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Chapter 3 — Tavern Talk
In the back of a small, nondescript tavern, around a round, wooden table, the party of six sat arguing about what to do next.

   The place was located near the Garden of Rhinda. It was a single room, dimly lit, and no one else was present except an old and nearly deaf bartender behind the counter. This fact of course was very much to their liking, and the emptiness of the place also meant that even Belvin had been willing to join the rest within the tiny establishment.

   For the most part they were arguing around in circles, reiterating the same points as they had on walk back, but there were also some new ideas presented.

   "Perhaps Malick could keep the gem safer than we ever could," suggested Hakam, who still wished to give the gem back to Malick regardless.

   "Why do you think it will be safe with Malick?" questioned Jayce.

   "He does have those animated statues," said Mythlos.

   "It cannot be that safe with Malick;" said Leokas, "the gem was already stolen from him once."

   "Why would we need to keep it safe?" asked Jayce.

   "My god has shown me this," said Hakam.

   "How did he do that?"

   "During augury, I received a sense. You would not understand."

   Belvin had been sitting quietly for a while now, but he could no longer contain his surprise at the others' desire to give the gem back to Malick. "What about Jayce?"

   "What about me?" Jayce replied.

   "He sold you into slavery!"

   "And now I'll be the one making money off of him," said Jayce. "So in the end, I win."

   "How is that winning? You were sold into slavery by this man. Why is everyone trusting him?

   "Lawman, how is it that you wanted to arrest Vashti, yet are okay with Malick's behavior?" he asked.

   "We will ensure that Malick refunds us the money for Jayce's sale in addition to the reward for retrieving his gem," replied Hakam.

   "If we sell the gem back," said Belvin, "why do you expect Malick to part with it again if we later need it?"

   "I suppose that is a good point," said Hakam.

   "Of course it is!"

   "We could always steal it back later," said Jayce. Mick nodded in agreement.

   Hakam glared at him. "It's his property."

   "Isn't it Allu's property, technically?" said Jayce.

   "Allu is an efreeti;" said Hakam, "he has no rights."

   "If we do not have the gem with us, what good will it be to find this strange island?" asked Belvin.

   "What good will it be if we do have it?" asked Mythlos.

   "Yes," said Leokas, "I am confused, my friend. It seems to me that we will need money for gear and transport if we are to find the island, but I do not see how having the gem helps us."

   "Do you really think Allu is not going to come after us?" said Belvin. "He tracked down Malick after all this time; he can find us. He will do this whether or not we actually have the gem on our persons. And when he comes for us, we will need the gem in order to send him back through the portal and to find a way to lock him in."

   "I still don't see how Allu is our problem anyhow;" said Jayce, "he seems a local problem for Calimshan."

   "That's why we should worry about it!" said Hakam.

   "You are not listening to my words!" said Belvin to Jayce. "Ignoring Allu won't make him go away. The only way to make him go away is to destroy him — which we are not powerful enough to do — or to figure out a way to trick him to go back through the portal."

   "I am not so sure we can figure out a way to do that," said Leokas, "nor am I convinced that we will need the gem to do it. However, I agree that we cannot ignore Allu. As I said before, this task was appointed to us, even though we be small."

   Hakam drew out a sheet of paper, a pen, and some ink from his pack. "We are getting nowhere in this discussion," he said. "Let us enumerate our options:

   "First, we could collect the reward by returning the gem to Malick," he continued, while writing this option down.

   "Second, we keep the gem but inform Malick of the truth.

   "Third, we keep the gem but do not inform Malick.

   "What else?"

   "Let us not forget about Sseth," said Leokas.

   Hakam spoke and wrote, "Fourth, give the gem to the dragon for safekeeping."

   "We could destroy it," offered Mythlos.

   "Fifth, destroy, bury, drown the gem, or the like."

   "Kill Malick," said Belvin.

   "Sixth, kill Malick."

   "I should point out that four and six are not mutually exclusive," said Belvin.

   "Noted," said Hakam.

   "Malick doesn't deserve to die," said Mythlos. The others agreed.

   "Jayce, how is it that you are so forgiving?" Belvin asked.

   "Because when we return this gem, I'll be sure the amount he pays us will rob him of more than he's worth."

   "What's to prevent him from giving us counterfeit money?" said Belvin. "I simply will not trust the man."

   "Even if it is real money, it still won't be worth anywhere close to the actual value of the gem," suggested Mick, surprising the others, who had forgotten he was even there. "Another option would be to sell it to someone other than Malick, for its full value or at least closer."

   "Seven, sell the gem to someone else for more," wrote Hakam. "Whom would you sell it to for market value?" he then asked.

   "Most people would sooner kill us for it," said Jayce. Then he added, "Although, I do have that thieves' guild token.

   "No!" said Hakam. "I will not trust a thieves' guild. They would be among those you said would 'sooner kill us for it.' No, my opinion is that the safety of the gem is far more important than any sum of gold we might acquire. What good will it be if Allu rules the Plane?"

   "For once, I agree with you," said Belvin. "Except that Malick clearly is not the one to keep it safe."

   "We've already been down that road of discussion," said Leokas. "It leads nowhere. We now have a list of options to consider. My opinion is that we should contact Sseth before we make any of these decisions." Everyone agreed with this.

   "I shall visit my brethren at the Temple of Justice," said Hakam. "Surely there will be one in this city. A priest there will certainly be able to assist me in sending a message to the dragon on our behalf, but it will likely cost a somewhat large sum of gold to purchase the scrolls required."

   So, everyone chipped in what money they could and Hakam left to seek out the temple. Belvin and Leokas returned to the garden, and the rest went off to find a place to perform and enjoy drinks together.

~~~~


There was indeed a Temple of Justice, in the southwest quadrant of the city, the Temple Quarter. Hakam had received directions from some night watchmen, and Mythlos, Jayce, and Mick were also heading to the same Quarter, having learned of a popular tavern and inn called Asdefk's located there, so they traveled together. The three walked south along Star Street and made their way over the Ithal Bridge, a massive and ancient bridge crossing the River Ith. The four-wagons-wide bridge contained impressive stone carving that was clearly the work of dwarves from long ago.

   The other three left Hakam when they spotted the sign for the inn, and he continued alone to the temple, which was rather typical for a Tyrran place of worship. Hakam introduced himself to the nighttime attendants and was informed that one of the temple's librarians was still awake, so he entered the candle-filled chamber with shelves of scroll cases. As a cleric of the Just God, Hakam was able to purchase a scroll of sending for half price of 350 aenar, which was 35 platinum pieces.

   The librarian assisted him in deciphering the ancient, holy lettering upon the parchment. Once confident of the words of the prayer, Hakam recited them, while concentrating on the image of the huge brass dragon as he remembered him that first day he had joined the adventuring party. The letters on the scroll vanished as he spoke them.

   "Now speak your message," said the librarian, "and remember, you only have twenty-five words before the spell fails."

   Hakam continued to concentrate on the image of the dragon. Then he spoke: "Sseth, I am with friends who found ghost's journal. Require assistance safeguarding Omlar. Please meet in Darromar at earliest convenience. Great power, importance in gem.

   "That's exactly twenty-five," he said to the librarian. "Now what?"

   "Now you wait for a response. Only you will be able to hear it."

   No sooner had the librarian finished then Hakam heard a deep voice in his head: "Regret to inform you that I am imprisoned on west coast of Calim Desert by a blue dragon. I may never read a book again!"

   "You heard something troubling," said the librarian. "Your countenance has changed."

   "Yes, someone is in danger," answered Hakam. "I will need to purchase another scroll."

   After exchanging another large quantity of platinum coins, Hakam unrolled a second scroll of sending and cast the spell written therein.

   "Perhaps we can help. Any more information on your location? Is captor in league with Allu? Are you hurt?" (He could not think of any other words to fill the spell's limit.)

   The dragon's answer came back. "I am fair. May have found Allu's palace. Entrance in cliffs on seashore, south of monastery, when tide low, near shipwreck. Don't think dragon knows...." His voice cut off suddenly at the twenty-fifth word.
Session: 30th Game Session - Monday, Mar 24 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — After-Dinner Conversations
"That is a fascinating story," said Leokas, when Malick had finished his tale. "We have further information that may be of interest to you. When identifying the gem, we further learned that it acts as a portal key. Had you noticed the runes on its square faces?"

   "Of course," said Malick, "the Dwarven letters B, R, E, S, M, and A. And the fire runes on the triangular faces. I know not what they mean."

   "Hmm," said Jayce, "Samber!"

   "So it's a person's name?" Malick asked, looking at Jayce with surprise.

   "Reginald is good at anagrams," noted Leokas.

   "I spent some time in Lantan in the past," said Jayce.

   "Do you know anyone named Samber?" Mythlos asked.

   "Not personally, no," Malick replied. Then he said, "I suppose that Allu used this portal key to enter our plane...."

   "A genie is a powerful being;" said Jayce. "It may be for the best that the gem is lost. Would you not be concerned that Allu would come for you if you had the gem again?"

   "As I said, I have been concerned. But if the syl-pasha has it, Allu may not know, and he may still come after me. I may not be safe with or without it. I have purchased magical defenses for this tower. I can only hope for the best now. As for you, should you not also fear the efreeti?"

   "Yes, we are concerned regarding our safety in this matter as well," answered Leokas. "Now, did you say that some of the hobgoblins still remained on the island?"

   "Yes, the other half remained there."

   "Do you have any sense of where the island was?" asked Hakam.

   "I have no idea beyond what I have already told you. We were probably heading toward the Nelanther Isles, but I have no sense of how far off course we were blown or carried."

   "How did the efreeti arrive on the island?" Jayce asked.

   "I do not know, unless the portal is somewhere within the cave on that island."

   "Do you know where the pirates landed after you fled the ship?"

   "I do not, but now that you ask, I find it odd that they did not return to the Nelanther Isles. They were heading toward Faerûn."

   "If you were close enough to reach Memnon," said Hakam, "I'd imagine that the pirates and the efreeti made landfall near Myratma or Memnon."

   "How long ago was this?" asked Leokas.

   "About two years ago," Malick replied.

   "The Year of the Tankard," said Hakam. "I know of a war in Amn against ogre mages but nothing about any organized hobgoblin piracy...."

   "A wide variety of humanoid races reside on the Nelanther Isles and live as pirates," said Malick.

   "Could the island you shipwrecked on have been as far south as Lantan?" asked Jayce.

   "It is possible," said Malick. "Again, I am no navigator."

   "Are you sure that they were not heading for this island intentionally?" asked Jayce. "Obviously not to wreck, of course."

   "I suppose that is possible. I do not speak Goblin, but I had thought it was entirely accidental. They seemed to have discovered the cave where they settled."

   "Have you considered going back?" Jayce asked.

   "To the island? Hells, no. It was hardly a pleasant experience. I prefer the comforts of my riches."

   "I think we have asked our share of questions," said Leokas. "I think we shall take our leave, with your permission."

   "Before we leave," said Mythlos, "would you be so kind as to demonstrate one of your illusions?"

   "If you insist," said Malick. "This is one of my favorites." He waved his hands and spoke the final words of a spell, and suddenly, the four empty seats at his table were filled with illusionary copies of him, perfectly mimicking his posture and body motions.

   The adventurers rose from the table, as did Malick and his four copies. "Send me word if you hear anything more about this Allu," said Malick. "And I will likewise find a way to notify you if he tries to attack me here — assuming I survive the encounter."

   "We will do so," said Leokas.

   Malick walked with them to the door. (Two of the illusions, which had been sitting facing the door walked forward through the table, and the other two, facing the other direction, walked away from the door through the table and the other two illusions.) Leokas turned to ask one last question. "If we had had the gem, how much were you prepared to pay us?"

   "I was ready to pay double the average price for a green star sapphire, which tend to sell for 1,000 aenar."

~~~~


"We have much to discuss," said Hakam, as they walked the alleys back to the Garden of Rhinda.

   "We should return with the gem and collect the reward," said Jayce.

   "And tell him what?" said Hakam. "That we stormed Calimport and the syl-pasha's treasury and took back the gem in fifteen minutes? There has been enough deception tonight for my tastes."

   "Where did Belvin go?" said Leokas.

   "I think he went off somewhere to relieve himself," said Mick.

   "You would keep the gem from him? That does not seem lawful," said Jayce.

   "No, I think the gem is rightfully his," answered Hakam. "I just think we should be honest when we return it too him. Besides, I sense the gem holds great power, and the longer we hold on to it, the more danger we call to ourselves."

   "Perhaps we have a responsiblity to protect the gem," said Leokas. "If it is indeed a portal key to the plane of fire, its usage could lead to our world being invaded by an army of genies. Perhaps it has fallen upon us by the gods to stop that from happening."

   Jayce didn't seem to hear Leokas. "I bet we could pressure Malick to offer us more than 2,000 for the gem, because of the risk we endured."

   "I want the gold," said Mythlos. "Let others handle Allu."

   "We could be talking about hordes of efreet," said Hakam. "The dragon barely fought one off."

   "What are you talking about?" said Jayce. "Sseth trounced him."

   "What will we do if Allu attacks us directly, though?" asked Mythlos.

   "We need to find Sseth again," said Leokas. "For all we know, he has already dealt with the efreeti or at least discovered his lair."

   "There is magic for that," said Belvin, startling the others. They had not seen him return to join the group. "Magic for sending messages or locating someone, I mean."

   Mythlos agreed, "Yes, we can surely find a mage in this large city tomorrow who can send a message for us."

   "This gem is too powerful," said Hakam. "If we give it back to Malick, we may be giving him over to death."

   "I thought you just said that it belongs to him," said Jayce.

   "It does. But maybe we should hand it over to the authorities here in Tethyr and allow them to deal with the matter."

   "They may be just as corrupt as the so-called authorities we met in Memnon," said Jayce.

   "I am beginning to change my mind about the gem," said Leokas. "I do not know that we physically need it to stop the genies from entering our world; we just need to find that island and destroy the portal itself."

   "That sounds easy!" said Mick sarcastically. "I'm in."

   Leokas continued, "If we are to save the world, we'll certainly need better gear. Let's give the gem back to Malick, after negotiating a higher price than 2,000 gold pieces."

   "How will we explain our deception tonight?" asked Jayce.

   "He will understand for the same reason we understood why he lied to us about the identity of the gem. We needed to test him first. I see no reason to doubt him."

   "Except that you are forgetting that he sold Jayce into slavery," said Belvin. "There's still that."
Session: 29th Game Session - Monday, Mar 03 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Malick's Tale
"I am the son of a rather rich noble from the old days of Tethyr," Malick began, "but I bored of the life of a rich brat, and when I came of age, I left home and set sail from the town of Zazesspur, traveling to Amn, hoping to enhance my magical talents there.

   "However, the daughters of Tyche had other plans: my vessel was attacked and boarded by hobgoblin pirates. They took the ship under their control, after slaying all of the crew and passengers except for me. I am an illusionist, and my illusions allowed me to hide about on the boat without being discovered.

   On the way back to the Nelanther Isles — at least, that is where I assume they were heading; I am no navigator, but I believe we were heading west northwest. However, Umberlee sent a severe storm, and the ship was set adrift somewhere. The vessel struck ground on an island that was unusually cold, and it was wrecked upon a rocky beach.

   "The hobgoblins abandoned the boat and took shelter in some caves on the island. I managed to stay alive in the same cave as well. I survived by stealing some of their food at night. (There seemed to be plenty of deer in the woods above the caves.)

   "I lost track of time while there. It could have been months; I had really given up hope of ever getting back to my home. I was alive, but I was growing frail and bone thin.

   "Then one day, I had the oddest turn of luck. A being of fire, an efreeti, I believe, appeared in the hobgoblin's camp. The goblins called him Allu. He seemed to have convinced some of them that he was a god who would reward them greatly if they could take him from the island back to Faerûn. About half of the hobgoblins agreed to help him. With his magic and their efforts, they were able to repair the ship with timber from the forest.

   "When I saw that the repairs were complete, I stowed away aboard again before they set sail. Once again, I survived by stealth and secrecy.

