Secrets of Mystara

Post 45 - What lies beneath
What lies beneath


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

Trussst in me!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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…


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.

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.

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.

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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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…

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

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


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.

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.


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.

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.

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.]

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.]

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.]

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.

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.


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…

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


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


[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
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
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.


“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.”


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.


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?”


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.

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.

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!

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.

Post 41 - Feints and Parries
Feints and Parries


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

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…”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?”


“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.


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).


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.



“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.


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.


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.


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.”

Hopes and Prayers


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.


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?”


“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.”



“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.]

Post 40 - City, Palace, and Temple
City, Palace, and Temple


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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?”


“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.

Post 39 - A Conspiracy at the Highest Levels
A Conspiracy at the Highest Levels


Ninmonth 18 (first full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)


The party is awakened early by the pre-dawn entrance of Dahlia to the inn. Some of the men sleeping in the common room groan and roll over for another chance at slumber. The Rhoonan woman lights a candle in the kitchen and sets to work making the dough for breakfast rolls. After it has risen she puts it in the oven, and the scent of the baking bread brings a yawning FluffyKitten down from the upstairs bedroom. She has been wakened from a dream in which she, as a brave halfling, was defending the rest of the party against a super scary monster.

Fluffy’s dream. The captions read: “Super Super Scary Monster,” “FluffyKitten the brave halfling,” “The rest of the party,” “Convenient Hiding Rock,” and “Morgan the ‘few too many sips.’”

Standing beside Dahlia, Fluffy asks when the bread will be ready, at which the woman starts and looks about her, for the halfling has forgotten that she is still invisible from the day before. “War ar yu, barn?” she calls nervously, eliciting more groans from the common room as the men are awoken, again.

Fluffy backs up a few steps, then answers, “Don’t look – not dressed yet!” and Dahlia laughs.

“If yu can keep quiet until it is ready, I’ll put honning on yours,” she says, and the prospect of honey rolls enables FluffyKitten to let Dahlia finish without asking every five minutes whether it is done yet.

Once the clatter of pans and plates begins, those downstairs give up any pretense of sleeping and begin to ready themselves for the day. Morgan told them, the night before, not to discuss anything important in front of Dahlia, so they just make small talk through breakfast and washing up. Finally she empties their chamber pots and announces that she will be going to the market to get things for their lunch and dinner. Morgan pays her for the previous night and she leaves, seemingly quite content with her lodgers.

With Dahlia gone, they begin to plan the day’s true activities. Morgan and Thrud will cross the street to the barracks of the Ducal Guard, to make good their pledge to join the defenders of the city. Ember, Odleif, Bhelgarn, and Fluffy will head for the palace, and attempt to gain entry and see what they can suss out. Poncherius and Wolfbane will remain at the inn. Before they part ways, though, Morgan casts an invisibility spell on Ember, and Wolfbane does the same on Odlief, so that all four members of the palace team will be unseen. Morgan also returns the wand of paralysis to Wolfbane, on the off chance that she needs to use it.

Morgan and Thrud are immediately recognized when they stride into the Ducal Barracks, and promptly surrounded by a squad of guards. One of the guards looks vaguely familiar to them, except for his huge black eye. The sergeant of the squad informs them that they are under arrest.

“What for?” demands Morgan, and she is told sedition, and assault on lawful representatives of the Duke.

Morgan laughs, trying to hide her nervousness. “Oh, you mean last night? That wasn’t anything. We told you we were joining the Guard. We just wanted to see what the Guard was like, was all, who we would be signing on with. It was a friendly scrap, no blood spilled.”

The sergeant looks doubtful, but has his men march Morgan and Thrud into the compound. They have their hands open and in the air, but have not relinquished their weapons. When he tells them that he is going to take their arms and put them in a cell, Morgan shakes her head. “No, you don’t want to do that, lad. How can we help you fight the dwarves if we’re locked up in a cell? You do understand that there is dwarven army coming, don’t you? Why, Mistress Ember made an appointment for us with your captain a day ago, lad! You best be getting him, now.” Both Morgan and Thrud now lower their hands to their weapons, but don’t draw them.

Given the choice between disarming what are obviously two seasoned adventurers with just his squad, and getting his captain, the sergeant doesn’t take long to send for his superior. When the captain arrives, Morgan repeats her story about how the events of the last night were just a friendly test to make sure the Guard was worth throwing in their lot with. Perhaps the captain is less confident about their chances in the upcoming war, for Morgan’s point about not being able to help them fight from inside a cell seems to convince him. “They may keep their weapons,” he tells the sergeant. “And set them up an ‘interview’ with Weapon-master Vidar.”

The sergeant withdraws with his squad, and the captain takes Morgan and Thrud up a rickety wooden staircase on the outside of the main barracks and into a door on the second floor, which leads to a bare entry chamber (12). There are three other doors out of the room, one on each wall, as well as an open trapdoor to the floor below. The room may also double as a foul weather cloakroom, for there are dozens of pegs along the walls, but they are currently empty.


They pass through the western door in to an officers’ mess (13). This room has four tables and several dozen benches in it. An open doorway at the far end leads to what is apparently a cooking area. Each of the tables is covered with a white cloth. The captain mentions that the first floor of the barracks is for the common soldiers, while the second is restricted to officers and support staff. While he doesn’t know yet what their particular talents are, he is wagering that as adventurers, Morgan and Thrud will likely be commissioned as officers. A few other men are in the room, and the captain introduces them as they sit.

The men are careful not to discuss any military matters, even when Morgan asks oblique questions. Some time later a huge bull of a man strides into the room. He is clad in plate and bears a shield; a longsword is at his side. “Vidar!” says the captain enthusiastically, but his salutation is met with nothing more than a curt nod. “Take these two to the practice room and put them through their paces. I want to know if they will have any value to the Guard.” Another nod, and the man turns and strides away. “You’d best be off,” the captain tells Morgan and Thrud, as the weapon-master disappears behind the door of the mess.

By the time Morgan and Thrud are in the entryway (12), the man is gone, but the door to the north is still swinging closed, and they manage to catch up with him in the hallway beyond, and enter the training room (29) with him.


The room is mostly empty, save for a few open-topped barrels. The wooden walls are covered with nicks and gouges on all sides. The man gestures at Morgan and Thrud to move to the center of the room, while he stands with his back to the door. “So, is this individual duels, or both of us at once?” says Morgan nonchalantly, as she stretches and loosens her muscles.

“Duels?” scoffs the man incredulously, the first word he’s spoken. “Don’t waste me time, ootlander.” He draws his sword in a single, fluid motion.

“You take his left, I’ll go to his right,” whispers Morgan to Thrud, and the two begin advancing cautiously.

[Note: The combat runs with subdual rules, since the participants are trying not to kill one another. One quarter of damage is real, three-quarters is temporary, and will go away after a short rest. A character brought to exactly to zero hp is forced to yield, at less than zero s/he is unconscious but automatically stable).]

The huge man stands unmoving, but in a slight crouch, taught and poised, as Morgan and Thrud approach. When they are within striking distance, Morgan yells “Now!” and thrusts with her sword at the same instant that Thrud is cleaving with his axe. With breathtaking speed and coordination, the man simultaneously parries Morgan’s blow with his own sword while raising his shield to block Thrud’s axe. He then immediately spins, giving Morgan his back, but is already steps away before she can strike. He rains blows down mercilessly on Thrud, forcing him to retreat quickly and thereby keeping ahead of Morgan. When a wicked blow of his sword knocks Thrud to one knee he is forced to pause, allowing Morgan to catch him with a strike across his back.

He pivots, putting his back to the wall and his sword to Morgan so that she is forced to pause as well. Thrud staggers to his feet, then bellows as he charges the man, raising his axe completely over his head with both hands. Just as Thrud is about to land his blow, Morgan lunges as well. As if he anticipated her move, Vidar backsteps at the last second, so that Morgan has to pull short on her attack to avoid Thrud’s axe, which sinks deep into the floor. Then, before Thrud can pull his axe out, the weapons-master rushes him with a shield-bash that knocks the barbarian to the ground. This time, Thrud does not get up.

[Thrud started the combat at 26/26 and ended at -5/26. Total of 31 points of subdual damage, 8 points real damage, Thrud will awake at 18/26]

Vidar now advances on Morgan and she changes to a defensive posture. The two of them trade dozens of blows, nearly all of them parried. Every so often one of them manages to land a telling hit, and it is Morgan as often as Vidar.

[Note: This is the first time Morgan has used her “deflect” ability that comes with Skilled longsword use. Vidar is deflecting as well, but his longsword use is ranked higher than Skilled.]

Although the fight is even, Morgan can quickly tell that she will exhaust her stamina before this man does – he is not even breathing heavily! If she is going to win, she will have to do it soon. She launches a series of rapid, risky attacks, and one of them gets through his defenses, driving his shoulder back with a thrust that does not penetrate his armor but which will certainly leave a bruise. Even he looks surprised as he yields back then sweeps forward with a blow that starts low but ends high before she can raise her shield. He clouts her on the side of her head with the flat of his sword and the room goes black.

[Morgan started the combat at 22/22 and ended at -11/22, with his last blow hitting for 15 damage when she was at 4hp. Total of 33 points of subdual damage, 8 points real damage, Morgan will awake at 14/22]

In the blackness, Morgan hears a great splash of water and then Thrud sputtering. She forces her eyes open and sees Vidar approaching her, a large jug of water in his hand, just drawn from one of the barrels. “I’m good, I’m good” she protests weakly, and rolls from her back to her belly, manages to kneel.

By the time Morgan and Thrud are on their feet, the man has his breastplate off and is carefully appraising the dents in it. Seeing them up, he turns wordlessly and leaves the room and they are forced to follow against the complaints of their bodies. All the way down the hall Morgan is reflecting. She has had no respect for the guard so far and she thought this job would be as simple as confronting Draco. But if this weapon-master, beholden even to a captain, could best the two of them so handedly, will they be able to take Draco in a fair fight? How strong is he? Vidar has stopped outside a room, knocked on the door, and is waiting for permission to enter. Only that allows them to catch up to him and as they do Morgan notes with satisfaction the sweat marks on his chest and under his arms.

“Enter!” calls a muffled but familiar voice, and Vidar opens the door to an office (25), gesturing them inside. This room contains a desk and chair, a bed with several blankets on it, and a large chest. The captain is seated at the desk, but quickly rises to his feet as the door opens. He has apparently been working on a carving of a longship, and a pile of wood-shavings covers the top of his desk.


“Well,” he asks the weapons-master, “what have you to report?”

“They’ll do,” Vidar says, and then closes the door as he exits, leaving Morgan and Thrud standing in front of the captain.

Morgan looks at the closed door incredulously. “We’ll do? What kind of…”

“Actually,” interjects the captain, “that’s the highest praise I’ve heard him give anyone. You two must be skilled, indeed. At ease, please.” The captain sits.

Morgan and Thrud attempt to look more relaxed, but there is only one chair in the room, and it is occupied.

“I’ve spoken to the commander,” the captain says, “and with Vidar’s approbation you will certainly be commissioned as officers. As you are foreigners, you will not be given command of troops – at least not until our men know you better and would take orders from you. But you certainly will have plenty of opportunity for dangerous scouting missions, disrupting supply lines, counter-intelligence and such. Don’t worry, we respect your abilities and will put them to good use.” The captain addresses Morgan specifically. “If I may say so, you have the look of the nisse about you.”

