The Scaled Advent

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.

View
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?”

“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?’

“Yeah.”

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.

View
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.”

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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.

View
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.

View
The Return of Sir Targin
In Which Justice Is Done and the Party Departs Hare

The ensuing conversation over Ferrin’s fate very nearly led to the group dividing. Kaven said it would not be right to take justice into their own hands. Syl replied there was little else they could do to restrain him for long should they allow him to live. Foradjinn agreed and yet felt hesitant as he no longer wanted to kill the scoundrel as he was now dethroned and at their mercy. Igneel echoed Syl’s sentiment. Muk also leaned toward not killing the halfling, suggesting Syl fabricate a sort of sarcophagus to keep him in until Targin returned.

In his usual blunt manner, Syl went on to say he could not believe Foradjinn had changed his mind and that Kaven was arguing to spare Ferrin when he himself had murdered someone in Nesland. The paladin, hurt, left the house to clear his head.

Evidently, the time away must have helped for he soon returned and cast Zone of Truth upon Ferrin once again. Syl used Luck of the Fae to make him more susceptible and they at last succeeded in a more extensive interrogation.

“How many have you killed or ordered killed?” Kaven demanded.

Ferrin’s eyes met his and his jaw worked. “Enough,” he said at last.

“How many have you blackmailed, stolen from, or committed crimes against or ordered so?”

“Enough.”

“Would you still seek revenge against Sir Targin if we released you?”

“If you had everything taken from you by someone,” Ferrin did not look away, “Wouldn’t you?”

“You are an savvy businessman,” Syl protested. “You could have done great things for yourself!”

“Until you showed up, I was doing fine.” Ferrin turned back to Kaven. “Who decides justice? Whose justice is correct? Whose search for what they desire most is just? What do you seek, Muk?”

The gladiator said nothing.

“What do you seek, Wizard? Magic? I can see that thirst for magic in you, that hunger to seek it above all else.”

“I want justice,” retorted Syl, crossing his arms. “Not revenge.”

With a snort, the halfling’s eyes flicked to Foradjinn. “What about you?”

“Long ago,” said he, “There were two tribes: the Benai and the Teshdal They fought over the most beautiful oasis. And it was an oasis beyond belief – forests of palms, clear water, pink blossoms upon the shore. The Benai at last emerged victorious, nearly killing all of the Teshdal. They settled at the oasis and triumphed.

“But soon the Benai grew sick. You see, the pink blossoms were Oianaem, poisonous. They leeched into the oasis waters. But the elders, the headman refused to move from the oasis. ‘We have fought and died for this! We cannot give it up.’ More and more of the Benai died until the son of the headman took control of the remnants and, with the help of the remnants of the Teshdal, moved away. But no amount of pleading would stir the headman of the Benai from the oasis.

“And as he lay dying among the pink blossoms of the Oianaem, the headman cursed the Teshdal with his last breath. Now, tell me, who is the fool?”

Ferrin, his face as stone, shrugged. “I don’t get it.”

“Neither did I,” confessed the bard. “Until today.”

Unmoved by the bard’s story, nor by Igneel’s quest for inner peace and enlightenment, the halfling repeated his offer. “Release me and I’ll give you the antidote.”

“What grudge do you possess against Sir Targin?”

“The arrogance, the pomp of these human stewards of Haré.” Ferrin glared. “My grandfatther was happy, satisfied merchant until he lost everything and was forced to flee the city before it was utterly destroyed.” He shook his hand. “Humans don’t understand the lasting effect of their actions. So I want to destroy his legacy.”

Realizing something, Syl snapped his fingers. “But your vendetta is against the old steward! Simon! And he’s cursed to be a ghost, so your vengeance is unnecessary.”

But Ferrin was past caring and refused to listen any more. Resigned to the fact, the group settled in to await Sir Targin’s return. Syl took time to attune to the Sword of Old Haré and impressed Foradjinn with his competence at swordplay.

Foradjinn used sending to check in on Anaya to ensure himself of her continued safety and then used it to contact Brontus the Blacksmith. The surprised smith assured the bard of his family’s successful resettlement.
Throughout the following night, they took it in shifts to keep Ferrin awake, but fed and watered. Rickben checked in on them in the morning and reported Riglynn was no better. Foradjinn exited to briefly check the value of the red gems he’d discovered. Gracelynn priced the Fire Opals at 1,000 gold apiece. Casting his memory back, the bard remembered the gems they’d given to Victuana, the armorer, and figured them to be the same. Obviously, Andrim had paid off the mill debt.

When at last Sir Targin returned, the group told him all after introductions to new faces. Throughout it all, the steward grew furious. Upon seeing the alchemy setup, he boiled over and strode to Ferrin. “Have you been poisoning my wife?”

Silent, the halfling’s stony expression told enough. Sir Targin hit him and threw his bound form against the wall. Drawing a dagger, the steward approached Ferrin and hauled him up into a sitting position. “Have you been poisoning my wife?” he snarled into his face.

“Yes.”

Placing the point of his dagger at the halfling’s throat, Sir Targin looked around at the rest. “You all heard him.”

Throat bobbing under the weapon, Ferrin swallowed. “If you kill me, the antidote dies with me.”

Moving close again, the steward growled, “There are other ways to heal her.”

With a small cough, Syl sniffed and prestidigitation’d some resulting blood from his robes. “I approve of this execution of justice,” he said, which was quite possibly the first time he approved of any actions by Sir Targin since their first meeting.

Ignoring him, Sir Targin stood up, dropped the dagger, and motioned them to follow him. “Let’s get out of here.”

Jogging to catch up, Kaven said, “I might be able to cure your wife.” He explained the paladin healing ability with which he had been blessed by Yondalla.

