Secrets of Mystara

Post 47 - Showdown at High Noon
Showdown at High Noon

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Tenmonth 5 (continued – afternoon)
(eighteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

They have been encamped in the copse since the evening of the second, so Morgan and Odleif have had three days to explore. Before the afternoon is over, they have agreed on an ambush spot, or, as they say when around Ember, “a spot to parlay”. A goat trail leads from the village, through the pasture, and up into the copse. Near the center there is a small clearing with a stream and several large boulders to hide behind. Their own camp is nearby but higher, where they have a better view of the fields and fjord, on a hilltop next to the spring which is the source of the small stream.

Once the spot is selected they all look it over in the evening twilight. It is agreed that Ember, Thrud, and Bjelgarn will wait in the open, while Morgan and Wolfbane are behind a large outcrop to their rear, Odleif is on a rise to their left, and Poncherius is concealed in the brush on their right.

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The Plan. Left to right: Odleif, Poncherius, Ember, Bhelgarn, Thrud, Wolfbane, Morgan

They talk around their low campfire at dinner, the flames carefully ringed with rocks so as not to be visible from the village or across the fjord in Rhoona. Everyone agrees that Fluffy will watch the trail to the copse and give them early warning of the approach of Xanathon (and the Duke?). As for what to do when he arrives, they are more divided. Morgan asserts that if the presence of the soul gem does make Xanathon vulnerable to harm, they should immediately attack and kill him if possible, for once he recovers the gem they will not likely get another chance. Ember is more hesitant – if they agree to exchange the cure for the gem and accept him to parlay, she is honor-bound to treat him as a “guest”, under her protection. To attack him then, without warning, would make her an oathbreaker – and there are few sins worse than that. Morgan is (uncharacteristically?) non-insistent. Having made up her own mind that Xanathon will not be leaving these hills alive, Morgan chooses to ignore the moral quandary that Ember is facing and instead concentrates on honing her blades. “Too much talk and not enough action”, she mutters as she works her whetstone on her dagger.

There is some discussion of tactics “in the event the parlay becomes a combat”, posited on treachery on Xanathon’s part, not theirs. It is agreed that the signal for a coordinated attack will be for Bhelgarn, who still bears the soul gem, to say “…and now that you have the gem…”. At those words, everyone is to attack.

Tenmonth 6
(nineteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

Fluffy spends the morning sunning herself on a rock and watching the fishing vessels ply the waters of the fjord. In the late morning a sleek ship distinguishes itself by sailing straight out of Rhoona and across the fjord, but not deploying nets or lines. It rapidly crosses the fjord, but does not dock in the little port town on the north bank. Rather, it makes for the beach nearest the copse in which they are encamped. Although the deck of the ship is busy with figures, only two disembark. She watches them cross the pasture and move on to the goat trail. As they head for the copse, Fluffy gathers up her cat, which has spent the morning stalking field mice and drinking the milk Fluffy liberated from a passing nanny goat. Together, they hide where Fluffy will be able to see the two figures clearly as they pass. When they come into view she can see that the lead figure is clearly Xanathon. He is dressed in the same, or at least a similar, robe as he had before at the temple, and has his great black mace on his belt – but wears no armor. The other man wears similar brown robes, but with a cowl so great that she can see only his chin. It could be the Duke – but it could be any other human male of similar size. He doesn’t seem to be moving like a dog, though, or even a zombie thrall. He has no weapons visible, no suspicious bulges beneath his robes, and walks without the clink of chain or creak of leather armor.

Fluffy considers slowing the pair by climbing a tree and tossing her cat down on them, but worries for its safety (and her own, should she reveal herself to the priest). She wonders if she might grab a kid and throw that at them – but the goat herd she has been watching all morning is now too far away. In the end she turns and moves quickly through the forest, racing silently ahead of the pair on the trail.

Fluffy dashes into the clearing, but is not seen by any of the others until she betrays her position by shouting, “Baldy man coming! Other man with him!”

Shocked at first, Ember manages to reply, “Is it the Duke?”

“Don’t know! Too hidey!” Fluffy shouts, then turns and sprints off.

Ember gathers the rest of the party to her and invokes the blessing of Glöð upon them, and then sends them to their positions.

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The party clusters around Ember to receive the blessing of Glöð

By the time Fluffy catches up to the figures on the trail, they are not far from the clearing. She waits for them to pass, then falls into line behind them, far enough back that they are unlikely to see or hear her. [Unbeknownst to Fluffy or the rest of the party, while she is gone Xanathon has cast Bless on himself and his companion, Resist Fire on himself, and Striking on his mace, while his companion has cast Detect Invisible, Wizard Eye, and Protection from Normal Missiles on himself, and then used his Wizard Eye to scout the clearing before they enter it.]

As soon as Ember spots Xanathon and the second figure approaching, she casts Glöð’s Wise Discernment. The priest, reacting to the motions of Ember, immediately halts and stiffens, while his companion begins a spell of his own. A moment later both men are glowing with the deep blue hue that indicates their intention to do harm, but the cowled man in addition has three magic missiles poised above his head, ready to fire at his slightest indication. Behind the boulder, Wolfbane protects herself with a magic shield.

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Ember and Bhelgarn are prepared to make the exchange, Thrud is poised on a rock above them, while Wolfbane and Morgan remain concealed behind boulders

Fearing that this will quickly escalate, Ember holds up her open hands and shouts “Fred, fred!” Xanathon hesitates, and then walks forward into the clearing, followed closely by the cowled man. “Tell your companion to show himself,” Ember says, when they are close enough for her to speak without shouting. Xanathon gestures dismissively at the other man, and he lowers his cowl.

None of them but Fluffy have actually seen the Duke, and she is hidden, unseen by any of them at the edge of the clearing. Bhelgarn, however, does recognize the man – it is the mage who grabbed the tapestry from him and then disappeared during the attack of the temple berserkers. “Tha’ nae be th’ Duke,” he growls at Ember.

“You agreed to bring the Duke,” Ember says accusatorially.

“I agreed to nothing,” Xanathon says haughtily. “You sent a message demanding that I bring the Duke. And also demanding that I come alone – as if it were possible to do both.”

Ember has no ready response to this, but is still trying to make this exchange without bloodshed. “And yet, you have done neither. But we do have something you want. I assume you do want the item?”

Xanathon glowers for a moment, then waves the mage off. He walks slowly backwards, keeping his eyes on the figures in the clearing, stopping only when he reaches the shade of the trees at the edge. He does not see Fluffy, creeping from bush to bush, and she is able to get within a few paces of him, with his back to her.

When the mage is out of earshot, Xanathon says sourly, “You do have it, then?”

“Aye,” grunts Bhelgarn, and pulls out the cloth-wrapped gem, still affixed to its chain. He unwraps it just long enough to show the faceted sides to the priest, then covers it again, careful not to touch it. The dwarf notes that the stone no longer pulses with light as it has for the week since they obtained it. Instead, it is now emitting a constant, unwavering glow.

Xanathon is composed, restrained, but if there is one thing a dwarf recognizes in others it is covetousness, and desire for possession. “So, ye be wantin’ it, then?” Bhelgarn asks, but he can see the answer in Xanathon’s eyes long before the priest nods coldly.

“Our offer,” says Ember, now careful not to say they had an agreement, “was to exchange the gem for you curing the Duke – but as you have not brought the Duke, I do not see what you have to trade.”

“Draco is a fool,” spits Xanathon, “but even he is not fool enough to let me spirit the Duke away from him. He knows well that the people support him only because he claims to serve Steven. For my end, though, I am prepared to offer the cure…” As his hand reaches for a pocket in his robe, Thrud raises his axe above his head and prepares to leap down on him. The priest freezes.

“I am reaching for the cure,” he says coldly, and Ember nods at Thrud. The barbarian lowers his axe, and Xanathon produces a crystal vial, filled with a white powder. “Throw this in the Duke’s face, and he will return to normal,” he says, “though if I were you, I would wait a few days more.”

“And why is that?” demands Ember.

“If you restore the Duke now,” says Xanathon drolly, “his noble honor will require him to face the miserable dwarves in battle. Hundreds will die on both sides, but mostly northmen. Perhaps Rhoona will even be looted and put to the torch.” Seeing the looks of shock on the faces of Ember and Thrud, Xanathon smiles cruelly. “But if you just wait a few days,” he continues, “when the townsfolk see the dwarven army amassed outside their gates, they will beg Draco to depose the mad Duke. Then Draco will declare himself ruler, ride forth and apologize, the dwarves will return home, and no one,” he sneers with mock tenderness, “has to die.”

Ember is sickened, but can tell that the talking is serving Xanathon’s pride. She can use that. “So what do you get out of all this? Why do you care?”

Now Xanathon smiles. As Ember had hoped, his hubris is his weakness, and he is all-too-eager to explain his plan to them. “Draco and the Duke are both fools,” he says with relish, “but of the two of them, Draco has proven far more willing to work with me, for the benefit of my people. He will be a better ruler for Rhoona.”

“So Draco is to be your puppet, then?”

Xanathon shrugs. “Call it that if you wish, but think of all those innocent lives you will be sparing.”

Ember’s rage is rising. The innocent lives spared should not have to live under the twisted control of one so wicked as this, she knows. If she has to make herself oath-breaker to stop him, she is willing to pay that price. Tight-lipped, she nods to Bhelgarn. “Make the exchange.”

“Back orf!” says the dwarf sternly, and the priest looks at him confused. “Back orf,” he repeats, but it is not until he waves his hands that Xanathon understands. He retreats some twenty feet until Bhelgarn motions at him to stop. Now the dwarf comes forward ten feet, unwraps the gem, and lays it on the ground. Were it not broad daylight the glow would be overwhelming. Now Bhelgarn backs away and motions Xanathon forward.

The priest walks up until the gem is at his feet, stoops and lays the vial of powder on the grass, and retrieves the gem by its chain.

When he stands, it is Ember who says loudly, “So now that you have the gem, you should remember…”

TWANG! sings Odleif’s bowstring, then swish! and thud! goes the arrow as it sinks into Xanathon’s back. He does not flinch or wince, and his face betrays surprise but no pain.

Ember continues speaking to him, “…that, just as you said, we agreed to nothing!

At the moment the arrow sinks into his back, the brilliant light of the gem goes out. Bhelgarn (later, when re-telling the tale) swears that he sees a ghostly form of the priest, the same as that he saw in the depths of the gem, fly from the gem and into Xanathon’s chest.

Morgan dashes out from behind the rocks and sends two magic missiles at Xanathon. These strike at his chest, burning away the robe and knocking him back – it is the first they have seen him damaged! Bhelgarn slashes him with his sword, and the blade comes away bloody. Thrud jumps off his rock, landing in between Xanathon and Ember, and protecting her from both priest and mage. Ember calls for the Forge of the Mother and the blade of Thrud’s axe begins to glow red-hot.

Xanathon turns and begins to run, allowing Thrud to strike at his back with his glowing axe, which slices his flesh and sets his robes to smoldering. Bhelgarn hangs back to activate his boots, while Thrud is guarding Ember, and Morgan is summoning more missiles as she disappears behind the rocks again. Thus with no armor and no pursuers for the moment, the priest makes it across the clearing, practically collapsing beneath the shelter of a pine tree.

Morgan completes her spell and then, confident in the ability of Wolfbane’s new ring, pushes her out from behind the other side of the boulder, yelling at her “Draw fire! Draw the mage’s fire!” Wolfbane attempts to paralyze the mage with her scepter, but finds that she expended the last charge back in the shrine.

With his magic boots, Bhelgarn sprints across the clearing. Then Xanathon’s mage completes a spell, and a purple ray shoots from him to the dwarf. Bhelgarn’s form crumples and collapses, leaving nothing remaining in the clearing. Ember cries out in shock and horror. (Later, retelling the tale, Odleif claims that from his vantage point on the rise, he saw Bhelgarn actually shrink down to the size of a small lizard, and remain a dark form in the low grass).

“Oh-no-you-di-n’t!” shouts Fluffy, emerging from concealment to stick both her daggers into the mage’s lower back. He shrieks and wheels about, then with a gesture shoots all three of his magic missiles at the halfling, sending her reeling. Fluffy shakes her head and stabs a dagger into the mage’s belly. He doubles over and collapses on the ground.

Crouching in the cover of the tree, Xanathon waves an arm. Instantly ten fallen pine branches transform into black, writhing snakes that encircle the ground around him protectively. Poncherius impales one with a crossbow bolt, but nine remain.

Across the clearing, Morgan can catch glimpses of Xanathon’s robe behind the tree, and she sends two magic missiles at him, spoiling his next spell just before its completion. Fluffy dances nimbly over the snakes to cut Xanathon with both her blades, and he falls back motionless on the ground among the serpents. With a sound of shattering crystal, the gem still clasped in his lifeless hand turns to powder and vanishes in the breeze.

Odleif sees the curious black lizard moving preternaturally fast towards Ember, so he stows his bow and runs down the ridge. He scoops the creature up in his hands, discovering it to be a black newt with curious red spots on its head and copper-colored eyes.

Wolfbane puts the remaining snakes to sleep before they can bite anyone. Morgan cleaves off the priest’s head and then goes to confirm that the mage is indeed dead. By the time she turns back around, she sees Fluffy working her daggers in the priest’s face.

“Hey! That head is mine!” Morgan objects.

“S’okey,” Fluffy shrugs. “Me just want googly-mooglies.” Indeed, she has freed both of Xanathon’s eyes from their sockets and is even now holding them up in her small hands.

Morgan searches Xanathon’s body while Wolfbane checks the mage. On Xanathon, Morgan finds his mace, his holy symbol, and, deep inside a pocket in his robe, a glass vial with powder seemingly identical to the one he left on the ground. “That treacherous bastard,” Morgan mutters to herself as she marks the cork top with her dagger to make sure she can later tell them apart.

Wolfbane finds a ring and a dagger on the mage, but has to hold the dagger above her head to keep it out of the grasp of Fluffy.

Across the clearing, Odleif shows the newt clasped in his hands to Ember.

“What is that?” she asks.

“I reckon itta be ther dwarf.”

Ember gasps. “Bhelgarn, is that you?” she asks. The newt bobs its little head up and down rapidly.

“Okay, I can do this…I can do this. I just need time to pray.”

“Well, don’t take too long,” says Wolfbane, joining them. “The danger with polymorph other is that the longer the victim is in the new form, the more likely he will lose his mind. Eventually the Bhelgarn we know will be gone and that will just be a newt.”

Odleif passes the newt to Ember and she moves off into cover to rest and pray after quickly healing FluffyKitten. As the others begin cleaning their weapons, Poncherius, who has not left his vantage point, calls down, “Someone’s coming!” He has seen the glint of metal in the noonday sun at a distance from between the trees to their north.

[Note: When Poncherius leveled after the shrine, he took Danger Sense NWP]

The party hurriedly re-arranges themselves to ambush the newcomers. They are assaulted by four fighters and three priests, all in the robes of the temple of Cretia, with armor underneath. After Wolfbane entangles one in a web, the melee that follows is brief. All but one of the Cretians are slain, with none of the party wounded. One priest escapes, fleeing when his fear spell is reflected back at him by Wolfbane’s ring. Morgan is keen to pursue him at first until she realizes that he is fleeing away from the fjord and the ship, into the hills. At that, she lets him go, but insists that they take turns watching the ship, which is still pulled up on the beach below the copse.

It is late afternoon by the time Ember has rested enough that she can pray for spells (although she does not rest enough to recover her spell of third level), and early evening by the time she has actually prayed for them. Morgan and Wolfbane have taken the opportunity to rest and recover their own arcane magic.

Ember holds the newt in front of her. “Is it still you, Bhelgarn?” she asks. The newt again bobs its head, though less vigorously than before. She sets it gently on the ground in front of her. “Don’t move,” she cautions.

Ember closes her eyes and open’s her mind’s eye, trying to see the magic transformational aura that surrounds Bhelgarn, imprisoning him in the form of the newt. When she thinks she can see it, she imagines it as tendrils of flame, and in her hands a bellows. As she casts her spell, she works the bellows, hoping to stoke the magic flames so high that they exhaust their connection to the otherworld and snuff themselves out.

[Ember does not have Dispel Magic. By using Gutter, Flicker, and Flare, she is trying to “blow out” a temporary magic effect, but with a chance to make it stronger. Each round she forces another save vs. spells for the magical effect, based on the save of the caster. Dervill (MU9) needed a 10 or better to save against spells, and he will save at + 3 since he was three levels higher than Ember. However, if the save is made, the amount it is made by becomes a penalty on the next round, as the magic has burned too intensely. Likewise, if the save fails, the amount it fails by will become a bonus to the next save. Only if it fails by a modified roll of one or less will she be able to end the spell.

(1) Roll 18 + 3 = 21 (over by 11). FLARE – Bhelgarn has to make another save to retain his mind.
(2) Roll 20 + 3 – 11 = 12 (over by 2). FLICKER.
(3) Roll 5 + 3 – 2 = 6 (under by 4). GUTTER.
(4) Roll 8 + 3 + 4 = 15 (over by 5). FLARE – Bhelgarn has to make another save to retain his mind.
(5) Roll 2 + 3 – 5 = 0 (less than 2). SNUFF OUT – The spell is broken!]

Although Ember comes dangerously close to trapping Bhelgarn forever in the body of a newt and losing his dwarven mind, in the end she manages to blow out the spell and free him!

Once Bhelgarn is returned to them as a dwarf, they quickly strip the bodies of the fallen priests and warriors. Their plan is to disguise themselves as Cretians and approach the ship, with Bhelgarn and Thrud (unmistakably non-Ethengarian) as “captives” and Fluffy hiding. Everyone else will be dressed as a priest or fighter. With the cowls of the robes up, they hope to be able to get quite close to the ship before their deception is recognized – close enough to board it before it can set out at least.

Disguised, they leave the copse and head down to the fjord as the sun sinks low in the west.

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The Giant Who Had No Heart In His Body
Ember's tale

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The Princess, Boots, and Greylegs

Once upon a time there was a King who had seven sons, and he loved them so much that he could never bear to be without them all at once, but one must always be with him. Now, when they were grown up, six were to set off to woo, but as for the youngest, his father kept him at home, and the others were to bring back a princess for him to the palace. So the King gave the six the finest clothes you ever set eyes on, so fine that the light gleamed from them a long way off, and each had his horse, which cost many, many hundreds of gold sovereigns, and so they set off. Now, when they had been to many palaces, and seen many princesses, at last they came to a King who had six daughters; such lovely king’s daughters they had never seen, and so they fell to wooing them, each one, and when they had got them for sweethearts, they set off home again, but they quite forgot that they were to bring back with them a sweetheart for Boots, their brother, who stayed at home, for they were over head and ears in love with their own sweethearts.

But when they had gone a good bit on their way, they passed close by a steep hill-side, like a wall, where a giant’s house was, and there the giant came out, and set his eyes upon them, and turned them all into stone, princes and princesses and all. Now the King waited and waited for his six sons, but the more he waited the longer they stayed away; so he fell into great trouble, and said he should never know what it was to be glad again.

“And if I had not you left,” he said to Boots, “I would live no longer, so full of sorrow am I for the loss of your brothers.”

“Well, but now I’ve been thinking to ask your leave to set out and find them again; that’s what I’m thinking of,” said Boots.

“Nay, nay!” said his father; “that leave you shall never get, for then you would stay away too.”

But Boots had set his heart upon it; go he would; and he begged and prayed so long that the King was forced to let him go. Now, you must know the King had no other horse to give Boots but an old broken-down jade, for his six other sons and their train had carried off all his horses; but Boots did not care a pin for that, he sprang up on his sorry old steed.

“Farewell, father,” said he; “I’ll come back, never fear, and like enough I shall bring my six brothers back with me;” and with that he rode off.

So, when he had ridden a while, he came to a Raven, which lay in the road and flapped its wings, and was not able to get out of the way, it was so starved.

“Oh, dear friend,” said the Raven, “give me a little food, and I’ll help you again at your utmost need.”

“I haven’t much food,” said the Prince, “and I don’t see how you’ll ever be able to help me much; but still I can spare you a little. I see you want it.”

So he gave the Raven some of the food he had brought with him.

Now, when he had gone a bit further, he came to a brook, and in the brook lay a great Salmon, which had got upon a dry place, and dashed itself about, and could not get into the water again.

“Oh, dear friend,” said the Salmon to the Prince; “shove me out into the water again, and I’ll help you again at your utmost need.”

“Well!” said the Prince, “the help you’ll give me will not be great, I daresay, but it’s a pity you should lie there and choke;” and with that he shot the fish out into the stream again.

After that he went a long, long way, and there met him a Wolf, which was so famished that it lay and crawled along the road on its belly.

“Dear friend, do let me have your horse,” said the Wolf; “I’m so hungry the wind whistles through my ribs; I’ve had nothing to eat these two years.”

“No,” said Boots, “this will never do; first I came to a raven, and I was forced to give him my food; next I came to a salmon, and him I had to help into the water again; and now you will have my horse. It can’t be done, that it can’t, for then I should have nothing to ride on.”

“Nay, dear friend, but you can help me,” said Graylegs the wolf; “you can ride upon my back, and I’ll help you again in your utmost need.”

“Well! the help I shall get from you will not be great, I’ll be bound,” said the Prince; “but you may take my horse, since you are in such need.” So when the wolf had eaten the horse, Boots took the bit and put it into the wolf’s jaw, and laid the saddle on his back; and now the wolf was so strong, after what he had got inside, that he set off with the Prince like nothing. So fast he had never ridden before.

“When we have gone a bit farther,” said Graylegs, “I’ll show you the Giant’s house.”

So after a while they came to it.

“See, here is the Giant’s house,” said the Wolf; “and see, here are your six brothers, whom the Giant has turned into stone; and see here are their six brides, and away yonder is the door, and in at that door you must go.”

“Nay, but I daren’t go in,” said the Prince; “he’ll take my life.”

“No! no!” said the Wolf; “when you get in you’ll find a Princess, and she’ll tell you what to do to make an end of the Giant. Only mind and do as she bids you.”

Well! Boots went in, but, truth to say, he was very much afraid. When he came in the Giant was away, but in one of the rooms sat the Princess, just as the wolf had said, and so lovely a Princess Boots had never yet set eyes on.

“Oh! heaven help you! whence have you come?” said the Princess, as she saw him; “it will surely be your death. No one can make an end of the Giant who lives here, for he has no heart in his body.”

“Well! Well!” said Boots; “but now that I am here, I may as well try what I can do with him; and I will see if I can’t free my brothers, who are standing turned to stone out of doors; and you, too, I will try to save, that I will.”

“Well, if you must, you must,” said the Princess; “and so let us see if we can’t hit on a plan. Just creep under the bed yonder, and mind and listen to what he and I talk about. But, pray, do lie as still as a mouse.”

So he crept under the bed, and he had scarce got well underneath it, before the Giant came.

“Ha!” roared the Giant, “what a smell of Christian blood there is in the house!”

“Yes, I know there is,” said the Princess, “for there came a magpie flying with a man’s bone, and let it fall down the chimney. I made all the haste I could to get it out, but all one can do, the smell doesn’t go off so soon.”

So the Giant said no more about it, and when night came, they went to bed. After they had lain a while, the Princess said—

“There is one thing I’d be so glad to ask you about, if I only dared.”

“What thing is that?” asked the Giant.

“Only where it is you keep your heart, since you don’t carry it about you,” said the Princess.

“Ah! that’s a thing you’ve no business to ask about; but if you must know, it lies under the door-sill,” said the Giant.

“Ho! Ho!” said Boots to himself under the bed, “then we’ll soon see if we can’t find it.”

Next morning the Giant got up cruelly early, and strode off to the wood; but he was hardly out of the house before Boots and the Princess set to work to look under the door-sill for his heart; but the more they dug, and the more they hunted, the more they couldn’t find it.

“He has baulked us this time,” said the Princess, “but we’ll try him once more.”

So she picked all the prettiest flowers she could find, and strewed them over the door-sill, which they had laid in its right place again; and when the time came for the Giant to come home again, Boots crept under the bed. Just as he was well under, back came the Giant.

Snuff-snuff, went the Giant’s nose. “My eyes and limbs, what a smell of Christian blood there is in here,” said he.

“I know there is,” said the Princess, “for there came a magpie flying with a man’s bone in his bill, and let it fall down the chimney. I made as much haste as I could to get it out, but I daresay it’s that you smell.”

So the Giant held his peace, and said no more about it. A little while after, he asked who it was that had strewed flowers about the door-sill.

“Oh, I, of course,” said the Princess.

“And, pray, what’s the meaning of all this?” said the Giant.

“Ah!” said the Princess, “I’m so fond of you that I couldn’t help strewing them, when I knew that your heart lay under there.”

“You don’t say so,” said the Giant; “but after all it doesn’t lie there at all.”

So when they went to bed again in the evening, the Princess asked the Giant again where his heart was, for she said she would so like to know.

“Well,” said the Giant, “if you must know, it lies away yonder in the cupboard against the wall.”

“So, so!” thought Boots and the Princess; “then we’ll soon try to find it.”

Next morning the Giant was away early, and strode off to the wood, and so soon as he was gone Boots and the Princess were in the cupboard hunting for his heart, but the more they sought for it, the less they found it.

“Well,” said the Princess, “we’ll just try him once more.”

So she decked out the cupboard with flowers and garlands, and when the time came for the Giant to come home, Boots crept under the bed again.

Then back came the Giant.

Snuff-snuff! “My eyes and limbs, what a smell of Christian blood there is in here!”

“I know there is,” said the Princess; “for a little while since there came a magpie flying with a man’s bone in his bill, and let it fall down the chimney. I made all the haste I could to get it out of the house again; but after all my pains, I daresay it’s that you smell.”

When the Giant heard that, he said no more about it; but a little while after, he saw how the cupboard was all decked about with flowers and garlands; so he asked who it was that had done that? Who could it be but the Princess?

“And, pray, what’s the meaning of all this tomfoolery?” asked the Giant.

“Oh, I’m so fond of you, I couldn’t help doing it when I knew that your heart lay there,” said the Princess.

“How can you be so silly as to believe any such thing?” said the Giant.

“Oh yes; how can I help believing it, when you say it?” said the Princess.

“You’re a goose,” said the Giant; “where my heart is, you will never come.”

“Well,” said the Princess; “but for all that, ’twould be such a pleasure to know where it really lies.”

Then the poor Giant could hold out no longer, but was forced to say—

“Far, far away in a lake lies an island; on that island stands a church; in that church is a well; in that well swims a duck; in that duck there is an egg, and in that egg there lies my heart,—you darling!”

In the morning early, while it was still gray dawn, the Giant strode off to the wood.

“Yes! now I must set off too,” said Boots; “if I only knew how to find the way.” He took a long, long farewell of the Princess, and when he got out of the Giant’s door, there stood the Wolf waiting for him. So Boots told him all that had happened inside the house, and said now he wished to ride to the well in the church, if he only knew the way. So the Wolf bade him jump on his back, he’d soon find the way; and away they went, till the wind whistled after them, over hedge and field, over hill and dale. After they had travelled many, many days, they came at last to the lake. Then the Prince did not know how to get over it, but the Wolf bade him only not be afraid, but stick on, and so he jumped into the lake with the Prince on his back, and swam over to the island. So they came to the church; but the church keys hung high, high up on the top of the tower, and at first the Prince did not know how to get them down.

“You must call on the raven,” said the Wolf.

So the Prince called on the raven, and in a trice the raven came, and flew up and fetched the keys, and so the Prince got into the church. But when he came to the well, there lay the duck, and swam about backwards and forwards, just as the Giant had said. So the Prince stood and coaxed it and coaxed it, till it came to him, and he grasped it in his hand; but just as he lifted it up from the water the duck dropped the egg into the well, and then Boots was beside himself to know how to get it out again.

“Well, now you must call on the salmon to be sure,” said the Wolf; and the king’s son called on the salmon, and the salmon came and fetched up the egg from the bottom of the well.

Then the Wolf told him to squeeze the egg, and as soon as ever he squeezed it the Giant screamed out.

“Squeeze it again,” said the Wolf; and when the Prince did so, the Giant screamed still more piteously, and begged and prayed so prettily to be spared, saying he would do all that the Prince wished if he would only not squeeze his heart in two.

“Tell him, if he will restore to life again your six brothers and their brides, whom he has turned to stone, you will spare his life,” said the Wolf. Yes, the Giant was ready to do that, and he turned the six brothers into king’s sons again, and their brides into king’s daughters.

“Now, squeeze the egg in two,” said the Wolf. So Boots squeezed the egg to pieces, and the Giant burst at once.

Now, when he had made an end of the Giant, Boots rode back again on the Wolf to the Giant’s house, and there stood all his six brothers alive and merry, with their brides. Then Boots went into the hill-side after his bride, and so they all set off home again to their father’s house. And you may fancy how glad the old king was when he saw all his seven sons come back, each with his bride;—"But the loveliest bride of all is the bride of Boots, after all," said the king, “and he shall sit uppermost at the table, with her by his side.”

So he sent out, and called a great wedding-feast, and the mirth was both loud and long; and if they have not done feasting, why, they are still at it.

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Post 46 - Have Gem, Will Travel
Have Gem, Will Travel

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Ninmonth 27 (continued)
(tenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

With full waterskins, the party ignores the unexplored tunnels and returns by the paths they know to the stairs. They ascend to the first level of the shrine. There is a brief discussion about how to escape the teleport trap, but trial quickly proves that they need do nothing special, they simply walk forward down the hallway and soon find themselves in the intersection between the wine-making room and the priest’s quarters.

Their goal is the kitchen but they pass first through the entrance chamber to gauge the time of day and find it to be early morning, dimly lit with the sun not yet high enough to clear the mountaintops. That fits what their bodies are telling them about the need for breakfast.

In the kitchen they find enough wood, flour, fat, salt, and water to make a reasonable breakfast of griddle cakes, and don’t even have to unpack their camp gear. Thrud insists that they all drink deeply from his wine cask, as he will not be taking it with him. There is very little food left over in the kitchen after breakfast is apportioned – perhaps enough for a lean lunch, but certainly not enough for a five-day trek back to Rhoona.

They have the key to the grain stores, which contain more food than they can eat – but also more food than they can carry. Morgan doesn’t expect that her plow horse is waiting patiently at the trail head, or even alive by this point. There is a hand quern in the kitchen, and they could grind the grain into more portable flour, but a trial run suggests that will take hours and hours, if not a day to make enough flour to take with them. Finally, Odleif suggests that they not grind the grain all the way down to flour for camp-bread, but rather just crack the hulls. Now that they have plenty of water, the cracked wheat can be boiled into a porridge over a campfire, and two hours’ work will get them enough for tonight and tomorrow’s breakfast at least. If they can get out of the mountains into the hills, they can hunt for game. They take turns eating, grinding, and packing, and by mid-morning they are ready to leave.

With no horse to ride or carry gear, all of their loads are re-assessed and re-assigned. Odleif, as ever, carries the lion’s share of water, for with his boots, he is like their own personal camel caravan. Ember, entrusted with the party’s treasure, carries the bag of holding. Morgan resigns herself to packing, rather than wearing, her plate armor. Thrud is feeling loaded, and not from the wine he drank. Rather, he is carrying nearly 800 coins, which is his own personal treasure plus what he collected from the warrior defenders of the shrine. He has to admit that he will not be able to carry all of it and still keep up with the party. Morgan tells him to forget it, as it has to be less than his share of what Odleif is carrying, but he shakes his head and goes off to think for a bit.

When Morgan calls out that it is time to get marching, Thrud returns with a plan, for which he asks Bhelgarn’s assistance. The two of them stand on the narrow ledge outside the cave entrance to the shrine. With Bhelgarn belaying, Thrud carefully makes his way up the nearly vertical mountain face, driving in pitons as he goes, until he reaches the manticore ledge. Once there, he clears a space from the bones and fur-balls in the back of the small cave, then places two sacks with all his accumulated coins as far back as he can, covering them with bones and loose rocks. He removes the pitons on the way down.

“What, are you coming back for that?” asks Morgan incredulously.

“No,” says Thrud happily. “But my children will – I will tell them of this place and they will seek it to earn glory and find their arv, their fødselsrett, ya?”

The party sets off in the mid-morning in good spirits. Dwelling on thoughts of children and their own legacy is more pleasant than thinking about their upcoming confrontation with Xanathon, certainly. At the trailhead there is no sign of the horse beyond days’-old hoofprints going in all directions. Lunch is on the narrow mountain trail, and they are fortunate to have cooked, though cold, leftover griddlecakes without having to unpack their camp gear and with no wood to be had even if they could.

By evening they have made it out of the steepest mountain switchbacks and knife-edge trails. They camp early in an alpine valley, at the first place there is enough scrub-brush to gather for a fire, and cook their cracked wheat to make porridge. It is filling enough but exceedingly bland, and they are all looking forward to the next day’s hunting. Morgan sets the watch schedule before they turn in for the night. [one half day’s travel from shrine to Rhoona]

Ninmonth 28
(eleventh full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

[Note: Free from the influence of the shrine, Odleif has a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, he has advanced to 6th level. He gains the xx NWP]

[Note: Free from the influence of the shrine, Morgan has a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, she has advanced to 5th level. She gains the ability to cast spells of third level – but still doesn’t know any! She is, however, now able to summon two magic missiles when she casts the spell.]

