The Second Fury of Gruumsh

Table of Contents
Where do you want to go? When would you like to be?

Announcement: After consulting with the party, I’ve decided to stop making such detailed updates to the adventure log. Each log takes me half as long as the session itself did to write, and that is just too much time, especially when I need to keep tracks of battle stats, statistics, make maps, enemies, missions, and items, and try to work each character’s personality and backstory into the games I make. In the end, it was just too much of a hassle. I will likely still update the missions here, but the entries will be shorter and will not involve dialogue, just brief summaries of the battle. If I feel the need to write something here, it will be a ‘scene,’ if anything. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading the logs so far. -The DM

Entry Campaign Date
Hlevisbard 433R7M
Goblin Crypt Fortwint 433R8M
Scene: Intermission 433R8M
The Bandit Forest Fort 433R14M
Scene: Edelton Prison 433R15M
The Mysterious Garden 433R6N
Scene: Celebrating Moradin’s Day 433R8N
Scene: A Disrupted Peace 433R15N
The Cult of Lolth, Part 1 433R20N
The Cult of Lolth, Part 2 433R1O
Scene: A Budding Captain 433R1O
Adventures Underfoot New icon 2 433R2O
The Mage’s House New icon 2 433R5O
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The Mage's House
How does one fight when the building itself is one's enemy?
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Adventures Underfoot
Practice for the greenhorns

Date: 433R2O

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Arcaeus rolled out of bed. For a sleepy moment he looked around for Fetin and Bogrin, but they were gone.

That was right. He had started his own company after his companions left. The only one still with him was Ilfari, and she was always an early riser. She had probably been done with breakfast for a good hour.

They’d gone back to Valencia the night before, a sizeable town on the eastern fringes of Kessen and the last place they had stayed as Dragonfury Company. As things stood now, he was the captain of a mercenary company with no official name and only one underling, though both of those would be changed by the end of the day with any luck.

He went down the stairs to the common room of the Broken Sparrow inn. The Halflings that ran the place were already winding down what looked to have been a busy breakfast. Ilfari was seated at a table at the far end talking to a dark-skinned Halfling girl. She waved him over.

“Arcaeus,” she said, motioning towards the Halfling, “this is Ellila Upre. Ellila, this is Arcaeus.”

“The infamous Ellila?” said Arcaeus. “The one who left the group right before I joined?”

“She never really left,” said Ilfari. “I mean, not official-like. She just sort of wandered off.”

“It’s a nice little reunion for you two, then.”

Ilfari furrowed her brow and gave Arcaeus a look. “What’s with the attitude towards her?”

“Attitude? I didn’t mean to come off that way, but honestly, I can see where this is going. I know we’re looking for candidates for the new group, but we need to have people we can depend on to some degree.”

“I can vouch for her,” she said. “We fought together. I guarantee she can fight.”

“I don’t doubt she can, but can you guarantee she won’t run off again?” He turned to Ellila. “How do I know you won’t disappear whenever it pleases you?”

Ellie shrugged. “You probably can’t,” she said, her high voice colored with mirth.

“I appreciate the honestly, but I need to know that I can depend on those who fight with me. Somehow I don’t think you’d be willing to stick in one place for too long, right?” Ellila nodded enthusiastically. “She is really honest.”

Ilfari sighed. “Fine,” she said, tossing a bunch of paper scraps onto the table. “There are these others looking for work. I was going to say we could pick any one of them, but since you’re dumping Ellila, I guess we have room for two.”

Arcaeus crossed his arms. “Is this going to be a problem?” Ilfari shook her head, but didn’t say anything. Arcaeus picked up one of the pieces of paper. On it was scrawled a name, occupation, and location. There were half a dozen of them in all, so he organized them to see what his choices were a bit better.

“A lot of fighter types,” he said. “It would be best if we picked up a healer. A magic user of some sort wouldn’t hurt, either.” He moved two scraps aside and picked up a third. “What can you tell me about this Paladin?”

“Hold on a sec,” she said, turning to Ellila. “It was good seeing you again, Ell. We’ll catch up again some time.”

“I’ll find you again, no problem,” Ellila said, jumping down from her seat. “Nice meeting you, Arcaeus,” she said with a bow, then skipped out of the inn.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t hire your friend, Ilfari, but hopefully you understand at least.”

“So the Paladin,” she said, picking up the scrap of paper. Arcaeus clenched his jaw, annoyed, but said nothing. “From what I hear, he’s the fighting type, but he should be able to cover some of our healing needs.”

“What’s he like? Personality-wise, I mean.”

“A bit holier-than-thou. I’unno. Didn’t talk to him much.”

Arcaeus picked through the other scraps. “Doesn’t look like we have much choice in the matter, as he is the only one here with any healing ability. It would be foolish to pass him up. We should go speak with him when we have the chance.” He looked at the other papers again. “What about this Invoker? ‘Ingus Onasi.’ What about her?”

“I’ve only heard things. Seems to be a posh type. Really ritsy. And she casts spells. That’s all I could pick up on her.”

“Let’s not waste any time. Let’s go speak with them.”

+ + +

Marcus Peppers was almost exactly how Arcaeus invisioned the Human Paladin. He was shorter than expected, but he held himself tall and proud, wearing his weighty plate armor even while enjoying a drink at the inn he was staying at while in town. He had introduced himself well enough and seemed eager to join the group and was busy rattling off the names of creatures he had slain as Arcaeus conferred with Ilfari.

“I’m fine with him,” said Arcaeus. “Looks like he can fight, and he doesn’t look the kind to flee a fight.”

“I think he looks kind of dopey,” she said.

“He does, doesn’t he? But we are hiring him as a sword arm and healer, so that doesn’t really matter.” Arcaeus raised his hand to silence Marcus. “We can start you at 5% of any treasure found, though this amount will go up once you’ve proved yourself in battle.”

Marcus nodded his head. “That is fine with me. I am eager to prove myself against our foes. We should strike some nest of evil!”

“We’ll take whatever job comes,” said Arcaeus. “Not every mission will be a righteous crusade against evil. Some will be much simpler or more ambiguous. Are you alright with that?”

Marcus nodded again. “Yes, yes, of course. I can be a very patient man.”

“Great,” said Ilfari. “So we’re set here, right? Can we head over to Ingus’s inn now? It should be a sight better than this place.” She looked around the inn which was located squarely in a poorer section of the town, though Marcus didn’t seem to mind. As they left the inn, they were assailed by the stench of horse manure and unwashed bodies. Ilfari consulted the slip of paper with Ingus’s name on it out of habit, even though she already knew where she was heading. The higher end neighborhoods were a mere ten minute walk from the slums.

“Fancy,” she said, eying the door of the Blazing Stallion, the upscale inn Ingus resided in. “It fits her description, alright. It’s places like this…” she trailed off.

It wasn’t hard to spot her. As soon as they entered the inn, they spotted the Halfling dressed in brightly colored and highly decorative robes, though from the bulk they could tell she clearly wore underneath. A cape ran down her back and her hair was stylishly set. About her were books and candles, some of which floated idly in the air.

“She’s worse than I expected,” Ilfari muttered.

“She looks fine to me,” said Arcaeus, stepping forward. “Ingus Onasi?” he asked.

The Halfling looked up. Her face was slightly wrinkled and the edges of her hair were beginning to show gray, but her features were sharp and discerning. Her lips curled into a half-smile as they approached. “What can I do for you?”

“I heard you were looking to join a mercenary company.”

Ingus scoffed. ”’Mercenary’ is such a harsh word on the ears. I prefer the think of myself as an adventurer. But yes, I am looking for that kind of work.”

Ilfari rolled her eyes. “What can you offer our group?” Arcaeus asked.

“Two hundred years of magical experience,” she said. “I can produce very destructive magics and can offer exceptional levels of knowledge and information on a wide range of topics should it be required. Frankly, I should be asking what you can offer me.”

“Well, we have experience, that is for certain.”

“Where have you been? What is your company’s name? Have you done anything I’ve heard of?

“Well our former company name was Dragonfury Company. Have you heard of us?” She shook her head no. “Well, we’ve gone through crypts, forests, fortresses, enchanted gardens, and shrines devoted to evil gods. If you’re looking for varied adventures, I assure you we can offer that.”

“Sounds interesting. What sort of treasures can I expect to find on these adventures?”

“Anything we find, you get 5%”

“Make it 10% and we got a deal.”

Arcaeus and Ilfari exchanged glances. “5% is already quite generous as far as mercenary salaries go.” Arcaeus thought for a moment. “Tell you what: if you come on at 5% and do reasonably well, I can increase your cut to 7.5%, and if you continue performing well, you can get as high as 15% or 20%.”

Arcaeus was, in truth, reciting exactly how his pay scheme was set up to function, but it seemed to convince Ingus. “That sounds fine to me. Do you have any work lined up at the moment?”

“I was focusing on recruiting right now, so not at the moment.”

There was a tug at Arcaeus’s shirt. He turned to find a grayed old Gnome leaning on a walking stick and smiling up at him. “Yes?” He said.

“I suppose you don’t remember the face,” said the Gnome. “Probably busy saving so many people you can’t keep them straight, eh?” Arcaeus gave him a confused look. “I was one of the prisoners those psychotic cultists had locked up in the shrine. Remember now?”

“I think so. You were jumping up and down in the prison, I think.”

“Bingo!” he shouted. “You saved my companion here who was strapped to the alter,” he said, gesturing to his side. An attractive Half-Elven woman stood there, a bow slung over her shoulder and two swords strapped at her sides. She nodded briskly at Arcaeus, eliciting a tap on the shins from the Gnome. “You could at least thank him properly.”

The woman frowned. “Thank you,” she said shortly. She looked around. “Where is the Dragonborn? He was the one who slew the Drider priest who was performing the ceremony. If anyone, I’d wish to give him my thanks.”

“That would be Fetin. That was his last mission with us. The same goes for our Dwarven companion, Bogrin. I’m sorry you couldn’t express your thanks personally.”

“Well, that is a secondary concern,” said the Gnome, offering his hand. “My name is Alston. Alston Illweather. This charming lady here is Ellie Mavera. We are from the mercenary company ‘Bluemist Alliance.’”

“Fellow mercenaries? That makes things interesting, then. How did you come to be captured by those cultists? You both seem capable of handling yourselves.”

Alston waved his hand dismissively. “I was in the midst of a ritual scrying for our lost companion, a Tiefling named Grieda Havelthorne. Very sweet girl. Ellie was on her own while I was casting and couldn’t rightfully be expected to fight off thirty cultists at once, though gods knows she tried. Had your group not come along, we would have been in serious trouble.”

“Your welcome for that, then,” said Arcaeus. “So you just followed us to thank us?”

“Partly,” said the Gnome. “You see, our companion Grieda is still of the missing variety. We know where she is, but are not quite well-equipped enough to retrieve her. The other members of the Bluemist Alliance are too far away to be of assistance, and we can’t afford to wait for them to arrive. That is where you come in, my friends. If you would be so willing as to help us recover our ally, I would be most appreciative. And most rewarding, of course; I can offer you 2000 gold pieces and can assure you there will be at least some treasure to be had.”

Arcaeus nodded. “We’ve never been hired by another company before. Sounds interesting. Will you be helping us recover your friend, then?”

“I’m afraid not. You see, the Gnoll tribe and their Ogre companions have most definitely stripped Grieda of all of her possessions and those need to be recovered. She was carrying something very important to the Bluemist Alliance, so that needs to be retrieved. After you rescue Grieda, you’re going to need to cause a big enough disturbance for us to find and recover the item in question. It shouldn’t be overly difficult. But we have to leave immediately! I don’t know how long Grieda will remain safe.”

Arcaeus turned to the others. “Looks like we do have some work lined up after all. Let’s see how you two perform today, hmm? This will be the first mission of the new mercenary company: Beasts of Prey.”

+ + +

Arcaeus tugged experimentally on the rope. “How did you even get this thing attached?” he asked, looking up the sheer cliff face above.

“Magic,” said Alston, “makes everything easier. Now this should lead up to the Great Bowl, as they call it. It’s the main part of their tribe’s camp and our scrying shows Grieda should be tied to some sort of effigy at the center. Make sure she is safe, then raise a ruckus. If you can, that is,” he added, tilting his head to listen to the great shouts, drum beats, and stomping that overflowed from the Gnoll camp.

“Alright,” said Arcaeus, waving the Gnome away. “We are going to be making some noise fairly soon, so-”

“Right, right!” said Alston, hopping away. “We’ll wait until the camp is sufficiently chaotic. We’ll see you shortly. And make sure you keep Grieda safe!” He turned and dashed off, Ellie walking at a leisurely speed to keep pace with him.

Arcaeus turned to find Marcus already halfway up the rope. “Come on,” Arcaeus said, climbing swiftly afterwards, “and try to keep quiet for now.”

Marcus disappeared over the ridge at the top. Seconds later, a Gnoll flew past Arcaeus, his body smashing on the ground below a few feet away from Ingus.

“Be careful, you lummox!” she shouted as she grasped the rope.

Arcaeus reached the top to find Marcus engaged with another Gnoll. He unleased an arrow to drop it swiftly, then ducked down behind a jutting piece of rock to hide from the area below.

