Grey Reach

Session Twenty-Two
We May Have Angered The Devil

After the fight, we decided to settle in for camp that day before pressing on. As I was setting up my camp, a surprisingly ornate envelope sealed with a simple blue seal appeared in the mud in front of me. I looked it over before asking Darvin to see what he could tell about it.
“It is… very magical,” he said, frowning as he studied it. “It could be exceptionally dangerous or very good. Though I have no idea what school.”

I walked a short distance away and opened the letter to find a blue piece of paper. It, too had gold scrollwork around the edges, and when I opened it, I blinked. A letter from my father? The writing in flowing celestial said he had pulled strings with the eschelons of Archons and that he can get Darvin cured should I wish it. But he requires a drop of my blood on the letter. And Darvin’s.

Still frowning, I turned the letter over and over. It didn’t look… perfect, but something seemed off, and the letter’s power read as powerfully evil to me. My stomach tightened. “This isn’t… right. I am worried. We should return to Whitehorn and conclude business there and then continue north to the capital.”

“Our interests coincide here. I agree,” Darvin said.

We continued onward, eventually reaching the borders of Greyreach. In the distance, we saw a small hamlet surrounded by fields. We approached the area where Whitehorn would have been… we discovered the road blocked by thorned vines. Gunnar scowled. “These are not natural.”

“Darvin, can you set them on fire?”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “Did you ask if I could set them on fire?”


A laugh. “The answer to that is most assuredly yes, but we should give the druid an opportunity. It looks like he is up to something.”

Gunnar, who had been conversing with a squirrel, looked back to us. “These are new—they won’t go on the other side because of creatures…”

“There were people there,” I said, frowning. “Many people. We should see what’s happened.” The others seemed reticent, but I shook my head. “We should perhaps go to Southport and see what the locals know about the place and what has happened.”

Reluctantly, we continued to Eastwatch. We paused, speaking to some of the locals there. They said two months ago, they wrapped themselves out of the woods and grew there with incredible speed. Most people have kept an eye on that, but they had not gone into the woods, and the woods did not come to them, so they didn’t involve themselves. They also said trade had stopped following the vines’ appearance.

We returned to the intersection, and Gunnar took form of an owl and flew over the vines, vanishing into the evening gloom.

When he returned, he reported the forest looked sick and broken. Everything looked wrong. Patches of fog hid humanoid creatures that came in and out of the fog. Two metallic, humanoid figures—golems hunched over and waiting. Long spikes curled off their bodies, the points jabbing toward the heaven. A small amount of rust clung to the surface.

“Ahlset,” I said, scowling. “We cannot confront this.”

“We should at least try and talk to him.” Darvin touched Ahlset’s ring to the vines, which uncurled. The two golems turned and began walking toward the farmland.

“Darvin, tell them not to do that. They don’t belong there, they belong inside, and that’s not going to be good!” I said, waving my hands.

“Hey! Hey! Come back here!” Darvin cried, brandishing the ring. They ignored it, and Gunnar frantically wove magic, entangling them in vines and trapping them there, though it wouldn’t last forever.

I stared at the things. “So… what do we do now?”

Gunnar walked up and tried to use a spell on the monstrosity. “Well… that didn’t work.”

“What did you try to do?”

“I can shape stone and earth, and that didn’t work on them.”

I sighed, lifting my visor and rubbing my forehead. First my father, now this… Gods. I knew we shouldn’t have had anything to do with most of this. What in the hells would be next? But I couldn’t just walk away and leave the people we’d settled there. And, almost more to the point, I was partially responsible for that Lich inside.

After some discussion we decided to dig down underneath the monstrosities and bury them in the ground forever. Darvin’s report about the Corpse Collectors made the chill in my veins turn to ice, and there was no way we could deal with them directly.

We spent the night and morning digging the hole and eventually toppled them into it. They released this noxious green gas from the bottom of the hole and eventually filled it in, little bursts of the gas appearing around our feet now and then. When we finished, Gunnar fused a bunch of stones together and sealed them in there forever.

“I… thought I should tell you. My hand… it’s numb. It’s been a little numb and tingly since we got that letter.”

So you tell us now? I thought, but I nodded. “Darvin, can you detect if there’s magical intervention?” It could, for all I know, be medical, since that’s one of the symptoms of leprosy…”

Darvin held up his hands. “Hey, she’s married, I would never…”

I rolled my eyes. “Not like that. You could touch her hand and transmit it, Darvin.”

Darvin focused, apparently channeling his mage sight, and squinted. “You need to simplify your life, Elif,” he grumbled. “What is that?” he said, recoiling away from her and gaping at her pouch. “What is that?” he said, giving Elif a look. “You have… powerful necromantic magic in this pouch here. It… may not be bad? But it might be why you’re tingling.”

I looked her over, examining her hands. “You… look a little anemic, maybe, but…” Pulling on my power, I sought evil and nearly vomited. “Elif, what did you do?” I asked, pointing at the pouch Darvin had identified. “What the hell is that?”

“I have no idea what that is, Darvin said.”

“But… it was expensive. And it’s cool.” She pulled out an intricately carved tooth. “I procured it in Port LeMort. It just kind of spoke to me.”

Darvin gaped.

“Okay, well it’s not… it didn’t literally speak to me. But…”

“Of course. Art has to speak to you. Get rid of the tooth.”

“You need to get rid of that,” I said. “It’s more evil than the lich,” I pointed toward Whitehorn.
“Oh! You think he’d know what to do with it?” she said, grinning.

I just… stared.

She pulled out the tooth and held it up, displaying it. “Hey. My hand stopped tingling. It can’t be that bad.”

“That’s MORE EVIL THAN THE FUCKING LICH!” I roared, throwing my hands up. “Ask your damn shovel if you won’t listen to me.”

“I think it’s awesome, and I’m keeping it.” She looked over at Gunnar. “Hey, you wanna touch it.”

Gunnar shook his head. “No, thanks…”

Lacking words, we made our way to Whitehorn. The vines looked to continue along the borders of what had been the kingdom bestowed upon us. Oakhill had changed. A palisade crossed the vines there, and two men stood at the top of the gatehouse.

The gates opened. “Welcome back, Your Majesty,” he called down to Darvin.

“Is Ahlset around?”

“Yes, absolutely. He’s in the administrative buildings.” The guard took us inside. The town hadn’t grown so much in size, but it had grown in wealth. The slums were no longer and were now shaped into somewhat rustic but well-built homes.

Skeletons with the multi-colored ribbons hanging from them, perhaps denoting their function, cut logs and hauled wood on the edges of the woods. A new area of the town looked quite ornate with a three-story building with two banners bearing the standard of Whitehorn hanging from the roof. No people did any people performing manual labor of any kind, though there were indeed people milling about. Mostly craftsman, artisans, folks with trade skills. The people seemed content with their life, much to my surprise.

We arrived at the building with the banners, and the two men at the doors straightened up when they noticed our presence. They greeted us and opened the door to admit us inside. The doors were ornately carved and filled with gems.

The bottom floor of the building appeared to be nothing but a large throne room with a wooden throne at the end of the room draped with furs and carved in an ornate manner. Darvin smirked and walked up, seating himself on the throne. “Oh, it’s quite… comfortable, really.”

He adjusted himself a little, “Someone bring me Ahlset.” However, there appeared to be no functionaries or anything in the vicinity. We decided on having Elif and Gunnar see if they could have him come to us. They headed off up the stairs, leaving Darvin, Asakku, and I in the throne room.

“Things have certainly changed here,” I said quietly, glancing at Asakku. “I can only hope that things are still as we left them…”

A few minutes later, Ahlset joined us along with Elif and Gunnar. “Good afternoon,” I said with a smile. “It’s been awhile.”

“Lord Magister,” Darvin said.

“Your Majesty,” Ahlset said, his politeness overwhelming.

“Tell me what has happened since we have been gone?”

“We have wealth, a happy populace, our health is good, the populace is happy… all is well.”

“The vines?” Darvin asked.

“We no longer need outside involvement. We are fully self-sufficient, my king. It is no longer required that we have any means of trade.”

“And the golems?”

“They were… as mentioned. Though they had not been deployed as of yet.”

“And the skeletons?”

“They were dead previously. We did not… add to them by killing anyone.”

Darvin nodded. “I see.”

“We have no need for more—we have plenty of them. They are no longer required, so we do not need to purchase them.”

“I am concerned with the lack of interaction with the outside world.”

“What does that have to offer? I know what it has to offer, and… we no longer find it useful.”
“My final concern, Ahlset. Prior to your release, in the past, you have been aggressive militarily. Are those aspirations still…”

“Ah. When I was a general, I was part of an invading army. As I am now in a defensive position, it is no longer necessary to be so aggressive. Also, there are no elves here to lord over us. Though I will say that I have structured this community based on their cities.”

“Have you heard of the great departure?” he asked, tilting his head.

We raised our brows. “No. What is this?”

“All the heroes of this realm have departed, going east to Black Reach. The community has not heard from them for some time. There is some manner of battle happening back there…”

“More important affairs,” Darvin said, cutting in. “This letter.” He gestured, and I retrieved the letter from the bag of holding and showed it to Ahlset. He looked it over, and I held it before him as he read it.

“I will need to investigate this further. Bring it to my study. I will not touch it. Gold writing on blue paper in Celestial… it’s unlikely to be good for me or for Liches in general.” He tilted his head and then looked to Darvin.

“And this tooth?” he had Elif show Ahlset the tooth.

“It is a tooth.”

“It has some powerful magic on it,” Darvin said to Ahlset. “Nercromantic in nature, I suspect.”

“Perhaps after the letter is dealt with. If you could leave it with me…”

“I’d rather not do that,” Elif said, frowning. “It was expensive, and…”

I interjected. “There is time to consider that. Perhaps we should look in to the letter while Elif considers that decision.”

“It will take three days for me to examine the letter, I expect.”

“Unfortunately… there has been a change in government, as they say. Most of them have retired from the settlement. Most of them left after the change in labor force… I will…” he looked around. “I will be quite blunt. Most of them are fairly useless who attend to their jobs as is necessary but do not stand out in any extraordinary way. Your spymaster still does send people out of the forested area to keep touch with the outside world.”

“Charr Henley has been… invaluable in that way. He had many contacts we have since found use for… Though I imagine most spymasters have similar contacts.”

Darvin and Ahlset discussed some matters of state and arranged to have passage into the forest to seek out the unicorn. He returned to his business, leaving us alone in the throne room. We agreed to make Elif and Gunnar aides, who had investiture of their power.

Darvin returned, saying he needed a virgin. I sighed. I knew that medusa thing would come back on me. Asakku, on the other hand, reluctantly admitted his status. I wasn’t sure if the medusa counted, since…

We found a grove full of unicorns, though as we approached they fled into the woods when we approached the unicorns. We waited for awhile, though nothing returned. Eventually, we left Asakku in the grove and waited separately.

Eventually, they returned, and Asakku acquired the hair after telling them it was to save a life, though they weren’t impressed with him overall. We returned to Whitehorn successful if still uncertain.

After a quiet few days, Ahlset called us forward to discuss the letter. Indeed, the letter would cure Darvin, but whoever supplied the second drop of blood would receive a curse. Perhaps not the same curse, but a curse. The letter appeared infernal in nature, either way.

We left my squire in Whitehorn and travelled north to the place Dimweir died, seeking the vampire responsible for his death. I roared, “Come out and fucking face me!”
It didn’t take long before three robed figures came out. “Ah, you’ve come to fail again, have you?” the judge said, smirking.

“No. But I have come again.”

Darvin lifted his hand, growling out a curse. A fireball arced from his hand toward the vampires, landing in the center of their small formation. The two lesser vampires shrieked, twisting and writing in pain, though not collapsing. Yet.

Asakku rushed forward, hopping down the stairs before ramming his spear into one of the lesser vampire’s throat. It crumpled, grasping ineffectually at the spear before jerking and going still.

Elif drew Saga and crept forward.

Drawing in a breath, Gunnar spat acid toward the Judge, splashing it across his chest.
One of the two vampires turned to stare at Asakku, and I could see his focus shift, change. His body tensing as he fought it and then relaxing as the hold gained purchase.

My chest tightened, and I snarled. I stepped forward, calling forth the power of Bahamut. It roared through me, and both vampires burst into flames. The Judge roared and snarled at me, his flesh turning black and curling under the force of my fury.

Stepping up to my left, Darvin threw his hand out, and fire curled toward the vampire again, though this time it was bright crimson, casting eerie, wavering shadows on the walls and ceiling.

Asakku rammed his spear into the vampire’s chest, making it let out a hoarse shriek, thrashing.