Sir Targin raised his eyebrows. “I had planned to have Cleric Khudu from Port Cecil see if he could help her, but you can try. And I must speak to you all. The news from the council is dire…” He caught sight of Muk walking away from the group. “Is he coming?”

“I will check and join you later.” Foradjinn sprinted to catch up with the towering half-orc.

Sir Targin led the rest into his house and upstairs to his wife’s room. Though nicely decorated and possibly homey, the pallidness of death hung over the space. In a bed, an emaciated woman, pale and withered, rested. Kaven approached and examined her. To his dismay, rather than poison, a curse held sway upon her.

Meanwhile, Foradjinn approached Muk. “Are you still going to Port Cecil?”
The half-orc gladiator hefted his flail, eyes flicking back toward Ferrin’s house and shook his head. “I doubt it now. I don’t know where I’ll go next.”

“Well,” the bard shrugged, “You saved our lives in that fight back there, so…thanks.” Reaching into his pouch, he produced one of the fire opals and handed it to him.

Staring into the vibrant scarlet depths, Muk blinked. “It’s a pretty stone.”
“And…if we fight dragons in the future, would you be able to help us?”
“Dunno. Maybe.” Pocketing the stone, Muk nodded farewell and disappeared in the direction of the north gate.

Foradjinn then proceeded to Sir Targin’s house where Kaven had coincidentally just finished his diagnosis. “She’s cursed, Foradjinn.” Syl said. “Can you use the magic you used to lift the curse on Simon?”

Taking up Riglynn’s hand, the bard thought back to the depths of Old Haré, the elfish words of the scroll, and sang the spell. As he did, his vision darkened, outlining a dark aura surrounding Riglynn. The aura wavered and dissipated, light streaking from Riglyn’s form as the curse was shattered. Indeed, her sickliness faded and a revived look returned to her now brightened – albeit, still exhausted – eyes.

Effusive thanks followed and the group left to give Sir Targin and Riglynn some time alone. A little later, he joined them in his office. “Now, I have news from the Governor’s Council.”

Artesia and Cloudcroft had indeed fallen. But the remaining cities sent representatives: Telfor, Taiji, and Asher Dan. According to the King’s Lieutenant, Gwendolyn, the actions of the high wizard meant he had declared war upon the entire continent of Duverne. Orc attacks of an intensity never before experienced plagued Asher Dan. A black dragon continued to bother Telfor while Taiji had come under attack by some horrendous monster. The colony of dragonborn to the far north reported heavy hostile activity while Throkari, the colony to the south remained silent.

“As of this point, the general consensus as we continue to direct refugees and scramble to provide for them is what do we do next?” The haggardness from the road seemed to return to Sir Targin’s eyes as he finished.

The group filled him in on their exploits and he nodded. “I would urge you to go to Port Cecil. I’ve told Gwendolyn of the adventurers who have aided me. You might be of great help to one another in finding a solution to this dragon problem.”

Before heading out toward Port Cecil, Syl used his fabricate spell and constructed a carriage. He then summoned a phantom steed to draw it.

Kaven sat down with Keeper Yennen to discuss his faith and the lack of direction he had felt lately. After an extended conversation, he then approached Kiethri and gave her the leather satchel. Pleased, she blushed and gave him a peck on the cheek. With a reluctant glance back, Kaven returned to the group.

Foradjinn, bracing himself, applied flattery and persuasion in copious amounts to purchase a horse from the begrudging stablemaster. Soon, Foradjinn caught up to the carriage astride his chestnut steed, Patra.

View
The Looting of Ferrin's House
In Which Syl Samples All the Things and the Problem of Ferrin Deepens

Approaching Ferrin’s house, the group spied two doors – the main one and another at the east side, probably leading to a kitchen. Syl, after trying the door and finding it locked, cast Misty Step and vanished inside. As he opened it, several gears ground and clicked in the handle, disarming a trap to allow the rest entrance.

Within, the furniture appeared small, accommodating for one of Ferrin’s diminutive stature. They spread out, Foradjinn and Syl sticking together. The bard cast Fox’s Cunning upon the wizard, correctly deducing him as the best option to discover what they needed. Indeed, over the next hour, the wizard managed to allow them all entrance to the rooms without springing traps, discovered several keys and locked trunks, desks, and chests. Muk, Igneel, and Kaven searched Ferrin and relieved him of his own keys. Then the monk headed off to raid the fridge. The paladin rustled through the couch cushions for loose change, and found a loose floorboard beneath the couch itself. With the help of his darkvision ring, he discovered a series of gears within and lost interest.

Muk took the keys upstairs and used them to open Ferrin’s bedroom. Inside was a bed, a dresser, a mirror, a fireplace, and odds and ends. Inside the dresser, Syl discovered a dagger in each drawer and Foradjinn picked out one which seemed to have been forged differently than the others.

Turning to the mirror, Syl found a secret compartment with another key. In the bedside table, he found a journal. Foradjinn knelt down and scrabbled under the bed. After slamming a loose board on his hand, he propped it up and pulled out a pouch containing six beautiful red gems.

Downstairs, Igneel joined Kaven in searching the furniture cushions for copper.

Muk, impatient with the slow search, ripped open a trunk. Two pincers latched out and pierced his hand. A strange wooziness fell over him. He shrugged it off and rifled through, finding scraps of clothes and a picture of a much younger Ferrin with what appeared to be his parents and grandfather.

The contents of the desk turned out to be many documents in a gibberish language and a series of symbols Syl could only speculate was Thieves Cant. A ledger mentioned a series of payouts and received payments. Thorel was mentioned as being paid, while Rickben, curiously, was mentioned as paying the same amount for quite some time. Receipts referenced Moreland, Telfor, Taiji, and Port Cecil. Underneath the desk, Syl found a rough spot in the wood which revealed a key in yet another secret compartment.