   "At long last, one night, I overheard a conversation with the hobgoblins and the efreeti that we would likely reach the land within a day. So that very night, I snuck about and prepared to escape with one of the lifeboats. But first, I did something rather unlike me. I am not sure what possessed me to risk it, but before escaping, I snuck into the efreeti's own quarters. I managed to steal the Omlar gem from among his possessions while he was distracted in conversation.

   "Miraculously, I succeeded. Undetected, I left the ship and survived an all-night trip rowing back to land. I arrived off the shore of Memnon, exhausted and dressed in rags, but I had survived my adventure. I was alive, and I knew that the gem was special and had the potential to make me rich. It was not until I had returned safely home that I realized just how rich the gem could make me.

   "The hobgoblin, of course, was likely sent by the efreeti to recover the gem, but surely, you would agree with me that to steal the gem from such an evil creature as an efreeti is permitted? How he could have found me here, I do not know. I admit, that fact does scare me. Terribly so. But I often have thieves attempting to raid my tower, unfortunately. The new queen has not done the best job at keeping the valuables of such wizards as myself secure. I have had to purchase my own security measures.

   "So, yes, I lied about the gem, but I am sure you can understand why. I was telling the truth when I said that it was of great personal significance to me; it was proof of my amazing journey of survival and of my sudden bravery. But there is no way I could afford to pay someone the true value of the gem. And if I had been honest about the true identity of it, I would have attracted even more thieves, not adventurers.

   "Yet now I fear that the gem is lost to me forever."
Session: 29th Game Session - Monday, Mar 03 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Revelations
~ ninth-day, 19th of Ches, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
West Branton


Before noon, on the first day of spring, they reached the hamlet of East Branton. (Leokas lent Mick his horse, and he jogged behind. On the journey, Mick asked questions about their past adventures.) Next, they reached the hamlet of Evenflow. After that, as dusk approached, they came to Hostim, a small town. Across the river, they could see a monastery. A wooden sign had a flower painted on it with an arrow pointing a cross the water toward the complex. "I believe that there sits an Ilmatari abode, our allies," suggested Hakam.

   But they did not deem it worth the effort to ford the river and instead camped once again under the stars.

~~~~


The next morning, there was another thunderstorm. As before, Leokas successfully constructed a makeshift shelter for all of them. They were cold and wet afterward, but no worse off than that.

   At noon, they could see a small town across river. There were far more folk about, walking to and fro along the river now. They took this as a sign that they were nearing the city. One of the passers-by informed them that the town across the water was Abbor and that they would soon reach a thorp called Ruba by early afternoon. This indeed was the case.

   They questioned several of the travelers about Malick, but none of the locals had ever heard of him.

   An hour after passing through Abbor, they passed the keep of Loranse, which they learned was the seat of county Ithmonn, standing on the other side of the river.

   It was here that Jayce stopped the group and informed them that he had something he needed to say. "So, I need to come clean with all of you before we reach Darromar," he said.

   Belvin looked ready to strangle him. "I knew you were withholding things from us."

   "It would have changed nothing until now," continued Jayce. "The fact of the matter is that it was Malick who sold me into slavery. I will have to go into his tower disguised."

   "Go on," said Leokas.

   "Apparently, before the hobgoblin stole the Omlar gem — I regret to admit it — but I had broken into Malick's tower and taken it. But I was captured by his security system, and he had me sold into slavery. On second thought, I do not regret it, because it was quite impressive work on my part!"

   "This is a troubling revelation," said Hakam.

   "Come now," Jayce protested. "I have been a useful member of this party."

   "That is irrelevant in the eyes of Anachtyr. This is indeed a complex legal case, however, and I know not how the Just God would decide."

   "Malick was not within his rights, as a citizen of Tethyr, to enslave Jayce," said Leokas.

   "That is true, yet neither was Jayce within his rights to steal Malick's gem."

   "For my part, I have no direct ties with Malick," said Leokas, "and I know nothing of his character or his actions. I took the job solely for an opportunity to hunt a hobgoblin."

   "So if Malick needs to die, that will be permitted by you?" asked Belvin.

   "I, for one, lay no claim upon his head," said Jayce.

   "What can you both tell us about this wizard's tower?" asked Mick, who was only slowly beginning to understand what was going on.

   "The tower rests within a walled grove of small trees," answered Leokas. "It is about five or six stories in height with a large staircase ascending to the main door. At each corner of the building are rounded turrets with spires. When I knocked on the door, an image of Malick appeared, and I spoke with it. Then, I was invited into a large dining room for dinner, which was served by his singular butler. There is not much more to tell."

   "What if Malick was using you for an evil task all this time?" asked Mythlos. "If Jayce tells us the truth, this raises many questions about his character."

   "Were you the only one sent to retrieve the gem?" asked Hakam.

   "No, I was responding to a poster," said Leokas. "There were likely others."

   "If he is a powerful wizard, why did he not go himself to pursue the hobgoblin?" asked Jayce.

   "He is probably not skilled in tracking," replied Leokas. "And I do not think he is a diviner."

   "Is Malick a noble?" asked Hakam.

   "I do not believe so," said Leokas.

   "Well, we should continue on to reach the city before dark," said Jayce. "I humbly ask that you help me not be made a slave again."

~~~~


After one final hour of travel, they reached the thick, stone walls of Darromar. These they had to circumnavigate clockwise to reach the Ithal Road and the northern gates into the city. Leokas and Jayce told the others that Malick's estate was in the Royal Quarter, the northwestern quadrant of the city. Passing many wagons of travelers heading into and out of the city, they came to the first inn and paid a small fee to stable their animals, with the exception of Kamil and Stormshadow. (Their masters hoped to find another druid grove within the city.)

   They began asking around what folks knew about "Malick of Darromar", but few had ever heard of him, even here in his own city. Fewer still knew where his tower stood. "I've heard he is very rich," said one maiden who seemed to know the most, "that he inherited a tower and an estate from his father."

   They learned that a druid grove did exist in the Garden of Rhinda, a luscious flower garden at the base of and surrounding the Ithal Crag, the large hill upon which the queen's royal palace of Faerntarn was built. After walking three long blocks south on the Ithal Road (called Star Street within the city), they proceeded a block west into the bustling Queen's Market. Skirting the border of that massive open-air marketplace to the other side, they walked one more block southwest and came to a dazzling display of colors. The garden lay before them, filled with arrays of roses of all colors, shaped hedges, and a scattering of trees that were just now in bloom with pink and white flowers.



   They passed through an archway cut from two large bushes and were directed to a clearing of the garden designated for druids. Most of the druids here were followers of Eldath, dressed in garments covered with flowers, but they welcomed Belvin just the same, and were happy to permit the guests to leave Stormshadow and Kamil in their care.

   As Jayce began to disguise himself with use of a kit he carried, the others made plans around him. "What about the gem?" asked Hakam. "Shall we take it to our meeting with Malick? Or shall we leave it here?"

   "We should leave it here with Stormshadow," said Mythlos.

   "The question depends on whether it belongs to Samber or Malick," said Leokas.

   "Or to us?" suggested Mythlos.

   "Perhaps Samber is Malick," said Hakam.

   "In any case," said Leokas, "he owes me an explanation."

   "Do you think he even knew the gem's value?" asked Hakam.

   "I should think any wizard would," said Leokas.

   "I have an idea!" Jayce piped in. "I'll disguise myself as a well-known, major criminal. We can use that to intimidate him."

   "That would only serve to bring attention to you. It's best if he pays you no heed at all," said Hakam.

   "Why assume that we would need to intimidate him in the first place?" asked Mythlos. "We do not know if he is good or evil."

   "What part of 'He sold me into slavery" did you not understand?" replied Jayce. "What if he tries to do so again?"

   "If he tries to stop us, we'll fight back," said Leokas. "There will be six of us, after all, and only one of him."

   "I just do not see Jayce's plan ending well," said Hakam.

   "We could challenge him to a wizards' duel," suggested Leokas, "to establish our power."

   "What good would that do?" said Hakam. "Besides, I do not think Mythlos is advanced enough to win. He's been focusing more on his combat studies of late."

   "I could call down a swarm of bats," said Belvin.

   "There is a law against that," stated Hakam.

   "Where does it say that?"

   "Magical assault: the punishment is a fine of 15 hundred gold pieces, retribution of 3,000, and public humiliation in the stocks for three days."

   Belvin shrugged. "I can afford that."

   Jayce's hair was now colored brown, and the freckles were gone from his face. "What if I were a Calishite enforcer, sent to take the gem for the syl-pasha?"

   "A civilized ruler, like the syl-pasha, would send an ambassador to the queen and pressure her to use her own enforcement to retrieve the gem," explained Hakam.

   "The way I see it," said Jayce, "is that we have two routes to victory: intimidation or diplomacy."

   "For what victory are we aiming?" Hakam replied. "I don't see that we should aim to fight — certainly not in his own home, which I am certain is magically protected. Let's go without the gem and negotiate."

   "I can bluff that we lost it," said Leokas.

   "We can claim that a powerful Calishite wizard stole it from us," suggested Mythlos.

   "Such as the Sultan Arcane of Memnon?" said Hakam. "Now, at last, we have a believable tale. We could then negotiate for a higher bounty for the risk he" put on us by lying about the gem's worth."

   "Can we trust these Eldathyn to leave the gem here?"

   "They will be bound by druidic oaths to not touch our belongings," said Belvin.

   "Jayce, my friend," said Mick, who was sitting on the ground by the gear, waiting for the rest to decide on a plan of action, "you still look exactly like yourself. That will never fool the wizard."

   The others turned to look at Jayce. It was true; the disguise was not working well.

   "Can't you magically alter yourself?" asked Leokas. "You turned into a goblin; surely, you can look like another human."

   "I did consider using magic to take the form of an attractive woman," Jayce answered, "but I worry we will be at his tower longer than the duration of the spell."

   "Well, hurry up; this process is taking far too long. It will be dark soon."

~~~~


After a half hour, the others finally approved of Jayce's disguise. He looked older and bore no traces of his Lantanna heritage. Leaving the gardens, they returned to Star Street and walked north back to the gates and the wall, which they followed counterclockwise until reaching reaching an upper-class part of the city. Many fenced estates were here, and Malick's tower, looking as Leokas had described, was easily spotted.

   The gate to the estate was unlocked, and so they entered the grounds. They came to the stone steps to the tower, and climbed all seven of them to the top, where they stood before a large, oaken double door with a heavy, metal knocker. In front of the door, on the wide top step, was a runic circle carved in the stone.

   "When last I was here," said Leokas, "when I knocked on the door, an image of Malick appeared in this circle. Step aside."

   Leokas knocked. There was a pause, and then a transparent form began to take shape, hovering within the circle of runes, which were now glowing a faint blue. The form was that of a tall, thin human with a round face and curly hair. Leokas recognized the image as that of Malick.

   "Who comes to the tower of the great Malick of Darromar?" said the voice of the illusion before them. Its eyes darted to and fro looking at each of them. "Ah! Are you the elven adventurer I hired? I had given up hope that you would return. Do you have the gem?"

   "Alas, I do not," replied Leokas, "but I know where it is. I tracked the hobgoblin who stole the gem from you for a very long distance, and I and my companions here eventually did retrieve it from him. However, it was then taken from us by others who were also looking for it. I believe that there is still hope in retrieving it, if we could learn more information from you."

   "This is indeed a disappointment to hear," said Malick, looking discouraged, "but you are the first to return with any news at all. Please accept my invitation to dinner. My servant is just now preparing the meal. There may not be a great amount of food, since you are so many, but it should please your palates. He is a grand cook." Then the image of Malick vanished.

   After a few moments, the doors swung open. There was an older human butler standing there, who waved them inside, then scurried off to the kitchen. They stood in Malick's dining hall, a large room with a 30-foot table, surrounded by eleven chairs. The room was lit by many torches with blue flames, and windows in the northeastern and southeastern turrets let in what was left of daylight. On the eastern wall to their left was a massive fireplace, which was currently providing warmth to the room. The western wall had three doors in it, the central one of which presumably led to the kitchen, for the butler had passed through it.

   No artwork hung upon the walls, but within the two turret alcoves and against the north and south walls stood a total of six stone statues. These were clearly carved as impressions of chess pieces yet with actual arms and legs. The two nearest them, by the entrance, were carved to look like knights in armor but with the heads of horses.

   Malick sat at the head of the table, in a comfortable-looking chair. "Do come in, guests. Have a seat."

   As they filed into the room and took their seats, Leokas introduced each of them, using the name "Reginald" to introduce Jayce. They all filled the seats nearest Malick, except for Belvin who sat on the far side of the table by himself.

   "Where can I go if I need to relieve myself of the day's digestion before eating?" Belvin asked.

   Malick stared at him.

   "Please pardon our friend," explained Leokas. "He is a good druid but is not accustomed to civilized society and was not aware that it is rude to request the use of a chamber pot when one has not been granted a guest room."

   Mythlos spoke up. "Could I request that you teach me one of your spells? I am but a wizard in training, and I am certain I could learn much from you."

   Malick chuckled and blushed a little. "Surely, you jest."

   "It is true," said Jayce/Reginald. "People speak about the greatness of your magic."

   "Are these statues magical?" asked Mythlos.

   "I am surprised and honored, and yes, they are magical, but I invited you in not to talk about me but the gem, so please tell me more, Leokas."

   "I easily tracked and pursued the hobgoblin southwest into the Forest of Mir," Leokas began, and he proceeded to share some of the details of their adventures, leaving out how they had stopped to rescue slaves with the Janessar or how it was actually Vashti who slew the hobgoblin. "We learned that the hobgoblin who stole the gem was sent to retrieve it by a powerful master, and we investigated and pursued further into the desert. However, we too were being watched, it seemed. When we arrived in Memnon, it was stolen by the syl-pasha's troops, because they wanted to use the gem to power the minarets on the trade way."

   "This is most unfortunate," said Malick. "I wish that you had come directly back to me with the gem when you first had it. How did anyone else learn about the gem to begin with?"

   "The syl-pasha has many spies," replied Leokas. "And I shall be honest with you: we had the gem identified; we know that it is not a green star sapphire, as you had told me."

   "Most unfortunate, most unfortunate," mumbled Malick. "Few can stand against the syl-pasha and his power."

   "I do apologize;" said Leokas, "however, you...."

   He was interrupted by Jayce. "We may be able to get it back, but it would be high risk. We would be prepared to take that risk, if you...."

   Now Leokas interrupted. "My friend here is overly optimistic, I think. But as I was saying, you were not very honest with us, and that fact put us at far greater risk than I had signed on for. There were many Calishite guards and many hobgoblins, besides other dangerous encounters, that we had to face."

   "I agree with Reginald," said Mythlos. "Surely, once you teach me you teach me your powerful magic, we can recover the gem together!"

   Malick ignored Mythlos and queried Leokas. "Wait, you speak of many hobgoblins? And who was this hobgoblin's master?"

   Jayce answered. "The group of hobgoblins were working in a concerted effort to stop us."

   "They claimed a new god, named Allu, had need for your Omlar gem," said Leokas.

   "Do you know anything more about this so-called god?"

   "We learned that he is an efreeti, a genie of fire," Leokas replied.

   Malick sat back in his chair in shock and remained silent. At that point, the butler re-entered the room, bearing a tray of food, and he began serving each of them in turn over multiple trips. When he came to Jayce, he denied the food. "I have already eaten. Please do not take offense; I greatly appreciate the hospitality, but please give my share to the others who have not eaten today."

   "Fair enough," said Malick, when the butler looked back to him, "I am not offended."

   When they had all been served and were eating the delicious food, Malick said, "Now that my servant has left the room and you have food to eat, let me explain why I have responded with such surprise about what you have just reported to me...."
Session: 29th Game Session - Monday, Mar 03 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Meant to Meet?
~ eighth-day, 18th of Ches, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
Ernest Ford


   Early in the morning, before dawn, there was a terrible storm with wind and thunder. The tree in which Mythlos was trancing had begun shaking, and Shrodinjer began croaking loudly in warning. Mythlos descended quickly and warned the others, and Leokas rushed to construct some shelter for them before the rain began pouring down. (Hakam sheltered in the safety of his tent.)

   Thankfully, Leokas' expertise kept them mostly dry and safe from the wind, and they were spared any lightning strikes. Things cleared up after several hours, and the party, well awake by now, set out again. The river was raging from the rain, and the fields they passed through muddied their animals' hooves and paws.



   They stopped for a break late in the morning at a very tiny thorp called Kiser's Rest, where they were told that they were halfway along the river to Darromar. While there, Leokas stopped and restocked some arrows. "Can you tell me of the terrain ahead to Darromar from here?" he asked the old fletcher.

   "Much th' same as you've exper'enced thus far, no doubt," said the man, "field and farmland."

   "Is this region dangerous? Or has there been an increase in danger lately?"

   "Not partic'arly, saer. But then, most folk don't travel much in these parts."