Elif jumped in, grabbing the vampire and wrestling with him. I pulled the letter out, handing it to Darvin, who dug his claws into his forearm. Blood poured onto the letter, and his name scrawled on the bottom. Seeing this, I yelled, “Wait!”

It was too late. Darvin raked his claws across the vampire’s neck, his hand poised over the contract. Gunnar rushed forward, thrusting Darvin’s hand into the contract with the vampire’s blood on the claw.

The sign, “Alaraz Scourgebane” appeared at the bottom of the page.

Gunnar snarled and spat acid at the monster again, missing.

Taking his opportunity, the vampire faded, swirling into a gaseous form, slinking off toward the door. As it passed me, Assaku stabbed his spear into the cloud, freezing it before my sword shattered the mist into nothing, and it faded toward the ground.

I walked over to Elif and healed the leprosy beginning to take hold of her system. “That felt a little anticlimactic, and I’m unsure about that letter. I am worried we may have angered a devil.”

Session Twenty-One

In the midst of my rant, a crack of lightning distracted us. Darvin arrived on the sand, looking disoriented but whole. He smiled, glad to see us, though the expression vanished when he saw Gunnar. “Who the blazes are you?”

We explained what happened in the interim while he had been imprisoned.

The group spent the next two days on the beach, waiting for Saltscale. He arrived, dragging a large, clanking chain. He snarled at the Kobolds, who started dragging something up out of the sea with a chain. He gave us a rather satisfied look.
It took hours. A rather ridiculously large container about the size of most serf’s homes came onto the sand. The dragon perched on the container and opened it. “You may each take one thing from within.”

“What of Darvin?” Asakku asked.

The dragon peered at him and shrugged. “Well enough.”
Inside his treasure trove, there were grand riches, though he had offered us each one thing. Spotting a large, well-crafted tower shield, I hefted it. I didn’t know if I wanted it, really, but… out of all of the things in there (including a canopied bed…) it was the only thing that interested me.

Elif pounced on a rather attractive dress in crimson with gold trim. “Ooh! This was made for me!” she chirped.

Gunnar snatched one of the gems (a crystalberyl, I believe), and Asakku took another gem. Darvin plucked a wand from the treasure hoard.

We left the vault, and Gunnar murmured under his breath to Darvin. “Hey, can you tell us what kind of dragon Saltscale is?”

“Brine dragon, I think,” he responded. “Breathes acid.”

We bade farewell to the dragon and travelled north through the free baronies surrounding the City of 1,000 Nights. We skirted around the City, avoiding notice, and eventually reached the edge of the Emerald Hills. Beautiful, verdant grasslands stretched before us covering rolling hills. Halfling towns dotted the landscape as we travelled.

We didn’t tarry as we headed toward the capitol. Upon reaching it, we found it to be little more than a large town. Lionel led us to the mead hall and inside. The hall felt warm in a way. Comfortable. Furs and rugs covered the floors with pillows lying on comfortable looking benches and chairs. A strong, perfumed scent filled the air, mixed with a scent of tobacco.

Off to the side a large, for a halfling, man sat on a staff wearing a ridiculously large hat jumped down from his perch. Lionel approached him, and the two embraced heartily. The man in the hat held him close for a long while before releasing him to go visit his siblings.

The halfling approached us, his hat covering his eyes and a hand wiping away a tear.

“Hello,” Darvin said with a broad smile. “I take it that Lionel is an acquaintance?”

“Hm? Oh. Yes. More than. He is my son.”

Darvin nodded. “Oh, oh yes. I am touched and glad to have been able to return him to you.”

“Indeed, you are always welcome here in my hall.”

“In the process of rescuing him, we incurred many… debts.”

The man waved his pipe. “I understand; I understand. But there is far too much joy today to deal with that. We shall throw you a festival. This must go down in legend,” he said. “You must stay here in the hall, I think. We have accommodations for folk of your,” he looked us up and down, “size.”

“Oh! I can wear my dress!” Elif grinned. Well… at least there was that.

We spent a week in Emerald Hills enjoying the company and hospitality of the Halflings. During that week…

• Darvin discovered the dwarven hold in this part of the world has been disconnected from the dwarven highway. However, during the revels, he imbibed far too much alcohol and smoked far too much pipeweed. When he came to, he realized he had made some strange deals with the diplomats regarding the island near the Golden Kingdom and convincing them to allow outsiders. They now expected us to make good on that… somehow… someday.

• Asakku got to talking about the stone he acquired from the dragon. Thanks to his information, we learned the value of all the items we gained.

• Through the festivities and increasing peer pressure from the Halflings and a very drunken Darvin who all but forced liquor down my throat and Lionel who encouraged me to indulge in pipeweed, I wound up made an idiot of myself over Dimweir’s death. One of the so-called nobles of a family of the area, tried to console me, and by the end of the week I had agreed to take his son on as new squire, named Ser Dudley Shortstack—a halfling dog knight.

• Gunnar drank far, far too much. More than any of us. He wavered back and forth between giddy and miserable at his new form and indulged far too heavily in the available substances. He found himself with a group of Halflings in with pipeweed smoking it up. One of the Halflings guided him away from the party and made him this cup of “tea.” He said it would give him the craziest dreams he’d ever had. After imbibing it, he passed out for a time. In that dream, he went on an epic quest in his old body. He ran and he ran, falling eventually into this deep cave. As he fell, he saw humans mining in a deep cave. As it deepened, the humans became dwarves, and the lights flashed and blurred. In the bottom, he found himself underwater. He surfaced, finding himself in a cave with a pickaxe before him. He seized it and began to mine. The world shifted in liquid Technicolor, and he dug into a green wall. The wall crumbled, and a dwarven sage reached out for his hand from atop a cliff. The sage pulled him up and embraced him as he woke, leaving him with a sense of belonging and… nauseated as well.

• Elif, too, fell victim to the drink and pipeweed. Her dress drew much attention, eclipsing her poor skill at conversation and awkward manner. By the end of the week, a halfling had made advances on her, and she had fallen for it. In the end, she wound up part of a marriage to a halfling named Helmy Goldleaf, a brilliant bard. Even after sobering, her new husband still found himself besotted with her.

At the end of the festival, we gathered ourselves to leave. As we prepared to leave, the leader approached us with a cart full of goods and a mule. Elif’s husband also joined us with a small covered wagon carrying all his belongings.

From there we travelled north until we reached the edges of the region and could travel along the shore, travel through the forest, or take a ferry. We elected to travel through the forest and soon regretted it. We struggled along through to evening, finally finding ourselves near a large cave opening by a stream.

Gunnar studied the ground. “There are large animals here. Look like they’re foraging.”
Asakku approached, crouching down and studying the prints. “Feline. Bigger than anything I’ve ever seen.”

“Victory goes to the bold,” Darvin said. “Life is full of risk!”

“…That’s how you got leprosy,” I replied, giving him a look.

He shrugged. “Well, you could stay at home in a rocker by the fire or…”

I rolled my eyes and sighed.

Gunnar approached a berry bush and began speaking to it in a very… familiar manner. “Dear, sweet berry bush… what creatures live in this area?” He fell silent for a moment and appeared to listen.

He turned to us. “Whatever is in there is larger than the bush, but smaller than the tree. And the bush remembered something leaving the cave last.”

We thanked him, and then Asakku prepared to go inside. While we waited, Gunnar decided to pour some of that strange tea he’d brought into the roots of the tree, which quivered and began turning strange colors along the veins of the leaves.

“Why?” I asked, raising a brow at Gunnar.

“I talk to the trees. People don’t even know. I wonder what they dream about…”

Asakku grunted and slunk into the cave. He returned, telling us that he’d found a female and two cubs inside. A massive cave lion. We elected to avoid the den, letting the babies live on with their mother.

Several hours later, in the complete dark, we found ourselves in a sparse swamp full of dead trees. We didn’t find a way around, really, though we discovered a way through the swamp. The way wandered back and forth. About halfway through the swamp, a massive, six-legged dragon emerged from the water with a tremendous splash and snarled at us.

Darvin, from a rock beside the path, launched a fireball at the beast, the swamp gasses around it igniting. We could feel the heat of the inferno on our skin as the swamp around us continued to burn. Dudly, from in front of me, roared out in fury and charged forward, his dog barking in a thunderous manner. The dragon slipped to the side, barely avoiding the attack with a snarl on its foul face.

Asakku rushed forward, and the dragon snapped at him as he went by, dragging its sharp teeth along his arm and drawing blood from the deep cuts. Asakku growled, thrusting at the creature with his spear, trying to drive it off. Elif followed him, stabbing the creature with Saga, her halberd/shovel.

Gunnar made a snarling sound behind me, and then a massive snake slithered into the water, swimming toward the dragon. Gunnar then stepped back and hunkered down behind the wagon. Helmy whispered into his hand, chuckling, and the dragon began laughing, curling over itself in amusement. I stepped into the swamp and swung at it, though I missed as I sunk into the swamp up past my greaves.

Darvin slammed a spell into the creature, causing it to waver midair, its flight now halfhearted and weak. My squire, Dudley, stabbed his lance into the ground and drew a longsword, standing on his mount’s back, twisting the sword over his head to try and end the conflict right then and there. He leaped into the air, and the sword buried itself into the dragon’s back, and he held on, his expression startled. Asakku moved up beneath the beast and stabbed into its gut with his spear, ripping it free only to drive it in again.

The dragon screamed, twisting midair in pain as blood poured down the spear, and the dragon slid downward onto the spear, sagging to the ground. Dudley sunk into the muck to his chin, and I reached down, grabbing him by the back of the armor and wrenching him free. We felt something metallic beneath our feet and fished out a great deal of wealth from the muck.

As we continued, we realized the month had changed over, spring continuing to push back the face of winter here in the wood. After the battle and the recovery of the dragon’s treasure, we set up camp for the evening and arranged a watch schedule. Asakku and I agreed to set up two shifts, with me on first and Asakku on second.

Darvin shook me awake, and I groaned. “What’s going on?”

“Something. Might be swamp gas, might be nothing.”

I looked around and then gasped, almost collapsing to my knees as pain erupted up my back as two blades drove into my flesh near my kidneys. I jumped forward, saving myself from a swift, bloody death, though that didn’t save me from the agony, and I collapsed to my knees.

Asakku looked around, his eyes wide and wild, though he didn’t act as though he saw anything. Helmy stood atop the cart, lifting his hand, and a burst of light emanated from his fingertips. I saw something that looked like a shadow, but… nothing I could follow through my pain. Elif headed toward her husband, watching the shadows.

Dudley squinted into the darkness but got his sword hilt stuck in his armor. I took the moment to rise and focus on my faith. The pain faded, and some of the bleeding slowed.

Gunnar shifted into a tiger and snarled, gesturing behind me with his paw.

The dog Dudley rode sniffed the air and growled, running toward the edge of the path with its hackles raised. Darvin muttered something, and a fireball erupted in the night, casting light and shadows across the swamp. A humanoid shape appeared aflame, though it disappeared when it turned right. Steam hissed up around me, and I charged toward the faint outline of the creature and swung my sword in its direction, though I hit nothing.

Gunnar thrust his hand out, and both myself and the one who stabbed me became illuminated in brilliant violet flames. It didn’t hurt, but it did look rather interesting. A second later, a portal opened, and the beast stepped into it. We heard the sound of the portal close around it, and then the sound of it opening again somewhere nearby.

After several more moments of tense silence, Darvin lit the area with fire again, calling out that he saw the creature we faced slinking toward us in the muck. Summoning my will, I growled. “Come and fight me, you coward,” I roared, sending my will out toward the thing in the muck, trying to force him to come out of the muck and face me. Which, of course, would draw him through the center of all of my companions.

It staggered for a second, leaning toward me before it vanished into another one of those damn portals. I heard the sound of the portal behind me, and I turned to face him. The scent of the creature washed over me, and I had a chance to see what the hell it was. The beast had faded gray flesh with fine, black clothes. He almost looked like he was made of paper. As he moved, his form blurred, making him harder to see. Of course, I didn’t have much of a chance to perceive any of that before he moved in so close our breaths combined and rammed two short blades into my gut, tearing downward and ripping them out of me.

Asakku charged up toward me and thrust his spear into the space the creature was, though it turned sideways and seemed to disappear. Helmy hurled a rock at the creature, though it just seemed to bounce off and fall into the water. Elif moved between us and slashed the creature in half with her halberd, causing it to part down the center like parchment.

I sagged, filling myself with healing energy, though I only managed to close the wounds rather than heal them in totality.

I hate everything.

Session Twenty

After a short time of travel, we reached the town of Flueria. It was an agrarian community with a small port, which mostly had fishing vessels and a single merchant ship at dock. In the evening, we played cards.

