DM Lament Configuration's Carrion Hill

Game Master electricjokecascade

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of the infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.”
― H. P. Lovercraft, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories

[Loot] | [Maps]


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Female Half-elf {conditions: none} Inquisitor 5 | HP 23/28 | AC 22 (Tch 16 FF 16) | F +5 R +8 W +9 (+2 vs. ench.) | Init +10 | Perc +12, low-light vision, scent (vs. aberr.)

Mihaela's muscles are burning after another long climb, a soreness in her legs which nonetheless pales in confront to the soreness of her spirit. Rain pours all over her hood and trench-coat as the party makes its way upstream a veritable torrent of filth, as if the Gods themselves have decided to wash away that purulent mound of stench that is Carrion Hill — by the time they reach Crown Manor, she's already soaking wet.

Before entering the Hall, she gratefully hands Jarvis her coat and almost tiptoes into the room with cat-like grace in her skin-tight glimmering suit. Following Yelena's example, she doesn't sit nor takes any of the food she's offered (her naturally frugal appetite not having been stimulated in the slightest by their earlier ordeal, nor by the room's atmosphere); instead, she stands a little aloof by the door, keeping a rigid, almost military-like composure.

As Yelena takes it unto herself to deliver the grim news, she's grateful to the Varisian for taking the initiative. "The trail grew cold immediately after the carnage at the Market, as if the thing had vanished into thin air" she elaborates. "We could only follow its track back to where it first broke the barrier between dimensions — hundreds of feet beneath city."

She stutters, briefly averting her eyes. "He's leaving Pharasma's Court to begin his ascent to Cynosure as we speak" she finally manages to offer her condolences. "He will be avenged" she eventually adds in a steely, resolute voice.


Female Human Lepidstadt Inspector 5 | Initiative +3 | Perception +10 | Fort +3 Ref +8 Will +7 | HP 45 AC 18

Maritine isn't as surprised as she thought she would be when they are lead almost immediately back to the mayor's manor, their side trip not withstanding - she couldn't imagine the mayor was in a good mood waiting for them and whatever news they'd be bringing.

If only they had better news.

For all her training and professionalism Maritine still found it difficult to console people with news of the death of one close to them, incredibly thankful for Yelena (all of them, really) and her gentle but strong beliefs. She was almost jealous.

She waits for condolences to be given and received before attempting to get into the heart of the matter. "We have potential leads, we however need information that you or your office should have. We also request a private area for research - with perhaps some luck may predict where it will strike again."

She Hope's she hasn't overstepped herself or overstated their abilities, but she knows they can do little without help from the mayor.


[Loot] | [Maps] Toilsday the 13th of Pharast, around 11:30 p.m.
Yelena Stanescu wrote:
"I'm...I'm so sorry." She bows her head. "We found Commander Garrus' body. He and his men...there were no survivors."

The mayor, who had been vigorously chewing on the meat, seems to simply... run out of steam. His chewing slows, slows, stops. He sits there, staring at Yelena, the wolfish grin disappearing by equally slow degrees.

Mihaela wrote:
"He's leaving Pharasma's Court to begin his ascent to Cynosure as we speak" she finally manages to offer her condolences. "He will be avenged"

The mayor turns his blank stare upon Mihaela. It's as if a cold wind had snuffed out the twin flames behind his eyes, leaving them lifeless and flat, like those of a dead fish.

"Dead, you say." He very, very carefully sets the knives and forks down on the table. There's a slight rattle before he lets them go. "I ask you to do one little thing. Not a hard task. Just go in there, find Garrus, bring him out. And you can't even do that. You can't... even..."

His whole frame begins to shake, then with an explosive roar he sweeps the dishes, cutlery, and wine goblet off the table with his arm, sending it all crashing and falling to the flagstones.

"You can't even find a f!$$ing paladin in the dark, and you tell me you'll avenge him? You? Who come back here with nothing to show for the hours you've been gone, but - but -"

He turns from them, clutching at his head as if suffering from a terrible migraine. "Idiots, I'm surrounded by insufferable, incompetent, dithering fools, and I... I have to somehow..."

He stops, facing the tapestry, hunched over, staring, perhaps, at the floor. His whole frame shudders, and then, as if strings were snapped, his arms fall lifelessly to his side.

"You need a room? Take the library. Take the whole f$+$ing manor for all I care. Just... leave me. Leave me be."

Jarvis appears in the doorway, expressionless, and gestures for you all to step back out into the hallway.

When you do, he takes a moment, running the tip of his tongue over his chapped lower lip, then shakes his head. "The mayor... he was very close to Garrus. They had big plans for the city. Garrus... I mean, he was a paladin, right? And he chose to stay here. To work with us on... the sordid small stuff of the city. Instead of heading out to fight grand battles at the World Wound or whatever. He... he gave us hope. Pride. I don't know. It all feels so... senseless, now." He takes a deep breath, and forces a grim smile. "No matter. The world will keep on spinning and the gods rolling their die. Just another day in Carrion Hill. C'mon. I'll show you to the library."

And with that, he leads your group into a side corridor, and through a heavy door into a luxuriously appointed chamber, small but easily two stories high, the walls covered with thick shelving, books ascending at least six yards high to the vaulted ceiling, ladders affixed to slide rails allowing access to the higher tomes.

There's a hexagonal table in the room's center, a layer of thick, clear varnish poured over a contoured map of the known world; high backed chairs are arranged about it, while two overstuffed leather armchairs are placed beside an empty fireplace. The parquet floor is covered with overlapping crimson and black rugs of Qadiran origin, and interspersed between the books are small curios and wondrous little artifacts from around the world.

Jarvis sets a fire going in short order as you look about, and promises to have food and drink sent in as you need it. "Just step outside and you'll catch the eye of a crow. Make yourselves at home. I'll... I'll see to the mayor."

And with that he steps out and closes the door behind him.


Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1

"Hmmph." The Mayor's tragedy gets a grunt and a scowl from Walter. He strides ahead impatiently.

DM Lament Configuration wrote:
the walls covered with thick shelving, books ascending at least six yards high to the vaulted ceiling, ladders affixed to slide rails allowing access to the higher tomes.

"...hm." Walter pauses for a long moment, scanning the tall shelves of books. He starts to walk around the room, peering at the spines and titles... then, with a visible effort, pulls himself away.

"Perhaps... later."


Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1
DM Lament Configuration wrote:
There's a hexagonal table in the room's center, a layer of thick, clear varnish poured over a contoured map of the known world

Walter claims the hexagonal table and begins methodically sorting out the papers.

"For my study of the book I'll want peace and quiet. Someone check whether this place has individual quarters. The incense... ah, yes. Excellent. Very good. Elena," he says, pointing at Yelena without looking at her, "you're literate, as I recall. Help me organize these -- I see two different handwritings here -- so start with that, then subject matter, then date."


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Female Half-elf {conditions: none} Inquisitor 5 | HP 23/28 | AC 22 (Tch 16 FF 16) | F +5 R +8 W +9 (+2 vs. ench.) | Init +10 | Perc +12, low-light vision, scent (vs. aberr.)

The verbal abuse washes over Mihaela like a passing storm, yet its sting lingers. She wants to say that there's nothing they could have done, that he was already dead when they found him, but she suspects in his present state, any attempt at rationality would hardly find its way through the cloud of misery and despair which has fallen over the Mayor.

Indeed, she barely manages to bow and whisper "We will leave you to your grief" before they are dismissed. Under her stoic facade, she now feels like a fool for having made a promise she has no way of knowing she could even keep. The gruesome sight of the Commander's body comes back to her mind, only this time it takes turns wearing Kholtis... Maritine... Lys... Yelena... Walter's faces, silently accusing her of having failed them, of having left them to die. Behind them, a seemingly endless cacophony of familiar voices, each one a lost friend or companion, all repeating the same accusation: how dare she, the runt of the litter, the most insignificant of them all, live when all of us are dead?

She doesn't remember walking the way to the library. Once there, she finds herself instinctively drawn to the fire, and there she crouches, basking in its soothing warmth.


Female Human Psychic (Esoteric Starseeker) 5 | HP 22/27 | AC: 18 (T: 11, FF: 17) | Saves: F:+7, R:+5, W:+9 (+2 vs fear effects) | Init: +6 | Perc. +10
More Info:
BAB: +2, CMB: 1, CMD: +12 | Spells: (1st) 3/8, (2nd) 3/6, (Bonus) 2/2 | Phrenic Pool 4/4 | Active Conditions: None

Yelena understands grief, and so doesn't take the mayor's outburst personally. She also knows better than to say anything more to him as they leave.

Great Dreamer, please give him peace tonight. As much as he can have.

As Jarvis explains more about Garus, she bows her head once more. "He sounds like a great man. I wish we could have been in time to save him."

Faster, faster, you knew things were moving fast and still you were too slow...

"The library will be perfect." She hesitates, then lays a hand on Jarvis' arm. "Thank you for your help. I promise you, Garus will be avenged."

It's a promise she will either keep or die trying.

She casts a critical eye on the library as they enter, but is relieved to see no strange artwork has made its way into this room. Yes, this will be perfect.