~~~~


   When highsun came, they were hailed by someone from the treeline to the north in Elven. Glancing out, they spotted three elves with wildly braided hair, facial, leg, and arm tattoos, and leathers. Hakam reached for his gnomish firearm, but Leokas stayed his hand. "Hold, Hakam."

   "They are wild elves, which are said to be dangerous in these parts," said Hakam.

   "Belvin will speak to them."

   Belvin indeed recognized them as wild elves, his distant kin, and quickly dismounted from Kamil and ran to meet them. The others saw him slap palms together above their heads with the three strangers in some sort of greeting gesture. The four wild elves began talking immediately in Druidic, not Elven, so not even Leokas or Mythlos could understand the conversation.

   After about five minutes, the three strangers turned and disappeared again into the trees. Belvin returned and filled in the others. The elves had been hunting worgs and goblins in the area and had discovered a reduction in the goblin numbers in the last few days. Then, they had come upon a wounded worg in the woods and slain it. Next, they discovered the gutted carcass of another worg, west of a human ferry town. From there they had pursued the party, curious as to who it was that was killing the worgs and goblins, and were soon easily following their tracks in the fresh mud.

   "Be careful," the elves had warned. "If you continue slaying the despised races in this land, you may incur the wrath of their larger tribes. Know you were easy to track."

   The three were from the Wealdath, the great forest of Tethyr to the north, where both wild and wood elves were said to live. They welcomed Belvin there at any time, and passed their greetings on to the elves of Chondalwood.

   "You could have introduced us," said Jayce.

   "Yes," said Belvin.

~~~~


   Pushing on, the adventurers reached the town of Ithbend by mid-afternoon. This was a larger settlement than the others they had passed since Myratma, and Hakam, Jayce, and Mythlos entered to find a late lunch. Jayce and Mythlos performed together and earned 19 silver pieces, which covered the meal for the three of them. There was some debate about how to split the remaining four silver pieces. Mythlos wanted to split fifty-fifty, but Jayce argued that Mythlos was only singing backup, while he was playing and singing. Mythlos countered that Shrodinjer had also joined in.

   "Actually," said a passing peasant, interrupting. "The frog was an added touch; it's why I gave you that silver coin in the first place."

   Over the quick meal, the three tried to gather some insight into happenings in the area, but all they really heard about were rumors that the queen's oldest child, Princess Sybille, of two years of age, was difficult to discipline.

~~~~


   The group pushed further on to reach West Branton by dusk. They were now in the Crown Lands, they were told. They also heard a rumor that intrigued Mythlos especially: "A friend o' mine in Dar'mar was tellin' me 'e meets this elf, see, who says a noble sacked 'is village! Which o' the queen's nobles would do that?"

   "When was this?" Mythlos asked the peasant.

   "'Bout sev'ral moons, I reckon."

   "I have no doubt the elf this man's friend met was from my old home," Mythlos told the others afterward.

~~~~


   They set up camp outside the village, trusting again in the village watch to alert them to any danger in the night. The days of travel were wearing on them, and they all slept or tranced deeply.

   In the middle of the night, Jayce woke with a sudden pain in the front of his right thigh. "Ah!" he called out. The pain was not severe, just a constant throbbing, but it was enough to make him stir. He pushed aside the right leg of his breeches to see a faint glow coming from the tattoo he had there. He had never shared it with the others, but in his past, he had suffered a terrible injury to his leg that would have crippled him, but a strange elven cleric had healed his leg and left the mark on him without an explanation.



   The tattoo had never glowed before.

   "Your leg is glowing," said Belvin, appearing beside Jayce's hammock and holding his sickle at ready and whispering. "Shall I cut it off?"

   "No!" said Jayce.

   "Quiet. Someone or something may be nearby that triggered this magic. Come!" Moving silently, the two walked a ways to the north.

   "It's hurting more, again," whispered Jayce.

   "Good, that means we must be drawing closer to the cause. There!" Belvin pointed toward the tree line. Jayce could not see anything in the darkness. "He's running away!"

   "Stop!" Jayce called out. He quickly abstracted the wire from his pouch while motioning and humming a quick spell. "We're not your enemy," he spoke into the wire. "Why are you running?"

   "You can hear me?" came a male voice from the wire.

   "Yes, by magic. I am a bard from Lantan. You have triggered a magical tattoo I bear, and I must know why."

   There was a pause. "The leaves cease their rustling," said Belvin. "He has stopped."

   "Does the tattoo, by chance,... glow?" queried the voice.

   "Indeed, it does."

   "Who gave it to you?"

   "An elven cleric."

   "Do you serve Erevan?"

   "I would not use the word serve, but, yes, Erevan is my patron."

   "He approaches," noted Belvin. "Shall I shoot him?"

   Jayce shook his head. He still could not see the stranger. Mythlos and Leokas came up beside their companions. "What is going on?" Belvin pointed, and the other two elves nodded.

   A light-weight humanoid, perhaps a few inches shorter than Hakam, stepped closer, dressed in a traveling cloak and wearing a hood. He looked at Jayce and lifted the sleeve of his left arm. There, on his bicep, was a glowing tattoo. "'Tis a strange thing indeed for two humans to follow Erevan Ilesere," said the man, "for two humans to bear tattoos that burn and glow within range of each other, for those same two humans to meet so randomly along a river in Tethyr. I am Mick. I was given this tattoo by a priest of the Trickster in my youth."

   "Surely you were not 'randomly' along the river Ith in the middle of the night," said Jayce. "To where are you heading?"

   "I am heading to Darromar," said Mick.

   "As are we. Are you an adventurer?"

   "I am a free traveler."

   "As Erevan himself."

   "Yes."

   "Why were you running?"

   "When I felt the pain in my tattoo, I feared some dark magic was nearby, so I fled."

   "Can you defend yourself?" asked Mythlos.

   "Relax, Mythlos," said Jayce.

   "He made it this far," said Leokas. "But from where?"

   "I spent much time of late in Waterdeep. I wanted to see more of the world."

   Jayce asked him to describe the cleric who had given him the tattoo. The descriptions did not match. "So the clerics were two different individuals," said Jayce. "It's as if Erevan himself wanted us to be together... or else this is just some elaborate joke of his.... Well, if you pay us the party fee of 50 gold pieces, you are welcome to travel with us, at least as far as Darromar."

   Mick half-laughed. "I see you are the one with humor in this party. Who are your companions?"

   The three elves were introduced. Then they had questions of their own for Mick.

   "You have very sharp features for a human," said Mythlos. "Are you fully human, or do you have elven blood mixed in your veins?"

   "I am fully human," said Mick.

   "Do something that would impress us," said Mythlos.

   Mick drew a coin from within a pocket in his cloak and held it between two fingers for them to see. "A Waterdhavian coin," said Mick. "Or is it only your imaginations?" Before their eyes, the coin vanished. Only Leokas' eyes were quick enough to see that with a flick of Mick's fingers, the coin had rolled down the back of his hand and into his sleeve. Leokas kept this knowledge to himself, for the trick was indeed impressive. Instead, he asked, "Tell me, have you had much experience with the hobgoblin kind? What are your thoughts on them?"

   "Usually, they are wicked, despicable creatures."

   "Usually?"

   "What is your favorite spell?" asked Mythlos.

   "Perhaps Bigby's...?"

   "What are your thoughts on the laws of Tethyr?"

   "I haven't given them much attention, to be honest."

   "What is your favorite weapon?"

   "I fancy the rapier, but any pointed object will do."

   "Have you seen such a sword as this?" Mythlos drew out his moonblade.

   Mick looked at Mythlos strangely. "No, I have no idea what that is, besides being a finely crafted longsword."

   "Let us suppose you were attacked by a human youth under the age of accountability," Mythlos continued. "Would you kill him?"

   "I think, perhaps, that I would rather just pay the 50 gold piece fee and be done with the questions," said Mick.

   "Leave him be, Mythlos," said Jayce.

   So Mythlos ceased his questions, and they all walked back together to the camp, where Mick joined them for the rest of the night.

   Both tattoos ceased their glowing, and the pain, too, went away.
Session: 29th Game Session - Monday, Mar 03 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — A Busy Morning
~ seventh-day, 17th of Ches, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
Steddford


There had been no further disturbances in the night. When the sun rose, Hakam and Belvin prayed to their gods for power, and they all broke their fast on fresh fruits from the village and river trout caught by Leokas and some of the fishermen.

   The mayor, a portly fellow, greeted them and presented them with an award for saving the village. "I know that it is not much, but we took a collection, and everyone in our village chipped in. Here is a sack of 1,150 silver coins."

   The adventures discussed the matter amongst themselves. "I do not know if I can accept this," said Leokas. "These people are poor."

   "This is not loot," said Mythlos. "Adventures earn money from slaying evil beings, not by taking it from peasants."

   "Churches and temples accept donations from the common folk all the time," said Hakam. "I see nothing wrong with accepting the gift."

   "It might be insulting not to accept the money," suggested Jayce.

   "I do not care about money," said Belvin. "The rest of you take it."

   They accepted the coins, and Hakam, Jayce, and Leokas divided it three ways. Leokas then approached Jak and gave him his share. "Take this money," he said. "You fought bravely, and it will be a start toward raising enough to pay a clerical fee for restoring your leg." Jak humbly thanked the wood elf.

   Tom Beetlunter, his arm now wrapped tightly in a bandage and hanging in a sling, extracted the glowing matter from one of the dead beetles and handed Hakam a vial of the stuff. He appeared embarrassed about the previous night and gruffly said "thank you" and walked off.

   The corpses of the goblins, rats, and worg were clumped in a large pile and burned.

   Before leaving, Leokas purchased a dozen arrows from a small shop. Then they all set off in their saddles to the northeast.

   As they were riding off, they saw that a very attractive human girl and a breathtaking elven maiden were both talking with Jak as he sat in a chair in the shade. They seemed quite impressed by his bravery and sacrifice for the village. Off to the side, both Don and Tom stood looking on jealously.

   "He'll be all right," said Leokas.

~~~~


They really had not been traveling for long at all when several of them noticed rustling in a cornfield to their north.

   "Just an animal?" asked Jayce.

   "No, it was something taller," said Leokas. He hopped down from Cloud and readied his bow.

   Jayce shouted a greeting. "Hail! Saer farmer! Good day to you!"

   There was no answer but further rustling in the corn.

   "Don't even think about burning down the field," said Hakam to Belvin. Then he readied his new musket.

   "Show yourself!" Leokas called.

   "There was a familiar, cackling laugh coming from the field up ahead of them, and then a hyena darted out from among the corn. As it crossed by, Leokas sent an arrow into its thigh.

   Then an arrow struck Hakam in the left leg, though not too deep. They spotted an archer concealed in the corn.

   "Gnolls!" said Leokas. Then an arrow grazed his neck and drew blood.

   Another hyena darted out of the cornfield about 80 feet west of the first one. The animals were clearly intending to flank the party.

   Belvin began summoning from upon Kamil. Jayce and Hakam dismounted on the right side of their horses for cover, and the former began strumming his song of encouragement. As soon as the short tune ended, Hakam commanded, "Silence!" and all sound suddenly stopped around the two of them. Jayce looked at Hakam to ask what had happened, but no words came out of his mouth. The latter raised his musket. There was a flash but no boom.

   Leokas aimed at the first gnoll archer only to see blood splatter from the back of its head before he could shoot. It fell forward unto the ground. He did not understand what had happened, but he didn't have time to worry himself over it; he turned and loosed two arrows at one of two gnoll axemen now bursting out of the maize and charging toward them. One shot struck its shield and the other whizzed past its thickly maned head.

   Mythlos leapt off his horse and ran to meet the gnolls. A flaming fire elemental sent by Thard Harr appeared behind them.

   Stormshadow had run at the bloodied hyena in front of them with the arrow in its leg, leapt on its back, and bit at its neck. The two animals tumbled unto the ground, and the hyena maneuvered itself atop Stormshadow somehow and bit a chunk of skin and fur from her chest. She howled. Jayce drew his rapier and charged, running the pointed sword through the hyena and rescuing Leokas' companion. No sooner was the black wolf freed than she was back on her feet and rushed to get behind one of the axe-bearing gnolls. She missed its leg, but the distraction helped Mythlos. He parried a blow from the gnoll's axe, then disemboweled it.

   The elemental began pummeling the remaining gnoll melee fighter, and Belvin sent two arrows into the center of its chest, but still it fought on, reaching Mythlos and slashing through the hardened leather of his breastplate. Mythlos swung back, but his swing was deflected by the gnolls shield. The elemental struck hard at the back of the gnoll's head, and it finally fell forward to the ground.

   The other hyena was snapping at Hakam's camel, but the beast of burden kept kicking back at the carnivore, striking it twice in the snout. Hakam dropped his gun and struck the hyena once, but on his second swing, the hyena simultaneously lunged at him, and he lost his grip on his sword, and it went flying into the tall grass. Jayce ran back to assist Hakam, but he was struck with an arrow in the hip as he ran. He missed the beast as he stumbled in pain, and it turned on him, latching onto his leg with its jaws and yanking him off his feet to the ground. "Help!" he called out, remembering the awful way that Romar had almost died in their last encounter with hyenas.

   However, no one could hear Jayce, because he had fallen into the radius of Hakam's silence spell, and Hakam was weaponless. The hyena began gnawing, as Jayce gave silent screams.

   Another arrow nearly missed Leokas. He returned fire into the corn and finally struck the remaining archer on the second shot, but then he took a hit himself in the shoulder, and it caused him to send another arrow high into the air.

   Mythlos and Stormshadow ran toward the archer, who turned and fled deeper into the rows of maize. Stormshadow was much faster than Mythlos. She disappeared into the corn as well.

   Belvin and Leokas looked back to check on Hakam and Jayce. It was just in time. Jayce had covered his face, as the hyena had opened its mouth wide to snap its jaws down on Jayce's face. Leokas' arrow struck the beast in the heart, and Belvin's arrow went clear through its skull.

~~~~


They heard a howling from somewhere in the cornfield. "It's your wolf," said Mythlos. Leokas and Mythlos pushed through the corn, following the calls of Stormshadow, as Hakam tended to Jayce's wounds and his own with his healing magic.

   The two elves found the wolf standing over the body of the gnoll. It had blood on its legs and neck.

   The adventurers decided to leave a sign for future gnolls that ambushes would not be tolerated by travelers through Tethyr. They took down a scarecrow in the cornfield and hung the bodies of the gnolls upon the stake. Belvin tied them to it with the one gnoll's own entrails. Mythlos gutted the two hyenas. He could not detect any magic on either them or the gnolls, but one of them had carried an orange gem, which Belvin wanted to carry. He seemed delighted by its unique color.

~~~~


They were growing rather tired both mentally and physically by the seemingly endless battles they were facing. Nearly all of them had experienced painful battle wounds or close calls and were being reminded of their mortality and thankful for the healing spells they could access. They rode on in silence.

   When the sun was high overhead, they spotted another small village along the river. There were woods to their north now. Just as they were approaching the hamlet, they saw a youth running frantically from the trees toward them, yelling for help. "Wolves!" he cried. There was a collective sigh from the group. "I knew we should have taken the road," muttered Jayce.

   "That boy is terrified," said Belvin. "This is no trap."

   "Stop! we're here to help," Mythlos called out, but the boy merely motioned behind himself and kept running. From out of the woods two massive wolves emerged. In moments, one of them was only yards away from the boy.

