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Tag: npc_death

Chapter 6 — Not the Best Start to a Jungle Journey
~ eighth-day, 8th of Flamerule, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
jungles of Chult


It rained again all night long. Those with tents stayed dry, but those without did not fare too badly, since the trees provided full cover.

   As the sun rose, the steam was even thicker than the day before within the jungle canopy. This meant that visibility was minimal. Thankfully, Belvin had asked Thard Harr that morning for the same spell that Kothar, the lizardfolk leader, had used. He himself had been trained back in St. Faelar's Cloister how to step quickly through rough natural terrain, and he hopped from tree root to stone deftly, as behind him, a magical force shoved plants, rocks, and fallen debris aside so that the other's had an easy trail upon which to walk. This sped up their travel significantly, and they made much better time for the first hour of the morning.

   They descended from the high embankment overlooking the River Soshenstar. Now they could hear it flowing to their left. At their current speed, they should have reached the shore where the boats were moored at the end of the second hour. They nearly did.

   The ground was everywhere wet and marshy so near to the river, and there were many fallen logs. As they walked, Mythlos, who was in the front right, noted that one of the "logs" moved.

   "There's something to the...," he started, but he was too late. From the forest floor, a massive snake sprung forth and struck down over their guide Losi's head like a bolt of lightning, biting into him with its fangs. Mythlos swung and took a deep gash out of the giant serpent, but its skin was so thick that the wound barely even drew blood.

   The reptile's head was as wide as a man's shoulders, and Losi's entire head was in its mouth. It could probably have swallowed Losi whole, but its instincts were to coil itself around its victim. Mythlos swung again at the snake's body, but it whipped about so rapidly that he missed and stuck the wet earth, throwing mud. The scaled coils wrapped round and round.

   Everyone leapt into action. In a matter of seconds, all of the following occurred: Belvin shoved past Nargroth and slashed with the magical scimitar he had purchased from Darromar; snake blood splattered. Leokas loosed three arrows from his now magical darkwood longbow; two struck true, sinking deep into the animal's neck. A dagger of ice, like Vashti used to evoke, flew from between Szordrin's hands and struck the tail of the giant snake with a burst of snow. This was followed immediately by a burst of fire from Oma and Hakam firing a round from his musket. Finally, a shout of rage came from Nargroth, and the huge half-orc struck the serpent with two of the four blades of his double axe. Jayce had barely strummed the first line of his song of courage.

   But all this was not enough to take down the over-sized reptile. There was a dreadful crunching sound, and the snake released its grip. It let fall Losi's body and hissed at its attackers.



   Then it thrashed madly, for Mythlos and Belvin each severed a major artery and an arrow from Leokas sailed into its open mouth. The snake flopped to the ground, and they hacked at it until it ceased convulsing.

   Hakam ran to Losi's side, prepared to cure him with his divine magic, but the man had already been crushed to death.

~~~~


"You fought well," said Walker.

   "Well? Someone died!" Leokas exclaimed.

   "Be thankful it was only one. These are the jungles of Chult."

   "I knew adventures were not all treasures and fame," said Oma, "but I didn't expect this to happen...."

   "We should bury the poor man," said Nargroth, who was hunched over out of breath.

   "No," said Walker.

   "Where is your compassion?" said Leokas.

   "You mistook my answer for a lack of it. We must burn his body, not bury it. That is how things are done in Chult."

   "Why is that?" asked Belvin.

   "To prevent the spread of zombies," said Walker.

   "Do we burn the snake as well? Can snakes become zombies?"

   "Anything can become a zombie if the right evil is at work," said Hakam.

   "It will take a large amount of firewood for that," said Jayce, "and Tymora's smile if you can get such a fire going in all this moisture."

   "I can't believe this is happening!" Oma repeated.

   Mythlos returned to the already hacked-up body of the snake and began cutting it in half. "This will prevent the snake from returning as an undead," he said.

   "Or else now there will be two undead serpents," said Hakam.

~~~~


They spent the next few hours in the grim work of laying Losi's body to rest. Carrying his body, they hiked back up to higher ground, where it was drier, and they dug a pit and built a pyre within. It was difficult with the high humidity, but Leokas managed to get a fire started, and they stood around somberly as it burned. Mythlos had removed an obsidian ring from one of Losi's toes. "I shall return it to his family somehow," he said.

   When Losi's flesh was wholly consumed, they filled the pit with dirt and found a large stone to mark the site. Jayce and Nargroth worked together to scratch an epitaph into the rock.

Here lies
Losi
of Port Nyanzaru,
traveler of the great jungle,
faithful guide.

Year of Wild Magic

Though you entered this world without arms,
we pray that Ubtao grant you wings to fly the House of Nature.
Session: 42nd Game Session - Wednesday, Oct 08 2014 from 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM
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Epic!
Chapter 5 — Two Weddings and a Funeral? Part 2
...

"That was a faster ceremony than I expected," said Mythlos.

   "It was a secular ceremony," said Hakam. "It is to be expected."

   "Tell your friends to be quiet," said Melynda, "here comes the best part, the kiss."

   Rontal and Kyrin leaned forward to kiss.

   Women began screaming. Rontal jumped back, and the guards on the dais moved around him and Kyrin.

   Kyrin's hair had retracted into her head and her face had morphed into a man's, with the dress collapsing off her shoulders as her body lost its feminine curves. Someone in crowd called excitedly, "It's Master Ersemm!"

   "What's wrong, love? Don't want to kiss me? What about if I looked like this?" The face morphed again, this time into a gaunt, pale gray head, with huge bulging eyes. It had no nose, only holes, and no mouth at all. There were even more shrieks from the crowd. In the nobles' shelter, Lady Haresdown fainted, and attendants rushed to her. Melynda clutched Jayce's arm. Queen Zaranda, on the other hand, had a strange smirk on her face. King Haedrak seemed to not be paying attention at all, instead staring at someone among the collection of nobles.

   Queen Zaranda called loudly for order, but everyone continued murmuring. The little dragon stood up and roared, a surprisingly loud sound from such a small creature. All were silent.

   "I, Queen Zaranda Rhindaun, Monarch of Tethyr, do hereby declare this a session of the High Court.

   "Rontal Qirattar, kneel before your queen!" Rontal obeyed without hesitation, and the guards pointed their pole arms at him.

   "Rontal Qirattar, you are now charged with treason against crown and country, assault against a magistrate or sheriff, and fraud. How do you plead?"

   "I am guiltless of treason, you Majesty. I am not traitor against your crown. You are a great and just ruler!"

   "Do you recognize this man?" She pointed at the doppelganger, which now had the form of another male.

   "You remember me, don't you?" said the creature in the man's voice. "That rainy night in the bar? You paid me a lot of money that night for the services I offered you."

   "Do you know him?" repeated the queen.

   "Yes,.. your Majesty," uttered Rontal, trembling in fear. "We met once."

   "How do you know this individual?"

   "I, I met him in a bar, as it said, your Majesty."

   "For what did you pay him? What are these 'services' of which it speaks? Tell the court the truth, lest we use magic to force it from you."

   "I did not know what it was! I thought he was just a mercenary!"

   "You have not answered my question."

   "I paid him to... to remove Master Ersemm."

   There was a collective gasp from the crowd.

   "Remove? Pray tell me what you mean by 'remove'?"

   "Not to kill him!" Rontal shook his head emphatically. "Master Ersemm was a good man. I paid to have him... taken away... alive, not killed. In fact, I forbade it."

   She spoke loudly to the whole crowd. "The accused has spoken his guilt by his own lips; you have all heard it."

   She turned to the doppelganger. "Show your true form!" It obeyed.

   "Creature of many forms, did you kidnap Master Ersemm and keep him confined in a dungeon for these last several years?"

   The creature nodded.

   "Is it true that you studied his mind to learn as much as you could about the Countess of Calimmon?"

   It nodded again. "Is it further true that you attempted, yet failed, to also kidnap the Countess?"

   It nodded again. Rontal looked confused. "I knew nothing of this!" he exclaimed. "I would never harm Kyrin!"

   "Silence! Your trial has concluded. Speak not another word or temp my anger."

   Guards could be seen congregating near the nobles' enclosure.

   "Shapeshifter, for whom were you working when you sought to kidnap the Lady Hawkwinter?"

   The creature turned slowly, raising its gangly arm and pointing its long finger. Murmuring traveled among the peasants. The king's pseudodragon growled. The doppelganger was pointing directly at the Duke of Kamlann, Lord Hhune.

   "This is preposterous!" shouted the Duke's wife, Lucia. "What sort of sick wedding is this?"

   "The wedding has ended," said the queen. "Master Qirattar has indeed wedded this doppelganger who stands before all of you. This is a trial now, and the audience shall maintain silence unless called upon to bear witness. Guards, arrest the Duke! He shall be tried at a later date."

   The duke, with no other options, rose and allowed himself to be bound and led away, looking with intense hatred toward the king the whole time. His wife, furious, followed them as they led her husband off the grounds.

   When they had been removed and the crowd quieted again, the queen spoke. "Master Qirattar, cease your groveling and stand to hear your sentence."

   He stood and faced the queen. "You have been found guilty of assault against a magistrate or sheriff and of fraud. Thank your gods that I have not found you guilty of treason, as your head would be beside you on this ground at my word. For fraud, methinks you have more than suffered the public humiliation dictated by the laws of Tethyr for such a crime. For assault, in lieu of ten years forced labor, I instead decree that you are hereby exiled from the Kingdom of Tethyr for ten years, to be accompanied by your new 'bride', this doppelganger you hired, who has previously been sentenced by privy council a tenday ago. Begone, now, both of you! If you are found within the Kingdom of Tethyr two days hence, you shall be executed on the spot, by order of the queen."

   Rontal turned and fled with his hands over his face as the guards parted the crowd to form an aisle for him to leave. The doppelganger chased after him taunting him, gathering up the skirts of the wedding dress, and taking the shape of the mercenary from the bar. "Wait for me, husband! We must consummate our marriage. I can take any form you like! What human woman can do that!" The creature began switching forms rapidly, now looking like Kyrin, now looking like the queen, now looking like the ugly, arrested duke.

   "Order!" called the queen, once the two had fled the field. The crowd finally quieted. "This High Court is now adjourned. Now, it is yet again time for a wedding, and I promise you that there are no more doppelgangers present." The queen's angry countenance was replaced suddenly with a smile. "Priestess Evermorning...."

   In the midst of the crowd of peasants, someone threw off her hooded cloak, revealing a beautiful red-haired woman with nearly endless, curled locks, wearing a simple, flowing, crimson, silk habit, which left her arms and shoulders bare. She made her way to the front, while Queen Zaranda took her throne. There was a trumpet fanfare, and one of the cavalry members moved from his place in the line of horses and galloped to the opening of the arc. The guards again parted the crowd to form an aisle, and the knight, dressed in shining black armor, pranced his beautiful black horse forward to meet the priestess. He dismounted and stood at front where Rontal had stood. Young squires rushed forward to take his horse and lead it away. He pulled his helmet off his head and handed it to an attendant.

   It was Garron Ersemm. Again, the crowd could not contain its mixture of confusion and surprise.

   The music changed from horns to a peaceful melody upon stringed instruments. Everyone turned, as a white rider upon a white horse rode in from one of the far tents, sitting side-saddle in a beautiful white dress, her long brown hair blowing in the breeze. It was of course Kyrin Hawkwinter, looking happier than they had ever seen her.

   She rode up to the front, and Garron stepped forward to help her from her pure white horse. Hand in hand, they stepped before the priestess and knelt, as servants led the horse away.

   "This is the best wedding ever!" said Melynda.

   The priestess began speaking in a crisp, clear voice. "Celebrants of love, join us as the Goddess of Beauty blesses the union of love to be forged this evening in the presence of us all."

   She began preaching a very long message about the power of love, how it stretches beyond the confines of captivity, how it brought these two lovers back together, one seemingly from the grave, how nothing else on Toril is as beautiful as two lovers being restored to each other, how true love will always win, etc., etc.

   "Belvin would have cut her head off by now," whispered Mythlos to Jayce as she went on an on.

   Finally, the monolog was over. Melynda sighed. "That was so beautiful I want to cry."

   "Please don't," said Jayce.

   Now the scarlet priestess took a silken red sash. Kyrin and Ersemm held out their wrists, and she bound them together with it.

   "I, Eldra Evermorning, Heartwarder and High Priestess of Sune, do, in her name, bless this union of love before me." Looking up, she prayed, "Lady Firehair, show these lovers your favor; give us a sign of beauty."

   "Did you just kiss me?" Hakam turned to Mythlos in shock.

   "No, of course not!"

   It seemed that Hakam was not alone. Many in audience seemed to have felt phantom lips kiss them on the cheek.

   "Sune kissed me!" exclaimed Melynda, clasping her palms together in excitement. "I will find love tonight!"

   Suddenly, a flock of red doves flew up from below the cliffs and into the sunset.

   Eldra Evermorning raised her hands to the sky. "All, rise and join in the celebration of the forever-union of body and soul in love of Garron and Kyrin Ersemm! Drink! Dance! Forge new loves!"