[Note: Free from the influence of the shrine, Ember has a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, she has advanced to 6th level. She gains the ability to cast spells of third level, and awareness of the specific prayers for Detect Magic, Mother’s Eye, and Fireball. She will no longer earn experience for casting orisons.]

[Note: Free from the influence of the shrine, Wolfbane has a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, she has advanced to 5th level. She gains the ability to cast spells of third level – but still doesn’t know any! ]

[Note: Shaken from his encounter with the Spectre, Thrud had been drained down to 3rd level. After a good night’s sleep, however, he has recovered enough to advance to 4th level.]

[Note: Free from the influence of the shrine, Poncerius has a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, he has advanced to 4th level. He gains the NWP of Danger Sense]

The party awakens in their mountain valley. In the early morning light the alpine flowers are pretty, but they are all wondering whether there is any food to be had about. Over their breakfast of cracked-wheat porridge they discuss their plans for the day. Fluffy, Bhelgarn, Poncherius, Wolfbane and Pooches will tend camp for the morning, while Odleif, Thrud, Morgan, and Ember spread out and look for food. The plan is to meet back at camp by mid-day, hopefully with enough food for a quick lunch and eventual dinner, and then get in a half-day’s march along the caravan trail to Rhoona.

Odleif heads upland into the mountains that ring the valley, ranging far until he finds a salt lick. He improvises a snare from the party’s supply of rope, then works his way along the cliffs, tracing the salt layer to several other outcrops and setting snares by them as well. Finally he finds a high point from which he can survey the land beneath him, in the hope of seeing some prey animal he might take with his bow. After a few hours, he retraces his steps, finding every snare but the last one empty. [Set snares, hunting, woodland survival, roll is 6 meals found]

The last snare is in a curious state – the rope frayed and broken, the area of the lick torn up, covered in blood and feathers. Casting about, he finds a hind-quarter haunch of mountain goat, snare still around its hoof. As near as he can make it out, he caught a goat, but then some huge bird of prey found the goat and ripped it apart, consuming or carrying off most of it but dropping the leg. Still, a leg in the hand is worth more than a goat in the bush, so he heads back to camp content.

Thrud heads southeast roughly along the trail, but checking the thickest tangles of scrub he can find. It is fall and nearly everything has been eaten, hoarded or is rotten. After a full morning of searching, he has found only a handful of dry, wizened blueberries. Not worth much by themselves, at least they can be added to the cracked wheat porridge for a bit of flavor. [Survival, Coastal Forest. Roll at disadvantage is 0 meals].

Morgan travels in circles around the camp, increasing her distance at each circuit and looking for game. Eventually she comes upon a pika warren. Approaching from downwind, she is able to shoot a single pika before the rest bolt. She waits a long time, but they do not venture forth again. Not much eating, but in their current situation they will need every bite. [Survival, Forest. Roll at disadvantage is 1 meal.]

Ember goes to the southwest, down into the valley floor, looking for seeps and streams that run through scrub tangles. After a morning of work, she emerges dirty, muddy, and hair full of twigs – and has filled a large sack full of mushrooms! [Mycology, roll is 7 meals].

Back at camp, the party has a wonderful lunch of goat and mushroom stew. [total 14 meals – 8.5 eaten is 5.5 left]. There is even enough left over to save and combine with the last of the cracked wheat for dinner. Camp is broken and they march for the rest of the afternoon, across the open valleys and up and over steep passes. Some of the broader and deeper valleys have thick stands of pine and fir trees that line the trail, but the steep slopes and passes are just dry, dead grass.

Morgan calls for a halt in a valley dense with mountain spruce. She gathers firewood as camp is made, but hears the sound of something large snorting on the other side of a rock outcrop. Returning silently to the party, she gathers a few of the fighter types and seeks out the source of the noise. As they creep around the edge of the rocks, they come face to face with…the old plow horse!

The horse is covered in plastered mud and dust. It is clearly dehydrated, with pinched skin and froth around its mouth, dried salt around its eyes, but is otherwise in good condition. It follows them eagerly back to camp and gulps down water so fast that Morgan has to give it only a few swallows at a time, making it wait before she allows it to drink a bit more. As the party sits around the fire after dinner, they take turns inventing fanciful tales of what happened to the horse and what it did to survive out here in the wilds.

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the party ends still in the mountains, at one full day’s travel from shrine to Rhoona

It is after midnight when Morgan, on watch, hears a growling, screeching, and wailing. She moves back along the trail through the woods until she comes upon two huge owlbears. The creatures appear to have been following the trail, perhaps even following them, but are currently scratching at one another and buffeting each other with their wings. She can just barely make out that one of the ’bears has clutched in its paw a goat leg, flesh picked off down to the bone. This appears to be the point of contention, as the one without it tries continually to wrest it from his companion. When she returns to camp, Morgan chides Odleif that it looks like it was the owlbears that “got his goat”.

After Morgan, Bhelgarn, Poncherius, Thrud, and Odleif have armored up, they return along the trail. The owlbears are still fighting. The party whistles and shouts to attract their attention. Without hesitation the two owlbears cease their hostilities and charge through the trees at them. By the time they reach the party, one of them has succumbed to several rounds of missile fire, and the second one does not last long in melee.

Odleif tries a few sample cuts and finds the ‘bears covered in thick muscle, marbled with fat. He licks his lips. “Fetch me lantern!” he says eagerly. "I gots some dressin’ t’ do." Skinned and field-dressed, even one of the huge owlbears is as much meat as they can carry, and more than enough to see the entire party back to Rhoona.

Ninmonth 29
(twelfth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

After a breakfast mostly consisting of owlbear bacon, the party continues south along the caravan trail. All morning is spent passing through the alpine valleys, but from their mid-day camp they can see down the long slope sloughing off the mountain sides into the highland valleys below. Morgan has insisted that everyone carry their own gear, as the plow horse is still recovering from dehydration and it will do no good to load him and then have him founder.

It is late afternoon when Morgan, walking ahead, crests a ridge and sees a group of three ogres coming north along the caravan trail. She darts back quickly before they can see her and warns the party. They retreat a bit along the trail until they find a place where some boulders offer natural concealment and plan an ambush. With the wind direction as it is, it is likely the ogres will get a whiff of them, or the horse, soon after crossing the ridge, so it is decided that the ambush needs bait. Fluffy volunteers.

When everyone is in place, Fluffy ascends to the crest of the ridge and waits. When she judges the ogres are at just the right distance, she climbs on top of a rock and shouts down at them, “Who dares approach Fluffy’s hill? Ogreries? Silly ogreries? Fluffy is on rock, on hill, so Fluffy much bigger than all you! You better run from Fluffy, stupid ogreries!”

At first the ogres look up at her, dumbfounded that anyone so small and alone would dare challenge them. When they finally realize what is going on, they start to chortle and guffaw at her impertinence. This incenses Fluffy, and she hops up and down on her rock, shrieking insults shrilly. One ogre, perhaps craftier than the other two, attempts to sidle his way up the trail, thinking to beat the others to the halfling and so claim her as his meal, alone. When the other two realize what is going on, they stop laughing, and begin racing pell-mell up the trail, throwing elbows and jostling to be first at Fluffy.

At this, Fluffy jumps down, turns and runs back ahead of them.

As she sprints down the trail, Fluffy can hear the ogres coming after her. With every stride they are covering three times the ground, or more, as she is, and they are closing fast. She fears she has misjudged the effect of her chain armor on her speed, and begins to shout, “Now! Trappy now! NOW! NOOOOW!”

The lead ogre is less than ten yards behind Fluffy when the party stands. Odleif and Morgan each get off bow shots, and the ogres halt their charge, confused by the appearance of so many foes when a moment before it had been a single halfling they were chasing. Then Ember calls out, “Ved smia av Glöð!” She makes an overhand swing of her arm, and when her hand reaches the height of her waist a sound rings out like a hammer falling on steel. A single spark flies forward, drifting lazily toward the knot of confused ogres. When it lands at their feet, it erupts in an fiery explosion so intense that all three of them are knocked to the ground. The force of the explosion is accompanied by great gouts of flame, and the caravan trail and nearby rocks are charred, the ogres burned.

After the roaring of the fires fades there is silence for a moment. Then the ogres climb to their feet and start racing away from the party. Odleif and Morgan fire one more shot each, just to convince the ogres to continue their retreat. As they disappear over the ridge, one of them can be heard lamenting in broken Common. “Magic no fair! Bad halfling wizard burn poor ogres…”

The party takes a brief rest and then moves on. This time Odleif is scouting ahead, to pick up any sign of the ogres, but he reports that they went off-trail shortly after running away, and he sees nothing more of their tracks for the rest of the afternoon. The trail has now come off the mountain slope and into the heavily eroded ridge tops and dry washes of the hill country. In the early evening they make camp in a valley bottom.

Ember has been turning things over in her mind all day. In the shrine, she warned Thrud that the spirit he contacted could have been malevolent, could have been lying. But now, having had some days free of the evil influence of that place, she is recalling a tale. She heard it as a novice, when the sisters would tell tales at night. It was the tale of a giant who had hidden his heart so that he could not be killed. A young hero, the son of a king, was able to find the heart and squeeze it until the giant died, thus rescuing his brothers and a princess besides. Now, squeezing the gem is out of the question – they have tried many different ways to destroy it and have not found anything that can harm it. But if there is truth in the tale it may be that the spirit of the Khan was telling Thrud truly that the key to making Xanathon vulnerable is to bring the soul gem near him. Tonight, around the campfire, Ember tells the tale to the party.

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after two full day’s travel from shrine to Rhoona

Ninmonth 30
(thirteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

[Note: During her rest, Ember learns that she has now been granted use of the spell Forge of the Mother, which will allow her to temporarily make weapons more potent.]

The day’s travel is the long and arduous climb up the side of one valley, across the dry uplands, down into the next valley, and across the valley floor. If the valley wash is dry, keep going. If a stream is running, fill the skins. Then repeat the process up the next valley side.

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This goes on all day. The only encounter comes in the afternoon, down in a thickly-forested valley with a permanent stream, when Odleif, scouting in advance of the party, comes upon two giant weasels lapping water from the stream. Their summer coats of dusty brown are greying – in a month they will be pure white. They are downwind of him and seem not to have noticed his presence. At first he reflects on how valuable their furs will be in the winter, when he could trap them, skin them, and sell the coats as ermine. Then he laughs to himself, thinking of his share of the platinum coins alone in the strange magic bag carried by Ember. He watches them a good while until, having drunk their fill, they move on. Then he returns to the party and leads them across the stream.

In the late afternoon the caravan trail swings east and finally follows a valley rather than cutting across it. Although they are in the valley, they are still climbing as the floor rises and the walls descend. Eventually they emerge on the slope leading to the mountain pass that will take them to Rhoona. There is still daylight enough to push on, so Morgan says they will continue and make camp in the pass itself. But Pooches grows agitated, whining more and more frequently, stopping and sniffing the air. Finally he stops altogether, sits down on the trail, and barks at them as they walk away.

Ember turns and goes back to him, kneels by his side. “What is it, boy? Something not right ahead?”

He turns and looks back across the way they have come, whines again.

“Is it Iris?” she guesses. This time he barks, two short, choking barks. “She’s still out there, isn’t she?” More whines.

Ember stands and looks down at the dog. When he found them a week ago he had been starving, and covered in mud, dried blood, and burrs. Now his coat is sleek and shiny – for early on Fluffy stole Wolfbane’s hairbrush and she has been brushing him whenever the mage is sleeping. He has put on weight with them, and gorged himself on owlbear meat in the last two days. He looks to be in better condition now than when they left the pyramid. And if Iris is still out there, somewhere, she surely needs him more than they do.

“Okay, boy,” she says. “Go find her. Go find Iris!”

Pooches jumps to his feet and starts jogging back along the caravan trail, away from them, with the long, loping strides of a wolf that will be running all night.

“Glöð be with you,” whispers Ember, just before he disappears from view.

They camp as planned in the mountain pass, though with one less of them on watch for the night.

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The party’s progress after three days of travel from the shrine

Tenmonth 1
(fourteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

The party spends the morning climbing, and then descending, the narrow mountain pass that is called the “Vestfjord Gap”. On their way down they can see the waters of the fjord far below them, as well as the thick band of dense forests that border the fjord. The city of Rhoona itself is too small and distant to be seen at this point.

The rest of the day is spent crossing the rugged, sparsely forested hills. Morgan and Odleif are expecting to see patrols or scouts for the Ducal Guard, but none are encountered. Some speculate the situation has already been resolved, others that Draco simply isn’t expecting the dwarves to come from this side. Morgan has previously expressed that she doesn’t believe the dwarven army is coming, but now she is curiously silent on the subject.

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The party’s progress after four days of travel from the shrine

Tenmonth 2
(fifteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

The party travels along the pine-covered ridgetops of the hills. By mid-afternoon they have passed the ravine where the forces of the temple ambushed them. After that, when there are breaks in the trees, they can see the farms and fields clustered on the north shore of the fjord, and, across the fjord, the buildings of Rhoona. The fjord itself has numerous fishing vessels traversing its waters.

By late afternoon they are emerging from pine stands more and more often, and Morgan worries that they will be spotted from the farmhouses or by any scouts for the guard. Fluffy, slower than most of them but always difficult to see outside, remains on the trail but the main party parallels the trail, working their way from copse to copse. When they spot a familiar stone farmhouse and adjoining barn, Morgan unloads their supplies from the plow horse, points it at the trail, and slaps its rump. Confused at first, by the time it reaches the trail it has its bearings and soon is walking in the direction of the barn.

It is not long after that when Morgan calls a halt for the day. They camp off the trail, in a particularly rugged and densely-forested location that is nonetheless near the village on the north shore. Their campsite is on a hill overlooking the fjord and Rhoona. Although they are surrounded by fields and holds, this patch of land is too rocky and steep to make good cropland or pasture, so there is little chance of the local farming families coming upon them by accident.

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After a fifth day of travel, the party arrives at the village on the far shore of the fjord from Rhoona

Tenmonth 3
(sixteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

After an uneventful night, the party wakens early. There is a long discussion of whether they should attempt to return to Rhoona or not. In the end, it is decided that it is too dangerous – they will almost certainly be immediately set upon by either the Ducal Guard, or the Cretians, or both. If they go, it will have to be either at night, or with all of them invisible. Still, they need information – they need to know what is going on in the city – how is the Duke, what is Draco doing, how close are they to war?

After breakfast it is decided that Thrud and Ember, who know the language, will be sent into the village on the north shore, invisible, to gather information. They should be able to find out most of what the party wants to know just by eavesdropping on conversations.

Thrud and Ember do some quick exploration of the village. The docks must have been active in the pre-dawn, but all the fishing boats are out now and there are just a few old men and women there repairing nets. The town dairy farmers are similarly mending tools – having gathered their summer hay, they milk all morning and then have little to do these fall afternoons. It is quickly apparent that the only place to gather information in the village will be in the taverns of inns, of which there are several.

Their first impression of the tavern is that it is huge for the few customers gathered. Ember soon realizes that it was built for the summer caravan trade but is beyond anything needed for local use. A few grizzled men cluster at the bar and sip their ale slowly as they talk, while the large public room sits empty and dark. Near the door are hung posters – reasonably accurate sketch drawings of Morgan and Thrud, less representative pictures of Ember, Poncherius, and Odleif. The sparse text declares them to be criminals and enemies of the state, and offers a large cash reward for information leading to their capture.

Behind the bar are posted copies of the Ducal Decrees. Four of them Ember recognizes – taxes must be paid in beer, horses must be ridden backwards, the declaration of war with the dwarves, and no fires after sundown. One, however, is unfamiliar. She checks the date – after their departure from Rhoona – and then reads the proclamation in its entirety:

“Whereas, the riders of Rhoona must be capable of great and heroic deeds in the imminent war,

and whereas, the condition of their steeds is of utmost importance to the success of the cavalry,

it is hereby decreed that all meat items in the town – to wit, beeves, sheeps, and fishes – shall be declared horse-feed!

Any human found to be consuming said meat, or feeding other than said meat to his steed, shall know the wrath of the Duke!

Such is the word of the Duke of Rhoona."

The mood in the tavern is pretty grim. The men talk about the approaching dwarven army, how long it will take to get to Rhoona, what will happen to the city if it does not immediately capitulate – whether the dwarves will merely loot it or will want to burn it as well, whether the father-flung communities like theirs will be spared. All of the men have kin in the city, and they discuss their plans to get them out. The timing is the tricky part. All of them have boats, or access to boats, but if they make their rescue attempt too soon, before the fighting begins, the Guard could confiscate their boats or even arrest them for sedition. There are rumors of more than one wealthy city merchant who even now sits in the Ducal Guard prison for trying to sneak their family out of the city – apparently Draco considers any public expression of concern about the coming assault to be treasonous. So it will be best to delay any rescue attempt until the fighting has actually begun and the Guard are occupied – but by then it may be too late, and how can they land their boats without being swarmed by refugees?

In each tavern they visit, the talk is the same, variations on this. But in the last one, there is a different angle to the conversation. There, a burly man with one eye claims that the Duke is dead – and has, in fact, been dead for weeks, since his last public appearance. The man says Draco Stormsailer has murdered the Duke and is issuing the decrees in his place. While there is some disagreement among the men in the tavern about this, a few support this man’s claim and even the ones who don’t agree have to admit that it is possible. Ember is chilled to think that the Duke may be dead, and has to keep reminding herself that they saw the Duke alive, and that after four of the proclamations had already been issued. She is curious about why the man is speaking ill of Draco though, and why the others are tolerating such talk. No one in the city dared speak that way. Is it a sign of the desperateness of the situation, or merely that this village is not under the thumb of the Guard?

Ember and Thrud stay until the afternoon, then return to the campsite to report on what they have learned. The situation is discussed over the campfire, long into the night, by everyone except FluffyKitten, who bores quickly and goes directly to bed. It is agreed that they need to arrange an exchange of the gem in return for Xanathon removing the curse on the Duke. Between a description of the shrine and the name of the spectre, it should be obvious to Xanathon that they have the gem. For as much trouble as he took to guard it, it must be very valuable to him. So most of them agree that negotiating a trade – gem for cure – is possible. The hard part will be arranging the transfer, since they can’t do that in town. Eventually, it is agreed that Ember and Thrud, still invisible, will board a boat on the morrow and attempt to reach Rhoona to send a message to the priest. Ember and Thrud retire early, with plans to take the middle watch.

Tenmonth 4
(seventeenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

At midnight, Morgan (who was on first watch), wakes Ember and Thrud. They watch over the camp until a few hours before dawn, then wake their replacements and walk into the village. They arrive before dawn, just as the fishermen are preparing their boats for the day. Most of the craft are small, with two or three men on hook and line, but there are a few larger trawlers. Ember chooses one of these – both to have less chance of them being discovered, and more chance that the boat will actually dock in Rhoona to sell its catch at day’s end.

They spend all day on the boat in the fjord, listening to the men and watching as they lower and raise nets, adjust the sails, row, gut fish, and gossip. They are only a few hours into the day when they learn that there are no plans to land in Rhoona. Over the last week, anyone that has docked in Rhoona has had their boat seized (“temporarily requisitioned for the extent of this brief conflict”) by the Guard. There have even been two attempts by the Guard to seize the ships of the village, but fortunately it is obvious when they are crossing the fjord and every seaworthy vessel in the village was long gone by the time they arrived. Apparently, the scouting forces of the Guard are crippled by the deaths and ill health of the meat-fed horses, so they have taken to using fishing vessels to patrol the fjord road, which is assumed to be the route the dwarven army will take to arrive at Rhoona. Other ships are being prepared to fight off an amphibious assault, should the dwarves try that, and still others have simply been impounded to prevent people from fleeing the city. All the fish that are caught today will be brought back to the village, as every day for the last week a Guard-approved vessel has arrived to take them to the city. So far, the prices have been fair, so the fishermen don’t complain much. They are worried that Draco will start paying less once it is clear that they can’t sell their fish on the open market any more. But then, they are more worried that in a few days’ time Rhoona will be burnt to the ground and the Rhoonese enslaved by the dwarves.

When the talk turns to the Duke, they have a different theory than the one-eyed man of the day before. All of the fishermen on this boat agree that the Duke is suffering from an inherited form of insanity that has afflicted his family for a century. This has never been publicly disclosed since the sickness has never before appeared so openly, but the oldest among them attest that the Duke’s father, once a great man, went mad at the end and had to be put away – and that was how the young Duke came to power! Now it seems it is his turn, but without an heir there was only Draco to take over from him.

Tired, queasy, and smelling of fish, Ember and Thrud leave the boat when it docks in the village in the afternoon and make their way back to the hidden camp. Morgan is frustrated that they were unable to deliver the message to Xanathon, but quickly sets to work devising another plan. Eventually they agree that Ember will write a message to the temple of Forsetta, asking them to deliver a second message to the temple of Cretia. The message to Xanathon will read “We have your soul gem, taken from the shrine at the mountain pass. Khan Khaquor sends his regards. If you want the gem back, bring the Duke with you to the third copse west of the village on the north shore. Come at noon tomorrow. Come alone. Remove your curse on the Duke and we will return the gem to you.” Ember, using Wolfbane’s inks, writes the letter by the light of the campfire, and then a second letter to the temple of Forsetta asking for its delivery. All that remains in the morning is to convince a fisherman to deliver it.

Tenmonth 5
(eighteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

Before dawn, Ember (now visible) goes down to the village. She has borrowed a robe from Wolfbane and bound her hair differently to look as little like her wanted poster as she can, and she wears her holy symbol inside her robes. Thrud, invisible, accompanies her. She finds a fisherman preparing to set out alone in a two-man boat with a step-down mast. Her initial offer of 5 gold coins is rebuffed, and the man nearly walks away – and then counters by asking for fifty gold.

“Fifty!” she asks incredulously.

“Oh, ya. Fifty would pay for my boat, should the Guard take it, and what’s more gives me an incentive not to turn you over to them for the reward.”

Put that way, Ember decides to accept – but specifies that it will be twenty-five now, twenty-five when the man returns with proof the message has been delivered. They shake on it, a packet is handed over, and the man sets out across the fjord.

While Ember returns to the camp, Thrud lingers invisibly in town to listen to rumors. All the talk is of the great dwarven army. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who actually saw it approaching along the fjord road. Depending on who is doing the telling, it is either hundreds or thousands strong, dwarves clad in bright plate armor glinting in the sun. Some versions have them pulling huge siege engines, others accompanied by hosts of crossbowmen mounted on mules. Everyone agrees that they are only a few days away.

What follows is a long, tense day of watching the boats on the fjord – followed by anxious excitement when the man is seen to be returning in the afternoon. Ember is dispatched to meet the man at the docks. He turns over a simple leather pouch, tied closed at the top with a fancy knot. When asked what is in the pouch, he shrugs and says he does not know – he was just told by the Forsettan priest to hand it over.

After working a bit on the knot, Ember finds no easy way to open it, so resorts to borrowing a cleaning knife from the man and slitting the bag open. Inside is a scrap of parchment and a small silver coin. The parchment reads, “Message delivered. Don’t trust Xanathon!” The coin is a mystery, but proof enough to warrant giving the fisherman the rest of his payment.

Back at the camp, the coin is discovered to be of Cyndician mint, which is even more of a puzzle – until Ember recognizes it as the coin Morgan took from her to give to Brother Eric is his disguise as a beggar [see Post 41].

Now there is nothing to do except prepare for meeting Xanathon at noon on the morrow!

View
Post 45 - What lies beneath
What lies beneath

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Ninmonth 26 (continued) – Afternoon?
(ninth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

The party proceeds down the dark staircase, to a lower level of the shrine to Cretia. The stairs are straight and even, the stonework old but not worn. At their bottom, the stairs open on to a large chamber (66). The room is lined in two rows with a series of statues of an Ethangarian warrior. The statues each traverse the ten feet from floor to ceiling. After a brief examination, Bhelgarn confirms that they do in fact serve as supporting columns, and the plain, unadorned granite was carved as one piece from the same rock that once filled this space (before the chamber was hollowed out). It is considerably cooler and damper here than the level above, and more than one of them is shivering as they adjust. Two corridors leave the chamber – the one to the left turns a corner of worked stone, but the one to the right seems to open on to a natural chamber with rough rock walls. Pooches sniffs the air and whines.

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A lower level to the shrine

The party takes the passageway to their right. Around the corner is a long stone hallway, and an open passageway to a chamber on their right. More of them then Pooches are now wrinkling their noses in disgust, for the smell of rotting flesh is coming from the side chamber. Bhelgarn sticks his sword in and has it generate the maximum amount of light. Twenty raised stone platforms line the walls of the chamber (67), ten to either side. Upon each platform lies a moldering corpse, laid out as if in a funery room or mausoleum but only recently dead. None of them care to enter, so they dim their lights and proceed, with some of them speculating that these are sacrifices to the ape-god.

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Twenty recently dead bodies, laid out on platforms

At the end of the hallway the corridor splits in a T-intersection, continuing forward to both their left and right, but also opens to their left. The large, irregularly-shaped chamber (71) has three statues in it; one in each of the alcoves at the southern end. The statue in the middle bears the hideous likeness of Cretia, while those to the sides are smaller, and have horns, claws, and wings. Ember believes they are representations of demonic servitors of the ape-god, but others in the party see a resemblance to the living stone statues they once fought in the pyramid. Regardless, they do not enter, but choose the passageway to the right.

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A statue of Cretia, with guardians?

The passageway to the right turns again, and enters a long colonnaded hall (72), similar to the entry chamber at the base of the stairs. As before, these statues traverse floor to ceiling and were carved from the living rock of the mountain. Unlike the previous room, where all of the statues were identical, each of these statues seems to depict a different warrior. Some bear scimitars, some spears, some bows, while some have reins in their hands. All are clearly martial figures.

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Another hall of statues

The party enters the room cautiously, many of them now remembering the living statues and suspicious that these may yet animate. From behind them a man hisses in Ethengari, and they turn to see a priest casting a spell, flanked by the two stone gargoyles from before. When the priest completes his spell, Poncherius, Pooches, and Thrud all struggle against the feeling that dark iron bands are binding their limbs but eventually free themselves. Ember, however, is held fast in the grip of the magic and cannot move. Eyes open, she remains all too aware of the ensuing fight.

Morgan casts a magic missile at the priest to suppress any further spell-casting until Wolfbane paralyzes him with her scepter. Bhelgarn flashes light from his sword, temporarily blinding both the gargoyles and Thrud. Together, Odleif and Fluffy strike at one gargoyle until it dis-animates, Bhelgarn slays the paralyzed priest, and Morgan brings down the other gargoyle with sword and spell.

It is over in but a moment. By the time they ascertain that Ember is alive, breathing slow and shallow, Pooches is whining pitifully. When he has their attention, and several of them have asked “What is it, boy?” he drops to the floor on his back, legs in the air.

“What the hells?” says Morgan, but Thrud nods.

“He’s playing dead, ya?” says the northman. “The dead are coming!”

Quickly, Wolfbane drops back to defend Ember, first casting invisibility on the priestess to hide her body and then shield on herself. The others drag the huge, stony corpses of the gargoyles across the entryway to the hall, so that anyone who tries to enter, living or dead, will have to climb over them. They then position themselves just beyond the bodies to strike at anyone attempting to cross.

From around the corner come low moans, and then the dead begin to shuffle into sight, almost certainly the ones they saw before laid out on pedestals. With their shambling gait they are indeed having a hard time walking over the gargoyles, and many of them fall and begin crawling forward. The party is set to receive them when Fluffy grows impatient and bounds over the nearest gargoyle and into the scrum. Blades flashing, she is making short work of the dead when Morgan curses and goes in after her.

With their attention focussed on the frontal assault, no one in the open chamber sees a second priest, leading another cohort of zombies, coming in the far entrance until it is too late. His initial spell is cast on Bhelgarn, Poncherius, Odleif, and Wolfbane, and this time it is Wolfbane, standing next to Ember, who is paralyzed. Even as Odleif and Poncherius turn and begin firing at him, a second spell from the priest sends Bhelgarn fleeing in terror, then cowering and whimpering behind one of the columns.

The second wave of zombies enters the room, splitting up to attack the party. Two in particular grab and bite at Wolfbane. Inwardly she screams but still cannot move. She is being being devoured alive, a fitting punishment for having herself killed the priest she paralyzed before. She is at the point of losing consciousness when Thrud barrels his way past the other dead to strike down the ones ripping into her flesh. Then she does black out, but the barbarian binds her wounds while the battle rages around them. Morgan and Fluffy finish off the first wave of zombies, struggle over the bodies of the gargoyles, then join their comrades facing the second wave. Morgan kills the priest, and one by one the dead are struck down until the only sound in the cold stone hall is the party gasping for breath.

The battle had been loud enough for anyone on this level to hear. After several moments go by and no reinforcements arrive, Morgan says that the party will camp here until Ember and Wolfbane recover. She directs the others in barricading both entrances with the stacked bodies of the dead, then completely blocks the way by means of one web spell each, anchored in the piles of bodies. Meanwhile, Thrud opens Wolfbane’s bindings one at a time, rinses her wounds with the wine from his cask (hoping the alcohol is strong enough to kill whatever diseases might have been carried within the rotting mouths of the dead), and then rebinds them carefully with fresh linens. Every so often he returns to Ember’s location just to verify that she is still there, albeit invisible. The others bring out bedrolls and make camp on the stone floor, while Fluffy takes out the pots and wistfully fills them with the last of their supplies.

[Note: after this evening meal, the party is without food, and Pooches was given only a half ration for the day. They have 20 skins of water remaining]

It is perhaps an hour and a half later when Ember gasps deeply and finally finds that she can move. Soon after that Wolfbane stirs as well, groaning and twitching, but remains unconscious. Morgan’s webs are still intact, and those on watch have not heard anything, nor has Pooches warned them of anything approaching, so Ember agrees that they should keep their campsite here until she can pray for spells.

By Bhelgarn’s internal count it is early evening when Ember rises and kneels in prayer, and another hour or so later when she finishes and then moves among the party, healing. Glöð’s Remedy restores Wolfbane to consciousness, and Ember distributes four heartmendings among the others.

Morgan, meanwhile, has restored her complement of offensive spells, but has taken read languages as well. By the flicker of candlelight she now examines the scroll she recovered from under the mattress of one of the priests. Her spell reveals it to be speak with animals. Her initial excitement fades when experimentation reveals that she cannot use it, since it is a clerical scroll, and Ember cannot use it, since it is written in Ethengari (and Morgan’s spell for reading languages affects herself, only). Nonetheless, she packs it carefully away, with an eye toward selling it later.

Despite Ember’s ministrations, many in the party are still battered or bloody, and most had already begun to sleep anyway. Ember and Morgan agree to maintain camp for another watch. Perhaps an hour later the webs sag, fade, and disappear, but Morgan does not bother to renew them – they have been resting some six hours by now with no signs of hostiles about.

Ninmonth 27
(tenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

Ember rises early in the new day and begins another round of prayers. She may not be able to hear the wisdom of Glöð, but even here in the bowels of this accursed shrine, her goddess has not forsaken her. When she has cast two Remedies and eight Orisons, she and Morgan agree that the party is ready to press on.

Yawning and stretching, the party clears a path out the western entrance, and proceeds deeper into the shrine.

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The party breaks camp

They have not gone far into the hall when Pooches scents something. This time his reaction is not to whine, but to growl, low and menacing. They proceed cautiously, to where the corridor splits, but both branches end in doors. The doors are of stout wood, thicker and more imposing than the other doors they have seen so far. They open out, with the hinges on this side, and a thick bar of wood as well – as if they were keeping something in.

Morgan approaches and listens, hearing deep, guttural grunts and heavy bodies moving about. While listening, she cannot help but smell as well – there is a strong animal-like musky smell clinging to the doors. Pooches’ hackles are raised, and no one in the party believes that whatever is beyond the doors should be freed, so they continue down the open hall.

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Halls with iron doors

The corridor splits again, but down each way are identical iron doors. These are even more strongly reinforced than the previous doors, having two iron rods each preventing them from opening out. After a bit of exploration, the party finds that flanking hallways contain another two identical doors.

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FOUR iron doors in all

The party hatches a complicated plan wherein they will bang on one of the doors, and then open the opposite one, catching whatever is inside off guard. After arranging and rearranging themselves, the entry team carefully and silently removes the bars from their door. When the distraction team bangs on the iron, it echoes throughout the lower level and the entry team goes to throw open their door – only to find it locked!

After a few moments of hurried conversation, Wolfbane’s key ring is found to have a key to these locks. The distraction team then sets up a loud banging, which covers the clicks of her turning the key and opening the door – on what turns out to be a single, empty room (74).