   "That's no wolf!" said Belvin. From his fingertips, he loosed his favored fire spell between the two worgs. The ball of fire scorched the farthest beast. It yelped, then bucked and jumped like a wild horse to avoid being struck again.

   The nearest worg lunged at the boy and snapped down its large jaws, just missing him. Leokas sent two arrows into its thick hide. It gave up pursuit of the lad and instead turned to face the rescuers. Unfazed by the two arrow shafts sticking out of its back, it rushed at Mythlos, who had dismounted and already had his sword drawn. Mythlos found his leg in the wolf's mouth, but he struck a heavy blow against his opponent's skull before the animal could crush his bones. It tumbled to the ground.

   The second worg had recognized that the fire had come from Belvin, and he charged at the wild elf, attempting to bite at Kamil. Kamil lunged away, causing Belvin to miss his bow shot. One of two arrows from Leokas struck, followed by a deep stab from Jayce's rapier from astride his horse and finally the sting of a giant bee that Hakam had summoned. Finding itself outnumbered and nearly surrounded, the worg turned and fled. Jayce was able to strike it with his sword one last time as it ran, but not with enough effect to stop it. They saw it disappear back into the woods.

~~~~


After rescuing the youth from the worgs, the rest of the day passed without incident. They rode by the town of Mier's Ferry and the village Sarch before reaching Ernest Ford at dusk, where they stopped for rest.

   Leokas estimated that they had come about 80 of 200 miles.
Session: 28th Game Session - Monday, Feb 10 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — A Busy Night
   Arrows flew from Leokas and Belvin's longbows and struck targets, killing one of the rats outright. (Leokas had given one of his two bows to Belvin to use, as it was superior to the latter's previous shortbow.) The town watch, Jak, also loosed a bolt from a heavy crossbow, from atop the watchpost, but his aim was off.

   Mythlos set Shrodinjer on a secure branch and scurried quickly down the tree, while Hakam picked his sword up from the ground beside his half-pitched tent and began casting a spell for strength from Anachtyr. Stormshadow darted from Leokas' side after the enormous rats, which were scattering all along the shore and up the embankment.

   Leokas freed more arrows into the air as Belvin began vigorously chanting. Jak was climbing down the ladder to the ground with his spear and buckler in hand. Mythlos and Hakam charged into a cluster of rats and began swinging. Hakam, empowered with the strength of a bull, and with his new skills in swordcraft learned from Mythlos, cleaved one of the rats clean in half on his first swing.

   A rat each began gnawing on each of Mythlos' legs, but the beasts' incisors could not pierce through the leather of his boots. He dispatched one, then the other. Jak impaled a third on his spear.

   Leokas, still loosing arrows into the fray, heard a yelp of pain from Stormshadow, but turning her way, he smiled and called out, "Good girl!" as he saw the black wolf toss the still-living rat with her mouth toward... a rolling ball of fire. Belvin had evoked the same fire magic he had used in the gnoll cave. The rats scattered to avoid the rolling sphere of flame, though the rat that Stormshadow had tossed was not so lucky and was now a charred carcass.

   Several of the rats had been attracted to the smell of a nearby outhouse, so Belvin directed his rolling fire toward the tiny, wooden structure. It ignited.

   "That's destruction of property!" protested Hakam. Five seconds later, the outhouse exploded, killing three nearby rats.

   Hakam rushed to the well, which stood between the guard post and the outhouse, and began drawing water into a bucket, hoping to douse any flames on the burning outhouse fragments, because the outhouse had been next to the house in which Jayce was staying and the pen where the four horses and two camels were now neighing or calling out in fear from the loud noise.

   Belvin did not seem as concerned about the destruction of property, and began releasing more arrows along with Leokas. Then Leokas noticed that Stormshadow had chased a fleeing rat into the river and stumbled, and now the wolf was being carried away by the river. "Here, girl!" shouted Leokas. "Let it go!"

   Belvin killed the rat in the water with his bow, and Stormshadow managed to swim back to the shore, panting as she returned to her master.

   As Hakam doused the remaining outhouse fire, the others gathered around. "That was awesome!" Jak said, looking at the many dead rats and the exploded outhouse.

   All the rats had either been killed or scattered off. Jayce came outside the house, no longer wearing his padded armor, but carrying his yarting and rapier. The older couple who lived there followed behind in their nightdresses. "What has happened?" asked the man. "What was that loud bang?"

   "This structure here exploded while we defended your village from dire rats," explained Hakam. "Of course, Belvin here will compensate you double for the damages."

   "I will not," Belvin replied.

   "I will cover them, good friends," said Jayce to the couple.

   Jak was still in awe at the quickness of the battle. "I've never seen anyone fight like that since the Reclamation Wars," he said.

   "We're adventures;" said Mythlos, shrugging, "we've killed more."

   "I've seen river rats before, but I've never seen so many rats at once and never any so large or fearless," said Jak, as he stooped to tend to a bleeding bite mark on his leg. "Why would they have arrived all at once after dark like that?"

   "A few ran off," said Leokas. "Should we track them down?"

   "Why?" said Jayce. "You can't exactly ask a rat what its evil plans are."

   "Maybe a predator across the river was chasing them," suggested Hakam.

   "What eat dire rats?" asked Mythlos.

   "Dire-er rats?" suggested Belvin. Then, he heard a twig snap. "Quiet!" he suddenly whispered. "I hear something 'round the back of the house." He set out cautiously to investigate. Stormshadow, sniffing something in the air, followed. Leokas immediately aimed his bow to the opposite corner, waiting.

   "Stay close to me," said Jak to the older couple. They huddled behind him.

   Jayce prepared to strum a magical song.

   Belvin peered around the corner and spotted three goblins with his elven vision. Two were clad in leather and bore shields, morningstars, and javelins. The other wore the jawless skull of some small animal as a hat and bore a thick cudgel.

   "Three goblins!" he called back to the others. "Help...." He was cut off by a goblin leaping off the roof down at him, crying, "Ee-yak!" Acting in reflex, Belvin avoided being tackled, instead catching hold of the little humanoid and slamming its body to the ground. He then stomped on its head with his boot, crunching its skull. One of the other goblins tossed a javelin, which he deftly dodged. Then he moved to avoid the brunt force of the swing of another's morningstar, which just grazed him. Then, oddly, he felt a sudden sense of terror....

   The others had heard Bevlin's cry for help. Jayce immediately began strumming. Hakam and Mythlos began to step toward Belvin, but then Mythlos noticed something out of the corner of his eye. "Something just crawled out of the well," warned Mythlos. Leokas also spotted a new target. It came around the house from the other direction, a short humanoid. He loosed an arrow. The goblin dropped. Another took its place. He loosed a second arrow.

   They all heard a howl, like that of a wolf, but it was not from Stormshadow. They saw a massive wolf with glowing red eyes charging toward them with a goblin on its back. To protect the two villagers, Hakam quickly called down a cloud of thick mist to surround them. Then they heard the shouts of a crowd of goblinoid voices coming from all around them, and they saw their little heads popping out from hiding places behind bushes, trees, and shrubs.

   "They have shamans," warned Leokas.

   After that comment, none of them had any clear idea of what was going on with the others, because the goblins did indeed have shamans, and one of them called down a black fog from Maglubiyet to add to the fog from Hakam. Half of the party were encompassed within one or both of the clouds.

   Mythlos stepped to the edge of the fog with his sword aglow and saw Jak at his side, just as the goblin on the red-eyed wolf reached them, ready to toss its javelin at one of them, but Mythlos cut him down from the wolf's back before it could. He followed through with a second swing into the beast's thick hide as Jak stabbed it simultaneously with his spear. The large wolf snapped at Mythlos with its jaws and missed, but the attack scared Mythlos so much that he turned and fled back into the darkness of the cloud. He nearly tripped on the couple behind Jak, who were shivering in terror as well.

   He came to his senses several seconds later and realized that some foul magic must have been at play, a fear spell from one of the shamans most likely. He pushed his way through the cloud again to find the wolf impaled on Jak's spear, and he spotted Jayce stabbing the fallen goblin rider through the neck with his rapier. Then Jayce leapt back into the fog to avoid an attack from the many goblins now surrounding them with javelins, morningstars, warhammers, and swords.

   Mythlos began swinging. As he slew one of goblins, he saw Jak defending himself against two others. Jak struck a sound blow with the butt of his spear into one of the goblin's eyes, but the other, who had a sword, struck at Jak's left leg. Jak screamed, as his leg was severed below the knee. He fell to the ground into the fog, and pulled himself back deeper into it, yelling curses as blood sprayed from the stump onto the grass.

   When the clouds had descended, Hakam had found himself on the other side of the fog from Mythlos and Jayce. He saw Belvin running at full speed toward the river for some reason and Stormshadow growling at something around the corner of the house. So he rushed to the corner while clutching his holy symbol and praying. He glanced around the corner and pointed. There was an deafening boom, and the two goblin warriors and one goblin shaman were knocked flat on their backs from the blast of sound. They did not stir again.

   It seemed that no more goblins were on this side of the house, so he followed behind Stormshadow toward the handful of goblins that were pouring in from the direction of the well. He summoned forth help from the House of the Triad, and shortly, an enormous bee appeared, with a radiant glow that lit up the night. The bee stabbed its barbed stinger into the back of one of the goblins. The rear portion of the bee ripped apart, leaving the poison sac to continue pumping venom into the goblin. It dropped to its knees and was quickly decapitated by Mythlos. The dying bee and its stinger vanished, to be constructed anew in Tyr's realm.

   Then Hakam slew one of the shamans with his sword, as Stormshadow and Mythlos joined the fight around him.

   Leokas had found himself deep in the midst of the fog. He could only see about five feet in front of him by what little of the dim blue light of Mythlos' sword could reach through the mist. He felt an unwarranted sense of fear and the memory of his dead father visited his mind. Then he realized that he had just heard a goblin cry out in Ghukliak, "The dread of Maglubiyet be upon you!" He held his bow in his left hand at his side and drew his longsword — and just in time. A goblin charged up to him through the fog with dagger drawn, and Leokas ran it through.

   Slowly, Leokas searched through the fog. Several of the goblins were searching through the fog as well for enemies, and he struck at one of them. Then he saw a red glow from the corner of his eye. Spinning around, he sliced off the glowing hand of one of the shamans, just before it touched him with its evil spell. With a second swing, he decapitated the creature.

   He saw a blue glow approaching and figured it was Mythlos. "Swords together!" he called, both for encouragement and to prevent Mythlos from striking him in the fog.

   Then, he heard Belvin's spirited yelling, which usually was followed by the appearance of some nature being. Somewhere ahead of him, he saw another, brighter, red glow appear and he felt heat. The fog around him began to burn away. There was a small fire elemental burning on the ground ahead of him. It struck a goblin that was now revealed, and the small humanoid's thick hair ignited. It ran away screaming before tumbling to the ground.

   The elemental passed by him, and Leokas saw a path ahead of him open to the clear night air. He heard Jayce's voice behind him now. "Leokas, one of them is running away!" And then a moment later, "I'm Jayce! I'm Jayce!" Leokas didn't understand what he was trying to communicate with that latter comment, but he did spot one of the goblins running into the darkness, just out of sight. He needed light.

   Stepping five feet back and dropping his sword, he drew one of his flaming arrows and quickly lit it with the body of the fire elemental beside him. Then he launched the arrow into the darkness toward where the goblin had run. The shot came nowhere near hitting the fleeing humanoid, but it lit up the sky, and that was all Leokas needed. Before it struck the ground, he had drawn and loosed a second arrow, which struck the goblin directly in the back.

   Before he could rejoice in his amazing shot, he heard Jayce calling out again, "Leokas, help!" He turned and saw the elemental swinging its "fists" at a goblin, but the goblin seemed to be wearing Jayce's clothes and carrying a yarting and a rapier. It suddenly dawned on Leokas what was happening.

   "Belvin, dismiss your summon! Quick!"

   Belvin, who had of course by now recovered from the fear effect of the shaman's spell and was shooting at the few remaining goblins with his bow, did so. The elemental vanished.

~~~~


   The fight was over. Most of the adventurers were unhurt. Stormshadow had a puncture wound from a morningstar, which Mythlos cured with his sword. Jayce, still in a goblin form, had some minor burns and bruises; fortunately, his hair had not caught on fire.

   The villagers had not fared as well. Goblin Jayce was tending to the woman. She had a pool of blood around her, her own, but seemed fine now, though she was missing a lot of her already thin hair. "A goblin cracked her skull open," said goblin Jayce as Hakam approached. "I thought we had lost her."

   "Stay away, you monster!" said the old man.

   "It's a magic spell," said Jayce. "See, these are the clothes of the man staying at your home tonight. I saved your wife from dying with my magic while hiding in the fog."

   It appeared he had done the same with Jak. The man was unconscious, likely from loss of blood, but the stump had been sealed over with new flesh. The severed leg still lay on the ground five feet away.

   "Sadly, I do not have the power to restore this man's leg any more than you have done," said Hakam. "At least he will live."

   "Do any goblins live?" asked Jayce.

   Hakam cast a spell and stood silently for a moment. "I do not sense any thoughts, except those of humans and elves," he said.

   Leokas walked up to the others from having chased down the wounded goblin he had shot in the back. "Did you catch one alive?" asked Jayce.

   "No."

   Belvin was glancing into the hole where the outhouse once stood. He saw that two goblins must have fallen into the pit while moving around in the fog. One's head was buried; the other had fallen on the first's sword. "Two more dead goblins here," he informed the others.

   Jayce was frustrated. "I had the perfect opportunity to question them while in this form," he said.

   "Goblins don't usually carry stringed instruments around, Jayce," said Hakam.

   "When did you gain the ability to change forms?" asked Leokas. "You should have warned us; I almost ran you through."

   "It's a power I've been working on for a while now," he said. "It seemed a fitting time to use it. At least three goblins passed right by me in the fog, and I was able to heal both Jak and the lady here."

   By now, several of the village folk had come out of their houses and were approaching. Don, now dressed in peasant pants and shirt, rushed over to Jak. "Jak! What has happened?"

   Jak stirred and woke up. Looking down at his missing leg, he began to break down and cry. "I survived two battles in the Reclamation Wars, yet a small warband of goblins does this to me! I must leave Steddford; I cannot let Meg see me like this."

   "Can anyone here make ice?" asked Belvin. "If we keep your severed leg on ice, a wizard may be able to reattach it."

   "I do not think a wizard powerful enough to repair a leg would need the dead part," said Mythlos.

   "You fools, healing is in the realm of divine magic; no wizard can heal a leg," said Hakam. "But Mythlos is at least correct that the spell requires only the injured person, not the severed body part."

   "How could I ever afford such a casting?" bemoaned Jak. "It is hopeless!"

   "The good priests of Ilmater are surely nearby," said Hakam. "Do they not have a monastery nearby? At least in Calimshan, they have one within a days ride of nearly anywhere."

   "Well," said Belvin, "if we do not need the leg, let's give it to the wolf. Then she will know the taste of humans."

   Jak was dumbfounded. Mythlos replied, "No! that would be a horrible idea."

   "That's akin to defiling a corpse!" exclaimed Hakam. "Have you know decency at all?"

   "Not the whole corpse."

   Don tried to change the subject. "Jak, brother, Meg is a noble woman. She will not judge you for this."

   "How will I ever walk again?"

   "Just like I have, Jak," said another man. He was an older man, probably past 50 suns in age, who was dressed in a breastplate and walking upon two canes, dragging his right foot behind him.

   "Forgive me, sheriff," said Jak.

   "Think nothing of it," said the sheriff, "but toughen up. You're a braver man than that."

   Then, he introduced himself to the adventurers. "I am Burt, the sheriff of this place. I regret that I was too slow in waking from my bed when I heard the first of two explosions to join the fight, but I see that you have spared our tiny village from death."

   Burt glanced around at the goblin bodies. Besides the four on the other side of the building and the two in the outhouse pit, there were sixteen bodies strewn about, as well as the body of the large wolf.

   "Be thankful that they only had one worg with them!" he continued.