Kaven, turning his attention to the paintings, removed one and an envelope fell from its hiding place. The contents were written in Halfling: “Dear Da, I’ve made it. You will be proud. I’ll make sure to right the wrongs. Signed, ‘F.’”

The upstairs thoroughly looted, Syl, Foradjinn, and Muk descended to the main floor and scouted around until finding a trapdoor to the basement.

The basement featured tan stonework and a massive assortments of crates and barrels. Exploration of the latter revealed salt and salted meat, and mushrooms.
And farther down a small hallway, an enormous amount of blood. Foradjinn, after falling in and attempting for levity to cover his clumsiness, led the way down the hallway to reveal a circular room off in the distance with a ladder rising up.

Upstairs, Syl discovered a glyph trap above the front door, one which would have triggered had he not opened the door from the outside. He then turned his attention to dismantling the gears under the floorboards with Kaven, discovering a cunning mechanism for turning on and shutting off the lights.

Once he bored of the mechanical wonders, the wizard cast Comprehend Languages upon himself to read the journal and papers. The former revealed Ferrin’s life in Port Cecil, his partnership with one called “Ignacio,” and his journey to and integration in Haré. The documents from the desk contained profiles on Rolson, Nyloth, Rabastan and Sir Targen. Rolson had no pressure points and was a “powerful idiot.” Nyloth was “annoying, superior, and untouchable.” Rabastan asked for the forest and Ferrin did all he could to supply him, deeming him among the rest to be feared and respected. Rabastan had connections to Anasazi, the desert city, and spoke of an orc tribe near Asher Dan.

Sir Targen’s profile contained the usual invectives and mentioned focusing on the ruler’s wife as his weak point.

Syl’s investigation continued in the basement. He soon discovered a secret tunnel behind a moving wall. As he led the group down, he nibbled at one of the mushrooms he had taken from the crates. The subsequent high reduced him to a mellow, albeit giggling, mess, guided along by the rest.

Farther down the tunnel, Igneel ascended a new ladder and popped out a trapdoor in Ferrin’s office to be immediately clobbered by Thomas, the bouncer from the Blue Horse Tavern. Muk and Kaven charged up the ladder to assist. Syl attempted to follow and was restrained by a wary half-elf bard who figured the high elf might set off more than a few fireballs in his chemically-altered state of mind.

Subduing the bouncer, the party then interrogated him. Thomas revealed Karl liked Ferrin no more than they, merely putting up with him to be left mostly alone. Sending him back to the tavern, the party continued to explore below. At the end of the tunnel beyond the ladder was another room. This one held a desk with various beakers and alchemical components. Up near the ceiling, a cup half-full of greyish liquid rested on a ledge beneath a small grate.

Battling a splitting headache as he slowly sobered from the mushroom, Syl extracted his ladder from the bag of holding and clambered up to examine the liquid. When his throbbing head made it impossible for him to focus to analyze it, he sipped a little and fell from the ladder as dizziness and unconsciousness took him.

Muk set about slapping him awake while Kaven called up the grate. From on high, the voice of Rickben echoed down. As the journal had intimated and judging by the position of the liquid near the grate, Ferrin had indeed been poisoning Targen’s wife.

The group again turned to the halfling in question and interrogated him. He told them he was working with the wizards for “mutual benefit.” He backed up the claim in his journal that Rabastan was indeed powerful and that they’d come to an agreement concerning the woods. “You killed Nyloth? Did you burn the body?” he demanded.

“No, he’s sunk,” said Syl, sitting up with his head aching twice as hard. “We flooded the temple with the lake.”

“You’re screwed. Rabastan’s crazy and he raises the dead.” With that ominous warning, the halfling thief smirked.

“Why is Rickben on your ledgers?” Syl asked.

Ferrin laughed. “He’s paying us to keep his affairs quiet.” He raised his eyebrows as he locked eyes with Muk who loomed over the rest. “Muk? I recognize you from the arena.”

While the half-orc fighter rejoiced over the long-awaited recognition, Syl mustered up his strength and cast suggestion upon Ferrin. “I suggest you tell us your business plan,” he growled.

Eyes glazing slightly, the halfling complied. But beyond the weapons and mushrooms comprising most of his wares, there was little else he could tell them. “I learned from Dartans and can handle those annoying Pentas twerps,” he boasted. “There’s plenty of space in a small town for someone to stay off the radar. Ever since wizards took over Cloudcroft, there should be a good influx of business.”

Handing Syl a glass of water for his migraine, Foradjinn cocked his head. “Wizards took over Cloudcroft?”

“Yeah. Rolson and a bunch of half-dragon men or whatever.” Ferrin cleared his throat. “Look, if you let me go, I’ll give you the antidote to the posion.”

Thus started off an extended debate.

View
Hailstorm of Hare
In Which Our Heroes Confront the Thieves Guild

Storming out of the office, Rickben punched the slightly smirking guard in the face. The man fell as the lieutenant turned to Syl and Kaven. “End Ferrin! We’ll deal with the consequences later.” Glowering around the room, Rickben snorted. “He’s paid off my brother and some of my guards, but not all.”

Syl and Kaven looked at each other, nonplussed. The next problem arose in Ferrin’s appearance; neither the elf wizard nor the halfling paladin knew the antagonist. Indeed, the only one of the party who had any contact was dead. Rickben attempted to provide them with a description, mentioning his impeccable dress sense and tendency to carry a hand crossbow. “For the next twenty-four hours, Haré is yours. Take care of him!”