Then Walter speaks, and she has to take take several deep breaths and count to ten to keep from screaming at him. "Yelena. It's Yelena. That should be easy enough to remember." She picks up a piece of paper and glances over it. And of course it's in a language I don't know, so I have to admit to ignorance from the beginning.

She bites her lip and swallows her pride. This sort of research was what Walter lived for. He was good at it. "Literate I am, in many different languages, but this is not one of them. I can sort by handwriting, but not by subject matter. Unless..." She pauses as a thought occurs to her. "Mihaela. Do you think if you went back to Mae Beverich’s Arcane Boutique that you could persuade her to once again open the door? Scrolls of Share Language would be perfect, but Comprehend Languages would also do. Although I'd need many more of the latter, as the spell doesn't last anywhere near as long." She does some quick mental calculations.

"If they have scrolls of Share Language, I should only need one or two. If all they have is Comprehend Languages, buy everything the shop has. Either spell should cost around 25gp per scroll, which you can take from my share of the money gained from our earlier sale."

Realizing that she's assuming much, she backtracks slightly. "If you're willing to go shopping on my behalf, of course."


Female Half-elf {conditions: none} Inquisitor 5 | HP 23/28 | AC 22 (Tch 16 FF 16) | F +5 R +8 W +9 (+2 vs. ench.) | Init +10 | Perc +12, low-light vision, scent (vs. aberr.)

The sound of her name, coming to her in Yelena's gentle voice, has Mihaela snap out of her trance-like state. "I do — and even if I couldn't, with the stakes being what they are, I'll find a way or make one" she says, springing up on her feet. "And of course I am willing. I already told Kholtis — as the Black Butterfly is Desna's servant, so I am yours."

As she says that, she catches a glance of the pieces of paper scattered on the table. "Aklo. I can't say I speak it well — for no creature born and living under the sun possesses even the organs to pronounce it right, and mercifully so — but in written form, I should be able to infer some sense out of it."


Female Human Psychic (Esoteric Starseeker) 5 | HP 22/27 | AC: 18 (T: 11, FF: 17) | Saves: F:+7, R:+5, W:+9 (+2 vs fear effects) | Init: +6 | Perc. +10
More Info:
BAB: +2, CMB: 1, CMD: +12 | Spells: (1st) 3/8, (2nd) 3/6, (Bonus) 2/2 | Phrenic Pool 4/4 | Active Conditions: None

Yelena's eyes widen. That Walter spoke the language was no surprise, she would be more surprised if there was a language dark magical texts were written in that he didn't know, but Mihaela? This she had not expected.

"Even better." She glances at where Walter is piling up notes. "Walter, have you yet checked that book you found? I presume it's in the same foul language. Either you or Mihaela can read the book while the other starts making sense of the notes. If a scroll can be purchased then I can assist with the latter, but regardless, at least Walter doesn't have to do this alone."

Which relieves her greatly. She doesn't distrust Walter, not exactly, but the scene in the crypt had disturbed her. Walter had been so eager to bargain with the creature, and so upset when that bargain had failed...

She'll feel better knowing multiple people are doing the research.

"I can go looking for the scroll while you get started. Or, if one of the others is willing to go, I can start organizing the notes by handwriting, as Walter had suggested."


Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1
Yelena Stanescu wrote:
Realizing that she's assuming much, she backtracks slightly. "If you're willing to go shopping on my behalf, of course."

Nice. They've both got that smartest-in-the-room arcane spellcaster arrogance, don't they. Just, Yelena is self-aware and has social skills, and Walter mostly isn't and doesn't.

"Yes yes, Yelena. Well, make yourself useful and do what you can."

Mihaela Stellamaris wrote:
As she says that, she catches a glance of the pieces of paper scattered on the table. "Aklo. I can't say I speak it well — for no creature born and living under the sun possesses even the organs to pronounce it right, and mercifully so — but in written form, I should be able to infer some sense out of it."

Without looking up, Walter says "Cahf ah nafl mglw'nafh hh' ahor syha'h ah'legeth, ng llll or'azath syha'hnahh n'ghftephai n'gha ahornah ah'mglw'nafh." The bizarre syllables -- slurred, coughed, gurgled -- seem to hang in the air for a long moment.

"You are correct," the wizard adds (still not looking up from the papers), "when you say that no human can correctly pronounce it. Several of the sounds are substitutes for hypothetical phonemes that require vocal... organs... about whose nature we can only speculate. The ancient serpent-men seem to have spoken a more advanced version, but even they learned it from, ah... elsewhere."

The wizard turns a page. "My late master insisted that I gain fluency. A worthwhile task. It is actually extremely interesting. The grammar alone..." There's a long pause. Then, "Actually speaking it for long periods of time is counterindicated, of course. It tends to lead to insanity." Walter looks up from the papers a moment, blinking thoughtfully. "The cerebral lesions are distinctive."


Female Half-elf {conditions: none} Inquisitor 5 | HP 23/28 | AC 22 (Tch 16 FF 16) | F +5 R +8 W +9 (+2 vs. ench.) | Init +10 | Perc +12, low-light vision, scent (vs. aberr.)

"Don't be surprised" she says to Yelena, not bothered in the slightest by her reaction. "I might be no scholar in the proper sense of the term, but I was trained to hunt creatures which speak such language. Knowledge is my most powerful weapon — even keener than my starknife."

The amused tone in her voice makes it look like she liked being underestimated. Indeed, a willowy creature just shy of 100 pounds, being underestimated is what had kept her alive against foes twice her size.

Walter the Vagabond wrote:
Without looking up, Walter says "Cahf ah nafl mglw'nafh hh' ahor syha'h ah'legeth, ng llll or'azath syha'hnahh n'ghftephai n'gha ahornah ah'mglw'nafh." The bizarre syllables -- slurred, coughed, gurgled -- seem to hang in the air for a long moment.

"Yet die it shall, by our hand or somebody else's" she replies in Taldane, unwilling to utter any more of those strange syllables in a place such as this. Moreover, Walter sounded far more fluent than she could ever hope to become. I have the feeling he practiced more than he cares to admit.

With that, she has her coat fetched and then traces her step back to the magical emporium. Just when I was starting to dry off.

Diplomacy (guidance): 1d20 + 10 ⇒ (7) + 10 = 17 persuading Mae Beverich to trade the scrolls Yelena asked for


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Female Human Gunslinger (Bolt Ace) 5 | HP:43/43 | Grit 4/4 |
Stats:
|AC 21, Touch 17, FlatFoot 14, CMD 21 | Fort +7, Ref +12, Will +5| Init +8 | Perception +13

Lys is quiet, the search in the dark place seemingly tempering, if not draining her constant energy. As the party ascends the steps, her lips are pursed in heavy thoughts. She says little but one-line answers as Matthis greets them, and the walk through the pouring rain up towards the Manor is only interrupted by a weary sigh once in a while. I don't want to go back there..., a stray thought carries itself to the fore of her mind as she turns to look in the direction of the Stone Circle, before prying her attention away.

At the manor, she hangs her head compassionatelly at the mayor, until he has his outburst, her morose mood seemingly disappears as she's shaken into attention once more. As he starts shouting, she stares back, her face surrendering that she's putting all of her strength to hold her tongue. Her mouth opens briefly for a couple of times, before she holds it. No need to embarrass myself, again. And I understand grief, I do..., she grits her teeth, giving the mayor a curt, professional nod before turning to follow Jarvis into the library.

"Well. That's it. We've lost Walter.", she mutters quietly as she steps next to a large globe on a pedestal, poking the map gently as she spins it. Been there, been there, not going back there..., she hums to herself absent mindedly, spinning the globe as she does. The conversation between Yelena and Walter seem to bring Lys around, as she appears, eyes peeking into a jar with a tiny ship inside it. "How do they get it in there..." Placing it next to the table, she sends a wink at Yelena. "Best of luck with that. I think my favourite one is Eleanor, though.", she grins, the appearance of Mihaela and the conversation about languages seemingly making her shrug. "I could go. Books here are a little too heavy for my taste, and I could use a walk - Plus, it beats listening to that conversation.", she nods her head at Walter. "It sounds like when your boot is stuck in a swamp, doesn't it."


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M CG Dwarf Fighter 2/Cleric of Desna 3 | HP: 45/50 | AC: 21, T: 12, FF: 17) | CMB: +9, CMD: 21 | F: +10, R: +5, W: +7 (+1 against Fear Effects) | Init: +7 | Darkvision 60ft, Perc: +10, SM: +6 | Speed 30ft | Spells: 1st 1/4 2nd 2/3 | Active conditions: None

As the rest of the party somehow managed to convince the owner of the Arcane Boutique to open her doors, Kolthis decided it was a good time to start the mending process on Garrus' broken pendant. They were on the way to the mayor, after all. There was the possibility that he wouldn't want it, of course - but Kolthis knew that he would have done much to have some memento of his old companions, regardless of the emotions that came with it. Grief, and people in general, were weird. Who was to say how emotions really work.

When they finally arrived, however, Kolthis didn't even have the chance to speak before the Mayor went on his angry rant. The anger, the denial, the frustration - it was all plain to see on the man's face, and it ignited only sympathy from Kolthis. He remained silent as the Mayor left, fist gripping the mended pendant in his pocket, and followed Jarvis down to the library. Before Jarvis left, Kolthis grabbed his sleeve and took him aside.

