Journal of a Spell-less Ranger (probably the 100th journal telling a RotRL campaign)


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Hi all

This January I popped my cherry as a D&D and Pathfinder player when I joined four other more or less experienced players and a DM and began a Pathfinder campaign, Rise of the Runelords to be more specific.

Right from the start I wanted to write down our experiences, mainly to my own enjoyment, and theirs. But as the story went on and the document kept becoming longer and longer, I wanted to share it with you guys, to get some feedback. Hopefully you'll enjoy it too. English is not my native tongue - not an excuse of course, just to be clear.

We've now finished the first book, and have started the other, so I've got a lot of material (10 chapters, ~35 000 words) ready, so I'll vomit the finished material first, then do updates at a slower pace (depending on a) how much we play and b) how much I'm arsed to write).

Without further ado, this is their story, told from the viewpoint of one cynical, broken and possibly, I've realized, a bit sociopathic lvl1 ranger.

Tomi


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1. PROLOGUE

I'm on nobody's side because nobody is on my side. Not anymore. That is my guideline and that has kept me alive in this dangerous, petty and harsh world.

My name is Alpharius. Don't ask for my family name, because I don't have one. I'm a bastard son of an elven warrior and a human farmer's daughter. No, Alpharius is not my name given by my mother. It's a name given by my former lord and owner, wealthy merchant and ruthless slaver called Horryn.

I was born in the small village of Ravenhill, in north-western Molthune, close to the border to Nirmanthas. Though situated in the contested area between the nations, Ravenhill was an inconspicuous, insignificant village that offered nothing but a simple, hard life of peasantry and hunting. I'm still young, by both elven and human standards, but that life feels like something from a history book. A golden dream, something to feel warmly nostalgic about if it wouldn't hurt to remember. I was eight when Horryn's raiding party came across our little village. I recall the black horses, shouts and the tension, children huddling at the feet of their mothers, fathers looking warily at the armed men. Our village elders had slighted him somehow, as they turned against us, killing the men, raping the women and taking them and children as slaves before burning the village down. I'll never know why it happened. But it doesn't really matter anymore, does it?

That day, we killed one of his soldiers, me and my twin brother. Horryn and a group of burly, rugged soldiers entered our small cabin on the side of the forest, outside the village. Their sergeant slew our grandfather with a single blow of his battle-axe and laid his hands on Mother. Somehow, we had the courage to protect her as we sprang into action: my brother stabbed the sergeant with his rusty short sword and I finished him with an arrow to the heart. That was my first kill. Looking back, I think Horryn found it amusing to see two half-elven boys best one of his sergeants. We didn't get a chance to save ourselves or our mother. I didn't see what happened to her. I feared the worst. I never saw my mother again as me and my brother were both overpowered, chained, thrown into a wagon and sent off to Canorate, capital of Molthune.

Undoubtedly it was my skill with the bow and my brother's with the sword that kept Horryn from selling us. We had practically lived in the forest - I guess we had our elven blood to thank for it - and came to know our way in the wilds. This of course had irritated the villagers and our family who would've rather seen us toil in the farms and meadows like normal people. Other children, pure-blood humans, particularly gave us a hard time. Horryn on the other hand saw the raw talent we had and selected us into his personal entourage of martial slaves - boys, girls, men, women - from all races that he trained to become his bodyguards, gladiators, assassins and so on.

We were both quite adept trackers and hunters, which Horryn quickly took note of, and had his officers and other martial slaves train us further. My brother and I were extremely attuned to our surroundings, quick to note if something was wrong or out of place or if someone was deceitful. Neither of us had the raw strength and mad lust for blood required of a successful gladiator, so I was destined to become one of our master's assassins and man-hunters, while my brother would join his bodyguard. We trained and drilled continuously, learning the skills required to become killers. As part of my training I went out with Horryn's bands tracking and eliminating fugitive slaves, people who had borrowed money and never repaid Horryn, people who had stolen from him, his competitors, and so on. My brother stayed by his side, protecting him from enemies, tasting his foods and patrolling his grounds as one of his personal guard. To keep us humble and to break our will, we were beaten and humiliated regularly. All the boys and girls in Horryn's stock of slaves eventually succumbed and turned into broken husks of people with servitude as their sole reason of existence. But we solemnly promised each other to stay true and avenge our family - and escape together when the time would come.

Ultimately our time would never come but Horryn would later realize that training us was his worst mistake. No - his worst mistake was to send my brother to die. I don't know of the exact details of the mission Horryn sent him to - I only know it was a task outside of the city and one that he was never expected to return alive. After his supposed time of return from the mission I waited for him for seven days and seven nights before I made the biggest, boldest decision of my live: I would kill Horryn, and I would run, and I would find my brother, whether he was alive or dead.

I had to wait for another two weeks before I could move against Horryn. I didn't have the luxury of killing him face to face, but crushing his windpipe and neck arteries and splitting his heart with two well placed arrows while he was raping a young slave girl in his master bedroom suited me quite well. I admit I was not the honorable type - rather, I was and I will always be pragmatic. Then I ran like I'd never run before, through the estates of the rich and into the squalor of the Docks of Canorate. Horryn's second-in-command, one particularly sadistic and ambitious captain and trader called Pontus personally led my chase. I was barely staying alive in the city, but when I finally reached the swamps and forests outside the city, the playing field was leveled. I've always felt more at home in the wild. They kept after me for a month, almost catching me many times before finally quitting their pursuit. Granted, putting an arrow through Pontus's head helped them decide to leave me be. At least that was what I initially believed - later would-be-assassins of mine proved that House Horryn was still very keen on killing me.

That was seven years ago. Since then I've wandered the both the civilized lands and the wilds in solitude. I have travelled around Lake Encarthan, from Molthune to Kyonin, to Razmiran and Nirmathas, and across the Mindspin Mountains to Varisia. I am searching for my brother, looking for clues, never trusting anyone with too much of my past and my intentions, moving and evading House Horryn's agents - and never taking sides nor bowing to no master or god, settling down with no woman even though I've met and fallen in love with one. For some reason, I've kept my slave name rather than taking my old name back - perhaps to remind me of my brother and my past. I've barely earned my keep with bounty hunting but it has kept me on the road.

My toll of successful hunts, captured men and kills has risen slowly if steadily, while my hope to uncover the fate of my brother crumbles. Everywhere I arrive, I leave without any leads. My latest bounty has brought me far to the borderlands in old colony of Varisia, to the city of Sandpoint to be more exact. I don't think I can find answers here, but I must walk these lands, even though something seems to be wrong with this place..

- Alpharius


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2. COLLISION AT SANDPOINT
Year 4707, Autumn Equinox, 22nd of Rova, Starday
The Docks, Sandpoint

The day was warm when I arrived to Sandpoint. It was midday and the sun was in its apex. Two weeks earlier I had left Korvosa by galley, with a simple task at hand.

"Bring the boy back, dead or alive. Preferably alive", my latest employer, a Korvosan merchant had instructed me. His youngest son, barely a man grown, had ran away from the city with his man-lover. "I don't care really. That mewling, stubborn boy has brought our family so much pain and humiliation.. but his mother wants to have him back safe.. Mothers." I think I was the only bounty hunter offering services to the man, so he had to choose me, a rather young and inexperienced hunter who had just arrived and had no name to himself. I had accepted the job even though it paid almost nothing - the merchant obviously cared little what happened to his son.

Now, here I was, looking for a boy who wanted to become a bard in a family of stiff upper lipped traders and who had the misfortune to born loving cocks instead of c&+~s. The old, worn galley slided into berth as the captain shouted orders to his crew to begin disembarkation. I threw my backpack to the pier and leaped off the deck, scaring a flock of seagulls. It felt good to be on solid ground again.

The little fishing town was jubilant. All around, masses of people were making their way through the streets. Many were singing or playing music and wearing colourful clothing. Magicians and musicians entertained the folk at the street sides, while street vendors sold different varieties of foods and religious trinkets, shouting their prices of the day to everyone and no-one in particular. I assumed that it was a celebration of the harvest or other summer's end festival and decided to head to the city center. There I'd find the best inns and taverns and had the best opportunity of hearing something about my dandy target. Drunken tongues are loose tongues, I reminded myself.

Making my way through the crowds, I found myself half an hour later at the town plaza. A cathedral stood proudly over the square. While it was nothing compared to the palaces and basilisks of Canorate, it easily dwarfed the houses around it. The locals had constructed a wooden platform before the main entrance and several official looking men and women were standing on it, waiting for someone or something. It seemed that I had just arrived in time to hear some public speaking.

People, men, women and children, were gathering in front of the platform. I remained back, quietly observing the folk. A long-haired, muscular grunt with a massive earthbreaker slung across his back was shouting insults, shoving people and making his way closer to the platform. I frowned, feeling contempt. The barbarian was drawing the attention of several town guards, but they were unwilling to act. A wise decision, I considered. Closer to me, a stocky dwarf tiptoed, trying to see farther above the heads and shoulders of taller men. I overheard him cursing under his breath about bringing the other shoes.

I let my gaze wander. Dozens of people had arrived by now and the plaza was getting full. Among the crowd I made fleeting eye contact with a young girl in a fire red cloak. She regarded me with her beautiful, but so very sad and pained eyes before turning away and drawing her hood further over her head.

At the platform, Sandpoint's mayor, a middle-aged woman called Deverin, took the stage. I didn't pay attention to her, but kept observing my surroundings, trying to find my target. Instead I noticed a dirty-looking half-orc at the other side of the plaza. I could smell him, but I resented it not, rather feeling a bit of connection. He had the smell of the forest about him. People were taking great care to leave empty space between themselves and the creature. Typical men, so fearful and hateful of the half-orcs, I muttered to myself. The half-orc didn't seem to mind though and kept peering at the stand silently.

The mayor finished her speech and let the city sheriff forward. This time, I focused to hear his name, Belor. Gruff, serious, little with words this man Belor was, I noted. He talked very briefly and was followed by a much more livelier person, Drokkus - owner of the town theater. I committed to memory his name and face, as he'd be a good person to ask about my target. As the last speaker, the high-priest of Sandpoint, Zantus took the stage. Like Belor, the high-priest was economic with his words, addressing the deceased previous high-priest with a moment of silence before baptising the cathedral, which I just then realized was recently built.

Thankfully, the speeches were quickly over and the crowd dispersed a bit. Normal fair fuss ensued at the plaza as vendors re-opened their stalls and music continued. They offered tastes of exotic foods and innkeeps let the beer and wine flow. I made my way across the plaza aimlessly for now, stopping here and there, taking it all in. One man overseeing a tent with an archery range and other martial games shouted at me. "Hey, hey! Sir Archer”, apparently noting the longbow at my back, “do enter the competition of the best bowman in Sandpoint, yes?" I regarded the man bleakly, but he didn't take a hint but kept shouting at me, trying to win me over. "Sir Archer, I see you have a great composite longbow, surely you'd entertain us with your skill?" I shook my head. "I think I will pass, thank you." Without a blink the man chose his next victim. "You sir, oh great warrior!" He shouted to someone behind me. "Come and test your considerable strength! Strike the iron goblin and make the bell ring", he urged, pointing at a high striker with a leering iron goblin as the lever and bright red bell at the top. I turned my head around and saw who the operator was addressing. It was the same wearisome barbarian who had harassed the locals during the opening speeches. "Make way, hoodman", he told me as he made his way past me to the high striker. "I'll show you all who's the strongest in this little town", he boomed aloud and drew the earthbreaker from his back. His flaunting was drawing curious looks and people started to gather around. The barbarian flexed his back and biceps, clearly enjoying the attention before taking position before the apparatus. Rising the earthbreaker above his head two-handed, the brute roared and slammed his weapon down in a wide arc, striking the iron goblin right in the middle.

Nothing happened. I snorted.

"WHAT?" The barbarian bellowed and spun towards the operator. "Ah m-mighty warrior, you must have hit the lever at the wrong place", the operator explained with a stutter, fear visible on his face. He offered the barbarian to try again, to sooth his anger. "This game is no match for Frank", the brute grumbled as the prepared to strike the lever anew. More people were stopping to watch the brute take a swing - I noted the dwarf, the red girl and the half-orc among others. The dwarf was smiling and stroking its beard, while the red girl was staring absentmindedly. The half-orc was unreadable.

The barbarian drew deep breath and slammed the lever twice as hard as before. This time, the puck in the apparatus shot upwards seven feet and the bell rang loudly. The barbarian roared in triumph and the crowd cheered. The operator slapped him on the shoulder and handed him a prize - I didn't see what it was exactly. I think the man was relieved to get the barbarian off his booth.

A quarter of an hour or so later I wandered to a banquet table full of various edibles and foodstuffs. The innkeep, young woman calling herself Ameiko was attracting carnival goers to participate in an eating competition. The dish of the competition, it seemed, was a large platter of spicy, hot fish called sushi. "Who dares to taste Ameiko's sushi, the spicy splendour that burns the weakest and feeds the strongest? Who has the mouth to eat the most", she called. The dwarf took the bait first. "Har, I love good food and haven't found one yet that could best me. I'm in!" He stomped to the table, grinning widely and rubbing his palms together in eager anticipation. The barbarian, true to himself, shoved people out off his way and marched to the table as well. "I'm twice as big as you, little man, but I'll eat four times as much", he declared haughtily. He dwarf just laughed coarsely at the brute.

"I want to participate as well", came a soft but stern voice out of nowhere. The red girl stepped forward from the crowd, drawing back her hood and exposing her long, scarlet hair. Her entry caused quite a lot of murmur and whistles but she didn't seem to notice. I forced back a smile. Two more contestants entered the game, local men with the benefit of most likely having tasted Ameiko's fish before. As the contestants took their places around her table, she instructed them. "Each has a plate of my sushi before him or her", she said, addressing the last word to the red girl with a sympathetic smile, "and one-by-one, each will eat one bite.. and keep it down. Four rounds, the one who lasts all rounds will be declared winner. "Martin", he pointed at the other local, "go ahead. The purple one, if you may". The man forked the first piece, considered, and pushed it to his mouth. A heartbeat later he doubled down and coughed out the piece, his face and eyes blood-shot. People laughed. "Master Harsk", Ameiko declared next, amused. The dwarf smiled eagerly and took a good mouthful of the sushi. He chewed a few times. I almost thought he could handle the fish before an unhealthy ruby crawled up his face and he spat the sushi out and emptied a large cup of water. The barbarian's laughter boomed. "I told you, little man.” Without waiting for Ameiko, the brute threw aside the fork and grabbed his piece of fish with bare hands, attracting wild cheers from the crowd. He already had fans in town, it appeared. Without further ado, he filled his mouth with the fish, chewed and downed it with an audible belch. More wild cheering ensued.

The red girl took her time, cutting a piece with fork and knife, and smelling the aromas carefully before taking a bite. She closed her eyes and chewed slowly. Absolute silence fell in anticipation. Finally, she swallowed and gave a smile to Ameiko. "This is quite tasty, mam". The crowd erupted in shouts of adoration. The barbarian snorted and the dwarf looked astonished. Ameiko bowed to the girl. "The town's best, my young lady", she explained proudly. After the red girl, it was the other local man's turn. He managed to swallow his first bite.

"Second round, ladies and gentlemen", Ameiko shouted out, "the green one. Tomas, if you may", she asked the remaining local. Looking a bit distressed, Tomas forked the green fish piece on his plate and had a bite. He lasted for two heartbeats. The people roared in laughter at the puking man.

Then it was again the brute's turn. Confidently, he grabbed the green fish and stuffed his mouth. I noted a hint of red in his face, and he took longer to chew down the second fish, but he managed it. The dwarf, a good competitor, slapped the brute's back and congratulated him. I thought it made the barbarian almost empty his stomach right now and there. Finally, it was the red girl's turn. Again, she calmly forked her piece, savored the aromas and had a taste. With the girl showing no sign of disgust, the crowd applauded and cheered.

"Third round, sir, lady", Ameiko said, nodding at the two remaining contestants. "The blue fish. Sir, if you may". The brute growled, building up anger as he lifted the blue fish piece between his fingers. How the seven hells can one be angry at a fish, I wondered. It was apparent from his body language that he wasn't as confident as before as he pushed back his head and dropped the piece into his mouth. Immediately, he spat it out to the ground and slammed his fist to the table, cursing various profanities. Oohhs and aaahs from the crowd.

The red girl remained. How could a young girl like her handle the fish that had outmatched a brawny warrior? Without a word, she selected the third piece and took a bite. People around me again drew breath in anticipation. To be honest, I too was eager to find out what was to happen.

Now I've always considered myself to be quite perceptive and able to tell if people lie, so I'm quite sure what happened next. I thought I saw a glimpse of fire shimmer in her eyes as she chewed. Something felt out of place. Then she stopped, drew a cloth from beside her and spat the fish into the cloth. "Sorry Ameiko", she told the innkeep, "it's too spicy for me."

She lied.

The crowd exploded, and Ameiko was forced to settle them down. "People, people, please. These two have shown such fortitude that they shall be both named winners." With open arms, she gestured towards the brute and the red girl. "Say my regards to the town blacksmith, you'll get a one-tenth discount the next time you visit him." The brute beat his chest twice in agreement, while the red girl simply drew her hood over her head, shrouding herself again. And so it was over.

I ventured over to Ameiko's booth. The dwarf had remained, accompanied by no more than four pints of beer. The dwarf regarded me with a warm smile and nodded. I nodded back. The dwarf was heavily armed like me, but radiated likeability, serenity and good will. A godly man, I pondered as I sat down next to him.

"Anything to drink?" I asked Ameiko. "Of course, master. The house beer, a local brew, is free for the duration of the festivities. Have a try", she urged me, gesturing towards a collection of kegs before me, some full, others half-empty. I shook my head. "I'd rather have a cup of water."

The dwarf gave a short, rough laugh. "What's wrong with you, turning down perfectly good free beer", he asked me before emptying his pint. I stared him blankly. "I haven't come here to celebrate", I answered simply as Ameiko filled a cup from a jug of water and offered it to me. I took a sip. The dwarf smiled and stroke his beard, weighing me. "Your loss, friend."

**

The dwarf, Harsk, introduced himself, and I introduced myself. He tried to open a conversation but I kept to myself, observing rather my surroundings, looking for my target again after a moment of distractions. I spotted the barbarian, the half-orc and the red girl several times. "Isn't she something", Harsk asked me quietly as she walked past us. This time I had to smile and nod.

Evening fell. I didn't know what kept me at the plaza for the afternoon, maybe it was Harsk with his outrageous stories he kept telling to Ameiko and no-one in particular between pints, maybe it was the mysterious red girl, maybe it was the half-orc I felt oddly strongly sympathetic towards. Maybe it was the ludicrous brute, this Frank. I didn't know.

As the bell struck sixth hour of the day after noon, people gathered around the plaza's wooden platform for an evening prayer. High-priest Zantus rose to the platform and began the sermons. Harsk excused himself, rose from his seat (not before emptying yet another pint) and fell in with the crowd, interested in the local cult. By that time I had came to know he was a cleric of the goddess Iomedae, which explained a lot. I thanked Ameiko and left as well, moving well behind of the mass. I spotted Frank, also away from the crowd, petting and scratching a dog, and clearly not giving a damn of what was taking place. Not a godly man, I figured.

Zantus's sermon was simple yet powerful, his oratory moving if not inspiring. He was about the finish as a woman's scream stopped him mid-sentence. It came from the middle of the crowd, so I had no chance of seeing the woman nor the reason for the scream. The mass of people stirred like a herd of sheep, catching the scent of the wolf. Then it exploded in a riot of screams and movement. Zantus was left standing, his mouth a gape.

I was quick to spring into action but Frank was quicker. Granted, he was closer to the source of the commotion. The barbarian pulled the earthbreaker from his back and visibly let his rage take over. I felt it almost literally washing over me, that boiling desire to kill and maim. The panic continued with people running to every direction. Some bumped into me. Then I saw what Frank saw. A goblin feasting on the same dog he just moments ago had been petting and scratching. I would've found it hilarious if it wasn't so gruesome. And if Frank wouldn't been so intent on making the goblin pay for its crime. He thundered at the goblin who was oblivious to the panic it had created, peacefully enjoying its canine cuisine. Past repeated itself as Frank slammed the earthbreaker down in a wide arc and just narrowly missed the goblin. The brute roared in anger and lifted his weapon for another try.

Having his dinner disturbed by a raging hulk, the goblin jumped in fear, screeched at the barbarian and stabbed wildly with its knife. In panic, the little beast missed. I briskly walked closer to the melee, and with a shrug dropped my backpack and pulled my bow from my back. For a second I considered whether or not to intervene. I didn't know this arrogant bastard, but these goblins were a menace to society. My head was racing. Finally, I drew an arrow from the quiver and took aim. The goblin was at the feet of the barbarian, making it a difficult target. I took the shot.

My hesitation cost me as the arrow flew past both combatants and burrowed into a wagon behind them.

Harsk had decided as well to remain at the plaza. He almost came to regret that as another goblin appeared on a nearby rooftop and shot an arrow at him. The arrow struck his armor but glanced, not harming the cheerful cleric.

The half-orc remained still, clearly pondering whether to act or not. At that moment, I couldn't blame him. He was not under any threat, and the folk of Sandpoint had been anything but welcoming to him. He took a few steps towards the goblin and the brute, seemingly unsure what to do. At the corner of my eye, I spotted the red girl, who simply moved away, not wanting to draw attention to herself.

Harsk cursed at the goblin on the rooftop and surprisingly dexterously armed his crossbow and fired at the creature. As I was nocking another arrow, Harsk scored a hit in the leg of the goblin.

I was starting to hear voices of terror and battle from around the town. Out of nowhere a third goblin ran to the plaza, jumping over a wagon and attacking the half-orc. The small blade cut only air as the half-orc cunningly evaded the blow.

Frank pulled his earthbreaker up for another go and time stopped for the poor dog-eating goblin. The brute's aim was true and hitting with incredible strength, he literally smashed the goblin in half, splattering blood all over.

Choosing the foe with a clear line of sight, I took a quick shot at the goblin on the rooftop. I missed again! I cursed the past weeks in the galley where I had had no chance of training with my bow. The little creature screeched and jumped down, ran full speed onto Ameiko's table and launched itself at the half-orc. It managed to surprise the half-orc, who growled and stepped back, a bleeding wound on his side.
Red girl decided then to join the fight and reveal her true nature. Summoning the elemental powers of fire she took a step forward and hurled a ray of fire at a goblin next to the half-orc. Thirty feet away, I could feel the heat as the goblin burned violently to ash. A fire sorceress, I cursed and shielded my face. The half-orc merely grinned at her help, stepped around and with a controlled motion of his staff struck down the second goblin.

Silence fell to the plaza, but smoke was arising from the south-east. Sounds of battle were still audible. This was not over.

I went to retrieve my arrow from the wagon. Beside me, Frank was breathing heavily, mastering his rage. The high priest, Zantus, deciding probably now being a good time to return from hiding, stepped out from the safety of the cathedral and approached us. "Mighty friends, thank you for your aid", he uttered sheepishly. "I have the powers of healing, does anyone of you require my services?"

The barbarian, still catching his breath, turned to the high priest and pointed at the corpse of the dog. "Can you bring the dog back to life", he snarled, half asking, half ordering. The priest lifted his hands in front of him, as in a shielding motion. "Pardon me friend, but that is beyond my abilities." The response infuriated the barbarian, who pulled the earthbreaker up and smashed a nearby wagon in half. This time he hit at the first try, I thought, as the priest backed down, a little horrified.

Harsk approached the half-orc, offering to have a look at his cut. The half-orc considered the priest, then Harsk, before finally muttering something inaudible and letting Harsk apply a healing potion. The wound dissolved before our eyes and the half-orc sighed.

"Is it typical that goblins roam the city unchecked?" I asked the priest, not a little sarcasm in my voice as I searched the dying goblins for valuables. To my dismay, they had nothing on them but armor and knives. "No, they typically don't get this organized", Zantus responded, watching around, trying to take in the sudden chaos emerging around him. Content with the situation at the plaza, he begged our pardon before walking away, looking for others to help. Me, Frank, Harsk, the half-orc and red girl were all that remained.

"Everybody all right?" Harsk asked. I regarded the fire sorceress and was about to open my mouth as goblin song hailed from the south. A group of goblins appeared from behind tents and booths, driven forward by a goblin warchanter! Drawn by the scent of battle, they ran across the plaza to face us in battle.

In a fluid motion, I nocked an arrow. The fire sorceress reacted first, casting a spell that burned the hand of a goblin and made it drop its sword. With no regard to personal safety, Frank howled in rage and charged two of the goblins at the same time. Showing no mercy, he violently reduced the first to a bloody smear in the street stones. I was starting to like the man, even if he was all strength and no finesse.

Harsk bellowed prayers to his goddess and stomped to confront an attacking goblin. He swung his longsword but missed as the goblin ducked just in time. I let loose an arrow at one running goblin, but I missed yet again. Second lost arrow, I cursed as it flew outside my field of vision.

The half-orc, ever silent, went into melee with an advancing goblin, not connecting with his first strike. The warchanter kept approaching slowly, still singing its strange song and seemingly not interested in the fate of its minions. Frank, now with less momentum, launched a sideways blow, aiming to the head of the second, unarmed goblin, but in his eagerness, missed wildly. The goblin on the other hand showed surprising restraint as it reached out to the sword on the ground and slashed at the barbarian, scoring a tiny wound on his side. Frank screamed more in anger than in pain. Wroth flew from his mouth. To avenge his ad hoc comrade, the fire sorceress hurled a ray of fire at the burned goblin. It went wide. The barbarian struck back, shoving with the earthbreaker, but he too was unable to bring down the small beast.

I glanced at the singing warchanter, nocked an arrow and shot it. My aim was finally true as I my arrow burrowed into the chanter's leg. I allowed myself a smile. It fell to its knees but it kept singing its mindless song. Meanwhile, the half-orc finished his goblin and joined the fight with the dwarf.

The warchanter, to my astonishment, summoned a healing spell. Across the plaza I witnessed as the arrow was pushed out of the creature's leg by magic and the wound closed on itself. My attention was then stolen by the burned goblin, which screamed a shrill shout and moved off the barbarian to attack the fire sorceress. The goblin failed to hurt her, but in return, she cast a spell that made the goblin lose its weapon again. In rapid motion, she moved away from the suffering, whimpering goblin.

Frank realized his chance to finish the leader of the pack had come. He jumped onto the stand where the chanter was recovering from my successful hit and attacked it. Miraculously, the goblin leader managed to parry the brute's earthbreaker with its sword. The brawl on the stand continued while I let loose an arrow at the unarmed goblin threatening the fire sorceress. I missed, and now I was really cursing my weeks at the sea.

The goblin fighting Harsk and the half-orc succeeded to superficially wound the stocky dwarf. The unarmed goblin, seemingly losing his mind, ran at the half-orc’s backpack on the ground, and madly began looting it for valuables. I decided to exact payment for its insolence and hit it on the shoulder with an arrow. Still, it managed to grab a hold of something from the pack and charged the fire girl bare handed, an arrow sticking out of its shoulder.

On the stand, the barbarian appeared to get weary. I realized even his rage had limits and his fighting style was taxing him greatly. He dueled with the goblin, and landed a lucky hit, obliterating the warchanter. The wounded, greedy goblin was all over the fire sorceress. Dismayed that the petty creature still had the nerve to live, I ran across the plaza, looking for a clear kill shot. Wasting as little time as possible and trusting to my instincts, I fired another arrow. It struck the goblin, finally killing it. Now only one goblin remained. Slashing like a maniac, it wounded the half-orc, before it met its demise at the hands of Frank the barbarian, who had jumped down the wooden stand and decided that the Harvest festivities were finally over for the little green beasts.


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3. A QUEER ENSEMBLE OF INDIVIDUALS
23rd of Rova - Sunday, the day after the attack
The Rusty Dragon, Sandpoint

It soon became apparent that the attack was simply a ruse to hide a more nefarious plot. Somebody had stolen or reincarnated the former high priest Ezakiel's corpse and escaped while the battle raged across town. We had reached that conclusion the next morning, when town sheriff Belor and high priest Zantus had asked us to investigate Ezakiel's crypt, which had been broken and entered in force. I didn't expect to find his crypt guarded by skeletons. We promptly eliminated the resistance, found the corpse missing and followed, fruitlessly, some tracks from the grave yard to the edge of the city. Our inability to track a target successfully was particularly disappointing to me. My hunting skills required honing.

We had also come across a captive goblin, who revealed that the attack had been well-prepared and planned by a mysterious half-elf or elf. An intervention by a third party was logical, given that the town had not faced such an coordinated goblin attack in ages.

We. It still sounded weird. I didn't know why we kept together. We already extracted a handsome sum from a wealthy noble called Aldern Foxglove whose life we had saved during the battle, and I didn't believe the town was in any position to compensate for our continued service. Interestingly, the blacksmiths were quite happy to offer us discounts on their wares, and the town folk showed us their overwhelming gratitude as we walked the streets. I wasn't happy with that - I wanted to maintain a low-profile but my unintended heroics had seen an end to that. I even had some red-headed town girl stalking me, wanting me to get "rid of some horrible rats in her cellar", a sweetling sure, but an annoyance. The town officials however were reluctant to open their coffers. Sheriff Belor in particular aggravated me, digging his heels in the ground and being unwilling to take action. He came off more an administrator of labourers than a commander of soldiers.

Nonetheless we kept going together. I had little reason to trust any of them. Above all the prospect of being paid well for finding out what is going on in this little frontier town maintained my interest in sticking with the rest of the ad hoc party. I realized leaving them the moment it was necessary would have best served my interests but my curiosity was piqued. I wondered what fate brought us together in Sandpoint, and I was strangely keen to find out what it was. And I have to admit we were a queer ensemble of individuals.

Harsk seemed to be driven by righteousness, some sense of honour that demanded justice for Sandpoint. I guessed the fate of the former high priest stunk of dark heresy to the dwarven cleric of Iomedae. Also, his ability to consume beer was commendable. Part of me enjoyed his camaraderie.

But I wondered what would happen if there came a time when we had to make the tough life-and-death decisions. It would get ugly.

I felt the half-orc, Vidarok, and Harsk both were righteous souls, and had no issue with helping this little town. When I didn't, they gave a damn. Vidarok had overcome his initial reservations and proved me we are not slaves to our blood heritage. I called him the gentle giant, thanks to his genuine love and compassion to the natural world and its various inhabitants. I would have found it admirable, if it wasn't so naive and idealistic. He also appeared to be quite quick of thought. My former master Horryn would've considered Vidarok to possess leadership potential. Of course, he had despised half and pure-breed orcs, so he would have thrown the young druid to the dungeons, or pitted him against his gladiators.

With the gentle giant, we had the angry brute, Frank the barbarian. He had revealed very little of his past. He lived in the present and only in the present. Life was simple for him. I considered him as my exact opposite: vocal, volatile, rash and blunt - all strength and no finesse, only forward momentum and no grace and stealth. But by gods he was courageous without any shred of self-preservation when the battle lust took over. The strikes of his earthbreaker were like the toll of the city bells in Canorate. Not once had I seen him back down from a melee. In the grave yards, me and Harsk had to order him to take a step backwards so we could fight more effectively. He was unpredictable, unstable even.

Still, his kill count was twice that of mine, so his effectiveness was undisputed. I wondered how long he'd stay alive.

Last, we had the carmine maiden, the fire sorceress Ilori. We knew very little of her and her past, and she was reluctant to tell. I didn't blame her, as there we were very alike. She was a quiet, reserved beauty but well-spoken when needed. With people, she seemed careful, as if she was unconsciously afraid of hurting them. Hurting with her fire. What I had seen of her, I believed she is capable of so much more. She was holding back. Powered by her blazing magicks to the fullest, she might've very well been the most dangerous person among us.

And that is why I trusted her the least.


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4. THE MONSTER UNDER MY BED
23rd of Rova - Sunday, the day after the attack
Outside the Cathedral, Sandpoint

When you take away a child's innocence and feeling of security, you become a monster. To a child it really doesn't matter if the monster is a goblin, giant, dragon.. or a man. Appearances are secondary when you bring down a child's world.

I was reminded of this when the Garret woman and her boy ran to us, pleading and begging us to come with her and help. Their home had been attacked by someone or something. The tear-eyed boy mumbled about a monster with gleaming eyes under his bed who had killed his dog during the night. The woman sobbed, torn by having doubted his son in the first place and having left his husband behind to investigate what had really happened. I could see she believed he was already dead.

I remembered my monster, a man of riches, greed and such paranoia that he made the lives of others around him hell. He had burned down my village, slain my family and stolen me and my twin brother and ultimately separated us. I guess an unconscious feeling of empathy made me join the others in helping the woman and her boy.

Monsters exist but they can be slain. That I knew too as I had slain mine personally.

From Sandpoint and our base, if one can call the Rusty Dragon a base, we traveled eastwards to the town border. There we found an inconsequential cottage - their home. As we entered, the woman and the boy remained back, too frightened to approach even with us at guard.

I was not surprised when we found the remains of the husband lying on the boy's room floor, half his body within a wooden closet, hidden. Frank grinned, Harsk cursed, Vidarok frowned and Ilori I guess got a bit paler. As the others remained to examine the surroundings, I snatched a fresh apple from their main room table and went outside to see if there was something out of place, maybe some hidden threat. From the door, I looked back at the woman and the boy who were a good hundred feet away. He was gripping tightly the hem of her skirt, and she was holding her arms around him, looking nervous and heartbroken. I waved at them. They didn't respond to my gesture. I took a bite of the apple.

I heard Harsk and Frank arguing about the corpse in the boy's room. I looked over my shoulder and saw Frank appear with the lower half of the man's body on his arms. There was blood all over Frank, and a lot of it was dripping on the floor, leaving a trail. The barbarian looked quite happy with himself. He was half-way in the main room when we heard a loud scream from the boy's room, followed by Harsk bellowing scriptures in holy defiance. Time slowed. Fire danced around Ilori and the temperature in the house rose noticeably as she summoned her magic. Frank dropped the corpse on the floor, splashing blood and thundered back to the boy's room, Vidarok right at his heels. A commotion ensued.

I kept eating my apple. It was a really good apple.

I was expecting Frank to tear down half the building with his hammer but realized quickly that my companions were trying to capture the assailant alive. I sighed and threw away the apple core and paced to the boy's room door. A goblin was struggling with Frank and Vidarok, and the druid was bleeding quite a lot from his leg.

I had an inspiration. I drew back my hood - realizing then it was the first time any of them had seen my head uncovered - and stared at the goblin with a killing intent. The little bastard froze for a second, intimidated, and Frank pummeled it unconscious with his bare hands. Vidarok looked relieved.

**

"Tie him up", Harsk told Frank, who took a skein of rope and bound it around the goblin so that it couldn't move its hands or feet.

"Hang him face down and we'll interrogate him", I suggested and pointed at a wooden beam supporting the ceiling. Frank complied, and as others gathered around, I took a cup of water and splashed its contents at the face of the goblin and followed with a quick punch. That woke it up.

Wasting no time, I grabbed it by its throat and demanded it to tell us who it was and why it had attacked. The insolent creature just coughed and laughed. I grabbed and twisted it a bit harder, but to no avail.

Monsters exist. Something inside me stirred. I pulled the goblin closer to my face and bared my teeth. "Where do you come from and who is your leader?" I asked the beast, drilling my gaze into its gleaming eyes. It had the desired effect.

"G-Gugmut", the goblin stuttered as it dangled by the rope head downwards, "Gugmut the great is our boss!"

"Is he a goblin?" Ilori intervened with a sharp question, maybe remembering the other goblin talking about the elf or half-elf who had engineered the assault against Sandpoint. The little green beast coarsely laughed at this. "Gugmut is a half-breed goblin", it explained, drool dropping on the floor.

"How did you get here?" I asked it. "I came from the east, long-shanks.." I noted the goblin was clearly gathering some mental fortitude so I twisted its throat and shook it violently to remind it of its position.

Frank stepped forward, and drew the horse chopper so that our captive could see the goblin blade.

"Do you know this? It belonged to one of your filthy dog-killing vermin breed!" Frank roared in anger. The goblin screeched. "That's Gresgurt's blade!" Frank grinned contently in response. "Not anymore.." I interjected: "Where from the east exactly?"

"From Mosswood, that's where Gugmut keeps his camp", the goblin cried. Harsk crossed his arms and turned his head a bit to the side. "Can you take us to him, if we let you go free afterwards?" The dwarf asked diplomatically. But the goblin knew its fate. "You'll kill me anyway, bastards.." it whimpered.

Monsters exist but they can be slain. I had one more question.

"You were part of the attack against Sandpoint", I stated rather than asked, "but did you see the leader, a half-elf or elf who was responsible for the attack?" The goblin just laughed at me weakly. "Longshanks, Gugmut is my boss.."

I let go of the goblin and in a fluid motion, drew my other kukri blade and slashed the beast's throat open. Black blood sputtered to the floor and mixed with spit and human blood. The woman has quite a mess to clean up, I thought as I replaced the kukri into its scabbard. But it wasn't over. Frank let out an inhuman bellow and grabbed me by my shoulder, pushing me so our faces were an inch away from each other. We stared at each other intently, the situation quickly escalating to a hair's breadth from a brawl.

To match his gaze I had to look up and could feel his breath on my face as he tried to control his rage. "Why.. did.. you.. do that, pointy-ears?" I realized that time I might have gone too far, acting on my own initiative like always. The brute was one and a half times wider - granted, I was not a man of small stature, rather I was quite lean but muscular and standing at 6 feet 4 inches I towered above normal human men, but Frank was really huge, easily two inches taller than me and heavier by a good 80 pounds of solid muscle.

And an half-orc like Vidarok, I realized then while looking at him from an inch away. Curious. That explained a lot, I thought as our staring competition continued for something that felt like an eternity. His arms were shaking like the ground in an earthquake, his biceps and neck muscles bulged and I think he almost ruptured a vein on his forehead. I tried to remain calm and composed.

It was Harsk who broke the showdown. He said nothing but approached us, pulling us apart from our arms. "I wanted that goblin alive as my pet, you bastard", Frank steamed. I simply shrugged. "He had served his purpose, and had no valuable information to offer." The others I guess seemed to agree. An intelligent if very stupid goblin would have made a horrible pet anyway. Frank grunted and dismissed me with an obscene gesture.

**

The barbarian took the corpse of the goblin down and lifted it to his back. Harsk reassembled the husband's corpse as well as he could, closed the dead eyes and covered the body with a linen. Then we walked out to the family. We had decided that Ilori was the one to tell the news to the woman. It was a hard thing for the young fire sorceress to do, but she managed with her words and manners to soothe the mother's worst pains and mental anguish. All she asked of us was to take his son into the care of the sheriff, Belor. We complied, so she remained behind to take care of the house and the husband's body while we returned to the city with the boy.

The return reminded me of my past. A monster had come, shattered my world and driven me from my home. Here he was like I was then, traveling to the city with strangers, afraid and unsure what fate had in store for him. I wanted to look him in the eyes and tell him monsters exist but they can be slain. Instead I did nothing, and said nothing.


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5. SOMETHING ABOUT FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS. AND BOARS.
24th of Rova - Moonday, morning, two days since the attack
forest of Tickwood, two miles outside Sandpoint

"Harsk!" Pe-channas! I cursed inwardly in Elvish.