Morgan nods.

“Can you cast spells?”

“A few.”

“I’m sure that will be useful as well. Our first task for you both will be a simple town patrol this afternoon. It will give you a chance to get to know the town, get to know the men, and for them to know you. Why don’t you get yourselves cleaned up and be back here after lunch? Of course, you can eat in the officer’s mess if you’d like.”

“Begging you pardon,” objects Morgan, “but our service here would be greatly enhanced if we could know something about the Guard – number of troops, dispositions, chain of command, and such.”

The captain smiles. "Of course, how negligent of me. This is a small town, and I am used to assuming that all our men know such things as they need to. Troop numbers and lesser commands are, you understand, matters of high security. I won’t tell you them but I am sure an astute observer like yourself will pick them up soon enough. Here is what you need to know: both Master Thrud and yourself have the rank of Special Officer. As I said before, that doesn’t give you any command privileges, but it does mean that you are above command by anyone of lesser rank than captain. There are two Captains of the Guard – myself (Captain Yurigan) and Captain Haggar. Currently I am Captain of the Day and he is Captain of the Night, although we exchange after a time. We are in charge of the day to day activities of the guard, which include both town patrols and palace duty.

Above us is Guard Commander Olaf, who oversees our activities and in addition is responsible for all requisitioning and supplies for the Guard. Currently he also is tasked with implementing the defense of the town – planning patrols in the hinterland, fortifications, ship requisitions, and such. Above him is High Commander Sven, who functions as a personal assistant to Lord High Commander Draco. Together the two of them create the policy that keeps our land safe, in support of the Duke. That is your chain of command."

Morgan thanks Captain Yurigan and she and Thrud take their leave. They decide to lunch at Dahlia’s in case the palace group returns before they need to set out for their afternoon patrol.

Ember, FluffyKitten, Odleif, and Bhelgarn, all invisible, proceed from Dhalia’s to the Ducal Palace, pausing only long enough to watch Thrud and Morgan enter the walls of the Guard. As they round the unfinished walls of the palace, they catch wind of a rich, hoppy scent. The fountain, dry on their last visit, is now full. The waters appear golden in the morning light, and bubbles surround the eight fountains that shoot water into the air.

As they grow closer, the smell intensifies – and they realize that the fountain is not full of water, but beer! Before them shoots, streams, and foams all of the beer the duke has collected in taxes since his edict. The quartet stops for a moment, speechless at the duke’s folly. They had been walking hand-in-hand, to stay together. Suddenly FluffyKitten twists out of Ember’s grasp and scampers away. “Fluffy! Fluffy!” hisses Ember, looking about for guards, but the front of the palace appears deserted. A few minutes later, Ember feels a tug on her sleeve.

“I iz back!” Fluffy chirps.

“Ugh! Where were you? We’re holding hands so we can stay together!” says an exasperated Ember.

“Oh, I thought we holdy-hands ’cause we friends,” says Fluffy innocently. “I filled up a whole waterskinny with maltymalt for Morgan!” she announces proudly.

“I’m sure she’ll appreciate it,” responds Ember begrudgingly. “How did you find your way right back to me, anyway?”

“Easy-peasy: you all smell like the fishy-paste we had last night! And Odleif needs a bath.”

“Do not,” mumbles the taciturn woodsmen. Rejoined, the four of them continue toward the palace, three of them hoping that the noses of the human guards are not as sensitive as that of the halfling.


The wide porch is shaded by an overhang from the second floor, supported by ten massive columns. The doors are a pair of huge, wooden slabs. Morgan previously saw from a distance that these were carved, but could not make out the image – from here, the four of them can easily see they are carved with a skillfully wrought image of the Rhoonian crest: a longship, sail spread wide and running before a stiff breeze.


When they reach the palace steps, they try the great doors, but find them locked. Ember and Fluffy begin searching for secret entrances to the right of the doors (one looking high, the other low), while Odleif and Bhelgarn do the same to the left. They find nothing in the inner porch, but when they reach the outer porch, Bhelgarn thinks he sees a thin line, as of the outline of a door, passing through the decorative stonework of the walls. He whispers to Odleif, and the man comes over to look. Just as he is examining the stone, there is the sound of a bolt being drawn back, and Odleif finds himself staring into a single eye. It is all he can do to keep from crying out in surprise, but he manages to control himself and then realize that the eye is looking through him, not at him.


After several tense minutes, the bolt is drawn back into place, and Odleif is looking at a bare stone again. He turns and prepares to make the “cricket call” used by the party, but hears someone already using it. He and Bhelgarn head over to Ember, who points out to them that a group of of guardsmen is approaching. As the tramp of boots across the courtyard becomes audible, Odleif whispers to the others about the lookout hole he and Bhelgarn found.

The squad of guardsmen is marching straight to the palace doors, so the party makes sure that they stand well clear. They continue up the steps and in between the columns, but stop when they are some twenty feet shy of the doors. Then, they turn right, and move to the wall, directly opposite the lookout hole. The sergeant raps smartly on the wall, says a few words they cannot hear, and then a section of the wall opens up, admitting them. The squad of seven men all pass into the wall before the secret door closes.

Bhelgarn hurries to the wall, examining the carved stone. After several minutes, he steps back and whispers to them that he can clearly see the outline of the door, but can’t find any means to open it. Given that it is a guard access, it is likely that it can be opened only from the inside. Ember replies that Morgan said soldiers appeared on the porch – if this squad is relieving another squad, that one may be leaving soon – and perhaps the party can slip in. Bhelgarn says he doesn’t think the four of them can pass through in the time between when the last guardsman leaves and the door closes. He doesn’t mention his own girth. Ember says that she and Fluffy will try to slip inside, while he and Odleif should keep searching for secret entrances – but they should also keep their ears open for crickets and cries for help.

Ember and Fluffy take up position right next to where the door will open, while Bhelgarn and Odleif do the same at the opposite door, just in case one is an entrance and the other an exit. Some ten minutes later, the eyeslit on the door on the right opens, and two seconds later, the door itself. Seven men, different from the ones that went in, march out – and Ember and Fluffy manage to jump through the portal just before it closes behind the men!


The room that Ember and Fluffy find themselves in (87) would be large enough, were it not crowded with guardsmen. Most are sitting on bare wooden benches, but a few are moving about, and there are some close calls as the two women wend their way past them and to the door in the rear of the room, where a pair of torches burn. Once there, there is little to do but wait and hope that that door will be opened as well.


While she waits, Ember listens to the idle banter of the men in nordic. There is nothing out of the ordinary – discussion of the impending war, a debate about whether the honor of palace duty is worth the boredom, a comparison of the merits of various tavern wenches in the town. Fortunately, they do not have to wait long before the door opens. A single serving woman enters, bearing a bucket of water and a ladle. Ember is not able to slip out the door before it closes, but she slides her foot between the door and the frame so that it does not latch. The woman is young and comely, and all the guardsmen’s eyes are on her as she moves about the room, offering them each a drink in turn. When Ember judges that no one is looking, she opens the door just enough to slip through, and a second later feels FluffyKitten press up against her leg, so she lets the door close.

They are in a long, plain corridor lit by the occasional torch. They move swiftly along it and then turn the corner, and Ember’s heart drops. The entire corridor (86) is full of wooden doors – seven on the left side, but two on the right.


Ember listens at the first door on the right. Hearing nothing, she resolutely opens it a crack and looks inside. There is a rough wooden table with some low, guttering candles, and many chairs. She cannot see all of the room in the low light – it looks like it goes back farther.


Ember closes the door and sighs. “Well, we certainly won’t find the duke at this rate,” she whispers, and Fluffy giggles.

“Mr. Duke won’t be in the servants’ quarters, silly-head!”

“Servants’ quarters?”

“Yes’m. This is the part of the palace where the worky people live. Mr. Duke is in some grand chamber with crystalies and rugs and stuff. Look at the torchies! Fine people don’t want smoke in the nice part of the house! Mr. Duke will have candles, or maybe oily lamps!”

Ember is beginning to think that Fluffy has a point, but just to be sure, she asks, “Have you been in many palaces, Fluffy?”

“Ember! I TOLD you! I worked as a cooky person and a sewie person EVERYWHERE. I been in many, many palaces and estates and suchlike that.”

“Alright, alright,” Ember says soothingly, worried that Fluffy will be heard as she raises her voice. “How about you decide where we go next.”

Fluffy takes Ember all the way to the end of the hall, then pauses as the serving woman returns with a near-empty bucket, now entering the room Ember had just looked in. As soon as that door closes, Fluffy opens the last door on the right and steps through, with Ember right behind her.


The wide passageway beyond has a closed door leading off it to the right, a wide stairway leading to the second floor in front of them, and an open archway to their left. A suit of plate mail and a pair of crossed swords hang to either side of the door. Candles burn in wall sconces, polished silver mirrors set behind them to reflect the light. “See?” says Fluffy triumphantly. “This is fine part of the palace, with nicy things.”

Moving further into the hallway, Ember and Fluffy can see that a serving boy sits on the stairs, polishing the wooden banisters. They proceed to their left, which opens into a huge room (80), bare of furniture but having eight stone columns reaching to the ceiling and dozens of tapestries covering every inch of wall space. The tapestries depict seafaring scenes in many different situations – naval battles, clear sailing, stormy weather, great sea beasts, and so forth. The only areas not covered are the opening through which they came, a similar opening across from them, and the massive wooden doors which can only be the front doors to the palace.


In the center of the room is a hunched old serving woman, sweeping the floor with a fresh broom. A large set of keys is visible at her waist, but the ring runs through her worn leather belt. “Fluffy – check behind the tapestries, then meet me in the next room,” whispers Ember.


Ember passes by the doors on her way across the room. There are stout metal braces to bar the doors from the inside, but no bar is in sight – it would need to be a tremendous log to cross the span. She gives a discreet tug, and finds the doors still locked – there is no latch, but a fancy iron locking mechanism requiring a key is visible, accessible only on this side of the doors.

The room beyond (81) takes Ember’s breath away, for unlike Fluffy, she is not accustomed to “nicy things”. The walls rise thirty feet to the ceiling, instead of the fifteen feet common to the rest of the building. The entire floor is a polished marble parquet, more marble than Ember has ever seen in one place. The columns here are the same finely crafted but simple supports that were found on the porch and in the entry room. A curtained alcove extends slightly over the floor of the ballroom from the second floor. There is no way to access the balcony from the floor below, but there are two modest wooden doors on the north wall. The most striking feature, however, is the row of stained glass windows all along the west wall. Starting at fifteen feet up the wall, they run almost to the ceiling. Their panes are a multitude of deep colors. Since it is morning, the exterior sunlight is not shining directly through them, but they are beautiful nonetheless. Ember can only imagine how exquisite the room would look in the evening, with the sun shining through and filling the ballroom with color, or at night, when the myriad of tall, white candles that adorn the columns were lit.


When the sound of chirping crickets tells Ember that Fluffy has entered the ballroom, she sends the halfling to examine what lies beyond the door to the northwest, while she checks the southern wall for secret doors, as they seem to be missing access to that part of the palace. Indeed, she soon finds the outline of a door, but does not locate any mechanism to open it. While she looks, however, the door to the northeast opens, and a servant bearing covered platters passes through the ballroom and entry hall, then up the stairs. By the platters and sounds coming when the door is briefly open, Ember takes the room beyond to be the kitchens.