At some point in the evening, Gunnar and Elif turned their heads, sniffing. A few hands later, however, a stranger in a nice, black robe with a neatly-trimmed black goatee and well-groomed man joined us, taking our cards in his hands. We played several more rounds, and he lost a fair amount of money—mostly to me.

“You are quite the competition,” he said with a sly smile. “How would you like to up the odds?”

We looked at each other and then back at him. “In what way?” Asakku asked.

“Well, I heard you are trying to save your sick friend.”

Asakku’s eyes narrowed. “And how did you hear this?”

“News spreads,” he said with a slow smile. “It’s in my interest if you move quickly, and you have more important deeds to do. Perhaps we can make a deal.”

He then laid out a deal, offering to heal our friend at the risk of one of us to go to hell with him. He spent quite some time trying to convince us to play games in exchange for prizes of dubious nature. Lionel was about to accept some terrible offer when I did the only thing I could think of: I punched him in the head and knocked him out cold.

Elif just sort of stared at me for a long while and then shook her head. The devil then walked off into the darkness, thinking we couldn’t see him. He then glanced over his shoulder and walked into a tree, probably expecting us to be terrified of him.

I let out a relieved breath as soon as he was gone, and we spent the rest of the night in quiet after that. In the morning, we approached the merchant captain, Captain Sylvanus, to see if we could book passage with him up north. He agreed, and we boarded his ship and greeted his small crew.

At some point, we decided to rest, though we were woken by the bell calling general quarters. An air of tension filled the ship, and the crew talking around us. Gunnar told us the Watch had spotted something in the distance. As soon as we reached the deck, we saw the crew arming themselves. A dense fog wrapped around us, and the man at the bow bellowed that they’d seen one in the mist, there were eyes.

The hair on my arms stood up, and Asakku warned to everyone to take cover.

The crew huddled close to one another, taking cover the best they could. Elif glanced at the man who spoke, asking him what he’d seen. “I could have sworn seeing a man in the mist with icy blue eyes, but it’s gone now…”

From the mist, we saw humanoid figures appear in the fog. They came and went like the fog itself, though their piercing blue eyes stared through us, unblinking. One of the figures—the one on the port side of the ship—raised its hands. A loud crack split the air as lightning split the mist, tearing through several of the sailors. They shrieked in surprised agony. Before we had the chance to respond the other creature attacked in quick succession.

“Get to the port side, men,” the captain bellowed from behind us. I stepped forward, trying to call on the powers invested in me by Bahamut to banish the undead creatures, though nothing happen. Not undead then. Great.

Asakku rushed past me, stabbing at the creature with the head of his spear. He penetrated it, but the static in the air gathered before crackling down the shaft of his weapon and into him, drawing a pained grunt. A moment later, they pulled away before refocusing and hurling lightning down at the crew.

The crew and us all swarmed to the front of the ship, trying to reach the beasts to attack them. Asakku lunged forward, sending flame out into the beast. It hissed, dissipating into nothing and vanishing into the fog.

The remaining monster snarled, unleashing a bolt of lightning that struck just about everyone on the crew. I fell back, knowing I could not engage the beast, and instead focused on healing the wounded. It didn’t take much longer for Elif to dispatch the remaining mist creature. The crew survived, thanks to their quick work and my healing intervention.
Captain Sylvanus thanked us, waving our fee and telling us we were always welcome on his ship.

About a week later, we spent time getting to know the crew, learning they were skilled at their craft as well as at healing. I had many good conversations with them about different techniques and methods. We celebrated the new year aboard the vessel and enjoyed drinks and companionship.

“So… guys, I wanna say something,” a rather drunk Elif said, gesturing us over to the edge of the ship.

We congregated around her. “So… Saga was the one who saved Gunnar.” I raised a brow. “He needs something in return.”


“It wants a square mile of land.”

“… To do what with?”

Elif shrugged.

I couldn’t tell you what a shovel would want with a mile of land, but… we agreed to provide it if we could. Eight days later, we discovered ourselves in a doldrums, the sun beating down on us, and the air not moving so much as a breath.

A wave slammed over the decks, and a dragon about the size of a horse burst from the waters, landing on the decks with a roar. A blue-green neck frill led down the back of its head and neck, its sea-colored body glittered in the light. “You seem to be stuck here,” it said in Common.

“Indeed,” I said, nodding.

“Well… in exchange, for helping you leave this area… I would ask you to lead me to an easily-conquered land. A place I could rule.”

“And your intentions for this are?”

The dragon snorted. “My patience grows thin. Do you want help or not?”

I stared at the creature, reaching out toward it with my senses of evil. It did not read as such, but I remained cautious. I told the others, who readily agreed to the dragon’s demands. I sat on the steps, rubbing the bridge of my nose.

“What is your name, dragon friend?” Elif asked, grinning at the creature.

“I am called Saltscale,” it said, bowing its head in a polite manner.

“Pleasure to meet you,” she said, still smiling.

I knew I was going to regret this. I just knew it. Nonetheless, the dragon helped us reach our destination (an area just short of the City of 1,000 Nights) in a short time. When we reached shore, making port at Baronsfort—a small hamlet with no berths for large vessels—we saw maybe ten or so buildings scattered about, some farms in the distance.

“Does this suffice your needs for a land?” I asked the dragon, hating every word that left my mouth.

“Yes. Go conquer it for me.”

I turned to stare at him. “That was not part of our arrangement.”

“The first part of leadership is delegation.”

I rolled my eyes and tried to ignore the incoming headache. Elif piped up, discussing the idea of taking over Southport. I rejected the entire notion because doing such a thing would be treason, and I didn’t want to be hung for such a thing.

The dragon perked up, offering us a reward for conquering the hamlet and taking care of the vampires ‘for him.’ I groaned.

“Well, what if we found a logging town and recruited people and…” I stopped listening and just walked away. Again? AGAIN!? NOT AGAIN!

The others started discussing logistics of taking over Southport, and I just sunk down against one of the crates with my hands over my face. Not again.

Eventually, we decided to settle the dragon in a hamlet of kobolds where they would worship him as a god. We found out about a nearby community of the beasts that were in deck to be stomped by some local heroes. Elif charged off in that direction, and I reluctantly followed. Saltscale circled above us in wide, lazy circles.
Why me?

We headed off in that direction and soon came upon an abandoned bandit encampment. We paused to study the encampment, but we didn’t linger there. Soon, we approached a village with a small keep at the center of it. “It’s there!” Elif said, pointing toward the keep. Gunnar shapeshifted into a dog to check out the place first, since we expected going plunging in there with a dragon in tow might surprise and terrify folk in the village.

He returned, telling us that there was a sinkhole in the midst of the town, from which led a few tunnels. The Keep was quite modest and looked like it might only have a few rooms each level, and it was three stories high. People and life continued onward in the village.

We looked upward to try and warn Saltscale not to enter the village, but when we checked he was gone. When we approached the town, we learned that the kobolds were indeed to blame for the sinkhole. They had dispatched some heroes to handle the kobolds off to the east, and we caught up with them swiftly.

One was a mage in a blue robe, carrying a rather ornate spear, and finally a middle-aged man with a black bear walking beside him, a beautiful bow slung across his back. The final man was wearing a rather gorgeous and impressive set of leather armor with a cloak slung over one shoulder. At his hip was a dueling sword of fine make that glittered in the sun.

As usual, we settled on me being the one who approached to talk. “Ho, friends,” I called, approaching them. They paused, turning to face us. They looked weary and grizzled from a life of battle.

I tried to convince them that we were going to take Gunnar on a mission to try and salt him up a little. They didn’t fall for it, and the ranger just… stared at us, his expression cold and unchanging. Eventually we broke down and told them exactly what the hell was going on.

They looked at one another, nodded, fist bumped, and took off ahead of us. We joined them, engaging in conversation on the way. We eventually reached a hole in the center of the field, small enough that getting down there would be difficult. I suggested that Gunnar shift forms and head down there to see if he could find his way down if there were any down there. He vanished down into the earth.

He returned after some time, reporting a warren down there. Elif squinted, then pointed upwards. “There he is.” She used her torch and shovel to signal Saltscale, who began his descent.

The dualist pointed. “Do you see that?”

“That would be the dragon,” I said with a sigh.

“Dragon?” the ranger said, growling under his breath.

“Yes, dragon. I told you about it.”

“I didn’t think you were serious… I hate dragons.”

I snorted. “Yeah. But… here we are.”

Saltscale landed with a huff. “Have you made progress, friends?” he asked. Friends. I sighed.
“There is a kobold warren beneath us,” I said, pointing at the hole nearby. “Perhaps you should call out to them.”

The sorcerer rolled his eyes. “I could have done that,” he muttered under his breath.

The dragon called to them, snarling something down one of the holes. A short time later, the first kobold stumbled out, followed by another, and then a whole swarm. The dragon growled to them, and they chattered in response. The dragon smiled. “Yes, this shall do. This shall do nicely. Now. About that hamlet.”

The ranger eyed us, raising a brow.

“No,” I said. “We have found you a people to rule over, and you are going to take them from here where they shall be safe, and you shall have your kingdom. That is enough.”

“I was under the impression…”

“You were wrong,” I snapped, glaring at the dragon, who frowned in response.

“Mm.” The dragon huffed. “I see.”

“I am done running errands for you. We have more important things to do than do your bidding.”

“And yet here you are,” he said with a sly grin.

“Not of my volition.”

“I assumed you were all of one mind.”

“We are not. And we do not belong to you!”

The dragon snorted. “Very well. Bring my new people to my lands.” He then took off and flew toward the ocean without a further word.

I stared after him, gritting my teeth so hard I could swear I heard something crack in my jaw. Fine. Fine, fine, fine. We herded the damn kobolds to the sea where they frolicked about like children. Eventually, Saltscale appeared, claiming he’d negotiated with the hamlet and that we were to bring the kobolds there.

I find myself sick of being the errand boy of creatures whose motivations I do not share. And being forced to do so by the rest of the group. I often regret leaving the cloisters of my order. We spent the night at the hamlet while Saltscale presumably went to collect the reward for the group. He’d already arranged sending someone to fetch supplies for building.

Gunnar snorted. “I think a certain paladin owes us an apology.”

“I owe you nothing,” I spat. “Just because he does something beneficial does not make this a good idea.”

“We’ll see.”

“No.” I threw my hands up. “We will not see. We will be several hundred miles away to the north and never return here. We will have no way of knowing how this turns out. None whatsoever!”

Session Nineteen

The beard had a bright, fiery beard and a bald head, looking rather younger than Gunnar had. The dwarf, Gunnar, stirred a little. “I feel strange,” he mumbled.

“You look strange, too,” I commented.

The other two were suspicious, but after a short time, we became certain that Gunnar was himself. He wrapped himself in his clothing, and we left the prison cell block to speak to the Warden, who seemed rather surprised to see us and even more surprised that Gunnar had changed form. Nonetheless, he paid us (1,589pp paid).

A fair bit richer, we departed the prison, heading for the docks. Shipping was, as we had seen before, was at a standstill due to a bone ship situation being titled the most dangerous thing to have happened on the seas. We agreed to hook onto a caravan heading north to the next port city in order to take a ship from there.

When we found a caravan, we arranged to meet them later in the day and prepared ourselves for the trip, purchasing a wand of Cure Moderate Wounds and several potions of the same to ensure our safety. Darvin had still not returned from his captivity, something that concerned me. But, perhaps it was best for now that he not be suffering more than necessary.

As we wandered through the city, I remembered vaguely some sort of thing happening between Port LeMort and the City of a Thousand Nights. Involving elves. Though I couldn’t remember what. Perhaps in the Emerald hills? It had been some time since I heard the news, and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember more.

I also commented to the others that we should probably investigate the source of our tattoos—when we had completed the quest to save our friend, Darvin.

We joined up with a textiles caravan heading north to the next town and from there they were heading to the capital. They paid us two gold and a silver each to act as caravan guards without food up the coast.

During the trip, we heard a general alarm go up as several peasants came down the road past us, screaming, “They came from the sea; they came from the sea!”

Up ahead, I heard some strange roaring followed by a crack of lightning originating at the ground and several shapes swirling across the earth. Alerting our superiors, we warned them to stay where they were. The eight other caravan guards desired to follow, claiming we were attempting to steal their glory and their money. Instead of allowing them to follow us to what I believed to be certain death, I paid them each a gold piece to protect the caravan while we went on ahead to see what lay beyond.

A short way down the road, we discovered several strange sea serpent/dragon hybrid monstrosities destroying a cart and eating the oxen. Elif and Asakku rushed forward to engage the monsters, followed by Gunnar. I hung back for a moment, watching the creatures to try and decide the best course of action.

