The Scaled Advent

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

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

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

Igneel brightened and agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But what about these orc tusks-”

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

“What kind of experiment?”

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

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

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

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

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

She nodded. “Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

View
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.”

View
Devious back-stabbing
also the villains did stuff too

Picking their way over the dead half-dragon and his defeated undead minions, the group gathered in the main hall to assess the damage. Turns out the damage wasn’t that extensive and Syl’s mending spell was able to bring the bright orange gem to almost pristine condition! With that matter resolved they were ready to explore the rest of the complex. However, before they got very far, a mysterious apparition of a skull materialized in the air ahead of them.

“You must be the ones who destroyed that white half-dragon. Melas said you were a troublesome lot. He also insisted that a half-dragon would be useful to have around, and as far as I’m concerned that turned out to be complete nonsense. While I don’t lament the loss of that scaly abomination, you have now deprived me of many useful undead workers, and that will slow our progress”.

Initially expecting another physical confrontation at the sudden appearance of this creature, the party was more than a little taken aback, by its frank and straightforward communications.

“I am Rabastan, and, although I reside far from here and am speaking to you through a remote apparition, I am in charge of these halls. We believe there is a powerful magical fountain contained behind a magically sealed door in these ruins. The fountain is said to grant special blessings of life to those who drink from it. If you agree to aid me in this endeavor I shall forgive your slight against me and allow you to leave this place in peace.”

Immediately suspicious of anyone who appeared on good terms with Melas, the group attempted to discern if this Rabastan was deceiving them in some way. The illusory vocal conduit in the form of a float skull proved difficult to read, however. In the end the group decided that they had planned to search the rest of the halls anyway and agreed to help find a way past the locked door.

“Excellent! I shall instruct my apprentice to leave you to your work then. He should be around here somewhere trying to solve this puzzle himself. He is a dark elf like myself, and probably the only other living thing left in these halls. You should recognize him when you see him. Farewell!”

With these final works the apparition vanished as quickly as it appeared. The group pressed onward up the stairs in the direction from which the ghouls and shadow mastiffs had come. Entering a long room at the top of the stairs, the team became wary of several dark pools of some unknown substance. Peering in for a closer look, Alston’s keen senses identified the mysterious fluid as dog urine. The group quickly (but cautiously) made their way across the room.

A noise from the next passage caused a brief pause as one by one the wary adventurers peeked their heads around the corner to spot a drow standing over an alter clearly in the middle of some ritual. Upon seeing this Syl, followed closely by Igneel, walked calmly into the room careful not to impolitely interrupt his fellow mage at his work. Peering over the components Syl recognized some of what was being done. Bone, flesh, and grave soil clearly spoke to raising the dead. However, the wood was a mystery for a moment until he recalled the wood woads they had encountered in the forest. Quite pleased with his assessment Syl announced his conclusions as he prepared to stand and watch the ritual through to completion. Kiethri had a different approach. After learning of the necromanctic nature of the spell she immediately insisted the caster stop his spell. Despite Syl’s efforts to encourage her to not interrupt, the dark elf’s concentration had been lost and he dropped his arms to his side in frustration.

“What do you want? I have a lot to do and I don’t have time for distractions. Rabastan already told me you were enlisted to help get beyond the door, so, go figure it out.” Brushing some of his jet black hair back behind his exceptionally long ears, the dark-skinned elf impatiently answered the questions of the group. His name was Nyloth, and, after some probing, Syl was able to determine that he was approximately twice as skilled in the arcane arts as our young wizard (who began to eye the spell book of this necromancer with great interest).

The group learned that misty step, dimension door, and teleportation had failed to bypass the door. Satisfied with the information from Nyloth, and a gruesome report from Igneel of dismembered body parts and an ominous dark pit in the small room behind the necromancer, the party began to move on in the other direction.

Sharing Kiethri’s sentiments on the nature of the ritual, Kaven was determined to interrupt it somehow. As the party left the room, he hung back eyeing the necromancer with a dull stare and filling the area with an…awkward silence. Nyloth finally inquired after the paladin’s fine dragon scale armor, and Kaven used the opportunity to begin a long winded tale of all the groups conquests up to that point. Despite the displeasure clearly evident on his face Nyloth quietly listened to the tale for several minutes. When Kaven reached the point regarding the acid spitting insectoids encountered in Old Haré, he produced one of the vials of acid he harvested from the creatures, and (despite the quick reflexes of the drow) he managed to “accidentally” spill the vial of acid all over the spell components on the alter.