Fluffy returns and says that the room she scouted (83) was full of tables and chairs, but little else, and seemed to be used for storage. Ember doesn’t dare open the door flanked by the suits of armor at the base of the stairs when both the boy and the crone could see, so she decides they will go up the stairs and scout the second floor.


Fluffy goes first. Since the stairs are wide and the boy is working on the banisters it is easy to slip by him, but two steps past him the stair creaks when she steps on it. The boy turns his head, sees nothing, and freezes. A few seconds later, he returns to his work.

Ember follows, and tries to avoid the creaky stair – but she doesn’t know which one it was, for she couldn’t see which one Fluffy stepped on! She guesses wrong, and there is an even louder creak. This time the boy gasps, starts up, and runs down the steps to the crone.

“Nan, Nan – there is something on the stairs! I heard it but can’t see it!”

“Calm yourself, Ned – it’s likely a cat’s got into the palace again.”

“This was no cat, Nan – I would have seen it – it sounds like something BIG!”

“Boy, you’ve been smelling the wood polish too long – get back to work!”

The rest of their conversation is lost to her as Ember arrives at the top of the stairs. The wide hallway above (92) gives access to most of the second floor. Four slender columns stand at the corners of the opening of the stairway from the first level. Ember and FluffyKitten can see one servant, a young woman dusting and polishing the wood of a door to their right, but the rest of the floor appears empty. There are many candles set in wall sconces, but none of them are lit, for the entire north wall is full of windows, shutters open, providing abundant natural light.


Ember sends FluffyKitten to the left to try the far door, while she moves behind the stairs and to the right. She finds the door locked when she arrives, however. Fluffy’s door is within the line of sight of the serving woman, but so far from her that Fluffy does not hesitate to slip inside. She finds the chamber (100) to contain only four beds, four straight chairs, and six music stands. The windows are shuttered, and there is a fine layer of dust on things as if it has not been cleaned in quite some time. Fluffy does not explore further, as she does not wish to leave tracks in the dust. Instead, she backtracks and tries the other door nearby. This gives way to a curtained room (101) projecting slightly over the ballroom below. Four straight-backed chairs and four music stands are the only things to be seen in there, so FluffyKitten returns to the top of the stairs.


The serving woman has almost finished the door she is working on. When she gathers up her cleaning supplies and moves down the hall, toward the door that Ember found locked, Fluffy and Ember slip into the door she just finished while her back is to them. Several tables and chairs are placed about this room (93), and the walls are lined with bookshelves. A soft carpet is on the floor, and the atmosphere is one of plush luxury mixed with homey comfort. FluffyKitten immediately begins to explore, but she seems more interested in the opportunities to hide under the tables and in-between the bookshelves than she is in the books themselves. For her part, Ember is initially overwhelmed. Of course, the Mother Temple in Soderfjord had a scriptorium, and Ember took her turn copying texts like all the novices, but she never saw anything like this. She has heard tell of the great library of the temple of Kvasir in Norrvik, but she finds it hard to believe that even that famed location has this many tomes. Simply put, she would not have believed that this many texts existed, let alone that they were gathered together in one place. It is obvious that the ancestors of Duke Stephen valued and respected wisdom – that his proclamations now are so bizarre and nonsensical strike her as a cruel twist of fate, indeed.


As Fluffy plays “sneaky-peeky” through the room, Ember moves among the books, pulling some out and reading their runed covers before replacing them. There are histories and geographies of the nordic lands, manuals describing the techniques of all of the crafts practiced in Rhoona, geneologies and heraldries of the noble line of Rhoona and the kingdom of Vestland, studies of all of the different races, and many other volumes besides. Ember can’t help but feel that somewhere in all these books there must be a clue to the affliction of the duke, and maybe even a hint at a cure, but she knows that it would take her hours, if not days, to find it even if it did exist, even if she could recognize and understand it.

Eventually she gathers up Fluffy and gets ready to leave. She listens at the door, says a brief prayer, but can do little else to make sure the door is not currently being observed. She opens the door and she and FluffyKitten step out. In the middle of the hall stands the serving woman, staring at the door opening of its own accord. Ember leaves the door open behind her as she and Fluffy move away as silently as possible.

The serving woman goes to the door, pokes her head in the library, and calls out in a quavering voice, “Tom?” When she is not answered, she closes the door and moves to the top of the stairs. “Nan?” she calls down. “There is something odd here – I was sure I closed the library door well but it just opened by itself.”

“You see!” calls the boy’s voice from below. “I told you something is about! It’s bad spirits, I say!”

The serving woman shudders and makes a sign to ward off the evil eye. While she is looking down the stairs, Ember and Fluffy slip in another door, into what appears to be a private dining room (102). Three gorgeous crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling. A beautiful, dark wood table, polished to a mirror-like sheen, occupies the center of the room, and twelve chairs are placed around it. Four stone columns, one near each corner, support the ceiling. High on a wooden orchard ladder, a young man is dusting the crystals of the chandelier farthest from the door. Looking down at the open door, he calls out, “Who’s there, now?” in a distracted tone.


When no one answers, he calls louder, “I say, who’s there?” Ember and Fluffy move out of the doorway, into the corner of the room. The man sighs and climbs down off the ladder. He sticks his head out in the hall and says, “Knock it off, you guys, quit playing around.”

The serving woman’s answer is indistinct, but not his response, “Don’t open the door and leave it open – you know that’s not good form – just come in and close it or leave it closed.”

At that, the serving woman gives a high-pitched scream, and then there is a thump, as if she has fainted or been struck down. The man dashes out into the hall and begins calling for help.

A moment later the far door of the dining room bursts open. A huge, bull-like figure of a man charges into the room. His black beard is parted by a wicked slash of a mouth, and an evil gleam is in his eyes. He carries a drawn sword, a scarlet “D” is emblazoned on his chain mail, and there is a round shield slung across his back. Behind him comes a man in plate and shield, with a longsword at his belt, not drawn. A third man remains in the room from which the first two came, but Ember does not have a good look at him. She has a glimpse of the room beyond (103), which seems to be a richly appointed entertainment room, but sees little detail.

The man continues on into the hall and demands to know what is going on – the servants address him as “my Lord Draco” in hushed tones. He tells his adjutant to bring some guardsmen, then storms back to the room from which he came, slamming first one door closed behind him, then the other.

For the moment, Ember and FluffyKitten are in the dining room, with both doors closed. A few minutes later, Draco’s adjutant comes in, but he opens and closes the door so quickly that there is no time to get through. Once he is halfway across the room, with his back to them, though, Ember and Fluffy slip through the door back out into the hallway. The servants are gathered at the top of the stairs – the serving woman (Hilda) sitting on the floor, surrounded by the boy (Ned), the crone (Nan), and the man who had been polishing the chandelier (Tom). As Ember and Fluffy slip past them, Ember hears the woman saying – “It is the mistress, the mistress I tell you – she has returned to haunt us all…”

There is only one other door on the second floor, but it is in direct sight of the servants at the top of the stairs. Ember and Fluffy wait by it, until the arrival of a squad of guardsmen coming up the stairs provides a distraction, and then they slip inside. As Ember closes the door quickly behind them, the room becomes completely dark, except for the sliver of light coming from the space between the door and the frame.

Ember and Fluffy wait a moment for their eyes to adjust, and they can see the rough shapes of furniture about the room, but little else. Ember whispers to herself, “Kroppen min som veke, min sjel som olje, min tro som gnist,” and in her palm appears a small flame, as that of a single candle. She holds this aloft as they inspect the room (96). They are in a small sitting room, with several pleasantly soft chairs and some small tables placed tastefully about. Two tapestries, both depicting peaceful woodland scenes, decorate the walls. An elegant crystal chandelier hangs in the center of the room, reflecting myriad points of red light from Ember’s flame. “Ooh…” says FluffyKitten, entranced by the dancing patterns of light, but the deep and gloomy shadows in the room give Ember a sense of foreboding.


As they cross the room, Fluffy stifles a sneeze. “Fusty-dusty,” she sniffs.

There is a single door to the south – they listen at it, then enter. The room (97) contains a large wall-mirror, a delicate vanity table set against the wall and a small, dainty chair. A long wardrobe rack formerly held dozens of elegant evening gowns, but it has been tipped over and the gowns now lie on the floor in unkempt heaps. Ember doesn’t like the dark look of herself with the tiny flame in the mirror – it reminds her too much of the fortune-telling games the novices would play at on stormy evenings in the Temple, a minor blasphemy to the Norns. She likes even less poking through the gowns on the floor, but finds nothing there, to her relief. There are two doors in this room, so she and Fluffy each listen at one, but hear nothing.


Passing through the west door, they find a small room (98) with a tiled floor throughout and a huge, dry ceramic tub at one end. Several racks line the walls, and some of these have thick towels hanging from them. There is little to see here, so they listen at the door and move on.


The final room of the suite is large, with a number of items of interest. Thin rays of light come from shuttered windows. Ember looks outside, and sees no guards in the courtyard, so she extinguishes the flame in her palm, opens the simple latch on the window, opens the shutters outside, and then closes the window again. The room is now filled with light.

The room (99) is lavishly decorated. Several snow white bearskin rugs are placed about the floor, and a huge, feathery soft bed is against the south wall. The covers of the bed are messy, and one of the quilts has been dragged across the floor. A small writing table, a straight-backed chair at the table, and two low armchairs are the only other items of furniture in the room.


Fluffy and Ember check the bed, but find it cold and deserted. The desk has paper, a floral scent still clinging to it, ink, quills, sand, a sharpener, and so forth, but nothing of interest. The door to the next chamber over is locked. Listening at the door, they can hear occasional movement on the other side as if the room is occupied, but do not hear speech. The duke obviously keeps a fine lady – but no one in Rhoona has mentioned a duchess. Who is this woman, and where is she now? Checking the quilt on the floor, they make a chilling discovery – the bottom has a few small but distinct bloodstains. Now even cheery FluffyKitten is feeling odd. “Time to go?” she asks in a small voice, and Ember agrees.

Ember again checks the courtyard nervously. There are still no guards, but she knows they will need to use rope to descend, and that will be visible for as long as they are using and not carrying it. She decides to try another exit.

Fluffy and Ember retrace their way through the mistress’ suite, and slip out into the hallway at the top of the stairs. Guards are everywhere in pairs, swinging their swords about in slow arcs as if feeling while blind. The servants look on nervously. The stairs, in particular, have three guards abreast, marching continually up and down with arms outstretched. With all the people about, they are lucky to have been able to slip out the door without its opening and closing being seen. “We’ll have to find another way down” whispers Ember in Halfling, and she feels FluffyKitten tugging at her hand.

The two of them stick close to the walls, avoiding both the guards and their probing swords. Fluffy brings Ember to a door along the south wall, and when they slip through it, they are on the balcony overlooking the amazing ballroom. There are guards here as well, but it is a huge space and the few men cannot hope to fill it.

Fluffy sets her new dwarven grappling hook on the railing of the balcony as far to the west wall as she can to avoid it being seen by anyone, and first she, then Ember, descend. With a careful flick of her wrist, Fluffy wrests the hook free from the railing with little more than the muted sound of iron scraping stone, and then catches the hook in mid-air, before it can clatter to the marble floor.