One of the beasts moved closer, rearing back and launching a ball of lightning toward Elif and Gunnar with a shriek. Elif stepped to the side, and the lightning clipped her side and arced from her to Gunnar. Another swooped around behind Asakku, trying to sink its teeth into him.

Choosing the one nearest me, I stomped over and attacked it with my falchion. The beast snarled in discomfort as my sword slid along its scales. It fled, moving a short distance away and spitting lightning at me. Pain screamed through my muscles, and I held my sword tightly as the electricity shrieked through me. I chased the creature down, slamming my sword into it a second time.

It didn’t take much longer to kill them, though last one screamed something in Draconic and fled into the sea.

After that, we cleared the road of the remains of the wagon and oxen carcasses. The caravan then continued on the next day after camping overnight. We played cards and told stories—the usual campfire fare.

The next evening, after a quiet day of travel, a scream came from several carts behind us. I turned my head, seeing a warg launching itself at one of the caravan guards. I leaped down from the wagon and immediately engaged, hearing my travelling companions doing so around me.

The wargs tore into the caravan guards, ripping them apart. The men and women around us screamed in pain and fear, some screams ending with the sudden silence of death while others dragged on into the terrible moans of the doomed. By the time the battle ended, several of them had died, though a few remained breathing, covered in blood.

While Asakku and Elif gutted and skinned the creature, I healed those who needed it and helped set up camp. The pair returned, excitedly chatting about the scrolls and wands they found in the guts of the wolves. I found it rather horrifying, but they were pleased with it at least. Enough for me.

Session Eighteen

“What’s one day in the most amazing city we have ever been to?” Elif said, grinning.

“…Fine.” I sighed and shook my head. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her smile so widely. She then scurried off into the city.

I spent the day selling off the things we picked up in the Underdark while Elif and Gunnar went out and about to find… whatever it was Elif wanted here. I couldn’t fathom what anyone might want in this place. The whole place unsettled me, to be honest.

Following selling everything off, I headed to the docks to investigate a trip up north, though the sailors all whispered rumors of a bone ship which seemed to stymie travel plans. When I returned, I met up with the others at the tavern near the inn we were staying at. Somehow, Gunnar had sustained a rather terrible wound to his shoulder, which I healed. The locals were talking about a kill identified as the Blood Hand Killer. He tore them apart, and while the city would have liked him alive, they would take him dead also. He’d struck in the district the last night—in the alley behind the Wilted Flower. By that time, Lionel had retired, and we left him to rest while we headed to the Wilted Flower.

When we arrived, we learned the killer had struck again. A prostitute lay sprawled in the alley. Her neck had been broken, and the killer shoved something blunt into the trachea and used that to leverage their tear of her body. The neck had been broken postmortem, so the girl had been alive when the killer brutalized her. My stomach tightened a little, though I had seen so much death in my life that I retained my composure with little effort. Though the idea of someone doing this to another disturbed me just as much now as it would have when I were younger.

“He used something blunt. And she was alive,” I said. “He didn’t use a weapon—he did this with his hands. I’m not entirely sure whoever did this was human.”

“It happened in the last two hours. The blood hasn’t even coagulated yet.”

Gunnar nodded and went to knock on a few windows. When he returned, he told us people told him they heard someone running down the street and directed us in that general direction.

“The killer went west,” Asakku said, rising from where he’d been studying the handprints. He then vanished down the alleyway and returned, telling us about a place that looked like a likely hideout for someone like that. We followed him to the abandoned apartment complex and studied the building. There were multiple entrances, though the door bore a bloody handprint on the frame and on the door itself.

Gunnar shifted into a snake and entered the building to try and locate our quarry without alerting it. A second later, his head appeared out the window and pointed back inside. Well, gestured. He’s a snake.

Asakku shimmied up the outside and entered the building, entering the window near the person we sought. As soon as I thought he was ready, I lifted a booted foot and kicked down the door with a bellow, my sword out and gleaming in the late afternoon sun.

The man on the floor above me bellowed, and life around us stopped for a breath before everyone—human or animal—in our vicinity fled. I use the term “man” loosely. He was a hunched, hulking beast of a man dressed in rags.

Elif slunk past me into the gloom of the room, and I reached up to grasp the edge of the hole and yank, wrenching on the rotted wood of the hole. Flooring tumbled around me, and the man let out a surprised bellow as he landed on the floor in front of me, bleeding, and with a rather large snake wrapped around his legs. The snake hissed in an irritated fashion before slithering up the man’s body and wrapping around him to hold him still.

Asakku jumped down from above, driving an elbow into the creature’s face, knocking him to the ground and rendering him unconscious. He then rose and hurried off to fetch the city watch. While Asakku sought the watch, Elif, Gunnar, and I tied him up. Following that, Elif headed upstairs to see what might be around the area.

The watch arrived, and the man in charge saluted us. “We’ll take it from here. Where are you staying?”

“The Smiling Skull,” Elif said with a huge grin. She’d been far too excited about that place. The sign had a smiling skull over a moon, and carved into the sign were the words, “You’ll sleep here forever.”

We returned to the inn and turned in for the night. Lionel got his own room, while the rest of us shared two to a room. It was comfortable enough. Better than what we had in the underdark. Though we only needed two hours of sleep. I think we were, perhaps, not yet accustomed to not needing so much rest. Nor food. Waking up a short time later, I headed off toward the baths to enjoy a soak.

After dawn, I sought out a local cartographer (who called his business “The Corpse Rose”) to learn more about the area and where we were. When I arrived, I realized he seemed to have mostly maps of crypts around the city. He found financial success in mapping the crypts of the families in the area so that when families sent mercenaries to visit the crypts to clear out infestations, watch for squatters, and so on they sent out mercenaries with more information.

After a rather pleasant discussion with him, I headed back to the tavern to meet with the others. When the watchman arrived to pay us, he invited us to watch the Red Handed Killer’s public execution. He killed several hundred people over the last twenty years, so his capture and death had the city rather excited.

The others went to watch the execution, and I stayed at the inn. Elif and Gunnar walked into the tavern talking about the execution and wearing tunics that said, “I watched the Red Handed Killer get executed, and all I got was this lousy tunic.” I was rather unimpressed, but they seemed rather excited about it.

Asakku headed off to see the scholar about his spear and then vanished for the evening. I spent the evening at the tavern doing little enough.

Gunnar and I headed to the docks to see if there were a ship we could find berth on, though the captain of the guard intercepted us. “We need your help again… please.”

“What do you need?” Gunnar asked, raising a brow.

“The body seems to have risen again and is now terrorizing that wing of the prison… could you help us?”

We looked at each other and then nodded and returned to the inn to collect the other two. We then headed to where the Captain said he would meet us. Upon arrival, he led us back to the prison.

The prison looked to me more like a citadel than most prisons I’ve ever seen. The captain explained what he knew of the situation to us and offered five thousand gold to deal with the problem. Well… here we go, I supposed.

Deciding that the door would likely be closed after us, Gunnar turned his staff into a snake, and I put my back into opening the massive iron door a short distance to gain better understanding of the situation and see what lay beyond.

Inside cell block 385, we saw a fresh, skinned corpse with a great deal of damage. The eyes focused on us, and it gurgled in our general direction. The snake slithered in and bit at the corpse, but it smashed the thing pretty well. Asakku shot his crossbow and missed rather dramatically, opening one of the cells. Not that there was anything in it.

Elif fired at him, but missed, and Gunnar sent an acid dart in the monster’s direction. The beast crouched down and scuttled toward us, its entrails dragging across the floor, and its feet slapping the stone with wet, sloppy sounds. A horrible stench rolled over us, and Elif vomited.

The beast leaned forward on its hands and fortified itself, vomiting in a projectile line at Asakku, Gunnar, and I. Bile and horribleness covered my armor, and bone shards slammed into my armor, and cut into my skin, leaving jagged tears.

The monster vomited again, coating Asakku and Gunnar and coating the floor around the door. Raising my bow, I shot an arrow at the monster, burying the arrow into its neck. It let out a thick, wet sound of displeasure. Gunnar cast a spell, pelting him with rocks.

As we hoped, the beast began crawling under the door, and I hit the release lever, slamming the massive door down onto its back, pinning the monster between the iron door and the floor. From beneath the thin slit of the door, one of the intestines slammed out toward me, trying to find purchase on my armor and wrapping around my waist, tightening and crushing my armor into me in a painful manner.

I struggled with the slippery thing, trying to keep the damn thing away from my face. Asakku rushed forward and drove his spear into the thing twice, eliciting snarls. Gunnar followed suit, rushing forward to bury his scimitar into the creature’s back.

The creature released me, and attacked Gunnar with a snarl, raking him with its front fingers. Gunnar let out a startled gasp as the monster disemboweled him and then collapsed to the floor, the life fading from his eyes.

Asakku backed away and fired the crossbow at the beast. Before I could do much of anything, vines grew over and through and around Gunnar, destroying the corpse and, with it, my hopes that we could resurrect him.

“For Gunnar!” I roared, backing off and firing my crossbow, imbuing it with my fury and prayers. The arrow slammed into the monster, destroying one of its arms. With its one remaining arm, he pulled himself free and began crawling across the floor in my direction, leaving a trail of blood and ichor behind him.

I drew my falchion and snarled, waiting for the monster to reach me. When it did, I split the beast’s body in twain, destroying it. I then approached Elif. “Are you all right?” I asked.
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking up at me with sad eyes. “I just… I couldn’t.”

I patted her back. “It’s all right.” I looked over at Gunnar. The vines covering his body had grown wooden and thorny. Sighing, I went over to the corpse and studied it. “It’s a rawbones. Type of undead spawned from torture. Particularly dangerous and usually solitary.”

I walked over toward the vines and studied them when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man in brown sackcloth sneaking away from us. “Hey!” I called out, but he broke into a run, disappearing around the corner.

Rather than chase him, I knelt beside Gunnar’s body and administered funary rites. “This isn’t normal,” I said. Elif sighed and nodded and began trying to remove the vines. I assisted her, hoping to reclaim the body of our fallen friend.

Instead of a corpse, we discovered a dwarf wearing Gunnar’s clothing. The tension got to me, and I fell onto my ass from my knees and began laughing. What a sight that must have been—a bunch of gory folk sitting in the middle of a charnal house studded with vomit and vines, one of them laughing herself into tears.

Session Seventeen

During our rest, Lionel prepared what he assured us was a healing poultice. After he took it, he promptly passed out. When we woke the next morning, he remained unconscious. I rolled my eyes and slung him over my shoulder, carrying him with us.

As we continued, Gunnar stopped us, holding a hand up to forestall us from moving further. “I smell something awful. Death, maybe.”

“Stay here,” Asakku said. “I’ll check ahead.”

He returned a short while later. “There is some type of troll up ahead. I’m not sure we want to face off against this thing.”

I sighed. “This is the best direction to take to get us to the surface so far as I can tell, though we might be able to go around somehow…”

“The way you describe it,” Gunnar said, “it sounds like a rock troll. They are most assuredly not good news.”

Gunnar and Elif started arguing about the best tactic for handling the situation, and I remained silent whilst we considered the possibilities. Gunnar told us it was vulnerable to sunlight—which would turn it to stone—acid, and sound.

Ultimately, we sent Gunnar in as an ant to create a distraction. He skittered along the wall, gathering the creature’s confused attention. Not particularly pleased, the troll pawed at him from below. A second later, fog appeared everywhere followed by the hollow sound of hoofbeats filling the cavern.

A moment later, my heart leaped into my throat as the troll slapped Gunnar where he sat on the wall. Though he retained his footing on the wall, and the troll scowled, wiping its hands off after touching the massive ant.

Asakku, Elif, and I skulked along the back wall of the room while Gunnar fought the troll with the ponies, maneuvering to get away from the attack. Not that I am particularly stealthy. I don’t particularly regret it, however, since most of my time is spent smiting creatures of darkness and evil.

However, the troll heard me and vanished into the fog. Gunnar chirped repeatedly, sounding to me like a call for help. I asked Asakku to come take the unconscious man so I could go help, but he just stared at me, his expression unimpressed. Elif glanced back at me, scowling. “I’ve worked with Gunnar for years. That’s not a call for help. Besides, we need to get the unconscious man out of here. We can’t protect him from that thing if we engage it.”

I grit my teeth and growled, running toward the opening at the other end of the cave without a word. Elif was right, of course—assuming no one took the unconscious Lionel from me. As I arrived at the mouth of the next cave, I saw Gunnar drop off the wall to land beside Elif who smiled a little and saluted him with her halberd.

As I watched over my shoulder, a hand emerged from the fog and raked across one of the ponies. It shrieked behind me, but we didn’t stop to see what happened. Besides, they were summoned creatures anyway, not true animals.