What patience Nyloth had left, disintegrated along with his materials and he fumed as he demanded Kaven leave his presence. The devious halfling barely containing his glee joined the group as they were trying to decipher the unknown script on a pair of columns in the next room. Incidentally , the script was in halfling and Kaven translated to the group a story of a barren valley that was blessed by mother nature with a pure water source that formed a lake which gave life to the great forest that now exists in the area. The door to the next room featured an elaborately carved Oak tree, and in the next room there was a raised dias in what appeared to be a religious meeting house. Again a prominent oak tree was displayed, this time carved into the stone of the far wall.

Backing out past the room with the two pillars the team found a room with beautiful murals painted on each wall and the ceiling. One wall featured the vast expanses of space, one a forested valley from the perspective of a high waterfall, and the last wall was that of a desert with a pristine oasis in the middle. The ceiling featured a painting intended to look as if the viewer were looking up through a lake from the bottom. Recognizing the prominence this temple placed on the oak tree in the last two rooms, Syl searched the murals for a similar depiction. Sure enough he found the oak which was an illusion covering a small space in the wall from which Syl drew a key.

The group found another passage leading to the main hall with the sealed door. Alston observed that the door in fact had a key hole that looked consistent with the key the group had found. There was one last hallway to explore. The one with the glowing gossamer strands dangling down from above. The curious monk decided to lightly touch one of the glowing strands and in so doing were just close enough to see a large spider-like creature hiding in the strands. The team thought it best to leave those alone for the time being.

Now convinced they had found the way through the door, the group planned their next steps. The group quickly decided Nyloth should be destroyed what with Syl hungry for the necromancer’s spell book, and Kaven and Keithri convinced of the dark elf’s evil nature.

A plan was formed. Foradjinn would inform Nyloth that a key had been found and lead him to the door. First they would pass the hallway to the room with the columns (in which Igneel would hide) down the steps to the four way intersection leading to the mural filled room (in which Alston would be hiding), to the hallway with the large glowing spider creatures, and to the hallway leading back toward the magical door where Syl would be standing with an illusion of the key drawing the attention of the unsuspecting Nyloth towards him by proclaiming loud excitement about their discovery. That would be the signal for Alston to step out and back stab the necromancer while the monk would fly down the stairs and shove the wounded wizard into the spider webs. At which point we would all stand back and watch the hapless drow get eaten. To add in an extra measure of defiance against his dark magics, Kaven would stay back and come in to destroy the rest of his components while he succumbed to our brilliant attack plan

Foradjinn was uncharacteristically unconvincing in his first attempts to draw Nyloth down to the trap. “Great job, bring me the key” was the insistent response. Nevertheless, the bard was not persuaded to go and fetch the key, and indicated that if Nyloth didn’t come they would just open the door with out him. Grumbling to himself, he quickly left his work to follow Foradjinn down the hallway.

As they rounded the corner and Syl shouted “Hey Nyloth! Look over here! We found a key! See the key?!” the poor dark elf didn’t have a chance to question the extreme exuberance before the lightning quick elven monk leaped down the stairs and relentlessly beat him again and again punching straight through his feeble shield spell. A final powerful kick sent Nyloth staggering backward down the hall right on the edge of the spider nest. Not finished the monk chased him down with another devastating flurry of kicks and punches. This time the wizard held his ground and stayed out of the spiders reach. Foradjinn joined with a thunderwave spell hoping to push Nyloth just the few more feet back to feed the spiders, but again the wizard resisted. Seeing himself cornered Nyloth tried to cash greater invisibility, but just as he was starting to disappear from view Syl used his own magic to disrupt the weave of illusions their foe was crafting and Nyloth, frustrated that he was still visible, chose to misty step to the other side of the spider webs as he called out “LADIES!!”