   Other priestesses of Sune nearby began skipping and dancing joyfully through the crowd as music played and rose petals rained magically down from the sky. Garron kissed Kyrin passionately and lifted her from her feet, carrying her through the crowd as the audience cheered.

~~~~


Outside the festivities, Belvin tossed a pine cone past Kamil. "Fetch!" he commanded, but the camel just chewed his grass. His elven ears heard Leokas approaching before he saw him. "Is the celebration over?"

   "Nay, it has just begun in earnest," said Leokas. "It was not as expected; did you see nothing?"

   "I saw a richly dressed man and a woman escorted off by guards. Then I saw a man wearing half a dress chasing Rontal away."

   "And you didn't wonder what was going on?"

   Belvin shrugged. "Your wolf keeps fetching this pine cone; she won't stay when I command her to. I'm trying to teach my camel here."

   "Much enfolded just now beyond those fences that you missed."

   "Let's climb down the cliffs and summon sharks again," said Belvin. "You can tell me the details on the way, if they truly matter."

~~~~


There was endless food and wine. After gorging themselves, people stumbled about, dancing and frolicking to the music of the minstrels. (Jayce joined in the music-making.) When the sun set, massive bonfires were lit, and the party continued late into the night, with people dancing around the fire, until lovers began passing out in each other's embrace on the grass or snuck off to find empty tents. Those who had not found themselves blessed by Sune with companionship began leaving for their homes.

   "There you are!" called Melynda, as she stumbled, hiccuping, toward Jayce at the minstrels' booth, her hair disheveled with a glass of wine in her hand. "I thought you left without saying goodbye!"

   "I would not dream of it," said Jayce.

   "I have a message for you. The Lady...." She hiccuped and put her hand over her mouth, dropping her glass to the ground.

   "I see. Easy there. Let's keep the food inside the belly, shall we?"

   She managed to gather herself together. "I'm so sorry! Lady Kyrin wants to see all of you in her hall before highsun tomorrow.... I have to go, sorry!" She scurried off behind some bushes, covering her mouth with her hands."

~~~~


The next day, the adventurers, having recovered from either their celebrating or their surfing with sharks, entered the hall of the Countess and new Count-Consort, having waited in line for other courtiers to have their meetings.

   Kyrin sat behind a long wooden table, looking strangely sad. Garron sat beside her holding her hand. When they entered, he stood from his seat and came over to greet them. "Garron Ersemm," he said, shaking each hand in turn and asking their names, "I have longed to meet each of you."

   "I apologize to you all, as I have to my understanding husband," Kyrin began, as everyone took a seat at the table, "that I do not greet you with the happiness one would expect from a newly wed bride. We learned this morning that Rontal's body was recovered from the bottom of the cliffs. He threw himself off them after he fled his trial yesterday."

   No one knew how to respond to this news.

   "As much as he caused me pain by taking my sweet Garron from me, he was a talented farsann and was always kind to me. He believed he loved me, and I cannot blame him for that, nor did I will him to die. In my heart, I do not believe him to have been truly evil. It was my wish that stayed the queen's hand from ordering his execution. No, I pity him."

   Garron continued, "Unfortunately, this also means the doppelganger is freed from the mark of justice that was placed on it as its sentence. Even so, I doubt it will bother Tethyr again."

   "But enough of that sad tale," said Kyrin. "I have something for you, my co-warriors. Because of the many wedding gifts we have received — and I do thank you, Minstrel Jayce, for your excellent taste in horses; we love the Meth stallion you gave us — I now have the money to reward you all properly for the part you played in this matter which extended far beyond what I ever had anticipated. This plot, which Rontal only intended to provide him with my hand, went well beyond his own knowledge up to the queen's own Privy Council. When I passed on the news you sent me regarding the doppelganger to Duchess Valmeyjar and Duchess Haresdown, they immediately knew to pass this information on directly up to the King. What occurred after I sent word is not even known fully to me, but the King had had many suspicions about Lord Hhune, as had Duchess Haresdown, and they were able to investigate further. The finest adventurers known to the King were hired and sent to find and recover my husband."

   "Find me, they did," said Garron. "For years, I had been held in captivity in an underground location. I was treated remarkably well, considering. I had furnishings, clothing, and plenty of food in a simple room. (Doppelgangers are not generally wicked creatures; they simply have a very different sort of morality than humanoids like us. They see us as toys to play with, much like a young child might play with a puppy.) The doppelganger would visit often and probe my mind. I tried to resist it, but I sadly admit that it bested me. It learned much about Kyrin, including what she looked like. By a strange play of Tymora, the young paladin traveling with you looks remarkably like Kyrin. I pity the poor young woman, who has suffered so. She was taken to the same prison as me, and I became her friend for that short time, but it was clear that she was no longer herself. When we were rescued by Haedrak's hires, she was taken to an asylum within a temple of Torm to heal. Her ordeal with the gnolls was particularly devastating to her. I wish I had better news to report about your friend."

   "Dame Rhinda traveled with another paladin before they joined us, one Sir Gamalon," said Hakam. "Did you ever see or hear of him?"

   Garron shook his head. "I have never heard the name nor met the man. My apologies."

   "I am still confused," said Jayce. "What was the plan of the doppelganger and the duke?"

   "From what we know now, it seems that he intended to replace both Kyrin and Marilyn. Calimmon borders Calimshan directly, and the Purple Marches, where Marilyn rules, are between it and Kamlann, where the duke formerly ruled. We believe he hoped to use his farce to provide access to Calishite troops and spies to enter our kingdom in preparation for a future coup or another civil war."

   "I can tell by the look on the druid's face, that you are boring him with politics, sweet husband. Now, I have a question for all of you. I was approached last night by Melynda, who had had altogether too much wine and kept insisting that you 'brave adventurers' were planning to slay a dragon. Do tell me about what in the nine hells she is talking."

   They filled her in on the capture of their friend and how they planned to rescue him from the lair of a blue.

   "So it is true." She sat back in her chair, pondering something. She motioned for one of her attendants, who came forward. She whispered something to him and sent him off.

   "This is indeed disheartening. I have slain two trolls — one with you, you recall — but a dragon is very different matter...."

   "Where were you planning on going for your honeymoon?" Jayce asked. "Maybe you would consider adventuring with us again."

   "As tempting as that may be, Garron and I are planning our own adventures on the Sea of Fallen Stars." She smiled.

   "Do you have any advice for us on how to fight a dragon?" asked Mythlos.

   "Don't," Garron answered. "Avoid it. Use stealth in your favor."

   "While I have never fought a dragon," said Kyrin, "I do know one who has fought — and slain — many — purportedly one of each color in his lifetime. His name is Rinald Overman. He is now an old man, but you may still be able to find him in Myratma, if that is where you are heading. He keeps a small shop; I once purchased a javelin of dragon bone from him back in my adventuring days. He may be able to help you."

   The door to the hall opened again. "Ah, here is your reward now," said Kyrin. Attendants carried in a small chest and opened it. There were platinum and gold coins inside.

   "Here are 90 daublar and 800 aenar... and a pearl from off these coasts, I believe. I have also just now sent for two more items that may be of use. My attendants will provide you later with a potion of sanctuary and a scroll with protection from evil spells. Both may help you defend against a dragon."

   She bent down to pick up something and set a palm-sized marble elephant carving on the table. "This here may be the most helpful item we have for you. It comes directly from the queen's coffers. It is a figurine of wondrous power. With this, you may summon forth an elephant to serve you for up to a full day at a time — and this, multiple times per month. It is a truly powerful reward. Use it well.

   "I am sorry this must be goodbye for now, but we have scheduled many to see us this day before we leave for the Sea. This wedding would not have happened without you. I thank you, many times over. I hope that we meet again, and I will pray Tempus that you prove the better of this dragon, if indeed you choose to face it."

   "You truly have my upmost thanks," echoed Garron. "It was an honor to have met each of you."
Session: 36th Game Session - Monday, Jun 23 2014 from 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM
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Epic × 2!
Chapter 4 — Fun with Board Games
~ first-day, 1st of Tarsakh, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
Malick of Darromar's estate


Leokas knocked on the large oaken doors of Malick's tower, as the five of them stood at the top of the stone steps.

   There was no answer.

   "We break the door down," said Belvin. "No more games."

   "One can't expect everyone to always be home when we come calling," said Leokas. "Maybe he is out shopping for food. Although, I suppose he has a butler for that...."

   "It's been a tenday," said Mythlos. "He should have known we'd be back here when we said."

   "There is a secret door in the back," said Jayce. "It's how I got in the first time."

   "Leokas is right," said Hakam. "Let's just try again in a couple hours."

   "He should have left a message for us," said Jayce.

   "Well, he did not," said Belvin. "I admit that I have grown a liking to the ciders they have in Tethyr. I will permit us to go to that tiny bar nearby and have a few drinks. If Malick is not here when we return again, then we break down the door."

~~~~


At the bar, Jayce asked a few of the commoners if they had seen Malick lately.

   "That stuck-up wizard? No, we never see much of him. Although his butler is often here. I haven't seen him lately either though."

   Malick did not answer when they returned at highsun.

   "Break the door down, Mythlos," ordered Belvin.

   "Secret passage, fellows," said Jayce. "Do you really want to fight his animated statues? Come on; follow me out back."

   He led them to the back side of the building, near the northeast turret. "Careful not to trip on it," said Jayce. He kicked his foot forward, and they heard it strike a wooden object that was invisible to their eyes. "See, there is a flight of tall wooden steps here that he has made invisible. Follow me, carefully."

   "Leokas, what are you doing?"

   Leokas was over by the northern wall of the estate, which was also the northern wall of the city itself. "There are tracks here," he said, "by this bush. Hobgoblins."

   Mythlos put his hand to the hilt of his sword.

   From the top of the invisible steps, they could suddenly see a small porch in front of them, and a door in the wall that had been invisible. Jayce tried the door; it was locked. "I picked it last time," said Jayce, "though it took me forever. It's a pity Mick is back at the keep."

   "What's that on the door?" asked Hakam.

   On the door was an eight-by-eight stained grid, with every other square stained a little more darkly than the others. A collection of dark and light pegs of two different heights were in the center of some of the darker squares, and grooves in the wood ran diagonally through each dark square as well as in arcs through them around the pegs.

   "That was not there last time," said Jayce.

   Leokas, with a new-found fear of traps, immediately stepped away from the door and back down the invisible steps to the ground.

   "I think it is a game of draughts," said Jayce, after examining it closely. "It is a game played commonly by the nobility."

   "Do you know how to play?" asked Belvin.

   "I think so, but it's been a while. I think I should move this piece."

   "Wait!" said Mythlos. "Let's make sure we find the best of all possible moves. We don't want to set off any traps!"

   "Listen to Mythlos!" called Leokas from the ground.

   "What about this piece over here?" They were focused on the light-colored, short peg that was on the lower left corner of the board. After discussing among themselves for several minutes, they slid that peg diagonally up and to the left along a groove.

   The peg slid right back.

   Everyone stood without moving. Had they triggered a trap?

   It seemed that nothing bad happened in response. The game simply had rejected their move.

   "That's a relief," said Hakam.

   "Maybe the light pieces are moving the other way," said Mythlos. He tried sliding the peg down and to the left. It slid back. Mythlos tried moving it up and to the right.

   "Whoa, slow down," said Jayce. "I thought you wanted to think about the best moves."

   "We know now that there is no trap if we make a wrong move," he responded, "so why not just try every combination?"

   "Maybe we only get a set number of bad moves," said Hakam. "Let's still be careful!"

   "Perhaps we are playing the wrong color," said Mythlos. He slid a darker peg at random, and it reverted. There was still no magical effect triggered in response. Hakam sighed in relief.

   "I still think my original move was the best one," said Jayce. "It sacrifices a piece, but it forces a capture from our opponent that gives us a better position."

   "Go for it," said Belvin. So Jayce slid one of the pieces on the right side of the board forward and to the left.

There was a click, which startled them, but the peg remained in its new spot. Then, one of the black pegs moved toward the newly moved piece and moved around it along one of the arced grooves to a new spot. Next, the lighter-colored peg was pulled into the board and disappeared from sight. "A capture," said Jayce.

Mythlos moved his hand to slide another peg, but before he could, one of the lighter pegs moved on its own to double-capture in a V shape. "You have to capture if you can," said Hakam. "It's a forced move for us." Finally, another dark peg on the right side of the board made a capture; then the pegs were still. "It's our turn again," said Jayce.