Arcaeus peaked over the edge, quickly seeing why the area was called the Great Bowl: there were three winding pathways that rose above the central area, creating a round camp surrounded on all sides by plateaus and cliffs. The only exit, barring jumping off one of the three pathways to the ground over 30 feet below, was a narrow pass to the north that doubtlessly led to other parts of the camp, though the twisting nature of the pass did not allow them to see down.

Each of the raised pathways had two Gnoll archers on them, though they had taken care of the Gnolls on the pathway they were on. Below was a gathering of tents of various sizes, the smaller ones likely for the Gnolls while the larger ones were for the Ogres. Eight Gnolls stood below; half were dancing, and the other half were banging on drums. Distantly, two Ogres were jumping up and down in time to the music. Arcaeus turned to his party, freshly gathered after climbing the wall.

“We take out the ridges first,” he said, “then strike the center. We can use these railing-like rock formations for cover along the ridges. Try to keep it quiet for now; we’ll raise hell in a moment, but we need to get rid of those archers first.”

“If I may,” said Marcus. Arcaeus nodded for him to continue. “It doesn’t seem sporting to be slinking about and killing our foes unawares.”

“Nor is it very sporting for them to hide behind those rocks and fire arrows at men with swords,” Arcaeus pointed out. “Nor is it sporting to fight our four with their fourteen. If anything, we are evening the odds.” Marcus nodded slowly, considering this. “Marcus and Ingus,” he continued, “will stay low along the ridge, keeping hidden. Ilfari and I will handle the ridges. Should anything go awry, give Ilfari some assistance.”

As Marcus and Ingus pulled away, Ilfari turned to Arcaeus, smiling. ”’it’s not sporting of them to hide behind rocks and fire at men with swords,’ hmm? Isn’t that exactly what you do?”

Arcaeus looked past her at Marcus. “He doesn’t seem like too bright a fellow. I’m sure he won’t even notice that parallel.” Ilfari suppressed a laugh at this comment.

“Watch my back,” she said, turning away. She scampered silently down the pathway, slinked unseen behind the tents below to avoid the dancers, and moved up the western pathway. The two guards reacted to her approach, but had to take cover from Arcaeus’s arrows. He could see Ilfari dive at them in the distance, her daggers easily deflecting their hatchets and finding their flesh. The shouts of the dying Gnolls were mixed into the shouts of the others, being lost.

Ilfarri made her way back and the group readied themselves to repeat the process on the eastern ridge. Ilfari moved silently down once again, passing the short distance in the valley below to the other ridge. She jumped one of the Gnolls before it saw her coming, her daggers sinking into it. Arcaeus felled the other before it could properly react. The attack looked flawless, but the shouting below shifted in timbre and the drums ceased. Those below began scrambling for weapons. The two ogres were already making their way towards the northern entrance of the path, attempting to catch Ilfari between themselves and the Gnolls heading towards the south entrance.

“Here we go!” Arcaeus called to the new recruits below. “Meet them and don’t let Ilfari get surrounded!”

“This is more to my liking!” shouted Marcus, springing forth. He met a surprised Gnoll as it circled one of the tents, catching it in the torso with his blade. Ingus harried those approaching him with blasts of fire and light, causing them to fall to Marcus as they shielded themselves. As Arcaeus began loosing arrows, Ilfari moved swiftly towards the south entrance, fleeing the approaching Ogres and wading into the panicked Gnolls.

The Gnolls were falling swiftly and the Ogres had separated themselves by too great a distance to be of any help to them. One Gnoll, wounded and frightened, turned and fled towards the pass to the north. Arcaeus fired an arrow at it, but it hit a tent pole and stuck to it. The Gnoll vanished into the pass.

“All for the better,” Arcaeus mumbled, considering that they were supposed to incite chaos anyway and news of an attack to the rear would surely do just that.

Marcus kicked a Gnoll away from him and looked for the effigy. As they were told, a female Tiefling was tied to it, her feet dangling a short distance off the ground. Marcus leapt past his opponents and rushed to the effigy, taking several small cuts as he did so.

“Are you alright?” he said, shaking the girl slightly. Grieda looked down and smiled.

“Quite an experience I’ve had here,” she said, watching him work on the ropes. “You can’t see the things I’ve seen anywhere else. Their celebrations are truly unique!”

“I really meant more along the lines of ‘can you stand?’”

“Oh yes, they were not rough with me, though I do think that was not going to be the case in a few hours.” The ropes gave way and Grieda landed lightly on her feet. “A little something for you,” she said.

“Oh no, that’s-” Marcus began, but he felt Grieda’s healing magics already working on his body, sealing his wounds.

“Now it’s probably best if we assist your allies. Ogres are notoriously strong.”

The two Ogres, both easily over twelve feet tall, advanced on Ilfari and Ingus. Ingus created an angelic warrior to assist them, but the Ogres quickly destroyed it with their great club and sword. Marcus swept past his allies to assail the Ogres. The one with the sword ignored him, advancing on the others. Marcus turned to stop the Ogre but was swept aside by the other’s club. Rolling to his feet, he dodged a high swing and jammed his sword into the Ogre’s gut halfway up the blade. He released it to roll from the incoming attack, then pulled it free with a vicious wretch.

“More are coming from the north!” announced Arcaeus as he strode up the eastern pathway, firing arrows as he went.

Marcus’s opponent fell and he turned his attention to the other Ogre. Ilfari was darting back and forth, creating small gashes in her opponent while Ingus flicked balls of fire at his eyes. Marcus pulled the Ogre’s attention onto himself with his divine powers and shifted backward, drawing him off of the others.

“I can’t parry those huge weapons with this thing,” said Ilfari as she stabbed her dagger into the Ogre’s unprotected back. The Ogre attempted to throw her away, but the attacks were coming rapidly from all sides and he was losing the battle.

A slew of arrows rained down upon the group as a fresh group of Gnolls poured into the Bowl, an Ogre leading their charge. As soon as Marcus’ Ogre had fallen, he found himself face-to-face with another. Arcaeus and Ingus picked off what archers they could while Marcus and Ilfari distracted the club-wielding man-mountain before them.

“Even more are coming,” shouted Arcaeus again, pressing his back against rock as arrows flitted past. “We have to work a bit faster, here.”

“We’re doing all we can!” Ilfari shouted back as she tossed a dagger at a Gnoll, the blade bouncing off the ground as the Gnoll dived for cover. An arrow whistled down from above, causing the Gnoll to slump out of his cover and collapse on the ground.

Grieda, initially running between her various saviors, had taken up a position near Marcus, keeping a constant stream of healing power focused on him as blow after Ogre blow landed on him, his attempts to parry them underminded by the sheer brutal strength behind each strike. Arcaeus noted that she seemed much more efficient than Bogrin, though he didn’t have much time to be impressed. Even as they began wearing down the current group of foes, another was already making their way in.

“We’d better hope your friends find whatever they are looking quickly,” Arcaeus shouted down to Grieda. “I don’t want to seem pessimistic, but we can’t keep fighting at this pace.

“Oh!” she shouted back, sounding excited. “Those are Gnollish Vulturemasters! The Rocktoe clan is famous for them!”

“What’s a Vulturemaster?” Ilfari asked, though the Gnolls were already answering her question. Three of the Gnolls carried vultures on their arms and tossed them into the air as the approached. The vultures flew upwards, then swept down to peck and claw at the adventurers, their disease-ridden claws and beaks leaving infected gashed in their wakes.

“Damn birds!” muttered Arcaeus as he picked one out of the sky. The Vulturemasters themselves wielded axes, but they were no more a threat with them than the archers were, being swiftly killed by Ilfari or Ingus. But having barely felled the last Ogre, a new one with a sword was already engaging the party.

A wave of acid struck the Ogre in the back, causing it to howl in pain and flail its arms. “We have arrived!” cried the laughing voice of Alston and he and Ellie dashed into view. They quickly joined the battle against the heavily outnumbered Ogre and helped down him, leaving no more foes standing in the Bowl.

“Did you find it?” asked Grieda as she embraced Ellie.

“Afraid so,” Ellie answered. “It seems Garvash took a liking to it. He made a piece of jewelry out of it and pierced his nose with it. We’re going to have to defeat him first, since I don’t think he’ll give it up so easily.”

“That is unfortunate,” said Grieda.

“It is just as well,” said Alston, pulling a couple of potions from his pack. “He really is nothing but a great, big troublemaker. We’ll be doing this region a favor by getting rid of him. Now who here needs one of these?”

“What do they do?” asked Ilfari skeptically.

“They will refresh you. They don’t heal wounds or anything like that, but they will give you vigor to continue fighting. They replenish magical power and physical strength. I only got these two, so whoever is feeling tired should get them.”

“Grieda has used quite a bit of her healing magic,” noted Arcaeus. “She’s going to need that strength to keep us going during the next battle. And I suppose Marcus has taken the greatest beating, so he’ll need his strength as well.” Alston seemed to agree and handed out the potions accordingly.

DM Note: These potions simply restored all encounter and daily powers to the drinkers, but not health or healing surges. Just in case there was any confusion. -The DM

A vibration ran through the ground. Arcaeus looked up sharply towards the northern entrance. “What is that? What is coming?”

“That would be Garvash the Swift,” said Alston.

Arcaeus eyed the cheery Gnome. “What is Garvash? Another Ogre?”

“Oh dear, no,” said Alston, chuckling as he waved away the thought. “He is a Giant. Much bigger than an Ogre.”

“We weren’t informed about any Giant!” said Ilfari, looking at her dagger which seemed all the much smaller at the moment.

“He wasn’t supposed to be involved, in all truth,” said Alston. “We were not aware he had accessorized our prize.”

Garvash appeared in the northern pass, a group of Gnolls running around his feet. He stood around twenty-five feet tall and carried what looked to be an ancient tree that had been carved down at one end to make a handle.

Etnoldrassl,” said Ellie. “That was the central tree in the Elven city of Amalel. That he would wield it as a weapon is anathema.”

Garvash walked carelessly, crushing tents and the bodies of the fallen as he moved. In the side of his nose was a gleam of gold, a treasure the size of a fist, doubtless the object they were searching for. As he approached, his arm was already moving upwards for a great downwards swing.

“Scatter!” commanded Arcaeus. The Giant’s arm came down, shaking the whole Bowl with a resounding strike of the ground. Marcus made his way forward, Ellie and Ilfari close behind. Alston and Ingus stood on the eastern ridge with Arcaeus and Grieda, striking at the Giant and the Vulturemasters and archers that joined him.

Marcus was unable to avoid the Giant’s first blow, a sideways swing that sent him tumbling. Before he was done rolling, Grieda was already sending healing his way. Standing once more, Marcus was quickly assailed by the vultures that had been released. A blast of fire from Ingus frightened them off, allowing Marcus to attack once more.

For the most part, Marcus was only able to reach the Giant’s legs, slashing as high as the lower thighs if he reached, but hacking at the calf for the most part. Ilfari also danced from his club swings, striking at Gnolls and Garvash himself when the opportunity arose.

Ellie slew one of the Gnolls and turned to strike another, but found instead Garvash’s great club rocketing towards her. She made to dodge, but it struck her directly, sending her sprawling. Garvash bent down and picked her up, hurling her at the annoying archer that had been peppering him with arrows for the past minute: Arcaeus. The throw was dead on and Arcaeus froze in surprise, taking the full blow of Ellie crashing into him bodily, sending them both to the ground in a pile.

“Thanks for the catch,” she said as she stood, searching about for her falchions. “These rocks would have broken everything but my fall.”

Arcaeus lifted himself up as well, though he was winded from the impact. He looked for his longbow but couldn’t find it, having been sent flying when they collided. Ellie raced off again to rejoin the battle, leaving Arcaeus to continue his search alone.

Marcus, meanwhile, had struck a bundle of muscles and tendons on Garvash’s ankle, sending him to his knees. With this short window available, he ran forth and swung his blade with all his might, catching Garvash in the neck and inflicting a horrible, gushing wound.

DM Note: Critical with a daily power. Ouch. Over 50 points of damage, setting a new record for the game by far. – The DM

Garvash stood again, but he wobbled dangerously. He swung a slow swipe, but it was way off. Attempting a second, the club slipped from his hand and skid a hundred feet before crashing into one of the nearby plateaus, bringing down a shower of rock chunks.

“He’s coming down!” called Ilfari, leaping away like a cat. The others ran as well as the Giant slowly shifted from side to side, his great hands still positioned as if holding his club. Gradually, he tilted forward, his great body coming down like a felled tree in the center of the encirclement. Shattered chunks of tent and sand were blown in all directions by the impact, accompanied by a sound like a humungous drum being punched through by a great fist.

As the dust settled, the two mercenary companies converged by the Giant’s body.

“I think that went well,” said Alston. He moved forward and plucked the golden trinket from the Giant’s face, stuffing it quickly into a bag.

“What is that object?” asked Ingus. “It looks fascinating.”

“Nothing to concern yourself with,” said Ellie.

“Be nice, Ellie,” said Grieda, placing her hands on her hips. “They have helped us greatly.”

“Nonetheless,” said Alston, his smile the same as always, “I have to agree that it is not of any importance to you, and in fact would not be a good idea for us to tell you. I hope you take no offense at this.”

Ingus made to speak, but it was Arcaeus’s voice that rose up. “You paid us merely to retrieve your friend and this item. That is all we need to know.” He tossed a bundle of splintered wood on the ground.

“Wasn’t that a bow a moment ago?” asked Ingus.