Muck assisted with shoveling the unconscious guards into the cells and glared at Colin while Syl attempted to intimidate the recalcitrant stooge once more. His Ray of Frost, along with the half-orc’s presence at last got the man talking, Wallace the Jailer less-than-enthusiastic about their methods but listening along as well. Colin revealed he knew of a few rogues in Ferrin’s arsenal: Shade, Thomas (Karl’s bouncer), and a man in dark leathers with a black silk scarf – Damien. He also told of Ferrin’s abilities: he could cause people to freeze, charm them into doing what he demanded, and write something down and cause the words to disappear. The last time Ferrin was at home was when Colin left the night previous.

The party regrouped in the colonnades with the morose bard and boisterous monk and caught them up to speed. Kaven returned to the market while they chatted and asked Hammond if he knew of anyone to aid in turning the town against Ferrin.

The elder halfling rubbed his chin, appearing worried. “We’re a town of merchants and lumberjacks, so as far as revolution goes…” he spread his hands in a helpless way. “I mean, I’ll send word along, but I don’t know how much good it will do.”

Settling down to wait back in the colonnades, Syl sent out his pixies to reconnoiter the town for Ferrin and his crew. The plan coalesced into awaiting Rickben’s trusted reinforcements and then infiltrating the halfling’s house at dusk.

Until one pixie approached Syl and informed him a smartly-dressed halfling was revving up the crowd in the town square. The party immediately left, splitting up to circle the plaza. Igneel vaulted over a few alleys with mixed success, managing to scale one building to the north of the plaza with a modicum of bruises.

“Sir Targen has been hiding things from us!” shouted the halfling standing upon the statue base, two thugs guarding him.

Kaven called out for Cleo, holding back at the rear of the crowd.

“He’s been treating you unfairly!” Half of the assembled murmured agreement.

Unable to remain hidden in the crowd, Foradjinn found himself bouncing in conspicuous approach around the perimeter. At one point, he locked eyes with Damien just in time to counter his dagger. The bard retreated, keeping a wary eye upon the black-scarfed man who pursued.

Ordering Sparky the Blink Dog to teleport near Ferrin and start barking, Syl followed a healthy distance behind Muck as the half-orc gladiator intimidated his way through the crowd.

Out of options for shaking Damien from his trail, the bard headed toward the front of the crowd, casting Disguise Self to appear as Captain Moros. He was rewarded with double-takes from Ferrin and Damien. The former faltered in his speech as Kaven pulled out all the stops.

“He lies!” the paladin mounted his celestial pony and threw back his cloak. Resplendent in armor and holy zeal, he pointed an accusing finger at Ferrin. “He does not have the town’s best interests at heart. Just today, he had Moros killed!”

Cursing inwardly, Foradjinn attempted to make the best of the situation and bellowed out, “Yes! He did have me killed!”

A sharp, deep pain plunged into his lower back. “I suggest you stop talking or I will release the poison upon you.” Damien had caught up to Foradjinn.

Taking him at his word, the bard froze. A long-coated figure strolled out of the alleyway, raising a crossbow to send a bolt flying into Kaven’s shield. Igneel darted down from his perch and charged Ferrin and his thugs, lowering his fox mask. Muck and Syl advanced through the suddenly panicked crowd. Worried by their approach, Damien pulled the dagger from Foradjinn who whirled and grabbed hold of his wrists to grapple.

And thus the battle ensued. Muck proved a capable fighter, back up his earlier boasts and leaving several rogues in rough shape. Foradjinn managed to repay Damien for his maneuver and claimed the black silk scarf as his own. Syl pursued a rapidly outnumbered Ferrin through the town, impressed with the arcane trickster’s arsenal and managing to counter it with the help of his pixies. Kaven tied and gagged the cornered master of the Thieves Guild and stated it would be better to bring him to trial. The rest of the blood-spattered group alternated between apathy and disappointment.

Taking charge of the guards who at last arrived, Foradjinn, still disguised as Moros, led them to the temple. Keeper Yennin, unsettled by their gore-flecked appearance,
nevertheless acquiesced to cast Zone of Truth upon the captured halfling.

Ferrin resisted the spell.

Frustrated but not defeated, the plan then turned toward ransacking Ferrin’s house while keeping him in their care. Rickben appeared and agreed with the strategy. “We broke a few laws, but I believe Sir Targen will be pleased with the outcome.” He blanched as he heard of Foradjinn’s triumph over Damien. “You killed a Black Scarf?” He sighed. “Well, we’ll have to deal with those consequences when they come.”

With that, the group proceeded toward Ferrin’s house.

View
Building Toward Confrontation
In Which A Towering Half-Orc Starts Stalking Syl and Kaven Buys a Purse

Upon the shore, the party recuperated. Foradjinn fiddled with the flame-tongue dagger and strode over to the entrance of the temple. He scratched “Alston Tumbelly” into the door and headed back to rejoin the others. As he did, he glimpsed Kiethri’s expression flicker. The stoic halfling cleric caught his eye and turned away, but the half-elf bard recognized the same loss he felt within himself.

Kaven, after a few whispered words from Foradjinn, offered Kiethri a ride on Cleo. She accepted.

“Shall we return to Haré?” Syl rubbed his hands together in his usual eager manner.

“Yes.” Foradjinn sheathed the dagger and strode off back into the woods.

“By way of the symbols in the woods,” Syl hastened to say. He motioned to the pixies flitting about his head. “I have all these, so why not check and see if we need a few more dispel magic spells?” He bustled off.

Igneel guided them back to the symbols. In the time they had gone, the marks had faded. Satisfied, they all proceeded to the sawmill. Andrim listened to their abbreviated story and expressed relief at their assurance the trouble had passed. One hundred gold richer, Foradjinn, Kaven, and Kiethri proceeded back into Haré. Syl and Igneel took some time down by the river to rustle up various spell components. The monk happily waded through the river, becoming plastered in mud.

