The Story So Far
A summary of the characters' first week together

Trouble at McGuffin Creek

Darg, Thea, and Lenora headed southeast from Baerstun towards McGuffin Creek to find out why Lord Wossname's iron shipments have been disappearing. There they discovered orc smugglers, Tarin “the Stoat”, and an eladrin archer wandering through the woods. Terciel joined up with the party and they headed back to Baerstun with their prisoner Tarin. Other than being ambushed by orcish infiltrators at the Avandran shrine overnight, the journey was uneventful.

The Execution of Tarin the Stoat

The party arrived in Baerstun at dawn, handed Tarin over to Lord Wossname's guards, and settled in for a quick shower and breakfast. They stood as witnesses at Tarin's trial, but before he could be executed, a shepherdess in the crowd revealed herself to be a warlock. She transformed her sheep into wolves and attacked the executioner and the guards. The party killed her and the wolves, but couldn't stop Tarin from escaping.

Wounded Veterans and Fowl Play

The party ran into Bree and Rache in a pub down in the Ocean Quarter while trying to track down Tarin. The two agreed to join the party, and just as the party was starting to follow up their leads, they found themselves surrounded by a procession of wounded veterans. Sister Marina asked them to head to Aladar's workshop to buy more healing potions, but all they found there were some angry ducks, a cockatrice, and a thunder-chicken.

Into the Catacombs

Around sundown the party headed to the Temple of Melora, hoping that their connections with Sister Marina could earn them access to the Upper Ocean Catacombs. The novitiate on duty, Jevrem, was absolutely taken in by Rache's assertion that the party was helping Marina to fight the undead in the catacombs. This was the best bluff ever, because it turns out there actually were…

Undead in the Catacombs

...and they were not happy to see the party. After a few tough fights against the undead, including the infamous Bacon Zombies, the party started looking for a safe place to rest.

Oh, Rats

Oh, rats
Wherein it is discovered that the party's true strength lies in critting vs. exposition, traps are (finally) detected, and Bree demonstrates a surprising penchant for interior design.

Game Time: Sunday night

The party dusted themselves off and surveyed the twice-dead corpses all around them. Staffling Bree suspected that there was more to be learned from the bodies.  A chalk circle, some funny-smelling oils, and stones placed against Terciel SĂ»lkano's mouth and ears… and suddenly he recalled what the blazing skeleton had been screaming to the risen dead in the tomb:

"RISE! RISE!  For the Exarch, for the Undying Eye – he commands us to rise up, to fight, and to break the chains!"

At Terciel's mention of The Undying Eye, Dargrik Burnstone wished Bree hadn't bothered with the chalks and oils: Darg remembered (natural 20!?) that the Undying Eye is a heretical orcish cult dedicated to freeing the Exarch of Gruumsh.  Their membership roster reads like a Who's Who of traitors, infidels, murderers, and things that go "I'm going to eat your spleen" in the night.  A brief discussion of the Undying Eye's Glee Club and Tabernacle Choir ensued, along with a discussion of whether kobolds can sing in harmony.  Bree recalled (ANOTHER natural 20?!) that the Undying Eye are generally casters of dark religious magic, but (not terribly surprisingly!) they also have an interest in necromancy and destructive arcane magic.  Terciel's Meloran faith was offended at seeing the innocent dead so ill-used, and the rest of the party helped clean up the bodies as they discussed whether Sister Marina or Lord Wossname ought to know what they had discovered about the Undying Eye and the undead.  After a brief discussion of what it could mean, and whether Sister Marina ought to be in on the secret, and whether perhaps Tarin the Stoat was tied up in any of this, the party opted to explore a little bit more before returning to the surface – especially since they had not gotten explicit permission to be down there, and there was no telling how much administrative hassle getting back might be.

With darkness falling in the city, the party continued to explore the Upper Ocean Catacombs.  Working their way around the top floor, they stumbled upon a crypt whose cobblestones had been selectively replaced with cleverly counterweighted blocks and stiff wire loops—very large rat traps.  A few more paces brought everyone to a room with two closet-sized nooks that were packed with rats: baseball-sized rats, softball-sized rats, corgi-sized rats… hundreds and thousands of them, like a surging furry carpet.  Bree set off a fireball to get a look at them, and someone ran out of the room screaming "By the Gods' Blood!"  The rats, on the other hand, ran towards the party.  Fighting so many rats at once is a nuisance – no matter where you go, three or four still squeeze in under your armor and continue to nip at you, like a furry cloud of teeth and claws.  Bree's magical pillars of flame were the most effective at clearing them out.  Some interesting side effects of Rache's and Bree's magic resulted in a fireball that hit everyone in the party, missed all of the nearby rats, and caused one swarm halfway across the room to burst into flames.

Just as the swarms were starting to look manageable, three rabid Labrador-retriever-sized rats skulked into view: Curly, Lampshade, and Dickie.  Curly and Dickie were eager to get into the thick of things. Lampshade failed (DEEPLY failed) to perceive the gravity of the situation and went after the glowing ball of light that Bree had cast to illuminate the room. He critted, swallowed the orb of light whole… and… well, it was a very very dumb rat.  The party dealt
with Curly and Dickie while Bree moved the light around the room like teasing a cat with a laser pointer, except you don't usually make a cat run through Giant Rat Traps.  With the other rats out of the way, Lampshade at least got to make an honorable last stand, doing what he loved: slavering angrily at anything that moved while the bright light shone in his dim dumb eyes.

(A moment of silence for the rat known as "Lampshade," please.)

The party was scratched up pretty badly, and there was a close call where we all thought Thea had come down with some kind of festering sewer disease from being bitten, but in the end they decided to press on and see if the fleeing man – Tarin “the Stoat”? – was still close at hand. They found no trace of Tarin, but did find their way back to the stairwell.  On their way up the stairs to the temple, a halfling urged the party to follow him down to the second floor of the catacombs.  He introduced himself as Zoran , and took the party to a hidden room overlooking the stairwell where his partner Stamat was on watch.  The two offered the party drinks (ale!) and a place to sleep, and said that they'd try to take the party to see Ilian Kirov in the morning.

Dem Bones Dem Bones Gonna Roll a One
Wherein kitties are detected, maps examined, and the entire party is put off pumpkin pie.