At his word three spectral women passed through the walls. Unknown to the rest of the team, as he was busy dumping arcane materials into puddles of shadow mastiff urine on the other side of the great hall,, Kaven became possessed by one of the ghosts. Kaven watched helplessly as the spirit possessing his body made him skewer Sai (whom Syl had sent to recover the spellbook left on the alter) with a javelin. Sensing the sudden absence of his familiar Syl investigated and found Kaven unresponsive to his inquiries. Not sure what to do he attempted to slow the paladin with frost, but continued to miss and soon took a javelin to the leg and began to hobble away seeking some cover.

Meahwhile, Alston attacked one of the other ghosts, while Foradjinn put the sword of Haré’s radiant glow to great affect against the final one. With Kiethri in between keeping them in good health, Igneel was free to pursue the wizard. With his amazing agility he slipped under the webs and proceeded to finish the powerful wizard off with a final flurry of attacks. As Nyloth’s consciousness faded he swore to return and exact revenge against us.

Ultimately, Kiethri expelled the spirit from Kaven and the team proceeded to defeat it while Syl left the exorcism to those more effective than he, and instead ran immediately (although still limping from his javelin wound) to the now dead necromancer’s spell book.

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Dead Beneath the Lake
Organ Recitals and Ogre-Reaching Aspirations

Taking a closer look, Syl identified the woad magic as connected to the runes; nothing good would come from them, he also found.

The group proceeded toward the origin Kaven had witnessed, the halfling leading the way. They dipped down into a valley and up the other side, wading through brush, winding through forest until they reached a clearing. Ahead, a lake lapped upon a shore. Beyond, the forest curled around before hills above. There appeared to be a boulder upon the shore of the lake.

From a distance, they could tell the boulder was not naturally formed, though covered with ivy. Foradjinn and Alston approached, managing not to disturb the deer drinking at the lake. Upon closer inspection, they discovered a door frame set in the rough-hewn rock. Beside it, set in the stone, was an indented circle. Next to it, written in common, were words:

“A bond, an oath, a pact
Giving life leads to death
Now act.”

Raising an eyebrow at the sneaking bard and rogue, Kiethri looked up at Kaven. “Why are you guys so paranoid?”

With a smirk, Kaven leaned down out of the saddle to catch up a rock. Winding up, he hurled towards Foradjinn and Alston, startling them out of their furtive study. Syl strode up and aided in their research, pushing at the circle with his staff – it depressed an inch or so, but nothing happened. He mused over the words and came to the conclusion the same time as Alston.

The gnome cut his own palm and pressed the bloody wound to the circle. With a strange sucking sensation against the slash, the door swung open with a grating noise. Inside, stonework formed steps down and to the left.

They all descended the steps, Kiethri bandaging Alston’s hand. The stonework of the interior gave way to more masterful craft, providing acoustics for distant organ music and the faint tink-tink of slow pickaxe noises. As they advanced, they spotted gossamer strands hanging from the doorway of a room to the left; Foradjinn shivered, remembering his ordeal with the teleporting spider not more than a fortnight previous.

Clutching his holy symbol, Kaven sent out his divine sense and affirmed the presence of undead towards the pickaxe sounds. Syl and Alston charged and soon discovered two zombies mining the wall with a deep pit beyond. While the wizard and rogue finished their exercise, Foradjinn studied the wall and found no ore or metal surrounding the holes the zombies had carved thus far.

Moving on toward the organ music, they all arrived at another door. Alston oiled the hinges and eased it open. A beautiful stonework floor stretched out, interrupted by carved ornate columns twenty feet high. To the right and up a few steps, a pair of decorated doors glowed a soft, strange azure.

Alston skirted the door and stealthed down the column hall, passing a gorgeous mural of a forest scene with nymphs and dryads. At the end of the column hall, he found two sets of tall steps bisected by another column, the organ music louder than ever and issuing from beyond them. Above the steps, a glass ceiling allowed faint blue light in to bathe the interior – the sun glowing through the lake and the glass beneath.

Creeping up the steps, Alston spotted two ogres sitting next to a massive organ. Next to them was another decorated door. After Alston’s whispered report, Syl sent his pixie to check the organ and found the player to be invisible. Upon prodding the space before it, the pixie found the unseen player to also be…squishy? “It must be an unseen servant, then,” Syl nodded.