"I don't quite understand what we're facing - not like Yelena, or Walter do. However, I do understand the effects of loss and grief on a man's soul. Garrus was a good man for doing what he did for this city. It is unfortunate that the swirls of chaos in this world cares not for man's deeds."

Taking the pendant out, Kolthis placed it gently in Jarvis' hands, closing the butler's fingers around it. The jewelry felt heavy, far more than any of the armor that Kolthis wore. "This was Garrus'. I am sorry we could not recover more." Another failure. How many more will I suffer? "Please, give it to the mayor for us. I can only hope this aids in easing the burden, even if a little."

Stepping back now, Kolthis watched as Jarvis left them alone. "Stars, I pray it does."

Entering the library now, Kolthis was impressed at the size. He hadn't often been given the chance to be in such a place of knowledge. His eyes were immediately drawn by lacquered map in the middle of the table. He examined it, marveling at the detail and intricacy. Is that what the mountain range looks like then? Hmm.. Kolthis pulls out a little notebook from his bag, intending to compare the scales of his own drawings to this -

Only to be interrupted quite abruptly by Walter's claim of the table and subsequent spreading of all the documents they had recovered from below.

Kolthis sighed. Later, then. This work was definitely more important, and getting out of their way was probably the most help he could offer.

Instead, Kolthis browsed some of the titles of the library, taking note of any of the more interesting tales.

The Tale of the Princess and the DireRats - based on a true story!

The Travels of Nial Longstrider - First Man to Travel to the Lost Ruins of Azlant and Survive. Or so he claimed.

Greatest Tales from the Life of Anthuriam the Bard.

How I Met A Red Dragon and Lived! - by Brido, the abnormally long-lived halfling

It was interesting to Kolthis that the Mayor would have these kinds of stories - he and this town were definitely not the temperament one would expect to house such works. It was a rather pleasant surprise.

Kolthis was distracted from his browsing by the voices of the rest figuring out the best way to approach the reading. "If somehow you're still at it tomorrow, I can re-prepare spells and help out with the reading. For the moment, however, I'm about as useful as a hammer without a handle." He nodded towards Lys, flashing a smile. "I'd not mind coming with you, if you like. Leave these brainy sorts to do what they do best, swamp sounds and all."


Female Human Lepidstadt Inspector 5 | Initiative +3 | Perception +10 | Fort +3 Ref +8 Will +7 | HP 45 AC 18

Maritine does her best to maintain her professionalism in the aftermath of mayor Heggry's emotional outburst. She'd expected much worse but that did little to take the sting of failure out of the tirade, even though it seemed impossible to have saved Garrus outside of divine intervention. Detached as they were from Carrion Hill and its people, the case was starting to become personal - and as experience had taught her, that was when cases could go catastrophically sideways.

Although Walter has claimed much of the table Maritine claims a small enough section for herself, prepared to stare down the grouchy wizard should it be necessary, and place her magical pack down and carefully but efficiently extricates her alchemical work gear, and only one she has it all out of her pack does she quickly wander off to find a Crow to request an extra table; something small but stable will be enough.

Her Crow wrangled and her request submitted, she shucks her coat and hat and with them the aura of a seasoned investigator, instead looking more like an assistant in an alchemists laboratory, practiced hands soon having an unusual but pleasant smelling liquid distilling into a beaker, the liquid a deep plum color.

"There. seems to be coming along well." She says with a touch of pride and finally fixes her attention to Walter, assuming he isn't going to magic her away. "I have a specific brew for mental alacrity if you or Yelena would like some. It's quite pleasent, all things considered - tastes of mulberries." She leaves it close enough for whoever wants to take it, picks up her tome and leaves Walter to work and joins Lys and Kolthis peeking and poking at the library.

"There's little else to be done until they finish and the others return - save what we know from the house and the deep dark." She hopes without her coat and hat she's less imposing and more curious. "What do you think so far?"


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Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1

Walter and the tome

(For whenever Walter eventually gets alone with the big book...)

Walter sits in a room, silent, alone. The scent of incense hangs in the air.

The Visualization of the Mind is a spell that priests and clerics use. They claim it as a boon from the divine power of their god. Walter, through years of study, is able to run this spell as an an emulation, without calling on anything but himself. Very few wizards can do this. Of those who can, many eventually go insane.

The trick of the spell is to visualize one's own mind, so that one may adjust its workings for greater efficiency. In terms of difficulty, this is somewhere between lifting oneself up by bootstraps and staring hard at the back of one's own head. To step outside oneself in this manner requires great relaxation and, at the same time, a burning and terrible focus.

Walter lets his breathing slow, clears his mind. Every practitioner uses a different mental key. For Walter, it's the memory of a a verse of nonsense, a children's song from his lost home in Sargava. Dark-skinned boys and girls dance in a line along the bank of a forest stream. Tropical flowers bloom impossibly bright in the leafy shadow. In a moment, a parrot will scream...

First, there is a mountain
Then there is no mountain
Then there is

First, there is a mountain
Then there is no mountain
Then there is

Walter's breathing goes slower still. Beneath him, the world turns. Above him, the sky stretches up to infinity. There is no effort, only the moment. Step outside, and... turn.

Walter reaches a hand out, opens the book, and begins to read.

A DC 30 Arcana check: 1d20 + 14 + 5 ⇒ (17) + 14 + 5 = 36
A DC 20 Linguistics check: 1d20 + 11 + 5 ⇒ (11) + 11 + 5 = 27
A DC 25 Arcana check: 1d20 + 14 + 5 ⇒ (9) + 14 + 5 = 28


[Loot] | [Maps] Toilsday the 13th of Pharast, around 11:30 p.m.

Mae Beverich does indeed have a scroll of share languages, which she gruffly exchanges for the requisite amount of gold - shutting her small wooden door fiercely as soon as the purse is placed in her hand.

Upon returning, the group settles down for an afternoon of study; Walter focuses exclusively on his tome, while Mihaela and Yelena divide the books and notes between them.

Occasionally Kolthis adds logs to the fire.

The rain continues to come down in torrents, slicking the windows and obscuring the outside world.

Servants bring a late lunch of hard, black bread, pungent mustard and slices of cold chicken, all to be washed down with a white wheat ale that tastes faintly citrusy.

Eventually - around 6:30 - the notes are deciphered, allowing Mihaela and Yelena to lean back and rub their sore eyes. (Contents of the previous spoiler are now revealed.)

Walter, thoroughly engrossed in the tome, at last turns the final page half an hour later.

Walter:

The tome found is but a translation of a translation of the original Pnakotic Manuscripts (As your DC 30 Knowledge (arcana) check attests). Of course, since the original text (said to be written thousands or perhaps even millions of years ago by an unknown race) is long lost, the fact that this book is a copy of a copy isn’t all that unusual.

Written in Aklo, this copy of the Pnakotic Manuscripts focuses on magical portals, teleportation, and conjuration magic in general. The book itself is relatively large, weighing 10 pounds and consisting of about 500 pages of thin parchment. The cover bears a large inset crystal (said to aid in concentration during the casting of complex conjuration magic) and a series of metal insect-like clasps along the edges lock down and keep the book from being casually opened.

Once read, the Pnakotic Manuscripts grant a +4 bonus on all Knowledge checks made pertaining to conjuration magic or the gods and magic of the Old Cults. In addition, the book functions as a spellbook and contains the following arcane spells: gate, greater teleport, greater planar binding, interplanetary teleport (see Pathfinder Adventure Path volume #14, page 54), lesser planar binding, planar binding, plane shift, teleport, teleport object, and teleportation circle.

The inside cover of the book bears the following inscription: “May we, the Keepers of the Oldest, prevail over the scourge of simplistic thought and lesser men.” Beneath that are five signatures—the names of the five Keepers of the Oldest.

Keeper Baskerwhel
Keeper Crove
Keeper Hyve
Keeper Marshan
Keeper Myre

One section of the book is marked by a red silk bookmark—indicating the beginning of a relatively lengthy discussion of how to use special rituals to open portals in key locations. This section has been heavily annotated in the same spidery script on the inside cover (your DC 20 Linguistics check matches this handwriting to the signature of “Keeper Crove”). An hour of study is enough for a reader to deduce that these “Keepers of the Oldest” were hoping to use the ritual described in the book to try to open a portal in the Sunless Grove to contact “spawn of the Dark Tapestry” and further enhance their knowledge of forbidden magic and arcane secrets.

A section near the end cautions those who would attempt this ritual, warning that forcing open such portals draws forth the spiritual essence of the casters, and that any entity contacted by the portal can make “hideous use of this essence by consuming it, growing more powerful in the bargain, such that only the end of such essence can challenge the intruder’s rights upon your world.” (Your DC 25 Knowledge (arcana) check is enough to correctly interpret this warning: opening a portal in this manner links the souls of those who open the portal to a creature on the far side, and the creature will grow more powerful if it can kill those who conjured it. Conversely, if some other agent kills the conjurers (or sets their spirits beyond the reach of the conjured creature), that spiritual energy will be lost to the conjured creature. In this way, it should be possible to weaken a summoned creature by killing the conjurers before it can do the same, and if all involved in the summoning can be killed before the creature gets to them, it would be banished back to the Dark Tapestry.)