   "The goblins are the ones who should be thankful;" said Belvin, "we would have killed more."

   The sheriff turned back to Jak. "Jak, cheer up, boy! I see it was your spear that felled the beast."

   "I put a rather large gash in it first," said Mythlos.

   Burt spoke to the party. "I am sure the mayor will see that you are rewarded in the morning. He does not seem to have come out, but I would not be surprised if he could sleep through all this din."

   "Is this a common occurance, syl..., saer?" asked Hakam, "that goblins should attack a village like this?"

   "Not common, no, but it is not unheard of either. Perhaps the little monsters learned that the hamlet's sherriff was a cripple...."

   "They planned this," said Jak. "They tried to distract us with dire rats first."

   "A wiser tactic than they usually would use," said Sheriff Burt.

   "Should we try to track from where the goblins came?" asked Leokas to his companions in Elven.

   "We should not worry ourselves with this," said Belvin.

   "Could it be that the goblins followed us here for some reason?" asked Mythlos.

   "We will not bring that up as a possibility," said Belvin.

   "I don't think it possible that goblins could have followed us since the last time we fought some near Copper Hill," said Leokas. "No, this was just a random attack."

   "What shall we do with all the goblin bodies?" asked Jayce of Burt while the elves still spoke to each other.

   "Leave them for now. We can pile their bodies and burn them in the morning.

   "Since my guard is indisposed, would you adventurers be willing to take watches throughout the night? I doubt there will be any more goblins, but just in case...."

   Hakam agreed to take the first watch. After healing Jayce, who had returned to his human form, he returned to stand near his tent. The villagers returned to their homes, Jayce and the older couple went back into the house, Mythlos climbed back up the tree, and the two remaining elves sat cross-legged by the fire and tranced.

~~~~


   Near the end of his watch, Hakam began seeing faint red lights in the distance to the north. Over time, the lights grew steadily closer. There were seven of them, seemingly wandering around in no particular pattern as they drew near.

   Just as Hakam was about to wake the others, he spotted a bulky man walking toward him from the west.

   "Well met, visitor!" the man called out in a whisper.

   "Greetings," said Hakam.

   "My name is Tom."

   "I am Hakam yn Hamdulah el Anachtyr."

   "That's a long name!"

   "Tom is a rather short one."

   "It's Tom Beetlunter properly," said the man with pride, smiling as a pipe was held between his teeth.

   "That would still be considered short in my country," said Hakam.

   "Do you see yonder lights?" said Tom, changing the subject.

   "I do. What are they?"

   "Those are giant fire beetles."

   "Ah, of course," said Hakam. "Do they belong to you?"

   "No, no! I was sitting up at my window waiting for them to come and here they are. They can smell the dead goblin flesh. See, they are drawing closer. They are here to feast on the goblins. And that's why I am here."

   "You are here to eat the goblin flesh?"

   "Of course not!" Tom revealed that he was carrying a massive hammer. "I'm here to crack me some beetle carapaces." He smiled.

   "Are you legally permitted to hunt on these grounds?" asked Hakam.

   "Permitted? Of course! I live in this village. Didn't you see me come out earlier tonight with the others?"

   "I am sorry that I did not recognize you, but I was rather busy with saving your village."

   Tom did not know what to reply.

   "For what purpose do you want to kill the beetles?" asked Hakam. He glanced over at them. A few of them had already found bodies and were chewing away with their mandibles and pulling the flesh into their bodies with their lower mouth parts.

   "Have you not heard about fire beetle glands? The alchemical mixture in the glands can glow for as long as six days. It can catch a fair sum of money, especially with miners and you adventuring type. I myself come from a family of beetle hunters.

   "However, I've never seen so many all at the same time; usually I come across one or two or at most three. Would you be willing to help me collect some glands?"

   "Will you split the goods with me?" asked Hakam.

   "Of course," said Tom, "fifty-fifty."

   "Let me wake my replacement," said Hakam. He went over and shook Belvin out of trance. "It is your turn to watch," he said. Belvin nodded and rose to his feet.

   Hakam quietly approached the nearest beetle from behind and readied a sling stone. He spun it around his head and released it but missed entirely.

   Hoping Tom did not see, he quickly readied a second stone. This one was an excellently aimed shot, but the stone ricocheted off the beetle's hard shell, and it didn't even seem to notice.

   "You are going to have to strike them harder than that," said Tom in a low voice, as he passed Hakam and moved cautiously closer to the nearest large, glowing insect. He brought his maul down upon the creature's abdomen with a loud crack, and luminescent guts oozed out.

   Belvin didn't really seem to care much about the glowing beetles that were about, but he grew curious about what the villagers had done with the other half of Jak's left leg. He had not noticed what had become of it. He woke Stormshadow. "Do you want to go find a treat?" he asked her. She got up on all fours, and her tail wagged, so he took this as a yes. He began moving quietly south of where Hakam and Tom were, closer to the embankment of the river, and the black wolf followed him.

   Giving up on the sling, Hakam drew his sword and charged at a second beetle. His sword, too, glanced off the exoskeleton of the arthropod.

   Tom also had poor luck on his next target. This beetle sensed his presence and leaped in reflex off its six legs as the maul pounded into the ground where it had been standing.

   Both beetles turned to face their attackers, snapping their sharpened mandibles. Hakam avoided being caught by the slashing mouth parts.

   Stormshadow stopped following Belvin and ran up to the beetle that was snapping at Hakam. Her fangs punctured the armor on the creature's legs.

   "Belvin, I thought you were keeping watch!"

   "I am just on a patrol," he said. Then he whistled for Stormshadow to pull back.

   "Ah! it got me," shouted Tom.

   This shout woke Leokas and Shrodinjer, who began croaking within Mythlos' pack, trying to snap his master out of trance.

   Tom started running recklessly back toward the village houses, holding his arm, which was trailing blood. Beetles began scurrying off at all the commotion. Then the horses woke and began neighing.

   "Stormshadow, where are you?" Leokas called. Then he took in what was happening. "Belvin, what are you doing? Those are Rillifane's creations!"

   "They are just vermin," said Hakam, "and they are worth something."

   Mythlos awoke and descended down his tree with his sword.

   "Stop them, Belvin!" called Leokas.

   Belvin tried to get a hold of Stormshadow, who left four more puncture holes in the beetle's abdomen, getting glowing red fluid all over her maw. She then sat back, and Belvin restrained her. Hakam swung his sword again but missed.

   "Run away, beetles," shouted Leokas, as he ran towards the beetles, waving his arms.

   "Quiet, Leokas!" said Hakam. "Excessive noise is against the law in.... Ah!"

   The beetle caught him in its mandibles, but a moment later it essentially exploded, spraying glowing goo on his face.

   Mythlos had swung his sword.
Session: 28th Game Session - Monday, Feb 10 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Epic!
Chapter 3 — A Mid-Chapter Rest of Sorts
~ sixth-day, 16th of Ches, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
Tethyr Mills


It was a beautiful morning. The party of five adventurers were riding along the bank of the River Ith at a brisk walk upon their mounts, Kamil, Cloud, Nimbus, Zephyr, and Squall. Leokas' newly found wolf paced beside him, while Hakam's unnamed camel followed in line behind.

   It had been a tenday since they had entered Myratma.

   The morning after the card game with the ghost, Mythlos, Jayce, and Hakam had learned from the innkeeper that their companions, Leokas and Belvin, had gone out hunting. They relaxed and shopped a bit in the upper class stores nearby. After highsun, they revisited Asavir's Answers & Sage Advice.

   "I have an intriguing answer for you," Asavir had said. He handed back the journal to Jayce. "These strange characters — I have confirmed that they are the writings of a doppelganger."

   "A shapechanger," said Jayce.

   "Yes, indeed."

   "So we are not dealing with a spellcaster at all," said Mythlos.

   Jayce had paid another question fee and asked, "How can one detect a doppelganger in disguise?"

   "It is a difficult matter;" said Asavir, "however, a spell of true seeing removes any doubt. Without that, one must look for very subtle changes in behavior. This is especially difficult with doppelgangers over other shapeshifting creatures, such as dragons, for a doppelganger can read the mind of the one it is imitating beforehand and can steal the thoughts of the observer to determine what he or she is expecting from the one being mimicked."

   After a handful more coins, they had also learned from Asavir that doppelgangers' actions are hard to predict. They do not seem motivated by power, money, lust, or most other trappings to which humans and other races fall prey. They almost always work independently.

   As Leokas and Belvin had not yet returned from hunting, Jayce collected Belvin's answer regarding Kamil. "I spoke with my friend who knows camels," Asavir had said, "and he informs me that what your elven friend described is a very natural thing. It is called a 'dulla'. It is an organ unique to male dromedary camels, which they use as part of their mating displays."

   "I may have to have a talk with Belvin about this," Hakam had said.

~~~~


The group had hired a messenger to deliver word to Kyrin personally about the doppelganger. They had then spent the rest of the day waiting at the inn for Leokas and Belvin to return. They did not. They grew more concerned when the weather turned severe at evening. The people of Myratma frantically rushed about, bringing loose items indoors and hammering planks over the windows as the winds picked up. There was nothing the three could do but wait out the storm and search for the two elves in the morning.

   On the next day, they had heard rumors that a tornado had even been spotted in the fields north of the city, but they had had experience with Leokas and Belvin returning late from excursions before, so they gave them more time. Thankfully, by mid morning, Leokas and Belvin had returned, and with them was a foreboding black wolf that stayed close to Leokas' side. They had informed the others of how they had sheltered in a cave overnight during the storm and how Solonor Thelandira had brought a companion to Leokas. Hakam was moderately concerned that the new wolf would try to eat the camels, but after confirming that Leokas would buy a new camel if that happened, he grew a little easier having Stormshadow around. For her part, Stormshadow stayed close to Leokas and showed no further tendencies toward growling.

   The rest of the tenday had passed with notably less excitement. Belvin spent most of his idle time training Kamil, but the camel seemed unhappy to learn to obey orders, even from Belvin. Mythlos had spent considerable time teaching Leokas how to tumble and roll during combat and Hakam how to block and parry with a longsword. On one of the days, he had purchased an assortment of magical candles, quills, and inks, and had spent many hours meticulously transferring one of Essren's spells to his own spellbook, one for projectiles of magical force. In the nearby temple to the Triad, Hakam had read up on the history of religion in Tethyr and the other Lands of Intrigue, while Jayce had performed at various sites around Myratma, most often at The Hand, a bar whose central support column was a petrified man, trying to built his reputation. Mythlos accompanied him on occasion, learning to harmonize with his voice. Jayce had also spent time in a library, but the others did not know what he was so keen on studying. (On one occasion, though, he had come and reported to the others one interesting rumor; the Duchess of the Purple Marches, where they now were, Lady Haresdown, had an intense paranoia of doppelgangers. Apparently, one of them had tried to mimic her in the past, and since that day, she struggles to trust anyone. Her palace is even magically warded against their entry.) Leokas crafted a few fine arrows while not learning to somersault. He also went out on a few more hunting trips with Belvin and focused on teaching the latter how to step more silently through the forest.

   The exception to the restful stay occurred on the penultimate day of the tenday. While Mythlos was sparring with Hakam in the park across from the Gambling Ghost, an old woman, walking by, had seen him and screamed, then burst into tears and ran away. Jayce had chased her down, but she refused to say anything beyond, "Leave me in peace!" Then she entered a house and locked the door.

   Hakam knocked on the door. "I am a man of justice," he stated. A younger man opened it a crack. "Did you not hear my mother? She wants to be left in peace. She has done no crime." He shut the door and they heard it lock again. Hakam tried to detect thoughts with his magic, but the door and the wall blocked his attempt.

   Belvin passed into the back alley and found a window to the house; he heard a woman sobbing. "You better not let me see you break in," Hakam called to him.

   "I'd repair the window."

   "It's still trespassing, even if you repair it!"

   Mythlos had had no idea what her fuss was all about. "She is probably just someone who witnessed Mythlos beheading someone," said Belvin.

   "Maybe Rhinda has been magically aged," suggested Leokas, not really believing the idea.

   "She must be a relation of Rhinda's, and Rhinda was so bothered by what I did that she took the time to send her a message before she was captured," said Mythlos sarcastically. "This is foolishness; I have had nothing to do with humans."

   "Let's just let this go," said Leokas.

~~~~


Midway through the second tenday of the month, they had all agreed that they had tarried long enough. It was time to continue on to Darromar and the wizard Malick. Hakam and Leokas had each purchased a map of the counties and duchies of Tethyr, and examining them, they had agreed to set out along the River Ith, following it over field and farmland to Darromar rather than follow the Soldiers' Road north to the Ithal Road. (Jayce wanted to ride the road, but he was overridden.)

   It was a much cooler day than yesterday, which had been unusually hot for winter, even in this part of the world, but the first day of spring was only a few days away. They now were passing a large complex of watermills and factories. There were many armed guards about the place, and one of them informed them that this was the Tethyr Mills, one of the largest textile mills in all of Faerûn and why Myratma was known as the Textiles City of Tethyr.

   Leokas estimated that they were traveling about five miles every hour. Just before highsun, after about three hours of riding through open fields and farms, they came to a cluster of buildings and people bustling about. A sign above two poles read, "The Village Minge." Here they stopped briefly for water for their mounts and a bite to eat. Leokas spotted fish in the river and began to carve a spear with which to catch one, while Jayce entered a tiny bar on the bank and ordered a bite to eat from the locals.

   "So, what can you tell me that is exciting about Minge," he asked a patron.

   "Exciting? Minge is the most boring place you'll ever find."

   "When was the village founded?"

   "I have no idea! Probably by some man named Minge though."

   When everyone had had some food, they stopped Leokas from finishing his task and mounted. Continuing on, they traveled two more hours and arrived at a small riverside town named Palm Rapids. The river was full of fishing boats, and as they passed the gates, vendors tried to sell them peaches. Hakam and Jayce spent a copper a piece, and they were quite tasty.

   A few more miles past Palm Rapids, they could see a large Calishite-like palace with six minarets and a white wall, but there was no one around to ask what it was.

   After about eight hours of riding, a few hours before dusk, they came to a place where the river flowed calmly. There was a ford here, and around the ford on the north bank of the river where they were was a small hamlet they learned was called Steddford.



   The animals were tired from a day of travel, so the group decided to make camp here. The town watch, a younger man named Don, informed them that the hamlet did not have an inn, as the ford was primarily used by local farmers, but the guests were welcome to camp on the grounds and their horses and camels could use one of the animal pens and eat the hay. Hakam was very excited to use his tent for the first time, and the elves looked forward to sleeping under the stars; however, Jayce was hoping to find someone to house him.

   "Are so spoiled now that you can't even sleep outside?" asked Belvin.

   "Look, I spent time as a slave."

   "I know that; unfortunately, we rescued you."

   "You have no idea what it was like."

   "Because you refuse to tell us anything about yourself!"

   Jayce did succeed at finding an older couple willing to be paid to let him sleep on a bear rug in their home. The woman had a little outdoor café in front of her home and Jayce and Hakam ate there for dinner. Afterward, Jayce and Mythlos performed together for a small crowd of fishermen and farmers and earned a few coppers. While talking with the villagers, Mythlos and Jayce learned that many in the hamlet were devoted to the goddess Eldath, the deity of peaceful streams and waterfalls. The people all spoke very favorably of the new queen, who had done much to make life more fair for the common folk.

   Leokas finished carving his fishing spear, and he and Belvin caught several large river trout, which they began to cook over a warm fire.

   It was dark now. Jayce had retired for the night in the home of the older couple, Hakam was setting up his tent, (which seemed to be confusing him,) and Mythlos had climbed a tree overlooking the water and had taken his toad, which he had named Shrodinjer, out of its box in his pack. Shrodinjer began croaking a melody happily. "When did you learn to sing?" Mythlos asked.

   Don, the town watchman, had just handed off his spear and buckler to his replacement, Jak, and Jak was climbing up a ladder to a watchpost a few stories from the ground. No sooner had he reached the top than he called down to the elves by their fire in a whisper. "Hey, elves, do you see anything in the water?"

   They looked up and saw the man pointing by firelight. Glancing out just past the ford, they indeed saw some objects in the water moving. There were several, coming toward the shore. No, there were many. Belvin counted fourteen.

   "Dire rats," said Leokas, and he grabbed his bow.
Session: 27th Game Session - Monday, Feb 03 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Epic!
Chapter 3 — Shadow in the Storm
~ fifth-day, 5th of Ches, The Year of Wild Magic, night's end
Myratma



   Within a mist, so thick it could be felt, Leokas is wandering. It is so heavy, he cannot see the ground where his steps land. He hears his father scream. He hears the laughing of a goblinoid voice. He rushes forward, trying to push aside the fog that clouds his vision. He stumbles ahead. He stumbles and falls. He falls and rolls unto his back. A shadow takes shape above him. It is the form of a black-furred wolf.