Carefully the two of them cross the floor far from the guards, pass through into main hall and from there to the side hall at the bottom of the staircase. Ember is heading for the servant’s quarters, to go out the way they came in, but even as they approach the door it opens and more guards come through. From the top of the stairs a voice calls in Nordic, “Send for more servants!” and a squad of soldiers starts down. Ember and Fluffy are in sudden danger of getting sandwiched between the guards approaching from the door and those descending the stairs, so the priestess grabs the halfling and pulls the two of them through the side door, hoping the twin suits of armor will shield its opening and closing from view.


The room beyond the door (88) is lit by three oil lamps on low tables. The tables are in the corners of the room in sitting areas with a total of eight soft chairs and a couch between them. Multiple tapestries depicting rustic farm and hill scenes decorate the walls, four stone columns support the ceiling, and a thick carpet covers the floor.

There are doors on the north and east walls – Ember tries them, but both are locked. She and Fluffy listen at the door they came in, trying to find a lull in the tramp of boots outside. Eventually they slip out. The flow of soldiers and servants through the servant’s door has slowed, but not stopped. Ember judges that they could get through the door, but don’t have much chance of passing undetected down the narrow hallway to the guard room. They will need another way out – and that means going back upstairs!

They wait for several minutes next to the suits of armor until another squad of guards is ascending the stairs, then fall into step behind them, the noise of the squeaky stair lost in the crowd. At the top of the stairs they pull away from the soldiers, back to the mistress’ suite. Through the dark, spooky rooms they pass until they are again in the bedchamber.

There is just enough of a stone sill outside the window that Fluffy’s hook can find purchase. The problem is that with neither of them holding it, both the hook and its attached rope are visible. Ember lowers herself to the courtyard as fast as she can. Fluffy pauses on the ledge to shut the window behind her, but makes sure to leave it unlatched, and to close at least one of the shutters. Then she, too, comes down. With a neat flip of the rope, she retrieves the grappling hook and then both of them are off across the courtyard.

By the look of the sun it is mid-day, and they have spent two hours or so in the palace. By the time they emerge, Bhelgarn and Odleif have just finished checking the walls of the first floor of the palace, and then the defensive walls all around the palace, inside and out, for secret doors, but have not found anything. When they eventually find one another through their cricket noises they return together to Dahlia’s.

[DM note: completed palace walls are 31 squares x 50 feet x both sides = 3100 feet, plus 650 feet of palace itself less the 360 already checked, is about 3400 linear feet, which is about 11 secret door checks and nearly two hours to search]

By the time Ember, Odleif, FluffyKitten, and Bhelgarn arrive at the tavern, Morgan, Thrud, Poncherius, and Wolfbane have all had lunch – bread, greens, cheese, and cold-cuts of salted-rye sausage, and Dahlia has left again. While the new arrivals eat, they exchange news with the two newest members of the Ducal Guard, and then Morgan and Thrud have to leave for their patrol.

Post 38 - A butt-load of ability checks AND a bar fight!
A butt-load of ability checks AND a bar fight!


By the time Ember returns to the Crystal Girdle, the sailors are in a good mood, and do not mind when the party withdraws to a corner table near their gear and holds a hushed conversation. They decide to split up and investigate three areas of interest: Morgan and the already invisible Bhelgarn will walk around the Ducal Palace, Ember and Thrud will check out the barracks of the Ducal Guard, and Oldleif and FluffyKitten will examine the Temple of Cretia. In the meantime, Wolfbane and Poncherius will remain at the Girdle, guarding their gear and the camels. They all agree to meet back in the high market around dinner time, giving them several hours each for their respective missions. Morgan casts invisibility on Fluffy before she sets out.


From the Crystal Girdle, it is not much more than a hundred yards to the wall surrounding the Ducal Palace. On Morgan and Bhelgarn’s left as they walk are shops, store fronts and houses, while on her right are the abandoned dwarven barracks. Arriving at the wall, Morgan whistles nonchalently and a second later hears Bhelgarn whisper “Aye, I’m here.” Together, they walk clockwise around the stone wall. It frustrates Bhelgarn that he cannot comment on the wall, the best structure he has seen in Rhoona and obviously dwarf-built – huge stones, cut at perfect angles, with no mortar visible. The wall itself is 20 feet high, but stone towers stick out above it to 30 feet. The towers have arrow slits and crenalated battlements, but the wall is smooth and featureless, lacking slits or any kind of ingress – no gates or sally ports are to be seen. They are three-quarters of the way around the structure, having walked along the high market and a second neighborhood, and rounding to the south side of the complex, before they can see the palace itself. For most of the south face the wall is absent, incomplete, though there are half-dug foundation trenches in some places, and marking rods and strings in others. Morgan has counted a total of eight towers in all, the last standing oddly by itself with no wall nearby.

The palace is two stories, nearly the height of the wall and thus invisible from outside. Between the unfinished wall and the palace is a huge pool, with a line of eight fountains down the center. The pool and fountains are dry, and their marble gleams brightly in the sun.

The palace itself is rectangular, some 250 feet wide and 150 feet deep, though the first floor of the main building is recessed from a great stone porch. Broad stairs ascend to the porch, while the second story overhangs above, supported by ten massive marble columns. The doors to the entry room are a pair of huge, wooden slabs, carved with an image she cannot make out at this distance. The palace appears to be structurally complete, but decorative carvings along the walls had only just begun before being abandoned.


Since the whole complex seems to be deserted, Morgan considers approaching for a closer view, but just then a squad of soldiers appears in the western corner of the porch and marches down the steps. The main doors are still closed, and Morgan is not sure from where the soldiers exited the building. As the squad of six men and officer starts to make its way around the edge of the pool, Morgan continues her casual stroll, taking herself to a point where she is blocked from sight by one of three massive piles of cut stone which lies just outside where the wall should be. She whispers to Bhelgarn that he will need to get closer, but she daren’t. “Aye,” he says simply and moves off.

Morgan crouches behind the stone pile, unlacing and re-lacing her boot, listening for the tramp of the soldier’s feet. They appear to be moving to the west. To the east, she can see the villas of the wealthy, and more than one has a guard on its walls.

She has plenty of time to reflect on the palace as she waits for Bhelgarn to return. It seems odd to her that the palace has its back to the city, and its elaborate front facing the steep and barren hill to the south of town. It is a lovely view, to be sure, of green slopes, tiny goatherds with their flocks, and near the summit pine trees. But it bespeaks of the Duke turning his back on his own people. As she turns it around in her head she considers that it is perhaps more defensive. The buildings of the city press close against the palace wall to the east and west and would provide cover for any attackers, and even the stalls of the high market would protect attackers from being fired upon. If the as-yet-unbuilt gatehouse is to be on this southern side, it will command an open view and have a great field of fire. Still, the gatehouse could be put in “back” of the palace and have the front face the city.

It is a cool fall day and Morgan is glad she is on the south side of the stone pile, in the sun, and not in the shadow of the north side. The sun is much lower here than in Darokin, as low already in the fall as it is in the Darokin winter. Ah! Perhaps that is it. Certainly the front of the palace will have the sun in the winter while the back will be in darkness through the cold months.

While Morgan broods, Bhelgarn approaches the palace. He goes slow and careful, for within the bounds of the walls everywhere is new, hard flagstones and a careless step would echo across the empty courtyard. He walks once around the building for a brief survey. There are windows – some shuttered, some open, but all are on the second story. Around the back of the palace are three large chimneys that extend out from the stone wall. He sees no other obvious means of entry besides the main doors.

Back in the front of the palace, he checks the sun – they are supposed to be in the market in half an hour or so. He returns to the rear of the building and touches the stonework, beginning to push and probe, looking for any secret means of ingress.

[DM’s note: Bhelgarn can thoroughly search c. 1200 square feet in 10 minutes. 3600 square feet in 30 minutes, searching 10 feet high, is 360 linear feet of palace walls, which is all of the north wall and most of the west wall]

After half an hour he has searched less than half of the ground floor, and has found little but his sense of satisfaction at dwarven craftsmenship. He has noted several places in the rear of the palace where the stones are warm, warmer than they should be in the shade, and he suspects that chimneys have been built into the walls themselves rather than being added as structures beyond the walls. He returns to Morgan, and the two of them proceed to the market, casually avoiding a patrol of the ducal guard that appears to be inbound to the palace.

Ember and Thrud have walked from the Girdle, under the walls of the palace, around the edge of the high market, and arrived at the barracks of the ducal guard. The walls surrounding the barracks are as high as those of the palace, though without towers, and the whole complex is equal in size to that of the Duke’s home. The biggest difference is in age – the stones of the barracks walls are weather-worn and covered in moss and lichen. Ember figures the barracks are from the time of the Duke’s father, if not before.


The whole thing is an odd trapezoid shape, with the shortest wall to the north and the broadest to the south, perhaps an artifact of the old city around it, for the neighborhoods crowd up against it on two sides and the Temple of Forsetta looms over it on a third. At the base of the walls is a narrow but deep defensive ditch – not a moat, just a deep chasm that would prevent any ram from assaulting the sturdy gates, of which there are five in all. Thrud and Ember, blending in with the local foot traffic, pass once completely around the walls. Two of the gates stand open, but only one (the easternmost of two on the south wall) has a thick, narrow plank across it so that a person might enter without having to scrabble in and out of the ditch. Nowhere do they see any men of the Ducal Guard, not even at the gate, although they have recently passed patrols of them in the streets.


Ember and Thrud cross the plank and enter into the courtyard, which holds several buildings. Just inside the gate itself is a low, stone, windowless, single-story structure. It looks very solid and strong. Beyond it is a much larger structure of wood, built to two stories and with smoke rising from its stone chimneys. To their right is a large two-story wooden structure that could be a barn – there is a fourth building peeking out from beyond it.

With no one challenging them, Ember and Thrud continue into the courtyard. They can now see that a flimsy wooden 4’ wide catwalk runs around the entire perimeter of the wall on the inside, with here and there a makeshift ladder – but no guards are patrolling there. The gates they entered have braces for two bars on the inside, and the thick logs to match are leaned casually against the inside of the wall.

When they round the edge of the stone building, they have a better view. The wooden structure close at hand is indeed a barn, with a large set of double-doors open and facing them and a loft above. The smell of manure competes with that of roasting meat from the barracks before them. They can see two doors at ground level in the barracks, and a host of narrow, shuttered winders both on the ground floor and a second story above. Their inspection is cut short by the approach of two men, both in boiled leather jerkins with the tabards of the Ducal Guard worn over top.

The men begin by saying that they can’t be in here, and Ember apologizes, explaining that “it was open” and she could not find the guards. With her perfect nordic and a fetching smile, she diffuses the tension of the situation, but the men still insist that they must leave, before remembering to ask them their business. Thrud claims that he wants to join the Ducal Guard, what with the coming war. The men look him up and down, obviously impressed by his size and thick, corded muscles. They say that everyone is at dinner, but that he should return on the morrow and speak with the captain.

“Would that be Draco?” asks Ember, but the men shake their heads. Draco is the lord high commander of the Ducal Guard, but the captain of the guard is in charge of accepting recruits. The men try to turn them around and usher them out the gate, but Ember insists that they entered through a different gate, and walks forward across the courtyard. They protest and try to turn her back, but she strides ahead. The men are upset, but can’t seem to quite bring themselves to lay hands on what is obviously a priestess, and a winsome one at that.

