Thursday Night Pathfinder

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.”

“Mm.”

“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.

View
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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Session Eleven

When we arrived in Southport via boat, we spotted a ship with red and green sails unloading coffins into the port. A large man with gray hair and beard wearing animal furs and a woman with very tight hair and somber clothing, carrying a vaguely funeral air with mismatched clothing and gear and a halberd with a shovel head approached the ship.
As we surveyed the folks ahead of us, lightning struck, leaving Darvin lying on what was now a smoldering collection of timbers. We spent the next fifteen minutes putting the fire out. The strangers approached, identifying themselves as Gunnar and Elif.

We discussed Erevel’s exploits in the area, but we were distracted when my hand and arm reached out toward Gunnar. I asked him what was going on, and he shrugged, confused. I removed my gauntlet, which fell to the ground with a clang, and promptly slapped the poor man across the face. He yelped as the lightning tattoo from my arm transferred to him.

Magic coursed between us, and then he slapped Elif, transferring the power to her as well.
I was perplexed, but we explained the nature of the tattoos to them, doing the best we could. Though we know very little about the ancient elven magic bestowed—or forced—upon us.

After deciding to investigate the ship situation, we bluffed and intimidated our way onto the ship, soon discovering the coffins were filled with spices and treasures. Asakku swiped their cargo manifests, and we discovered there were discrepancies on the cargo manifest. Most were labeled as tribute, but some had been marked as “alternative cargo.” Returning to the ship, we investigated the so-called alternative cargo.

As my gut told me, and I feared, we discovered children in their very early teens. Nine humans, six wargs, four elves, and one half-orc. My chest lit with fury as I recognized the ship, finally. A mermaid with a chained collar. City of a Thousand Nights.

One of the crates of tribute was destined for Earl Dregard, the man who hired us to find the so-called necromancer. The others were destined to the king of Grey Reach. The children were destined for somewhere in the warehouse district. Darvin advocated sending the children to an orphanage, but we discovered there were none. Earl Dregard shut down all the orphanages.

Asakku and I headed to the shrine, leaving the others to guard the children. Asakku and I argued about what to do regarding the ship. He doesn’t understand the City. He doesn’t know what we’re up against, should we choose to engage them. I know his intentions are good, but he just does not understand.

When we got into the slums, Asakku elbowed me and pointed up. “There are young ones watching us. Shall we part ways in case they attack us?”

I shook my head. “They’re children. If they attack us, they are more likely to hurt themselves than us.”

“You do realize,” Asakku said, frowning at me, “that we might have to kill some of them.”
“I’d rather not, but if it’s absolutely necessary then… it is what it is.”

Asakku rolled his eyes at me and sighed. “You are a perplexing woman.”

When we reached the shrine, I spoke to my brothers and sisters. They said they could feed the children but have no facilities to tend them or have them stay. I sighed, looking at the long line of hungry, destitute people beyond. “All right. Asakku, perhaps we could take them back to White Horn?”

Asakku grunted. “Cassiel, how do you propose we take them?”

“Same way we got here, ourselves. It’s not so complicated.” I frowned, shaking my head.
“You’re the boss, Ser Spiky.”

“Why am I in charge?”

“Because you’re spiky.”

“And you say I’m the weird one.” I shook my head and headed back toward the docks.

When I arrived, the others had the first mate out on the dock and was talking to him. They identified him to me as Dorgald, and he’d been convinced to take us to the theives’ guild and believed some octopus god had saved him from certain death in the waves. On the way there, he mentioned he was getting fifty gold for the job and asked us to hold off on causing mayhem until he got paid. I laughed and passed him seventy-five. He grinned. “Well… is this going to be a continual gig?”

“It might be. We could have use of a ship captain,” I said.

He led us to the warehouse and then headed inside with a promise to let us know how many folks were inside and so on. We doubted he’d return, but as we waited, children streamed in and out of the warehouse entryway where we stood. They chattered, showing that they did, indeed, have tongues.

Dorgald returned, informing us that there were four men in the room along with the guildmaster. We then wished him well and sent him on his way. While I could not pretend I felt good about the affair, at least I could say he was of service. And he claimed he wanted nothing to do with killing or transporting women and children. A thief and a scoundrel he may be, but at least he wasn’t doing harm to children.

Our group looked at each other and nodded before striding into the hall before us, ready to confront the guild master.

As we entered, Asakku broke left, slipping behind one of the ostentatious pillars in the long room. The guild master sat on an ornate throne at the front of the hall, watching us, his eyes following Asakku until he vanished into the shadows.

Darvin approached. “Greetings, Guild Master. We are here to conduct an exercise in reasoning.”

“Go on.”

“Slavery is bad. You are involved in it, thus you are bad. We are here to end slavery, and thus here to end you.”

The guild master raised an eyebrow. “Kill them.”

And now the killing. I rushed one of the men off to the side, swinging at him and grazing his neck. Scarlet appeared beneath my attack. “We’re going to need some help in here!” he bellowed.

I heard the others enter conflict behind me, and a crossbow bolt whizzed past my head, slamming into the stone pillar beyond. Over my shoulder to the left, the bearded man caused brambles to grow over the door nearest the throne, blocking escape as the guild master leaped for it.

I attacked him a second time, missing as he jumped backward toward the pillar, swinging his hammer at me again with little effect.

The stench of burned flesh filled the air, and the shrill, terrified screams of one of the thugs rung off the wooden walls. Darvin, I assumed, since I couldn’t see him behind me as I focused on the man standing before me.

The doors opened to my right, and several orphans stumbled into the room, bearing knives and one carrying a javelin. I snarled, bellowing “get the fuck out!” and hoping they would flee so we wouldn’t need to cause them harm.

One shrieked, “It’s her! Get her!” and then ran out of the room. He came back a moment later, looking harried. The others stabbed at me, their daggers scratching my armor. More annoying than harmful. I rolled my eyes and turned my attention back to the jackass with the crossbow. Fine. Let them scuff my plate mail.

We continued pursuing the leader of thieves’ guild. I tried to tackle him with no luck. The children screamed behind me, their terrified, agonized wails tearing at my soul and will to fight, but I grit my teeth against the scent of burning flesh and hair.

After a brief conclusion to the struggle, two orphans remained and chased us around, trying to stop us ineffectually now and then by stabbing at us, but really they couldn’t do much. There wasn’t much we could do to stop them without leveling harm, and they refused to let us go, despite everyone else in the room being dead, some horribly.

After about half an hour of trying to get the last ones out, I finally convinced them by chucking gold at them until they left. They threatened to come back and take the rest off my corpse. I just… I put my palm over my face and took point down a narrow, dark staircase leading deeper into the guild.