Female Human Psychic (Esoteric Starseeker) 5 | HP 22/27 | AC: 18 (T: 11, FF: 17) | Saves: F:+7, R:+5, W:+9 (+2 vs fear effects) | Init: +6 | Perc. +10
More Info:
BAB: +2, CMB: 1, CMD: +12 | Spells: (1st) 3/8, (2nd) 3/6, (Bonus) 2/2 | Phrenic Pool 4/4 | Active Conditions: None

Yelena sits back, getting closer to the fire. She feels cold. There’s a reason she’s never studied Aklo, and that reason has only been reinforced throughout her research. Even just reading the notes makes her ill. She can’t imagine what kind of men could write them.

Except she can. There are some men who will do anything for power. And knowledge is power. They hadn’t learned the lesson proclaimed by Walter on the stairs: to never call forth that which you could not put down.

Fools. Poor, sad fools.

”Unfortunately I’ve learned little we didn’t already know. The summoners, who called themselves ‘The Keepers of the Oldest,’ thought that by opening a portal they could learn from the beings on the other side.” She sighs, rubbing her forehead. ”They must have gotten more than they bargained for.”

”It says the ritual they used came from a text known as the Pnakotic Manuscripts. Presumably that’s the tome the ghoul had. Walter, is there anything in there about how to unsummon the creature?”


Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1

Walter emerges, not walking perfectly straight. His brain buzzes with insight, crackles with revelation.

Spell Sage wizards are rare, and Spell Sage wizards who keep their sanity over the long term are even rarer. There are several reasons for that. This is one: a Spell Sage has access to mind-enhancing powers that are normally reserved to the beloved of the gods themselves. For a cleric, these abilities are mildly interesting, occasionally useful. For a wizard, they can become profoundly addictive.

Walter puts one foot in front of the other, tries not to get distracted. The parts of his brain that normally handle walking now want to discuss the trigonometry of pace and gait, the mechanical loading of each step. There are stories of wizards who died from this: keeping the heart beating became too much of a distraction.

And of course, all this is before the actual substance of what he's learned today.

Walter faces the assembled group, begins to speak.


Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1

"The book is a translation of a translation of the original Pnakotic Manuscripts. Have you heard of these? No? Well, they have been forbidden, proscribed. In Cheliax, mere possession is a Category Five offense, straight to the Order of the Rack for the Fire and the Worm. The Academae has a copy, but it requires an order countersigned by three Masters to open it, and then all three must be present while it is read. They say the rare openings are done in a special containment circle in the lowest sub-basement... Ah, the Manuscripts. Well. Some say they were originally written by the Great Race. Other sources attribute them to the serpent-men. Still other say they came from "Frozen Lomar", a region which may exist only in dreams, or may be entirely imaginary, or both. In any event the original text is long lost, so the fact that this book is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy isn’t all that unusual."

Walter is talking faster than usual. He literally seems to have trouble focusing -- his eyes are looking well past the party. There's just a little bit of foam at the corner of his mouth.


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Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1

"So this copy of the Manuscripts -- this particular partial and undoubtedly degenerate copy -- focuses on magical portals, teleportation, and conjuration magic in general. Now, look, this is interesting, see here --"

Walter places the book carefully on the table. The book itself is relatively large, weighing 10 pounds and consisting of about 500 pages of thin parchment. The cover bears a large inset crystal, and a series of metal insect-like clasps along the edges lock down and keep the book from being casually opened.

Walter flips the cover open. (Knowing what this book is, and what it can do, it's a little unnerving to see him treating it so casually.) "Ah, so, look here. On the inside cover, an inscription. Added much later, decades or centuries after the scribing of the book itself." Walter clears his throat. "It says, 'May we, the Keepers of the Oldest, prevail over the scourge of simplistic thought and lesser men.' And as you can see, beneath it there are five signatures. The names of the five self-proclaimed Keepers of the Oldest! They are:

Keeper Baskerwhel;
Keeper Crove;
Keeper Hyve;
Keeper Marshan;
Keeper Myre."

Walter raises five fingers. "Old Man Marshan, is, ah ha, accounted for. And the nameless hunchbacked gentleman who was taking a refreshing dip in the water, ha ha. So," he folds two fingers down, "three so-called Keepers remain -- somewhere!"

"But wait! There's more!"


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Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1

Walter points. "You see this bookmark? It was there when we found it. It marks the beginning of a particularly interesting section. There's a lengthy discussion of how to use special rituals to open, ah, portals. In particular, key locations.

"Now, this section has been heavily annotated. The annotations match the handwriting of 'Keeper Crove' on the inside cover. From this we may infer that Keeper Crove was the, ah, self appointed technical expert here. Which, let me add," for a moment Walter's eyes seem to focus on the room, "in my opinion, in my professional opinion, Keeper Crove was a dangerous incompetent. His annotations show that he had NO idea of the significance of the Dho-Hna, and also that he dramatically underestimated the restraint requirements. His containment procedures were... criminally inadequate." Walter's eyes go back to focusing on something behind the horizon. "He deserves to die. And he will. Because that's what happens. He will die, die, die, die, die..." Walter's right arm jerks upward in an odd, almost mechanical motion. Without changing his fixed gaze, Walter reaches out with his left arm, grabs his right wrist and forces his right arm back down to his side.

There's silence for a moment, then Walter continues as if nothing had happened.


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Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1

"These self-proclaimed “Keepers of the Oldest” were hoping to use the ritual described in the book to try to open a portal in the Sunless Grove to contact an, ah, 'Spawn of the Dark Tapestry'. By this means, they thought they could further enhance their knowledge arcane secrets. In principle a plausible scheme, but in fact one that they were fatally incompetent to carry out.

"Let me add that this is utterly typical. So many make this mistake. Many, many, many. My second master died this way. My third master... should be dead soon. One can only hope. Their tongues." This last phrase is a complete non sequitur, but is delivered with emphasis. Once again, there's silence for a moment.


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Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1

"Now. A section near the end cautions those who would attempt this ritual. It warns that forcing open such portals draws forth the spiritual essence of the casters, and that any entity contacted by the portal can make 'excellent use of this essence by consuming it, growing more powerful in the bargain, such that only the end of such essence can challenge the intruder’s rights upon your world.' You see?"

There's a pause. "No? Ah, well, let me clarify. Opening a portal in this manner links the souls of those who open the portal to a creature on the far side, and," the wizard's voice lowers to a hoarse whisper, "the creature will grow more powerful if it can kill those who conjured it."

(Walter's stare has gone completely unfocused now.)

"Conversely, if some other agent kills the conjurers -- or sets their spirits beyond the reach of the conjured creature -- by imprisoning them in a bottle, say -- I suppose that would work -- of course I don't know how to do that -- he didn't keep notes -- but if, I say, if some other agent kills the conjurerers, that spiritual energy will be lost to the conjured creature.

"You see? You see? In this way, it should be possible to weaken a summoned creature by killing the conjurers before it can do the same! All we need to do is find them. Find them before it does. Find them and kill them. Kill them! Kill, kill, kill! The dog will just be a dog, and the corners will be fine! Any corners! The seeds of the deed move through angles in dim recesses of time. They are hungry and athirst!"

(Once again, Walter seems to ignore the fact that these last few sentences seem completely unconnected to what has gone before.)


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Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1

"These so-called Keepers are bad people. Stupid people. Stupid, stupid and bad. Is it morally correct to kill bad people? Possibly yes, if they represent a continuing threat to others.

"It's like what my second master used to say, before I killed him! Go out among men and find the ways thereof, that He in the Gulf may know. To Nyarlathotep, Mighty Messenger, must all things be told. And He shall put on the semblance of men, the waxen mask and the robe that hides. No, not that! The other thing he used to say. That all the Outer Ones wish of man is peace and non-molestation and an increasing intellectual rapport. No, not that either! He used to say... he used to say, 'Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be ready to deal out death in judgement.' Bottle or jar!"

(Walter's right arm begins to rise again with that strange mechanical motion, hand frozen in a strange clawlike gesture.)

"Bottle or jar! One or the other. This is how he used to punish me. It's morally correct! I used logic and reason. No more children need to die! It wasn't my fault! No. It was my fault. But I'm sorry now!"

(Tears are flowing from Walter's eyes, but his distant expression does not change.)


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Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1

"Not that I killed him. Not sorry for that. He deserved to die. He was a bad person. Also he underestimated me. No bottle for me! No jar! And if all involved in the summoning can be killed before the creature gets to them, it could, it could be banished back to the Dark Tapestry!

"But the children. Not again. Please, not again. If we kill them, kill them, kill them, kill them, nobody shakes hands with anything! No sun hats! No big pink sun hats, and no fungi of any kind whatsoever!"

(Walter seizes his right wrist with his left hand again, but this time he is having difficulty forcing his right arm back. His face is twisted and contorted now, and tears are flowing down his cheeks into his beard, but the staccato rhythym of his speech does not change.)