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The room finally revealed

Inside, the large, square room has a metal door set into the middle of each of its sides. A circular hole about 30 feet in diameter leads upward from the middle of the ceiling into the darkness above. The visible ceiling is 15 feet above the floor. Carefully searching the room, they find nothing, except some old and dried stains on the floor. Odlief wagers that these are blood, and notes that they are all on the part of the floor where the ceiling is not visible. The party is at first perplexed by the curious room and why it is so heavily fortified from without. Then Bhelgarn asks to see the maps. Looking at them both in turn, the upper and lower levels of the shrine, he says that this room is directly beneath the second statue of Cretia (the gold one).

Which means, they realize, that if the multicolored silk carpet was covering not floor, but this gaping hole, anyone who approached the statue would surely have fallen thirty feet or more onto this stone floor. And, once here, would have had no means of escape without help from above. A chill goes through them and they decide to leave – but they make sure that they leave one of the metal doors unlocked behind them.

The party proceeds around one of the corners, which turns again and ends in a door. As Morgan approaches it, a serpentine horror slithers out of a cave mouth to her left. The creature is red and green striped, and nearly twenty feet long from its snout to the wicked spine on the tip of its tail. She draws her sword and takes a step back, while the snake rears up, bringing its huge head level with her own. The snake’s eyes whirl with all the colors of the rainbow, and Morgan feels herself getting drowsy. Her sword tip droops for a second before she shakes her head to clear it. The snake hisses in frustration, and its tail darts forward, the spine knocking into Morgan’s armor.

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Trussst in me!

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A door…and a hypnosnake!

Morgan grimaces, then sinks her sword into the snake’s neck. From behind her, Thrud charges forward, burying his axe deep into the snake’s back. Fluffy darts past Morgan, dashing to the side of the snake and opening up a pair of vicious slits along its belly. From over Morgan’s shoulder, Ember hurls a ball of flame, striking the creature in its face. The bright flame mixes with the rainbow color of its huge eyes and it lashes about violently. Finally, it is still.

As Morgan cleans her blade, Thrud feels something stir in his backpack. Bemused, he calls for a halt as he takes it off and begins unpacking things. When he reaches the horn of Zargon he gasps and drops back. The horn now has six tiny tentacles at its base, each no thicker than a man’s finger and perhaps twice as long. As the party watches in horror, the horn uses its tentacles to pull itself forward, struggle free of the pack, and begin laboriously dragging itself across the stone floor. Thrud shudders and empties a sack, then uses the sack to pick up the horn without touching it. The tentacles writhe ineffectually in the air. Turning it over, he discovers a tiny mouth with six miniature teeth in the center of the tentacles. Thrud asks Odleif for a flask of lantern oil, then pours it slowly over the base of the horn, dowsing the tentacles and mouth. When a torch flame is set to it, the tentacles jerk, burst in a spray of ichor, then harden and shrivel. Thrud continues to apply the flame until all trace of the tentacles and mouth are burnt away, and only the horn remains. Ember notes with concern that the horn does not seem in the least affected by the flame – it is not cracked, charred, or even discolored – but remains its deeply polished black.

The party discusses what this portends in low tones as Thrud repacks. When he is ready, Morgan re-orders them and heads to the door. She opens it, sword drawn, but finds only a short corridor ending in another door.

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An empty hall

Looking at the floor, Morgan notes that it is considerably more dusty than every floor they have seen before. The priests and warriors apparently kept the rest of the shrine swept and tended, but have not come here in quite some time. At first she is discouraged – this cannot be where the real Xanathon is holed up. But then again, why have that magic snake guard this door if there is not something important beyond? She resolves to keep going.

Morgan proceeds to the next door and tries to open it, but it does not budge. She checks it – there is no lock, but it appears swollen and stuck from disuse. Sheathing her sword, she takes the handle in both hands, braces one foot on the wall, and heaves.

As the door is forced open, the party is immediately assailed by a terrible wailing, as if a thousand souls were crying in eternal torment. All of the party is affected, but Morgan, Pooches, and Poncherius most of all. They immediately retreat while the rest of the party braces themselves for attack from some unholy horror.

No attack comes, though, and the party sees only an empty room beyond. Morgan has forced herself to halt by the body of the snake – Pooches and Poncherius are by now around the far corner.

The party retreats and confers with Morgan. By now, she seems more sullen than scared. “Nay, nay, I’m alright,” she tells them. “I’m just not going into that accursed room.”

“Well, where should we go?”

“Oh, you all can keep going – with a guard and now a ward, what is beyond must be important – you’ll just have to do it without me.”

The rest of the party gathers up Pooches and Poncherius, and leads them back to Morgan, by which time she tells them that the three of them will keep guard of the party’s rear while they proceed. Odleif shrugs, then stoops to enter the cave mouth from whence the snake came, seeking a safe place for them to rest. Ember follows after him.

The cave (75) opens up into a large space, but the floor is littered with bones and shed skin. Odleif carefully shines his lantern over every surface of floor, concerned that there might be eggs or young about, and Ember notices a glint from the corner. Investigating, she finds a black iron mace inlaid with symbols of silver. It feels light in her hand, and perfectly balanced. Coming out of the cave, she passes her own mace to Thrud while she carries the new one.

Morgan, Pooches, and Poncherius enter the cave, and clear a place to sit. Pooches worries at a bone.

The smaller party reassembles in the hall, led by Ember. She takes them to the threshold of the wailing room (76), but has them wait while she enters. It is cold in the room, and she shivers but proceeds. Closing her eyes, she tries to open her mind’s eye, sense whether there is still an evil presence here, but feels nothing. Perhaps it was just a magical trap. She chants and calls upon Glöð to bless this place, and release any souls that are trapped here in undeath. Finally she calls for the party to enter.

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The lair of the snake, and the wailing room

Ember opens the next door, to a corridor that is colder still. Dust swirls in eddies on the floor at the opening of the door.

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Another empty hall

By this point, Morgan’s heart has stopped pounding in her chest, and she can actually see beyond the pinpricks her pupils had been. She sighs and stands. “Poncherius, you ready?” she asks. The man doesn’t answer, but his ferret-mask nods slowly. “Pooches?” The dog continues to work at his bone. “Pooches!” she commands. He yelps as if he has been kicked, and pivots to turn his back to her. Morgan supposes she can’t blame the dog for not doing something she was unwilling to herself a few minutes ago. “Fine, mutt,” she says. “But you have to guard our backs.” The dog barks his agreement.

Morgan and Poncherius proceed gingerly through the wailing room, then join the rest of the party who are standing in front of the next door. They give way to allow Morgan to the front but she waves them off. “No, no,” she says, “It’s good practice for you. Let’s see how you do.”

Thrud opens the door. The room is dark, and empty except for a single figure that lurches forward. At first they take it for another zombie, due to its obvious wounds, but it is moving far too fast and as it approaches they realize it is emanating an aura of icy cold.

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The wight

Thrud steps into the room and knocks it back with a massive blow of his axe. It stumbles, then falls on its back. As it struggles to rise, Odleif runs forward and buries his sword in its chest – its struggles cease.

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Tomb of the barrow-wight

Ember stands over the corpse. Even now, she can feel the presence of the evil spirit, seeking to re-enter the body – any body. She says a prayer to Glöð and forces the spirit to move on, then shudders. It was powerful – as powerful as any undead they have faced, equivalent to the spirit that had inhabited the body of Queen Zenobia – a barrow-wight. This wight, though, did not have a queen’s burial chamber to haunt – just an empty room of stone.

“Well done,” says Morgan, entering the room. She looks about. “No treasure, but another door – that thing was another guard. Whatever is behind that door, Xanathon does not want us to find, that much is certain.” She throws open the far door, but finds only a small hall or antechamber, barely ten feet square.

She makes for the next door, but as she approaches it, gives pause. It is not cold – that effect seemed to be generated by the wight. But she feels a very real sense of dread, a foreboding about this last door. She turns to order the party into position, but finds that her throat has gone dry. She struggles to swallow, then arranges people in their positions, and finally opens the door.

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The room of the gem

This chamber is lit with a pulsating, eerie light that seems to be emanating from a giant gem. The gem is on a chain looped over a huge stone throne, and seated in this throne is a shadowy image of pure evil. It rises with with menacing slowness…

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The chamber is filled with riches. Many coins lie along the sides of the vault, and several leather items and bottles are also visible. Ignoring these, the first rank of the party (Thrud and Odleif) enters the room, giving way for the second rank (Morgan and Ember). When Ember sees the figure she gives a wheeze as if the air had been knocked from her. With shaking hands she holds aloft her symbol of Glöð and tries to banish to foul being.

A soundless, mocking laugh hangs heavily in the air. Wordlessly, and yet heard in every mind, the spectre intones, “Fine, priestess, you will be the first to fall…” The form drifts from the throne toward them, its feet not touching the floor.

Aldri!” bellows Thrud, and he runs forward to interpose himself between the spectre and Ember. It strikes at him but he dodges, then returns to his position guarding the priestess.

Morgan shoots a magic missile at the gem, knocking it back, so that it clatters against the stone throne, still tethered by its golden chain. Odleif leaps forward with his boots, swings his sword at the spectre but misses, then leaps back away out of its reach before it can turn on him.

Du vil aldri skade henne, sjofel skapning! Ikke mens det er pust i kroppen min!” shouts Thrud, and slices through the form of the spectre with his axe. He meets little more resistance than cutting through smoke, but there is a sound like the tearing of paper.

“Well, then we will just have to remedy that,” says the spectre wordlessly. It lunges suddenly at Thrud, and it is only just in time that he brings his axe up between them.

Morgan shoots another magic missile, this one at the spectre, and sees its form waver as the bolt impacts. While it faces off against Thrud, Bhelgarn and Odleif flank it, and Odleif lands a hit with his sword.

“Mrrraaaagggh!” it curses soundlessly, and reaches forward, grabbing Thrud by his throat with an insubstantial hand. The barbarian’s body goes taut, and all color drains from his face. Forcing his limbs to work by sheer will, Thrud brings his axe up and cleaves down through the form of the spectre, dissipating it into thin air. A second later his axe clatters to the stone floor, and he collapses.

[Note: Thrud has been drained of 17,121 xp and has gone from Level 5 to Level 3].

Ember rushes to Thrud’s side, trying to minister to him, but aside from black, necrotic frostbite on his throat, his wounds seem more spiritual than physical. Bhelgarn approaches the throne and lifts the gem by its chain, being careful not to touch the gemstone itself. It is the largest diamond he has ever seen. As he peers into its faceted depths, he feels dizzy and his knees go weak. Just before he collapses, he spots an image – there is a body floating in the depths of the gem – an old but powerful bald man – Xanathon! He closes his eyes, sets the gem down, and swoons.

Ember helps Thrud to the edge of the room, so that he can sit with his back supported by the wall. His face is pale and he is trembling. She remembers when Remmy was drained of his life force by the wight in the pyramid. This seems similar, but even stronger. Remmy’s loss was due to his greed, and she did not shed a tear for him, but Thrud’s downfall was caused by his bravery and loyalty and Ember finds herself openly weeping. She knows what has happened to him is beyond her power to cure.

Once Bhelgarn recovers his balance, he sets the gem carefully in a crook of the stone throne and draws his magic sword. He brings the blade of his sword down with all his might on the gem. Sparks fly, his blade is turned, and it cuts a deep nick into the stone – but the gem is untouched.

Odleif turns his lantern up to a full wick and sets it on the floor as he looks about the room. There is a large leather sack amidst the piles of coins and this strikes him as odd. Even more striking, the bag is as supple as if freshly tanned, without a hint of mold or dry-rot, despite lying in the dark for who knows how many years. He shakes it, but nothing falls out. He sticks his hand in…and cannot find the bottom. He gets Bhelgarn to hold his lantern up while he opens the neck of the sack with both hands. Peering inside, it looks like the bag goes down ten feet or so, and is some fifteen or twenty times larger on inside than it is on the outside! Odleif and Bhelgarn grin foolishly at one another in the lantern light. Morgan comes over to the pair and, when she realizes what is going on, tells everyone to start sorting the treasure.

Ember leaves Thrud reclining against the wall, but ignores Morgan’s command. She approaches the throne and squares off against the gem. She had prayed for a new spell earlier, Gutter, Flicker, and Flare, assuming that they would be facing Xanathon or at least other evil priests, but perhaps she can use it against the gem. She casts the spell at the gem…and it is as unaffected as it was previously by Bhelgarn’s sword and Morgan’s magic missile. Ember sighs ruefully. Whatever magic it has, it is a permanent effect, and beyond the power of her spell.

In ten minutes, the party has sorted all of the treasure. There are hundreds of platinum pieces, thousands of gold, tens of thousands of silver coins, and they have been heaped into neat piles. There are more than a score of gems, large and small. There is a pair of boots, their leather in as fine a state as that of the bag, a ring, and two flasks of brightly colored liquid.

Morgan takes the two potion flasks.

Wolfbane tries on the ring. After concentrating on it, she is sure that it is a ring of spell turning – any spells cast at her will automatically be reflected back at the caster! The party agrees that she should keep it, though Ember cautions her to remove it before she asks for healing.

Bhelgarn tries on the boots, which fit him very well. He tries running, jumping, lifting things, all to no effect. The party notes that anything he does, however, is nearly soundless. Since he is more than content with his own boots of speed, the party decides that these boots should go to Thrud. The barbarian waves his acquiescence disinterestedly.

The gems are given to Ember to hold as party treasure.

At that point, the party begins filling the bag with coins – first the platinum, then the gold, then the silver. The bag seems not only larger on the inside, but to be affected only minimally by the weight of what is put inside as well. Far more than half the silver has been put in when it is finally full, but there are still several thousand silver coins left over.

After this, the party falls to debating. Morgan was sure that they would find the real Xanathon in the shrine, and be able to slay him. She had been quite looking forward to carrying his head back to Rhoona. Now, she is not so sure. What is the meaning of the image of him in the gem, and why was it protected so fiercely? Does his real body perhaps lie entombed in the shrine somewhere they have not been? They have recovered the gem, which is of obvious importance, but what do they do with it, and what do they do now?

Wolfbane says that while the gem may appear indestructible, nothing is truly indestructible – at least nothing made by mortals. Magic always comes at a price, and the more protected an item is, the more vulnerable it must be to a certain thing – the toll of a bell, the laughter of a child, the eyelash of a giant. The trick is figuring out to what the gem is vulnerable without a clue in a world of possibilities.

The conversation has gone around a few times, but still nothing has been resolved. Ember asks for time to rest and pray. She will call on Glöð for guidance. Up till now she has not received anything other than spells, but perhaps with the spectre dispelled and the gem in her possession, she will be able to make contact with her goddess. Morgan agrees to the rest, but none of them wish to remain in this room, and then they remember that Pooches is still in the snake cave.

Leaving the empty throne and the extra silver coins behind them, the party retreats back to the hallway and a relieved Pooches. The snake cave is a bit cramped for all of them, but there is still a hallway down which they have not been.

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A natural cavern

The hallway opens into a large, apparently empty cave (69). Much moisture is present here, dripping down the walls and collecting in shallow pools on the floor. To the right, a narrow passageway ends in a large stone door, without a handle or hinges, as if it was made to block the way rather than provide access. To the left, twin tunnels disappear into the darkness. There is enough space on the cavern floor, near the hallway where it is still dry, for the party to spread out, and Ember nods her agreement that she can rest and pray here. No one seems interested in investigating the tunnels, and Morgan does not force the issue. The party takes out their bedrolls and a watch is set.

Several hours into a fitful dozing, frequently disturbed by Thrud moaning in his sleep, Morgan finds herself shaken fully awake. Fluffy is tugging at her elbow. “What is it?” she asks suspiciously, looking about at the quietly resting party.

“I iz hungary,” complains Fluffy.

“We all are, but we are out of supplies. You know that. We’ll get food when we return to the first level. Be quiet and let Ember rest.”

“Snicky-snake?” asks the halfling brightly. “I can make snicky-snake snacks?”

Morgan considers. She has eaten snake a few times, herself – generally timber rattler, and has no objection to it. But the snake they killed was obviously magical, and more than likely cursed. She doesn’t need the party all tucking in to it and then being hypnotized by the end of the meal. She mentally goes over what they have killed in the shrine besides the snake – people (no), the dead (shudder), living statues (probably inedible). “No Fluffy, no snake snacks. Have something to drink, fill your stomach with water, and go back to sleep. We’ll eat when we get upstairs.”

As the halfling turns away petulantly and drinks from a waterskin, Morgan looks at the small pile of skins in the center of their camp. By the time they break camp, she estimates, they will be down to nine skins, more or less – not a half-day’s worth for a group their size. She remembers the barrel in the kitchen above, but doubts that will be enough to get them the day and a half out of the mountains to the last stream they crossed on their way here. She keeps that thought to herself.

It is dawn, more or less, by Bhelgarn’s estimate, when Ember rises from her rest. Her eyes are sunken and she looks more tired than before. Glumly, she reports to the party that she tried for hours to reach her goddess – but that every time she got close, the words of Glöð were drowned out by the thunderous hoofbeats of hundreds of horses and the savage cries of apes. She has no guidance for them – not what to do next, nor what to do with the gem.

“But I do,” says Thrud resolutely. Everyone turns to him. He is still pale, but no longer trembling or distant. “I have dreamed a powerful dream. That abomination we destroyed was the spirit of a great Ethangari Khan, held in servitude to Xanathon. He was forced to guard the gem, for the gem contains Xanathon’s soul. If we bring the gem to Xanathon, we will be able to harm him.”

“That may be, valiant Thrud,” Ember says. “But when one is contacted by spirits, one must never trust them. We are in an evil shrine, surrounded by evil dead. It may be that your dream was true, but we cannot know for sure.”

“True or not,” says Morgan, “It is our only lead. And whether it makes him vulnerable or not, we know Xanathon is going to want his gem back. We have something he wants, and he has something we want. It’s high time we headed back to Rhoona.”

The party remains in the cavern just long enough for Ember, Wolfbane, and Morgan to recover a full complement of spells, and then breaks camp. Before they head back to the stairs, however, Morgan insists they first investigate at least one of the tunnels. They proceed to the closer of the two, which opens on a small cave (69a) with a strange wooden frame mounted in it.

Cautious of magic, they approach carefully, but find it is just twin supports holding an axle, about which a rope is wound. There is a hand crank on one end of the axle, and a hole in the ground goes down twenty feet to where a bucket, tied to the rope, hangs just below the surface of water.

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A natural well

They bring up the first bucket, and find the water to be cold, clear, and refreshing. Morgan calls for a watch while they take their time filling all of their water skins, and drinking, and filling them again.

More relieved than she lets on, Morgan then leads them back to the stairs.

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Post 44 - A Shrine to a Foreign God
A Shrine to a Foreign God

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With the growing darkness of the evening behind them and the yawning darkness of the cave before them, the party cautiously enters the mouth. Morgan’s infravision sees that the tunnel opens up into a larger chamber, but she does not note any sources of heat.

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The cave mouth beckons

Odleif lights his lantern, opens the front shutter, and shines the beam into the space ahead. Somewhere inside the rough, natural walls of the cave have given way to smooth, worked stone. The circular room before them has a statue of the grotesque Cretia in its center. Two greenish gems glitter in the statue’s eye sockets. The entire floor of the room is covered with a foot high layer of grass.

From somewhere deep within the shrine comes a disquieting, throbbing, chanting – or so some in the party maintain. Others claim it is merely a trick of the wind in the cave mouth. The sound does not seem particularly louder down any of the three exits from the chamber, so Morgan elects to lead them north – but first, she takes an empty gear sack, crosses the grass, climbs the pedestal of the statue, and covers the head of the foreign god. Even she does not want the eyes of that god staring at their backs.

The first door they come to is of stout wood, and has an iron-plate lock set in it. Morgan ushers Poncherius to the front, and he examines the lock, then shrugs. “No…tools,” he says in halting Common, and Bhelgarn smiles with satisfaction. The next door is the same, and the next.

The corridor continues past the door, running deeper into the mountain than Odleif’s lantern light can penetrate. Morgan doesn’t want to go that deep into the shrine without first knowing what is behind them, so they head back to the entry chamber. This time Morgan watches their rear while Thrud and Odleif take the lead.

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To the north, a series of doors are all locked

The next circular chamber (64) is the same size as the first, and also has a statue of Cretia. This statue, however, is cast from solid gold and two fist-sized emeralds glitter from its eyes. Instead of grass, a circular rug, 30 feet in diameter, surrounds the statue. The rug is made of bright silk, and has been woven with a mosaic pattern in reds, golds, and black. A ring of the stone floor, 10 feet wide, circles the outer wall of the room. Thrud and Odleif walk completely around the room, but do not approach the statue.

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A second chamber…and a second statue of the god Cretia

Ember does not know anything about the god Cretia, or the religion of the Ethangari, but the motif of successively more holy sanctums as one goes deeper into the shrine seems clear and universal. The room has but one other exit, though, and it leads to the right, not further back into the mountain.

Following the corridor leaving the room, they round a corner and come back toward the mountain face. There is a door to their right, and the corridor continues beyond.

They try the door, and find this one unlocked. It goes down a short hallway, and then opens into a small chamber, heavy with the scent of wood smoke. There is a sack of grain, a quern, and a recently-used griddle, with a small stack of wood near-by. There is an oven and a stew cauldron, and a few assorted pots and pans hanging from iron spikes driven into the stone walls. The ceiling above the fire pit is black with soot, but a fissure in the rock hints at a possible natural flue. There is a barrel half-full of water and a ladle, but no obvious source of the water itself.

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A kitchen, and a hallway with doors

There is little else of interest in the room (63), but on a wooden shelf there are several brown woolen robes. Morgan puts one on, slipping it over her armor, but Ember shakes her head and no one else in the party dares. Morgan tells them to mark the room well, as it seems a defensible spot should they need to retreat and rest at some point.

Emerging back into the hallway, they proceed. The corridor splits, with one branch returning to the entry chamber and the other ending, but having three wooden doors along its length. Listening at the first door, they hear the voices of men engaged in casual conversation, but when they try the door, they find it barred from the inside. Immediately the men’s voices rise in alarm, and they begin shouting. A few seconds later the other doors open, men’s heads dart out and assess the situation, and the doors are rapidly closed again. More shouting, room to room, ensues, but it is all in Ethengari. The unmistakable sounds of metal-on-metal, of men arming and armoring, are heard. The party withdraws to the end of the corridor. Wolfbane casts her shield spell, preparing for the inevitable combat.

After many tense minutes, there is a commanding shout, and all three doors open at once. Fifteen men pour into the corridor, screaming zealous cries. The first three, from the nearest room, are clad in plate and shield, while the dozen at their back are in chain. All of the men have swords. The men in the lead charge Morgan, ignoring the rest of the party, who are arranged along both branches of the forking corridor.

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The guardians of the shrine pour into the hall. To the left wait Odleif, Thrud, Ember, and Pooches – to the right, Morgan, Bhelgarn, Wolfbane, Poncherius, and Fluffy

Morgan is knocked back by the charge and has taken a few blows when Wolfbane fills the hallway with webs. She manages to ensnare the first three temple guards, the ones in plate, but Morgan and Pooches are caught up in the sticky strands as well and held immobile. As the men struggle in their bindings, just inches from Morgan but unable to reach her, they hurl curses at her in Ethengari. The webs completely block the corridor, so that the dozen men behind their leaders can do nothing for the time being.

Wolfbane and Fluffy, in the northern branch, draw their daggers and begin to cut Morgan out of the webs. Bhelgarn, nearby, is stuffing rags and stray bits of web into the tops of his oil flasks. In the eastern branch, Odleif tosses his boot knife to Ember, and the priestess tries to free Pooches without cutting the dog, who is struggling desperately and barking incessantly.

Poncherius, on guard at the rear of those in the northern branch, calls out “Scary people!” Bhelgarn looks up from his work and sees two men in robes crossing the open chamber with the statue. The dwarf drops his flasks, activates his boots, draws his sword, and charges the men, with Fluffy right behind him.

Ember succeeds in freeing Pooches from the webs and now turns her attention to Morgan, who is hurling curses in elven back at the temple guards. Wolfbane seizes one of the flasks dropped by Bhelgarn and throws it into the webs, only belatedly realizing that there is no source of fire at the moment. Odleif has the same idea, and is just about to toss his unlit lantern underhand into the webs at the base of the still-bound men, when he trips over Pooches, who is now leaping about the hallway in his excitement at being free. Odleif’s lantern crashes to the floor, spilling a large pool of oil in a big slick.

Ember cuts the last of the webs away from Morgan, and pulls her into the northern corridor, touching her breastplate briefly while whispering “Hjerte bedringens vei.”

As Bhelgarn crosses the chamber to attack the robed men, he hears a rumble. From beside him the statue of Cretia animates and strides across the grass. As he turns to look he sees the statue surrounded by a fiery glow and realizes it is not the statue, it is the god Cretia incarnate – arrived from hell to smite him, and carry his soul back to the pits! As the tunnels collapse and all his friends are buried in the rubble, Bhelgarn screams in panic, turns and dashes out of the shrine into the darkness of the night.

From her perch standing high atop the statue’s shoulders, Fluffy sees the Cretian priest cast a spell on Bhelgarn, sees the dwarf’s face twist in terror before he bolts away. The priest laughs wickedly. Fuffy stamps her foot angrily. “Stabby staaaaaab!” she shouts, leaping through the air and coming down with both daggers on the man who just scared her dwarf. Wolfbane shoots a ray from Zenobia’s scepter, paralyzing the other priest.

Morgan is at the edge of the webs, readying her sword to strike at the struggling guards, but Ember tells her to back away. Touching her thumbs together, Ember spreads her hands open, and a flame shoots from each digit in a wide arc in front of her. The temple guards scream as the flames hit them, then again as the webs around them catch, and burning, sticky strands fall across their bodies. Finally the burning webs collapse, dropping them onto the oil-soaked and now flaming floor. A second later the oil flask thrown by Wolfbane drops to the ground and explodes, splashing both the men and Ember with burning oil. The dozen guards who, moments before, had been pressed up tight against their entangled brothers, now back away from the conflagration.

Poncherius sees Bhelgarn disappear out the mouth of the cave. He retreats and grabs at Ember. “Kahina,” he says urgently, “Bhelgarn!” Ember turns away from the flames and the screams of the dying men and sees Fluffy and Wolfbane fighting the two priests, with no sign of the dwarf. She takes off down the hall, with Thrud just behind her.

Morgan stands with her sword at guard, warily watching the men waiting for the flames to die down so they can charge her. “Really, people?” she says, mostly to herself. “It takes six of you to fight two priests, but I get a dozen swordsmen by myself?” Behind her, she hears the creak of Odlief’s bow being drawn. ‘At least I have the woodsman and the dog,’ she muses to herself. ‘Now I just need a scarecrow and a lion and I’ll be unstoppable.’ To buy herself some time, she quickly sheathes her sword, then shoots her own webs over the flames and farther down the corridor.

Bhelgarn runs at double speed down the trail, then trips and screams again as the chasm rises up to swallow him. Shaking and sweating, he crawls gingerly along. Pebbles disturbed by him skitter and bounce off the trail edge down the side of the cliff face. Poncherius runs after him, calling, but Bhelgharn hears only the sound of Cretia screaming for his soul. Ember stands at the mouth of the cave, eyes straining into the darkness. Stars are out, but there is no moon to light the trail.

Fluffy takes down the priest she is fighting with, and Wolfbane stares at the paralyzed man in front of her. From down the hall, Odleif is calling for back-up. Outside, Poncherius is calling after Bhelgarn, and Ember has disappeared. With the combat still raging, she doesn’t have time to tie this man up – but how long will his paralysis last? Should she kill him now and be done with it? She imagines if she were him – is he conscious? Can he see her? Will he feel the blade? Odleif calls again, and Wolfbane gasps, draws her dagger, and sinks it into the neck of the priest, above his metal collar. He makes no sound, but blood spurts from the wound, staining her dagger and hand.

As the flames reach her new web, Morgan casts another, this time capturing five of the guards. By the time the fire has burned through the webs and men, there are only a half-dozen guards remaining, against her, Odleif, and Thrud.

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As the battle rages in the hall outside the guard quarters, Wolfbane and Fluffy stand over the body of the paralyzed priest

It seems the more-experienced men were in front, and they clear the back ranks quickly. Sweating, crouching in the hallway to avoid the thick smoke, it seems the battle is over.

Poncherius, on two legs, finally catches up to Bhelgarn on all fours. He dives on the dwarf, grabs and holds him tightly. Bhelgharn struggles feebly, but mostly screams. Eventually his screams fade into sobs, and then, a few minutes later, he tells Poncherius he is alright now, he can let go.

By the time everyone is back in the corridor, the bodies of the priests and guards have been searched. Wolfbane has taken a heavy ring of iron keys from the priest she killed. Morgan has gone through the gear of the guards. The arms and armor are of fair quality, not exceptional, and now much of it has been marred by fire. One shield, however, borne by one of the trio from the first room, feels light to her touch. She raps it against the floor to test its strength, and at once the blood and soot fly off it as if she had plunged it into water. It now shines bright as if just polished.

When Ember is done healing them, Morgan included, Morgan presents her with the shield.

The doors are no longer bolted from the inside. The first room (62c) contains three beds, a table, and three comfortable chairs. On the table are spread dice and a few hundred coins, in gold, electrum, and silver. Thrud sweeps all of these into a bag while the others search the room. There is little of interest; clothing in small footlockers, whetstones, rags, sand, and oil.

The other two rooms (62a, 62b) contain six bunkbeds each, six chairs, and a table. The furnishings are of lesser quality than the first room, but serviceable. There are coins and dice on those tables as well, and these go into Thrud’s sack. Several of the mattresses (of straw-stuffed cotton) are moved into the first room, and then the party takes some time to move the seventeen bodies of the guards and priests into the last room. They set up camp in the first room, resting both for the evening, and for Ember to recover her healing spells.

Bhelgarn is unwounded and has infravision – he takes first watch in the hallway outside the room, after Wolfbane has cast invisibility on him.

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The party camps in the quarters of the temple guards

[DM’s note: At day’s end: 54 skins, 8 food rations.]

Ninmonth 26
(ninth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

Ember’s sleep is troubled by disturbing dreams. When she wakes in what she takes to be, with no external references, the middle of the night, she feels physically rested but emotionally drained. There are candles aplenty in the room and she lights one to meditate on the flame, spending an hour and a half in prayer. She feels the presence of her goddess, even in this cursed place, and she receives the spells for which she petitions – but they come as if from a long way off, and arrive without the guidance and encouragement to which she is accustomed. When she is done, she spreads the resulting eight orisons and two remedies among the most needy of the party.

Some four or five hours later the party begins to stir. Ember’s second rest has been as troubled as her first. She has received spells, though with equal effort as before. Those on watch confirm that while the torches in the hallways have long since burnt out, the statue chamber is dimly lit with the natural light of a new day. As breakfast is prepared, they take stock of their supplies – enough water for a day and a half, but their food will be gone with the evening meal. Morgan is hopeful that they will find food stores as they press on in the shrine today. She takes it as a good sign that there were no encounters in the night – they may have eliminated all of the guards in the shrine, or those that remain may be holed up with the “real Xanathon”, preparing for the final confrontation. In any event, there are apparently none patrolling, for it has been ten hours or more since their last fight and no one has seen or heard anything.

After Ember has used her full complement of spells they set out.

Moving north, they stop at the first locked door, where Wolfbane tries the ring of keys she recovered from the priest, and quickly finds one that fits the lock. Inside, (57a) the walls of the room are lined with huge bins that take up most of the floor space, allowing only a small area on which they may walk between them. The bins are filled, floor to ceiling, with yellow grain – months, perhaps years, of food for a small group like theirs. They immediately feel better about their supply situation. It is dry and dusty in the storage room, and they leave after a cursory inspection, before anyone can start sneezing.

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The grain room

The next room (57b) opens to the same key. It is much the same, but only a third of the bins have grain in them, and even these are but half full. The party spends even less time here.

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A second grain room, this one not full

The third room requires a different key, but Wolfbane does locate it on the ring. In this room (58), several dozen small casks are stored on a series of racks around the walls. They count 48 casks in all. Thrud hefts a cask down from the rack and sets it on the floor – Morgan removes the stopper from the bunghole. She sniffs at it and says that it is wine. A rather common grade, but, as she says, “any port in a storm.” The casks are small enough that Thrud can heft one on his shoulder, so after Morgan has replaced the stopper he takes it with them when they leave. He is slow carrying it, but no slower than Morgan in her plate armor.

