even more unsettled. Tunuviel explained and promised she would push the wizard in if it became too unsettling. “I’m gonna hold you to that,” the hermit chuckled.

To the north, the familiar could easily see the withered area. The canopy took on a dreary color, more trees missing their bark. Sai also spotted a small inlet and bay a few miles away.

Tunuviel meanwhile spotted a mottled lizard-like form standing high in a tree, watching them. She turned back to warn Alder but when she turned to point it out, it had gone. The party continued on, though they casually positioned themselves at the four points of the raft, weapons to hand. Kaven amused Alder by imitating a Jengu and belching.

At last they reached the library ruins. Various stone remains dotted a series of islands, a few bridges stretching between them. The boat passed one missing a wall. Inside was a cauldron and series of cupboards. By general agreement, they directed Alder to guide the skiff toward the cathedral-like main building on the center island.

This main building was missing its roof and a few portions of its surrounding walls. The tussock it stood upon had sunk over time and as they disembarked, they sank into water up to their ankles. As much as they could, each made their stealthy way toward a break in the wall. To the west, a Jengu’s call cut off in mid squawk. Each knew they must not linger.

Syl popped through the break in the wall and found the water inside to be deeper than outside. At one end of the hall, he spotted a massive pile of gold. Tinuviel, muttering a curse at his heedlessness, motioned for the others to wait and caught hold of the wizard. She also noticed the gold but spotted a hooded and cloaked figure rummaging through it and the other baubles piled there.

Thankfully, it didn’t notice them, so engaged was it in ransacking the place. Syl, squinting, realized it was Risto, the copper dragonborn traitor who had led the assault on the dragonborn monastery.

Tinuviel motioned for Syl to be silent and cast disguise self to appear like the mottled kobold she had seen in the tree. She snuck up on Risto and cleared her throat. “Sir!” she said in Draconic. “I have a report from the perimeter.”

“Wha?!” Caught off guard, the dragonborn whirled. He cleared his throat and attempted to look officious. “Yes! Fine. Yes. What is it?”

“We’ve spotted the adventurers coming.”

“If they come closer, let me know and we’ll deal with them.”

“What should we do to fight them?”

“I’m not unduly worried – we can retreat and the dragon will eat them in one bite.”
Tunuviel bowed and backed away. Behind her, Foradjinn snuck out to get a line of sight on Risto, arrow notched. As the dragonborn turned to scrabble among the treasure, Tunuviel attempted to cast chromatic orb upon him and Foradjinn, taking the hint, let fly.

Once again, the dragonborn turned. The arrow thwacked into his shoulder, and he dodged the spell. “What?!”

Syl, no longer silent, yelled, “It’s Risto!”

Raising his claws in desperation toward them, Risto shook his head. “You?! Look, the dragon is returning! Help me find it before the dragon comes back!”

“What are you looking for?” Syl yelled, dashing forward, knowing full well.

“Something with a cloudy grey gem set into it,” Risto circled, keeping one eye on Foradjinn and Tunuviel. The latter lowered her hands and also leaped to assist. Foradjinn, still not trusting the dragonborn, lowered his bow a hair and inched forward. He covered the half-elf and elf as they shoveled valuables into the Bag of Holding.

Behind him, Kaven closed his eyes and muttered the incantation for his locate object spell. In the darkness, he saw a glimmer and turned toward it. Opening his eyes, the paladin spotted the building they had passed with the cauldron in it. He whistled softly up to Igneel who perched upon the half wall overlooking the interior of the sunken hall. Together, they snuck away and had Alder row them over. Though unsettled by their revelation that they had discovered the dragon’s lair, he promised to stay in and ready to depart with haste.

In the detritus of a desk and a series of shelves over a worktable, Kaven rooted through and discovered a mortar and pestle. In the mortar, one half of a cloudy gem had been set at the bottom of the bowl. The other half was set into the grinding end of the pestle.

All of a sudden, a distant roar echoed through the swamp. Risto jerked in surprise, his hood falling to reveal his face scales pockmarked and worn.

“Time to go,” Tunuviel yelled. Syl agreed, slinging the Bag of Holding to his belt.
They struggled toward the break they had entered from.

Stowing his bow, Foradjinn pretending to crow in triumph and grab something from the flooded treasure pile. “Found it! Come on,” he called to Risto. The dragonborn followed, demanding the object. They exited the building, the distant dragon roaring again, and piled upon the raft.

“Give it to me!” Risto held out his hand to Foradjinn.

“Help us retreat and I will give you what I have.”

“Give me what you have now.”

A strange sensation slipped over the bard’s mind and his hand moved on its own. He opened his fingers to reveal a small pile of gold coins.

“You fools!” Risto raged. “You’re all going to die!” He vanished with an arcane pop.

Shaking his head at the strange sensation, Foradjinn cast enhance ability upon Alder and they all helped him row quickly back up the channel. Turning the bend just in time, they heard whooshing of wings and a deafening thud as a large creature landed on the island. A pause and then another roar echoed through the swamp, louder and more furious than before.

“Get us to land! If we’re going to fight this thing, it can’t be on a boat.” They furiously paddled back the way they came and Alder guided them down another channel, through a thicket of ferns and under a canopy of trees. Before them lay another island with three trees upon it.

As soon as the boat touched the land, Syl leaped out and cast Leomund’s Tiny Hut over them all. “Well, then!” he turned to the rest. “Shall we divide up the loot?”

A Wizard's Rollercoaster ride
In which Syl falls, gets up, rises to the occasion, then falls

Concluding their search with more leftover bread than information, the party decided they would be best served to head out of town. They made their way down to the docks in search of Scariff, the one captain still willing to venture out onto the lake/swamp. Syl, more than ready to be out of the town, was the most excited when a deal was struck. In haste to be on the way and see some druids he stepped onto the boat, but the boat didn’t wait for his back leg to step off the dock before moving away. A bit of help and chuckling from his companions got him out of the water and onto the boat, and after some prestidigitaion to remove the brackish water they were on their way.

The openness of the lake and a bit of a breeze that the waters create was a welcomed respite from the humidity of the town itself. With some help on the oars, Scariff quickly guided them into the channels on the east side of the lake and directly into the midst of hidden druids waiting in ambush. Syl, speaking Druidic, greeted the elf who revealed himself to the party and explained their intrusion. Leaving Scariff with the boat, the party accompanied the elves through their forest “city” to the meeting hall grown into the trunks of four giant trees. They enjoyed a swamp-forest meal and a brief conversation, but only learned—again—that the dragon comes from the west. The group was led back out to the boat and took their leave of the just barely amicable elves.

Scariff pointed the boat towards the dragon and again asked for some assistance with the oars, and the party made their way to their only other lead: Alder the crazy swamp hermit. But, bubbles and a large shape underwater interrupted their trip. Quick thinking and quick casting from Syl distracted the monstrous crocodile-like creature while Scariff steered the boat quickly away from harm and eventually to the landing and path that leads to the abode of Alder.

While traversing the path that Scariff identified as the way to Alder’s place the group started noticing odd shell fragments fastened to the trees. Syl, true to his infinite curiosity pried one free and examined it. He had a funny sensation and froze. He quickly tried to cast a couple spells but failed to access the arcane source of his abilities. The extreme sense of discomfort he found from this interruption caused him to freeze and call out to everyone else to freeze, too. He was convinced to proceed, but took care to stay within the divine auras that surround Kaven. Alder, upset by the vandalism of his shell fragments, confronted the party as they approached. It became clear as the confrontation continued that they would not be receiving any favors from Alder, but he offered them a chance at reconciliation: if they could bring him fresh pieces of the shell of a flail snail to replace his waning collection, he would help them. A flail snail was refreshingly easy to locate with the help of one of Syl’s blink dogs. An attempt to speak with the beast failed, and a brief but oddly uncomfortable fight ensued.