Arcaeus nodded solemnly and sighed. “I suppose it is time I got a new one anyway, so no worries. Ilfari? Would you mind checking the Giant’s belt pouch to see if he has any bows tucked in there somewhere?”

“Doubt it, but okay,” she said. She pulled at the thick ropes that sealed it and took a peek. “Good stuff in here,” she said, “but no bows.”

Arcaeus clicked his tongue. “I suppose that means I should get that payment from you so I can replace it.”

“A deal is a deal,” said Alston, motioning to the south. “I left my possessions with a friend back in Valencia, so we should head back that way. Also, a battleground may not be the best location for this discussion.”

“Then please, lead the way.”

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Scene: A Budding Captain
Questions and Answers

Date: 433R1O

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Arcaeus chewed his dinner slowly, contemplating his next question.

“Take your time,” said Ilfari as she sharpened one of her throwing knives. “We got all night.”

“How exactly did Fetin go about finding missions?” he asked.

“Word of mouth, mostly,” said Ilfari. “Those looking for mercenaries usually tell innkeepers or merchants who, for a few gold coins, are happy enough to spread the information to anyone who will listen. You’ve got to remember that towns and cities are hubs for gossip and news can spread pretty quickly if you know how to do it. Fetin or I would go to these types of places, drop a hint that we were looking for available jobs, maybe slip the informer a few coins, and there you go: instant employment.”

Arcaeus nodded, remembering that he had done something similar when he was looking to join a mercenary company. “Alright. How does one schedule a meeting with a potential employer?”

“That’s usually part of the information they spread, though not always. Those who do it right give the name of the inn they are staying at or even their home address, then it is up to the mercenary company to find them and speak with them. If they leave that information out, you can usually wait around the place where you gathered the information and wait for the employer to come back in to see if there has been any success, or even tell the informer where you’re staying so he can tell the employer where to find you. It sounds confusing at first, but it’s actually very intuitive one you get the hang of it.”

“Would you be willing to handle that task for the group?” asked Arcaeus.

“Information gathering?” Ilfari grinned. “That is kind of my forte. It probably is better that way, since I am familiar with the streets and you… well, you’re you.”

“Great,” said Arcaeus, ignoring the jab. “That will make finding jobs astoundingly easy.”

“Well,” said Ilfari, swelling a bit with pride, “I wouldn’t say astoundingly easy, but we definately aren’t going to be having any trouble, either.”

“In the meantime, I have to figure out how I’m going to distribute goods to the party. And I plan on making a larger company than Fetin had with dozens of mercenaries instead of just four, so I need to find some method of carrying extra weapons, armors, potions and whatnot around so I can give them to new recruits. I’d also like to store a bit of money from each mission so it can be used to purchase pieces of equipment for members.”

“The money and weapons can be handled easily enough by a bank,” said Ilfari.

“But then it will all be stuck in one city. No, I need some method of to keep it with me.”

“I should have figured you wouldn’t know,” said Ilfari, looking superior once more.

“Know what?” Arcaeus said, eying her smug demeanor.

“Company vaults,” she proclaimed. “Almost any bank run by Halflings or Gnomes have these, but the other races are catching up as well. I’m not too sure how it works, but they use summoning circles and rituals to move items between locations. You can basically pick up equipment and money just about anywhere in Nilriel. Well, anywhere with a bank. I heard they even give you the method of drawing your own circle so you can summon items from it with a ritual, but don’t quote me on that. It’s just something I heard.”

“Sounds good enough. I didn’t want to bring a wagon wherever we went, so that seems more convenient.” Arcaeus tapped his fingers thoughtfully. “That leaves pay and goods distribution, getting more mercenaries, and some solid method of buying goods for our mercenaries through vault funds.”

“Let’s get the most important thing out of the way, first: how much am I getting paid? Fetin was giving me 15% of everything we found, and I’m not going lower than that.”

“20%,” Arcaeus said without hesitation. “You’ll be helping me alot, so you’re due for a raise.”

Ilfari somehow looked both pleased and displeased. “That’s good, but that means you’re getting 80%.”

“No, I’ll be getting whatever is left over.”

“Which is 80%,” she said with annoyance.

“I think the bank will get about 30% of all goods and gold found,” he said, lifting up three fingers. “You get 20%, which leaves me at 50%. However, each mercenary in the group will receive pay as well, probably between 5% and 7.5% apiece. That leave me with between 35% and 40%. Do you follow?”

“I follow,” she said snappishly. “Just because I’m a thief from the streets doesn’t mean I can’t do math. I’ve tricked more people out of their money then you can even comprehend.”

“I was just trying to clarify if you understood why I said ‘whatever is left over,’ but thank you for that bit of insight into your personal life.” She looked angry, but he pretended not to notice. “Distributing the funds for items will be the toughest. I suppose the only way I we can do that is to take every request individually and weigh their merit. I’ll just have to wait until one comes up before I can really hash out how it works. Any input?”

Ilfari shrugged. “I’d rather keep the money myself, personally.”

“Noted.” Arcaeus pushed away his empty plate and considered all of these things. “I suppose that covers all the mercenary stuff,” he said, “but I do have one more question.”

“Shoot.”

“Did you hear that voice back in the shrine?”

Ilfari stiffened. “Yeah. What about it?”

“Was that…” he paused for a second, feeling the question might be ridiculous. “Was that Lolth?”

Ilfari shifted in her seat and placed her dagger on the table. “I think so,” she said. “The voice made it sound like the shrine was made to worship her, and that was definately a Lolthian shrine, no doubt about it.”

“But she was able to take control of Fetin for a moment,” said Arcaeus. “I thought the gods couldn’t directly affect those who were not of their pantheon.”

“I don’t know what really happened,” said Ilfari. “I’ve only heard your account of the events in the alter room, so you could have misremembered it.”

“I didn’t,” Arcaeus said firmly. “Fetin was clearly being controlled.”

“But that doesn’t really make sense. Even chaotic and evil gods have to abide by divine law.” She ran a hand along one of her horns. “Maybe it is just like the voice said. I mean, we were very deep in her shrine, which was essentially an area ruled over by her and her alone. Maybe the powers of the gods is different in that kind of situation,” she concluded, sounding unconvinced.

“I think that would be the most fortunate solution,” Arcaeus said. “Anything else would be… well, I don’t know what it would be because no other answer seems realistic.”

Ilfari pushed her chair back and stood. “Well, we’ll leave it at that, then,” she said. “Dwelling on whether or not we’ve pissed off an almighty immortal being isn’t exactly my idea of fun. I think I’m going to rest of up a bit, let my wounds heal. We’re gonna be busy looking for new candidates tomorrow.”

Arcaeus nodded at Ilfari’s retreating back. “Looking for more members for my company… Hmm. I think I’d best think up a name…”

View
The Cult of Lolth, Part 2
Delving into a most unnatural shadow

Date: 433R1O

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The party marched from morning until well into the afternoon. Rezik Matelra, as the Eladrin called himself, had become more cordial since the day before, attempting to strike up conversation as they marched. His guards were too busy deferring to him to be good sources of chatter, and the four adventurers were cold and distant, so Rezik spoke most of the way.

“These are excellent trees,” he pointed out to anyone who was listening. “The scarred bark suggests this one survived a recent lightning strike. And these flowers! You don’t see this variety in the Chordwood. Most interesting. My fellow druids likely don’t see things like this, seeing as they rarely venture from their gardens. And those appear to be badger tracks. I must make a note to return here and see if I can find the little scamps.”

Bogrin politely showed he was listening by nodding and muttering. Ilfari was trying to appear uninterested, but she kept glancing back at Rezik each time something new made him gasp or make an exclaimation. Fetin was trudging on with eyes fixed straight ahead, while Arcaeus tried his best to ignore how woefully ignorant the Eladrin seemed to be when it came to basic flora and fauna that he could name on sight.

Ilfari nudged Arcaeus, jerking her head towards the two Elven guards. “Those guys are way too tense,” she said with a smirk. “I thought you Elves were at home in the woods?”

Arcaeus could only agree with the strangeness of it. The two Elves had their bows over their shoulders, but their eyes darted about continuously, their hands never far from their weapons. “That explains the edginess during our first encounter,” he noted, causing Ilfari to nod.

“Must be new blood,” she said. “I wonder why he doesn’t have more experienced guards with him? He seems important enough – or he acts like it, at least – so his retinue should be a bit more hardened than this.”

“Can’t say I know too much about Elven customs,” he said. “Maybe Eladrin help train them, or maybe they don’t really need that much protection. Your guess is as good as mine.”

Arcaeus eyed the Eladrin. Rezik said he was a druid, and Arcaeus was fairly certain they used magic, but his body was solid. On the other hand, he was very attractive, perhaps even beautiful, and the way he spoke about nature so joyously made him seem childish. Perhaps Arcaeus was making a mistake judging Rezik by appearances, but he did not look very threatening at all.

“I believe we near our destination,” Rezik said suddenly, a hand moving towards his chest as if to clutch his heart. “I dislike the feel of the air here.” He pulled out a map and looked around, seemingly picking out landmarks from the homogenous forest around them. “It is very near indeed.”

Rezik crouched down, his face serious. He moved forward, his bodyguards swiftly and silently moving afterwards. Arcaeus was not sure why Rezik was making to move more silently, as he hadn’t heard a single one of his footsteps the course of the entire trip. Nevertheless, he followed swiftly after.

The Eladrin and his bodyguards quickly pulled ahead, vanishing into some overgrown grass. As Arcaeus approached, the two Elven archers stood and fired in the opposite directions. When Arcaeus was at their backs, he could see two people – a Tiefling and a Halfling – lying dead on the ground, one on either side of an ornately-carved cave opening.

“Those are the robes of the celebrants on Lolth’s day,” he said. “They are forbidden from stepping inside the temple without donning those robes. Anyone not wearing the robes will either be a prisoner, a sacrifice, or you four.”

“Us four?” said Fetin, having caught up once more.

“My guards and I will cover the entrance. We will ensure that no one wearing the robes leaves.”

“I’m not entirely comfortable killing people on their day of religious celebration, even if they are worshippers of Lolth,” said Bogrin.

“These people are thieves, liars, and murderers,” said the Eladrin coldly. “What pity and mercy you think you can afford them, you shouldn’t. Each cultist here is a devout who is here to sacrifice innocent lives to curry favor with Lolth. Do not forget that.”

Bogrin said nothing is response, but folded his hands into his sleeves once more.

“Well I don’t plan to wait out here until nightfall,” said Fetin. “Last thing we need is to give the followers of shadow itself the advantage of the night.” He moved towards the entrance. “Arcaeus, Ilfari, I need you to check for traps.”

The pair moved forward, approaching the entrance. The mouth of the cave was hidden behind a slight curve in the mountain, and for good reason: the face of the mountain itself had been carved into the likeness of a great face with wide eyes and tiny horns, its mouth hanging open to form the entrance to the cave, its great, sharp teeth resting above looking ready to bite intruders in half.

“That isn’t what Lolth looks like, is it?” asked Arcaeus.

“Are you serious?” asked Ilfari.

“Once again, raised by Humans,” he said. “Libraries and religious texts based on the chaotic gods are not exactly plentiful in an isolated Human settlement.”

“It’s not Lolth,” she responded testily. “I don’t know what this ugly thing is supposed to be. No traps here.”

“None here either.”

Fetin moved forward and checked the first step cautiously, then proceeded to take the lead.

+ + +

Ilfari pulled back reflexively when the mechanism clicked, but the trap remained idle.

“Without this spring,” she said, lifting herself off the ground, “this trap won’t go off.’

The trap itself was supposed to thrust wooden spears upwards when someone stepped on the pressure plate above it, but Ilfari had removed the plate and disabled it before it could be used for that purpose.

“Good spot, Arcaeus,” said Fetin quietly, still watching the intersection ahead of them.

“Not getting speared through the jugular is rthanks enough,” said Arcaeus, examining one of the disabled spears closely.

“Looks like we have three paths to choose from,” said Bogrin from up ahead. “These path ahead is a stairway downwards, and the path on the left and right are hallways that curve out of sight. It’s odd,” he added, running a hand along the stones that were build into the walls. “This stonework is indeed as old as the Eladrin say, but patches of it have been improved upon all down the halls, some repairs having occured hundreds of years apart. This is likely a Lolthian shrine that is as important as it is ancient.”

“I haven’t made enemies with any gods yet,” said Ilfari. “Hopefully she won’t be too offended when we kill her followers.”

“Just a matter of time before she kills them herself,” said Fetin. “I say we race her to it. Arcaeus, check down the left hallway, and Ilfari check the right. We’ll leave the stairs for later.” The pair silently complied, vanishing down their respective paths.

“First Gruumsh, now Lolth,” said Bogrin, shaking his head. “The chaotic gods are nothing but a bunch of troublemakers.”

“We wouldn’t call them ‘chaotic’ if they were as friendly as Moradin, now would we?” said Fetin.

“Sarcasm noted,” said Bogrin. “I just hope to avoid reprisals from angered cultists. Lolth may be one to have people killed for her own entertainment, and that is reason enough to avoid getting her to look in your direction, but to attack her followers directly is just begging for trouble.”

“S’probably why the Eladrin is sitting outside while we do the dirty work,” Fetin said. “But none of that is particularly important. What matters now is we have a job to do, and I don’t fail at getting jobs done, god or no god.”