"Just find them. Find them! We have to find them. We have to kill them like I killed him. It's almost exactly the same thing, morally, logically. His fists like little brown apples, pounding on the door. Was there blood? I don't know. I don't know if there was blood. It's not important. It won’t spoil things if there was no blood. The blood doesn’t matter. Just the dying. The dying’s all that matters. The dying, the dying, the dying, the dying, the y'ai 'ng'ngah Yog-Sothoth h'ee - l'geb f'ai throdog, uaah --!"


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Female Human Psychic (Esoteric Starseeker) 5 | HP 22/27 | AC: 18 (T: 11, FF: 17) | Saves: F:+7, R:+5, W:+9 (+2 vs fear effects) | Init: +6 | Perc. +10
More Info:
BAB: +2, CMB: 1, CMD: +12 | Spells: (1st) 3/8, (2nd) 3/6, (Bonus) 2/2 | Phrenic Pool 4/4 | Active Conditions: None

Yelena has been frozen in horror as Walter’s report on what he’d learned begins degenerating into tearful apologies and seeming gibberish. To see Walter, arrogant Walter, focused Walter, self-confident Walter, reduced to such a state is terrifying.

When he starts actually speaking in Aklo it shocks her out of her horror. She shrinks backwards, then realizes what’s happening and forces herself to go forward instead. She grabs for Walter’s hands, holding them in her own.

”Walter. Walter, look at me.” She keeps her voice calm, even as her very brain tries to shrivel away from the words he’s chanting. ”Walter. Listen to me. Breathe. In and out. Like this.” She demonstrates. ”Just focus on my voice. Nothing else. Breathe in. Out. In. Out.” At the beginning she matches the words to how he’s already breathing, then gradually she starts to slow down. Throughout she keeps the same steady, even tone.


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Female Half-elf {conditions: none} Inquisitor 5 | HP 23/28 | AC 22 (Tch 16 FF 16) | F +5 R +8 W +9 (+2 vs. ench.) | Init +10 | Perc +12, low-light vision, scent (vs. aberr.)

Mihaela sits cross-legged by the fire, her diminutive frame standing out against the flames as she peruses through the notes, cataloging and organizing them before handing the relevant ones to Yelena for further inspection. Now that she's taken off her trench-coat, her slender figure looks almost frail in her form fitting bodysuit, a fact emphasized by the occasional fit of shivering and shaking. It wasn't the cold, or the damp, which the fireplace's warmth has blessedly dispelled by now, but something far more primal — her own brain striving against being rewired by the alien logic intrinsic to Aklo's grammar has her body twitch and spasm against her will as the misshapen characters seem to move and rearrange in front of her eyes, unspeakable whispers emerging from the bottom of her consciousness.

(She remembers learning the language as one of the hardest parts of her training; one which never seemed to end, as she wasn't allowed to dedicate to its study more than a few minutes every day lest her mind be permanently scarred.)

Despite frequently laying down her papers to stretch and meditate, a couple of hours later their job is mostly done, though alas the notes didn't seem to contain much they didn't already know or surmise. Penned by madmen and fools they were, indeed, yet madmen made of flesh and blood, and fools whose knowledge of the Unspeakable Tongue didn't seem to run much deeper than hers. So in a way, the distinct lack of valuable information was balanced by her mind eventually winning its struggle against insanity.

Whatever Walter has been working on, on the other hand...

She listens to the wizard's increasingly erratic ranting without making a move or uttering as single word. Consciously, at least. Halfway through the flow of consciousness, her shivers start again, more violent this time. A penchant for eccentricity notwithstanding, she knows almost nothing of the man, but Yelena's face tells her whatever's happening in front of their eyes is the opposite of normality even for one such as him. Bottle and jar. Madmen and fools.

Horrors. Horrors can't be bottled. For that is not dead which can eternal lie. But madmen. Madmen made of flesh and blood. With strange aeons even death may die. They can die. They will die, if she stalks them, if she hunts them, if she cuts them.

Breath in, breath out. She has to force herself to speak, and when she does, only a few, broken words come out. "Two it already claimed. Three we need to find, and then kill." Simple enough.

She could do this. That's what they've trained her for all of her life, after all.


Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1
Yelena Stanescu wrote:


”Walter. Walter, look at me.” She keeps her voice calm, even as her very brain tries to shrivel away from the words he’s chanting. ”Walter. Listen to me. Breathe. In and out. Like this.” She demonstrates. ”Just focus on my voice. Nothing else. Breathe in. Out. In. Out.” At the beginning she matches the words to how he’s already breathing, then gradually she starts to slow down. Throughout she keeps the same steady, even tone.

Let's say this triggers a Will save from Walter... 1d20 + 7 ⇒ (5) + 7 = 12

"No! You don't understand!" Walter's right arm suddenly lashes out. Let's treat this as a grapple check...1d20 + 2 ⇒ (20) + 2 = 22 Oh, NOW I roll a 20. Well... Walter has grabbed Yelena by the upper arm. His grip is surprisingly strong -- strong enough to bruise. Grappled condition for both, I guess?

"She tasted like blood! Blood and rotten meat!" Walter is looking at her, but his eyes are focused somewhere far beyond. This close, she can see that his pupils have contracted down almost to pinpoints. "I should have realized then. But I didn't apply the salve until later. I should have... I should have studied. Axiology. Right from the start. Don't you see?" Despite the painful grip, his voice is pleading. "A rational moral philosophy applies logical operations and reasoning to basic postulates and values." Walter grabs his right wrist with his left hand. You have the sudden impression he's trying to pull his own right arm away from you. "Plaster over the corners. Every last one. Logic and reason. We have to kill, kill, kill, kill, kill them all!"

Options?:

-- Try reasoning with him. Diplomacy check? Takes one minute. DMLC can set the DC /decide if a roll has made it.
-- Somehow soothe his overstimulated brain. Heal check? presumably it would work for a mental condition as well as a physical one.
-- Shock /startle /scare him into snapping out of it. Intimidate check. Results may be unpredictable?
-- Subdue him, either by magic or main force.
-- Ignore him, let him work it out (or not).


Female Half-elf {conditions: none} Inquisitor 5 | HP 23/28 | AC 22 (Tch 16 FF 16) | F +5 R +8 W +9 (+2 vs. ench.) | Init +10 | Perc +12, low-light vision, scent (vs. aberr.)

Let's go for the unpredictable road and see where that leads us shall we?

"Enough"

Mihaela's voice comes in as a tremulous whisper at first, barely audible over Walter's delirious invective.

"Enough"

She's still shaking, yet as Walter grabs Yelena's arm, a quiet rage starts slowly building up inside her, intermingled with fear at first, slowly taking its place.

"Enough"

It is clear now. Why they were summoned here. Madmen were at large, lunatics who tampered with things beyond their comprehension and summoned things they could not put down. She, Maritine, Lys, Kholtis, Yelena... Walter... they are the hunters. They were called forth to put them down. Because there's no one else left who could.

"Enough"

So why is this hunter behaving like a madman?

"Enough!"

Her voice is still shaky, her whole body's trembling, yet Mihaela's eyes are a pair of smoldering embers as it looks like they're trying to pierce holes through Walter.

"Our mission is clear. We hunt the madmen. So tell me, Walter. Who are you? Are you a hunter? Or a madman?"

Intimidate: 1d20 + 11 ⇒ (5) + 11 = 16 vs. DC 10 + 5 (HD) + 1 (WIS modifier) = 16?


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Female Human Psychic (Esoteric Starseeker) 5 | HP 22/27 | AC: 18 (T: 11, FF: 17) | Saves: F:+7, R:+5, W:+9 (+2 vs fear effects) | Init: +6 | Perc. +10
More Info:
BAB: +2, CMB: 1, CMD: +12 | Spells: (1st) 3/8, (2nd) 3/6, (Bonus) 2/2 | Phrenic Pool 4/4 | Active Conditions: None

Yelena winces as Walter grabs her arm. Not from the painful grip, although it will no doubt leave a bruise. Rather her wince is because Walter's mental state appears to be still worsening, despite her best efforts to calm him down.

She could get away. She had studied the Lantern Bearer the night before, and in response the Starsong had granted her a spell specifically to aid one in escaping. Other spellcasters would be hampered by Walter's tight grip on her arm, but not her. A moment to breathe, to focus her mind on the task at hand, and casting the spell would be as easy as if Walter were never there.

She doesn't cast it. While Walter is gripping her arm, he's not casting spells of his own. Unlike her, he needs his hands free in order to cast. Really, holding onto her is one of the least dangerous things he could be doing.

And perhaps the human contact, the physical reminder that he's not alone, will help.

Yelena throws a quick glance at Mihaela upon hearing her outburst, shaking her head and mouthing the word 'no'. It's possible Walter's mind has snapped entirely, but he still seems to be trying to stop himself. He just needs a little time.

Starsong, please just let him need time. For all his faults, he doesn't deserve this.

"Walter." Despite the pain in her arm, her voice remains steady. Treating this like a panic attack didn't seem to be working, so...

"Walter. What are the seven principles of Transmutation?"

He had always loved talking magical theory. Maybe she could get him to focus on something other than the horrors in his mind.