   After studying the "board" for a bit, they chose their final move, one that would force another capture and set them up for another double capture of their own. The game responded as expected, and then, there was a click, and the door unlocked. "Well done," said Jayce. "Come on in."

~~~~


It was immediately clear that things were amiss. As they filed into a small corner storage room from outside, they found smashed crates with food scattered about and pools of wine and ale from demolished kegs. Two magically burning blue torches shed light. A door to the south and to the west each were slightly open.

   They drew their weapons.

   With musket and bow ready to fire, Hakam and Leokas carefully followed Mythlos as he opened wide the western door and stepped into the main dining hall where a tenday ago they had sat for supper. The chairs were not around the table. They were strewn about the room, the table was flipped on its side, and the rug was rolled up. Malick's fancy chair had had its cushion cut and ripped to shreds. On the west side of the room, the paraphernalia of the fireplace were knocked over and soot was piled outside the fireplace on the floor. The fire was out, and it was rather chilly in the room. Hakam and Leokas kept their weapons aimed at the two stone statues nearest them, with heads in the shape of priests from the game of chess. The statues did not move.

   "So much for his new security system," whispered Jayce. "You were right, Leokas. Hobgoblins have clearly been through here, looking for the gem, I think, but how did they get past the statues?"

   "We haven't activated them yet either," said Leokas.

   "How does one get to the other floors?" asked Jayce. "I was wondering that the last time also. I never found any staircases going either up or down."

   Belvin and Mythlos began peering into the two other rooms on the floor, a kitchen and a small study. The former had pots and pans thrown to the floor; the latter had tumbled bookshelves and overturned chairs.

   "There's another board game in here."

   They gathered in the small study, which was in the southeast turret. On the floor had been tossed a wooden game board, about two inches thick. On one face, three squares were cut. The smallest square was surrounded by a larger one, which was surrounded by the last. The sides of the middle square were bisected by a segment that touched the midpoints of the sides of each of the other squares. This board had similar wooden pegs, of two shades, to the "game" that they had solved to get into the tower. The pegs were at the intersections of the lines.

   "This one is 'nine jhasinnar's dance', I think," said Hakam. "I think the northerners call it 'nine men's morris', though I know not what a 'morris' is."

   "This was the game I was trying to solve when I was captured," said Jayce, "although at that time it was on a table in the dining room."

   "Does anyone know how to play?" asked Belvin.

   "Clearly not, since this is what got me captured before," said Jayce. "I'm more of a cards player."

   "I've seen men play it," said Hakam. "I think you are trying to get three pegs in a row, but I am not certain beyond that."

   "Well, we must make this move first then, regardless," said Mythlos, and he slid down a white piece in its groove between two black ones.

   "Assuming we are white!" exclaimed Hakam.

   It seemed that the move was allowed and correct, for the thick game board made a clicking sound from within. Then, one of the black pegs moved in response.

   "We need to keep the piece that just moved from moving down, else it will be able to get three in a row here." They moved a white peg from the lower-right corner to block. The game responded by moving a black peg across the top.

   "It's trying to cut us off from getting a three-in-a-row of our own," said Mythlos. He moved a white peg up to prevent that from happening. The game made its move.

   "These human games seem pointless," said Belvin. "Surely, whoever goes first will win every time, if he makes the right moves."

   Mythlos moved another white peg. "Now we cannot be stopped." The game responded.

   "That's ridiculous!" said Jayce, in response to Belvin. "Men have been playing these games for centuries. Don't you think they would have figured that out?"

   Mythlos set up the pieces for a three-in-a-row, and the game made another move in response.

   "Ha! Three in a row," said Jayce, as Mythlos moved the third piece into place.

   The game board clicked; no black pegs moved.

   "Is that it? Did we win?"

   Leokas peered into the dining room. "I don't think anything happened out here. The statues are all still motionless as well."

   "Maybe the mechanism is broken," suggested Mythlos.

   "I thought you said we needed three in a row," said Belvin to Hakam.

   "That's part of the game, but I didn't say that was all of it. I've never played before. In fact, in the games I've seen, the players were adding pieces to the board, not sliding them around."

   "So it might not even be the same game!" Belvin threw his arms into the air.

   "Maybe it's waiting for us to do something else," said Jayce.

   "Let's just make the next move for black and see what happens," said Mythlos. So he touched one of the black pegs to slide it, and immediately, it was pulled into the board.

   "That was unexpected," he said. In response, another black piece moved on its own.

   "That must be how one captures," said Jayce. "So now it is our turn again." They moved one of the white pegs out of its three-in-a-row position, and black took its turn.

   "Now we can just move our piece right back for another three-in-a-row," said Jayce.

   "No, don't do that!" said Hakam. "In most games, you cannot ever repeat the state of the board."

   "It's not repeating it; last time we had three-in-a-row, there was an additional black peg on the board and another has moved since then."

   "Even so, it feels unfair, like cheating."

   "Everything feels like cheating to you," said Belvin.

   "Let's just move this peg here;" said Mythlos, "we can get three in a row two moves after that anyhow."

   This time, there was no clicking sound. Instead, the peg slid back to its place, and they heard the sound of grinding stone from the dining hall. Leokas, who had been standing guard at the door, immediately nocked and loosed a magic arrow. It struck the horse-headed chess-piece statue in the right eye, chipping away a small piece of stone, but the animatron raised its stone longsword and readied to charge.

   Hakam was surprising fast on his feet. Shoving Leokas aside, he waved his arms at the statue and shouted out with a voice of authority, "Strands of the Weave, be undone!"

   The statue stopped in its tracks and looked as if it had never moved at all, a lifeless chunk of stone.

   "What magic was that?" asked Jayce. "Not that I am not thankful for it."

   "One for which I have been petitioning my god for a while," Hakam replied. "It seems he answered my prayer this dawn."

   Back at the game board, Jayce made the move he wanted to in the first place, returning the one peg back to its three-in-a-row position. This time, there was a click. Moreover, they also heard a loud click from in the hall.

   "A spot in the far wall has slid open," called Leokas, "and none of the other five statues seem to be moving."

   "Told you that move was legal," said Jayce.

   Mythlos, as usual, led the way to the opening. It had revealed a curved staircase going up. As he stepped onto it, the wall began sliding shut again. Everyone rushed forward. Hakam cleared the closing wall and then tried to wedge it open. To their relief, as soon as he touched it, it began moving back into an open position.

~~~~


The second floor was a complete mess, just like the first. This floor had several rooms, a large, 30-foot-by-40-foot central living room, a nearly-as-large master bedroom on the west side, and a guest room and another study on the east side. All of them had been ransacked. Malick's mattress had been slashed and shredded, no book on the floor remained on its shelf, and every chest and dresser had been bashed open and every chair and side table overturned.

   "Things do not look well for Malick," said Leokas. "Let's pray he was not home when all this happened. I am disturbed that the game downstairs was not already solved. How did the hobgoblins make it up here."

   "Maybe the game resets after one wins," said Jayce.

   "Still, hobgoblins shouldn't be that intelligent," said Leokas.

   "I think you are overly biased in your opinions of their intelligence, my friend," said Belvin.

   The only things left untouched on the floor were four more statues, these ones carved with the heads of chess pawns. They stood guard at the four corners of the living room.

   "If there are more guards, there must be another game to solve," said Jayce.

   Mythlos agreed. "This wall here likely slides open to reveal another staircase up when it is solved."

   It did not take long for them to find another board game. It had been tossed under the demolished couch near the large, south-facing window.

   "Ah, chess, the game of kings and queens," said Jayce. "I heard that Queen Zaranda received a magical chess set carved from permanently frozen ice on her wedding day...."

   "Now is not the time for stories, Jayce," said Leokas. "We must get to the top of this tower."

   As on the other boards, the pieces were attached to the board and slid along on grooves.

   "Chess I know how to play," said Hakam. "The pieces must be going from this side to this side; there's no way one could get that many pawns across the board."

   "Can we safely assume we are white again?" asked Mythlos.

   They agreed with him.

   With most of them working together at a game with which they were more familiar, they solved the puzzle much more quickly. First, they moved their knight-errant down and to the left to threaten black's rook. There was a click, followed by the black rook moving up to defend the king. The party moved their knight-errant toward the rook to place the black king in check. There was another click, and the black king piece fell to the side.

   "That's not checkmate yet," said Jayce.

   "It forfeited," said Hakam.

   "We'd have mate in two moves," said Mythlos.

   The segment of wall behind them slid to the side, revealing another staircase.

~~~~


The third floor seemed more like the abode of a wizard than the previous two. Except for the space of the four turrets at the corner, the entire floor was a 70-foot-by-40-foot open room. The two eastern turrets had doors, while the two western ones were closed off with curtains. As on the other floors, everything here had been overturned or destroyed and searched.

   There was one very noticable exception. Filling a large portion of the western half of the room was a 20-foot-in-diameter circle drawn in white chalk. Around the circle were a dozen gems of differing colors and two dozen candles. Within the center of the circle, a tiny, otherworldly creature squatted. It was bald and naked and had cloud white skin and wings that drooped to the ground in a depressed manner. On a second glance, they realized that it did not seem to have legs; instead, its upper body seemed to rest on a pool of almost coporeal cloud. Where the cloud ended and its upper torso began were not clear.

   As soon as they all stepped unto the floor and Hakam saw the circle, he cautioned the others, "Don't break the circle!"

   "What is it?"

   "Is it Malick's familiar?" asked Mythlos.

   "Not in a calling circle," said Hakam.

   "It looks very impish to me," said Jayce. "Folk in the tales often call forth lesser demons or devils, but I expected an imp to be red or black, not white."

   "Evil can be deceptive like that," said Hakam.

   The little creature lifted up its head to see them, revealing its pale, sad face.

   "It could also be a mephit, I think," said Jayce.

   "Yes, yes, a mephit I am," said the creature, in a high-pitched and airy voice. "An air mephit. Are you here to free me, friendly elves and humans? Please, please, please!"

   Jayce waved his hands and spoke a word. "It has a magical aura."

   "Of course I do!" said the little creature. It hovered up to its full height of four feet, and the cloud below formed into a sort of funnel, such that the being looked like a cross between a djinni and an imp.

   "What is your name?" Jayce asked.

   "You would probably not be able to pronounce it," said the mephit.

   "Well, perhaps you can help us, Saer Mephit with the Unpronounceable Name," said Jayce.

   "Yes, yes, if you let me out, I will give you treasure."

   "I don't believe you have any treasure to give us," Jayce replied. "There is no need to lie to us. We are not here to harm you. Perhaps you can answer our questions though. Have you seen any hobgoblins?"

   "Yes, yes. Four or five of them. Hairy, smelly, big goblins. I told them I would give them treasure, but they did not let me free either. I just want to go back to my home."

   "Where is your home?"

   "The Plane of Air. It is much nicer than this place. Too much rock and wood and stone here. Not enough air; not enough clouds; no breeze. How can you materials live inside these stone and wooden boxes? Will you let me go back?"

   "Why did Malick call you here in the first place? What did he want?"

   "You material wizards are always calling poor, innocent creatures like me, always trapping us and boring us with endless questions, always trying to study us and learn about our home. You would think, with all the other mephits in my world, that calling magics would be more random in their targets, but I have been called twice in my life, twice!"

   "That is terrible, but you didn't really answer my question. What did Malick want from you in particular? It would help us more than treasure if you answered us."

   "Treasure would help quite a bit," protested Mythlos.

   "He just had the same sort of questions as the other wizard who called me last time," said the air mephit. "He wanted me to read him this book here." The white creature pointed at a large tome on the ground in the middle of the circle. "It is written in my language, and he wanted to know what certain pages said."

   "What did they say?"

   "Don't make me read them again!" protested the outsider. "The book is about spells of illusion and air, lots of things about magical fogs and mirages and such things. None of you are wizards, no? It will mean nothing to you."

   "I'm a wizard!" said Mythlos.

   "When did you last see Malick?" asked Jayce.

   "A few days ago, before the goblins came. I have been sitting here trapped ever since. I cried out but no one heard me."

   "That is truly horrible, but I fear it is bad news for Malick. Tell me more about the hobgoblins. Where did they go? What did they want?"

   "They had another human with them. They were mean to him. They broke all the things. They went up the hidden stairs. When they came down, there were fewer of them."

   "Where was Malick?"

   "He was upstairs."

   "But he didn't come down?"

   "No."

   "He is likely dead," said Leokas.

   "Serves him right for trapping me!" said the mephit. "Is it time to go home? Have I helped you enough?"

   "Just a few more questions, and we'll set you free," said Jayce. "Was the other wizard who called you named Samber?"

   "No. His name was Drickendorf. Such a silly name. Why do wizards always have such silly names?"

   "Have you ever heard of anyone named Samber?"

   "No, never. No."

   "I don't think this creature can help us any more than it has," said Belvin. "Let it free."

   "One more question for you, good mephit," said Jayce. "You are from the Plane of Air; how well do you get along with the djinn there?"

   "They ignore us. They look down on us. We are not as noble or powerful as they are. Time to go home! Time to go home! You must keep your word." Its cloudy lower portions began swirling in a tiny whirlwind and its wings unfurled.

   "Yes, we gave our word," said Jayce. He rubbed out an inch of chalk from the circle. A rainbow-colored flame flashed around the circumference of the circle, the candles were suddenly snuffed out, and the mephit vanished with a puff of steam.

   "He was not very helpful," said Mythlos.

   "No, but his tale does not bode well for Malick," said Leokas. "Let us find the final game I assume we have to solve and find what has come of him."

   Mythlos began pocketing the gems that were around the calling circle.

   "Put those down, Mythlos!" said Hakam. "Until we learn otherwise, those are still Malick's property."

   "What is over here?" asked Belvin, as Mythlos set the gems back down. "Something is alive in this cage."

   They gathered around the four-foot wooden cube with bars. Crouching down, they saw a tiny, furry animal, curled up in a ball and barely breathing. It had uneaten food in its cage.

   Mythlos stuck his hands in and removed the little animal. "A weasel, I think," he said. "This is probably Malick's familiar."

   "Was it seems," said Belvin. "This animal is depressed."

   "Can a familiar live if its master dies?" asked Jayce.

   "We'll soon learn the answer to that. Give the weasel to me." Belvin took the animal and snuggled it to his chest, speaking to it in gentle whispers. "It will be fine."

   Also on this floor, they found a magic mirror that they could not figure out how to activate, a telescope, an alchemy laboratory, and another storage room. There, they found a broken chest with exactly 20 platinum bars in it.

   "That's 10,000 gold pieces," said Mythlos.

   "So he did keep his word," said Jayce.

   "And the hobgoblins were not interested in money," said Leokas.

   It took a while to find the magical puzzle with which to open the door to the final staircase because of the chaotic mess. Rather, it took a long time to find all of the pieces. Unlike the others, this one did not seem to be a board game. The board had four rows. In each row, there were three rectangles with symbols within and a fourth rectangular slot where another card-shaped piece was intended to fit. In each row, one of the four rectangles had a marking below it. After staring at it for a while, they at last recognized what it was.

   "It's a Talis game," said Jayce. "See, these are pentacles; these are wands; this is the wheel card; this is the hierophant."

   "Ah, you are right," said Hakam. "I wager these markings imply which player led for that hand. We need to select the four best cards to play."

   "But where are our cards?"

   "And where are the statues?" asked Hakam.

   "There aren't any on this floor," said Mythlos. "I wonder what happens if we make an incorrect move."

   Searching together, they were able to find four wooden cards, what they presummed to be the fool, justice, the devil, and the world.

   "All trump," said Jayce.

   "Let's figure out how we can win the most hands," said Mythlos. Within a few minutes, they had easily figured out how to score the most points. They set the four wooden cards into the available slots, and the hidden doorway slid open. They drew their weapons and headed up the stairs.