Alder was surprised when his security measures alerted him to the earlier-than-expected return and even more surprised when the group came into view carrying the entire shell—he usually just breaks off some pieces. His surprise quickly turned into delight, and his demeanor toward the group flipped. He offered them his hospitality for the evening and the party was finally awarded with more information than “the dragon comes from the west.”

The evening and session concluded with Tinuviel happy to have more information, Igneel massaging his sore forearm after the long bow use, Foradjinn thinking of Aneya, Kaven thinking of Cleo, and Syl periodically trying to cast minor illusions.

An Exercise In Humidity
In Which The Party Heads to Telfore and Enjoy Swamp Goat and Challah Bread

The destination decided, Syl chose to stay at the inn and study Dimension Door; when he heard of Foradjinn’s intended trip back to the mage’s guild to procure spells, he asked the bard to inquire after the habits and weaknesses of black dragons.

Igneel, meanwhile, expressed an interest in owning a longbow. Foradjinn handed him the one made for him in Lylillin and the monk announced he was going out to practice. Tinuviel, catching on to his enthusiasm, steered him toward the archery range at the keep and spent some time instructing him. After quite a few misses, Igneel sheepishly explained it had been a considerable amount of time since he last practiced.

Heading out the door of the Gleaming Star, the sound of familiar clanking footsteps caught up with Foradjinn and Kaven joined him on his errand. They walked in silence for a minute until Kaven motioned toward the new weapon and shield and explained their origins. Then, with a serious look, he asked, “Do you trust Gwendolyn and Tinuviel?”

The bard, confused, asked him to explain.

Over the last day or so since they met the half-elf and her commander, Kaven felt suspicion rising within him. “It doesn’t seem like she cares about us,” he said of the latter. “We gave her information and she sends us to retrieve more information. I think,” he shook his head, “We should take the information and go on our own to wherever we need to, instead of doing what she wants.”

“What do you want in the end?” Foradjinn asked. “In the end, I want to help Anaya. We found her and she doesn’t want to go back to what she was before. But neither does she want to stay.” He nodded ahead toward the docks and the guild. “So, I’ll leave her a way if she ever decides to leave. I will come back and help her.” His voice cracking slightly, he sighed. “I don’t know anyone here who can help her – maybe Tinuviel and Gwendolyn can.”

The bard further confessed his lack of strength in combat but was gratified to discover his ability to help greater than he had among his old tribe.

Any more character development would have to wait as they approached the guild. Outside, Mouse stood before a raven-haired woman clad in rich blue robes. Magic glowed from her fingers and she cast it with a word toward the goliath. Whitish-azure energy struck him but he shrugged, much to her annoyance.

In fear for the goliath’s safety, Kaven tackled the woman and after much irritated explanation, it was revealed this woman’s name was Reina and she was testing out spells on the goliath. Mouse confirmed this and assured the worried halfling he was all right. “It’s what I do.” His shoulders lifted again in indifference.

“Who are you two, anyway?” Reina demanded. The bard introduced himself along with Kaven and the wizard narrowed her eyes. She had heard of them from Lander and had quite a few things to say on the subject. She expounded at some length on the high cost of enchanting, the complications of magical calligraphy, and the carelessness of guild leaders who did not take the time to examine price of time, labor, and materials of same to the extent which she, the enchanter, did. “So those prices he quoted you?” She made a rude noise with her lips. “Way too low. If you want the items, you’ll have to pay more.” Diatribe finished, she turned again to Mouse and raised her hands, the same energy forming at her fingers. This time, the light was brighter and Mouse appeared a little more worried.

Reina, however, did not know of Kaven’s ability to extend a little magical protection to nearby allies. The crackling bolt lanced out from the wizard’s fingers and fizzled away from the goliath’s form, much to her consternation. However, as Foradjinn and Kaven entered the guild, an even louder crackling bolt and a yelp from Mouse announced Reina’s success as the aura moved out of range.

Inside, Lander affirmed Reina’s warnings.

Foradjinn shrugged and paid him for the scroll of sending and the scroll of conjure minor elemental for Syl. “Now, what can you tell us of Black Dragons?”

The tactical information proved to be sparse; most of the dragonborn’s knowledge concerned the scientific and biological. A few interesting facts did stand out: “They are greedy bullies, yearning to torture and feeding upon fear. They’ll steal things just so they can have something and you cannot.” Furthermore, the presence of a black dragon would despoil the landscape, befouling water and the terrain for miles, and attracting evil creatures close.

Foradjinn and Kaven thanked the guild master and left. On the way out, they examined a cypress-smelling cauldron, stirred by a grumpy alchemist who told them it was a potion of enlargement. Foradjinn considered Kaven for a moment and said, “Your armor wouldn’t fit.”

Outside, they nodded goodbye to a battered-looking Mouse and a jubilant Reina and headed into the city. Kaven stopped a gruff, ripped halfling and asked for a restaurant recommendation. The friendly dockhand directed him to Tommy’s where “the portions are bigger than you.”

The hungry halfling parted ways with the half-elf, finding the blue-collar establishment full of his ilk and indeed generous amounts of food. Later in the evening, an elf struck up some lively music to an accommodating and foot-tapping crowd.

Foradjinn returned to the Gleaming Star and went from there with Tinuviel to the Bottom of the Barrel. The seedy establishment boasted a friendly bartender and delicious food. The Hawk asked her contacts in the bar to send word if they found Geoffry, the wayward pig farmer missing since the solstice festival some time ago.

Back at the Gleaming Star, Igneel grew bored and paid seventeen gold to try one of every drink. The bartender obliged with the inevitable result being one drunk monk being carried up to his room.

The next morning, Syl rose from his meditation to cast sending to Anaser, his friend in Asher Dan. “Are the rumors of increased orc strength true?” He asked. “Should we bring help and is there a teleportation circle available?”

“The orcs are indeed stronger,” came the reply. “There are a number of wounded. The teleportation circle outside the east entrance is available.” Syl found that most curious as they normally allowed direct teleportation to the inner city. Non-elf visitors were relegated to the east entrance.

The group gathered and ascended to hill to the keep, a hungover Igneel wincing at the noise. They arrived to a crowd of Sentinals gearing up and preparing to march out. Apparently, the town Dog Harbor to the north had been attacked by a white dragon. Tinuviel introduced the group to her inquisitor Beren and the grateful man offered them healing potions. He directed them to a good arms merchant for arrows and confirmed they could cast sending to him with information they discovered in Telfore.

After a minor delay in which Foradjinn dropped off various pelts to the tanners, the group teleported to Telfore via the mage’s guild.

Lander had mentioned they would meet the only wizard in Telfore, a gnome called Yavin. True to his word, they materialized in Yavin’s house, the gnome hopping down from a chair to shake their hands. He adjusted his beret and shrugged when they asked him about the dragon. “It’s pretty bad. The fishing fleet is too scared to go out any more, ‘cept for Captain Scarriff. He’s the only one who’ll sail the tributaries down to the sea and back again. Anyone else who thought they could attempt that was frightened off even more when the dragon picked up half a ship and carried it off.” Yavin shuddered. “It usually comes from the west but you’d better talk to Mayor Jakku. He can tell you more.” He shuffled his feet and the party got the impression he didn’t go out much.