Game Time: Monday, dawn

So Stamat had the watch and recommended that the party head out to meet Ilian in the Artisans' Catacombs.  Zoran volunteered (which he may come to regret!) to lead the party down the stairwell and through the sewers.  The rats were gone, but something is clearly stirring in the catacombs of Baerstun.  Zoran had a bad feeling, but the party wouldn't (alright, couldn't) listen – reactions ranged from "I don't hear any suspicious rattling of undead bones, Zoran… what say we go check it out?" to "YOU'RE A KITTY!".  Upon reaching the bottom of the ramp Zoran was grabbed by the crusty bones of the undead which had been soaking in sewer overflow on and off for years (decades? centuries?).  The restless bones grabbed him and two sodden corpses lurched out of the cesspool, scrabbling at his smooth leather armor for purchase.  Thea was having None Of It, and ran down the ramp to his aid to try to shoulder him free, but the bones yanked him down and she flew over him.  Lenora decided to have an extra helping of None Of It (or would that be Even Less Of It?) and got a good shoulder in on Zoran, knocking him clear of their grasp.  The three of them consolidated forces with their backs to a dark doorway, and Bree let loose a fireball that reminded Zoran of why he decided to hang around with us in the first place.


…and the two sodden corpses popped like overripe pumpkins, exploding from the steam pressure inside.  The big pile of bones in the corner unwrapped itself, stood up in the form of a jagged pillar, and began to spin slowly.  It whirled through the party knocking people prone left and right, then exploded in a screaming tornado of teeth and toe-bones before reforming.  More corpses trudged up out of the water, fixated on Zoran who was understandably having a bad trip.  One managed to grab Zoran and begin dragging him out towards the sewers while the bone golem sliced and diced the rest of the party.  Thea and Lenora stayed in tenacious pursuit, slowed and knocked prone repeatedly by the grasping dead on the floor.  Zoran proved yet again to be a very hard guy to shove out of the way (maybe he's half dwarf?) and in the mayhem, Thea bumped a length of rusty chain that  turned out to be the only thing keeping the floodgate from dropping.

With Thea and Lenora pinned under the floodgate, and the  zombies dragging poor Zoran off into the dark, things looked bleak.  Lenora writhed and flailed at the zombie next to the floodgate providing an opening for Thea to wriggle loose, and spotted the rusty controls on the back wall, but she was still stuck.  Terciel was first to the controls, and after a tentative poke or two, found a handle that looked useful. It was jammed, but on the first solid yank the drum spun free and the counterweighted door shot back up into its recess. Terciel turned and hurled a seriously blood-curdling Elvish phrase at the zombie who was going after Lenora, and followed through with an arrow that hit him so hard it took off everything above the jawline.


The tide was turning now – Thea and Lenora were back on their feet, and Darg, Bree, and Rache dodged up and down the ramps trying to spread out and minimize the damage that the whirling bones could do to them while giving back as good as they got.  Thea beheaded the last of the drowned corpses (KACHUNK), and she and Lenora rejoined the fight inside.  The mess of animated bones lashed out angrily now, trying to stab Lenora through the chest and trying to slice open wounds anywhere it could, but just as it surged together to attempt another blast of bones and wind, Darg called in a holy favor and revoked the bone golem's license to wander the mortal plane. 

(domini domini domini BOOM)

Zoran, in a cold panicked sweat, urged the party to head to the map room – to his mind the safest place nearby – where the party uncovered some interesting things:

(1) A mosaic in which the Tieflings are shown wearing armor like Lenora's; the Elves and Eladrin are rallying behind someone who looks emarkably like Terciel as he plucks a thundercloud out of the sky.


(2) A map-table of Baerstun with the following inscription in a very (very) old Elvish script running around the outside edges:

Barrow-stone city, royal heir of ports
five armies took three roads to found a city of four quarts

ONE will not be fun; TWO will bring pain to you
THREE you'd best flee; FIVE you'll not stay alive.

Only FOUR will open the door;
Exactly FOUR will open the door.

(3) A model of Baerstun, set in the center of the table, that appears to ride up and down on a system of springs and levers in a not-entirely-intuitive way… but wherever it stops, it triggers something.  Bree can definitely see the pushrods and sprockets leading off into the inner workings, but it's hard to say exactly what they trigger.

Next week, the party has to puzzle out whether to stay in the Map Room and mess with the map table, or to press on and meet Ilian while the sun is still up.

Stop, evil hand, stop it! I just can't control my evil hand!
Wherein walls are animated, hands are de-animated, and Terciel and Bree fail their Stealth and Common Sense checks.

Game Time: Monday morning

 The party puzzled over the map while Zoran looked on, slightly confused.  When Terciel discovered the ornate pitchers in the wells, Bree figured out that the three- and five-quart pitchers were enough to measure out exactly four quarts.  She reached waaaaay up over her head and managed to pour the water from pitcher to pitcher until exactly four quarts were in the larger pitcher, and then filled up the map puzzle.  Gears clicked and sprockets unwound, a trickle of noxious slime slid along the floor, and the water in the Baerstun Bay mosaic disappeared, revealing the entrance to the Lower Ocean Catacombs.


Upon entering the Lower Ocean Catacombs, the party found a lever, and Bree used her razor-sharp intellect to discover what it did by moving it back and forth.  Luckily, it did not open a pit of acid or start a giant stone ball rolling around, squashing everyone like bugs; nor did it trigger the dreaded Baerstun Rug Trap.  Terciel scouted ahead and identified a skeletal archer and two pikemen guarding the tomb, and reported back to the group ("They're using arrows, like this one." <points to kidneys>).  The heavy infantry took over and established a front line.  The pikemen mounted a ferocious charge that knocked Thea down and briefly out, but some quick work by Darg got her back up and into the action without even missing a swing.  After a brutal counterattack from Lenora and Thea, Bree cooled off the first rank of pikemen.

Terciel shouted a battle-challenge at their leader, who looked on in surprise (no mean feat without eyebrows) and suddenly began barking confused orders in the language that the burning skeleton had spoken earlier.  His right hand was in a steel glove with blue runes traced over it, and in the middle of urging his soldiers to stand down, the glove appeared to take control and change the order of the day.