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The wine cask room

They set off down the unexplored corridor, using Bhelgarn’s sword to light their way. They soon arrive at a four way intersection. Their light shows that the northern branch turns a corner – while the other two branches disappear into darkness. They go down the short corridor, which turns into a locked door. As Wolfbane tries various keys, a fruity scent becomes noticeable. Inside the room (59) are several large tubs, two huge, tightly lidded vats, and a cluttered workbench. A sickly sweet odor fills the air. The tubs hold squashed grapes, and are the source of the odor; while the vats contain liquid in more advanced stages of fermentation. On the bench are a number of piles of herbs and some large bottles of liquids, ranging from a thick, blue syrup, to a watery reddish brew. The party is uninterested and retreats to the intersection.

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The distillery

They next try the long corridor to the south. A branch to the left leads to two doors. Although these have locks, they are not locked at the moment. In fact, their doors both stand open. The rooms are furnished simply and identically – each with two beds, a desk, a table, two chairs, and a small, stone statue of Cretia on the desk. The desks hold a few pieces of blank parchment, some old quills, and nearly empty bottles of ink. Under the mattress of one of the beds, Morgan does find a bone scroll tube, but the scroll inside is written in Ethengari.

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Bedchambers of the priests

“Four beds,” says Morgan. “And we killed just two priests.”

“They may be away from the shrine at the moment,” suggests Ember.

“They may. Or they may be waiting with Xanathon deeper within. Let’s keep going.”

They round the corner, which ends in an unlocked door. When the door is opened, there is a moment of confusion, for behind it is a bare stone wall, as if the door frame was simply set into a small recess in the stone designed to hold it, and nothing more. But before this can register, there is a resounding clang as an iron portcullis crashes to the ground behind them. A few in the back ranks are able to leap out of the way, but poor Pooches is pinned to the stone floor under the portcullis, and commences to whine piteously. It takes Morgan, Thrud, and Odleif, working both sides of the portcullis together, to be able to lift it and free the dog.

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A false door and a portcullis trap!

Once the portcullis is lifted, it takes only one of them to hold it up. Morgan remains in the hallway, taking the weight of the heavy iron gate on her shoulders. She tells Oldeif and Poncherius to investigate the false door for any winch or locking mechanism, while she sends the others back to the bedrooms for a bed frame with which to brace it. While she is waiting, Morgan notices something odd about the wall next to her. When the others return, and the portcullis is propped up with a heavy wooden bed frame and two chairs, she explores the wall by feel, and eventually finds the mechanism to trigger a secret door.

The narrow chamber beyond is completely bare. Morgan does not understand its purpose until she sees tiny holes in the wall. Not even as wide as arrow slits, they are just large enough to act as peep holes on to the corridor. So that, she concludes, whoever was in this chamber could spy on those trapped by the portcullis? Spy…and, she realizes, cast spells. But how would they get here to begin with? Some more searching reveals a second secret door – this one opening into the bedchamber.

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The clever extent of the trap is revealed

With only one way deeper into the shrine, the party lines up at the intersection, but Morgan hesitates. “We may have cleared out the active defenders,” she muses, “but who knows how many more traps they have?” She organizes them along the hallway. The lead pair searches for traps as they go – probing with poles, and checking the walls, floor, and ceiling. Once they have advanced far enough so that they are spaced along an 80 foot section of the hall (including having just turned a corner (69a)), with ten feet or so between them, they each spend ten minutes checking their area for secret doors. Finding nothing, they advance another 80 feet and try again. By the time they have advanced a third 80 feet and turned a second corner, a four-way intersection and deeper recesses of the shrine lie ahead and Morgan calls them back into marching order.

What follows next begins as odd, progresses through eerie, and ends with some of them in dread. Taking the north branch, they find two bedrooms, similarly furnished to those of the priests, but one with no chairs and just a mattress on the floor in place of one bed. Rounding the corner beyond, they find a portcullis propped up with a bed frame and two chairs.

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The cornered corridor leads to a parallel world?

At this point it is obvious that they are in some sort of reverse-image of where they were before. To test this, they go to the wine room and find that it is, indeed, missing one cask. Cooler heads think that they have just been turned around or disoriented. Fluffy seems more bored than concerned. Ember grins, tight-lipped, when anyone looks her way, but to herself mumbles “magic mirror…we are trapped in a magic mirror…”

When there is no doubt but that they are still in the shrine they were before, Morgan leads them back, back around the cornered corridor…and into the same hallways as before. Trying to calm the increasingly spooked group, she tells them that they will rest for a bit in the bedrooms of the priests. This is merely a work of magical trickery, and they will have to think their way past it. She will prepare Read Languages, in case the scroll she found offers some clue to defeat the trap, or perhaps they can find some glyphs or runes on the walls of the enchanted corridor, and Ember will pray for Sense Magic, in the hope that she can find the source of the effect or a way around it.

Midway through their four-hour rest, grumbling stomachs call for their mid-day meal, and they even get to eat it “at table”. They all note their dwindling supplies of food and water. Thrud shares his wine cask liberally with his companions, but Morgan is not in the mood to partake. Fluffy tries to feel her forehead for fever until Morgan swats the halfling away.

Morgan is still pouring over her spellbook when Ember announces that she is ready. She removes a long-unseen and carefully-guarded piece of chalk from her pack, and takes Pooches and Poncherius with her – one for his eyes, and one for his nose, she says. Once out of the bedrooms and away from the lantern light, Ember calls forth the a flame from her essence in her palm. She hopes that by the light of her goddess she may be able to see something that was hidden before.

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Ember burns her own essence to light the way

Ember chants her orison of sense magic and starts off down the hallway, Pooches and Poncherius following her closely. As she approaches the corner, she can definitely feel the tingling of an enchantment. The feeling mounts and mounts until she turns the corner, then begins to lessen. She turns back to mark a note on the wall with her chalk – and sees that Pooches and Poncherius are no longer behind her – in fact, they are nowhere to be seen in the hallway!

Poncherius and Pooches follow the priestess a few steps behind, the flickering light from her palm just enough to keep Poncherius’ eyes from truly adjusting to the dark. She rounds the corner in front of them – and her light goes out! Poncherius dashes around the corner, but she is not there. Pooches, feeling the anxiety of his companion, sniffs the ground, circles a few times, then begins to bark in alarm.

Ember moves back and forth in the area of the corner, still sensing the magic but unsure of its source. Down the hallway in front of her, she can hear Pooches barking. Behind her, she finds the hallway she came from is gone. In its place is a stone stairway descending into darkness. She advances to the first stair and increases the intensity of her light. The darkness below seems impenetrable, but it smells dank. She shudders.

In the bedroom, Thrud hears Pooches barking. Cursing himself for letting Ember explore while he guarded the party, he dashes his wine cup to the floor and bolts into the hallway. Reaching Poncherius and Pooches, he demands answers, but the dog only barks and Poncherius is so flustered he has lost his Common. Thrud curses again and bellows Ember’s name at the top of his lungs. When he pauses, he can barely hear her calling back over the sound of Pooches’ barking.

Ember retreats from the stairwell. She begins using her chalk to draw on the floor. She goes around the corner again, toward the sound of the barking, and then answers Thrud’s shout when she hears it. She continues down the hall, going slowly, sensing for magic, drawing an unbroken line of chalk, and holding her flame aloft. Eventually she makes it back to the corner, where the party is gathering. She pulls up her chalk and they return to the bedroom to discuss.

Ember begins with the magic that she sensed at the corner – at both corners. Once Poncherius has his command of Common back, he explains that Ember disappeared in the moment she went around the corner. There is talk about the staircase, and the corridor. Morgan explores the corridor by the light of Bhelgarn’s sword, but finds no runes to read. She does note that no matter how many times she advances down the corridor, she always returns to where the party is waiting.

Slowly a hypothesis is developed, a map sketched out in chalk on the stone of the bedroom floor. What if, when someone turns the near corner (65a), they are instantly transported without knowing, to the far corner (65b)? Then, should they continue, they would eventually return to where they started from. But, if as soon as they turned the corner, they immediately turned around – would they then be able to find the staircase, as Ember did?

With people spread out along the hallway, this approach is tried – and, one by one, they each find themselves in front of the stairway leading down into darkness…

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If the secret of the corridor is known, a stairway down can be accessed…

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Post 43 - Tired of hectic city life, the party takes a jaunt in the countryside

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As soon as Xanathon disappears from sight, the party rushes forward to Morgan’s body. Ember checks her neck, but it is not broken, and Morgan regains consciousness.

[Morgan was at 8hp, took 10 from the mace to be at -2; a medicine check from Ember restored 3 hp and she is now at 1].

The shore of the fjord behind the temple is free of dwellings, but the huts of the Ethangari are not far off. The crash of the glass may have attracted attention, for they can hear men and women shouting to one another in the distance, and dogs barking.

Morgan shakes her head gingerly and pushes Ember away as she sits up. “We need to get out of here.”

“Back to oldy-moldy house?” asks Fluffy.

Morgan stands, sees Bhelgarn folding and pushing the tapestry as far into his pack as he can. It is sized for a wall, and the brightly colored folds of cloth still stick out despite his efforts.

“No,” she says resolutely. “We need to get out of town. Marching order.”

The party organizes themselves, goes down to the water’s edge, and then begins making their way south along the shoreline. It is late at night, but not yet midnight – the moon has not risen, and it is dark except for the stars and the muted lights coming from the houses of the Ethengari.

“Where’s the wharves?” whispers Ember.

“A hunnerd paces more,” replies Odleif, “course it’s on ‘tother side o’ dem houses an’ sech.”

In front of them loom the Ethengarian houses – a jumble of wood and hides like a tent city that is being slowly lignified. The houses press flush together. Morgan knows there are alleyways that could take them through to the other side – but she doesn’t know where they are. Somewhere off in the darkness, a man’s voice shouts orders, and a half-dozen voices respond in chorus. There is the distinctive rasp of weapons being drawn from sheathes.

Morgan tells Fluffy to get on Thrud’s back, and then she leads them into the water of the fjord. They go out until Bhelgarn is up to his waist, and they are all gasping with cold. “Go slow and don’t splash,” she hisses. Together they walk out and around the cluster of houses at the water’s edge – some of which are even built on rickety platforms that extend over the water itself, at least at high tide. The water begins to smell foul – no doubt the closest houses have open-hole privies on their balconies. Despite the cold, Morgan makes sure they stay in the water far past the last house, glad that they are moving upstream and washing any filth away.

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The west fjord: wharves, Ethengari quarter, and back of the Temple of Cretia

It is a scant fifty feet from the last house on the shore to the first dock of the west wharves. There are any number of fishing vessels, but only a few that can hold the eight of them. They choose one that has several large bundles under tarps, hoping they are supplies, and set out. None of them have sailed a boat before, but Thrud and Ember have been on boats enough that they know what they are supposed to do. Thrud grabs the tiller while Ember passes out oars and shows the party how to pass the handles through the twisted hemp oar locks.

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It is a good two miles across the fjord, but Thrud is just working to get them away from the shore for the time being, using the current to propel them and steering them further out. The cries of alarm from the Ethengari have spread to the rest of the city, and many Nordic voices are raised as well, including those of the ducal guard. They are fortunate indeed that the Duke’s last edict has ensured that no one dares use lanterns to find them, and it will be hours before the boat is discovered to be missing.

Thrud takes them further from shore until the cries of the city grow faint. Under Ember’s direction, the party has begun to row, and Thrud has brought the boat about so that it now points upstream. It soon becomes apparent that while the rowing is slowing their movement downstream, the inexperienced and ill-matched rowers are not capable of actually moving upstream. Thrud passes the tiller to Ember and has Fluffy hold a lantern for him so that he can see about setting up the step-down mast. Having never done it before, Thrud surprises himself with his competency, and soon has the mast up and sail snapping in the wind.

Ember smiles at him. “Det er i blodet ditt – blodet av sjøfolk,” she says.

With a strong north wind at their backs, they are able to bring the oars back in and make both for the far shore and upstream. Once the moon is up, Thrud steers them so that they will make land directly across the fjord from Rhoona, where there is a small community and the start of the caravan trail depicted on the tapestry.

Freed from the oars, they now have time to pull back the tarps, but find only piles of fishing nets and one lobster trap. Morgan orders them to take stock of their supplies by lantern light. They each have about ten days’ worth of food – but no idea how far away the red mark is, the red mark that was on the side of the mountain between Vestland and the Ethengari lands, whatever it means.

Once they land, they move as silently as they can, tieing up the boat and slipping through the village by moonlight. It is a curious mix of fishing huts and ferries, horse corrals and inns – a place that would be crowded and bustling upon the arrival of a summer’s caravan, but is now long past season and near deserted in the night.

West of the village the trail takes them past farm houses and barren fields harvested weeks ago. When Morgan sees a stone farmhouse with an adjoining barn near the trail she has them stop. Inside the barn she finds an old plow horse which she promptly liberates, along with a bag of feed. There is no saddle or bridle (just harnesses, tresses, and a yoke), but she finds two threadbare horse blankets and a rope halter. She feeds the horse a handful of grain and whispers to it while Ember stares her down.

“That horse is someone’s livelihood,” the priestess says. “How will this hold plant in the spring?”

Morgan slips a gold piece into the feed bucket, then halters the horse and leads it outside. She folds the blankets until they are the size of saddle blankets and then mounts. Inside the barn, Bhelgarn hesitates, then opens his pack and adds another 40 gold into the bucket. “Yes,” says Poncherius and helps him reorder his pack. The tapestry, now properly folded, goes in first, but still sticks out the top.

The caravan trail is wide and obvious in the moonlight – the night is cold and walking makes it warmer – and they had been sitting around the hideout house most of the day. Morgan tells them they will be putting some miles between themselves and Rhoona before they rest, and no one objects.

It is around three in the morning when Morgan calls a halt. The trail has risen up from the coastal lowland to the top of a ridge covered in pine forest. They have been following the trail along the ridgetop for hours. After a bit of scouting, Morgan finds a small ravine, perhaps twenty feet deep and twice that across, with a stream bed in the bottom, running parallel to the trail. With water down in the ravine, within earshot of the trail but hidden from sight, Morgan can’t think of a better spot. She will have to lead her horse quite a ways around to get to the bottom, but the others slide down the bank and have the camp half set up by the time she returns. Bhelgarn offers to take first watch.

Ninmonth 22
(fifth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

They are up before first light, somewhat rested and readying the camp, preparing their first hot meal since breakfast the day before. Morgan, Ember, and Wolfbane are praying or studying their spells, the rest of the camp either cooking or on watch. Suddenly ten men appear at the lip of the ravine above them, swords drawn and screaming in bloodlust. They have brown traveling robes over leather armor – the party has little time to notice more detail than that before they are barreling down the wall of the ravine and into the camp.

Even as the swordsmen charge their camp, three more men in robes appear at the ravine edge, but their gestures indicate that they are obviously casters. The party responds with missile fire – Morgan quits memorizing spells and launches a magic missle at one of the casters, Poncherius hits another with a crossbow bolt, and Odleif hits one with an arrow, then drops his bow and draws his sword as he uses his boots to leap to the top of the ravine.

The party fighters brace themselves to receive the charge of the robed swordsmen. Fluffy drops back to protect Wolfbane and crosses blades with one of them. Thrud and Bhelgarn are both wounded, but Thrud kills his opponent and Bhelgarn activates his boots of speed, slays two of the men, then scrambles up the ravine bank to stand at the top amidst the casters. With Fluffy throwing herself between Wolfbane and any swordsman who approaches, Wolfbane is able to complete a sleep spell that incapacitates five of the attackers. Ember, not breaking off her prayer chant, calmly rises and moves behind the tethered plow horse to continue her devotions to Glöð.

Together, Morgan and Thrud dispatch the two remaining swordsmen so that the fight is now only on top of the ravine, with Odleif and Bhelgarn facing the three casters. Wolfbane tries to help by shooting her sceptre of paralysis, but she hits Odleif (who fortunately is able to resist the effects). The middle robed man has three pre-cast magic missiles floating about his head, and with a gesture he lets these fly at Bhelgarn. The dwarf is knocked to his knees by the triple explosion of force, and the mage runs forward, wrests the tapestry from his pack, and disappears. Odleif squares off against another robed man, and kills him with his sword, though he has to pierce the man’s chain armor to do it.

The final robed man raises a mace high above his head, preparing to bring it down on Bhelgarn before the dwarf can stand again. Suddenly there is a blur of brown and the man screams in agony – a large dog has grabbed his calf from behind! This gives Bhelgarn and Odlief the time they need to dispatch the final priest.

With Ember praying, Morgan moves rapidly among the sleeping men, slitting throats. Wolfbane helps at first, but insists that at least one be spared for questioning, and Morgan acquiesces. Leaving Wolfbane and Thrud to bind the man before he awakens, Morgan climbs the ravine wall (with difficulty in her bronze plate). Trying to ignore Pooches’ licks and nuzzles, she wants Odleif to immediately check for tracks from the disappearing mage. He checks the ground, confirms that the mage did not go invisible – he actually left. With three missiles, Morgan reasons that the mage was more powerful than she is – the question is, how powerful? If he used dimension door he might be only a few hundred yards away. She hopes they are not facing someone capable of casting teleport.

Morgan takes Bhelgarn and Odleif with her and moves quickly through the woods to the caravan trail. They search up and down its length until she is convinced that they did not just face the scouts of a larger host. Only then do they return to the camp.

With more leisure to inspect the fallen, Morgan speaks aloud what she sees and has Odleif check her reasoning. The bronze skin and dark hair indicate that the men are Ethengari – so the obvious question is whether they are from the temple and were sent to pursue the party, or if they are free raiders. Near the ravine they find where the men dropped their supplies before the attack – empty waterskins and a few pouches of jerky. On the bodies, the two casters have holy symbols of Cretia, and several of the men carry prayer beads. Odlief points out that the men are wearing sandals, not traveling boots. They agree that the men must have been sent from the temple, and traveled all night to find the party. The question is whether they will leave off the attack now that they have recovered the tapestry, or whether the escaped mage will confirm their location so that a larger force can be sent. Posed this question, Odleif merely shrugs, then spits.

Oh pooches, du stakkars søte kjære!” exclaims Ember. The priestess has finished her morning devotions and is now fawning over the dog, who is licking her hands and face contentedly. The dog is indeed in a sorry shape. His barding is gone, and he is gaunt from hunger. His fur is covered in burs and crusted with mud and blood and Ember finds many scratches and two deep, but mostly healed and not infected, puncture wounds. She pinches his skin and is satisfied that he is at least not dehydrated. When she asks him, “where’s Iris?” the dog just whines piteously.

Ember had prayed for all healing spells to redress their damage from the previous night in the temple, but now many people are freshly wounded and Pooches is in need as well. In just a few moments Ember exhausts two of Glöð’s Remedies and all eight of her orisons of heartmending without making a dent in the needs of the party.

Already ravens have come to claim the dead men, and Morgan announces that they will move camp – but not far, and she agrees that Ember can have another four hours of rest for more healing before they consider marching for the day. She orders everyone to fill all of their waterskins in the stream, upstream of where some of the men are lying in the stream bed, bleeding out. With full skins they break camp.

They move a scarce hundred yards away, and make camp on the trail itself, for that gives them the best visibility in the day. They rest all morning and only pack up after their mid-day meal. In the meantime, there are several items of business.

The first of these is determining where they are going. After Morgan asks who got a good look at the tapestry, someone recalls that they still have the parchment version of it made by Fluffy five days ago on their first day in Rhoona. When she is asked to take it out, Fluffy is incensed. “I TELL you,” she squeaks, wagging her finger at each of them, “I tell you ALL!”, but nonetheless she produces the parchment.

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Fluffy’s map shows the borders of Vestland, Rockholme, and Ethengarr

Morgan, Thrud, and Odleif argue over the scale of the document, trying to determine how long it will take to get to whatever the menacing red dot represents on the border of Vestland and Ethengarr. Morgan and Odleif argue for ten days, while Thrud is more optimistic at five. Hopefully after a day or two of travel they should be able to place themselves and figure out the scale – assuming there is a consistent one, as many display “maps” are more pictorial than accurate. They make sure that each party member (excepting Poncherius, for whom the concept of a map is quite new) can give a good accounting of their direction of travel and landmarks, in case they get separated or another mage appears to steal this paper as well.

Once the matter of the map is settled, they turn to that of the prisoner, who is now conscious, but bound hand and foot. Under questioning, in very halting Common, he admits that he is a temple guard and that his group was sent after the party last night. For other questions he either refuses to answer or does not understand enough Common to answer. Morgan suggests that they can “make him talk,” but her voice betrays that she is not keen on the prospect. Ember says they will not force him. She points out the ritualistic tattoos they found when he was searched for concealed weapons, and the way he and his companions were chanting during the battle. She believes that he is a berserker, a religious fanatic who can inure himself to fear or pain. Ember believes that breaking him through torture would prove, in the long run, far more injurious to the party than to him.

Ember explains that he will be put under the care of Thrud (chosen as the most physically intimidating of the party). So long as he does not betray them, they agree to return him to the temple. After some talk amongst themselves, the party agrees that he will be given a half-ration of food and a full ration of water each day. That should give him enough energy to walk, but not enough to be interested in fighting.

After their mid-day meal, Ember prays for an hour and a half or so, then administers another two Glöð’s Remedies and eight orisons of heartmending. The party then sets out on the trail for what part of the day remains, another five hours or so of marching.

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The party’s progress after half a night and half a day of travel.

Morgan calls for a halt at dusk, but as they set up camp, Pooches is obviously nervous, sniffing and growling, hackles raised. Fluffy sets out upwind, over the next rise and down to the bottom of a hillside, where a large grizzley bear is turning over logs and rocks. Fluffy returns to the party and gathers up all of the jerky that was taken from the berserker party. She returns to the bear, throwing the jerky at it, a piece at a time, and leading it farther and farther from the camp. The bear is agitated, smelling but not seeing her, but it is more hungry than curious and eventually accepts its mysterious benefactor.

[DM’s note: Ember has been ministering to the party all day, with herbs and medicinal mushrooms. She makes 8 healing checks to restore 1hp to each person. There are many stream crossings the first day of travel and all waterskins are full at day’s end. 120 skins, 44.5 food rations.]

Ninmonth 23
(sixth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

Ember makes the rounds in the night, for another two Glöð’s Remedies and eight orisons of heartmending.

[DM’s note: After his first full night of rest since the temple battle, Poncherius is now at Level 3]

[DM’s note: After having attained 24,000xp and had a full night’s rest, Ember now has the ability to cast a new spell: Gutter, Flicker, and Flare.

[DM’s note: Having used his boots of speed for the sixth time, during the battle with the temple berserkers, Bhelgarn has now aged his body to 61 years. Although his mind is still that of a young adult, his body has become that of a mature dwarf. His strength increases one point, to 17. This does not affect any of his combat modifications, but it does allow him to carry more weight.]

In the morning, the party sets out along the caravan trail. As they move further from the fjord, the land rises until they enter a high valley between higher mountains. The forest thins and the land dries until they are in brown, grassy hill country. Visibility is great and Morgan stops worrying about ambushes, but the streams they find to refill their skins are smaller and farther between. They make their camp at the entrance to a high mountain pass. In the evening, after their meal, Ember makes a final round of healing. Everyone in the party is now fully recovered from the last two battles.

[DM’s note: At day’s end: 101 skins, 35 food rations.]

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After a second day of travel, the party enters a mountain pass.

Ninmonth 24
(seventh full day since the expulsion of the dwarves – Bhelgarn estimates that the dwarves have reached Rockholme by now)

With no immediate need for healing spells, Ember asks for a Speak with Animals in her morning prayers. After the camp is packed and as they are about to head out, she calls Pooches over, and asks him what happened to him and Iris. His response is illuminating, but also confusing – much of what he is describing is based on smells, and Ember simply has no context to understand it.

Simplified and distilled, the tale is thus: When the moon rose, Iris lost control of the crickets and they began to follow the moon. Although this took them east at first, eventually as the moon rose, the crickets began to fly higher and higher. The wind carried them off-course, so that they were no longer over the desert, but over high mountains. They flew so high that Iris and Pooches had trouble breathing in the thin air. By the time the moon was sinking in the west, they were far from the desert and hopelessly lost. At this point, one by one, the crickets began dropping from exhaustion, dangling from the ropes, smelling foul and twitching. Those still flying struggled to keep going west as they sank lower. Eventually the few crickets remaining could not support the weight of what they carried and they fell, crickets, Iris, Pooches and all. Fortunately their fall was broken by tree limbs rather than rocky ground. The crickets were scattered or dead or dangling from ropes in the trees, Iris’ gilt chair was smashed, and their supplies were strewn all around the forest. Iris and Pooches and Blackcloak the cat were banged up a bit but not seriously hurt.

The next morning Iris gathered what supplies remained and they set out. She told Pooches that they were trying to return to the desert, but every path she tried eventually ended in a high mountain they could not cross. Iris kept them fed, and together they fought off predators like wolves and baboons and even trolls (though they mostly ran from these). They kept working their way along the face of the mountains, always trying to get back to the desert but never finding a pass through. Eventually Iris ran out of arrows, and then food was harder to find.

One evening at camp they were attacked by a flying creature that shot long barbs at them – that’s how Pooches got his puncture wounds. Pooches had been pinned to the ground with a barb completely through his hind leg so that he could not move it, and the thing landed to come finish him off. Iris charged the monster and pulled the barb out that had kept Pooches from running, then told him to run and hide and that she would find him. The monster turned on Iris as Pooches ran away. Iris backed up and gave ground every time it lunged at her. Finally she turned and jumped into a river, going below the water where it could not reach her and being carried away by the current. That was the last Pooches saw of her. He has been wandering this wilderness since, and only recently come upon the caravan trail. He is very glad that the party is here now and will feed him and help him find Iris.

Ember says that she is glad they have found Pooches but says nothing about Iris, not wishing to forswear herself even to a dog.

After they descend from the mountain pass this day’s travel is very different from the previous two. Yesterday the caravan trail took them mostly along the ridgetops between washes, or occasionally down into the bottom of a wash, sometimes with a stream, sometimes dry. The trail ran mostly flat, and parallel to these features, Today the trail cuts across these valleys. They spend the day laboring up and down slopes as they work their way over the rugged terrain carved into the landscape by spring floods. Some of the broader and deeper valleys have thick stands of pine and fir trees that line the trail, but the hilltops and ridge crests are just dry, dead grass. Fortunately, previous years, perhaps generations, of caravans have selected the best routes from among those available. If they had to decide themselves where to travel instead of following the trail, it would easily take twice as long or more to travel through the same terrain, as they would have to force their way through pine stands, go around cliff faces, and backtrack after mistakenly selecting dead-end side-canyons. In all the day’s travel they find no source of water, and are traveling considerably lighter at day’s end.

In the evening, Morgan says they will camp down in a forested valley. The ridge tops have impressive vistas, and she doesn’t want their campfire seen and attracting all the Ethengarians, or worse, for miles around.

Most of the night passes uneventfully, but when Morgan is on the pre-dawn third watch, she sees a large form on all fours slinking about the trees in the distance. She alerts the camp and then goes out to intercept it, but it is gone.

In the morning, she and Odleif look in the light, and the woodsman finds a clear set of panther tracks, moving in and out of the edge of a stand of trees, almost as if it wanted to be seen by Morgan. Back at camp, more tracks are found in the trees only twenty or thirty yards from where the bedrolls were.

[DM’s note: At day’s end: 63 skins, 25.5 food rations.]

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On the third day, the party has to travel across many rugged valleys, up and down slopes

Ninmonth 25
(eighth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

The first half of the day’s travel is spent in and out of the same dry washes as the previous day, but each ridge rises slightly higher than the one before. After mid-day they are on a long, rising slope. Here and there springs have created alpine meadows where the grass is still green and a few late-season flowers bloom. They can drink from the springs and seeps and not have to use as much of the water they carry, but they find no streams large enough to actually fill their skins.

[DM’s note: At day’s end: 44 skins, 16.5 food rations.]

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By the fourth day of travel, the party is ascending into the mountains

Soon after breaking camp, the party finds a clear mountain stream and fills their skins. They are grateful for the water, but it does make the long climbs up the steep slopes more difficult. The terrain grows more and more rocky as they travel, until they have left nearly all vegetation behind. The trail is treacherous, with many switchbacks, and often times a sheer cliff face and a fall ending in certain death on one side or the other of the trail.

With perhaps an hour to go before dusk, at the time they would normally make camp, they arrive at the summit of the great pass over the Makkres Mountains.

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After five days of travel, the party has reached the highest point of the caravan trail

To the north and west, more than fifty miles away but still visible, are the great, flat steppes of Ethengarr, a sea of grass as far as they can see. To the south, the mighty peaks of Rockholme thrust into the sky. As Bhelgarn looks upon them, his face lights up and a tear streaks down one cheek (from the stinging mountain winds, he claims). He names the peaks to Poncherius, and then starts to describe each and every city and principality that lies beneath them before the rest of the party loses interest.

The caravan trail itself descends the other side of the pass, wends among the forested foothills, and then is lost in the steppes. However, here at the summit of the pass, two narrow trails climb up the mountainsides, one to the north, one to the south. The trails are perched on knife-edges of broken rock, and would have to be undertaken single file, and carefully at that. Morgan doubts her old plow horse could keep his footing there. Odleif scouts around the trailheads, and then up and down the first hundred paces or so. He finds mountain goat spoor on both, but a clear boot print on the northern trail. Ember is carefully watching the reaction of their prisoner, and she is sure he seems more tense when Odleif is on the northern trail.

The party takes a brief breather while they unload the horse, check their packs, recheck the bindings on the prisoner, eat some dried fruit, and pull at their waterskins. When all seems ready, they rope themselves together, all but the prisoner. He walks ahead of them, arms tied behind him, with Thrud holding his rope from behind. Thrud is in the lead, roped to everyone else behind him.

The exquisitely narrow trail winds around the side of the mountain until the caravan trail behind them is lost from sight, then passes along a ridgeline with sheer dropoffs to both sides. With perhaps some thirty minutes of daylight left, and the sun already behind the mountain to their west, they round a corner and see that the trail is approaching a large cave mouth in the side of a thin, sharp peak. At the sight of this the prisoner begins to chant. Thrud cuffs the back of his head and tells him to be quiet, but the man does not stop.

As they get closer they can see a smaller cave mouth, above the first, with a narrow ledge in front. The trail leads to the lower cave, while the upper one has no visible access. When they are nearing a hundred paces from the cave mouth, a great beast emerges from the upper cave and takes flight, beating the air with huge, heavy wings.

It dives, levels, and then passes over the party, some hundred feet over their heads. As it passes, it whips its tail around, and six wicked long spikes rain down on them. Pooches whimpers; Fluffy is hit by three and collapses in shock. Only the fact that she is roped to the people before and after her keeps her from tumbling down the side of the mountain. Odleif tries to shoot the beast, but has to aim nearly straight up, and the shot goes wide.

The beast continues far past them, then begins a ponderous turn to come back for another pass. “Shield wall!” commands Morgan, and then realizes that she is the only one bearing a shield. She swears in disgust and begins a magic missile spell.

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With Thrud tracking the beast’s movement in the air, he has let the prisoner’s rope go slack. The man turns to face his captors, lowers his center, and rushes forward to slam his shoulder into Thrud’s gut, seemingly seeking to drive them both into the abyss below. Thrud doubles over, but keeps his feet, then slams his fist down across the man’s back, knocking him to his knees.

As the beast passes a second time, he launches another volley of tail spikes. This time the party meets him with the magic missile, an arrow to the side, and Wolfbane’s sleep spell, which seems to have no effect. After this pass the beast turns again, but is struggling to stay in the air. It finally lands heavily on the narrow trail, between the party and the cave mouth.

The prisoner rises to his feet and again throws himself at Thrud, but this time the northerner is prepared. After his fist cracks across the man’s jaw, the prisoner slumps unconscious to the trail.

The beast is not advancing down the trail – after Odleif hits it once more with an arrow and Morgan with a magic missile, it backs up behind a rock outcrop to shield itself. The party takes advantage of this stalemate – Bhelgarn binds Fluffy’s wounds and Thrud the prisoner’s legs. Thrud hoists the man, holding him up in front of him, and starts advancing up the trail.

Thrud is almost upon the outcrop when the beast’s tail lashes out again. One spike grazes his thigh, but the other five sink deep into the body of the prisoner, who promptly jerks, spasms, and expires in Thrud’s arms.

The beast backs around a corner of the cliff face, so that when Thrud follows he is the only member of the party able to face it. The beast has its tail raised above its head, twitching like a cat’s at each step of Thrud, but the northman holds the prisoner high and in front of him. Thrud considers his dilemma – he can’t draw his axe and attack without setting the man down, but as soon as he does so the beast will fire another volley of spikes. He creeps closer, a half-step at a time.

Without warning, Thrud bellows a massive cry and hurls the body of the man at the beast, connecting solidly. The beast topples, claws frantically at the trail, then slides over the side. It writhes as it falls until, gathering speed, it is dashed against a large rock. After that, both the beast and the man continue their bouncing fall down the mountainside as floppy as rag dolls, down and down into the gathering darkness.

Thrud chortles and advances slowly down the trail, giving the roped party time to navigate the outcrop and corner. “Har du sett min kjøtt skjold, Ember?” he calls back at the priestess, and laughs. “Kjøtt skjold,” he says again, as if he finds the words themselves funny.