Telfore stood above various streams and channels of the bayou. Boardwalks and catwalks wound around homes and shops, divided into a higher level, which they had exited onto from Yavin’s home, and a lower level. The humidity hit hard, a persistent mugginess aggravated by the swarms of mosquitoes.

In the center of the city, the catwalks joined together in a sort of conglomeration of eating areas and restaurants. These were clustered around a humongous roaring fire. Foradjinn spotted a few workers feeding logs into the flames and identified the wood as citronella, perfect for driving off airborne pests. Diners of various races and occupations filled the tables, eating and conversing; one table caught Tinuviel’s eye – six gnomes all talking in low voices together.

Kaven ordered catfish with grits and discovered from the fry chef that the one who knew the surrounding swamps the best was a crazy individual by the name of Alder. “You’d have to take a boat to find him,” the chef said. “Careful, though. All those potions and magic he does – dangerous.”

At a stand which boasted Doner Swamp Goat, Foradjinn tried to talk to the vendor but evidently burned his bridges when he mentioned their party came through the teleportation circle in Yavin’s house. The only other information he gave was to Tinuviel, saying the gnomes made “devices” and lived “downstairs” or on the low level catwalks. The swamp goat was delicious.

Tinuviel, still curious about the gnomes, struck up a conversation with a friendly dwarven fruit vendor. She took a liking to the half-elf and confirmed the rest of the rumors. Business was bad due to lack of shipments making it through the dragon blockade, Scarriff was a crazy captain who’d had the most success doing so, etc. However, the dwarf did mention the druids were worried about the townsfolk pulling too much from the ocean. She also expanded upon Alder, saying he turned eccentric once his wife passed away.

Igneel found a bread merchant and discovered the delights of challah bread with cinnamon and sugar, with cheese, and with salt.

After buying a round of drinks for the gnome tables who accepted with guarded politeness, Tinuviel returned to the rest of the party. Igneel followed, burdened with several dozen slices of fresh challah. Over lunch, they exchanged the information each had gleaned and aimed to visit the mayor’s house after the meal.

The mayor’s house exuded a quiet opulence. The wrought-iron gate had been carved with an insignia including the letters J and M. Beyond the gate, the open courtyard was well-tended and the house featured tall, white pillars. Knocking on the door, they were greeted by an elfin, ebony-haired beauty named Moncalla. Leading them through the vast entryway, she ushered them into a drawing room and left to bring them lemonade as the mayor entered.

Jakku was a portly man, impeccably dressed. His melancholic features and scruffy brown hair and sideburns spoke of a multitude of worries and tribulations. Still, the element of youth placed his age somewhere in his thirties, they guessed. After introductions and explanations, he leaned back in his chair. “Our best reports have the beast coming from the west at every attack,” he said. “Since the Conquered Dawn was torn asunder two weeks ago, no other ship has attempted to run the blockade.”

“What about Scarriff?” Tinuviel remembered the rumors of the crazy captain.

“Except for him. He’s currently out now.” Spreading his hands, Jakku half-smiled. “He’s somehow keeping the fish coming and that’s how we’re holding on.”

The talk turned to ease of transportation around the area. Jakku mentioned the gnomes had a network of tunnels which might prove of use should they prove trustworthy. “Alder would know. He’s to the northwest. The druids to the east could possibly help. To get to either of them, you’ll need a skiff. Speak to Rishie.” His brow furrowed. “Any other questions I can answer?”

Opening his bag, Igneel produced a few battered slices of challah. “Would you like some bread?” The stout mayor happily accepted.

The Paladin's Choice
In Which Yondalla Reaches Out to Her Champion and the Party Turns East

As the rest of the party headed toward the mage’s guild in the waterfront, Kaven turned from the direction of the inn and asked his way to the local Yondalla temple. The paladin soon found himself outside a grassy mound near the southern wall. A door in the mound held a beautiful crested shield emblem.

Knocking at the door, Kaven was greeted by another halfling. The balding, gentle-faced individual introduced himself as “Lexend.”

“I’m Kaven.” Kaven hitched Cleo to the post outside and entered.

“Yes, yes,” Lexend closed the door behind him. “She said you would come. Welcome.”

“She? She who?”

“Yondalla.” Beckoning, the cleric led the way down a passage of beautiful brickwork interspersed with decorations of granite. At the end, they sat in a simple sanctuary of wooden benches facing a table at one side. Lexend sat upon one and Kaven joined him. “Tell me, Kaven, what brings you here?”

All of Kaven’s doubts poured forth. He confessed to not hearing Yondalla’s voice lately, feeling as though he had no direction. The right action which drove him into fleeing to the forest and being called by Yondalla seemed to cause a big mess and turn the world upside down.

Lexend chuckled at that. “Yes, I’ve found doing the right thing causes the biggest messes.” He leaned back, studying the paladin. “You have a role, Kaven. That role can only be filled with your unique skills.”

“Should I continue to be a paladin? Could I stay here and help you with all of this?” Kaven gestured around.

“You…could.” Standing, Lexend motioned for Kaven to follow. “However, I will say from what I have heard you could do so much more as you are now.” He moved back down the passage and paused at the entrance to another they had passed. “But in the end it is up to you.” Down this dimmer-lit passage, they walked until they arrived at two open doorways. “Yondalla can show you your choices within these. There is no wrong choice between them and either has consequences, not negative.” He clapped Kaven on the shoulder, turned, and headed back up the passage. “I shall wait.”

Kaven considered. Both rooms were empty. However, as the sounds of Lexend’s footsteps faded, a soft breeze wafted past the paladin, leading toward the room on the left. In the left room appeared a pillar, carved and resplendent. Upon the pillar under glass lay an ornate warhammer, three runes in gold and Yondalla’s symbol set in it. A shadow swirled and formed into a spear above it. It thrust down and struck the glass, cracking it.

In the room to the right, the breeze kicked up again. From shadows there formed a woman, bent under the weight of a sack. A dark figure materialized near her and lashed out. She fell and this figure also raised a spear about to strike-

“So where is the mage’s guild?” Syl asked, an eager gleam in his eye.

Tinuviel motioned as they approached the docks. Various races talked, shouted orders, moved crates. The smell of the sea, refuse, seaweed, and fish perfumed the air. In the middle of one of the docks, a not-quite-ramshackle-but-still-how-is-that-standing building towered over the scene. Coming closer, the party could make out various windows set above the first floor. Some were frosted with cold, others issuing slight fog.

“What is the nature of the relationship between the Crown and the mage’s guild?” Syl asked as Tinuviel knocked.

“No ill will between us,” the half-elf shrugged. “We’ve got a functional relationship.”

The door squeaked open and they entered to a strong, acrid odor. What could only described as rotten eggs mixed with body odor caused their eyes to water. At the landing of a stair set landing, they caught a glimpse of slippered feet disappearing upstairs, accompanied by colorful grumbling.

From a door to their left, a towering goliath ducked under the door frame and regarded them with an inquisitive look. Tinuviel mentioned Lander and the goliath nodded, beckoning them to follow. In the next room, the furnishings exuded wealth. Scarlet and velvet couches and chairs were arranged for comfortable conversation throughout the parlor. The goliath motioned them to sit and opened another door across from them.

A scarlet-scaled dragonborn entered, adjusting rich green robes. “Hello! I am Lander.” He sat in a chair next to them.

