The Gobble-uns'll get you ef you don't watch out.
Session Summary

On the way out of Trammel, they had a good look around at the strange little village while Rache carved the hearts out of the four ogres' corpses.  The horrific half of the town (the slave pens, the ogre dormitory, and the sprawling manor house) seemed grafted on to what had otherwise been a quaint but slightly backward village in the middle of nowhere.  There was no sign of why Trammel's citizens had been enslaved, but it was clear that House Duchronaigh was responsible, and the ogres had been in on the arrangement.  When they found the fifth ogre hanging by its ankle from a length of heavy chain, their worst suspicions were confirmed.  Rache looked the body over briefly, cut it down, and proceeded to gouge out its heart as well, humming a quiet little tune under her breath and taking particular care in her task.

The rest of them followed Terciel as he and Shard inspected the trails in the area.  Together they were able to deduce that a few villagers had escaped: one had fled the manor house, leaving a trail into the thick woods; another two or three had left by the road.  The opposite road leading out of Trammel had only ogre footprints, but they were obscured by the signs of a scuffle ("There was a mighty duel; it ranged all over") which was doubtless part of the slave uprising.  The thickly pooled dry blood on the floor of the manor house's bedroom strongly suggested that Lord Duchronaigh was the dead eladrin that Sir
Husit described; since Terciel recognized the Mornamarya family seal on the Duchronaigh stonework, it seems likely that Duchronaigh was a Mornamarya, and that there is now one less Mornamarya in the world. Husit's makeshift graveyard was undisturbed, and the small ghostly platinum dragon hovered over the freshly-filled graves as a testament to his belief in Bahamut's justice.

The sun was up now, and the daylight made travel through the thick groves around the town less risky to their horses. Upon leaving the boundary of the enchantment, Shard marked it carefully so they might find their way back in if they ever needed to.  They took advantage of the daylight and put Trammel far behind them.  As the autumn sun warmed them, they laughed and complimented each other on the vicious defeat of the ogres, animated and cheerful about each parry and slash and explosion.  When they came to a meadow where the creek disappeared into the woods, they called a halt and rested for lunch and an early

After shaking off the siesta they headed south along the creek for a mostly uneventful day of travel.  As the sun dipped lower and lower in the sky and the clouds began to roll in, they heard a howling rise up from the woods on either side of the creek.  They urged their horses forward faster and Lenora took charge, pointing at breaks in the treeline where they should keep their eyes.  Shard spotted a log bridge well south of them, and beyond that Terciel could make out the shadows of some stone ruins.  Thea was looking closer still, and saw the barghests burst from the underbrush.

Barghests are pack animals like wolves, but they're also related to bugbears and hobgoblins.  They enjoy their status as the meanest and nastiest of the goblin family, and packs often split up to spread their power among many regional goblin tribes. To find barghests working alone in a pack was striking and unusual.  The only thing more striking was Thea, who came sailing out of her saddle with two hands full of sharpened steel.  The party charged into the jaws of the ambush, and while the fight was ferocious, there was never a moment where the outcome was in doubt.  Even when Thea fell to her knees, she kept swinging.  Terciel ended up on the far side of the river, puncturing the enemies from afar with vengeful volleys, barking out angry syllables in Elvish with each heavy draw of his bow.  When the dust settled the bargest host lay bloody and dismembered around them, steaming from everywhere Shard's blade had pierced them.  The party checked the corpses, dragged them into the woods, and saddled up to make better time.  Soon the rains came.

They rode through Coracle Landing, a godsforsaken flyspeck soaked to mud, and discovered a fairly aggressive perimeter guard unlike anything Sir Husit had described: dragonborn standing watch at both town gates (such as they were), and not a soul walking the muddy streets except for an elf watching his drake.  The Silver Drake Logging Company had doubtless employed him to seek out a favorable lumber contract in the area, and the weather had forced him to take
refuge for the night.  They rode through unmolested, but stopped on their way out of town to allay the fears of the other two dragonborn guarding the south gate.  When they commented on the variety of goblins, barghests, orcs, and ogres they'd taken care of already, he seemed content to let them travel on, but warned them to keep their eyes open… any goblins who spied them traveling on horseback in such weather at night would assume they were careless, foolish, or desperate, and would absolutely ambush them.

The goblins were true to form, bursting out haphazardly from behind a fallen tree that had been laid as an obstacle for an ambush.  The party made short work of them, fending off strange hexes that sizzled through the air and a vexing cloud that left itchy dust in their eyes despite the downpour.  They rode over the goblins and hobgoblins, laying into them with axe and flail, bow and dagger, and a dizzying array of counterspells: Darg's luminous halo, Bree's noxious nimbus of gas, and the weird vexing cloud that irritated them all.  By the end of the fight, the air was so full of strange spells interacting with each other that it was hard to tell exactly who was responsible for each one.  They rolled the corpses off into the soggy underbrush and rode around the barricade, bound south for Buckle's Landing.

I'll Never Get Ogre Macho Grande

[Through Sunday night, and into the dawn on Monday]

They rode quickly, with hot potatoes in their pockets to ward off the crisp autumn night. Terciel and Shard split the point, navigating by the stars and looking out for any pursuit, but with the death of the wolves their pursuers seemed to have given up on them.  As the sky began to turn from black to a dim purple, Terciel shook his head for a moment, convinced he'd fallen asleep in the saddle.  A moment later, Darg hollered from the back, "why did we turn around?"  His moustache ruffled indignantly as Shard and Terciel conferred and checked their bearings.  They were going the wrong way.

Shard dismounted and fired a crossbow bolt on a staked rope into the darkness. He walked along the rope and found himself standing next to the stake, with no quarrel in sight.  The others cried out in alarm; for a moment he'd disappeared to all but Terciel's eyes.  When Shard returned, Terciel went in and picked a few plants that looked familiar to him, bringing them back to show everyone.  When nobody recognized them, Terciel concluded tentatively that they must be near some sort of Fey crossing.  It didn't look anything like the portal he had come through before, and Bree, though familiar with the basics of portals,
couldn't suss out what exactly was happening.

They looked around, and noted that the trail led right into (and right out of) the disturbance, but while they had localized it, they wouldn't be able to pick their way through the thick woods until sunup.  Royce had warned them about Trammel, and it was clear that they had ridden long enough that this strangeness was the town of Trammel, but Sir Husit had said the town was abandoned, and Lord Wossname had asked them to take a look.  Surely it couldn't hurt to take a brief detour!

They rode into Trammel, then dismounted: the horses were beginning to shy away from the town as the scent of stale fires and decayed bodies cut through the cloying sweet smell of the fey flowers.  The first few buildings they saw were the burned skeletons of normal village dwellings, but as they moved through the town and saw more, they were troubled by the incongruities.  Along the left side of the road through town, all of the sheds were full of strange twisted ironwork in cruel shapes… certainly not residences.  The manor house's burned-out foundation implied a two- or three-story mansion far larger than one might expect for a village this small.  The fresh graveyard in the clearing was guarded by a memento-cantrip of Bahamut, the Platinum Dragon, most likely placed by Sir Husit on his visit.

Just as they were getting nervous and had decided that they'd seen enough, a deep groaning voice called out from the edge of the clearing in a strange language.  Once a second voice joined it, Lenora pointed in its direction and whispered sharply to Thea to form a front.  The two ogres shambled into view, eyes red with rage, foreheads scarred where Dagog had worn the arcane bindi that made him smart and compliant.  These ogres would not be speaking Elvish or peaceably complying with anything.  One swung a pair of cruel scourges, heavy whips decorated with bits of chain, thorns, and bones; the other hefted a massive club improvised from the branch of an ironwood tree.