~~~~


The final floor of the tower was a grim scene of horror. At the very top of the stairs, they stumbled over Malick's butler, his throat slit, and nearly slipped in his blood. They saw Malick sitting in a sort of throne on the other side of the room beyond a round, shallow pool. They then realized that his head was not on its shoulders; it was seen in a corner of the room, impaled on a stick. Two hobgoblin bodies were also there. One had had its head bashed in. The other had no visible wounds whatsoever. Chess king and queen statues were crumbled into pieces.

   "Allu is going to come for us next," said Leokas.
Session: 35th Game Session - Wednesday, Jun 11 2014 from 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM
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Epic!
Chapter 4 — The Duel
The party of adventurers, with the prisoners they had just rescued, were now escorted back among Gargon's troops. They were talking in low voices amongst themselves, discussing what factors they might be able to use to turn the tide of the upcoming battle in favor of Mythlos.

   "Perhaps we can convince him to allow us a night's rest to replenish our spells," suggested one of them. "Then we can prepare you magically for battle, boosting your strength and endurance."

   "I will lose the special power of my sword in this moonlight," said Mythlos, "if we fight tomorrow."

   "He will be sure to have his own spellcasters boost his own abilities," said another.

   "Perhaps we can convince him to agree to a fight with no magical enhancements from outside persons," suggested Mythlos.

   They sent Jayce forward through the group to request a word with Gargon. He made his way back to them several minutes later. "He agrees to your proposal; however, he also insists that the fight be melee weapons only."

   "No matter," said Mythlos, "I would rather swing my sword than use my shortbow. Surely you know this."

   "You will be faster than he in his dragonhide armor, though," said Leokas. "The bow could have been in your favor."

   "Well, not anymore," said Jayce. "That also eliminates the magic bells as an option."

   "You can wear the periapt of health," said Leokas, "for the odd chance that he has a disease-infested flail head."

   "Or the ring of feather falling," said Hakam.

   "I don't see myself falling any great distance," said Mythlos. "No, keep both items; if I should fall tonight, at least he will not be able to claim the items as loot for himself from my dead body."

   "You will not fall," said Faelar. "Do not talk like that."

   "You should at least carry my healing potions into battle," said Hakam.

   "And mine," said Mick.

   "Here," said Jayce, "wear this potion belt. I have no potions in it at the moment. It will give you quick access to the vials."

~~~~


They walked the rest of the night journey in silence, except for Jayce, who could not resist an opportunity to get on good terms with some of Gargon's soldiers.

   "You seem a nice fellow," said one of the men to him, "but I cannot betray my lord. I am a man of honor, and I have sworn my fealty to him. Surely you must understand this. I will pray Tymora smiles on you, though it seems like you will go free regardless of what happens tonight. No, I fear rather for that moon elf friend of yours; I have never seen Gargon lose in single combat."

   "Is he that great a fighter?" asked Jayce. "Whom have you seen him fight?"

   "I have only seen a couple such battles," said the man. "The opponents were no persons of great import, but they were trained fighters nonetheless, and Gargon thoroughly overpowered each."

   "Is it true that Gargon has slain a dragon?"

   "That is the story."

   "What do you mean by that?"

   "I was not there; thank the gods!"

~~~~


It was now a few hours before dawn. It was still dark, though a half moon shone in the sky. Mythlos' sword glowed more brightly because of this, as he stood in the courtyard of Gargon's keep next to his grandfather, looking and feeling nervous about the combat that was about to begin.

   "Do not be overly confident in your power, my son," said Gargantos, as he saw to it that Mythlos' studded leather armor was tightly strapped around his torso. "Arrogance will lead to defeat. Nor be overly cautious. Be confident, yet careful. Patient, yet powerful."

   On the other side of the courtyard, Sir Gargon stood as his "second", another man in full plate armor, adjusted Gargon's red armor and handed him his large flail. All around the three walls of the courtyard, men (or elves) alternated — one of Gargon's men standing next to one of the adventurers. Each pair stood close together with a weapon at the other's heart or neck, to prevent treachery.

   The rules were thus: On signal, when each of the seconds had dropped a white cloth, the battle would begin. The combatants were not to leave the courtyard, but could use the various items in the courtyard as cover "to make the battle more interesting". The fight would be either to the death or till one combatant yielded to the other. Magic was permitted, but only under the power or command of one of the combatants.

   "Sehanine guide you with her light," said Gargantos, and he dropped his cloth.

   "Your cousin awaits you in the afterlife," shouted Leokas from the wall in the Goblin tongue, hoping to shake up Gargon.

   "Mythlos will cut you in two!" shouted Jayce.

   "You've slain a dragon, lord," shouted one of Gargon's men. "You will slay this elf in a single swing."

   Gargon lowered his visor, and his second dropped the cloth. The onlookers grew silent as the battle began.

   Immediately, Mythlos pulled a scroll from his belt and hurriedly read it out, as Gargon approached him cautiously with his back against the southern wall toward the gate. Mythlos, feeling a surge of strength flowing through him, yelled out and charged at Gargon, tossing the now blank scroll to the ground. With a powerful uppercut swing, he struck Gargon under his right arm, at a weak point in his armor, spraying a small amount of blood.

   "Huzzah!" shouted Jayce from the wall. "First blood!"

   "Well done, my son!" said Gargantos, as he moved to the back corner.

   Their excitement turned to fear, however, as a return blow from Gargon's flail to the chest knocked Mythlos back a yard and nearly off his feet with a resounding thump. Gargon swung a second attack before Mythlos could even respond. Thankfully, this second attack whizzed just over his shoulder.

   The wind knocked from him, Mythlos stumbled back to the base of the stone stairs going up to the walls, touching the flat of his sword to draw healing from the blade.

   "The little elf runs away already, after only a single swing," taunted Gargon. Cheers from his men came from the walls in response. He walked confidently toward Mythlos while swinging the head of his flail threateningly around his head.

   Mythlos retreated across the courtyard to take shelter behind a horse cart that rested there near the pig pen. (Gargantos gave him space by hopping over the short fence into the pen.) Mythlos took this chance to down a vial of healing potion, as Gargon continued coming.

   "He's probably back to full health now," warned Gargon's second.

   "No matter," said Gargon. "Let him waste his potions; I can kill him in a single blow." He stood on the other side of the cart from Mythlos now. "You cannot run from me forever, elf," he said.

   In response, Mythlos took hold of the cart and flipped it over to its side and onto Gargon, tossing its contents of hay and pig feed into the air and all over Gargon's red armor. He rushed around the flipped cart and swung a solid blow at Gargon, whose feet were pinned under it.

   Enraged, Gargon flipped the cart back onto its wheels and off his own feet, but as he did so, Mythlos connected with another blow, striking Gargon under the chin and nearly snapping back his neck. He stumbled backward.

   "Strike him again!" shouted Hakam.

   "Don't test your luck!" called out Leokas.

   Fearing that Gargon could indeed kill him with one blow, he followed the latter advice, choosing to move back and hop into the pen from which he began to cast a sleeping spell. The pigs grunted in fear and moved to the corners of the pen, as Mythlos leapt in and Gargantos leapt out. (The latter stumbled to his knees.)

   "You are a crafty elf," said Gargon, as he chugged a potion of his own and then laughed. The sleeping spell seemingly had no effect on him. "From now on, however, no more games," he said angrily, as he shoved the cart aside and approached the pen, swinging his flail through the air in a tight circle. He struck the flail at the fence of the pen, sending wood splintering in all directions. He now stood a mere ten feet from Mythlos, who was trapped in the corner of the courtyard and the muddy pen.

   "Trip him, pig," shouted Hakam. He hoped that no one else would realize that he was trying to magically command the pig, deciding for once that cheating might be permissible in this case. Belvin, hearing this, also started grunting and snorting.

   The one pig did not respond; however, Mythlos had a quick idea. He grabbed the pig nearest him and tossed the 200-pound animal between him and Gargon. It landed, squealing, and rushed out of the pen through the broken fence, momentarily preventing Gargon from getting any closer to Mythlos for another attack.

   Mythlos then attempted another spell but muddled the hand motions.

   Gargon kicked at the second pig, as it too scrambled past him to escape the pen. "This ends now, coward," Gargon shouted at Mythlos as he swung again. This time, he was not aiming at Mythlos' head or torso; instead, he wrapped the chain of his weapon around his opponent's blade and yanked forcefully. Time seemed to slow for Mythlos, as he watched his sword fly into the air, dim, and land deep in the mud a yard away.

   He dove to the ground, smacking the mud, as the flail struck his right arm. He yelled in pain, but his hands found the sword, and he somersaulted back to his feet, returning a desperate but weak swing that simply glanced off the dragon scales of Gargon's armor.

   Gargon brought his flail directly down on Mythlos' left shoulder with intense force, dropping him to one knee. Before he could even stand straight again, Gargon followed through with an uppercut that tossed Mythlos' body against the wall.

   Mythlos was about to collapse, but he would not go down easily. With all his might he delivered one final blow to the top of Gargon's head. Gargon yelled out and stumbled, looking like he was about to tumble over also, but then he spun around, using the momentum of his spin to strike with extra force. Mythlos was thrown against the wall a second time. His head stuck the stone, and he sunk slowly to the ground, leaving a smear of blood on the wall and dropping his sword to the ground. His body then lumped forward and was still.

   "My daughter's son!" cried Gargantos.

   Gargon tossed the flail aside and approached his unconscious opponent. "Now, old elf," he said to Gargantos, see what it feels like to watch one of your relatives be beheaded." He took hold of Mythlos' hair and pulled, exposing the neck, while he reached down and picked up the elven moonblade.

   Gargantos closed his eyes and shouted to the sky, "Queen of the Heavens, mercy!"

   Gargon raised the sword high, ready to bring it down on Mythlos.

   There was an intense burst of light. What appeared to be blue and white flames erupted from the moonblade, traveling down Gargon's arm and drowning him in fire. Gargon convulsed violently for several seconds, as if he were being electrocuted, as raw magical energy consumed his flesh. His body tumbled backward like a stone and landed in the mud of the pen. The moonblade fell next to him and quickly cooled to the color of steel. Black smoke could be seen coming out of Gargon's visor.

   Everyone on the wall was silent and motionless. What had just happened?

   "The sword refused a new master," said Gargantos quietly.

   "Who won?" questioned Jayce from the wall.

   Gargon's second rushed forward, and Gargantos stepped to his grandson's limp form.

   "He has a pulse!" exclaimed the elder Moonspinner.

   "And he... does not," said the man in plate armor.

   A cheer went up from the adventurers on the wall.

   Gargon's second removed his helmet and placed it on the ground before him. Then he placed his axe beside it with both hands. "The keep is yours," he said, "and all the men who reside within it."

   Carefully, everyone lowered their weapons and placed them at their feet.

   Hakam leapt from the wall and floated gently (by the magic of his ring) to the ground beside Mythlos and Gargantos, where he cured Mythlos and brought him back to consciousness.

   "I am alive?" he asked, confused.

   "More than that," said Gargantos. "You have won. It is over."
Session: 34th Game Session - Monday, May 12 2014 from 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM
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Epic × 2!
Chapter 3 — Aftermath
   "Argh!" moaned Jayce in pain, as he rolled the magically slumbering gnoll off himself. "You... shot me..., Leokas."

   "Forgive me, Jayce. I thought I had the shot." Leokas approached him. "It's through your lung. You will live. Don't move. This will hurt, but it will be quick." He yanked the shaft clean out of the front of Jayce's chest, as the latter screamed in pain, arching his back. "Mythlos! Your sword, quick." Mythlos rushed over and touched the flat of his blade to the wound twice. It sealed up, and Jayce sighed in relieve.

   "Save your third healing for the captain," said Jayce. "He and I deserve a smoke after this."

   Romar already had the same idea; his pipe was out and he was reaching for his flintstone and tobacco as Kyrin and Hakam looked him over. "I'll be fine now, Milady" he muttered. "Your prayer saved me, good cleric. For that, I thank you." He did not look fine; the scar around his neck made it appear as if his head had been glued back on. Mythlos touched his sword to the man's shoulder, and more positive energy flowed out.

   The countess stood. "We must search the rest of this lair," she said, "before any reinforcements arrive. One of you, remove the gnoll's armor. Tie it up tightly." Leokas complied, using one of his strongest knots.