~~~~


   Leokas was not the only one who did not have a restful night. When he found Belvin, the wild elf was trying to calm his camel. "Kamil keeps waking up in the middle of the night and startles me out of trance with one of his deep calls. It happened twice last night. I probably only received three uninterrupted hours of trance-walk."

   "My steps took me into the past last night," said Leokas, "and perhaps into the future. You were correct; Solonor showed me the face of a wolf as black as soot. Would you go hunting with me this day?"

~~~~


   So Leokas and Belvin left a message for their other companions and set out at dawn through the west gate and over the bridge over the Red River, a smaller river feeding into the River Ith. The landscape north and west of Myratma was composed of rolling hills with farms, vineyards, and scattered small forests. It was not long after entering one that the two elves, feeling at home amongst the trees, spotted and shadowed a sixteen-point buck. A single arrow felled it.

   After gutting, skinning, and dividing the meat, they dressed some and cooked it over the fire, excited to have fresh venison for breakfast. Leokas suggested that they hang some of the meat as bait for a wolf, so this they did.

   They sat around for hours in mostly silence, enjoying the peace, quiet, and rest. Eventually, a small black bear wandered by, attracted by the smell of fresh meat.

   "You are sure your vision was not of a black bear?" asked Belvin.

   "I am certain," said Leokas, who proceeded to scare the bear away. The same bear returned multiple times before Leokas gave up. "Let's move on from here," he said. Perhaps the wolves are deeper in the trees."

   "These trees do not go very deep," said Belvin.

   "They are deep enough. I know that today is the day."

   "I had to walk for months before finding Kamil; these things sometimes take time."

   They left some of the meat for the bear or whichever other animals would happen upon it and took the remainder with them. They passed up and down several more large hills, keeping to the trees and heading roughly north. They paused and waited a couple times with the meat as bait, but no wolves came.

   "Do we know if there are even wolves in Tethyr?" asked Belvin.

   "Wolves are versatile creatures; surely they live in these lands somewhere."

   Leokas felt vindicated thirty minutes later when he found a set of tracks. "Wolf tracks," he said. "I am certain of it."



   They followed the tracks up a hill to a clearing at the top. There was a large granite rock formation there. Leokas spotted several more sets of tracks, one on the rock itself.



   "This is some sort of wolf meeting place, I gather," said Leokas.

   "Let's climb a tree and wait here," said Belvin. "Although, we may be waiting till nightfall."

   "I will wait," said Leokas. Into the trees they went.

   Many more hours passed. As the day grew older, the wind kicked up, and the trees began to sway. By late afternoon, they spotted ominous clouds in the east.



   "This does not bode well," said Belvin. "Those clouds are moving exceedingly swiftly. No animals will stay out in a storm."

   They hurried down the tree limbs to the ground and descended the hill. On the way down, it began raining, then pouring. They noticed a cave opening in the side of the hill and agreed to shelter there.

   The cave was not very deep, extending back only fifty feet or so. Near the entrance, they started a fire with some dry wood that was scattered near the entrance by a previous inhabitant and dried themselves by the warmth of the flame. The light outside grew dark and the wind roared and rain drove even heavier. They heard tree limbs snapping, and broken branches flew past the cave opening.

   By late evening, the wind was at its most severe. A force of wind passed by so forcefully, as to suck a rush of air out of the cave that extinguished their fire. Having run out of fuel for it anyhow, they retreated further back toward the back wall for shelter.

   Near to midnight, Leokas, looking up, spotted a shadow in the entrance, a beast standing three feet to the shoulder. It shook itself, to free its coat from the water. Leokas nudged Belvin, who cast a spell for light. A blue glow reflected in the animals eyes. A wolf. The canine growled.



   Leokas rose to his feet and cautiously approached the animal. He spoke soothing words to it in Elven. It growled more and snapped out at him.

   Belvin handed him a strip of the deer meat, which he held out before the beast. "Hungry?" Leokas asked. "You must be cold too from the rain. Here." He gently tossed the meat before the wolf. It sniffed it, lay down on the ground, and began to eat. Its growling ceased.

   Having finished the tasty morsel, the wolf rose to its feet and cautiously approached Leokas, who extended the back of his hand to the animal. It sniffed it, then gave a single lick.

   "I shall call you Stormshadow," he said. "Will you hunt by my side?"
Session: 26th Game Session - Thursday, Jan 23 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — The Gambling Ghost
Back in the Gambling Ghost inn, Mythlos, Hakam, and Jayce ordered drinks and began mingling with the locals. (Leokas and Belvin sought and received housing from the druids of the temple of Silvanus just down the street.)

   Mythlos learned some concerns of a growing Shadow Thieves influence in the city. Hakam was told that he must taste some Kraljoam cider before leaving the city. Jayce learned that a good place to perform might be The Hand, an ancient tavern in the Caravan District at which the Emperor Shoon once dined. But for the most part, the clientele were interested more in gambling and drinking than in talking.

   While Jayce was attempting to convince Mythlos to help him find The Hand, Hakam, interested in learning some of the games being played, tried to join in at one of the tables. He was not having much success, as all the tables seemed full.

   "'Eh, go sit yerself o'er there wit your money out and some 'un will join ya." The man pointed to an empty table. Hakam followed the advice and sat down at the empty table. He had second thoughts, when he immediately heard people snickering around him from the other tables. Then the room began to go quiet. Mythlos and Jayce were just stepping out of the door, and they stopped when they noticed the sudden change in room volume.

   Out of thin air, a deck of playing cards appeared on the table opposite him. He had never played Talis before, but he was fairly sure the deck was a Talis deck.

   "He's here!" shouted some of the customers. Many of them got out of their seats and began to approach the table for a better view.

   Hakam quickly cast an orison to detect magic. The deck did indeed glow faintly. Then a platinum coin appeared out of the air and dropped to the center of the table. Mythlos and Jayce arrived. Two chairs moved of their own accord for them to sit in. Jayce took the seat immediately, then drew a platinum coin from his own pocket and threw it in the center. "High stakes!" he commented. Mythlos sat down. Hakam also added a coin to the pot, and Mythlos followed. The deck moved across the table to Mythlos. He split the deck.

   The deck flew together again, and soon cards were flying across the table rapidly in triplets, until they each had a hand of eighteen cards in front of them, with six more remaining in the center. The pile in front of the empty chair sorted themselves — or were sorted by some invisible being. Then with a loud clatter, ten more platinum coins poured out of the air onto the center of the table.

   Jayce sorted his cards and smiled. He threw eleven more platinum coins in the pile.

   "That's 110 gold pieces!" exclaimed Mythlos.

   "I know."

   Hakam gingerly placed thirteen platinum in the center. Mythlos placed fourteen. The ghost placed his hand of cards face-down on the table.

   Mythlos and Hakam looked confused.

   Jayce tossed in another coin.

   Hakam laid his cards down.

   Mythlos added another coin, as did Jayce. Mythlos gave up and laid his down as well.

   Jayce reached out and took the six remaining cards from the table and added them to his hand. After a few moments, he discarded the 5, 6, and queen of wands, the knave and queen of coins, and the Magician, face-up in front of him so all could see.



Then, he played the 5 of coins in the middle of the table and looked toward Hakam, while turning over the six face up cards and stacking them in a pile in front of him.



   Hakam followed suit and slowly placed the 8 of coins down. Mythlos and the ghost followed with the 7 and king respectively. The cards flew toward the empty chair and were flipped face-down.



   The ghost now led with the 2 of swords.



   Jayce played the 5 of swords. Hakam then laid the 9 of coins. "Ah!" he shouted in pain. The crowd gathering around them began laughing. "He shocked me!" explained Hakam.

   "You have to follow suit," said Jayce. "There's no way you don't have a sword in that hand. It's only the second trick."

   Hakam returned the card to his hand and played the 4 of swords instead. Mythlos laid down the 1, and Jayce took the trick.



   A few more rounds passed with chalices and wands being played. It was Hakam's turn to lead, and he placed the 6 of coins down.



   Mythlos did not have any more coins in his hand, so he played the Empress. The ghost played the Hierophant. Jayce played the Hanged Man and took the trick.



   "What just happened?" asked Hakam, exceedingly confused.

   "Trump."

   "Trump?"

   "Trump suit always wins."

   "But there were three trump cards played," said Hakam. "How do I know the upside-down man beats the old cleric in the chair? There is nothing to count on those cards!"

   "I'll teach you a mnemonic after I win the game," said Jayce.

   "That's hardly fair," said Hakam.

   "Be thankful you did not bet as much as Mythlos," Jayce replied.

   Jayce felt a sudden jerk, as if someone had kicked his chair. "Sorry," he said and laid his next card down.

   The trump cards were coming out more frequently now. Mythlos and Hakam each received a few more electrical shocks as they apparently played trump cards that were lower than those already on the table, which seemed also to be against the rules.

   Mythlos led with the 7 of chalices.



The ghost then played the Fool trump card, followed by Jayce with the 9 of chalices. Hakam was excited to win the trick by playing Death, but when he reached out the take the cards to his winnings pile, the Fool flew back across the table to the ghost's pile, and the 3 of wands flew off the top and came over the table to him in place of the Fool.



   Hakam looked at Jayce for answers. "Whoever plays the Fool always keeps it," explained Jayce. "But he has to ransom it with a half-point card."

   "Wait, now the cards have point values also?"

   At the end of the eighteenth round, Jayce laid the tricks he had won out in front of him and sorted them into face cards. Mythlos only had a few tricks and clearly had not scored much. Hakam was happy to have won more tricks than the ghost had, including a large collection of the trump cards.

   "45 1/2 points," announced Jayce, "and it looks like you have... 31, Hakam. Not bad for your first time. Sadly, second place doesn't help." He reached for the pile of platinum and dragged it over to himself with a smile.

   "But I have far more trump cards than you!"

   "The Fool, the Magician, and the World are all worth five points; all the rest are only worth half a point. You'll note that most of my tricks contain face cards. That's where all the points are, my friend." He gathered all the cards and began to shuffle. "Another deal then?"

   When he started to deal, he received an electric shock. "Ah!"

   "You didn't let the ghost cut the deck," said Mythlos.

   Having corrected this, Jayce re-dealt, and they began another round of bidding for the six face-down cards, which Hakam learned was called the "dog". The ghost won the "dog" this time.

   Mid way through the 18 rounds, Jayce said to Mythlos, "You sold that wand of acid in Memnon, didn't you?"

   "Yes, we've already discussed this. I won't sell a wand again without us all agreeing."

   When it was next his chance to lead, Jayce led with the knight of wands. Hakam played the king, and Mythlos trumped it. The ghost could only play the 7 of wands, and Mythlos took the trick.



   Hakam could not understand why Jayce was smiling so much, as he had not won the trick. For his part, Jayce was doubly happy, since he had not been electrocuted for his table talk.

   In the end, Mythlos had taken the most points in tricks. The table shook violently, as if pounded on by heavy fists. Then the deck of cards vanished. The crowd around the table cheered. Mythlos began to gather the winnings, but Jayce stopped him. "We all know that if you didn't win the bid, you have to split the winnings."

   Mythlos looked confused.

   Jayce went on, "If the bid-winner loses, everyone else splits the pot evenly." He scooped fifteen more platinum pieces into his pocket. "I'm 750 gold coins richer!" he shared. "This warrants a song." He hopped up unto the table, unslung his yarting and began a happy victory song. The crowd around the table joined happily in with the the simple lyrics.

   When the song ended, Jayce was surprised that no one seemed eager to pay him for the music. One of the customers approached him. "Here's two coins for the excellent playing, friend. I myself am a musician; I know excellent pick-work when I hear it, but you should probably know that whoever beats the ghost at Talis is supposed to buy the house a round of drinks."

   Jayce thanked the man for informing him of this. He approached the bar and shouted out loudly, "Two rounds for everyone!"

~~~~


In the peace of a circle of standing stones in Central Park, Leokas and Belvin rested under the stars.

   "Belvin, how did you know it was time for you to seek out Kamil? How did you know to travel so many hundreds of miles to the east and not to go elsewhere? I am sensing that Solonor has chosen a companion for me, that it is time, but I know not how to begin."

   "Pray to him this night and enter into trance," said Belvin. "In the morning you will know."
Session: 26th Game Session - Thursday, Jan 23 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Asavir's Answers & Sage Advice
As dusk approached, the party, with their four horses and two camels, approached the river and the bridge crossing it into Myratma. As before, many caravans were camped in the field alongside the river.

   "Why are we stopping here again?" asked Belvin.

   "The road to Darromar passes through Myratma," said Leokas, "as does the road to Vineshade, if I understand correctly. Whatever we decide to do, we may as well sell our excess belongings and purchase new supplies for however many hundreds of miles are ahead of us."

   "And I would like to find a linguist who can tell me what language is in this journal we found," said Jayce.

   "The question, as I see it," said Hakam, "is whether we try to find Gamalon or Rhinda."

   "Rhinda may not even be alive anymore," said Jayce. "We really don't know for sure. Even if the imposter 'transported' her, he may have killed her since then."

   "Well, I am definitely alive," said Belvin, "and I'd like to remain that way."

   "Trying to follow Gamalon is too risky," said Mythlos. "If he tries to find the gnoll tribe, he will fail; 300 gnolls is simply too many."

   "Gamalon would not be that stupid," replied Jayce.

   "Let us hope," said Hakam.

   "Come on," said Leokas, spurring on his horse. "One step at a time."

   The walls of the city were built in a Calishite manner with minarets at intervals along clay-brick walls, yet the bridge across the river and the two barbican towers of the outer gate in the center of the bridge were of stone and more in line with a northern style of defense.

   Passing the throngs of caravanners, they crossed over the bridge and through the open gate in the center under the arch of the barbican. They passed ten heavily armed guards on each side of the bridge, but no one stopped them to ask questions. The inner gate in the city wall itself was also open.

   The main road that they followed looked ancient and was formed from hexagonal cut stones and seemed out of place with the rest of the city. While many of the buildings had a Calishite feel, more were built of stone or wood than brick, and there were no sabban or drudach walls or their pathways.

   They passed by an area full of animal pens and stables. The air was thick with campfire smoke, and they could hear people speaking in many different languages. They continued past several inns and hostels, with music coming from the open doors, and through a middle-class residential neighborhood.

   They stopped and asked someone for directions to the Gambling Ghost, the only place they knew by name. The man instructed them to take the second right and then to go straight until reaching Central Park. A temple of Silvanus and its associated druid grove were on the northern side of the park; the Gambling Ghost was on the block after that to the east. So they turned off the main road and passed another large residential area on their left. The road turned to the northeast, and soon they began to see many professional shops — calligraphers, bookbinders, papermakers, animal trainers, architects, etc. — mingled among the houses. Then they came into a large open area, a grassy park with several clusters of scrub pines and peach trees.

   They cut across the park and arrived at a block of shops selling expensive wares: magic armor and weapons, candy, dice, toys. At the end of the block was a temple made of wood with a façade carved to look like two large oak trees fused together. "The temple of Silvanus?" suggested Leokas. They continued past for now, by an alchemist's shop, a scroll merchant, and several restaurants until they came to a very old inn on the corner of the second block. A wooden sign swung in the breeze above the doorway, very simply carved in the shape of a ghost that was holding what appeared to be a hand of playing cards. "This must be it," said Jayce.