In just a few minutes more the whole party, less the prisoner, is standing at the twenty-foot wide, ten-foot high cave entrance. It goes deep in to the side of the mountain, and then gets bigger as if opening into a chamber…

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Post 42 - Time to Strike! Or run away...
Actually, running away sounds like the better idea.

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Ninmonth 20 (third full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

Morning

[Note: Morgan’s personal spellbook, the one confiscated by Wyman, has just three spells in it: Read Magic, Sleep, and Magic Missile – and the last one is a smudged and unusable copy. When she wants to memorize Invisibility, she does so from the silver spell plaques. These were hidden by Wolfbane before the guardsmen searched the bedroom at Dahlia’s]

In the morning the clank of the lock being turned on the iron door, the creak of the door opening, and the sudden flood of light into the prison awakens everyone, including the two guards who were assigned to watch the prisoners at night. They manage to bring their heads up from the table and leap out of their chairs before the door is completely open. For one of them, this spills FluffyKitten onto the floor, for once he was asleep she climbed stealthily into his lap, it being the warmest, softest place she could find to pass the night in the cold, hard prison. Feeling her weight tumble from his lap as he jumps up, he is of course very confused, but as he cannot see her and has to compose himself immediately, he resolves that it was just a dream he woke from, in which for some reason he was cradling a piglet.

Into the prison stride a pair of guards – likely the ones who spent the night outside the door, in the cold – followed by Wyman, and then another pair of guards with some large leather sacks.

Wyman does not initially speak to the party, or the guards, but goes to examine the doors on the cells that held the dwarves, both the one that is open and unlocked, and the one whose bottom hinge has been broken and was twisted enough to allow the dwarf to crawl out. The amount of time he spends looking at that one unnerves Wolfbane, who crawled into the cell and amassed a pile of dry straw as her refuge for the night, and who now is trying to keep from moving lest she disturb the straw in front of him.

Finally Wyman stands and strides over to the cell that holds Morgan and Thrud. “God morgen,” he says in Nordic, and then titters at the cleverness of his pun. “As you said, your spellbook does not contain invisibility.”

Morgan smiles, perhaps a bit too triumphantly.

“On the other hand, while you and your companions were confined here, there were no disturbances at the palace. And yet, while you were confined here, two dwarven prisoners held here, creatures that could not even walk, managed to break out of their cells and escape. What a remarkable coincidence,” he says, emphasizing the last word heavily.

Morgan’s smile fades. “I already told Captain Haggar – after nightfall, the prison was attacked by…”

“…by a group of dwarven wizards,” interjects Wyman. “Yes, I’ve heard. Because we both know how common dwarven wizards are,” he says drolly.

Morgan shrugs. “Someone has to make their magic rings and hammers and such.”

“Indeed. Be that as it may, you are both hereby reinstated to all your duties and privileges in the Ducal Guard, and your friends are free to go. I trust your accommodations were not too uncomfortable.”

Morgan shrugs again. “I’ve had worse.”

Splendid. By the by, My Lord Draco has an exciting new assignment for the both of you.”

“I thought he needed me to guide the town patrols at night.”

“Yes, well, that certainly was what Captain Haggar wanted. Unfortunately, there are some in the High Lord’s counsel who still, even after last night, question your loyalty to the Duke.”

“Certainly not you,” says Morgan dryly.

“Oh, heavens forbid, no. They wanted to keep you here, of all places. I managed to convince my Lord that your talents could be used outside of town. That way, should something happen at the palace while you are gone, everyone will know you were not involved. And should nothing happen at the palace while you are gone, well, that would be better for everyone, don’t you agree?”

Without giving him the satisfaction of her answer, Morgan has a question of her own. “Outside of town?”

“Yes, yes,” sniffs Wyman. “Should the dwarves attempt a land attack on Rhoona, they will need to use the road that follows the banks of the Vestgaffel Fjord. There is a crew leaving today, soldiers, laborers, and engineers, to build some advance fortifications along the road. You will be going with them to scout and provide defense against any dwarven advance patrols. You will leave promptly after luncheon.”

Wyman gestures and one of the soldiers comes forward to unlock the two cells, while the other begins to unpack the sacks, eventually putting all of the items taken from the tavern on to the table. When Morgan steps out of her cell, Wyman smiles and hands her back her spellbook.

“Oh, and Morgan,” he says in parting, “do ask Dahlia to launder your guard tabard before you go. Yours and Thrud’s both. They look simply filthy after that night in the cell. You are representing the Duke, after all.” Wyman turns his back on them and leaves, four of the guards with him and the other two unsure of whether they are supposed to follow or not.

This has been Ember’s first meeting with Wyman. “Well, he’s…creepy,” she says, and one of the remaining guards sniggers.

Morgan, Thrud, Ember, and Poncherius sort through the gear on the table, pulling out and packing what is theirs – though Thrud gives most of his to Poncherius. Together, they leave the prison, followed by the two remaining guards, and behind them invisible FluffyKitten and Wolfbane. They get more than a few odd looks from the guard assembling to drill. Mostly certainly word of them passing the night in the cells, and the attack that freed the dwarves, has spread around the barracks. Thrud is pretty sure he hears someone say “invisible dwarven army” as they walk by.

They cross the street to Dahlia’s, where she is busy making breakfast for Odleif, who is visibly relieved as they walk in. “Thar, y’see?” he tells Dahlia. “Everbody’s back an’ we kin have a big ol’ breakfast like I asked ya fer.”

Eager to converse in private, the party offers to do the washing up so that Dahlia can leave sooner, though she does prepare their cold lunch before she goes. “I hewp yu all know vhat yu are doin’,” she says as she receives her payment for the day, “because vhatever it is, the Guard is ahwful interested in it.” As she leaves out the door, the men on the wall of the barracks take immediate notice, and one of the guards pretending to be a common citizen hurriedly settles his bill at the tavern next door so that he can follow her.

Finally able to talk, Morgan and Thrud outline what happened at the palace the day before, and then Ember relates to Bhelgarn and Odleif how they passed the night. If Bhelgarn had any reservations about his decision to stay at Dhalia’s rather than go to the prison, Ember’s description of the condition of the dwarven prisoners quickly dispels them. Bhelgarn tells his story of exploring Draco’s private quarters at the barracks and of the note he recovered. He then checks the shuttered window and the bar on the door, produces the paper, and smooths it out on the table for all to see.

Twenty-one lines of text are full of indecipherable symbols, though a moment’s inspection shows that all of them are repeated many times – it is obviously a code of some kind. “I bet my Read Languages could decipher that,” says Morgan.

“Do you think so?” asks Wolfbane, surprised. “Does a code really count as a language?”

“I don’t know. I honestly haven’t used it that much. But it is worth a shot, and we need to find out as much as we can before Thrud and I leave this afternoon. We don’t have any other leads.”

Though her night in the cell was neither comfortable nor particularly restful, neither was the previous day exactly strenuous, and Morgan believes that with a little concentration, she can memorize a Read Magic spell. She goes to the garret bedroom for privacy while the others continue talking below. After an hour, she has committed Read Languages, Magic Missile, Web, and Invisibility all to memory.

She comes back down ready to cast and spreads the paper before her. The spell will affect only her (no one else will be able to read the paper), so Ember sits nearby with fresh parchment, quill and ink to record anything of note.

After Morgan casts the spell, the symbols slowly swirl before her eyes, their strange forms resolving into easily recognizable letters. But when she tries to read it, she finds she does not understand the language!

“Erkhem Luuny ordond mini, Rhoona ireedüin beis,
dugui odoo khödölgöönii sain baina. Odoichuudyn esreg dainy Zarlakh udakhgüi irekh baikh bolno, mön baga zereg esergüütsel tiim khün amyg khol ni ilerkhii yum. Bi kharaal dungee yegch ajillaj baigaag ta sanal niilj baikh yostoi gedegt bi itgeltei baina – ni beisiin nulimj ergüü teneg ni zövkhön bogino khugatsaand tereer ene munkhaglal tunkhaglaj baikh üyed khaan üldsen baikh bolno! bögööd dokhio avakh bairluulakh bai : Kherev ta nüükh ni möch oirkhon baina!
Tany itgeltei negt
Xanathon
Cretia Öndör Takhilch”

Morgan curses in frustration, explaining to the others that while her spell has “solved” the code, it has translated the writing into a language she can’t read. Ember asks what it is like, and Morgan admits that while it uses letters she recognizes, the words do not make any sense.

“Well, if it uses the letters you know, what does it sound like? Read some of it to us.”

Morgan tries the first line, tripping over her tongue as she goes, and then realizes that halfway through is the word “Rhoona”. “Are there any other words you recognize?” asks Ember, and Morgan scans it quickly.

“At the end,” she says, “Xanathon…and Cretia!” None of the party know Ethangarian, but they all agree that the harsh sounds Morgan was producing could be that tongue.

“If what you are seeing now is Ethangarian,” asks Wolfbane, “can you cast Read Languages again to get it to Common?”

“Actually, Elven,” Morgan admits. “I never really learned to read much Common – but, yes, I should be able to to cast it again – except that I only memorized it once.”

“Well, can you memorize it again – before your first spell wears off?”

“Maybe. Why don’t you all hush now?”

Wasting no time, Morgan dashes upstairs and retrieves her spellbook. She sits at the table in the common room, poring over her book and trying to memorize another Read languages before the duration of the first one runs out. As soon as she thinks she has it, she immediately casts it, and then begins reading, slowly. Ember’s quill scratches on the parchment as she records what Morgan reads.

[DM’s note: Read languages has a duration of 20 minutes. It is a first level spell. Rested, Morgan requires 15 minutes to memorize it. She cannot just keep memorizing it over and over without rest, but she can voluntarily give up the slot she had used for Magic Missile and memorize another Read Magic on top of that. To actually get a used slot back would take her four hours of rest]

“My dear Draco, future duke of Rhoona,
The wheels are well in motion now. The pronouncement of war against the dwarves will be forthcoming shortly, and little resistance is apparent thus far from the populace. The slobbering idiot of a duke will have only a short time left to reign when he declares this foolishness – I am sure you must agree that my curse is working admirably!
Be alert: The moment for you to move is near!

Your faithful compatriot
Xanathon
High Priest of Cretia"

“Future Duke of Rhoona…” repeats Morgan. “So that’s his game. And the priest is helping him with a curse on the duke.”

“Yes,” agrees Ember. “We must break this Curse of Xanathon.”

“But how?”

“I have no idea. But it may be time to confront him.”

“Agreed.” says Morgan. “But not in the day – if Draco runs the guard, we don’t want them interfering, or us being seen going to or from the Temple. Even if we beat the priest, we could have the whole guard on us right after. What’s more, they are expecting Thrud and me soon. If we don’t show up on time, we may have Wyman and the guard looking for us even before we act.”

“Yes, you may have to do that until we agree on a time to strike at Xanathon,” reflects Ember.

“Sounds like a trap, ta me,” voices Odleif.

“What?”

“Lure ya out t’ ther woods, no one around but a whole company o’ guards, then ktttch.” The woodsman draws his finger across his neck as he makes the last sound.

“That may be,” muses Morgan. “But we can hardly refuse without admitting we are not really members of the guard. I think we have to go along with things for now, at least until we decide it is time to hit the priest.”

“Alltha same, ye should have somebody with ye.”

The talk goes around the table a few more times. It is agreed that Wolfbane will cast invisibility on Odleif, so that he can follow them out of town and provide assistance if needed. Meanwhile, Ember will try to contact the Temple of Forsetta, now that they have clear evidence of a curse, and ask for advice.

Morgan has just enough time to swap out her Web spell for a second invisibility, in case she and Thrud need it to escape from whatever trap Wyman has in store for them. She, Odleif, and Thrud wolf down their cold lunch and then hurry off to the guard barracks. Just before they leave, Wolfbane casts her own invisibility on Odleif, revealing herself.

After the trio leave, those remaining have a more leisurely lunch and continue to discuss the situation. At the end, Wolfbane makes herself invisible again with a second casting.

The barracks are a busy hive of activity – Morgan and Thrud’s group is not the only one setting out, though they apparently are the ones going farthest, as they have a wagon loaded with provisions and drawn by two large draft horses. Looking in the back, besides bundles of food, Morgan can see tents, shovels, picks, axes, and other implements. It looks like they are in for a long march and camping at the end – she doubts she will be keeping up in her heavy bronze plate armor. Given the number of civilians milling about, barking sergeants, and confused guardsmen, she guesses they will have some time before setting out, so she has Thrud help her out of her plate and then slips the wagon drover a silver to put that into the wagon. Morgan and Thrud are still carrying their bedrolls, backpacks and such – special officers or not, it is important to appear in touch with the enlisted men. While waiting, they hear familiar bellowings coming from the barracks barn. When Thrud investigates, he finds that all of their camels are stabled there – most likely impounded the previous night! Morgan considers taking action, but decides against drawing any more attention to themselves. Let Wyman pay for a few days of camel feed.

Finally they head out, behind some groups and ahead of others. It looks like the guard has been levying townsfolk as workers all morning. As they leave the barracks and head to the road that tracks the shore of the western fjord, running south out of town, they pass several other groups, all preparing fortifications for the town – digging trenches and building ramparts for the most part. Unlike the east fjord road, the west road is not lined with the villas of the wealthy, but instead with only the occasional fisherman’s hut or goatherd’s shack. By the time they are beyond the last of these, and many of their initial number have been left behind, Morgan and Thrud have a better idea of who is actually in their group. There are about twenty guardsmen, bearing weapons – not the clubs they carried in town, but short swords and axes, with an occasional bow among them. In addition to the enlisted men there are perhaps five sergeants and a lieutenant. Two other men wear the tabards of the guards but have only belt-knives, and eventually Morgan takes them for engineers. There are another dozen or so simple laborers or thralls from the town, bearing no weapons. A lucky few have boots without holes and rolled-up blankets slung over one shoulder. Finally there is the wagon drover and them, in all about two score humans and two draft horses.

Morgan need not have worried about the pace (though she surely would have been more tired had she worn her plate). Once out of town, the road grows muddy and rutted, their way having to cross steep hills and deep stream beds. The march is slow so as not to leave the wagon behind. Indeed, they are often either waiting for the wagon at the top of a hill, or pushing it out of mud as the horses strain against the load. It has been three hours since they left Rhoona when they finally stop, and Morgan doubts they have covered even five miles.

They halt at the remains of an old, collapsed guard house of some sort that is now little more than a circle of stones in the grass. At first she can’t believe that this is the basis of their fortification, but Morgan soon realizes that it is not the ruin itself but the location that matters. To the left the ground rises steeply to barren, rocky slopes – to the right it drops steeply over a cliff to the fjord, such that they are on a narrow section with no more than seventy-some paces to defend, a natural choke point for the road. All about them is open pine forest, with no stands particularly dense in the thin soil.

The men are allowed to rest and drink while the drover unhooks his team and a few of the laborers begin setting up cookfires near the shell of the building. The engineers walk about with the lieutenant, pointing and talking. Soon enough shovels, picks, and axes are handed out and the men get to work in small groups supervised by the sergeants. Morgan and Thrud are given command of five bowmen and told to scout ahead up the trail, leave two bowmen as forward scouts in a place that can be easily found in the dark (so as to relieve them later), and return with the remainder before nightfall.

By the time they get back to the camp, the setting sun is reflecting off the waters of the fjord. A number of trees have been felled in front of their fortifications, log barricades are in place, trenches dug, archer’s redoubts constructed, and so forth. By no means is the way sealed off across the entire neck of land – but that is certainly possible in a few days more, long before the dwarven army is due to arrive.

The food is bland after Dahlia’s cooking, but Morgan and Thrud eat with gusto and then retire to their tent. They hold a quick whispered conversation. “Well, this isn’t a trap – but it is ridiculous,” says Morgan to Thrud. “I’m going to get some rest. Wake me after midnight – we are going to steal those horses, go back to town, and settle our score with Xanathon.”

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Back in Rhoona, the remaining party passes a few hours at Dahlia’s, and then Ember and Wolfbane set out. This time the plaza around the Temple of Forsetta is even more crowded than before. It appears that the priests and priestesses of the temple are holding services in turns, with the faithful waiting outside for their chance to enter. Many of the throngs outside are engaged in spontaneous prayer already, but others are just gossiping. More than once on her way to the Temple, Ember hears someone mention the “invisible dwarven army” that is marching upon the city, and their scouts that are even now in the city itself! It is difficult for her to reach the Temple doors, and only her status as a priestess allows her to cut through the crowds and lines, with invisible Wolfbane in her wake.

Once she is at the door, Wolfbane is able to enter, and slip a priest the message Ember wrote in the tavern: “We need to meet with you as soon as possible – where is a safe place?”

Ember and Wolfbane wait in the plaza for an hour, with Ember ministering to the scared townsfolk, telling them to be strong and have faith, telling them that Forsetta and Glöð both will see to their protection. She knows that Morgan has asked her to look for contacts for an uprising, but these people are fearful, and would sooner flee the city than rise against Draco. With no word from the Temple, and dusk gathering, the women head back to the tavern.

They have not gone half a block from the crowded plaza and are crossing in front of an alley, when a harsh, wracking cough emerges from the shadows. Ember enters the alley, and finds the old beggar man, back against a wall, wooden bowl at his feet, shivering as if with fever. “Alms?” he croaks weakly.

Ember kneels and feels his forehead, but finds it cool to the touch. She fills his bowl with water from her skin and drops in a few herbs from a pouch while she whispers to him. “The Duke is under a curse, cast by the priest of Cretia,” she says. “How can we end it?”

“The most powerful priest of our order has tried to remove the curse, to no avail,” he whispers back. “There is terrible Dark Magic at work. The curse must be stemmed at its source.” He drinks the water, although much of it dribbles down his chin and soaks his filthy robes. As Ember stands and turns to go, he begins another coughing fit.

When Ember arrives at Dahlia’s, she tells the others they must ready for an attack on the Temple of Cretia, as soon as Morgan, Thrud, and Oldleif return. Dahlia is overdue to prepare their dinner, but she has not appeared. Outside, the poorly disguised guardsmen still watch the tavern.

Ember sets the others to preparing dinner, a task made more difficult since three of them are invisible and they are constantly bumping in to one another and stepping on each others’ feet. Finally Fluffy gives up in disgust, grabs a torch and a lantern, and stomps out the front door. Ember runs to the door to give a plausible reason for it opening, but dares not call after the halfling given the number of guardsmen about on the dark street.

Fluffy finds her way to the dwarven barracks. Once inside she lights her lantern but turns the wick down low, explores the buildings until she finds a pair of boots she saw on her last foray. The heel is loose on the left boot – the kind of thing that would be repaired in due course had their owner stayed, but not a first choice of something to take when ordered out of town on short notice. She rips strips from some blankets with her dagger until she has enough padding in the toes of the boots so that they fit. Secure in the knowledge that she will be making dwarf prints later, she blows out her lantern and takes a nap while waiting for the night.

[Note: end of play session on 10/30]

Ninmonth 21 (fourth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

Midnight (Rhoona)

Fluffy awakens in the dwarven barracks, and lies in the hard dwarven bed listening to the sounds of the city at night – dogs barking, cattle lowing, the occasional distant sound of boots on cobblestones.

She arrises and pulls back the blanket from the window – there is a half-moon tonight, but it is low in the sky and the city is still very dark. She goes carefully through the streets, checking each house and shop, until she finds the one she is looking for. There! A limner’s shop. She saw it before, but needed some time to find it again. The door is unlocked – who would steal from a limner? – so she goes inside. There is no second story – the family is sound asleep in a loft at the end of the small building. It is too dark inside, so she lights a candle. The main floor is crowded with rocks and bags of dust, with here and there a flask of oil. Finally she finds a container with paint already mixed – likely left-over from yesterday’s project. After this, finding a brush is easy, and she blows out the candle but takes it with her as she leaves the shop.

Fluffy goes quietly through the city streets, by the light of the rising moon, until she arrives at the wharves. She carefully investigates the warehouses.

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A small warehouse (B10) has a number of guards around it, but they stick close to the building and she decides to stay out of their sight by going to the south wall of a larger warehouse (B12). She listens carefully, but no one seems about there.

Standing on her tippy-toes, reaching up as high as she can, she begins to paint the side of the warehouse. With broad, bold brushstrokes, and letters nearly as big as she is, her words take form, all along the side of the warehouse – “Draco Lies!” She carefully goes over the letters again until there is just a little paint left in the bucket, then throws the remaining paint against the side of the building like a huge, sloppy point to her exclamation mark. She admires her work in the moonlight for a few minutes.

Fluffy turns her attention to the next warehouse over (B9), from which she has not heard a sound, even as the conversation of the guards at (B10) has been audible the whole time she has been painting. The warehouse appears a bit run-down, and several wall planks are loose. She avoids the rusty iron padlock on the door just by slipping through a gap she makes herself in the wall. Inside it is very dark, and for an uncomfortable minute she hears the scurrying of feet and chitter of rats. Once she has her candle lit the rats find cover, diving into broken crates and under rotting bags. The inside is dusty and deserted. Fluffy gathers some of the sacks, setting the rats scurrying again, and wraps them in small bundles at the base of the wooden posts and columns. Then she empties out the contents of her lantern, soaking each of the sack-bundles in oil. Finally, she goes to each bundle in turn, igniting it with her candle.

The inside of the warehouse is bright with flame and loud with the terrified screeches of rats when Fluffy squeezes out of the wall-hole. Through the many gaps and holes in its walls, the interior of the building throws light and shadows across the walls of the other warehouses and the nearby shops and houses.

Fluffy draws back out of the way to watch what happens. It is not long before the guards are alerted by the light and smoke, and they begin to raise a hue and cry. Sleepy townsfolk leave their beds and come out into the streets, even as the roof of the warehouse collapses and the flames shoot high into the night. The bold red letters “Draco Lies!” on the nearby wall are lit by the flames and more than one townsperson gapes upon seeing them. The flames lick hungrily across the space between the burning warehouse and the empty one next door (B6) – fortunately for the townspeople the wind is not carrying the flames in the direction of the crowded houses just a stone’s throw away.

As more and more people are roused, an impromptu bucket brigade is formed, using milk buckets and chamber-pots alike, whatever is on hand, to bring up water from the fjord. The warehouse itself is past saving, past even putting out with a bucket of seawater, but the walls of all the buildings nearby are soaked in the hopes that the fire won’t spread and consume the entire city. As each wall of the burning warehouse gives way and collapses in turn, the people shout in fear, hoping that none of them fall in the direction of the inhabited houses. Finally the warehouse is reduced to a pile of embers and ash and the bucket brigade starts to work pushing back its red, crackling edges. Sparks still drift up into the night, carried by the wind, any one of them capable of alighting on a thatch roof in some other part of the city and setting it ablaze.

By the time the remains of the warehouse are a soggy, hissing mess, a patrol of the ducal guard has commandeered several other red buckets of paint from somewhere and is busy painting the entire side of the warehouse, painting over Fluffy’s message. Not that it will make a difference – with the immediate threat over, Fluffy hears any number of people talking about the words, and what they might mean, commenting on how they were made at “dwarf height”. There is more talk of the invisible dwarven army that even now runs free in the city, looting and slaying and burning at will, immune to any efforts of the guard to find them.

Satisfied, Fluffy leaves the wharves and heads south to the middle-class district. For several blocks the streets are thick with people, all out of their houses, anxious and talking about the fire and the dwarves. Fluffy pushes on and the crowds thin. By the time she nears the Grinning Goblin there are just a few people in the streets, and they are retiring to their houses. Fluffy ducks down a narrow alley and moves to the center of the block. Like most nordic cities, each block is an outer ring of houses, with an interior space that is not enclosed by walls or roofs. Rather, each house has a small plot of land behind, butting up against neighboring plots. For some, this is used as a garden, for many, a chicken run, and for a few, with family connections to hayfields outside the city, as a lot for a milk cow.

Fluffy reaches the end of an alley, which is fenced off, and finds a gate secured by twine (not even a latch). It is easy to open the gate and close it behind her, then move between the back yards of the houses. Many are not fenced, but the ones that are typically have makeshift gates or styles. She ignores the gardens and confronts a cow. The beast towers over her – she thinks twice and moves on. The next lot has a chicken coop – that is what she came for. She opens the door of the coop but the hens inside just fuss, cluck, and wriggle deeper into their nests, even when she tells them to leave. Hmm. She can’t strike at them – she would lose her invisibility. She tries to think of which animals attack chickens, and what noises she might make to scare them. Weasels and foxes, she thinks. She knows weasels go “pop”, but cannot remember what does the fox say.

“Pop!” she says suddenly. “I iz weasel, pop! Pop! Pop!” She grabs the side of a hen and it squawks alarmedly and dashes off. This gets the other chickens to clucking, and with much popping and grabbing Fluffy finally gets them all out and running around the yard. She closes the door of the coop so that they can’t re-enter, then opens the gate to another alley. By the time she has about half of them driven into the alley, a stray dog catches their scent and begins chasing them. His barks set all of them to running and trying to fly, and bring curses from many nearby houses. Fluffy opens all of the gates between yards as she goes, and stops at every chicken coop to open them as well. More stray dogs have now arrived, and even a few guard dogs come out of houses as people emerge to see what the commotion is about. In a few minutes the entire center of the block is full of squawking chickens being chased by barking dogs and yelling norsefolk. By the time things get crowded enough that Fluffy has been bumped into a few times, a startled cry of “Dværge! Dværge!” has gone up and at least two different night patrols are approaching at a run. Fluffy decides it is time to go home.

When she reaches Dahlia’s, she finds the door barred. She would pound and shout, but there are still guardsmen in the street, in their stubborn stakeout. Fluffy goes around to the back of Dahlia’s, climbs up on the roof, and slips in the window of the garret bedroom. She takes off her dwarf boots and great clothes. Ember and Wolfbane are in Dahlia’s bed, and she yawns deeply, nestles between them, and sleeps soundly.

Midnight (Vestgaffel Road)
Thrud shakes Morgan gently and she stifles a groan. Dahlia’s soft bed has apparently spoiled her back for sleeping on the ground as much as her cooking has spoiled her stomach for camp food. She tells Thrud to put on his boots, but no armor – they don’t need any clinking or clanking.

She carefully peels back the flap of the heavy canvas tent. The cookfires are nothing more than warm embers – doubtless they would not even be visible were she not using her infravision. There are a number of men about the camp – but none of them moving, all hunched or slumped over. Together, Morgan and Thrud, carrying all of their gear, slip out of the tent and over to where the horses are tethered. The moon has not yet risen above the hills to the east, but will be up soon – they will need to act fast. Morgan rummages in the nearby wagon until she finds a bag of apples, then cuts one in half and gives each half to one of the draft horses. That has their attention, and soon they are nuzzling her for more. Good. She leaves Thrud to pack their things (armor, bedrolls, backpacks) on one of the horses while she scouts the camp. With her infravision she can spot the outlying sentries before they see her. Most of them are actually awake and alert. Once she has the grounds mapped out in her head she returns to Thrud. It would be easier and faster to cut the horses’ traces, but she wants their departure to be as confusing as possible, so she and Thrud take the time to untie them from the metal spikes driven in to the ground. If they find the horses gone first but think they freed themselves rather than were stolen, it may delay for a time the realization that she and Thrud have disappeared as well. Leading one horse each by the mane, they depart from the camp, walking a meandering path as far from each picket as they can.

They are a few hundred yards from the camp, and have returned to the road, when the half-moon clears the hills and allows Thrud to see almost as well as Morgan. They pause while Morgan uses the light to check Thrud’s packing job, then they point the unladen horse into the woods and slap its rump.

In the moonlight, the road is easy to follow, and after several hours of walking they come upon the outskirts of Rhoona before dawn. Unloading the horse, they set it free as well. Adjusting their guard tunics and shouldering their own loads, they enter the city. When they feel the urge to sneak or slink, Morgan reminds them both that they are members of the Ducal Guard and have no reason to hide. They walk up the street in front of Dahlia’s, bold as brass, and pound on the barred door, in full sight of the guardsmen watching the house.

Bhelgarn and Poncherius are the only ones sleeping on the ground floor, so Bhelgarn has his henchman open the door for them. Morgan closes it quickly behind them after they enter, feeling that something is not right. But what? Ah, Dahlia is not present. She should be here by now, having made the bread and started on breakfast already. A sleepy Ember descends the stairs and tells Morgan that Dahlia hasn’t been seen since lunch the day before.

“Just as well,” replies Morgan. “We need to be out of here before noon.” She explains to Ember that she and Thrud have deserted, but since they took the camp’s horses she is hopeful that news of their desertion won’t reach the city at least until mid-day. They will need to find somewhere else to hole up while they plan their assault on the Temple of Cretia. For the time being, they need to eat, pack, and get as many of them invisible as possible. “Oh,” she adds, “I could use some healing as well.” Morgan is, in fact, still covered in bruises from her fight with the weaponmaster, and at three days old they are now a deep purple.

Ember uses eight orisons of heartmending on Morgan, and Morgan casts invisibility on Thrud. They tell the men to ready breakfast and lunch for the party, cooking all the food that remains at the tavern, and then they go upstairs to rest. Morgan mentions that if they are to move against the priest of Cretia, any advice would be useful, and Ember agrees to pray before she rests.

Morning (Vestgaffel Road)
Odleif, back to a tree and traveling robe pulled tightly about him, wakes to cries of alarm from the guard camp. He is stiff and cold, and takes his time rousing himself before he slips into the camp. It is just before dawn – the sun not up yet, but it is plenty bright. Bright enough to see the horses gone, and the lieutenant frowning as he stands near what was Thrud and Morgan’s tent the night before but is now empty. Odlief doesn’t know any more nordic than he did the night before, but the heated conversations going on around camp don’t require translation.

Odleif chuckles to himself as he slips back out of camp to the north. It would have been nice of Morgan to warn him that they were leaving, of course, but he probably wasn’t the easiest to find, invisible, at night, halfway up the hillside of the woods looking over the camp. He had a good view of the road, but must have been sleeping when they skedaddled. He chuckles again as he sets off down the road.

It does not take him long to find the horse tracks – draft horses leave a deep print in the soft ground. He finds where the horses split, and decides to continue on the road. A hundred yards later he is rewarded by the faintest of boot prints, but one clearly heading north. He takes a deep pull of his waterskin and a bite of jerky from his pack. He has a long walk ahead of him, but, he reminds himself, it won’t be any longer than the one he did the day before.

Noon (Rhoona)
Just before noon, with all their food cooked and gear packed, Ember and Morgan descend to the common room. Now rested and having prepared spells, Ember casts Glöð’s Remedy on both Thrud (still wounded from the weapons-master) and Fluffy (from her fall down the palace chimney). Morgan then casts invisibility on Ember, and Wolfbane casts it on Morgan. This leaves Poncherius and Wolfbane as the only visible members of the party of seven, with Odleif still unaccounted for.

Ember relates that during her rest and prayer she had a vision – or rather a hearing; she heard the voice of Glöð. She had been praying for guidance on how to help the people of the city, and the response was “When the children are scared, the mother must needs be strong.” Morgan snorts, but stops short of full derision, thinking better of mocking Ember’s god. She says, almost apologetically, “I was just hoping for something a bit more practical.”

During Morgan’s two patrols of the city, one by day and one by night, she spotted an empty house near the temple of the Spooming Nooga. Thrud inquired of the guardsmen, and one of them explained in passing that the home had been the property of a hardworking smith, but when the man died in a tragic accident, his wife and children left the city to return to her relatives in another part of Vestland. Whether the property still belonged to her, or by her abandonment had passed to one of his brothers, who also live outside the city, was not clear. Were the property valuable it would doubtless have been confiscated, but enough of the townsfolk believe it to be either cursed or haunted by the man’s spirit that it has been left alone. Morgan thought little on it at the time but has now decided that it is the best place for them to wait until nightfall.

FluffyKitten, besides her own pack, is given a sack with plenty of food and told to wait on the roof of the tavern, outside Dahlia’s bedroom window. Everyone else, one at a time, climbs out the window, across the roof, and drops down in the alleyway behind the tavern. After all of the invisible party members have gone first, they signal to Wolfbane and Poncherius that it is safe for them to leave. Together, they walk through the city in the general direction of the abandoned house, but take a number of detours along the way in case they are being followed. They are banking on Wolfbane and Poncherius being the ones least recognized or associated with the party, and Poncherius walks with his cloak hood up, tight behind Wolfbane with hopefully few people noting his mask.

Neither Morgan nor Thrud exactly remembers the house, but it does not take them long to find it – they are more worried about Fluffy, who has not seen it, and will need to go by their verbal description – and who knows whether she was paying attention. Fortunately the house has a back door and they can enter without being seen. Inside, they find the roof partially collapsed and mold everywhere. Spores fill the dusty air and Ember cautious them all to breathe with a rag or cloth over their face and not move much. The windows are open (the hide curtains having fallen), so Poncherius and Wolfbane lodge themselves against the front wall, as much out of sight as they can be. There are some whispered conversations, but Morgan encourages them all to get as much rest as they can before the night. Ember finds the largest mushroom head she can and lays it in the open windowsill, hoping it will be seen by Fluffy or Odleif.