The boar lifted its snout from the ground, grunted and looked straight at the stumbling dwarf. So much for stealth, I grumbled, and rose from my concealed position thirty feet away. Downwind, I had a good vantage at the beast and took a quick shot. When my arrow burrowed into the beast's skin, I was already notching another for the killing shot. The animal cried in pain and blood was pumping out in gouts - I must have hit an artery. But these bastards were quick and hard to kill. It catapulted itself up and towards Harsk from the bush, but not before I had placed my second arrow into its side. It barely noticed me.

I had to admire the half-man's courage as the boar barreled its way towards him. He dropped his crossbow, drew his trusty longsword and braced himself in anticipation of violence. I was pulling out the third arrow from the quiver when the two hairy beasts collided. Harsk roared in effort as he struggled and blocked the vicious boar's tusks with his sword.

Out of nowhere, Frank leaped into the melee. The earthbreaker wooshed as it arced over the brute's head and slammed at the back of the boar. Its bones shattered and it cried again in agony, throwing its head around like it was denying death itself. By Earthfall it was tough, I wondered as I drew quick breath and aimed. At the far side of my vision I saw Aldern Foxglove, our sponsor who had developed quite an infatuation to our lady Ilori, begging her to step back from the fight. Heedless of the jabbering nobleman, she summoned her powers and struck the dying animal with a ray of frost, but was unable to finish it. That it seemed was left to me. Confidently, I let an arrow fly for the third time, and this time it had the decency to fall over and die.

**

We concluded Aldern's hunting trip with three successful catches, two male boars and one female, all adults. Much to the relief of Ilori, the nobleman left with Harsk for the town before we tracked and killed the third. I was surprised she didn't show any interest in the man. Sure, he was a doofus, but not totally unattractive and better yet, quite handsomely rich. Many ladies would've thrown themselves at his feet to marry into such wealth and position. But not our mysterious, reserved carmine lady, it seemed.

I, Vidarok and Frank tied our prey to our horses and we headed back to Sandpoint. As we arrived, Frank had a brilliant notion of trying to hustle the horses from the old horsemaster, Hosk. I rubbed my eyes in irritation and offered the horsemaster to walk his mounts into the stables with him.

There, something immediately caught my eye. The back wall of the stable was full of goblin ears, some brand new, some half-decayed. I pointed at them questioningly.

"Oh, you noticed my collection", the horsemaster said, proudly. "Eye for an eye, or ear for an ear in this case", he grinned and went on: "Those bastards cut my ear, so I'll make damn sure they lose theirs in return. I pay 5 gold pieces for each pair of goblin ears you bring me." Frank had overheard the mention of gold and yelled from the stable doors: "I have a dead goblin with me, do you want that?"

Hosk turned around. "I just want the ears, boy", he stated flatly. Frank pondered this. "But that's not right, having a goblin without ears." Ilori tried to offer a solution. "So what? What if you just cut off the ears.."

".. and knit, I don't know, pig's ears to it?" Vidarok added. Frank snorted. "Well that's just stupid." As if he had any grounds to call anyone stupid, I thought but didn't say anything. Instead, I thanked the horsemaster for his services and promised to keep his offer in mind.

**

It was just past noon when we arrived to the Rusty Dragon. Ameiko was preparing the boars in the kitchen as per the receipts of Harsk and Aldern, and the men were exchanging stories and drinking at the tavern counter. Ilori took a seat at the opposite side of the tavern, as far away from Aldern as possible, her back towards the nobleman. As I walked past her, I stopped and crouched over to her ear.

"You know", I whispered, "there is so much you could benefit from the lust and love of Master Foxglove, if you'd just take advantage of it." I didn't wait to hear her reply but continued on to the counter. The sweetling, Bethana, poured me a water and I thanked by flashing a smile at her. Blushing incontrollably, she turned around. Poor thing, I thought.

Harsk, a jar of beer in his hand and already well in his cups, informed us that the dinner would not be served for some few hours, so I decided to make use of my time and headed out to the town with the half-orcs. Frank obviously had some excess energy to vent, so he went to the river, most likely to have a swim, engage in some arm wrestling or simply beat some poor soul into pulp. Vidarok, the gentle giant, was looking for the local herbalist and potion maker, since he had found the time to gather some flowers and herbs during our hunt. At that time that still perplexed me. Very, very much later, when those same potions saved my life, I stopped being perplexed and was just happy.

I made my way to the city garrison in search of Sheriff Belor. For the time being, I had dismissed the plan to seek out the trader's dandy boy - my original reason of arriving to Sandpoint - but my true quest continued. The garrison was a stone tower that had seen better days. I estimated that at best it could maybe garrison 50 or so men. Its walls had crumbled in places and it was in dire need of some maintenance. I knew the cathedral had been the priority when city gold was distributed and wondered how many lives the money spent on the cathedral would save in future attacks compared to if the money had been spent on the protection of the town. Gods were real, I knew that, but they came to the help of mortals oh so seldom.

A guard stood at the main entrance. I walked to him and asked for the sheriff. The guard, no more than a boy really, shrugged and pointed at the city hall across the street. Apparently Belor was in a meeting with city mayor, Deverin. This suited me better than well, I considered and paced over Main street to the city hall. There, I was stopped by a clerk. Patiently, I expressed my desire to meet with the sheriff and the mayor, but my request was denied. I left a message to them both and walked to the docks instead. I imagined those parts of the town might hide some grains of information regarding my brother, if any.

I found the Fatman's Feedbag with little effort and entered the shady tavern. Air of hostility greeted me immediately. Heads turned. The place had a few customers, sitting around, sipping beer and mostly minding their own business. Until I came in, that is. I ignored them all and went straight to the morose barkeep who had behaved coldly last time we were here. I hoped arriving alone would ease his mind.
Severe misjudgement on my behalf.

I had just offered the stiff barkeep some silver for a word or rumour of a recently come and gone, martially trained half-elf like me when I was approached by a very large, fat, armed man with a long, braided hair. Later I came to realize he was the owner of the tavern, but I didn't reach this conclusion at the time. Thinking of him to be a guard or another patron, I simply offered him the silver as well, for any information, but he sternly and without any hint of kindness told me to bugger off. I wasn't offended - I knew these places too well to cause trouble - and left. I knew I'd come back. And when I'd come, I wouldn't leave without answers.

**

I arrived back at the Rusty Dragon, took a seat at the counter and and ordered a glass of red wine from Bethana. Harsk was asleep and snoring, his head on the tavern counter. It seemed he had finally consumed enough beer to pass out. I was just about to take the first sip of the day when an old man stormed into the tavern.

"You fools, low-lives, inbred scum!" The old timer yelled, both in Common and in a language I could not understand, pointing his walking cane at Ilori and Vidarok who were talking and just happened to be nearest to the tavern door. I spared a glance at the man, quickly sized him up, found him a mere nuisance and began swirling the wine in the glass. I'd come to realize that really made the wine taste better.

"Listen to me, scumbags!" The old man kept on yelling and made his way to Ilori and Vidarok. I noticed no-one, even the locals or Aldern, paying any attention to the man, even though all were visibly anxious of his abrupt arrival. "Are you happy now, outsiders? You brought blood and sorrow with you! I know it! You're pretenders, worming your way into the good hearts of people of Sandpoint", he screamed. Ilori and Vidarok had stopped talking and were trying to disregard the fool. But he wasn't going to let go.

"Red b++&*! Yeah you", he yelled at Ilori and spat on her feet. She frowned, and looked over her shoulder. "Get the hell out from our little town." Hearing that, I raised my eyebrow. Aldern, ever so chivalrous and quick to the rescue of his damsel, stayed put and didn't say a word even though I was certain he had heard the insult at Ilori. What a paladin of true love, I sighed, increasingly irritated at both men.

Suddenly, the liver-spotted man raised his cane and smacked Vidarok right at the back of his head. He could've hit stone. Vidarok didn't even seem to register the hit. The man kept rambling. "You're called the saviours of this city, I hear. Ha! What a bunch of softskins, you don't even stand up to defend yourselves. I bet you pissed your pants when the goblins came and were simply too afraid to run." To emphasise his insult, he smacked Vidarok again with his cane. The half-orc simply let out a long sigh.

F*$$ this. I couldn't help myself. I turned over to Frank, who was completely oblivious to the little man and was playing around with his horse chopper. "Hey, Frank", I yelled. "This man says you're a soft skin who's afraid to fight." As if snapped out of a trance, Frank lifted his head and considered me and what I had said. "What?" He asked, unbelieving. I rolled my eyes. Hadn't he been paying any attention?

Emboldened by my regard to his jabbering, the old man paced over to me. I was hunched over the tavern counter, still swirling my glass of wine, as he reached over and tried to grab my hood. He didn't even have time to blink as I rolled around and grabbed his hand, holding it tight. He groaned in pain. I frowned and stared him in straight in the eye. End of the line.

Ameiko burst into the main hall from the kitchen, yelling profanities at the man in the same language the man had used when he had entered. Glancing at Ameiko and then back at the man, I realized the similarity in their appearances. Oh great.

The man, obviously family to Ameiko, greeted her with gibberish and more yelling. Ameiko responded in kind, but switched to Common and begged me to let him go. F*&* that, I thought, this old timer needed a lesson in common courtesy. I held firmly and pushed aside my cloak, revealing the pommels of my kukri blades, in scabbards tied to my belt. Ameiko realized my intention and ran to us, still pleading me to let the man go. "Stop, he's my father, let him go, please!" I looked at Ameiko, then at the man, and finally again at Ameiko. I eased my grip slightly yet decided to leave a nasty bruise to his arm, but the man dexterously slipped free before I could exact some vengeance for his general unpleasantness.

He directed his anger towards Ameiko. "Are you harbouring these low-lives, daughter?" Oh, the father. He pointed with his finger, accusingly. Ameiko put her hands on her hips and looked furious. "I'm showing these brave souls the respect they deserve after putting their lives at stake for people they hardly know, father", she explained, underlining the last word. She went on. "Something you should consider as well, you unthankful old senile!" That was too much for her father. I tried to intercept his blow but my hand grabbed air as he moved surprisingly quickly for a man his age and slapped her in the face with an open palm. This piqued, finally, Frank's interest as well. The huge brute put the horse chopper down on the counter, rose to his full, considerable height and walked over to us, unnaturally patiently.

I was weighing my options: jaw, neck, throat, belly, groin. So many places to strike the man.

Ameiko looked shocked, holding her cheek, unable to say anything. But her father was not finished. "You little c!@*, you're as dead to me as your mother!" He turned around on his heels, and began to pace at the door. I was unwilling to let this pass, but a look at Ameiko made me hesitate. A single tear rolled down her cheek, but she didn't look vengeful, only terribly sad. I pulled my cloak over the kukris, deciding to let her father go. Frank on the other hand was less perceptive and now much, much more angry. He pushed me aside, took a few steps and hammered his fist at the back of the man. I wondered how his geriatric spine didn't crack as he collapsed to the ground, but instead quickly recovered and simply ran out in terror. Frank, forever true to himself, looked quite happy with his performance and returned to his seat.

"I'm sorry you all", Ameiko said and dried tears from her eyes. "Thank you", she said to me. "He's my father.. and we really don't get along too well..", she began to explain. I only shook my head, telling her that she didn't have to explain his actions or stand for him.

Little did I know that I'd face off with another angry father very soon.

**

Finally the boars were prepared and brought to the main hall. Three boars were quite a bounty and was easily too much for us to share only, so dozens of Sandpointians had been invited to the feast. "Seats of honor for the lady and the nobleman", Harsk exclaimed, obviously talking about Ilori and Aldern and looked at the boar in front of us in eager anticipation. I pulled out my kukri, took a good hold of the other tusk of the roasted boar and cut it loose. Aldern winced. I shrugged. "A trophy for the kill."

We took our seats at our table of honor. I took a seat at the corner of the table, with Harsk sitting beside me. Ilori dashed (at least it looked she did) to the seat between us at the other end of the table, forcing Aldern to take the seat at the far end of the table. He didn't look too happy.

"Master Aldern, please, have my seat next to lady Ilori", I offered a bit too sweetly and rose. Aldern, totally oblivious to my irony, nodded many times like a bird and looked like he had come in his breeches. I winked at Ilori, quite pleased with my practical joke. She regarded me with a look that could kill. I swear I saw sparks flickering in her big, brown round eyes.

Thanks to Aldern the loud-mouth, everybody heard of our valour during the hunt and he made sure all knew we had provided the boars to the feast. Many toasts followed. Harsk, newly awoken and sobered, seemed pleased to have a reason to down many beers. Aldern kept begging Ilori to join him when he would return to Magnemar the next day. I think he held her hand for the entire afternoon. Watching her squirm was so fun. But it was also admirable how well she evaded his pursuits without insulting him or his pride. She was too gentle with him.

Sun was about to set and we were just about to finish the dinner, when Sheriff Belor entered the Rusty Dragon.

"Friends", he approached us at our table, "I'm sorry to disturb you but your presence would be required at the city hall. There are some matters of town security which me, mayor Deverin and ranger Andosana would like to discuss with you." Ilori more or less jumped up, shaking Aldern's hand off hers and indicated her willingness to leave without a word. I was curious, so I rose as well. "Well of course, we'd be happy. We were already finished", Harsk agreed, and stood up with Vidarok, excusing Aldern. Frank shrugged and rose too, but not before stuffing his mouth with a handful of boar meat. Only Aldern remained seated, his eyes like a puppy's as he regarded Ilori. "Please my love, please consider once more." Ilori shivered.

**

We met Mayor Deverin and Ranger Andosana. Or Shalelu, as she preferred to be called. We exchanged acquaintances. I instantly liked her. She had a courageous, out-spoken, out-going and adventurous spirit. And she had a very fine longbow, which I came to know she had crafted herself.

The town was in dire need of more manpower. It hadn't recovered from the losses of the goblin attack, and Belor was forced to travel to Magnemar and hire new soldiers. He and Mayor Deverin urged us to help. While Belor and his guard were out of town, our help would consist of simply remaining in the city and demonstrating that its citizens were still protected by our party. Naturally, our help came down to agreeing on a suitable price. I still didn't care much for the city itself, so my price would've been higher, but the others accepted a modest price of five gold coins per party member. We agreed that none of us had any immediate intentions to leave anyhow, so any gold was ultimately acceptable.

**

Shalelu joined us at Rusty Dragon later that night. Frank wanted to show her his "trophy" in his room, which at this point was rotting cadaver of a goblin, which she didn’t know at the time but she nevertheless wisely declined the barbarian's offer. We drank and exchanged stories of the goblins. She told us of the different greenskin tribes nearby, about her mission and about her past experiences with the creatures. Surprising myself and eager to share some adventures with Shalelu, I offered to join her the next time she'd move against the goblins, which she promised to keep in mind with a smile.

Later that night, Frank finally managed to talk Shalelu into coming with him over to his room. She agreed, and cautiously followed the brute. Harsk bellowed in laughter, and we others had to snigger. It took no more than half a minute for Shalelu to barge back into the main hall. She appeared absolutely disgusted, with Frank in her heels who was looking genuinely a bit surprised. "Did you see Frank's pet goblin?" I asked Shalelu, still laughing, as she emptied a pint of beer with one go.

**

Next morning, we were breaking our fast when Harsk came up with an idea.

"What if we would press or write copies of leaflets and distribute them across the city with a general request to people to come forward if they knew anything about our mystery half-elf or elf who led the attack to the city?" We nodded. It was a good idea but I had my doubts. We'd probably be drowned in misinformation and empty hearsay in a heartbeat.

"I wouldn't pay for the paper and ink from my own pocket", I stated. Harsk nodded. "Of course, we'd get the town to pay for it." More nods. I still wasn't convinced but shrugged. "Sure, go ahead and ask mayor Deverin. I need some more arrows to replace my lost ones", I said and rose to leave. As I left, I overheard Harsk agree with Ilori that they'd go and see the mayor.

From the Rusty Dragon I got to the plaza at the corner of Festival and Water street before I heard an all too familiar voice behind me.
"Hey, stranger, still too busy to help out a girl in distress?" came the snarky question. I sighed and turned around. It was the young, if quite attractive girl who had harassed me twice earlier when I had passed this street with the others.

"You had the rat problem, right?" I asked. She smirked, pleased of gaining my attention. I had to smile. She was kind of sweet indeed, now that I really thought of it. I pondered my situation. True, I had lost only six arrows and still had well over fifty with me. If this girl had some bruisers waiting to mug me, I was confident I could handle them. And if she tried a charm or a spell.. well that would just be stupid of her, give my elven immunities. Disregarding my natural suspicions a bit, I nodded to her. "All right sweetie, I'll help you out this time." She almost jumped and grabbing my hand, took me with her. She had a long, reddish or brownish hair that swayed as the morning wind breezed. I liked that.

She led me to a nearby general store. "This is my family's store. It's run by my father, but he's out of town and can't help me with the rats." Inside, she pointed at a trapdoor leading below ground to a cellar. "That's where they are. Please help me, oh stranger!" She fell into my arms, pleading. I frowned just a bit, my suspicions dying hard. "Are you sure it's rats what you have in there?" I asked sternly, one more time. She couldn't hold eye contact and looked at her feet. "That's what I told you", she explained. She lied, I knew it, but I had come all the way down here and didn't want to back away now. That would've been shameful. Nothing in the city had gotten me off my feet. Until then, that is.

I descended a ladder to the cellar. Assorted wares, containers, tools, books, clothing etc. were neatly organized around me. A single torch lighted the place along with the light shining from the floor above, but it was enough for my elven vision. I could see as well as in daylight. The girl, Shayliss as she had introduced herself, followed me, closed the trapdoor behind her and pointed at the back of the cellar. "That's where I've heard the noises of the rats", she whispered to my ear. I nodded in affirmative, pushed aside my cloak, a hand at the pommel of my kukri and took a few steps forward. It was completely quiet. I took a few more steps and reached the end of the cellar. Peering at the wares and looking at signs of rats, I noticed there was a simple cot in the corner next to me. I strained to hear anything but the only thing I heard was a robe falling to the stone floor, gently brushing soft skin as it fell a few steps behind me.

Harsk was right, I shook my head slightly and turned slowly around.

She stood in front of me, completely naked, her robe a pile at her feet. Her eyes shimmered in the torch light, and she was smiling mischievously. "I guess you don't have a rat problem, Shayliss", I said softly. She kept smiling and shook her head.

Oh my! My heart skipped a beat. There standing in her full glory, she was true beauty indeed. I would've been an utter fool to turn her down the third time. I took it all in with my gaze, cherishing the moment, looking down her face to his round, full breasts, further down to her very feminine hips and mound covered in reddish hair. An ngell nîn, she even had the gap between her upper thighs. All this was crowned by a pair of long, lean legs. She had to have elven blood in her, I thought, aroused.

Assured that I wouldn't back down even if the skies crashed down above us, she took three steps forward, moving with the grace and levity of a feline and tiptoed so she could reach higher (I was considerably taller than her) before wrapping her arms around my neck. She kissed me softly, and pulled back my hood so she could see my face in full. I was half-expecting her to recoil at the sight my face - granted, I could be considered handsome, with my build, dark eyes and sharp facial features, but I had a broken nose and a large, ugly scar that ran from my forehead, across my right brow and down vertically to my right cheek, courtesy of an eager gladiator from my past.

But seeing my face, she seemed to get even more aroused and affectionately stroked my scar. I guess she liked the dangerous-looking men. I could live with that. She pulled herself tightly against me and kissed me furiously. My hands went on an exploratory adventure across her back and bottom, caressing her soft skin and tracking her curves. She uttered a moan. Oh yes, end of the line. I pushed her to the cot and began unstrapping my leather armor more eagerly that I've would've wanted it to appear to her.

**

It felt good to be with a woman again. My first experiences had been during my late years at Horryn's house, with slave girls and servants. I was barely sixteen, seventeen, and those first ones had been less about passion and emotion and more about performance and having fun, like training to shoot the bow. I had even shared one slave girl with my brother. It had been seven years since I had killed Horryn and ran from his estates. Since then there had been only three women I'd slept with. Or rather, I'd f++@ed two and slept with one. The last one, the one I had made love to.. was hard to forget, and painful to remember.

Her family had had a keep in Nirmathas, and I had been paid to teach her two younger brothers how to shoot the bow, track and hunt. Their father, a nobleman called Godwyn, was too preoccupied with local politics and didn't have enough skilled underlings to handle their teaching, so my arrival had been a godsend. Or that's what he had thought at first.

The daughter, Aurora, was eighteen, a petite beauty and still unwed and even unmatched with any of the local young noblemen. I think it was because she had quite the temper when it came to her parents, and didn’t think much of the young suitors around her. But for some reason, she became quite attracted with me the moment she laid her eyes on me. And boy did I become attracted to her. She had dark brown eyes and brown hair, such confidence and so much lust for life.

Our secret romance lasted a good four months before one night Godwyn's personal servant surprised us in the middle of the act. Heartbroken, I had to leave Aurora and flee else have my head chopped off by the enraged father, whose daughter's 'honour I had violated'. Or at least, he'd have tried to get me killed. But I couldn't stay to challenge him. My consequent exodus from Nirmanthas took me all the way to Korvosa.

Shayliss' fingernails burrowing into my skin on my back and drawing blood brought me back to reality and present time. Under me, her legs around my hips, she moaned my name. I responded in the only way I knew - I thrusted myself even deeper and harder into her, and I was awarded with more audible moans of pleasure. Her hands travelled across my back, her fingers following the scars left by countless whiplashes. Passionately I kissed her neck and lips, pushing myself against her as close as I could get and finally climaxed. I let go for just a second, lowering my armor of suspicion, vigilance and alertness for only a fleeting moment. After I had stopped trembling, she just held me close, kissed my forehead and brushed my jet-black hair tenderly.

**

But her appetite wasn't sated. Soon after she was riding me, rubbing and grinding herself against me, her hands on my chest and abdomen. I heard something from upstairs, voices of people, but couldn't care less. She neither heard or didn't give a damn either. My hands were on her voluptuous hips, controlling her motion, urging her to go faster. She threw her head back, revealing her sweaty face in full and looked me straight in the eyes. My head was swimming and I was about to climax again. She had such long beautiful hair, the full lips, those big, brown round eyes and for a moment I saw a blazing fire within them and..

Ilori?

I blinked rapidly and the vision was gone. But something else was wrong.

"SHAYLISS? WHAT IN THE DEVIL'S NAME IS GOING ON!" The girl jumped off me like a rabbit in terror and hid behind me. I sprang up to a sitting position and looked at the person who was yelling at us. Why does this always happen to me, I cursed my luck.

At the feet of the cellar ladder, a burly, fat, middle-aged man pointed at me like he was about to cast a spell of death. He was furious. Almost like Frank during his moments of battle rage. I stood up and I quickly sized him up - he was unarmed and posed no threat to me. Of course, me standing there butt naked, sweaty and with my cock pointing straight at him, I too probably didn't seem to pose a threat to anyone.

"Now hold on", I started, rising my hands in front of me. Genius. The man started towards me. "Oh father", Shayliss muttered behind me, sobbing and covering under a blanket. Yeah, I realized that much, I thought to myself. "Who the f*&! are you, being here with my daughter?" He screamed and spit and froth flew all over. I really had an issue with fathers. "She's under age, you bastard!" My mouth fell agape and I glanced back at Shayliss, as if to check whether she really was or wasn't. Even beneath the blanket, her womanly figure was undeniable though. "Hey, that's not true and you know it", I tried to reason with the man. Double genius. "As long as she lives in my house, she's underage, you t*+~!" He tried to hit me, but I easily blocked his hook with a sharp strike on my own to his arm. He groaned and stepped a good three feet back, holding his hurting arm. I decided to make the best of the opportunity and drew my breeches on. I felt less threatened immediately.

A familiar voice came from the trapdoor. I could see the tip of Harsk's beard as he leaned to see what was happening beneath. "What's going on in there", he asked, calling the man.

I took the initiative. "Hello Harsk. I'm just coming up. Wait there." The father looked stunned. "What?! You're with him", he roared turning towards the direction of Harsk at the top of the ladder beyond. Thank you Iomedae, I praised Harsk's goddess for her follower's intervention as I pulled on my clothes while the father was distracted. I had everything but my armor on me the moment the father, still enraged and veins bulging in his neck and forehead, turned back to me. "Bastard, we'll talk with the sheriff about this crime!" With the sheriff? I thought to myself, contently. Belor is away and I'm the sheriff here, old man. I remained silent, but couldn't help myself as I turned to Shayliss just one more time and stroked her hair and cheek gently. If the man could've imploded from fury, he would've just right there. I just walked past him, my armor under my armpit, and climbed the ladder up nimbly. At the ground floor, I was greeted by the surprised looks of Harsk and Ilori. I was followed by profanities and stingy demands for us all to get the hell out and to never return. We promptly exited.

"Well, I guess we won't get the paper from Master Vinder.. What was that all about", Harsk asked, but I think he knew already, given his wide smirk.

"It was something about fathers and daughters", I sighed, gazing at Ilori, who still looked puzzled.

"By the way, you are bleeding, Alpharius", Harsk noted and pointed at my back as Bethana came running towards us.


I am the DM of this newbie orchestra and I approve of this message! :)

While "Alpharius's Journal" at times is something close of a fan fiction and some of the events have been "colored" by Tomi/Alpharius's experience and thus might not seem to be on track of things, it has served us well in documenting the events and Tomi has managed to bring life to events where I may have struggled with lack of experience.

Let's just hope this fella gets to keep his health till end, so no one has to pick up from where Alpharius drops his notes ;)


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Riding Bull wrote:

I am the DM of this newbie orchestra and I approve of this message! :)

While "Alpharius's Journal" at times is something close of a fan fiction and some of the events have been "colored" by Tomi/Alpharius's experience and thus might not seem to be on track of things, it has served us well in documenting the events and Tomi has managed to bring life to events where I may have struggled with lack of experience.

Let's just hope this fella gets to keep his health till end, so no one has to pick up from where Alpharius drops his notes ;)

WHAT? I'm ALWAYS on track of things!

I might not always *coughnevercough* remember the exact words used in conversations, and my notes might be a bit general at times, but these are the truth.

j/k, I've taken a lot of liberties filling in gaps and coloring things of course. Writer's prerogative and all.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

6. LOOSE EARS
25th of Rova - Toilday
Beneath the Glassworks, Sandpoint

Tsuto screamed horribly and collapsed to the floor unconscious. The barbarian stood above him, the half-elf's ears in his hands.

“What the f$~@!” I winced. Vidarok shook his head, sadly. Ilori, blood on her face, looked upon the half-elf like a condemning goddess.

"You've gone too far, Frank", Harsk stated gravely.

**

30 minutes earlier, outside the Glassworks

We had made our way, hurrying, from the Rusty Dragon to the Glassworks. After my debacle at the Vinder general store, Bethana had came running to us with a note to Ameiko in her hand. She was shocked. Ameiko had not arrived to the tavern in the morning, and Bethana believed she had disappeared. She had found the note, signed by Ameiko’s half-brother Tsuto, where he had urged her to come to the Glasswork during midnight, last night. In the message, Tsuto warned Ameiko and indicated that their father had had some part in the goblin attack to Sandpoint.

Our party had grouped at the tavern and immediately set off to the Glassworks, keen on finding out where Ameiko was, what she had learned and if something had happened to her.

The building was quite a sight. After the new cathedral and the ruins of the old lighthouse, it was easily the tallest building in the fishing town. Ornate, colourful windows covered it, and the eye was drawn to the beautiful glass cupola at southern end of the building.

I felt immediately that something was wrong with the Glassworks. The place felt eerie - it looked vacant and curtains fully covered each tall window. We asked around before approaching, and indeed, people had noted very little activity around or in the building in the past days. We knew from earlier talks with the town folk that the production of the works had fallen steadily over the past few years, but now the place looked completely dead.

We circled the building once, trying each door. All locked. No-one came to answer our knocks or calls. We quickly realized that breaking and entry was our only option if we wanted to find Ameiko and uncover what had happened. We were amost ready to force an entry on any door, when heard voices coming from the western side of the main floor, through the high windows. Harsk and Frank called at the people inside, knocking on the glass.

Everything became quiet. Before we would lose all momentum and element of surprise, we decided to act, for better or worse. Frank pulverized the window nearest to him to little shards, bringing down the curtains at the same time and flooding the hall inside with light. Immediately in the low light, I could spot two goblins, wide-eyed. Goblins within the city perimeter, I wondered in disbelief as Frank roared a battlecry, alerting all to the danger.

Without pause, Ilori swooped over to the open window and blasted closest goblin to cinders with her ray of fire. Vidarok broke another window, revealing more of the insides of the building and even more goblins. He expertly killed one with a fine sling of a rock.

Harsk had remained behind. “Frank!” He yelled, “toss me inside”, and launched himself to a run towards the window. I didn’t see Frank’s expression as I was behind him, but Harsk later told me his face was of utter epic disbelief and Harsk should’ve reconsidered his attempt that very second. As Harsk was running towards Frank and the window, a goblin tried to throw a bottle at Frank, but missed. Frank later said that disturbed him, but we didn’t believe him. Three paces, two, one, and Harsk leaped, while Frank reached with his hands, got a hold of the dwarf and with all his strength hurled him..

..straight into the wall.

I was too preoccupied to enjoy the hilarity of the moment. I had selected a third window next to Ilori. With my gloved fist I smashed it open and ripped the curtains aside. I was greeted by a panicked shriek - a goblin carrying a rusty knife stood right behind the window, expecting the attack to come from another direction. It was without any cover and did have little time to react. I shot an arrow into its belly and it flew back good ten feet.

Three goblins were already dead but the fight was far from over. Fourth came running towards me from the darkness, a steaming hot iron in its hand. It jumped on the window and wildly lashed out with the iron. The lucky bastard struck my face, burning flesh on my cheek. I cursed, stepped back and drew a new arrow from the vine. Ilori turned and sent a fireball at my opponent, but missed and set the curtains on fire. Having lost its momentum, all the goblin could do was flail and growl at me.

I looked it in the eye. Blood was flowing down my cheek and into my neck. “Your days are over, beast”, I declared simply and loosed an arrow. The goblin stumbled off the window and into the darkness, dead.
As the barbarian and the dwarf were recovering from their botched up attempt at dwarf-tossing, yet another goblin climbed to the broken window next to them and screeched, stabbing at Frank. The brute, growingly mad, brought the earthbreaker up and down, but instead of flattening the green monster, he made a hole in the wall, effectively turning the window into a door. Harsk, who had gotten back up on his feet, slashed past the barbarian and cut down the goblin, denying the kill from Frank.

Frank, infuriated by not having been able to kill anything for a while, stormed into the building, typically heedless of any danger. Vidarok followed him in, his motion much more composed. With more light falling inside and time to appreciate my surroundings, I could see the hall where the goblins had been hiding was actually a smelter of some sort, a working area for glassmiths with fiercely burning ovens, work benches and tables. It was dark inside and quite hot, and that reminded me of descriptions of Hell. Ilori walked next to me to the window and took a peek as well.

“May I help?” I asked the sorceress overly sweetly, offering my arm to help her through the broken window. She just smiled shortly, before noting two more goblins on the far corner. Flames danced from her hands and struck the cowering beast closest to her. It screamed in agony and fell down burning like a living pyre. The other, horrified by the fate of its comrade and unwilling to fight us, bolted out of the hall through the nearest door.

“I’m OK”, Ilori replied to me before leaping in with ease, her cloak billowing.

I leapt in behind her. Inside, Frank was struggling with the final goblin in the hall. The earthbreaker arced back and forth, up and down but the brute failed to connect time after time. To his benefit, the goblin was forced to simply try and survive the onslaught. I had a shot but decided not to take it.

“Don’t let them get away!” Frank told us with a yell, launching yet another blow that didn’t connect. Vidarok, who had entered at Frank’s heels, decided too not to intervene. Instead, he curiously regarded the surroundings. It was becoming apparent to us that very bad things had happened here.

I turned the other way from the brute’s and goblin’s brawl and took some steps, but couldn’t help myself. As I was walking, I drew a new arrow, notched it and rolled back towards them with the intention to shoot.. but stumbled on a glassed corpse and released the arrow prematurely. The arrow-head scratched my calf, drawing a nasty wound. I cursed, and earned chuckles from Ilori and Vidarok. The goblin, now realizing it was alone against us five, decided too that discretion was the better part of valour, spun around and ran out of the hall, leaving an enraged Frank to catch his breath.

I was still cursing at my clumsiness as we noted the bodies among the goblins we had slayed. Each was covered in glass. It was obvious the goblins had played with their prisoners, pouring liquid glass onto them. Those sick bastards. For a moment, I felt an uncharacteristic pang of righteousness for ending their lives. Everybody except Frank looked more or less horrified. “Not a worthy way to die”, he simply stated, to no one in particular.

Then I found Ameiko’s father among the corpses. I kneeled next to him and touched the glass lightly. The expression on his dead face was of pure pain and suffering, a death grimace. I felt nothing for him, but grew increasingly worried of Ameiko. Was she among the dead? Were we already too late?

**

To our relief, we found no trace of Ameiko in the glass-blowing hall. Harsk was gracious enough to cast a healing spell that made the burn in my face and leg wound disappear like they never were there. Meanwhile, Vidarok and Ilori had gone out to warn the townsfolk and ask them to call the town guard. This I immediately considered a bad, potentially disruptive idea. With my wounds healed, I ran after them and bluntly cut their request short.

“There’s nothing to worry about, keep moving”, I explained hurriedly to some people who had gathered around the Glassworks. They looked doubtful, given that Vidarok had just a second ago mentioned goblins, but my insistence paid off. I gently but firmly pushed the druid back in. “There’s no point in scaring the locals, Vidarok”, I explained curtly and with a low voice so the others couldn’t hear, “we can handle this by ourselves and the town guard is overextended already anyway.”

Certain that we had checked every corner of the hall, we agreed that the building hid at least two other goblins that had managed to escape our wrath. They had ran to two separate directions, so we too split. Vidarok and Ilori headed to the northern part of the building, while me, Harsk and Frank went southwards.

Frank and I had, unsurprisingly, completely different methods how to search the building. I let him go first through doors and rooms. At one Y-intersection I signaled Frank and Harsk to stop and remain silent. I had heard a door close some fifty feet away, so I listened hard and had a quick look over the corner. There indeed was a door, far in the darkness. I pointed at Frank and confirmed there was a door and I had heard it close.

But Frank, for some reason, misunderstood me, and very loudly and violently smashed in a door only five feet to our right. I covered my face with my palms. Harsk walked past me, following Frank and just shrugged. I decided to let them be and followed the noise myself.

I reached the door silently and carefully tried the lock. It was open. I couldn’t hear any further voices from behind it. I notched an arrow and slightly drew the bowstring in anticipation. With my other foot I slowly opened the door. I peered through the opening. Nothing. I pushed the door open a bit more. Still nothing. I steadied myself, drew a deep breath and kicked the door fully open.

The room, a lounge of some sort for the glassworks employees, was vacant. There were only some furniture and several doors leading to other rooms. But no goblins. I let my guard down a bit and lowered my bow. Unexpectedly a door to my right came crashing down, the hinges flying through the air several feet. I immediately re-drew my bow string and lifted the weapon towards the new threat.

“Oh, hello Alpharius!” Frank greeted me, grinning. I rolled my eyes. That damned brute will get us all killed sooner or later, I thought.

Reunited with the barbarian and the dwarf, we continued the exploration of the main floor of the Glassworks. Everywhere was empty - we couldn’t find a single living soul, not even the goblins. Frank was worried they had escaped outside.

Harsk discovered the bed hall of the workers. There was blood everywhere, and more bodies. It was evident that the goblins had surprised the men, killed some to their beds and dragged the rest to be tortured and glassed. We didn’t linger there.

Near the bed hall, I examined a room next to the kitchen that had been used as a food storage. Baskets, bags and spilled piles of foodstuffs, mainly different grains and flour, littered the floor. I guessed the goblins had ransacked the storage, trying to find something quick and simple to eat, and in their frustration, had made quite a mess. I kicked one bag, and it fell on its side, spilling flour to the floor.

I was suddenly quite hungry for an apple. Looking around I wondered if they had any among the foodstuffs. I walked past the piles, baskets and bags, putting my bow to my back to free my hands. I pushed one basket aside, then another, making my way through the mess. Not really seeing where I was reaching, I pushed my hand into one particularly potential basket.

Inside I could feel a head. A goblin’s little warm head. Instinctively, I grabbed it, lifted the small beast from the basket and with my free hand, drew a kukri blade from its scabbard. The goblin didn’t even have time to make a sound as I slashed its throat wide open.

A bad apple, I cursed inwardly and dropped the corpse. I returned to the others.

**

We ran into Ilori and Vidarok at the lounge area. They had successfully investigated the northern side of the building and had found no goblins and little of interest - Vidarok only mentioned a room filled with accounts and other official looking papers that might, with some extensive research, reveal something of the mysterious events of the Glassworks. I shortly told everybody of the hiding goblin in the storage room. But most interesting was that Ilori and Vidarok had found a staircase leading down under the Glassworks. It was our obvious next target.

I and Ilori wanted to go there immediately, but the others wanted to retrace our steps and go cut the dead goblins’ ears - after all we knew by then they were worth quite a lot of gold. So we decided to split again.

We reached the top of the staircase quite quickly. Then we waited for the others, in silence. I realized it was the first time I was alone with the red girl, so I decided to make some conversation. I cleared my throat. “So, how old are you again?” I asked, not looking at her but keeping my eyes to the darkness of the staircase. Looking back, that really didn’t sound good when it came out of my mouth, given that only hours earlier I had been accused of abusing beautiful, underaged women. Ilori just chuckled, her gaze at the staircase as well. “I’m old enough”, she said simply and with confidence. I was just about to retort and question her ability to fight and function if things really got messy - if someone from our party, including her, really got badly hurt - when the others arrived. So I didn’t get to voice my doubts.

**

We walked down the narrow stairs one by one, the druid and the cleric with their darkvision going first, then me, and Ilori and Frank at the tail. Below it was even darker than on the main floor. Even I with my half-elven sight had a hard time seeing what lied in front of us. We walked carefully. As we reached the bottom of the stairs, Harsk signalled us to stop. He had heard something, beyond a corner in the passage. I silently moved to the front and to the corner. I could hear it too. Someone was banging on a door nearby. I took a quick look over the corner and yes indeed, there was a panicked goblin banging a locked door, clearly trying attract someone’s attention within. I turned back to the others.

“There’s a goblin trying to get through a locked door, should I take care of it?” I asked, whispering. Nods followed in approval. I leaned over the corner, took aim and shot an arrow. It hit, but didn’t kill the beast. Blood gushed from a deep wound in its neck. It screamed in terror and ran, disappearing behind another corner before I could finish it. But a heartbeat later, the door the goblin was banging, was thrown open and a half-elf leaped out. Our eyes met. Instinctively I knew right away that this was the one who had brought together the goblin tribes for an attack to the city. But the half-elf didn’t attack me - rather, he took off running in the same direction as the goblin.

The passage split into two ways at the end of the staircase. I waved the others to go the other way as me and Frank ran after the goblin and the half-elf. When we reached the door where the enemy had appeared from, we exchanged glances. “Go get the bastard”, Frank told me as he entered the room. I complied and swiftly moved to the second corner in the passageway, preparing my bow and arrow. I leaned over and saw the goblin locked in melee with Harsk, the half-elf right behind them, only a measly 20 feet or so away, looking frantically for a way out. I took aim and shouted at the man. “Surrender now and we’ll let you live!” He turned around and regarded me coldly. “Never!”