Kaven tried the other door they had passed while Foradjinn and Alston set up traps of ball bearings and spears upon and near the steps. The paladin encountered strong resistance and was unable to force the door. He then discovered another side passage near the steps and cast his divine sense up the stairs beyond the threshold – a few more undead lurked up there as well.

Before Kaven could warn the rest, Alston and Igneel ambushed the ogres and attempted to lead them toward the trapped steps. The latter met with mixed success, stumbling and crashing into the organ, almost cornered by one of the ogres.

Still, thanks to Syl’s fireball wand and one of the ogres not seeing a trap, they were easily dealt with. Complications arose when two dogs bounded down the stairs near Kaven, the paladin only just managing to warn Foradjinn in time. Four gaunt undead archers materialized in place of the ogres near the organ and half the party turned to fight them while more zombies descended the steps into the vengeful swings of a Yondollan paladin warhammer and the blazing white light of the old sword of Haré.

Upon the conclusion of the fight, silence fell for a brief moment. Then, the door near the organ scraped open and a raspy voice yelled out, “Well? Are you coming?” The unknown person slammed the door shut again.

Tense, the party approached, Alston taking point to swing the giant oak doors wide. Within, rich stonework decorated a smaller room around a shimmering void. Before it, more undead awaited them, led by a white-scaled half-dragon creature, similar to the one they encountered in Trokan Keep. From his mouth he exhaled a freezing foggy cloud of ice. “They must not be allowed to leave here alive,” he roared. “Brothers, bring them to their death!”

Whipped into a frenzy, the undead screamed to the attack. Alston ducked between them and attempted to enter the shimmering void, correctly guessing it was a portal. It resisted him, but he did spot an orange gem at the base of it – a power source?

After a frantic first few strikes, the party discovered a critical combination of spells and attacks to turn the room into a kill box. The half-dragon fell with a scream of fury and the others held off the constant supply of fresh undead troops from the portal while Syl put his new crowbar to use.

Levering the orange gem from its setting, he held it up in triumph as the portal shimmered, wavered, and then collapsed. Syl’s grin froze upon his face and the cheers of Foradjinn, Alston, and Kaven fell silent as the dispellation revealed, upon the wall behind the portal, the familiar sign of the Crestin rebellion…

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An Impasse and an Investigation
Old grudges and new problems at the sawmill

Meanwhile, back at the tavern, Syl handed the potion of invulnerability and the red gem to Igneel and wandered over to the barkeep, Karl.

By this time, the tavern patrons had mostly left for the evening. Karl wiped a section of the bar and raised his eyes with a brief smile to the elf wizard as he approached. “So where did your friend get that armor?” he asked, tilting his head toward Kaven.

“Fine elvish craftsmanship. Dragon scales. Et cetera.” Syl filled the disbelieving barkeep in on their adventures and then leaned close. “So. How did you get yourself mixed up with the Thieves Guild?”

The amiable expression vanished from Karl’s face. “I think it’s best you leave now,” he growled.

“Why?”

Karl did not answer save to call out, “Tomas!”

A hulking human with red hair approached from the corner. Karl waved at the inquisitive elf and the rest of the party. “Help these fellas out.”

Syl attempted to backpedal and convince Karl to get him in touch with the guild to no avail. At last escorted from the inn, despite Kaven’s apology, the party returned to the dark streets of Haré. Behind them, they caught a glimpse of Karl pour himself an ale with one unsteady hand.

“Welp. That could have gone better.” With a sniff of disapproval, Syl produced a gleaming bead of crystal and muttered a few words. A tiny wooden cabin popped into existence just outside the inn. “Shall we rest?” He led the others inside to a cozy, small interior.

“You were asking the wrong questions,” Kaven growled, dragging a drunken Igneel in with Foradjinn. Any further conversation was interrupted by a pounding on the door.

Opening it revealed another man, as tall as Tomas but with raggedy brown hair and in plain clothes. His breath stank of drink and his manner of belligerence. “Whadderya doin’ here?” he bellowed.