The horses scattered, obscuring nearly everyone's view of the scene, but Bree was accustomed to inferring danger from the knees and ankles she could see.  She counted the legs, divided by two, and summoned a pea-green fog of stinking gas up from the turf at the ogres' feet. Thea staggered back, coughing in disgust, axe at the ready.  Everyone else was scrambling to take up sound tactical positions, but Rache walked towards the ogres.  Once she was close enough to see their eyes through the fog, she locked her gaze with theirs and began whispering under her breath, hands curled around the glowing threads of a strange cat's cradle; they wove together into a barbed bolt and shot forward. The ogre reeled and screamed and Rache started whistling quietly.

Lenora heard a crashing and crunching behind them and turned, hollering to Thea to cover their flank.  She charged the third ogre and beat him ferociously with her flail, balanced on the balls of her feet for the inevitable counterattack from the giant oaken branch he was swinging.  She barked and shouted at him, striking his joints hard to keep his attention on her while Shard picked his way around behind the big clumsy target.  The best thing about the ogres, from Shard's point of view, was the acres of space between the shoulderblades.  He picked a spot on a whim and sunk his blade in up to the hilt.  A runching and crashing from the underbrush behind him startled him, but not badly enough to make the blade go wide.  And even if it had gone wide, it still probably would have hit something vital… the liver on one of these things was probably the size of Darg's head.

Darg backpedaled carefully, staying close to Lenora and casting worried glances over his shoulder at Rache, who was standing her ground.  Whenever the ogre wound up to take a big swing at Lenora he would fire a few hammer-shaped bolts of light towards its head.  They splashed against its forehead and flashed like lightning disrupting its aim.  Shard danced between the closing gap, running out of room, and not one second too soon Thea arrived hollering for glory and blood, axe shining in the brightening dawn.

Bree shot icy blasts at the ogres' feet with one hand while carefully guiding the cloud to envelop them.  They staggered forward, swatting at the air with whips and cudgels, trying to get closer. Rache stood her ground, summoning wicked shapes into the air and flinging them into the ogres' faces: a shining necklace that choked one ogre, a bird which flapped drunkenly up to the other ogre and exploded in a puff of sharp feathers.  Dark forms oozed out of the dirt and hopped into her waiting palms.  Bree saw them getting closer and shouted for Rache to back up.  She clapped her hands and a bright flash of multicolored light sprayed wildly from her elbows, briefly illuminating the green cloud but clearly failing to yield the desired effect.  An unimpressed gre lashed out at Rache, grabbing her in the vicious bite of his scourge and dragging her back up close.  The other swung his club over Bree's head, trying to bash Rache apart.  All the while the two ogres hollered at her, always at her, and she just whistled and shot back nightmarish black shadows at them.  One fell, blood and smoke pouring from his ears, and Rache deftly stepped backward out of reach again. They followed, brushing past Terciel as though he weren't there, so close Terciel flinched reflexively… but they ignored him.  Peeved, he loosed arrows at them.  Most sunk into the thick hide armor they wore, or jabbed ineffectually.  One caught the remaining ogre high in the neck, and he vented his incomprehensible rage at Terciel while gesturing at Rache.

Lenora and Shard were ducking and weaving faster and faster now as blood coursed from the ogre's hamstrings and he staggered around trying to land a telling blow.  He managed to score one or two lucky hits, but eventually dropped in a pool of his own blood only a few feet from the steps of the manor house.  Thea continued to trade hits with the last one behind them, and relieved of their burden, Shard and Lenora swooped in to help.  In seconds he too was dead.  Rache was calmly walking backward while the last ogre stumbled towards her, black frostbitten flesh curling off its ankles where Rache and Bree had both blasted it.  Rache saw the last ogre swing its club coming a bit too close to her friend Bree, and scowled.  She clenched her fist and then thrust it forward with an open palm.  A giant phantom hand mimicked her gesture, pushing through the wretched fog and smashing into the ogre like a steel prison door slamming.  Blood squirted out of his eyes and ears, and he collapsed on his knees.  He gurgled a few more words, stretched an empty hand out toward her, and fell silent.

Rache pulled out the dagger she had found among Kral's belongings and plunged it into the dead ogre's chest, immediately working to split its rib cage and pull out its heart.  The rest of the party looked on in quiet horror, then began investigating the ruins of the village while Rache finished her grisly task.

 Map of Trammel

From the Ashes

[Sunday, just after dark]

The fires were spreading throughout the village, and many of the villagers had fled to the fields to avoid the blazewyrms.  At the south end of town, Darg and Shard immediately hollered to the bystanders to take stock of their town and urged them to help put  out the fires south of the orchard, and Rache coyly shamed the fleeing townsfolk into helping.  Lenora and Thea set up a bucket brigade from the water sump north of the orchard, and Rache ran up and down the main road through town blasting ice crystals at the still-smoldering flames.  Terciel jogged out to the edges of the fields, looking for stray fires and trying to discern whether the wind was going to spread the flames through the wheat or rye fields.  

The fires were quickly succumbing to the efforts of the adventurers and the odd motivated villager.  Royce in particular was inspired by their efforts to save his tavern and brewery, and was doing a great job right up until the wolves burst out of the forest to the south.

They angled in from the south, eyes glowing in the darkness, led by a giant beast that had the shape of a wolf but was nearly as large as the alligator they'd seen in the sewers a few days earlier.  Lenora and Thea heard Darg yell "wolves! to arms!" and they dropped their buckets and ran full-tilt to the south.  Bree was having trouble seeing in the fading light, and noticed a large dead shrub between her position and the wolves'.  She wiggled two fingers at the bush and it burst into flames, bringing the charging pack of wolves up short.

 Rather than charge through the underbrush and pounce, they were forced to split and keep the burning bush between them.
Terciel feathered a few of them, nimbly falling back out of reach of
their snapping jaws and pulling at least one of them away from the
pack.  Darg stepped in blasting with bolts of silvery light; in the
deepening darkness the prayers took on the shape of silvered hammers swinging fiercely at the wolves' heads.  Shard snuck between two buildings and lashed out with his silvered short sword, plunging it deep into one of the wolves' flanks. The wound hissed and steamed, and Shard barked "lycanthropes! Werewolves!" instinctively.  The giant wolf turned its head and regarded him with glowing red eyes, but he slipped out of view and back into the shadows.  A scowl played across Rache's lips as she thought back to the wererats, and all they had done to Ilian, Zlata, and Shard's family… she clapped her hands and a cloud blacker than midnight drifted up from the damp soil and engulfed the wolves.  Crackling violet bolts of energy illuminated the outer edges, but the pillar of darkness was otherwise impossible to see through.  The wolves trapped inside yipped and barked in pain, and Bree giggled as a particularly appropriate spell came to mind.  She clapped her hands, and the yips and barks slowed to groggy half-yelps.

They had been trying to drag Royce away, but the plan fell apart in
seconds as they found themselves caught in a darkness even their night vision could not penetrate, assailed by electric agony, and despite the pain, drifting into a heavy-lidded nap.

In the same moment, Thea and Lenora arrived at a dead run and threw themselves into the fray.  Lenora picked up the wolf trying to come around the outside edge, while Thea laughed and brought her axe to bear against the giant beast in the middle of the pack. As each of the smaller wolves fell its body lay there, unaccountably failing to polymorph.  The spells and the burning bush boxed them in, and soon enough even the biggest one was dripping its black blood from a dozen arrows with deep slashes from Thea's axe marring its dark grey pelt. When it fell, there was a loud crackling noise, like a bundle of twigs being snapped slowly from inside a barrel of blood.  The wolf's skin lay on the ground, defeated, and under the huge pelt, Shard felt the telltale geometry of a human skeleton.