Once we were certain we were far enough away from the troll, I healed Gunnar a little. We spent the next day climbing upwards. At the end of the day, we reached a dropoff and found flat purchase. Around us, we saw two lamps held by statues of humanoids. As we moved forward, we could see statues posed as though sword fighting, some looked like they were seated around the table playing cards.

Asakku pointed up ahead. “There’s light up ahead.”

Gunnar sniffed a few times. “I smell incense.”

Elif nodded. “I recognize it. It’s expensive.”

Gunnar walked over to the statues and studied them. “Their facial expressions seem… forced. They are not particularly happy, are they.”

The statutes were exceptionally realistic, suggesting either great workmanship or… I shuddered at the notion. “I’m not sure these are statutes.” I sighed and rubbed the back of my neck.

“The last stone people we saw attacked us,” Elif said. “I vote we toss them down the incline.”
“I’m not sure I… want to do that. If these are people who were forced into this position, perhaps they could be restored.” I walked over to the men at the table and studied their positions and dress. I recognized them as nobility, though their crests and arms didn’t identify them to me. Squires or knights, perhaps, but none of the major houses of Greyreach. Their clothing was perhaps within the last forty years.

Asakku walked over to the warriors and studied them. “They don’t look like they’re forced like the others are. I think they actually have been fighting whatever it was that turned them into statues.

“Mirrors?” Gunnar said, looking at me.

I laughed. “Shiny tits to the rescue,” I said, looking down at my chest. I then walked up to the entryway, watching my progress in the mirrored shine of my breastplate. The others filled in spaces around the entrance, watching my armor.

The room beyond was filled with expensive and very fine carpets. A barrel filled with some sort of liquid sat to the side. Straight ahead was a statue of a nude man holding two incense burners. Off to my left were men holding trays of grapes and olives. The whole area near the men was filled with silken pillows at the center of which sat a hookah on a table.

Elif crept forward to the barrel with Asakku and Gunnar and peered inside while I made my way over to the man with the incense burner.

“It’s lamp oil,” Gunnar said, glancing back at me.

From the den of pillows, a beautiful woman wearing clothing that looked like it belonged in a harem from the City of 1,000 Nights. She extended a hand and took some grapes from a tray. “Who is here?”

“Pardon me, my lady. We do not mean to intrude. We are just trying to get to the surface and home.”

“Hm. You must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Why don’t you stay here with me for a time and tarry?”

I glanced at the others. “Take Lionel, I’ll stay with her and entertain her for a time.”

Gunnar retreated after nodding.

“Might I ask about your statue collection? It’s exquisite. I’ve not seen its like.”

“Come here, and we shall talk. I will tell you all about it.” She said, her back still to us.

I approached her rugs and engaged in discussion with her, remaining cautiously polite.

“A pity,” she said, with a smile, “There is only one true beauty among you.” She stared at me, trying to meet my eyes. The sensation made me feel cold and stiff. I looked away, breaking the feeling as I took a slow breath.

The others moved away, heading for the exit, and I reached forward, cupping the medusa’s face in a hand. I then kissed her. The medusa slid her hand into my hair as we kissed. When it broke, she pulled away, whispering, “I know you’re lying.” She then tried to sink her teeth into my neck, her teeth clattering against my gorget.

I grabbed the back of her neck and pulled her face into my armor. “I didn’t have to go this way,” I said, my voice low.

“Who’s to say it’s not going to go your way?” she whispered, her tongue flicking out and catching my ear.

I could hear the others moving around the room, but my attention remained on the medusa. “Drop your weapons. Stay. Be my pet. I will let the others go and be free,” she murmured as she squirmed. I’m sure it would have been pleasant if I weren’t wearing armor, but I couldn’t feel a bit of it. Through my armor, I could feel the heat of magic as her necklace became hotter against my breastplate.

I said nothing in reply.

She wriggled gain, trying to gain purchase on my armor. “It wouldn’t be so bad. I’m quite skillful…”

I didn’t let go. Instead, I slid my free hand down her back and squeezed her butt. “I won’t stay here forever, but I could give you a hell of a night,” I murmured, trying to keep her distracted.

“… Fine.” She sighed and went limp in my grip.

I didn’t release her. “Do you swear not to turn me to stone?”

“Yes, yes. I won’t turn you to stone. Fine.”

“Do you swear it?”

A grumble. “Fine. Fine. But if I’m not turning you to stone, they must leave. The surface is over that way through the door. They can meet you there.”

“Very well.” I said, glancing at the others. They returned my expression rather concerned, though they adhered to my recommendation and left.

Despite my objection to the company, the night passed rather pleasantly enough. Though I never imagined losing my virginity to a monster. The next morning, she gave me a gold necklace with a huge diamond in the center. “There may be more if you return,” she murmured, leaving a lingering kiss on my lips.

I smiled a little. “Perhaps someday,” I said before she settled back on her cushion.
I followed the medusa’s directions to meet with the others. When I stepped out, the fresh air washed over me in a welcoming rush.
Looking at the others, I pulled my helm off and ran my fingers over my face. “I need a bath,” I grunted. “Is Lionel awake yet?”
“Nope,” Asakku said, rolling his eyes.
I looked around, trying to identify where we ended up. “We aren’t in Greyreach. We’re further south, I think. Warmer here.”
Elif raised an eyebrow at me. “Did you get her name?”
“Nope. And I didn’t give her mine. Better that way,” I said, watching Gunnar climb a tree.
He turned his head this way and that as he looked around before returning to the ground. “There’s a town to the north,” he said, pointing.
“Well… let’s get to it.” I couldn’t exactly bathe in the swamp, and every part of me wanted to get clean. Or consecrated or… something. Anything.
After a day’s travel, we arrived in a pleasant enough hamlet with stone buildings and blue-tiled roofs. We arrived in the morning, early enough to see folk going about their business.
“Could you direct me to an inn?” I asked one of the folk milling about.
His thick accent identified him as someone far south. “Ah, good day. What brings you to our town?”
“We were travelling and have wound up somewhere further south than intended.”
“Ah, well, you are welcome here. There is an inn here with the finest wine in four towns!” the man said, sticking his chest out with pride.
“Thank you.” I bowed my head a little and trudged off to the inn. When we reached it, a sign above the door identified it as “The Cock and Arms.”
I booked a room and immediately took a bath. I spent so long scrubbing I wasn’t sure I had any skin left, to be honest. The others wandered off to do their business, leaving me to myself. After cleaning myself, I glanced at Lionel’s unconscious form on the pallet beside mine. I checked to see if he was still breathing and hefted him up over my shoulder—where he’d been for the better part of the last four days—and left to go find a cleric to take a look at the damn fool. Though I was glad he’d survived his trip out of the Underdark. Despite my finding him foolish and irritating, he deserved to live as a free man.
The acolyte woke Lionel up with some smelling salts. “Where are we?” he groaned.
“Somewhere south of the City of 1,000 Nights in the Debatable Lands, I think.”
The acolyte shook her head. “No, friend. We are in Avenfair. South of that place.”
“I see.” I rubbed the back of a neck. “Further south than I have been in a very long time.”
The acolyte smiled a little in an absent manner. “Oh.”
I sighed. “Thank you for your time. Come, Lionel. Let’s head back to the inn.” I helped him to his feet.

Back at the inn, I settled to the floor to polish my armor. Lionel cleared his throat. “Ah… I hate to be a bother, but could I borrow ten gold? I will gladly pay you back when we reach my kingdom.”
I nodded. “Yes, of course.” I pulled the money out of my purse and handed it to him. He promptly paid for lodgings.

We spent another day in town, and Asakku presented me with a canvas and a vest with an image of a nude woman wrapped in a snake on it. I could have strangled him, but I accepted them anyway. We then accepted a job to walk the butcher to the next town over for three copper apiece while he delivered meat. It was no great deal of work, and very little consequence.
When we arrived, we ate and realized the rings of sustenance began their work to sustain us. In that town, I began looking for a caravan to sign onto heading north. It didn’t take me long to find one, and we agreed to accompany them north to the port city.

In the port city, we discovered graves as far as the eye could see. Not mass graves dug by poor folk escaping plague, opulent and excessive graves designed for the wealthy. The port’s name, Le Mort, seemed apt to the surroundings. The city’s primary function and focus seemed to be death and the business surrounding it. People with greasy smiles and greasy fingers and questionable motives thronged around us. Mercenary companies dotted the city’s landscape, ready to be hired to protect graves or do work in the world around Le Mort. Also, a rather robust adventurer’s guild occupied the city to help prevent undead uprisings.
Elif could barely contain her excitement and begged us to allow her to look around before we booked passage north to both return home to Greyreach and return Lionel to his home.

Session Sixteen

Partway through our collecting the items the drow and enemies dropped, Darvin vanished in the usual explosion of heat and light, though it seemed louder somehow. Knowing that other things could have seen and heard that, we pressed onwards.

In the next room, a massive worm creature slithered out of a hole in the wall, eating a collection of kobolds before it. We looked at each other and moved onward.

Hours later, we entered a hallway with a gaining sense of unease. As though we were not alone. As we continued, we began to see small crystals scattered around on the crystals, and a pale, bluish-green light up ahead. A chill settled into our bones as we approached it.
“Asakku, you are the quietest of us—check ahead and see what that is.”

He nodded and vanished into the darkness.

While we waited, Gunnar and Elif knelt to examine some of the crystals scattered about. “It’s just glass,” Gunnar said, disappointed.

Elif raised an eyebrow. “They’re diamonds, Gunnar. Diamonds.”

Not wanting such a resource to go to waste, we collected as many as we could and put them into the bag of holding.

Asakku returned, telling us a dragon waited ahead. He described it, and Lionel shook his head and told us he had no idea what type of dragon it was without color. Elif made a joke about doffing our armor to sneak through the room. I rolled my eyes, and Lionel looked me over and made a pass. Again.

We sent Asakku back with a light to check the color of the creature and waited with bated breath. A few moments later, Asakku returned to us, staring down the hallway. In the dim light, we saw two brilliant, ember-like eyes, staring at us from the darkness.

“It’s awake,” Asakku said, his tone sarcastic.

“Hey there,” Gunnar said with a smile and an awkward little wave.

“Why are you here?” it asked in an eerie, whispering tone.

“We’re headed to the surface,” I said, pointing up.

“Why?” he asked, tilting his head a little and slinking closer.

“Well, as interesting and fascinating as this trip has been, we’d like to go home.” I glanced at the others, who nodded.

“I see. Perhaps one of you could stay. Maybe the snack-sized one.”

“No. But there are some drow corpses a short ways back.” I shook my head.

“I see. Bring them to me.”

We did so, schlepping a number of the corpses back to the dragon and depositing them on the floor. He collected them and dragged them into the room, leaving them at the foot of the stairs, upon which sat a spear. I would have studied it further, but the dragon blocked my view and grinned a toothy grin. “Now I shall have meals for several days.”
The dragon roared at us, and Asakku echoed his cry, rushing in and beating the creature with his fists and destroying one of its eyes. It snarled and turned toward us and reared back, vomiting a gout of vile green smoke, tearing at us.

I stepped to the side and drew my bow, firing an arrow at it and missing in the darkness. Lionel moved up behind my shoulder and chuckled. “You’re gonna love this,” he murmured, gesturing and murmuring some quiet words. Past me went a brilliant firework, turning into a dragon and twisting through the air like a firework, slamming into the dragon and exploding in a shriek of magic power. The dragon howled in response, blinking the one eye Asakku hadn’t destroyed.

Utilizing the beast’s distraction, Asakku continued to beat the dragon with viciousness I rarely saw from him. He then drove his spear through the beast’s eye with an almost feral snarl.

Elif glanced at her weapon and tilted her head. “It says we should take the body.”

We all looked back at her with confusion. “Why?” I asked.

“Saga says we should take it.”

“Oookay…” I said, shaking my head and setting to stuffing the wyrmling’s corpse into the bag of holding we’d acquired.

Asakku glanced at the staff and then at Lionel. “Can tell me anything about that?”

Lionel snorted. “It’s magic. What more do you need to know?”

Sighing slowly, Asakku approached the spear and hefted it, studying the weapon for a moment before shrugging and walking back to us.

All around the cavern we stood in, strange greenish crystals studded the walls emitting dim light. Elif poked a few with her halberd, Saga, and Gunnar picked up one the size of his fist. We didn’t know if they were worth anything, but… might as well, I supposed.

Leaving the chamber where we found the dragon, we plodded onward, soon entering a narrow, twisting hallway. Behind me, I heard a sudden cry, and turned my head to see a strange… brain-like creature attached to Lionel’s back with four, clawed feet, tearing the hell out of him. Blood poured down his back, and fabric went in all directions.