Taking Kiethri to the Temple of Helm, the others were surprised to hear shouting within. The halfling cleric ran in, followed by the others. Inside, a raven-haired woman yelled at Yennin, “Fix him!” She thrust the body of a man towards the keeper of the temple.

Exchanging glances with a half-orc sprawled in a pew, the rest approached as the woman continued. “I don’t care what it costs – fix him!”

Yennin raised his hands. “Laura, I don’t know if I can. It depends on how long he’s been dead-”

Laura bristled but Foradjinn stepped forward along with Kiethri. “I know you’re upset-”

Turning wild eyes upon him, Laura glared. “What do you know of loss?” she demanded.

The bard’s face twisted. “I just lost the closest thing to a brother yesterday-” he began but her fingers flashed out in an arcane gesture. Foradjinn felt his body freeze in place, his breathing labored and struggling against invisible force.

“Shut up!” Laura snapped. Kaven leaped toward her and attempted to grapple, but she dodged out of the way. Her hands burst into flame and she screamed. “I will raze this place to the ground!” A jet of flame lanced from her fingertips and darted toward Yennin.

A bright glow flared up around the head cleric in response; he staggered back from the impact but was unharmed. “Laura, please! I can’t help you. And no one can help you if you continue like this!”

The fury within her eyes slowly giving way to mere pain, Laura lowered her hands. She crouched over her brother’s corpse, fighting back more tears. “Who can help me, Yennin?”

Approaching, Yennin knelt down next to her. He brushed a glowing hand over her brow. “Go to Port Cecil and find a man named Stalwart. He should be able to help you.”

She arose, carrying her brother. An expression of sorrow and regret flitted across her face and while she did not say anything, she did wave her hand and release Foradjinn from his paralysis. Then, she left the temple.

The half-orc stood up with a bemused expression. “Wow. What a town. I thought the dragon attack at Mooreland was bad.”

Kaven introduced himself to the half-orc. The seven-foot, three hundred pound titan of chain-mail and raw muscle enveloped the halfling paladin’s arm in one massive hand. "I"m Muck. You’ve probably heard of me," he grinned.

Blinking, Kaven exchanged glances with the rest. “Uh, no?”

“Muck the Ravage Savage?” Some of the half-orc’s grin faltered. “Defeater of Steve the Indifferent? Champion of the Arena?” Perturbed by their blank stares, he scowled. “They made posters about me!” Brandishing a charred and battered sheet, he thrust it at them.

And that is how the party met Muck the Gladiator. He professed to be heading to Port Cecil soon.

“Well, this is all very interesting, but I have a cloak to pick up.” Before heading out, Foradjinn stepped over to Kiethri, handed her a share of the reward money, and said, “If you need someone else to talk to, I’ll be in town until tomorrow. Perhaps we could get a drink together, share a toast to absent friends.”

She nodded with a sigh and Yennin ushered her into his office.

Outside, Kaven and Foradjinn headed to the Jamross’s cloak shop. Muck wandered after them, still chattering of his profession and listening to their adventures thus far. Jamross welcomed them in, producing a gorgeous new owlbear cloak for the amazed bard. “Better than I could have hoped!” was all he could say. Failing to persuade Kaven and Muck to order some new clothes, Jamross bid them adieu.

“I think it’s best to check in with Moros,” Kaven said, remembering Rabastan’s threat within the temple. Foradjinn agreed and once again they headed off to the town hall, Muck still trailing behind.

By this time, Igneel and Syl had re-entered Haré and the monk visited Jamross to pick up his fox mask. Which was glorious. Before going, Jamross cast a disapproving eye over the monk’s worn apparel. “Are you quite sure I cannot tempt you with a new set of clothes?”

Answering the disapproving eye with a jaded expression of his own, the monk tsked at the fancy clothes around him. “I prefer clothes that are easy to move in. Even if these are a little tattered- oh.” Here, the ever-eager Syl demonstrated his mending spell to the monk’s bemusement and Jamross’s envy. Hearing their friends were just in, the elves left and caught up with them.

Upon seeing their new gladiator companion, Syl went pale. “Who’s he?” he muttered frantically to Foradjinn, keeping as many people between him and Muck as possible. “What’s he doing?”

“His name is Muck. He fights people in Arena. Wherever that is.”

“Why is he hanging out with us?”

“He is going to Port Cecil and…I am going to Port Cecil in the morning. So, I said we could travel together.”

Supreme discomfort continued to furrow the high elf’s brow as they continued on. Not finding Moros at the town hall, they decided to try the northern barracks. Foradjinn melted into the crowd. With a nervous cough, Syl said, “Uh, Muck, we will need horses to get to Port Cecil. Why don’t you, ah, go and procure us some?”

Raising an eyebrow, Muck grunted. “I don’t usually ride horses.”

“Yeah, you probably eat them.” Syl half-muttered.

The guards outside the northern barracks did not know where Moros was that morning. Syl, after handing his weapons to them, proceeded inside to talk to Rickben, the leader of the northern barracks. The straight-laced lieutenant within treated the high elf with suspicion until Syl told him the party was assisting with the Thieves Guild problem. Upon hearing of the tunnel, Rickben flew into a righteous tizzy and Syl left him to huff around.

Outside, Foradjinn and Igneel saw Damien, the Thieves Guild stooge they had met in Current Glen. He entered Ferrin’s office in the market; Foradjinn stealthed closer but was only able to hear muffled voices from within.

The group then visited the southern barracks. Three guards on edge milled around outside. “What do you know about Moros?” one growled in response to queries of his location.

“He sent us into the woods to check on something. We’re reporting back. Can we go in?” Though more reluctant than the guards at the north barracks, they allowed Syl into the barracks. In the jail area, he found the dwarf jailwarden, Wallace.