Terciel loosed a pair of arrows; the first sailed just wide but the second caught him in the elbow, shattering the bones and knocking his entire forearm off – including the glove, which skittered off into the darkness. The warlord's demeanor changed instantly, his voice and the skeletal language fading from him as the glove's enchantment lapsed.  As the pikemen muddled around without a leader, Thea, Lenora, and Darg pushed back hard; Rache's bursts of infernal flame scorched the floor around the enemy, corralling them into the kill zone, and Bree sniped at them with magic missiles.  Terciel pressed the attack on the still-hostile skeletal troops missing wide twice, but the warlord turned to him, pointed out an opening, and his second volley found its mark.  The warlord approached Darg, gesticulating wildly, and Darg began to pray for Moradin to intercede and take the Eladrin dead back from the land of the living.  The Eladrin bones collapsed and the skeletons were left to fight on their own.

As the enemy ranks thinned, the pikemen fought more fiercely but were eventually vanquished.  Bree saw the last pikeman (poor Whiffy!) cornered and fighting fiercely, and tried to head off after the glove, but some quick thinking from the ever-cautious Thea stopped her in her tracks.  Bree moved her light in order to have a better look, and discovered (OH LOOK!) another handful of skeletal soldiers.

Illuminated and discovered, with an axe-wielding half-elf clearly in view, they began to advance. Thea held her ground while the party headed back to the Lever Room, then followed behind.  Thea and Lenora have set up a phalanx in the doorway, and the rest of the party is nervously eyeing the approach – nocking arrows and muttering words of power.  It's gonna be a hell of a rumble!

Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy... the FEAR to attack
Wherein the party fights in the shade, and makes a new pen pal.

Game Time: Monday morning

Thea and Lenora stood shoulder to shoulder in the narrow polished hallway as the skeletons scrambled into the circular room that they'd just fought so hard to secure.  Bree rubbed her fingers together and red sparks danced from her fingertips… Terciel pulled an arrow up until its feathers brushed his high sweeping cheekbones.  Rache and Darg were yin and yang, each muttering quietly: a swirling bolt of dark energy winding through Rache's long slender fingers mirrored the calm sphere of purity that balanced itself in Darg's blunt and calloused hand.

At some unseen or unheard signal, the skeletons closed ranks into an assault column.  An archer took up a position to the party's left, just around the pillar, and sighted in his shot.  The formation charged at Thea and Lenora… and heaven, hell, and the feywild all broke loose.

Confusion reigned: a cloud of fire saturated the formation, dark and light bolts of magic picked out their targets, searing and scorching the bones, and arrows found their targets.  The skeletons' front line hit hard – their lead soldier pushed Thea out of formation while his deputy shoved in close and swung his longsword at her.  Their files shifted and their ranks compressed and covered.  Two arrows streaked in, striking Lenora – a second archer had been in cover to the right. She noticed the tactical  positioning and grudgingly admired his economy of force.

In seconds, the counterattack came, and one skeleton fell.  Bree took a deep breath and saturated their ranks with more fire.  The skeleton infantry pressed the attack but were buying their position advantage at a steep price.  More arrows hit Lenora, and at the command of an officer hiding in the shadows, an infantryman doubled his efforts and pressed his attack on Thea.  Already bruised from the previous encounter, Thea went down, eyelids drooping… but the flash of light from one of Darg's holy spells was so bright that she felt compelled to open her eyes.  She shook off the dizziness and crouched at the ready with her axe… and then Lenora noticed Thea was down and took

Her armor began to glow dull red like iron in a forge as she rattled off commands: a lesson in longsword tactics compressed into a pithy description of the weak point of the stroke, and suddenly how could any of them have not seen it?  Everyone recognized the flaw in the skeletons' attack – the folly of charging in with long swords in such a cramped space.  Lenora hollered again, exhorting everyone to dig deep and make another push, accentuating the skeletons' frailty, mocking their rattling bones.  Grim looks softened, tentative scowls turned into determined grins… Thea took a deep breath and stood up, steadied herself, and then plowed in deep against the skeleton who had knocked her down.  Everyone took heart and pressed a counter-counter-counter-attack.

Terciel caught the warlord's eye and engaged him in conversation, hoping that this commander was also fighting against his will and could be convinced to lay down arms.  He could not convince the commander with words, so Terciel laid the commander's arm down for him.  An arrow shattered the officer's elbow joint and his left forearm fell to the ground; the steel glove with glowing blue runes skittered off into the darkness, at which point Terciel noticed an asymmetry in this shot—hadn't he shot off the right arm last time? He had!  Bree noticed this second glove crawling away, but had other things to worry about.

Once Terciel removed the cursed item from the commander's forearm, the gloves came off.  One of his archers closed in to take a shot at Lenora, and the commander swung his sword in a whistling arc that decapitated the archer in a single stroke.  He hollered to Terciel to finish off the infantry, and that he would take care of the other archer.  Led by Lenora and a fired-up Thea, the whole party surged forward and turned the tide quickly.  Darg and Rache each killed a skeleton and Bree continued to lay down suppressing fire.  Terciel killed the remaining archer, and the warlord turned to find himself surrounded by newly-minted flesh-and-blood allies… but without the glove he had been robbed of the ability to speak the language of the undead.  After a few fits and starts, Bree managed to affix a quill to his hand so he could write, and the following conversation played out slowly as Rache, Thea, and Terciel deciphered his archaic Elvish handwriting.  Once he realized the party spoke Common, he tried to intersperse words in their language as well.  Zoran was freaked out, but Bree (ahem) comforted him while everyone else worked to understand what the skeletal warlord was trying to communicate.

Warlord Q: Why did you come back from the dead?
Terciel A: I don't know.  I didn't.

WQ: But you… you are alive?  How did you all come to be led by a (old-form) Captain and a (old-form) General?
TA: We are fighting the orcs and chasing a fugitive from justice who may have come down here.  I'm just following the winds of fortune.

WQ: You should not be following the winds, you should be leading them – you are a Sulkano!  Was my death in vain then?  Do the orcs still fight?
TA: No, you didn't die in vain.  Baerstun prospers, peace has reigned for hundreds of years.  The orcs have returned and we are trying to stop them, along with a fugitive who may be in the lower city.

WQ: Returned here?  What city is this?  Who would live in a city over a grave?
The Party A: Barrow-stone city.

Not-so-much-a-Q-as-an-order: KILL ME.
Terciel and Darg A: Great thanks for your service.  Melora's blessings go with you. We'll stay and fight the good fight.  >vague humming sound as Darg warms up his prayer beads<

Definitely-not-a-Q: Even with a Sulkano and these great warriors, you are overmatched… put me to rest and then run as fast as you can.
Pray for a swift death for me and then for yourselves.