Ilfari slinked back into view from the shadows. “It’s lit by torches up ahead,” she said, “so you won’t need a torch anymore, Fetin. Besides that, there were five cultists in a mural-covered room, and a stairway going down on the left-hand side. If one thing can be said about Lolth, it’s that she isn’t picky about followers: I saw a Human, a Dwarf, even a Dragonborn. I was half worried they’d all be Tieflings.”

“Don’t like killing Tieflings?” asked Fetin.

“I don’t mind,” she said, “but I would hate to listen to the Dwarf prattle on and on about how evil we are.”

“I said that one time and I apologized,” said Bogrin. “You sure are sensitive for an infernal hellion.”

“And you sure are high-and-mighty for a stumpy imitation Human,” she retorted.

“Why does this happen every time,” Fetin sighed, waving Arcaeus over hurriedly as the Elf came back into view. “More reports, so shut up and listen.”

“Looks like a room devoted to a statue down that way,” said Arcaeus. “That path leads to a balcony overlooking it. The balcony wraps all the way around, ending with a staircase that leads down to the statue area itself. There were about a dozen cultists, if I had to estimate roughly, though I couldn’t get a better view without being seen.”

Bogrin looked at the staircase before them. “Sounds to me like all the stairs lead to the same statue, then.”

“That it does,” agreed Fetin. “We should go down Ilfari’s path and eliminate the cultists there first, then move to the room below. The less we have to take at once, the better.”

They moved swiftly down the hall. Fetin peaked around the corner and spotted the five cultists. He waved his hands for the others to approach.

A blast of sound swept over the group, rocking them off of their feet. The group staggered upright, weapons at the ready.

“What was that?” Ilfari tried to whisper, but she couldn’t hear her own voice. The others leaned in closer.

“What?” Fetin mouthed, but the others couldn’t hear him. “Can you hear me?” he said again, much louder. The others could make out his words, but they were muffled, as if distant.

“It’s hard to hear you,” Arcaeus said. He looked around the corner. “Looks like they don’t know what it is either.”

Fetin looked around the corner and found the cultists jamming their fingers into their ears and yelling at one another.

“Opportunity knocks!” shouted Fetin, pulling his sword and charging forth. The others followed suit. The majority of the cultists fell before even realizing they were being set upon. One of them wore sturdy chainmail and carried a large mace, attempting to beat back the assault while retreating towards the staircase, but Arcaeus’s arrow brought him down swiftly.

Ilfari looked down the stairs. “Doesn’t look like anyone heard us,” she called back. “Whatever this is, it ain’t all bad.”

Bogrin caught Fetin’s attention and pointed to the mural on the wall. “A depiction of the corruption of the Drow,” he said. “Kind of interesting to see something like this, though it doesn’t make much sense to me. Looks like it’s been repainted a few times.”

“While I admit it is interesting,” said Fetin, “we’ll have to look at it after we’re done.” He waved Arcaeus forward. “See if you can sneak forward and get a view of that room.”

Arcaeus nodded, striding forth. He eyed the steps, as he worked his way downwards, stepping carefully on each one and looking for anything that might indicate a trap. He tested one step, found it solid, and moved forth, then tested another step, and another, and another. As he placed his weight on the fifth step, he felt satisfied it would hold, removing his foot from the prior step, only to feel it sink sharply under the increase in weight. The stairs shifted with a snap, flinging him foward down what was now a smooth, deeply inclined surface. He rolled into the statue room and swiftly leapt to his feet, nine surprised cultists surrounding him and several more on the balcony above.

One cultist reacted swiftly, jumping foward with his mace. Arcaeus leapt backwards, firing an arrow and felling his opponent. The other charged as well, Arcaeus dodging between them to get to safety, though he took several blows to the arms and head as he went. Backed into the corner, he swiftly wiped the blood from his eyes with his wrist and began firing his bow. Behind the advancing cultists, he saw Ilfari and Fetin slide down, joining the melee with those in back. Bogrin landed at the bottom of the ramp in a heap, but swiftly began dispensing holy magics on those who approached.

With the cultists on the ground occupied, he turned his attention to those on the balcony who were flinging arrows and magic missiles down upon his allies. They tried to take cover behind the high, thick balustrade, but Arcaeus’s arrows found them between the cracks. He dove behind the projecting section of the ramp for cover against the incoming attacks.

Fetin and Ilfari danced through the cultists, their blades finding little resistance among their targets. Their maces were almost completely ineffective against the experienced hands of the adventurers. Not a single one made an attempt to flee and, before long, there was nothing left but a pile of black-robed corpses.

“It’s like fighting civilians,” said Ilfari. “They don’t have much skill, don’t put up much of a resistance, and-” she stopped herself and looked at Fetin with apprehension. Fetin had a dark look in his eyes. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make it sound…” she let her sentence trail off, looking embarrassed.

“What is that about?” Arcaeus asked Bogrin as the latter healed the wounds on the former’s head.

“He fought during the Fury,” said Bogrin slowly. “Doesn’t like to think about it. Fighting these unskilled cultists probably reminds him of what he had to do then. It’d probably be best not to bring it up with him.”

“That does sound like a very sour topic. How about we talk about this statue instead?”

That would be Lolth,” said the Dwarf. The statue was of a woman dressed in very little cloth. Her robe hung loosely off her shoulders and was cut widely down the middle, the two halves held together with little more than two strips of cloth tied into a knot, though it was clearly for aesthetic’s sake since the wide-opened front of the robe didn’t cover much of anything. A great deal of care seemed to have been put into crafting her body, but her exquisite face, breasts, and crotch seemed to have received extra close attention.

“Please don’t tell me that Moradin has any statues of himself dressed like that,” said Arcaeus.

“She’s the goddess of trickery and betrayal. Her body is one of her weapons. Moradin’s is a weapon too, but not in the same way. And I suggest not mocking my god while I am handling your cracked skull.” He removed his hands from Arcaeus’s head.

“I think you missed a spot,” said Arcaeus. “My vision is still kind of weird. I think I got a concussion.”

“Are they squiggly black fingers at the edge of your vision? Because I see them too,” He caught Fetin’s attention and pointed to his eyes. Fetin nodded and indicated his own. He said something to Ilfari, who turned and nodded. “Probably related to this sound thing,” he ventured.

Fetin approached. “I’m not liking this magic. We’d best double-time it to this ‘grandmaster’ we have to find before something serious occurs.”

The only path that led deeper was a single staircase. They checked the stairs extra carefully, but reached the bottom without issue. They found themselves in a long hallway with walls that curved inwards and outwards creating occasional niches.

“Traps,” Arcaeus said, pointing to the center off the hallway where it was the widest. “What kind of madman puts traps in the middle of the hallway this deep into their own shrine?”

“The kind that doesn’t care about the lives of its followers,” said Fetin. He stepped around the trap. “Leave this be. We’ll make better time this way.

Arcaeus took the lead, watching for traps. They passed several, which he led them around. Ahead were a group of vines hanging from the ceiling forming a sort of curtain across the hall. Arcaeus approached and parted the vines to peer through. When his hand made contact with the vine, it lashed out and wrapped itself around his neck, pulling him upwards. He struggled to free himself, the crushing grip around his windpipe causing him to gag and gasp. He finally reached for his scimitar, cutting the vine and sending him to the ground below. As he hit the ground, he felt intense heat overhead as Fetin loosed his breath, burning a majority of the vines. He and Ilfari hacked at the rest of the vines, though none of them seemed to be sentient in any way.

“Stranglevine,” said Bogrin. “Haven’t seen that in years. I never would have suspected there would be some growing in placed occupied by people.”

“They must be feeding it,” said Fetin, feeling no need to venture a guessa as to what exactly they fed it.

An arrow struck his armor and skittered off the ground. At the end of the hallway ahead came a another group of cultists. On the walls and ceiling swarmed hundreds of tiny spiders, making directly for the party.

“Careful,” said Bogrin. “Lolth gives spiders her will. They will attack just as fiercely as the cultists.” He brought his mace down pointedly on one of the approaching arachnids.

Arcaeus focused on the cultists, finding them more realistic targets for his arrows. The rest stomped and swung and the spiders, though they suffered with each swing, the spiders latching onto their weapons and crawling up their arms, biting repeatedly. Their venom was weak, but enough to cause physical pain. Eventually, however, when several dozen had been smashed, they skittered off into the shadows and vanished.

“Those little bastards!” spat Ilfari, clutching a heavily-bleeding arm. She charged the remaining cultists regardless, cutting into them mercilessly as they tried uselessly to defend themselves.

They fought into the next room, a large commissary filled with tables and chairs, many of which were upturned. At the opposite end of the room were spider webs, and they were coating everything: the tables, the walls, the floor, everything. At the same time, however, more cultists issued from a web-filled archway, joining the fray. A handful were more experienced, getting good hits in on the adventurers, adding to their cuts and bruises. Bogrin tried to keep up with the demand for his healing powers, but soon found himself exhausted.

They pushed the cultists back into the web-filled room, a dormitory of sorts, complete with beds and boxes for possessions. They widdled down the last of the cultists, Fetin cutting the last one down personally, allowing the forward momentum of his swing to drag him to the ground where he could rest.

Though they panted heavily, the sound dampening made them pass the minutes in silence. Bogrin eventually made his way around to the others. Ilfari had received the heaviest wounds, causing Bogrin to try to say something admonishing, but he could no longer speak loud enough to break through the muffling magics. He opted instead to mouth some words at her, but she rubbed her chin, as if to say ‘I can’t see through your silly beard.’ Bogrin gave up trying.

Fetin motioned to Arcaeus to check the next corridor. Arcaeus took a moment to observe his allies; each was still sporting heavy wounds despite Bogrin’s efforts, and Arcaeus could easily see he was in the best condition for scouting ahead. He did not envy them their front-line positions, but kept it to himself as he crept towards the next corner and peered around.

A wad of webbing rocketed past, slamming into the wall behind him in a sticky mess; he didn’t hear the impact, but the force of it shook him. Down the hallway marched two separate spider swarms, an even larger spider in their midst standing erect on six legs and holding a great sword in the front two. The looked back as the others rushed to his side. Bogrin, looked shocked, mouthed the word “Drider” silently.

Arcaeus didn’t care what it was, firing a well-placed arrow to snap one of the Drider priest’s legs off, causing its bulky body to crumple to the ground momentarily. He turned his attention to the smaller spiders, already climbing over Ilfari and Bogrin as they attempted to squash them. Fetin appeared to be readying his fire breath but couldn’t find an opportunity to use it without scorching his allies.

Arcaeus turned and fired again, breaking another leg on the Drider as it attempted to right itself. It writhed and yowled silently in rage. Stomped whatever came into range and swatted several spiders off of Ilfari and Bogrin, dancing away from those that approached his feet. He moved towards Bogrin to relieve him, but was blindsided by a wad of webbing that pinned him to the wall. The Drider was approaching, unopposed.

Fetin hurled himself forward and made straight for the Drider as it dragged itself down the hallway. He lifted his blade for a hefty overhead strike, but just as he was within arm’s reach, a cloud of darkness enveloped him, blinding him. He struck out, feeling his sword connect with the Drider, though not with a decisive blow. He sensed rather than felt the Drider slide past him, moving towards the rest of the party.

Fetin followed after, clearing the blinding cloud shortly. Blinking the darkness from his eyes, he could see Arcaeus had freed himself and was firing upon the Drider once more while Ilfari harried it from the side. Bogrin was hanging back, managing the smaller spiders that remained. Knowing he had a brief window in which the Drider wouldn’t consider him a threat, he charged it from behind. As it raised its arms for a strike with its sword, Fetin brought his own upwards, severing the Drider’s unprotected limb and sending its weapon bouncing off the walls and ceiling. Defenseless, Ilfari was swift to deal it a fatal blow, its large frame falling to the floor for the final time.

Fetin was feeling himself on the brink of exhaustion, but the sight before him kept him on his feet: lining the hallway were two rows of large iron bars forming two crude prison cells. Inside were dozens of people of all races, jumping and cheering excitedly, clamoring against the bars in an attempt to be released. One Gnome in particular was attempting with all of his might to gain Fetin’s attention, grasping at his pant leg and waving his other arm furiously in the air. He smiled broadly when Fetin turned towards him, pointing desperately towards the far end of the corridor and making motions with his hands. He outlined a large rectangle, then swayed back and forth while moving his mouth, as if chanting. He pointed to himself and the others, then ran a finger violently across his throat.

Fetin wasn’t entirely clear on the message, but he was certain it foretold some violence against the captives. Ignoring his own fatigue, he rallied his mercenaries. Arcaeus stood straight from where he leaned against the wall and Bogrin pulled himself away from his futile attempts to force the door. Fetin signaled them to follow, taking point himself to examine the corner.

Fetin turned to signal again, but stopped short; Ilfari was lying motionless on the ground behind the others. He pushed past them in a rush, gently placing his hands under her to roll her oer. She coughed slightly and looked up and Fetin, her face pale and sweaty. She smiled slightly. The spider poison was keeping her wounds from closing and she had become lightheaded from bloodloss. Fetin propped her up against a wall and beckoned Bogrin forward. Bogrin tried as best he could to express that the wounds were serious, but that she was in no immediate threat. His own magical powers were on their last legs and he was unsure if he should expend the last of it outside of battle.