Royce wiped his brow and looked at them all in the firelight.  "That's three times you've saved me and I didn't even know you at sunup.  This might be the luckiest day of my life!  Come in, take some hot grog and some venison, and I'll put you up for the night."  They protested that the riders they'd chased off were certainly after Sister Marina, and Royce considered their situation.  "They may be after her, but you'll get there first.  Those fools headed due south.  If they'd had a friend in the inn-keeping business, they'd know that the swamps south of here flood in the fall.  Flooding's been worse than usual this season, and the only bridges out there are rope bridges.  Can't ride a horse there.  If they ride hard, they'll be knee-deep in mire an hour or two after midnight, at which point they'll need to backtrack.  From
there, they'll need to either follow the swamp roads east to Coracle
Landing and south to Buckle's Ferry, or go west through the forests
back to Baerstun and take the Misty March overland.  You could set out at sunup and go through the forests to the east; the goblins and kobolds won't be out in daylight, and even if they are, you'll outrun 'em easily."

They conferred briefly and asked if there was a faster way.  "Well,
it's a little further, but heading to the headwaters of McGuffin Creek through fields would take you up to Trammel," and here he made a superstitious gesture, "and you'd get there about sunup.  You could ride around it, turn south when you reach the creek, and make it to Coracle Landing well ahead of your quarry.  I don't think they'd thank you for setting an ambush down in the Landing, though; they've had trouble enough with fires."  Lenora consulted with the others, and asked whether they might trade their horses for fresher mounts.  Royce practically jumped out of his boots to help, hollering for a stable boy to make the horses ready.  In a few minutes, they found themselves around a thick wooden table scarfing down a hearty venison stew while the stable boy brought around fresh horses to replace the older tired mounts they'd worn out on the first leg of the trip.  The younger horses seemed fine.  While they ate, Royce bandaged their wounds.

When they got ready to leave they found Rache wandering near the orchard, absentmindedly stamping on and kicking at the  embers that had fallen off one of the apple sheds.  She was chewing an apple thoughtfully with a faraway look in her eyes, but when they asked what she'd been doing, she pointed to the last few fires and said that she wanted to be sure they didn't leave any trouble behind them here. When Royce offered her some stew, she declined, but he slyly passed her a hunk of hearty bread wrapped around a hot slice of the roast. They saddled up and looked up into the sky to get their bearings. Royce gave them a few perfunctory directions, and asked if there was anything else he could get them before they set out for Trammel, Coracle Landing, and points south.

The Road to Feppic

[Sunday, before sunset]

The note that Marina had left was gone, and the bartender apologized profusely.  She had a mind like a game-snare, though, and recalled exactly what the note had said: Royce the brewer, in Feppic, would know where Marina could be found.  To Feppic then, with high hopes to close the gap and let Marina know what's going on.  Getting horses wasn't too difficult, either.  The farming season was drawing to a close, and nobody wanted to feed and stable them over the course of the winter coming up.  Most of the leftovers would be requisitioned as cart-horses for moving food to the army near Whitescale, anyway.

With six horses and plenty of provisions set in, the party headed out the Artisans' Gate and left Baerstun behind them, riding hard and turning right at Sweetwater to put the sun behind them.  From there the going got considerably less developed, with no good roads to be found.  Bree remembered the miserable tale of a traveler she had met who had come through this place and suggested a route that wouldn't lead them into the worst of the rocky pine scrub, while Terciel looked for roots and tangles.  Shard took point, scouting for danger or ambushes, while Thea turned and squinted through their dust into the setting sun, trying to pick out anyone who might be following.  Darg and Lenora concerned themselves with the horses, and Rache tried not to get too queasy.

Thea eventually hopped down off her horse and jogged alongside it to let it take a rest from hauling her armor and axe, while Lenora watched the other horses to make sure they weren't ailing.  Bree had a close call, nearly falling off the horse when they crested a ridge and had to turn suddenly to avoid a tangle of roots, but she was fine. Rache was able to deflect the questions the first few times, but Darg saw something in her eyes and feigned frustration with a bundle of bandages he'd been carrying.  He asked her if she'd mind carrying it so he could pay more attention and hold the reins (maybe not spill the halfling this time) and she graciously agreed.  Soon enough there was no light left, and Shard scurried out into the long shadows to set snares and noisemakers while Terciel walked a large circle around the campsite looking for the best tree to perch in overnight.  He settled in quietly, listening for any abnormal sound.

Two or three hours after midnight they all woke up to the sound of Shard's noisemakers.  The racket was punctuated by the sounds of something or someone running away through the woods, but when they were able to walk the perimeter they found only a few bootprints. Someone had definitely tried to sneak into their camp, and had left quickly when they were discovered.  The group settled back to sleep grumpily, except for Terciel, who quietly made his devotions to Melora, with a kindly word to Avandra tossed in for good measure.

Bree awoke and mumbled the best prayers she could remember, hoping for a bit of Avandra's favor to carry them to their destination safely, or at least without anything boring or lethal happening to them.

[Monday at dawn, after an extended rest]

Lenora, Darg, and Shard looked at the horse's hurt leg in the light of day and decided that if they were going to press the pace again they would need to spend some time tending to it, so they patched it up as best they could.  Thea stretched out her sore legs and did her best to ignore the pain, helped along by Rache's storytelling.  They had been on a dusty path alongside a field of tall grain when they noticed Shard had stopped and dismounted beyond the fork in the path, waving them forward.  They all passed the crossroads unassumingly and then halted.  Shard gave them the news: the idle farmers they had seen earlier in the day, the riders they'd passed before lunch, and the observers who had been on the crossroads just now were the same three. They were being dogged by the three riders and had only just noticed them.

Shard and Terciel crept through the grain to get a better look, perhaps even listen to their conversation, and came away with this: the three were a male duergar, a female elf or eladrin, and a human. They were on decent enough horses, and the last thing they said was "we can definitely beat them there if we hurry. Let's away!" and with that, they were gone.  Terciel, Shard, and Darg mounted the three fastest horses, leaving the slower horses for Thea, Lenora, Rache, and Bree; they rode ahead at a murderous pace, and arrived in Feppic in late afternoon.

When they came to the inn, there was a red-haired dwarf behind the bar cleaning the glasses, and two strangers seated quietly at a table, having a late lunch.  They might have been farmers, locals, or travelers, but the appearance of an eladrin, a dwarf, and a tiefling in close company and armed to the teeth was clearly the most interesting thing that had happened to them in months or years.  They sat rapt while Shard hailed the bartender and asked after Royce.  The dwarf remarked that Royce could usually be found behind the bar, cleaning the glasses, and introduced himself to the three of them.

They asked if he knew where Marina was, and remarked off-handedly that they'd slain untold numbers of the undead under Baerstun, and that it was important that they find Marina even though she had fled suddenly.  He seemed to take it in stride easily enough, asking them a few questions about her health and looks.  It seemed he was looking for a way to be sure they were the right ones.  Shard's nerves seemed to worry him, though, and when he asked why they all seemed so jumpy, Shard explained that they had been followed.  Given that they didn't know their pursuers but that anyone trying to intervene probably meant harm to them, Marina, and anyone else in their way, Royce's suggestion that they take cover and let Royce handle it seemed bold.

Shard glanced out the window looking for a safe place from which to cover the doors.  Terciel and Darg headed out back to quickly hide their horses in the stables and find themselves cover as well.

Out for Blood

[Sunday, mid-day]

The streets were too quiet by half.  The temple of Ioun had been quiet, but on emerging into the streets, the noise didn't change: no grumbling bustle, no hungover merchants, no servants lazily going about their day's work.  A few market stalls were set up, but the sellers all appeared to have taken a break and thrown up hasty "out to
lunch" signs.  Around the corner to the south, a few raggedy-looking men in city guard and royal navy outfits were brandishing slings and daggers: definitely not standard issue.  The closer they came, the more obvious it was that these were not real city guards.