   "Two of you, drag him to the surface to be guarded. When he awakes we'll question him. Return with several of the men. We may need assistance carrying loot or evidence from this demon-hole."

~~~~


   Belvin and Leokas carried the unconscious gnoll to the surface, where they found that the waiting cavalry men had slain the fleeing hyena. They were joyful upon hearing the news of the successful attack and reported that the men on horseback who had been scouting the perimeter had reported no sign of any other gnolls. Three of them volunteered to descend back into the cave with the elves, while the rest guarded the bound gnoll.

   They made their way by torchlight to the others in the chamber from which the hyenas had come. The room was large and roughly rectangular, with an eight-foot deep pit full of bones and hyena dung. A wooden ramp had been lowered into it to allow the hyenas to exit. On the opposite corner, the rest of the group was trying to talk to an old and ragged man that Mythlos had seen earlier when he had quickly explored the area. The man cowered on the ground. Most of his white hair had fallen out. Jayce had given him a swig of his water and a portion of rations, which the man ravenously gobbled up.

   "Greetings, friend," said Jayce. "I see you are hungry. We can get you more food later. You can trust us. What is your name?"

   The man stared blankly.

   "Why are you here?"

   The man continued staring.

   "Are you hurt?"

   "No,... no pain."

   "When is the last time you've seen the sun?"

   "Sun?"

   "Who are you?" asked Mythlos.

   "Can't... remember."

   "Where are you from?" Jayce asked. "Do you remember that?"

   The man was silent.

   "What do you do here?" tried Romar.

   "Work."

   "He's a slave," said Mythlos.

   "Are there other humans here?" asked Kyrin.

   The man shook his head.

   "Have there been?"

   The man looked at the ground as if he did not hear the question.

   "Anachtyr, show me his thoughts," Hakam prayed in Alzhedo. "His mind seems incoherent," he reported to the others, once his spell came into effect.

   "You can read minds?" asked Belvin. "Couldn't that be considered stealing?"

   Hakam ignored the elf. "I think this poor soul is insane from the torture."

   Belvin nocked an arrow. "Let's end his misery then," he said. "He is only a burden to himself and to us."

   "No!" said Kyrin sternly. "Hakam and Jayce, escort this man to the surface; then return to the central chamber, where we will be going through the gnoll corpses."

   As they walked with the old man, Jayce asked Hakam, "What does the law dictate that we do to any monsters we capture alive."

   "Monsters have no legal standing," replied Hakam. "They are not protected."

   "So they should be killed without trial."

   The cleric nodded. "If they have done evil, yes."

   "Light!" said the old man suddenly. It was not a tone of delight; he covered his eyes and stopped moving forward.

   "He has forgotten the sun," said Hakam, "remember?"

   "Here," said Jayce to the man, "let me put these on you." He placed his sun lenses on the man, who now seemed content to move forward out into the daylight, where they handed off the man into the care of the guards.

~~~~


   In the large chamber, they joined the others in looking around the fallen and burned bodies of the gnolls. Their camp fire was now extinguished, and the awful stench of gnoll was now unmasked from the smell of burning wood. They found a spattering of coins and small trinkets, the most notable being a silver comb embedded with moonstones.

   "When I quickly searched around earlier, there were several unarmed gnolls in that direction," said Mythlos pointing to the east.

   "The smell would get worse from that direction," noted Kyrin. They approached a ten-foot chamber opening and entered a smaller square-ish room. There was a pit in the center, about ten feet in diameter. The stench was nauseating from the pit, and swarms of flies buzzed about. Across the pit, along the far wall, seven naked gnolls sat crouched, acting indifferent to the intruders.

   "This must be their refuse pit," said Romar.

   Jayce called out to the gnolls, "Do you speak Common?" They did not reply or even so much as turn their heads.

   "If you speak Common, answer us, or we will kill all of you." Kyrin drew a javelin from her back. There was no response.

   She drew back her arm, but Leokas stayed her throw. "What if they are children, milady?"

   "They are easily seven-foot tall when standing;" she answered, "they cannot be their young. Besides, this is the lair of a warband, not a tribe. If we do not kill them, they will be out raiding tomorrow."

   "How much do you think a gnoll head sells for at The Fine Gold Chain?" asked Belvin to no one in particular.

   Kyrin eyed him strangely. Then she said to her captain, "Captain Burnhill, set a guard here with one of the men. We will interrogate the gnoll sergeant first before determining the fate of these."

   "Yes, milady."

   "Mythlos, where to next? Take us away from this smell and filth."

   "They had some sort of altar this way," he replied, and they walked north a short distance into another opening, passing into an oval room. While this room smelled better, it was far more disturbing. Against the north wall, in a large pile, was a collection of skulls, most of them clearly human, but there were a few other humanoid skulls as well; the tiny skulls of halflings and the sharply angled skulls of elves were easily spotted. Hanging on the eastern wall was a hideously carved idol, the deformed shape of a gnoll with needle-like teeth protruding and a long, barbed demon tail. The deity portrayed seemed familiar to Jayce from one of the tales he had read on his travels, but he could not place it. On the southern wall was a large cave painting, likely painted with blood. It portrayed a pack of hyenas devouring fleeing little demons or imps with horns and barbed tails. Then, there was the image of an enormous, pregnant hyena, lying on her back and giving birth to a multitude of gnolls through what looked to be an exaggerated male appendage. (Leokas recalled that Stedd Buckman had once explained to him his belief that hyenas were hermaphrodites.)

   "It's their history," stated Mythlos.

   Belvin approached the large stone slab in the center of the chamber. It was covered in sticky, dried blood. "Some of this is fresh," he said. Then, he dipped a finger in a small pool and tasted a bit of it. "Horse blood," he said.

   "Rhinda had a horse," said Hakam.

   "Not any more," said Belvin.

   "Where is the body of the horse?" asked Leokas.

   "Perhaps they already consumed it," said Jayce.

   "Let us leave this unholy place," said Hakam.

   No one needed any convincing at that suggestion.

   "We have not explored further into the cave at the back of the large chamber," said Mythlos. "Come." He led the way, followed by Hakam. Jayce and Kyrin were in the rear.

   "I would ask you a question, if you would permit me, milady," the bard said to Kyrin.

   "Ask."

   "Forgive me, for I should have thought to ask you this sooner, but the woman we are searching for is named Rhinda. She looks very similar to you. She is not, I fear, a relation of yours?"

   "I have six siblings," answered Kyrin, "but none are named Rhinda. I do not know the woman you seek."

   A snarl interrupted their conversation. A hyena had leapt at Mythlos from a small side tunnel. Hakam and then Mythlos swung their swords and swiftly killed the animal. "Good posture, Hakam," said Mythlos. "You listened to what I taught you yesterday."

   "Thank you," said Hakam. Then he called to the rest, "The hyena seemed to have been guarding this small tunnel here. There is a wooden door at the end."

   "That probably leads to the same door in the room with the hyena pit," said Leokas. "Belvin and I will block escape from that way." The two of them rushed off.

   Mythlos led the way down the short tunnel and opened the door, which was unlocked. It swung in, revealing a ten-by-fifteen-foot room carved out of the stone. In one corner was a pile of leaves and hay; in the other was a stone slab that seemed to serve as a desk. Hakam let Bevlin and Leokas into the room from the second door on the north wall, while Jayce approached the "desk". "There is a leather journal here," he said, picking it up. Flipping through the pages, he could not recognize the scratchy letters or the language. "Can anyone speak Gnoll?" he asked. No one could.

   "We'll force our prisoner to read it for us," said Kyrin. "This was likely its chamber. I do not think it was the leader of the pack. Be careful still; another battle may still await us."

   They left the room and returned to the large central chamber. "There is a little alcove over here," noted Hakam. In the small space was a pit, surrounded by a very short wall of rounded stones. "The air smells fresher here," said Hakam.

   Leokas found a stone and dropped it in the pit. Shortly, they heard a splash. "A well."

   Hakam prayed for his eyes to be open to magical auras and peered over the edge. "I see nothing magical," he informed the others.

   Only one passage more remained to be explored, to the south, at the back of the cave. The wide tunnel curved a bit to the left and opened into an even larger cavern chamber than the central one. In one corner their torchlight revealed a large collection of sacks. On the far walls, they could make out chains and manacles. In the center of the large room was a half-eaten, white horse.

   "That, I deem, was Pearl," said Jayce. "May she rest in peace."

   "But no sign of Rhinda," said Leokas.

   "Was the horse dessert or the main course?" asked Belvin.

   "You did not taste human blood on the altar, though?" said Kyrin. "Perhaps your companion still lives. She would have been chained here, perhaps, against this wall. I see one more tunnel over there, which we have not yet searched."

   "Rhinda's armor and supplies are over here," called Mythlos from the corner. He had gone to examine the sacks, which contained loot presumably gathered by the gnolls from their victims.

   "You two," the countess said to her two horsemen, "carry those sacks and the woman's supplies to the surface. The rest of you, follow me, and have your weapons ready."

   The final, ten-foot long, narrow tunnel led to another wooden door. It was locked. "None of the gnolls we slew bore keys," said Jayce.

   In answer, Kyrin swung her longsword at the door, cutting soundly through the wood near the locking mechanism in a single blow. Then, she kicked the door open.

   The room beyond, however, was empty; there was no gnoll awaiting nor any sign of their missing paladin. Kyrin looked depressed. "I was hoping this excursion would end in happier news," she said, "or at least my sword through the heart of a gnoll chieftan."

   "There could still be hope," said Jayce. "See, here is another journal. Perhaps we can learn something of what happened to Rhinda or even your...."

   "It will bring me no comfort to learn of how they tortured, slaughtered, and killed my love," she answered coldly.

   The others filed in and looked around the room. It was a round room, about fifteen feet in diameter. There was a large gnoll "bed" and another stone slab, from which Jayce had taken the second journal, which he was now perusing. On one wall there hung a finely carved set of nunchaku, chainsticks, an exotic weapon from Kara-Tur. Below the nunchaku hung a tiny pair of shrunken feet. On another wall hung a large double axe, the kind used by orc warriors. Below this, hung a set of white tusks.

   "This is very odd," said Jayce. "Look at this!" He held the journal open to a middle page, which was written in a similar scrawl as the other journal. Then he turned the page. The writing completely changed. The page was covered in strange symbols that none of them had ever seen before. "I don't think I've ever seen a language like this."

   Nor had any of the others.

   Mythlos was observing the walls closely. "Something does not seem natural about this wall...," he said. He spotted a round hole about four inches in diameter. Inserting his hand into the hole, he felt a sort of handle, which he pushed. There was a loud click.

   "What was that?"

   "I think I unlocked something," said Mythlos. "But what?"

   "Try pushing the wall," suggested Leokas. They did, and it slid back and opened to reveal a hidden passage.

   Excitedly, the band moved through the new tunnel, weapons drawn. After maybe 300 yards, they could see a speck of light. In 500, they could hear waves and smell the ocean. "This must exit to the cliffs."

   It did. They came out into sunlight about 30 feet above a small sliver of beach below. "It is near low tide," said Mythlos.

   "Unless the gnoll had a boat, it could only have escaped just now, or it has a 24-hour lead on us," said Kyrin.

   There was a treacherous, step-like, narrow path down to the bottom. "I'll see if I can make out any tracks," offered Leokas. He descended nimbly and began to search around. "I see nothing of tracks," he called up to the others.