In the basement, we found a man with a shaved head, a massive, spiked hammer leaning against his leg, sitting on one of several, massive crates. Deep scars covered him, speaking of a life of pain. Darvin stepped forward and spoke up. “Greetings, friend. I was wondering if you would be amenable to some profit.”

“I’m listening.”

“Well, we would like to see if we can avoid a fight. You look like a man we don’t want to argue with.”

“Smart.” A gap-toothed grin flashed.

“Bribe is such a distasteful word, but… what gratuity might we offer you to, perhaps, leave and allow us reign of this place.”

“I’m going to have to worry about Grooven for awhile. You know. He’s got eyes out there.”

“He may be too busy running to pay much attention to you for awhile.”

“Hm.” He stroked his beardless chin, considering the prospect. “Listen. I don’t like that asshole. He does fucked up things to kids. I don’t like this job. It sounded really cooshy. Thought it was great, but this? This was not what I signed up for. I just want to be back in the arena. I’ve been down here for awhile.”

“What can we do to facilitate your return to the arena, then?”

“I want two things. I want Grooven dead. He touches kids. It’s wrong. Second, there’s this tavern I’d like to buy. Spent a lot of time there. Loved it. Don’t want you killing anyone to take it, but I’d like it bought.”

“Sounds like a fair enough trade,” Darvin said, exchanging glances with me. I nodded, and I heard the others murmur asset behind me and down the hall. “Before you go—and I’m just making conversation here—what do you know of child assassins who remove their tongues? Have you heard of anything?”

He shook his head. “I have not.”

“If you do, will you tell us? You seem to care for the lives of children.” I asked, tilting my head.

“That sounds… horrifying. I will. There is, however, one problem: I know none of your names.”

We introduced ourselves, and he told us he was Herental the Lion, a known gladiator. “Bring me Grooven’s ring when you have slain him. I am typically at the arena. His cruelty to children cannot go unpunished.” He then departed past us, climbing the stairs.

We discovered a magical deck of cards Darvin believed was a Deck of Many Things. The rest of the crates had jewels, scrolls, silk, and so on. Beyond, we discovered a barracks for children, and in the master bedroom we found a collection of tanned tongues.

Oh hell. This man must die.

View
Session Fourteen

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.

“Yep!”

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.

View
Session Ten

Triss and Erevel Left Game

The next morning, Darvin and Triss vanished. Poor Darvin was in the middle of a morning workout with a nymph when it happened, too. Asakku, Erevel, and I headed to Southport to speak to Earl Dregard who hired us originally to clean out the so-called necromancer in the woods. We arrived in Oakhill late in the afternoon and rested in our apartments for the afternoon before starting the trek to Southport.

In the morning, Erevel did not emerge. I attempted to break down the door and slipped in… something… landing on my ass. Asakku rolled his eyes at me and helped me up. On the floor before us lay Erevel with an arrow sticking out from the back of her skull. My jaw dropped. I looked out the window and tried to determine where the shooter had been firing from. She and I couldn’t have been considered friends, but I wouldn’t have wished anything like this on her.

Asakku went across the street, looking for where someone could have fired from. I searched the apartment but found no indications of what might have happened. When he returned, Asakku informed me that there was indication someone had been standing there for awhile, clearly waiting.

I left Asakku to investigate across the street while I hunted down the head of our Watch, Gerald. His name is Gerald now. I approached him and informed him what happened. He seemed gravely worried and avowed to have the watchmen find him. I told him I would very much like to speak with whomever did it—personally.

Asakku discovered there was a man in the area who didn’t look like he belonged. An adventurer type. Young. Though the people were mistrustful of Asakku—with valid reason. After all, we aren’t exactly doing an amazing job with management. Despite our attempts. One woman said she saw the kid leaving in a hurry, though we didn’t know in what direction.
Before departing, we arranged to have Erevel buried. The money she possessed we used to bury her and then turned the money into the kingdom treasury. We left the arrangements to Councilor Gruis while we followed the trail of the murderer. Asakku led us out of the town. We didn’t stop when the sun fell, and that evening we found a campfire in the distance along the road.

Asakku stopped the cart and scouted ahead, leaving me with the horse. A short time later, Asakku returned, brandishing a bow and saying he found someone that sounded like the person we had been told of. I took the bow and put it in the cart, and Asakku vanished into the shadows again. I encouraged the horse to move forward.

I heard movement by the fire and saw him wake. He searched for his bow, but didn’t find it and went, instead, for the axe. Asakku appeared and shoved him aside, knocking him to the ground before he could respond.

I rushed forward and grabbed the axe before he could, yanking it out of the stump he’d embedded it in. Realizing he had no means of defending himself, the young man ran helter-skelter into the woods. Asakku followed. We caught up to him, and he tried to attack Asakku.
I caught up and held up my hands. “Calm down. We aren’t here to attack you.”

He sagged in Asakku’s grip. I noticed a tattoo on his hairline—it looked like a fist holding an arrow, not replying.

“Do you know who we are?”

Nothing, though tears welled up in his eyes.

“Are you in trouble?”

He shook his head and wept.

I sighed. “Do you have a tongue?”

He shook his head and continued crying.

“Look, we are out here after a murderer—you resemble who we are seeking.”

He provided no answers and crumpled, squirming and sobbing in Asakku’s arms.

I sighed. “Look, child, we can take you to the city of Whitehorn where you will be imprisoned and interrogated, we can take you with us, or you could talk to us here.”

Swallowing, he pointed back down the way to the city. We headed back to the city, and I had the boy imprisoned in my apartment, and his things were secured in my trunk. He refused to talk, and cried on and off.

Hating myself for thinking it, we approached Ahlset to see if he could retrieve the information we needed. Without breaking the boy’s brain. He said he could. I tried to talk to the child one more time, but he didn’t answer and just sobbed, shaking his head again.

Ahlset asked if we’d checked his mouth. I had tried, but found no luck. After all, gauntlets and small mouths and… it just didn’t work. Asakku, on the other hand, convinced him to open his mouth, revealing that he had no tongue. The poor child.

Through a series of yes or no questions, we determined that the boy had been hired to do the job. The tattoo on his face somehow was related to it, and that the killing was a rite of passage. We offered to the boy to stay in the city. He expressed fear of that organization and no strong desire to remain. Perhaps we could help him.

The organization was based in South Port, so far as we could tell, so Asakku and I resolved to go there and investigate whatever this organization was. They clearly had something against Erevel in particular, or else the rest of us—well, Asakku, myself, and the other council members. He drew an image of a warehouse with people in it. One leader, others following. Then some coins.