Walking west along the base of the barracks, Ember and Thrud spy a narrow wooden stair rising on the outside of the structure to a door on the second story. On the western end of the building, flush as if a wing, is a one-story stone structure without windows. As they approach the western gate, which stands open, they have a good view of the fourth building inside the walls, small, wooden, and two-story but in need of repair. It is windowless.

“See,” says Ember, and gestures at the open gate, “this is how we came in.”

“I don’t think so,” says one of the guardsmen, pointing at the plank which does not cross the ditch but which instead is inside the gate, “unless you drew that in after yourselves.”

Ember laughs. “Silly me! I must have gotten completely turned around inside.”

Eager to usher them out, the men do not belabor the point but lay the plank down so that they can cross.

“Until tomorrow morning” says Ember, and one of the men repeats it, agreeing with her – but she catches a hint of regret on the face of the other. “Unless we see each other tonight? Where do the soldiers drink?” she asks, and one man smiles broadly, while the other scowls. “Thrud here would like to get to know his new companions,” she says to the scowling man, and after a second to sink in, Thrud nods.

“There’s taverns up and down all the streets around the barracks,” says the scowling man.

“But you can always find us guardsmen at the Laughing Gull,” says the smiling one.

“The Laughing Gull, then,” say Ember. She walks over the plank, followed by Thrud. When she turns to wave, the men are already drawing the plank back and then setting to close the gate. Ember and Thrud make their way up the street and to the market.


Odleif and invisible FluffyKitten walked with Ember and Thrud as far as the high market, then turned west and headed for the foreign quarter. This area is populated by the immigrants from the Ethangarian Khanate. These nomadic steppe dwellers have established their own small community within the town of Rhoona, centered around the huge Temple of Cretia. The homes and shops of this area are arranged in a protective semicircle, with a wide gateway leading to the front of the temple. There are a few twisting alleys leading through the Ethangarian community, but the main street to the Temple is the only one Odleif thinks he can take without attracting undue notice. FluffyKitten practically hangs on his pantsleg the whole time, so he is confident of not losing her.

The poorest people appear to live live on the outer fringes of the sector, in shacks and hide tents, while the wealthiest members live on the inside, facing the temple, in odd buildings that resemble a carpenter’s interpretation of a yurt, with the hide walls replaced by wood. Several shops and stores also face the temple, and Odleif notes blacksmiths, butchers, leatherworkers, wainwrights, and a carpenter, as well as several food merchants. Though his pale skin and odd clothes mark him instantly as a non-Ethengari, there are norsemen come to trade with these people in the crowd with him.

Once inside the Ethangarian sector, much activity is visible – people and animals all about the place. Children, in particular, and dogs are ubiquitous – both of them traveling in small packs. The Temple of Cretia is a massive stone structure, and only three doorways are visible, all on the front wall. All of these portals are made of sturdy wood, and all of them are closed. Children play on the steps of the temple, and there are no non-Ethengari nearby. Odleif will have little luck approaching any closer without attracting attention to himself.

Instead, he whispers to FluffyKitten to do her thing. In the plaza before the temple, an old Ethengari man is exercising, or perhaps training, his horse – running it in circles about him on the end of a long lead while he flicks it lightly with a stiff whip. Odleif approaches and tries to make conversation, but the man knows no Common and he no Ethengari, so he resorts to gesturing in admiration at the horse.

FluffyKitten pulls away from Odleif, at first thinking to join the playing children but them remembering that she is here to scout the temple. She passes all along the low stone wall, all the way back to the shore of the fjord at the rear of the temple, but sees no windows. The building is only a single story, though she supposes there might be an attic under its peaked slate roof.

The Ethangari houses crowd close to the temple along its sides, but at the rear, there is nothing between it and the water. Also at the rear of the building is a single chimney extending out from the wall and rising above the roofline. There is, to her surprise, a window roughly in the center of the wall, and one with panes of glass besides, the only one she has seen in the building so far!


Fluffy tries to climb the wall below the window, but there is no sill and the stones are smooth and without purchase. She continues around the corner of the building, just far enough to see that there are no windows along the entire north side as well, then returns to the rear of the temple.

She puzzles a minute – if she cannot climb to the window from below – perhaps she can let herself down from above? The roofline is not even ten feet above the window at its center, and the window is not in the center of the wall. Fluffy goes to the base of the chimney. Here the stones are rougher-cut, the mortar-gaps thicker, than the walls. She chances a trial hold – the stones are warm and dry. Securing her gear about her, she climbs up and is soon on the roof.

The slates are new and dry, and she easily makes her way over to the part of the roof above the window. Lying on her stomach and peering over the edge of the roof, she finds that the roof itself, including the soffit and fascia, is of wood, although it has been slated over. It is awkward work, but by moving as far out over the lip of the roof as she dares, and reaching out as far with her arm as she can, she is able to drive the blade of her dagger between two boards of the fascia, all the way up to the hilt. It takes her several tries and is quite noisy. She looks around nervously between each blow, forgetting for the moment that she is invisible.

Fluffy tests the dagger, trying to wiggle it, but it seems firmly embedded in the wood. Retreating to the roof, she ties two knots in her rope – a small and self-tightening one for the dagger handle, and a larger, loose one in which she can sit like a swing, and which will keep her from hitting the ground if she falls. It is hard to tie a knot when you can’t see the rope, but she finds that if she lets the rope lie on the roof rather than holding it up, it becomes visible.

Fluffy slides the small knot over the end of the dagger and cinches it. She hesitates, takes a breath, and slides over the edge of the roof. There is the briefest moment of falling, and then she slams into the stone wall – still suspended from the dagger. She grins to herself and begins to hum happily as she lowers herself down the rope until she is sitting in her swing in front of the window.


Through the large, glass-paned window in the middle of the room’s west wall, Fluffy can see that the room (54) contains a large bed, a table and chairs, an open closet, and a colorful tapestry on one wall. The drop from the window to the ground outside is only five feet. The most striking feature in the room is the tall, gaunt, bald man clad in a black robe. He is sitting at the table reading some documents, with his face to Fluffy and using the light from the window to illuminate his papers. Fluffy examines the window carefully, but it is set into the wall without any way to open it besides breaking the panes. After five minutes the man has done little besides shuffle papers, so Fluffy begins an ascent of the rope.

She makes it back to the roof, pries loose her dagger, and goes over to the chimney. Smoke rises, but it is not thick, and carries with it the rich smell of roasting meat. It is a broad chimney, from a large hearth…Fluffy-sized? She climbs up on top and peers down. Less than fifteen feet down she can see the light of the fire reflected on the back of the chimney, and no grate or other obstruction that would block her passage. It is narrow, but that just means she will be able to use her arms and legs to brace herself, rather than her rope.

Fluffy takes a deep breath, then lowers herself, using just enough pressure so that she slides slowly down the walls, stopping when she can stand on the smoke shelf. Just below her, a kid goat on a spit is roasting over hot coals. By now she is out of her saved-up breath and has to inhale. Her eyes water and she fights back a cough. If she can angle it right, she can jump out of the hearth without landing on the coals with her bare feet.

Fluffy tries to maneuver herself into position with her arms, but as her palm brushes against the hot stone of the chimney she burns herself, jerks away involuntarily, and falls. Landing on the goat, she knocks one end of the the spit into the coals, then rolls out into a kitchen, coughing and gasping. She tries to shake the soot off her arms and legs so as not to track it over the clean kitchen floor, smells burning flesh, and turns back to see that one end of the goat has fallen into the coals and is smoking. She raises the spit back into its brace.


Fluffy looks about the clean and well-furnished cooking area (53). Besides the hearth, several wooden counters, a closed brick oven, and a pantry are visible. Long tallow candles provide illumination. She is not looking long before the door bursts open and two Ethangari men – cooks, not guards – come in. One grabs mitts and pulls a covered dish from the oven, while the other starts opening the pantry and begins to remove porcelain plates and silver flatware. When the burned spot on the kid is noticed, the men begin yelling and gesticulating at one another. Fluffy moves to what she takes to be the least-used corner of the room.

Eventually one of the men begins to gather up the table settings and exits the door. He returns for more, and on his next exit Fluffy is right behind him. They emerge into a dining area (52), and a richly-furnished one at that.


The table and chairs are of gleaming dark wood, and have been skillfully crafted. Several paintings hang on the walls, depicting waves of grass below awesome mountain peaks. An exquisitely detailed tapestry hangs on the wall by the kitchen, picturing masses of Ethangarian riders storming through the army of some foe, and a crystal chandelier hangs over the table.

As the man lays the table, Fluffy makes a quick circuit of the room, finding two doors. While the man is in the kitchen, she tries the one leading to a study (51).


In this comfortable room, two low chairs are set around a small table, and a small desk is against the wall. The desk is bare, but there is a bottle of wine and two glasses on the table. Fluffy quickly goes through the desk drawers, but finds only quills, ink pots, parchment, sand, and the like. She makes to slip out the door – but finds it locked.

She returns to the door to the dining room and lays her ear against it. Judging the man to be out of the room, she opens it and is closing the door behind her just as he enters. He sets a bottle of wine and a crystal goblet on the table, but then comes to examine the door, looking about curiously before returning to his duties.

By now the table is mostly set – besides the porcelain and flatware she saw before there are now two linen serviettes. A large silver platter has a great bed of rice with most of the kid on it, less the burned quarter. There is a plate of greens and a thin root stew, and a pot of tea in addition to the wine. Although there are many chairs, the service is set for one only.

Fluffy tries the other door, and finds herself an open hallway leading to the room with the man in the black robes. He is still poring over his papers, but now an oil lamp burns on his table. The door behind Fluffy opens and one of the men from the kitchen enters, bowing low but not speaking as he approaches the bald man. The man says a few words in Ethangari, then begins clearing his table of the documents as the servant retreats. Fluffy’s attention is drawn to the tapestry, which she can see now appears to be a large map, complete with a trail marked in red and a large “X” on the side of a mountain.

Several minutes later the servant reappears, with a laden plate which he sets in front of the bald man. He brings the rest of the dinner in over the course of several trips, pours wine, and otherwise attends the man. Fluffy slinks back to the study, and returns with parchment, quill, and ink. While the man in black robes eats, she makes a copy of the map. The hardest part is juggling the parchment, quill, and ink pot simultaneously, for if she sets any one of them down, it becomes visible, and the servant has been through the door nearing on a dozen times.

The area of land depicted in the tapestry

Near the end of her copying, Fluffy finds herself stifling an ever-more urgent cough. Finally, she is forced to retreat from the room. One of the serving men is still in the dining room, but when his back is to her she is able to slip in to the kitchen, where the other man is washing up. The goat is gone from the spit, but he has revived the coals and is boiling water on the hearth. Fluffy chokes back coughs all the way up the chimney, until finally back on the roof she can let free, spitting up dark phlegm. She climbs down the outside of the chimney and dashes off to find Odleif, who is still watching the horsetrainer at work. He does not see her, but can hear her wheezy coughs from below him. Together they walk to the high market.