Afternoon (Rhoona)
Fluufy has been waiting only a few hours when she hears a soft rapping on the front door, which she cannot see from her station on the back roof. Several minutes later, she hears someone scrambling up the wall and then over the roof towards the window. She and Odleif are reunited through an unseen and whispered conversation. She fills him in on what he has missed, and he understands a bit of her broken Common, enough to know that the party has moved on and he needs to follow her.

Taking Odleif by the hand, Fluffy leads him to the Temple easily enough, but after that it is a good hour more before they find the house, having walked by it more than once. In the end, Odleif spots the mushroom at about the same time that Fluffy stops, sniffing the air as she catches whiffs of her companions. The entire party is finally all together around two in the afternoon.

The afternoon drags on in monotony, except for a brief interlude when the Duke’s herald passes by, and Ember and Thrud strain to hear his proclamation. It is not another edict, but just official news. The herald explains that last night’s fire was started by a cow and a lantern, and was NOT the work of an invisible dwarven army. That, in fact, there is no such army and that spreading rumors about such will be considered sedition. Finally, the outlanders that have been obvious in the city these last four days are dangerous outlaws. Two of them are, in fact, deserters from the ducal guard and horse thieves besides. Any information about their whereabouts is to be reported to the authorities immediately.

In the evening, Ember uses four more orisons on Morgan, and then Wolfbane makes her invisible again. Ember hands out their dinner – cold food eaten by hand from Dhalia’s, as a fire or even getting out serving ware is out of the question.

As night falls and the good folk of Rhoona return to their fire-less homes, the party can move about more freely, talking about plans and stretching their muscles. They set out several hours after nightfall but long before midnight, with Ember insisting they pass first by the Temple of Forsetta to assess the situation.

Although it is a cold night, the Temple is still surrounded by throngs of people, now huddled together for warmth – or in fear. While the party stays to the side of the plaza, Ember walks among the crowd. A few people whisper about the invisible dwarven army, when the guardsmen are not about, but more of them are talking about the party – about how they are in league with the dwarves – setting dwarven prisoners free, attacking the guard, threatening the city by setting buildings on fire to please the goddess Glöð, the goddess of fire. It is unnerving for Ember, the vehemence with which the populace has turned against her, but she remembers her dream and tries to forgive the people as she would scared children. Leaning in and whispering, she tries to start a rumor with several people that the party left Rhoona last night, by boat. Hopefully the people will feel better if they think the party has left – and the guard will be less vigilant in their search for them.

Wolfbane and Poncherius are visible, but haven’t been recognized yet in the darkness of night. Still, many in the party are relieved when Ember finally returns to the edge of the plaza and gathers them together to head for the foreign quarter.

The streets of the Ethengari district are deserted of people, but it is obvious that fires still burn inside their homes – smoke is in the air and light peeks out of doorways and windows. Dogs there are aplenty, but Bhelgarn is prepared and has handfuls of jerky at the ready – they leave an odd trail of snapping and yipping curs in their wake. Wolfbane and Poncherius are nearly to the steps of the Temple when a man emerges from the shadows and bars their way. In harsh, unintelligible Ethengari, he demands something of them in an accusatory tone. He repeats his demand, stabbing his finger forward to strike Wolfbane in her chest. Poncherius turns his head and looks all about him, confused and waiting for some direction on how to handle the situation.

A commanding tone calls out from the Temple, and the man in front of them stiffens, then takes a step back. A robed priest approaches, addressing Wolfbane in accented Common. “You are, I think, lost, and in the wrong part of the city.”

“No,” says Wolfbane hesitantly. “We are meant to be here. I just arrived in Rhoona today, but the city is not safe for me. I request sanctuary in your temple.”

“Sanctuary?” asks the priest incredulously. “What for?”

“I wish to discuss this with your high priest, Xanathon,” she says.

This gives the man pause. Finally he turns to Poncherius. “And you are seeking sanctuary as well?”

“Yes,” responds Poncherius brightly, relieved at being able to contribute.

The priest says a few words to the Ethengari man, and he retreats into the darkness. They are led up the steps of the temple, and through the great central doors out of which they fled just two nights previous. Some of the party make it through the doors, but Bhelgarn and Thrud are left outside when the priest carefully closes, then bars the doors behind them. He brings them through the entryway and in to the hallowed hall (37), where he tells them to wait. After he passes through one of the doors at the far end of the room, the party unbars the main doors and hustles Thrud and Bhelgarn inside. In hushed tones the party agrees: should Xanathon appear, the plan is an immediate surprise attack.

They wait, increasingly on edge under the glittering gaze of the statue of Cretia. Some twenty minutes later the far door opens abruptly, and the priest comes in, followed by a tall, gaunt, bald man, clad in a black robe, and holding a gleaming black mace in his hand. He looks rather frail, but before he is far into the room Fluffy is whispering excitedly, “Iz him! Iz him!”

When they arrive at Wolfbane’s side, he begins, “I am Xanathon, High Priest of Cretia. What business have you here?”

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Before Wolfbane can answer, there is the twang of a bowstring, and an arrow appears in the gaunt man’s shoulder. It sinks in deep, for he is unarmored beneath his robes. Odleif appears in the hall, and the combat has begun. As many of them as possible attack the High Priest, but when Ember begins her harangue, she targets both of them. The junior priest is frozen in place, but Xanathon just scowls at her dismissively. Likewise, Wolfbane strikes him squarely with the ray from her scepter of paralysis, but it does not appear to affect him in the least. Xanathon ignores his helpless companion and charges Wolfbane, striking her a great blow with his mace that sends her reeling. Morgan steps between them before he can land a second blow which would surely fell the mage.

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Xanathon, Bhelgarn, and Thrud during the melee in the Temple of Cretia

Odleif, using his magic boots, dashes across the hall, then leaps in the air, coming down sword-first with all of his weight on the priest’s back. Xanathon is knocked to the ground, Odleif’s magic sword having gone completely through his back, out his front, and having been stopped only by the stone flagging of the floor. At this point the six doors along the entry wall begin to open, and in ones and twos armored priests and warriors emerge.

Xanathon struggles to his knees, then rises. Odleif’s sword is still completely traversing his torso. It rises and falls with his breath, but no blood flows from his wounds. He turns, and launches a series of blows on Odlief that leave the woodsman battered and dazed. Some in the party are raining blows upon him, others attempting to deal with the new arrivals. Wolfbane uses a web spell, a hundred feet long and a foot wide, to seal four of the doors closed, and Bhelgarn, Poncherius, and Fluffy, with the help of Wolfbane’s scepter, manage to overcome those who have already entered. Meanwhile, Morgan and Odleif continue to battle the high priest, with Morgan trying unsuccessfully to disarm him. They are increasingly wounded by blows from his mace, but nothing they do seems to affect him. Their blows hit well enough, sink deep into his flesh, but when they draw forth their weapons there is no blood and his flesh closes as if he had never been wounded.

[DM’s note; by the time they flee, the party has done 108 points of damage to Xanathon, and he still appears to be unwounded. They have killed four fighters and three other priests, however]

Ember feels desperately about her for the source of his power – is it the statue? She and Thrud approach it, and Thrud cleaves off one leg with a massive blow of his axe. That does not seem to change the situation – the most Ember can say is that the priest is an empty vessel, devoid of life force. When she tries to find where his life might be, she sees only a vision of the map in his room, the tapestry that Fluffy described to them. Ember throws a ball of flame at the priest, catching his robes on fire, but leaving his flesh unburned. Just then the statue of Cretia topples over, nearly crushing her. She calls for a retreat, and none too soon, as any one of Odleif, Fluffy, or Wolfbane could easily be dropped by a single blow of the priest’s mace.

The party races across the room after Ember, though Bhelgarn with his magical speed soon passes her. Behind them, Xanathon pursues, laughing maniacally.

Morgan, in her plate armor, is the slowest of them, and by the time she reaches the doorway the high priest is right behind her. Once through, she turns to confront him, beginning a spell. He hits her again with his mace, and by sheer force of will she completes her web, binding him in sticky strands and sealing off the corridor for the moment.

[Dm’s note; Xanathon wins initiative and strikes, dealing six points to Morgan. She needs to make a Con save by at least six to maintain concentration on her spell, and she makes her save by seven].

With the brief respite, the party continues its retreat down the hall. Ember yells to Fluffy – “Which way to his room?” Fluffy’s gut is knotted with anxiety – she knows the priest’s quarters are in the back of the Temple, and she is taking them in that direction, but she never made it out through the locked door of the study and does not actually know how to get there.

Morgan is being left behind, and her plate armor is clattering as she runs. When she passes the door to the dining room they hid in before, she stops and enters, then puts her ear to the door as she tries to regain her breath. The sounds of the party fade in the distance, and then she hears the sound of a single sandaled person running after them. When those sounds have long passed as well, she opens the door and returns to the hallway, where the remains of her webs lie strewn all about. She looks around for an alternate way to the back of the temple, and her keen elven eyes spot telltale cracks in the stone of the corner walls – a secret door! She presses a stone on the wall that looks slightly more worn than those around it and the door opens. Morgan passes through into the long hallway beyond and begins running deeper into the temple.

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While Fluffy leads the party deeper into the temple, pursued by Xanathon, Morgan has found a secret door

The hallway down which the party is running has many corridors branching off of it, but Fluffy leads them straight, deeper and deeper into the temple. Only when it appears to dead-end in front of them does she choose a branch to the left. This corridor also dead-ends, but along the right hand wall are two doors. She takes them to the far door and leads them inside, still hoping this is the right way. As the last of them enter the room, the sound of dark laughter from behind them echoes down the stone hall.

The room they have entered (50) is lined with many shelves of musty tomes and volumes. Three tables are in the room, with four chairs at each. There is only one other door – and that leads back to the same hallway they came from!

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The party is trapped in the library (50)!

Thrud and Bhelgarn immediately throw themselves against the doors, while Ember leads the others in moving the tables to be braced against the doors. “Fluffy!” shouts Ember, a note of panic in her voice, “where now?”

“Don’t know, don’t know!” squeals the halfling, dashing about the room. There has to be a way away from the creepy baldy man – maybe a secrety way? But with all these silly books on the shelves, how could they find it? Fluffy begins grabbing whole clumps of books off the shelves and pitching them on to the floor behind her. Some of the party join her frantic search, while the others pile chairs and books on top of the tables to add weight.

WUMP! The muffled sound of a heavy mace hitting the near door shakes the room. WUMP! it sounds again. “Faster!” yells Ember.

CRACK! A large fissure is rent through the wood of the door. CRASH! Splinters fly everywhere, as a hole the size of a mace head opens in the thick wood of the door. There is a pause in the battering – then the priest sticks his face through the hole! “Heeeeere’s Xanathon!” he mocks, then resumes his destruction of the door.

Fluffy clears the last book from a shelf, then tries to rip the shelf out, or pull the whole unit down to get at the wall, but the shelf feels wobbly to her hands. As she shakes at it, she finds that it can fold, but only up. Pushing up, all of the shelves in that section neatly fold as if hinged in the back, until they lie flush against the back wall. She hears the “click” of a latch.

CRASH! With another splintering of wood, Xanathon has opened a foot square hole in the wooden door, large enough to crawl through, but at face height.

Fluffy tugs at the shelves, and the whole unit slowly rotates into the room, revealing a deep recess in the wall. Bhelgarn is in it first, and quickly locates the mechanism that opens the secret door in the far wall onto a corridor beyond. The sound of clanking armor approaching echoes down the hall, but they reason that any guard has got to be less fearsome than this unholy, unwoundable priest, and pass through as quickly as they can.

Fluffy leads then around a corner just as Morgan, the source of the clanking armor, appears. Fluffy points to a door, but when Morgan tries it, she finds it locked.

“I tell you!” says Fluffy. “I tell you door locked…” but Morgan ignores her. She backs up, pushes herself off of the far wall, runs across the width of the hall and throws her bronze-armored shoulder into the wooden door. A crack appears in the door.

Crash! The soft sound of wood splintering comes from behind them, and then the clatter of chairs falling off a table onto the floor.

As Morgan backs away for a second run, Thrud’s great axe splinters the door, and the party moves through. Fluffy leads them through the study (51) and dining room (52) while Morgan pushes the desk in the study across the open doorway. As she moves into the dining room herself, she can already hear Xanathon grunting as he climbs over the desk. Morgan ducks under the table in the dining room and watches the black-robed bottom half of the priest pass by.

The party enters Xanathon’s private chamber (54). Odleif wraps his robe over his head, then runs and leaps at the window, shattering it in a spectacular explosion of glass. After a five foot drop, he lands on the shore of the fjord in a pile of glass shards. Ember is right after him. Bhelgarn rips the tapestry from the wall, and even as Fluffy yells at him “I tell you…” he turns his back on her and dives out the window himself. One by one the rest of the party climbs or jumps through the window, some cleanly, some cutting themselves on the fragments of glass remaining.

Morgan cautiously enter’s Xanathon’s chamber. The priest is standing with his back to her, framed by the window as he shakes his mace and curses in Ethengari at the party. She runs straight at him, her footsteps striking hard against the stone floor. He is only half-turned round when she crashes into him, and the two go tumbling through the open window, Morgan using his body to shield herself from the glass.

They fall hard on the cobbles and pebbles of the beach, and Xanathon is the first to rise. Even as Morgan tries to stand, he brings his mace in an upper-cut loop against her head. Her neck snaps back and her body goes flying, landing unconscious on the rocky ground. For a second Xanathon looms over her, raising his mace as if preparing to bash in her skull, and only then noting that he is surrounded by the remainder of the party. Shards of glass stick through his body at odd angles, bloodless, as if he were made of clay rather than flesh.

Lowering his mace, he spits on Morgan’s body before turning his back on the party and climbing heavily in through the window of his chamber.

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Post 41 - Feints and Parries
Feints and Parries

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Ninmonth 19 (second full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

Morning
When Morgan and Thrud arrive back at the barracks, Morgan gives the briefest of reports to the Captain of the Day – “Patrolled the whole city, no citizens in non-compliance with the edict.” The Captain can see how exhausted she is, and tells her to go get some sleep and come back later in the day for a debriefing. He mentions that she will likely be leading a patrol again this night as well, so aside from the meeting in his office at her convenience, she and Thrud are off-duty for the day.

By the time they get back to the tavern, Dahlia is already busily at work on breakfast. While Thrud undoes his bedroll in the common room, Morgan drags herself wearily upstairs. Wolfbane and Ember are both awake; Ember kneeling in fervent prayer (having inexplicably woken visible), Wolfbane trying to memorize spells from her spellbook balanced precariously on top of a tiny end-table that Dahlia must use as a vanity (to judge by the basin she has set aside and the piece of burnished metal hung nearby that serves as a mirror). Morgan strips and tries to climb into bed but becomes entangled with Fluffykitten and has to waste several minutes sorting out whose side of the bed is whose with the sleepy halfling.

Downstairs, Thrud is sleeping and only Odleif and Poncherius are awake and visible. Odleif takes it upon himself to both pay Dahlia for the day and keep encouraging her to increase the portions for breakfast, assuring her that some of the others are upstairs, and some are already about town on errands. “Yer hain’t found nuthin but empty pots, have yer?” he says to clinch his argument. After she leaves, everyone but Morgan and Thrud set to breakfast enthusiastically. The rest of the morning is spent in quiet conversation and tending to gear.

It is nearly noon when Morgan comes down the stairs, to be greeted by everyone tucking in to the cold lunch Dahlia left out. She fills her trencher but hasn’t even sat down yet when an aged, quavery voice comes from outside: “Alms, alms for the poor…”

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Ember flies to the window and opens one shutter just enough to see the street. While there is plenty of foot traffic in sight, the only person close to Dahlia’s is an old beggar man, stooped and leaning on a staff. “Alms!” he cries again, to no one in particular, while shuffling down the street.

Ember opens the shutter all the way, but Morgan goes to the window and takes a silver coin from Ember’s hand. She holds out the coin and beckons the man closer. “Hey gramps, what say you tell us about the duke?” she calls. As he hobbles closer, she watches carefully, with the practiced eye of caravan guard master. She’s had plenty of experience separating actual beggars from thieves playing the part. Morgan notes that while he is dirty, his robe tattered and foul-smelling, his posture stooped, he seems hale and hearty enough – his eyes are bright, his teeth stained but intact, his face neither gaunt from hunger nor puffy from drink.

“Oh, the new duke, he’s a fine young man, upstanding like his late father,” the beggar says in a loud but quavering voice. “Worldly, well-read, always the best interests of his people at heart.” The man holds out a chipped wooden bowl expectantly, but he is looking in Morgan’s eyes, not at the coin.

Morgan lowers her voice so it does not carry. “And what about his recent edicts – has he been acting odd of late, or has he always been like this?”

The man leans in close and takes the coin from her, whispers in a breath that reeks of fish, “Seek your answers in the lair of Draco.” With no further word he turns and shuffles off down the street.

Morgan closes the shutter. “Lair of Draco, huh? Now would that be the palace, or the guard barracks? I guess Thrud and I have the barracks.”

“I’ll go to the palace!” squeaks invisible Fluffy, mouth full of cheese and sausage.

Over lunch the plan is made. Morgan will report to the barracks for her debriefing, while Thrud and his “thrall” Poncherius move his things into his new room there. Bhelgarn, invisible, will follow them, and see what he can find in Draco’s private quarters. Meanwhile, Ember and Wolfbane will seek more assistance in the Temple of Forsetta, FluffyKitten will continue to poke around the palace and hopefully confirm whether the duke is actually there, and Odleif will visit the wharves, scouting for a ship that could get them out of the city, fast, if they end up kidnapping His Grace. After she has finished eating, Wolfbane casts invisibility first on FluffyKitten, and then on herself.

Afternoon

Thrud, Morgan, Poncherius, Bhelgarn
Thrud and Morgan make their way across the street to the barracks, Poncherius behind them carrying all of Thrud’s gear, and invisible Bhelgarn last. Morgan seeks admittance to the office of the Captain of the Day (25), while Thrud and Pocherius go to a room (23) across the hall from the Captain that an officer indicates to them. They find the room bare except for an undyed woolen blanket over a wooden bed, and a simple table, and chair.

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In the captain’s office, Morgan is unnerved to find Wyman once again in attendance. He listens patiently while she gives a more complete report to the captain, saying nothing but casually stroking his thin mustache the entire time. When she has finished responding to the captain’s questions, he begins.

“As valuable as your services are in guiding our patrols on these lightless nights,” he says in gilded tones, “it is time to begin planning the defense of the city. Your magic may prove key. Can you give us some examples of what spells you can cast?”

Web,” mumbles Morgan reluctantly. “Magic Missile.”

“Indeed!” enthuses Wyman. “Those will certainly be of great use in defending a fixed position. What of spells that might be used for scouting?”

Morgan shrugs. “I’m not that accomplished, actually – I’m far better with a blade than I am slinging spells.”

Perhaps growing tired of the dance, Wyman locks eyes with her and asks directly, “Can you cast invisibility?”

Morgan nods.

“Excellent,” Wyman beams. “My Lord Draco will be most pleased to hear this. Perhaps you will accompany me to give him the news in person?” Morgan’s stomach is saying “no!” but her head reminds her that she is supposed to be seeking answers in the lair of Draco. She nods again.

“Excccelent,” preens Wyman. He stands and carefully adjusts his cloak while murmuring to the captain. Morgan exits between him and the Captain, and calls for Thrud. At this point, having few things to unpack and fewer places to put them, Thrud is sitting on his bed, and quickly gets up to follow. Poncherius has been led away by Bhelgarn to the entry room (12) to stand in front of a door he wants to slip through. As Morgan and Thrud approach, Poncherious looks nervously between them and the door he is guarding.

Morgan hisses to Thrud, “tell him to stay.”

“Thrall!” bellows Thrud in Common. “Stay here until I return.” He points to the floor.

“Yes,” says Poncherius amiably, his voice muffled by his bronze mask.

When Morgan and Thrud emerge with Wyman to the courtyard below, there is already a double-squad assembled – over a dozen men and two sergeants. At a word from the captain, they form into two groups, one in front and one behind, and march thusly with Morgan, Thrud, and Wyman out of the southwest gate and toward the palace.

Bhelgarn and Poncherius
Once Poncherius has carried all of Thrud’s gear to his new room, Bhelgarn pulls him aside and whispers in Cyndician, “come with me”. Morgan learned on the previous day that the east door off of the entry room (12) leads to the Lord High Commander’s chambers. Positioning Poncherius in front of the door so as to block the sight of it opening and closing, Bhelgarn tells him to stay there as he slips through.

The room beyond (30) is sparsely furnished and contains only a table, four chairs, and two benches. A tapestry depicting a longship riding out a stormy sea hangs on the outside wall. The shutters are closed, but there is enough light for Bhelgarn to see clearly. There is one other door, at the far end of the room, and Bhelgarn listens at it, but does not hear anything.

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Swallowing once, Bhelgarn eases open the door and slips through into the much larger room beyond (31). A long table with fourteen ornate, straight-backed chairs occupies the center of the room. Six soft armchairs are in the corners, a buffet with a collection of fine silver and crystal tableware stands against one wall, and a long trophy case is opposite it. To the north is an open archway leading to a kitchen area, and Bhelgarn can now hear low voices there, speaking in Nordic. From where he stands in the doorway, he cannot see anyone, so he trusts that they did not see the door open and close, either. Near the door he entered through, on the same wall, is another door, though that one is likely within the view of the kitchen.

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Bhelgarn moves slowly across the wooden floor, hoping he is not betrayed by a creak or groan. He stands in front of the trophy case. There are five bottles, presumably of wine, four paintings, and two exquisitely crafted rugs that look to be of Alaysian origin.

Bhelgarn moves to near where the archway opens on to the kitchen and listens. Though he does not understand the words, he takes the tone of the speech to be that of idle conversation, involving at least two older men and a woman. Taking a deep breath, he looks into the kitchen (32). Around a large, worn table sit two old men and two women in the garments of servants – drab and worn, but respectable. Behind them is a large pantry tucked into an alcove. An oven and a water hand pump are placed around the room.

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Bhelgarn crosses the open space of the archway and moves along the wall to the door. The archway completely blocks the sight of the door from three of the servants. If he opens the door, it could be seen by one of the men – if he were looking that way. Since the man appears to be involved in the conversation, Bhelgarn decides to chance it. Heart pounding, he opens the door and slips inside, but leaves it slightly ajar behind him.

This room (33) has only interior walls, no windows, and is unlit. Bhelgarn gives himself a minute for his eyes to adjust and use his infravision. The shapes of two large chairs, a desk with a simple chair, and two bookshelves come in to view. A cold strip at the base of the wall indicates another door. Bhelgarn cautiously tries the door, but finds it locked. It is wooden and could easily be dismantled, but not without making enough noise to be heard in the kitchen.

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Bhelgarn hesitates, then goes back to collect Poncherius. Slipping out of the office and back through the dining room and reception room are easy enough. He eases the final door open and whispers, “Poncherius?”

“Yes.”

“Slip inside – but only if no one is out there to see you.”

Poncherius enters and follows Bhelgarn to the dining chamber, waiting for him to give the go-ahead when the man in the kitchen is looking away. This time Bhelgarn closes the office door behind them and lights his sword. He quickly explains that the other door of the room is locked, and he needs Poncherius to open it. Poncherius examines the lock, frowning underneath his mask. The door is wooden, but the strike plate is of heavy metal and has multiple cylinders inside. He turns back to the desk, sifting through the mess of papers until he finds a short, thin blade – probably for cutting quills. Poncherius is unhurried in his work on the lock, guided by feel, as Bhelgarn guards the door to the dining room, sweating. Finally there is a soft snap, followed by a curse in Cyndician that Bhelgarn does not yet know. Looking over, he sees the door open, but Poncherius holding the blade and handle, irreparably separated from each other.

“You know, this would be easier if you would get me these [lock picks] you talk about,” Poncherius says in Cyndician except for “lock picks”, for which there seem to be no words.

Ignoring him, Bhelgarn shines his sword into the long hall (34) beyond.

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The unusual room has a lush layer of furs on the floor. White and black bearskins, dire wolf hides, and the skins of all of the great cats have been piled throughout the room. Along one wall, posed so as to almost appear real, is the skin and mounted head of a red dragon. Along the opposite wall are mounted the heads of wild boars, a giant, several dwarves, some sort of great black cat, and an individual owl bear, troll, unicorn, and woolly rhinocerous.

Bhelgarn crosses the room – his fear at getting caught replaced with terror at the sight of the severed heads of his kinsmen. The way their twisted faces are lit from below is not helping, nor is the soft, yielding furs under his feet that make him feel unsteady. The far door is locked as well, and Bhelgarn resolves not to look up on the way back. He again stands guard at the door to the dining room while Poncherius goes over the desk – this time opening drawers. “No more knives,” he says at the end, “but perhaps we could use this?” He holds forth a black iron key retrieved from the bottom drawer.

The key fits neatly in the far door of the trophy room, and it opens upon a bedroom (35).

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The large bedroom contains a huge and richly quilted bed, a table with four chairs, a number of tapestries, and a large wardrobe closet. On the table is a full bottle of wine and two crystal goblets. The tapestries illustrate battle and sailing scenes in great detail, and feature prominently the exploits of a tall, black-bearded warrior with a “D’ emblazoned on the front of his tunic.

Poncherius searches the wardrobe while Bhelgarn looks over the outer room. The closet contains a full suit of plate mail, leather armor, and a dozen ornate robes. All of these are emblazoned with an elaborate “D". Bhelgarn finds nothing in the room, so he bids Poncherius search the walls for secret doors while he does the same.

Behind a tapestry on the far wall, Bhelgarn feels a curious loose knot in the pineboard. When he presses it, hidden catches release, opening a small door. He has to step over a high threshold into the small, secret chamber beyond (36).

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Three chests with heavy iron padlocks are stacked at one end of the narrow room, and a small writing table and chair are at the far end. A piece of parchment is on the table. Bhelgarn examines the parchment and finds it covered with a curious, indecipherable code. Folding the parchment and tucking it inside his shirt, he pulls on Poncherius’ sleeve. Poncherius gestures at the chests. “Not today,” says Bhelgarn, shaking his head. We are here for information, not wealth, and I’m not spending a minute more than we need to. If that parchment don’t have what Morgan and Ember are looking for, I’ll eat my boots."

Bhelgarn tries to hide any trace of their presence. The key Poncherius carries is used to lock the bedroom and office doors, then returned to the desk, the broken pen knife hidden under the papers. They make it back out to the entry hall without being seen by the kitchen servants, and Poncherius is halfway across the courtyard outside the barracks building before he is stopped by a guard.

“Din master er på slottet. Skal du tilbage til Dahlia værtshus?” the guard asks.

“Yes,” replies Poncherius.

When Poncherius and Bhelgarn enter Dahlia’s, they are the only ones there.

[Note: this is the end of the play session on 9/30/16]

FluffyKitten, Morgan, and Thrud
Fluffy leaves the tavern at the same time the others do, but goes directly to the palace. Invisible, she has no trouble arriving there – but how will she get in? There is enough of a lip to the gutter at the roof line that she should be able to catch her grappling hook on it, so she goes to the rear of the palace where the fewest eyes are, since her hook and rope will be visible once thrown.

She climbs to the roof easily enough, just in time as the sound of marching boots on the stone courtyard informs her of a patrol passing below. She decides to wait and count muffins in her head and is at more than 50 dozen when the boots come by again. It seems the patrols are passing every ten minutes today – more frequently than yesterday. She begins to scrabble up the back roof slope, but it is hard going. The slates are new and slick, and the roof itself steep. She climbs up to the peak without mishap, but has a scary moment after going over as she slides uncontrollably down the front slope, catching herself on a sea serpent gargoyle head at the lip just before falling over the edge. Looking over, she finds the window to the mistress’ room, so she takes time to set her hook well, and then lowers herself down to the sill. She finds the window latched from the inside, even though they deliberately left it unlatched when they used the window as their exit yesterday. She pulls herself back up to the roof and moves her hook over to Mr. Duke’s room, then lowers herself down again.

The large room (107) is messy and dirty inside, with clothes on the floor. The door to another room across from the window stands open, and there are two closed doors on the side walls. A bare writing table is against the wall and an overturned chair is next to it. The bed is against the wall of the window. A bedraggled figure is visible on the huge bed. He is not confined in any way that she can see, but is mostly under the covers with his knees up against his chest, trembling. His hair is matted and messy.

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Fluffy tries to open the window, but it is latched from the inside. She raps on a pane, and he turns to look, but does not leave the bed. Remembering that she is invisible, she wonders how she can get him to come to the window and then convince him to open the latch. Won’t the others be impressed when she manages to kidnap Mr. Duke all by herself! She is struck by an idea – who wouldn’t want to rescue a cat? She opens the sack she keeps her cat in and pulls Mr. Scruffy, Jr., out, helping it find a place on the sill next to her. She raps again on the glass. This time, when the duke looks over, there is a shock of recognition in his eyes. He throws back the covers (revealing that he is clad in a dirty nightgown) and dashes over to the window. Pawing and scratching at the glass, he barks ferociously at the cat, but ignores the latch. Mr. Scruffy Jr. arches its back and hisses, with all its hair standing on end. At this, the duke barks even louder, and now Fluffy can hear the harsh Nordic voices of men calling from outside the room. She forces the cat back into her sack and quickly climbs up the rope, pulling it up behind her even as someone else comes to the window to see what Mr. Duke is barking at.

Fluffy sits with her bum in the stone rain gutter and her legs dangling over the edge, kicking at the air as she thinks. Far off by the fountain is another guard patrol, but this one is larger, and at least one of the people in it is not a guard. As they approach she can see that the not-guard is a tall man in black leather. Next to him, though, are Thrud and Morgan! They have tried to fool her by dressing in the tabards of the guard, but she sees through their disguise! She waves frantically at them to let them know that she sees them, but they don’t look up – or maybe it is because she is still invisible. Drat. Anyway, she has to find a way inside.

She climbs back up to the roofline. The back half of the roof has three big brick chimneys. When she first came up, all three were putting out smoke, so she did not even consider them, but one of them now is not. Well, it worked in the temple…

Even before she enters the chimney, just looking down inside, she can see the problem. This chimney is much bigger the one at the temple, and she will be hard-pressed to stretch across and push on both walls. Fluffy asks herself whether she has any better ideas, and is not surprised when she answers no. Checking that all her sacks are on tight, she lowers herself into the hole. By stretching way out, she can touch both walls, but only with her hands and feet. The walls are slick with soot, and halfway down she slips and falls, all the way down to the smoke shelf, landing with an “oof!” and a big owie. She takes just a moment to sniffle. Ember isn’t here to look at the owie so she will just have to keep going. From the shelf she can see a bit into the kitchen and hear more. There are lots of cookie men there and they talk to each other as they work. It will be hard to slip out of the hearth without being seen. She needs a distraction.

Fluffy opens her sack and takes out Mr. Scruffy Jr., who seems to be working hard for dinner today. She lowers it down off the shelf, then lets it drop into the ashes of the hearth. Scruffy immediately wails, for underneath the ash the coals are uncomfortably hot, and its paws are burned. The cat dashes out into the kitchen, still wailing, as Fluffy drops down into the hearth, scattering a big cloud of ashes. Fortunately all three cookie men are yelling and chasing Mr. Scruffy Jr. She is almost to the door of the kitchen (84) when one of them turns and points at her. Well, not at her, but at the clear boot-prints in ash she is leaving across the clean kitchen floor. The cookie men drop their pursuit of the cat and rush at her, but she is out of the door before they can grab her.

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Morgan and Thrud are marched through the city to the palace. All the way, Wyman is making ingratiating conversation with them, as if they were not surrounded by guards. Walking across the plaza in front of the palace, Morgan catches sight of Fluffy’s grappling hook sticking out of the gutter at the roofline, but she makes sure she does not look up, so as not to alert anyone else.

On the porch, one of the squad leaders steps forward and knocks three times on the secret door. There is a muffled voice from inside, and he leans forward to whisper a password. Morgan strains her ears but does not hear it. The door opens.

Both Morgan and Thrud have carefully studied the floor plans of the palace drawn for them by Ember, so they are not surprised as they move into the guardroom. Wyman leaves half of their escort there, then continues through the servant’s corridor with them and just five guards. They pass out into the main palace, up the grand staircase, and pause outside what Morgan knows is the duke’s private dining room. Wyman excuses himself and enters the dining room while they wait in the hall. Morgan looks around casually, checking what she sees against her mental map. She recognizes the library door, the door to the mistress’ chambers, the (locked?) door to the room Fluffy and Bhelgarn explored the night before.

Several minutes later Wyman emerges, inviting Morgan and Thrud inside while the guard remains outside. They pass through the dining room and into a room (103) Ember saw but never entered.