When asked, he said he knew Erevel. She apparently went back on some kind of deal with this organization and was punished for it. The organization employs children—children whose tongues are cut out. To be honest, I can’t really…

Through much drawing, we learned that the boy cut out his own tongue as a rite. It was to help him rise in the ranks of this organization somehow. The more I learned, the more angry I became. Who could do such a thing to children? Despite the fact that the boy had slain a council member, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. And, if Erevel did go back on a deal, then perhaps she earned that fate.

Ahlset pushed, saying he wanted to invade the boy’s head and claiming our roles were not well-defined and saying we could call it to a vote. Not for the first time, I regretted Darvin and Erevel’s decision to bring Ahlset onto the leading council and making him of equal standing to the rest of us. After reminding him of my position and its incumbent duties, he backed down, though was far from pleased.

He informed us that if we were going to be out and about, there was a book he was interested in collecting. He would pay us for that, should we come across it. It was in a ruined tower a day’s travel north of Southport, or so he thought. Though we might not like what was in it. Hopefully Darvin returns soon so he can investigate it for us and give us information.

Asakku and I prepared for our journey to South Port, hoping we would find answers there.

View
Session Nine

Darvin appeared near us with a crack of lightning, looking disoriented. We gave him an update on the state of affairs. I wrote a letter, extolling Dimweir’s virtues and assistance and mourning his death. I then sent it off to the heads of the Shield.

After dealing with some further town business, we set off to tend to the nymph situation. Upon arriving at the idyllic glade, one of the nymphs approached us, her expression wary and concerned. When I explained who we were and why we had come, a few more heads appeared at the edge of the spring, and giggles drifted through the air.

Darvin stared, his mouth slack, while I spoke to the nymph. She said that there were creatures attacking the spring which was a problem since they were bound to protect it for the next thousand years. The creatures stayed at the edges of the spring, and when the nymphs headed to handle them . The creature looked like a fat baby with fly wings. I frowned, trying to ascertain what the creatures were while Darvin continued drooling.

Asakku and I postulated while Darvin wondered aloud about whether or not they would kiss each other. The nymphs told us that the creature came from the north and asked us to slay the thing.

It didn’t take us long to find the creature, and I addressed it in both common and Celestial. It answered me in garbled Celestial, saying it was here on orders, but would not tell me whom it was serving or why. My Celestial is a little rusty, and I think I insulted its mother…

Darvin, through me, tried to convince it we were conducting a fae and magical being census that happened twice every millennia. After a few stumbles through translation, it revealed its master’s name: Akeedar.

The name rung bells, and I recognized it as a mythic, historical figure. There were several instances of heroes dealing with a devil named Akeedar. They would make a deal that seemed rather good to them at the time, but fell folly to nitpicky details that cost them their soul.

Following that revelation, we decided we knew enough and engaged the creature in battle. Asakku blasted the beast with his flame, and the beast let loose a wet, guttural laugh. Well, that was less helpful than we could have hoped.

Darvin, conversely, flung a magic missile at it, and the beast shrieked as the two projectiles slammed into it. In pain and fear, the monster lifted its hand, howling in pain and fear as it tore a hole in reality. Darvin must have damaged it, for it lost the spell quickly. While the other two held back, I charged forward, letting loose a roar.

Unfortunately, Asakku killed it before I reached it. Why does this keep happening? Ugh. Either way, the beast was dead. It vanished, and we backed away, returning toward the nymph’s glade. During the walk, the stench of rot and death filled our noses, and we discovered patches of mushrooms that covered our way back. Darvin identified them as magical, though he couldn’t tell much more than that they were fae in origin.

Asakku looked for a way through them to no avail. Looking around, we realized the mushrooms were everywhere around us. We somehow wandered into the center of the glade without stepping on them, but I wasn’t entirely sure it would be a good idea for us to move on.

One way or another, there was no avoiding stepping on them somehow. Asakku picked up a stick and tossed it at the furthest patch he could reach to see if there was any reaction. When the mushroom broke, we heard some manner of angry screech. A distressingly humanoid face and arms grew from a maggot-like creature the size of a man clinging to the edifice of the tree. The horrifying beast bared its teeth in our direction.

Asakku turned and slashed at the beast, and Darvin retreated behind me and launched magic at the shrieking maggoty monstrosity. His jaw tightened, but the creature continued shrieking despite its terrible wounds. Moving in beside Asakku, I slashed at the beast’s face, trying to remove its head. The blow didn’t land as deep a wound as I would have expected for a maggot, but it winced and shook a little.

“Kill this thing, Asakku!” Darvin bellowed, looking a little paler than usual, though just as resolute as ever. Asakku rammed his spear into the beast. Darvin moved around us, snarling as he hurled magic through the air. It missed the maggot thing, by a few inches. A limb cracked off the tree, and leaves fell around us, shivering through the air from the shock.

Still howling, the beast shimmied up the tree, the shriek changing pitch into an almost intolerable scream. I grit my teeth as the sound made my teeth ache in my head. Behind me, Darvin let out a panicked, high scream and ran helter-skelter away in a panicked scrabble.

I dropped my sword at my feet, unslinging my crossbow from behind me, aiming it up. Distracted by Darvin’s screaming, I missed my shot and grit my teeth as I reloaded the bow. “Get him! We don’t know what’s out there!” I bellowed at Asakku. He gave me a brief nod before taking off after Darvin.

The beast launched through the air, twisting over my head and landing on the ground behind me. It howled and slashed at me with its little claws. Its little claws sunk into me, drawing blood and leaving streaks of pollen on my armor. I recoiled, firing my crossbow at it. The bolt missed, sinking into the ground beside it.

The maggot’s shrill screaming hit me like a freight train. Fear raced through me, making my heart pump faster than I could remember, and every shadow in the forest felt like it grew teeth. Sliding my foot under the falchion, I dropped the crossbow at my feet and kicked my falchion into the air, catching it in one hand. Stepping forward, I let out a yell that was half fear, half fury and rammed the blade down into the beast. White ichor oozed from the wound, sliding down its thick, leathery skin. I knew I would have nightmares about this for weeks.

The maggot slithered back from me, leaving behind a glistening trail of ichor. It rushed up the tree, moving with inhuman speed. Globs of white liquid clung to the branches and bark. Stepping back, I dropped my falchion and crouched, picking up my crossbow. My hands trembled as I fought to reload the crossbow.

A spell shrieked up into the canopy from a figure that looked like Darvin, slamming into the maggot beast. My stomach clenched. Last I had seen, Darvin and Asakku had fled into the trees, and for all I knew the figure that showed itself was… No. If the figure came closer, I’d address it, but for now that monster in the tree was the closest.

A creature that looked like Asakku came charging up toward me. I moved back and away from it, firing. The bolt grazed him, cutting a narrow track across his arm. The thing wearing Darvin’s face, launched magic after the maggot. I clenched my teeth, turning my crossbow at Darvin.