Darg and Terciel commended his bones back to Melora's care.  The party took his words under advisement and spent a few minutes patching themselves up and re-reading his notes to them.  Then it was back to exploring the Lower Ocean Catacombs (see map) – Zoran, worried about the party getting outflanked, went to the hallway to lay some traps before heading into the Map Room to watch for Ilian's rat-killing reinforcements to arrive.  Proceeding east, there was a second round chamber with hallways leading off in all four cardinal directions.  To the east, an intersection with ancient statues of warriors or veterans.  To the south, an unexplored hallway.  To the north, a long
hallway that hooked around to the east.  Continuing east to the statues, Terciel noticed the scent of flowers – in particular, flowers from the Feywild – wafting up the stairwell to the north.  He lobbied hard for exploring the scent on the grounds that it could lead to a means for him to return home.

The hallway continuing east curves around to the south.  Backtracking, the party followed up the north fork a bit, and Terciel narrowly avoided falling into a pit as the floor below his feet crumbled away. A little more investigation showed that the floor had collapsed down into a lower room that most definitely did not smell like flowers.

Covering Fire
Wherein hygeine is discussed, the limitations of critting a stealth check are explored, and the party has an inexplicable craving for a taco.

Game Time: Monday, midday

After discovering the collapsed floor and the murky water below, the party considered their options.  Three hallways, north, east, and south – assuming that nobody felt like swimming.  Terciel rubbed his hands together, tied a rope around his waist, and appeared in the blink of an eye on the east edge of the gap.  Lenora threw the now-empty bowline across to him, and he worked his way forward slowly.  Rache took a deep breath and stepped through nothing, then came out of it at a right angle on the other side of the gap.  She steadied herself, still a little dizzy from the teleportation, then grabbed the rope from Terciel.  Fixing him with an uncertain look, she said quietly "don't make me regret this, Eladrin."

Terciel handed the rope to Rache and unslung his bow.  The hallway angled left, then right, and opened into a semi-circular room with a collapsed wall.  Lenora strained to hear any noises coming from around the blind corner, and the rest of the party stood still and stared, looking for any kind of hint of what was around the bend.  Rache
muttered a dark incantation under her breath.

Weapon at the ready, Terciel examined the collapsed room.  A runny grey slime dripped from the rubble, and as Terciel leaned in more closely it began to gush and pool at his feet, coalescing into a silvery hemisphere the size of a pig.  Disgusted and nervous, Terciel backed up and nocked an arrow.  As he took aim, a horrid stench from the slime washed over him, and he momentarily lowered his bow, shaking his head to clear away the fumes.  The silvery slug moved forward and Terciel fired twice: his first arrow slipped high, and his second sunk into the goop with a gurgling hiss.  Terciel had only a moment to determine the best course of action, and with his head clouded in the awful vapors he shouted "don't worry about the rope!"

Thea did not worry about the rope.

She slung her axe over her shoulder and began running towards the pit.  As she pumped her arms to build up speed she snatched a throwing hammer in her fist.  Two more strides and then she leaped to clear the pit.  Still in the air as she sailed past Rache, she got her first look at the slime.  She planted both feet together and landed in a high crouch only a few feet away.  She sucked in a deep breath to steady her aim – and gagged.  The stench was unbearable!  She threw her hammer, dizzy with the noxious vapor, and knew from the second she released it that she was going to miss.  It clattered against the rubble behind the slime.  She unslung her axe and got ready to have a serious conversation about underground hygiene with this thing.

As Thea and Rache joined the fight, more slime began oozing out of the wall.  Terciel began to edge back and the slime's pseudopod lashed out at him sapping his strength.  Thea and Rache covered his retreat, and Thea felt the weird weakness shoot through her as the slime chilled her to the bone and the stench forced her to breathe shallowly.  Bree blasted one of the slimes with a shimmering ball of force, and Terciel took the opportunity to blink across the gap.  He spun on his heel, shouting something guttural and aggressive, and then fired another pair of arrows downrange.  Rache backed away, now protected by Bree's and Terciel's suppressing fire, and surveyed the situation.  Thea was knee-deep in slime, so Rache took the opportunity to blink around the corner to the north edge.  She took another dicey leap across the corner of the pit, scrambled for a second, and then caught herself.

Thea held her ground – ever the last one out of trouble, she reluctantly withdrew.  Rache focused herself and found that the eldritch power that she had struggled to focus was coming much more easily now, as though a burden had been lifted.  She reached out her hand, looked past it and fixed the slime in her gaze.  Then she clenched her outstretched hand, twisting suddenly and yanking it back to her chest.  On the other side of the pit, the slime jerked and stretched, and then was flung towards the party, skidding over the lip of the pit into the dark water below.  As Lenora leaned over to see where it went, a muddy black-brown tentacle lashed out of the darkness and cleaved it in two.  The water churned and frothed in the darkness, and guttural slurping and squealing rose to a crescendo and then stopped.  The other two slimes searched around tentatively, but once they realized that they couldn't cross the pit, they slurbled back towards the rubble in defeat.

The group patched themselves up as best they could while Bree did some more investigation: to the north, another collapsed dead end, shimmering with slime.  Bree left it undisturbed and headed south. The party followed, and discovered a dead end tunnel with two long cylindrical bores drilled into the wall.  Thea boosted Bree up and took a look through the holes, and Bree saw flickering orange light from a fire.  The round room they looked into was lined with bones like the other rooms they had seen.  Darg was able to confirm that the room they were peering into was almost certainly connected to the curved hallway they'd seen earlier.  They headed back, Thea still picking slime off her scale mail and feeling a little shaky from the fumes.

Terciel scouted ahead gingerly.  Lenora tucked her sunrod away, and Bree kept her light spell close at hand to avoid tipping off whomever had set the fire.  From his place in the dark bend of the hallway, Terciel saw a blazing skeleton pacing north to south, examining something to the east.  Whatever the bonfire was illuminating was hidden by the pillar in the center of the room.  He went to report back to the group, and a plan was formed: Thea would lead the charge, Lenora would back her up, Darg would stand ready to block and heal, and the rest of the group would saturate the area with covering fire.