“Syl, wasn’t it?” With a small smile, the dwarf rested his elbows upon the top of his desk. “How can I help you?”

“We’re looking for Moros. Have you seen him?”

Wallace’s eyes flickered toward the door. Working his jaw, he leaned forward and said, “Moros is dead.” He jerked his thumb toward the cells. “This idiot’s in a heap of trouble.”

Syl followed his gesture and spotted a drunk, hunched figure in the corner of one cell: Colin.

“Don’t be spreadin’ this around.” Wallace grimaced. “Moros is dead. Stabbed. Colin’s taking the blame.”

Found outside his house, Moros was indeed murdered. Rickben and Thorel, his lieutenants, were attempting to keep the whole incident under wraps to prevent a panic. “What is strange about the deal is there was no blood around his body. It didn’t look like he was killed where his body was found, but,” Wallace spread his hands in frustration, “Colin isn’t talking beyond taking responsibility.”

“Hmmmm.” Syl cracked his knuckles, fighting a smirk. He arose and approached the bars to the cell. “Colin?”

No response. The drunk man continued to sit in a slumped position, staring at the floor.

Syl conjured his pixies and sent them to tug on his hair. Colin yelped. “What did you do to me?” he snapped at the elf wizard.

“Oh so you can talk after all!” Syl clapped briskly. “Do tell me – what happened with Moros?”

Swallowing at the glint in the wizard’s eye, Colin shrank back. “I told them before, we- I killed him!” He realized what he had said and launched himself from the bed. This time, Syl flinched back from the cell as the scoundrel slammed his fists against the bars. Having made his point, Colin sat back down and lapsed back into silence.

Once again on the lookout outside, Foradjinn and Igneel continued to scan the crowd. The former caught a glimpse of a long coat swishing around the edge of a building. A deep hunch drew the bard into the crowd to pursue. Down one street and through the milling market, Foradjinn tracked the long-coated human until he ducked down an alley.

Cutting through a closer alleyway, Foradjinn circled around and was rewarded with the sight of the long-coated man crouching at the other end, peering around the corner. Foradjinn snuck up and said, “Who are you looking for?”

The figure whirled, hand darting down to his belt, to find himself staring down the blade of the Sword of Haré. Foradjinn could now see the figure was Shade, the one who recruited Alston. “A wizard has just killed my dear friend. Now, if I were to find that the wizard and his friends were working with a certain guild-”

“You want to walk away from here,” Shade said, his voice low. “Why don’t you take a trip away…find a place to settle down…forget all about the Thieves Guild.”

A faint tremor shook the bard’s arm. Thoughts of Anaya, Alston’s death, loneliness, all swirled together in a sudden, overwhelming wave -

And Foradjinn sheathed the sword and walked away. A few minutes later, his mind cleared and the anger returned.

After scoping out Moros’s house and finding it locked, the party paused to determine their next move. Muck wandered to Kartrana’s shop and engaged her in awkward conversation about all the half-orc news of late.

Syl, with another stroke of inspiration, summoned one of his blink dogs to investigate around Moros’s house. Indeed, the dog sniffed out a trail leading from where the body was all the way to Ferrin’s house.

They then dispersed to various other errands to prepare for a possible confrontation. Kaven moved among the halflings at the market, spending coins here and there, gathering intel about Ferrin.

Syl needed a pearl for a spell so he, Igneel, and Foradjinn found a jewelers. An old halfling lady ran the place amidst glittering baubles and precious metals. Gracelynn was her name and she attempted to sell Syl his desired gem for twice its worth. After much hardballing from her and wheedling from Syl, she at last produced a map. “How do you feel about IOUs, dear?” She offered to sell Syl the pearl for 150 gold and the condition he would retrieve something she’d heard about.

“In the hills northwest of Port Cecil lies a cave between two roads. Within are three chests. Two of them are not real; the one on the left is the one you want.” Gracelynn rubbed her hands together eagerly. “You take half and bring half back to me. Agreed?”

“Agreed.” Syl rolled the pearl around in his hands and grinned.

“Excellent!” Gracelynn turned to the others. “Now, as for the rest of you, see anything you like?”

“Actually, you might be able to help me.” Foradjinn started dumping his tooth collection out on a table. “Do you have anything that might drill through these-” he set the uncut sapphire down on the table.

Gracelynn ignored the rest, eyes fastened upon the gorgeous blue stone. “I could do something quite nice with this,” she murmured, holding a candle up to it to illuminate the facets within. Intrigued, though mostly bemused, Foradjinn commissioned a clasp made of the stone and a green dragon wyrmling scale, one which would fasten his owlbear cloak. Then he left to check on his commissioned scimitar at Kartrana’s.

Kaven chatted to the halflings of the market, eventually coming across an older leatherworker named Hammond. He was impressed with the paladin’s shield strap, the way it was slung for ease of transport and transition to battle. Kaven bought a leather satchel for Kiethri and casually asked what the general consensus was on Ferrin. Before Hammond answered, Kaven told him of his own circumstance, how he was a fugitive from his own town of Nesland. His dislike of totalitarian figures established, Kaven invited Hammond to speak.

“I remember when Ferrin wasn’t here.” Hammond sighed. “The market was not as organized as it is now. So, there’s that. But…” he shook his head. “I don’t trust him. Neither do many others.”

Beyond that, not much else was said. Kaven and Hammond talked leatherworking until Kartrana finished her conversation with Muck. Then the paladin and gladiator headed to the tavern to partake of several pints of mead.

Syl then at last delivered black garlic to Chris Gane the alchemist, arranged the delivery of some to Karteen in Orion, and purchased more components for his spells. “Hey, how did that cocatrice egg work out?” Syl asked, shoveling various sundry items into his pouches.