I reloaded, and sent a bolt into Darvin. The bolt caught him in the leg, sending blood spraying everywhere. The cloud over me lifted, and I blinked. My chest tightened as I realized that I had shot the real Darvin and the real Asakku.

“Now that you’ve shot me, you bitch, do you have Lay On Hands?” Darvin choked, out, glaring at me from the base of a nearby tree.

“Oh hell, Darvin,” I said, my throat tightened as I took stock of what was happening. The maggot creature had reached the canopy. I could almost not see it any longer, though through the foliage I couldn’t tell much more. Asakku had scrambled up the tree and wore a look of fury and determination.

Lowering the crossbow, I rushed forward to Darvin and pressed a hand to his back. I prayed, apologizing to Bahamut for losing my sight and my way. Power coursed through me, rushing to my fingertips, and the wound in his leg sealed, leaving behind a faint, pink scar.

Above us, Asakku and the beast chased each other through the trees. Asakku sent a gout of flame up the trunk after the beast while Darvin and I watched. I reloaded my crossbow, deflecting Darvin’s teenage advances. That boy would stick his bits into anything.

Above us, the nasty little thing howled. I walked over to the tree and gave an effort, but… it went about as well as I expected. I scraped a lot of the bark off, though. So there was that. Darvin rolled his eyes at me, and I shrugged. I couldn’t do much of anything else. What did he expect? Unable to do much, I collected my falchion and returned, watching the combat taking place above us. Finally Asakku slew the beast, ramming his spear through its head.
It took me a second to realize the spear with the maggot was coming straight down at us. I dropped to one knee, grabbed Darvin and held him close to me, thrusting my shield up above us to protect us from the falling shish kebab.

The spear slammed into the ground beside me, the maggot’s head… or maybe its tail, slamming into the edge of my shield. The creature split apart in a rain of innards spraying across the shield, spattering my armor, and coating the ground.

As soon as Asakku descended the tree, we made our careful way through the mushrooms. Asakku stopped and pointed back toward the mushrooms. “Those are people. These… These shapes. They’re people. That one’s a deer.”

I swallowed hard, trying to ignore the putrid stench in the air. “Hey… Look.” He pointed to a hollow in a tree. Not sure I wanted to know, I walked over to the tree and peered inside. The hollow was deceptively large, and the closer I got, the more I saw scattered personal items scattered about. There were some dice, a wig, some other… personal matters. Within the tree, we discovered the beast’s personal cache. A number of scrolls, potions, and so on were within the hollow. Asakku and Darvin both looked around, considering the scattered effects.

While the two men looked around, I walked around the mounds, pausing to pray. On instinct, I cleared the dirt away from one of the mounds, seeing what lay beneath. As I cleared the leaf litter and mold away from what I presumed to be the face, I heard a sharp gasp and struggled not to recoil in horror. Dimweir’s face flashed across my memory. I couldn’t save him; perhaps I could save these people. Assuming they were alive at all and not some terrible monstrosity.

I looked around, seeing perhaps a hundred people. My heart in my throat, Asakku, Darvin, and I freed a hundred and five people, many deer, and other animals. It took us the better part of daylight freeing these people. Gathering them all together, I tried to soothe their fears.

The three of us herded the emaciated, horrified people back to Whitehorn. We called Gruis, Atron, and Hardur to tend to these newcomers. Gruis immediately started arranging housing; Atron and Hardur offered to help teach them to homestead as needed.
After a rest, we returned to the nymphs in the morning. The change was immediate when we approached. They lounged about with pixies feeding them fruits and looking at ease. The one we recognized from the last visit approached us, followed by the unicorn in his human form.

“You have gone above and beyond in this matter. The fear eater was not an easy foe to slay. With that in mind, perhaps you can defend more lands than you had before. I offer you the lands around this glen, though in turn you must protect these nymphs and this glen. Should they be assaulted or injured, you should fear what might happen. Not by me, but by them. They are, after all, permitted to defend themselves.”

After a brief few moments of discussion, we agreed to do our best to protect the nymphs and allow them to protect themselves. The unicorn recommended we collect the mushrooms since they could have great value with the fae, should we trade with them. The unicorn said that there may be more work we could do if we desired more land for our kingdom, though obviously it was not the time.

The nymphs spoke to us about the mushrooms and the Fear Eater. The Fear Eaters were malicious fae, using terror to fertilize the mushrooms they grew. The spores caused fear, which again fertilized the mushrooms. Fear Eaters were marginalized to the edges of society.

The nymphs retrieved a chest from their spring and said we were welcome to any of the things within the chest. We then spent the night at the spring. Darvin indulged, if the noises from the other side of the glen were any indication. I relented and accepted a massage and good company, though I didn’t engage with them sexually. Much to their disappointment.
In the morning, relaxed, refreshed, and in good spirits, we returned to Whitehorn.

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Session Eight

The lightning came, and Darvin, Erevel, and Triss vanished, leaving Asakku, Dimweir, and I standing in the dark. We stared at each other for a moment before trying to decide what, exactly we were to do. Should we press on, or should we turn back? After a brief discussion, we decided to press on. In some ways, I reasoned, it might be better what with Erevel having been mind-warped by that beast.

The low, mossy ceiling dripped with stalactites. We gave Dimweir a torch, replacing the one Darvin took with him into wherever. He thanked us and followed us around the bend and down the hallway. We entered into what looked like a strange amphitheater or a church. Benches lined the stepped walls and a throne sat on a raised platform before them. The moment we entered, we heard footsteps climbing up the stairs behind the strange throne and settled there.

The man on the throne was stocky and wore a set of judge’s robes I could barely make out in the dim light. “Please, remove those terrible, clanking boots before you enter my chambers.”

I obliged him and removed my boots before entering the room and addressing him. During our exchange, I learned he was imposing law on the town and believed himself responsible for removing crime from the city entirely. I, perhaps mistakenly, told him that the townsfolk were no more lawful than anywhere else, but that they had simply abolished law altogether.

I offered to go and establish law there in the town, since… I didn’t know what else to do. I don’t think we could do much to stop him by ourselves. Leaving, we paused at the mouth of the cave to discuss what had happened when a chill mist passed us and wound into the forest. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, and I grit my teeth as the sensation of evil filled my stomach.

I followed the mist, moving as quickly as I could. Asakku fell behind. Dimweir took point since he was able to see where the mist was going, and I followed him. The mist slid into what appeared to be a crypt, and we slid to a stop before it, catching our breath. Asakku investigated the crypt and informed Dimweir and I that someone had been maintaining the crypt. The lock was new, though it had a little rust on it, and the shrubbery was well tended. The word “Belmont” was carved over the top of the crypt, though none of us knew who that was.