The skeletal bonfire seared Thea's skin as she charged in, and when she struck it with her axe, a plume of embers burst away from its body, crackling and illuminating the six skeletal soldiers arrayed for inspection before the warlord.  Lenora waded in behind Thea, took stock of the situation, and laid a punishing strike across his skull.

The party concentrated their efforts on a devastating first strike, and as the skeletal captain withered under the rain of blows, the fire blazing around his bones went out.  The team's efforts at stealth had been flawless—but without the burning officer to light their path, they found themselves in the dark.  Arrows ripped through the darkness, and heavy scimitar strikes thumped and clanged off Thea's armor.  When Lenora found the sunrod and took it out, she revealed an unpleasant tactical situation.

The party was arrayed in their strongest formation, but their heaviest fighters were outnumbered two to one, and the enemy had two vicious ranged attackers who had withdrawn to the far wall to focus on the party's strong points.  Within a few moments their snipers had fixated on Darg to prevent him from using his radiant powers – he fell unconscious but Lenora helped him to his feet and snapped him out of it.  Thea continued to press the attack despite her bloody bruises and flagging reserves, and Rache seemed to grow stronger as the enemies crumbled to dust under her vicious eldritch attacks.  Bree set off burst after burst of fire while Terciel picked off their heaviest troops and wore down the archers.  In a matter of minutes the party was able to drive back the assault.  Terciel pursued the fleeing archers, destroyed one of the last two, and then stopped to catch his breath.

Darg and Lenora turned and put down one of the infantry who was trying in vain to rise from the dead a second time, and Thea came back just in time to see the smoldering pile of bones stirring.  Thea smashed the rib cage and other sundry bones, and a flaming skull popped out of the pile.  It bounced once or twice on the marble floor, then burst into a sickly greenish flame and levitated, rotating until it was upright and looking back at Thea.  It screamed in the same guttural language that the others had, but while the others seemed reluctant adversaries this one seemed far more committed.  Terciel told the group later that he clearly heard him say:

"Oh, you think you're strong – and you're stronger than we thought! But I have many more borrowed bodies to throw at you.  Let's see how well you fight when you feel our complete wrath!"

The skull hovered for a moment and then flew away down a wide corridor to the southwest, cackling maniacally.  Bree was not going to back down from something as trivial as a challenge from a flying flaming skull, and Rache seemed oddly refreshed – the paradox of taking sustenance from others' pain.  Thea, Terciel and Lenora were exhausted.  Darg was still woozy from being knocked out, and his fingers ached and burned from channeling so much radiant energy.  He admitted that he wasn't sure how many more times he could save his allies, and was nervous that he would be called more times than he could answer.  Reluctantly they ceded the hard-won ground.  They headed to the Map Room to collect Zoran and return to the watch post for a well-deserved rest.

Wherein bagels are not offered, Rache and Darg sing Karaoke, The Jabberwock is invoked, and the party goes flower-picking.

Game Time:  Monday afternoon to dawn, Tuesday

As the party crossed the bridge over the sewer on the way back to the bolt-hole, Zoran noted that someone had hung some oil lanterns around the portcullis door, and immediately perked up.  "Reinforcements have arrived – let us go and see them!"  When everyone arrived the bolt-hole was pretty crowded: Ilian's reinforcements had indeed arrived, kitted out for D-Day and then some.

The reinforcements are Katherine, Nikolai, Michelle, Svetlana, Ivan, and Yurgal.  Katherine (Katya) is a tiefling with amber skin, reddish-blonde hair, and ivory-colored horns.  She's got a pair of short swords hanging from her armor and is probably hiding other weapons.  She's clearly in charge, and after a little conversation with Lenora they discover that one of her cousins served in the diplomatic corps with her.  Nikolai (Kolya), Michelle (Chelya), and Svetlana (Sveta) are all halflings with similar complexions – dark curly hair and brown or black eyes.  The first two are fastidious about their slings and sling bullets, but Sveta seems to prefer her brightly polished daggers.  Chelya looks like she could be related to Stamat.  Kolya and Chelya both carry leather bandoliers with a half-dozen bulky apple-sized pockets on the front, and wear light
leather armor. Ivan (Vanya) is a very dark-skinned human with a wooden left arm and pale scars raking down the left side of his neck and face.  He keeps the wooden arm covered with a chain mail sleeve, and there are little leather thongs all along the inside of the wrist for strapping down daggers like the ones Sveta uses.  It looks like he could strap a shield to the hand as well, but he hasn't brought one along to the bolt-hole. Yurgal Runeshield (Sergei) is a quiet dwarf who looks like a hirsute tuna-can.  He's short, stout, hairy as they come, and wears heavy plate armor.  He carries a shield with an emblem of Kord on it, and it's sized for someone Ivan's height, so it serves to cover almost his entire body.  He also carried in a pair of casks for the encampment: one with stew, and one with alcohol so strong that he uses it to polish his armor.

In the presence of Katya, Zoran's demeanor changed completely: rather than hang back quietly, he field-strips his gear like an old professional, saluted smartly, and headed out to take his turn patrolling the nearby area and to check his trap lines.  Katya's squad (Cat Squad) have been sent by Ilian to wipe out the rats' nest that Zoran and Stamat discovered, but once they learned that the party had [[Session Summary 9-29-09 | achieved their objective for them]], they were happy to have the extra help around.  When Kate heard that there are undead in the lower catacombs – and that [[Session Summary 10-21-09 | the lower catacombs have been opened]] – she became much more nervous.  The prospect of holding ground near the Stone Quarter with Grigory's rats on one flank and undead on the other is not comfortable, and she doesn't have the manpower to withstand both sets of enemies.

Katya offered the bolt-hole as a place for the party to recover and share food, and Bree offered to season the meal by magic so that it would taste better than hard-tack and jerky.  Rache and Darg entertained their hosts with a song after supper – Rache having been an entertainer at a bar, and Darg having always been musically-inclined. They knew different versions of the lyrics but managed to muddle through a pleasant rendition of "The Bear and the Crown".  Some of the halflings sang a song that Bree knew, and after a few more songs and a toast to new allies, the whole group was relaxed and enjoying each other's company.

Katya insisted on following her orders – keep watch, secure the area – so the entire party was allowed a leisurely extended rest.  Just before dawn the next day, Kolya woke up Lenora who quietly got everyone else up and at 'em.  They began discussing how to prepare the ritual to help Terciel speak the language of the undead, and Kolya didn't hesitate for a second.  He woke the rest of the reinforcements, who dutifully mumbled the incantation according to Bree's instructions, and Terciel was once again able to understand the weird hissing and screeching of the undead warriors.