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The comfortably furnished room is the height of royal luxury. A dozen soft chairs are placed around the room, and a small gaming table with four finely carved wooden chairs is in the middle. A plush carpet covers the floor, and three chandeliers hang from the ceiling. An ornate tapestry hangs across one wall of the room, depicting an earlier Duke of Rhoona’s victory over a tribe of hill giants many years ago. The bards still sing of that Duke’s victory – Thrud has heard the song. Besides themselves and Wyman, the room is empty except for a solitary man sitting at the table. He is a huge, bull-like figure, even sitting down. His black beard is parted by a wicked slash of a mouth, and an evil gleam is in his eyes. With no tabard or surcoat, a scarlet “D” can be seen emblazoned on his chain mail. This must be Draco.

Fluffy dashes out into the ballroom, the cooks close behind. She runs in broad loops and circles until her ash-tracks fade into nothing against the polished marble floor. Then, as the confused cooks give up pursuit and begin talking to the guards in the entrance hall, she throws her hook up to the balcony and climbs up to the second floor.

Wyman gestures magnanimously at the table, and Morgan takes a seat, followed by Wyman. Thrud stands impassively by the door of the room, and Draco give a grunt that Wyman interprets as acquiescence.

“My Lord Draco,” begins Wyman, “is very pleased with the two newest members of the Ducal Guard. It is unfortunate that you could not join us in better times. My Lord has asked you here to discuss a matter of national security.” Draco grunts again, and Morgan nods.

“I’m sure you will agree that our paramount concern is the safety of the Duke,” continues Wyman, and Morgan nods again. “This is why my Lord has moved his base of operations from the barracks to the palace – to stay close to His Grace and protect him at all times in this regretful war. Yesterday, we received several reports of suspicious activities here in the palace, perpetrated by one or more invisible individuals. Obviously this represents a grave threat to the safety of His Grace, and my Lord Draco has wisely instituted a number of counter-measures. However, as members of the Ducal Guard, we are charged with investigating the origin of this activity.”

Morgan has a sinking feeling in her stomach, but she forces herself to smile and nod in agreement as Wyman goes on.

“In all of Rhoona, there are only three people capable of casting invisibility. My Lord Draco keeps meticulous records on these matters, I can assure you. One of those casters is a member of the Ducal Guard – the other two are upstanding members of the community, and have independently corroborated accounts of where they were for the entirety of yesterday. And that is, of course, where you come in.”

Morgan has not practiced looking innocent much, but she does her best and says, “I don’t understand.”

Wyman sighs regretfully. "You are new here, an “unknown element”, as it were. And you told me not an hour ago that you can cast invisibility. Of course we don’t doubt your loyalty to the Duke, but it is precisely because of this loyalty that I am sure you will understand how your duty lies clearly in eliminating yourself from suspicion in this matter." Morgan looks at Wyman blankly. “We will go to where you and your companions are quartered, and you will turn over your spellbook to me. You will pass the evening – or longer – in the holding room at the barracks until we can determine who these intruders are in the palace.”

Now even Morgan cannot pretend to not understand. “Well, you can look at my spellbook,” she says, “but you won’t find invisibility there.”

A hint of a frown tugs at the corner of Wyman’s mouth, fighting with the ever-present smug smile. “But you said you could cast…”

“Oh, I can cast it, have cast it,” agrees Morgan. “I didn’t say I have it. Scrolls, you know. Things like that.”

“Nevertheless,” says Wyman resolutely, and Draco grunts. Wyman rises from his seat, and Morgan matches him.

FluffyKitten moves out into the second-floor hall. There are a number of guards about, including five standing in front of the dining room. From down the stairs come the excited shouts of more guards, and one of them is dashing up the stairs.

In the sitting room, everyone present can hear the commotion outside. Draco stands up abruptly, his chair falling over behind him on the carpet. He strides to the door, throws it open, and demands to know what is going on, the first words he has spoken. The single guard in the dining room says he does not know, prompting Draco to go to the far door, leaving Morgan, Thrud, and Wyman behind. Draco pauses at the far door, listening to reports. Everything is now in Nordic – Thrud tells Morgan later that he heard Draco say “sweep each room with buckets” and “bring me the cooks”.

Fluffy can see that the tall dark man in the doorway is a big meanie. All of the guardy men stand well clear of him – no one wants to be close. She can use that. She gets as close as she can to the doorway, to him, and then when he turns around she dashes through just before he slams the door. She follows in his wake across the room but then a silly guardy man collides with her and starts shouting.

Her? Bring flere spande!” bellows the meanie man.

There are two doors in the sitting room, Morgan can see – the one they came in, and one on the other side of the room. When Draco starts yelling, Wyman moves to the other door, blocking it with his body. The dining room door opens, and the squad that was waiting outside runs in, each grabbing at the air around them. Draco is blocking the doorway to the sitting room.

Into the chaos of the dining room scene arrives one servant, bearing a steaming, bubbling bucket of pitch, and a large brush. A second later, two guards come in, shoving a cook roughly before them.

“Pitch?” asks Morgan incredulously. “Do you know the mess that will make?”

Draco answers in Common. “Of course it will make a mess, woman, that’s the point. Whoever walks through it will leave messy sticky tracks until we can find them.”

Morgan swallows her pride for a moment. “My lord,” she says, laying one hand gently on Draco’s bicep, bulging beneath his chain. “Let me through for a moment. I will cast dispel magic on this hall, removing any invisibility. Then you won’t have to ruin the fine floor.”

Draco harrumphs. “Won’t ruin the floor, it will just need to be cleaned. That’s what servants are for.” But he gives way partially, and allows Morgan to slip by him, grinning lecherously as she is forced to press up against him. Fortunately for everyone involved, Morgan is distracted as she distinctly feels something small slip by her, on her way through the doorway.

A second later Thrud feels a tug on his breeches, then a small body ascending his massive frame like a child climbing a tree. “Iz Fluffy,” says a small voice in his ear. “You iz me new hidey-spot.”

Draco moves back to blocking the doorway while Morgan “casts” the spell. True, she does not know dispel magic, but she has seen it cast before and is pretty sure she remembers a few of the words, and even more confident that no one present will know the difference. When she is done, she peers about carefully. “No one invisible here,” she reports.

Draco scowls and orders the dining room cleared, the rest of the palace searched, but the cook brought in to the sitting room. He and Wyman resume their places at the table, while Thrud and Morgan stand nearby. Wyman’s place at the far door has been taken by a man in full plate and shield with a guard officer’s tabard, longsword drawn.

The cook explains in Nordic how a cat appeared in the kitchen, and following that, ash-prints in the kitchen and ballroom. He followed procedure in pursuing the prints and alerting the guards. Wyman asks him what the prints were like, and he says small, like a child’s.

“Or like a dwarf’s!” spits Draco. “Som jeg formodede – usynlige dværg snigmordere!”

After the cook is dismissed, Wyman and Draco continue to receive reports on the search of the palace. When nothing more appears to be happening and no intruders are found, Wyman gathers up Thrud and Morgan, several guards, and leaves.

Ember and Wolfbane
Before setting out from Dahlia’s, Ember takes quill and ink, and composes a message. “To the wise servants of Forsetta the Just – we continue our investigation, but are hampered by a lack of knowledge of the history of Rhoona. Can you tell us when the Temple to Cretia was built? Who is its head priest? What is the nature of its god? Is there a relationship between the church and Draco? How did Draco become the leader of the Ducal Guard?” When she finishes, Ember signs the paper by putting the single rune for Glöð.

After the ink has dried, Ember rolls up the paper and gives it to invisible Wolfbane. The two then leave the tavern and walk the block and a half to the Temple of Forsetta, all the way under the walls of the guard barracks.

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The plaza around the great temple is crowded with people. Several makeshift smithies have been set up, and the air is full of smoke. Townsfolk are bringing in their brassware plates and the smiths are folding and hammering them into service as braziers, or they are handing over copper pots and the smiths are fashioning lids. The wealthy are donating bags of coal for the temple to distribute, and poor families are lined up to receive their ration. Priests and priestesses of Forsetta are everywhere, helping with the distribution, and blessing those who are donating their goods or services so that all might pass the night warm but without open flames. Ember works her way slowly through the crowds toward the Temple proper, Wolfbane in her wake.

Ember waits outside while Wolfbane slips in. She finds the temple even more crowded – the faithful fill the pews and spill over into the aisles as they pray for peace, for mercy from the dwarven army, and for the health of the duke. There is no one unoccupied to speak to, but Wolfbane slips the roll of paper into the vestment of a priest as he leads the congregation in prayer.

Ember and Wolfbane wait outside, watching the entrance to the temple for over an hour. The faithful come and go, acolytes and priestesses enter and exit, but they all have their duties and no one approaches Ember. They are about ready to quit and give up when a familiar voice carries across the plaza.

“Gather round, gather round!” it calls. “A story, a story for my dinner? Alms?”

Eric the beggar is surrounded by children, bored of waiting in line with their families. A few of them have even placed crusts of bread in his bowl. Ember walks closer, but at a tangent so she is not directly approaching.

“Our story begins five summers ago,” says the venerable man in his quavery voice, “when the old duke, Hrothgar Rhoona, gods rest his soul, passed from this world and his glorious son Steven, gods preserve him, ascended. Now His Grace Steven was a young man, but wise enough to know that he needed strong allies and good counselors to help him rule. While he invited many godly men and women into his confidence, he also made overtures to a recently-retired pirate – a freebooter and blackguard named Stormsailor, who sought to buy his way into respectable…oof!” The old man staggers under the blow of a strapping smith’s prentice.

“You watch your tongue, you crazy old man,” says the youth, hooking his thumb to point to a squad of soldiers helping to keep order around the Temple. “Slandering Lord Draco is treason.”

Eric bows his head and gives no response. He shuffles off, to the plaintive complaints of the children. He is almost to the edge of the plaza when he settles heavily onto a bag of coal, head down and looking into his lap, dejectedly. A man in expensive furs frowns sourly, but then returns to his conversation with a temple priest, who is praising him for every bag of coal he is giving over.

Ember moves closer to Eric, dabs a cloth with water from her skin, absent-mindedly cleans the faces of some of the poorest children who have persisted in following Eric when their betters left the old man. Suddenly Eric looks up, a twinkle in his eye. He sets his bowl at his feet. “Of course, I have another tale,” he says, in a voice that is hushed and conspiratorial, and the remaining children giggle and applaud. "This one is not about Duke Steven, no, but his ancestor Stefen Rhoona! Young Stefan, at the beginning of his reign, was approached by a huge, black viper! The viper spoke kind words, but there was malice in his heart. “Let me help you, your grace,” the viper said, “for I know the seas, and I know men, and I can guide your ships and lead your armies,” and the young duke agreed, for he wanted only to serve his people and the viper promised to help him do just that."

“Some three years after the duke had accepted the viper into his counsel, there arrived in the duchy horse-men.”

“Centaurs?” asks one of the children.

“Indeed, just so,” replies Eric, and continues. “Horse-men. The duke and the people accepted them, for they brought many good things – goats, and cheese, and fermented milk and such. But now, the viper saw his chance. He went in secret to the leader of the horse-men, a priest name Thonaxan, who served a dark god of wickedness and deceit. Thonaxan had already used dark magic to raise a great temple for his people. Together, Thonaxan and the viper hatched an evil scheme to trap the duke!”

“Oh no!” cries one young child, and the others laugh but press Eric to continue.

As the beggar continues his fanciful tale, Ember and Wolfbane return to the tavern.

Odleif
Odleif leaves Dahlia’s and heads for the wharves. Most of the ships lie idle, but several are busy, taking on loads of supplies, mostly food and drink. He spots an unusual sight – two well-dressed children on the deck of a small longship, flanked by a pair of guards in the uniform of some private house. The children’s faces are resolute, but they do look as if they have been crying recently. A third uniformed guard stands next to a woman on the docks in expensive furs. She does not call to the children, but mouths words as if praying.

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Odleif listens to as many conversations as he can, but all are in Nordic. Free from the party, his tanned and grizzled face and worn travel clothes help him blend in to the crowd – when people address him in Nordic he smiles and they smile back. But he knows he will stick out as soon as he opens his mouth.

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After spending a great deal of time walking up and down the wharves and learning nothing, Odleif decides to go in to the customs house. True, he will be noticed, but he has learned nothing so far anyway. In the customs house he finds a minor official and explains that he and his party are looking for swift passage out of Rhoona and wonders if the man knows of any ships or captains for hire. In thickly-accented Common, the official explains that all ships of importance have been provisionally requisitioned by the ducal guard to use in the defense of the city. Although they do not have duties yet, they are not permitted to leave the city. If Odlief is looking to leave, the man suggests that he hire the east ferry, which has not been requisitioned for the moment, and leave by the overland route.

Odleif thanks him, and adds that he “couldna help but notice” that many of the ships are laying in supplies and one even had children aboard – this seems strange if none of them will be allowed to leave Rhoona. Before the man can answer, his question is overheard by the Master Customs Officer, who speaks to his functionary in Nordic. What follows is a very animated discussion in Nordic, accompanied by many hand gestures and a few curses that Odleif recognizes from his time with Thrud. At the end, the minor official turns his back and departs, and the Master Officer smiles warmly at Odleif.

In much clearer Common, the man tells Odleif he must be mistaken, that “nothing odd is happening here – everything seen is just part of normal customs and preparations for war.” Without waiting for follow-up, he takes his leave but moves quickly about the office, until he has spoken with every other official present.

Odlief smiles ruefully and heads back to Dahlia’s. On his way out he passes by the ship that had the children. The woman and her guard are no longer on the dock. Two men are on the ship that might be the guards, but they now wear no colorful tabards, just plain traveling clothes. The children are nowhere to be seen and the longship has no below-decks, but there is a small foul-weather hide tent up on the deck now.

Morgan, Thrud, FluffyKitten – Ember, Wolfbane, Bhelgarn, and Poncherius
Thrud, Morgan, Wyman, and their escort arrive at Dhalia’s. The lead guard tries the door but finds it barred from the inside, at which point he begins pounding. Wyman stills his hand, tut-tuts, and looks expectantly at Morgan.

Morgan tries to remember who is currently visible. “Ember?” she calls. “Let us in. I need to pick up my spellbook and supplies.” She hopes that Ember can take a hint from her tone.

In the tavern, Ember peers at the group outside through the shutters. She quickly tries to remember who the guard does and doesn’t know about. She whispers to Wolfbane, “You need to hide your things, quick – and Bhelgarn’s, too. Get your packs and sleeping rolls, everything – especially the spellbooks – but leave all of Morgan’s things in plain sight.” Wolfbane starts grabbing Bhelgarn’s things, hissing for his help, as Ember moves to the door.

“Just a minute!” she calls, looking over her shoulder to the floor of the tavern, where Bhelgarn’s packs are disappearing one by one. When she finally hears footsteps on the stairs, she draws back the bolt to the door, as slowly and noisily as she can, then welcomes the group into the inn.

“Ah, Delightful Dahlia’s” sighs Wyman as he crosses the threshold. “It has been quite some time indeed since I have been in here.” Looking around, he sees just Ember and Poncherius. “And where is the proprietress, I wonder?”

Ember moves to the kitchen, calling out “Oh, I’m sure she will be here soon to begin preparations for dinner. In the meantime, would you have a cup of tea, milord?” Wyman leans over to one of the guards and whispers. The man nods and leaves the tavern. Ember rattles the grate on the hearth while building the fire, knocks about as many pans as she can while looking for a cup, and hopes she is covering most of the noise that Bhelgarn and Wolfbane are making upstairs, rapidly packing.

“Oh, I’m no lord,” purrs Wyman, “not yet, certainly,” and Ember joins him in his laugh. “You may call me Wyman.”

“Wyman is special attaché to Lord High Commander Draco,” says Morgan stiffly. “He is here to collect my things, as I am being held overnight in the guard barracks.”

Wyman shakes his head lightly. “Being held? Nothing of the sort,” he demurs, “you are availing yourself of the opportunity to serve national security by proving your loyalty to your liege lord, the duke. In fact,” he says, his gaze sweeping the room, “you are all going to have that opportunity. How about that?” Ember looks quickly at Morgan, her hand reaching for her mace but shielded from sight by the counter of the bar. Morgan silently mouths the word “no.”

When everyone is silent, Wyman grins broadly. “No objections? Fabulous.”

The guards pack up all of the bedrolls and other gear from the floor, and then a pair are dispatched upstairs to the garret bedroom. They quickly return with Ember and Morgan’s things. Ember wonders but does not voice her question as to how they were able to maneuver in the tiny space with both Wolfbane and Bhelgarn present without running into them. Wyman personally takes Morgan’s spellbook but seems unconcerned with the mundane gear, which he lets the guards carry as they leave the tavern and cross the street to the barracks.

Soon after the door closes, Wolfbane begins speaking.

“Bhelgarn.”

“What?”

“C’mon, we have to go after them.”

“No thanks, you can go.”

“I need your help – our friends need your help.”

“Nope, I’m staying here.”

“But why?”

“Because I’m a dwarf, and I like my height and my beard just fine the way they are, thanks.”

“But Bhelgarn…”

“Besides, someone has to wait here for Odleif and Fluffy, and tell them what happened.”

Wolfbane growls in frustration and slips out the door, then hurries across the street to catch up with the rest of the party. Bhelgarn sighs heavily and sits down at a bench to wait.

By the time the party has crossed the inner courtyard of the barracks, Wolfbane has caught up with them. They are headed for the heavy iron door at one end of the large barracks building – the single-story, stone portion that looks like an afterthought to the large two-story wooden structure. She manages to slip inside as they enter. They are in a plain, stark room (3), barren of any amenities. Five metal-barred cells, a table, and a chair are the only objects in the room. Two of the cells seem to be occupied, but there are no windows and the only light comes from the open door and a wan candle on the table, so whatever occupants are present are obscured by shadows. The room smells faintly of sweat, piss, and mouldering straw, but there are no instruments of torture about. All of them have seen the dungeons of Zargon, and these cells are not intimidating.

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Under Wyman’s watchful eye, the party members are, one at a time, each in turn, searched and all their items put on the table. They even find Morgan’s boot knife, which earns her grudging respect. When the guards try to take Poncherius’ mask, he gasps and resists, and two of the guards raise their clubs.

“Please, please,” calls Ember in Nordic, “it’s a religious totem.”

Wyman holds up his hand and the guards back off. He carefully inspects the mask without removing it, running his fingers over it in a way that makes Morgan’s skin crawl, before finally agreeing that the oddly pale man can keep it. “Yes,” whimpers Poncherius softly to himself.

Once all their possessions have been collected, they are led to their cells. Wyman specifies that Morgan and Thrud are to be kept together in one cell, and Ember and Poncherius in another, and that seems to be a source of some private amusement to him. As Thrud walks to his cell he hears “takki-takk” whispered in his ear and FluffyKitten slips to the floor and away. Both she and Wolfbane are paying close attention to the man with the keyring.

“Well now,” Wyman says cheerfully as the guards pack up all the party’s items. He still personally carries Morgan’s spellbook. “Do make yourselves comfortable. I’m sure they will be along with dinner soon.”

While the cell doors are securely locked and checked, they note that the man with the key ring does not bother to lock the iron door as he exists the room. There is a second door, this one of stout wood, on an inside wall, but Wolfbane can hear dozens of voices on the other side. “We don’t want to be caught in the middle of anything,” says Morgan. “We’ll wait until after dinner – but one of you should see if you can track down those keys.”

Wolfbane slips outside. There are plenty of guards in the courtyard, but none appear to have noticed the door open and close. She follows a group of men around the side of the barracks and into the open doors of a huge mess hall (6). There are many long tables with benches on either side of them, slowly filling with soldiers as more and more come in. A stairway at the end of a hallway leads to an open, dark space above.

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Wolfbane makes her way around the mess, carefully avoiding people when she can, and when she can’t, making sure she bumps into two closely together so they will each assume it was the other. She finds the man with the keyring, but he is sitting down at the table, tightly flanked by other guards, with the keyring at his belt and out of view beneath the table. There is no way she is getting to that. She returns to the prison cell and tells her tale.

FluffyKitten listens carefully to her description of where the man is sitting and sets out. Once in the mess, she easily slips under the table. They are serving now, and the man has received his dinner. She wrinkles her nose in disgust. Weak soup and old, burned meat. Blech! No wonder these people put her friends in cells. They are probably jealous of Dahlia’s cooking.

Careful to avoid all of the feet and legs, Fluffy creeps closer until she is standing by the keyring. It is a heavy iron ring, and she will not be breaking it, nor twisting the keys off. The ring runs through his leather belt. She could cut the belt – but with the speed at which he is eating his foul dinner, he would certainly notice before she could get to her friends and back. Maybe, if she was very careful, she could unbuckle his belt and slip the keyring off – but she would still have the problem of time. No, there’s not much she can do here.

She comes out from under the table and looks around. The men are eating the meat and bread with their fingers, the soup with shallow wooden spoons. A few have their own personal knives out for cutting, as there are none on the table – that is the extent of the utensils. That gets her thinking about her own personal camp kit, where she has a nice pewter fork. She grins thinking about the merchant house she took that from. Now they had good food! What was she thinking about? Oh, yes. Forks. Why, if she had a fork, she could open those locked cells. Maybe. Where is her fork? The guardy-men didn’t bring it to the prison, but does that mean it is back at Dahlia’s? Why did they leave it there?

Fluffy moves across the mess, drawn to the kitchen. She bets they have forks, there. Passing through the open doorway, she finds the room (5) contains several large clay ovens, and some stacks of pots and pans. A pair of closed doors covers a cabinet on one of the room’s walls. Huge pots, kettles, and ladles are all about the room, and four cookie-men move furiously about. There! On the wall, Fluffy sees a number of wrought iron meat forks. Those are coming with her! She slips them off the wall without anyone seeing and returns to the prison.

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When Fluffy opens the prison door she is surprised to find two guardy-men already there. One, holding a torch as it is now quite dark in the room though only dusk outside, turns to look suspiciously at the door, and she makes it open and close more, as if blown by the wind. There is a chill night breeze coming on, and the man scowls and moves to close the door fast.

The other man is ladling the same foul soup as is in the mess from a large bucket into four small wooden bowls. He gives these to Morgan, Thrud, Ember, and Poncherius, the small bowls barely passing through the bars at an angle. He waits patiently for them to eat, and even accedes to Thrud’s request for seconds. Fluffy wants to whisper to the party not to save her any food, like they do for Bhelgarn at Dahlia’s, because she is not interested in that nasty soup!

Once the party has all eaten, the man ladles the last of the bucket into two bowls, and approaches the dark cells. “Dinner,” he says in Nordic, “you just have to come and get it.” There is no response. “What?” he asks mockingly, “can’t crawl over to the bars? Oh, well, NO SOUP FOR YOU!” As he yells this last part, he flicks his wrist, showering the occupant of the nearest cell with the liquid contents of the bowl. There is a weak curse from the cell, then a groan. Both the bucket man and the torch man laugh heartily and pack up the bowls, ladle and bucket. In a completely different tone, he tells the party that their chamber pots will be emptied in the morning, and bids them good night. After he and his companion have left the door, everyone hears the click of the outer iron door being locked.

“Wolfbane!” says Morgan.

“I didn’t see keys!” she says hurriedly, “not on either of them! He must have had a single door key in his pocket.”

“Mhmm,” grunts Morgan. “Yeah, the kitchen knave wouldn’t have had the cell keys, you are right.”

Wolfbane listens at the doorway to make sure they are long gone, then Ember summons forth her essence flame, creating a small fire in the palm of her hand. Wolfbane holds forth the candle from the table and lights it, then she goes to the other two cells. She sees one person in each – a badly injured dwarf. They have been clean-shaven, but by the number of cuts on their faces none too delicately. They are naked except for their small clothes. Their purple, swollen shoulders indicate that their arms have been pulled from their sockets. The ankle of one of them looks equally bad off. Wolfbane doesn’t think she can reach them from outside the cell, or more to the point, that Ember can. “Can you move?” she asks them. “I think my friend can help you, but you need to be near the bars.”

One of the dwarves opens an eye and groans. He sees candlelight, but no candle, hears the woman’s voice, but sees no woman. “Be ye will o’ wisp or human, why would ye be helpin’ me, lass?”

“Our friend is a dwarf,” Wolfbane says. “I’m sure he would help you…if he was here.”

“Well, lemme kin when he gets here,” says the dwarf, and closes his eye.

Meanwhile, FluffyKitten has been fumbling with her forks, sticking them into the lock of Ember’s cell and wiggling them around to no effect. The sound has brought Poncherius over, though, and he asks “May I try?” in Cyndician. Fluffy recognizes “I try” and cedes him the forks. She is, after all, his Princess.

Poncherius takes his time, carefully bending the tines of the forks on the stone cell floor to different lengths, then trying them each in turn in the lock. He has two in at the same time when he gives a little twist and the lock clicks. He swings the door open and turns to Ember. “Yes?”

“Yes, Poncho. Good job,” she agrees. She sets him to work on the lock of Morgan’s cell while she crosses the room and kneels by the first dwarf’s cell. “Edel dverg,” she says, and he opens his eye again, then both eyes in shock. She still has the flame in her hand, and it lights her features intimately. “Our friend and boon companion is a prince of your race. He has saved us countless times. Out of love for him, please allow me to heal you.”

“Holy mother of fire…” the dwarf stammers. Summoning his strength, he uses his legs to push himself, sliding on his back over to the bars.

Ember reaches forward into the cell, touching the dwarf lightly on his chest, then both shoulders, then his forehead. " Hjerte bedringens vei ” she says. The angry purple swelling in his shoulders fades away, and he sits up, surprised.

Dolzekh menu” he says, simply, “Boldo thanks you.” Then, “A weapon. Priestess, grant me a weapon, I beg you.” Carefully he stands. “I would die in battle against these swine. There, look!” he points across the room, into the darkness. “My hammer still hangs on the wall. They hung it there to mock me.”

“I will return your hammer to you,” says Ember. “But first, quench your fire of vengeance. You will not need to die in battle if we can free you.” She looks over at Poncherius, but he has had no luck getting Morgan’s cell open.

“Just as well,” says Morgan. “Have him try the dwarves’ cells. If we can get them out of here it may be better for us to stay locked up.”

Poncherius is able to open the first dwarf’s cell, and to everyone’s surprise including himself, the iron exit door. He holds up his set of bent-tine forks appreciatively. “Don’t let Bhelgarn know,” he says in Cyndician, “or he will never get me [lock picks].” Unfortunately, he is not able to open the second dwarf’s cell. Once Ember has healed him though, he tells his companion to go. “Molvo, I’ll not leave without you,” says Boldo. “I’ll go back to my cell and we will die together.”

“Enough with the dying already!” says Morgan crossly, from her cell. “Look, you can use the hammer to break open your friend’s cell…”

“We’ll never make it across the courtyard, and they will fall on us in number,” interjects Boldo. “If we wait in our cells, we can take them out one at a time and make them pay more dearly.”

“Hey! Focus!” says Morgan. “As I was saying, if you can bust your friend out, I can cast invisibility on both of you. Much as you want to die, that actually gives you a shot at getting out of here alive.”

There is a long silence, then Molvo nods at Boldo from inside the cell. By the light of the candle, both dwarves carefully examine the ironwork bars and the surrounding stone into which the bars are set. They quickly reject the lock and eventually both agree on the bottom hinge of the door. Boldo raises the hammer over his head.

“Wait!” calls Morgan. “Ember, get Poncherius to lock both of you back in your cell, hide those forks, and put out the candle and your flame. Sorry, your holy flame. Wolfbane and Fluffy, get as far away from the rest of us as you can.”

Once everything is set, Boldo brings his hammer down on the hinge, Molvo slamming his shoulder into the bars at the same time from the inside to multiply the force. It is gods-awful noisy, and not long before a guard tries the outside door and finds it open, peers into the darkness inside, then dashes off shouting. By the time both dwarves stand before Morgan there are shouts in the courtyard and the sound of running boots. Morgan finishes the second invisibility spell and immediately begins a Sleep, dropping Poncherius and Thrud with the first one, Ember and herself with the second.

Several minutes later the door bursts open, and they are woken by guards, who shout at them in Nordic, then, that failing to wake them, prod them with sheathed swords. It is not long after that before the Captain of the Night is on the scene, bearing in his hand a strange orb that emits a cool light without heat or flame. Morgan repeats her story for him, with the others corroborating. A bunch of dwarven wizards entered the prison, using magic on the door – they broke the two dwarven prisoners out of their cells. The party objected, started to raise a hue and cry to bring the guards, but they were struck with a magical sleep. They never left their cells. The captain examines the cell doors carefully, all of them. He orders a pair of men to pass the night in the prison, and another pair on the door outside.

In the courtyard, in the streets of Rhoona, the guard searches desperately for the dwarves. The dwarves have an initial advantage in that the guard bear no light sources, and they are several blocks away by the time the hound-master is awoken and his dogs are ready. The dogs pick up the scent soon enough, but it leads them only down to the waters of the fjord and no farther.

Odleif and Bhelgarn
Odleif has arrived at the tavern, but Bhelgarn hasn’t even finished telling him of the day’s events when Dahlia enters. In broken Common, she asks Odleif whether he knows that her place is being watched – both from the barracks, where the guard almost never patrols the parapets, and the street, where guards she knows far too well pretend not to be guards and move about in civilian clothes.

Odleif says he knows, thanks.

Dahlia starts to make dinner, but asks if it will be just him. “Better make it two’er’tree” he says, “Ahm sure summin will be along raight soon enough.” She casts a quizzical eye on the common room floor, where there are no bedrolls or gear left, but says nothing.

She points out, reluctantly, that she was paid in the morning for the lot of them, and now…

“Ye can keep alla today’s” he says, “we’ll jess haveta see ’bout tomarra when she comes.”

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Hopes and Prayers

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Once everyone is safely back at Dahlia’s (well, everyone except Morgan and Thrud), Ember restlessly traces the boundaries of the inn as people settle down. She checks the bar on the door, the latches on the shutters, adds a few coals to the kitchen stove. Bidding god natt to the men downstairs, she ascends to the garret bedroom. FluffyKitten is already in bed with Wolfbane, and both are sleeping contentedly. She checks the shutters on the bedroom window, then places her cloak on the floor and folds it in half, then in half again, so that she can kneel comfortably while she prays.

She tries to give thanks for their safe escape from the Temple of Cretia, tries to pray for wisdom in unraveling the mystery of what has befallen the duke – but her mind wanders. Something is bothering her, distracting her, keeping her from focusing. She clears her mind of conscious thoughts, falls back on a silent chant and meditation – allows her unconscious thoughts to rise to the surface. If she can’t sleep well, at least she won’t have to pray for spells in the morning, just do her sunrise observance. Chant, chant. She hasn’t actually cast a spell all day, and her healing spells are intact. Why is she upset? Chant, chant. Suddenly she realizes that it is the fact that she has all healing spells, and hasn’t used any of them, that is upsetting her. Why? Carefully, deliberately, guiding herself between allowing her thoughts to surface, and then analyzing them, she eventually thinks she understands. By the grace of Glöð, she knows many spells, and they are increasingly powerful – but she uses hardly any of them. Glöð’s Remedy and Orisons of Heartmending are her near-constant choices. She feels that she has to choose healing spells, to protect the party – but that means she never has any of her other spells: she is wasting the wisdom that Glöð has given her. Perhaps with an attack spell, or a spell to discern enemies, or a spell to communicate, the party wouldn’t need so much healing – she could be more useful, her talents not wasted. Yes, she decides, this is what is bothering her – she accepts her role as caretaker to the party, but is frustrated, limited by that role. She focuses on this, mentally underlines it, spends a good deal of time reinforcing this in her mind rather than praying. Finally, she stands and hangs her cloak, changes into her bedclothes. She moves Fluffy from her position snuggled next to Wolfbane, lifts and sets her crosswise at the foot of the bed, lays a blanket over her, and climbs into the bed herself, ready to embrace what dreams may come.

When she awakes the window shows a dull haze – it is not yet dawn, but will be soon. From below comes the clank and clatter of the kitchen, so she leaves the bed, gasping at the cold, and goes downstairs to greet Dahlia. However, the women in the kitchen is not Dahlia – it is a white-haired crone bent over the stove, not the young tavern-owner. When the women turns and stands, Ember recognizes her as Moter Hilda, and she cries for joy as she rushes to embrace her.

The old women fusses at her until Ember releases her embrace. “Have you no manners, now? No decorum? Am I not still your superior?”

Ember bows her head, but answers confidently. “I thought those formalities would not need to be recognized now…now that you are dead.”