Through his extended, rambling rant, the party learned this drunk was named Colin and he was the nephew of Sharil, the deceased sawmill owner. “You screwed it all up,” he grumbled, shaking his finger at the group. “I shoulda inherited the mill and Ferrin woulda said all I hadda do was ignore stuff and it would have been fine.” Now, Colin worked as an enforcer for Ferrin. He tried to demonstrate his skill upon Syl and failed due to the elf wizard’s arcane ward.

Despite a possibly favorable attempt to convince him to sell out Ferrin, the resentful man decided to leave and collapsed in a stupor. Foradjinn dragged him off the road and out of the road. Then the party slept.

As the dawnlight beamed through the stained glass of Helm’s Temple, Alston Tumbelly was awakened by a shuffling, then a gasp, then a splash of water upon his face.

YOU HAVE NERVE, ALSTON TUMBELLY!”

Scrambling fully awake, Alston was aghast to find a furious Allie Hollysharp before him. Memories of an evening out, a sly offering of one drink too many, and a theft of a wedding dress from her shop surged to the fore. As she continued to shout abuse and throw the contents of a cold brazier at him, he attempted to explain himself. Dodging between the pews until at last she fell short of breath, Alston produced a gold bracelet and handed it to her, filling the opportune silence with explanations upon apologies.

To no avail. “That’s quite the tale, Alston Tumbelly. My mother warned me about men like you. While your friends are welcome in my store, you are not.” And she flounced away.

Yenen appeared with a sympathetic smile. Further conversation with him revealed Kiethri slept later than normal those days due to her tree ordeal. Also, the weird happenings at the sawmill included some engravings upon trees in the area.

Also, Sir Targen was absent from the town. A meeting of provincial governors was taking place in Port Cecil to discuss the dragons and Captain Moros was ruling in his stead.

Alston left the temple and rejoined the others, discovering the curious hut Syl had conjured for the evening previous. Following exposition by all parts of the group, Syl exited the hut, intent upon starting the day.

This caused his hut to dispell and dumped a certain half-elf bard and elf monk out of their bunks for a rude awakening.

Fortunately for Foradjinn, the shock solidified the laborious lessons and frantic studying over the past week attempting to learn Syl’s sending spell. He immediately put it to use.

“Anaya! This is the half-drowned cat. Are you all right? I’m trying to get to Port Cecil. My allies will help me to free you.”

“Foradjinn! It is so good to hear from you. I appreciate it but I don’t know I need rescuing.”

Disconcerted, Foradjinn sent back, “You’re free then?”

“I’m not free but I live a good life.”

Falling silent, Foradjinn followed the rest into the town, heading for the hall to talk to Moros.

Igneel gawked at everything around him, never having been in Haré before. He caught sight of a man striding east to west. As the man past behind a statue in the middle of the town square, the monk witnessed him turn into a bird and fly away.

“Cool.”

Inside the town hall, after greeting their old friend Wilford, the group soon met with Moros. A long discussion ensued in which they tried to convince Moros to arrest Ferrin or investigate him. The various plans suggested, however, did not meet Moros’s unflinching, law-abiding tendencies. It seemed the party hit a dead-end until someone mentioned the tunnel leading under the wall of Haré from (presumably) Ferrin’s house.

“Now, THAT,” said Moros at last, “Changes everything. Give me a day and I shall work up a plan.”

“Great!” Syl rubbed his hands together, visions of spell books within Ferrin’s stash dancing in his head. “Deputize us and we can assist you in bringing this rascal to justice.”

Moros flatly refused, a migraine from dealing with them all well underway. Before booting them out, he paused, staring hard at Kaven. “Where’d you get that armor?”

“Yondalla’s been good to me,” the halfling replied with a pious expression.

“Right.”

Their dismissal abrupt, the group exited and split up. Foradjinn headed to Kartrana’s smithy and commissioned a scimitar which incorporated one of the green dragon wyrmling fangs. He then headed, after asking around for a tailor, to an elf called Jamross. Despite the flamboyant tailor’s disdain for the heavy, cumbersome material, he reluctantly consented to making a warm cloak for the half-elf bard out of some of the owl-bear fur.