Clearing his throat, the goliath cocked his head. “Anything else, boss?” he asked in a surprisingly high voice.

“Thank you, no, Mouse.”

He nodded and left.

Lander listened as his visitors described their encounter in the drop. His brow furrowed at the description of the giant frogs. “Hmmm. What you fought is known as a Banderhob.” He tapped his claw against his fangs. “One Banderhob could be accidental, or a wizard exerting great power for a specific task. But two, you say…two is very worrying indeed.” Rising, he paced, mumbling aloud. “And you say it was sent to kill prisoners?”

“Yes. Maybe there’s something in the Drop they’re protecting?” Syl drummed his fingers on the chair arms.

“Perhaps, perhaps.” They tossed a few ideas back and forth until Lander nodded to himself. “Well, at any rate, I must talk with Gwendolyn. Tinuviel,” he looked to the half-elf Hawk, “Would you tell her we must meet?”

Tinuviel nodded.

“Two creatures show intentionality,” Lander mumbled. Sitting again, he brightened. “Now, is there anything else I can do for you?”

Foradjinn bounced some ideas for a scroll of sending or like artifacts off of him and the dragonborn wizard said the guild could work something out. Lander was most excited at Syl’s powers and abilities toward enchanting and the two promised to call upon each other and collaborate on some future projects.

Their errand over, Foradjinn announced he would go and sell his fire opal. With Syl’s assurance he would enchant the bard’s shield, Foradjinn took the wizard’s to sell for him as well. He and Igneel headed toward the merchant district, Tinuviel headed back to the keep to report to Gwendolyn, and Syl returned to the Gleaming Star in order to begin enchanting.

Kaven, meanwhile, hurled a javelin at the figure about to strike the woman.

The pillar and glorious hammer in the room to his left dissipated as the figure turned, revealing itself as a towering, red-skinned demon. It roared and advanced toward him. Though staggered by the power of the dark one’s commanding voice, Kaven charged. The ensuing duel wore the paladin down but he gave as good as he got. The desperate dark one whirled and ran the prone woman through, stabbing the Paladin into unconsciousness as he attempted to intervene.

Darkness washed over Kaven as he fell to the ground, warhammer loose in his hands. The demon chuckled, raising his spear to stab again.

And then, a female voice, kind and soft, whispered, “Kaven.”

Time slowed around the prone paladin, the voice continuing. “Kaven, do you now see why I chose you? You gave your life for a woman you did not know. Now…stand. Fight. Finish what you started.”

Radiant blazing from his form, Kaven leaped up much to the demon’s panic. It flinched away from the light and the paladin swung with his warhammer. Embers sparking from the passage of the weapon, the demon staggered back, screaming, “NO!” With another swing, Kaven put an end to the dark one at last. Its body disappeared in sparks and shadows, along with the woman’s body.

In the sudden lull, over the sound of his harsh breathing, Kaven turned to the sound of footsteps once more. Lexend entered. “You look terrible!” he greeted him. “What happened?”

Kaven told him and the cleric smiled. “Let me see your hammer.”

The paladin handed it to him and was surprised to see it had transformed into the hammer he had seen before in the other room. The smile on the cleric’s face widened. “She is with you, son.” He handed it back. “As you are in here, I see you have made your choice and I come to offer you another. Once again, there is no wrong answer. Offense or defense?”


Lexend pointed at the paladin’s shield. The symbol of Yondalla appeared in softly shining white gold upon the steel of Old Haré.

“I still don’t understand,” Kaven confessed. “I can fight the demons and creatures, but what about other people? What if they are evil and need to be destroyed? Should I do that?”

“It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing and I cannot give you an absolute answer. Every case is different. All in all, though, your job is to protect others, Kaven,” Lexend crossed his arms. “And…one other thing.” He turned from the paladin to the adventure log writer. “Insert scene wipe here. This will be revealed later.”

You got it, Lexend.

Foradjinn and Igneel passed through the market district to a jeweler the bard spotted before. Inside, a skinny, ratty haired man looked up from a bare table. “Can I help you?”

“Do you buy?’


The bard set one of the fire opals on the table. Producing a lens, the man studied it. His eyes flickered toward the bard and then back to the gem several times. “Two hundred gold,” he said at last.

A full eight hundred less than its true worth, the bard recollected. Snatching the stone back, Foradjinn glared. “I suggest you stop attempting to cheat your customers if you expect to remain in business.” He led Igneel out of the shop, ignoring the muttered curses of the jeweler.

Asking around, they soon found another shop. This one was owned by an older woman named Elet. She oohed over the beautiful gems and asked their origins. Foradjinn gave her an abbreviated history, downplaying their looting from Ferrin’s house. “They are beautiful,” she said at last. “I could probably sell them for nine hundred, so how about eight hundred apiece for three?”

“That is a fair price,” Foradjinn agreed. “And I will tell everyone who asks about your shop in return.” He turned to Igneel. “Did you want to sell yours?”

Igneel turned the gem over in his hand. “Nah, I think I’ll keep it.”

“You could put it on your fox mask,” the bard suggested, accepting a large bag of coins from Elet.

A smirk twitched the monk’s lips.

As Tinuviel finished her report to Gwendolyn, the leader of the Hawks leaned back in her chair. “Well done. We’ll continue to keep people out of the Drop until the wizards can clear it.” Shuffling some paper on her desk, she studied a few of them. “Now, there are a few options for the group should they feel inclined.” She pointed on the map at Telfore. “We need to learn where the black dragon’s lair is – that will go towards ending the threat to that city.”

“Why hasn’t the dragon overrun the city?”

Gwendolyn shrugged at the half-elf’s question. “That’s one of the many things we don’t know and perhaps they can find out. Let me stress this,” she leveled a finger at Tinuviel. “We need you alive. There will be no martyrs – hurting or killing that dragon is a secondary objective. Finding the lair is paramount, not confronting it.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Option two: Cloudcroft has fallen. We need a team to infiltrate the city and see if there is a resistance, and whether or not we can coordinate with them to strike back.

“The other two options are not as needful, though they would benefit from a little more help. Option three: assist the forces we’re sending to Artesia. Option four: the orc tribes that war with the elves of Asher Dan are stronger than ever before. To aid the elves would be a good political move, but as I have said this is not as urgent.”

Tinuviel cast her thoughts back over the group’s previous ponderings. “And if they choose none of these? Do you still wish me to go with them?”

“For now.” Gwendolyn rested her elbows on the desk and narrowed her eyes at the half-elf. “But remember what I said – stay alive.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Tinuviel nodded again. “Should I report back what they have decided. Or some of them can send you a message via magic-”

“Don’t. Have them send to Beron if it’s all right with him.”

As instructed, Tinuviel checked in with her inquisitor for his permission and assured him the group would check in before leaving. She then returned to the Gleaming Star where some of them noticed Kaven’s new aura and all of them admired his new equipment.

Following an extended discussion, the group decided to go to Telfore as it was closest.

The Long Drop
In Which Frogs Flit About in Prison

Morning broke over the Gleaming Star. Most of the group met early in the taproom, Foradjinn stumbling in last after a sleep wracked with nightmares. Igneel unsettled Marum by paying for his bacon and grits with a sharpened gold coin. Tinuviel noticed a trench-coated member of the Dartan family in the corner.

“By the way,” Syl cleared his throat as the halfling innkeeper gingerly pocked the sharpened coin. “Have you seen this man?” He managed to conjure a passable minor illusion of Xander’s brother Jeffrey.