Terciel unslung his bow and started looking for a vantage point while Shard moved cautiously towards them with his crossbow out.  The two accosted the counterfeit guards, urging them to set down their weapons and leave.  Two of them moved to the right, seeking cover by an outdoor market with stalls selling spices and incense.  One closed in, knife drawn.  The last one grabbed a handful of rocks and slung them
at Terciel and Shard, which earned him a quick death on the end of a crossbow quarrel.

Thea and Lenora decided to wade in and make things uncomfortable for these impostors, and Terciel decided he'd be more effective on the rooftops.  In a pop of strange fey energy, he appeared well above the crowd and staked out a dormer from which to rain down death and arrows.  As the tactical situation appeared to go pear-shaped for the
aggressors, they started to withdraw, although Shard thought he saw one of them scrambling over the low roof of the marketplace.

Just then two men dressed in shabby and out of date cavalry uniforms charged around the corner behind them on a pair of war horses.  One dismounted immediately, tossed a net over Darg, lashed it to his horse, and gave the horse's rump a smack before unslinging a trident and wading into the fight.  His partner chose to stay on his horse and try to break up the melee from a more secure fighting position.  While
Thea deflected his trident blows with her axe, Rache kindled flashes of fire around the horse's flanks, trying to spook it.  Just before the horse took off, a pair of thugs who had been lurking in the shadows knelt near Darg, jabbed him with their knives, sheathed them, and ran away.  Apparently content with stabbing the dwarf once, they looked to be headed for the city gate.

Terciel discovered that he was the fifth person to have the brilliant idea of raining death from above onto his enemies from this particular patch of rooftop.  The other four were nearby and had drawn their daggers, hoping to close with him and corner the market on snipers' nests.  If they were also out for blood, Terciel might be spared… or he might be dumped off the rooftop.  He decided not to take any chances and started shooting the seven hells out of anything that moved up on his roof.

Lenora and Thea worked the pincer movement on the horse and rider, while Rache slipped through the thin fog that always seemed to surround her when things got ugly like this; Rache popped in and out of sight, dazzling the enemies with sharp gestures and crackling infernal magic.  Bree pulled her share of the weight with a set of deftly-aimed magic missiles that dropped one of the fleeing villains. Darg had untangled himself from the net now, and the horse that had dragged him off was standing nervously in the middle of the street. Shard had taken cover under an awning and was picking off the thugs silhouetted against the opposite roofline as they came after Terciel.

Lenora and Thea unhorsed the second rider but his partners got a bit of Lenora's blood on a knife as well.  Outnumbered at street level, they tossed the bloody blade up to the roof, apparently preferring the odds up there.  Rache saw Terciel pinned down and the bloody trident skittering across the roof, and she piffed into place with her foot atop it, delivering a painful eldritch blast to the surprised halfling who had intended to grab it.  She gave him another double-handed blast, and he tumbled off the roof.  She looked down, waved to Shard, and kicked the trident down the tiles and over the edge and down to the street.  He was already moving towards it.

Bree was always eager to see new spells, but blood magic using her friends' blood would almost certainly end badly.  If the escaping 'guards' could get to the quarter gate and convince the real city watch to close the portcullis, it would be half an hour before the iron bars came back up, and the ritual would take place.  Worse still,
Bree would lose the satisfaction of observing it!   She screwed her mouth into a determined wrinkle, took a deep breath, and accelerated in a magically-assisted burst of speed that ended in a handspring, a half-gainer, and a landing upon the horse that had dragged Darg away. "Hyah!  Go!  Horse, Go!  Thataway!"  She barked a few different command words, and then in frustration kicked its sides with her heels, and she was off.

The fight by the temple wore down quickly, the noise receding as the number of combatants dwindled.  Thea grabbed the wounded warhorse, hauled herself into the saddle one-handed, and spurred it towards the alley market where the last few rogues had disappeared.  She was behind them, and had seen Bree moving to cut them off from the fore, so now it was just a question of when.  Bree was less confident, because she could now see their third mounted companion closing on her from a blind alley that she had passed, where he had waited in ambush.  She was ahead of him, and so started screaming "CLOSE THE GATES! SOMETHING'S ON FIRE! THERE ARE MONSTERSTHIS HORSE IS STOLEN!" and anything else she could think of.  He urged his horse forward and clubbed Bree's shoulders with a morningstar as he rode past.  She hunched down, smacked the side of her horse, and passed him again, driving toward the center of the narrowing street. 


This time, when he moved to pass, she was ready: she jabbed her staff out at him, and swung it backward with all of her weight behind it.  When his jaw connected with the hard wood, he stretched out backwards in the air almost completely  horizontally, toes pointed at the sky, eyes drooping shut, and slid across the cobblestones as his horse galloped up to the portcullis, whinnying at the guards standing there.  Bree wheeled the horse around, looked down at her quarry, and then noticed the two guards from earlier running through a market to her left with Thea in
hot pursuit.

They skidded to a stop, turned on their heels, and found themselves trapped between Thea and Bree's horses, and in moments they were apprehended by the crowd of (real) city guardsmen who had come to see why a halfling was racing against a bandit dressed as a watchman on stolen horses from the King's Cavalry, and how on earth she had


Within a few minutes they had settled the details of who knew what, and when, and why, and the horses were being led back to the cavalry officers who had lost them.  The criminals had spilled their guts in exchange for comparably light sentences as oarsmen aboard Adm. Godwin's ship, and the adventurers had searched the address to which the criminals were supposed to bring the blood.  Since it involved the Champions, it seemed a good bet that whomever had planned the daring daylight ambush was desperate to cast a ritual using their blood. Perhaps they had spoiled another plan, and this was a last-ditch effort?  Marina, Bronn, and Krunis would probably know, but they had
already fled the city.

Digging a little more carefully among Marina's acquaintances, they learned that she had left a note at the Horse & Hound for them, telling them that Royce the Brewer would know how to find her.  Royce lived in Feppic, a flyspeck of a village about a day's ride east from Baerstun, towards Trammel.  That meant horses and hasty travel… and adventure!

A busy weekend in the city


The first hint that dinner was going to be unusual was the guest list.  Admiral Godwin and Lieutenant Magnusson were there, seated at the foot of the table.  Sir Hobart Husit, recently employed as the magistrate for East Baerstun County, was there with Mme. Daniella, a tavern singer from the Horse and Hound.  And at the head of the table next to Lord Wossname were Ilian and his niece Lichna, who was sitting in for Zlata.  Darg blessed the food and the guests in Moradin's name, and everyone dug in.

Admiral Godwin was delighted to see Rache and Bree again, as was Lieutenant Magnusson.  The Admiral was eager to enlist them in the war effort – possibly helping to round up criminals or the unemployed to join her navy.  She spoke at length about a new set of galleys under construction in the Redstone Peninsula's shipyards, and how the reservists marching from Galena would meet the galleys at Southgate, board, and sail behind Bonewhite's lines southwest of Whitescale.  A source within the Caliphate had tipped off the navy to Bonewhite's plans, and now it was only a matter of springing the trap forcefully.

The strange weather at the mouth of the Redstone had caused the
Admiral to miss her only chance to personally inspect the shipyards. She asked after the adventurers' plans and suggested that if they didn't mind disposing of their warrants, they could travel incognito to the Peninsula and find out what General Bonewhite was trying to accomplish down there… and if they just happened to make it to the shipyards, they could look around nonchalantly and do an informal inspection.