Igneel appeared and asked Jamross to fashion a fox mask for him, hoping to look more intimidating. Jamross found it a more exciting job and promised it would be so.

Then Igneel and Syl headed to Allie’s store to pick up some odds and ends. The gnome sold them most of the items requested and proceeded to stare, agog, at the bag of holding into which the elf wizard crammed it all.

Alston and Kaven returned to the temple and asked Kiethri to come along as they investigated the woods around the sawmill. She eagerly accepted, in awe of Kaven’s steed, and rode along with him, the heavenly horse easily accommodating both riders. They joined with Syl, Igneel, and Foradjinn, and proceeded to the sawmill.

In working order once again, the sawmill was a bustle of activity. Andrim, the seventeen-year-old half-elf son of Sharil, welcomed them. He could offer little more information beyond what they had already discerned from Yenen and the others. The workers only glimpsed strange things in the trees, weird shapes and shadows.

So into the woods the group traveled until reaching the first of the marks. High up on the trunk of a tree, what appeared to be a silver “X” joined to the top of a “Y” was embedded. Upon casting Detect Magic, Syl identified the school used as that of Necromancy. His pixie dispelled the magic of the mark; the silver faded, leaving only the indentation in the bark. Farther on, they discovered a second rune, the same as the first but on its side. Aside from the runes, scratches marred the bark six feet up on a few of the trees.

Triangulating, Igneel discovered the center of the runes and also the greatest number of clawmarks as well. Taking out the scythe, Kaven used it to commune with nature. In doing so, a vision came to him, one of wavering, shambling shapes scratching at the trees in the night. His vision followed them away to the east to a vine-covered stone edifice. The reek of death emanated from within the shadowed entrance.

Before he could see more, Kaven snapped out of the vision, interrupted by a humming “wooor” sound. Heading off to investigate, Foradjinn turned too late to deflect an attack from a hulking tree creature who materialized out of a tree next to him. Thankfully, Syl projected his Arcane Ward to soften the surprise attack.

Two more tree creatures wielding clubs and shields joined the fray, demonstrating they could transport from tree to tree to great effect. After a tough scuffle, Kiethri landed the finishing blow upon the final foe.

In the aftermath, Alston studied the bodies and identified the creatures as Wood Woads, creatures born of a blood sacrifice. The sacrificed one would live on in the Wood Woad, protecting a place for years afterwards.

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Fall of Merlin and the Return to Hare