Diplomacy: 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (16) + 4 = 20


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Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1

The Diplomacy check was higher than the Intimidate check, so let's try that one first.

Yelena Stanescu wrote:


"Walter." Despite the pain in her arm, her voice remains steady. Treating this like a panic attack didn't seem to be working, so...

"Walter. What are the seven principles of Transmutation?"

"What?" Walter seems completely taken aback. "Seven? That was discredited. The Kybalion is apocryphal. Two of their principles are mutually redundant while three others are discredited. And they ignored three others altogether! That leaves six principles, which we can express as Visualization, Correspondence, Category, Pervulsion, Manifold, and... and..."

Does Walter let go of her? Let's say a 50-50 chance. 1d100 ⇒ 44 So yes. And then...

Mihaela Stellamaris wrote:


"Enough!"

Her voice is still shaky, her whole body's trembling, yet Mihaela's eyes are a pair of smoldering embers as it looks like they're trying to pierce holes through Walter.

"Our mission is clear. We hunt the madmen. So tell me, Walter. Who are you? Are you a hunter? Or a madman?"

Okay I'm going to say that... triggers a Will save? As if it were triggering Walter's Spooked condition?

1d20 + 7 ⇒ (3) + 7 = 10


Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1

"Nnnah!" Walter's right arm rises again, and once more he grabs it with his left. (He literally seems to be wrestling with himself.)

"I... I am here to protect! Protect. With fire." Walter's face is writhing with some internal conflict. He closes his eyes "Fire cleanses. Burn away. Burn the unclean. Who deserve it. The... logical... next step. Is to. Find them." He opens his eyes again. "Can you find them?"


Female Human Gunslinger (Bolt Ace) 5 | HP:43/43 | Grit 4/4 |
Stats:
|AC 21, Touch 17, FlatFoot 14, CMD 21 | Fort +7, Ref +12, Will +5| Init +8 | Perception +13

At the sight of the lunch, Lys gives a long, heavily judgemental look at the servant, saying nothing through parted lips. As soon as the servant's out of sight, she takes a swig from the beer, shaking her head. "Well. That's the second most unappetising meal I've seen all day.", she blurts out with no regards to manners, and places her hat on her head. "I'm off to collect my horse, and a meal that doesn't look like a drowned corpse. Kolthis, you coming?", she quips, clearly eager to have any excuse out of the library. "I can bring yours too, if you want!"

Hours later, Lys tip-toes through the Manor, the glow of alcohol flushing her cheeks as she hums, crossbow in one hand and an obviously lifted flagon in the other. A relaxed grin is spread upon her face as she encounters servants, cheeriness not visibly dulled by their grim faces. Ah, damn them. We've survived the depths..., she ponders, as the dull, cotton-y feel of the dwarven ale quietens the voices of her doubt and fear. Sure is nice to not think... too hard. All attention focused on the effort of putting one leg in front of the other, she leans outside the library door for just long enough to hear Mihaela's shouting inside, as she bursts into the room, stumbling upon the sight of Yelena grabbing hold of Walter, and the half-elf staring daggers at the wizard, himself half-mad, babbling about arcane matters.

The sharpness of the shout, the maddened look in the wizard's eyes pull Lys out of the alcohol's embrace. "W-what?", she mutters dumbfoundedly, staring at the scene, her initial reaction dulling to an observation that instead of launching themselves at Walter, the two women were protecting him... from himself. Poor chap, his head's been through a lot, and it's not like he was all there to begin with. Taking a step towards Walter, who seems to struggle with his hands, she pushes the flagon in his left hand. "Grab this here holy symbol, Walter. Trust in Cayden to guide you to the right path, be it on two or four legs.", she says with a calm tone, before looking around the room. "If we know who they are, which I'm assuming this is all about - then there's nothing that can stop us.", she nods. "Come on, Walter, take a seat, you've earned it. If what you're telling me is that to stop this, all we need to go is find and shoot some crazy bastards, that's the best news I've heard all day." She offers a wide smile to the wizard as she leans back.


Female Half-elf {conditions: none} Inquisitor 5 | HP 23/28 | AC 22 (Tch 16 FF 16) | F +5 R +8 W +9 (+2 vs. ench.) | Init +10 | Perc +12, low-light vision, scent (vs. aberr.)

Mihaela' striding towards Walter in slow deliberate paces, suddenly looking more imposing than her 5 foot 2. She stands ready to intervene to break the wizard's grip on Yelena, but such is tranquil intensity in the younger yet wiser woman's demeanor that her mouthed warning is enough to stop her in her tracks. Instead, she simply observes Walter's struggle with himself, muscles tensed, prepared to deal with whatever part of him is ending up victorious.

Walter the Vagabond wrote:

"I... I am here to protect! Protect. With fire." Walter's face is writhing with some internal conflict. He closes his eyes "Fire cleanses. Burn away. Burn the unclean. Who deserve it. The... logical... next step. Is to. Find them." He opens his eyes again. "Can you find them?"

"I can" she simply answers. "And I will."

And then, fire. Fire and steel.


Female Human Lepidstadt Inspector 5 | Initiative +3 | Perception +10 | Fort +3 Ref +8 Will +7 | HP 45 AC 18

For all of its contents Maritine finds little in the library to keep her properly occupied as Walter and Yelena work on the book. She sneaks in glances over their shoulders from time to time to see if there's anything she might know - and to perhaps glean something useful for in the future.

Hours pass slowly enough that she's able to go through her limited notes several times to keep herself focused - none of the books she could find had anything useful regarding the town and its people; consensus information was always going to be a long shot in a personal library, but she had to be sure. There was little else to do while waiting.

Hours continue to slowly grind away. It is infuriating.

She's paced the length of the library at least thrice, considered theological discussions with Kolthis and Lys, been chastised for practicing her dueling steps and finally packed and prepared all her equipment and re-donned her hat and coat in preparation to face the mayor again; enough time must have passed for the man to grieve and rage, and she did not know how much longer she could stand around waiting and doing nothing. Feeling useless in such a situation made her agitated, the translation was taking so long-

And Walter, like a dam, began to leak everything he had learned. And more.

Part of her nature - and her profession - cynically made her believe everyone had something dark they left buried in the past. Things that never seemed to stay buried. Walter was no exception, and it seemed he had dug up more than he intended as his explanation turned to rambling to confession to madness, everything came out in a flood - the book and what it really was, what it had been used for, who had used it and how it all tied to their single goal of destroying whatever they had summoned. The fact that they had to kill the remaining summoners was about the only thing that might be an issue, and even then, she was almost certain they mayor could be persuaded to indulge in a little vengeance.

"We have names. Mayor Heggry and the Crows must know at least one of these men. So long as we can find one, we can find the rest - and do what needs to be done. I do not think it will be difficult to convince the mayor that a more.... Calistrian approach will be the way to go. Should he need convincing at all." She looks to the others carefully, focusing mainly on Walter. "Do we go now? Or do we need to recover a moment?"


Female Human Psychic (Esoteric Starseeker) 5 | HP 22/27 | AC: 18 (T: 11, FF: 17) | Saves: F:+7, R:+5, W:+9 (+2 vs fear effects) | Init: +6 | Perc. +10
More Info:
BAB: +2, CMB: 1, CMD: +12 | Spells: (1st) 3/8, (2nd) 3/6, (Bonus) 2/2 | Phrenic Pool 4/4 | Active Conditions: None

Yelena resists the urge to rub her arm as Walter suddenly releases it. While he seems to be coming back to himself, (good), he's immeasurably more dangerous if he snaps now that his hands are free, (bad).

She'll keep an eye on him just in case, but for now she'll trust that the worst is over.

"Yes. We'll find them." Her voice is full of conviction. "We'll find them. And if it's what is needed to stop this creature, we'll kill them." Her lip quirks in a very, very slight smile. "Likely with fire. After all, your favorite spells all involve it."

Younger, when she'd first met Walter, she'd been disturbed by the man's obsession with fire spells. Burning Hands. Fireball. Spells that could only ever destroy.

Now she's older and hopefully wiser. Fire destroys, yes, but Walter was correct when he said it also cleanses. It's not her way, (her own spells are more subtle, and very few of them can truly cause harm), but she can understand why it's his.

She nods at Maritine's suggestion, although she keeps her focus on Walter. "If the mayor has any objections, they will likely be that he wants to serve vengeance himself." Her eyes very briefly flick to Maritine. "Perhaps some of us could consult with him now, while the rest remain here and...compose ourselves."

The mayor was likely still distraught. There was no telling exactly what his reaction would be. And Walter's patience for those he deemed to be fools, (nearly everyone), was short enough on a normal day. Best to keep him away until he'd fully come back to himself.


Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1
Elize 'Lys' Brokenshield wrote:
an observation that instead of launching themselves at Walter, the two women were protecting him... from himself. Poor chap, his head's been through a lot, and it's not like he was all there to begin with. Taking a step towards Walter, who seems to struggle with his hands, she pushes the flagon in his left hand. "Grab this here holy symbol, Walter. Trust in Cayden to guide you to the right path,...