Asakku reached for the beast, but it squirmed free and skittered off between his legs, leaving a pool of blood spreading from Lionel—who had collapsed.

“Might as well go out with a bang,” Lionel gasped, hurling another dragon-like firework at the monstrosity on the floor not far from him.

Elif stepped past Lionel and swung Saga at the creature, missing it but at least blocking it from reaching Lionel. Asakku wasn’t far behind, planting his foot into the monstrosity and stomping it before thrusting his spear down into its squishy body.

Leaving the others to dismantle the thing, I knelt beside Lionel, pressing my hands to his back and calling on the power of Bahamut to seal his wounds. The halfling took a slow, deep breath and groaned, curling into a fetal position on his side.

The beast scuttled away, backing into the shadows and melting away as though it had never been there. I grunted, telling the others we should leave this foul place, but move with Lionel between us to protect him from further harm.

Gunnar’s form shifted and twisted, becoming a giant ant the size of a dog, his antennae waving. I shuddered inwardly as he scuttled forward a step and then began clacking his mandibles in an excited manner and dancing back and forth. I assumed that meant he’d found the beast.

Elif and Asakku pursued it while I stayed with Lionel, working to heal his wounds further and ensure his safety. Under my hands, the wounds in his back continued to heal, and some of the deathly paleness left his skin.

To my side, I saw something purple and heard crackling. Then Asakku let out a yelp of pain, staggering back away from the creature. Gunnar poked the ground in front of the brain, and a stone cage appeared out of the ground around it.

“Looks… uh… like you might have that covered,” Lionel said, grasping at the shreds of his clothing and peering around at the ongoing conflict beyond us.

Elif shrugged and pushed her halberd into the cage and dealt the monster a horrible blow.
I draped my cloak around Lionel and winked at him. “Nice butt.”

“Thank you,” he said with a chuckle.

Beyond him, the brain shrunk and crept through the bars of its enclosure, retreating down the hallway, pursued by the others.

I charged forward toward the beast, passing Lionel and heading into the fray. Asakku took several rather vicious hits and went down in a pool of blood, gasping for breath, and I moved to his side, dropping to a knee between him and the creature and called on the power vested in me by the gods once again, trying to slow his bleeding.

Elif slayed the thing behind me, but I ignored it, focusing on healing our friend. We barricaded ourselves into an alcove, where we discovered a corpse wearing a suit of armor engraved with angel wings and rays of light pouring down from the helm. Rather beautiful, to be honest. I swapped out armor and placed the old armor into the bag of holding.
After that, we collapsed into sleep, taking shifts and watching for other dangers.

Session Fifteen

Light flickered over Elif’s weapon, and it sharpened, changed color, and just… became new. Though she didn’t appear to notice. I glanced at it and then at her and then at it and then at her. Right. Asakku and Darvin stayed behind to study the book while the rest of us decided to see where we were staying. A drow man led Elif, Gunnar, and I to our accommodations: a pillow-strewn room with low-hanging curtains.

I looked around, feeling distinctly out of place and not particularly comfortable. It felt too much like some of the places I had seen in the City of 1000 Nights. I stretched a little and sat down on a pillow, praying to Bahamut for guidance, protection, and defense while in this place.

Off to the side, Elif spoke up. “So… I’m going to be talking to something in my head. Just ignore me. I’m not going crazy.”

“Are you okay?” Gunnar asked, raising a brow.


The drider just sort of stared at Elif and squinted before leaving. I tilted my head so far my neck popped. “So, is this going to be a regular thing to you?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Well… just be careful, Elif. Remember, the thing I summoned was anything but benevolent.”

“Well… you could see that.”

“Right, I’m just advising caution, Elif. We don’t know what it is.” I held up a hand. I removed my armor and sat against the wall closing my eyes and sinking into meditation and prayer.

“Are you still there?” Elif asked. I opened one eye. “I’m Elif. Who is this?” A pause. “All right, Saga, who are you?”

I sat forward and leaned my elbows on my knees and watched Elif, foregoing my meditations for now.

“This is sounding crazy. Ah… Okay… I’m just… not sure what to do with this…”

“So, did it ask for anything?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s saying it’s my guide and asking me what I seek.”

“You could ask it about the ambrosia, I suppose. Couldn’t hurt anything,” I suggested.

“Well… I’m looking for… ambrosia right now. Perhaps you could… maybe tell me?” Elif asked, looking at her halberd where it leaned against the wall.

She said nothing else, and I began cleaning my armor, my mind working too much to focus on prayer at the moment. The deals we’d made with rather… questionable creatures weighed on me. I knew I shouldn’t be dealing with such creatures, but necessity and survival dictated it. Of course, if I were dead, I could not continue doing good.

After a rather long time, Asakku joined us. “So,” he said with a sigh, shaking his head. “To obtain ambrosia, we must summon a demigod. At the very least. To do so, we must obtain the hair of a unicorn, a dragon’s scale, a werewolf tooth, vampire blood, and it must be drunk from an oni horn after they are mixed together.”

“Oh, is that all?” I said, rubbing a hand over my face. “Why must we summon a demigod”

“They are occasionally provided such things by powerful gods as a gift. There’s a possibility that we could obtain such a thing were we to come up with something valuable in trade.”

After about a day of rather uneventful afternoons, Darvin and Asakku met with us. “Unless we know a demigod,” Darvin said with a scoff, “We are most likely to find success with hunting down a ring of Wish.”

“Why would prayer not work?” I asked, tilting my head.

He rolled his eyes. “You can pray if you like.”

“I have never stopped,” I said, shaking my head.

“And I appreciate that,” Darvin said.

“Do you?”

He looked me in the eye. “In all sincerity, yes.”

“To be honest, I believe we might find more luck summoning the demigod. I know where to find vampire blood, a were’s fang, and unicorn hair. An oni… Asakku, it may be time to put that demon of yours to rest.”

Asakku grunted and looked at the ground. “I wouldn’t know where to find him.” He then wrapped himself in his cloak and lay down, falling silent.

The next morning, Elif departed to go explore the markets, and I stayed behind in prayer. While Bahamut himself had never deigned to answer me, directly, it hurt nothing to ask his favor and his blessing.

Asakku and Darvin departed for the library, and Gunnar settled in the corner, fiddling with… something in his pack. I didn’t see fit to ask.

My meditations that day focused on answering the question of whether or not I was doing the right thing. Staying in that place made my skin crawl. Much like the City of 1,000 Nights, this city crawled with slavers and evil, foul beings and people I couldn’t smite. Were it within my power, I would clear the city of slaves and innocents and drop the ceiling of this cavern onto the city and bury it, never to be seen again.

Darvin’s disbelief remained a thorn in my side. While I understood skepticism toward faith in something larger than himself, he was seeking out a demigod. How could he not believe? I rose and paced, the thick carpeting muting the sound of my footsteps.

Elif returned a short time later with a surprisingly handsome halfling wearing sackcloth. He carried with him a small bag with a set of nice clothing though the way he held himself identified him as a slave to me. I raised a brow at her, trying to quell the immediate anger that rose in me like acid in my throat. “It’s not what you think,” she said. “I purchased him to free him. No one should have to live down here forever.”

“What’s your name?” Gunnar asked.

“I suppose that’s up to you. I’m not the one buying slaves.”

I frowned, as did Elif. “I bought you to free you.”

“So I can go?” he asked, raising his eyebrows at us.

“If that’s what you want,” I said. “Though I recommend staying with us. We are leaving tomorrow and have secured an escort to the surface. So… it’s up to you.”

“So… what is your name?” Gunnar asked.

The Halfling bowed. “I am Lionel Goldfoot.”

We all identified ourselves, and talked a short time about nothing of consequence, though when returned to tending my armor, he joined me and was rather… handsy. I handed him my breastplate and he began polishing it, staring at me in a manner that left me feeling rather uncomfortable.

Asakku and Darvin returned, commenting that he discovered that the Elves hadn’t started the great Elven War. Other races and cities declared war on them separately, but eventually they banded together and overwhelmed the elves collectively. Darvin discovered his lineage led to royalty of Gray Reach, something he was very pleased with.

In addition to that, Asakku brought with him a Ring of Sustenance for each of us, collecting the cost thereof from each. We all gladly compensated him.

Lionel sidled over to Darvin when he and Asakku returned, and began flirting with him rather intensively. Darvin seemed rather oblivious, for which I was grateful. Though through the conversation, he revealed himself to be a halfling prince. Or perhaps he was just trying to impress Darvin. I couldn’t tell.

I left, seeing if there were anyone who could assist me in recoloring my armor so it looked less… horrid, but the only man I found was a rather remarkable drow artisan with a terrible lisp, strange mannerisms, and who quoted me half a week. I expected as much and retreated, returning to our quarters.

The following day, Asakku and Darvin returned to the library, and the rest of us relaxed, packing and preparing to go shortly.

Darvin spent the day learning about Hurgrekki raiders, whose blood he shared, who spoke the language Eldur Hjartans. They were a collection of tribes, led by an ice queen. Their realm lay to the north of Grey Reach, and they dressed mostly in black leathers and fur, and they wore black face paint beneath their eyes. In the book was a map of their realm. Darvin’s ancestor came south and took Grey Reach by force, conquering it.

Asakku learned that Oni rarely travelled outside Kesari, the lands they live in. There are specific orders of samurai who hunted and tracked the beasts. While outsiders were never allowed further inland on the island, there was one city they could visit safely, though no record existed of anyone being permitted further.

When they finished their research, they joined us, and we made ready to leave. We met the two drow guard tasked with taking us to the surface. Neither looked pleased, but they didn’t need to be. A deal was made.

Not long after we began, we entered a large chasm filled with stalactites and stalagmites dripping down from the ceiling. I had taken point to protect the group, and we heard two loud, distinctive thuds. In the darkness ahead of us, I saw a tall humanoid with a scarf wrapped around his face and covered in rags, nearly to the point of resembling a corpse. In his hands, he two short swords.

Darvin went rushing past me, lifting his torch high above his head as he tried to see what was going on.

“What are you doing!” I hissed between my teeth.

“Seeing what’s ahead,” he called back.

“You are going to get yourself killed!”

He laughed. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained!”

My fists clenched. “That’s how you ended up with leprosy!”

I heard a noise from behind as someone or something attacked Gunnar. The druid let out a yelp of surprised pain. “There are more behind us!” Asakku yelled.

“Dammit!” I growled, leaving him to defend himself while I went after Darvin. One of the rag-wearing men faded out of the darkness, launching himself at Darvin with black energy dripping off his fingers. I reached Darvin’s side and swung my falchion at the rag-wearing man before us. He slid to the side, dodging the blow.

More men came flooding out of the darkness, surrounding us. Darvin retreated behind me, facing the rest of the party. He bellowed out something arcane, and fire erupted from Darvin’s hands, catching one of the men aflame.

Darkness swallowed our enemies, and the combat behind me fiercened, though I had three men to deal with on my own, so my focus remained on them.

We tore apart their number, though one of the men near me snarled something, and pain wracked me, staggering me for a moment, though I recovered enough to attack him in return. Darvin shot fire at the man, who stumbled, smoking. Gunnar spat acid, and the man crumpled. Though the man at my side exploded into inky darkness, leaving me standing in pitch darkness. I could hear the people around me, but I saw nothing.

Somewhere nearby we heard a shuddering, hollow howl vaguely canine in origin. I called on my god, some of the pain lessening as I pulled his strength into myself.

A flicker of red erupted in front of me, then I felt heat and pressure around my greaves, as though the jaws of a great beast closed on them, and then it was gone. I shuddered and made a noise.

“You all right, Cass?” Darvin yelled from behind me and off to my left.

“Yep. We’re not alone.”

“Where? To your left? To your right? In front of you?”

I sighed silently. “I don’t know, Darvin. It’s a little dark here. Off to my left, maybe? I can’t really tell.”

I backed away, toward the pale, weak light behind me. Something closed around my legs as I moved away from the darkness. When I could see again, I nearly cried in relief. I dislike the darkness intensely.

To my left, Asakku stumbled a little. “Something touched me—something with red eyes. Though I can’t see anything.”

He attacked the space behind him, and encountered resistance. Gunnar circled around the creature and attacked, eliciting a low growl. I stepped around Asakku and called on Bahamut and let out a yell, slamming my falchion into the space where the beast had been. There was another echoing, quiet howl, leaving us alone in the cavern.

“Check on the guards,” I said.

“No need,” Elif said, pointing back toward the corpses illuminated by a wall of light behind us. I had no idea where that came from.

While the others scavenged the corpses, I looked for Lionel, finding him recovering from the attack. He looked groggy, but I pulled him to his feet.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said, looking around. Everyone nodded, and we took deep breaths, trekking onward. “Well, one thing… We were supposed to give the drow this deck. That is no longer an option.”