Marum squinted. “Come to think of it, yes! But not since the festival.” He directed them to the market district, there to find the one known as Tervil, one of the members of the Solstice Festival Committee.

“Are we going to the drop now?” Tinuviel asked the party as they regathered.

“I still have this?” Syl produced the treasure map Gracelynn had given them in Haré. “We could go for the loot instead.”

“You may if you wish,” shoving aside his empty bowl, Foradjinn stood and nodded toward Tinuviel. “I said I would help here since you and Gwendolyn helped me.”

In the end, the party headed out into the market once again, there to make way for the Drop. Along the way, Foradjinn and Igneel spotted a thug intimidating a vegetable seller. Instead of confronting the villain, the duo bought carrots and hid some gold in the coins as payment much to the surprise of the merchant.

Beyond the city gates to the north, the road sloped up a hill then toward a bluff. Cresting it, the party found themselves overlooking a crater surrounded by Sentinels. Below, amidst the clink of shovels and picks, men in simple grey tunics shouted and labored alongside each other. Massive blocks of granite moved out of the mines up ramps toward the ridgeline. Hand-cranked elevators dotted the area, rising from caves cut into the crater walls..

Skirting the depression, the party reached an opening guarded by two sentinels. Upon mentioning Gwendolyn, the guards allowed them through and directed them to an individual named “Frederick.” “He’s been here forever,” one said. “He can show you where the problems are.”

Beyond, another depression came into view. This one held hastily-erected tents scattered around another giant hole in the ground. Clearing his throat, Syl called out, “Hello? Frederick!”

A series of footsteps interspersed with a resounding thump met their ears. From the edge of the hole clambered an old man with a green gem tipped staff. He introduced himself as Frederick and claimed to run the Drop.

Inviting the party to look closer, he pointed toward the huge hole from whence he had come. They could see the Drop was aptly named; the pit extended deep into the earth and housed six caves on separate levels. “Usually, this is where the prisoners sleep. The deaths have pushed them up here.” Frederick jerked a thumb toward the jumble of tents. “Caves two and three are where the bodies showed up.”

With a deep breath, the others descended. The temperature dropped steadily the farther down they traveled. Foradjinn wrapped his owlbear cloak around himself. In the second cave, though Syl utilized his light spell on his arrows, they found little trace of oddities save for one drop of slime. The third cave revealed one pool of slime, but nothing beyond that.

Cave four, however, held more slime and Igneel felt a draft of air from a side passage where slime splotched in patches upon the floor. As the passage narrowed, the party found more and more traces of the unknown assailants. At the end of one zig-zagging passage, a hole in the ground forced them to use a long rope to descend twenty feet. While doing so, the light from the rock Syl dropped flickered as something unseen flitted past it. When they reached it, however, there was no one to be seen.

Coming to a T-Section, they took the left passage. A series of slow curves through a silent tunnel and then a rush of air preceded the tunnel widening. At the end of it, they looked up to see they now stood at the bottom of the Drop. Frustrated, they returned to the T-Section to find the light rock vanished. However, Igneel discovered fresh footprints of slime – about one foot wide, two feet long, and five toes.

Through the tunnels once more, the temperature continuing to fall, the air growing stale, each gripped his or her weapons tighter. Arriving in a fifteen foot square room, they found a bedroll in one corner. It turned out to be an illusion, concealing another hole with a twenty-five foot drop. Beyond, another room formed out into a diamond shape, the tracks thicker and multiplied. As they traversed down another passage and entered an oval room, a bulbous appendage thwuppt out from the dark and smacked Tinuviel in the back. Dark energy throbbed through her form as the rest raised their weapons to defend, Igneel narrowly dodging a second blow.

Fat, eight foot shapes blocked their ways forward and behind. What appeared to be upright giant toads flicked their tongues out to attack, seeking to grab the adventurers and force them into toothy maws. They also dissipated into shadow and materialized in other places in a strange form of teleportation. Despite Foradjinn almost being eaten, the party managed to defeat them.

Fairly certain no others were in the tunnels, they made their way back up. Frederick raised his eyebrows as they finished their ascent. “Back so soon?” His grizzled brow furrowed with their description of the monsters beneath. “Never heard tale of those,” he murmured, tapping his staff in thought. Syl took the opportunity to ask about it and the older man confirmed it was magical. “Helps me rule here,” he grinned.

“I have a magical staff, too!” Syl proudly demonstrated the Staff of Arbor, a tree shooting up out of the lip of the Drop.

Chuckling, Frederick shook his head. “Queenie here can’t do anything like that,” he admitted. Pressed, he acquiesced to Syl’s eager request to know what it did and, with a wave of the staff, paralyzed him for a moment.

The paralysis wore off momentarily and the group traipsed out of the Long Drop. Half an hour later, they reported to Gwendolyn. She was impressed. Her face soon darkened when they relayed the information about the undertoads. “You say they dissolved into shadow and teleported?” She drummed her fingers upon her desk and sighed. “I don’t like the sound of that. Go to the mage’s guild. Find Lander and tell him about the creatures.”

To Prove Oneself
In Which Gwendolyn Seeks Investigators and a Long Awaited Reunion Brings Further Complication

Through the massive market, the party proceeded. Tinuviel soon discovered, much to her consternation, the majority of them had yet to experience a city of such size and activity. Foradjinn gawked and was forever apologizing for bumping Patra into passersby and accidentally guiding her into traffic. Dwarves, men, elves, half-orcs, half-elves, all the races they’d encountered thus far, and even some new ones mingled, shouted their wares, bought, laughed, bartered, and conducted business in a mass around them all.

Staring as a furry creature padded past with a swish of its tail, Syl exchanged glances with Foradjinn. “Talking cats?” he mouthed?

“Gorgeous pelts,” replied the tribal bard, a particular gleam in his eye.

Onwards they rolled. Traffic clogged the road but Tinuviel assured the group this would be the quickest way to meet Gwendolyn. Farther down, they could see tall masted ships poking up over the houses and if one craned their neck, before them was the bay, the city sprawling around the entrance to the ocean east. Up to the left, the massive castle loomed and in accordance with the proximity, the number of guards increased. Tinuviel called the guards standing watch “Sentinals.”

“I only know of two inns here: the Gleaming Star and the Laughing Rose.” Syl remembered the Drift Valley brothers. “Do you know where they are?”

Squinting, Tinuviel nodded. “They…might not have rooms for these.” She gestured toward the massive aurochs plodding ahead of the carriage, their ten-foot horns forcing a wide berth through the crowd.

“Well, if we wanted to sell them anywhere, this would certainly be the place!” The wizard turned an expectant gaze upon Kaven.

Who wasn’t paying attention. At the back of the halfling paladin’s mind, a subtle prodding urged him to reach out with his divine senses and he felt a desecrated place very near. He reigned in the aurochs, motioning toward a nearby cutlery shop. “Hey, let’s go check out those knives…”

With a heavy sigh, Tinuviel rubbed her head, feeling the beginnings of a migraine. She wobbled on top of the carriage as Kaven tossed the reins to Syl who panicked slightly and almost ran it into two horsemen going the other way. “Is this really the time? Look, let’s get you all to Gwendolyn. Then you can explore.” She ignored the traffic fighting its way around the carriage, Syl handing the reins back to a reluctant Kaven and minor illusioning a rude gesture to the cursing crowd.