Ilian turned purple but bit his tongue when the Admiral spoke of press gangs, but Lenora and Shard were able to distract him; he stammered his way towards an apology but didn't quite get the whole thing in edgewise before Sir Husit spoke up.  He opened up about the sad state of justice, not just in the city, but in the surrounding county.  As the recently-resigned magistrate, he was saddest of all, and told a strange tale about a temple to Bahamut that had been burned to the ground, and of two tieflings blamed, framed, and eventually released for the arson, leaving the villain's identity undiscovered.  He also told of a village called Trammel that had appeared out of nowhere on his circuit, though none could remember it ever having been there before.  The village's utter destruction and the discovery of a dead eladrin in the manor house of the village added a spice of the arcane to the whole mystery.  He confessed that the crumbling order in the
county, and his seeming inability to keep track of his territory, had
left his faith shaken.  He said that he was likely to set out for
Galena City, or perhaps even across the southern sea to the home
temple to Bahamut, to find a replacement.  In the interim, Lord
Wossname asked if perhaps one or more of the party would be willing to fill in and take his place.

There was plenty of back and forth on the subject, but no commitment on the part of the adventurers.  Wossname asked after Rache's accent and they wondered if perhaps he had mistaken her for Rache's sister Staci, who had lived near Coracle Landing for a while.  Rache in turn asked after the Easy Drifter, and got only a little bit more information: the captain had been stuck north of the strange weather at the mouth of the Redstone River, and had only just sailed south to Rudderbreak on the south shore of the Peninsula.  Rudderbreak's on-again, off-again economy and the slow pace of life down there implied that anyone who had been aboard the Drifter when she put in would either be stuck in Rudderbreak waiting for the ship to be repaired, or would have set out north for Seven Mills to try to make some money at the Harvest Festival there.  While discussing shipping traffic in the bay, the two sailors and Sir Husit briefly discussed a dwarf named Buckle who operates a lighthouse and ferry service in Baerstun Bay, bringing anyone who can pay across from Baerstun County
to the Peninsula, or back.  The symmetry with the name "Buckle" from one of Tarin's letters did not go unnoticed.

Daniella modestly avoided the group's scrutiny, but did point out that songs about the adventurers were already becoming popular in town, and that she had been asked a few times to sing about them during her shifts at the Horse and Hound.  After several more hearty gulps of Wossname's excellent wine, Illian finally proposed a toast to friendship and allegiance; the sailors countered with toasts to the King ("To the King!") and as dinner drew to a close most hard feelings appeared to be mended.


The next morning came along right on schedule: too early, and too bright.  They decided to visit a few of their friends in town and
settle their affairs before making preparations to travel.  They
hadn't yet decided whether to head east towards Trammel and Husit's circuit, or southeast along the bay to Buckle's Ferry and crossing to the Peninsula, or south through the Misty March and then southeast through the Peninsula.  Most importantly, they wanted to warn Sister Marina and their other friends in town that Darja had slipped through their net, and while most of her principals had been killed (Tarin four times over) her plan appeared to be intact.

Their first stop at the Temple of Melora brought on some distressing news: an acolyte was dead in the basement, and Sr. Marina had fled town in a hurry at first light.  After careful investigation, the adventurers discovered that a group of acolytes had been led astray, and rather than simply copy pages from the Meloran Book of Binding, they had shirked their duty and begun attempting to cast some of the rituals therein.  Channeling a too-powerful ritual had burned the life right out of the poor dead acolyte, but more inquiries revealed that the acolyte had not been alone.  Eventually it came out that there was an eighth acolyte, who had fled as well.  Her copybooks were empty, she had no dormitory in the temple, and soon enough it was clear that
Darja and Mariposa had been taking turns sitting in on the acolytes' secret meetings and copying rituals from the Binding Book.

The Binding Books are seven books, owned by the temple of Ioun and loaned out to the seven founding temples of Baerstun.  Each covers a specific flavor of Binding, and each temple has their acolytes research and copy details of the binding rituals, including scholarly papers on the nuances and longhand copies of the untested rituals.

The bindings are there to hold… well, something horrific, certainly.
 It turns out Baerstun was founded on top of a barrows at the end of the Great War, and the incarnate child of an evil deity (Gruumsh, Bane, Orcus, or possibly something else) was thrown into the grave and the Barrow Stone was set over it.  The city was founded atop the grave, and the seven temples established to safeguard the seven kinds of seals holding him/her/it under the Barrow Stone.

Discovering that basic piece of history was inordinately difficult,
and it seemed that only a few of the high priests and priestesses in Baerstun were aware of their sacred duty.  While residents of the city understand that bad dreams come with the territory and that
occasionally an undead creature will stagger out of the Stone Quarter, in general it appears that the populace is blissfully ignorant of what's buried beneath them.  Given Darja's involvement in the catacombs, Tarin's iron smuggling, and the murder of the acolyte, Darja seems to know plenty about the seals.

Through the Looking Glass
[Market day, mid-afternoon]

By early afternoon they had cleaned themselves up and eaten, and so the seven adventurers wandered around Baerstun together soaking up the sights of Market Day.  Wossname's messenger had found some of them alone and soon enough found the others in a large pack, but he eventually succeeded in delivering all of their invitations to the dinner:

The Honor of Your Presence Is Requested
at a fine dinner to be given at two hours past sunset in the

Where Lord Wossname will celebrate the Most Excellent Achievements of his newest warrant officers in the august company of like-minded friends.

So among the many other things they needed were clothes that weren't smeared in sewage!  The party decided to convert some of Kral's gems to cash and scour the city for a few odds & ends before dinner.  Their first business foray was a bit lackluster, but they got a good feel for the ebb and flow of commerce in the city.  Their second attempt to sell the gems met with marginally more success – Rache shed crocodile tears and spun an incredibly convincing yarn about her debt and the dead veteran who had fallen nobly in combat, angling for another five or ten percent.  The tale was airtight except for the dwarf in Moradinnic robes claiming to be her creditor, and they escaped with a few exasperated looks from the proprietor and what they assumed was the fair market value for the gems.

They went back to the inn for a quick bite, changed into their armor, and headed out to look over 23 Temple Street before dinner.  The adventurers found a group of merry merchants sitting out on the downstairs patio enjoying strong drinks.  A brief discussion revealed that the upstairs tenants were quiet, kept to themselves, and had negotiated nearly double the usual rental price in order to retain all copies of the landlord's key.  One of the tipsy folks was the caretaker, and when the party threatened to break down the door on their authority as duly-sworn warrant officers, he hemmed, hawed, and invited them in to climb a ladder through the furniture hatch.  While they fiddled with the hatch and discovered it nailed shut, the adventurers began to immediately make loud noises about using Darg's door-opener, and the caretaker headed back to the kitchens to find something to pick the lock with.  Inebriated and entirely unfamiliar with jimmying locks – or eager to appear unwise in lawbreaking – he returned with useless bits of metallic junk.

A voice from the porch above hollered out "Guys!  It's already open." It sounded like Shard, but he had been right… ah.  Yes, it was him. When the caretaker looked up agog, Shard shrugged; when Bree cocked her head and gave Shard a quizzical look, he flashed a mischievous grin and gestured through the door, as though welcoming her.  His artfully-palmed lockpicks were nearly invisible.