“What do you call yourselves?”
Attunia made a face at her “cousin’s” question. “The ‘Pentatomaids.’ It’s a long name so I call us the Penta.” She continued to tell Syl the Pentatomaids were an extension of the Thieves Guild in Port Cecil. That guild was run by the Dartan family, headed by “a fat guy named Ignasio.”
The suggestion spell still holding, Attunia led them on toward the camp, despite repeated demands and answered refusals between her and Foradjinn for the return of her bow.
Within sight of a clearing, Syl sent out his blink dogs to reconnoiter. Furious barking met their ears soon after and they approached to see a comical sight. In addition to Syl’s summoned beasts, unknown fae hounds danced and chased one another, growling and snapping. Above the rest, a deep booming bark shook the surrounding trees. Attunia clapped her hands to her ears. “Merlin’s dog,” she shouted. “It’s an invisible dog only he can control.”
Another bark and Attunia shivered, eyes clearing. She broke away and dove into a nearby tent, yelling, “MERLIN!”
A scarlet rock-like thing launched from the woods and smashed into the campfire at the center of the clearing. From the ashes and embers rose a blocky figure of flesh and sod which roared and charged the intruders. Advancing, Alston felt something invisible lash out and bite at him but Syl’s Arcane Ward projected out to intervene. The gnome rogue followed Attunia into the tent and dealt the archer a deathblow as she turned to rejoin the fight, another bow in her hands.
The blocky giant, which turned out to be an earth elemental, wreaked havoc among the group as Syl showered the general area with fireballs. Merlin advanced from the edge of the clearing, a hooded, black robed figure who cackled, “The game is afoot!” Breeze blowing and coalescing into a shard of ice which flew toward Syl.
“If the game is afoot, does that mean it smells like you?”
Thrown off by the bard’s insult, the wizard lost control of his earth elemental and set a plague of insects upon the area. Alston looted Attunia’s corpse while Syl distracted the elemental with phantasmal force. Racing back outside, the gnome shot an arrow of entanglement at Merlin.
Meanwhile, Kaven and Cleo, his celestial steed, attempted to keep Merlin’s blink dogs busy with varied success.
Restrained by slithering vines, the wizard fell to the ground. Foradjinn strode over, placing his blade at his neck in an attempt to intimidate. Unsettled but undeterred, Merlin cast a fire orb and teleported away. The uncontrolled earth elemental broke free of the phantasmal force and searched for a fresh target; Merlin froze, having teleported close by but hoping to remain out of sight-
-until a certain maverick gnome cast minor illusion. A loud voice issued from thin air near Merlin, “Hey, look at me!”
The wizard could only squeak in terror as the elemental slowly turned and raised both fists high, then brought them down with punishing force. While the monster triumphed over its jellified foe, Syl advanced from behind to cast ray of frost upon it. Frozen in place, it could do nothing more than swing its massive fists out of reach of the group.
That and fell a few trees on various members of the group standing in line with ones close enough for it to strike. But at last, thanks to a combination of moonbeam and a divine smite from Kaven, it crumbled into dirt once more.
Syl proceeded to tear the camp apart in search of Merlin’s spellbook but only managed to salvage one page from a mostly-burned and blood-spattered volume. The rest of the loot yielded a scarlet gem, an invulnerability potion, and a pair of pelts – one of a bear, the other, curiously, of a winter wolf.
In the interim, Alston attuned to his plundered boots of speed and sprinted around and around the decimated camp.
As late afternoon turned towards early evening, the band traveled back to the road and soon the lights and walls of Haré rose before them. Passing through the northern gate, they spotted a familiar face: Ravenna, the elfish stablemaster. Though understandably chilly toward Syl and Foradjinn for their perceived untrustworthiness concerning the previous loan of her horse, she oohed and aahed over Kaven’s celestial steed.
Then, Alston headed to the temple while the rest proceeded to the Blue Horse Tavern.
Foradjinn wasted no time in finding Kartrana, ordering her another drink and silently extending his arm for a rematch with a grin. Due to her inebriated state, he managed to pull off a win. Still, she held no ill will and was soon enthralled by his tales and new tooth collection. As agreed, she returned his panther tooth for a kobold fang.
Meanwhile, Karl asked Igneel what he would like.
“Surprise me,” the elf monk shrugged.
“I like this one!” the barman laughed. “Where did you find him?”
“A hole in the ground,” Syl muttered.
Kaven chowed down on dinner, oblivious to the stir his armor caused among the patrons.
Kartrana mentioned there was a new owner of the sawmill and that she had done work there to sharpen tools, hearkening back to their last visit. She listened as Foradjinn described another sword he wanted made and invited him to the forge upon the morrow.
Syl talked to the bard playing and found him not to be Zanror.
Stealthing to the temple, Alston entered the dimly-lit sanctuary and sat upon a bench. Before long, a quavering voice echoed through the room, “Who’s there?”
Yennin appeared. “Alston! You’ve returned.”
“I wanted to seek your advice; much has happened since I’ve been gone.” Alston informed him of the fire gnome colony and of meeting Azerda.
Yennin listened with sympathy. “Promises to a god are not to be taken lightly, my son,” he agreed. He identified the religious library in Taiji as a place to find further information on Nagas and his quest for Azerda.
“What has been going on around here?” Alston asked after a moment of silence.
With aid from Danaser, a follower of Melikki from Taiji, they had cleansed the evil tree. However, strange creatures roamed the woods around the sawmill. Andrim had asked Yennin to walk with him some evenings to ascertain their identity but the old cleric had been unable thus far. Targen had received a courier from Port Cecil and a certain sneaky halfling still brooded in the shadows.
Silent for a bit longer, Alston cleared his throat. “And Kiethri?”
“She seems all right.” Patting Alston’s shoulder, the keeper of the temple of Helm arose.
“Is it all right if I stay here?”
With an understanding smile, Yennin nodded and left the sanctuary, leaving the gnome to think along among the flickering candles.

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