Your loss, I muttered to myself and let loose the arrow. The half-elf moved like a phantom and expertly evaded my shot. I frowned in surprise. A quick one. But my opponent didn’t waste a beat, as he sprung towards me, empty-handed. Next thing I knew he was upon me, and his right fist was flying towards me. I was barely able to block the blow before it could connect with my face. I took a step backwards, and so did the half-elf. Behind him, Harsk gored the goblin with a longsword to its stomach. He was fighting alone against us five.

Frank reappeared from the room behind me. “Ameiko isn’t here!” He yelled. “So we’ll want this one alive”, I responded in kind, raising my bow for another shot. “Á pusta!” I ordered the half-elf in Elvish. He was trapped between me and Harsk. “Who are you?” He spat in clear Common. This isn’t going nowhere, I thought to myself. "You don't stand a chance! Give up or die”, I kept demanding, ignoring his question. Frank was now behind me. “Where is Ameiko?” He bellowed furiously over my shoulder. The half-elf flinched and spun towards Harsk. The stout warrior braced for head-to-head close combat but our enemy had other ideas. I released my arrow, missing again, as the mystery man dexterously jumped over Harsk and past Vidarok, who was behind and to the side of the dwarf. Vidarok’s quarterstaff cut only air as the half-elf evaded him. I ran after him to join the melee.

His astonishing maneuvers brought her right in front of Ilori. Immediately he struck at her, but his fist slammed against the fire sorceress’ elemental shield. Sparks flickered and died where the hit connected. Vidarok, not a sluggish one considering his bulk, turned around and cast a frostbite on the man. He became visibly less agile, but it wasn’t enough. He kept going against Ilori, and blood spattered on the rocky walls as Ilori was hit to her face twice. I didn’t see the hits but I was amazed she wasn’t struck cold. But it was close.

Dazed, her features rapidly covering in her own blood, she cast fire rays wildly at the half-elf. None hit. Upon seeing the damage he had done to Ilori, our blood boiled and we doubled our efforts. Remembering my good experiences with the goblin at the Garret house, I uncovered my head, looked at the half-elf with a deadly intent and for the last time bellowed to the man to give up. He froze for a second, unsure, before leaping again, this time towards me over Harsk. The dwarf angrily demanded the man to stop using him as a jumping obstacle, but the acrobatic half-elf paid him no heed and instead swung a right hook at me. I sidestepped, and the punch went wide. In retaliation, I dropped the bow and rapidly drew my kukri blades. I managed a stab and a slash, but neither drew blood.

Then it was Frank’s turn. The brute stormed the passageway, madly raving about Ameiko, the earthbreaker above his head and ready for the killing strike. The battle rage had overcome him completely. The poor half-elf had nothing he could do. As the extension of his fury, the mighty hammer landed solidly on the half-elf’s upper back. I could hear bones crack and tendons tear apart. The half-elf howled in agony. Somehow, he still was able to move and try to get past the brute to safety. But it was all for nothing. The barbarian seized the man by the throat, choking him, and slammed his head against the wall. Finally still and lifeless, the half-elf collapsed to the floor, followed by a considerable amount of crumbled stonework.

**

Knowing we didn’t have much time, Vidarok quickly moved to tie the man up with rope while I searched him. Frank loomed above me and the barely-alive half-elf. He had fought us bare-handed, but he carried considerable amount of things with him. On his back he had a composite shortbow. He had quite a lot of valuable with him, like gold and silver dust pouches, golden earrings and a strangely shiny ring, which I suspected to be imbued with magic.

“Hey cleric”, I threw the ring to Harsk who caught it one-handed, “can you tell if this is magical?”. Harsk examined it carefully, taking a closer look and feeling its weight. “Yes.. I believe it is a ring with some protective abilities.” I nodded and asked him to revive our captive for interrogation.

The half-elf’s eyes trembled and opened, and he coughed blood. “WHERE IS AMEIKO?!” Frank roared at the man’s face. Our captive flinched, and breathing heavily and laboriously, pointed at a nearby door with his forehead. Frank moved over to the door and hit it twice in quick succession with his hammer. “We need a key”, he stated, now more in control of his wits, after failing to break the locked door.
“We need a key”, I stated bluntly to the half-elf. He spat blood on my feet and didn’t answer, emboldened since Frank wasn’t on his face anymore.

That’s not nice. He was sitting on his arse, back to the wall, his hands and feet tied tightly. I reached down and grabbed him by the hair on the back of his head, and yanked. “Come on, feuyaer, what is your name?” I asked, casually. He gasped for air. “I’m not telling you anything!”

Vidarok, looking over me and the half-elf, stood silently and motionless. I turned to Frank. He had had enough of my poorly started interrogation. “I’ll search this fellow’s room”, the brute told us and left.

“Is he telling us anything?” Harsk asked us as he and Ilori walked over to us. He had healed some of Ilori’s wounds but she still had blood and some bruising all over her face. That would hurt tomorrow, I thought to myself. She looked fierce. And completely out of place, with such harm done to her. I realized we both had taken our first wounds since arriving to Sandpoint. I realized I was staring her, so I turned back to our captive. I yanked his hair again, drawing a wince and a muffled scream of pain - Frank had introduced him to the wall back of his head first.

“I’m quickly losing my temper with you”, I began coolly and casually, crouching down so I could whisper to him. “Who are you and why did you and your goblins butcher the Glassworks?” He was grimacing and gasping for air. “I’m.. not.. telling.. you.. anything..”

“Oh yes you will”, I corrected him as Frank returned. “I found a key.. and some pages from his journal”, he told us and handed some papers to me. I quickly browsed through them as Frank began to unlock the door. “This man is Tsuto, Ameiko’s brother..” I realized, talking aloud to everyone. At the same time, the locked door creaked open. Ilori hurried past me.

“AMEIKO!” Frank yelled and stormed into the room, Ilori at his heels.
Oh no, I thought as I saw what was inside. Ameiko was slumped against the floor. She wasn’t moving and looked very bad, lifeless. Her clothes were ripped to shreds and goblin bite marks covered her. Frank kneeled next to her and gently wrapped his arms around her. The young barkeep, our gracious hostess, looked like a sleeping child in his arms.
“She’s still alive!” Frank gasped. I let out a breath of relief. “Cleric, get over here!” Frank yelled to Harsk.

“Coming, coming.. hold her steady, lad”, Harsk tried to calm the brute and stomped over. Ilori was stroking Ameiko’s hair gently, trying to make her feel better. There were tears in her eyes. Harsk begun a soft prayer, and warm light shone from his hands on Ameiko. Harsk murmured, hovering his palms over the poor woman. Then, we waited.

Finally, Ameiko spasmed and her eyes rolled open. She uttered a moan. “Master Harsk..” She began, upon seeing the friendly, bearded face of the dwarven cleric, “I must warn my father.." She passed back out. Harsk turned to us. “I think she’s stable for now. But she is barely alive and needs proper medicines and help quickly.”

“What should we do with.. Tsuto here?” Vidarok asked. I shrugged. “Let’s keep interrogating him.”

Ilori slowly rose to her feet, and walked out of Ameiko’s cell and to the bound half-elf. She grabbed his chin and pulled his face towards hers. “You will tell us everything, you bastard..” Suddenly, the temperature in the passageway increased noticeably. Burning white and red light shone from Ilori’s eyes, and the hand she was holding Tsuto’s chin erupted in flames, burning him mercilessly. I didn’t believe our carmine lady could be so wrathful. Such boiling rage was the domain of Frank. Her darker side, perhaps? I wondered. Tsuto just screamed, unable to talk.

Finally, Ilori loosed her grip and the magical fire that created no smoke died instantly. Tsuto’s face was in blisters. “Let’.. me.. die..” He begged us between his teeth.

“NO! What did you do to Ameiko, your sister! WHY?!” Ilori cried furiously, her eyes still shining like two erupting volcanoes.
“She’s in this.. with me..” Tsuto pleaded the fire sorceress. I stepped in and looked him in the eyes. I was good to tell a lie from a truth and this time I felt I could see right into his soul, which was already wrecked by Ilori’s magicks. “He’s lying”, I stated, but that really wasn’t a surprise to anyone. “Who is this woman, this demon b~*&@?” I demanded, pushing one of his journal pages to his face where he had drawn an erotic picture of a succubus next to his texts. I saw a glimpse of recognition, and affection. She was behind all this, I realized - she had manipulated Tsuto into organizing the goblin attack to Sandpoint. They had taken the body of High Priest Ezakiel for some hideous dark magic rituals during the raid. And another attack was planned against the town.

“She’ll kill you all”, he laughed coarsely through the considerable pain. “She’s your mistress, isn’t she?” I asked, and didn’t get a reply. Frank, apparently willing to let go of Ameiko and content with her being, appeared from the cell and walked straight to Tsuto, next to me and Ilori.

“He isn’t talking, is he?” He asked, flexing his muscles and cracking his knuckles in anticipation of violence. Still clearly intent on unleashing a world of hurt, Ilori didn’t take her gaze off the half-elf. I wondered which one of them would kill the man first. “He isn’t”, I replied to the barbarian, “and I’m unsure what we should do with him. Kill him now, or take him to the town guard for imprisonment and further questioning. He has valuable information and every man breaks in the end, but I’m uncertain Sandpoint guards could imprison him properly without him escaping before he breaks.” Then I added, half-jokingly, “maybe you should crush his kneecaps so he couldn’t run or walk.”

Which was a really stupid thing to say as it clearly gave the brute a terrible idea.


I might as well share the link to the blog where the story is updated as well (all the finished chapters can be found there) - the blog is IMO a nicer medium for reading and doesn't have the effing word filters....


Wow. Nice work! Keep it up!


Digital Mystic wrote:
Wow. Nice work! Keep it up!

Thanks, much appreciated! I will :)


1 person marked this as a favorite.

In this episode, the group decides the fate of Tsuto and ventures deep into the ancient ruins beneath Sandpoint..
---
7. The evil lies beneath

25th of Rova - Toilday

Beneath the Glassworks, Sandpoint

Drops of blood fell to the stone floor. “He deserves to die”, Frank stated to Harsk. He was still holding the half-elf’s ears in his grip, one in each hand. Harsk stepped closer to the barbarian. Easily two feet shorter in height, he responded to the half-orc’s intensive gaze in kind. He had no fear. Rather, he addressed Frank like the brute was a juvenile in need of fatherly scolding.

“Frank, we should not stoop to his level”, he started, pointing at the half-elf without taking his eyes from the brute. Positive, godly energy emanated from his fingertips, and the rush of blood stopped from Tsuto’s head where his ears had been. Wounds closed and the man woke again, eyes wide open and gasping for air. He was still in considerable pain. “He has done terrible things, but I will not tolerate it if you execute a helpless man.”

Frank snorted. Ilori shook her head. “No, Frank is right. He almost killed his sister. He killed his father. He cannot be redeemed. He’s beyond that. He’s beyond justice.” The fire in her eyes still burned brightly.

Blah blah, right, wrong, black, white, I thought to myself. “We need to be pragmatic here”, I intervened. “Tsuto might have information that might prove valuable to us. Especially about the possible second attack.” The barbarian turned to me, growingly irritated. “Pointy-ears, he’s not talking and I have doubts in your skill as an interrogator.” I shrugged, oblivious to his insult. “Like I said, every man breaks eventually. We just need time. Killing him now denies us the chance to learn more.”

“Bah”, Frank dismissed me. “Too much talk. I say we finish him.”

Vidarok hadn’t said anything yet, but he didn’t look happy. Harsk shook his head and turned to leave. “Well, if you want to kill this man in cold blood, then I won’t be present to witness it.” At that moment, we heard a weak voice from Ameiko’s cell.

“..Master Harsk”, she called the cleric, “please.. you must stop my brother.” Harsk hurried to the cell and to Ameiko who was lying on a thin, hard mattress. She was still delirious. Harsk kneeled so he could hear her. I stepped to the cell door.

“Tsuto is going to burn the town..” Her consciousness was ebbing and flowing. “Master Harsk.. save my father..” Harsk took her hand but was unsure what to say. “Ameiko, my dear.. your father..” I didn’t allow him to finish his sentence as I approached Ameiko as soothingly as my cold and stern character allowed. “Ameiko, we have your father. He’s alive. Rest now, don’t worry.” I lied gently. Tsuto had talked to her and if Frank and Ilori were to kill him, we needed Ameiko mentally stable and above all, alive.

“Yes..” She was able to mutter before falling unconscious again. Harsk rose and walked past me, clearly displeased of my lies. I turned, and noted Ilori had come to the door as well. The raging flames had dissipated somewhat. Good.

“It’s obvious Tsuto knows more”, I said. “He told something to Ameiko, maybe to spite her, or to recruit her to his cause.” I drew a breath. “Nevertheless, killing him doesn’t help us, it only sates our appetite for death.” Harsk nodded sagely to my words. Ilori was looking more and more uncertain. “She might want to see him one more time”, she considered quietly. I looked at her and allowed myself a thin smile.

Vidarok did not have a definitive opinion, so ultimately only Frank was after Tsuto’s life. Finally he also yielded, and we decided to spare the half-elf and take him to the town barracks for detainment. I picked up our sleeping hostess while Frank whipped Tsuto on his feet and forward.

Outside, people had gathered around the Glassworks. A murmur of surprise rolled over the crowd as they saw me carrying wounded Ameiko, but their surprise was twice as big when Frank and leashed Tsuto emerged outside. We didn’t stay to explain ourselves. Ilori came with me to the cathedral, while Frank, Harsk and Vidarok went to the barracks.

I carried Ameiko in my arms. Bruised, torn but sleeping peacefully, she looked so vulnerable, and a feeling of pity sparked somewhere within me. Ilori was keeping an eye on her as well and I could see she was still very much worried of her. “How are you doing?” I asked, referring to the beating she had endured while fighting Tsuto. “I’ll be fine”, she answered absentmindedly. Her wounds, bruises and swelling had healed nicely already thanks to Harsk’s magic, but some visible marks remained. “It’ll hurt tomorrow”, I told her simply. “I guess so”, she answered, equally briefly. She was not keen on making conversation and I could understand her.

When we arrived to the cathedral, high priest Zantus was already waiting for us. Word had travelled quickly across town. Seeing us, he hurried us to the cathedral entrance and motioned me to set her down to a cot. I did work as asked.

“What happened to her?” He asked us. “Tsuto lured her to the Glassworks, beat her up, had his goblins abuse her and let her to rot in a cell beneath the building. When we found her, she was barely alive”, Ilori replied dryly. I could see her hands balled into fists as she recalled Ameiko’s fate. Zantus regarded us baffled, but began checking up on Ameiko’s health, feeling her temperature and pulse. “Tsuto? We haven’t seen him in years.. He is in Sandpoint?”

I nodded. “Yes, we apprehended him. The rest of our group is taking him to the town barracks for questioning and detainment. We believe he was behind the attack to Sandpoint.” Zantus couldn’t believe his ears. “We knew Tsuto was unstable, and vengeful, but organizing the attack.. but if you say so, and he did this to his sister, then it must be so.”

“Can you take care of Ameiko here in the cathedral”, I asked, unwilling to move her unnecessarily should it weaken her already fragile condition. “Yes yes, of course, we’ll find her a place in the cathedral so she can rest and recuperate”, the old priest replied. Ilori added: “We found bodies of the workers slain in the Glassworks. You should also send someone to take care of them.” Zantus agreed. “Of course, I’ll send some of my cult followers there immediately.”

Content with the situation, we bade farewell to Zantus and Ameiko and left for the town barracks.

**

The others had left Tsuto to the hands of the surprised town guards. Harsk was positive that Tsuto’s dungeon was enough to hold him in, so we headed to the town hall to see the mayor.

Mayor Deverin was as surprised to hear of Tsuto’s actions as Zantus was. She happily took responsibility of Tsuto’s inprisonment, but surprised us by telling he’d eventually be sent to Magnemar for trial, as Sandpoint had no means to try and judge prisoners. Frank was furious. He was close to breaking into the barracks and slaying Tsuto right there and then, but we cooled him down. None of us were happy - not even Harsk, who realized there was a good chance Tsuto might escape during the transit - or even be rescued by his allies. We managed however to postpone his transfer until all valuable information could be... beaten out of him.

Deverin shed some light on the mysterious tunnel we had seen under the Glassworks. It turned out that it was an old smuggling route used by robbers and criminals during the old days of Sandpoint. The mayor felt it was no longer in use - a misconception considering that a group of goblins with Tsuto at their head had entered the town unharmed and unnoticed using the same route. Deverin urged us to close the tunnel for good, so we decided to return there immediately and investigate.

We walked back to the Glassworks. Zantus’ followers had already arrived, and were sanctifying the dead and loading them to carts. Harsk exchanged some words with them, and we headed back into the darkness beneath the building, our dark-visioned cleric at the fore.

**

“Shh, I can hear something”, Frank stopped us when we had travelled a good mile, walking first northeast before making a sharp turn west. We had come to a crossroads, where the dug earthy tunnel had changed into a corridor with stone floors, walls and ceilings. I guessed we had arrived under another, unknown building. The path diverted into two routes, one going forward, and one turning right. Me, Vidarok and Ilori took some steps forward, her dancing fires lighting our way. Frank hesitated, gripped his earthbreaker tighter and went right, alone.

Something roared in the darkness where Frank had gone. Instead of going back, I sprinted forward, seeing another crossroad with a path going right, expecting to use it to flank whatever Frank had met. I heard a bestial roar and Frank’s warcry. Ilori and Vidarok didn’t follow me, but one of the fire sorceress’ dancing lights floated behind me. I kept running, but didn’t find a route back to Frank - instead, I found a door. I stopped in my tracks.

Boom. A soft bang echoed in the tunnels, and I could feel the ground tremble once, very lightly. Dust fell from the ceiling.

“Got it”, Frank’s yelled at us, his laughter audible.

“I found a door in”, I replied, calling the others to me. The heavy looking stone door was in an entry hall of some kind. Harsk examined the structure, awed by its antiquity and marvelling its craftsmanship. We gathered around, and carefully entered the door into a yet another dark stony corridor.

The place was dead. We walked a few minutes, unhindered and not hearing nor seeing anything, before we reached a room that lead to four directions. In the middle of it stood a beautiful, ornate statue of a woman. We were drawn to it, fascinated, but closer inspection revealed its darker side. It was a statue of a demonic mistress, perhaps a succubus.

“What a beautiful weapon it has”, Harsk noted with a whisper, pointing at a ranseur with ivory hand-holds the statue was carrying in its arms. I frowned. I had no means to detect magic but the statue smelled of evil and bad omens.

This of course didn’t slow Frank down. He walked past us and with a sharp jerk, removed the weapon from the statue’s arms. I inhaled, expecting him to trip an ambush, a trap, anything, but nothing happened. I exhaled in irritation. Frank was merrily inspecting the weapon.

With four different paths to take, we had to make our first choice. One, we realized, led back to where we had come from, so three routes remained. One, leading north, was closed by a stone door. Other led into a long passageway. And the third, the one we chose to investigate first, had stairs that led up a floor.

We carefully traversed the straight steps forward, me and Vidarok at the fore. At the top of the stairs, we entered a narrow, circular room, which looked like a silo. Light flooded us from above and I couldn’t see how far up the room continued. I covered my eyes to see better, and spotted movement somewhere above.

The world paused and my head was filled with utter, devastating agony.

A horrible scream thundered in the silo and my head felt like someone was tearing my brains out through my skull. I fell on my knees, trying to cover my ears in vain. Tears flowed from my eyes and I was completely lost in pain for ten seconds or so, but later heard what had occurred during those moments.

Vidarok had not succumbed to the painful scream. I probably paid a heavy price there for my slightly better hearing. Instead, he had challenged the beast that had brought me low - a hovering, tentacled monster with only a head for a body. It had approached me hungrily, its flailing tentacles trying to reach my trembling body. Vidarok had struck it once with his staff, but it was the carmine lady who had saved me by storming into the room and burning the beast into ash with a single, powerful fire spell.

As I regained my composure, Vidarok and Ilori helped me on my feet. My head still swam, but I urged us to continue further. The pain subsided quickly - above all I was disappointed in my inability to spot the monster before it had jumped on us. I chastised myself for being too rash and unmindful of risks. Frank was obviously having an effect on my normal behaviour.

The route ended in with a staircase leading up which was blockaded by tons of rubble and stones. Harsk estimated that the passage collapse was not recent - it had occurred decades, even hundreds of years ago. We turned back and returned to the room with the demon statue.

We had two routes remaining to be searched - one behind a solid-looking door and one leading down a long passageway. We decided to have a look at what lied behind the door.

We found ourselves in a dungeon faintly lighted by everburning torches and with a dozen or so cells arranged neatly side by side at two sides of the room. All the cells looked empty. The dungeon had two levels - we stood on a wooden platform, and the cells were at a lower level. As we made our way forward in the platform, two more aberrations launched themselves at us from hiding. Vidarok, at the front, bore the brunt of the attack - the other aberration landed a blow on the druid, drawing blood and his ire. Frank charged past me and quickly pounded one aberration into bits. Vidarok switfly took care of the second with his staff, breaking its skull.

Excluding the hiding aberrations, nothing inhabited the dungeon. We walked over the platform to a door and into an old torture chamber. I shivered slightly, remembering Horryn’s torture chambers in Canorate. The chamber was still full of different instruments, and ages old blood stains covered the walls and the floor. I faintly noted some scribbling on one wall before it disappeared right before my eyes. Harsk saw it too, and commented seeing other disappearing texts in other rooms of this subterranean structure. We were truly walking within something ancient and malevolent. I readied myself yet again for unknown horrors that surely awaited us.

The torture chamber forced us again to make a choice - go forward or turn right. We proceeded forward. I led us through a narrow passage to an opening. We had arrived to another large dungeon. There I heard multitude of low voices and, in the low light, saw a single three-armed goblin monstrosity minding something. I crouched, signalling the others behind me to wait quietly. I weighed my options. Like the previous dungeon, the room housed cells of sorts, several pits covered with rotten planks nailed together. There was no cover in the room, and the monster could’ve turned at any second, so I decided to use my advantage of surprise to my benefit. I drew my bow, aimed and let loose an arrow.

My arrow hit it squarely in the back, but failed to kill it outright. The goblin screamed at me in anger and surprisingly quickly bolted forward. In the heat of the moment I took note that it steered clear of the rotten planks covering the pits. I guess they didn’t hold much weight, I thought to myself as I drew another arrow from my vine.

Viradok was anticipating my move so he rushed past me to engage the goblin in close quarters combat. His first strike missed as the goblin parried his staff, but its response, a sideways cut from a silver dagger, didn’t connect either. It did however fly an inch across my face, ruining my concentration so well that I dropped my arrow as I shielded my face with my free hand.

Frank and Harsk joined us in melee. The goblin miraculously, probably thanks to its three hands, was able to deflect and parry their blows. Realizing it was painfully outnumbered, it resorted to dirty tricks and spat a large gobbet of poisonous phlegm at me and Harsk. The dwarf ducked, making himself even smaller, and I pivoted, evading the poison.

The cheap shot enraged our barbarian, who took a better hold of his earthbreaker, roared incoherently and with an upwards strike slammed the poor monster into a wall behind it. Rubble and black blood flew and the beast croaked in agony, but it didn’t die. Frank’s mouth fell slightly open and he regarded the goblin with amazement.

Big mistake, I had the time to think as the goblin regained its wits and launched itself back at the barbarian, handaxe, dagger and longsword cutting and slashing madly. Frank, still stunned, couldn’t defend himself from all the attacks and the goblin managed to land a deadly blow with its longsword. I saw its tip rip out of Frank’s back with a shower of half-orc blood, and the barbarian grunted and fell on his knees. Seeing his comrade fall to the goblin’s lucky blow, Vidarok cried in fury and hammered his staff down on the beast, finally killing it.

Harsk went to work immediately, freeing his hands and quietly whispering prayers to his goddess Iomedae. In seconds, the deadly wounds started to close and Frank straightened himself.

“That’s nothing”, he declared, rubbing his stomach where the longsword had penetrated his flesh, “I’ve taken worse blows. Let’s move on.” And so we did.

**

Beyond the second dungeon, unbelievably, was a study room. And not a typical one either.

The room was charged with potent energy that made our skin prickle and the hair in our backs rise. Something supernatural had taken hold of the room - we saw various items floating in the air. It was like the laws of nature had been nullified. Lightning struck and buzzed at the walls. I remained back but the party members more inclined towards the elemental and magical approached the room in awe. Ilori summoned her telekinetic powers and drew one particular floating object, a scroll, to her hand. Vidarok, similarly fascinated, lept into the room and was immediately floating like the items in the room. I think I heard him laugh in delight. Lightning sparked across the room but did not hit the half-orc. Neither was he really that caring of the flashing energies.

He gathered the floating items and with Ilori’s help, stepped back into the passageway. He was grinning widely.

Among the items were scrolls, a book, a full wine bottle, a dead raven and dead worms. I didn’t care less about them, so Harsk and Vidarok took the magical items. For some reason I didn’t want to even know, Frank wanted the dead raven and worms. Perhaps he thought about adding those to his gruesome collection of dead creatures outside Rusty Dragon. Hopefully not, for Ameiko’s business’ sake, I mused.

Having reached yet another dead-end, we backtracked to the ghastly torture chamber and searched the second door. I had a moment of deja vu when behind it we found another study room. This one however was free of supernatural powers. Instead, at the back wall there were three more doors. Without consulting each other, me, Vidarok and Frank stepped in and each of us chose a door. I went in first and found an empty closet - or a prayer or study booth - I didn’t know. With my keen eyes I did notice another scroll in a dark corner that I reached to, grabbed and handed out to Harsk.

Vidarok opened his door, shrugged, and closed the door. I guess he saw nothing of importance.

Frank opened his door the Frank way. By charging it with excessive violent force. But this time it actually served him well, as the door crashed into a skeleton warrior, that was immediately animated by the sudden disturbance. But Frank gave it no quarter. His first swing (that he later said was a miss because of his surprise) didn’t connect, but his second was accompanied by a mad scream of rage that simply obliterated the awakening skeleton into tiny bits of bone.

We all offered the brute spontaneous applause, gathered the items the skeleton had carried and continued our back-tracking to the room with the horrible, erotic demon statue. We had only one path unexplored, so we took it bravely with Vidarok at the helm.

The path led us to an atrium of sorts. It was well lid, with a number of everburning torches. This time, we all saw mystical texts written in some unknown language appear and vanish on the walls around us. At one side there was an altar, and on its top stood a single leering skull made of crystal, with a burning candle sitting on its forehead. I smelled trouble as Vidarok continued further, opening the last dungeon door we’d enter that day.

“I can see something”, he called to us, uncertainty in his voice. Then he cursed aloud. “It’s a demoness! A flying one!”

Ilori’s eyes sparked with fire as she conjured a mage armor around her figure. “What should we do?” Vidarok asked, a good question considering we almost had lost Frank in our previous fight. I took and nocked an arrow in anticipation. Frank and Harsk readied their weapons.

..And Vidarok propelled himself into the room, having made the decision himself and seemingly uninterested in our opinions on the matter.

“Curse you, druid!” Harsk spat and we ran after him. When we got in, there was no sign of the flying demoness. There was only a small chapel, probably 30 feet wide, with a high ceiling, almost 40 feet high. I frowned as I couldn’t make out the enemy and was starting to disbelieve what our unkept friend had said. But Vidarok seemed dead serious about the threat. I heard an empty glass potion smash into the floor and the druid groan deeply. The groan kept deepening and trembled and my mouth fell agape as I saw Vidarok grow in size in front of my very eyes. Veins in his back and arms pulsed and shook like ropes bound too tight as they struggled to support the enlargening beast. His muscles spasmed and his knuckles cracked as he took a better hold of his quarterstaff. Even his weapon was enlarging, from a stick of wood into a massive log. After his rapid transformation, Vidarok let out a deep snarl that reverberated in the chapel. Now ten feet tall, he made Frank look like a little boy at his side.

Then the demoness appeared from nowhere and attacked the least intimidating person in our group. A tiny dagger flew from her hand towards Ilori, but it was deflected by the carmine lady’s mage armor. To our astonishment, the dagger didn’t fall but it turned in midair like it had a mind of its own and flew back to the demon b@@$#’s hand. I had the time to take a shot at her before she disappeared again but I missed. The cursed creature was perhaps two feet tall, a very small target. Her flying ability or her invisibility didn’t help one bit. I notched another arrow.

The little demon appeared again, continuing to harass Ilori. But this time she was ready. As the winged creature was about to throw her dagger, Ilori made a quick gesture with her hand and the dagger was torn away from the demon’s grip. It clattered to the floor and the demon hissed at sneering sorceress before disappearing.

While we were concentrated on trying to find and kill the demon, an aberration pushed itself out of a pool of magical molten lava at the back of the chapel. My eyes widened - the demon was a challenge of its own but fighting a number of aberrations at the same time - this might prove too much for us. The others however welcomed the new enemy. This was something they could see and hurt. Frank, Harsk and massive Vidarok moved to flank the beast and slew it easily. But as the others beat the aberration, the flying demon saw its chance and hurled itself at Ilori. Reappearing from behind its shield of invisibility, it clawed and tried to bite her in the neck, but managed to score only minor scratches. Ilori yelled in disgust and fought her off. I took my chances as well, and loosed an arrow at the creature, but in my hesitation missed. Out of the others, Vidarok was closest to Ilori and he rolled his bulk and stepped towards us.

“It’s still right above her, Vidarok! Slam it to the walls!” I yelled at the druid, pointing to the air above the fire sorceress. Ilori took the hint and ducked as Vidarok swung his log-like staff over her head. I heard a faint crack and a shrill cry - he had hit something. But it was still miraculously alive.

For a moment, nothing happened. I readied my bow. Vidarok sniffed, and Harsk and Frank kept their eyes sharply in the air. Then the creature came to view close to Ilori and Vidarok and gestured something with its hands, pointing at the carmine lady. A light green pallor rose to Ilori's face and she gagged, holding her stomach. Dark magic, I frowned in anger and quickly shot an arrow - too quickly, as its tip brushed the oversized druid’s arm as it tried to strike at the demon. The half-orc grunted in irritation and I offered curt apology. Harsk was equally disgusted by the dark magicks as I was and he bellowed warcries and oaths to his goddess. As he launched himself towards the demon, it turned its little head at the dwarf and cast yet another spell. It’s eyes turned completely black and Harsk skidded to an immediate halt. His mouth fell open and instead of attacking, he started to take careful steps back, as if he was afraid of attacking. Traako, I cursed inwardly, how can she have such an effect on the stout and bold cleric?

But this was the opening Frank had been waiting for. Remaining untypically silent, he leaped forward as the demon was attacking the mind of the cleric. The demon was still hovering in the air, but it was close to the ground. Close enough for Frank. The brute had a firm grip at the end of the earthbreaker’s shaft and with all his strength he swung at the demon. The hit connected with ground-shattering force and the demon barely remained in one piece. Its body was mangled and thrown into the air before it splatted to the floor good twenty feet away from Frank. The brute lifted his weapon in the air as a sign of victory, and I sighed in relief.

**

“Good job, Frank”, I applauded the half-orc as I made my way to the corpse of the demon. I made sure it was dead and with my kukri, cut its head off. This made the brute unhappy. “Hey, I wanted to stuff that one”, he complained. I shrugged. I wanted to present this to Tsuto, if this happened to be the demoness his journal described.

Vidarok returned to his normal self and went to soothe Harsk. The dwarf was still shaking, but was regaining his wits. The nauseating effect Ilori had endured had passed the moment Frank had struck the demon, and she signalled us she was all right. We collected the valuables the demon had carried and decided to call it a day.

Liberty's Edge

Spell-less Ranger! Woo hoo!


Marc Radle wrote:
Spell-less Ranger! Woo hoo!

Ha, indeed! Thanks for a great base class Marc - enjoying playing it, hopefully for a long time..


Good stuff, keep up the good work.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I am really enjoying reading your posts, makes the time at work just fly by. :D


I enjoy the "non-Russian novel" approach to campaign journals.


Devastation Bob wrote:
I enjoy the "non-Russian novel" approach to campaign journals.

Hey hey now! I don't even SPEAK Russian!


Nor do I...


Devastation Bob wrote:
I enjoy the "non-Russian novel" approach to campaign journals.

Now, it could just be that my caffeine hasn't kicked in yet, but what exactly does '"non-Russian novel" approach' mean?


mikeawmids wrote:
I am really enjoying reading your posts, makes the time at work just fly by. :D

Thanks :) don't blame me if you get fired though :D

Devastation Bob wrote:
I enjoy the "non-Russian novel" approach to campaign journals.

Yeah, what IS the non-Russian novel approach :) ?


I guess in our case this approach to the campaign journal is combined result of clueless GM (I figured it would be obvious for players to write journal of some sorts), lazy (or shy?) players and one aspiring writer, whom at first was only supposed to write "his story", but was instantly accepted as "the campaign journal" for all the group, after his first post.

You can keep up with his latest posts by following his blog! :)

And give him ideas how he can keep the story going when a certain ranger dies? ;)


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I had problems with motivation when writing about the first downtime we had - just one day nonetheless - so this one was really short.

Before this session the guy playing Frank the Barbarian had to drop off the game for a hiatus that still continues.. HOW DOES THE GROUP SURVIVE WITHOUT THEIR TANK AND HARD-HITTER?

--

8. A day for rest and recreation

26th of Rova - Wealday

The Rusty Dragon, Sandpoint

The next day we decided to rest, take stock of the situation and sell our loot. We went around town looking for buyers for our newly acquired items, and sold some while keeping others. Harsk was given the chance to take for himself a masterworked longsword, while Ilori took a magic wand. I was content with us sharing the gold for what we had sold - there was nothing among the loot that interested me. Instead, I used my share of the gold to buy a master-wrought chain shirt from blacksmith Korvut.

Having killed the demoness under the Old Light (at least we believed the previous day's underground structure had been beneath the ruin of Old Light, the ancient lighthouse), we went to have a chat with Tsuto. Aided by Harsk's spells, he revealed that he had come from Thistletop, only some three miles away. Thistletop became our next obvious objective for investigation.

We met Mayor Deverin and updated her on the situation. We also informed her of the undead horde in the catacombs beneath Old Light - Harsk had come up with a brilliant final solution for them. We returned there once more, and Harsk cast an aura of positive energy - an anathema to evil undead creatures - and burned them to ash.

We also had the time so see Ameiko at her family's mansion outside Sandpoint and ask her how she was recuperating. After her father's death, running the family's business was forced upon her shoulders. Not happy with the situation and still sad about his father, she was however physically feeling rather well and recovering quickly.

Before returning to the Rusty Dragon, we went to see the Old Light from the ground level. We briefly met a wizened old scholar, called Brodert, who was an expert on the history of the ruin. We would've wanted to share our experiences with him but Frank the brute managed to anger him with some uncareful words. I left a written message under his front door, apologizing for Frank's behaviour and urging him to see us if he was interested in what lied beneath the ruins.

In the evening, we sat down at the Rusty Dragon and planned our next moves. We chose to go and scout whatever there was at Thistletop the next morning at dawn. Ameiko promised to sponsor us with Master Hosk's mounts.

Before I retired to my room, I asked Bethana for a bottle of wine and two glasses. I had a feeling I'd receive company during the night. And so I did, in the form of a beautiful, red-haired local girl called Shayliss.

In the morning, we all felt energized, except for Vidarok who felt a bit absentminded. For some reason, Frank was nowhere to be found. He had chosen to ride alone, somewhere. Damned brute. Nevertheless, we fetched our mounts from Hosk's stables and set towards the rising sun.


Riding Bull wrote:
And give him ideas how he can keep the story going when a certain ranger dies? ;)

Some deity gives the soul of the ranger a task to follow and chronicle the deeds of his former party in order to make up for something or other he did?


Poldaran wrote:
Riding Bull wrote:
And give him ideas how he can keep the story going when a certain ranger dies? ;)
Some deity gives the soul of the ranger a task to follow and chronicle the deeds of his former party in order to make up for something or other he did?

That must be one hella evil deity since it's a s$#$ job watching these guys fumble their way forward from one encounter to another even when alive.. :D


Wow! That sounds just like my Second Darkness campaign!

Built for 4, we have 9, and the GM doesn't feel like she needs to up the encounters at all due to sheer unadulterated incompetence on the players' part! (She's tried increasing the mooks to 1.5x (so 9 instead of 6, for example), and has come close to TPKs with even that increase.)

My favorite line so far, facing 8 enemy thugs, "I shoot the one who's least wounded!"

And this from a D&D vet of 20 years who should have known that "wounded" is meaningless if no one in your party has area effect damage spells...


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I updated the blog (14th chapter is up), so I thought to update here as well.

In the 9th chapter the group scouts Thistletop without its primary tank/heavy-hitter and almost gets killed by a lone firepelt. Not our finest hour..

--

9. Through the bushes

27th of Rova – Oathday

Few miles east of Sandpoint, close to Thistletop

We had made good way to Thistletop through Nettlewood. I was at point, leading our way. We had come across a crushed wagon and some tracks – one set of larger tracks which I couldn’t identify, lone human tracks and several goblin tracks. The larger creature had also dragged a horse that had pulled the wagon. Impressive, I thought, as we decided to follow them north.

The tracks led us to the boundary of Thistletop. At noon, we found ourselves at the edge of a large area ringed by thick bushes. Vidarok would have not had any difficulty traversing through the growths, but we others couldn’t, so we searched for a way in. We quickly spotted one and after leashing our mounts to a hidden location near the entrance, we silently swept into the green.

The bush was really thick, and had little in the way of headroom. The dwarf was particularly pleased to see us forced to duck under the overgrowth – he was of course able to walk with his back straight, though Vidarok happily sneaked with his head among the branches and leaves. It looked like he literally had his head in green clouds.

We split up, the unkept druid going solo and me leading the others. He went north-west first, while we headed north-east. We were particularly careful, given Harsk’s complete inability to stay silent for any longer period, so Vidarok had the time to go and return before we had really made any progress.

“There’s a lot of goblins in the north-east”, he whispered. “But they don’t sound well. It is like its a camp full of injured goblins”, he added. An opportunity, I ventured, but we didn’t really consider ambushing them. Instead, we tried the north-eastern route.

That path took us to an opening from where the path continued to two directions - one leading north-west to the wounded goblin horde, and the other to another open area where five goblin dogs slept and snored peacefully. Vidarok also spotted a large, dark pit at one corner of the open area. We weighed our options and chose to see what the pit had in store for us. From within a strange, low keening voice emanated – the pit was completely dark and over 80 feet deep, so Ilori sent one of her dancing lights to the bottom. We couldn’t see the source of the sound, but instead saw that the pit ended in a cave whose bottom was covered in water. Beneath us was obviously a cave or a series of caves that could be used as optional paths.

Harsk took out a rope and tied it to a nearby tree. Vidarok volunteered to climb down and investigate. I covered his descent with my bow.

He easily climbed down a good 70 feet but something disturbed his concentration before he could reach the waterline. I saw him let go of the rope and splash into the underground water – the sea, we realized then. No-one uttered a word as we waited nervously. The half-orc’s head however quickly burst above the water and he signaled us he was fine. Then something roared in the caves and Vidarok’s hands frantically reached for the rope. I saw a hint of fear in his eyes. He got a hold and without further orders Harsk and Ilori began pulling the rope upwards. Just as Vidarok got completely out of the water, I glimpsed something large thundering beneath the waves but whatever it was it did not attack. I dropped my bow and helped the others pull the druid back up.

**

With the underground path blocked by something large and clearly aggressive, we were forced to take our chances with the sleeping hounds. To our benefit, we got past them without waking them up, but quickly ran into something even more dangerous.