On entering they found a fireplace, a beat-up rug that covered the furniture lift, and three bedrooms toward the rear of the apartment. The first room had black cloth over the windows and a thick black wolf’s pelt over a black leather curtain separating it from the common area.  The clothes on the hempen line in this room were ostentatious and out of date: sewer-stained leathern traveling pants, men's traveling clothes, and enough other items of similar cut and size that it was simple enough to deduce that Kral had lived here.  If that weren't evidence enough, the tenant's small map satchel contained traveling maps from all over Galena and other places – also very old and out of date – along with a freehand sketch that is unmistakably a rendering of Garon with notes like “amplify binding magic on joints with Farrigan’s Pinch” and “protect from fire using Brightbane’s Poultice – what about divine magic?”  Last but not least, a note was pinned to the straw pallet, written in a familiar hand:

Aladar can get you more money if you need it, so stop pestering me.  I expect progress, not excuses.  Don’t touch the expenses chest; everything in it is reserved for forging the Blade.  -DARJA

The second room was also blacked out with cloth over the windows and a heavy double-layered tapestry.  The only two sets of clothes in this room were both cut for a woman of middling height, and hung from the hempen rope clothesline as in Kral's room.  An up-to-date set of robes denoting a moderately high ranking Erathene priestess and a set of blacksmith's leathers with no scorching or wear-and-tear of any kind visible.  Not even the smell of a forge!  Curiouser and curiouser. The last feature of the room was a full-length mirror, which reflected the dark room and even appeared to cast its own dim flickering light. As Rache and Lenora checked it for signs of occult tampering, the others moved to the last room, where they found yet another abandoned and disheveled dormitory.

The clothes in the last room were cut for someone Bree's size: a female of extraordinarily short stature.  Her room appeared to be the most recently occupied: actual dirty dishes, clothes that appeared to be well worn, and yet another set of Erathene robes (these for an acolyte) and a set of blacksmith's leathers, unused.  Off to one side, her efforts at studying showed: a wooden alchemist's rack with several delicate glass spheres nestled inside, with no apparent opening or contents.  Her books contained recipes for all manner of strange potions, including eyesting, smokestick, and a blinding bomb, but reading through the recipes yielded no mention of the glass spheres; her book also contained a few names and addresses in the Stone Quarter, a sketch of an archway like the one from Kral's trunk, and a thin ribbon with a cheap silver ring on it.  Whomever she was, she kept horrid company, and they didn't feel at all bad about taking the books.  Darg grabbed the ring and headed back to the living room to see if he could puzzle out the diagram.

With everyone giving perhaps too many helpful suggestions, Darg eventually tapped the ring against the brick called out in the diagrams, and – voila! – the wood in the fireplace burned to ash and a chest appeared in its place.  The chest was unlocked, untrapped, and cool to the touch.  Inside Darg found 75 pounds of loose coin, totaling well over 500 gold [n.b. the exact total was 530gp, 800sp, 507cp].  Shard, Rache, and Darg immediately began talking eagerly amongst themselves, and when Bree heard the plan she eagerly counted herself in.  The four of them gathered up Kral's notes and began to piece together a missive in his handwriting to leave Darja speechless:

"Hey, I needed some money, so I cleaned out the expense account.  -KRAL"

Bree headed back to tell Lenora about the strategically useful mischief they had wrought, and found Lenora staring into the mirror where Rache had seen her reflection turn to smoke and slither out of sight.  When Rache had reached out to touch the surface of the mirror her hand met no resistance.  When Lenora asked Rache to describe again what she had seen, Rache obliged, and when she had the group's attention they all agreed that it bore a closer look.  Bree crept towards the mirror, poked briefly at it, and then walked back over to Lenora and had a short hushed conversation just below a whisper.  Darg tossed a fish through on a string.  A fish… on a string.  The rope was singed in pieces, but they did see that the fish had entered the reflected room through a wall that they could see.  Debates broke out, broad hand gestures of N-dimensionality and twisting pathways.  Lenora tried to pull the mirror off the wall with no luck, and turned back to talk to Bree about the possibility of exploration, when with a crackling fizzle, Rache stepped right through.

Chaos in the apartments now, as shadows swarmed in the mirror and Rache was visible off to the far side of the reflected room.  Inside, she was being attacked by shadowy figures dressed in black burlap. They were faceless, ageless, and tormented, and yet Rache could see in their motions the memories of Tarin the Stoat and an orcish witch doctor.  Once dead, twice dead, dead forever – they still stalked toward her and began casting powerful spells.  Tarin, never a spellcaster, surprised her by reaching out and pulling a long skein of silvery smoke from her ears.  She blinked, trying to remember any of the spells she had taught herself recently; all were blank to her. The two closed in on her, but a series of sharp popping noises echoed through the nearly featureless stone chamber, and her companions strode through the weird shimmering flames along the walls, split up by some trick of the light or the portal.

The four robed figures were living memories: servants charged with a vow of secrecy so powerful that upon their death their souls were stranded here in this mirror world to prevent them from falling into the hands of devils or demons.  It was an old trick, but its age did not make it any easier to pull off; whoever had condemned these four to this prison was a powerful spellcaster and likely a worshiper of Vecna, Orcus, or Gruumsh.  The four souls that were trapped here were manifestations of Tarin, Kral, Mariposa, and the orcish witch doctor, and they were understandably upset about being trapped.  They relished trying to pull the memories from their victims, but were not above resorting to the mundane and pedestrian solution of death by excruciating pain.  What other entertainment for a creature doomed to an eternity of keeping someone else's secrets?  Rache crumpled beneath the torrent of spellfire and mind-searing psychic intrusion.

Lenora was having none of it.  Stomping through the wall of flames she found herself closest to Rache and immediately set about pummeling Tarin's living memory.  Her third or fourth blow struck a weak spot and his featureless face began to slough off.  His robe burned, and his scream of pain carried like a blast wave.  Lenora and Rache both staggered back, but Lenora shook it off and strode back up to him. His fingernails were stretching out into elongated claws now, and the transformation to something hideous was almost complete when Lenora shattered his skull with her flail.  The corpse dropped to the floor and began to dissolve into the floor tiles like chalk drawings in a heavy rain.

Thea held the center of the room while Terciel and Shard lit into the others.  Darg attended to Rache, and Bree discovered herself alone up on the second floor of the chamber with no friends in sight.  "Rats," she whispered, "everyone else must be lost!"  Kral's memory came for her, but she dodged around it and soon found Thea and the others making their stand in the midst of the chamber.  Lenora stepped from one to the next, dispatching each one moments after it shrieked and began to melt into the hideous clawed abomination that Tarin had become.  The others concentrated on protecting each other, unsure what a claw wound from one might portend.  In moments the fight was over, and Darg managed to patch up Rache easily.  Together they were able to find their way back through the mirror, and they started a second search of the documents to see what might have been revealed now that the secret-keepers had been banished.
The ignominious end of Kral, illusionist and sometime necromancer


"Are you sure we should be taking out the top hinges?"

"Well, the lock's stuck, so…"

Shard and Bree looked up from their discussion about the lock to find Darg pulling hinge-pins out.  When he pulled the second one, the door settled onto its remaining damaged hinge with a CLUNK.  Shard slapped his forehead and whispered to Thea for a moment.  She grinned, grabbed the door, and hoisted it as hard as she could.  Bree knelt by the door, plucked the hinge-pin out, and gestured the universal sign for "I have removed the hinge-pin; you may now pull the door back away from the doorway."  Thea took a few steps back and stood in the hallway.

The man inside looked old and tired, and sat at a small writing desk, dropping tiny white marbles into a crystal jar full of black goop, and writing in a large book that was open in front of him.  He seemed surprised to see them… and they were surprised to see Katya's team laid out on sarcophagi around them.  Immediately the questions flew: who was he? What ritual was behind the magic circle?  He spun an unlikely yarn: his name was Aladar (presumably the fled alchemist) and he was trapped in the ritual circle on pain of arcane torture by his master.  He told them of Garon, Kral's champion, who roamed the halls and would certainly destroy them, urging them to turn back and strike Garon down before they tried to free their friends.  Lenora explained patiently that they had killed Garon, at which he scoffed.  For a moment, a panicky look of grief flitted across his features.  Then he praised Garon's might and expressed doubt that the adventurers had done any such thing, at which point their suspicions began to congeal into real hostility.  Thea listened to the conversation from behind the iron door, holding it steady, waiting for her moment.