Ilfari was beginning to look impatient, attempting to slide up the wall to her feet. Fetin placed a hand on her shoulder and, though he didn’t push her down for fear of exasperating her condition, he did not allow her to rise. She eventually gave up, lowering back to her seat. She waved them on, pointing at the ground at patting it, shifting her seat as she did so. Fetin frowned and shook his head, but Ilfari pointed emphatically, insisting they move on. He look displeased, but acquiesced, motioning the others to follow him onwards. Fetin looked back more than once before disappearing around the corner.

DM Note: To clear up any confusion, at this point Ilfari had run out of healing surges and was hovering in the single-digit range in HP. Being the cautious type, she decided staying behind was the best course of action. For those who have never run out of healing surges before, this was a VERY long dungeon that took two days to run from beginning to end and spanned 6 encounters. I planned this dungeon to be tough enough to kill someone, but not wipe out the whole party. To avoid spoilers, I will not reveal whether or not I succeeded… yet. -The DM

The remaining members of Dragonfury Company quickly found themselves wishing that their sense of smell had been affected along with sight and hearing as a horrifying stench assailed their nostrils. Pushing forward, they found themselves in what they could quickly tell was the final chamber of the shrine. A great spiraling staircase descended the room three full times to the ground below. In the very center sat an alter stained dark brown from ancient blood spilled upon it. In fact, all the ground around the alter was stained so badly, the floor couldn’t be made out through the years of caked blood. Hanging on the walls of the cylindrical chamber were corpses, likely recent sacrifice victims. On the alter itself were three people – a Halfling, a Dwarf, and a Half Elven woman. Circling the alter were a half-dozen cultists, as well as two Drider priests, one of which seemed to be in the midst of a ceremony, chanting words despite the others not being able to hear him.

Fetin and Bogrin began moving own the stairs slowly, keeping low and out of sight. Arcaeus took careful aim and released an arrow, killing one of the cultists at the back of the crowd. As he readied a second arrow, a dread sensation swept over the three of them, making them all feel sick. A voice rang out, the first sound they’d heard in nearly a hour. Even the cultists looked up at the sound of it.

“You have defiled my shrine, infidels,” said the voice, each word strong with an enchanting quality. “Did you think yourself beyond my power because you are not of my pantheon? That you could kill my pets without suffering my wrath? You have made a mistake, mortal, for you are outside the realm of your gods. You are in my own.”

Fetin stood suddenly, his body rigid. He moved forward without hesitation and leapt upon a step that gave way under his weight. The entire staircase turned into a gigantic slide, and he lay flat upon his back, sliding downwards at an extreme speed.

“Minions!” shouted the voice once more. “Eliminate these intruders immediately or perish!”

The feeling of nausea left the party. Arcaeus sprung quickly to action. He could see the cultists below were moving about, most of them moving towards the ramp to awkwardly make their way up. One of the Driders was climbing vertically up the wall, taking the short route towards him, while the other was continuing with his chanting as if nothing had happened, holding a dagger aloft over one of the Halfling victim secured to the alter.

Arcaeus began firing his bow at whatever he could see, but the targets were distant and moving, making things difficult. Bogrin was watching the rising Drider with apprehension. As it neared the ledge below Arcaeus, Bogrin shifted over to meet it. He motioned for Arcaeus to prepare himself.

The Drider pulled itself over the ledge to find the Elf and Dwarf charging it. It pulled swiftly to the side, forcing them back with its sword. Bogrin attempted to rush it to push it off, but it turned and blasted him with its web, pinning him to the wall. Arcaeus tried to knock him off as well, ramming it with his shoulder, but the creature’s spider-like feet kept him from sailing off the edge. It blanketed the area in darkness to prevent further attempts, forcing Arcaeus to withdraw and Bogrin to struggle at his webbing restraints blindly.

Arcaeus withdrew down the staircase and fired at the Drider as it approached. With steady Elven feet, he stepped on the ramp, maintaining his balance and firing. Freeing an arm, Bogrin assaulted the creature from behind with holy light from his implement. Distracted for a brief moment, it allowed itself to slip on the ramp. Off balance and off guard, Arcaeus was easily able to dispatch it with an arrow to the head, its body sliding lifelessly past him down the ramp.

Meanwhile, Fetin, having stiffly slid most of the way down the ramp, found himself suddenly free of the dominating grip that had overcome him. He grabbed onto the nearby railing to stop himself, pulling himself to his feet. Seeing Arcaeus fighting the Drider above, he attempted to move upwards to assist, but the motion at the alter caught his attention. The priest there had already plunged his dagger into the Halfling’s chest, yanking it about viciously to rend his body as much as possible, extracting all the blood he could. Incensed, Fetin jumped over the railing to the central area below.

The Drider priest was blindsided by Fetin’s sudden attack, bowled right over onto his back. Fetin’s assault was merciless, his attacks landing efficiently and his body instinctively dodging the Drider’s retaliation. Despite the troubles the other Drider had given them, he dispatch the priest swiftly by himself. The last two cultists, previously attempting to climb the ramp, were now sliding back to face Fetin. Fetin clutched his broadsword and waited for them at the base of the ramp. As they slid down to meet him, he brought his weapon down mercilessly upon them, their bodies lifeless before they even hit his feet.

Fetin looked around, the only nearby motion coming from the two victims on the alter who still lived. Looking down from above stood Arcaeus and Bogrin, their foe likewise dispatched. Fetin signed heavily and looked at the carnage around him, then made to untie the sacrifices.

+ + +

Rezik looked up from his ritual, seeing a train of people approaching the entrance of the shrine. “It looked like they’ve succeeded!” he said excitedly to his guards. He removed his hands from the circle he had drawn on the ground and stood, dusting himself lightly.

“Fetin was the first to enter the sunlight, Ilfari supported on his shoulder. A slew of civilians emerged, with Arcaeus and Bogrin in their midst.

“It’s good to see you’ve-” Rezik began, but Fetin cut him off.

“Was that you?” said Fetin.

“I’m not quite sure I know what you mean, ” said Rezik defensively.

“The deafening and blinding. Was that you?”

“Yes,” Rezik said with pride. “A ritual of my own creation. I trust it helped.”

“It almost got us killed,” Fetin hissed threateningly. “I couldn’t even hear my own people being struck by our adversaries or calling for help. Have you ever even seen battle? Wizards have spells meant to deafen foes specifically because being deafened can get you killed if you can’t hear foes sneaking up on you. How in the hells was that supposed to help?”

Rezik looked taken aback, but swiftly shifted to anger. “It was a simple mistake-”

“It was a stupid mistake and an idiotic move. Keep your damn help to yourself.” He flung a sack at Rezik. “This is everything we found. Your idol or totem or whatever should be in there.”

Rezik scowled, but silently looked through the contents. “Is this everything?” he said.

“Everything,” said Fetin.

“Because if you’re holding back-”

“If I said it’s everything, then that means it’s everything.”

“The item isn’t here,” Rezik stated accusatorially.

“Bullshit,” said Fetin. “That was every item off of every cultist. We stripped off everything, even their robes.”

“Well, it isn’t here,” he stated again, tossing the bag to the side. “Did you kill everyone?”

“Yes,” said Fetin dangerously. “We finished your horrible little task.”

“Was there one man, an old one, in a robe covered in Elven runes?”

“No,” said Feting latly.”

“Damn it,” shouted Rezik, throwing his walking stick to the ground. “The grandmaster must not have been here. Our information was flawed.”

“I don’t care,” said Fetin. “We held up our end of the bargain. We’re even. I don’t want to see you again.”

Rezik bristled, and after giving Fetin a hard stare, he nodded curtly. “Alright, dragonman. You and your companions have fulfilled your debt, though it ended in failure. I suppose the rest must be up to the circle.” He stomped his foot impatiently. “We were so damn close…”

Rezik and his bodyguards left. Fetin picked up the sack again, pouring contents ten times the size of the bag out onto the ground. He began counting counting gold pieces quickly, taking a little over five hundred for himself. “This will be my share,” he said solemnly.

“That can’t be more than a tenth of the treasure, said Bogrin. “Are you sure that will be all of it?”

Fetin nodded. “I suppose it is about time I announce my intentions to you all. You see, this is all I need. With this last bit tucked away, I have enough to retire,” a chuckle escaped his lips, snowballing into full blown laughter. “I can quit now. Finally.” He placed a hand on his sheathed sword, rubbing the pommel thoughtfully. “I suppose that brings Dragonfury Company to an end.”

“This is sudden,” said Arcaeus.

“I apologize if it seems that way, but I’ve been counting the coins until this day after each mission. The last one brought me close, and I was hoping this one would put me over, which it has. Thank the gods – even that crazed Lolth – that these cultists offered so much gold at the shrine to gain favor with their dark mistress.”

“It was a fine thing working with you,” said Bogrin. “If I ever pass by White Lake, I’ll be sure to stop over and say hello.”

“You’re welcome to come. You all are.” He rubbed his sword some more. “I’m not great on saying farewells. In the military, most farewells ended with burying the person, so…” he chuckled again. “I suppose I will just say ‘goodbye,’ and leave it at that. I wish you all the greatest luck should you continue this line of work. If you’ll excuse me, it’s about time I go home to my wife. Until we meet again.” He gave his three mercenaries a salute, then turned southwards and began to walk. They watched him leave in silence.

“Well” said Bogrin, “I suppose I’d be done, too.”

“You too?” asked Arcaeus.

“That’s right. I followed Fetin because he was a friend. No offense to you two, but I think it’s time I get back to my own duties. Best of luck to you.” Bogrin placed his hands together and bowed, then placed his hands in his sleeves and walked off.

“That was really sudden,” said Ilfari. “Just like that, it’s just the two of us.”

“So you’re sticking around?” said Arcaeus.

“Might as well,” she said. “I mean, I got nothing else to do. And this line of work is pretty easy for the most part, ignoring the occasional near-death scenario, like what happened in the shrine back there. If you’re willing to keep traveling with me, I wouldn’t say no.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Arcaeus. “Would that make us a new mercenary company?”

“I guess,” she answered. “I don’t really like the idea of being the head of a mercenary company, though.”

DM Note: Chris (i.e. Arcaeus) insisted I point out that, at this point, what he actually said was “dibs!” If you read on, you’ll see that my dialogue was slightly less… well, like Chris. -The DM

Arcaeus considered it. “I suppose I could give it a try. It might be interesting.’

Ilfari laughed. “You? A mercenary captain? This I gotta see.”

“It wouldn’t be that bad. I don’t know what makes you think it will be.”

“You giving orders? I don’t see that working.” She began walking westwards. “You still don’t know enough to be a captain. You need my help, like, so bad.”

“Arcaeus shook his head. “If you wanted to be my second in command so bad,” he said, “you just had to ask.”

The two of them walked down the road, teasing each other gently, trying as hard as they could to suppress the sudden feeling that they were much smaller and less important than they were minutes ago.

View
The Cult of Lolth, Part 1
An eruption of emotion?

Date: 433R20N

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Fetin had been quiet for days.

The others would wake in the mornings and find him sitting alone in the common room of whatever inn they happened to be in that day, counting gold, his expressionless face staring at the coins. He didn’t talk to the others much, seeming to concentrate on some serious matter he didn’t wish to discuss with anyone. While concerned, his comrades didn’t bring it up with him.

The group had been heading west for days, seemingly with no clear goal. They had long since left the woods at the base of Doddin’s Line behind them, moving towards what was once the heart of the Human kingdoms. Winter was fast approaching, the temperatures working swiftly to match; snow had yet to fall, but it would not be long now.

It was the night of Naze twenty when something finally happened.

Sitting over dinner in the White Goat Inn’s common room in Gray Moor, Fetin weighing a bag of coins in his hand, the party heard the front door open. Standing in the doorway was an Eladrin in green, flanked by two heavily armored Elves, greatbows at their sides. The Eladrin scanned the room and spotted the party, causing him to scowl.

“You four,” he said, approaching. Ilfari stood warily, not liking the look in his eye, nor the tautness of his escorts’ muscles as they rested on their weapons.

Bogrin made to speak, but to his surprise, Arcaeus was already standing before the Eladrin.

“What is it that you want with us?” said Arcaeus.

“You four have caused us quite a bit of trouble,” said the Eladrin imperiously, removing his gloves and handing them to one of his guards. “According to our investigations, it is because of your motley crew that Ferricuse, beloved pet of Corellon who was under our protection, has been caused to flee his sanctuary.”

“That giant dog-lizard?” asked Arcaeus. “That was self-defense.”

“According to what our spells have showed us, it was you, Elf, who fired the first arrow at Ferricuse, causing him to fly into a rage.”

“I don’t sit around and watch as monsters advance upon my comrades without doing something. That would be folly.”

The Eladrin bristled at the word. “Ferricuse is no beast! He is a divine creature suffering from a curse – a curse, by the way, we were well on the way to removing before you simpletons chased him off. The way I see it, you owe us a favor to bring Ferricuse back to us.”

“We don’t owe you anything, now get the hell out of here.”

The two Elven guards made movements towards their weapons, but the Eladrin ceased their actions with a wave of his hand. “On the contrary, you’ll find refusing us is not an option. You and your friends have undone decades of work of very powerful mages, and they will not accept no for an answer. I would hate to see them try to resolve this matter themselves; it would be messy.” The Eladrin smiled insincerely.

“You know what you can tell your scholar friends?” began Arcaeus.

“Arcaeus,” interrupted a stern voice. Arcaeus visibly jolted. He suddenly realized that his anger was getting the best of him. He turned back to the one who called his name. “Sit down,” said Fetin, vacating his own seat.