Try a... reaction roll, perhaps? 1d20 ⇒ 6

"Nnnah!" Walter recoils. (Does he actually slap the proferred tanker away?1d100 ⇒ 31 No, but he shoves it away hard enough to spill.) His voice trembles with the intensity of his rejection. "I... do not need... divine intervention! And if I did, I wouldn't want it from a source that... disorders the mind!"

Yes, while gibbering on the edge of madness he's turning down a beer because it might confuse his thinking. Walter doesn't really do self-awareness much. Or irony.


Female Half-elf {conditions: none} Inquisitor 5 | HP 23/28 | AC 22 (Tch 16 FF 16) | F +5 R +8 W +9 (+2 vs. ench.) | Init +10 | Perc +12, low-light vision, scent (vs. aberr.)

"Most of my powers are spent" Mihaela states somberly in response to Maritine's inquiry. "Yet my muscles and sinews still work, as well as my wits. They shall suffice — for time is not our friend."

She takes a few steps backwards, putting some distance between her and Walter while getting closer to the Ustalavian inspector. "Just as in Ravengro — I'll follow your lead" she whispers. Following tracks, uncovering truths — those are all things she is good at. But Maritine is better.


[Loot] | [Maps] Toilsday the 13th of Pharast, around 11:30 p.m.

Once the group is ready, they emerge from the library to beseech an audience with Mayor Heggry once more. Jarvis intimates that the mayor has calmed down somewhat over the course of the evening, and leads you all back into the great hall where you first met the official.

Heggry sits atop his angular throne, chin resting on one fist, listening dourly as a Crow finishes delivering a report.

"...word of the destruction of houses has begun to spread. milord, and citizens are starting to panic. We've got our hands full keeping riots and looting from breaking out, but folks are swarming like roaches, packing their belongings, attempting to arrange transport out
of the city. The coach houses and stables are being mobbed with folks trying to arrange transport, and the Sergeant has ordered us to lock those places down so as to maintain order."

Heggry sighs, draws his hand down his face, and then gestures for the man to step aside so that you all may approach.

"Tell you've brought good news," he intones, clearly skeptical that any such thing will be delivered. However, as the group tells him of their discovery, and relays the means to defeat the summoned monster, he sits up.

"Ah! Now that is a lead, as they call it, is it not? Three leads, given that two corpses were found below. Tell me those names again."

He listens intently, frowning, and then nods.

"I'm familiar with four of those names, curse their damned hides. Glem Baskerwhel is a hunch-backed hermit who lives in the Wrythe about a day’s travel east of Carrion Hill. He's said to be a swamp druid who's come to our attention as a potion-maker, and he visits the city often. I've used his services once or twice, and found him reliable."

"Waldur Crove is well known as the warden of Crove’s Asylum, a building located in the Crown that the Crows have long used to dispose of lunatics and the insane too dangerous to keep in regular prisons. He's been a pillar of the community. Makes me sick to think of him involved with this madness."

"Arlend Hyve is an authority on regional history and lore, a sage who dwells in an abandoned church of Aroden on Elm Way on the southern slope of the Tangles. There are whispers that he dabbles in the black market poison and drug trade, but nothing conclusive enough to get him in real trouble. Till now, of course."

"Rupman Myre is a middenstone baron. He owns a large vathouse down in the Filth along the river banks, and is rumored to be involved with illegal necromancy, but to date the Crows have not been able to find enough evidence to arrest him. Not for lack of trying."

Mayor Heggry tightens his hand into a fist and brings it down hard on the armrest. "I'll pay you what I promised at the outset, and lend you what magical aid I can. I've ten potions of cure moderate wounds, five potions of lesser restoration, a scroll of see invisibility, another of invisibility purge, and a dose of dust of appearance. All that should come in useful, should it not?"

His smile is sinister. "I'm willing to give it all to you if you'll track down these 'keepers' and do what you think is best. The city's on the verge of riot, the monster's still out there, and my Crows are locked up keeping the peace. What say you? Will you help Carrion Hill deal with this menace?"


Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1

The summons from the Mayor interrupts Walter's wild free-association ranting and gives a new focus to his attention. "Yes, yes, by all means. Let's go, let's go."

This doesn't mean he's OK. His eyes are still wrong, and he's literally frothing at the mouth a little.


Female Half-elf {conditions: none} Inquisitor 5 | HP 23/28 | AC 22 (Tch 16 FF 16) | F +5 R +8 W +9 (+2 vs. ench.) | Init +10 | Perc +12, low-light vision, scent (vs. aberr.)

Mihaela isn't in this for the reward, though anything that could make their odds even slightly less dire is very welcome. Thus she nods in gratitude as help is offered, and once more, more solemnly, in tacit response to the Mayor's question.

"Hunch-backed? That would fit the description of one of the corpses we found" she muses, thinking aloud, as if speaking to herself. Him living in a swamp would also explain the ring. "That leaves Crove, Hyve, and Myre."

going by:

Sergeant Matthias wrote:
"I don't recognize the description of the hunchback..."

"Which one should we pay a visit to first?"


Female Human Psychic (Esoteric Starseeker) 5 | HP 22/27 | AC: 18 (T: 11, FF: 17) | Saves: F:+7, R:+5, W:+9 (+2 vs fear effects) | Init: +6 | Perc. +10
More Info:
BAB: +2, CMB: 1, CMD: +12 | Spells: (1st) 3/8, (2nd) 3/6, (Bonus) 2/2 | Phrenic Pool 4/4 | Active Conditions: None

Yelena keeps a close eye on Walter. While the crisis seems to have mostly passed, he's still clearly not himself. She considers suggesting he stay behind, but...no. Better he stay with the group, where they can keep an eye on him.

Please Starsong, let no more research of that sort be required. I don't think his mind could take it.

Possibly not hers either. When she thinks back to what she read, she can feel the words scratching at the edges of her mind. Trying to find a purchase. Trying to get in.

Yelena listens very, very intently to the mayor's description of the keepers. He's speaking in Taldane. Ordinary Taldane. That's the only language she needs right now, and she resolutely refuses to think in any other.

"Thank you, Mayor Heggry, for both the information and the aid. Those items will no doubt be of great use to us. As for which Keeper to visit first..." She closes her eyes briefly, considering. And praying.

If we choose wrong, the creature will have an opportunity to grow all the stronger.

It's a terrifying thought.

"Which one lives closest to the western slopes?" She opens her eyes and looks directly at the mayor. "You told us that was where the other attacks occurred. If the creature moved there in search of its prey, then presumably the Keeper closest to that area is in the most danger."

Or perhaps the creature has already moved on and is looking elsewhere. Perhaps there is no purpose to its movements at all, and you're trying to assign meaning where there is none. Perhaps...


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M CG Dwarf Fighter 2/Cleric of Desna 3 | HP: 45/50 | AC: 21, T: 12, FF: 17) | CMB: +9, CMD: 21 | F: +10, R: +5, W: +7 (+1 against Fear Effects) | Init: +7 | Darkvision 60ft, Perc: +10, SM: +6 | Speed 30ft | Spells: 1st 1/4 2nd 2/3 | Active conditions: None
Elize ‘Lys’ Brokenshield wrote:
"I'm off to collect my horse, and a meal that doesn't look like a drowned corpse. Kolthis, you coming?", she quips, clearly eager to have any excuse out of the library.

Kolthis smiled at Lys’ invitation, clearly glad to have a reason to not suffer the wonderful meal placed in front of them. ”Aye, don’t leave me behind now. We got plenty of tales to exchange, i’m sure, while these folks toil away at their books, and hopefully plenty of ale to go right alongside them!”

The time spent catching up and carousing was most welcome, giving them the chance to reminisce about their past exploits and exchange stories of their recent adventures - tales that only strengthened the sense of enjoyment a Desnan like himself could only get from the most ridiculous and exhilarating stories told by people even more so. Kolthis couldn’t quite remember the last time he had had the chance to enjoy some time with a, dare he say, friend, in more than a passing manner. Fellow members of the wandering Church aside, of course.

Of course, this was also a chance to distract themselves from the horror that they were now facing. So, ale and laughter flowed freely, trying their best to take the anxieties and shadows of Carrion Hill with them. Eventually however, the current was no longer strong enough, and his thoughts took on a more solemn tone. It was around this time Lys went on back to the others, with a statement condemning his lack of being fun anymore and that perhaps there’d be something more to target practice with than the apple on the head of the poor sleeping bloke tucked away in the corner, with Kolthis assuring her he would be right behind her.

And he did follow, albeit quite slowly. Cheeks flush as his thoughts, Kolthis sipped on the drink he had brought with him, walking slowly through the narrow streets of town. He found a bench, rickety and unkempt to be sure, but sturdy enough to hold him, and sat looking up at the dark sky. The fog surrounding the night made it difficult, but he was able to pick out the unmistakable shimmer of stars in the sky. ”Are you guys up there? Can you hear me? I’m getting close, I think. Feels like it, especially with all that cavern business down below. Got some people working through some papers, searching for some more answers. Friends, I guess you could say. Some, at least. Others, it’s a little hard to say yet. I’m not quite sure what brought them here, but they seem alright enough. In fact, you lot would probably appreciate their...pluckiness, you could say, ridiculous as you all are.”