I was already making my way north towards a bridge that led to the island of Thistletop when Vidarok for some reason decided to see where a small side path led. His curiosity was rewarded with a bestial roar and I had the time to ponder our nature-loving friend’s ability to anger animals before I turned around and dashed to and past him. The half-orc had stumbled upon a vicious looking fire pelt, and his soothing words and shamanic gestures were not helping us at all. I decided immediately to attack before the animal could pounce on us. My first arrow missed, barely, but I got the beast’s attention as it charged me. I expertly evaded its jaws and Vidarok struck at it, but was unable to slow it down or harm it.

From somewhere close I was able to hear goblin utterances and a sparrow carrying a goblin’s tooth flew over us. Vidarok was alert and surprised us both by smacking the sparrow out of the air with his staff. The tooth landed at Harsk’s feet.

The fire pelt overextended as it attacked me, and I had the chance to sidestep and fire another arrow. My aim was off and I cursed my luck. Ilori and Harsk who had remained behind ran through the overgrowth to join the melee but for now, the fight was mine and Vidarok’s. The half-orc, already bloodied, continued to struggle with the beast as I moved sideways, looking for a killing shot. It was then when I noticed a goblin druid at the periphery of my vision. I yelled at the others, “Handle the fire pelt, I’ll take care of its master”, and switched my aim over to the goblin.

I felt a morsel of satisfaction as my first arrow hit home, burrowing slightly to the side of the goblin. In response, it summoned its powers and cast entanglement. I had seen it in action before in Sandpoint when Vidarok had singlehandedly tied down the advance of a goblin mob with the help of animated vegetation, so I was already in the move as the vines and branches around us reacted to our presence, seeking to grapple us. I successfully leaped out of harm’s way, but the others were not as lucky, not even the fire pelt. The beast roared in anger and struck Vidarok down with its front paws, hurting him critically. Harsk, true to his good self, forgot the fight and focused on healing his companions as vines wormed around his feet and latched to him. Ilori too was entangled and was the next target of the fire pelt.

I kept attacking the goblin druid, dropping my bow and switching to my blades, hoping to strike true. But time was running against us. The fire pelt evaded blows and its claws slashed again, this time finding Ilori. Her mage armor sparkled and failed in the onslaught as she was swept of her feet and down on the ground, hard. Her belly and chest were full of dire looking wounds and she was losing blood quickly. Vidarok pivoted and running through the bushes, charged the druid as well, scoring a glancing blow with his staff. The goblin shrieked in pain and covered its face.

“Please, let me be!” It begged us with its scratchy, high-pitched voice, surprising us all with its cowardness. I hesitated, as did Vidarok. The fire pelt roared at Ilori but ceased its attacks. Ilori bared her teeth at the bloodthirsty feline. Harsk was pulling himself out of the vegetation.

“Please! It’s not my fault, it’s the evil woman”, it shouted, rising its arms in defence.

“Call off your beast, and we’ll let you live!” Vidarok ordered sternly. I wanted to disagree and eviscerate the goblin right there and then. The tips of my blades shook in the air but I held my temper in check. Thankfully, the goblin gurgled something in its strange language and the fire pelt retreated. Vidarok lowered his staff, but I remained ready to attack the foul creature.

“Don’t hurt Gogmurt”, the goblin pleaded for its own life. “It is the evil woman you want. She’s taken over our tribes. She’s controlling Ripnugget”, it explained quickly mainly to Vidarok, with spit and froth flying from his mouth to the druid’s robes.

“Ripnugget is your leader?” I asked the creature. It nodded.

“Tell me about the woman”, Vidarok asked the goblin. I tried my best to sense whether the creature was speaking the truth. It scratched its head. “You longshanks all look the same.. she has a long light hair, and a demonic hand..”

“That’s the one we’re looking for”, Harsk interrupted and brushed leaves off his beard. I nodded. “Is she still in Thistletop? Is she alone?”

“No no. I mean yes yes”, the goblin stuttered and smacked its head. “Dumb Gogmurt. She is inside, but she has other longshanks with her. Another woman, and a tin soldier in armor who rarely speaks. And a big beast, a hunter.”

A retinue like ours, I sighed inwardly. It would be a tough battle. “How many goblins?” I asked. “Don’t know”, the goblin shook its head, “maybe thirty.” I spat on the ground. Traako, this gets even better.

Vidarok looked thoughtful. “Can you take lead us to Thistletop?”. The goblin nodded eagerly. “But you have to promise me to get rid of the evil temptress..” At that, I frowned. “I don’t think you are in no position to make demands, goblin”, I stated coolly.

The goblin shrugged pitifully. “The goblins mean you longshanks no harm! It was the woman, this Nualia”, it shivered as it said her name, “who got us tribes together. Kill her and the goblins won’t attack your city”, it tried to reason.

“Will you help us there?” Vidarok asked. The goblin nodded again, its ugly face swinging up and down. I think it smiled but it looked like a grimace. “Gogmurt will take you to the bridge that leads to Thistletop.. but won’t enter. Gogmurt won’t dare”, it murmured. I turned my head to one side, quizzically. It appeared that the creature was being honest and there was no risk of ambush. I had seen a glimpse of the bridge just a moment before Vidarok had stumbled to the fire pelt so I knew it was very close by. “Off we go then”, I urged the creature, poking it with the tip of my blade by the way of encouragement. The goblin hissed and started forward.

Within minutes, walking carefully, we reached the worn-looking hanging bridge made of ropes and wood. The goblin, Gogmurt, stopped before it. “This is very old, so only one at a time can cross safely.” I stepped forward. “Let me go and have a look alone”, I suggested to the others. With their unanimous approval, I began to cross the bridge. It’s structure croaked and trembled, but held firm. I kept my eyes on the two guard towers that overlooked the bridge, but there was no sign of any guards anywhere, not by the walls of the fort nor at the towers.

At the other side, I made my way along the stony walls that protected Thistletop proper. The island was a strange peak rising 80 feet from the sea, and someone had chosen to erect a small fort on top of it. It became clear that going around the walls and risk falling to the sea would be almost suicidal to all but the best rock climbers, so our only chance was to go over the walls or through the main doors that were situated right before the bridge.

I silence, I returned to the mainland and reported what I had found. It would be daring to enter the building from the front without help. I thought about contacting Shalelu – her skills would be helpful. Even returning with a few Sandpoint guards as meat to the grinder would help us. It was Harsk however who came up with a cunning plan.

“Goblin, if you’re unwilling to attack with us against Nualia and her entourage, then help us create a distraction.” The goblin bobbed his head.

“Do you like ale, Gogmurt?” Harsk asked innocently, seemingly taking the conversation to a wholly other topic. “Ale? Gogmurt don’t know your dwarven poisons”, Gogmurt spat. Harsk gestured it to calm down. “Ale is good for you, even goblins. It makes you happy. Drowsy, tipsy, whatever you like.” Gogmurt seemed to get interested. “Yes, us goblins do like to party.” Harsk nodded approvingly and twirled his long beard. “Indeed. Ale is excellent for great feasts. So what if we bring you and all the goblins some to drink, so you can have a feast?” I realized where Harsk was going. Gogmurt scrached its green head, pondering. “Yes.. why not.. think Gogmurt can get all the brothers to drink and celebrate.” Harsk clasped his hands together as it was settled. “Good! We will return here shortly with a great amount of strong lager. If you’re able to offer it to your kin, then they’ll pass out and we’ll have an easier task of getting inside the fort.” This excited the green creature. “Yes yes and that way you don’t need to hurt any goblins!” Beneath my hood I rolled my eyes. Vidarok and Harsk both promised the goblin that we would not hurt any goblins that wouldn’t threaten us, and the plan was agreed upon.

As we turned to leave, Ilori spoke to the goblin. “Send us a message if you see Nualia leaving Thistletop.” The goblin nodded. To be honest, I’d never seen anyone nod so much. “I’ll send a sparrow with a tooth!”

“And send a sparrow with two teeth if any of his retinue leaves”, Vidarok added. “And with three if large numbers of additional goblins arrive here”, I added as well, not really counting the odds being on our favour – Harsk’s plans working or not. The goblin frowned. “One tooth, two teeth, three teeth, how do you expect Gogmurt to remember everything?”

“Just wait for us, druid”, I replied equally irritated. So we left the same route we had come.

At the hidden entrance to the bush surrounding Thistletop I stopped the others. “I think we should take our chances now with the wounded goblins and thin their numbers before we return”, I tried to reason. But Vidarok and Harsk were adamant. Vidarok shook his head. “We just promised Gogmurt that we would not harm his kin.” I just stared at him. “Gogmurt’s just goblin filth, how can we even trust it to keep its word? What if when we return there’ll be a hundred goblins waiting for us in ambush?” But it was like talking to a wall. And ultimately I’d known myself that Gogmurt had been honest about being keen on saving goblin lives and desiring the swift death of Nualia.

This of course didn’t make me any less happy as we rode back to Sandpoint.


Yay! Yippy! (The sea beastie)

And might I say, that's the most impressive infiltration of Thistletop I've read yet -- assuming Gogmurt doesn't either forget or betray the party. Both equally likely for a goblin! :-P


NobodysHome wrote:

Yay! Yippy! (The sea beastie)

And might I say, that's the most impressive infiltration of Thistletop I've read yet -- assuming Gogmurt doesn't either forget or betray the party. Both equally likely for a goblin! :-P

Ha! Well, Alpharius the walking lie detector with +10 or something skill bonus (lvl3 at that point) rolled pretty well for Sense Motive, so he grudgingly in the end had to trust his instincts that they were not walking into a trap.


Tomi Heikkinen wrote:
Poldaran wrote:
Riding Bull wrote:
And give him ideas how he can keep the story going when a certain ranger dies? ;)
Some deity gives the soul of the ranger a task to follow and chronicle the deeds of his former party in order to make up for something or other he did?
That must be one hella evil deity since it's a s#~% job watching these guys fumble their way forward from one encounter to another even when alive.. :D

Or maybe it's his just reward for that thing he did. He remembers what he did.

Pepperidge Farm also remembers.


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This one's the longest entry yet, at almost 10 000 words. It details our assault to Thistletop, which was one roll away from TPK.

From what I've read from other journals, what happened in our game with Lyrie and Orik is quite uncommon.

Huge respect to anyone outside our gaming party who has the willpower to read through this one :) but I think you'll enjoy it.

--

10. Who lives, who dies

27th of Rova – Oathday

Sandpoint, later that evening

Putting two and two together, we quickly concluded that Nualia was indeed the demoness of Tsuto’s desire and the main threat to the city. From what we had read from Tsuto’s journal, I even made the suggestion that Nualia had once been a citizen of Sandpoint, the daughter of the former High Priest Ezakiel. Feeling we had the momentum and element of surprise on our side, we decided to return to Thistletop as soon as possible. But first we needed to rest and equip ourselves better. While the ones more familiar with magic powers headed out to potion shops, I alone went to see the blacksmith, Korvut. I had seen something among his wares that had piqued my interest. But I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to buy it.

On my way a retinue comprising of a wealthy looking nobleman and three dangerous looking bodyguards marched along River Street, rudely pushing townsfolk off their way and generally behaving like pricks who thought they owned the town. Not feeling eager to have a fight that late in the evening, I made way like others. I had other things in mind, but for some reason I felt I’d run across the nobleman again sooner than later.

Korvut was at work when I arrived. The short stocky man reminded me of Harsk, but the blacksmith was not a dwarf and lacked all the familiarity and joviality of the dwarven healer. When he saw me arrive, he put his hammer down and gestured me to his shelves where dozens of different master-forged weapons hung. “Good evening Master Alfie”, he growled in his low voice, remembering my name wrong, “what brings you to my shop?” I didn’t care to correct him as my eyes quickly found what I was searching for and remained there. “We are about to head into the wild and I’d like to be armed accordingly.” The blacksmith nodded and clasped his hands together while moving to the shelves. “Of course, a sensible decision. My arms are the best from here to Magnemar and I am sure I can supply you with anything you need”, Korvut explained with not little pride. “What would you like to have, to supplement your fine armor”, he asked and nodded at my chainshirt which I had purchased from him only a few days earlier.

I pointed at a pair of gladii blades that hung among other shorter one-handed blades. “Hmm, the gladii, gladiator weapons. A very rare sight in Varisia. I made those when I was younger – of course, they are still of exceptional quality”, he assured me, picked them out and offered them to me. I could see they had not been proven in combat nor tasted blood, but that didn’t make me hesitate. I overcame my stupid reservations and took both blades by their wooden pommels. And then I was somewhere else.

Quote:
Two boys, not older than sixteen, are standing back-to-back, covered in blood and sweat. Burning hot sand of the arena between their bare toes, two bodies at their feet, four heavily armed gladiators stand in vigil around them. The other, black-haired, frowns narrow-eyed with a calculating, murdering intent while the silver-haired smiles self-assuredly and taunts the gladiators with his longsword, massive in his wiry arms. The boys slowly circle around while constantly keeping their backs locked together, like two dancers attuned to each other’s moves. The black-haired boy crosses his gladii blades in front of him, preparing for the imminent attack. Up in the central arena grandstand, their only audience, a fat nobleman dressed in rich silks, bellows a laughter and claps his meaty hands in approval.

I opened my eyes and found Korvut looking at me curiously. “I’ll take them”, I quickly stated, pushing the memory back to wherever it had surfaced. Korvut cleared his throat. “That’ll be 30 gold pieces for the pair.” A reasonable price, I concluded and handed him the gold. “I’ll need scabbards as well.” Korvut turned back to the shelves and took two fitting scabbards down. “Of course. You can have them free, as token of your continued custom.” I nodded my thanks, connected the scabbards to my belt and sheathed the blades. An odd feeling of tranquility fell upon me. It felt like a part of me had stopped running, or rather, a part of me had stopped being afraid. Inside, I smiled faintly.

As I turned to leave, Korvut once again cleared his throat. “Are you what they call you in town, a hero?” I was stopped in my tracks, contemplated the question that had came from leftfield. After a moment I simply shook my head without facing him. “No, blacksmith, I’m not a hero.” As I walked out of his shop I heard him shout at my back. ‘If your friends are heroes, tell them to come by!’ But I was already gone.

**

The next morning the rest of us were breaking our fast and planning our diversion when Vidarok, looking groggier and even more unkempt than normal, joined us at the table. He murmured his goodmornings. “Slept badly, friend?” Harsk quipped, his mouth full of Bethana’s delicious mashed eggs. Vidarok looked pained. “Indeed. I saw nightmares”, he simply explained, drawing our looks. Harsk went on. “What worries you so?” The druid seemed unwilling to share. “I.. something from my past came to haunt me”, he let out, taking a loaf of bread but just rolling it around in his hands. Harsk swallowed, gave a more serious face and turned to Vidarok. “Look, if it bothers you then it will feel better if you tell us what is wrong”, the dwarf started, taking the friendly, even fatherly tone he often resorted to. I forked my mashed eggs in silence and realized we really didn’t know anything about each other – not to mention our pasts, dreams, nightmares even. Harsk gestured Vidarok to speak.

Vidarok considered Harsk’s words, and still didn’t eat. His nightmares had stolen him of his appetite. “It’s my sister”, he began. Ilori turned her head sideways in an interested, sympathetic gesture while Harsk nodded. I focused on my eggs. “She died, long ago, and last night she came to me in my dreams. She was calling for me. She felt.. unnatural, like she was there, and at the same time she was something very different”, Vidarok described wearily. “What does it mean?” He asked Harsk. The dwarf scratched his chin under his long beard. “I don’t know, dreams are not my speciality.” Ilori cut in, “How did she die?” Vidarok sighed and shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. They say it was an accident by I know it was my fault she died.” In an act of consolation Harsk put his hand on the half-orc’s shoulder. “My condolences, friend. But maybe the dream is just your conscience bothering you.” Vidarok just nodded, and after a while, took a bite of his bread.

With Vidarok joining us, we made our plans. It was decided that Harsk and the druid would get us the beer (and sleeping potion which was their great idea) required to take the goblins out of the picture, while me and Ilori would try to get some further assistance and information from mayor Deverin and high priest Zantus. I myself was positive that the town would provide us with additional muscle to take Thistletop and slay Nualia.

I could’ve not been more wrong.

Zantus admitted that Nualia had indeed been an adopted daughter of the former high priest. But according to the old man, she had died in the same fire that had killed Ezakiel. She had been an aasimar, a partly divine person of fabulous beauty who had never been truly accepted as one of the town – maybe out of fear and envy, Zantus considered. To me, those sounded as perfect motives to attack the city in ruthless retribution. But Zantus adamantly refused to believe Nualia was alive nor a threat to the city. Lamashtu, the goddess of evil that had been linked with the atrocities and Nualia in several different occasions, didn’t sound familiar to him. This did not surprise me one bit. He at least agreed to give us a potion of holy water, to battle evil souls should we encounter them.

The mayor was even worse. She courteously expressed her utter disbelief in anything we said and denied all help. I was less courteous as I spat on the floor, cursed her and her lackeys’ ignorance and left the town hall boiling in anger. So we had to attack and save the city on our own. Even Frank was still nowhere to be seen. His martial prowess along with his earthbreaker would have come in handy. But alas, we were just the four of us.

Armed with the best gear and magical potions our limited funds could buy us and a wagon full with 10 small barrels of beer that Harsk had bartered for his apprenticeship in the Deverin brewery, we once again trekked towards Thistletop.

**

The route to was still clear in my memory so we easily reached the border of Thistletop. Shortly after our arrival, Gogmurt appeared from the bushes. ‘You are not very quiet, no?’ The goblin druid hissed between his teeth. I stared at him blankly. Harsk shrugged, his armor, steel shield and backpack clanging as he did. ‘We brought you the beer, as promised, for your kin. Can you still get it in’, Harsk queried the creature. It croaked which I think was pleased laughter. ‘Yes.. unload the wagon and Gogmurt will take the barrels in.’

We did work as ordered while Ilori watched our backs. I still didn’t trust the goblin nor the success of our plan, and I voiced both doubts, to unhearing ears. I really hoped I was wrong, for mine and their sakes. As Gogmurt rolled the barrels into the bushes, Vidarok and Harsk emptied a flask of sleeping potion into them, magnifying their ability to knock out the pesky green beasts.

After Gogmurt had half-pushed, half-carried in the last barrel, we hid the cart. ‘Wait here for Gogmurt’, the goblin told us, ‘will come back in the evening after the feast when the boys are asleep.’ ‘We’ll be waiting’, Vidarok replied. With an ugly grin, Gogmurt retreated into Thistletop.

It was hardly even midday, so I excused myself and left to range the nearby woods. They were beautiful if dangerous, as were all wilds everywhere I had traveled. I found some goblinberries, which I knew were quite poisonous – if stung by the berry tree, the poison stole the physical strength of the victim. I’d seen hungry and careless bears and boars reduced into whimpering husks. I carefully cut a few branches. Maybe I could turn this to something useful, I mused, and secreted them into my backpack. After a few hours of exploring, I returned to the others.

As evening fell, we saw smoke rising beyond the bushes and goblin shouting accompanied by laughter. They were clearly enjoying themselves, and I was getting somewhat more positive about our plan. I just hoped it wasn’t Gogmurt getting torched to the merriment of his brothers. If that was the case, I hoped they would still drink the ale. But Gogmurt eventually returned to us after the sounds of feasting had subdued. ‘It worked!’ Gogmurt screeched in joy. ‘The boys are all night-night, so you can enter the fort without being seen.’ Harsk stroked his beard, clearly satisfied that his plan had worked. ‘Good job’, he congratulated the goblin, and we headed in. As we crossed the bushland, we could see many passed out goblins. Some were sound asleep, others were snoring, or muttering incoherently. My bow in one hand, I gripped the pommel of my gladius with the other. So many things could still go wrong.

We got to the bridge leading to Thistletop proper, where Gogmurt again left us to our own devices. As he parted, he reminded us not to kill any goblins, to which Vidarok assured him we wouldn’t. We’ll see, I thought.

As agreed, I again took the point and silently crossed the bridge. Goblins were sleeping around the main entrance, and I could even hear snoring from the guard towers. Gods, I exclaimed inwardly, such gross neglicence of duty and incompetence. All the watches had been drinking! But this was of course all to our benefit. Satisfied with the situation, I signaled the others to pass the bridge, and they came one by one.

I put my bow over my shoulder and examined the unconscious, helpless goblins. ‘We should take them out now that we can. Imagine if someone manages to sound the alarm and they all awaken.. we’ll be up into our heads with angry goblins’, I tried to reason, but to no avail. I was alone with my opinion. “We have to trust bringing out Nualia defeated, dead or alive, will pacify the goblins”, Ilori repeated the assumption which I did not share. “You can carry her head in front as we get out”, I cursed, grinding my teeth together and continued my scouting by entering the fort through the main doors.

In the lobby I found, in addition to more sleeping goblins, a score of trophies hung on the walls. Bones, appendages and heads of animals were pinned in the walls with nails, daggers and choppers. One particularly beautiful dagger, its pommel decorated with pearls, caught my attention, and I stepped closer and tore the dagger off the wall. The trophy, a half desiccated wing of some bird of prey dropped to the floor. This goes to my personal stash, I decided and ventured deeper into the fort.

I checked out the western guard tower first, and found only passed out guards. From up the tower itself I could see a courtyard at the center of the building. As I peered over the tower wall, I noted that one goblin dog had it eyes open – it was drowsy, but awake. Any routes to the north-western parts of the fort went through that yard, so killing the dog silently became a necessity should we want to cross the yard.

I retraced my steps and from the lobby silently moved to the eastern side of the building. At one narrow corridor, I came across a goblin sleeping so widely that I had to carefully step over it. As I was just above it, the creature murmured something and turned around in its sleep. I stopped in mid-movement and gracefully allowed it to move between my feet. Certain that it was still asleep as I got past it, I covered its mouth with my left hand and slashed open its throat. It trashed weakly under my grip before dying without making a sound. With my path cleared of obstacles, I continued further east.

The eastern side presented two viable routes. One leading down underground via staircase, and the other north, past the courtyard. But the latter went through a large hall where I glimpsed and heard several wake if drunken goblin commandos arguing with their leader. Not eager to challenge them alone, I returned outside through the main doors and briefed the others on what I had seen.

“Let’s go underground”, Vidarok was first to suggest. Ilori nodded in approval. ‘What we are looking for is most likely beneath, hidden from sight, like the evil creatures we encountered in Sandpoint’, she added. Harsk agreed as well, so the decision was made. I led them inside and to the staircase. On our way Vidarok noted first the body of the goblin I had killed. ‘This was your doing?’ He asked suspiciously. Looking him in the eye, I nodded. ‘A necessity, so that it wouldn’t sound an alarm’, I explained, twisting the truth to suit my purpose. My explanation seemed to be enough, as further questions or accusations did not arise. Instead, Vidarok pulled the bleeding corpse with us to the staircase, closed the door behind us, and we descended.

**

The staircase led us one floor down, to a lighted hall room with six doors. One of them was open, leading north to a long corridor. The moment we stepped out of the stairs, we could hear grunting and moaning from behind one of the doors in the corner. I approached it carefully and realized somebody was f+#*ing behind it. A big guy, I deduced from his low, rumbling voice. I risked opening the door only slightly and peered in from the gap. It was the hunter – a huge, ugly bugbear, having sex with multiple goblin women on the floor. It would have been funny had we not been so on edge, expecting violence. I closed the door silently, and informed the others but from their faces I could see they knew already. ‘We should jump on them, especially if we can do it without alerting others’, I suggested with a whisper. Everybody seemed to agree. ‘Let’s make sure there are no threats in the other nearby rooms’, Vidarok whispered back, clutching his staff. I volunteered to check. Door by door I went, finding a dark, dug-out cave, a room full of goblin babies in cages (I realized then why goblins all turned out so vicious, if that was how they were brought up), and another corridor linking the hall to five other rooms. Hearing nothing from those, I returned to the others certain that we could make our surprise attack without getting jumped on from behind. The bugbear was still going at it. Not for long.

We readied ourselves and I kicked the door open, an arrow nocked and ready to fire. Taking quick aim, I shot. But by Earthfall, the beast was quick. The moment I had entered, it had pushed a naked goblin girl off his lap and ducked. My arrow burrowed into a thick bear’s fur lying on the floor as a mattress. Behind me I could sense Ilori rolling her eyes. I cursed and stepped back, making room for her as she shouted me to watch out. I felt the familiar buildup of elemental powers as my skin prickled, and I had to shield myself as the entire room exploded in all-consuming fire. The goblin girls shrieked and died as the magical fire that did not create smoke engulfed them and the half-naked bugbear. At the same time I was both awed by Ilori’s constantly expanding powers and irritated by the extent she was using them then – stealth and caution were no longer possible for us and I hoped the goblins at ground level did not hear the commotion.

The goblin women had the decency to perish quickly. One, her hair in flames, stumbled out of the room and was immediately put out of her misery by Harsk’s longsword. But the bugbear was far from dying. Burns visible in its skin and rising from the ground, it snatched a heavy flail and roared its taunts. ‘You little fools come here and burn my women.. Pointy-ears’, he pointed at me with his flail, ‘Yours will make a fine addition to Bruthazmus’ collection!’ As it took a step towards the doorway, I accepted its challenge and with a swift action, dropped my longbow while drawing my brand new gladii blades. They sung a beautiful song as they slided out of the scabbards. Confined by lack of space, Vidarok and Ilori had to remain back as Harsk moved against the brute in the doorway. Metal clanged on metal as Bruthazmus struck Harsk in his shield and became locked in melee with the brave halfman. Dangerously emboldened, I saw an opening in the beast’s defence and tried to pivot past it so I could flank it from behind.

It was a decision I came to regret and which I later vowed not to repeat.

I expected a horizontal blow but just as I was leaping past him, my chest connected with an upwards vertical arc of the flail. I was duly slammed into a wall behind. Air was blown out of me, and I could feel multiple ribs break and taste blood gobbling in my mouth. My head lolled and I was barely staying conscious. Somebody shouted my name.

Harsk continued the duel and, with me out of the picture momentarily, was joined by Vidarok. A lucky strike of his staff sent the bugbear reeling, and Harsk stepped in, bellowing a horrible spell of fearing. The maddeningly frothing beast turned into a mouse in a heartbeat. Crying in utter fear, he shrunk from Harsk to a corner in his f!#! lair. Trying to rise while clutching my hurt chest, I didn’t see what happened – I only heard the cleric’s sword cut into muscled meat and the end to the whimpering. I took Vidarok’s hand and got up.

**

I emptied a healing potion, and got some help from the druid. A few deep breaths later I was already feeling better. Harsk was examining the heavy flail of the bugbear, while Vidarok and Ilori considered our next moves, whispering. I noticed among Bruthazmus’ equipment a masterworked longbow. I took a step towards it, as I heard footsteps coming from the north. I signaled the others and snatched the hunter’s bow from the ground. Vidarok had the time to move towards the door opposite to the bugbear’s lair when it opened and a young, dark-skinned woman in exotic clothing emerged, a small cat at her feet. She had the time to open her mouth before Vidarok was all over her, grappling her. His staff dropped to the stone tiles. Then she screamed.

‘Be silent’, Ilori, standing well behind Vidarok in the lobby, ordered her sternly. She sidestepped and small fires erupted from her hands. The woman was struggling to free herself of the half-orc’s grip. ‘Who are you’, she asked, yelling at us. The small cat hissed at her feet but did not attack. Harsk intervened, exiting the bugbear’s lair. “It is of no matter. Calm down and tell us who you are and what are you doing here.” The woman still shook in Vidarok’s grip, but managed an answer. ‘I am Lyrie.. I am studying this building.’ I too approached her, and examined her intently, trying to intimidate her. ‘Are you here by your own free will? Do you serve the one called Nualia?’ She did not respond to either question, but her face could not hide the truth. I turned to the others. ‘She’s obviously allied with the aasimar. We should kill her now.’ That made her scream doubly as hard. Vidarok, again heedless to my perfectly reasonable suggestions, swept the woman’s feet from under her and pinned her down, asking us to tie her up. I blatantly told the half-orc to stop f*~%ing around and refused. Harsk took a skein of rope and took a step towards the struggle.

Then something walked in from behind us. Ilori managed just barely to swing around as a massive bastard sword pierced her mage armor like it was nothing but smoke and cut her cleanly through her shoulder. She cried in pain and I turned, screaming her name, urging her to get away from the attacker. I quickly identified the assailant – the ever-silent knight in heavy armor that Gogmurt had mentioned. But this time, he wasn’t being silent. Instead, he was anxiously calling for Lyrie, telling us to let her go and urging her to escape. A sharp stench of old booze filled the air around him. As Ilori evaded, blood flowing from her, I took the shot. The arrow struck the man point-black in his visor and harmlessly exploded into bits. ‘Lyrie’, the man cried, lifting his shield and blindly swinging at Ilori, missing. He was determined beyond reason to reach the dark-skinned woman. Instead, he drove into Harsk who slashed with his sword, calling his goddess for guidance. His blade hit metal, sending sparks flying. But Ilori, fires of anger erupting from her eyes drew a wand from her belt and sent a surge of lightning at the soldier. Sparks and lightning played around the man and Harsk had to step back from the onslaught. The soldier roared in horrible pain but didn’t fall.

Vidarok’s concentration faltered and Lyrie was able to hammer her fist at his cheek. Momentarily dazzled, he loosened his grip and it was all she needed to escape his clutches. She pushed herself up and bolted, trying to make a run for it. Holding his cheek, the druid took his staff, shouted after her and began murmuring a spell. As I let loose another arrow at the apparently lovesick soldier, I heard a growl of a wolf from where Lyrie had escaped. The druid had summoned a beast to assist him!

My second arrow was inconsequential as well, failing to pierce the soldier’s armor. He expertly parried Harsk’s blade, and pushed Ilori aside before landing a fierce blow at the helmeted head of the dwarf. I saw a handful of beard fly off, accompanied by blood. But the stocky cleric resisted. He evaded, chanting a healing spell that ended the flow of blood in his and Ilori’s wounds. Strengthened by his magic, Ilori reached out with her wand and electrocuted the soldier once more. This time, he fell to his knees, smoke rising from the joints of his armor, calling Lyrie by her name before collapsing finally.

Vidarok, who had pursuit the woman, called to us. ‘She’s gone, locked herself into a room’, he apprised us of the situation from a distance. Ilori and Harsk were still licking their wounds and drawing some breath. I calmly shouldered my bow, walked over to the steaming body of the soldier and drove my gladius into his throat, ensuring he would never again surprise us from behind.

**

As the carmine lady and the dwarven cleric went to search for Lyrie, I stayed behind, intent to take a look at the other rooms yet to be investigated. There were five rooms beyond the corridor where the soldier had attacked us, and I carefully went through them one by one. I quickly came to the conclusion that these rooms were the accommodations of Nualia and her retinue. From one obviously belonging to Tsuto I found papers documenting his plans for the attack to Sandpoint and framing his father as the culprit before extorting Glassworks from him. I took them with me as additional evidence against him. From the largest room, clearly Nualia’s, I found some platinum coins, which found their way into my pockets.

On my way back I searched the dead soldier’s equipment, and retrieved an everburning torch, a healing potion and some more coins. As I rose to my feet, Vidarok emerged. “You all right?” He asked me. I nodded. “There’s just the bedrooms for Nualia and her retinue. I found little of interest, just some documents further incriminating Nualia and Tsuto”, I told him. “What about you?” I asked. “Did you get Lyrie?” The druid determinedly shook his head which made his long hair whip from left to right. “She has blockaded herself into a room, or a corridor. We decided not to pursue her further when we are still split into two.” Sensible, I thought. “What next, are you coming with us?” He queried. I led him to a short corridor leading east. “You have darkvision, have a look in there before we go. There’s a room beyond that has been just recently dug into the earth.” Vidarok complied and marched into the doorway. He peered in. “There’s just junk and digging equipment, and a narrow tunnel leading somewhere from where I can hear the ocean. No reason to investigate that yet”, he concluded, and I had to agree. But one uninvestigated door remained leading west. I pointed it out to the half-orc, and we took it to ourselves to find out what it hid before joining the others.

Behind the last door was yet another short corridor in complete darkness. Vidarok went in first, as the dark did not hinder him, but I grabbed a burning torch from the lobby. We walked carefully through the corridor before reaching another open door. Vidarok pushed it gently open, and we found ourselves in a 50 to 25 feet dungeon with damp cells and gruesome torturing equipment. And we heard labored breathing from the final cell.

“Who’s there?” Vidarok raised his voice and slowly approached the cell at the back of the dungeon. I replaced the torch into a holder and notched an arrow. “Help me..” came the barely audible response. A badly beaten man lied in the cell, half sitting against a wall. He raised his hand towards us. “Who are you?” Vidarok asked him as he tried the cell door. Locked. “I am..”, the captive man struggled to speak, his lips broken and mouth dry, “My name is John.. I am a traveller from the Pathfinder society.. They ambushed me and brought me here.” I could say he was speaking the truth. “Hold on”, Vidarok told the man, “we’ll get you out of there.” After a brief search, we could not locate the keys into John’s cell in the dungeon. There were however two other doors leading out of the dungeon, and we carefully opened the other. We found a study room, and from within, a set of keys.

Vidarok hurried to John’s cell, opened the lock and moved to the broken man. He was shivering from the cold. The half-orc poured some water to his mouth from a flask, and applied some salves and simple bandages to his wounds. I stood in guard outside the cell.

After a moment, John the traveller felt strong enough to stand up and walk. “I was sent here by the Society after the news of the attack to Sandpoint had arrived”, he explained. “Word gets around quickly, eh?” I asked, still a bit suspicious. John was oblivious to my suspicion. “Yes, it does”, he nodded and drank some more water from Vidarok’s flask, “and the Society wants to have eyes and ears present when such major events occur, to document them for future reference.”

“So you are a scribe”, Vidarok asked, interested. “Yes I am”, John replied, turning to his saviour. “So you wouldn’t know how to use these”, I sighed, offering him the kukris I had used for years since running from Canorate. John shrugged. “I am no fighter, but I’m bound to assist you given that you saved my life.” Great, I thought, just the answer I wanted to hear. For some reason, I had a premonition that I would not see the kukris never again as I handed them and their scabbards to the travelling scribe.

I probably made my biggest mistake of the day when I noted the other door leading north. There were some stairs before it, but not enough to make it a doorway to the ground floor. I called Vidarok and suggested we check out that one door before going back to the others – it might even present a more direct path to the others, given the rough idea of the layout of the underground structure I was mapping in my head.

Vidarok agreed and moved over to have a peek at what lied beyond. He carefully pushed the unlocked door forward.. and a clearly audible creak sounded from its hinges. Then all hell, literally, broke loose.

**

I have little recollection of the events that occurred immediately after Vidarok went through the door. I remember one unnatural cry of a wolf, something hellish, resonating in the underground. It made me shiver and my heart skipped a beat, but then shortly later we heard another demonic howl, and suddenly my mind was at once filled with everything I had ever feared in my life. Some logical, pragmatic part of me screamed that I was being consumed by false emotions, but the rest of my mind fully dismissed it. And then I ran.

With imaginary horrors of my past after me, I ran from room to room perhaps for only a minute, even less, but it was all over by when the panic vanished. Vidarok and Harsk and not succumbed to the demon hounds’ damnable howls but had expertly killed them. Ilori had panicked as well, and had ran somewhere below to a second underground level where Lyrie had escaped. With me regaining my wits, we ran after her, hoping she was fine.

We found her catching her breath but in otherwise good condition in the second level, in a hall marked by six fallen stone pillars. Each of them had fallen eastwards, and the room itself was tilted in the same direction. Something had moved the earth in times long gone and shook the room so that this had happened. At the back of the room, a saw a corridor flanked by statues of warriors carrying poleaxes.

“Stay behind as we look for Nualia”, Vidarok instructed John who had followed the druid like a dog ever since we had freed him. The scribe nodded, looking pathetic with one of my kukris in his hand. I took the point and led us into the corridor. I was still unnerved by the earlier events as I managed not to notice an obvious trap in a stone tile in the floor. As I stepped on it, a cage came rambling down from high above. I somersaulted backwards and just got away as the cage crashed down, and a pair of warrior statues became animated before slashing downwards with their poleaxes. Finally, the stone tile tilted rapidly, like a door opening and closing – anyone left within the cage, dead or alive, would have that instant fallen into darkness beneath the tile. Then, as rapidly as the trap had sprung, the cage was drawn back up and the statues returned to their original positions as nothing had happened.

Harsk whistled. “That, my friend, was close.” I hovered my hand above the trap tile, making sure it was weight over the tile that functioned as the activator. “Yes, it was”, I had to agree. I was still shaken, that was obvious, and I was feeling more and more unwilling to advance. I had nearly died already so many times that day. “What do we do know”, Ilori asked us, her hands crossed in front of her. Sighing, trying to gather some of my usual bravery, I reached out to my backpack. “I still have Tsuto’s thieve’s tools. I can try to dismantle the trap.”

It took me a few moments to examine the trap and work its mechanics. Somewhat sure I had disabled it, I placed the tools on the floor and wiped sweat from my forehead. “I think it is disabled”, I started, “but I’m not..” But I didn’t get to finish my sentence as Harsk already paced past me, took a long stride that still fell on the side of the tile.. and activated the trap anew. Possessing dexterity I didn’t know existed among dwarvenkind, Harsk leaped forward and easily evaded the trap. It ran through its mechanics and in seconds, we were left standing there, looking each other across the corridor like there was a hundred yard wide and deep abyss between us.

“Or you could just try to leap over the tile”, Harsk commented, not at all displeased at my inability to properly disable the trap. I shrugged, and easily made the jump from where I stood. Ilori wasn’t happy however. She sneered a bit in contempt. “I’d rather not”, she stated. She probably felt she was not athletic enough to make the five foot jump safely. “Come on now, Ilori, we’ll lend a hand”, Harsk promised, encouraging her and offering his hand over the dangerous tile. She drew a long breath, took some running steps to gain enough forward momentum, and then she was over. Vidarok came last.

At the end of the corridor, the path diverted into two. From the stone tiles I could see the path northwards had been used recently, whereas the path south had not. Both short corridors led to an ornate wooden door. I whispered the others to be silent, as I moved to a door leading northwards. Keeping low and pushing my ear against it, I listened.

“..the strangers are coming, Nualia!” I heard Lyrie exclaim, apparently to our main target herself, Nualia. Strangers, I thought about how she had called us, how befitting. They were having a heated argument but I couldn’t recognize all the words. Good, I smiled inwardly, an opportunity to surprise them presented itself. I pushed my luck and opened the door slightly, just to get a quick look inside. Without making any noise, I moved the door and peered in. In a strangely formed, round room I could see the back of a heavily armoured, voluptuous and white-haired woman. A demon hound was lying on the floor next to her. They were oblivious to us, it seemed. I carefully closed the door and turned to the others crouching behind me.

“This is it. Nualia and Lyrie are both there, and there’s at least one demon hound with them. We have a chance to surprise them”, I whispered. “Get ready.” Vidarok and Ilori swallowed and nodded. Harsk closed his eyes and silently chanted a blessing spell. Faint light played around us. Here we go, I thought and nocked an arrow to my bow, turned around and kicked the door in.

Unconsciously selecting the most threatening target, I loosed an arrow at the demon hound. My aim was true and it burrowed into its foul meat. The beast yelped in pain and rose to its feet. The others were already moving past me. Harsk first, then Vidarok and lastly Ilori. Lyrie screamed in terror but Nualia merely pivoted on her heels and smiled at us, taunting with her bastard sword and that red, ugly demon hand with claws like blades.