Once the half-dozen comrades of the party find one another, they discuss their next move. Morgan wants to go to the Laughing Gull and pump the soldiers of the ducal guard for information. At the same time, she is desirous of finding an inn where they can have a private room. Returning to the Girdle, she asks the bartender about an inn. He says he doesn’t know of any. Rhoona, he says, is the first stop (or last, depending on how you look at it) of the caravan trail, and all of the local merchants have their own warehouses and villas and are in no need of inns. What little traffic there is of foreigners in the city has to content themselves with shared floorspace in the common rooms of the taverns.

Ember uses four orisons on Fluffy, who is still coughing fitfully.

Fluffy unrolls her copied map and they all have a look. Ember and Thrud believe that it shows the trade route over the mountains from Ethangar to Vestland, and next to the trail is a picture of a cave mouth in the side of a high peak. The map has a red blot on it at the crest of the pass separating the two countries.

Leaving Poncherius and Wolfbane to pack their gear and ready the camels, the party goes out in search of an inn. They do not find one, but working their way along the row of shops facing the Ducal Guard Barracks, they come upon tiny Delightful Dahlia’s. The common room barely fits a trestle table and two benches, and would be crowded were it not currently empty.

“No custom today?” inquires Morgan.

“Oh, I do well enough when the ale is flowing,” says the proprietress. “But since the Duke required taxes be paid in beer, I have neither ale nor beer, and my regulars don’t come here for my cooking.”

Morgan says that perhaps the party can help, then asks Dalhia how much to rent out the place just for them, exclusively, as they have ‘private business’ to address. Dahlia considers, then says for 8 gold she will let them have the entire place for the night – the common room below and her private bedroom, at the top of the stairs. She will make them dinner, leave after the washing up, and be back in the morning to make the bread. The party doesn’t take long to decide that is a great deal – the only hitch being she has no stable.

“The women get the bedroom,” declares Morgan in a tone that brooks no argument.

“What about you, where will you sleep?” Ember asks Dahlia.

“Oh, don’t worry about me, I’ll stay at my boyfriend’s for the night,” she says with a gap-toothed grin. “But I’ll be back before sunrise to start breakfast – so just make sure you’re done with whatever ‘private business’ you have before then”, she adds with a wink.

The party splits, half of them to return to the Crystal Girdle and move their gear, and the other half to look for a stable closer to Dahlia’s. A block away, and east of the barracks, they find the Grinning Goblin, with a large, empty stable. FluffyKitten is with the group that goes to the Girdle, but she hasn’t been there five minutes when she says “Boring,” to no one in particular, and is not heard from for a long while. It takes that group a while to realize that she is gone (what with her being invisible), and they are not sure what to do. Finally Ember sighs. “She knows where Dahlia’s is”, she says, “she’ll have to find us, since we certainly can’t look for her.”

FluffyKitten has decided that with the dwarves all leaving Rhoona so quickly, perhaps they have left something of interest behind – and their living quarters are so near the Girdle, she has to explore. If the party is moving to Dahlia’s, it might be some time before she could convince the party to come this way. They don’t really listen to her, anyway.

The Crystal Girdle Tavern (square), less than 50 yards from the nearest former bunk house of the dwarven masons

When Fluffy arrives at the bunkhouses a few minutes later, she finds a patrol of the Ducal Guard. They are going from building to building. From the smattering of words she is able to pick up, Fluffy gathers that they are checking to make sure that all the dwarves have left – since they were given until sundown to make it out of town. Her strategy is simple then. Wait for them to search a building and leave, and then she will enter it behind them – the least likely place for them to find her is where they have just looked.

The bunkhouses are certainly built well, of solid stone, but are cheerless places as befits the sour old dwarves. There is nothing in the way of comfy pillows and thick blankets, pies on windowsills, spinny toys or anything else that by rights one should have in a house, thinks Fluffy. She spends nearly two hours in the eleven different buildings, until she loses the light and starts fumbling around and making too much noise. There is plenty there, but most of it is things that are worn and need to be mended or fixed – things that no one would bother to take with them if they were being marched out of town. She does find a few things in good repair – a grappling hook and a pair of scissors for herself, a bolt of raw cloth which she looks at but decides to leave, some knives which she carries around for a while and then abandons, a handful of bronze beard beads she plans on giving to Bhelgarn, and pack of crossbow bolts for Poncherius.

Gear and camels relocated, the party crowds around the trestle table in Dahlia’s enjoying a filling stew of bulgar wheat and potatoes, as well as brown bread with anchovy paste. Bhelgarn has no trencher set for him, and with Dahlia constantly moving from kitchen to common room, he is forced to eat off the trenchers of the others. He breaks off great pieces of bread when she is not looking, and uses it to sop up the stew from this person’s trencher and then the others. When his grumbles of displeasure grow too loud, Morgan announces to the room, “Boy, I sure am glad I’m not a dwarf in Rhoona right now – I’d hate to be shaved and stretched, you know.”

Ale is conspicuously absent from the table, and Dahlia has neither wine, mead, nor spirits for sale. The party is reduced to drinking boiled water with mint, which Ember assures them is quite healthy but which “defeats the purpose of staying at an inn,” says Morgan. “If I wanted mint tea I could be camping on the caravan trail.”

“At least you get a bed tonight,” rejoins Thrud.

After dinner, when Dahlia is washing up, the party sets a watch schedule, starting at ten. “That gives me time to find a place that is serving something potable and still get back before first watch,” says Morgan, “I believe I will visit the Lucky Gull.” Thrud and Odleif immediately agree to accompany her, and after a second, Ember announces that she should go as well for their own good. Bhelgarn only issues a non-corporal sigh and Poncherius is not following the conversation in Common anyway. Wolfbane sees the chance to be the first person in the single bed the three women will be sharing for the night and retires early.

It is after Dahlia has left but before the foursome has set out when FluffyKitten finally arrives, slipping incorporeally through the front door and yelling “Dinnertime for Fluffy” in her shrill voice. Ember, both angry and relieved, helps her find the leftovers. All of the anchovy paste is gone, but there is nearly enough bread and stew to satisfy her. Through mouthfuls of stew she tells Ember, in halfling, what she found in the dwarven bunkhouses, and Ember translates for the party.

Fluffy wrinkles up her invisible nose when she learns of the plans of the others to go to the tavern, and so she goes upstairs to join Wolfbane in bed.

The streets are dark when the four prospective carousers set forth, but the Lucky Gull is on the same block, a scant fifty paces away and they need pass only three shops, two alleyways, and a different tavern (the Rocky Point) before they arrive. Five members of the ducal guard are there, drinking and laughing. They are wearing boiled leather and have shortswords on their belts, but their helmets are on the table, their tabards off, folded, and placed far from where they might be spilled on.

Morgan strides in first and smells the ale before she even sees it in their steins. “Ale!” she shouts at the barkeep. “How fortunate we are to have found the only tavern in the city still serving ale! Four steins, please!”

The man looks at her sourly. “I’ve just found the one keg in the basement today, didn’t know I had it. It’s for regulars only.”

“That’s alright,” counters Morgan brightly, “tomorrow we four are joining the guard. We’ll be regulars soon enough.”

After a long pause, the barkeep says “It’s five silvers a flagon.” This price seems designed to dissuade her – being about ten times what it “should” be.

Morgan reaches into a pouch, takes out two gold coins, and tosses them on the bar. “Then we’ll take four, for starters. Top off the steins of our friends here,” she says, indicating the soldiers.

Once they are sitting amongst the guardsmen (except for Odlief, who prefers to drink alone), with their steins filled, and Ember and Thrud speaking nordic, the party finds an easy acceptance and relaxes for a bit. And then Morgan starts to probe.

“So, war is upon us, eh? Any of you worried?”

“Worried? Why should we be? We are led by Draco Stormsailor! The Duke sent those dwarves packing, and if they come back, Draco will know how to deal with them!”

“So you want to fight them?”

“Of course, you know how rich dwarves are! Now, there won’t be women or kine for plunder, to be sure, but I bet every dwarf we kill has ten gold rings.”

“Have you ever killed a dwarf before?”

“I haven’t had the chance, but how hard can it be, they are so little and all.”

“Well, you may see them as little ‘cause all you’ve seen is masons and such – have you ever seen a dwarven army, all clad in plate armor with crossbows and war hammers? Are you sure you know what you’re doing? ‘Cause I don’t think your little walls and gates will stand much chance…”

“Walls! What do we need walls for? A chicken fence is higher than a dwarf! Draco faced sea serpents and aquatic ogres and far worse than dwarves in his wild days. He’ll know what to do.”

At this point, Thrud feels the need to interject. “If Draco is so good at slaying monsters, why doesn’t he do anything about the dragon?”

“What dragon?”

“The black dragon of the Vast Swamp.”

“The Vast Swamp? That’s in Soderfjord – let those squabblers take care of their own problems.”

“Squabblers? What is wrong with Soderfjord?”

“Wrong? Well, nothing is really wrong, I mean they are good nordic folk and all, but they’re not even a nation! They don’t have a king! Just those jarls that fight each other all the time. If they would ever take a break from their bickering with each other, I’m sure they could rout a dragon, and not have to ask our Draco to deal with it.”

“Forget the dragon,” interjects Morgan. “You have bigger problems. ‘Cause the dwarves are coming, and I don’t think you’re ready!”

You don’t think? Who cares what you think! Some southern half-giant trollop and two Soderfjorders don’t have the right to dictate war policy in Rhoona…”

Who threw the first punch? That’s hard to say, things happened so fast. Morgan and Thrud lept to their feet, to be sure. Two of the guards grabbed Thrud, one on each arm, while a third squared off against him. Ember launched her stein at a guard while Morgan went for another. Thrud grabbed the two men holding him and brought their heads together, and one collapsed, unconscious. Odleif used his magic boots to leap across the room, but didn’t land well. The whole thing was over fast enough. The party members took a few punches, to be sure, but in less than a minute all five of the guards had been knocked out. To their credit, none of them, guards or party, ever reached to draw their swords, and used only their fists (and the stein thrown by Ember).

While Ember watched the street nervously, Morgan propped the men back up on their stools, putting them in suggestive poses. “You need to leave!” hollered the barkeep, but Morgan was in no hurry. “You have assaulted the Ducal Guard! I want you out of my tavern, now!”

Satisfied with her work, Morgan finally turned to address the barkeep. “I am truly sorry…” she said, “…for all the ale we spilled. Such a tragic waste.”

And with that, the four of them left, walking cheerfully back along the night street to Dahlia’s.

Post 37 - Something is rotten in Rhoona

The city of Backwater, where animals roam the streets overlooking the Saltfjord River and the air is hazy with smoke

Backwater was apparently named for its proximity to the Great Marsh, or perhaps for being at the “back” of the Saltfjord River, and not for its size. It is in fact the capital and largest city of the Jarldom of Hedden, and has several thousand people. Still, there is little central planning, and once inside the great timber palisade, the party is confronted by a bewildering array of dirt streets, with animals roaming freely, and everything obscured by a haze of smoke from a thousand hearthfires. The rest of the party is indeed grateful for Ember and Thrud, who are able to speak with the locals and find their way through the maze of streets and buildings while they lead the camels.

The party finds a comfortable inn for the night with somewhat begrudging stabling for the camels, and they are glad again for Ember, who smooths things over with the innkeeper. Morgan begins to talk about exchanging their camels for pack horses, or even for passage on a longship, but after some discussion it is decided that they will need more information to make that decision. Rhoona lies to the west, but plans are made to strike for Soderjord City instead, as both Ember and Thrud have business there and it is just a day’s further travel.