Kolthis let out a bark of a laugh at that, but returned quickly to solemnity. ”Stars, what am I even doing here? Am I going to find what I seek? What I need? Can I finally be free?” he whispered at the sky, tears trailing slowly down his face.

The howling of the wind was his only reply.

With a sigh, Kolthis wiped his face, drank the last few drops of alcohol from the tankard before laying it down on the bench, and made his way back to the manor, hoping for some manner of good news.

He was met with the rather strange sight of a visibly strained Walter and a clear sense of tension in the air. Immediately, Kolthis was on alert, looking around and trying to get a bearing on the situation. Was the day too much for some of them? Was it the books? Had there been some sort of spell or enchantment taken hold of them? Some secretive plot amongst the many members finally rising to the surface?

Luckily, before he got too far, the situation de-escalated itself, as it seemed the group had been dealing with it for some time. Remaining wary, Kolthis followed the rest into another conference with the mayor to catch him, and Kolthis, up on the discoveries.
”Aye, I think we could definitely make use of those resources. The more tools, the better our chances. Rest assured, we will do everything that we can for this city, and banish the horrors back into the abyss from whence it came. On that note, I vote we start with Crove, and see what madness from the asylum compelled him to release more into this world.”


Female Human Lepidstadt Inspector 5 | Initiative +3 | Perception +10 | Fort +3 Ref +8 Will +7 | HP 45 AC 18

Maritine gives Mihaela a tired smile of encouragement. "I can aid you. I've gotten better at alchemy since last time, if you can believe." A little self depreciation to alleviate the mood.

The meeting with Mayor Heggry goes much better than their previous one, and while it isn't stated outright, Heggry seems almost joyous in giving them carte blanche to act in the best interests of Carrion Hill - as much as she'd prepared to do so, she was relieved that she wouldn't actually have to convince Heggry that the guilty would need to die for the greater good.

It was a small boon and she was going to grab it with both hands.

She wished she had a particular insight into where they should go first, who they should hunt first, beat the beast to its prey and leave it starved as they moved on. But applying logic to a beast comprised of madness given form was, well, foolish at best. Not that it would stop her from doing so. Old habits...

"Whoever is closest might be best. If - If - we are lucky, gods willing, this monstrosity will be like a hungry beast looking for an easy meal." She exhales heavily and shrugs. "It's a stretch, I admit, but it's a good a start as any."


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Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1
Maritine LeGrasse wrote:


"Whoever is closest might be best. If - If - we are lucky, gods willing, this monstrosity will be like a hungry beast looking for an easy meal." She exhales heavily and shrugs. "It's a stretch, I admit, but it's a good a start as any."

Let's say Walter needs a DC 15 Will save to be able to interact in a more-or-less normal human fashion. 1d20 + 7 ⇒ (15) + 7 = 22 Yay!

"The closest. The closest! It's only logical." Walter is still holding his right forearm with his left hand. "Waldur the Warden, lord the asylum, his own little kingdom of madness. Hyve the Sage, in the abandoned church. Myre in the Mire, master of filth in the Filth, down by the river.

"If they're equidistant, more or less, then go, go to Hyve. A sage, an educated man. He may know things." The wizard shakes his head sharply, as if trying to shoo a fly. "After such knowledge, what forgiveness? These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree."


Female Half-elf {conditions: none} Inquisitor 5 | HP 23/28 | AC 22 (Tch 16 FF 16) | F +5 R +8 W +9 (+2 vs. ench.) | Init +10 | Perc +12, low-light vision, scent (vs. aberr.)
Maritine LeGrasse wrote:
Maritine gives Mihaela a tired smile of encouragement. "I can aid you. I've gotten better at alchemy since last time, if you can believe." A little self depreciation to alleviate the mood.

"Any help is much appreciated" smiles back wearily. "Next fight I'll have to close the distance... and you know I don't like it when they get to fight back." More of a sprinter than a long-distance runner, her training has been focusing on winning fights before they even begin — as she's discovered to her detriment that a prolonged fight against opponents usually twice her size tends to go as well as one could expect.

Walter the Vagabond wrote:
"If they're equidistant, more or less, then go, go to Hyve. A sage, an educated man. He may know things." The wizard shakes his head sharply, as if trying to shoo a fly. "After such knowledge, what forgiveness? These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree."

"No forgiveness" Mihaela shakes her head. "That's why it's not his knowledge we are after, but his life." She looks nervously at Walter. The lure of knowledge and power corrupted them. And... it's been corrupting him. Find them, kill them, don't talk to them. That's what they taught her. Watching Walter's mind fading in and out of coherent thought, she can't help but feel grateful to her teachers.


[Loot] | [Maps] Toilsday the 13th of Pharast, around 11:30 p.m.

"Rupman Myre, then." The mayor says this with some measure of satisfaction. "That bastard's had this coming for some time. Oh, he's a productive member of society, lucrative he is, good taxes, but we've all known he's been practicing some form of necromancy down there... but been unable to prove it. Time he got his comeuppance."

The mayor leans forward. "Jarvis. Escort our band of heroes to the Filth, will you? Time is, after all, of the essence."

Jarvis leads you forth once more, into the blistering rain, which hisses and stings as it needles down from the dark heavens.

Down he leads you, down the roads and alleyways which wind with insidious intent, down through the Tangle into the Filth, with its wretched hovels, its endless piers and bridges, its cesspools and tanneries, cockroaches and rats. The rain has reduced the paths to rivers of mud, and it's clear that the sewage that runs down from the more august heights has mixed in with the mire.

By the time you reach the middenstone factory, you're all in sorry condition.

"There it is," shouts Jarvis over the rain. The building is tall and long and set flush against the river, where it no doubt dumps its noxious effluvium. "Makes a goodly amount of middenstone in there. You know what that is? Unique to Carrion Hill! Made from cockroaches." His grin is almost savage. "Boil them down, mix them with other chemicals, and you get middenstone, like brown cement. Half of Carrion Hill's built with it."

He tugs his cowl down further. "Best of luck. I hope to see you soon back at the manor."

And with that, if no more questions are asked, he turns and leaves.

Rupman Myre's vat is easily forty feet high but from the looks of it only a single story building. The walls are constructed of the glossy, brown middenstone around a wooden frame, as are the doors. Three sluices emerge into the river from the far side, while a massive pair of double doors leads into the building from the south. There's one other narrow door near the northwest corner of the building.

But for the rain, all is quiet. The windows flicker from within. Smoke emerges from the various chimneys above. Standing there, in the dark, in the rain, it's hard not to be oppressed by the building's brutal architecture, its unnaturally gleaming brown walls, and the noxious reek that even at this distance can be smelled emanating from its interior.

Map updated!


Female Human Psychic (Esoteric Starseeker) 5 | HP 22/27 | AC: 18 (T: 11, FF: 17) | Saves: F:+7, R:+5, W:+9 (+2 vs fear effects) | Init: +6 | Perc. +10
More Info:
BAB: +2, CMB: 1, CMD: +12 | Spells: (1st) 3/8, (2nd) 3/6, (Bonus) 2/2 | Phrenic Pool 4/4 | Active Conditions: None

Yelena eyes the smoke, frowning. "It's well past business hours. Are the furnaces kept running all night long?"

Maybe they are. She'd never even heard of middenstone before, (and desperately wishes that Jarvis hadn't imparted that little tidbit about its main ingredient). Perhaps the furnaces have to be kept constantly hot. Still, it's troubling. If there are people other than Rupman Myre inside, that might make things...difficult.

She shifts uncomfortably. "Do we knock? I'm not really sure how to go about this." By 'this' she means 'breaking into a man's place to kill him.' It's not exactly something she's ever done before.


Female Half-elf {conditions: none} Inquisitor 5 | HP 23/28 | AC 22 (Tch 16 FF 16) | F +5 R +8 W +9 (+2 vs. ench.) | Init +10 | Perc +12, low-light vision, scent (vs. aberr.)

"Not yet" prudently answers Mihaela. "No sense in wasting the element of surprise."

That said, she silently makes her way around the building, scouting the perimeter.

Stealth: 1d20 + 14 ⇒ (9) + 14 = 23

Casting detect magic to spot possible magical countermeasures. Is that a window on the southern wall? Can she catch a glimpse of the interior through it?


Male Human Wizard | HP 22/22 |AC 17 (Tch 13, FF 14) | Fort 0, Ref +3, Will +7|Init +1 Perception +1

Walter's mind is an attic full of odd information. Middenstone... knowledge (local)? 1d20 + 14 + 5 ⇒ (7) + 14 + 5 = 26 or dungeoneering? 1d20 + 14 + 5 ⇒ (9) + 14 + 5 = 28 I'm guessing that middenstone doesn't burn easily, since that would be too easy...

Yelena Stanescu wrote:
Yelena eyes the smoke, frowning. "It's well past business hours. Are the furnaces kept running all night long?"
"A reasonable question." Walter has come up behind her. (It's surprising how quietly Walter can move.) "Furnaces don't run themselves. There'll be people inside. It may... complicate things." The wizard's voice is strained, but for the moment he seems coherent. "He may have defenses. We should... reconnoiter."

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