Terciel continued to take in the surroundings, looking for a trap or evidence of double-dealing, and he recognized the crystal jar on the floor: it was a match for the jar they'd taken from the Witch Doctor's trunk.  Terciel whispered to Darg "jar!  the jar!" and drew an arrow, letting fly at the jar and smashing it to pieces.  Black goop leaked all over the floor, and teeth and fingerbones spilled out.

 "Well," said the old man.  "I suppose you're not going to leave me alone until I kill you.  But I think I'd rather have Garon do the killing.  So: I think you must face the WRATH of my RISEN CHAMPION, GARON!!!"

 Faster than they could protest, Garon emerged from behind a narrow pillar, blade at the ready.  Gloves, cape, and even his flaming skull were all intact, despite the fact that Darg had the gloves, helm, and cape in his backpack.  Rache looked at Garon and immediately sensed something amiss.  Bree and Terciel scrambled out of the doorway just as Thea came charging through, still hoisting the steel door.  Roaring from the gut, she slammed the door into Garon so hard that the flames from his burning left hand were visible through the steel for a split second.  Darg squinted and cocked his head, puzzled.  Then Garon roared, and the thunderous echo broke their concentration; Shard, Darg, and Lenora involuntarily fled back through the doorway for a moment, their morale shaken.

 Then Lenora looked back over her shoulder.  She saw Shard, terror for his friends written on his face, and realized that she might well be the only one here who could rally all of them.  She whispered, "Hey, Shard.  We're going to go get your friends out.  Follow my lead."  She echoed Garon's yell with one of her own, the syllables indecipherable but the meaning clear, and then she leaped, arms outstretched, over Thea's shoulders.  Her shield hit the doorway between Garon & Thea high, and as it began to pivot over his head, she tucked into a roll, slid past the top edge, and landed behind Garon.  She ducked under the door as it crashed noisily to the ground, then turned back and swung ferociously with her flail: "Why! Won't! Anything! In! This! Hellhole! Stay! Dead!" she screamed, punctuating each shout with a blow from her flail.  Garon dropped to one knee before her assault, and Thea laid into him as well.

 Terciel covered for them, firing a flurry of arrows, but Kral (for it was he, not Aladar, who had been working the ritual) summoned a portal as soon as he was hit, and tried to disappear through it.  Rache put an end to that abruptly, summoning an invisible hand to unceremoniously yank him away from the portal.  "Try escaping again, you craven.  Just try it."  He opened his eyes wide in panic and disappeared, but Rache detected the tell-tale signs of teleportation.

"What a crappy huckster.  Might as well put him out of his misery."


Shard was still staring at the doorway where Lenora had just gone.  He decided that a leaping tuck-and-roll through a crowded hallway, while it might ordinarily be just his style, was probably more than his legs and back had left in them.  He felt the fatigue of the long day and so he jogged to the doorway and started taking potshots.  His friends were in there, and he was no good to them if he didn't at least try to stay alive for the assault.

 Rache and Bree moved around to the right, examining the gnome on the sarcophagus and the magic circle that linked the bodies.  

"This is… some kind of carnival foolery.  There may be a larger purpose but as far as harming us now, this circle is… Hey!  Guys!  The circle's harmless."  She stepped over the line and checked the gnome, but decided against moving her for now.  She looked carefully at the faceand noticed three orbs of red, gold, and blue fog swirling around her head.  The orbs shot out of a nostril, an ear, her mouth, or even from her eyelid, and swirled around the head for only a split second before popping back in a different orifice.  The three whooshed about, in a blur.  Darg might be able to wake her with his spells, and perhaps Bree or Shard had hands quick enough to snatch the blue orb… of course.  The blue orb.  "Guys!  It's the blue orb.  Pull the blue orb and you can break the spell.  And, ah… don't touch the yellow or red ones if you want them to live."

 Bree scampered through the titanic struggle in the doorway, distracting Garon momentarily, and then snatched the blue orb from Chelya's nostrils, waking her momentarily.  She relaxed her grip on Terciel, and then her eyes rolled back into her head and she fell unconscious again.  Shard ran to help the gnome, and woke her easily enough.  Darg and Thea continued to fight Garon in the doorway, but something about his movements didn't sit right with Darg.  He shook his head like a horse beset by flies, and finally saw it: when Garon's claw hit Thea, it appeared to sink into her armor but left no visible damage.  When his sword rebounded off the handle of her greataxe, it

left no notch.  He walked, carefully, through the flailing undead illusion, and joined the hunt for the necromancer.

 Kral, far from being gone, seemed to be skulking around the perimeter of the room trying to turn Katya's people against the interlopers. Bree went for Katya, but as she reached for the blue sphere, she stumbled, and the red and gold spheres smashed into her hand."DARG!" she yelled, "I'm going to need a hand here…!" Katya flailed on the table, gasping, and then fell all too silent.  Bree's face blanched but Darg hurried to her side.  He pinched the blue sphere away, placed two fingers on her tongue and his other hand across her forehead, and mumbled a quick prayer to Moradin.  Bright white light shot down his arms, infusing her with an almost lifelike glow for a moment, and she sat up awake.  "Hello, friend dwarf!" she said.  "I didn't expect to see you h…" and she fell back asleep exhausted.

 Darg and Bree moved counterclockwise while Shard moved around the other side of the room, snatching the orbs away.  Lenora, Terciel, and Rache stalked through the center of the room, searching behind pillars for Kral.  Thea bashed away at Garon, trapped in a standstill.  As the three hunters pinned Kral into a corner, Thea yelled "Oh, MAN.  Guys, this isn't Garon.  This is some kind of trick.  The whole thing is FAKE!" and kicked Garon's shins, annoyed.  She turned her back and headed towards Kral to get some real thrashing in… and with a horrid howl the illusory Garon disappeared.  Lenora and Rache staggered back for a moment as a thick cloud of psychic feedback whistled through the air towards Kral.  It shot into him like lightning, and in an instant he felt every blow Thea had landed on his projection.  He collapsed to the ground, then rose to one knee and with a flourish tore his face off: worms! Writhing worms!  ... Bogus illusory worms!  Oooga booga! 

 They weren't buying it.  Cornered, he tried in vain to teleport away, summon portals as distractions, misdirect their attacks into the walls.  Finally, he got clear: a safe spot, behind a pillar!  He teleported, gathered his strength, and turned toward the door to run… and there was Terciel, bow drawn.  "What IS it with you people?" he whined, and Terciel loosed on him.  This time there were no worms, no lightning, no portals, no fancy stage magic: he just died, and his dagger clattered to the floor at his feet with an all-too-mundane sound.

 Moments later, Darg and Shard had herded the survivors to the center of the room.  Katya's squad was intact, and with the exception of the gnome they were all conscious, if a little groggy. 

Garon, Kral's Champion
[Friday afternoon, still well before sunset]

Once they wiped the last of the necrotic ichor from their boots, the adventurers headed up the staircase back to the upper chamber.  The witch doctor was dead, and Rache had tied his mace into her belt for further scrutiny.  Lenora, Terciel, and Darg looked over their shoulders at the circle bleached into the stone, and then followed Thea up the steps.  Shard was crouched in the door at the top of the stairs, an excited grin on his face.

"We've got the drop on them.  At least ten, maybe more.  They're standing there in formation, two guards.  I don't think they saw me."