Farther down, the basic shops gave way to the artisans such as jewellers, smithys, ironworking, leather, and so on. More restaurants appeared. Tinuviel called the area “Pinehurst,” and they soon found themselves beside the Laughing Rose tavern. “Let’s go in,” Syl suggested, remembering back to Drift Valley and Geoffry’s request to find his brother Xander in Port Cecil. The Laughing Rose and the Gleaming Star were the two inns the brothers used when in the capital.

In the Laughing Rose, a beautiful red-haired half-elf woman was conversing with a man with long dark hair at the bar. A closer glance revealed her slight boredom and she brightened as the travelers entered. She greeted Tinuviel in a familiar manner and asked them their business. Over drinks, served with a skillful use of mage hand, she alternated between curiosity as Foradjinn told an abbreviated history of himself, bemusement as she regretfully informed Kaven there was no room for the aurochs in the stable, and apology when Syl discovered she had not seen Xander there.

“You could have easily parked all this at the palace. We can check the Gleaming Star after we meet Gwendolyn,” Tinuviel grumbled for the lost time, leading them onto the main road once more post inquiries. She frowned at the half-elf bard riding beside the carriage. “You’ll want to play your cards closer to your chest around here.”

After the metaphor was explained to him, Foradjinn understood and they continued onwards. The quality of the shops increased from middling to high-end. Here, the center of the city surrounded them, blocks of homes and then courtyards of larger estates blossomed up. Farther along, the homes gave way to warehouses and the smell of the sea rose sharp in their nostrils. Up ahead, the high keep towered larger as they drew nearer and nearer. They passed a set of ornate gates set in granite walls more elaborate than they had seen thus far. Tinuviel tilted her head toward it. “Banking district,” she muttered to Foradjinn.

The guards in this area wore a different sort of uniform, featuring more of the blue of Guardians as Tinuviel identified them. She nodded to a pair outside the gates of the outer keep walls as they entered; one called out in greeting, “Hey, Hawk.”

The courtyard featured less-ornate stonework but of an elderly richness nonetheless. Syl immediately made friends with a guard and the exchange left both of them glaring at one another. Distant tung-tung-tung announced a nearby blacksmith along with the distant whinny of stables. On most sides, offices filled the buildings and Tinuviel pointed toward a near one. “That’s where we’ll go.”

Before she could lead them on, a young teen boy sprinted up. “Can I help you – oh!” Straightening, he cleared his throat and blushed. “Hi, Tinuviel.”

“Hello, Arryn.” Eyes twinkling for a split second, the half-elf jerked a thumb toward the aurochs. “Think you could stable the hors- uh, the aurochs for us?”

Appearing to notice the hulking beasts for the first time, Arryn’s mouth fell open slightly. Then he recovered himself. “Psh, sure! No problem.” He whisked a bead of sudden nervous sweat away, strutting toward the carriage. Kaven jumped down and handed him the reins. The stablehand, seeing the halfling’s diminutive size, brightened, obviously figuring the aurochs would be a bit more manageable.

Tinuviel guided the party to Gwendolyn’s office. A simply decorated place, it nevertheless featured a stunning view of the bay and the ocean beyond through a barred window. At the desk beneath, another half-elf stood up.

Dark-brown hair, a strong jaw, more plain-looking than beautiful, Gwendolyn possessed a faint and unyielding steel in her eyes. Indeed, when Tinuviel entered, saluted, and made her report, Gwendolyn was unphased when she produced the viscera-spattered necklaces and trophies of the orc party she helped kill. “And you are the adventurers Sir Targin spoke of?”

“We are.”

Once she was brought up to speed, Gwendolyn sat back and stared at each of them in turn. “I don’t quite trust you,” she said at last. “The world is broken and this wizard, Meles, is near the fault-line. We will need a powerful band indeed to be rid of him and his ilk. What can you all do, anyway?”

Drawing himself up to his full height, Kaven grinned. “I am a paladin of Yondalla.” A faint gleam of divinity glittered at the tip of one of his javelins. “By the way, I sensed a desecrated place within the city as we came here.”

“There are quite a few. Where did you get that armor, by the way?”

“The dragon wyrmling we killed.” Foradjinn held up his scimitar and pointed at the fang set into the hilt. “And I am the last holder of the kabir; I sing and aid my allies in fighting better.”

“A bard?”

“As you say in your language, yes.”

Turning to Syl, Gwendolyn raised her eyebrows. “What can you do?”

With an enormously smug look, the elf wizard spread his hands, a rainbow bursting into brilliance above his head. “Maaaagiiiiic.”

“I like you already. And you?”

Igneel blinked. “I’m a monk.”

“A monk.”

“A fast monk.”

“He can catch arrows!” Syl unlimbered his bow but found his hand blocked from reaching into the quiver with a swift motion from Tinuviel. “What? He can!”

A nod from Gwendolyn and Tinuviel released Syl’s hand. Sure enough, the wizard’s arrow halted an inch from Igneel’s face, caught in a motion quicker than the eye could match.

Somewhat satisfied but not entirely, Gwendolyn nodded once more. To ensure they were competent and could put the needs of the lands above their own, she set them a task. “Northwest of the city, there is a quarry that hosts a low security prison. It’s called The Drop.” Running a hand along the wall beneath the window, she tapped a brick. “A lot of granite is mined there by the prisoners. Within the last week, we’ve had prisoners die. They go to bed at night and are discovered the next day, lifeless and covered in putrid green slime.” Crossing her arms, she pursed her lips. “Find out what’s killing off our free labor and then we’ll see about tackling Meles and these wizards.”

The party agreed and Gwendolyn dismissed them, desiring to speak with Tinuviel for a few minutes. Before heading out, Foradjinn used disguise self to briefly show her the appearance of the wizards they had met.

Instructing Tinuviel to aid the group until further notice, Gwendolyn also ordered her to check in with her inquisitor before she left. Obeying, the half-elf rogue returned to the courtyard to find the group waiting as quietly as only they could wait quietly. The Sword of Haré clashed with Foradjinn’s Tribal Scimitar as the bard and wizard practiced their dueling while the paladin pitted his celestial steed against the monk and his boots of speed.

With a final glare at the guard who had argued with him, Syl mounted the carriage. “Well then! To the Gleaming Star.”

Ten minutes later, Tinuviel led them into the taproom. Bustling with the early dinner crowd, the warm, slightly more posh atmosphere was particularly welcome to a hungry halfling paladin.

Foradjinn turned to Tinuviel who was already nodding. “Bernardo’s? Bernardo’s. Come with me.”

A nervous swooping sensation took the bard’s stomach and he followed the rogue from the tavern. Tinuviel ducked into a nearby alleyway and exited again after a brief moment, clad in a stunning dress and jewelry. “Now, it would be best to come up with a plan for walking around in there.” She passed a critical eye over his travel-worn clothing. “You’ll pretend you’re my servant.” Foradjinn listened carefully to every word, failing to notice Syl and Igneel poke their heads out of the door behind them.

“Want to follow them?” the wizard nudged the monk. “I can make us owls.”

Igneel smirked.

Drawing near the opulent gate of the banking district, Tinuviel glanced back over her shoulder and saw two owls drifting along. Curiosity slightly piqued, she nevertheless focused on the task at hand. She waved an imperious hand at the gate guard, who, recognizing the wealth upon her, made haste to allow her entrance.

The banking district boasted what could only be described as a “stupid” amount of wealth. The finest smooth granite, the most exotic of hardwoords – the decor progressed from luxuriant toward tacky, a constant struggle to show off the most wealth. Though it was late summer, everyone strode around in heavy fur coats. Few horses trod the paved streets, curiously enough.