I surmised that the mist that slid past us could well have been the vampire. Looking around, I realized we were no longer in the forest. I jotted down its location, and the cave’s. We returned to town and asked the folk there about the Belmonts. Our first stop was the tavern, where the tavernkeep told us the Belmonts had died off a year or so ago. He had been murdered in the middle of the night, and the killer was never found.

The father of the family died a year before the last heir. The family lived in Belmont manor, though someone was now trying to set it up as an orphanage or something. We thanked the tavernkeep and headed to find and talk to the undertaker, hoping he would have more information. And perhaps the key for the crypt.

I asked him about it, and after some discussing, we decided to pay for a year’s upkeep of the crypt in exchange for the key to the crypt. We decided to wait until noon before unlocking the crypt’s gate and examining the crypt. We found two tombs inside a small, stone room, and a spiral staircase heading down into the darkness.

Accidentally breaking the cover of one of the crypts, we checked both crypts. Dimweir, much to his annoyance, noted that both of them were dead for over 200 years. Oops. Well. That was a thing. Hopefully they’d forgive us.

We lit a torch and descended the staircase, discovering a hall full of tombs. I checked the dates of the members in the tombs as we sidled along. At the end we found the most recent member of the family. I focused my instincts, trying to determine if the creature we sought was here. I felt a faint sense of lingering evil on the tomb of the father and a significant stain on the tomb of the son.

After a fair amount of metaphorical tapdancing, we opened the sarcophagi. The stronger presence became obvious as the vampire who ensorcelled Erevel. Dimweir and I opened the second sarcophagus. Asakku yelped when something struck him from behind.

The vampire had latched into Dimweir’s neck, and Dimweir swung his morning star at Asakku’s head, his eyes wild and furious. Asakku forced the vampire away. We exchanged blows in the narrow space with Dimweir hellbent on killing Asakku. I dropped my falchion in the melee and drew my silvered longsword, discovering that it worked better. Perhaps my fumble was a blessing in disguise.

Dimweir collapsed after the vampire latched onto his neck, draining blood from him. At least we didn’t need to worry about him attacking us, but I worried for his safety. Asakku stabbed the vampire in the head, and it vanished into a mist that dispersed above our heads. I scowled and swung my blade at it, certain the mist was the vampire’s presence. The damn thing just wouldn’t die!

We heard a sound behind us, and Asakku threw himself away from a very pale, weak Dimweir reaching for him. My heart wrenched a little. The poor boy. He had no business out here in this mess, yet… here he was. Asakku and I stabbed at the mist. I prayed to Bahamut, and infused my sword with my will, hoping against hope to stop this thing. A moment later, the vampire collapsed to the ground on his face.

Dimweir attacked me and stumbled by, falling on his face with a low groan of frustration and exhaustion. Asakku staked the vampire, and I went to restrain Dimweir but fell to the ground after slipping in something I don’t want to think about too much. Dimweir crawled after me, trying to grab me, and I warded him off.

Asakku grabbed Dimweir, and I slid the stone lid off the sarcophagus to find it was empty. The effigy cracked into pieces as it hit the ground, and I winced. I felt bad for destroying a family crypt, but sometimes the greater good requires sacrifices. Behind me, Dimweir fought Asakku, though he didn’t have the strength or skill to free himself. I sighed, thinking we should get the boy to a cleric since there was nothing either of us could do to help him except, maybe, wait.

The two of them flailed about on the ground, and I watched for a moment before examining the area around us, hoping we could find something of us, but… nothing presented itself. I called back to Asakku that there was nothing we could do from there and recommended we drag Dimweir into the light. Maybe the sun would help him. Where the hell was Triss when you needed her?

We dragged him up into the sun, and he shrieked and began smoking. My gut tightened. Either we hadn’t killed the vampire downstairs, or… I didn’t know what. Hell. Dimweir was one of them now, and we had to find a way to return him.

Dimweir became a mist, and freed himself from Asakku. Asakku and I headed down into the crypt and dragged the vampire’s corpse into the sunlight, though when we reached the top of the stairs, there was nothing but ash where Dimweir had been. My heart tightened. If what I think happened…

Asakku and I stepped out of the crypt and into the sunlight, leaving the shadows behind us. We spoke for a time and decided to write to the Hero’s Guild up north about the vampire situation since I was uncertain we could face this ourselves. We regretfully informed the innkeeper that we could not, in our current state, offer them further aid. Despite being afraid and unhappy, he accepted the news and said he would write the Hero’s Guild, using their ties there, to seek aid. Asakku and I offered our status as leaders of the newly-minted country of Whitehorn.

With that, we traveled home to Whitehorn. During the three-day travel, neither of us talked much. Our hearts were heavy in our chests, and our sorrows weighed on us like lead. What could we say? We had not only failed the town but also Dimweir. Hell, he’d been my charge, and I’d failed him. I knew I had to write a letter to my order, explaining what happened, but what could I say?

Whitehorn didn’t lift my spirits. Tenements filled with ragged, drugged, hollow-eyed people huddled around muddied, foul streets. A tavern, a smithy, and a graveyard. All I could do was keep my focus on what we needed to do rather than the misery around me. Perhaps there was some way we could create change while we are here.

To that end, we met with Ahlset to discuss the development of the city, including the building of a temple, an orphanage, schools, and so on. These would help lift the spirits of our people and provide them with future possibilities. Brightening the future for these people would help stave off the drug problem occurring and improve the lives of our people.

He also mentioned drafting a charter for our kingdom that listed out the roles and powers of each member of the council. Asakku and I agreed to allow him to draft the agreement in order to ensure our council has the ability to sustain itself.

We then heard petitions from people seeking positions on our council and attended state business. A large noble family, the Mortare family, seeks to move their seat of power here if we build them a manor. Which we cannot afford to do just yet, but we expressed interest in finding way to make it work.

((—OOC—Atron as Warden (compassionate but believes in law; wants to see separate laws for adults and children; desires action and wants to make a difference. Tharles and Druis recommended to city guard, Hardur suggested to care for wayward children and teach them if he desires.

General Liandre —Diplomat from City of 1000 nights.

((Gruis chosen as Councilor))

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Session Seven

Darvin dreamed that night. A familiar voice called to him and told him he (or we) were needed in Pinefall. We weren’t sure whether it was the singular or collective “you”. From what we knew, collectively, Pinefall is a small village in the middle of nowhere, not far from home.

Knowing we needed to get home swiftly, we elected to head back to Whitehorn via the fastest trade routes we could manage with Dimweir in tow. We parted ways with them at Southreach before heading to Oakhill. Once there, we took care of some kingdom business and set a few holidays. Ahlset had some business for us that we attended to, though the longer I do this, the less certain I am that I can stomach it much longer. The differences in moral focus are… The only word I can think of is insurmountable. We will see what happens.