   They went inside and immediately felt respite from the cold. The first floor of the inn was packed with at least a hundred guests, most sitting around round tables for four to six. The smell of ale was in the air, and there was much noise and shouting. "I'll stay here by the door," said Belvin. "Some of you go ask the innkeeper for information."

   "'ow can I 'elp you?" the man behind the counter in the back asked.

   "How much for rooms for three of us?" replied Jayce.

   "That'd be five silv'r pieces per person per night."

   "What sort of night life is here? Do you allow bards to entertain the guests?"

   "This is more o' a drinkin' and gamin' place," said the innkeeper. When Jayce looked hesitant, he went on. "I might add that our rates are very low for th' qual'ty."

   "We heard there was a druid grove nearby," said Leokas.

   "Yes, saer, 'cross th' street from the temple of Silvanus. You prob'bly passed it on th' way 'ere."

   "He'll be staying at the druids' grove," said Jayce, "but the rest of us will take a room each."

   "I'll 'ave 'em prepared for you now, saers."

   "Might you know where we can find a linguist?"

   "A linguist? What's that?"

   "One who understands languages?"

   "Sounds like you need a wise wizard o' some sort. I'd check with 'Asavir's Answers & Sage Advice'. 'is shop is located past that temple and grove you're just askin' 'bout. Th' sun sets soon; if you 'urry, you might make it 'fore 'e closes up shop."

   "Thank you."

   "Might you 'ave any other questions?"

   "Are there any fight clubs in this city?" asked Mythlos.

   "D'you mean col'seums? Nay, nothin' like what they 'ave o'er th' border." The man leaned forward and whispered. "Some roguish folk may know o' such things."

~~~~


They thanked the man again and departed and walked back the way they had come over to a tiny storefront with a single small window and the letters "Asavir's Answers & Sage Advice" over the door in red. A little bell rang when they opened the door and entered the front room. A little man in a scarf and hat sat behind a low counter reading a thick book. A cobwebbed candelabra hung from the ceiling, but none of the candles were lit.

   "Well met, seekers of wisdom. How can I help you?"

   "How does this work?" asked Belvin.

   "I am a sage," said the older man. "I trade in knowledge. I charge one brakar per day per question, paid up-front. It's a flat rate; the difficulty of the question does not matter directly, but if I do not know the answer, I will investigate and return with it. It usually only takes me a day to find most answers, but for truly difficult questions, it can take as long as a tenday. The longest I have ever taken to find an answer was 27 days. If I cannot find the answer, you receive all your money back. And that question was a free one." The man smiled.

   "A brakar is a gold piece," said Jayce.

   "A two-gold-piece," said Asavir. "I see you were trying to avoid asking a question. But do not worry; I only charge for non-trivial questions."

   "How do we know that you won't take longer to answer a question than you actually need?" asked Jayce.

   "Yes, there is a matter of trust involved between customer and service-provider, as in any business."

   "It's to his advantage to answer questions more quickly, would it not be," said Belvin.

   "That is true," said the sage. "Do you have any difficult questions for me?"

   "I have one further trivial question: do you have a confidentiality agreement?"

   "Certainly! Anything you tell me that you wish to remain secret shall remain so. I only deal in knowledge that can be confirmed by books and scrolls. I do not trade in rumors."

   Jayce looked around for approval from the others, and they nodded, so he removed Dagnyra's journal from his pack. "We found this journal," he said, showing Asavir. "Can you tell us what language it is written in on the last several pages?"

   The sage held out an earthen jar. Jayce dropped in two gold coins.

   "Thank you. Now, let me see...." Asavir adjusted his reading lenses. "I think I may have seen such characters before, but they are indeed very strange, almost alien. Your first question is one which I do not feel comfortable answering without performing a little research. Come back tomorrow any time after highsun, and I shall have an answer for you."

   Jayce began to put the journal away. "I will need to keep the journal until then," said Asavir.

   Jayce looked around at the others. "We already have what we need from the journal, yes?" They agreed that there was no risk at letting him keep the journal for the night.

   Jayce handed it back. "May I ask another question?"

   "Certainly."

   "How powerful a caster does one need to be to create an illusion complete with smell?"

   The sage held out the jar again, and Jayce dropped another coin in.

   "Every additional sense that an illusionist adds to his or her image makes the smell more complicated, but any arcanist is likely able to handle such a spell if they have obtained what is commonly called the 'third level of mastery'. Myratma alone probably has 75 casters who could do it."

   Belvin loudly dropped four coins into the jar. "I will pay you double," he said, "if you can explain to me what has been happening to my camel, Kamil." He proceeded to explain the matter of the growth from the top of Kamil's mouth.

   "I know little of camels," said the sage, "but I assure you that I will look into the matter and return tomorrow with an answer. I have friends who have traveled with camels in caravans through the Calim Desert. They will know."

   "Thank you."

   "How do you activate a portal key?" asked Leokas, paying his fee.

   "There is nothing to activate," replied the sage, "at least not ordinarily. If you pass through a portal with the key, the portal works; otherwise, nothing happens."

   "Pass through the portal? It does not create the portal for you?"

   "He charges per question," reminded Belvin. Leokas dropped in more coins.

   "No, no, no," said Asavir. "A portal key requires a pre-built portal, just as a normal key requires a pre-built door."

   Another coin, this one from Mythlos. "Can you tell me anything about the history of this moonblade?"

   "This is a fine sword, and I have never seen a true moonblade before. For an extra fee, I could identify its magical properties for you, but the history of such a blade is a personal matter. You would be better to seek out whomever passed the sword on to you. Here, take your two coins back."
Session: 26th Game Session - Thursday, Jan 23 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — New Sundrah
~ fourth-day, 4th of Ches, The Year of Wild Magic, afternoon
New Sundrah


By early afternoon on the fourth of Ches, the party of adventurers reached the sign for New Sundrah, the gnomish village. With the horses on loan from the countess, the journey passed quickly, but it was not an entirely pleasant trip, as the day was unusually cold. The group dismounted from their horses or camel, because the path to the village passed under low-hanging trees, and missed the warmth of their mounts' bodies as the chill breeze blew.

   Smiles filled most of their faces as they exited the tunnel of trees into the clearing of the village. "They are so cute!" exclaimed Belvin.

   As before, one-foot-tall gnomish children were running around, but this time, they had been bundled up from the cold in older siblings' clothing that did not fit them; they appeared almost like animated hats and mittens darting around and giggling. Jayce laughed when two of them ran smack into each other, blind from the hats pulled over their eyes.

   The town watch spotted them from under a little mushroom-shaped booth, (or perhaps it was an actual large mushroom,) where he sat on a short stool. He clapped his hands, hopped out of his seat, and came over. "You've returned!" the goateed little man said.

   Leokas recognized him. "Yes, and you are Stumbleduck, if I recall."

   Hakam elbowed Jayce to quiet his laughing.

   The red-hatted gnome nodded. "Yes, I am indeed. And who might these new companions be?"

   Hakam, Jayce, and Mythlos were introduced in turn. Then Stumbleduck asked, "Why have you visited our humble village a second time on this brisk afternoon?"

   "We come seeking knowledge...," Leokas began, but Stumbleduck interrupted him. "Sun lenses! Where did you get those?" A ray from the western sun had just cut through a cloud and Jayce had reached for his lenses. (The gnome had not yet noticed his hair color, as he had the hood of his aba over his head for some warmth.)

   "From my homeland of the Lantan Isles," Jayce answered.

   "Wonderful! Wonderful! Many of us are from the Isles as well, as I'm sure you could guess from the name of our village."

   The others looked at Jayce. "Sundrah is a major port of Lantan," explained Jayce.

   "But you were saying, saer elf?"

   "Yes," continued Leokas, "we have a journal in a language we do not know."

   Jayce removed Dagnyra's journal from his pack and began to hand it to Stumbleduck, when it was knocked out of his hand by a little gnomish girl who had darted under his legs giggling.

   "Oh, please excuse our little imps!" said Stumbleduck, as he stooped to pick up the journal from the grass.

   "The last pages," said Jayce.

   The gnome opened and looked. "Hmm, nothing I've seen before. But I am no sage!"

   "How can we learn what this language is?" asked Hakam.

   "What is that?" said a tiny voice behind them.

   They turned to see a little one staring up at Kamil, as the animal tried to avoid stepping on two others.

   "Be careful, children," said Belvin. "That is my spirit camel, Kamil."

   "Might we be able to meet with your mayor?" asked Leokas.

   "I do not think he will recognize this strange language either, but he may still be interested to see it. The strange things of the world do not often come to our village. Follow me. You will like him. He wears the biggest hat in the village."

   Stumbleduck led them past some of the colorful buildings and a tiny market, where some gnomish firearms caught Hakam's eye. They approached the green hill that surrounded most of the village. Smoke rose from little chimneys coming out of the grass. They were led before a five-foot-tall door — rather large for a gnome — which had two wolverines standing beside it like guard dogs. The wolverines even wore little red jackets, and stood up at attention when Stumbleduck approached. He used the knocker to rap on the door.

   Momentarily, the door was opened by a gnome with a grey beard that reached down to his curled-toed purple shoes three feet below. Atop his head was a purple pointed hat that reached up to the top of the door frame.

   "Good afternoon, Nickletwick Nackle!"

   Stumbleduck apologized for disturbing the mayor, and then introduced the five guests.

   "Welcome! Welcome to New Sundrah! It's like the old Sundrah, but with less ocean and no humans! Ho!" The adventurers didn't seem to get the joke, so the mayor continued. "My name is Samber SeMilderic, but you can just call me 'that old mayor', or 'Tom' for short. You see," he mock whispered, "it's an acronym."

   "Yes, we get it," said Mythlos.

   "You do not have a nickname?" asked Jayce. "I thought all gnomes have nicknames."

   "Well, when I was a wee lad, I was called 'Whittleedoo', but that does not go over well when I have serious dealings with the council in Myratma."

   "How often is that?"

   "Only a few times a year, but even so."

   "So, Mayor Tom," asked Jayce, "have you, perchance, ever traveled to another plane, say, the Elemental Plane of Air?"

   "By Garl's bellybutton, no!" exclaimed the mayor. "What makes you think that?"

   "Well, we found this journal. It has the name Samber on it, in Dwarven runes, as you gnomes use, and he wrote of traveling there, at least we think. Are you missing a journal?"

   "I do not keep a journal," said the mayor. "Can you imagine what would happen if someone found it and read about how I pick my nose in private! Ho! (That was a joke,... I only pick my nose in public. Ho!)"

   The gnome saw disappointment on their faces and so he ceased his joking. "In all seriousness, though, 'Samber' is a very common name in Latan, as you must know. This village is composed of primarily three clans, the Turens, the Garricks, and the SeMilderics, of which I am a proud member. The Garricks and the SeMilderics came over the great sea from Sundrah many decades ago, before even the Ten Black Days. Many in those two clans still bear Lantanese names instead of Gnomish ones, as do I myself. It is a matter of pride at our Lantanese heritage."

   "We actually have another curious journal," said Jayce, holding out Dagnyra's.

   "I see you all like to sneak into people's bedrooms!" said the mayor.

   "Well, this one was from the 'bedroom' of a gnoll."

   The gnomes countenance dropped. "Wicked creatures. Worse than Urdlen they are."

   "Who is Urdlen?"

   "Who? You mean 'what?'. Urdlen is the Crawler Below. It burrows into the hearts of gnomes and steals away their color."

   Jayce did not know how to respond to this, so he continued. "We think there is a conspiracy afoot, against the countess, but we need help interpreting some strange markings."

   "Which countess do you mean? The Lady Raslemtar?"

   "No, not that one. The Lady Hawkwinter."

   "Yes, yes. While formerly we are in the Lady Hawkwinter's realm, we have far more dealings with Myratma, which is across the county border. Do go on."

   "Here are the markings." The gnome examined them for a moment, then said, "No, saers, I do not know these symbols."

   "We have other questions you may be better suited to answer," said Hakam.

   "What is wrong with Stumbleduck's suit? Ho!"

   Hakam ignored this terrible pun and continued. "Legends tell of the illusionary magics of gnomes. We suspect that the writer of these strange symbols is a powerful illusionist. Might there be a gnome illusionist living in this village with whom we could speak?"

   "Well, all of us are inherently magical little beings, but it is true that some of us have drawn out our talents to a greater degree. There is a gnome named Stolig Ningel here, who goes by the nickname 'Rivenstone' with whom you may wish to speak. Stumbleduck can show you to his burrow."

   Stumbleduck nodded.

   "Do you have any further questions?" asked Mayor SeMilderic.

   "How did you become the mayor?" asked Belvin. "Are you of special blood? Were you chosen by a sacred ritual?"

   "No! We have elections, my good elf."

   "I enjoy hearing this merry tune that someone is playing," said Jayce. "Is that a shawm I hear?"

   "It is! My favorite instrument."

   "Would you permit me to join in the music later?"

   "We must call a village meeting and hold an election to decide a matter such as that," said the mayor.

   Jayce looked confused.

   "Ho!" exclaimed the gnome.

~~~~


   Stumbleduck led them back past the guard-wolverines along the hillside to another burrow door. "Rivenstone lives in this burrow, the sixth door on the right; remember, in Tethyr there is no five! I will return to my post. I hope you find what you are looking for. Good afternoon!"

   "'In Tethyr there is no five?' What does that mean?" asked Belvin.

   "If Gamalon or Rhinda were here, we could ask them," said Leokas.

   Mythlos opened the four-foot green wooden door into the hill. One by one, they each ducked down low and entered.

   It did not feel like being underground at all, except for the lack of windows. The floor, walls, and ceiling were all of finely crafted wood and cozy candles hung on the walls to provide light. Though cramped for all of them, it was nice to finally be out of the cold. Along the left and right walls were many painted doors, each a different color. The doors were numbered beginning with '1' on each side.

   "There is a fifth door," said Mythlos, looking at a blue door with a brass numeral '5' upon it.

   "Open it," said Belvin.

   Mythlos turned the handle and pulled. The door opened to reveal nothing but a dirt wall on the other side.

   "Ho!" said Jayce, mimicing Mayor SeMilderic's voice.

   Mythlos shut the door and moved on to the one labeled '6'.

   "You should probably knock first," said Leokas from further down the line of crouched visitors.

   Mythlos knocked, and the door was quickly opened by a young gnomish woman with freckles. "Well met!" she said cheerfully.

   "Well met," said Mythlos. "Does Rivenstone live here?"

   "No, you are looking for the sixth actual doorway, not door number six," she said.

   "I'm sorry to disturb you."

   "No worries; happens all the time."

   "Don't say it," said Hakam to Jayce.

   Finally, the adventurers knocked on door number '7', which was white. It was shortly opened by a gnome with blond spiked hair and a short beard in two braids. "Well met," he said. "I am Stolig Ningel, but you can call me Rivenstone. Who might you and you and you and you and you be?"

~~~~


Their conversation with Stolig Ningel was less memorable (and less full of bad jokes) than that with Mayor SeMilderic, and unfortunately the gnome did not recognize the language in Dagnyra's journal. They did, however, learn more ideas about what sort of "imposter" they might be dealing with.

   "There are actually several kinds of illusionary magic," explained Rivenstone, as they sat snug on the floor in a circle around him in his drawing room drinking gnomish tea. "A figment is an illusion that produces false sensations of something that does not actually exist. A glamer changes the perceived sensations of an object that does exist. Patterns and phantasms are solely in the spell target's head, and no one else can perceive them.

   "A disguise will most often be a glamer, as that sort of magic can change the appearance, sound, or smell of someone. It is possible that your 'gnoll imposter' was a powerful illusionist using a complicated glamer affecting all of the senses, but such a glamer is difficult to pull off."

   "The imposter failed to include smell in his glamer, if that's what it was," said Jayce. "He had to use natural methods to imitate a gnoll's smell."

   "Hmm. Another possibility is that it is not an illusion at all but rather a transmutation. Gnomes do not generally speciallize in transmutations, so I cannot tell you much, but such spells change the literal, physical makeup of a person or thing, such as turning a man into a toad. Druids, such as you, saer Belvin, often learn the power to morph into animals as they grow in the power of nature. That is ultimately the same sort of magic.

   "And one does not even need to be a powerful caster to do this; there are many strange creatures in the world with the supernatural ability to transmute their forms. Surely, you have heard of werewolves and other lycanthropes. These beings are limited in the forms they can take, but not all shapechangers are so limited!"