“Here’s the problem,” Tinuviel muttered back to Foradjinn who trailed a respectful distance behind. “I don’t exactly know where Bernardo’s is. You’re going to have to go into a store and ask.” She halted next to a tableware shop.

Gulping, Foradjinn entered. Lanterns set at intervals gleamed through fine crystal decanters and stemware. The light also sparkled off of silver and gold cutlery, the reflection offering far more illumination than the lanterns could. The feelings of disorientation rising, Foradjinn coughed and approached an older gentleman towards the back who seemed to be in charge. “Excuse me. My mistress is seeking directions to Bernardo’s?”

With a glance down his aquiline nose, the distinguished individual sniffed and pointed a careless hand down the street. “Should you proceed that way, you shall find it easily enough.”

“Thank you, sir.” Bowing, Foradjinn returned to Tinuviel.

Sure enough, after turning a bend in the street, they arrived at another bustling scene. Built of stone like most of the buildings, Bernardo’s was an edifice of opulence. Massive windows set in granite swung out into the street to allow diners to sit in the open air. A maitre d’ held court at a small podium, tapping his small pencil moustache as he leafed through an enormous ledger. A line of people stretched from his seat of judgment back down the street, full of hungry and anxious prospective patrons. Next to him stood a fair-skinned goliath dressed in fine-etched leathers. Above them all, the name of the restaurant had been chiseled in raised-relief calligraphy. More of the cat creatures Foradjinn had seen before in the marketplace scurried around, serving meals.

Approaching, Foradjinn bowed to the maitre d’ and said, “We are to meet Anaya of House Aeroth here.”

Instant recognition of the name filled the man’s eye and he bowed them both towards the inner tables.

And at long last there she sat. Golden hair braided in intricacy, skin still tanned and flawless, the jewels upon her throat paling in comparison to her bright green eyes. “Foradjinn!” she greeted, extending a beringed hand.

Struggling to act natural, Foradjinn kissed it and introduced Tinuviel. The latter did not interrupt, allowing the half-elven bard to ask his questions. Anaya proved evasive, saying she preferred not to think of the days before she was taken away to House Aeroth and the Brotherhood of the Veil. Their conversation continued and Foradjinn, though well out of his league with the niceties of conversation and etiquette, soon realized Anaya was not herself.

“Things were awkward at first with Aeroth, but I’m taken care of,” Anaya summed it up, sipping at her wine.

“Don’t you miss your family? I…did not think to ask before.” Foradjinn toyed with his food and tried to think of the right way to put things. “Should we…get word to them?”

“I miss that world sometimes. However, that’s all behind me. I don’t have the full privileges of wife standing, but, again, I’m taken care of. Now, let’s not talk of this. It’s so good to see you again, Foradjinn.”

Noting the distress in his eyes, Tinuviel leaned forward and patted Anaya’s hand. “Come now, dear, best to tell us what we need to know. We’re all friends here?” In the touch, the rogue cast friends upon their hostess.

With a subtle flash of her eyes, Anaya’s expression took on a faint tinge of steel. “And here I thought we were having such a nice dinner…”

“Anaya,” from his pocket, Foradjinn took out the amulet and the wooden carving of her Petmaer made for him in Lylilin, “I have searched for you all this time. I will always regret not being able to reach you before you were taken. You kept me from ending my life out of dishonor and showed me the possibilities of life beyond what I knew. Now I have friends in addition to you and ways to fight I never knew.” Sliding the amulet and carving across the table toward her, he sighed. “If you want to be free of this life, I will do everything in my power to help you and will not stop until you are.”

Around them, the restaurant continued in hustle and bustle. Delicious smells and genial conversation wound and wafted. In silence, Anaya picked up the carving, tracing it with her thumb. Tinuviel caught a faint glimmer in the corner of her eye.

“It is good to see you again, Foradjinn,” Anaya repeated at last, more solemn now than before. “I have a life many want. Aeroth really does take good care of me. He’s a good man…but,” her voice lowered, “his brothers may not be who they seem. The world is a strange place here.”

“I believe it,” Foradjinn muttered back.

“You remember when we traveled through the desert, Foradjinn. We walked for days, longing for water and when we reached the oasis at last, with the trees, the flowers, the water was almost dried up. There was not enough.” Raising her eyes to his, Anaya shook her head.

Standing, Foradjinn bowed. “If you ever want to leave, I know the way to water.”

“I cannot do it freely.” Societal grace taking over once again, Anaya also arose. “Thank you for coming. If you ever need anything, I will do what I can.” She extended her hand once again and Foradjinn clasped it.

A man in a chef’s hat and humongous moustache bustled up. “Ahh. Anaya! How was ze dinnehr?”

“Delicious as always, Bernardo.” With a small smile, the elf bid him and the others adieu
and swept out.

Taking wing in silent pursuit, Sylarese Owllervu and Igneel Reghowlre tracked her to a rich home, less ostentatious than the rest and tending toward the tasteful side of affluence. She paused on the front step, wiping at her eyes, and disappeared inside.

The two polymorphed elves then flew back to find Foradjinn dejected and trailing after Tinuviel once more.

“You look like you need a drink, friend,” the lady rogue said. “I know just the place.”

“Tell me about Aeroth.”

“He’s rich. And important. Full of influence.” Tinuviel did her best to explain to the tribal bard the situation.

In the end, Foradjinn shrugged and set his jaw. “Dragons have treasure, right? At least they do in the stories. Maybe if I kill a few I can match Aeroth and she’ll feel safe enough to leave him and return home again.” He fumbled for his tribal scimitar and grumbled as he remembered it was in the bag of holding. “It used to be so simple in the tribe. The ones with the most trophies had the most influence. I wasn’t the best hunter and the others would mostly take away the ones I had.” He pulled out the panther tooth he’d gotten back from Kartrana and turned it over in his hands. “I guess that’s why I still collect them now.”

“If all the bones and teeth in the bag of holding are any indication,” groused Syl as he polymorphed out of the darkness behind them and frightened the bard half to death, “You’re certainly well on your way to becoming the most influential among us.”

Though annoyed, Foradjinn nevertheless filled him and Igneel in on what had transpired and they traveled back to the Gleaming Star.

Where a certain halfling Paladin had been eating dinner and chatting up the regulars.

Munching away, Kaven at one point felt a prodding at his hip. He grabbed hold of a small wrist and caught sight of a boy leaping out of reach after an attempt at pickpocketing him. “Where are your parents?”

“Don’t have none.”

Recognizing the faint marks of hunger, the Paladin waved for another plate. “Sit down and have dinner.”

Though wary at first, the attempted pickpocket obeyed and tucked in with urgent appetite. Marum, the bartender, recognized and warned the boy, Endeer, not to cause trouble. As the urchin finished and slipped out, Marum leaned on the bar, confirming the boy’s orphan status. “Endeer’s been around, pinching the odd coinpurse. That was nice of you, though.” He filled up another tankard and slid it to Kaven. “This one’s on the house.”

When the rest rejoined Kaven, Foradjinn gathered them to a corner table. “I kept treasure when we raided Ferrin’s house,” he confessed. “There were these gems I thought I could use to buy back Anaya and, well, it doesn’t look like that’s possible now. So…here.” He handed Syl, Kaven, and Igneel a precious stone apiece. “Gracelynn back in Haré said they were worth a thousand gold apiece, so make sure you get your money’s worth.”