They huddled together, whispering tactics.  Occasionally Bree's voice rose a little too loud; the third time Lenora shushed her, she said, "...but my new staff!  It was MADE for this.  I promise, this is going to be so much fun.  You gotta let me go first."  Shard crouched around the door listening intently.  Terciel nocked an arrow and held another in the palm of his draw hand, Rache waited in the stairwell.  Thea and Lenora held their breath in the doorway.  Bree stifled a giggle, pointed her fingertip at the crystal finial on her new staff, and it glowed with an intense white light.  She grabbed it in both hands, took a deep breath, and pelted down the hall towards them hollering.

[Aside: It is not very often that you get to use the phrase "roll 17d20" without a trace of hyperbole.]

A blast of multicolored light shot out from her free hand, illuminating the chamber that Shard had seen… there were lots of skeletons, but the beams of light were lancing through them at a fantastic rate.  Bree skidded to a halt in front of the remaining guard, her staff shining brighter than a sunrod now, watching with awe as a cloud of bone dust billowed up through the air.  She instinctively crouched and got ready to backpedal, but the rest of the skeletons didn't move.  Bree crouched there for one more moment, then stood up and poked the staff experimentally into the air around them. "I said 'RAH' you guys.  And 'taste the rainbow.'  Can you taste it? Guys?"  She took a tentative step into sword range and noticed a sound like dried corn kernels in a fire.  Bits of bone were dropping off the back rank of skeletons now, and the one-two pitter patter was rapidly turning into a sound like a hailstorm, or the unfortunate but totally unavoidable collapse of a potter's wagon when someone has borrowed a cotter pin because it's cold iron and she really needs it for a spell. Bree saw that the back rank were still standing and stepped a little closer, waggling the staff, and watching as the edge of the illumination seared their bones.  As soon as it got to their backbones, they collapsed like the others, making a horrible racket. "Huh!  Well that was cool."

Bree turned around, silhouetted in the doorway with bone dust all over her robes, and yelled back, "Come on out!  I got 'em all!  And I figured out how this staff works, too. It's great! ...but, ah, it isn't going to stay lit much longer, and it's going to take a while to get all of its mojo back once it burns out.  So if there's a larger army out there, we'd better go find them."

They explored tentatively back to the south and east, consulting Darg for pointers on which doorways likely connected to rooms they'd been in.  Satisfied that they hadn't missed anything else, and pressed for time, they were faced with two iron doors: one set of large double doors to the south of the skeletons' chamber, and another a bit further east.  With no hints to choose between them it was simple to decide – they were close to the east door, so they checked it out.

Shard crouched near it, running his hands over the seams and panels first to check for any booby traps.  Finding none, he tried the handle, but it was locked.  He silently produced a set of lockpicks and set to work.  The satisfying CHUNK of the lock's mechanism startled him a bit, but he slipped the tools back in their place and peered through the crack in the door.  The room was dimly lit, and he turned back to the party with some hand gestures ("let me go in. looks safe").  Darg and Terciel exchanged worried looks, but Lenora nodded and stepped in closer to the door, ready to follow if anything went wrong.

The room was big: Shard could hear that just in the way sound was traveling.  A fire was flickering off to his right, unseen behind a pillar.  He moved quietly in that direction to observe.  There was a low hissing noise and the shadows around the pillars whirled past his feet.  Suddenly the fire was moving very quickly towards him!  It flickered past him leaving a trail of green sparks and then Fa-WHUMP, it detonated.  He brushed the acrid ash off himself and then froze: he could see the thing that threw it.  A skeletal commander, holding a massive broadsword one-handed.  In his empty hand another fireball was growing…

Darg saw the flash of green light, exactly the wrong color for fire, and his jaw dropped.  His mouth dried out and his heart began to race.  His feet were rooted to the ground, and he stared at the doorway. Lenora on the other hand was moving before the flash had died away; she knew Shard could handle himself in a fire for a few moments, but if he needed someone to pull him out of it, it was going to have to be her.  She rushed in and heard fighting to her right, flail drawn and ready to kick some ass.  Terciel was right behind her, arrows out, moving past the pillar, and there he was: the same burning skull for a face, the gloves on his hands glowing blue, the cape flapping without a breeze… and a broadsword drawn.  He turned in recognition and charged, bashing the sword into the wall above Terciel's head, and then narrowly missed trying to rake Terciel's guts out with his other hand wreathed in that sickly green fire.

Bree and Rache were next through the door.  Bree ran straight in, to the left of the pillar, hoping to line up a clean shot on its flank. She couldn't see off to her left, and wary of leaving anything behind her, she nonchalantly popped a miniature fireball into the darkness. The bright blast lit up everything in the tomb well enough to see that nothing was moving, so Bree turned right and stumbled onto the fight with her staff drawn.  Rache walked along the wall quietly, taking her time to line up a perfect shot but also trying to stay well clear of the fight; every time she saw an opening she let loose, blasting coin-sized fragments of bone away from his ribs and arms.  The green flame wreathing his skull seemed to protect him from most of the damage but it was clear that she was on his list.  Garon scowled and clenched his left hand, and the ball of flame wreathing it grew and grew…

Thea had taken her time: rather than panic and sprint headlong into the situation, she shouldered her axe and jogged after Lenora.  She followed the sound of metal on stone and heavy boots, and found the Garon standing there wearing the cape that had tried to choke her to death.  She picked up speed and was nearly at a full sprint when she delivered a sickening double-handed overhand chop high on his shoulder; her momentum carried her right into him, but she bounced back with her axe raised across her body defensively.  His armor soaked most of the blow, but now she had his attention… and now that she was looking him over she noticed a dim black fog oozing out from under the scales of his armor, settling into an ankle-deep cloud around his feet.

Darg looked at the fog uneasily, and wrapped the prayer beads from the holy symbol around his wrist.  He clenched the medallion and held it at arm's length, chanting prayers under his breath.  Beams of light pierced the skeleton's armor, and the fog bank began to diminish. With a ferocious roar, Garon set into them with sword and claw.  His screams were hideous, and his sword-work impeccable.  The bright light from Bree's staff seemed to dim the flames of his flaming skull, but he was nonetheless fearsome.  In between devastating swings of his longsword he lobbed more of the green fireballs.

Darg and Bree's spells in particular seemed to weaken his resolve, and with Rache and Terciel raining death on him and everyone else circling him with knives (and flails and axes) out, it was only a matter of time before Thea caught him with a telling blow to the midsection. His body crumpled, and there was a deep emerald flash as bone fragments and foul-smelling smoke engulfed the room, throwing everyone back a step.

Terciel stood up, his back against the west wall, and realized that the glove had landed near him.  He reached out a boot to kick it away, and it leaped up and grabbed his throat!  The other glove had landed near Bree and was trying to grab her throat as well.  Darg was stomping on the cloak, but it was slithering up his body and trying to smother him, too.  Worst of all, Garon's skull was still intact, wreathed in that sickly green fire, and was biting and shooting sparks at anyone who drew too close.  As the party moved in to surround it, the skull belched out a sizzling seed of fire which landed squarely in the middle of the room and detonated in a deafening roar.

The smoke cleared and Terciel was still being choked.  Bree was in a stand-off (a hand-off?) with the other glove, having escaped its clutches once, and Darg had the leather cloak wrapped around his head.  His prayers were muffled but apparently Moradin heard him: Darg's hands and armor glowed with a brilliant light, and once the cape was flung, sizzling, across the room, his face and beard were also glowing.  The glow died down, and Darg looked around to see if anyone else was in dire straits.  Everyone concentrated their efforts on getting rid of the spell-casting hovering skull, some of them at their own peril.  Rache laid in a scathing attack from the shelter of a sarcophagus niche, while Terciel peppered it with arrows.  His sixth or seventh shot struck the skull at a weak spot, shattering the bone and extinguishing the flame suddenly and apparently forever.

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