Ember and Thrud listen carefully to the conversations in the inn that evening, seeking information about the situation in Rhoona, but learn nothing they did not hear before in Castellan. Other talk is of the upstart young black dragon, and how the summer raiding season is going.

The next day the party is up early, and out along the road to Soderfjord city. They pass through many small communities and the trail leads through beautiful green country along the southern bank of the fjord. The fields are full and ripe for harvest, and the road is busy with travelers.

The road from Backwater to Soderfjord City

On the low, level ground the camels are easy to ride, even with Wolfbane and FluffyKitten sharing a saddle, and they make excellent time, reaching Soderfjord in the evening. The city gates are still open, but most businesses are closed or closing. Ember and Thrud both grew up here (though Thrud has been away for much of his adult life, in the warbands of many different jarls), so they are natural guides and easily find the party a comfortable inn. They meet briefly, talking about their plans for the morrow. Then, tired from a long day’s travel, they retire for the night without staying in the common room to hear the gossip of the city.

The great walled city of Soderfjord

The next morning Wolfbane agrees to stay at the inn and mind their gear. Thrud plans on returning home to his family, while Bhelgarn and Poncherius will visit the dwarven community. Morgan and Odleif will check the docks and stockyards, while Ember will take FluffyKitten to the Temple of Glöð.

Thrud’s father, a blacksmith in the Old City, has not seen him for the better part of a year, and is overjoyed. Thrud shows him Zargon’s horn, and tries to tell of his adventures, but he can never complete a tale. Just as he is well underway, his father spies a neighbor or a friend in the street, and interrupts to insist that they come and listen as well, and that Thrud begin again. By afternoon the shop is full and the forge is cold, the day’s work forgotten, and plans are being made for a feast that evening. When Thrud asks his father and the neighbors about Rhoona, they reply the more trouble the crazy Vestlanders want to stir up the better – less dwarven goods in the city means more work for them.

Bhelgarn, nearby in the forge district, hears the other side of the coin. Although the nordic people have long been allies of the dwarves, the trouble in Rhoona is stirring up tensions, and many in the local human populace are saying they would be better off without competition from the dwarves. This is, of course, foolish, since humans cannot hope to craft things as well as dwarven smiths – but then, humans are notoriously shortsighted.

Morgan and Odlief spend the day acquiring enough information to plan the party’s next move. In the stockyards, they find that camels are not much in demand in the Jarldoms, as they are little use in the winter and either refuse to go, or do not fit, on longships. The traditional nordic horses Morgan finds are little larger than ponies, and are often carried on longships. They are rugged creatures and strong for their size, but cannot carry nearly as much as a camel. They are certainly better animals for combat, being both swifter in a dash and more aggressive, but for overland transport the camels are clearly superior, being able to carry more and go further in a day. Morgan concludes that if they are to take the overland trading route they will want to keep their camels, but if they opt to go by sea they will need to exchange them for horses and ship’s passage. The traders in the yards tell them that the overland trade route is 192 miles from Soderfjord to Landersfjord, which would take them perhaps eight days with horses. From there, they can either cut cross-country to Rhoona (shorter, but off-trail through the wilderness), or stay on the trade route for another 176 miles. Altogether it is a journey of perhaps two weeks to Rhoona by land.

Nordic horses are little bigger than ponies by Darokite standards

At the docks, Morgan and Odleif learn that, when the wind is with them, longships are far faster than horses or even camels – but when the wind is against them, they must use rowed movement, which is slower even than walking. The square sails do not permit tacking, so they are highly dependent on wind direction. From Soderfjord out to the sea will be rapid with the wind behind them; moving up the Vestfjord River to Rhoona will almost certainly be rowed. Out on the open sea – who knows? Perhaps a priest of Njord could tell them, but the sailors cannot. Morgan presses for an “average” and is told around two weeks – but that it could be anywhere from less than a week to as much as a month, all depending on the wind.

Morgan prefers a guaranteed two weeks by the trail (or perhaps less, with camels) to a chance at two weeks by sea, and it will allow them to keep the camels for the time being, and not lose value in changing them to horses. In fact, she returns to the markets to see if she cannot pick up more camels. As luck would have it, there is an Alaysian trader who had brought oils, spices, and bronzewear from the south to Soderfjord, and who is planning on returning laden with narwhal horn, walrus tusk, and silver. He finds himself with more camels than he needs for the return trip, and after a bit of haggling agrees to sell two of them, plus saddles and pack harness. Morgan also picks up food and cattle feed for five days, returns to the inn, and celebrates with large quantities of mead.

Ember and FluffyKitten spend the day at the Mother Temple. It has been only a few months since Ember left as a novice, and she is now returning as a priestess. Her sister novices are thrilled to see her, and her superiors are pleased, and talk about scheduling her priesthood ceremony, and selecting a kirk to serve. Ember, however, is more interested in discussing the situation in Rhoona, and upon hearing this, a messenger is sent to the Temple of Forsetta.

Mother Temple of Glöð, Soderfjord City

FluffyKitten is given honeycakes and small beer, shown the temple and gardens, and plays cats-cradle with the youngest of the novices, just stripling girls like Ember was when she arrived at the temple. Ember herself asks to learn the prayer for speaking with animals, and is taught it. Her superiors are quite impressed that she has learned as many prayers as she has “on her own”, and remark that it is a sure sign of the favor of Glöð.

Ember has one close friend among the novices who pledged to keep track of her brother for her while she was away, and tells her that her brother is working the summer raiding season on a coastal guard longship based out of Soderfjord. As soon as Ember arrives, the young woman asks permission to go to the docks. When she returns, she tells Ember that they patrol up and down the coast near the city, and he is in port around once a week – but has not been seen for several days. She promises to give him word of Ember’s arrival and any message.

In the afternoon Ember is taken to the Temple of Forsetta. There she meets with several of their priests. The temples do not have an international hierarchy, but they do communicate with one another, and the priests of this temple have been in contact with their brothers in Rhoona, who are quite concerned about the situation there. They are desirous of someone trustworthy to investigate. They dare not do so themselves, for going against the duke would be treason – but they have sent a discrete plea for outside aid within the fraternity of their churches. When Ember says that she would be willing to help, the priests are both grateful and relieved, and prepare her a letter of introduction to their counterparts in Rhoona.

Ember is taken to the temple of Forsetta

Evening finds everyone but Thrud back at the inn for the meal, and Ember tells the others that he is likely with his father and not to worry. She will go for him in the morning and be at the city gate before Morgan has the camels loaded and ready.

Morgan rouses the party before dawn, and has them sorting gear and loading the camels. She finds her throbbing head helps her focus her biting comments. Ember is glad to slip away and after asking a few people along the way has no trouble finding the hut of Thrud’s father, though she has never been there before. Thrud is still sleeping off last night’s feast, but she wakes him and tells him they are departing. His father is loath to see him go so soon, but when Ember explains that they have to resolve the situation in Rhoona before there is bloodshed, he does not gainsay the priestess.

Thrud and Ember find the rest of the party at the city gate, and together they spend the day on a return trip to Backwater.

Back in Backwater

After they pack the camels the next morning, Ember negotiates a ferry passage across the Saltfjord River. The number of barges capable of transporting the camels is limited, but by using several ferrymen and a few return trips, they are able to get across for 5 coppers per person, and another 10 per camel.

As they organize on the far bank, Morgan readies them for the overland trek to Landersfjord. She tells them she hopes that the last four nights in beds have not made them soft, as they have about 200 miles to go before that is an option again.

The overland trade route from Backwater to Landersfjord

The first day’s travel is through lowland pine forest. Here and there along the way are forester thorps, where poor carls eke out a living cutting timber and raising hogs and root vegetables. The second day they rise into the dry hills. The settlements are still sparse and cluster along the banks of streams, but are a bit more prosperous with cattle and small fields of wheat and barley. This is poor country with thin soil, and those in the party not from Soderfjord now understand why income from the sea, whether fishing or raiding, is so important in the Jarldoms.

A village in the dry hills

By the end of the day the trail leads to the banks of a large stream that must be crossed. The fisherfolk of the place (Bornford) tell the party that the stream is actually the upper reaches of the Bornfjord River, and marks the boundary between the Soderfjord Jarldoms and the Kingdom of Vestland. Through a combination of quaint stone bridges over the deep sections, wading through calf-deep water in the shallow parts, and a few dry gravel beds, the party leads their camels across and makes camp on the far side. The fisherfolk agree to trade the jerky the party had planned to sup on for fresh-caught fish at the evening meal.

On the third day of travel the trail rises up into rugged, often forested, hills. The settlements grow farther and farther apart, and by day’s end they camp at the base of an impressive-looking mountain range. The deciduous leaves of the forests are changing, and on the slopes above them have even fallen. It is beautiful traveling weather during the day, but the nights are chilly. While still above freezing, Ember and Thrud tell them that they need to get to Rhoona before the first snowstorm or the roads could become impassable.

Early on the fourth day the trail passes its summit, and starts to descend, indicating that they are entering the Landersfjord valley. By midday they can see the river below them, and by afternoon the city at the end of the trail. Most of the city is on the far bank, so they pay for another ferry crossing and are able to find an inn as the streets darken. Conversation in the common room is dominated by the subject of Rhoona. The Vestlanders here are considerably more sympathetic to the duke than the Soderfjorders were, and believe that he is defending his people against the dwarves, but people are still concerned, and speculate as to the cause of the conflict and what the King may do in response. The only real new information the party is able to gather is that Stefan Rhoona has recently issued a decree that all crown taxes must be paid in beer, rather than coin! That has more than a few of the Vestlanders scratching their heads.

The party discusses where they will travel next, debating the value in reaching Rhoona sooner by heading overland. All along their route so far, the common folk have asked them if they have seen any giants come down from the mountains. Now Ember and Thrud are warning of snowstorms. It does not take them long to decide that they will stay on the trade trail around the Norrvik peninsula.

The next day they set out north along the trade trail, arriving at the city of Haverfjord well before dusk. They are nearly out of food, so Morgan calls for an early halt, a night at an inn, and a day of rest and re-supply on the morrow. Discussion at the inn is over the duke’s strange decree, and the party hears rampant speculation as to its cause. Some say it is because the dwarves have been passing false gold coins in Rhoona, some believe it is another way to get the dwarves to leave. “His Grace stopped paying them a month ago, but the creatures are squatting on human land and won’t clear out! Once the ale dries up, they’ll leave town soon enough.” Bhelgarn feels more than one unkind stare in the common room, and for the first time since arriving in the northlands he is justifiably uneasy.

In the morning, Bhelgarn elects to remain at the inn, with Wolfbane and Poncherius, while the others are out shopping. The looks he is getting from the servants at the inn are enough for him, without risking a confrontation with strangers in the city. The others have no difficulty securing supplies.

The Norrvik peninsula

The party sets out of Haverfjord the next day. The city is set at the base of the dry hills and the source of the Marsfjord River. As they travel north, the land grows greener and the farms larger, eventually interspersed with dairy pastures. They are now close enough to the sea to have reliable rain, and the country is full of verdant fields such as they saw around Soderfjord. Ten miles out from the city they turn away from the river and head up in to the forested hills. The rest of the day is spent along the trail through towering pine forests.