The demoness ascended on Harsk while Vidarok jumped to attack the demon hound.

“Should I come too”, John the scribe yelled at me – I was the only one not in the room. “Yes”, I hissed in irritation, “just watch the trap!”. In a heartbeat, I took in the room now that the door was fully open. Ilori was behind the wall of flesh and iron that was Vidarok and Harsk. Fires and lights danced around her as she summoned a fiery dragon size of a dog. Its eyes glowed like two flashing rubies at it spat fire on the demoness. Such confined space, I cursed – the room was indeed circular, only some thirty feet across and with a fountain of foul-smelling, bubbly water at the back. All around the room there was were candles stuck in human skulls, books, scrolls and bones. Dropping my new master-wraught bow and drawing blacksmith Korvut’s gladii blades, I charged into melee.

Nualia was a stunning beauty indeed, but ruthlessly dangerous. Her armor had one deliberate weakness – her waist was bare, full of bloody cuts. A form of ritualistic self-mutilation, I ventured a guess as I leaped next to her. Nualia’s bastard sword whooshed and struck past Harsk’s defences. The dwarven cleric roared but stood his ground. I immediately used my opening and slashed with one of my blades, not hitting the bare lower back but scoring a deep wound anyhow. Lyrie was frantically casting magic missiles at Harsk and Vidarok, the latter locked in fierce combat with the demon hound. It growled and tried to bite the half-orc. The half-orc evaded its jaws and in return thrusted his staff into its face. This made the dog step back and unleash the terrible howl. I closed my eyes for a second, teardrops falling, as the howl rocked my mind. But this time we all held firm. Ilori responded to dark magics with lighting the place on fire. She yelled us to take cover and brought her hands together in front of her. A wave of fire blasted from her fingers, hitting Nualia and the demon hound squarely, but this time, the results were not as good. The fire washed over them but did not kill them. With the enemies momentarily distracted, Harsk channeled an aura of positive energy, but in the presence of such dark energies, its power waned and did not work to its full effectiveness. I heard Harsk call for his goddess, and at the same time, I heard the trap activate, followed by a painful scream.

This is for John, I cursed and with both of my gladii stabbed Nualia, who was still eyeing the bloodied dwarf hungrily. One bit into armor but didn’t penetrate, but other cut like knife through butter and came through at the other side, splattering blood and drawing a shriek from the demon b*%*%. I pulled the blade out and flashes of dark emanated from the wounds, like something evil wanted to get out of her. What kind of creature was this aasimaar, I wondered, my mouth agape. But as I stood there in amazement, the gladii in my left hand cracked and crumbled to shards like fragile glass. To my left, the sorceress was holding a hand towards me. “Ittee xhan!” I spat at her, dropping the pommel. Ilori’s fire dragons breathed fire around us, elemental rays shot past me and Harsk summoned a spiritual longsword, that hovered in the air and started to attack the demoness. It was an awful mess.

“I’ll get her!” Vidarok shouted at me, forgetting the hound and moving against Lyrie. Nualia, overcoming my lethal strike and trying to evade my flanking, sidestepped, bringing herself into a position to attack both Harsk and Ilori. Even suffering from the wounds inflicted to her, her skill was tremendous. Her attacks were a flurry of blows and Harsk bore the brunt of them. Sparks and bits of steel flew all over and dwarven blood flowed. I grinned in hatred and pushed myself towards the aasimar, acrobatically moving myself to flank her anew and stabbed with my remaining gladius, once again penetrating armor and meat to my satisfaction. But still the b#*&* didn’t fall.

The aasimar, now realizing the threat I posed to her well-being, moved away and confronted Ilori instead. The bastard sword swung again laterally and hit Ilori’s mage armour with tremendous force. The shield sparkled before vanishing and the sword dug deep into Ilori’s flesh. Her scream of pain shook me to the core. Fires died in her eyes and our carmine lady collapsed lifelessly to the ground. I heard Harsk bellow incoherently in righteous fury.

No time to feel sorry for her, I thought, grinding my teeth together. The demonic hound, at its last breaths, made a daring leap to its mistress’s aid. Vidarok tried to knock it off, but missed.

But I didn’t. “And this is for Ilori”, I simply said to the animal and bringing the gladius down in a powerful, perfect arc, cleaved the beast in two in the middle.

But my small victory turned sour as Lyrie once again summoned her powers and cast magic missiles against Harsk. The stocky, brave Harsk was already close to succumbing to his wounds and evil magics were too much for him. Arrows made of light stabbed right through him and he too fell. “Harsk, no!” Vidarok yelled in grief and doubled his efforts to slay Lyrie once and for all. The cold and emotionless, pragmatic part of me just wanted to remind the druid that he once had the chance to kill the enemy sorceress but he didn’t seize the opportunity then – and this was the outcome.

With Harsk and Ilori both down, and possible already dead, Nualia turned to me fully. I gestured with my gladius and in a blink, she was all over me. Her first strike flew wildly past me, but I was only barely able to evade it. The second ripped deep into my right thigh and I grunted. I slashed back but she parried with her bastard sword. A return attack, and she shattered my left shoulder blade. My vision blurred, and I tried a thrust, but she evaded. Blood ran from her mouth but she was laughing now. Half-dead, but she’s toying with me, I realized. She’s taking me out with a few blows.

She kept laughing at me as I staggered after her. My right thigh felt like it was burning but pure adrenaline subdued the pain – the problem was that it and my limp left arm ruined my balance. I thrusted and stabbed but to no avail – rather, my attacks left me open to a counter-attack.

I saw the demonic hand coming a mile away, but I had no chance of parrying it nor moving aside. Instead, its razor-sharp claws pierced my chainshirt and dug deep into my chest. My right lung immediately collapsed, and my other was flooded with blood. So this is it, I had the time to think. I fell to my knees and my vision blurred again before fading completely to black. Then I died.

**

I opened my eyes to shining sunlight.

I felt the sea wind breezing over me. Tasted the salt in the air. Heard waves crash into shore. It was a bright day.

I was on my feet. No, I was walking on a flat beach of perfectly white sand that seemed to stretch to eternity. There was nothing, no-one with me. I looked down, but couldn’t see my feet, nor my body. Strange. I didn’t leave any footprints in the sand, but I was moving forward. Where was I?

I blinked and there was a body lying on the sand, face down, twenty feet away from me. It looked like it had just drifted ashore. His feet were still close enough for the waves to wash over them. It was a man, I could tell, and his clothes were and silver hair were soaked. He didn’t move.

I walked (floated?) closer. The man remained still. His hands were sprawled to his sides. Under his long hair I could point out his ears. He was elandili, a half-elf like me. We had the same build. I had no body but I could feel my heart starting to race. Over the seawater I smelled blood. I couldn’t see any but it was overcoming everything.

I got only three feet away from the body before his head turned painfully slowly towards me. His face was covered in sand but I could recognize that face anywhere.

Amin hiraetha, brother. I failed you. I betrayed you”, Macharius rasped. A single tear fell from his eye and rolled over his cheek to the sand.

“No brother, you didn’t”, I could only say before grief took over. I couldn’t talk so I cried. He smiled faintly, trying to comfort me.

“I’m coming for you, Alpharius”, he said and then my world exploded in pain.

**

Through the pain, I opened my eyes and could see a bruised, but happy face of a dwarf looming over mine. I was on the floor.

“Harsk”, I groaned, “You’ve got blood all over your beard.” The dwarf chuckled and rose to his feet with a grimace. I turned to my side and coughed out a pint of blood. I had broken ribs, a shattered shoulder blade, my left thigh felt like it was in flames and my eyes hurt. Traako, Nualia had beaten me badly.

“Harsk”, I was able to say. The cleric turned to me, still also in visible pain. I nodded my thanks. He nodded back. I took deep breaths. My lungs were working. Thank the gods for healing magic. I reached to my chest where my bandolier was lying and fumbled its contents, trying to find the right potion. Taking one, I lifted it above my head, found it was the right one, and emptied its contents to my mouth. Within moments, I was feeling better. My ribcage started to move on its own. I could feel the splinters repositioning and bones coming together. The bleeding on my thigh ended and I could move it again. Sighing, I rose to a sitting position.

Ilori was alive as well, to my relief. But she wasn’t looking too good either. She was trying to compose herself, and was leaning on a wall. Her beautifully dangerous features were covered in blood and cuts. I’d seen attractive women beaten up before, in the gladiator pits, but those women had been hard-edged, hard-boiled gladiators, assassins, fighters and the like. But she was nothing like them. It still felt somehow wrong, in a deep instinctual level, to see her take hits and bleed just like the rest of us. Of course she had already proven us she could take care of herself, so my thoughts were simply and only bringing out the romantic in me. I didn’t know I possessed a fragment of a knight in shining armor.

“Are you OK”, I managed a question. She shook her head. I reached to my bandolier and offered her my other healing potion. She took it, smiled weakly before thanking me and drinking it. Vitality returned to her and fires reignited in her eyes.

“What happened”, I asked, no-one in particular.

“I finished her”, Vidarok replied, looking weary but pleased and pointing at the lifeless remains of the evil aasimar. I tried standing and successfully got to my feet. I can walk out of here on my own feet, which was nice, I thought to myself. Vidarok moved over to the corpse of the enemy sorceress Lyrie. The cat, which I remembered for some reason, was nowhere to be seen but it’s mistress lied on her back, in a pool of her own blood. Her lifeless eyes and open mouth told of a death in grief and pain. Vidarok had ended her as well. The half-orc kneeled by and studied her. With trembling steps, I walked to them and kneeled at her side as well.

“What a waste”, I whispered as I looked at dead Lyrie. I reached out and closed her eyes. “Her and the soldier. They were just serving an evil one”, I reflected. A hint of sympathy to the enemy aside the fragment of knight in shining armor. Near-death was messing with my head. “I once served an evil man as well”, I muttered to myself, trying to rationalize my thoughts. No-one replied. I could’ve been me lying dead there. The realization shook me to my core. This was the second time I had come close to really dying.

I failed you.

I rose as Vidarok went through her belongings, and moved to the aasimaar’s corpse. Yet again an uncharacteristic flame of righteous fury sparked somewhere inside my soul. We had all almost died at her hands. I felt good that the b+~~& was dead. I drew my gladius and turned to Vidarok. “Do you want to take her head or should I?” I asked him, my blade gleaming in the chamber candles’ light. The unkept druid shrugged, still focused on Lyrie’s valuables.

My blade struck the outsider’s neck. Blacksmith Korvut’s work proved its worth once more and I easily sliced her head off her shoulders. I spat on her headless corpse for emphasis.

**

We took what we could from the bodies of Lyrie and Nualia. In return for my favor, Ilori magically mended by broken gladius and I replaced it into my scabbard. We left the room and on our way out, Vidarok grabbed the aasimar succubus’ head.

We had no ability to heal ourselves anymore, and we all were in a ragged condition. We took a short look at the other room directly south of where we had fought. There we found a very large stash of coins with blade sharp sides that emanated powerful magic, and a threatening, massive door with skeletal figures etched into them. Deciding we had pushed our luck enough for one day and choosing to return here later, we left both the coins and the door and headed out.

In the corridor with the statues and the trap there was no sign of John. “A shame”, Vidarok said, and jumped over the tile with the trap. I jumped after him and turned around, offering Ilori my hand. “Come on”, I urged her. She looked at the tile, then at me and leaped, red skirt billowing.

Her jump was all too short. To her credit, she didn’t scream as I pulled her out of harm’s way straight into my lap just as the cage fell on the tile and the mechanics of death started.

My hands were around her and I noted that I might have been holding her a bit too closely. Her face was an inch away from mine. Well this is awkward. “Thanks”, she said, looking me straight in the eye. “You’re welcome”, I replied, not evading her look. Then the dwarf came running through directly into us over the trap and we all fell on the stone floor as a heap.

**

In the first underground floor, we stopped to examine the chapel of Lamashtu where the first demon hounds had been waiting for us. The space was eerily beautiful, more than 60 feet long and thirty wide. Pillars stood in either side and in the far end lied an altar with a statue depicting of Lamashtu herself. The statue was carrying two kukris. How quaint, I mused, considering I just had lost two which I had carried for years. Perhaps I should take them. “They are magical”, Ilori informed me as I was about to reach for them. I was stopped in my tracks. What if they were a trap, or even worse, cursed? I hesitated for a moment, before my greed won. I grabbed the pommels, pulled hard and the kukris came loose.

We continued to the staircase room, where Harsk collected the rest of the equipment from the bodies of Bruthazmus and the soldier. Then we headed up to ground level, Vidarok leading us with Nualia’s head in his grip, hoping for the best, expecting the worst.

But everything was just as we had left it. Keeping low and quiet, we stalked back to the fort main entrance, and out into the open. I inhaled the fresh air and it felt great. We had made it out! One by one, we crossed the bridge to the waiting Gogmurt.

The beast laughed and jumped in joy when it saw what Vidarok was carrying. “We did our part”, Vidarok told it, “can you promise that the goblins will field no more attacks against Sandpoint?” The goblin couldn’t avert its gaze from Nualia’s head. “Yes yes, Gogmurt can promise. Ripnugget will listen. We goblins are peaceful folk”, it babbled. I snorted, but it didn’t pay me any notice.

“Then our matters are concluded”, Vidarok stated, smiling. The goblin coughed. “Can we have the demoness’ head?” It asked shyly. Vidarok looked around for opinions. As no-one said anything, he tossed the head to the goblin druid. It caught it and started to eagerly, almost lovingly examine it.

“There is still spaces we’d like to investigate within the structure in the future..”, Harsk started but was interrupted by the goblin. “Why would you come back to Thistletop? This is goblin territory, dwarf”, it spat, surprisingly angrily. Frowning, I stepped towards the goblin. “Just remember, Gogmurt, and make sure to remind every goblin, that if you f!~+ with us or Sandpoint, your fate will be the same as Nualia’s.” The goblin hissed and cowered, squeezing the head tightly to its chest. We left, if not in the friendliest terms. Damn the goblins to the deepest hells, I was positive we would return.

**

On the way back, halfway to Sandpoint we heard a series of unnatural screams coming from very far away south of Tickwood. “What do you think it is”, I asked our expert of all things from nature. “I don’t know”, Vidarok replied. “It sounds like a dying horse, but it isn’t. Whatever it is, should we head out there to have a look?” He asked us. Ilori shook her head. “We’ve been to hell and back today – let’s just return to Sandpoint.” Even Harsk, our beacon of righteousness, was too weary to investigate, so we continued to Sandpoint.

It was past midnight when we entered the town through Northgate. As we walked down Church Street, we came across several town guardsmen running south. I wondered what was going on, but nothing else seemed out of place so we went straight to the Rusty Dragon.

In the tavern, it was a bustle. Many people were still enjoying drinks and food but no-one paid any attention to a group of bloodied, rugged strangers entering the tavern. I walked straight into the bar, ordered a glass of wine and emptied it with a single swig before filling my mouth with fish and bread. Ameiko was still at the bar serving customers. She came to me and winked. “There was someone asking for you earlier, a young girl”, she told me with a knowing smile. I thanked her for the information, then excused myself, went to my room to drop my backpack and headed out.

A single pair of guardsmen patrolled the Sandpoint bridge as I walked across. They paid me no attention. At the other side, I made my way to the riverbank. There I got off my armor and clothes and dived into the water.

The sky was clear and the moon and stars were out. I floated, letting the coolness of the water mend my wounds. I closed my eyes, listening to the birds and grasshoppers. What was I doing? I almost got myself killed. For what? This little town? For the others, the strangers of whom I really didn’t even know much about even though we had been together already for a time that felt like ages? Thoughts raced in my mind. I should be looking for my brother.

I’m coming for you, Alpharius, he had said in my dream. I pushed the thought aside. Stupid fool – I didn’t get visions, those were for the religious ones like Harsk.

I had to make up my mind on what I wanted and where I wanted to be, I realized as I opened my eyes. But not now, I thought. I cleared my head, washed myself and rose from the water.

I had seen some healing herbs there earlier, and in the light of the moon I quickly found some and started to treat my wounds. I rubbed salves to places where Nualia had hurt me and bandaged them. Finally, I pulled on my clothes, returned to the Rusty Dragon and fell into my bed.

I didn’t dream that night. I never did.


Awesome write-up!

I don't think your Lyrie/Orik encounter was all that unusual -- sounds like your GM ran it exactly as they're set up. You just managed to encounter and injure Lyrie first, ensuring Orik wasn't going to be very friendly towards you.

The whole thing sounds epic -- 3 of 4 party members down, and the monk manages to stay on his feet and bring down both foes! Wow!

EDIT: And I'm loving the "lawful vs. pragmatic" conflict -- we're having the same, "Do we kill every prisoner" debates in our group, and it does add a bit of juicy tension to the roleplaying.


NobodysHome wrote:

Awesome write-up!

I don't think your Lyrie/Orik encounter was all that unusual -- sounds like your GM ran it exactly as they're set up. You just managed to encounter and injure Lyrie first, ensuring Orik wasn't going to be very friendly towards you.

The whole thing sounds epic -- 3 of 4 party members down, and the monk manages to stay on his feet and bring down both foes! Wow!

EDIT: And I'm loving the "lawful vs. pragmatic" conflict -- we're having the same, "Do we kill every prisoner" debates in our group, and it does add a bit of juicy tension to the roleplaying.

Thanks! And thanks for your effort :)

Ah and here I was thinking that everybody always spares the lives of Lyrie and Orik. Oh well.

Yes! I love the internal conflict. It's so much better storywise to have it - it helps the players flesh out their characters and determine them more accurately.


Yea I think the GM just wanted to throw a bit more at them after them flushing out the bugbears love lair so easily, so he gave them couple turns of time to breath and then Lyrie just happened to be heading for her bed chamber, when she got ambushed. Door to the bed-corridor was left open by Alpharius and so Orik heard the screams of Lyrie and rushed to rescue, if a bit tipsy from all the free boose goblins had served him..

So all in all it was forced on them unless they act quick on Lyrie.

I too love the internal conflict, but us being fins.. Quite a bit of that is actually more from Tomis colorbook than actual word play from sessions. But we keep learning and I do think this journal has actually encouraged everyone to be a bit more wordy at the table.

Edit: Not to say all of it is thou.. There has been some great moments of it! :)


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A bit of downtime now that we had finished the first book.

Not much action: setup to some side quests our DM nicely offered us. We had a fun discussion with blacksmith Korvut though. And Alpharius gets to meet his future animal companion (he was still lvl3 at that point though). Yeah, and Alpharius decides to sell some loot for his own gain, showcasing his pragmatic if slightly opportunistic character and mistrust of his party members - a key characteristic of his.

Enjoy!
--

11. The long shadow of the Chopper

29th of Rova – Starday

Morning, the Rusty Dragon

If Vidarok had been groggy the morning before, then we were half-dead the next. We were still bearing the marks of the fierce battle the evening before, but before noon, we all got up and down to the Rusty Dragon’s main hall.

Ameiko, looking better by the day since we had saved her from her half-brother Tsuto, asked about how the trip had went. We let Vidarok tell and gloat a bit – afterall, it was he who had put down both Lyrie and Nualia in the end (especially after my help, that is). I didn’t care really. My thoughts were still at the river. Before leaving us, Ameiko hinted that she might need our help in the near future. We naturally promised to help, even I felt compelled. She continued to show kindness and respect to us and offered us a roof over our heads and food for free, and I, having travelled quite a bit through better and worse lands, could appreciate that.

There was still no sign of Frank the barbarian. He had been gone for two days. Nonetheless, over at the table, we decided to sell most of the loot we did not put to use immediately. Frank would get his share, possibly, when and if he got back.

Our first stop was Daviren Hosk, the stablemaster. He was happy to pay for new goblin ears. Harsk, bound to the contract he had made with the brewer Gaven Deverin, a cousin of the Mayor, and which he was more than happy to honor, remained at the brewery and began his ‘studies’ of brewing ales. More likely he and Deverin just got drunk like two old bards. The rest of us headed to Vorvashali Voon’s shop for magical items.

For the magical kukris of the Lamashtu statue in Thistletop, I bought myself a ring of protection and still got a large sum of coins for us to share. I think Voon got the better deal, but I was feeling happy to get rid of them. I had steered clear of magical weapons for years – granted, the powers the others wielded made me reconsider my position about magic and magical weapons, but still I wanted to be absolutely sure that the powers of the equipment I used would not come to bite me from behind. And I really wasn’t sure about the evil kukris.

Vorvashali was happy to buy our excess magical equipment. We had a quite a selection of normal martial, master-wrought weapons to get rid of too, so we headed out next to blacksmith Das Korvut and the Red Dog Smithy.

Now Korvut was always a gruff and very impolite man, but that time he behaved like a presumptuous, outright hostile bastard.

“Hmm, you return”, he noted from his workbench as we arrived, setting aside a sword fresh off the forge. “Are these heroes, Alphonse?” He asked me, still unable to recall my name or not giving two sh*ts about it (I suspected the latter), regarding Ilori and Vidarok, who I realized hadn’t visited Korvut’s shop earlier. I flashed a smile, remembering our previous discussion the day before. “Yes, I could say they are heroes.” Both the sorceress and the druid looked at me puzzled. “Well are you or are you not?” Korvut, irritated, asked them as he noted their hesitation. Vidarok shrugged. “I’ve never considered myself a hero.. but we’ve done good things for the town.” Ilori stayed silent. Korvut mumbled something to himself, then spoke aloud. “Hmmph. I guess that’ll have to do. I don’t need to remind you of the details of the story of the Chopper who plagued Sandpoint five years ago, do I?” Vidarok was first to respond, with the polite tone he typically used. “No master Korvut, you do not.” We were quite familiar with the story of the mass murderer who had roamed unchecked in the town before being, according to common knowledge, killed by the former Sheriff at a place called Chopper’s Isle. The blacksmith crossed his arms. “Good. The thing is”, he started, lowering his voice even though there was no one in the vicinity but us who could hear, “my young son, Simon, nine years old, ran away from home six months ago and I haven’t seen him since.” Asking for help obviously was very difficult for the smith, even beyond him, it seemed to me. Vidarok nodded. “Do you have any idea where he might have gone”, he asked. Korvut spat on the ground. “The others, Hemlock especially, thinks he has run off town to join a party of bards or a circus, but I’m positive he’s gone to the Chopper’s Island.” I frowned. “The island north of Old light?” I asked. Korvut looked at me like I was an idiot. “Yes, that island. If you are heroes”, he turned to Ilori and Vidarok, “then go over there and find my boy, and bring him back.”

“Well,” Vidarok started, a bit taken aback by the tone of the blacksmith, “we’ve just returned from a very demanding journey to Thistletop and we still need to recover from that and sell our loot. If you could look at these swords..” He gestured towards pile of weapons at the cart we had brought with us but was interrupted by increasingly agitated Korvut. “Are you heroes or not? Go find me my son!” I frowned again but kept my temper in check, letting the druid speak. “Of course, we can consider it and travel to the island at a later stage”, but he was again cut short by the ill-tempered smith. “Consider and consider. Either you do this now or I will not do any business with you, ever.” Vidarok was lost for words, and I interjected coolly. “You know, that tone of voice will not help to win us over.” The smith narrowed his eyes and turned his back to us. “Bugger off then!”

“What a piece of work”, Vidarok wondered aloud when we left. Apparently, there now was yet another shop in town that refused us entry.

**

We continued to Savah’s Armory, where I sold some excess bows that we had acquired, and bought a brand new master-wrought longbow designed to fit my strength perfectly, dismissing my previous plans to save gold for and order an enchanted longbow. Having just almost lost my life, I realized planning too far into the future was a fool’s errand. I needed a better bow, now.

As we left Savah’s, I had an idea. We agreed that Vidarok and Ilori could go ahead to inform Hemlock and Deverin about what we had found in Thistletop, while I excused myself, telling the others ‘I had personal issues to attend to’. I remembered hearing about a shop that did business on fine wares, like jewelry, and had a rough idea about where it was. Walking north, I found the place easily near Northgate.

Maver Kesk’s Jewelry shop was guarded by two brutes and I interrupted a heated argument between the shopkeeper and his wife as I entered. Consequently Kesk was more than happy to serve me. He bought Tsuto’s silver earrings, master-wraught flute and the dagger with the pearl-coated pommel I had found in Thistletop. Satisfied, I pocketed the gold. If the others keep the magical items and the dwarf hoards the enchanted swords, then I’ll keep all gold I can get my hands on for my purchases, I thought to myself.

Sheriff Hemlock was yet to return and Mayor Deverin was not to be disturbed, so Vidarok and Ilori had visited the town hall for naught. I met them near where we separated, and we went to see High Prient Zantus instead.

Zantus received our news with a heavy heart. I think he had believed us at some level the first time we suggested Nualia had been behind the attack, but he was still visibly sorrowful as we recounted our venture to the depths of Thistletop. As further proof, we showed her the aasimar’s notes, and he asked us to leave them to him, so that he could study them in detail. We gladly left the books, happy that someone took the time to go through them, allowing us to spend the time more beneficially.

**

The day had reached afternoon, and Ilori excused herself. Vidarok and I still had some business to attend to – we both wanted to visit the tannery, so we continued our day trip to Larz Rovanky’s shop. Rovanky was surprisingly pleased to see us.

“Ah, such a good luck to have you come by now. Please, help me, I’ll need you at the back”, he urged us pointing to whatever lied behind his tannery. We were still travelling with the cart Harsk had got us from the brewery and a pile of weapons, shields and armor, so I offered to stay back and watch the cart as Vidarok jogged after the tanner.

There was not a single soul anywhere, so after a while, I raised my voice and shouted at Vidarok. “What do you have there?”. The druid’s reply was immediate. “You should come and see this.” Relatively sure no-one would steal our equipment, I left the cart and paced to the backyard behind the tannery. The tannery was at the bank of Mill Pond, and behind it, a single, tall oak stood alone like a guardian. Rovanky and Vidarok both stood at its foot and were looking up. I raised my gaze and saw what they were looking at.

A young firepelt puma male was sitting at one branch, its head sideways, regarding us with a curious look. What made it unique, beautiful even, was its white, silver and grey fur – something very different from the typical colours I knew the area’s firepelts had. This was a snowpelt, I mused.

“It’s been sitting there peacefully since morning. A pack of its kind drove it there. I scared them off but the beast hasn’t come down”, the tanner explained. “I get these a lot, they’re attracted to the smells of my tannery, but they don’t normally come so close.” Curious. Vidarok, most attuned to the wild and its inhabitants of us, had already tried to lure it down, but to no avail. I tried to call for it as well, but it just stood there, not making a sound, not showing any signs of aggressiveness nor fear. Such calmness was admirable.

It looked a bit worn out and hungry, so I got an idea. Telling the others to back down a bit, I reached in to my back pack, took out a trail ration and from there, a piece of salted pork meat. I waved the meat over my head. The beast noted it immediately, sniffing air. I allowed myself a smile.

I gently lowered the meat to the ground and took a few steps back. The fire pelt jumped one branch down, then a second, and in a moment it was back on solid ground, munching at the piece of meat. Rovanky nodded to me in approval. “You always know how to appeal to others’ baser appetites”, Vidarok quipped. I snorted, and decided to test the animal. It was acting strangely already, so what the hell, I though and took a step forward. The animal saw me but didn’t react. I took a second. Still nothing. Third. I was only three feet away then. I didn’t fear the animal, and neither did it fear me. I crouched, examining it closely as it fed. It looked me in the eye like me sitting there was the most normal thing there ever was. “I had a wild lynx as a pet when I was little”, I shout out to the tanner and the druid, “I found it alone when it was very young, but it was just like this firepelt, totally fearless of me.” I stood up, and the animal rose as well, like it was mimicking my moves. As if our matters were concluded, it started to jog away. I turned to leave as well. “Please give it another piece of meat if it shows up. I’d like to see it again”, I told Rovanky.

For our help, the tanner awarded us with combat scabbards for our daggers and Vidarok got a bandolier for his potions. We finished our day trip at different potionmakers before we returned to the Rusty Dragon.

**

Bethana, Ameiko’s helping hand, brought us dinner at the table. Over dinner, we discussed the day and what we had been able to sell. I was displeased with the situation with Korvut – we had a lot of wares that could be turned into gold and further into actually valuable equipment. Harsk, a bit in his cups, had returned from the brewery, wasn’t at all dissappointed. He was eager to put into use the shields and swords we had gathered. Typical.

Ameiko showed up as well and joined us. She told us that she had decided to continue his father’s businesses and restart operations at the Glassworks. As a part of that, she had contacted and subsequently hired a new glassmaster from Magnemar, a man named Narsius. Ameiko’s problem however was that Narsius wasn’t willing to travel to Sandpoint without escort. Therefore, she asked one of us to travel to Magnemar by ship, fetch him and return to Sandpoint.

I recognized a fine chance to spend some private time, but first urged Ilori to go, just to spite her. “You can go see Aldern and see if you can milk him for some money”, I had poked fun at her. She was absolutely unwilling, of course, so I volunteered. Ameiko promised a nice compensation for my efforts, and we agreed that I’d leave the next day or the day after that, depending on availability of ships in harbour.

We told Ameiko about our problems with Das Korvut. She wasn’t surprised, and shared some information about Chopper’s island: how it would be best to go there during the morning when the tide was low; how the former sheriff had tracked the Chopper to the island; how Hemlock had found them both dead and how subsequently Deverin and the sheriff had prohibited anyone in town to go there. The place, like people said, was haunted.

As we weren’t officially citizens of Sandpoint, and we were still interested in the fate of Korvut’s son, even if the man had been a complete ass, we decided to go there at dawn and investigate. Just because we really seemed unable to keep our noses out of trouble.


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In this chapter, we take a journey to the dark history of Sandpoint and explore the Chopper's Island. A challenging sidequest between book 1 and 2 that nicely set up the next adventure, the return of the mass murderer!

Enjoy!

PS. Read this in my blog here, or read the latest chapter, 15. Trouble at the Hambley's, here.
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12. Bound souls
30th of Rova – Sunday
Dawn, Sandpoint

The previous evening Harsk and Ilori had stayed in the Rusty Dragon to examine and discuss a spellbook while Vidarok had went outside, sat down under an oak tree, crossed his legs and meditated. I had returned to the outskirts of Sandpoint to drill with my gladii blades, and to gather my thoughts. While I didn’t show it to anyone, my near-death at the hands of Nualia and the dream-vision of my twin brother haunted me. If the druid preferred sitting still eyes closed to achieve focus and peace of mind, I wanted to break a sweat and lose myself in the dance of the blades, or become one with my weapon of choice, the longbow.

Before midnight, I took another swim to wash the toil and crawled to my bed in the Rusty Dragon. Sleep avoided me, and dawn broke too soon. No matter, I thought, what could we find on an empty little island?

**

We walked through Sandpoint to the Junk Beach, and from there, using the low tide to our advantage, over to the Chopper’s Isle. To gain entry to the Isle proper, we had to climb a steep cliff, which proved to be no challenge. The top of the isle offered a nice view of the town – we could see Sandpoint slowly awaken to another day. The isle itself was hilly, challenging to traverse, as long hays and grass covered everything. It had very little in the way of forest. Nonetheless, we were careful with our steps and looked closely for any signs of Korvut’s boy Simon.

The isle was only some 300 feet long, so we reached the first peak, situated in the middle of the isle, quickly, and found the long burned remains of a house. According to town lore, the building had been the Chopper’s, and had been burned by the townfolk when the Chopper’s identity had been uncovered. We searched the ruins closely, but found nothing initially – no bodies, no tracks. After a moment however, Harsk spotted something on a nearby cliffside.

“Here, I can see something”, Harsk beckoned to us. On the cliffside, a pile of trunks, hay and branches covered what it seemed was a tunnel leading into the cliff and underground. We cleaned the path and confidently ventured into the tunnel.

The tunnel led to a staircase, which led further down underground. There, we emerged into a small, man-made cave. It felt like something crawled on my skin when I saw the statue at the middle of the cave – it depicted a beatific yet demonic pregnant woman whose skin had been tore and cut in places. The reference to the cult of Lamashtu was undeniable to even my untrained eyes. Her presence was indeed strong in Sandpoint, I realized.

The statue was not the only thing in the cave. Vidarok went ahead and kneeled next to remains of a long-deceased man. It was an adult, so it couldn’t be Simon Korvut. The previous sheriff perhaps, or the Chopper himself? No-one had found their bodies, and no-one after sheriff Hemlock had visited the Isle. A mystery.

We circled the room, looking for any clues, but found none. I was drawn to the statue, and walked to it. As I was reaching for it, I heard angry curses emanating from it. Something moved inside the statue, I realized to my amazement, and it was stirring, as if the statue was coming alive. “Watch out!” I managed a warning as I stepped back and drew an arrow from my vine. Then a horrible keening scream and a shadowy figure leaped out of the statue.

“A ghost!” Harsk bellowed. Ilori was first to react, snapping her fingers and erupting the air around the ghost with fireworks. The undead wailed in pain. I followed with an arrow that went right through it – it was still materializing to this plane of reality and didn’t present much opportunity for me to hurt it physically. “My arrows are of limited help here”, I cursed between my teeth as it whirled in the air towards me. I tried to duck as it reached out to me but couldn’t evade it. I could feel cold numbness where it touched me in the shoulder, and then, painful weakness across my body. It was sucking my strength out of me!

I broke out of its grip and warned the others. Harsk and Vidarok both charged the spirit and tried to strike it, but their attacks were fruitless. Instead, the ghost turned in mid-air and set its hands on Harsk. The dwarf’s face grew pale, his skin thinning as veins became visible. Harsk groaned in pain and dropped his sword as the spirit ripped lifeforce out of him.

As if one of the ghosts was not enough, another emerged from the statue as well and hovered around aimlessly before noting the presence of the fire sorceress. Ilori, now alone, was forced to confront the second ghost. Not faltering, she showered it with rays of fire but the spirit endured them. Deciding not to leave her alone this time, I circled the melee of Harsk, Vidarok and the first ghost and shot the spirit threatening Ilori with an arrow. My aim was again true, but there was little to pierce and hurt. My mind started to race. What did I have that could really hurt these bastards?

Harsk stumbled back, shaking, sweating and pale as white linen. Vidarok kept slamming the spirit with his quarterstaff, expertly evading its touch at the same time. But Ilori was not so nimble. The second spirit caught her, draining life out of her for a second before Ilori pulled out of its reach.

The situation was going to the s+*~ter and fast. Then I remembered. Fumbling for my bandolier, I found what I was looking for – a potion full of holy water from the cathedral. I turned to the closest spirit, opened the bottle and spattered its contents all over its smoky form. I was awarded with a shriek of pain that hurt my ears. Looking back, I should’ve poured its contents into my vine to bless my arrows, but I wanted a safe and sure way to test my hunch. And it paid off.
Vidarok took advantage of the spirit’s suffering and landed a powerful blow that actually seemed to hit something. Harsk, coming to his senses finally, drew a deep breath and spread his arms wide, channeling positive energy. Blue-white light shimmered from his fingertips, pulsing out to every direction. It didn’t restore our strength but rocked the spirits, adding to their blight. “Keep going!” Vidarok yelled to Harsk, “they’re hurting!”. Ilori, visibly weary, lifted her hands almost placidly. She said something to the spirit attacking her but I couldn’t hear what before slamming her palms together.

The ghost simply vanished into a violently exploding ball of fire that almost torched us as well. “For f$!%’s sake!”, I laughed almost manically, reveling in the ghost’s destruction and shielding my face from the tremendous heat.

Harsk, still trembling from the effort and keeping his hands to stretched out like he was pushing apart two walls, kept chanting and channeling positive energy. The blue-white light grew stronger, now spiralling around his arms in full and struck everyone in the room, the remaining spirit and us both. It tore the evil spirit to metaphysical pieces but did nothing to us. Then complete silence fell and the room was as we had found it.

**

Lacking our strength, we chose not to cover the tunnel to the cave. Whatever had haunted the place was now destroyed and we were sure hiding the place was no longer necessary. I had however some questions for Hemlock the next time we’d see him. By Earthfall, what the hell had we just vanquished? Two trapped souls? But whose?

We continued our trek north, to the other side of the isle. There we found a fireplace and camp that had been abandoned a month or two before. We entertained the thought that Simon had lived here. He was a tough kid, I had to admit, if he had survived here alone for several months. I tried calling for him by his name, but the place was dead silent.

We backtracked, expanding our area of search beyond the path we’d used. Halfway back to the southern tip of the isle, I saw a small piece of cloth caught in a branch, swaying in the wind. I walked to it, removed it and had a closer look. It was piece torn from a shirt, probably a man’s.. or boy’s.

There was no trace of the boy, and no other clues were found, so we returned to Sandpoint. But instead of returning first to see Korvut, we went to the cathedral. Zantus welcomed us wearily.

“The plans you brought me from Thistletop”, he began, “they incriminate Nualia completely. You were truly right about her”, he admitted. “Her goal was to burn the town as an offering to Lamashtu, feed the souls of its inhabitants to her wicked goddess so her army could rise from the plane of Hell, using some sort of well beneath the city.” Harsk nodded. “Indeed, we saw the well when we vanquished the demoness Elyrium.” Zantus looked very serious and considered what the dwarf had said. “If that is the case, we will have to deal with the well somehow. It needs to be closed.” I crossed my arms. “Can you do it, priest?” I asked. He shook his head. “I’m not sure. We’ll have to see but we might need much more potent magics than I have available”, he explained, briefly glancing towards Harsk and Ilori. Not pursuing the matter further, he changed subject. “There was also writings about a monstrosity called Malfeshnekor, that Nualia tried to release from its prison.. it is uncertain if she succeeded or not.”

“What about the beast you had killed in town the night we arrived from Thistletop? Perhaps that was this Malfeshnekor” I suggested. Zantus again shook his head gravely. “I don’t believe it was Malfeshnekor, but something much more simpler and less deadlier.” At that moment I was quite happy we had decided to return to Thistletop straight after we had killed Nualia – gods only knew what would have lied beyond the doors we left uninvestigated.

We exchanged some words with Zantus regarding Korvut and his son – the high priest too felt that the boy had in reality ran from town, and not to Chopper’s Isle like Korvut thought. We didn’t mention about the piece of cloth, which I gripped in my breeches’ pocket as we talked. If the cloth belonged to the blacksmith’s boy, then the high priest’s ignorance of the people and world around him was borderline obscene. First Nualia, now Simon Korvut.. I just shook my head and made a mental note to never again ask Zantus for insights about anyone in town.

The topic of the extraplanar well, as Harsk so beautifully termed it, was left open and we headed the blacksmith’s shop to show what we had found, and possibly bring sad news.

He was not happy seeing us approach. “What do you want?” He spat, not leaving his workbench. I said nothing, and showed him the piece of cloth. His mouth fell open and he took it from my hand. “W-where did you find this, ranger?” Funny. No-one had ever called me that. “From a branch in Chopper’s Isle”, I replied shortly. Tears welled in his eyes and his stone-faced demeanor melted like snow in Spring. “It can’t be.. It can’t be that he is gone”, he muttered to himself, tears running down his cheeks. No-one had anything to say, so we remained silent. Korvut sobbed, his face down to the ground, his hand gripping the cloth tightly. Then he looked up. “He must have left the town. You didn’t find a body, did you?” Harsk shook his head and Vidarok and Ilori were both about to say something but Korvut didn’t pay any attention. “Yes, that’s it – he must have fled the town like they say. It must be so.” He was denying the obvious, poor man, but none of us had the willingness to express doubts. “Thank you friends”, he dried his eyes, “for bringing this to my attention. As a reward, I will forge everyone of you a master-wrought weapon, shield or armor of your choice. I can even use rarer materials, if I have them available or if you bring them to me.” We were all a bit taken aback by his sudden graciousness, so we humbly thanked him, and promised to return when we had considered our choices.