   "Come," said Kyrin, turning back into the tunnel, "we have an interrogation to do."

~~~~


   Back at the surface, they stood around their prisoner. The bound gnoll had woken and was struggling against its bindings. Two guards held spears to its neck, and it ceased the struggle.

   "Let's have a little talk, gnoll," Jayce began, "like friends."

   The gnoll snorted and perhaps smiled.

   "My name is Jayce. What are you called?"

   The gnoll stared at him.

   "Look, I know you can speak Common. Surely, your noble race has better courtesy than this...."

   The gnoll snarled derisively. "We are a powerful race, not a courteous one. Courtesy is for the weak. But my name is Gnyrn."

   "That's better. Are you the leader of this pack?" asked Jayce.

   "No."

   "Who is the leader?"

   "Dagnyra."

   "Is he a gnoll?"

   "She is a gnoll."

   "Where is she now?"

   "I do not know."

   Jayce did not sense deception in Gnyrn's voice. "Does she leave the lair often?"

   "She does as she pleases. I care not what she does with her time."

   "Enough of her then; I want to know about what prisoners you have taken recently."

   "Prisoners? Do you mean food?" The gnoll smiled wickedly.

   "You sometimes spare your victims, do you not? Else there would not be shackles on the wall in the back of the cavern nor the human slave that we freed."

   "We enjoy torturing our food before we eat it," Gnyrn said, licking his lips. "That is why we have shackels."

   "What happened to the woman paladin you captured yesterday morning? We came across her belongings."

   "Yes, there was a female knight. Was she a friend of yours?"

   "No, I don't know anything about her except that she went missing," said Kyrin.

   "She was a mercenary hired by us," said Jayce.

   "You lie," said Gnyrn, smiling and licking his lips yet again. "She was a friend of yours."

   "Where is she?"

   "Parts of her are in my stomach," Gnyrn replied.

   "Now you are bluffing," said Jayce. "Tell us where she is."

   "I know not. Perhaps Dagnyra kept her for herself. She always enjoyed the finest meats, and the woman had a meaty rump and thighs."

   "When did you last see the woman?"

   "I saw her last when we forced her to taste her own horse." Gnyrn threw his head back and gave a hyena-like cackle.

   Jayce ignored his disgust. "Then what?"

   "Then I slept. The woman was gone in the morning."

   "Is it common for one of your leaders to keep a prisoner for itself?" asked Kyrin.

   "No."

   "Has Dagnyra been acting strange in other ways lately?" asked Jayce.

   "She led the pack; I did what she said without question. If I led the pack, I would have killed more of you humans and feasted on your flesh, and I would have shared your flesh with the rest of the pack."

   He held out the second journal. "Is this Dagnyra's journal?"

   "It could be."

   "It could be?"

   "Why would I have seen my pack leader's private journal?"

   Jayce held the journal open to the last page. "Read this."

   "I cannot."

   "Is it not gnoll?"

   "No!" Gnyrn sounded insulted. "I've never seen those signs."

   "Then read this instead." He flipped to the page before where the language change occured.

   "'35th blood moon of Yeenoghu. We took a farmer and his woman and their mule and their carriage. Her hair will make excellent rope....'"

   "Enough!" said Kyrin.

   "When was this '35th blood moon'?" asked Jayce.

   "Many moons ago."

   "How many? What date in the Dale Reckoning?"

   "Why would I have wasted time learning your human methods of keeping time?"

   "You do not have a large collection of loot here in this cavern for the number of prisoners you must have taken," Kyrin stated. "What do you do with everything you capture?"

   "It is traded with a nearby tribe."

   Kyrin grew interested in this. "A tribe? Where?"

   The prisoner cackled. "Why would I tell you that?"

   "We have seven hostages, which we will execute if you do not cooperate with us," she said.

   Gnyrn laughed again. "I care nothing for slaves."

   "We will not hesitate to torture you," said Jayce.

   Gnyrn spit at him.

   Kyrin drew her sword, "See here, demonspawn. If you do not speak with us, I will cut out your intestines while you still live and strangle you with them. Do you care about that?"

   "You are fiesty for a female human," said the gnoll in its gruff voice. "You would make a good servant of Yeenoghu, if you grew some fur and a...."

   Kyrin slashed at Gnyrn's stomach. "Don't try me," she said.

   "Near Vineshade," said Gnyrn, gasping at the pain.

   "How many?"

   "About 300."

   "I am finished with you," said Kyrin. She turned away from him and strode off. "Mythlos," she said, "kill the monster."

   Mythlos obeyed. Gnyrn threw his head back and screamed, "Krigyash Yeenoghu!" just before his head left its body.

   Kyrin gave more orders, "Someone go down and execute the remaining seven gnolls.

   "Milady," Leokas protested, "are gnolls inherently evil that you should kill a slave?"

   She disregarded this. "The rest of you, begin to load up the horses."

   Hakam and Belvin descended back into the cave to perform the executions and recover Romar.

   As the men loaded up the loot and prepared the horses, Jayce approached Kyrin. "Milady, should we set an ambush here for if the leader returns?"

   "How can we know if and when that will happen?" She picked up Gnyrn's head and mounted it on a spear near the lair entrance. "We will take the journals back to Rontal. He has a large library and may know someone who can read Gnoll and perhaps the other strange language, or else he may know a spell to do so."

   Bevlin and Hakam returned to the surface, the former bearing a few more heads. Jayce cautioned Kyrin, "Milady Countess, you may wish to know that we have some concerns about Rontal."

   "He has some concerns," said Hakam, who joined them. "Let's not jump to conclusions."

   "I sensed that he knew more than he was telling us about the... passing of Master Ersemm. I'm not accusing!"

   "What evidence do you have?" asked Kyrin.

   Hakam shook his head.

   "Only my gut instincts, milady, but they are usually sound."

   "Who suspected the bandits that were to ambush us the other day, Jayce?" asked Hakam. "And who convinced the rest of the party to trust them?"

   "That was one time!" answered Jayce. "They probably used some magic to hide their intentions."

   "How do you feel about my farsann, Leokas?"

   "I must support that Jayce does have a talent for judging people's intentions. Moreover, I feel also that he is withholding something, but I know not what."

   "I know that Rontal is a good man," said Romar, "but there are other reasons one might want to hide things. Perhaps blackmail? I agree that it is wise to keep these things from him."

   "Fair enough," said Kyrin. "Captain, post a few men here as guards to overlook the cliffs. Have them send word to us if anyone or anything returns to this lair by surface or sea.

   "Everyone, mount up. We return to The Cliff to celebrate our victory and revenge!"
Session: 25th Game Session (Double Marathon Session!) - Sunday, Jan 12 2014 from 8:00 PM to 2:00 AM
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Epic!
Chapter 3 — Internal Conflicts
   Leokas tore some cloth from his aba and pressed it to his puncture wound. He was thankful that the stab was at an angle and not deep. It missed any vital organs, cutting mostly through the thicker skin and flesh of his stomach.

   Belvin tended to the second bear that he had summoned just as the battle was ending, feeding it some berries quickly before the spell duration expired.

   Hakam knelt down and tried to stop the bleeding in Arin. "He's still alive," he said. He rolled his body to the side, and Arin coughed up blood. "He was choking to death; he can breath now. Jayce, hold this cloth on the wound, so that we do not lose him. I am going to return to my camel and retrieve the manacles. I'll return shortly."

   "Bring all our mounts," said Leokas. "These men will have loot to carry out."

   "Do you trust Hakam with Kamil?" Jayce asked Belvin.

   "I am testing him," said Belvin.

   Rhinda stood in a daze, as if she had never seen such bloodshed before, and was further shocked at how nonchalant everyone else seemed to be acting. Then she remembered Mythlos. Gamalon's healing had stopped the bleeding, but he was not at all in good shape. She knelt by his unconscious form and placed her hands on his shoulders. After a few moments, her holy power restored him; he stirred and his eyes opened.

   "Arin had several potion vials on him," said Jayce, as he checked over the bandit's body while holding pressure to his neck wound. "A couple of the vials are empty. He must have drunk them before the battle.

   "These bolts will be useful for you," he said to Rhinda, tossing the bolt case in her direction.

   "Gamalon," he called, "hold pressure on this wound for me. I am going to search the other bodies." Gamalon, having removed his axe from the lion's back, obliged him, and Jayce moved over to examine the fallen mage.

   Mythlos, slowly and in pain, rose to his feet again and touched his shoulder with his healing sword twice. He then walked over to where the half-orc had met his end.

   "A few spare coins and a red gem. And another wand for you, Mythlos," said Jayce, removing a slender wooden baton from the dead man's belt.

   "Speaking of wands," said Leokas, "what happened to the acid wand you had, Mythlos?"

   "I sold it," said Mythlos simply, as he plied the large greatsword from Murn's hands.

   "Where is the money from the sale? That wand belonged to all of us."

   "I used the money to buy a few scrolls."

   "I think we all should have discussed that first."

   "I thought the wand was for me to use."

   "Yes, for you to use, to benefit all of us, not to sell for your own purposes!"

   "Next time we sell something, we can divide up the money to balance it out," said Mythlos.

   "If you don't sell them without talking to us first," said Jayce, "here are the mage's wand and spellbook." Mythlos took them. "Can you tell what this wand or potions are?" Jayce asked him.

   Mythlos looked at them for a few moments. "I cannot." Then he asked, "Where is Hakam?"

   "He went to retrieve manacles so we can heal and question Arin," said Jayce.

   "I am going to look in the lion's cave then."

   "Be careful," said Leokas. "You are still not at full health.

   While Mythlos was in the cave, Hakam returned, leading the two horses and two camels. Belvin immediately noticed something amiss, and drew his silvered dagger.

   "Woah!" said Hakam, holding his palms out. "Why the dagger?"

   "What have you done to Kamil?" Belvin shouted.

   They all looked at the camel. Something large and swollen was dangling from the right side of Kamil's mouth. It looked something like a tongue, except that it certainly was not his tongue.



   "I didn't do anything!" protested Hakam.

   "What is that?" said Jayce.

   "I have never studied camels," said Leokas. "I am at a loss to know. It certainly doesn't seem normal."

   "Kamil obviously wants to drink your blood, lawman," said Belvin.

   "Maybe your camel was just growing anxious in your absence," said Jayce, stepping between Belvin and Hakam.

   "Kamil was fine when we were in the Altar of the Air," said Leokas.

   "Hey, I'm trying to hold the party together here!" said Jayce.

   "Look in his mouth, Belvin," said Leokas. "See if that... thing is actually attached to him."

   Belvin listened and approached his camel. Carefully, he gripped Kamil's lips and pried his mouth open. "It's not his tongue," he said. "I think it's the top of his mouth. The inside of his mouth is falling out!"

   "I think it's receding, whatever it is," said Leokas.

   It was true. The strange swelling was deflating.

   "See, your camel is going to be fine. I did nothing to him," said Hakam.

   Belvin sheathed his dagger and said nothing. The swelling fully retracted into Kamil's mouth, and now he looked just like a normal dromedary.

   After this odd occurrence, Hakam locked Arin's wrists and ankles, and they moved him into a sitting position with his back against the low wall of the old foundation. Then Hakam touched his neck with a healing spell. Arin came back to consciousness with a gasp.

   Jayce pressed his waterskin to the man's lips, and Arin drank. "Look here," Jayce said. "This is what is going to happen. We're good men, and you are going to be a good man and tell us what we want to know."

   "There's no need to be dramatic," said Arin. "You've clearly won."

   "Are there more of you?"

   "No, just the three of us. I wish there had been more. I overestimated the strength of my companions; we should never have tried to tackle so large a party as yours, even with a hydar."

   "Or so powerful a party as ours," said Belvin.

   "Have you used this trick often?" asked Jayce.

   "This was the first time."

   "Where is your camp?"

   "There is no camp. We were based out of Memnon, as I told you."

   "You are lying," said Jayce.

   "Yes, yes, we had a small camp, about 1,000 yards away from here to the north, in one of the ruined minarets. If you summit the rocky hill here and look north directly at Fort Agis, it is the tallest ruined structure you can see along that line of sight."

   "Do you have anything valuable there?"

   "That depends on what you consider valuable," said Arin.

   "Was there ever really a map of the cave?" asked Leokas.

   "No, the map was just a hoax. Look in there yourselves if you don't believe me, but I'm sure you've already searched my person and found no such map. It is just a shallow cave; it does not lead anywhere. There is, in fact, a dead corpse in there with some money and a fine hand-and-a-half sword. Ah, your moon elf has found it."

   Mythlos emerged from the cave with a large sack and a sheathed bastard sword. He laid the sword and sack besides the rest of the loot and approached the others.

   "What do we do with him now?" asked Rhinda.

   "Is he subject to Memnon's laws as a citizen of Memnon?" thought Hakam aloud. "Or is he to be held under the authority of the county?"

   "We could escort our new prisoner as far as Fort Agis," suggested Gamalon, "and leave him to be dealt with in a manner befitting the criminal he is by the authorities of that keep of the queen's. It is not one mile to the fort from where we now convene."

   "That would be a better choice from his point of view," said Hakam, "as Memnon's justice would dictate death for such a crime."

   Without a warning, Mythlos drew his sword. Seeing what was about to happen, Hakam tried to step in the way, but he was not quick enough. Mythlos drove his blade through Arin's heart.

   "Mythlos!" Rhinda screamed, and she covered her mouth with her hands in shock.

   "These men nearly killed us; they deserved to die," said Mythlos.

   "The lady doth rightly protest," said Gamalon. "This was a dishonorable killing!"

   Hakam bent down and examined the wound in Arin's chest. He was beyond saving. Hakam was flabbergasted. "Do I have to arrest him now?" he asked to no one in particular.

   "The deed is done," said Leokas. "We should leave this place."

   "I agree," said Jayce.

   "This is a hard crime to look past," said Hakam, shaking his head.

   "He was essentially dead," said Leokas. "Did you yourself not say he would likely have been executed for his crimes? Mythlos, in his usual yet unpredictable spontaneity, has simply brought his punishment sooner."

   "He would have been convicted, yes, but it was not our place," said Hakam.

   Mythlos, meanwhile, had loaded up Kamil with the new loot. "I am ready to leave," he said.

   "You are not going anywhere until this matter is settled!" said Hakam.

   "We are no longer in Calimshan," said Mythlos. "We are not in your jurisdiction any longer."

   Hakam looked down at the ground. "This was indeed a tragic incident, but I see I will have no choice but to overlook it for now."

   "Tell me this:" said Belvin. "How are you able to accept this so-called crime but not Vashti's?"

   "In Vashti's case, the harmed party is still at large and potentially unvindicated. That is not the case here."

   "Calm down, everyone!" implored Leokas.

   "Oh," said Belvin, "so you are agreeing that he is allowed to forgive now but not then? Why is that?"

   "Belvin," said Leokas. "Perhaps Hakam has had a change of heart. Recall that he did help us to escape from Memnon."

   "Only so he could keep an eye on all of us to arrest us when we do something outside his rules!"

   Jayce, meanwhile, was trying to get Mythlos to apologize. Mythlos approached Hakam. "I regret that I did not follow your protocols. Please accept one of the new swords in exchange."

   "Keep your swords," said Hakam.

   Jayce faked a laugh. "Mark my words, we will all laugh about this together over a glass of ale in ten years from now."

   No one else was laughing. Rhinda, Gamalon, and Belvin silently mounted their animals, and the party headed north around the rocky hill, leaving the argument behind for now.

   Jayce walked beside Rhinda, who still seemed in shock. "Dame Rhinda, I apologize for my elven companion. He gets furious when people threaten his friends. Yes, I agree that it is ugly to see, but he is a good elf at heart. His concern for us drove him to do this rash act. Try to understand."

   Rhinda made eye contact with him as she listened to him, but she did not respond.

   Jayce glanced over at the other paladin and saw that Gamalon was giving him a dirty look.

   They arrived at the ruined minaret, exactly as Arin had described. Only simple camping items were present, bedrolls, pots, candles, etc. They realized they were running low on rations, and took the five portions they found for themselves but left everything else.

   When they were examining the site, Gamalon came up behind Jayce and whispered, "Remember that thou art just a bard...."

   Jayce patted Gamalon on the back in mock friendship, "All is right, champion; all is right."