Hilda chuckles. “So, you figured that out, did you? You always were one of the clever girls. I suppose I don’t need this, then.” She lays aside her staff and stands taller, the aged stoop of her spine gone. She still has white hair and copious wrinkles, but somehow now appears in the best of health. “And we won’t be needing this, either.” Hilda waves her hand as if clearing smoke, and the tavern kitchen is dispersed – in its place is the interior of a longhouse, with a large hearth. Actually, several hearths – innumerable hearths, for though the longhouse is a normal span wide, it goes as far as Ember can see in both directions. All along its length, women tend the hearths and children help, learn, and play. An occasional man carries a side of meat, sharpens weapons, or has his wounds tended to.

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Hilda settles into a chair by the fire, and this one is apparently hers, for no other woman is nearby. Oddly, there are no other chairs, and she does not offer one to Ember. “So, when last we met, you wanted advice on how to guide your party – how is that going?”

“Very well, Moter. Just as you said, by awarding and withholding my healing, I can help them choose to be good. The one who truly worried me has elected to leave us, and my burden is lighter now that he is no longer under guest-protection. Another died, and another betrayed us. I am sorry I did not see his treachery beforehand, but in the end he reaped what he sowed. All who would not see the light have gone, and all who remain are loyal guests.”

“And Morgan the Red, red with blood?”

“She repented of killing those men, and accepted the punishment for all of us. She is fierce, but I no longer fear her – she is brave and true and more good than she will admit.”

Hilda nods contentedly. “Then what is your dilemma now, min dotter? Why have you sought me out?”

Ember pauses for a moment to compose her thoughts. “Well, in a sense, using my healing to guide the party has been almost too successful. It seems it is all I do now. Glöð has blessed me with knowledge of many spells, but I seldom use any but healing. I feel I could play a more important role if I were more free to act as needed.”

“I see,” murmurs the crone. She leans forward and pokes at the fire. She traces designs in the embers, and floating images appear above it – images of women engaged in mundane household tasks. “Dotter, do you remember the tale of Erna Bjorklund?”

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“Why, of course,” says Ember, for it was a favorite among the novices, who competed to see who could tell it the best. “God kone Erna was home by herself, knitting a sweater and her husband out in the fields, when a man entered their home and tried to take her by force. She drove a bone knitting needle into his eye so deeply that he died right there by the hearth. Moter, did you know this woman?”

“No,” Hilda chuckles, “that tale was older than I am when I was but a novice. But I’ve met her, you know, here. And many others. Anne Eskilddoter, a servant girl. When her lord’s castle was overrun by goblins, she subdued two of them in the kitchen by wielding an iron skillet. Merete Owe – she was tending a smokehouse fire when sea-raiders came to her coast-hold. By the time they had two of her kine back to their boat, it was well ablaze! Not many women are trained in battle, like our novices are. And yet, we find ways.”

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“That is our strength, dotter, we women – our flexibility, our adaptiveness. Most men know just one thing – be it fighting, or raiding, or farming, or a craft. Oh sure, they may know hunting as well, or even lovemaking, if you’re lucky.” Hilda chuckles as the color rises in Ember’s cheeks. “But we women, we have to know spinning and sewing, weaving and dying, washing and mending, cooking and baking, milking and churning, knitting and singing, birthing and nursing…yes, yes, it just goes on and on. Resourceful, we are. Cunning, we are. Men know but one way to solve a problem – we have many. And if we don’t have a way, we find one. So, let’s find one for you.” Hilda waves Ember forward to the fire, and together they trace designs in the flames.

Ember loses track of time, but eventually comes to realize that her prayers, the spells she knows, are floating inside her mind like golden spheres. She can reach in and extract them, one at a time. And when she places them on the hearth, they burst into flame, transforming into other spells!

“There it is now, dear, you have it,” says Moter Hilda, and Ember is woken by Wolfbane turning in bed and throwing her arm across her face.

[Ember’s new power: Spell Fire. She may spend a round to “burn” a prayed-for spell to turn it into a fire spell of equal or lesser level. At this point, she may burn any prepared orison to turn it into Inner Warmth. She may burn any prepared first level spell to turn it into one to four orison’s of Inner Warmth, or a single Burning Hands or Hearthglow. She may burn any prepared second level spell to turn it into Heat Metal or Produce Flame, or any of the first level level spells, or four orisons.]

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Post 40 - City, Palace, and Temple
City, Palace, and Temple

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Ninmonth 18 (first full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

Afternoon (Morgan and Thrud)

Morgan and Thrud return to the barracks of the Ducal Guard, where a squad of soldiers is assembling in the courtyard under the sharp commands of a squat, burly sergeant. “Soh, it’s arr ootlander ‘Special Officers’, is it? Special, indeed,” he sneers. “First t’ing yew need toh know is t’at t’is is my patrohl, ya? Yew’re oondter my command, ya?”

Morgan stares him down, unflinching, but nods. Thrud shrugs noncommittally. With no open defiance, the sergeant seems satisfied, and explains to them that they will be going on a tour of the city, reading the Duke’s latest proclamation – and handling any crowds that don’t like it. He thrusts thin clubs at each of them. “T’ese are goodt Rhoonese folk, not trold, ya? Your blades stay in t’eir sheaths.” When the man has the squad ordered to his satisfaction, he sends Morgan and Thrud up to the captain’s office to collect the edict they are to read.

Morgan finds the office easily – they were just there a few hours ago, but the Captain is not alone. Sitting in a chair next to his desk is a tall, lanky man dressed in fine black leather. He does not stand as they enter, but regards them carefully with piercing black eyes. His long black hair is pulled back neatly and looks freshly greased. A needle-thin mustache and carefully-trimmed goatee accent his angular features. A single ruby necklace on a silver chain contrasts with his black leathers and pale skin. A shortsword, long but thin, is belted at his waist.

“So, the newest members of the Guard?” he asks the captain, but without turning his head or taking his eyes off Morgan and Thrud. Finally he stands, offers his hand. “Delighted,” he says, drawing out the word unctuously. Morgan takes his hand briefly, as briefly as possible. The skin is soft, but the muscles underneath feel firm and supple – like an artist’s hand, not a soldier’s.

“Wyman is personal attaché to Lord Draco,” says the captain simply, as the man in black shakes Thrud’s huge hand.

Wyman goes on at length about how pleased “my Lord Draco” is that these outlanders are taking an interest in defending Rhoona and the Duke against the terrible scourge of dwarves, and how promising their career in the guard will be, given their special talents. Morgan keeps the conversation as brief as possible, for her skin crawls at every honeyed word from the man. Finally, with a small grin, the man hands her a bronze tube from the captain’s desk, a parchment rolled up within.

Wasting no time, Morgan leaves the office with the tube and delivers it to the sergeant. He pulls the parchment out, checks that the seal of the Duke is intact, then breaks it, unrolls the parchment and reads, his brow furrowing. “Ve’ll start at t’a docks,” he says darkly, thrusting the scroll at a guard member who is dressed as a herald, in liveried robes rather than crude boiled leathers, “if anyone vill give us problems, it’s t’a fishermen, so ve’ll not give t’em nohtice.”

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Rhoona – a city nestled between twin fjords

The squad marches out from the barracks, down to the docks on the northeast side of the city. The sergeant gives the crowds a few moments to cease their labors and gather around. His men are deployed in a protective circle around the herald, but no weapons are out.

“Be it known to all that his Benign Munificence, Stephen, Duke of Rhoona, has declared the following to be his official decree:" shouts the herald in a clear, strong voice. He speaks in Nordic, but Thrud translates for Morgan.

“Whereas, it is apparent to all but the most feeble-minded that the sun is the most illustrious of heavenly bodies,

And whereas, it is of utmost importance to maintain the goodwill of this most blazing orb of flame during the coming strife,

It is hereby decreed that the burning of all combustable materials – to wit, wood, oil, cloth, peat, etc., etc., etc., – is outlawed during the period of the sun’s resting, lest we incur the jealous wrath of his most heatful self!

The hours include those times between the sun’s touching of the western horizon and his climbing once again into the heavens of the east!

Such is the word of the Duke of Rhoona!"

The assembled crowd of fisherfolk and dock workers is non-plussed at first. Then as they realize the implications, there is grumbling. Fortunately, it is still fall – but what if this war drags on through the winter? The small folk live in shacks, and when a biting winter wind blows through the gaps in their planks, a humble fire is the difference between living until morning and freezing in their beds. Then too, as the days shorten, those who fish in the fjord rely on the lights of Rhoona to guide them home. If they must end their labors early enough to arrive back while there is still sunlight, their catch will get less and less through the fall, at the time when all are worried about how to survive the winter. As the grumbling grows louder, the sergeant barks his orders to the squad to move along, and they turn and begin to force their way through the crowd. Morgan sees confusion and resentment in the faces of the people, but not aggression – no one raises their hand against the soldiers, and she is grateful for that. They march along the waterfront some hundred paces before stopping and repeating the announcement. By the time they have made the announcement thrice, they are done with the eastern docks. As they have gone, the crowds have gathered – some following them to hear the herald again and gossip with their neighbors, some having heard about the announcement already and arriving from other parts of town to see if the news is true.

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The path of the Duke’s edict – from the Guard Barracks along the waterfront. Arrowheads indicate where the edict was read.

They continue west, past the northernmost tip of land that juts into the twin fjords. Here the waters are shallow and not fit for more than low-draft, single-man rowboats, several of which are several pulled up on the beach. They work their way along the fisherman’s shacks, stopping twice to make the announcement before they turn at the Temple of the Spooming Nooga and head inland. They announce twice to the poor folk of the temple district, then march to the foreign quarter and enter the plaza that lies right before the Temple of Cretia. Surrounded by Ethangarians, they make the announcement again, but Morgan judges from the blank faces of the swarthy steppe-people that few in the crowd understand any more Nordic than she does.

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The path of the Duke’s edict. Arrowheads on solid lines indicate where the edict was read. Dashed lines indicate the approximate “crow flies” direction of what was actually a more wending travel on the ground, without stopping to read.

Next they travel to the western docks, making their announcement within sight of the Crystal Girdle. This time there are some cries of protest or dissent, but these come from the back of the crowd and are not taken up by the others. A few in the crowd even begin a chorus of “Gods save the Duke!” to drown out the protesters.

After this they speak again on the block fronting the dwarven barracks, and again under the walls of the new palace. From there, they pass to the High Market. Although it is not market day, there still are several stands set up, for the wealthy can apparently afford fresh greens and meat any day of the week. Here, amidst modest numbers of well-off patrons and within sight of the palace, there seems little chance of a poor reception, so the sergeant lets the squad rest a bit and pull at their waterskins as they wait for a larger crowd to gather. One of their squad is sent ahead with some message – Morgan is unsure where. When a second guard patrol arrives, this one making a normal round of the city, the sergeant bids the herald cry again. Morgan notes the clear difference in reception here – amusement more than concern, even some ignoble smirks on the faces of merchants who will likely flout the edict within the closed walls of their villas. The only glowers are on the faces of the serving men and women, shopping for their masters’ households or carrying baskets in an entourage.

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The Duke’s edict is delivered at the High Market

Leaving the High Market behind but bringing the second squad with them, the squad marches along the wall of the Guard barracks and delivers the edict again, this time within spitting distance of the Lucky Gull. Thrud grins at his recollection of their amusement there the night before. As they prepare to depart, a third squad leaves the barracks and joins them, along with their original member missing since the market, so that they are now fully a score of guardsmen when they arrive at the Low Market.

The Low Market stalls are all closed except for the fish mongers, who must needs sell fresh catch each day. Here, the crowd has already formed, with far more people about than have come to buy fish – it looks like most of the populace of the low city have gathered from their squalid neighborhoods nearby to hear the edict, or hear it again. From their harsh looks and tones the poor people of the city are not as amused as their betters. Morgan even notes a few in the crowd surreptitiously holding rotten produce as they eye the herald, but these melt away at the sign of so many guardsmen together. The sergeant rings the herald with his own troops, while the other two squads work the crowd for a while, making sure everyone there feels their presence. At last, when the murmurs and grumbles have faded, the herald reads the edict again, and the faces assembled register more resignation than rebellion.

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The Duke’s edict is delivered at the Low Market

With all the folk of the low city informed, the squad with the herald continues on to the middle class neighborhoods on the southeast side of the city. Morgan notes that here the sergeant calls for the edict to be read more often, perhaps some seventy-five paces between stops rather than one hundred. They pass in front of the Grinning Goblin, where their camels are stabled, and Morgan is pretty sure she can even hear an odd bleat against the background of city noise. After four stops, they leave the city blocks and emerge in the open slopes of the south, traveling on a road lined with the villas of the wealthy – some merchants, but, Morgan has learned, many retired raiding captains like Draco. Here there are no crowds and no public readings. Rather, the sergeant politely inquires at each household, asking to speak with the master or mistress, or failing that, the major domo.

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The edict is read through the middle-class neighborhoods and arrives at the villas of the wealthy

After the first two villas Morgan is bored. Seeing the city was at least interesting, varied, and possibly of future strategic importance. Now, each stone wall, wooden roof projecting above, and fading fall flower patch looks similar, and eventually even the parade of well-dressed gentlemen and ladies has blurred together in her mind. The soldiers gossip, in Nordic, about the people of the households; about which are seafaring men to be respected and which won their gold only through trade, which serving women are sweet and which cruel, which households have a private guard known to them as an older man retired from the forces of the Duke, and which employ untrained youths, former raiding companions, or outlanders. Thrud translates at first but when the conversations become repetitive Morgan bids him stop. They have done perhaps two dozen of these houses but many more than that lie ahead on the road along the fjord when the sergeant calls a halt.

“I hewp yu tew have learned somet’ing aboot t’a city of Rhoona, ya?” the sergeant says to Morgan and Thrud. He indicates the dozens of villas that lie ahead, but mercifully says that while their karls are beholden to the Duke and receive his protection, they lie outside the city boundaries and are not included in the reading of edicts. Thus, the squad can return to the barracks while there is yet light, for the sun is still in the sky but by now has sunk behind the hills to their west and the chill of evening is upon them.

The squad wastes no time in hurrying back to the barracks. Throughout the city is the smell of roasting meat and smoke, and more than one one family is rushing through dinner before the fire must be put out, more than one karla cursing as she thinks of the spinning, or mending, or knitting that will not be done by firelight tonight.

Both Captain Yurigan and Wyman are waiting in the courtyard to receive the sergeant’s report, Yurigan now in a worn wool cloak and Wyman in a thick black fur capelet that Thrud takes to be fisher or perhaps wolverine. When the sergeant has finished, the captain turns to Morgan. “Nisse,” he says, and Morgan can tell that she has a new nickname, “can you see in the dark?”

“Better than most,” she allows.

“A spellcaster and she sees in the dark,” coos Wyman, “most impressive.” Morgan tries to ignore him and continues to meet the captain’s gaze in the fading evening light.

“We’ll need you to lead night patrol, then. Of course we usually we have lanthorns.” When Yurigan says ‘lead’, the sergeant spits nonchalantly. “Have some dinner, get some rest, and be back here by midnight. Bring Officer Thrud, or not, as you desire. Tomorrow he can move his things into the officer’s quarters here. For you, ah, I think it better to keep your current lodgings. Better for the discipline of the men, if not their morale.”

“Just as well.”

“I have a thrall,” interjects Thrud. “Funny outlander in a mask. He will be carrying my things.”

The captain nods his agreement. “I understand you are quartered at Dahlia’s?”

Morgan does her best to not show surprise as she nods. Is she imagining the glint of satisfaction in Wyman’s eyes?

“Good – then we will expect you at midnight, but send for you before then if you are needed. Of course, either of you is free to use the officer’s hall for dinner, but your thrall, Thrud, will have to use the enlisted mess, and wait until the servants take their turn after the soldiers.”

Morgan and Thrud voice their agreement, and their intention to eat at Dahlia’s, at least this evening, and take their leave.

Afternoon (Odleif and Bhelgarn)
After the four invisible latecomers finish their lunch at Dahlia’s, they talk to Wolfbane and Poncherius about plans. Ember and FluffyKitten favor a return to the palace, to try the few rooms they were unable to access, but reason that they should wait until dark. Odleif and Bhelgarn agree, but they have other plans before then. One rumor claimed that the dwarves had built secret tunnels into the palace, and that this was the reason for their falling out with the Duke and their dismissal. Odleif is in favor of looking for such tunnels as another way in to the palace, while Bhelgarn wants to prove they don’t exist to vindicate his kinsmen. If secret tunnels do exist, Ember sees them as providing an opportunity for them to spirit away the Duke from under Draco’s nose.

Since they have already searched all the exterior walls of the palace itself and both sides of the curtain walls, Bhelgarn and Odleif decide the only other logical entrance for such tunnels would be in the dwarven barracks themselves. They propose using the afternoon light (and their invisibility) to search there, and then convening on the palace in the evening in the event they are unable to find anything.

FluffyKitten says that she already searched the dwarven barracks, and so did the ducal guard, and there is nothing to find there. If they are going to be up all night, she plans on staying here at Dahlia’s and napping. Ember elects to stay as well, both to “mind the halfling” and because she is self-conscious of her dexterity under the best of circumstances, let alone when she and the others are invisible and searching and have the potential to trip over one another.

Odleif and Bhelgarn set off across town, the woodsman with a firm grasp on the dwarf’s cloak. They head through the middle-class neighborhoods and manage to avoid the street traffic all the way there.

[DM’s note: Since Odleif and Bhelgarn are now searching for both secret doors in the walls and secret trap doors in the floors, their search speed depends on the area rather than the linear distance they are searching. The dwarven bunkhouses are about 80′ × 20′, for 1600 square feet, and ten minutes of searching will yield a secret door check for 100 square feet. Thus they will need about two and a half hours to search each one if they both go over the same area, or an hour and 20 minutes if they split the work. Since there are eleven bunkhouses, that is more than fourteen hours work even if they split up! However, if they each do three of the bunkhouses, in eight hours they can have more than half of them done.]

Arriving at the bunkhouses, they find no one around. The first thing Odleif does is open all of the doors, so that they can slip easily and noiselessly in and out even if the guard or someone else eventually shows up. While he does this, Bhelgarn is walking about, calculating areas and estimating search times. He quickly realizes that they will not be able to search them all, at least not today. However, he reasons that his dwarven brethren would likely use the bunkhouses nearest the palace as the tunnel entrances, both for efficiency (less distance to dig), and because the farther buildings are closer to the edge of the fjord, and more likely to have any tunneling under them flooded by groundwater. Thus, when Odleif returns, Bhelgarn has a plan for assigning buildings to each of them and seeing how many they can do.

They have each searched two buildings (without finding any secret passages) by the time it is dusk and they need artificial light to continue. Being dwarf-built, the bunkhouses are stone, with narrow windows and heavy wooden shutters. After closing the shutters, they take the added precaution of hanging woolen blankets (of which there are many about) over the windows before resuming their search, Odleif with the light of his lantern and Bhelgarn with that of his magic sword. By the time they each complete their third building, it has been eight hours, it is the dark of night, and their stomachs are complaining. They return to Dahlia’s, where supper has been left out for them and the rest of the party awaits.

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The Dwarven bunkhouses. Yellow indicates the buildings searched by Bhelgarn for secret doors or tunnels, green indicates those searched by Odleif.

Night (Odleif, Bhelgarn, Ember, Fluffy, Wolfbane)
As Odleif and Bhelgarn eat, Thrud tells them about their afternoon’s activities, and the Duke’s new edict, and the fact that they will be going on another patrol in the night (Morgan is upstairs resting until midnight, which is a few hours off still). When they are done, Odleif, Bhelgarn, Ember, and FluffyKitten, all still invisible, prepare to return to the palace, and this time Wolfbane is going with them. She casts invisibility on herself, and then they leave leave Thrud and Poncherius behind.

At this time of night, the streets should be mostly empty, withonly a few carousers returning home from taverns. But now they are completely deserted, the taverns closed for want of light, not custom. The five of them move quickly and soon arrive outside the palace. Ember shows them the second-floor windows she believes belong to the room she could not get to. In hushed tones, Wolfbane casts levitation on Bhelgharn.

The dwarf ties one end of a rope about himself, and hands the other end to FluffyKitten to do the same. Tethered like a kite, he rises to the second story, opens the shutters, and tries the window. Like the other windows of the palace, it has an iron muntin frame into which the leaded glass panes are set, and is hinged to open in – if it isn’t latched.

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Bhelgarn pushes cautiously against it – and finds it unlatched! He squeezes through the narrow opening and lowers himself to the floor of some vast hall, then gives a tug on the rope. A second later, Fluffy tugs back from the ground. He begins to haul her up.

At that moment, those remaining on the ground at the base of the palace walls hear the tramp of booted feet approaching, though Bhelgarn does not. “Bhelgarn, stop!” hisses Ember, but then the four remaining move away from the palace, back into the shadow of the curtain wall, for Wolfbane is in a dark cloak but now visible.

“Bhelgarn, stop!” repeats Fluffy, though she is not quite sure why. Bhelgarn leans out the window, and can see a patrol of soldiers come around the corner of the palace. They have between them a single hooded lantern. It is lit, but covered, so that the faintest lines of light trace its metal outline. Bhelgarn closes the window as much as he can against the thick hempen rope. Fluffy has now seen the guards, too, and is quiet, invisible, and slowly spinning as she dangles uncomfortably from the rope between the first and second floors.

The men pause at the base of the window and have a conversation, but it is in Nordic – unintelligible to Bhelgarn and Fluffy, and too far away for Ember to hear. They open the bullseye aperture of the lantern ever-so-slightly, and a thin beam of light plays quickly along the palace wall, shoots briefly through the window into Bhelgarn’s eyes. Fluffy holds her breath. Then the lantern is closed again, and the men continue marching, around the back of the palace. The three hiding on the ground remain in the shadows. Bhelgarn listens carefully, then reopens the window and hauls FluffyKitten up to the second floor. She scrambles through the window, drops to the floor of the hall and looks around.

Bhelgarn closes the window, then turns and looks himself, his infravision seeing more than FluffyKitten can by the moonlight through the windows. It is a large, nearly empty room (94). Four unadorned stone columns support the ceiling, and there are two doors.

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They try one door, and find it locked. The other door opens on a smaller, interior chamber. Bhelgarn can spot a few rough shapes like racks and cases, but little else. Seeing no other doors, he closes their entrance door behind them and risks lighting his sword.

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After their eyes adjust, Bhelgarn and Fluffy can see a rack at one end of the room (95) holding six rather battered swords, two hand axes, and four dented shields. At the opposite end of the room is a long, low, glass-topped case. Moving to the case, they look down inside. On a thick cushion of blue velvet lies a complete suit of human-sized full plate armor. The suit glistens silver in the light of the sword. A shield lies over the left side of the armor, gleaming at its smooth margin but with the center embossed and enameled with the Rhoonian crest – like that on the doors of the palace below, but in color. On the right of the suit, with the jeweled hilt just below the gauntlet, is a heavy longsword, itself shining more brightly than even the armor or shield. The display case is hinged so that the top can open, but there is a heavy iron padlock on it.

Bhelgarn, his ancient dwarven desire for items of value and craftsmenship inflamed, stares at the items in the display case for quite some time until Fluffy pulls him away. Shaking his head to clear it, he extinguishes his sword, closes the door behind them, and moves to the window to lower Fluffy out. After she is on the ground, he climbs out himself and levitates down.

With his infravision, it does not take him long to find Wolfbane hiding in the shadows of the curtain wall, and he relates to the party what they saw.

“Well, that doesn’t help us much,” says Ember disappointedly.

“Now we kidnap Mr. Duke?” asks Fluffy brightly.

“Ehmmm, no,” says Ember, but still with a trace of disappointment in her voice. “We don’t have a place to hide him yet, dear.”

“Righty right,” agrees Fluffy. “He too big for my sack!” She holds up the leather bag she keeps her cat in.

“So, whadder we do, now?” asks Odleif.

Ember reflects. They have pretty much exhausted all leads at the palace, and Morgan and Thrud will be at the Ducal Guard barracks now. The dwarven bunkhouses have been searched. Something is rotten in Rhoona, but what leads do they have? She thinks back to Fluffy’s description of the Temple of Cretia – of its opulence and mysterious dark man. Why do the horse people have a temple of such grandeur here so far from their home? Who is this god, Cretia? Something there does not make sense.

“We pay another visit to the temple,” Ember decides, “but this time through the front door.”

They move quickly through the streets, pausing briefly to drop Wolfbane off at Dahlia’s, and are soon at the entrance of the foreign quarter. Although the streets are quiet, there is still the smell of smoke and more than one building has light behind the hide window flaps. Ember wonders whether the ducal guard patrols the foreign quarter, and whether Morgan will need to call upon some Ethangari family to extinguish its hearth. A few stray dogs walk with them as their make their way to the palace, ignoring the fact that they can’t be seen. They try the main doors, and are surprised to find them unlocked.

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The double doors lead inside into the main sanctuary (37) of the worshippers of Cretia. Massive stone columns support a roof that is 20’ above the floor. A raised dais, opposite the doors, elevates a statue of the grotesque Cretia. The god is pictured with a scowling human face upon the torso of a huge ape, and four clawed, bear-like feet. Its eyes glitter evilly with
reflected torchlight, as each of the columns holds a bracket with a burning torch set in it.

Ember doesn’t know anything about the Ethangari religion, but she doesn’t like the look of their god. It seems strong, but cruel. FluffyKitten is at first interested in the ape-god, but then begins to yawn drowsily.

They move further into the room. Suddenly a door behind them opens and they freeze. A man dressed in the robes of a priest, but without ornamentation, comes out and walks among the columns, collecting the nubs of torches that have burned out. Carelessly throwing them against a wall, he collects fresh torches from a neat pile and replaces them in all the empty brackets but one, then uses a single torch to light them all. Dropping the last, lit, torch into its place, he kneels before the statue, mumbles a few words sleepily, and leaves through the door from which he entered.

There are two doors on the far wall, the wall behind the statue. Ember selects one and the party moves into the hall beyond, which is also lit by torchlight.

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To their right, the hallway turns and doubles back to the front of the temple. Noises of conversation and raucous laughter can be heard faintly from that direction. To their left, the hallway splits in two. They choose to go deeper into the temple. They have not gone far when there are doors to their right and left.

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Opening the door on the left, they find an unlit room (43) with four large tables in it. A pair of crude benches flanks each table, and an open doorway leads to darkness beyond. There is a shelf along the wall and objects on it, but they cannot be seen clearly. As the party starts to converse in hushed tones, FluffyKitten sighs. She is tired and cranky, but mostly bored. What fun is there in sneaking around in the dark? She has already found the interesting part of the temple, only the tall people don’t ever listen to her. She goes over to the other door. Impulsively, she kicks at it, trying to kick it open. It is unlocked and unbarred, but unfortunately for Fluffy it opens out, not in. Her strong kick jolts the door, echoes through the temple halls, and silences the party. A few seconds later, the distinct sound of gruff voices and tramping feet can be heard approaching. Three of the party enter the open door and close it behind them, but FluffyKitten stays petulantly in the hall. Invisible, she seems not to have been missed yet.

The men who arrive have dark skin, heavy hide armor, and shortswords. They spread out through the hall, then one of them takes down a wall torch and examines the door Fluffy kicked. He finds a scuff mark in the polished wood surface and calls another man over. After some conversation in Ethangari, the men spread out in pairs, feeling through the air with one hand and making rapid thrusts in unpredictable directions with their swords. Fluffy is actually concerned now, and starts to move deeper into the temple, ahead of the men. Suddenly she is pulled back and gasps – one of the men has grabbed her cloak, though he cannot see it. He instantly drops his sword and grabs the cloak with his other hand, calling to his partner. That man sheathes his sword and crouches, preparing to tackle whatever the first man has restrained. As he pounces, Fluffy struggles free of her cloak and sidesteps. She is still invisible and the second man found only air – but the first man is now holding her cloak, with it perfectly visible. He calls and the other men gather around. Fluffy pushes herself flat against the wall, counting ten men in all.

Inside the dark room, the party runs through a hushed role call. At they end they realize that Fluffy is not with them, just as the voices in the hall outside are raised. They open their door just enough to peek through.

The men again spread out. Two abreast, it is hard to avoid them in the narrow hallway, but Fluffy follows the one with her cloak down the hall, past a closed door, and around a corner. When he pauses to speak with his partner, she lunges and pulls the cloak from his grasp. By whatever obscure laws govern magic, this counts as an attack and she is now visible! She turns and dashes down the hall, with the two men in pursuit. Fortunately, they were nearly last among the guards and she has only to avoid two more before rounding the corner.

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When the party emerges from the room, those in the lead see Fluffy with Ethengari men in pursuit. She is donning her cloak as she runs, and even now her image is fading and becoming difficult to see. The party turns and runs ahead of her, Ember grabbing her hand before she can completely disappear. Most of the party goes to the left at the “T”, but they immediately stop, pressed against the wall. Odleif runs to the right, deliberately stomping his feet and bumping against the walls as he goes. The Ethengari arrive at the intersection, and with no one in sight, elect to follow Odleif’s noise.

Once the Ethengari guards have all dashed down the hallway after Odleif, Bhelgarn, Ember, and Fluffy continue, moving through the door into the great hall with the statue of Cretia and across the floor. Odleif pauses at the other door long enough to spread a handful of caltrops on the floor, then slams the door behind him. As he, too, heads for the main entrance a wail of pain comes from behind the closed door (upon which Odleif becomes visible), then the door bursts open and nine Ethengari run out in pursuit.

The party throws open the front doors of the temple and dashes out into the night. From behind them come the curses of the men, and their cries are quickly taken up around the plaza. Ethengari men and women open the hide flap doors and windows of their houses and take up the hue and cry. Before the party is halfway across the plaza a pack of dogs in on them, growling and nipping at their heels. Bhelgarn has his pack open and is throwing handfuls of jerky and other rations behind him as he runs, so that by the time they leave the foreign quarter the dogs are no longer following them, but are fighting with each other for the scraps.

Winded, the party reconvenes at Dahlia’s, where a role call finds them all present. Having had enough excitement for the night, they organize a watch and go to bed.

Midnight (Thrud and Morgan)
Thrud and Morgan arrive at the ducal guard barracks in the middle of the night. The resentful sergeant of the afternoon is not there – indeed, all the men are new to them and Morgan speculates that there may be a separate night guard. They are met by the Captain of the Night, who seems almost apologetic at the confusion and disarray in the men. “Normally our night men are the most dependable,” he says, “but they’ve never done their rounds without light.” Morgan is issued a lantern, but told to use it only in an emergency. She is to lead the men about the city, apprehend anyone else they see as a suspected thief, and remind the cityfolk of the ban on flame. Only if a citizen refuses to put out their light are they to be brought back – for tonight, a warning is sufficient.

Morgan shakes her head. If the dwarves hear about this, she thinks, does the town think they will restrict themselves to attacking in the day? She keeps her comments to herself, though, and falls into her familiar routine of ordering the patrol – she has done this dozens of times with caravan guards. Once she is sure they know enough Common to follow her commands, she takes them out into the street, with Thrud at their rear. She leads them through the streets of the city, doing her best to replicate the path they took this afternoon to solidify it in her memory, although they are operating at a much finer scale now, house by house rather than whole neighborhoods. She works her way about a block ahead of her patrol, checking for dangers and visible flames both. Once the street is clear, she gives a whistle and the guards stumble and trip their way up the street after her. There should be a moon tonight, but the clouds are thick and low and it really is quite dark.

She has been out several hours when she finds a leatherworker’s shop, a wan light obviously on in the upstairs window. “Hey! Hey!” she hisses up, then beats gently on the wall with the butt of her sword. The heavy sounds of a man struggling downstairs in the dark follow. The man leans against the thin wooden door, whispering a torrent of Nordic to her in an imploring voice.

“Whoa, whoa…do you know Common?” she interjects.

“Common?” he asks, incredulous. “Are yu t’e guardt?”

“Of course,” says Morgan. “You have to put out your flame. Duke’s edict.”

“Please, please, my wife is sick!” From the window above comes the sound of a hacking cough. “She needs der warmth. Everyone knoows t’at Jan’s wife is sick, ya? Whew are yu? Hey, yu are a karla! T’ere are noh vimmen guard!”

“There are now, Jan. Look, my patrol is waiting, you need to put your flame out – at least block the light – you are a leatherworker, hang a a hide in your window or something.”

“Hey, yu are one oof der ootlanders, ya?”

“Yes.”

“Gods help us! Yu must save us from der madness oof der Duke! Der dwarfs are commin! What dew we dew?”

“You put up a hide in your window, that’s what you do. Let the guard worry about the dwarves. But…” and here Morgan ponders. Can she get enough of these people to overthrow Draco if she needs to? Is this what they are doing, again? Organizing the rebellion in the Undercity wasn’t enough? “But stay ready, stay alert. Try to see how many people are with you. Keep your hammer close. I’ll be back.”

“Save us, save us, ootlander!”

“Yeah, yeah. Get upstairs and cover that window, Jan!”

The man moves away from the door, rummages in the dark to find a hide. Several minutes later the flame is darkened. Morgan sighs and whistles for her patrol.

By the time Morgan is leading her men around the villas of the wealthy, the sky in the east is lightening. Exhausted one and all, they turn and head for the barracks.

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