Arcaeus sat down, eyes still upon the Eladrin. Fetin turned towards the entourage. “These events have been, to some degree, caused by our actions. What is it, exactly, that you want us to do?”

The Eladrin looked pleased. “Glad to see you are being reasonable. You see, the ones who placed this curse on Ferricuse were cultists devoted to Lolth. More specifically, the grandmaster of this cult. Tomorrow is Lolth’s Day, and a dark celebration will be held in a nearby shrine devoted to Lolth. The shrine has been abandoned for a while, but they have recently reoccupied it to prepare it for their grand celebrations tomorrow night.”

“Get to the point,” said Fetin. “What does this have to do with the curse?”

The Eladrin grimaced. “Where did all of that reasonability go? Fine, then. Curses are not supposed to last for decades, so clearly the grandmaster has some implement he is using to focus the curse and sustain it. You are going to go in there, kill him, and bring back anything on his person. Much of our work may have been undone, but we have been able to track the grandmaster to this lair, allowing us to end both his terrible tenure as well as clear this issue with Ferricuse.”

“Fine, I understand the issue. However,” he added slowly, “it is only this one favor. I don’t take well to threats, so after this is over, if I see you again, you had best flee in the other direction.”

“Oh, how frightening,” said the Eladrin flippantly. “We’ll be waiting outside of this inn tomorrow. Don’t try leaving town.” He swept through the doorway into the street, his guards following closely behind.

Fetin let out a great sigh and rubbed his head, turning towards the others. Ilfari’s face was tight and she still looked ready to leap to action, while Bogrin sat with his eyes closed. Arcaeus sat staring hard at the table, frowning.

“What was that all about?” he said to Arcaeus.

Arcaeus turned to look at him briefly. “Just thought you weren’t up to talking to them,” he answered quickly.

“I’ve never seen you get so hostile with someone before. What brought that on?”

“It’s funny you should be asking the boy that,” said Bogrin, “seeing as you’ve been moody too as of late.”

Fetin gave Bogrin a hard stare, but Bogrin was too busy with his drink to notice.

“It’s not important,” Fetin said at last. “I’m going to bed.”

“The sun is still up,” said Ilfari incredulously. Fetin went to his room without further comment.

“Let him be,” advised Bogrin. “Sometimes a man just needs time to himself.”

“And what about you?” Ilfari said, shifting focus to Arcaeus. “And don’t tell me that was nothing.”

Arcaeus shook his head. “There was just… something about those three I didn’t like.”

“All of them?” she asked. “It wasn’t just the one in the silly green dress?”

Arcaeus made a vague gesture. “Just something about them.”

“Well, I’ll be polishing my armor for tomorrow, then,” said Bogrin, excusing himself.

“I think I’ll take a walk,” thought Ilfari aloud.

Alone in the common room, Arcaeus wondered about the task before them. His eyes rested upon the food that the others had left behind, their plates being nearly full. Arcaeus’s plate itself was nearly untouched, but he suddenly found he had no appetite.

View
Scene: A Disrupted Peace
What could this portend?

Date: 433R15N

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“We’ve spent decades trying to purify Ferricuse,” said one Eladrin wearing the green robes of the druidic circles, “of the magic that is tainting him, and all that work may very well have been undone this day.”

“You wasted your time,” said another Eladrin, clad in the blue of a scholar. “I informed the druids that their decision to shift Ferricuse periodically was unneccessary and dangerous, but naturally, you failed to listen.”

“Yes, well, ‘druids’ are apt to do what comes ‘naturally,’” said a third Eladrin in the red of a war wizard.

“Yes, puns, that will solve our issue here,” said the one in green. “Look at this mess. Poor Ferricuse must have taken some grievous wounds. Those adventurers are lucky Ferricuse was weakened by the purification ritual, or he would have killed them all.”

“What a tragedy that would have been,” said the one in blue. He viewed the garden with a fair amount of disdain. “What a needless waste of such a place, to be used as that beast’s cage.”

The Eladrin in green bristled. “You will not refer to Ferricuse as a beast! He is a noble creature, favored creation of Corellon! Before his becoming cursed, he was more intelligent than any Eladrin alive, so have some respect!”

The Eladrin in blue yawned. “Intensely interesting, I assure you. Having the same information crammed into my ears every day doesn’t grow tiring at all, I assure you.”

The Eladrin in red slammed his staff into the dirt, attempting to gain their attention. “If you two wouldn’t mind, I’ve found some tracks that will prove most useful in our search for the perpetrators.” He began scrawling letters and shapes on the ground around the footprint with pink chalk. “One of them was a Dwarf, clearly,” he said as he wrote. “I can still smell him. It also reeks of lizardkind and brimstone.”

“Why rely on scrying when you have that nose of yours,” said the one in green.

“Because I know not to rely on assumptions. I would hope you two would know that much as well.” He put away the chalk and rested his hands within two circles he had drawn on the ground. “I will begin the scrying now, so please pay attention.”

The footprint and the ground around it rippled, as if it were water a stone had recently been cast into. Slowly, colors and shapes began to swim into view, multiple figures sitting in a room. The image cleared and the three Eladrin could see four people seated around a table eating breakfast. Other figures were visible in the background, but their shapes were cloudy, indicating that they were not related to the incident they were inspecting. The four figures were a Tiefling, a Dragonborn, a Dwarf, and…

“Oh ho, now this is interesting,” said the one in blue.

“An Elf, eh?” said the one in green. “The fool does not comprehend the damage he has done, does he? What sort of Elf attacks something that gives off such powerful natural energy?”

“Perhaps he could not feel that energy,” said the one in blue.

“Any Elf that grows in the forest would be able to feel it. Perhaps he had lived in the cities for too long.”

“It seems they are heading west,’ said the one in red, “though their destination is unclear, even to they themselves.” The image rippled once more and returned to a footprint in the dirt. “The ritual’s power has waned.”

“This has all been very interesting,” said the one in blue, “but I have some mildly important research to do that is nonetheless far more important than this wild goose chase—Or wild dog/lizard chase, whatever the hell that thing is. Now, if you will excuse me.”

“I believe the deal was to help us find Ferricuse,” said the one in green, standing.

“Yes, that was the deal,” the blue one responded. “But that was before I realized how very boring it would be, so the deal is rescinded.” Before the others could respond, he vanished into the fey and was gone.

“Sometimes I think he is an Etmalin sent to destroy my life for some prior wrong I committed,” said the green one.

“That gives him quite the number of reasons to be after you then, doesn’t it?” said the red one. “Let us be off: there are more important things to tend to with Naze twenty approaching.

The green one nodded and smiled. “I believe I have the perfect plan to get rid of both of our problems at once.”

View
Scene: Celebrating Moradin's Day
Homage to our creator

Date: 433R8N

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Arcaeus crested the long staircase to the shrine, shivering slightly. Winter was fast approaching and the weather was getting ahead of itself, dropping more than ten degrees in the past two days. Arcaeus had heard that the shrines at the top of this hill were giving out furs in celebration of some holiday and decided to get one for himself.

Several dozen people jostled one another as they milled around a handful of shops and such that had been hastily but professionally assembled around a central square. The people were mostly bundled up warmly already and were instead browsing wares being sold at the stalls, which ranged from children’s toys to battle-ready armor and weaponry. The atmosphere held a general excitement and perhaps a hint of restlessness.

“Hey, boy!” a voice called from the side of the street. Arcaeus turned to find Bogrin heading towards him through a thickening crowd, a broad smile on his face. He was covered in many thick furs.

“Ah, good morning, Bogrin. I was wondering where you’d gone this morning.”

“Been up since before the sun,” he responded, thrusting forth his hand. Arcaeus stood confused for a moment before realizing Bogrin was trying to shake his hand. He offered forth his own hand and Bogrin clasped it with both of his own, bowing his head over them and mumbling to himself.

“What are you doing?” Arcaeus asked, wincing at Bogrin’s powerful grin.

“Today is Naze eight, Moradin’s day. Dwarves all over the world will be taking the day off and celebrating in Moradin’s honor. Did you come to pay your respects as well?”

“Not really,” Arcaeus said, pulling his hand slightly to indicate he wished Bogrin would release it, but his silent plea went ignored. “I heard there were furs being handed out up here and thought I would pick some up.”

Bogrin’s smile slipped slightly. “Although I appreciate you trying to clothe our party in something warm, the furs are only for the priests and clerics who worship Moradin. It would be inappropriate to give them to you.”

“I see,” said Arcaeus. “Would you mind?” he indicated his captive hand with his free one.

Bogrin released Arcaeus’s hand. “Today is a celebration of camaraderie and thankfulness to those who support you in your daily endeavors. Just trying to get the spirit of the holiday going.”

“Right,” said Arcaeus, rubbing his hand. “I thought Moradin was a god of crafting and smithing; why are the priests giving out furs instead of, say, breastplates?”

“Don’t be daft, boy,” Bogrin responded, though he laughed as he did so. “Moradin loves all things created by the hands of mortals, even things cured, stitched, and sewn, so long as they are made well and with great care. Besides, with only a month until winter begins, what good would cold steel do his followers?”

“It makes sense when you put it like that, I suppose.” Arcaeus looked around at the other celebrants. “There are not a lot of Dwarves in attendance here. A bigger city than Edelton probably has some great festivals this time of year, right?”

Bogrin’s smile became even more strained. “There are about twenty Dwarves here, so it’s not too bad. Even big cities tend to only have a hundred or so if they’re lucky. Dwarves don’t gather around in big groups as much since the fall of Moradinka.”

“Yeah, I’d read about that,” said Arcaeus a bit awkwardly. He didn’t want to bring up something like the mass slaughter of his people on a religious holiday: that would probably be tactless. “So you’re celebrating today?” was the best new subject he could concoct on short notice.

“A bit, yes,” Bogrin responded, “but I’ve been putting a lot of work into the shrines as well, helping here and there, cleaning, blessing, watching a stall while the priests take a break, that sort of thing.”

“Ah, that’s admirable,” said Arcaeus. “What has made you so proactive today?”

Bogrin’s smile finally fled completely. Arcaeus was beginning to think his innocuous questions were anything but. Bogrin looked around anxiously. “Come over here,” he said, directing him towards a batch of empty merchant’s stalls the crowd was ignoring.

“What’s the matter with over there?” asked Arcaeus when they stopped.

Bogrin sighed heavily. “I don’t want anybody hearing me.” He turned to face Arcaeus. “It’s becoming… difficult to be here at this celebration. Any Moradin’s day celebration, actually.” He ran a troubled hand through his beard and seemed hesitant to continue. “Moradin has done things-and not done things-that has me concerned as to whether he is really a loving creator. He just…” he lifted his hands in the air in a futile motion as he searched for the right words, but none came.

“If you don’t want to talk about this-” Arcaeus began, seeing Bogrin was becoming quite upset.

“No,” Bogrin interrupted. “I’ve been bottling this up for a while. I need to voice my concerns to someone.”

“I don’t think it should be me,” said Arcaeus. Bogrin made a sad and disappointed face. “What I mean,” Arcaeus said quickly, “is shouldn’t you talk to Moradin or something? I mean, this is a celebration honoring him, right? More than any other time, he should be listening to prayers and such, I would think.”

Bogrin look surprised. “I… I couldn’t. How can I talk to Moradin about such things?”

“I think everyone likes to get some constructive criticism every once in a while. It couldn’t hurt, surely.”

Bogrin took a deep breath. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, and took another deep breath. “It couldn’t hurt,” he said as if to convince himself. “Moradin is just waiting for me to say something. Moradin loves me.” He blinked. “Yes, Moradin loves all Dwarves.” He nodded. “I think you have a good point, Elf. I think I should talk to him myself.”

Bogrin dropped to one knee in the dirt, the furs about his frame bunched up into his arms to keep them from draggin on the ground. “Moradin?” he whispered. He paused for a moment, his jaw trembling. He licked his lips and continued, speaking in Dwarvish. “Moradin, my father. I know not if you hear me, but I shall speak nonetheless. I, Bogrin Silvertrough of clan Silvertrough, come before you a priest of damaged faith.” His teeth chattered as he said those last words, but he forced himself to press on. “I have always been taught that you were a god of compassion, that you lead our people to great things, that you gave us the power and courage to survive, that you were always a beacon of good. But I have seen things, things you have personally had a hand in, that have been anything but representative of good. I have seen friends and clansman killed by our cousins who took our home, allowing the deaths of thousands of your children. I have lived through the Fury, which you pushed for, and have fought against people I wished not to fight against on your order, for I believed you a being of good. I have ever strived to be the kind of example that you have always been, but now I find myself questioning if you really are the kind of being I should aspire to be like.” He clutched his holy symbol, the anvil and hammer of Moradin, and felt tears run down his face. “I don’t wish to feel this way about my father. Please, father of my kin, give my heart peace.” He rubbed his thick hands over his symbol vigorously. “Give my heart peace.”

+ + +

Fetin clapped Arcaeus on the shoulder. “Hope you’re not here trying to get furs!” he bellowed with a laugh. Arcaeus said nothing, but stared straight ahead. “What are you staring at?” Arcaeus pointed at Bogrin. “Ah, Bogrin my friend!” he called.