Zoran escorted the group across the bridge back to the Map Room.  A few minutes' fiddling with pitchers and noxious goop, and Bree had the Map Room door open again.  The group headed back to the catacombs and decided to investigate the stairwell that smelled like flowers.  As soon as Terciel came to the bottom of the steps, the source of the exotic scent was immediately obvious: at the bottom of the stairs was a fairly large chamber with thick black soil on the floor along the left and right walls, and a variety of bushes and flowers were thriving in the darkness.  There were orange roses that stood for remembrance winding their way through many of the bushes, but most of the other flowers and vines were milky-white and translucent like nightcrawlers from sitting in the dark so long.  Staggered all along the thicker vines were needle-like thorns as long as a hand. A few other brightly-colored blue and violet flowers poked out from within the clusters of bushes, seemingly unaffected by the darkness.  At the far end of the room, a spiral staircase descended into the floor, and three fountains were visible, glowing with a dim violet light.  They burbled with crystal-clear water, and were  surrounded by thick carpets of dark purple moss.

Terciel took a few tentative steps into the room, and a clattering buzz sounded from the shrubs in the corners.  Three large bat-like insects burst from the nearby bushes and flew directly towards him, long hollow needle-noses extended.  One of them bounced from his wrist; another plunged its proboscis into Terciel's neck, splayed its thick leathery wings over itself for protection, and then began slurping down gulp after gulp of his delicious Eladrin blood.  At the scent of blood, the vines (plants da-doop) came alive and crawled across the floor, eager to feed on the blood they smelled (yum da-doop).  The vines writhed and lashed about – one of them grabbing Lenora around the neck and one going after Thea.  All of the commotion roused a few vicious stinging stick insects (bugs da-doop) which buzzed in to scavenge anything they could.  Lenora, Thea, and Terciel staggered through the garden, tearing the mosquito-bat-things from their exposed necks and arms and fighting back whenever they could. Rache, Bree, and Darg laid into them from afar.  Rache clenched her fist in the air and made a shoving gesture, and the vine that had entwined itself around Lenora's neck broke free as the bulk of the vine was tossed back to the thick layer of potting soil.  Terciel evaporated and reappeared, leaving the bloodsucking mosquito-bat-things hovering around Thea looking for a meal.  Bree set off wave after wave of searing fire at close quarters, and Lenora and Thea, who had grown more accustomed to that sort of thing, blithely ignored the hazards as they waded in, flail and axe snicker-snacking through the thick vines and spindly bones.  The tide turned quickly: Rache stepped forward and unleashed a curse so potent that the vine was reduced to a memory of sawdust, Thea chopped the bugs to pieces, and Terciel fired arrow after arrow, picking apart wrist-thick vines just as they threatened to grapple at Thea's blind side.  A swarm of the stick insects were roused, but seconds later Bree had scorched them to dust.  It was over almost as quickly as it began.  A few nasty scratches and puncture wounds were the only sign that anything had happened, and in a moment or two Darg had them patched up as good as new.  Lenora's head was a little fuzzy from the stinging insects, and Terciel was a bit light-headed from the blood loss, but other than that everyone was basically fine.

Once the dust settled, the party took a look around, and in the gap that one of the shrubs had left when it attacked, there was a dessicated corpse laying there, nearly skeletonized and completely intact, with a few intriguing personal effects…

Wherein a lie is told, wards are broken, and Pandora ain't got nuthin on this party.

 Game Time: Tuesday morning

After a grueling fight against some carnivorous plants and what may have been animals, the group cooled their heels for a few moments in a bizarre underground greenhouse to survey the situation.  They found a dessicated corpse laid out in the dirt where one of the bushes had been crouching in wait.  The corpse had in its possession the dry-rotted remains of a leather pouch holding together a pile of gold and silver coins, a necklace with a crusty brass key, some heavily rusted chain mail and an elegant short sword that has almost entirely rusted through.  There was a lacquered wood scroll case, but the documents inside have crumbled to dust.  The brass key is on a chain necklace bound to a thin gold circular medallion; the medallion is stamped with an image of a crown encircling an obelisk or a tombstone of some sort.  The letters "BC" are on the crown in a fairly old script, possibly Old Common, but nobody seemed to know what they stood for. The coins total 17g 39s but are not modern currency.

Near the fountains, Rache noted that the violet moss bore a striking resemblance to the "Violet Feymoss" that Osmund Gutar had asked for. With Bree and Darg helping, the three of them were able to collect two small jars of the moss in reagent containers.  Hopefully the moss will keep well enough for Osmund's purposes, and the party will be able to return to him to collect their reward.

After carefully dividing up the spoils and the curious personal effects of the dead man, the party walked over to the stairwell to examine the glowing yellow runes that hovered there in the air. Engraved on the stone around the stairwell were the words "Whom do you seek to honor?"  Despite the Fey origin of everything else in the room, Terciel was apparently unable to see the glowing runes, and after some investigation, Rache and Bree came to the conclusion that some sort of warding magic was at work.  Lenora's hand, clenched around an orange fey rose, was unable to penetrate the barrier – but the rose was.  Bree jumping up and down vigorously was unable to penetrate the barrier, which threw off blue halos and sparks whenever her feet touched the runes.  Terciel was able to reach through the invisible barrier with no ill effects.  He cleared his throat and stated that he sought to honor the veterans of the Great War.  Nothing appeared to happen.  Darg thought back to his conversation with Terciel and remembered a word he had heard – he said he sought to honor General Sûlkano from the Great War, and before his eyes the runes faded away.  Bree repeated the phrase while standing on the
runes, and fell through as soon as she said the word "Sûlkano". Terciel blushed darkly at first, glowered at Darg, and then his eyes turned to the far corners of the room to avoid his comrades' gaze as they each repeated the word "Sûlkano" and cleared away the glowing runes blocking the stairwell.  He bit his lip and exhaled sharply when even Rache nonchalantly muttered the phrase: "I seek to honor the Sûlkano."