Holding his up to the light, the eager gleam returned to Syl’s eye. “I’m going to turn this into so many spells,” he cackled.

Trouble on the Road to Port Cecil
In Which Trickery Upends Savagery and the Party Reaches the Capitol

On the road by mid-afternoon, Syl and Igneel rode in the carriage while Syl’s unseen servant drove. Foradjinn rode Patra next to Kaven and Cleo, asking the halfling paladin to teach him some halfling. The road turned north, the occasional traveler appearing with a friendly or neutral greeting. Soon the path, worn by extensive traffic rather than any sort of working, met and wound alongside the Enora river which widened and narrowed as they progressed.

With the onset of evening, Foradjinn applied a few pointers he had gleaned from Igneel and caught two rabbits. Still, he could not hope to match the monk’s speed and soon four more rabbits joined their deceased brethren on the fire spits. “Shall I save you these pelts?” asked the bard, busily skinning away. “You could have them made into another mask to wear on alternating days.”

Igneel brightened and agreed.

After training Patra to stick with Cleo and stay out of trouble during the night, the group entered Syl’s conjured hut for the evening. After his usual four hour meditation, Syl continued his spell study and added water breathing to his repertoire. He cast it on the group with a flourish and Igneel dove into the Enora along with Foradjinn to test it out. After a minor delay in which both misread the current, they all continued on toward Port Cecil.

A little while later, they passed a bend in the road and came upon a scene of devastation. An overturned wagon, its contents of salted meat spilled into the road, lay at the center of a group of orcs. Some were mounted upon strange, bearded, shaggy-pelted, bull-like creatures with twisty horns. As the unseen servant reined in the phantom steed, the orcs turned to face them. Two were mounted, three were covered in bulbous boils, two wielded staffs, and one of the mounted had a finer helm and armor than the rest.

Battle broke out, the boil-covered orcs proving most dangerous and suicidal, their bodies bursting open to splash poison on various members of the group upon their death. But with a vicious hum and thwack of an arrow into one staff-wielding orc’s leg, an unseen assailant provided aid toward the orc’s end from a high, shrub-covered bank nearby. Syl tested out his pixie’s polymorph spell, utilizing the form of a giant ape to drop a wagon on one orc caster. Igneel caught a glimpse of their hidden friend as they leaned out behind a tree to magic an orc into hysterical laughter. Then, while Foradjinn and Kaven teleported atop the orc leader in the fine armor to surround him, Syl leaped through the air to chop off the beleaguered enemy’s head in one swing.

When the orcs breathed their last, Syl turned to their unexpected ally who charged out of cover at last to loot the fallen orc captain in a hauntingly familiar manner. “Well done! Many thanks for your assistance, friend.”

Plucking the last coin from the corpse, the figure arose and turned to them. Scarlet hair glinting in the afternoon sun, the female half-elf nodded. “I am Tunuviel.” Her emerald eyes lingered on each of them in turn. “Who are you all?”

Introductions followed and Tunuviel revealed she was under the employ of the crown in Port Cecil. She had been tracking the orcs for a few days, unable to eliminate them due to their advantage in numbers. “We want to know why these orcs are moving so brazenly along the roads,” She frowned. “They normally roam the lands east of Mount Alverston.” Bending down, she rolled the captain’s corpse over to point at the set of blue triangles on the armor.

“We’ve encountered this tribe before.” Syl told her of their fight by the lake on their way to the dragonborn monastery as well as the connection to Meles the wizard.

Her stern expression deepened. “I must report this to Gwendolyn.”

“Gwendolyn? We’re going to see her, too!”

Cocking her head, Tunuviel brightened. “Are you the adventurers Sir Targin told her about?”

“The same.” Eyes narrowing as a thought struck him, Syl studied her. “Do you have anything that proves you’re a servant of the crown?”

In answer, Tunuviel revealed an amulet with the signet of a hawk and a crown, one which the wizard recognized.

Satisfied, Syl and the rest invited her to travel with them and asked her to introduce them all to Gwendolyn. She agreed and they all bonded over looting the rest of the corpses. The two orc casters turned out to be clerics, or whatever the equivalent was, of the orc gods Luthic and Gruumsh. Tunuviel saved their necklaces in a little sleeve dimension. On the captain, she found a pouch with a piece of copper, silver, gold, electrum, and platinum – each one with a line carved through it.

Kaven decided to tame the bull creatures (which he identified as Aurochs) and ended up hitching two to the carriage.

Leaving the scene of carnage, the group and their new friend proceeded on for awhile until making an early camp. “Kaven,” Foradjinn said, “Could you make me a sheath for my scimitar?”

“If I have materials and time,” the halfling nodded.

As if on cue, Igneel returned to the camp, staggering under the weight of a boar.

“Aha!” Foradjinn skinned the dead creature and cheerfully plopped the pelt in the Bag of Holding, spattering a disgusted Syl in the process.

“Do you mind?” the wizard dodged out of the way as the bard attempted to stuff the hooves, tusks, entrails, and various other viscera in as well. “No more animal bits in here!”

“But what about these orc tusks-”

“NO MORE.” With a sigh, the wizard took the bag off and opened it as wide as it would go. “Anyway, does anyone want to try an experiment?” he asked, his voice taking on a sinister and casual tone.

“What kind of experiment?”

Ever since they had discovered the bag, Syl wondered if a living being could enter it. Curious now, Foradjinn agreed to try. He squirmed through the narrow opening and found himself in an expanse of darkness. He floated and yet did not float. No breeze, no sound, and only faint glimmers of stars in the farthest distance showed him light. Nothing pushed in upon him and yet he felt a slow rise in claustrophobia.

A pulling sensation drew the bard into light and he found himself held half out of the bag by his hair. “Well?” demanded Syl.

Freeing himself, Foradjinn explained to the wizard all he had experienced and he eagerly wrote it down. In his excitement, the latter failed to notice the bard slipping the orc tusks into the bag.

The next day, the traffic along the road increased and woods gave way to hills and farmland. The increased presence of guards spoke of the outer realms of Port Cecil. Fishermen lined the banks of the Enora river; Igneel dove in and caught a large bass barehanded much to a curmudgeonly angler’s amusement.

“Do you know a man called Aeroth?” Foradjinn asked Tunuviel.

She nodded. “Why?”

“He lives in the banking district. Could you show me to his house after we meet Gwendolyn?”

Tunuviel paused and looked him up and down, gazing over his well-worn travel clothes and trophy-laden apparel. “You’d have a tough time getting in to the banking district. They wouldn’t,” she pointed at Kaven, who took the hint and covered his glorious armor, and Syl, who preened a little more and prestidigitation’d a little more dust from his cloak.

With a small sigh, Foradjinn snapped his fingers and cast a disguise self spell to form his garments into those like Syl’s.

“Even then you’ll find it difficult. Aeroth is a member of the Brothers of the Veil, a mysterious group, supreme in wealth and influence. It’s kind of stupid how much money he has. Why do you want to meet him, anyway?”

As they approached the city, the bard filled her in on his backstory with Anaya. He also used sending to set up a meeting with Anaya at a restaurant called Bernardos in the Banking District that evening.

The walls of Port Cecil soon rose before them, the stonework intricate and well-constructed. Guards lined the parapets, guarded the portcullis, and kept watch over all entry points. While the group attracted a little more attention than many, the guards allowed them to pass unmolested. Soon, the group found themselves within the walls in the midst of a massive farmers market.


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