~~~~


   They had returned to the Trade Way that continued to lead east by northeast. Jayce was strumming calming songs in an attempt to break the tension in the party that was nearly thick enough to be felt.

   They passed the turnoff to Fort Agis and continued on, seeing no reason to make another stop. As they traveled along away from the barren landscape of the Memnonnar ruins, they began to pass through fields that, were it not winter, would have been full of wheat and other crops and through plantations of berry bushes, peach trees, and olive trees.

   It was close to highsun, and they were walking or riding along while eating the rations that they had aquired, except for Rhinda, who refused to eat any of the spoils.

   "Hakam," asked Leokas. "Would you prevent me from taking a single peach from one of these trees?"

   "It is probably permitted," mumbled Hakam.

   "It is certainly not to be permitted!" said Gamalon. "It is theft, and it is dishonest."

   "To the elves of the woods," said Leokas. "No elf owns any tree. Each single fruit is a gift given by Rillifane Rallathil. One does not steal a single fruit. To claim ownership to so many trees as this is what my people would call theft. It is strange to find fruit this time of year. Surely these are gifts."

   Mythlos picked a fruit and handed it to Leokas, then took one for himself, all the time eyeing Hakam for a reaction.

   "Mythlos," he said, "I have decided. For your pennance, you shall teach me how to wield the longsword in the manner of your kin. With such knowledge I will seek to balance whatever indiscretions you are sure to make in the future."
Session: 21st Game Session - Thursday, Oct 24 2013 from 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM
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Chapter 1 — The "Choker"
~ first-day, 21st of Hammer, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
Harem Palace of Calim, second floor down


They made the bugbear walk ahead of them into each hallway and room as they explored the ruins by the light of Mythlos' sword. Belvin or Leokas kept an arrow nocked and ready in case the goblinoid tried anything.

   They first entered the octagonal room with the metal pipe. It extended from floor to ceiling, and they thought they could hear water being stirred somewhere below. There were four doorways out of this room, one led to where Belvin and Vashti had encountered the rats and another to where they had fought Rhok. This left two directions unexplored. They chose one of the doorways and had Rhok step through.

   He informed them that the floor in this next room had mostly collapsed here, although there was a ledge, such that one could walk around most of the perimeter. They had Rhok climb down into the fallen rubble, while they filed in and gathered around. The layout was the same as the other two hexagonal rooms they had been in, with a column in the center that was still standing.

   They spent nearly an hour carefully exploring in every nook and under every fallen stone in this room and in the sand-filled curved hallway through the other two doorways. They found no items of value or really anything at all. In the outer hallway, there were two more spiral staircase columns, one of which was actually clear of sand. The other they could not reach without a large amount of digging. This staircase led both up and down. Beyond that, they could not travel any further along the hallway from here.

   Once again, they could not agree where to go next. One wanted to go up, another down, and another back to the octagonal room to pass through the final door.

   "Or we could split up," said Mythlos.

   "Haven't we learned yet that it is not wise to split up?"

   "Is anyone else hungry?" asked Jayce. They could agree on that.

   While they satisfied their hunger, Jayce took Leokas aside. "Look, at first I thought you were out of line in wanting to execute our prisoner, but since then, I've been watching him carefully; he's constantly glancing at our weapons. I'm ceasing to trust him; I feel he's going to try and kill us all in our sleep."

   "It's as I said," answered Leokas. "Inherently evil."

~~~~


After lunch, they finally agreed to explore the remaining quarter of this seemingly circular floor. They returned to the octagonal room and sent Rhok through the remaining doorway. This room was just like the other three hexagonal rooms, though part of the ceiling had collapsed in, filling most of the room with sand. They had him continue through the opposite doorway that was still reachable. He looked up as he stepped through, then immediately jumped backwards, knocking into Leokas. "The monster!" said Rhok, visibly terrified, "On the ceiling."

   "Go through and fight it," said Mythlos. "That's why we did not kill you."

   "I cannot reach it," said Rhok. "And I have no weapon."

   "Should we give him his weapon back?"

   "Step aside," said Mythlos. "The creature will have heard us and fled." He pushed by Rhok and stepped through the doorway, sword drawn and glowing. Leokas followed behind him. "Belvin, guard our prisoner," he said.

   Mythlos was correct, the monster was nowhere to be seen. They stood in another portion of the outer, rounded, sand-filled hallway. The only space for them to proceed was counterclockwise, to their left. Proceeding with caution and glancing ever upward at the ceiling, Mythlos squeezed over a slope of sand about 15 feet to the foot of another spiral staircase column. This stair column was also clear, he noted. Straight ahead the hallway continued. It also spoked inward to his left, looking exactly like the passage they had first come through when descending to this floor. At the end of the passage was a staircase going up to where stone had fallen over it, blocking the way. There at the top of the steps, perched with its legs split and pressed against the sides of the wall was the monster. It was an ugly, wrinkled and bony, naked and hairless humanoid about the size of a halfling, with mottled gray skin. As Rhok had said, it had two extraordinarily long arms, as if it had extra bones and joints.

   "I have it cornered!" shouted Mythlos to the others.

   The short aberration mumbled or gurgled something that sounded like it might have been a language. Leokas appeared to the left of Mythlos and raised his bow, and then the creature darted. Its movements were supernaturally fast and strangely fluid. It "ran" along the two walls of the passage, tentacle-like arms dangling, in a gray blur, directly over Mythlos. The monster's arms flailed at him, snapping rapidly like whips. Mythlos dodged the right and parried the left, but then the right arm struck him soundly, and he felt long, spiny-padded fingers around his neck, painfully choking the life out of him as the spiny grip dug into his skin. The creature dropped to the ground nearly atop Mythlos, who struggled with his shield hand to free himself from the monster's tightening grasp. It fell to the opposite side of Mythlos, preventing Leokas from a clear shot. One of his arrows strayed, as Mythlos and the creature grappled, but the second hit. Its hold did not weaken. Instead, the left tentacled arm whipped around Mythlos and struck Leokas soundly in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him and causing him to stagger. Mythlos kicked the thing in the groin, causing it to snarl in pain, but its grip still did not lessen. Mythlos felt light-headed and closed his eyes, about to pass out.

   Having heard the initial shout, Belvin and Jayce had entered the hall. Dropping his crossbow, Jayce rushed toward the battle, waving his arms with urgency, a pinch of wool between his fingers, and calling forth an enchantment. The monster's eyes went wide and it released its grip, swaying oddly as if drunk. Mythlos' free hand went to his own throat as he gasped for air, stepping away.

   Then, out of the darkness from the other end of the hallway, Vashti approached, arm outstretched toward the little monster and chanting. Leokas could hear static in the sleeve of her tunic. She touched the dazed creature, and it convulsed violently as she electrocuted it with her touch. It fell to the floor. Mythlos, having regained his breath, lost no time in beheading the hideous monster.

~~~~


When they had all regained their composures, Mythlos and Leokas thanked Jayce and Vashti for saving their lives.

   "You are most welcome," said Jayce.

   "What was that?" asked Mythlos.

   "Vashti? Do you know?" asked Jayce.

   "I've never seen anything like it," she said.

   "What spell was that? I've never seen you use it before."

   "I like to keep a few secrets up my sleeves," she answered, almost smiling.

   "Was that what they called 'shocking grasp' at the enclave?" asked Mythlos, his hand still holding his damaged neck. "I think Aravilar scribed that evocation in my spellbook."

   Vashti nodded. "Yes, it is one of the traditional elementalist spells."

   Leokas noticed something. "What happened to the bugbear?"

   "The battle started, and I didn't want to get stabbed in the back," said Belvin matter-of-factually. They found Rhok dead back in the other room, an arrow between his eyes. Jayce smirked, understanding what had happened.

~~~~


"We have to go back and rest," said Leokas. They were debating what to do next, having drained themselves of most of their magical power or stamina.

   "It's probably not even mid-afternoon yet!"

   "Even so, I feel like the monster bruised my ribs, and Mythlos' neck is swelling. None of you have any healing magic remaining. I have strong doubts that any of us are in any position to take on any other dangers we might face in these ruins."

   "Thard Harr only grants his power to me at dawn," said Belvin.

   "Then let us set up camp here."

   "No," said Vashti. "Now that there are two new dead bodies, the rats might return."

   "Shall we return to Sseth and report our progress so far?"

   "How will we leave the ruins?" said Vashti. "I do not have the power left in me to levitate myself. We are stuck in the ruins for several more hours at least."

   After further discussion, Leokas convinced them to return up a level to where the tower had fallen over the fountain. Before that, they dragged the bodies of the bugbear and the gangly monster away from their planned path when they would return. The dire rats on the level above continued to ignore them, and they returned the favor. They realized that they needed to build a way of accessing the horizontal spiral staircase column above them later to return back the way they had come, so they spent a few hours gathering fallen rubble and building a sort of pyramid so that they could reach 15 feet up to staircase column. This completed, they proceeded back further to the ruined minaret camp, where they rejoiced at the natural sunlight they found there.

   They lit a fire in the hobgoblins' fire pit and relaxed in their own ways. Mythlos practiced telling a ghost story that involved giant rats, and Jayce gave him constructive criticism on his technique. Jayce spun a humorous yarn about their battle with the "choker" as he called it. Leokas shared a tale he had read as a child about a similar gangly creature that liked to tell riddles before eating its victims. Neither Belvin nor Vashti seemed in the mood for storytelling, the latter spending time trying to mend the many holes in her clothing from the ordeal with the rats. Leokas approached Belvin and tried to make up with him regarding how he had shot at the dire rats earlier. It was not clear to him whether the apology was accepted or not.

   When darkness came, Mythlos and Jayce had the first watch, while the others slept or rested. "My life flashed before my eyes," said Mythlos. "I thought I was through."

   "You should be thankful that you are a good grappler," said Jayce.

   "No, I should be thankful for yours and Vashti's magic. I should learn to use my newly learned spells in combat more, perhaps."

   When his watch was ended, Jayce retired to a spot in the sand, but he had trouble sleeping. His mind was pondering the meaning and purpose of such a creature as the "choker". It was a humanoid, just like him, yet its whole life was spent in the dark, lurking, waiting to steal life from another. It seemed to have had a language; it must have had a mind and a will. Did it have cares and desires? Or was it evil through and through? He would never know.
Session: 12th Game Session - Tuesday, Jul 02 2013 from 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM
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Epic!
Chapter 1 — Dragon!
~ eighth-day, 18th of Hammer, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
El Yndhar Oasis


The next day, Rabi had improved considerably, though she was still in bed sick, so they had no opportunities to talk with her more. They did not have much time to rejoice, however, because in the west, they could see a massive cloud of dust approaching, a sandstorm.

   "The legends I heard at the enclave," said Jayce to Leokas, "say that sandstorms in the desert are the result of Calim searching for his imprisoned body."

   "I never knew that part of the story," said Leokas. "What happens if he finds it again?"

   Jayce shrugged.

   Everyone did the best they could to tie down loose objects. The humans all sheltered inside of the large tent, while the camels were huddled in a large circle nearby the palm trees.



   The storm lasted for about an hour, leaving a four-inch cover of sand on everything and turning the pond to mud. All of the animals fared well, thankfully.

   While the caravanners were busy cleaning sand off everything so that none of the humans were nearby, Mythlos approached Leokas. "I think that you are hiding something from us," he said. "You looked like you were avoiding something last night when Shaan asked us not to talk to the humans."

   At first, Leokas denied anything, but when Mythlos continued to pressure him, he said in the presence of Jayce and Vashti, "I am still not happy that you tried to pocket our loot earlier for yourself. But yes, last night, before we set out to find the little girl, I heard Shaan's voice in my head asking me to keep whatever we might discover to ourselves. That is all."

   This new information only served to fan the flame of Jayce's curiosity. He turned to Vashti again, intending to ask her one more time about her conversation with Dobla. "Vashti, I know you don't like me, and I don't like you, but we are a team now...."

   "It's not that I don't like you; I don't trust you... any of you."

   "No, you told me the other day that you didn't like me."

   "I think I have a right to adapt my own opinions, thank you. I'm a woman. You should be thankful too."

   Asref interrupted them to inform them that they would be packing up and heading out within the hour. When he finished, and Jayce looked back to continue the conversation, Vashti had snuck off.

   As they were loading up their gear, they needed to decide what to do with the suit of armor. Mythlos was convinced it would fetch a large sum, but Belvin wasn't sure that Kamil wanted to carry it.

   "Perhaps he'd be more amiable to carrying the suit if you ditched the worthless heads," said Vashti.

   Jayce approached Asref and offered to sell the suit to him, but Asref claimed to not have the coin on hand to give him a fair trade, having spent as much as he had on the five war-camels. Jayce next approached Shaan.

   "Pasha Shaan yn Amahd el Yndhar," he said, looking down at the ground, "I offer my most gracious and humble thanks for the hospitality thou hast offered us, and I pray to Ilmater for the complete and quick healing of thy daughter."

   "I thank you, tabarifi. El Yndhar are in your debt. Ye are always welcome under my tent. Raise thy head; ye are equals in my presence."

   Jayce continued, "Last night, the armor we found — is it of any import to you? We do not wish to sell it to the caravanners if it will endanger your clan."

   "I am honored by thy concern, tabarif, but no, it is of no value to us. I am sure it would fetch a fair price with an armorsmith somewhere, but we have no need for it here. There does not appear to be any historical value to the piece; it appears rather mundane. It is too small to fit any of us, nor would it be practical in the heat. I suppose it is a relic from a bygone era, before the Era of Skyfire, when Calim and Memnon began their war. The sands uproot such things from time to time."

   So in the end, they decided to load the pieces up on Kamil after all.

   As they all headed out in single file from the oasis, the family (except for Rabi) stood and bid them farewell, waving. Shaan called out, "May Shaundakul grant you safe travels across the golden sands."

   But Shaundakul did not seem to heed his blessing....