We walked back to the Rusty Dragon in silence.


OK. Quick GM poll: Has ANY GM ever had a group that decided that Father Zantus was useful?

Personally, my group is bound and determined to replace Zantus with

An unimportant NPC from a later module:
Mayor Shreed.

Go figure!


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Another downtime session, but with fun sidequests, as Alpharius travels to Magnimar and finds his animal companion (as he just leveled up to lvl4). I have to say, I just love the spell-less ranger animal companions, as they are at the same level as the ranger himself. Very helpful, very effective.

I also updated the blog with a huge post (16. Chapter to those of you who read it) that tells the group's journey to a certain haunted mansion... lots of epicness included, I promise. Read it here.

--

13. The Hunter

30th of Rova – Sunday
Evening, the Rusty Dragon

Religious types consider Sunday to be a day dedicated for rest, but we were far from rested when we finally got back to the Rusty Dragon. Having sucked dry of our physical strength didn’t help, so Harsk went to his books and scrolls to find a spell that countered the effects of the ghosts’ touch. He and Vidarok both had the means to replenish our strength. A good night’s sleep would help as well.

At the tavern, I fixed my trip to Magnimar with Ameiko. The next day I would leave for the city in the early evening on a merchant ship, owned by a fellow known as Captain Jack. I was looking forward for the trip, even though I had developed a dislike of sea voyages during my long trip to Sandpoint from Korvosa. It would only take some half a day to get there, and nevertheless I’d be able to visit a city completely new to me.

Over at supper, Harsk mused aloud about founding a small chapel or temple in Sandpoint for his deity Iomedae. Ameiko, overhearing him speak told him to ask for vacant rooms and buildings from the Sandpoint Mercantile League that handled renting and selling of property in the town. Harsk was obviously starting to think about growing roots. I’d be damned if I’d ever buy any property anywhere, I thought to myself, swirling a glass of red wine and tasting cheese.

The dwarf, a beer lover and already up his nose in the local brewery business considered ventures with Deverin the brewer as well. I had heard Deverin had tragically lost his brother some years back, so Harsk’s eagerness to immerse himself in the knowledge of ale brewing and start running a business might prove a godsend to the man. I wondered how Harsk would combine his clerical responsibilities with beer brewing. Probably quite easily, given my previous knowledge of religious people and their affectations and worldly foibles. Harsk was not a hypocrite, I gave him that, but he was just a man. Or dwarf.

Vidarok and Ilori both shared their plans for the coming days as well. The half-orc would study magics and especially the preparation of magical potions under the tutelage of Nisk Tander, the flaunty if friendly potion maker. Ilori for her part had arranged to have the dubious magician/shopkeeper Vorvashali Voon mentor her in the arts of spellcraft.

As she was speaking, I noted a familiar face enter the tavern. It was Shayliss. She quickly found me in the crowd (the tavern was full, as usual) and winked at me. I excused myself, and gestured her to follow me upstairs to my room.

I couldn’t control myself, and neither did her, and we were half-naked by the time we reached my room and I slammed the door shut. All the events of the previous day – the horrors of Thistletop, the ghosts and the mystery in Chopper’s Isle – had wound me up badly, and I f+*!ed her like there was no tomorrow. It didn’t help that she went along with it fully, seemingly enjoying every moment. Not a prude, I had the fleeting thought somewhere between.

“Is your father still angry with us”, I asked her when we had finished. I was on my back on the bed, looking at the wooden ceiling absentmindedly. She lied next to me, sideways, her long hair a mess, and was running her fingers across old scars on my sweaty chest.

“Of course. You dishonored his little girl and my father has a very long memory when it comes to people who have mistreated him or his daughters”, she answered with a serious tone but smiling anyway. I turned to face her and smiled mischievously. “Oh, you have a sister?” She laughed and hit me in the stomach. “F##@ you Alpharius!”

**

We slept for a while, holding each other, but before dawn she got dressed and sneaked out. I allowed myself some more rest before getting up. Afterall, I had to catch the evening ship and nothing more.

It was almost midday as I made my way down to the tavern main hall. I learned others were already gone studying, so I decided to head out to see the blacksmith. I had made my mind about my master-wrought weapon – or weapons, to be exact.

I was the first to voice my request to Korvut, so he was surprisingly lenient when I made my case for acquiring two gladius blades instead of one – as it was my style to fight with two light swords rather than with a two-handed weapon, or with a shield and a sword. When I had to resort to something else than my bow, that is.

When I promised to hand out the previous gladii blades I had purchased from the blacksmith, now battle-tested, for the new ones, Korvut promised to make the other from adamantium – the unbreakable metal. The irony was not lost to me when I remembered how easily Lyrie had shattered my blade and how Ilori had been gracious enough to mend it back together from shards. The next time an opportunistic magician would not be breaking my blade so easily, I muttered as I left.

Acting out of impulse, I stopped by Rovanky’s Tannery, given it was situated practically next door to the Red Dog Smithy. I hoped to see the strange firepelt cougar again, but there was no sign of it. A shame, I thought. The beast was intriguing to say the least, and I had sensed some sort of connection between us when we had locked eyes previously. It had been running from its kind, just like me. Growing up, I had had a pet, a wild lynx, which I had shared with my twin-brother, but after we had been captured by the slavers we hadn’t been allowed any pets in Canorate. I entertained the thought of getting one as I made my way south back to the Rusty Dragon.

I packed my backpack and said my brief farewells to everyone. Ameiko gave me some last minute instructions and the I continued to the docks. Captain Jack’s crew was already loading the last of the cargo into the merchant ship, weirdly named the ‘Tall and Handsome‘. When I approached the ship, I was greeted by the ship’s quartermaster, a balding man with long, grey whiskers. “Ready to go?” I asked the man, looking at the hustle and bustle. “Aye”, the quartermaster nodded, “we’ll sail out when we’ll finish getting Hemlock’s and Justice Iron Briar’s stuff away from the dock to storage”, he added, pointing to a few coffers sitting alone at the end of the pier. “Justice Iron Briar?” I wondered aloud. “Yeah. Not a nice fellow, that Justice. He came with Sheriff Hemlock and his recruits this morning with us. Going to interrogate and pick up a prisoner from the town garrison, I heard”, the quartermaster explained and scratched his head. Tsuto, I realized. He came for the treacherous bastard. “All right, if it is fine with you I’d board the ship”, I asked, nodding towards a plank that led to the ship. The quartermaster shrugged, “go ahead. You don’t have any items you want carried to the hold?” I shook my head and bounced the backpack I was carrying slightly as a gesture. “I travel lightly.”

**

I didn’t get seasick but it was the tight confines, and having to stay there for a long duration, that got on my nerves with traveling by ship. I loved the forest, the hills, the plains, even the sprawl of a city – the places where I had grown up. But being stuck in a wooden box floating on water for days, weeks even – that was not something I enjoyed.

But Magnimar was my kind of town. Reminding me of Canorate, given its grandeur and size, it offered a fugitive like me who preferred the low-profile a thousand places to hide and utilize. Sadly I had no time to properly explore the city. We had arrived in the morning and the Tall and Handsome would sail back to Sandpoint already in the afternoon, so my time was short. Captain Jack instructed me to go to the Quick Fox tavern somewhere within the Docks district – there my man, Narsius Glasblasen, would be waiting for pick-up. I thanked him for the information, disembarked and ventured into Magnimar.

It took me less than an hour to find the tavern. Inside it was like any other tavern for sailors – it smelled of fish and beer, was dark, humid and filled with sailors eating, getting drunk and making overly enthusiastic passes at barmaids. I attracted no attention whatsoever as I stalked in and to the bar.

“Whatcha want?” A bartender asked, rubbing stains off pints with a dirty cloth. “Water and something to eat”, I told him. He yelled at a barmaid, and in a moment, the girl brought me a wooden cup with something that resembled water and a plate that had bits of fish, cream and potatoes. I think.

I paid the bartender and made a passing question. “I’m here to meet Narsius, the glass master, for some business. Is he here already?” The bartender grunted and nodded at the back of the tavern. I turned around and saw who he was pointing at. A wiry, a bit hunched and very suspicious-looking man was eating his lunch over at a table alone. I nodded and offered the bartender some extra silver for his help.

While I kept my eye on the glass master, I finished the fish stew (I think it was fish stew), downed the water and started towards him. Hunched over his plate eating, he didn’t notice me until I threw my backpack on a stool and sat down opposite to him. “Narsius Glasblasen?” I asked, observing him. “Yes? Who asks”, he replied, frowning and possibly bit irritated that someone had interrupted his meal. “I am Alpharius, and I’ve been sent here by Ameiko Kaijitsu to escort you to Sandpoint”, I explained, looking him in the eye under my hood. The man snorted. “You’re all she sent? Can you even take care of yourself?” I smiled and looked around the tavern as if I hadn’t heard his insult. “Our ship, Captain Jack’s Tall and Handsome leaves for Sandpoint in three hours. I have some business in town, so can I leave you here and be sure you’ll be here when I come to pick you up?” The glass master tapped his nose and gave a sly smile. “Sure, I can wait. But not with a dry throat.” Understanding his intention, I rose and flipped him a platinum coin. “That should buy you a few rounds of beer. I’ll be back”. Grabbing my backpack, I walked out of the Quick Fox.

My business was a waste of time. I knew Aldern Foxglove had returned to Magnimar after his visit to Sandpoint, so I tried to find him or where he would happen to be living, in order to meet him. My plan, of course, was to milk him out of his valuables by using his hopeless infatuation with Ilori. But finding him proved very time-consuming and in the end, infeasible given my strict time limits. After some hours, I headed back to the Docks district, half-carried a very drunk Narsius Glasblasen with me out of the Quick Fox to the Tall and Handsome and we sailed out. I couldn’t sleep that night on the ship over the sound of Narsius throwing up and screaming for his mother.

**

The ship docked at first light. I pushed a weary Narsius off the ship and jumped behind him to the pier. “Welcome to Sandpoint, glass master”, I informed him dryly but couldn’t help but smile at his condition. Served him right. For some reason I got resentful looks from people when I paced from the ship with Narsius in tow. On the way to the Rusty Dragon, his condition improved quickly. He even eyed hungrily the brothel on Salmon street, but I not-so-gently pushed him forward. “Put your cock back in your trousers,Narsius. You can spend Ameiko’s money on whores later, but first we go see her.” Then I would be rid of this tiresome nuuko, I added to myself.

Over at the Rusty Dragon, Ameiko was expecting us. I introduced them to each other, got a small pouch of platinum coins for my effort and retreated to the others who were having breakfast. Bethana brought me some too, and I sat down with them.

I told them of Magnimar, and they told me what had happened on the previous day. Vidarok had been producing magical potions under the tutelage of the half-elf Nisk Tander, while Harsk had been learning the art of beer brewing, and purchased a house for his temple to Iomedae. Ilori had been reading spellbooks with Vorvashali Voon. So business as usual, I gathered.

In the afternoon I went to pick up my brand new master-wraught gladii blades from Das Korvut. We even had the time to visit Mayor Deverin – another mind-numbing discussion for me at least. We informed her of Nualia and what we had done to rid the town of another horrible threat to its existence, and in return got only disbelieve. Between my teeth, my knuckles white I reminded her of the proof we had provided to Zantus – apparently he hadn’t informed the mayor of Nualia’s documents. That made her think, I think, at least a little.

The visit to the mayor had me steaming again, so I wanted to vent some anger and knew exactly what I wanted to do. I headed out to the forest, alone.

**

The wild of the colonial lands of Varisia, I had come to understand, was teeming with life and the forests at the outskirts of Sandpoint were no different. I ventured south, towards the Ravenroost highlands and the forests at their feet. I quickly found very recent tracks of a herd of deers, and started to follow them silently through the thick woods.

But something was following me.

With little effort, I located the white-tailed deer family. Without a mount and knowing I would not be arsed nor able to carry a full-grown deer back to Sandpoint, I locked my eyes on a particularly vulnerable fawn. I approached them downwind, slowly and silently. The deer family was eating fresh young leaves, their treat, from a shrubbery, looking comfortable. I made my way carefully and I reached a good vantagepoint, slid an arrow from the vine, notched it and aimed. I was so focused I didn’t hear the bushes rustle far to my right and see something white and predatory move within. I let loose the arrow, and it found its mark. The fawn let out a pathetic whimper and collapsed, while the other deer stirred into frantic movement, escaping the shrubbery. I lowered the bow, satisfied with myself.

Then the beast leaped from its hiding place, growling.

I pivoted towards the threat, already drawing another arrow. But it wasn’t coming at me. It was going for my kill.

The white-grey firepelt, or snowpelt as I had called it over at the tannery, slogged to the body of the fawn and stopped. Then it turned its head straight at me and waited. Not knowing what to do, I lowered the bow and kept looking at it. It was still looking rugged and somewhat malnourished. For some reason, I shouted at it. “Go on, you can have it”. And as it had understood me, it turned to the dying fawn and sank its teeth to its neck, drawing blood.

I approached it again as it fed, but it didn’t challenge me or protect the prey. It was as if considered me as its hunting partner, part of its pack. Showing no fear, I shouldered my bow and walked right to it. I turned to regard me, its jaws covered in blood, but there was no hostility in its manner, only acceptance, and indifference. I watched there as it fed, and when it was finished, it got down on its belly and lied there, watching me. I took a swig from my water canteen. “You’re one weird beast, aren’t you.” The firepelt just yawned. I shrugged, and turned to leave. I had taken a few steps when I heard it rise and start to follow me. This is unbelievable, I just thought to myself. I turned to it again, and it was stopped in its tracks. “You want to come with me? Come on then!” And I took off running.

It ran behind me, following me. I kept running, over felled trees and streams, through bushes, across the forest. And the firepelt kept with me all the way, not making a sound. I ran for maybe thirty minutes, before I stopped to take a breath. The firepelt came to me, and jumped to sit on a nearby tree stump. It regarded me curiously, as if it was wondering what the hell was I doing running around in the forest like a madman. I started to laugh. My laughter echoed in the forest and scared a flock of birds.

**

Realizing the firepelt would not leave me now, I decided not to mind. It was a wild beast, and all my senses and experience screamed at me to never let my guard down nor turn my back to a beast like that, but there was something strange about the creature that made me lower my guard. I couldn’t put a finger on it but it was there.

I continued with my original plan, and quickly found another tracks of a new pack of white-tailed deer. I followed them, and found a young female standing alone next to a stream, drinking water. I crouched, looking for the rest of the pack, but it was nowhere to be seen. The firepelt, probably five feet behind me, imitated my movement and lowered itself down. I took a shot from where I was crouching and felled the young female buck. The firepelt growled deeply as it saw what I did. “No no, this one’s mine”, I said to the beast and started towards my second kill. The firepelt was at my heels.

I drained the blood off the buck and lifted it to my shoulders. The firepelt settled for licking some of the blood in the grass. “Let’s go home”, I told the beast and together, we started towards Sandpoint as the sun set to the west.

**

I sold the buck in the town meat market for a nice sum of gold. The reason for my payment was possibly that the butcher was stunned to see me pop in with a fresh kill on my back and a wild firepelt at my heels, and was willing to pay anything to get me out of there. I was certain my next hunt would not be as profitable but this was something I enjoyed doing. Let Ilori study her books, Harsk brew his beers and Vidarok gather his plants and berries, I loved the hunt.

Ameiko was not pleased as she saw us enter. “What the hell is that, Alpharius! Get that beast out of here, now!” She screamed at me and the firepelt. I realized it later but I actually scratched the firepelts neck for emphasis when I responded. “Ameiko, cool down. This one is not hostile to you, or anyone. We.. we have a connection.” I was lost for words for a moment. Vidarok, friend of nature, was smiling widely as he saw us. Ilori and Harsk were not as happy either. Some of the customers in the tavern shifted, some even changed seats away from us. At that moment, Bethana walked in to the hall from the kitchen. When she saw us, she screamed in terror and dropped four pints of beer on the floor. “My beer!” Harsk exclaimed, overly dramatically perhaps. The firepelt didn’t even flinch, but sat down on its hind legs.

Ameiko wasn’t yet content. “Alpharius.. I want assurance that the beast won’t break things in the tavern nor attack my customers.” I shrugged and dig into my pockets, before walking to the bar. I placed a platinum coin before her. “As assurance. And I’ll pay for any damage it inflicts, if it inflicts any. As for attacking customers”, I turned to the firepelt who was looking back at me, “well let’s say that if they attack me, it’s their fault.” Ameiko took the coin and shook her head. “All right. But if anything happens, the beast is out.” I nodded.

Vidarok came to us, still smiling at the firepelt. “I guess you have quite a story to tell how you got our little friend to come with you from the forest”, he told me, recognizing the firepelt as the same one we had found near the tannery a couple of days earlier. “And does he have a name?”

I scratched the beast from behind its ear. “No, I haven’t come up with one yet. And as for the story, well..”


The thing that amazes me so much about this is not that it's so well-written, or that it's such a joy to read, but it's that the author isn't even a native English speaker!
You could teach most of our natives a thing or two... (and I'm certainly not excluding myself. This stuff is GOOD!)

Bravo, Tomi, bravo!

I look forward to your next post!


NobodysHome wrote:

The thing that amazes me so much about this is not that it's so well-written, or that it's such a joy to read, but it's that the author isn't even a native English speaker!

You could teach most of our natives a thing or two... (and I'm certainly not excluding myself. This stuff is GOOD!)

Bravo, Tomi, bravo!

I look forward to your next post!

Wow, I'm humbled! We're playing at a pace that's pushing me to produce text at a rate that doesn't leave much time for copy-editing or rephrasing.. but I'm very pleased to have a happy reader :).. and I'll try to improve my writing all the time!


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After some downtime, our group continues with the main adventure. This time, a series of awful ritual murders has taken place in and around Sandpoint, and the apparently very incapable Sheriff Hemlock (DM Riding Bull forgot to use him in one of our first encounters, and the players NEVER will grow tired of letting him hear about his useless NPCs :) ) asks our heroes to investigate. This leads to a trip to a idyllic, remote sanatorium that hides a horrible secret within..

No update in the blog yet I'm afraid. Stay posted, and enjoy :)

**

14. Spring cleaning at the sanatorium

4th of Lamashtan – Oathday – 13th day at Sandpoint

Morning, Scarnetti lumber mill, Sandpoint

A gruesome duo of murders had occurred during the previous night at the town lumber mill.

“Why do we constantly run into that symbol”, Harsk asked, pointing at the desecrated body of mill operator Benny Harker. The poor man’s corpse had been vandalized, his flesh ripped from him, his face torn and unrecognizable. A symbol, huge seven-pointed star, had been carved to his chest. He was hung from a wall, and completely naked.

On one hand, Ilori held the seven-pointed star necklace she had taken from Nualia, and on the other, rolled a piece of paper she had got from Sheriff Hemlock. It was a message that had been found with the body. A message addressed to her. She was staring blankly to nowhere in particular, taken aback by how her name was connected to such violence.

You will learn to love me, desire me in time as she did. Give yourself to the pack and it will all end.

The ominous letter was signed by someone calling himself Your Lordship. But this unknown, pompous madman had not only killed the miller, but he had slain a young girl as well. Shayliss’ younger sister Katrine. Feeling empathy for Shayliss, I wondered if she had heard already and what she was going through. Apparently Katrine and Benny Harker had been having an affair, and were using the mill as a late night love nest. The affair had come to a bloody end.

“The stench is awful, foul even”, Vidarok noted as he walked in to the mill past two nervous town guardsmen, who were keeping curious townsfolk at bay. Hemlock, not trusting his men (or so I had determined), wanted us to investigate the murders. His aim was to keep this under wraps for now, in order to maintain order and keep the town from succumbing into panic. As it turned out, miller Harker and Katrine Vinder were not the only victims. Two days earlier, three bodies of local swindlers had been found slain and similarly desecrated from an abandoned cabin south of town. There was one survivor, a man called Grayst, who had accompanied the con men, but he had been attacked as well and went completely mad after seeing what had happened to his companions. He was being held and treated in a nearby sanatorium. The deaths of Harker and Katrine proved however that Hemlock was dealing with a serial killer, something akin to the Chopper from the years of the Great Unpleasantness. So, with us in town, he wanted our help. And considering a message to Ilori had been found in the scene of the murder, we were kind of obliged to help, to dispel any suspicions that we were to blame for the killings. My literally fresh-bloodied hands in addition to a complete unwillingness to see Ven Vinder and explain why I didn’t want to see him didn’t help with dispelling suspicions, but Hemlock had let me off the hook. Vinder would have probably tried to attack me if I would have tried to talk to him. What happened between me and his daughter was mine and her business alone.

Ibor Thorne, another of Scarnetti’s millers, had found the bodies when arriving to work earlier that morning. Vidarok had questioned him, and Katrine’s father Ven, as we believed having Ilori or Harsk, or me for that matter, present would not help Vinder come forward with insight into the mystery. But neither had provided any valuable information, nor did have a solid motive, so we had decided to have Hemlock escort us to the lumber mill.

With the firepelt, which I had decided to name Faroth, Elvish word for Hunter, shadowing me I walked over to a log splitter where the remains of Katrine Vinder laid. There were bits of flesh, bones and blood everywhere covering the sawdusted ground. Her head was however mostly intact, allowing for identification. Nasty. Somebody had fed her to the machine. At the thought I felt a shiver of rage, driven by that knight in shining armor I was apparently developing. Who the hell does this to innocent girls? I was no first-timer to seeing people hacked to pieces, but this was all simply s~*!-for-brains wrong. I had to look elsewhere to cool my nerves. And by doing that, I noted the source of the unnaturally foul odor Vidarok had smelled through the stench of rotten meat – a bloodied hand-axe that was lying next to the splitter.

Curious. I crouched down and called Harsk over. Faroth sniffed the axe and let out a low growl. “Can you say if this is magical?” I asked the cleric, pointing at the axe but not touching it. Harsk regarded the weapon for a moment and shook his head slowly. “It smells worse than death but it is not.”

Having a look around we found tracks coming in and out of the mill and leading to the Turandarok river. We left Hemlock and his men to sort out the mess at the mill and crossed the three feet deep stream. The tracks, obviously of a bipedal humanoid, but inhuman, I could tell, followed the riverbank south at the opposite side. The tracks took us to the immediate vicinity of the Sandpoint Bridge, where I had had nightly swim and healed myself only days ago. Pity the murderer had not run into me, I thought, my mood darkening. But instead of taking us further inland, the tracks ended at the beach of the sea proper. The killer had waded into the sea.

Harsk’s sharp mind was ticking. “The symptoms of the survivor from the cabin, Grayst, sounded familiar to me. I believe he is suffering from ghoul fever. The foul, unnatural stench from the mill also reminds me of the undead.” Vidarok nodded. “And considering our killer simply walked into water, he wasn’t worried about being able to breathe.” It seemed that we were facing an undead, possibly a ghoul, killer. “What happens to a man suffering from ghoul fever”, I asked Harsk. He stroke his beard, recalling what he had learned of the sickness. His expression was serious. “I believe he will die within days of contracting the disease, and turn into a ghoul during the following night post-death.”

Vidarok slammed his fist into his palm. “That’s it then. We must travel to the sanatorium to see this man if he has anything to tell us.. and make sure he does not spread this filthy disease!” I could see the man of nature was appalled by such perversions and couldn’t blame him for it. If nothing else, I wanted the killer’s head for what he had done to Shayliss’ little sister. For Harsk, the evil called for purgation, and Ilori was still anxious about the letter. We all had a good reason to investigate this.

As our next step our other options where to see Brodert, the strange historian who might tell us more about the seven-pointed star rune, and to try to find where the killer had resurfaced, but Vidarok and Harsk both felt time was against us, so we returned to Hemlock to inform him of our plans, got our mounts and rode south to the sanatorium.

**

“I don’t have a good feeling about this place”, Vidarok mouthed the feelings of everyone present as we reached our destination. The place was beautiful, idyllic even, a haven in the middle of nowhere. The sanatorium itself was an old, impressive three-story building, and it and its surroundings had been kept tidy. I was expecting to see patients outside, with their caretakers, enjoying the warm autumn day.

But there were no signs of life anywhere. Even the damn birds were keeping their distance to the place. I walked to the windows, to have a peek inside, but they were all covered with curtains. Somebody really valued his or their privacy.

Harsk stepped to the main door and knocked. We waited for a while but nothing happened. Then the dwarf tried the knob, and pushed the door open. “Hello”, he called inside. Still nothing. You could’ve cut through our tension with a knife. “I can see another door, to the south”, Vidarok said, half-whispering. Harsk didn’t turn his back to the door. “I say we go in from the front.”

There was a small lobby within. In the lobby, a single table stood, and on it, a bell. Next to the bell there was a sign with clear letters.

Visitors, please ring the bell.

I frowned at the sign. F*ck that. “I’m not ringing that bell and alerting everyone and their mothers to our presence, especially if this place is overrun by ghouls”, I exclaimed, and my comment drew nods of approval from the others. Looking back, we were obviously still shaken by our common experiences in Thistletop, and were being extra careful. There were two doors in the lobby, one to the north, other to the south. It was obvious a small room was at the northern side of the house, so the southern door was more to our interest. Harsk tried it too, but it was locked. “Now what?” Ilori asked. “Step aside, dwarf”, I told Harsk and drew the master-wrought thieves’ tools I had seized from Tsuto. “I can get it open silently”.

I kneeled next to the door, evaluated the lock and took out some of the tools. I had got the lockpick in my hand when the doorknob moved, and began to turn on its axis. I grunted in surprise and jumped to my feet, my free hand reaching for the pommel of my gladius. A small, angry-looking man entered and regarded us with contempt. Faroth hissed at him, already reading my emotions well and reflecting them. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

Harsk was first to reply. “We are looking for a man who is a patient here-”, but he was cut short by the angry man. He was visibly shaking. “Can you read? Why didn’t you ring the bell?” Harsk, possibly the most honest of us, was lost for words. Our tension diminished and we were starting to feel a bit stupid. But there was something wrong, something out of place with the man.

Vidarok stepped in. “We’re here on behalf of Sheriff Hemlock, to interview a man called Grayst, who witnessed a triple murder and is suffering from what we believe is ghoul fever.”A sign of recognition, and the first hint of anxiety crept to the man’s face, and I could see small beads of sweat appear on his forehead. “We have him here, for treatment. But he is very ill, and delirious, so I don’t think he’ll be of any use to you”, the man was babbling, trying to deter us and make us leave. My previous tension turned into doubt and curiosity. He is hiding something. Then I really wanted entrance. “We’ll reserve judgment”, I said coolly. “Let us in, and we’ll be off in no time.” The man was looking at me, Vidarok, Ilori and Harsk, in turn, trying to think something to say, to oppose us. But his anxiety had robbed him of the chance to bluff us from wanting to come in. Finally he relented. “All right. You can interview him. But only for a very short period. He is very weak.” He turned on his heels and gestured us to follow him. Beyond was a larger hall easily fifty feet long by 20 feet wide, dining room, given that several dining tables stood at the middle. The place was not well lit. It was eerily silent inside as well.

“Stay here, righthere”, he added, “while my servants fetch the patient.” He said something to a pair of grumpy tieflings, who were standing at the ready at the back of the hall. I sneered in disgust. These half-fiends were bad news everywhere I had been. They left the room, retreating upstairs. “What is your name”, Harsk asked the angry man, to break the silence. “My name is Erin Habe, and I am the caretaker of this sanatorium.” He didn’t seem interested to hear our names, but Harsk introduced us anyway. Then silence fell again. I swore I could see Habe twitch.

I took a step towards a solitary door at the south-eastern corner of the hall, just to spite him. He turned towards me, and I took another step, followed by a third, now with no intention to stop. “Hey, what are you doing? I told you to wait here!” Habe’s voice was shrill. I grinned. “What’s beyond that door?” I asked, trying to sound innocently curious but failing miserably. “Nothing that concerns you!” His face was red. The situation resolved itself as the two tieflings re-appeared, dragging a very unwell man between them. Grayst was clothed in a white straitjacket, but blood, sweat and other bodily fluids had left little of the jacket clean white. He was babbling nonsense.

“Well, what questions do you have for him? As you can see, he is very ill”, Habe asked us, growingly irritated. “Can you do something for him”, I turned to Vidarok and Harsk, our healers. Both shook their heads. “My magic won’t help with ghoul fever”, Harsk admitted, with a pained expression. He couldn’t take his eyes off the suffering man. “Magic is not required here, I can treat this patient”, Habe was quick to interject. I was the closest to Grayst, so I made my way to him. The tieflings were leering at me, and gripping Grayst firmly, holding him by the arms and shoulders. Grayst was looking at the floor, drooling and mumbling something about razor sharp teeth. I hunched a bit, trying to make eye contact with him. “Grayst, listen to me. You saw something or someone kill three men, Mortwell, Hask and Tabe. Do you remember?” But my effort was in vain, as the drooling and mumbling continued. I straightened my back and sighed. “I don’t think we’ll get any information out of him.”

Ilori stepped closer, fingering the seven-pointed star necklace at her chest, wanting to have a closer look of the man herself. I continued. “What should we do with him-” But I couldn’t finish my sentence as Grayst snapped his face upwards and stared straight at the carmine lady. His voice was now clear as day and cold as a glacier. “He said you’d come.. His lordship.. he who made me.. he has a special place for you.. he.. he made me remember.. No, I’ve forgot! No, he said that if you come to him, if you join his pack, he will end his harvest..” Exhausted by his moment of lucidity, Grayst collapsed to the ground, shaking loose of the tieflings at the same time. Ilori was stunned, her mouth open. “What the hells was that-” Vidarok managed before I pulled an arrow from my vine, nocked it and aimed at Grayst who was a lump on the floor. Time to end him. “Noooo!” Habe cried when he saw what I was about to do, and ran between me and his patient. The tieflings were trying to regain their grip of Grayst but it was too late. He turned. The seams of his straitjacked were ripped open and he tore his hands free, all the while growling incoherently.

“Impossible, the transformation cannot be so rapid-” Harsk began, amazed at what Grayst was going through but Habe was shouting at us and waving his hands in the air, trying to disrupt my aim. “He is my patient, leave the sanatorium at once”, he ordered, but we weren’t having none of that. Me, Faroth and Ilori were the closest to whatever Grayst had become, and Harsk and Vidarok stood at the back, closer to the exit. But whereas I hesitated, not getting a clear shot thanks to Habe’s antics, the half-orc leaped across the room and in a blink of an eye he was standing next to Grayst. But it he was no man any longer, but a ghoul. Vidarok’s quarterstaff slammed at the creature’s head but it remained standing. The tieflings, appalled of what had become of him, steered clear as he began to lurch towards Ilori, hungrily. “What is wrong with him”, Ilori shouted at Habe, but the caretaker was lost for words. He just stared at the ghoul. He was intrigued. Ilori, her patience exhausted, flung fiery magic missiles at the ghoul but they did not finish it. It was Vidarok who struck the abomination down for good.

“What have you done”, Habe whimpered, crouching over the body of the ghoul. “We did something you should’ve done long ago”, I stated coldly and lowered my bow. The arrow was still nocked, however. As one, the tieflings stepped closer to us. Habe was steaming. “You come here and disturb my work”, he was raging, “get lost, report this to the Sheriff! Out, now!” Harsk and Vidarok looked at each other, and turned to leave. Ilori hesitated, but eventually turned as well. But I remained firm, Faroth prone between my feet. I saw through Habe.

No. You are still hiding something”, I said to the caretaker. “There’s something you don’t want us to see. We’re you keeping him alive for some purpose? Are there others like him here, other ghouls?”
Habe disregarded me, but I could see increasing confidence in his demeanor, as if he had overcome his earlier insecurity and a made a decision about something. He walked to the south-eastern door he hadn’t wanted me to examine and slammed it once. Then he turned to his tieflings and instructed them with a stern voice. “Please escort Master Alpharius out of the building”. The tieflings hesitated for a moment, but then started towards me. I didn’t relent. I was sure I could easily take care of them if they touched me. Hell, I wanted them to lay their hands on me. But something else wanted me a piece of me as well.

The door which Habe had slammed was pushed open. Habe simply took off and ran, not looking back. “Get back here you ud’raan“, I shouted after him, cursing. But then my attention was drawn to the newly opened door. From the darkness, several ghouls appeared. Moaning, they headed straight towards me, their arms reaching and mouths open.

Motherf-.

I was already moving. I jumped on a table behind me, leaving the two tieflings and another long table between myself and the undead. A total of four of the walking corpses had emerged from beyond the door and were all lumbering towards me. One of them groaned and swung its claws at the other tiefling, drawing blood. The half-fiend cried half-surprised, half-panicked. “Not me, attack the half-elf!” Those bastards were part of this. I gritted my teeth – that sealed their fate. From my vantage point on the table, I shot one arrow at the nearest ghoul. It penetrated its skin easily, burrowing into its chest and it’s tip exploding out in its back. But the ghoul just moaned and kept coming. This will be interesting. “Harsk, Ilori, Vidarok, get back here!” I shouted to the others who were already half-way out of the building.

Then the thrice-damned necromancer made an entrance.

It too emerged from the same door as the ghouls, quickly assessed the situation and casted a foul-smelling, thick fog around me. I and Faroth were not affected by it, but Ilori and Vidarok, who had just got back into the hall, started to cough violently. I could see their outlines in the haze, retreating back outside. The dwarf however didn’t mind the fog but drew his trusty longsword and ran to my side.”These are not ghouls”, Harsk spat, stabbing at the undead, “these are zombies!” “Whatever, cleric, just kill them!” I yelled in reply. The zombies kept coming, and seemed to attack the tieflings as much as they tried to get to us. I saw one of the tieflings fall, while the other made a run for it. Faroth growled at the undead, unwilling to commit to a fight against an unnatural beast, but swiping with his claws defensively at enemies that tried to grab it. Not seeing farther than five feet out in the foul fog, I let my bow drop on the table and drew my gladii from their scabbards. Time to test Korvut’s handiwork. And by Earthfall, they were up to the task. The first zombie who made it next to me immediately fell, its head sliced clean off its shoulders. I laughed in glee, enjoying the fight, feeling confident. But my joy did not last. Drawing breath anew in the fog, its effect finally overcame me, and I almost vomited. The fog was seeping into me, making me unable to fight or concentrate. Harsk bellowed curses at the abominations, his holy fires channeling into the undead, tearing chunks of flesh off them. Doubled over, I had to make a choice. And I too turned around and ran, coughing Faroth right behind me, leaving the bold cleric alone to face the necromancer and his remaining undead. Not my proudest moment, I had to admit.

I ran outside and fell to my knees, inhaling the fresh air like never before, struggling not to vomit. At the periphery of my vision I could see Vidarok and Ilori trying to do the same. Sounds of battle still rang from inside the sanatorium. Harsk was holding the line, alone. Vidarok got up first, and crashed the other outside door in, looking for an alternative entry to the fight. He vanished inside. Ilori rose then too, slowly. She looked at me with those burning eyes. I gestured her to go, immediately. She nodded, and ran after Vidarok. I could hear Harsk crying in pain. We were really pushing our luck.

It took me a few heartbeats and deep inhalations and exhalations to gather myself. Faroth, who was also afflicted, composed himself quicker than I did. I commanded it to me, pulled a healing potion from my bandolier and grabbed the beast from its jaws with my other hand. Here goes, I thought to myself before applying the magical potion on a wild beast for the first time ever. The firepelt did not rebel nor bite me, and I was able to down the potion to its throat. Bleeding clawmarks on his side vanished and his breathing became easier. I threw the empty flask away, took one that protected me from evil myself and then hurried back inside. I wondered if Harsk was still alive – the fight still raged on.

In the hall, the bold little bastard was still standing and fighting. Both of the tieflings were down, and only one zombie remained, along with the mystical necromancer. I joined the fray, slaying the last of the undead monsters as an afterthought. The necromancer was trapped. “Kill him!” I told Ilori who was about to light him up. But he obviously wasn’t going down without a fight. Threatened by me, Faroth, Harsk and Vidarok one side, and the carmine lady on the other, he resorted to foul play. Complete darkness suddenly enveloped him, like somebody had drawn down a black curtain. Vidarok and Harsk couldn’t see a damn thing and were slashing thin air. “He ran outside, he’s trying to get away!” Ilori shouted from somewhere in the darkness. I lost sight of Vidarok, then Harsk. Rather than running blind behind them, I chose to get out the way I had entered. Faroth at my heels, I again made my way out, just in time to see justice being served. Ilori was already outside, biding her time, watching. The necromancer was running like a rabbit. He had no chance. An arc of flame erupted from Ilori’s fingers, crossed the distance between her and him in a blink and set the necromancer alight. His dying screams echoed in the yard.

I saw a sly smile flashing on the fire sorceress’ face. I lifted my adamantine gladius in the air as a sign of victory and approval. Harsk hooted.

**

We gathered the valuables the necromancer was carrying and took stock of the situation. Habe was still somewhere in the upper levels of the sanatorium, and there was something in the cellars underground where the zombies and the necromancer had come from. I decided to look for Habe first, to get some answers. I wanted him dead for setting us a deadly trap, simple as that.

We walked through the second floor, seeing both alive and deceased patients in cells, mental cases all, mumbling unintelligibly. We didn’t linger, but pushed forward to the third floor.

On the third floor Vidarok bumped into a wererat that had escaped its cell. Delirious at first, the creature came alive and jumped on Harsk when it saw his enchanted longsword. Both the dwarf and the half-orc tried to hold off the overeager wererat who was clawing at the sword. I just shook my head. With a swift motion, I drew a gladius and gutted the aggressive creature trying to snitch the dwarf’s weapon of choice. Vidarok looked at me, not approving, but I could see our beacon of righteousness sigh in relief. I shrugged and we continued further. What were we supposed to do? We didn’t have the time for games.

Finally, we found a locked door. It was heavyset, and would take us time to get through without a key. Harsk slammed the door. “Get out now and we promise we won’t hurt you”, he called out. I snorted. I guess Habe heard me as he decided not to play nice. “Go away! You ruined everything! My work, my research”, he cried in desperation. “Where’s Frank when you need him”, I sighed, remembering with surprising fondness all the moments the barbarian had easily smashed in locked doors with his earthbreaker. “I could burn our way in”, Ilori suggested. But Vidarok came up with the solution. Somehow, he had got in through a secret entrance.

Sounds of struggle ensued from within the room. “I got him! Come over, there’s a hidden entry on the back!” Vidarok yelled. We ran down a corridor, keeping our fingers on the wall. On the side, I could see the telltale signs of a secret entrance. I beckoned the others, pushed the wall and we were in. Vidarok was keeping the mousy man pinned against a wall. “Good job, Vidarok”, Harsk praised him. “Thank you, Master Harsk. We need him tied up”, Vidarok replied in his ever-courteous manner, gripping the caretaker tighter. Harsk produced a skein of rope and bound Habe from the hands and feet. I pushed him down onto a sitting position and pointed at his throat with the tip of my gladius. “I’ll kill this rat now if no-one has any objections”, I stated matter-of-factly. Inside, I was fuming. Shayliss’ sister’s fate, his treacherousness, the trap – I wanted blood. Habe pissed himself.