Darvin laughed.

Session Thirteen

The next day, we gathered around a table in the main area of our quarters. “Well, we have several things to do, including acquire the Leperous Hippogryph for Herental the Lion. I don’t want him to think we have forgotten,” I said. The others nodded.

“Well, we are going to be out and about to begin with,” Darvin said. “We should go to the tavern first, perhaps.”

We headed off through the rain to find the tavern, though Darvin led us astray through the muddy and cramped streets. Thunder rolled over our heads now and then, and the boats at dock strained against their moorings.

“I could have sworn it was around this corner,” Darvin said, looking back and forth around the crossroads we stood at.

I sighed and shook my head, exchanging a brief look with Asakku.

Nearby, we found an orphan curled up in a crate. I offered him my tabard. He snatched it, staring at me warily. I sighed and shook my head. Gunnar offered the child a gold piece, and he grabbed it with a huge smile.

A second later, the boy crumpled back, coughing and gripping his belly. “I… I don’t feel good.” I pulled off my gauntlets and checked him over.

“The boy is… something happened when you touched him, Gunnar,” I said. Something bad.

“Asakku, can you—”

“No. Who knows what the boy is carrying for diseases or what happened…”

I just… stared for a second before stripping off my armor, wrapping the boy in the tabard I’d given him, and hefting him into my arms and carrying him to the temple my order had set up nearby. I approached one of the clerics, asking them for help.

“Someone poisoned the boy,” the cleric said with a worried frown before he healed the child.

As the cleric worked, the child spoke of what we’d said and one of the Acolytes asked us what we wanted at the Leperous Hippogryph. I told him we were looking for it, and he gave us directions.

Darvin approached the cleric, “Before we leave, is there any way to cure this?” He displayed his arm to the cleric.

With a smile, the cleric nodded and worked to cure the disease. Though a few moments later, he scowled and shook his head. “It… seems you need something more than I can provide, friend.”

“I suspected as much,” Darvin said with a deep sigh. “Thank you.”

“Perhaps there is something you might find to help you, but I cannot.”

The conversation triggered something in my mind, and I rubbed my jaw. “I remember a story I heard as a child about something called ‘ambrosia.’ The gods have access to it, but… Well, we surely do not. I wonder if there is a way we might acquire some.”

The cleric tilted his head. “Well… the Great Library might have it.” He went on to describe a massive, elven library lost to time beneath Southport during the Elven Wars. If the information were to be found, it would be there. The gods were rumored to have touched the earth there.

Our group thanked the cleric and made our way to the tavern. Rain poured in through holes in the roof, and a man lay in the mud in front of the tavern. I rolled him onto his back with my boot so he didn’t drown in the mud.

Inside, a hulking half-orc gave us an unimpressed look. “You aren’t from around here.”
Darvin shook his head. “No. To the point, we’re interested in buying.”

“Good. It’s for sale.”

After a brief negotiation, we purchased the tavern for seven hundred gold. Darvin, Gunnar, and Asakku went to the arena to bring him the deed while Elif and I waited. I leaned against the bar, looking around and making sure no one was causing trouble.

A short while later, they returned. Gunnar had a pair of brown leather gloves covering his hands. Hopefully that would protect others from the effects of whatever that oil now covered him.

Following that, we returned to the temple after a discussion about how to handle the orphan problem. Instead of relying on the Earl’s dubious intentions, we decided to fund my order’s temple in the area to better provide for the orphans. Though the amount needed staggered Darvin a little. He seemed… unhappy when I reminded him the earl had given us the money with this intent.

I told the cleric what we were charged with, and he recommended building a large orphanage to house the children in. The sum came to half the amount the earl had given us, though I did not complain. Darvin, after looking at the hungry faces, sighed and nodded. The cleric wept with joy and immediately set to preparing for the process of building.

We stood under an overhang, discussing our next move. We returned to our quarters, talking to one of the administrators about organizing the census. As well as who might have sent us after a necromancer. Interestingly, the administrator also had no windows in his chamber and worked by candlelight. Like Earl Dregard, he looked pale and rather… I don’t know. All of us found him disquieting, much as we had Earl Dregard.

Darvin murmured something, flicking his fingers at the administrator, who gave him a rather perplexed look. I went to seek out evil in the location, and the administrator gave me a sour look and banished me to the hallway. Outside, I felt a distinct evil presence behind me in the man’s office. It didn’t strike me like Ahlset did, but… I sighed. Why must I consistently keep company with such people?

Darvin came into the hallway. “He gave us directions to the library in the castle, so… we can perhaps continue our search there.”

We made our way into the library and began our search. I learned, the reason most of the gods left was because the material plane is the only place they were mortal. The elven wars were the last time gods and demigods walked the earth. I also learned the reason the elf cities sunk was because the elves of this region were cursed—they sacrificed their souls to create a new god in an attempt to thwart humankind. This backfired upon them.

Asakku learned the castle was built before the fall of the city and, as a result, was not dragged into the earth when the rest of the kingdom fell. The nobles’ district fell, though it was up on a large hill, so when it sunk, it did not sink as far into the earth as the rest of the city, so that might prove a place to begin.

Gunnar learned that the sewer systems dumped out into a sinkhole where the cities fell. I recognized it like the city beneath the capital city. The elves who dwelt in the cities then didn’t die and became what are now known as drow. I shuddered, remembering the city entrance in the sewers and the girls being kidnapped and taken there.

The elf cities, much like the dwarves, had interconnecting highways—which also sunk beneath the earth at least in this area. The city below would be parts of the Underdark, a place none of us were thrilled at the notion of exploring. The drow were campfire tales, slavers, who viewed outsiders as nothing more than potential slaves to their queen. The dwarves were known to hate the drow’s interference with the dwarven highways and their communities beneath the soil. Though the drow were known to trade and work with others… if it profited them.

After rooting around in dusty archive, I uncovered maps of the ancient city. The central part of the city lived on a hill. It struck me like a city-state rather than part of a large community. The city fell in concentric rings with the nobility in the center and the markets and farming outward, though knowing what we know, there were no real serfs in elven culture, so those were operated by rather well-to-do.

Out of curiosity and suspicion, we took a glance through the library to see if we could look up information on vampires, though… nothing came of it. Every book that would mention vampires had been removed from the library.

We spent day preparing to head into the Underdark. The next morning we entered the sewers beneath the noble district, following the flow of sewage to a large, swirling whirlpool of… well… effluence. I glanced at Elif. “What about breaking into the wall and curling around, digging down?”

She grinned and handed me a shovel, and we spent the rest of the day digging downward through the soil. After… I couldn’t tell how long it had been, but I was exhausted. We slept where we were that night. In the morning, we dug into the cavern, finding a cavern on the otherside with a terrible, awful waterfall falling away into the dark beneath us.

Gunnar cast a light spell onto a rock and threw it, revealing a two-hundred foot drop into the horrid pool below. He cast another spell onto a coin and then shifted into a raven, clutching the coin in his beak before flying into the darkness, checking out the area below.
Looking at the length of time and the distance, we hired a group of laborers to finish the dig for us. I spent the time in the library, researching ambrosia and legends surrounding it. Elif purchased an ever-burning torch for the journey into the dark, also.

I learned it could heal wounds and diseases, though legends differed on what it tasted like. It also said it could potentially bring the dead to life… It seemed to be a panacea. It could do whatever was needed at the time by the society writing about it. I also checked in on the progress my order had made on the orphan situation, keeping an eye on it.

It took to the end of the week for the tunnel to be completed, and we sent the workers away when we entered the underdark, following the foul stream. I kept track of where we were using the mapmaker’s kit I had purchased above. Asakku noted that we were above the right area, though finding our way through the cave systems to reach the Underdark proper, which began at least a mile below the surface.

With Asakku in the lead, we plunged into the shadows. We made it a few hundred feet into the shadows and entered a large cavern before we encountered some kind of huge, horrid monstrosity with three arms wielding two massive clubs. A large patch of glowing fungi illuminated the room as it chased a rat around, trying to stomp on it.

Darvin let out a muffled curse and cast a spell to protect himself against the beast’s likely ungentle attentions. He then called out over my shoulder, “You got a rat problem there, buddy?”

The monster looked up at us. “Yeah. I do. Turns out.”

“Do you have an issue if we just kind of sneak on by?”

“No… big problems. But you are here. And you are small like rats. Perhaps you can give me a good reason not to crush you.”

I stepped forward. “I imagine you don’t have many visitors. Perhaps we talk with you for awhile.”

“…Very well. But you stay all day. We talk. And you give me something. You can leave in the morning.”

I glanced to the others, who nodded. “All right,” I said with a smile.

He lit a fire, and Gunnar offered him a sword we’d found elsewhere. He accepted it, and we joined him, regaling Gerbable with stories of our adventures. We learned from him that the drow city is far deeper than where we were, and the fastest way there was to follow the stream to a large lake. A boat would be fastest, but where we would find one of those was anyone’s guess.

Despite the creature’s horrifying visage and demeanor, he turned out to be a rather pleasant host, though in the morning he was nowhere to be found. He did, however, build a fire and provide us breakfast. Knowing we would need our rations, we ate the strange food and took the mushrooms he had turned into beds and pushed them into the river, lashing them together to make rafts. We plucked some of the glowing fungi and created glowing pockets in the mushrooms.

After a rather dull hour or so, the rafts entered a cave which pitched sharply downward, shooting us a long distance into the earth until we hit a lake, bouncing across it like skipped stones until we hit the shore.

Around the edges of the grew a vast, fungal forest beyond. Asakku stared around us, pointing some of the mushrooms out as edible. Others that grew shin height let off a bright, blue-green glow and could be used as torches. Gathering the edible ones, we plunged into the mushroom forest. As we wandered, Asakku found mushrooms that would heal, some that would shrink or enlarge the person eating them, and others he couldn’t identify.

Strange creatures skittered about the mushroom forest looking like squirrels covered in moss with extra eyes. Asakku took a moment to get his bearings and led us down a large, rocky hill outside the edge of the forest where it dropped into an area that looked like a vast moor covered in moss that was quite pleasant underfoot.

A short ways in, we encountered a place that looked like sunlight pouring in and hitting the wall. Asakku poked his head around the corner and spotted a beautiful lawn washed in what looked like daylight. Beyond the lawn sat a door carved into the wall.

Darvin peered at the area and shook his head. “It’s not magic.”

“…Whoever has a lawn down here may well be… eccentric. To say the least. We should proceed with caution, friends. Let’s try not to damage their work.” I stepped carefully onto the lawn before proceeding down the winding path. About halfway down, we saw a large tower with broad, stained-glass windows at the top of which sat a glowing orb, releasing sunlight.

I approached carefully, opening my senses to feel for evil in the vicinity. I felt none, and we approached the tower and knocked on the locked door.

A brass port on the door slid open. “Who is it?”

“Adventurers!” Gunnar exclaimed with a massive grin on his bearded face.
I facepalmed.

“Ambrosia,” Darvin said in response.

“Ambrosia?!” the man cried, opening the door. “Do you have any?”

“No, I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head.

“Darn. I could really use it in my spellcasting.” He waved his hands, and magic danced around his fingertips. A small rod flew to him, and he presented it. “Everyone put your hand on the rod.”

We looked at each other and then touched it. A moment later, our fingertips tingled, and he squinted at us. “You seem all right. I’m planning on fending off demons. The master of our order died some time ago, so… This seems like a good place to lie low. It was quite gloomy, though, so we decided to spruce it up a bit.”

We introduced ourselves, and he announced himself Falldal the wizard from the Order of the Blue Robes—we’d never heard of it. “It’s nice to meet you. It seems like you’re on a good quest. We have a teleportation ring I might be able to use to get you down further, though it’s dangerous down there. And it might misfire.”

“So… we could end up in a wall or some such.”

“Oh, yes,” he said, grinning brightly and rubbing his hands together. “But what’s life without a little adventure?”

Darvin nodded, and I just stared at him. “What happened the last time you tried a little adventure, Darvin. What happened?”

He wilted a little. “Well… it would take about twelve days otherwise.”

I glared at him. “We could end up half in a wall. Half.”

Darvin convinced me after about an hour of discussion, though he allayed my fears completely.

“Step out onto this brass ring and… here we go.”

We entered the ring, and the wizard pulled a large lever on the wall. A poof of white smoke appeared around us, and when it cleared, we stood before a massive, black stone city wall. Large fields full of workers stretched out around the city.

After perceiving our location, we hugged the shadows of the wall. “If this is the city, the library is in the nobles district near the high temple,” I said quietly. “We’ll have to travel through the agricultural fields, through the markets, past the inner fortifications, and then into the noble district.”