Leaving behind Oakhill, we headed to Pinefall. Ahlset had informed us there was some kind of undead problem in the town. Dimweir joined us, since I wasn’t going to leave him behind. Ahlset terrified him and with good reason.

We arrived in Pinefall after sundown. Fog filled the streets and forest. What, in most towns, should have been the town commons was a paved expanse with a large column in the center. Seeking the tavern, we entered, finding it what we might expect. It was rife with memorabilia and hunting trophies from a man named Ted.

The bartender spoke to Asakku in hushed tones. “He made it?”

“Yes.”

“I would have thought he would have come back with you…”

“We were not present when your man arrived, but…”

“Pity. Theodore’s father was a bit of a legend around here. Expected more from him. Glad we didn’t let him take his father’s axe…”

Asakku raised a brow.

“Nonetheless… every few days a beast comes into the town and seeks out those who commit crimes—petty or significant—and takes them away. They sometimes return pale with sunken eyes and a distant manner, much like the beast himself. There have been twenty-five or so who’ve gone over the years. Always at night.”

“How long has this been going on?”

He looked around, considering what was happening. “Well… fifteen years. It was almost convenient back then, but it’s become something of a problem recently. Even those who commit the most minor offenses vanish.”

“Ted died some time ago, didn’t he?”

“He did.”

“And when did this begin?” Asakku asked.

“Perhaps a year. Though he died far to the south of here. He was uesting for… something. I don’t remember what. He was always doing that.”

Darvin grinned at Erevel. “So… Perhaps you should commit a crime.”

She glared at him. “You want me to be bait? Won’t that cause you trouble?” She looked at me, as though hoping it would.

“It might. I suppose it depends on what you do.” I shrugged. “Though please don’t kill anyone.”

“Kill anyone? Why would I—“

Asakku scowled at us, silencing the discussion. “…And they always are taken to the East?”

“Well, yes. Into the forest—we don’t go there. It is forbidden, after all.”

There were no rooms at the inn, though the group found lodging with some locals. I camped outside since I wasn’t willing to stay and leave my armor untended. It was nothing personal.

In the morning, I was going to make tea, but someone told me I was not permitted to have a fire in town limits, apparently. Well—so be it. Asakku brought me an omelet from inside. I thanked him for it. At least I got breakfast, anyway. I ate and broke down the tent and took care of my armor and so on.

Based on what we heard, I deduced that it was possible we were dealing with vampires, but I was certain they were undead. Often, vampires would recruit or create a guardian for their lair to protect them during the day.

Given what we know of the forest, we sent Darvin in to speak with the unicorn. He was gone for eight hours, so far as we could tell. Erevel flirted with the lumberjacks and lumberjills for awhile before becoming what I assume was bored and heading back to town. I spent most of the afternoon stopping Dimweir from pestering the lumberjacks. Asakku slunk up and down the edge of the woods, examining tracks and… whatever it was he was doing. Nothing I could understand.

Darvin eventually returned, telling us he had mixed news. He could tell us where the creatures were, but not what they were. However, our unicorn friend set us on another quest following this one. Something about nymphs and drow and kidnapping. I stopped paying attention at nymphs. Lovely creatures, those.

We spent another night in town before heading toward the forest. We entered the forest, following the map Darvin provided. Eventually, we found a man seated at the mouth of a cave. He looked to be human so far as we could tell, though he was wearing full plate, and it was hard to tell. A glaive lay on the ground near him along with a javelin and a net.

I studied him and determined that he was not evil. With that knowledge, Triss approached to talk to him, hoping we could talk him away from the cave. He told her he was hired to protect the cave with a nonchalant manner. Erevel fired an arrow, slamming the stone beside his head. Darvin stepped forward and hissed something about being from the blood of dragons or… something. I wasn’t much paying attention.

He threw his hands up. “No, no. This job isn’t worth it. I thought you were good people, but I guess not. Hell.”

To be honest, I was surprised at Triss’s willingness to not slay him where he stood. However, we slid into the darkness in rank and file with me at the front. We slid along through the cavern, though as we passed through the first room, Erevel said there was someone in the room with us, though she seemed disinclined to attack him.

I turned to face him, and saw a man in wearing black with his hands laid on Erevel’s shoulders, a smirk on his face. Triss stepped aside and rammed her sword into him. “Kill the mage!” the vampire roared and then attempted to exert its control over me, though its attempt slid off me like water. I attacked the creature, my sword cutting into its shoulder. Stumbling, it lifted a hand to Asakku. “Your fist would better serve me than these fools, don’t you think?”

Asakku shook his head like he was coming out of a dream, a deep scowl on his face.
Behind me, Darvin retreated to avoid Erevel.

Dimweir let loose a warbling cry and charged forward. “I think this will work!” He threw a vial of some kind of brilliant, glowing, red substance at the vampire. The vampire burst into flames with a roar, and flames spilled over onto Dimweir and Asakku, though neither seemed seriously injured. Asakku thrust his speartip into the vampire twice in quick succession.

Erevel let out a shriek and charged after Darvin. As she lunged toward him, I swung at her with my shield. Unfortunately, she was far too fast for me. Growling a curse, I returned my attention to the vampire, nearly cleaving his leg from his body with a ferocious blow.

The vampire launched at Dimweir with a gurgling hiss and landed on him. Behind me, I heard the sounds of battle as Erevel and Darvin stood off against one another in the shadows. Dimweir—still on fire—yelped and struggled against the vampire’s grip.
Asakku stepped forward and rammed his spear into the vampire. It staggered before vanishing into a fine mist.

Triss called out, “Erevel, you okay over there?”

“Yep!” Her voice came out chipper and pleased. “Just about to kill Darvin!”
“Son of a—“ Triss groaned.

She rushed over toward Erevel, preparing some form of spell. I charged after her, though by the time we arrived, Erevel had lifted her hands. “Kidding! Kidding. No. Just… We’re good. I don’t want to kill him. We’re fine.”

I walked over, studying her. I didn’t trust that the hold had completed. Something in my gut warned me that the influence was not yet gone. “Darvin—step behind me, please.”
Erevel scowled at me. “What, you don’t trust me now?”

I sighed. “It’s not personal, Erevel. But my gut tells me you are still a threat.”

Her eyes sparked with indignation. “This is a great way to repay me for the companionship and friendship we’ve shared until now. I thought we were here to kill vampires. Why don’t we focus on that.”

“Sounds like Erevel to me,” Darvin said with a laugh.

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Session Six

When Dimweir woke, I chastised him for running ahead. Asakku told us that most of the sewers lead to massive chasms beneath the city, so the sewage flows directly into these chasms, or so Asakku told us. Knowing that the Drow, in number, are very dangerous. Retreating up to the crossroads, we paused to decide what direction to go. We elected to investigate a way that sounded like a waterfall flowing. The other direction had voices echoing down the corridor.