“Well, it hatched. Then it turned a few plants into stone. So I got rid of it.” Gane shrugged. “Lesson learned.” She frowned. “Where’s your gnome friend, by the way?”

“Bit the dust,” Syl said in his typical charismatic fashion and left.

Reaching Kartrana’s, Foradjinn was astounded to discover she had finished the blade well ahead of the promised time and soon returned to the group waving it about in triumph. The rest of the group appeared unsettled when he filled them in on his conversation with Shade and ended the revelation with, “I’m going to explore down Ferrin’s tunnel tonight.”

“That,” Kaven crossed his arms, “Is a bad idea.”

In answer, Foradjinn sighed and handed the bag of holding to Syl. Then, with some reluctance, he unbuckled the Sword of Haré and passed it over as well. “In case I don’t come back.”

“Don’t you need it?”

“I have this now!” the bard grinned, twirling the scimitar a few more times. He sobered again, tapping the flame-tongue dagger at his belt. “I must do this for Alston. None of you need come.” He nodded at them and headed into the Collonades, disappearing among the trees. Igneel followed, figuring on attuning the boots of speed he’d recovered from Alston’s remains.

Syl and Kaven decided to talk to Rickben once more. The no-nonsense lieutenant was floored when Syl revealed to him Moros’s death and flew into a blustering rage. The paladin and wizard followed as he stormed into the Southern barracks, read Wallace the riot act, and then barged into Thorel’s office. While shouting issued from inside, Kaven and Syl noticed one of the guards inside looked slightly pleased with the turn of events. Before either could investigate further, the office door slammed open again.

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Dust Before Flood
In Which Desperate Measures Lead to a Reluctant Farewell

Passing from the door into the woods, Kaven sat and studied his amulet. Thoughts of doubt swirled through his mind as he considered the fight, how he had been forced to turn upon his friends. Behind him, Alston observed from the temple’s entrance.

Within the temple, Syl set about bringing Sai back to his familiar state, Foradjinn assisting. Igneel, bored, clambered up the pillars in the main room, leaping from one to the other.

Arising, Kaven tested out his nature’s wrath ability on a fawn to great success. It entangled the small beast and he felt comforted his power remained unchecked. He then released the deer.

Igneel felt a spectral force catch him in mid-leap. Strong purple fingers wrapped around him and brought him down. Restrained, he came eye to eye with a tall hooded figure in black who leaned upon a quarterstaff.

“Is this your hand?” asked the monk.

“It is,” rasped the figure.

“Who are you?”

“We talked a few moments ago. Where are your friends? Where is my apprentice?”

Swallowing, Igneel chuckled nervously. “Uh, he was an unfortunate casualty-” he grunted as the magic purple hand squeezed around him.

“You have gotten in my way,” growled Rabastan. “But I am a man of my word. I said I would allow you to leave if you have a way to freedom.” Behind him approached three more revenants and long, crawling lizards. “Let us go talk to your friends.”

In the altar room, Syl whooped in triumph as an explosion of white feathers and excited hooting announced the rebirth of his familiar. His triumph died away as the captured Igneel and Rabastan entered. After a tense conversation, Rabastan allowed Igneel loose and sent him to retrieve the key from Alston. Kiethri was caught up in the hand instead. One of the zombies and one of the drakes followed.

Regaining his curiosity and aplomb, Syl set about questioning the necromancer.

“You are a curious one,” Rabastan studied the elf wizard. “What is your name?”

Only the slightest hesitation preceded Syl’s answer of, “Foradjinn.”

“Where are you from?”

“Have you ever been to Taiji?” Syl chattered on as the minutes ticked by, his audience growing more and more impatient.

Outside, Igneel found Alston still spying on Kaven. “Hide the key,” he said. “Rabastan is here!” the monk filled the rogue in with the rest and they hastened to Kaven as their zombie guardian lurched up behind.

Kaven shrugged when he heard. “Give me the key! I’ll take it and they’ll never catch me and Cleo.”

“Good idea. Let’s talk about it later.” Alston swallowed as the zombie approached, followed by one of the lizards. The gnome frowned, recognizing the latter as a drake.

Back in the altar room, Foradjinn stepped forward to try and pet one of the drakes by Rabastan’s side. He approached to within about fifteen feet when he bumped into an invisible wall. Poking it, the bard discovered invisible bars an inch thick, spaced half an inch apart.

Syl found the same behind them. Biting his lip, he quirked an eyebrow at the half-elf bard and proceeded to ritual cast leomund’s tiny hut.

Taking the cue, Foradjinn plucked the weird goat bone from the bag of holding and rattled it on the bars. Mildly amused, Rabastan was distracted enough to miss Syl’s ritual.

Entering the temple once again, Alston, Kaven, and Igneel held a whispered conference. Alston asked the others to distract the master while he entered the locked room. Upon evading the zombie and drake, he reached the door and touched the handle. It vibrated under his touch but squeaked open once he turned the key. He entered and locked the door behind.

Within, stonework of rich dark rock was illuminated by a faerie fire type flame all over the walls. In the corner, on a dais of dark blue marble, a basin bubbled with pristine water. Hoisting himself up, the gnome squinted and could see text beneath the bubbling flow. It was in a language he did not know.

Clearing his throat, the gnome spoke into the emptiness, “I know you want this hidden. Help us.”

Rabastan turned as Kaven and Igneel approached. “I guess our friend ran off with the key,” they shrugged.

“You try my patience,” snarled Rabastan. “Where is what I want?”

“He went to investigate the door.”

Beyond frustration by this time, the necromancer flicked his fingers out at Igneel and the monk fell to his knees, a spell sapping his health away to near unconsciousness. Dragging the wounded elf to the door, Rabastan beat upon it with his fist. “Open up!” He turned to Kaven with a glower. “Tell him to let us in.”