By late afternoon they have crested the spine of the peninsula and are coming down the Norrvik slope, passing through a series of light forests and open meadows. Before them, a caravan is spread out – along the trail, but also off the sides of the trail. It is not traveling, but not encamped, either. Everywhere is chaos – merchants arguing with guards, guards arguing with drovers, pack animals are milling about in confusion. Morgan finds the guard captain and asks what is going on.

The caravan was about to cross the meadow just over the next rise, when advance scouts encountered a huge black bull. They tried to drive it away from the trail, for wild bulls will often charge pack horses. However, as they approached it, it charged them – and they were turned to stone! Now the merchants are demanding that the guards slay it or drive it away, while the guards are threatening to quit if they are sent after the beast.

The party moves quietly up to the ridge to assess the situation. Sure enough, in the bowl-shaped meadow, three stone statues of guards are on the trail, while a huge bull grazes nearby. Fluffy is sent ahead to scout. She gets close to, and then moves beyond, the beast. She conceals herself behind a bush and takes out her sling. Wolfbane uses phantasmal force and ventriloquism to distract it while Ember, Thrud, Bhelgarn, and Morgan move into melee range. Odleif provides missile support from atop the ridge. After the creature has been angered by missile fire, Morgan taunts it into charging her, then webs the space between two of the statues, entangling the creature and enabling the party to finish it off (after she barely escapes its curious green breath weapon). FluffyKitten takes a large piece of its hide, with an eye to making a cape with the stuff. The leathery hide is not covered with hair – rather some sort of stony-hard serpentine scales!

The terrible petrifying bull creature

Returning to the caravan, the party finds themselves the heroes of the day, and even Bhelgarn gets hearty claps on the back and an invitation to share their meal. Morgan is more practical and asks the merchant master to pass a hat among the traders – she comes away with 20 gold coins which are added to the party funds. They camp that night with the caravan.

The next day the party, moving well-ahead of the caravan, comes down out of the highland forest to the coastal plains, and arrives at the great city of Norrvik, capital of Vestland and seat of the King. It is still afternoon by the time they arrive and they have some time for shopping after finding a suitable inn.

The docks of Norrvik

FluffyKitten insists that they can find tanners and leatherworkers who can show her how to fashion a cloak from her bull-hide in a few hours. Ember visits shops with her, but the halfling becomes petulant when the master leatherworkers refuse to agree with her that their years of apprenticeship and training can be condensed into an hour lesson.

Odleif buys a quiver of “sheaf arrows.” He has been using Alaysian “flight arrows”: light shafts for long-range mounted combat in the open desert. These norsemen are used to fighting in thick forest, in raids on towns, or between ships. They prefer an arrow with a heavier head, less range, but a greater potential for damage.

That night, the talk of the common room is news of Rhoona. The party learns that the King of Vestland has recently sent a diplomatic delegation to the duke on the pretext of assessing his fall harvest and tax liability, but with a clearly implied mission to question him about the situation in the duchy. The most recent gossip is that the duke has issued a new decree – that anyone riding a horse within the limits of the city must be mounted backwards! This is a clear indication to most that something is rotten in Rhoona. However, the party still finds some people holding forth in support of the duke, and they hear arguments like the wealthy merchants and nobles are in league with the dwarves, and this is his grace’s way of humbling them (since common carls might well own beasts of burden, but not riding horses).

The next day’s travel is through the farming and dairy country along the coast, passing through the city of Bergen at mid-day, but not stopping. At day’s end they camp off the trail in the forest. A further day of travel takes them up into forested hills and finally, in the afternoon, to where the trail ends, at the ferry docks across the Vestfjord River from Rhoona.

Across the river from Rhoona

The ferryman spits into the water when he sees Bhelgarn, but Ember speaks politely to him and he doesn’t say much after agreeing to a price. After several crossings, the party finally stands in the Old Town on the east shore of Rhoona City.

On their way in to the city, the party noted sheep, goats, cows, and horses all herded in the rugged but fertile country around the town. There are a number of taverns and fish shops along the waterfront, but no inns in sight (the flop houses frequented by sailors do not even have stables, let alone accommodations for camels). With the exception of the unfinished Ducal palace and portions of three large temples, all of the buildings in Rhoona appear to be made of wood, with either wooden or sod roofs. They are predominantly one story tall, and all but the largest are of one room.

Rhoona City, nestled in the fork of a fjord

When Ember asks the ferryman for an inn that would be able to accommodate their beasts, preferably one close to the palace, the man indicates the docks on the other side of town and suggests a place called “The Crystal Girdle.” “They’re more like to serve his kind there,” he adds, hooking a thumb at Bhelgarn.

Between the camels and their dwarf, the party certainly attracts attention as they move through the streets and past the market square. As it turns out, the Crystal Girdle is just a block from the Ducal Palace and overlooks the barracks where the dwarven laborers are quartered. The stables are ample, but there are no private rooms – guests have a space on the floor in the common room. This does not sit well with Morgan, but Ember says it will do for one night as she has business at the Temple of Forsetta and does not have time to look for another place before dark.

The innkeep agrees to take them on, as well as their camels, and after stabling the beasts they begin to haul their gear in to the common room. At present there are some ten sailors, five maids, a petty merchant, and a dwarf in the common room.

The dwarf has a sour look on his face, but nods politely as Bhelgarn enters and mumbles, “greetings, cousin” in Dwarven, and then “Grimmvat Stonebreak, mason.”

The atmosphere in the tavern is quiet and solemn, with a conspicuous lack of drinking. Thrud orders an ale, and the barkeep shakes his head sadly and says that they have no beer or ale available. At present they are only serving mead, wine, and brandy. “If yu can aford it,” says one of the sailors darkly, and the others glare at the dwarf, who is drinking a watered-down wine and clearly not enjoying it.

Grimmvat grumbles irately about “human mismanagement.” After a short time, the party has all of their gear stowed, in a corner away from the door and the other customers. Throats are dry but Ember cautions Morgan it would be impolite to drink in front of the others without offering them something.

Grimmvat grows more vocal as he grumbles, “Blasted decrees! Where does the Duuke git these haarbrained ideas, anyhoo? If dwarves were in charge…”

The other patrons are clearly unhappy with his words, but the dwarf is burly and conspicuously wears a large stone mason’s hammer on his belt. None of them seem eager for a fight.

Ember slips out, promising to be back as soon as she can. Shortly after she leaves, a commotion can be heard in the street, and a passerby sticks his head through the tavern door to announce, “The Duke’s herald approaches, ya? There must be a new decree!” Very near to the tavern, the herald and a guard of ten soldiers pause. The herald unrolls a scroll and reads loudly:

“Be it known to all that his Benign Munificence, Stephen, Duke of Rhoona, has declared the following to be an official decree:

“Whereas, the scheming, greedy, and cunning nature of the dwarvenfolk is known to all,

Whereas, their short statures and bearded appearances are an affront to the sensibilities of decent humans,

and Whereas, the citizens of Rhoona have already borne the insulting presence of these creatures for too long,

it is hereby decreed that a state of war exists between the foul and corrupt domain of Rockhome and the virtuous and principled Duchy of Rhoona.

Furthermore, any dwarf found to be within the boundaries of said duchy within one hour of the reading of this decree will be considered a dangerous criminal subject to arrest. Its punishment shall be a public shaving of its face and stretching of its vile person upon the rack until such time as it has attained a more human stature.

Such is the word of the Duke of Rhoona."

A large crowd has gathered to hear this pronouncement, but their reaction is subdued and nervous. After making the decree, the herald and his escort move down the street along the waterfront, and the citizens drift back to whatever they were doing. From the direction of the dwarven barracks comes a number of cries and curses, and a growing bustle of activity.

“It’s Draco who’s behind this, and you can mark my words!” exclaims Grimmvat. “If it’s war he wants, then it’s war he’ll git. ‘Foul and corrupt domain’ indeed!” The dwarf works himself into a sputtering frenzy, and, after several more oaths and declarations, he moves off toward the dwarven community.

“He ain’t stayin’ here,” says the innkeeper, pointing at Bhelgarn.

“Of course not, he was just leaving,” says Morgan calmly. She takes Bhelgarn to the stables and, when no one can see them, casts invisibility on him. When she returns to the common room, she whispers to FluffyKitten to leave her boots in the stable. The halfling shrugs – she only uses the boots when scouting, as she prefers to go barefoot.

Once things have calmed somewhat, Morgan passes a handful of gold coins, half of the money they got from the merchants, to Thrud and tells him to order a round of mead for everyone, the party and the others in the room. After the sailors have been drinking a while the mood in the tavern improves considerably. Morgan begins to talk with them and they seem to have forgotten that the party are outlanders and dwarf-friends besides.

When she asks them how this mess got started, they explain that the duke hired the dwarves to construct a huge stone palace for him. Previously, he had ruled from a large wooden fortress in the hills overlooking the city. Everything was going well until the duke’s human architects were inspecting the construction, and found that the dwarves had installed a series of secret doors into what was to be the palace treasury. Since these were not on the plans, it was obviously an attempt to return after the construction was completed and rob the duchy. The duke immediately called a halt to the work on the palace and refused to pay the dwarves. The dwarves denied wrongdoing, but refused to leave the city until their back-wages were paid. There has been a stalemate for near three months now, with the nation of Rockhome subsidizing the dwarves’ living in Rhoona as a matter of principle, and threatening the other nordic nations with sanctions if they do not take the dwarven side.

When Morgan asks who this “Draco” is, the sailors say that Draco Stormsailor is the head of the Ducal Guard, and the duke’s most trusted advisor. He is a fearless sailor and warband leader who was famous for his wild exploits on the seas before he settled down in Rhoona and accepted his current position from the duke. He is greatly respected and, they admit, feared by the people of the city.

Meanwhile, Ember is meeting with the priests of the Temple of Forsetta in Rhoona. They are very pleased that she has answered their call for help, but immediately warn her that if she starts to investigate, this must needs be her last visit to the temple. They cannot be seen as fomenting any treason – in part for their own safety, and in part because their god teaches the people to support and trust their leaders and the order of society. It is because most of the people in the city are of their faith, they explain, that they have been able to maintain calm among the populace even as the duke’s decrees have grown ever more bizarre.

The Temple of Forsetta in Rhoona

Most of those not of their faith (mostly fishermen, sailors, and warriors) attend the Temple of the Spuming Nooga. This faith is a less restrictive one, believing that a person must strive against the circumstances of his life to make the best of a short existence. While they have not spoken against the duke, neither have they tried to convince the people of his authority.

Recently, a newer temple has been erected to Cretia, the god of the Ethangarians. Although currently there is but a small number of people in Rhoona from the Ethangar Khanate, they have erected a large and elaborate temple. The Forsettian priests know little about the beliefs of the foreigners.

The Ducal Guard is responsible for maintaining order in the community, as well as defending it from any outside threats. This brutally effective force is led by Draco Stormsailer, whose very name inspires fear and awe in most Rhoonians. Once Draco sailed to all parts of the world on plundering expeditions, but now he has settled down to the quiet life of garrison commander. He lives in the Ducal Barracks. It is said that the Duke respects his judgement above all other advisors.

Finally, the priests tell Ember that one of their order, Brother Eric, will be in the city disguised as a beggar, and that he will act as her contact should she need assistance.