We came upon a locked, barred room filled with bedrolls. My heart beat faster. Perhaps the kidnapped women were kept down here? Erevel crept forward to examine the lock before she abruptly stumbled backwards a pace when a man in black-studded leather and wearing a black rat mask slapped her across the face from the other side of the door. Asakku snarled, charging up to the door and ramming his spear through the space between the bars and into the offending man. The man crumpled to the ground with a strangled, gurgling sound.

Blinking and shaking her head, Erevel again bent to the task of picking the lock. It opened with a click, and we entered the room. The others checked to see if he had anything of use. They collected a few odds and ends here and there. Triss saw to Erevel’s facial wound, and I approached the door, kicking it open with an armored boot.

The room had a desk, several chests, a desk, and a few other odds and ends. I’d heard whispers from beyond. I knew I did. But… There was no one there. Darvin opened his senses to detect magic around us, and saw nothing other than the corpse’s lingering aura of power. In the chests, Erevel discovered stacks of neatly folded black robes. I took the opportunity to count the number of bedrolls, but it didn’t match the number of women missing.

Darvin, Erevel, and Triss donned the black robes. Asakku eschewed the decision to change his clothes, though he was hardly dressed like a paladin or holy avenger. My thorn-covered armor doesn’t much look like a paladin (which is something I’ve been meaning to rectify), but either way, we are somewhat disguised.

We walked along the path awhile longer and discovered a whirlpool of sewage. Backtracking, we took the other path. We discovered a cage with a humanoid figure in it along with several torches. There was a five-foot tall wall blocking the way with several men standing around it. Asakku slunk forward, pressing himself against the wall at their feet.

Darvin spoke up, warning them that there were people in the sewers. I reinforced the lie telling them that someone was down here killing members of the order. One of the men charged off, and the other lingered. Darvin told him we needed to move the women, and he released the monstrosity and fled. Asakku tried to climb the wall to pursue the man, but the undead beast turned to attack him. Asakku narrowly avoided him.

We slew the monster, and I knelt, boosting everyone up onto the wall one after another. From above, I could hear the sounds of battle, but I waited until I was certain all my allies were safely above. I then scaled the wall, grunting as my heavy armor pulled down on me. Erevel “helped” by grabbing my helmet and yanking. I think she meant well, but I’m not sure it did much.

By the time I reached the top of the wall, the brief scuffle had ended. Walking further into the room, we saw a door, behind which we heard muffled sobbing. I glanced at everyone, and they all nodded in the faint light. Taking a breath, I pushed the door open, hoping we found the women.

The door swung inward, revealing the missing women all chained to the walls and a horrible-looking man wearing rags and looking like a corpse. He asked what order we hail from, and we spoke to him, attempting to ascertain what had happened. The “King of the Sewer” informed us the women were there for breeding purposes. I looked around, and saw that many of them were in various stages of pregnancy. My jaw clenched so tightly, I could swear my teeth nearly crushed.

“And what is that creature in the corner?” I gestured toward a crouched man in the corner. The thing looked like an unholy cross between a man and a rodent. It bore a long, naked tail and yellowed teeth. Fur burst out of its flesh in uneven patches, and it watched us with dark, beady eyes.

“A pet. Nothing more.”

“A pet.”

“Yes.”

No part of me believed him. Not that there would have been cause to. The rage I’d been trying to quell filled me, and I stepped forward, glaring at him, my words biting. “You are done here.”

He quailed, pressing back into the throne. “We will be gone by dawn. If you’ll just let us—”
“Not good enough,” Darvin hissed, moving around me, lifting his hands. A hellstorm of fire engulfed the throne, scorching the Rat King’s oily rags and sending the stench of burning hair and meat into the room.

The Rat King shrieked and howled, his body shifting and popping as he shifted into a horrible rat-like creature. I grit my teeth, leaving him to the others as I charged after the so-called pet in the corner, drawing my silvered sword.

The monster fled before me. I growled in annoyance. Why does everything have to run? Don’t they know this armor is heav— Actually, they probably do know this armor is heavy. That’s why they do it. Just as I came up to the creature, it latched its teeth into Dimweir’s face. He began screaming and thrust his sword into the thing’s gut several times.

Erevel saved him, firing an arrow through the Rat King’s eye and out the back of his head. I caught the corpse, prying its jaws open to free Dimweir’s face from its grip. I then pressed a hand to his face, calling on the power of my faith. The wounds closed under my fingers, and he staggered back, panting.

Examining the women’s bondage, we found no keys to open their shackles—clearly they were never going to be freed. If the Rat King were not already dead, I would have killed him a second time. And perhaps a third. I lacked words for the rage that boiled up in my chest.
Erevel, true to her nature, approached the chest the moment combat ended, exploring it. She fiddled with the lock for a moment before acid poured over her, and she screeched in pain. Triss did what she could to soothe the wounds, but they remained red and angry on her skin. Gritting her teeth and fighting the pain, Erevel deployed her unique skillset to help free women as well as she could. It didn’t take long for the poison to overwhelm her.

“I’m sorry,” she gasped, her pale skin showing a fine sheen of sweat in the torchlight. “I need to get to a healer. Now. I’m not sure if—”

“Go,” Darvin said, and the rest of us echoed his sentiment. She’d done everything she could and risked her life to do so. None of us faulted her need to seek help.

Darvin, Triss, Dimweir, Asakku and I broke the chains of the remaining women. They babbled thanks, some of them collapsing into tears as soon as their bonds were released.

As soon as we freed all of them, the five of us surrounded them, our eyes on the darkness as we encouraged them onward to the surface.

It wasn’t a quick procession, but we made it. At the mouth of the entry into the sewers, we found Erevel sitting against a building, her face drawn and breath coming in weak, ragged gasps. Dimweir and I hefted her up between us, carrying her as we made our way to the Citadel. Dawn had broken, and our prtrollss drew many eyes as the six of us, all weary, covered in filth, and armed to the teeth, walked in a semicircle around the nude women we guarded.

Despite success in saving them, I feared they may not be saved since they could well be infected. Even if they were not infected, the babes they carried may well kill them to deliver. All I could do was pray to Bahamut to preserve them.

When we arrived at the Citadel, I sent for someone to help the women and Erevel and sunk down to sit against the wall while we waited for someone to come down to talk to us. It didn’t take long for a cleric of our order to see to Erevel. He smiled and lay a hand on her chest. Her breathing eased, and her color returned, leaving her looking weak and tired, but alive. We thanked him profusely, but he just laughed. “No one has died. It is a good day.”
We all looked at each other. Dimweir scoffed. “It’s dawn.”