Bogrin did not respond; he stood still, kneeling in the dirt, staring at something unseen in the boards of a merchant’s stall, his mouth slightly agape. “Bogrin?” said Fetin again, calmer and more silently than the first time. He approached the Dwarf slowly. With great care, he inched his hand forwards and placed it on Bogrin’s shoulder. Bogrin jumped as if from some great shock, looking at Fetin with amazement and confusion.

“Where did you go?” asked Fetin.

“Somewhere wonderful,” managed the Dwarf, wiping his runny face with his hands.

“Good,” said Fetin, shaking the tiny Dwarf a bit with his hand, “that’s good.”

Bogrin chuckled as he stood up. “You’re stone drunk, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Of course,” said Fetin, standing erect. “You’ll never find ale like you find at a Moradin’s day celebration. You’ve got to get while the gettin’s good, as you Dwarves say.”

“We don’t say that,” said Bogrin, laughing. He noticed Arcaeus standing there.

“Did things go well?” Arcaeus asked. The question felt appropriate.

Bogrin’s wide grin returned, though it somehow felt more natural than before. “Why don’t we all go back and enjoy the festivities, my friends?” Arcaeus nodded and Fetin placed his arm around Bogrin’s shoulder, great bouts of laughter shaking him as they walked back towards the main grounds of the festival.

View
The Mysterious Garden
An illusory garden housing a rampaging beast...

Date: 433R6N

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A commotion was being raised at the main entrance of the prison; among the shouting and other noise, Huskin was able to pick out that of Drebbinard, that pesky Dragonborn that kept coming to visit him in his cell, trying to garner additional information about Heinrich’s whereabouts. Truth be told, Huskin was starting to warm to the old, grizzled veteran despite himself: the Dragonborn was not one to mince words and was more direct with him than anyone he had ever met, but had enough tact to speak so without being offensive, possibly due to having to tiptoe around his Human superiors in the military. But at the moment, it did not sound like Drebbinard had his normal air of calm about him.

The door to the cell opened violently. “I’ll speak to him if I damn well want! Everyone wait outside!” He pushed a Halfling officer off of his leg and through the door, slamming it closed behind him. He turned and launched himself at Huskin’s cell, his body impacting the bars with such force that concrete dust rained down from the ceiling. “I’ve been waiting for twelve days, Huskin, and that damned leader of yours has yet to return to the fort. Every day that my people and I wait there for them is another day I am away from home, away from my family, and I’ll be damned if I let you jerk me around any more! Tell me where he is!”

Huskin felt a sense of dread in the pit of his stomach, a cold fire that licked at his heart. “I’ve been in here for twelve days already? And Heinrich has yet to return?”

“Are we just going to repeat everything I say? Where is he?!”

“No, Drebbinard, I’m saying that that cannot be right. The task he was undertaking should have taken eight days, ten at best, round trip. It is impossible that he hasn’t returned. Are you sure that he didn’t-”

“I’ve had my ranger scouting the woods for days, my thief searching the towns for information, and my Cleric and I have been keeping a solid watch on the main road. A group of a dozen Humans could not have slipped by us unnoticed, nor even known of our presence.”

Huskin must have had a clear look of confusion on his face, as Fetin’s closed his snarling mouth and stared hard at him. “What is going on, Huskin? What was he up to? Where has he gone?:

“It was a hunt,” Huskin found himself whispering, unable to stop, “a big one. Something was in the woods nearby that was frightening game away at an unprecedented level. We were essentially being starved by this creature’s presence, but we didn’t know what or where it was.”

Fetin’s hands slid off the bars and he kneeled down to put himself level with the seated Half-Elves eyes. “Some unknown beast?”

“Something. Animals were fleeing for miles in every direction. According to Heinrich’s estimates as to where the creature’s lair was, it would be in just the perfect location that the parts of the forest emptied of woodland creatures would be outside of normal civilized hunting grounds, making the change in creature density unnoticeable to the nearby towns.”

“This Heinrich sounds smarter than I would have given him credit for.”

A tiny laugh escaped Huskin’s lips. “Indeed, he was someone to respect,” his face became stony and harsh, “which is why I am worried if he has yet to return. He is not a man to take more time on a task than estimated. But I cannot imagine what sort of creature that resides in the woods could possibly overpower a group of a dozen armed men.”

“So you’re saying that if this man hasn’t returned then something must have happened to him? Are you certain?”

“He is a strict man with a rigid code: if he said he wasn’t going to take more than ten days hunting this creature, returning whether he succeeded or failed, I can only assume something must be wrong.”

Fetin sighed heavily and lifted himself up. He stretched his neck out for a moment as he thought. “Alright, then. I’m handing off the hunting of these bandits to someone else, then.” Huskin started at this. “If there isn’t likely to be more bandits, I see no reason to wait around. I’ll just direct someone else to watch the fort and get a move on.” He turned to leave.

“Wait!” called Huskin, pushing his face between the bars. “You must find Heinrich!”

“I don’t have to find anybody. No offense, kid, but I don’t work for free.”

“Then I’ll pay you!”

“Can’t pay me. We already confiscated everything in the fort. You’ve got nothing left.”

“Not true! We have a secret stash we’ve been keeping elsewhere, just in case. You can have it, all of it, if you’ll just find Heinrich and make sure he is alive.”

“Even if I did, how can I guarantee that you’ll keep your word?” Fetin reached for the door.

“I may rob people for a living, but I have honor. I’ll keep my word, I swear to you! All our treasures, yours. Just find him.”

Fetin held on to the handle of the door, staring at it’s blank wooden surface. Gradually, his hand fell away and he faced Huskin. Fetin examined him at length, studying the wild-eyed Half-Elf who was so unwilling to tell him anything just days before. “I can only imagine what this man has done to earn your respect so,”

Huskin let out his breath, seeing the conversation swinging his way. “You can ask the man yourself.”

+ + +

Arcaeus returned to the bandit fortress, climbing the southern wall as he always did and checking to make sure the bandits hadn’t returned in his absence. Assured the place was empty, he let himself into the main building by the trap door in the roof. When he landed in the room below, he was greeted by the sight of the rest of the party examining a crudely-drawn map on the table.

“We’re going farther north,” Fetin said by way of greeting. “According to our Half-Elf friend in the Edelton prison, his comrades should be up this way down this road, and through these words.” He indicated the positions on the map.

Arcaeus cocked a brow. “He finally decided to cooperate? What made him change his mind?”

“Said the bandits might be dead, wants us to find ‘em.”

“But if they are already dead, we won’t get a reward for them, right? So how-”

“Half-Elf’s paying. He’s got some treasure stashed away and it’s ours if we find the bandit leader. If we do, I need you to head back to Edelton and get the location of the stash from him, alright?”

“Why me? I thought you were on friendlier terms with him.”

“Because he caused a ruckus at the prison,” interrupted Bogrin, standing at the opposite side of the table and staring judgmentally at Fetin over crossed arms. “Seems he lost his temper with the guards and may have struck one or two. It’s probably best he doesn’t return there.”

Arcaeus shook his head, but acquiesced.

“Memorize this map. We’re moving out tomorrow.”

+ + +

“A large group of Humans has definately moved past here some time ago,” Arcaeus said, lifting himself off the ground, “but the tracks are pretty old. I think the only reason they are still in tact is due to the trees blocking the wind and the complete lack of animal life in this area.”

And there was no animal life nor wind. The forest was completely silent and everyone felt a great uneasiness that was easily explainable, despite the dramatic effect claiming otherwise might have.

They continued along the tracks – stopping periodically to examine them closer to ensure they were the right tracks – but there didn’t seem to be any other Humanoid tracks in the area. All of the animal tracks were older than the Human ones and had been covered or destroyed completely with the Humans’ passing.

It was already the second day of tracking, past noon according to the last time they saw the sun. They were traveling so deep into the forest, they half expected to stumble across a hidden Elven enclave, especially seeing as the tracks were slowly drifting Eastwards.

“What is that?” whispered Ilfari suddenly, darting ahead. Arcaeus looked up from the ground, feeling a crick in his neck from having his head bent down for so long. What looked to be a wall was partially visible between the ever thickening trees. The rest of the party approached and examined it: it was well over fifty feet high and seemed to be made completely of vines from which protruded vicious looking barbs at uneven intervals. It streched off in either direction. They looked for a way around the wall, but found that it circled around for some distance, so they returned to the footprints rather than follow it all the way around. The footprints mingled around in front of the wall for a while, then approached the wall and vanished.

“Looks like they may have climbed it,” said Fetin, though his tone and the way he looked at the top of the wall so high above did little to convince the others that he believed it.

“Why would they go through the trouble?” said Bogrin. “Did they think the creature was on the other side? Did they know?”

“We might have to climb it to find out,” suggested Fetin, though he didn’t volunteer to be the first to try.

“I suppose perhaps I should go first,” said Bogrin, removing his armor and weapon, tucking his symbol of Moradin into his pantline to hold it tight while preparing to leap onto the wall “If anyone can navigate between those thorns, it would be the smallest of us, right?”

Ilfari and Fetin agreed with him, but Arcaeus was still staring intently at the footprints and the wall. Something was odd as he stared at them, feeling they didn’t quite match. Then he saw it: a few of the footprints were cut in half, half on this side of the wall, the other half vanishing below it, as if the wall was not there before.

“Hold on a moment,” Arcaeus thought aloud. “I think this might be-” Bogrin ran and leapt forward, reaching up to grasp the vines as high as he could. Instead of hitting the wall, however, he passed clear through it, and there was a great crash and rustling of leave. “I was going to say that I think this might be an illusion,” Arcaeus said as a ten foot section of the veiling wall vanished from his eyes.

“Wish you said it sooner,” said Bogrin, struggling to right himself from the mass of bushes he had fallen into. Ilfari burst into laughter which she immediately attempted to stifle. Fetin pulled the Dwarf upright and set him on his feet.

“Shut your mouth, Tiefling,” said the Dwarf as he pulled his chainmail back on. “I didn’t see you doing-” he stopped, a look of dawning disbelief on his face. He turned to look at the walls again. “These walls can’t all be illusion,” he said as he touched another section of wall which dutifully vanished as well. “The magic needed to craft so many illusions of such a scale is outrageous! The walls were spanning hundreds or thousands of feet, maybe more!”

“I don’t know of any creature that can put up illusory walls, especially on such a scale,” admitted Arcaeus.

“Nor I,” seconded Fetin, “but we’re about to find out.”

The trees thinned as the group moved through the bushes, eventually clearing away completely. What they found was a wide clearing stretching before them. In the clearing were only three trees: a tiny one sat on the right by a small pond, another, far larger one grew a few hundred feet away next to a group of rocks jutting from the earth, and a third tree, somewhere between the first and second in size, hung over a lone plateau fifteen feet high on their left. A tiny house could be seen just beyond the plateau.

“Nice little garden,” said Bogrin, though there was clearly a note of wariness in the comment. “You think the Humans might still be here?”

“The tracks seem to scatter in all directions from here, so they clearly separated in this area,” Arcaeus reported. “We should look around, I suppose.”

The party stepped forward but stopped shortly as a tingle of magic traced a finger down their spines. “What was that?” said Ilfari, spinning around as if expecting to catch the magic trying to hide itself in the bushes.

“Some sort of spell,” said Fetin. “Probably defensive, possibly Elven. Someone is guarding this grove. Bogrin, what can you tell us about this magic?”

Bogrin closed his eyes and breathed deeply, reaching his hands out before him and concentrating hard. “It’s some sort of baffling enchantment.”

“So you don’t know what it is, then?”

“No, I mean it is literally a baffling enchantment: those who are affected by it would be confused and likely wander about this place listlessly. S’probably why the Humans scattered at this point.”

“Why didn’t it effect us?”

“I guess it doesn’t work on those with strong wills. But then I can’t explain how the Tiefling made it through alright.”

“You’re a laugh and a half, Dwarf,” said Ilfari, kicking dirt at him. “I’m going to go check out those rocks over there,” she said, and scampered off.

DM Note: It is rather annoying that I made this nice little trap for the players and all four of them made a successful will save. Then Bogrin had to go and roll a natural 20 on his arcana check. So much for that bit of drama. -The DM

“Yes, let’s all take a look around. Arcaeus, get up on the plateau and scout the area. Bogrin, if you wouldn’t mind checking the lake. I’ll examine the house. We’ll meet by Ilfari in a few minutes.” Bogrin and Fetin stumped off and Arcaeus made his way up to the top of the plateau. On the other side of the steep cliff was a gentle slope leading to the peak, soft with undisturbed grass.

Arcaeus surveyed the area below; it was almost like a valley, walled in by trees. At the base of the hill behind him the forest rose up once more and circled to surround this open garden. The rock formations in the center consisted of large, black stones piled in no particularly notable way. The pond, in which from here Arcaeus could see Bogrin wading up to his armpits, was fairly small and, if Bogrin’s height was any indication, not very deep. The house was also of little interest besides looking as if something had fallen on it and destroyed the roof, but whatever it was had since been removed. He vaguely wondered if anyone lived in the house still, but that line of inquiry did not keep his interest long.

He scanned the horizon as well, but it was nothing but trees to the edge of his vision. He noticed that the trees to the north beyond the lake were slightly younger and smaller than elsewhere, a lone grassy hill rising up above the treeline. Determining that his time would be better spent elsewhere, he descended the hill. He couldn’t see his tracking abilities being useful here, so he chose to examine the tree at the base of the plateau. The tree was a softer variety of Oak, so he judged it at perhaps two hundred years old. He trotted over to the largest tree, a pine, and determined it to be about the same age. Finally, the smallest of the three was unknown to him, but it closely resembled a slow-growing Burr Oak or some similar tree, so he estimated it around the same age.