“If this is the city, and the drow are slavers, and we look more like slaves… how are we going to accomplish this?” Darvin asked.

“Darvin, I have seen you convince people of stranger things than us being slaves.” I shook my head. “When in doubt, look like you belong. Tell them we are on an errand for our masters. It isn’t particularly complex.”

Gunnar tilted his head. “You know, I can turn into a spider. Those are a holy animal to the drow.”

Heads nodded around the circle. “I’ll scout ahead and see if I can find a safe route, and the rest of you.”

“Oh!” Gunnar held up a massive hand. “I could wrap you in web and carry you.”
I shuddered. “Can we consider an alternate possibility?”

Elif considered. “If we put a cloak on me and have me ride Gunnar, I could pretend to be a drider?” she said.

“I like this plan,” Darvin said with a grin.

This was a bad idea. A very bad idea.

The bad idea worked. I sat astride Gunnar in his spider form, and we shrouded my legs in my winter cloak. The drow at the gates stiffened as we passed, averting their gazes. The trend continued through the mercantile district and into the noble district. None of them were foolish enough to speak to us, and we encountered no issues on our way through.
The library opened before us, a beautiful building filled with tomes of knowledge. We took a moment to appreciate the sight before approaching a librarian. I gave Asakku a dismissive gesture, knowing he spoke Elvish—a language most of them understood. He cleared his throat and ducked his head, asking the librarian for assistance.

They exchanged words, her face growing more and more sour as the conversation continued, though he led us off into the stacks. A moment later we heard scuttling feet, and around the edge of one of the stacks peered a tall woman on a spider’s body. An actual drider. My heart nearly pounded out of my chest as it babbled. Darvin raised a hand to cast a spell, and the drider turned its attention away from me and lashed out at Darvin.
His eyes went wide, and he ducked, dropping to his knees. The drider then reached for my cloak. About that moment, Asakku came around and elbowed me. “She knows.”

“I take it you speak Common then?” the drider asked, glowering at me.

“I do.”


“So what are you doing here?”

“Seeking knowledge. As I said.”

She gave us a rather skeptical expression and shook her head. “I see. One of your slaves should be an equal change for such a thing.”

I shook my head. “I’m rather attached to them,” I said, glancing at the others. “They all serve their purposes.”

“Well… what would you have in exchange?”

Darvin frowned and pulled the deck of cards. “What about these?”

Hunger sparked in the drider’s eyes. “What is it you might want in exchange for those?”
“Time with the book,” Darvin said, glancing at the rest of us for confirmation. I nodded.

The drider tilted her head a little. “How long?”

“Three days?” Asakku suggested, and Darvin nodded.

“Three days. I will provide you three days with the book, a place to sleep, food, and an escort to near the surface.”

“That sounds fair,” Darvin said. “To demonstrate its power…”

Elif pulled a card from the deck, depicting a beautiful woman with long, golden hair lying draped across a chaise lounge. Nothing seemed to happen, and we all sort of stared at each other for a moment.

As if today couldn’t get any stranger.

Session Twelve

We planned on leaving the building when blue light surrounded me, transporting me back to the blue crystal prison. I don’t know how long I was in there, but… then… I never do.
I arrived in the main part of the city, and the others informed me—and Asakku and Darvin—that we had not yet captured the man we had set out to capture when Asakku and I left. In interest of finding our quarry, I suggested we approach Earl Dregard, given that the thieves’ guild runs the city. Perhaps he would know where to find the man. It was an unpleasant realization, but if we could pressure him into the idea of helping us end the man, it might help his public relations.

When we entered the court of Earl Dregard and inquired about him. The man Gunnar approached said, “No one sees the Earl,” before retreating. On a hunch, Gunnar followed him through a maze of hallways into the annals of the Keep. The strange man Gunnar approached stepped into a patch of shadows and whispered, “There are strangers enquiring about the Earl. They may be hunters.” He then retreated into the shadows, himself. Though, from what Gunnar said, he could not see in the darkness well and walked into things more than once in his retreat.

When Gunnar returned to us, he told us what he’d seen, and we decided to see what we could find in the castle, ourselves. Asakku and I led the group into the darkness, moving as quietly as possible. We found our way to a pair of large, oak doors, and as we reached them, they opened. A man emerged, stepping out within six inches of my face. He stopped, and I heard him inhale as he stared into the darkness at my chin. Though he didn’t do more than pause before retreating.

I let out a sigh when he left my vision, and I told the three humans behind me what I’d seen. We sent Asakku into the room beyond us, and he investigated it, finding it to be a throne room. He explored the room and felt a distinct presence of another person in there, though every time he looked, he saw nothing.

“All right, Darvin, now you can light our way,” I said, giving into his incessant requests to light the area. He seemed afraid of the dark.

Sparking up some manner of spell, Darvin led us into the throne room. When we got a short way in, a man’s voice gave us pause. “You know, I don’t grant audiences.”
“Today is not a normal day. Perhaps you will entertain us.”

“Normally I would have the guards escort you out. Or throw you into the wall. But you interest me.”

“Why do we interest you?”

“You are losing my interest quickly with questions like that.” The Earl scowled.

“We are here because the Duke has heard rumors. Terrible rumors.” Darvin said.

“Rumors?” He scowled.

“Yes. Rumors of things most fowl. Terrible things happening to children.”

“Not here. That’s revolting.” The young man recoiled, a horrified expression on his face.

“Not in your court. In your city.”

He relaxed a little. “Still impossible.”
I pulled out the bag of dried tongues I’d taken from the sewer. “This says otherwise.”

“And what is that?”

From the bag, I produced a tongue. “The tongue of a child, removed by the child’s own hand.”

He dropped his wine and stepped back, a horrified, confused expression on his face. “Why do you have that! Where did it even come from!”

I told him. Darvin and I told him the whole sorry story, leaving out the child assassination of Erevel. He seemed horrified and confused at the whole affair. He agreed to allow us the use of a hall to stay in and provided his amulet of office to wield his authority and compel others to assist us in the search for the man who had done this.

When we left him, I felt… confused and sad for the poor young man living in the dark. He said he preferred the darkness because he felt safe there. He eschewed court and frivolity, he eschewed all interaction for the most part… rather sorrowful.

The next day, we spoke to the head of the Watch—which seemed surprisingly underfunded for the size and wealth of the city—who suggested we search the sewer. None of us were thrilled about that idea, but we returned to the guild headquarters and examined the complex, finding nothing new or different. From there, we descended into the sewers, following a line of burnt out torches to determine the way most commonly used.

We arrived at an intersection somewhere under the warehouse district of the city. During our walk, I mentioned the financial situation to the others. Something must have been draining the city coffers, though… What?

As we approached the intersection, several rat-men attacked us, screeching and clawing, their foul breath smelling even worse than the fetid, steaming air around us. After a short-lived battle, we dispatched the vermin and continued following the torches down the narrower of the two passageways. Up ahead, we caught sight of the back of a large man carrying a torch.

“Hey, hey sir! We’re selling rat masks today. They’ll help you blend in!” Darvin called from behind me.

Ahead, Grooven turned to face us, drawing a weapon and charging toward us. Behind me, Gunnar growled, lifting his hand. The ceiling shook, dropping rubble around Grooven and covering the floor in quite a few feet in each direction. Darvin stepped up beside me, hurling fire in his direction, though Grooven hid himself in a cloak that seemed to protect him from the flames. We exchanged blows back and forth for some time, though none of us seemed to gain the upper hand. Above us, the ceiling rumbled and cracked, threatening to buckle.

I grit my teeth against the fury I felt in my chest. Darvin snarled something arcane, and magic hurled past me, making all the hair on my arms stand on end. Another rumble from the ceiling warned me, and I locked eyes with Elif and jerked my head back toward safety.

Grooven turned to attack Elif, catching her in the shoulder with his rapier. With his back to me, I rammed my falchion up underneath his chain shirt, tearing open his back and laying his flesh open, smiting him with holy energy.

The last to withdraw, I retreated away from Grooven as Gunnar began to chant in a rumbling voice. The ceiling then collapsed on him, burying him in about four feet of clay. A moment later, the rumbling stopped. Elif’s axe turned into a shovel, and she dug through his clay prison and relieved him of his valuables faster than I would have thought possible.

We collected his things and headed to the surface. As we emerged from the building over the sewers, a nearby smuggler’s den collapsed, though it seemed empty when I explored it and looked for survivors. Despite being glad their den no longer existed, I was grateful no one seemed hurt.

From there, we cleaned ourselves and headed back toward the Earl’s castle to report to him. During the walk, Darvin played with his cards, spinning them over and over in his hands. “Anyone feeling lucky?” he asked, looking around at all of us.

“…Lucky?” I asked, raising a brow. “Have you noticed anything about our luck lately, Darvin?”

“I’m going to try it. Though… will any of you draw? Or will you all vow to seek us if we vanish?”
I sighed. “No thank you. Someone has to pick up the pieces.”

Elif shrugged. “Maybe. I suppose we’ll see.”

Darvin nodded and shuffled the cards, flipping the deck around in his hands. “This is a rare, magical item, you know. It’s… strange. Powerful. I’ve heard of it. I declare two!” He addressed the last to the deck.

I took a step back, worried about the effects and, subsequently, about Darvin.

The deck glowed, and Darvin drew two cards. The glow faded, and he looked at the card he had drawn. “The Sickness.”

I winced, knowing that couldn’t be good.

Immediately, Darvin stumbled, lesions forming on his face and hands, and his skin turning sickly pale. I recognized the symptoms of leprosy immediately, and my heart constricted. His hands trembled as he flipped the second card.

On the card, a man with a glowing staff walked down a road. Nothing appeared to happen, however.

I opened my mouth to say something when Gunnar snatched the deck. “I am drawing one card. I am… I hope I can save Darvin.”

Knowing myself immune to the disease, I hugged Darvin. He leaned into me a little. “I took a risk,” he said, his voice a little weaker than usual.

“We’ll find a way to fix you,” I said quietly.

Behind me, Gunnar looked at his card and frowned. “I have no idea what this means, but… I don’t feel any different.” He returned the card to the deck. “Though… Maybe someone should check me out?”

I examined him but found nothing wrong with him. He nodded and headed off to take another bath.

“Dammit.” I glared at the deck. “I am drawing a card,” I snarled, snatching a card from the deck. My card had a ship with a flag I didn’t recognize with rolling waves beneath it. Foolishly, I believed I could save any of them. Perhaps I could, perhaps I couldn’t. Perhaps I meant to defy the deck. Or the gods themselves. I don’t know.

It was not the best decision I have ever made.

I turned around, and a man sat in an armchair, wearing a turban with flowing silk robes with tanned skin. “Are you the one who drew the card?”

I nodded. “I am.”

“I have… an offer for you. I can take some of your life—it won’t hurt—and in exchange, I can give you a boon.”

“Could I save my friend?”

The man tilted his head a little, looking at Darvin and then at me. “No. Not even if I took your entire life.”

“In that case, no. Thank you.”

“Disappointing.” He scowled and left, closing the door behind him with a waft of acrid smoke.

Darvin looked at me for a second and then at the floor, not saying anything. I patted his back. “We should go see the earl, though, Darvin… perhaps you should stay here. I do not wish to risk the Earl’s health. I’m sorry.”

He nodded and sighed, staring at the floor.

The rest of us made our way to Earl Dregard’s throne room. When we arrived, he stood near a map on the wall with a small oil lantern lighting his space. “Ah. Did you bring my medallion?”

I returned his medallion to him.

“Ah. Good. And the thieves?”

“Dead so far as I can tell.”

“All of them?”

I blinked a couple times. “There are probably more thieves in the city. I mean, you have an issue with orphans, and they are hungry and often steal things…”

“No, no, not them. The thieves.”

“…The professionals?”

“Yes. Them.”

“I doubt they are all dead, my lord. I have no idea how many there are.”

“Why don’t you count them.”

“Count them?” I blinked, regretting not bringing Darvin.

“Well, I doubt they’d answer honestly. They’d be arrested.”

I stared blankly at him and then at my companions. “Help,” I mouthed.

Gunnar smiled. “I think a census is a wonderful idea.”

“…” My silence was palpable.

“Do you think you could have it by… tomorrow, perhaps?”

Gunnar nodded. “That seems reasonable.”

I could have strangled him. Strangled him! Instead of answering, I politely excused myself and rushed to fetch Darvin who returned and talked to the Earl. I couldn’t understand even half of what the two men were saying and, instead, just listened. My mind spun.

Eventually, Darvin negotiated him to ten thousand gold to pay for the census, feeding the orphans, servants for our wing of the castle, and expenses… whatever those were.

I am never, ever entering a throne room without Darvin again.


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