“No, Alpharius, stop”, Vidarok interrupted me. “You are not executing him.” He put his hand on my shoulder. I looked him in the eye for a moment, and the feeling of rage subsided. But I wasn’t going to let Habe go easily. He was terrified. “I’m innocent! I’m here to help my patients! You have to believe me!” I kept my blade on his throat but let the others speak. “What do you do here?” Harsk asked, sheathing his blade, trying to make himself appear less threatening. “I told you”, Habe replied, his voice weak, “I study and mend special patients with extraordinary afflictions.” Ilori laughed lightly. “It looks like you kill more than you save.” Habe shook his head almost violently. “No no no, I save people.” All levity vanished from the carmine lady’s expression and she turned serious. “No. It looks like you put your research first and your patients second.” Ilori’s insight sparked anger inside me, which made me push the tip of by gladius a hair’s breadth closer to Habe’s exposed throat. The caretaker tried to retreat, pushing his back to the wall as much as he could. “If you are innocent-”, Vidarok started, but was interrupted by Habe. “I am! I didn’t know anything about what Caizarly was doing! I swear!” “Then why the hell did you call him and his undead underlings to attack us, rat?” I spat. “I.. I.. I thought you’d ruin everything..” But he had no good excuse for his treacherous act. He had wanted us dead, so we wouldn’t expose him and his deal with the necromancer. They had worked together, that was obvious to me, and that sealed his fate. Even if Habe himself hadn’t killed anyone, cooperation with such evil was beyond redemption. I wondered if this Caizarly had been the mass murderer.

I stopped my trail of thought for a moment. Why did I care so much? Such passion was unnatural of me. I wasn’t behaving like I normally did. The town, these people – they were getting under my skin. I put the thought to the back of my head, to wait for further introspection later. I recognized a possible weakness brewing in my way of thinking.

We decided, or Harsk and Vidarok decided, to spare the man and escort him to Sheriff Hemlock. We searched his room, finding detailed accounts of his ‘studies’ and ‘experiments’, incriminating him fully in some really weird s#$* which I did not want to know anything about. We also descented to Caizarly’s underground hideout. The stench was awful. It was full of dead people – so his source of underlings became obvious to us. It was possible Habe was supplying the man with the dead. He so earned whatever he had coming for him, I thought, gritting my teeth. But to our surprise and frustration it also became evident that Caizarly was not behind the murders – instead he had only been a spectator to the ghoul activities that had recently increased in the area. We found a map of the necromancer’s observations of ghoul movements and it was pointing to the south, to the Farmlands and Whisperwood. The undead were overrunning Sandpoint’s bread basket.


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The 15. Chapter and the group's 13th day in Sandpoint brings you the first PC death at the Hambley farmstead.

Lesson of the day: Don't get too confident - and don't split the party!

Also, I updated my blog.

Once again, enjoy and please comment!

**

15. Trouble at the Hambley’s

4th of Lamashtan – Oathday – 13th day at Sandpoint

Outskirts of Hambley farmlands, five miles south of Sandpoint

“Off the mounts”, Oswald, a town guardsman and Hemlock’s deputy, told us and jumped off his horse. The three other guardsmen escorting us followed suit as ordered. I didn’t like his tone, but got down as well, as did the others. I crouched to scratch Faroth behind the ear. “Do you smell anything?” I asked it. The firepelt did not answer, of course.

“These are the Hambley farmlands”, Oswald informed us, pointing and moving his hand slowly from south-east to north-west, “ten acres of crops.” Ilori was the last to dismount. “You don’t suppose we’ll search every square feet”, she asked, shaking up her long brown hair after the two-hour ride. The soldier looked at her, transfixed. Ilori caught his eye, and he pulled his gaze down, a bit embarrassed. “No my lady, of course not. We’ll head straight out to the farmstead.”

There was indeed a collection of houses only 300 feet away southwest from our position. In the moonlight and under clear skies, it had been visible from a long distance. It was our, or Sheriff Hemlock’s, destination.

Earlier that evening we had ridden from the sanatorium back to Sandpoint with the caretaker Habe as our prisoner. Hemlock had been waiting for us at the Sandpoint bridge. His news had not been good. He had had with her a shaking little girl, who had told us her story – peasants missing or going crazy, including her own father, and attacking their own friends and family. The crops were being irrigated with human blood, and everything, both the child’s story and necromancer Caizarly’s notes, was pointing towards a specific farmstead south of Soggy river. Hemlock had wanted to send someone investigate Hambley’s at once, and had prepared a retinue of his soldiers already. He had wanted us to go as well – maybe the ritual killer was hiding there? It’s not like we had had anything better to do, right?

We’d left Habe to the hands of the sheriff, restocked some of our equipment and rode off with four soldiers; Oswald, a bearded grunt with most experience and thus the one in charge, and three greenhorns, Micke, Adolf and Thomas – fresh off the boat from Magnimar. The ride had been silent and uneventful – only once did Oswald wonder out loud how there were no people at sight, anywhere. Normally the roads would’ve been full with peasants returning from the fields, he had explained. They had ran, went into hiding, or been killed, I had mused darkly.

“Stay between us, sirs, lady”, Oswald ordered us, directing the other soldiers into a formation that left us in the middle. I think they resented us coming with them, not sure why Hemlock had wanted us to join them. They think they are escorting us, protecting us, I sneered to myself. We obliged initially but I knew the moment hell broke loose it would be us protecting them, not the other way around.

And I was so right.

The crops were man-high, yet to be harvested, so we resorted to moving via dirt roads that criss-crossed the farmlands. Vidarok of course would have had no difficulty traversing through the crops, but for simplicity’s, and the soldiers’ nerves’ sake we kept to the paths. The growth was thick, and we could see only some ten-fifteen feet into it. A perfect environment to stage an ambush.

We let Hemlock’s men play soldier for a minute or so, before we reached a crossroads. A scarecrow had been planted into the ground next to the crossroads. I paced past Oswald and gestured them to wait. “I’ll scout ahead”, I informed them curtly. Oswald looked at me, half-surprised, half-irritated. Vidarok was quick to take note. “Let him go. He’s pretty good in this.” I jogged forward, moving without making a sound, keeping low, and senses keen. Faroth was keeping close to me, his eyes glinting in the moonlight. If somebody was planning an ambush, I was damned if I wouldn’t spot it in advance.

Staying close to the side of the path, I went for about fifty feet before I spotted another scarecrow at the distance, in the middle of the crops. There was something out of place with that scarecrow. I stopped, and focused. It was obviously not stuffed like the first, and it had eyes. And they were alive. Backtracking, I made my way back to the others at the crossroads.

“There’s another scarecrow close to the path leading to the farmstead, but this one is alive, and possibly a threat”, I reported, whispering. Harsk frowned. “Are you sure your eyes are not fooling you, Alpharius?” He asked. I turned to him and spat to the ground. “I know what I saw, cleric.” Ilori, crouching next to Oswald and the dwarf, gestured with her hand and a sphere of light went hovering towards the living scarecrow. “Wait-”, I managed before the light wandered some 20 feet away from it. The scarecrow growled audibly and started to pull and push in the stick it was hanging from, as it was trying to shake itself loose. “See?” I asked the others, rolling my eyes and pulling an arrow from the vine. I nocked, pulled the bow string and let loose an arrow, hitting it square in the chest. It dropped off the stick, roaring now in anger. Vidarok, always quick to react, ran past me, dazzling the creature momentarily with a spell.

That was all I needed.

Aiming carefully, I put another arrow through its roaring mouth and pinned it back on the stick. It died, wriggling.

I went to retrieve my arrows with Harsk. “Now Alpharius, this is a ghoul”, the cleric said, examining the now-perished undead creature and reminding me how I had mislabeled zombies as ghouls in the sanatorium. I shrugged. “An undead is an undead. Seems like I’m quite adept in making them dead-dead”, I joked with a serious face as I pulled the second arrow off the creature and the stick. “Well, technically-” Harsk started but I gestured him to be silent. At the farmstead, a door was slammed close and I could hear faint voices, approaching quickly. More growls. More of the ghouls.

“We’ve got incoming, south-west!” I alarmed the others and scanned the horizon. They were coming through the crops. Hemlock’s men ordered us back, taking positions before us at a junction. I stayed back, nocking an arrow, Faroth at my feet hissing, smelling the enemies. Harsk ponderously stepped forward. “C’mon lads, we can take care of ourselves”, he told Oswald and braced himself at the middle of the road. The roaring was approaching quickly now. Footsteps in the crops, ghouls crashing through with murderous intent. Ilori stayed back as well, and one of the soldiers, Micke, a young boy really, remained close to her, unlike the others. I didn’t know if he was cowardly or horny as kept looking at Ilori as much as the battleground. Probably both.

“They’re close now”, I urged the others while I aimed towards the sounds. “I can hear them too”, Vidarok shouted back and casted entanglement in front of us. The crops came alive and started to move on their own, seeking something alive to latch onto and ensnare. Immediately, angry barks and roars sounded from somewhere in the fields – some ghouls were trapped. But the path to the farmstead remained clear, and finally one of the undead jumped on it and took off running straight towards us. Damn, they’re quick, I thought, recalling the slowly lumbering zombies. And intelligent, I realized as it had clear deliberation in its moves as it made its way towards us. Ilori shot magic missiles at it, but it shrugged them off like they were nothing and continued its run towards our cleric. Harsk remained at place. The foul creature kept coming. When it got only three feet away, Harsk sidestepped and put all his power behind a horizontal swing of his longsword.

It was beautiful.

The tip of the longsword connected right at the unprotected neck of the running undead and sliced its head clean off, along with the tips of its right hand fingers, that happened to be on its way. Still in motion, the headless corpse took two steps before crashing into the dirt path. The head continued its flight, landing at Micke’s feet. The soldier jumped at the sight.

So the battle ensued.

“Curse it! They are coming through the fields, we can’t see anything!” Oswald exclaimed, keeping his spear at the ready. Thomas and Adolf were at the side of a road leading south-east, and frantically were trying to clear the long growth with their spears. “I can help”, Ilori said smugly and joined the others at the line. She pushed her fists forward, and then opened them. A huge plume of fire exploded from them, immediately torching an area fifteen feet across and ten deep before the warriors. Hemlock’s men covered their faces instinctively. The fires of the burning crops added to the light of the clear star skies and full moon, reveling a pack of ghouls previously hidden. I immediately fired an arrow, and hit again, but not killing the monster this time. It leaped over burning ashes and tried to reach Ilori, but was stopped by a whack of Vidarok’s quarterstaff. Purple blood and broken bones flew as the staff caved in its head. Another ghould attacked. I fired, missing terribly. Fiery magic missiles struck its form and the undead erupted in flames, but remained standing.

More ghouls appeared from the west. Vidarok and Adolf turned to face them in melee. The burning ghoul wormed its way to Harsk and they became locked in fierce close-combat. As I was nocking yet another arrow, I heard new roars over the fight, this time coming from the east. They’re surrounding us, I gritted my teeth. “More incoming, east by south-east!” I warned the others of the new threat. I shot an arrow, and it burrowed itself into the head of one ghoul, slaying it instantly. Finally, feeling like myself after the trip here from Korvosa, I allowed a smile.

Harsk decided the games were over. “For Iomedae!” With an angry bellow, he threw his hands wide apart and powerful white light danced from them, pulsing all around the stout dwarf. The evil undead closest to him simply exploded into black bits, ravaged by the positive energies. Two others screamed in pain, their skin boiling and turning into hot steam where the holy light touched it. Ilori was less theatrical. She simply pointed at the other remaining, screeching undead, and an searing arc of fire struck it and its unlucky fellow. They burned to ash in less than a second. The carmine lady turned to me and smiled. I smiled back.

I spared a glance at the soldiers. Oswald, Thomas and Adolf were simply stunned, their mouths agape. Micke had pissed his pants. See now, soldier, I thought while I stared at Oswald.

But the fight was far from over. My sharp hearing identified more ghouls, coming at us from the west. And ones coming from the east were right upon us. Standing at the middle of the junction, with a clear line of fire to every direction, I turned east to face the onslaught.

A ghoul jumped from the shadows of the growth, landing next to shaking Micke. I managed to fire an arrow and hit the bastard, but it did not go down. Instead it surprised the poor fool and sank its long, sharp teeth into the man’s neck. Micke howled in pain, before becoming paralyzed altogether. Adolf called his name and turned to attack the ghoul, along with Thomas. The ghoul hissed at them and evaded the thrusts of their spears. Pure white light still shone from the eyes of the cleric as he thundered into the melee. Powered by his goddess, he swept an overhead blow and split the ghoul in half from head to midriff. As its body slumped down I laughed hard. “Iomedae is strong! Suck my sword, unholy one!” Harsk roared in triumph.

Two more ghouls came running from the vegetation. But Ilori was ready to welcome them. She swept her hands forward, like she was awaiting them to come over and hug her. Fires circled around her arms and hands and another massive burst of flames burned the other to cinders, while the other fought through the fires and leaped to attack Thomas. The soldier gave a pained grunt as claws went past his parries and leather armour. The creature was about to attack anew but its head exploded like a ripe melon as my arrow flew through it.

I had the time to give a third warning, and Vidarok moved to the western side of the junction, Oswald at his heels. I too prepared for what seemed to be the last wave of monsters. Again, using the tall vegetation to their advantage, they got close to us and engaged. The first perished with my arrow in its throat. Second used the distraction and jumped on Vidarok, managing to bite him. Vidarok groaned, and remained still, just like Micke. Faster than I could think, I drew a new arrow from the vine, nocked it, and fired. My aim was true, very true, as I hit the beast straight through its other eye socket, killing in instantly. I was grinning now, increasingly satisfied with my performance. The final ghoul, oblivious to the fate of its kin, stormed to the junction, trying to get its claws into Harsk. The cleric easily parried, and landed a fine blow that drew undead blood. Ilori almost serenely took a step forward, her hands already in magical fire, and with a gesture, set the last ghoul alight.

**

The crops around us were burning, but there was little fear of burning all the fields as Ilori’s magical fire was making short work of the vegetation quicker than it could spread. Vidarok was first to snap out of the paralysis. “What, who, where”, he exclaimed as he struck at an enemy that no longer was there. “Take it easy, smelly”, I cooled him down, “the fight’s over. We won.” I looked at the ghoul corpses around us. Some were headless, some were just cinders. “Easily”, I added. I counted over a dozen enemies, slain under a minute. We’d made short work of the ghouls.

Micke returned to normal with violent coughs. He almost emptied his stomach. Thomas and Adolf were beside him and they didn’t look happy. “You don’t look too good”, Thomas was first to note. Micke coughed again, lighter this time, and turned to his brother-at-arms angrily. “Of course I don’t look too good, I was just attacked!” But the cleric intervened. “No, he’s right. Your skin, it’s already almost light green. You might be infected by the ghoul fever”, he explained seriously. Oh great. Micke swallowed audibly and was looking terrified. Harsk folded his arms. “You should ride back to the cathedral and seek immediate help there.” It was the rational thing to do, I mused, agreeing with the cleric. But Micke, as it turned out, was not only a coward but also an idiot. “No sir, I will remain with you to the end of the mission”, he replied, having gathered mental fortitude from somewhere. Harsk just shook his head and continued with his trademark, almost fatherly tone. “You cannot risk it. We’ve seen what could happen. Without proper treatment, you could turn into one of those”, he pointed a headless ghoul corpse which he had killed, “and then we’d have to kill you.” But the boy was not cowed. “I’ll kill you first”, he spat, not knowing any better. I walked to him, looked him straight in the eye and gave him a gentle but powerful push to the shoulder. “Don’t ever threaten Harsk, kid, or you’ll find an arrow between your eyes.” Micke couldn’t hold the stare and looked down. Thomas, Oswald and Adolf all moved unconfortably. “B-but he started it-”, Micke stuttered. Harsk interjected. “Fine, fine. The transformation takes days most likely anyway, so you can come with us”, effectively defusing the situation. I paced past Micke towards the farmstead, knocking his shoulder with mine and pushing him aside before taking my normal position at the point.

**

We reached the farmhouse uninterrupted. Next to it stood a large barn. Everywhere was silent, even the birds had fled the place. The main door to the farmhouse was open – it was here from where the ghouls had started their attack against us. Vidarok peered in through a window by the door, but didn’t see anything. The soldiers remained put, uncertain what to do. They seemed to wait for our instructions.

“I’ll go check the barn”, I said to the others, and started to pace carefully towards an open wooden doubledoor that led inside. Harsk joined me, leaving Ilori and Vidarok to investigate the main building with the soldiers. I moved silently to the edge of the doubledoor and checked around the corner. It was almost completely dark inside. No sounds, no movement, nothing. Just a dead horse, with its entrails leaking out, and the smell of death. I had trouble seeing as only a little moonlight shone through cracks in the ceiling, but Harsk had darkvision. He walked in almost carefree. “This was a rather wealthy household. They had several cattle, and horses”, he said, pointing towards empty stalls and pens. I followed the dwarf and squinted as I tried to see to the dark corners of the stable. Flies buzzed around the rotting cadaver of a horse.

“VIDAROK!” Ilori’s shrill cry broke the silence. We turned, and started to run outside. “What’s happening”, I asked the cleric, who of course had no answer. Outside, we could see the carmine lady in shock, her hands on her cheeks. Around her, the soldiers were frantically trying to get into formation and yelled at each other. Then I saw Oswald charge into the building, speartip first, followed by the others. Ilori remained put. “What happened?” I asked as we made it to the front of the main building. There was fight going on inside. I recognized the roar of a ghoul, but it was a bit different to the earlier undead. Tears fell from the carmine lady’s eyes. “A ghoul surprised Vidarok as he was searching the body of a dead man.. I think it killed him”, she managed. A howl of pain – Micke was down. I ran to an open window and saw well what was happening inside. Vidarok was lying face down on the floor. There was no blood but his head was in an unnatural angle. S!!!. Gods no. A simple, even easy mission had turned upside down in a heartbeat.

The ghoul – a bit larger version of its kin – growled and slashed at the soldiers with its razor-sharp claws. Oswald, Thomas and Adolf were keeping it at bay, and I could see deep wounds in its torso, but sooner or later it would kill them. I bared my teeth in anger, pulled an arrow, aimed and fired it. And again my aim was true. But the death of the ghoul, a victory, was a hollow one.

I ran past Hemlock’s men to the body of the druid, Faroth at my tail. He wasn’t moving. I kneeled to him and turned him around. Faroth licked his face, desperately trying to wake him up but his eyes were lifeless and he wasn’t breathing. Neither did he have a pulse. “Fuuuuck!” I exclaimed. Harsk and Ilori joined me. Both looked utterly beaten. “How did this happen”, Harsk sighed. “The bastard snapped his neck”, I explained and my hand balled into a fist. I wanted to slay something, anything, in vengeance. “Micke”, Oswald uttered, “Micke needs some help”, he said crouched next to his fallen comrade who was still alive but only barely. “F$&& Micke!” I shouted angrily, surprised how easily I lost my temper. Harsk remained calm, and rested his hand on my shoulder. “I know. Step aside”, he told the soldiers. Reaching out with his hands, he casted positive energies and Micke spasmed, and returned to consciousness. Too bad the cleric couldn’t help the druid, I thought bitterly as I rose to my feet. There was nothing we could do. I paced over to the body of a dead man, apparently the same that Vidarok had been searching when he had been attacked. “We found a new message for me”, Ilori told us, almost whispering. He handed the paper out to Harsk, who immediately read it.

You continue to ignore my invitations, my love. Did you not sense my need for you that evening after we hunted?

I could sense Ilori shivering. Harsk was rubbing his beard-covered chin, reading the note carefully anew aloud. It couldn’t be, I mused the implications of the letter. The dead man, probably a local peasant, had been mutilated – a gruesome seven-pointed star was cut into his chest. The slain big ghoul, a ghast, as Harsk informed me, was wearing well-made clothing of a house servant. I saw something glitter on its neck. A strange, beautifully crafted key. I took it and showed it to the others. Ilori nodded gravely. “That has the brand of House Foxglove.. I think it’s Aldern who’s behind this. It’s him who has been sending me these letters.” My denial was almost instinctual even though I was already considering the possibility. The ghast had worked for the Foxglove family, that looked certain. “That dandy nobleman, who couldn’t even hunt? No, it can’t be. He might be a lovestruck fool but not a gruesome serial killer”, I shook my head, but the evidence was there. And the motive too, even for horrible killings. “Men have killed for less”, Harsk gave voice to my thoughts.

**

We decided to stop the mission immediately and return to Sandpoint with Vidarok’s body. We knew that powerful magicks existed that could return a soul to a body, and we chose to go see Zantus and his priesthood for such services. With the decision made, and strengthened by a feeling of new hope, we searched the rest of the building before leaving. Only thing worth mentioning was a small casket filled with silver coins that we took with us. I shared the silver with the others, keeping Vidarok’s portion separate. He had earned it.

The soldiers offered to carry Vidarok’s body to the horses. We returned to Sandpoint with haste.

**

We made it to the cathedral after midnight. The soldiers carried Vidarok’s body inside, and we rushed to find High Priest Zantus. He had of course already went to sleep, so I had to verbally threaten a priest to get him woken up. After a brief wait, a groggy Zantus arrived from his chambers. “What is it, that you must disturb me while I sleep”, the holy man asked and rubbed his eyes, not irritated really, but genuinely puzzled. I pointed at Vidarok who had been laid to a cot. “He’s dead.. neck broken by a ghoul at the farmlands.” Zantus lowered his head, closed his eyes and muttered something. “I am sorry for your loss”, he said his condolences, indicating us to continue. Harsk stepped forward. “Do you have the resources here in the cathedral to perform a reincarnation? Can you call his soul back to his body?” At this, Zantus narrowed his eyes and seemed lost in his thoughts. “Hmmh. Yes, it is possible. But it is very costly.” I think we all let out a sigh of relief. “What do you need?” Ilori asked him. “Central to the ritual is a very expensive, very rare diamond that must be spent, effectively lost”, the grey-haired priest explained. “The cathedral has one in its possession, but to use it, we’d require a gift of ten thousand gold pieces, or valuables and equipment of the same value.”

None of us had that amount of gold with him or her. But we had gathered a quite a lot of magical equipment that we were willing to get rid of. Zantus summoned another priest, more familiar with the value of things than him, and we began to compile our valuables into a pile that would cover the costs of the diamond.

“We don’t know whether he’d even want to be resurrected”, Ilori noted as we were going through our things. “You’re right”, Harsk said, “this is something we never discussed. We don’t know if we are violating some sacred condition of his.” I waved my hand dismissively. “I know if I could return from the dead”, I said, thinking about my brother and my recent vision of him, “I would.”

In the end, we gave Zantus the cold iron dagger we’d taken from Erylium, Vidarok’s ring of protection, two master-wraught daggers, the other from Vidarok and the other from me, and a magic wand from Ilori. I didn’t know what powers it had but the priests were happy to have it. After a nod of confirmation from the other priest, Zantus asked us to carry Vidarok to an altar while he started to light candles, burn incense and chant.

I was weary, and didn’t want to remain back and see the ritual, so I headed out to the cool night. Apparently, Zantus wanted privacy so Harsk and Ilori came after me almost immediately. We were told to return at dawn – then we would see whether the ritual was success or not. Outside the main entrance, Hemlock’s soldiers were still waiting for us, and asked us what to do with Micke, the wounded yellow-belly. Overcome by grief and fatigue, I suggested a blade to the heart and stormed past them.

Not saying a word, we went straight to Rusty Dragon.

It was a busy evening, as usual, at the tavern. I spotted Shayliss on the tavern bar, hunched over the table, her forehead resting on her other elbow. An empty bottle of wine stood beside her. She was in bad shape. Ameiko saw us enter, and nodded at me and then towards the girl. I walked through the mass of people, taking a high chair with me, and placed it next to her and sat down. She was sitting still, but was awake. “Oh Shayliss, I’m so sorry..” I managed, brushing her lightly. She lifted her head towards me, and pushed a curl of hair off her face. Her eyes were red from crying and I could smell the alcohol in her breath. The poor girl started to sob and drew closer to me. I caught her, pulled her to my lap and started to stroke her hair. She just sobbed and trembled, and I kissed her head and held her tight.

The others came to the bar, and Ameiko noted the absence of Vidarok. Ilori soberly told her of his demise. I was holding Shayliss and didn’t say anything, but noticed how well the carmine lady was handling herself. She too had faced terrible loss before, that was obvious.

Ameiko bemoaned about the saw mill murders between customers. Ilori was quick to tell that we had actually been investigating them on behalf of Sheriff Hemlock, and that was the reason why we had travelled to the farmlands in the first place. She even showed her the last message we had found from the killer, and mentioned our suspicion that Aldern Foxglove was behind it all. Ameiko was as doubtful as I had been. She shared the belief of some other townsfolk that the mill owner, Scarnetti, had been behind the murders, as it was rumoured that miller Harker had been embezzling gold from him, and in revenge, he had killed him or had him killed. But he really didn’t have a motive for the killings of the three swindlers outside of town, as Harsk was quick to point out.

We had a brief, wordless snack of a dinner before Ilori excused herself and went to bed. But only minute after she had left, she returned, furious.

“Somebody has been in my room, and taken my personal belongings”, she snapped at Ameiko, probably feeling she was partly to blame for the intrusion. I was still holding Shayliss on my lap, caressing her, trying to reassure her. I thought Ilori was being a bit harsh, but so did Ameiko, given her frown, but she let it slide. “I’m sorry Ilori, but no-one has gone there, at least via the stairs. Are you sure someone’s been inside”, she asked carefully. Ilori calmed a little. “Yes.. someone has taken some of my.. clothes.” Ah, underwear, I realized from her expression. Odd. Ameiko just shrugged, and apologized again. There was nothing she or anyone could do about it. Ilori realized this, and returned to her room.

I asked Shayliss whether she wanted to go to her home or spend the night at my room. She nodded weakly for the latter, and I carried her upstairs. She fell asleep on the way up. I set her down on my bed, covered her with a blanket and after removing my armour and outerware, slipped in next to her. Gazing at the ceiling, I thought about Vidarok, and let sleep take me over.


Wow... just... awesome!!

I always wanted to read a good write-up of what a party would do on alerting the ghouls. Now I know!

(My party had a paladin with Darkvision. Rendered the whole "ghouls in the fields" thing pretty anticlimactic. Paladin used Detect Evil at 60 feet. Bard Silenced ghoul. Party shot the living daylights out of it before it could move. Repeat ad nauseum. Effective, but this is a much better read.)

And awesomely-handled ghast, might I say, Riding Bull?


First of all I want to thank you NobodysHome for dropping by to comment so often. It's one thing to read his work and another to give him feedback to fuel his passion to write on. I know he appreciates it more than couple words on the forum can show :)

On things Golarion: After reading plenty of discussion and some journals (including NobodysHome's version) considering the fields, I figured the effective clear would be an option only if they'd really make an effort to drop each and every ghoul silently from their posts. Waves of undead horror seemed much more appealing approach and so I allowed the ghouls to start storming them after hearing sounds of battle. I honestly was a bit troubled how Tomi would capture the endless slaughter without making it sound repetitive, but he really brought it to life!

I'm quite proud of that ghast too.. And sorry for Vidarok's horribly low roll's. He was only one to notice the charging ghast, but got bit before having chance to react. He failed to resist the paralyze. Now with only Ilori close by, whom had rolled horribly low initiative and had failed to notice the approaching ghast, Vidarok was finished before anyone else got to act.

As I mentioned on another topic, it was a night when our newbie orchestra learned the threat of intelligent enemies and chance of actual character death. So.. Thanks! ;)


Well, I appreciate that you're reading MY journal! Tit-for-tat and all that! I would love to compare how many hours Tomi and I spend writing! :P

No; my full intent was to make the fields a horror show just like you did. Then along came, "Oh, we have a paladin and a wand of Silence. Let's just not go there," so I rolled with it.

I'm sure swarms of ghouls in a cornfield were far, FAR more terrifying.

On the other hand, my party managed to save the lives of both victims, so they consider that a huge feather in their cap! And it's nice to reward inspired tactics with good results...

EDIT: And let's be honest. There's nothing more frustrating than writing a player journal and getting NO feedback at all! Not positive, not negative, nothing! I tried to start a "Player Campaign Journal" similar to Useplanb's stuff, where every player contributes, and it ended up similar to this one, with no one except my life oracle posting. And with no comments or other players' posts since November, I wonder, "Am I just typing at the wind?" (Of course, Leilani, being Leilani, will keep writing in any case. Because she's stubborn like that.) And considering that game is only 1-2 sessions a month, I can see people losing interest fast when there are no posts in 4-6 weeks.

So expect me to keep popping up, just to reassure Tomi that at least one reader is loving his accounts.


Oh yea our group doesn't even know they could have saved lives as they panicked to save Vidarok's life.. I'm glad that worked for them! Right Tomi? ;)

I wouldn't be surprised if Tomi keeps record of time spent writing :)

I'm horrible at commenting on forums, so I can relate to people who might actually actively read campaign journals, but feel like they have nothing to add. Even when I know a simple "Awesome! Keep writing!" would work magics :)

At the start of our campaign we did have a sort of bulletin board "journal" in use on roll20.net and I think all players contributed to some extent until Tomi had written his first chapter. After that there has been no updates on the in game journal.

I doubt a full blown "Player Campaign Journal" would work for us as I'm guessing couple of the players don't consider themselves chroniclers enough in comparison to our aspiring writer.. Even when I know for fact their minds are filled with detailed stories from their characters perspectives. Might be same with your group, NobodysHome?


Riding Bull wrote:
I doubt a full blown "Player Campaign Journal" would work for us as I'm guessing couple of the players don't consider themselves chroniclers enough in comparison to our aspiring writer.. Even when I know for fact their minds are filled with detailed stories from their characters perspectives. Might be same with your group, NobodysHome?

Oh, I really don't mind that none of the other players write -- I happen to know that only two of them are even interested in doing so, and one of them is my 10-year-old son who panics after I've typed his first 3 sentences. (Yes, I take dictation. :-) )

It's just a bit disappointing as a player to write, "Here's everything from my perspective," and you know you're missing a ton of details because your character didn't particularly care about something, or is misinterpreting something, and no one else pipes up to correct him/her.

Honestly, I think my RotRL writeups read to other people better because they're from a GM's perspective with that all-knowing eye. But I enjoy my Second Darkness writeups more because I get to get into Leilani's head and see the world from her (very skewed) viewpoint.
Tomi's doing a magnificent job of creating a riveting tale from the first person. That's a hard thing to do.


NobodysHome wrote:
Riding Bull wrote:
I doubt a full blown "Player Campaign Journal" would work for us as I'm guessing couple of the players don't consider themselves chroniclers enough in comparison to our aspiring writer.. Even when I know for fact their minds are filled with detailed stories from their characters perspectives. Might be same with your group, NobodysHome?

Oh, I really don't mind that none of the other players write -- I happen to know that only two of them are even interested in doing so, and one of them is my 10-year-old son who panics after I've typed his first 3 sentences. (Yes, I take dictation. :-) )

It's just a bit disappointing as a player to write, "Here's everything from my perspective," and you know you're missing a ton of details because your character didn't particularly care about something, or is misinterpreting something, and no one else pipes up to correct him/her.

Honestly, I think my RotRL writeups read to other people better because they're from a GM's perspective with that all-knowing eye. But I enjoy my Second Darkness writeups more because I get to get into Leilani's head and see the world from her (very skewed) viewpoint.
Tomi's doing a magnificent job of creating a riveting tale from the first person. That's a hard thing to do.

Ah, NobodysHome, your words are much appreciated once again. Trying my best, and trying to improve.

As for missing out on details - I guess I compensate for the lacking details by enriching my own through writing - I rarely say, do or think in-game all the things I write about. Plus, I come up with new details, filling up some gaps Riding Bull left, with respect to his DMing and the overall story of course. And I consult the other players if I write longer discussions between Alpharius and their characters, to make sure I don't put words into their mouths (even if I do - as I fail so badly in doing notes about our conversations I've stopped almost altogether).

As for time spent in writing, well, I just now got past 70 000 words, and I estimate I produce about 500 words an hour, so that's ~140 hours of writing :). Plus the hours spent doing rewriting when Riding Bull has noted something he wants fixed :D


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In this episode, Vidarok returns to us. We then travel to a certain haunted mansion. Hilarity ensues..

(warning, it's a 10 000+ word chapter so take your time :) )

I also updated my blog, read the 18th chapter there.

**

16. The lightning struck twice

5th of Lamashtan – Fireday – 14th day at Sandpoint

The Rusty Dragon

I almost choked on Bethana’s mashed eggs when I saw Vidarok walk into the Rusty Dragon. “Welcome back, friend”, Harsk laughed and jumped of his stool and went to clasp the hand of the druid. Vidarok was beaming and looked like nothing had happened. So Zantus’ ritual was successful, I noted with satisfaction. Ilori went to hug him, and I too rose and went to greet him. “What happened? I remember seeing a dead peasant in the house and then I woke up in the cathedral”, the druid asked, taken aback by our joy and friendliness. We shared breakfast and Harsk told him what had happened, Ilori filling in the gaps in the story where needed.

I was cleaning my teeth with a toothpick when Sheriff Hemlock entered the tavern. Removing his gloves and greeting Bethana, he approached us. “Good morning all. I’ve had the chance to talk with my men, but I wanted to come over and thank you for your help last night. Especially you, Vidarok, I hear you made quite the sacrifice but I’m happy you survived to fight another day.” Vidarok shrugged. “I was surprised by a ghast, but my friends here came to my rescue.” Are we friends, I mused to myself, splitting a toothpick in half and reaching for another. We let Hemlock continue. “Oswald made a report, but I’d like to hear what you learned as my investigations have not yielded any leads.” Harsk leaned back in his chair. “Ahh, well.. we’re unsure if we got the killer himself, but we found another note, addressed again to our lady Ilori.” Ilori looked serious and kept her gaze forward, looking at nothing in particular. “The orchestrator of these killings obviously remains at large”, the dwarf went on. Hemlock groaned. “So we have nothing”, he half-asked, half-stated. I folded my arms. “Tell him about our theory”, I told Harsk. Harsk twirled his beard. “There is a possibility that Aldern Foxglove is behind the murders.” He described the ghast with servant’s clothing, wearing the key with a Foxglove brand, and the infatuation of Aldern with Ilori. But just like I had originally, Hemlock doubted the theory and left us with the same accusatory rumors concerning Titus Scarnetti that we had already heard from Ameiko and with a plead to investigate the murders further. After he left, we talked about the possibility to leave for Magnimar, as that was where we had last heard him depart to. But before that we wanted to check with the other mysterious person with an abnormal interest towards Ilori – the historian Brodert.

Vidarok and I stopped by the Mercantile League to exchange our silver coin to platinum, and we headed out to the ruins of Old Light. We weren’t disappointed as we found the old nutcase out on a walk, talking to himself, near the ruins. Even though appearing lost in his thoughts, he nevertheless spotted us coming. Or spotted Ilori, that is. “Ooh, the lady with the Sihedron medallion returns!” He rubbed his palms together in anticipation. “It is magnificient”, he rambled on while keeping his eyes at her quite-ample bosom where the seven-pointed star necklace rested. Ilori looked uneasy. I snorted in amusement, and held back a thorny comment about showing less cleavage. It was another tool in our arsenal, like my bow, or Harsk’s spells, I’d come to realize. But it was evident Brodert couldn’t care less about the carmine lady, or her looks or charisma. He reached forward with his liver-spotted hand, towards the necklace. Ilori took a step back. “Err..” She started, a bit nervous, “we’d come to ask you about the ritual killings, where the killer has carved the star into the chests of the victims.” Brodert pulled his hand back and smiled widely. “Oh, about the Sihedron rituals? I heard about them too. Somebody has been collecting souls.” I frowned. “Somebody has been doing what exactly?” Brodert looked at me happily. “Yes, collecting souls. That is what the ritual is for. The soul is drawn from the body, then stored into a container.” We all looked a bit astonished. So that’s why people were killed. I wondered if the victims were chosen in random or if there was a particular reason for choosing them. Brodert cut my trail of thought with a wink and a slap at my shoulder. “I got your message, half-elf, and I went to see the underground ruins for myself! Such a magnificent place, the chapel, and the well!” He almost shouted in glee. “I even summoned one of the beautiful creatures from it”, he went on, before his expression turned sour. “It came with me from the dungeons, but then the town guardsmen killed it on sight”, he explained with regret. Harsk raised his eyebrows so that they almost touched his hairline. “Wait, what? You summoned one of those hellish aberrations from the well and let it loose in the city?” He gasped. What a madman! “And this happened when?” I added the question. Brodert nodded, still looking sad but for all the wrong reasons. “A week ago, last Fireday”, he told us. I turned to the others and rolled my eyes. “Now we know why the guardsmen were all uptight and running around when we returned from Thistletop..”

Brodert, looking for something to cheer him up, turned back to Ilori and continued his shameless stare at her bosom. Or at the Sihedron medallion. “Can I have it?” He asked as the crazy smile crept to his face again. Ilori shook her head. “I’m afraid not, I’ll need it myself. But can you tell us about it?” Brodert clapped his hands together. “Of course!” And so he told us about the seven runewizards who had ruled Varisia thousands of years ago, how they had ended in a war against each other and how there still were remains of their time and their war visible, like the ruins of Old Light. He mentioned how each wizard had represented an unique school of magic, and how each was originally intended for good, but each had been corrupted by evil. I mentioned Lamashtu, but Brodert didn’t see a connection between her and the runewizards. To him, the evil goddess was a newcomer, and a non-entity compared to the gods and powers of the Thassilonian era.

Our chat with Brodert reminded us of the well of lava and the danger it still was to Sandpoint. We thanked Brodert and left him to his daydreaming and walked to Zantus next, to say our thanks for resurrecting Vidarok, and to discuss the fate of the well. Harks and Vidarok especially wanted to get rid of it, so the high-priest agreed to send two priests with us to it, to see whether it could be closed with magical force.

In the end the trip back to Erylium’s chapel was a waste of time. Nothing worked: holy water, positive energy, healing powers, nothing. Deciding it wasn’t our problem anymore, I turned and left the place, Faroth at my heels. Ilori shrugged and came as well. Harsk shook his head, looking disillusioned, but it was Vidarok who took our failure the hardest. “Wait, we can’t just leave this pit of evil untouched-”, he started, but with me and Ilori already gone, and Harsk given up, he realized that there was nothing we could do, and followed us out bitterly.

You can’t win every time. But Vidarok really wasn’t the type who understood or accepted the fact.