“Alston, our guest Strawberry Dan is here.” For his mockery, the paladin felt his muscles freeze and the necromancer planted a foot in his side, spilling him to his feet.

Within, Alston remained silent even as the necromancer shouted and knocked all the more. No voice replied the gnome’s pleas to the god of the temple.

Back in the invisible prison, Syl attempted to misty step out but failed.

“At a moment’s word, Moros dies! Let me in!” Rabastan continued in his threats.

Alston returned to the basin and drank deep. It was colder, more refreshing than any other water he had ever tasted. A deep peace fell across him as he set the key upon the basin rim. He turned to the door and called, “Step away! I won’t come out until Igneel says you’re back far enough.”

“Fair enough.” Rabastan retreated back toward the pillars, gaze boring into the doors.

Precious seconds purchased, Alston attempted to tip over the fountain. Failing that, he scoured the room. A small hole in the stone revealed a tiny lever. Jiggling his dagger within, the rogue flipped it and it opened a secret door out of the room. A little passage down and another lever later and Alston found himself in the room where the portal had been.

Foradjinn, grasping at straws, unstrung his lute, tied the strings together, and attempted to lure a drake over with a bit of salvaged naga skin attached to the end and threaded through the bars. Step by step, the curious drake approached…

“Moros is dead!” Rabastan raged, thumping once again on the door. “Shall your friend be next?” He extended his staff toward Igneel. Paralysis gripped the monk and he fell at the necromancer’s feet.

Passing down the columned hall until reaching the corner, Alston muttered “One last chance,” to the open air, activated his flame-tongue dagger, and stepped around to reveal himself to Rabastan.

The necromancer turned and lowered his hood. A gaunt drow, he fixed the gnome rogue with a baleful grin of triumph. Battle ensued.

Closer and closer the drake approached but a sharp whistle echoing down the halls drew him back down the stairs. Kaven swung at one of the revenants while Foradjinn and Kiethri attempted to find a way out of the prison. Syl, in a flash of brilliance, had his pixie polymorph him into a fly and exited between the bars.

Surrounded and bleeding from a dozen wounds, Alston gasped for breath as Rabastan approached. “Make a choice right now to live or die.” Raising his hand and staff again, the necromancer towered over the gnome. “For the last time, where is the key?”

“I’ll see you in hell.” Alston twisted away, vaulted through the flailing tails and jaws of the drakes and swinging fists of the zombies toward freedom, and vanished in a blinding emerald flash.

All that remained of Alston Tumbelly were a pair of boots, a flame-tongue dagger, and a few other magic items, covered in fine grey dust.

Kaven, struggling to bring down the zombies, called for Cleo. His steed charged into the temple, managed to aid him slightly, but fell before the numerous foes between her and her master. Igneel passed out once more from a zombie blow.

Sniffing with bemusement at the appearance of the celestial pony, Rabastan stepped down the hall from which Alston had come. Above him, the glass ceiling twinkled with the light issuing through the lake.

A slight pop echoed through the suddenly silent hall. Syl materialized out of his fly form and screamed out shatter against the glass ceiling. Rabastan whirled just as the spell ruptured the stone and glass to send shards and water cascading down. Syl dashed away, another thwip behind him announcing the necromancer’s teleportation escape. Pursued by the tidal wave, Syl cast cure wounds upon a recumbent Igneel. He yanked the monk to his feet, managed to grab Kaven in passing, ran up the stairs into the altar room with Foradjinn and Kiethri and cast leomund’s tiny hut at last.

Safe in the hut, battered and exhausted, the five took a moment to rest. Foradjinn peered around. “Where is Alston?”

Syl shrugged. He gazed out at the rising water levels as the lake continued to leak in, halted by his enchantment.

Stretching out on a cot, Foradjinn smirked. “Eh, he probably made it outside.”

Hours later, the water filling the room completely, the bard awoke, concentrated, and cast sending to Alston. “Alston! Where are you? Did you get out? We’re still below in the temple.”

A cool breeze upon his face and Alston opened his eyes. Trees, more emerald than he had ever seen, sprouted in a distant grove. Underneath his feet, blades of healthy grass waved in the soft winds. Dusk had fallen upon the horizon. With a sigh, the gnome said, “I’m dead. Good luck.”

Foradjinn blinked. Then cast sending again. "I"m sorry, what?"

“He killed me. I’m dead. Good luck.”

Silent for a moment, Foradjinn half chuckled. “He’s joking around, saying he’s dead,” he reported to the others. “We’ll probably find him once we get out of here.” Raising his eyes to the water enclosing the hut, he cleared his throat against the small, tight knot rising within. “Speaking of that, how do we get through to the surface now?”

With a knowing look, Syl summoned more pixies and had each cast polymorph upon the group, turning them into octopi. Reveling in their seaworthy forms, each cast about the submerged temple, searching the aftermath for signs of Alston and the slain.

Neither were to be found. Foradjinn discovered the flame-tongue dagger and Igneel took up Alston’s boots. Kaven, meanwhile, floated into the fountain room and managed to decipher the script at the bottom of the basin: “With this life, with this breath, Grow. Reach the sun, take on form, and be free.”

Eventually, they all surfaced. Foradjinn studied the flame-tongue dagger and the boots, the knot in his throat pocking his protests. The conversation turned to the worlds beyond death and the bard felt somewhat mollified, though no less sad.

Sighing, the half-elf bard spent his last third level spell to cast sending again. “Sir Targen, we have the three. Shall we meet you in Port Cecil? This is Foradjinn.”

A moment passed and the reply arrived, “I’m on the road home. I should be there in two days.” As the spell faded, Foradjinn heard the ruler mutter, “I hate magic.”

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