The party descended the stairwell and found a small quiet  chamber with a single sarcophagus in the middle.  A brazier lit the far end of the room and a statue of an archer stood watch over the stone coffin. Engraved on the lid were the words


Lenora remarked that this was the second place they had encountered the phrase "Barrow stone" and that it bore more than a passing resemblance to the word "Baerstun".  Terciel didn't hear a word of it: his eyes were fixed on the indigo hide armor adorning the statue, and the glittering filament hanging from the statue's hand.  The fact that they had not rotted away was enough to convince Terciel that they were more than ordinary; on closer inspection Terciel knew that he must put them to better use, and with an apology he laid an orange rose on the tomb and fitted the indigo hide armor over his ragged clothing.  He restrung his bow, said a quiet prayer, and the party filed out after paying their respects.

As the party quietly filed out of the tomb, they overheard some low voices from the direction of the Map Room.  Rache understood enough of their language to realize that they were discussing pretty much what the party was now discussing in low voices: each group had heard the other.  Rache stepped out of the shadows and faced them directly – "Turn back!" she said, "we are the guardians of this tomb."  The orcs conferred amongst themselves and decided that they only needed to respect the dead guardians of the tomb, and drew their scimitars. Rache warned them to put away their weapons.

A heavyset sergeant led the assault bravely, and a squeaky-voiced spellcaster flitted around the edges of the combat hurling bolts of hissing brown and green energy.  Four scouts dropped the heavy chest they were carrying and flung themselves into the fight headlong.  In a few moments it was clear that they were overmatched.  Thea planted her feet in the hallway and set into them with her greataxe, and within a few seconds the warlock had retreated behind the pillar, flinging curses at everyone he could see.  The sergeant continued to swing his glaive at Bree, and with every miss exposed himself to a more dire tactical situation.  Thea and Lenora waded in after him while Darg, Rache, and Terciel showered him with ranged attacks… overwhelmed, he made a brave final push toward the front, drawing strength from his untenable position.  Rache pointed a finger in his direction, traced a shape in the air as she muttered a quiet curse, and then snapped her fingers viciously as she spat out the last syllable – a flash of black energy shot into his mouth, down his throat, and exploded his heart instantly.  He fell in a limp heap, blood pooling from his mouth.  The scouts dropped back in confusion before surging back to the fight, even more enraged.

The orcish witch doctor got his feet under him and poked out from around the other side of the pillar.  He dodged the blast from Bree's explosive covering fire, stumbled past the smoldering sea-trunk, and fired back a blinding torrent of filth.  Bree wiped the muck out of her eyes and responded with a spell of her own, singeing him and aggravating his already-short temper.  He howled out a curse and aimed his rod at Bree again, this time backing the blast of cursed muck with a purple-black bolt of energy that nearly blew her out of her shoes. By the time Darg got to her, she was already unconscious, but a bit of the old Moradinnic Mojo got her back into the swing of things.  Her vision cleared, she stood up to look for another target, but the warlock had ducked behind the pillar again.  Focused on the little staffling who had given him so much trouble, he failed to see Terciel stalking closer.  The warlock ducked behind the pillar, stepped out from the other side, and caught a finely-polished steel-and-walnut arrow in his eye.  The force of the blow drove the arrowhead through the back of his skull and dropped him like a rock.

Snicker-snack, flail and axe… the scouts were outnumbered and dropping under the relentless assault, and when the second of the four fell, the two remaining orcs fell back.  Nilgor retreated into the next room and hollered to Kreb to run and warn Tarin.  Lenora was the first to realize the strategic disaster that their escape would bring on them: undead from below, rats from above, and reinforcements.  She gave chase until she ended up in the dark, and then cracked a sunrod open.  The shadows jumped back to reveal Nilgor with one arm raised, ready to strike, and the other thrown over his eyes as he swung.  He missed horribly, and Lenora snatched at his wrist, gave a deft twist, and wrenched him down onto his knees, leveling her flail with his eyes and forcing his surrender.  She hollered to the rest to give chase, and exhorted Rache to take advantage of her superior positioning to get a lantern into the dark hallway down which Kreb had fled.

Kreb threw the lever that opened the map room doorway and scrambled to leave, but Rache hurried to the switch room, threw the lever back, and Kreb skidded to a halt. He tapped tentatively at the illusion, then turned and drew his scimitar unconvincingly… he had seen what happened to the sergeant and clearly wanted no part of it.  Rache doodled a gesture in the air as she offered to end his life – all he had to do was make a move with the sword other than surrender.

With the two prisoners firmly in hand and at the mercy of the group, Thea and Bree played Big Cop/Little Cop with them to find out what they knew… other than the names "Tarin" and "Thurig" the two were either honestly clueless about their mission or very crafty.  They seemed to want to know what was in the heavy trunk they were carrying as much as anyone in the party did.  A search of their comrades revealed the following:

- The witch doctor was carrying a scroll case with a rolled up scrap of paper inside; on the paper is a crude cartoon indicating how to solve the puzzle lock.  He was wearing a silver key and a signet around his neck.  He was carrying a coin purse with 14.72.59 in coins; a few thick linen rags and bandages are bundled ineffectually among the coins as though to stifle jingling.

- The sergeant was carrying 75 silver, 40 copper wrapped tightly in a clean linen bandage and packed tightly in his coin purse with four more clean bandages, a stub of a grease pencil, and a scrap of paper divided into five columns with various denominations and notations. He has a flask with some very very strong alcohol and another flask with a foul-smelling semi-caustic oil in it.  In his backpack he's carrying two bedrolls, several trail rations, and a small watertight lockbox.  The sergeant's lockbox had seven waterproof scroll cases, a few quill pens, some ink, and a sheaf of blank papers, along with a sand bottle and some sealing wax.

- The scouts were not carrying coin purses; each was carrying a bedroll, a change of clothes, one day of trail rations, twenty feet of hempen rope, and a few clean bandages.  The largest of them appears to have also stashed some nuts, jerky, and dried fruit into a messenger's pouch that he's wearing under his clothes.

In addition to his glaive, the sergeant was carrying a wicked-looking flail with a handle made of black lacquered wood and steel flail heads with wickedly curved sharktooth spikes.  The witch doctor's corpse yields a raggedly-hemmed black robe with crimson trim that seems to shimmer and thrum distractingly, and a heavy rod with a braid of dark bronze, black iron, and yellow brass wrapped around the handle.  The finial is a smoky quartz sphere grasped in three claws (one of each metal) and the ferrule is a simple iron spike.  Lenora took the flail, Rache took the rod, and Bree slipped the robe on – the hemming that the warlock had done to traverse the sewers made it a nearly perfect full-length robe… albeit a bit long in the sleeves.