**

We left the priests and from the underground catacombs, we continued to the outskirts of town, to Scarnetti Manor to be exact. All the noble families, Kaijitsu, Deverin, etc. had estates and manors south of town across the harbor, and we found Titus Scarnetti’s mansion with little trouble. The road there was little used, and closed, not by a gate but by two stubborn guards. As we entered the front courtyard, they approached us with haste and challenged us. “Stop! You cannot be here. What do you want?” The other, a pale-faced man with a beard asked us. He was flanked by a younger, taller and almost wiry guard, who looked as angry as the first. Harsk threw his arms up in a peaceful gesture. “Greetings. Don’t worry, we mean no harm, we’ve come to see Master Scarnetti.” Beard looked at his comrade and back at Harsk. “He is not taking any visitors. Scram, little man!” Harsk was a bit taken aback by the guard’s attitude, and lowered his arms. “This is important, it concerns the killings in the town-”, the cleric was able to say before he was cut short. “Do you have an appointment with Master Scarnetti?” Beard asked. Harsk, ever honest, opened his mouth to answer. “Well we don’t, but-” That was enough for Wiry. “If you don’t, then you must leave the premises immediately!” Interrupted now twice, Harsk grumbled and threatened them under his breath. I heard him and happily took my cue from the dwarf. I’d had a good look at them already, and noticed they were lightly armed and wearing only leather armor. I could’ve taken them out alone without breaking a sweat. Looking back, we really should’ve let Ilori try to seduce our way in, but then again, she was not the seductress type. I stepped forward decisively, and they followed suit. Pushing aside my cloak, I revealed the pommels of my masterwrought gladii blades and stared Beard straight in the eye under my hood. “You know, you could let us in now, or let us in later, with broken noses and lost teeth”, I said with a frown, trying to intimidate them. Beard and Wiry grabbed the pommels of their short swords, and Beard warned us. “Last warning, hoodman.. get out of the premises!” It almost came to blows, but out of nowhere came a shrill cry. “Guards! It’s the Master! He’s dead!” A maid came running from the manor, holding the hem of her skirt and crying uncontrollably. This made the guards pull their weapons at us. “Have you anything to do with this?” Beard spat in sudden rage. Wiry didn’t know what to do, as he kept looking at us and back at the maid, his sword arm trembling. Vidarok looked stunned as did we all. “Of course not!” He exclaimed. But I realized an opening for us. I talked fast. “Harsk here is a cleric, a healer. Let us in and we can save your master”, I lied, knowing perfectly well that if he was truly dead, there was nothing any of us could do. But the guards bought it. “Come on”, Beard ordered us, “but if anyone pulls a trick, you’re dead!”

We found him in his study room on the second floor of the mansion. He was truly dead – his face was shredded and the Sihedron rune was carved into his bare chest. I was for some reason not surprised he had been killed by the ritual murderer. By Aldern Foxglove or one of his lackeys. At least his death proved his innocence. And the message we found next to the body implicated Aldern even more. A quick glance told me that the killer had entered and exited through the room window, and had surprised the nobleman, as there were no signs of struggle. The foul smell we had encountered in every killing scene was present.

Harsk went to the body to examine it with the shocked guards. Ilori stayed behind while me and Vidarok went to the window, completely disregarding the body. “See”, I pointed out to the grass beneath us, “tracks leading to the forest.” It was evident that the killer had ascended the wall to get where he wanted. Vidarok nodded. “We should go and have a look at them”. The maid was trembling and sobbing out in the corridor, unwilling to enter and re-witness the horrible state of his master. So I paced to her. “Sweetling, do you have any idea when this might have happened”, I asked, trying my sweetest tone and nicest smile and failing miserably. The maid burst into tears. “I- I don’t know. We saw him alive last evening, and I just found him like that..” We couldn’t get anything more out of her, so I let her be. No matter, I thought, we knew now exactly whom to look for.

The guards, overcoming their shock, turned to Harsk. “Well, save him!” Beard ordered him, managing to appear panicked and angry at the same time. Harsk shook his head and didn’t turn his eyes from the body. “With such extensive injuries, he is beyond saving, I’m afraid.” In reply, Beard grunted in disgust. “You’re useless. Get the hell out of here, we’ll need to report this and you to the Sheriff.” At that, I laughed humorlessly. “Go ahead. We’re here on the behalf of Hemlock, investigating these murders.” But I didn’t drag the exchange of insults and threats, and we left before a fight broke out. The guards were a nuisance I have to admit, but hurting them served no purpose and was not sensible.

The tracks outside, again belonging to a biped humanoid with a foul stench led us to the beach, just like the previous time – the killer had used the sea to cover his tracks. But given that we then firmly believed Aldern Foxglove was behind the killings, and given that the killer was within walking distance of Sandpoint, our options became limited – we’d have to go and visit the Foxglove Manor a couple of miles south of town and look for the killer there.

We went first to report our findings to Hemlock, and told him of our plans. He told us about the grim rumors told the manor – warning us that it drove its masters crazy, and that the ones that didn’t succumb to madness perished in weird, unexplained ways. Great, a haunted house, I thought then. The day was already well into the afternoon, so we didn’t want to linger and rode out as soon as we could. On our way there, it started to rain. But rain was nothing compared to the unnatural s~+$ we saw when we reached the estates. The air itself seemed to darken by the yard as we approached. Black clouds blocked sunlight, and the trees, vegetation and the land itself seemed half-dead or dead. Our mounts stopped when we arrived to the cape where the manor was located, unwilling to go forward an inch. We tied them to a nearby tree and Vidarok left them with the rest of the hay he had been carrying. We walked the rest of the way.

The manor looked crooked, worn out and outright repulsive. But we approached with less wariness than when we had went to the sanatorium. It was strange how the environment, when it was obviously threatening, made us feel less threatened, than an idyllic, peaceful environment where one could expect flowers, little bunnies and kisses on cheeks. Maybe the place was just honest in its hostility. A small house on the path to the manor had burned, and sick-looking crows sat on the ruins, watching us keenly and croaking now and then. There was something black and unnatural growing on the walls of the manor, and its windows were tinted, as they too had burned long ago. The three story building stood at the tip of the cape, and around it were steep cliffs and the ocean. There was no chance of going around – we had to enter through either of the two front doubledoors adorned with lionheads of house Foxglove.

I tried to have a look through the windows, but I couldn’t see anything. Thus, Vidarok and Harsk took positions around the southern main doors and opened them. They creaked open.. and revealed a lobby with a huge statue of a manticore at its center. For a moment, no-one did anything. I strained my senses, trying to see any movement, hear anything. But nothing made a sound, and only dust floated in the air. We stepped in, the bold cleric of Iomedae at the fore.

We quickly noted some sort of mycelium growing everywhere, especially in a space right behind the statue, where it covered the floor as if it had burst through the wood. Vidarok examined the growths and turned up his nose in disgust. “I haven’t seen anything like this ever before. This is not natural.” I looked around. “Nothing here is.” It was dark inside, and it looked like the place had been deserted for years. From what Hemlock had told us, Aldern had spent a couple of years renovating the place, but of such work there was no sign anywhere. We moved forward in the large lobby and then I heard it. I gestured everyone to stop and listen. “A woman’s wail, it’s coming from upstairs”, I whispered, pointing up a staircase that led one floor above us. Realizing traps could be everywhere and expecting Aldern would be waiting for us, we continued cautiously to a room to our left rather than running upstairs to see who or what made that eerie sound.

The room we entered was another lobby, for the northern entrance. Within it was a very old grand piano, covered in cobweb and the same mycelium we saw everywhere. We could hear it play. “What in Iomedae’s name-” Harsk started to say when Vidarok suddenly snapped into trance and began to waltz around in the room, as if he was dancing with a lady, to the tune of the music. I immediately drew a potion of protection from evil from my bandolier and emptied it. Faroth hissed at Vidarok and retreated behind me. I’d come to realize that he avoided battle and all confrontation with the undead – a trait I needed to train out of him in the future. But for now, my loyal firepelt would be a bystander. “What’s wrong with you”, Ilori exclaimed, but there seemed to be nothing we could do to stop the druid. He kept on dancing.. until he stopped in midstep, and turned to look at us, bewildered. At the same time, the music stopped. “What was that.. for a moment, I was in a grand hall, dancing with an attractive lady.” Harsk pouted his lips and stroke his beard. “It must be this house. It is cursed, and is playing with our heads. We must be wary”, he offered as an explanation. Vidarok stepped to the other front door, pushed it open a bit and drew a breath of fresh air to clear his head.

We continued further, towards the back of the first floor. The others scouted forward, while I checked a door to our side. Behind it I found a small bathroom, and within it, a bath tub. Like all the other rooms, it looked like it hadn’t been used in years, decades even. A sickly looking rat was in the tub, trying to get out. “How did you get in there”, I whispered to myself. The little beast responded with a screetch and tried frantically, aggressively even to get out. But it could not for the sides of the bath were too steep and too smooth for it to climb it. Faroth looked over the side and let out a low growl at the rat. Even the f$$!ing rat looked unnatural.

Then the cleric ran behind me down the corridor, mumbling incoherently as he went. And he was carrying Ilori on his shoulder, who was shouting curses at him and pounding and kicking him but no avail. “What the hell-” I managed before Vidarok too came running past me, on Harsk’s tail. “Harsk’s gone mad!” The druid yelled, trying to catch the surprisingly quick dwarf. Deciding asking questions at that time would not help, I sprinted in pursuit. Harsk almost got to the northern doors before I leaped past Vidarok and grappled him. “Stop Harsk, now!” I ordered angrily, trying to shout some sense into him. I grabbed his hands, but Harsk resisted, mumbling something about saving his child. For my efforts the little s++% casted a fear spell against me. In an instant, I felt like the walls themselves were closing on me and I ran. The effect thankfully lasted only for a few seconds, but it would’ve allowed Harsk to get far with Ilori were it not for Vidarok. Right outside the house, he got a hold of the dwarf, and his soothing words brought Harsk back from wherever the house had taken his mind. When I got there, Harsk had let Ilori go and was apologizing to everyone. I walked over to the cleric and hit him in the face. Not too hard. “Ouch”, the cleric said, holding his cheek, “I guess I earned that.” I just stared at him angrily, making my point clear. “Friends..” Vidarok said silently and pointed to somewhere. We turned to look, and saw hundreds of the black crows now sitting in the ruins, the trees, everywhere around the house. And they were all watching us intently. “Get back in. Now!” Vidarok commanded, and at that second the birds soared to the air in unison. The sound of their wings was like a small storm. In the air they formed massive flocks that reminded me of thunderclouds. Needless to say, we did not wait around to see whether they would swoop down and attack us or not, but quickly ran back in and closed the doors behind us. “So what now?” I asked the others when we were catching our breath in the northernmost lobby with the grand piano. “We continue our search of Aldern”, Vidarok said vehemently, and paced back to where Harsk had lost his mind.

Through a dining hall at the easternmost side of the lower floor, we moved to southwards, to a small library room of sorts. An armchair lied upside down at the center of the room, surrounded by some books and a statue in pieces. On each wall there were bookcases, full with books. Harsk had a look at them, but they were ruined and unreadable, their paper crumbling to dust when touched. I walked over to a desk which apparently had been used for writing and reading. Cobweb covered dry ink bottles and pens. But there was also a beautiful red scarf, untouched by the times, almost as it had been recently placed there. I took it, and sneered at Ilori. “Your lover left you a present”, I told her, showing the scarf. “Ha-ha. Funny, Alpharius”, she responded dryly. I left the scarf where I had found it and continued forward, behind Vidarok and Harsk. They had reached the southernmost lobby – we had successfully circled the lower floor. It was decision-making time. Either we would go upstairs, or try to find routes down. These sorts of houses always had cellars. “What do you think”, Harsk asked me and Vidarok as we stood next to the roaring manticore statue. The wail of the woman still was audible, coming from the upper floors. “If I were Aldern I’d hide underground-” Vidarok started but then stopped. “Where’s Ilori?” He asked us. We looked around and realized the carmine lady hadn’t followed us out of the library. We stormed back, calling for her urgently. When we got back, we saw the damned scarf around her throat and neck, strangulating her. She was struggling against it with both hands, trying to get it off her. “Ilori!” I shouted, and at the moment, the scarf let go and Ilori collapsed on her knees, breathing heavily. The red scarf floated to the ground, almost serenely.

She gestured she was fine, and we let out a mutual sigh of relief. Not only was the house playing with our heads, it even had power over matter, it seemed. This was truly one of the most dangerous places I’d been, I thought to myself, shivering. To be sure, Vidarok used the wand of healing on Ilori, and a healthy colour returned to her features. Together, keeping an eye on each other, we moved to the main lobby.

A short discussion later Vidarok spotted a monkey’s head on the wall next to the particularly large growth of mycelium, close to two doors we suspected led to a staircase. Both doors were locked. From the monkey’s open mouth hung a long cord and Vidarok had the idea that pulling the cord might open the doors. Or, I don’t know, wake the manticore, I thought to myself, expecting a trap behind every corner. We had the sense to back down from the monkey’s head and let Ilori pull the cord with her mage hand power. With a flick of her wrist, the cord was pulled down, and the building trembled from a horrible, deafening roar. Nothing else happened.

“Well, I’ll imagine whoever is in this house by now knows we are here too”, I remarked ironically, drawing frowns from the others. The northern door, next to the monkey’s head remained stuck, but after applying some force that would’ve made Frank proud, we got the southern door open. It did indeed reveal a staircase leading.. upstairs. Irritated and strained from the effort, I wiped sweat off my forehead. “We could’ve just used the f%$@ing stairs in the lobby, hmmh?”

Carefully, we ascended the stairs. As we got to the second floor, I heard the door downstairs slam shut and somebody running the steps. I warned Ilori who was coming last, and she turned, but there was no-one following us. She looked at me curiously, wondering if I was too losing my grip in reality. Under my breath I cursed the house. I knew what I had heard.

A wide corridor circled the second floor counterclockwise. There were multiple rooms, and we started by going to the center of the floor. Behind a doubledoor we found a gallery with portraits of people hanging from the walls, covered in cobweb. At least this place didn’t have that foul spore growth, I noted. While the others had little interest in the portraits, I walked to one and brushed aside the web to reveal a well-painted picture. It was a little prudently smiling girl with a long dark hair. Under the portrait read Lorey Foxglove. “Is this the girl you thought you were carrying”, I poked at Harsk. He turned, had a look at the painting and grunted, but didn’t answer. At the end of the gallery, Vidarok pushed open a second doubledoor, and I let the portraits be and followed the others in.

“Strange”, the druid started. “No mycelium, and it looks like someone has actually managed to keep this room quite tidy”, he thought aloud, gesturing around the room with his hand. We’d arrived to a master bedroom, with a large bed, some chairs and a desk with some wooden debris on it. I cracked a joke about the debris, that were actually pointy shards of wood. “I bet those shards fly off to somebody’s back the second we turn to leave.” For some reason, no one found the comment funny. I shrugged, and looked around if there was anything of value in the room. We found no traces nor anything valuable, and decided to leave. Just to spite myself I had a second look at the table. There was something in there among the shards. I took a step towards the table, frowning, sure it had not been there when I had examined it just a moment earlier. A silver-handled dagger was lying among the debris.

Something or someone yelled in my head. There’s nothing on the table, Alpharius. RESIST IT.

I shook my head, to clear it, closed my eyes and re-opened them. And the dagger had vanished. The damn house had tried to screw around with my head, but I’d overcome it. I silently whistled and quickly got out of the bedroom and back to the gallery. There, Vidarok reached out with his other hand, absentmindedly brushing aside cobwebs on many of the portraits as he paced back towards the main corridor. A mistake, we realized when the doubledoors to our back and front were suddenly slammed close and the temperature rapidly fell beyond freezing. I cursed, and Harsk ran and barreled himself on the door, but it didn’t even move an inch. The temperature was quickly dropping and we were shivering, frantically looking for a way out.. until the way again opened, and the temperature returned to normal in a blink of an eye.

“What the hells was that”, Vidarok asked from no-one in particular, realizing at the same time that asking and trying to understand what this house was doing was ultimately futile and actually just stupid. I was about to point that out when I noticed the cold burns and boils on the skin of my hands. I shook my hands in disgust, thinking they were another illusion, but then Ilori exclaimed, saying she had boils all over her. I too said I had them, but Vidarok and Harsk just stood there looking at us like we were mad. “Uhhmm, friends, there’s nothing on you”, Vidarok said, diplomatically. I looked at him angrily, then back at my hands. And the burns and boils were gone. “Godsdamnit”, I cursed, “I f*#!ing hate this place”.

We checked the room opposite to the gallery, found nothing, and moved north. Harks opened a door to a bathroom, directly above the one I had investigated on the ground floor, while the rest of us had a look at the north-east corner of the floor. Two things happened almost at the same time.

I heard timber complain and give in, and the bathroom floor collapsed under Harsk. He had the unbelievable dexterity to jump on a bathtub while the wooden floor came crashing down under him, and thus spared himself of most of the harm to his self. I ran to the door and saw Harsk sitting dumbfounded on the bathtub one floor beneath me. His helmet had fallen off his head and there was dust and splinters of wood everywhere.

I almost laughed aloud at the absurdity of the situation, but Vidarok started to scream. “Aaaaah! Get it off me! Get it off!” Ilori, standing before him was desperately telling him to stop, but it didn’t help. The druid was frantically clawing his own face. Blood flowed. Leaving Harsk to sort out his own mess, I barreled to Vidarok, gripping his hands tightly while we rolled to the floor. His eyes were wide open in horror and he stared at me, the whites of his eyes bulging. Then he blinked, and it was over. He was still shaking visibly when we got up. I didn’t even ask what he had seen, or what he thought he had seen. The sooner we were out of this place the better, I thought. I wondered if we’d get out alive.

We searched two other bedrooms. The first was an awful mess, even by the haunted mansion’s standards, with everything turned upside down. Even a picture on the far wall. Maybe for a reason, I decided, as no-one had inclinations to turn it around and see what it depicted. The other room was child’s bedroom. Ilori had a vision there – for a moment, she was a child who witnessed two adults, maybe the parents, arguing fiercely. She wanted to leave the room at once, so we complied, now ready to enter the third and final floor. But the house wasn’t going to let us.

Harsk was leading us and when he got to the door to the rummaged bedroom, he froze. “You b~#@&..” He cursed suddenly, and turned around to face Ilori who was behind him. In a rapid motion, he drew his longsword and slashed at the carmine lady. She simply had no chance to evade the blow. She cried in pain and stepped back, a huge cut on her waist, and she was holding her hands on the wound to stop the bleeding. It spurted between her fingers and the look on her was pure terror. But before Harsk could attack anew, Ilori’s eyes erupted with furious fire and the dwarf dropped his sword, cursing her magics. I was already moving towards him, but Harsk managed to cast a magical weapon right next to the sorceress that also stabbed at her, scoring yet another blow on her shoulder through the shimmering mage armor. For the third time that day I barreled into one of my own group with anger. I headbutted Harsk, dazing him momentarily, and grappled him as well as I could, all the time yelling profanities at him. My excessive force brought him back from the madness and bloodlust, and the magical weapon attacking our lady disappeared.

“I’m so sorry Ilori”, Harsk lamented, begging her to forgive him. Still on top of him, I hit him in the face again. Harder this time. Blood flew from his nostrils. Vidarok was all over the carmine lady, healing wand glowing with energy, and the wounds started to disappear. Ilori nodded weakly at the dwarf, accepting the apology. I was amazed, not at Ilori but at the accursed mansion. Did it need any guards if it could turn its trespassers against each other?

We finally got up to the third floor without further visions, mind controlling moments and other surprises. Next to the stairs Harsk came across a room that had actually been renovated, and there were still woodworking tools remaining. He curiously examined them, and pondered aloud that he’d need tools for the construction of his chapel in Sandpoint. He loaded some of the tools into his backpack, before I asked him was he really sure taking and using tools from a cursed mansion was a good idea. He simply shrugged, and I told him to remind me to never visit his chapel.

The third floor also had a main corridor running counterclockwise. We made good progress, checking room after room, until Harsk had yet another episode of utter madness.

“Is it hot in here? Do you feel it?”, the dwarf asked me, from the back, as we were traversing the main corridor. I turned around, ready to fling myself at him once again. Vidarok and Ilori were already investigating a new room, so they couldn’t hear him or react. I saw sweat running down on his face. I didn’t feel anything strange, but realized Harsk was about to lose his mind. He started to tremble. “It’s… so hot.. it’s burning me…. aaaah!” His moans grew into a scream of pain, and he took off running towards me, flinging his hands around like he was on fire and was trying to put down flames from his body. Making a quick 90 degree turn, he pushed himself through a door leading east, into a fine lounge room with massive windows at the far end. “Harsk! Stop!” I ordered him, but the house had taken him over completely, again. The kept running, across the lounge room and leapt as high as he could. Glass shattered and he crashed through the windows. I screamed his name as he fell with the shards and vanished somewhere beyond. I remembered the steep cliffs behind the mansions and my heart grew cold. Rain poured inside through the broken glass. Numbly, I paced to the windows. There’s no way he could have survived that.

But the little bastard surprised me one more time. He was lying on a sloping roof, desperately hanging from a weather vane. Beyond the roof was the storming sea, almost a hundred feet below. His right thigh was a bloody mess – apparently he had landed on the vane and it had stopped his fall by piercing his thigh. He was cursing and struggling, his grip slipping. The rain shower did not help him one bit. Vidarok and Ilori had heard me shout and came running to me. “Harsk went mad again, and threw himself through the windows!” Ilori covered her mouth as she saw the dwarf. “We need to help him!” Knowing what to do, I dropped my backpack, and frantically searched for the skein of rope. It was within easy reach, and I turned back to the window and threw the other end of the rope for Harsk. It landed pretty close to him, but he was unable to reach it. He groaned in pain, and I wondered how long he could last out there. Somewhere far away I could hear the croaks of the crows. I just hoped they would not swarm us. Ilori was quick to react though. Using her limited telekinetic powers she called “mage hands”, she pushed the rope closer to Harsk. “Grab the rope!” I yelled over the rain. Harsk gathered all his strength and with a roar pulled himself upwards and managed to get a hold of the cord. Immediately, we all started to pull. Harsk held on for his life, and in moments, we hauled him back in.

This time I didn’t hit him. I was too tired to do it. “Gods dammit you’re fat, dwarf”, I hissed between breaths. Vidarok was healing the cleric, who was leaning against a wall, pressing his thigh wound to stop the bleeding. He laughed lightly. “It’s the armour, and the equipment, lad.” I spat on the ground and brushed sweat off my face. “Just stop going crazy, will you?” To this, he had nothing to say. His expression darkened. Perhaps he was angry with himself, being unable to resist the control of the house. I didn’t know.

**

With Harsk back to full health, we went on. The wail of the woman was now coming from very close. I scouted a door and the end of the corridor, and indicated to the others that the voice was coming from there. It was locked, so I handed the key I had found from the dead ghast to Vidarok, who moved over to the door. Everybody indicated their readiness, so the half-orc pushed the key into the lock and opened it.

It was dark inside. A woman with a long, almost black hair was sitting on the bare floor, her back to us, facing a mirror. She was crying. My blood went ice cold at the sight. I stepped in with Vidarok and Harsk, carefully, but the woman didn’t even seem to register our presence. Another steps, and still nothing, only wails. We looked at each other, not knowing what to do. Was she a threat? Was she a friend? Was she real, even? Harsk moved closer to her, so close he could touch her. Still the woman did not react. Harsk made one fleeting glance towards us, stepped towards the mirror and with his longsword, broke it to pieces.

Immediately, the woman straightened and went stiff. She turned towards us but not at us and there was fury on her face. She was beautiful and hideous at the same time – she seemed normal, but there was something unnatural about her. Inside, she was dead. “I can smell your fear Aldern.. I’m coming for you.. and I’ll kill you!” She raged and leapt to her feet before storming out of the room. We gave way – she didn’t even notice us. “What the curses was that”, Vidarok asked aloud, bewildered like the rest of us. Harsk shrugged, and took off running, following the woman. We went as well.

We kept up with the woman all the way to the ground floor. There she fell to the especially large swathe of mycelium and started to tear it away with her bare hands. “What should we do?” Vidarok asked us again. We were uncertain. Should we follow her wherever she went, or perhaps try to find a staircase below? The woman was making rapid progress, and in a few moments, she had clawed a hole into the spore growth and disappeared within.

“I’m not going in there”, Ilori stated blankly, and I had to agree. None of us were particularly keen in diving into a small hole covered by unnatural spores, so we decided to manhandle the one door behind it, hoping that would lead us down. It took the combined strength of me, Harsk and Vidarok to move the stuck door, but we eventually got it open. And alas, it led down to a basement. These sorts of houses always had cellars.

We found ourselves in a cramped space combining a kitchen and dining room. A dorm was connected to the kitchen – the basement was obviously meant to house the servants and other staff. At one side of the kitchen area there were small, fist sized holes in the stone wall. Screeching sounds echoed from within. Rats. And they were coming through the wall! I signaled the others, and we toppled a large dining table and pushed it against the wall. That should contain the little beasts for a while, I thought. It was all for naught however.

Vidarok opened a door not far from the wall we had just covered, and immediately, dozens of crazed, sickly rats poured in. The druid exclaimed in surprise and started to whack them with his quarterstaff. “Close the door!” Harsk cried out, and Vidarok did as ordered, but a horde of the little beasts had made its way in. They blanketed the stony floor at our feet, successfully biting at the ankles and feet of Vidarok and Harsk. Faroth, unfazed by the beasts, leapt in the middle of the swarm. He became a flurry of claws and teeth. Scores of the rats died as he crushed them under his paws and cut them half with his bites. Harsk, I and Vidarok were doing our best with our blades and staff, and Ilori was stomping them to mush. Eventually, we got them all, and survived mostly unharmed. I patted and scratched Faroth on his head, recognizing his deeds.

There was a way that led approximately to the direction where the woman had crawled, so we headed out there next. Thinking we’d face battle soon, we emptied potions of magic, and Harsk blessed us. But we found only a long corridor, leading to a study room empty but some bookcases and hundreds of nearly decayed books and scriptures. Vidarok seemed lost in his thoughts for a moment, as he examined the books, but regained his senses quickly. The journey continued.

Ultimately we came to a small room in the middle of the underground floor. Above light shone from the narrow tunnel through which the woman had crawled, and below, somebody has struck open the floor, revealing a set of stairs circling down. Still there was no sign of the woman nor Aldern. We were getting restless from the anticipation of battle, but went deeper underground anyway.

It would’ve been utterly dark below if not for the strangely glowing swaths of mycelium. We descented to a series of caves. Two routes, separated by a ten feet thick rockface, curled to the west, and as I arrived down, Harsk and Vidarok had already taken the northern path. They were talking something, and I nodded to Ilori to stay close. Last time we had separated, Vidarok had died. A second after I had formulated the thought, I heard Harsk shout a warning. Vidarok started to cough violently and I cursed them both. In response, a shrill scream echoed from the west. I immediately recognized the sound. Ghouls, I whispered. A lot of them.

Deciding the caves where too cramped for my bow, I swiftly pulled my gladii blades out of their scabbards. Behind me, I could feel the temperature increase as Ilori’s hands ignited with magical fire. We saw only shadows of the first ghouls – they attacked Harsk and Vidarok. Another shrill scream, followed by Vidarok’s howl of pain. “Vidarok! He’s paralyzed” Harsk managed the warning. Oh not again, I cursed between my teeth. But we couldn’t help them as ghouls came running towards us as well. “C’mon!” I taunted them. Over my shoulder, Ilori peppered the first ghoul with fire. Not losing its momentum, it kept coming and reached me. But before it could attack, I sank both of my blades into its chest and it fell to my feet, perished by our combined might. Harsk was standing alone somewhere to our right, protecting Vidarok. I hoped he’d survive, and kept hollering taunts at the ghouls who were still coming. My efforts were awarded – more ghouls came to sight from the caves. Ilori spared not her powers as she erupted the cave before us in flames. Through the burning onslaught, two more ghouls attacked, but I struck them both down, cutting the head off the first and piercing the brains of the other through its eye socket. Yet a fourth remained, and it got very close to us as I was still finishing its kin. But not close enough. Over the sounds of battle I heard the cleric utter a howl bordering a blood-lusted roar, and we were blinded with the pure white light of his positive energy. For a second it was light as day in the tunnels, and the fourth ghoul simply vanished before me, its corrupted body turned to ash by Harsk’s holy powers of life. The battle ended as abruptly as it had begun.

Harsk was showing signs of severe fatigue after his efforts and continues mental attacks by the mansion – he barely was holding himself upright. Vidarok returned from paralysis, but we were unable to say if he was afflicted by the ghoul fever or not. It was a problem we’d have to sort out if we got out of this place alive. We also had little time to contemplate it as after progressing only fifty or so feet further into the caves, we came to an opening. Beneath us was an abyss into which masses of water fell in from ruptures in the cave walls. There were also four undead goblins, that immediately attacked us. One was overeager, and it lost its balance on the watery, slippery rockfloor, and went tumbling down to the abyss. Harsk was at the fore, and suffered the worst of their attack. Already weakened, a ghoul got over his defences and sank its teeth into the dwarf’s flesh, paralyzing him. I sprang on the enemy, pushing if off my comrade. Ilori poured fire into it and ended its misery. But two more came at us. Vidarok challenged the other, and engaged in fierce melee. The other slashed its rugged blades at my throat, but I parried before they connected. Frustrated, the beast simply leaped at me, biting, but my elven physiology thwarted its poisons. Pushing with all my strength, I heaved it off me, and Ilori had enough room to set it alight with a fire arc.

Over the dying wails of the burning goblin ghoul, I heard a loud whack. The third goblin, it too having endured Ilori’s burning arc, slumped to Vidarok’s feet. The druid was bleeding from many cuts, but stood strong and made sure the goblin stayed down by hammering the end of his staff to the beast’s skull, cracking it open. An eye got stuck in the staff, and Vidarok poked it away with disgust. I turned to Harsk, who was still frozen in place. I pulled him from his beard and he came alive accompanied by a painful yell. He earned that too, for the jump off the window. “Welcome back”, I greeted him, cleaned my gladii by brushing them on the ripped clothes of a dead goblin and re-sheathed them. Vidarok and Harsk exchanged some words, while Ilori stared at the watery abyss below us. “We’ll need to find a way around”, she murmured. I could’ve tried to go around the abyss counter-clockwise, but we would’ve needed to go through a waterfall. A too risky option, so we had to look for a way clockwise. There was an narrow path leading westwards, and at its end was a cave filled with bones and remains of animals and humans. The reek was awful, but the cave offered us an alternative way around. But we still had to traverse a few dozen feet of slippery, sloping rockside. We’d already seen what would happen if you’d lose your balance, so we were not taking any chances.

Vidarok came up with a solution. “Let’s tie each other together with our ropes, so that the one crossing is always connected to two other people”, he suggested. Feeling confident, I suggested to be the first to cross the slope. I tied two ropes tightly around my waist, the other connecting me to Vidarok and the other to Harsk. Then I set out, keeping as close to the wall as possible. And damn, it was slippery. Staying upright was a struggle, and after a fighting my way through, I got to the other side. The others, having learned from my fumbling, decided it was better to crawl than try to walk, so they got over easily.

Behind us, a large cavern loomed. We knew the end of our adventure here was approaching.

Boldly, we started into the dark cavern, Harsk first, Ilori last. At the end of the tunnel we saw a shimmer of torch light, and the tunnel opened to reveal a cave decorated as if it was a room in a house.

“The heroes arrive”, somebody welcomed us from the back of the cave. A man’s voice, familiar. He was sitting on a chair that had seen better days, filled with holes, stuffing bursting out of them. We froze. This was it. The man rose from his chair and the torchlight revealed him to us.

Aldern Foxglove. But it was not the same handsome nobleman we had met in Sandpoint. No, this was something else. Something corrupted, defiled and evil. He had turned himself into an undead creature. But he was also injured. Then we noticed the woman we had set loose, dead and lying on the ground beside us. She had come here, but failed to kill Aldern. Almost immediately he spotted Ilori, who was standing behind us. His grin was supposed to be of joy, but it was haunting leer. “My love, I knew you’d find my letters and come. Let us consummate our hunger!” Producing an awfully keen looking war-razor, he sprung towards Ilori. However, Vidarok was on his way. The former nobleman drove down the war razor, but Vidarok successfully parried the blade aside. I was running, acrobatically evading Aldern’s stabs, and I got behind him. My first strike hit nothing but air as Aldern hissed and moved past the blow. In return, he cut a deep wound to Vidarok’s chest. Ilori’s eyes flashed ruby-red as she tried to burn the razor of his grip, but the pommel was wooden and the attack didn’t cause the monster any harm. Harsk and Vidarok both kept pounding at him, pushing him back and Vidarok hitting him to his right cheek, drawing a grunt of pain. He was momentarily caught unawares and that was all I needed. I stabbed with my left gladii and the tip of the blade pierced the flesh in his back and came out through his chest. “This is for Katrine Vinder”, I whispered to his ear, and pulled back the blade. He collapsed face down to the ground.

Before he died, he whispered his last words, his eyes on Ilori. “My beloved Iesha.. I’m sorry that I ruined everything, forgive me..” And as his voice faded to nothingness and the unlife vanished from his eyes, the body of the woman next to him dissolved into dust.

She was Iesha, his wife, we realized that instant.

I kneeled to check if he was truly gone, and found it to be true to my delight. The ritual killer had been found and disposed of. But at that moment I had no idea what would become the price of our success.

“Everybody OK?” I asked everyone, but looked at Ilori in particular. She had been the target of Aldern’s twisted infatuation. I wondered if she felt a bit responsible for all the deaths Aldern had caused. “I’m fine now”, Ilori answered, still looking a bit anxious. But everything wasn’t OK with Vidarok. He paced slowly to a wall that was wholly covered with the same unnatural mycelium as all the other places we’d seen. But this looked different. I felt that this spot was the place where all the other spores had grown from, a sort of nexus as it were. Vidarok didn’t seem to care, and he actually reached out to the wall and pulled out a handful of the mushrooms, and stuffed his mouth with them. He smacked noisily. Harsk followed him. “Vidarok, stop that”, he ordered the druid, but he was delirious and kept stuffing more of the mushrooms into his mouth. Harsk, realizing words would not do the trick, grabbed the druid and pulled him off the wall. This sobered the half-orc, who shook his head to clear it. “What.. for a moment, I saw nothing but those mushrooms.. and I was so hungry..” Harsk folded his arms. “It must be the spores you inhaled when we came down. I was still kneeling next to Aldern. “Let’s check the cave for valuables and get the hell out of here.”

We stripped Aldern of his armour and equipment first. Then we had a look at the room proper. On a table were erotic drawings of a woman, not really well drawn but clear enough to see they depicted Ilori. Ilori looked embarassed and with a gesture, she set them alight and they burned to ash in a blink. On the table was also an cameo-necklace. That too had a picture of Ilori in it. I snatched it before Ilori could do anything to it, turned to her and flipped it to her. She caught it from the air and had a look. “He really had a fixation on you, carmine lady”, I joked. If looks could kill, I would’ve died right there.

We found our next clue among the things Aldern had hoarded into his cave. A letter, addressed to him, signed by someone calling herself Xanesha, Mistress of the Seven. In the letter, Xanesha was complimenting him, and briefing him for the murders he had committed. So the trail did not end with Aldern, I thought as I read the letter. And the letter mentioned Magnimar.

Among other things we took with us was a ring with two keys. Vidarok pocketed them as we moved out of the cave and started our journey back to ground level. Our way back was uneventful. But as we reached the front doors leading out of the cursed mansion, Vidarok had a quick look outside and confirmed our fears. The crows were still outside, waiting for us. And Vidarok claimed he could sense that the house itself was alive, as it had a beating heart somewhere. He wanted us to cleanse the place. “Can you bless this house, to drive out the evil within?” He asked Harsk first. Harsk shook his head. “I can bless a certain area for a while, but I don’t have the powers to excise the evil spirits here.” Vidarok looked desperate. “Fire is a great cleansing power however”, Harsk added, trying to be constructive. Ilori shrugged, not really sold into the idea. Even her powers were limited, and already she had used them extensively.

I just wanted to get the hell out of here, so I suggested an idea.

“Let’s draw the birds into the house. You all go to the northern exit and wait for my signal. I’ll open the southern doors and attract the attention of the crows. When they attack, I’ll run through the house, all the way to the northern doors. At the last second, we’ll close those doors, and some one of you will run to close the southern doors from the outside.” Of course, my plan assumed I’d get all the birds with me to the house, but I imagined we could handle a few stragglers if it came to that. My idea was accepted, and we took our planned positions. I left Faroth and my backpack with Ilori, and moved to the southern doors. I drew a deep breath and opened the doors. “Hey, f*#+ers, come and get me”, I shouted with all my strength. In the yard before the mansion, hundreds of the birds took flight, circled in the air creating massive flocks and came right at me. I turned and ran like hell, gladii blades in my hands.

As I sprinted, I kept looking behind me. The birds swarmed inside, and it actually looked like the plan was working. Some of the birds caught me, but did not attack – still, I slashed at them and killed several. I kept running, through narrower corridors now, and the flocks had a harder time keeping up with me and staying coherent at the same time. I was perhaps twenty-thirty feet ahead of the leading crows when I reached the northern lobby and yelled at the others to get out and close the southern entrance. Ilori sprinted out first, going for them, while Harsk remained at the northern doors, closing the other while keeping the second open for me. Dexterously I grabbed my backpack on the run, jumped out and pushed the door closed. I could hear crow beaks crashing into it.

Flames erupted with a roar at the southern door – apparently Ilori had to force some crows back to get the doors closed there.

“Now what?” I asked, with urgency. Already we could hear the crows knocking on the windows with their beaks, trying to get out. Time was very short. Harsk was sweating profusely – I remembered he was very fatigued and weary. I recognized the fact that we might not have the time to reach the horses before the crows got out. We needed to do something, immediately. I urged everybody to leave.

But the godsdamned druid wasn’t going to leave without a fight. “No! We cannot leave this place standing. It remains a threat to the region. We must destroy it!” And with those words, he began casting a powerful lighting spell. The rains above us increased, and flashes struck in the clouds above us. Vidarok was using the strange weather here to his advantage, drawing power from the rainstorm. Vidarok gestured with his fist, and a powerful arc of lighting struck the house, right where the birds where. Windows in the upper floors exploded into shards and splinters of wood flew into every direction.

And the house screamed, as if it truly was alive!

“It’s working”, Harsk whispered in awe. The knocking on the ground floor windows increased and already we could see first cracks in the glass. I started to retreat, but pulled my bow from my back anyway. “Let’s go..” I told them, but no-one was listening. Instead, we watched as the house started to repair itself. New woodwork appeared on the roof, and the broken windows reformed. “No!” Vidarok exclaimed in denial. “Ilori, burn it down!” He ordered the fire sorceress, who stepped closer to the side of the building and shot a massive plume of fire at it. A wide section of the wall caught fire, and the house howled in pain again. Ilori was driven to her knees, as if something had hit her. “The house.. it is attacking me, my mind.. Watch out!” She warned us, tears flowing from her eyes as she struggled to gain control of herself. Then the windows of the lobby exploded outwards, and the swarm flew out. I shot arrows at it, each hitting and killing scores of the birds, but my attacks where inconsequential. We needed massive power, and Vidarok delivered it, in a form of another thunderstrike. We were almost blown off our feet as it speared to the flock from the heavens. The explosion was deafening and the afterimage of the flock dying burned into my retina. I had to blink many times to regain full vision. But the battle was over, the birds were dead.

But no, the battle was not over for Vidarok. Keeping his hands wide apart, his staff on the other, he turned back to face the house, chanting a spell. “Vidarok, no!” Ilori screamed at him but it didn’t matter. A third lighting struck the building, again deafening us and destroying a part of its structure. The house roared in pain.

The following silence was broken only by the raindrops hitting the ground. Vidarok just stared forward for a moment, unmoving. Then he fell down like a sack of potatoes. “No no no..” Harsk moaned as he ran to him. I shouldered my bow and sprinted to the druid, as did Ilori. But there was nothing we could do. His expression was of utter terror, and his heart had stopped. He had seen something so terrible in his mind that his body had simply given up. Kneeling beside the druid that had died a second time in two days, I looked at the mansion, that was repairing itself, and then up in the thundering sky.

The lighting had struck twice. And this time, we couldn’t bring him back.

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