“I know. Glorious, isn’t it?” The cleric laughed and shook his head, heading off into the city with a wave of his hand.

We all chuckled. Triss took Erevel back to the inn to bathe and have a well-deserved rest. None of us objected, though Triss looked like she would have accepted any excuse to escape before someone came to discuss the situation.

An hour later, a tall, broad man in highly-polished armor strode over to us, calling out to others to come and tend the women. He sounded furious that they’d been left for so long in the chill morning air. I didn’t recognize him, but the air of authority and the way everyone leapt to do his bidding suggested he was of some high standing.

When he reached us, the man identified himself as the head of our order. I provided my report regarding what we discovered in the sewers. Darvin looked over at me with a considering expression before stepping forward. “My Lord Commander, I wanted to express my concern that the situation in the sewers was… exacerbated by the neglect of one Commander Baen.”

I felt my mouth go dry, and I studied the cobblestones while the two conversed. “I see,” the Lord Commander said, his eyes hardening. “I shall take that under advisement.”
I took a deep breath and straightened. “I also wished to address something, sir.”
He turned his eyes to me, a brow raised.

“Initiate Dimweir performed admirably and showed the bravery and compassion that our order represents. He should know he did very well.”

The commander’s eyes softened a little, and a smile played at the edges of his mouth. “I see. Do you believe he is ready to be a full paladin of the order?”

I shook my head. “Not yet. I believe he needs more field experience than he currently has, though when he possesses it, I foresee that he will be an asset to our cause.”

“Ah. I see. Tell me, whose squire is he?”

“Sir Baen’s,” I said, trying to keep the hate out of my voice.

“Hm. Well, I see a solution to the problem. Sir Baen neglected his duties and has not been training our young friend. You have a new kingdom which is uncharted wilds. I shall send him with you. He shall not be your squire, you understand, but you shall take command of his training.”

I bowed my head. Oh, that boy would be so furious. At least he would be receiving proper training now. Darvin and the Lord Commander spoke for a short time longer, discussing affairs of state before he departed, leaving us in the courtyard.

As soon as the meeting concluded, we stumbled back to the inn to bathe and sleep. To be honest, I was glad I wear plate armor—at least it cleans easily.

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Session Five

When we arrived in Dawnside, Asakku and I heard three cracks of lightning, and Darvin, Erevel and Triss appeared beside us. We reconnected and discussed what had been done in the time apart. They sent a large number of people to White Horn in an exchange with a carpenter’s guild in South Port. There was a similar agreement with a mason’s guild. Unbeknownst to me, they also made an attempt at dealing with a thieves’ guild to assist in a heist that they were unable to complete since they were spirited away to those strange holding cells.

Asakku left word with his people that he had completed his assigned task, and we all—noting the chill in the air—chose to purchase warmer clothing. We also purchased a horse and covered wagon along with a tent large enough for us to comfortably sleep in.
Leaving Dawnside, we headed north to Drangorn to reach my order as well as the crown to try and enlist their aid in guarding our kingdom and, perhaps, ridding us of the lich.

Entertaining though he may be. I spoke up about heading to see my order. I requested to speak to Knight Commander Zybel Shaniqua, and the young acolyte who greeted us took us up to see her. She was very much unimpressed with our methods, but understood—somewhat—the needs of the situation and took our situation to a Lord Commander, though we needed to wait until later in the week.

Upon her recommendation, I sought out Knight Commander Gareth who oversees the city of Drangorn to see if he needed assistance. It turned out Gareth was no longer in command, but had died a year ago in a fight with a wyvern. He left the command to Knight Commander Raleigh Baen. Son. Of. A. Bitch. My heart heavy, I asked the Acolyte to announce us to the Knight Commander Baen. He arrogantly sent us on an errand to find commoner women who had vanished since it was beneath he and his detachment. They were busy handling a gargoyle incursion into a wealthier part of the city. Darvin, I am told, gave him a tongue lashing. When we met out in the courtyard, I reluctantly told the others why I loathe him so. I have not spoken so angrily of anyone at any time in their presence and felt I owed them an explanation. Collectively, they reacted with horror and fury, though I spared them the details of the encounter. I did tell them that I’d beaten him bloody, however.

Baen’s squire, a fresh-faced acolyte named Dimweir, sought us out in the courtyard and told us Ser Samael Carden was assigned to check it out and that he would be back around dinnertime since apparently Baen preferred to dine with his men. I scoffed at the thought that he had men who obeyed him, but… such is the world we live in.

We booked space at a local tavern, The Flesh Bear. From there, I let the others know I had some personal business, and I visited my father for several hours, telling him of our adventures, though I was careful to censor some of what happened from him. He would not appreciate hearing about our covenant with the Lich. Asakku joined me, and we shared stories of previous fights, hunts, and tales of my childhood. I introduced Asakku as a man who saved my life.

I asked my father if he had heard anything about the women disappearing, seeing as he lives in the slums by choice. He didn’t know more than the order had. After much embarrassment where Father tried to convince me to marry Asakku and bring him grandchildren. He made dinner, which was fantastic as it ever is. We then met Ser Samael in the courtyard of the Citadel.

Samael told us that on Lenster street there is a manhole that leads into the sewers that he identified as the location of the worst of the kidnappings. He intended on taking a group of men down there, but he was reassigned by Baen when he mentioned needing more men to complete the task. Sounds like Baen—the coward. He also assigned the young squire, Dimweir, to join us. Much to Dimweir’s misery.

We suited up appropriately and headed down into the stinking morass.

Erevel vomited when we reached the base of the ladder. We crept along through the sewers until we encountered four dark-skinned elves carrying a chest and engaged them in battle. I gave Dimweir tips during the combat and spoke to him of knowing how to engage. He seemed to listen, though the fool ran out into the darkness and an arrow laid him low. I almost regret bringing him since I am going to need to guard him more than I am focus on our mission. As soon as I could reach him, I knelt at his side and called on the power gifted me by Bahamut to heal him. An arrow slammed into my armor, and the point dug into my back. It was more of a glorified scratch than anything, but I felt the burning of poison. It didn’t do me any true damage, but it stung nonetheless.

After healing Dimweir, I turned and fired on the dark elf who had hit the boy and myself with arrows. Between Triss and myself, we ended him, though he sliced the ropes on a bridge across the flowing river of sludge nearby. We squinted into the darkness, seeing the edifice of what looked to be an ancient elven city. With the bridge out, we couldn’t reach the city, but we all agreed that it was a strong possibility that the missing girls had been abducted and carried across the bridge into whatever that stronghold was.

Unable to leave Dimweir, we stayed with him for about two hours until foul poison worked its way through him and he woke.

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