~~~~


Back outside, Hakam went to visit the gunsmith, Fodoric "Doublelock" Raulnor, at his little shop, where he purchased a musket, bullets, and smokepowder, being intriqued by the strange weapons. Jayce sat next to the shawm player on the grass and began accompanying him on his yarting, as gnomish maidens in kirtles and bonnets danced merrily in a circle. Mythlos joined in their dance until worn out, which the maidens found delightfully funny. Then Jayce sang an ode to the setting sun, while Mythlos paid close attention to his technique, desiring eventually to learn the magic of music from the bard.

   Meanwhile, Leokas and Belvin visited with a dwarf who lived among the gnomes about whom they had heard from Rivenstone. His name was Storn Holderhek. The old dwarf was blind and nearly deaf and walked with a cane, but he was happy to speak with them, as he did not get many visitors. They asked him if he had heard of the name "Samber", which he had not, but he was very familiar with Omlar gems. He had mined in the Omlarandin Mountains, he told them, and once in his life he was lucky enough to be among miners who found such a gem. It was sold over the border to Calimshan for a very large sum of money. Beyond this little anecdote, he did not have much else to tell them.

~~~~


As they rode north over the final miles to Myratma, they continued to discuss theories about Samber and about the conspiracy to capture Countess Hawkwinter.

   "Some of these things could just be coincidences," cautioned Belvin.

   "Was it a coincidence that you found Kamil?" replied Jayce.

   "That is different."

   "What about the syl-pasha?" asked Jayce. "Perhaps he is behind the conspiracy and wants to take back Tethyr for Calimshan."

   "It would be a rightful reclammation," said Hakam. "Tethyr was meant to be a part of the empire."

   "There's the river and the city up ahead," said Leokas, before an argument could break out.
Session: 25th Game Session (Double Marathon Session!) - Sunday, Jan 12 2014 from 3:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Epic!
Chapter 3 — Late Night Reading & Early Morning Planning
~ fourth-day, 4th of Ches, The Year of Wild Magic, moondark
el Daraqadim


Jayce awoke naturally during night's heart feeling refreshed. He was confident and determined to learn more about the fate of Master Ersemm, Rhinda, and this gnoll imposter. He sat up and lit a candle at the little desk in his guest room and lit his pipe as well. He opened the journal of the gnoll leader, Dagnyra, and turned to the first page with the strange alien-looking writing. He opened his spell component pouch and removed a few grains of salt. Humming, he sprinkled the grains on the page before him and shook some soot from his pipe as well. He began rubbing the soot and salt all over the symbols on the page with his index finger. Magically, the now smudged pages grew clean again, and before his eyes, the symbols began to move around on the page and change shape, reforming themselves into letters and then words that he could recognize:

They do not suspect anything. My only concern was that the sergeant, Gnyrn, smelled me and eyed me strangely. I soon remedied this by rubbing some of Dagnyra's filth in my fur. Two days have passed, and Gnyrn seems satisfied with my smell....


~~~~


Kyrin Hawkwinter had arranged beforehand to meet with the adventurers early the next morning, at daybreak, within the hidden alcove in the cliff below her keep. Jayce had arrived there early, anxious to share his discoveries. He was the first to arrive. It was very cold, and he shivered, wishing he had some warmer clothes with him.

   The hidden stone door at the back of the alcove opened, and Kyrin emerged, wrapped tightly in a thick cloak for warmth and bearing a torch. "Good morning, Minstrel Jayce. You must be cold; come inside the passage for warmth; I shall wait for the others."

   He could barely keep in his discoveries, but he managed to do so until his companions arrived. Romar Burnhill also came with them. They all squeezed into the tight stone passage, and Kyrin shut the door, then hung her torch on a sconce on the wall.

   "Well, then, adventurers, I thank you for coming...."

   "Master Ersemm still lives!" exclaimed Jayce. "And Rhinda too!"

   "What?" Kyrin was taken aback.

   "Do not be cruel!" scolded Hakam.

   "No, it is true. I read the journals last night — or at least as much as I could before my spell ran out. Did you already pray for your spells this morning? Ask Tyr to confirm it for you." Jayce handed Hakam the two journals.

   "Mighty Anachtyr, open the eyes of thine humble servant," Hakam prayed. Then he gazed carefully at the pages in silence.

   "The strange symbols were of some sort of imposter," Jayce explained to the others as Hakam read.

   "An imposter?"

   "Yes, the writer disguised himself somehow to deceive the gnolls."

   "Could it be Rontal?" asked Mythlos. "Using a powerful illusion spell?"

   "Servants of Deneir are not known for illusionary magics," said Kyrin, "but rather divinatory. Rontal has always been a good man; I cannot see him leading a secret life among those monsters. I trust you have learned more than such a speculation, Jayce."

   "Yes, there is more — the good news. This imposter planned to capture Master Ersemm. Your lover was not killed; he was 'delivered' elsewhere — alive — the same night he was captured."

   "Justicar Hakam, can you confirm this?"

   "Yes, rafayami,... milady, I am reading these same things."

   "There's more. The gnolls were supposed to have captured you, not Rhinda. The last page read, 'The fools grabbed the wrong person!' I believe our suspicions were correct that she was spared too, being taken out by way of that secret passage we discovered."

   "Who would want you out of the picture?" asked Leokas.

   Kyrin laughed. "There are many that would want that," she replied. "After coming to power, Zaranda Star deposed all of the barons of the Interregnum, eliminating that noble position entirely, along with the divisions of all baronies. And surely you know that I was born in Waterdeep, not Tethyr. There are a silent number who hate that I was given this position and not born into it.

   "Now Rontal —" she continued, "do the rumors you've heard say he desires my power? or my bed?"

   "The rumors say he has desired your love, not your bed specifically. No one I've spoken with has suspected that he is power-hungry."

   "Something does not add up," said Leokas. "What lover would capture the woman he was about to marry?"

   "And what man wishing power would capture his bride before the wedding day?" said Mythlos. "What would that accomplish? Without the wedding, he would not be count."

   "We should just kill him to be safe at this point," said Belvin.

   "No, Druid!" said Kyrin. "Though I do not love the man, he has always been kind to me and a friend."

   "Can we have him arrested?" suggested Leokas.

   "No," said Hakam, who had finished skimming the journals, "a noble has higher legal protection."

   "Technically," said Kyrin, "a farsann is not a noble, but even so, we do not have any true charges. I will have Romar here post a guard secretly to watch his house and observe his actions, but I will not take any further steps." Romar nodded in agreement. "This is all still speculation. Besides, I care far more about finding my Garron, if he still in fact lives. Where could he be? And why him and not me? Where was he 'delivered'? To the gnoll tribe near Vineshade?"

   "I do not think so," said Jayce, "but I have no other ideas where. We need to capture the imposter and question him."

   "He may be a powerful wizard or sorcerer," cautioned Mythlos.

   "We should set a trap for him. Some of us should lay in wait within the gnoll lair for him to return," said Jayce.

   "Or I could be the bait," said Kyrin.

   "No, milady!" said Romar, who had till now been silent and listening. "Forgive me for speaking my mind, but you have a responsibility to your people; you cannot risk your own capture if the trap fails. We do not know what sort of creature we are even dealing with!"

   Hakam spoke up, "Are not gnomes known for their powerful illusions?"

   "Are you suggesting our imposter is a gnome?" asked Leokas, nearly laughing at the thought.

   "No, I am suggesting that we travel to the gnome village about which you told us and see if anyone can help us. Perhaps someone there can even identify the language by which this imposter writes."

   "And on the way, a couple of us can hide in the gnoll lair in case the imposter returns."

   "No," said Belvin, "whoever does that may well be sitting there forever."

   "We also already have two guards posted to watch the cliffs," said Romar.

   "I agree with the justicar's plan," said Kyrin. "Romar and I will monitor the situation here. I will further send word to Count Amethystall at Vineshade regarding the gnoll tribe said to be there and word to Duchess Haresdown as well. You adventurers should take some of our horses and learn what you can about the author of the writing in that journal. We will send word to each other of any news we discover.

   "Go now, and may Tempus ride with you."
Session: 25th Game Session (Double Marathon Session!) - Sunday, Jan 12 2014 from 3:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Dinner Celebration
~ third-day, 3rd of Ches, The Year of Wild Magic, evening
el Daraqadim


   There was joyful music in the banquet hall at el Daraqadim as jars of cider and wine were passed around the tables. At the head of the table sat the Countess Hawkwinter, dressed in a modest but expensive blue gown, her hair braided and tight in a high pile atop her head. To her left sat Melynda, her sammafar, in a far less modest green gown. She appeared disappointed at something and kept glancing toward the doorway. On Lady Kyrin's right sat her farsann and fiancé, Rontal. He too, seemed distracted from the celebrations, constantly glancing over at his liege admiringly. The 13 horsemen, the captain of the guard, and Hakam and Mythlos sat in places of honor.

   Captain Romar Burnhill rose from his seat and stood in the center of the room, his pipe hanging from his lips. A white bandage was wrapped around his neck, but he otherwise was dressed in his finest linens and a maroon jerkin.

   "Here! Here!" he called, holding high a brass goblet. The crowd quieted.

   "Citizens of Calimmon, horsemen of the queen, and our Lady Hawkwinter, we thank you for joining with us in this celebration." He bowed toward the countess. "Now some of you may be wondering why the farsann has ordered that the special brew be brought out." One of those at the table shouted out a large "Huzzah!"

   Captain Romar continued, "Today has been a good day for the safety of our lands. We discovered a vile gnoll lair and we have eradicated the scourge upon our lands. No more will any of you have to fear travel on these roads. And those of you who have lost loved ones to those monsters, know that we have enacted revenege for you."

   There were many cheers from the crowd. "It was not an easy battle. You can see that I myself was not unscathed, but I wear this new scar with pride! Tymora smiled on us; we suffered not a single loss of life this day!"

   "Huzzah! Huzzah!" cheered the crowd.

   "But I did not fight alone. Know you are protected by a brave band of horsemen. These thirteen you see sitting here performed their duty well today. And two of their companions still ride tonight risking their lives to assure that no gnoll survivors remain. Drink to your cavalry, O Citizens!"

   Everyone chugged their cider or wine.

   "Now, good folk and milady, let me introduce to you our two most honored guests, Hakam yn Hamdulah, priest of Tyr from over the border, and a true citizen of Tethyr, the elf Mythlos Moonspinner. These two brave souls, and their three companions, who are recovering from the battle now, not only found the demonspawn lair but also aided us in the fight. We could not have turned the day without their assistance. Cheers!"

   The people emptied their goblets as Mythlos and Hakam rose to be honored.

   "Good man and good elf," said Lady Kyrin, standing, "receive not only my thanks but also the thanks of the queen and the Duchess Valmeyjar. We hold you in the highest honor. We are not the richest of counties, but I trust you will be given free lodging here this night and whenever you have reason to stay with us. I also give each of you use of our horses and any other services our humble people can offer you. Now, everyone, drink and eat. There will only be smiles on this night!"

~~~~


   Leokas and Belvin heard the partying from the stables, where they rested and ate with Kamil, as Belvin did not feel up for dining with a crowd of rowdy humans. All of them had arrived back at the keep several hours prior, just before dark. Kyrin had secretly entered the keep through her hidden entrance to her home, and the rest had come through the main gates, where Captain Burnhill had immediately sent word to Rontal to prepare for a celebratory dinner. Surprisingly, Jayce passed on the celebration and its opportunity to perform and retired immediately to his guest chamber, desiring strongly to recover his magical powers as soon as possible, so strong was his curiousity about the two gnoll journals they had taken.

   To his dismay, Belvin had found Kamil in the stable once again with the large growth dangling from his mouth. "Kamil, what is happening to you, my friend?" As before, the growth had subsided naturally when the camel focused on his master.

   Leokas ate in silence, feeling guilty about the slaughter of the unarmed and placid gnolls. "I regret how we behaved this day toward the gnoll slaves," he said aloud.

   "It's a minor detail, Leokas," said Belvin, as he bit off a final chunk of roasted boar and shared his peach with Kamil. "Do not worry yourself about it.

   "Now, I am going into trance. Are you staying here? Or are you sleeping in one of the guest rooms?"

   "It is getting rather cold; I think I shall retire to a room. Goodnight."

~~~~


   After leaving the feast, Hakam approached one of the guards at the gate. "I have a message to be born by horseback to Myratma, by order of the countess, to the inn called the Gambling Ghost." He handed the man the following letter:

Hakam yn Hamdulah el Anachtyr,

To Sir Gamalon Valmeyjar,

Care of the Gambling Ghost, Myratma:

Greetings.

I apologize that we could not make it to Myratma as of yet. We did not find Rhinda, but we found her horse and discovered that she was indeed captured by gnolls. However, take heart; we have some evidence that she still might live and are pursuing leads. You can expect us tomorrow night.

(I am also sending to you a sack containing Rhinda's gear that we recovered.)


   Only an hour after sending the letter and the gear, there was a rap on Hakam's guest room door. It was the same messenger he had sent. "Forgive the disturbance, saer, but I had not traveled five miles up the road when I encountered the very same paladin to whom you sent me to deliver the message. He had set out earlier this same afternoon as you had not arrived in Myratma when you had told him, and he grew suspicious. I notified him of your message, and he informed me in overly flowery language that he must set out that very moment to find Rhinda, that he would ride for the town of Vineshade and start his search there, and that he wished you and the two forest elves Torm and Tymora's blessing on your quests."

   "How did he know of Vineshade? I made no mention of it in the message."

   "I added that detail myself," said the messenger. "The men were talking, and I let it slip. I hope I have not caused a problem, saer."

   "No. Thank you for letting me know."
Session: 25th Game Session (Double Marathon Session!) - Sunday, Jan 12 2014 from 3:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Epic!
Excerpts from Dagnyra's Journal
p. 1:

"Slew Yrgna in combat. Ate her heart. Now I am pack leader."

p. 5:

"Hyrn challenged me. Shoved an arrow through his eye."

p. 8:

"Received leather armor from tribe."

p. 17:

"I am hungry."

p. 29:

"New hunter joined pack. Speaks Common. Has already killed many horsemen from keep."

p. 31:

"New hunter, Gnyrn, very good at faking voices. Yeenoghu has blessed him."

p. 35:

"Gnasc wished to mate. I had Gnyrn impale him."

p. 42:

"Great success in last several moons. Much to trade with tribe."

p. 53 (first page in alien writing):

"They do not suspect anything. My only concern was that the sergeant, Gnyrn, smelled me and eyed me strangely. I soon remedied this by rubbing some of Dagnyra's filth in my fur. Two days have passed, and Gnyrn seems satisfied with my smell."

p. 54:

"They are quite impressive at ambushes, having mastered the art of ventriloquism, it seems. They treat their prisoners brutaly, however. I often secretly poison them to end their suffering quickly."

p. 55:

"Things are still going very well. Their customs and behavior are far more predictable than those of humans. My only concern is that they don't dwindle their numbers down too much with infighting."

p. 56:

"Today is the day."

p. 57:

"Success. Gnyrn's plan worked flawlessly. I drugged the paladin and dragged him to my chamber, convincing the others that I deserved his meat all to myself as their leader. The other two men were more than enough for them anyhow."

p. 58:

"The paladin has been delivered. Now to wait."

p. 59:

"I am splitting my time between the two locations. I am learning what I desire rather quickly, as the man's mind is weak."

p. 60:

"I grow impatient here. I am ready, but still I must wait to hear the proper report. The scouts report daily. Nothing we can take advantage of. She is too careful."

p. 61:

"What does she do for so many suns behind those walls? Still I wait."

p. 69:

"The scouts have reported this morning that she rides north."

p. 70:

"The fools grabbed the wrong person!"
Session: 25th Game Session (Double Marathon Session!) - Sunday, Jan 12 2014 from 3:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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