~~~~


It was now late afternoon, and it had started to cool. They headed west in a train once again. The ground was much sandier here, especially after the storm, and it made stepping difficult and slow. Moreover, it meant that any hope of tracking hobgoblin footprints was dashed. Leokas began to grow concerned that their entire trip across this desert was now pointless. Vashti had even stopped attempting to scout out on her carpet.



   They were walking along, mostly in silence, remembering how nice it felt to be lying in the shade by the oasis pool. Jayce was considering how the nomads at the oasis did not seem to have any livestock. He was pondering where it was that their dinner had come from, when there was a sudden explosive burst in the ground directly below the third camel puller. A sandy-brown, lion-sized, leathery beast erupted from the sand, mouth open, taking the hapless man's leg into its dagger-filled jaws. The monster shook the man violently, then tossed the limp body aside, screaming a horrendous lizard-like hiss and snarl. It had vestigial wings on its shoulders, a knobby hide, a long neck, and a disproportionately large dragon-like head and eyes for the size of its body. Were it not for the razor sharp teeth in its mouth, now dripping blood, its large eyes and head might make it appear somewhat cute.

   As the camel puller tried to crawl away, the monster lunged forward with its neck and bit at him again, then mauled him with both of its claws. The poor human was still.

   "What is that?" exclaimed Jayce, who had been walking by Asref.

   "Dragon!" muttered Asref, in shock, having just witnessed his employee being bitten and mauled to death.

   "It is a wyrmling dragon," guessed Vashti, who was also nearby. She then spit into her palms and began chanting.

   Mythlos, as usual, was the first to respond. He happened to be the closest to the supposed dragon. He yelled out to it in each of the many languages he knew, knowing that dragons were said to speak, commanding it to back down or be killed. It looked directly at Mythlos, when an arrow from Leokas struck it. The wyrmling spun its neck around; its head jerked back, mouth open, and then it spit a thick, green ball of phlegm out of its mouth. Leokas arched backwards, nearly losing his balance, barely avoiding being struck by the dragon's spit. It landed in a puddle 20 feet beyond and sizzled.

   Vashti approached and let fly an ice dagger, but it strayed. The remaining camel pullers began leading their animals away as fast as possible. Jayce handed Asref his crossbow. "Take a shot. I need my hands free." He pulled his yarting from where it dangled over his back and strummed. The magic of his music filled the air almost tangibly. Asref, with new-found courage, to a degree, aimed and fired, but he missed.

   Belvin's shots also missed. Kamil was refusing to move toward the unknown danger and was bucking in fear. More projectiles flew at the dragon from all directions, and Mythlos swung his magic sword. It finally made a small gash in the beast's hide, but the monster did not seem to care, nor so when it was struck soundly by two more arrows from Leokas. It lunged at Mythlos and bit him quickly on the shoulder, causing him to cry out in pain and rage. Mythlos dodged a swipe from the dragon's right webbed claw, then its left claw caught the metal studs on his armor. He used the opportunity to drive his sword into the dragons underarm with a swift upthrust. Red blood squirted from the dragon, which bubbled when it hit the sand. The dragon crouched to the ground, appearing hurt for the first time, while another of Leokas' arrows struck it in the back of the head, near one of its bony knobs.

   "By the Nine Hells," Vashti cursed, when her third magic icicle flew over the shoulders of the injured wyrmling. "I'm as useful as Anachtyr's right eye." She turned and walked back toward Asref, expecting the dragon to be finished, as Asref galloped past her on his camel with his katar raised to the sky, encouraged by the injured crouch of the dragon.

   But the dragon was not finished. It suddenly dove into the sand, and, like a powerful swimmer, with two powerful strokes, burrowed itself below the surface.

   Jayce shouted frantically at the others who stood around wondering what to do next. "I can see it! Mythlos! It's 15 feet behind your left shoulder!" For after finishing his strumming, he had decided to cast a spell of divination he had recently learned that allowed him to see magical auras. He figured that if a dragon is a magical creature, perhaps he might learn something about its weaknesses. He learned no such thing, but what he did learn would prove helpful in more ways than one. When the spell was cast, his eyes dimly glowed, as the world took on a whole new perspective. A faint ethereal glow appeared around the outline of the dragon. Then Leokas had passed before his vision and his backpack had two small but intense glows within. Suddenly, he saw that the dragon had a second glow, emanating from somewhere within its body. He had seen the wyrmling stagger from Mythlos' blow; then, he saw it dive into the sand, and he could see the aura travel beneath the surface, hesitate for a moment and....

   "Move!" he shouted.

   Mythlos threw himself to his back, as the dragon burst once again out of the sand at his feet snapping at the air. Mythlos leapt quickly back to his feet and brought his blade down on the creature's face with both of his hands. It flopped to the ground.

~~~~


"Is it dead?" asked Belvin.

   Leokas shot it between the eyes at point blank range. "It is now."

   "Cut it open," said Jayce, coming over. "There is something magical inside of its body."

   Vashti and Belvin began carefully cutting into the monster's thick hide, while slowly, the camel pullers gathered around the body of their fallen comrade. The two stepped back suddenly when an object tumbled out of the dragon's gullet, covered in thick, sizzling goo. They discussed how to avoid touching the foul stuff. Vashti suggested that they use some cloth torn from their abbar to clean off the goo, but the acidic juices began eating through the cloth.

   "Maybe we can piss it off," said Belvin, as if people often did such things.

   "What? No!"

   "Do we have water?"

   "What good will that do? Don't you think it had water in its belly?"

   In the end, they just had to be exceptionally careful with more cloth and sand to clean the object off. It was a black bottle, seemingly unaffected by the dragon's acidic insides, which happened to look exactly like the efreeti bottle they already bore.

   While the caravanners set about burying their former partner, the adventurers noticed that the sand from where the dragon had first emerged was slowly flowing down as if in a funnel and a tunnel in solid rock 15 feet down was revealed to them. They could see that it was easily big enough for the dragon to have come up through and wide enough for a human or elf to descend.

   "I am going to jump down," said Mythlos.

   "Are you insane? We don't know how deep it is."

   "We could drop the puller's body and count how long it takes to hit," said Belvin.

   "No. It's you who are insane," said Vashti.

   "What? He is dead. He does not need his body anymore. It is the natural way of things...."

   "Use one of your useless heads," she replied.

   "It is too dark to see anything," said Jayce.

   "I have a torch," Mythlos added.

   After still more deliberation, Belvin decided to ignite one of the goblin heads (which by now was quite dry) and drop it into the pit. It fell for a long, long time. They could not even see the light nor hear its landing.

   Their second plan was to lower a rope. They had 150 feet of rope among them, but the shaft was definitely deeper than 150 feet.

   "Vashti's carpet," said Mythlos, when the idea came to him. "Cannot one or two of us lower ourselves into the shaft with that?"

   Jayce arranged with Asref to trade the dragon's hide (minus the head) for one of their sunrods. With the glowing rod in hand, Leokas and Jayce descended deep into the earth. They descended for what Leokas guessed to be nearly a thousand feet. The shaft walls were rough, and they figured that the dragon could easily have climbed its sides to where it had hid at the top just underneath the sands.

   They came into a rounded chamber or cavern about 20 feet in diameter. In the corner, by the bright light of the sunrod, they spotted a pile of shiny objects. The carpet gently set them on the ground. Leokas carefully searched the chamber for danger, while Jayce again empowered his eyes to see the effects of the Weave. A faint glow came from within the pile of what they could now confirm were gold coins, 200 to 300 of them. Within the pile, they found a large blue gem, roughly heart-shaped, on a silver chain. Jayce was not trained enough in spellcraft to recognize anything about the item from its aura, and its glow distracted him from checking over the necklace with his normal vision. He tried the necklace on. Nothing happened. He took it off, somewhat confused. Leokas stood by patiently. When Jayce at last examined the object with his natural eyes, he noticed tiny but very obvious writing on the silver backing of the gem, but he could not read it.

   "This is definitely magical," he said to Leokas, "and it has writing on it that I do not recognize. We should show it to Mythlos. I think he can speak several languages, and he studied a lot more magic than I did back in Copper Hill."

   "May I see it?" asked Leokas. Jayce handed it too him. "The writing is modern Elven, Jayce. It is not anything ancient. It says, 'The wearer of this periapt will never suffer disease.'"

   "That's it? I don't see what use that will be to us. We're more likely to be killed by some monster than die of the flu."

   Vashti felt quite differently about the item, once they had loaded up the carpet with the gold and risen to the surface again. "I would like to wear it."

   "As would I," said Leokas. "I once suffered a rather bad sickness in my travels, after I ate something sold from a food cart."

   "But it's shaped like a heart," said Vashti. "And it's jewelry. Are you not men?"

   "Men can wear necklaces too," said Jayce.

   "I think the stone is azurite," said Mythlos. "I once came across such an amulet for sale in a magic shop in Tethyr. The asking price was over 9,000 gold pieces! We are rich."

   In the end, the gold was divided up among them and the periapt was stashed in one of Kamil's saddlepack compartments for the time being.
Session: 10th Game Session - Wednesday, Jun 05 2013 from 11:00 PM to 1:30 AM
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Chapter 0 — ...And Losses
   An hour and a half later found them riding single file across the wide countryside. The track led over and around hilly farmland and fields. They rode mostly in silence, Vashti leading the way on Atala's pony, followed by Belvin and Leokas on one horse and Mythlos on the other. Most of their excess gear they had left back at the inn with Jayce.

   Suddenly, from the north, six small figures climbed over the crest of a hill, carrying spears or spear-like weapons. The short monsters shouted a war cry.

   "Goblins," shouted Leokas, as the goblins charged down the hill toward them, tossing their javelins at the party, as they struggled to dismount to face their attackers. Four of the javelins struck the ground missing their targets, but a fifth struck Vashti in the right thigh as she dropped off her pony. She cried out in pain, as Leokas felled one of the goblins before it could release the sixth javelin.

   A feral screech came from Belvin's lips, and an odd rippling emanated from a point near the top of the hill along the ground. The grass was moving, was growing, was ferociously stretching towards the legs of the goblins. They began jumping around, trying frantically to avoid being entangled. The grasses wrapped tightly around one of the goblins legs. It shrieked a high pitched yell as it found it could not move. Mythlos rushed forward to the very edge of the animated grass and cleaved the head off the little beast, sending a fountain of black blood into the air.

   The four remaining goblins managed to hop their way out of the radius of the nature spell's effect and drew morningstars from their belts. One reached Leokas and took a swing at him, giving a solid thump against the hardened leather of his armor but otherwise doing Leokas no harm. It opened its mouth to give another war cry and swallowed one of Leokas' arrows. Another goblin found itself nearly hewn diagonally from left shoulder to right hip by Mythlos' swing.

   Vashti managed to snap the javelin off, but the point was still stuck in her leg. She sent an ice crystal soaring into the stomach of one of the two remaining goblins and limped as fast as she could to attempt to flank him. It pulled away from its companion, who now engaged with Mythlos, and chased her, as arrows from Belvin and Leokas just missed it. They each took aim again, but jumping into the air, the agile monster swung down with all its strength, as Vashti started motioning another spell. They could hear the sound of her skull cracking, as red blood splattered from her head. She fell to the ground. Leokas' arrow dropped her opponent a moment too late.

   Mythlos swung at the final goblin in a rage, but it deftly avoided the blow and struck him also in the head as he pulled his blade from the ground. He felt blood flowing down his face, as he swung a second time and missed again. The goblin got in a second, much weaker blow to his shield arm, before a third swing found its target and slew the foul humanoid, ending the skirmish.

   Leokas rushed over to Vashti's side. The left side of her formerly white hair was as if dyed crimson, and her blue eyes stared into the sky; there was no life behind them. He touched her neck. No pulse. No pulse at all. Belvin joined him at her side and began motioning and chanting a healing spell, but Leokas stopped his arm. "It is too late for that. She is dead. We need more powerful magic than you can access."

   "Well, we're going to find someone more powerful then, while there is still time," said Belvin, with determination, effortlessly lifting her limp body from the ground. "Do we have rope?"

   They secured her gently over the pony. Then Belvin swiftly and angrily saw to it that all the goblins were headless.

   "The genie bottle!" exclaimed Mythlos, while trying to stop the loss of blood from his own head wound with cloth ripped from his undershirt. "We can wish her back to life."

   "Can a genie even raise the dead? Do wishes have limitations?" asked Leokas.

   "I do not know, but what do we have to lose?"

   "No," said Belvin, "we cannot risk it being an angry or deceptive genie."

   "But we may not have time," said Leokas.

   "We'll go to Copper Hill first," said Belvin. "If we cannot find a healer powerful enough to save her there, then we'll take our chances with the bottle."

   So they rode off from the bloody battlefield, more unified in purpose perhaps than they had yet ever been....
Session: 5th Game Session - Wednesday, Mar 13 2013 from 11:00 PM to 1:00 AM
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Epic!