Thursday Night Pathfinder

Session Eighteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View
Session Seventeen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mirrors?” Gunnar said, looking at me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gunnar retreated after nodding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I said nothing in reply.

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you swear it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View
Session Sixteen

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

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

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

He nodded and vanished into the darkness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I see. Bring them to me.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Saga says we should take it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you,” he said with a chuckle.

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

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

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

View
Session Fifteen

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

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

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

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

“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 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.

View
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.

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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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