DM Note: My biology classes are finally paying off when I can use them to describe trees accurately in D&D. Thanks for not wasting ALL of my money, college. -The DM

If the three trees being the same age was important, he couldn’t determine how. Noticing that his comrades were gathering once more, he ran over to join them. Bogrin was showing something to the others who shook their heads at him.

“What did you find?” he asked, striding up next to the Dwarf.

“Well,” said Ilfari first, directing Arcaeus’s eyes towards the rocks, “this is something odd.” She pointed to several bones embedded in the rocks, among which was a skull, clearly human.

“Human bodies lodged into a rock?” he tugged at one of the bones. “It’s in there pretty tight.”

“Strange, right?” she said, rubbing a hand over one of her horns. “And it’s not just one, either; There must be a half dozen bodies or more stuck in a few different rocks. One teleporting accident might explain the first rock, but a several seems unlikely. Any ideas?”

Arcaeus shook his head. “None whatsoever. And what about you, Bogrin? I saw you showing something off from afar.”

“This strange medallion was buried in the mud at the bottom of the lake. There is a symbol on the face I don’t recognize. Is it Elvish?”

Arcaeus shrugged. “I wouldn’t know,” he said while peering at it, “I don’t speak Elvish too well.”

“Really?” Bogrin asked, surprised. “What sort of Elf doesn’t know Elvish?”

“I grew up with Humans, Bogrin. They knew about as much Elvish as you do.”

Bogrin frowned. “I didn’t know that.”

Arcaeus shrugged. “There was never a need to bring it up. I’m afraid I don’t know if this is Elvish.”

Bogrin pocketed the medallion. “I’ll have someone take a look at it next time we’re in town.”

“So you only speak common?” asked Ilfari.

“And somehow we are still on this topic…” Arcaeus said to no one in particular.

“I just find it weird, is all.” She rested a hand on one of the rocks as she peered around. “So there is nothing interesting here at all? This was a waste of-” she pulled her hand off of the rock suddenly, as if shocked, and Arcaeus turned quickly this way and that.

“Did you feel that?” he said, crouching low.

“Yeah… what was that?”

“What? What do you feel?” Fetin moved his hand to his sword, peering around uselessly.

“It’s very slight,” said Arcaeus, “but there is this pulsing vibration in the ground… now… and now… and now…” he knocked his fist on the rock in the rhythm of the pulsing. He turned to look at the rock. “Get off of this thing.”

He leapt to the ground and the others followed suit, but he continued to look around. “No, I can still feel it,” said Ilfari.

“I can feel it too, ” said Fetin, his sword out and at the ready. “Can you tell what direction it’s coming from?”

“I don’t feel a thing,” said Bogrin, his hands resting in his sleeves.

“It’s those big damned boots of yours,” said Ilfari, grabbing his hand and forcing it to the ground.

“Oh!” he gasped in surprise. “How’d I not feel that?” Arcaeus began running off towards the pond. “Where is that boy going?”

“Stay there!” Arcaeus shouted back as he moved rapidly northwards. Each step closer he took, the pulsing gained strength, becoming strong enough that he nearly lost his balance with every beat. Even the pond itself was roiling like the sea in a storm.

Arcaeus had a sickening feeling as he began to recognize the pattern of the pulsing, a pattern he wouldn’t have guessed would accompany such a powerful force. He turned towards the others, who watched with apprehension. “Get behind those rocks! Hide from those trees!” he indicated northwards beyond the pond briefly before sprinting towards the lone tiny tree nearby.

A minute passed, then two, the tremors increasing to a power so ferocious that the trunk of the tree was bobbing back and forth like a blade of grass, leaves and whole branches falling from it’s boughs. A deep moan rang through the trees, a sound like the continents of Aden shifting and crashing together. The pulsing tremors ceased, and all was still.

Arcaeus peeked around the edge of his hiding place cautiously. A beast of outlandish proportions held its head above the lake, lapping at the waters. The creature had three great legs on each side of its body, each easily ten feet thick. The legs and body were scaly like a lizard’s, but the feet were more like an elephant’s. The creature’s head was like a dog’s, with great, floppy ears, a protruding nose, and great lengths of something fur-like: closer examination would reveal it to be long grass that grew upon its scalp and spine. This massive creature licked up the waters of the pond, drinking deeply.

After several minutes of this, it began walking again, it’s great feet shaking the earth.

Fetin and the others hugged the rocks, pressing themselves against them as hard as possible, as the beast approached them. At the edge of the rocky outcroppings, the beast turned around again and squatted low.

“Oh no, it’s not gonna-” began Ilfari, but Fetin cover her mouth with his hand. The monster before them was relieving itself before them, only fifty feet away. What came out of the animal was frighteningly familiar, a great black mass that crashed into the ground with a thundering force, laying among the rocks as if it had always been there, among kin.

Ilfari pushed herself away from her hiding place. “Gods be damned!” she spat, looking at her clothing with utmost disgust. “I’ve been climbing all over these oversized turds!”

The creature turned sharply, a deep rumbling coming from deep within it. Fetin grabbed Ilfari and pressed her close to the rocky droppings. She struggled to push herself a way from it, but Bogrin was assisting in pinning her down and she couldn’t resist. Above them, the gigantic head sniffed at the droppings, approaching their hiding spot, each great step threatening to dislodge their rocky cover.

The creature reared back suddenly and roared, rubbing a great leg over it’s back, trying to reach for an arrow that now protruded from it. It turned and snarled viciously, sniffing at the air. On its grassy side there suddenly shone a bright light, showing etched into its flesh the same symbol that the medallion bore. It flashed for a moment before dying out.

“What in the world was that?” said a shocked Bogrin.

“I don’t know, the kid has the right idea! To hell with this hiding!” Fetin stood behind the creature, tossing a rock at it’s hind quarters to get it’s attention, but the beast was already bearing down on him in a furious charge. He barely had time to roll back behind the rock before it rocketed through the space he occupied moments prior. The vibrations from the charge were so powerful that Bogrin tumbled off his rock and landed on his back. The beast turned, sniffing around with it’s head low, its eyes working furiously but seemingly not focusing on anything.

“It’s blind!” called Fetin, hurriedly moving to a location farther from its great legs. The monster breathed deeply and unleashed a wave of steam from its mouth so hot that it melted the rock-hard nuggets they were using as cover.

Fetin launched himself out from the rocks, swinging his blade at the beast. The creature’s jaws snapped at him, but he was already diving under its body and slicing upwards. Distracted by Fetin, the beast was unaware of Ilfari as she launched herself at the shaggy grass-hair on its back, clinging to it and stabbing at whatever area was within reach. It reared back and howled, falling on its back and rolling around to dislodge her, but not before she leapt to safety.

The three of them sat still as it violently searched them out, but their smell was covered partially by its own scent from the time they spent among it’s droppings. It did, however, catch the smell of Arcaeus, whose arrows still pricked it on occasion. It galloped towards the archer, running right over Bogrin and knocking Ilfari to the ground in the process. Arcaeus leapt sideways, feeling the monster’s head brush against his legs as he landed in a tucked roll. Fetin sprinted after the creature to make a swing, but the beast reared up and slammed its feet on the ground, knocking Fetin over. It reared up again, landing its two front feet with such force that the other felt it in their bones. Fetin howled in pain, blood pouring from his mouth.

Ilfari once more leapt at the beast, stabbing at his underside and legs while Arcaeus peppered its face with arrows. Bogrin, meanwhile, pulled Fetin out of reach of the beast, flowing his healing magic into him as they moved.

“If the ground wasn’t all soft dirt,” said Fetin as he writhed on the ground, “I would be done.”

“Stop moving, you daft, red-skinned frog! You’re whole damn body must be broken.”

Ilfari landed next to them on her feet but clearly disoriented. The monster was approaching in a charge again. Bogrin attempted to move Fetin again, but Fetin pushed him away and grabbed his sword, rolling to his knees and slashing upwards into the monster’s breast as it rolled overhead. It screamed and howled, stomping the ground with insane strength that jarred the weapon from Fetin’s grip. With a sound like an explosion, the beast leapt off, racing towards the woods at a speed that was impossible for them to keep up with even if they weren’t all banged up from the encounter. Despite being easily three hundred feet away, the beast vanished into the woods in a matter of seconds, his massive body passing through the trees like they were air itself. The pulsating rhythm of his stomping quickly vanished.

The party collapsed. “That was insane,” said Ilfari, her breathing heavy. “I think I dislocated a shoulder holding on to him.”

Bogrin blinked drops of blood out of his eyes and rubbed his head. “How’d I get that?” he mused aloud, rubbing the blood between his fingers.

“Priorities, my friend,” said Fetin, shaking an arm that looked like a lump of tenderized meat. Bogrin physically recoiled at the sight of it. “You try dragging a sword through a fifty ton beast and see how you look afterwards.”

“What was that thing, exactly?” wondered Arcaeus aloud.

“It looked like something the gods themselves would be wary of,” said Bogrin as he gingerly worked on Fetin’s arm. “What it’s doing in such a place is a mystery.”

“I feel confident,” Fetin said, gesturing towards the rocks with the arm that still resembled an arm, “saying that the bodies in there belong to those poor bastard friends of Huskin’s. I don’t see how they could have survived that beast’s attacks. Hell, I don’t even see how we did.”

“I suppose I should go deliver the news to him, then,” said Arcaeus, squinting at the sun as it approached the treeline. “Where should I meet you guys when I’m done?”

“We’ll just be waiting at the inn; depending on the haul, we should all be there to carry it back.”

“Yeah, I don’t need help informing a prisoner that all of his friends are dead. That’ll be a cinch.”

“There you go,” said Fetin, responding to Arcaeus’ sarcasm in a like manner, “bragging about getting the easy part.”

Arcaeus walked towards the bushes from which they originally entered the garden, his bow still clutched in his hand.

“Arcaeus,” called Fetin. The Elf turned. “Lay it on him easy, alright? As gentle as you can.” Arcaeus nodded solemnly and continued on his way.

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Scene: Edelton Prison
What do you know of oppression?

Date: 433R15M

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“If you tell us where your leader headed off to,” said Fetin for the tenth time, rubbing his forehead impatiently, “I can promise you I’ll try to take as many of your comrades alive as I can. If you don’t tell me and he ends up doing something foolish that earns him a bounty, I cannot guarantee his safety.”

“Forget it. I owe him my life and I will not repay that with treachery!”

The bandit Fetin spoke to was the one leading the others during Dragonfury’s night raid on their fortress. Fetin had since learned that the bandit wasn’t a Human but a Half-Elf by the name of Melarl Huskin, and that he was something of a second-in-command to the bandits. And because he wasn’t talking, none of the other bandits were talking either.

“All of you people oppress us, fear us, chase us away,” the Half-Elf spat. “And why is that? Because we’re Human?”

“In your case, it’s because you’re bandits.”

“As if we want to be bandits. We were chased to the woods by lizardmen like you-”

Fetin grabbed the bandit by the collar and slammed his face into the bars that separated them. “Let me tell you something, you pointy-eared little prissy: my people have suffered oppression from Humanity long before your Elven father was even born. If you think I’m going to sit here and listen to some prison trash fling racial slurs at me while trying to play the pity card, then perhaps you need to learn what real pain and suffering is like!” He flung the bandit backwards with such force that he tumbled over the lone bed in his cell and into the wall, laying there dazed. “Be glad for these bars,” Fetin hissed.

“What do you know of oppression?!” Shouted Huskin as he struggled upright. “Dragonborn haven’t been chased down and exterminated ruthlessly in your lifetime, but I and my kind have.”

“That ain’t the only kind of oppression, kid.” Fetin suddenly felt quite weary, and his voice followed suit. “Sometimes I think being able to run for my life would be a far simpler solution. I could only choose the military as a career because unlearned men thought I would burn their houses down if I coughed or sneezed, as if fire just spews from my mouth uncontrollably like some sort of child. Every avenue was closed to me and before I knew it I was too old for apprenticeship. And do you know what the military was like? Do you know how it feels to be filled with a certainty that every quest you are sent on was supposed to be your last, surrounded by your racial kin on an assignment that felt more like a suicide mission meant to cleanse the ranks of unpure filth like us? I could only wish for direct conflict so I could die fighting for my life rather than fearing for it. But I had to let it go because I had no other choice. You? You only have to deal with a handful of overzealous racists. Until you step over the line that is, then you deal with me. If your life was so damned precious to you, you would have just hid in the forest and become a farmer, but you had to have all the shiny niceties of society, didn’t you? If you speak to me again as if you are better than me, then you are truly a fool.”

Huskin was quiet, sitting on his bed and staring hard at Fetin. His stare didn’t hold anger anymore, but rather was marked with deep thought. Fetin went back to his chair by the jailor’s desk, placing his face in his hands and breathing deeply, partially to calm himself down, but partially to keep his composure.

“Do you consider yourself better than me, then?” Huskin said at last, not in a challenging or offended way, but in a voice of interest.

“We’re equals, kid; we just happen to be on opposite sides of these bars is all. Always have been, always will be.”

Fetin no longer felt like talking, so he stood and left, informing the jailor that he was finished with the prisoner. Huskin sat in his cell, left to his thoughts.

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