[And here the Maestro laid down his pen …until after the holidays.  – Ed]

Wererats? There rats!
Meanwhile: Ilian's band of Stone Quarter refugees try to carve out a living in the catacombs.

Game Time: Tuesday, just after dawn

Salek led the group on a quiet slog through the tunnels with Arkady nervously following behind.  Ilian had been pretty clear about his expectations: bringing Mika back was the most important, but Ilian was also angry.  So they marched on.  Generally they stuck to one side or the other, occasionally splitting left-and-right to cover for an obstacle.  Arkady showed them where the rats' nesting tunnel was. Somewhere inside would be the unusual nests that Ilian had mentioned. Shard and Arkady scouted ahead, but Arkady sloshed noisily through the water and moved awkwardly – Salek pulled him back and sent Shard ahead. 


Shard peered down the tunnel and scrambled up the short rise to peek inside.  Once everything was clear, the team moved up the ledge in pairs and discovered that the tunnels forked: rough terrain to the right, smooth tunnels to the left.  Arkady indicated that he & Mika had gone left, so the team moved left as well.

Shard stuck close to the left wall, slipping silently between the wall and a pillar of stone on the- KERTWANG-whizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz-thud. Shard dangled upside-down from his ankle near the low ceiling, smarting from a bruised shoulder and pride.  Salek tossed a sunrod over to the pillar and Shard cut himself down, landing gracefully, but now everyone was alert.  As the party regrouped and moved forward, Lichna narrowly avoided the same fate.  A cursory inspection revealed a very complicated trap – pulleys, rope, a counterweight or possibly some springs – and Arkady confirmed for Salek that it wasn't one of Ilian's.  He'd never seen anything like it… this was not one of Ilian's traps, but it was equal in sophistication.  As they puzzled over the origin of the trap and waved their lights around, those in the front saw movement in the shadows, and the rats attacked.  In an instant, Orsik set up a barricade of dancing orange flames, and the rats delayed their assault.  At the fringes of the flame, another hempen rope sizzled and caught fire; the whole cavern was laced with traps.

Something didn't fit.  Most of the rats seemed vicious but just-barely-clever – smart enough to stay out of fire, dumb enough to attack heavily-armed intruders at a well-defended pinch point.  The three rats from the flanks seemed a little smarter and stronger, snarling and clawing aggressively and directing the other rats' movements.  As the team closed ranks and began stomping, smashing, flailing, and stabbing the rats at the front, another pack appeared in back.

The rats in the back appeared to be more of the same, except for one. This one was blacker than shadows, and slipped past Orsik's defenses deftly.  Orsik reacted almost instantly, turning into a mountain lion and counterattacking, but the rat was too fast – when Orsik lashed out, the rat struck back like a coil of black smoke, blinding Orsik temporarily, and slipping out of reach before Orsik could land a blow. Lichna, Helena, and Orsik turned their attention to this new threat and the handful of lesser rats that seemed to accompany him.  One particularly daring rat snuck in and made off with Lichna's sunrod, and in the darkness, the smoky rat struck again.

On the front, Irina visited the Raven Queen's blessings on the foot-soldier rats; Ryken cleared out a mass of them with a terrifying blast of dragon's breath, and Shard slipped in behind them to visit sharp-edged pain to one and all.  Shard took the worst of it, pinned between two of the most vicious attackers, but as he fought back it became clearer and clearer why they were focused on him because of his silvered short-sword – it seemed to cause them pain, and while they appeared to bounce back from most other wounds, this sword seemed to leave lasting gashes that steamed and smoked.

Helena peppered the rats on the flank with arrow after arrow, and the shadow hunter seemed to reconsider his tactical position as even the most vicious and hardy wererats stumbled and fell before the team's onslaught.  It had been a perfectly-executed pincer movement, but with too few troops to be effective – it was easy to see how Mika and Arkady had been overwhelmed and separated.  And now that the last of the wererats was dead, Arkady was nowhere to be found.  In the confusion of the opening moments, he had been cowering back in the shadows at the top of the gravel rise.  As the team patched their wounds and settled in for a short rest, Lichna mentioned that she was not feeling very well, and Salek also felt fatigued far out of proportion to the few bites he had sustained.

With Mika and now Arkady both missing, Salek & Lichna feeling sore and tired, and the prospect of fighting more trap-setting wererats who could disappear at will, it was hard for anyone to be too upbeat. Shard's blade – and its effect on the rats – seemed to be the one bright spot.

I Smell a Rat
Meanwhile: in which Orsik's terms are not acceptable, the rats make a piggy bank, and the party blows stuff up real good.

Game Time: Tuesday, early morning

Salek caught his breath and tried not to show how lightheaded he felt. The bite on his thigh stung fiercely and he felt a sick dizzy tingle all along his leg, sapping his strength.  He noticed that Lichna also looked lightheaded, and so he called a short halt.  Shard slipped into the shadows and set two lines of flagstone traps to the north and south.  He was less familiar with the flagstone traps, but managed to get most of them set and fairly well concealed.  It was tougher on the south edge – not as much loose gravel.  One of them stuck out like a sore thumb, but there wasn't much he could do about that.  The team checked each other's gear, and Shard paced along the north trap-line looking into the darkness, eager to get out of the bright light.

Lichna stared glassy-eyed into the shadows, distracted by the pain from her wounds… and if she hadn't been staring right at the shadow she wouldn't have believed that she saw it move.  There it went again – behind the pillar – slithering back past the gap to the southeast. She let the rest of the team know; it looked just like the swirling
black fog that the wererat had summoned around itself just before disappearing.  Whatever it was, it had decided against attacking them when they were gathered in force.  They finished resting uneventfully, and Salek and Shard began planning a more cautious reconnaissance of the tunnels to the north.

Salek quietly ordered a careful tactical positioning – leaving the southern trap-line in place – while Shard skirted the bright lights and scouted ahead.  There was a large room to the north, dimly lit with a red glow like burning coals… a bigger cavern to the south lit by a smoky campfire… and a tiny archway dug into the rock, from
which Shard could hear quiet breathing and hissing noises.  Ryken and Irina took up flanking positions by the south doorway, and Helena readied her bow to provide covering fire.  Orsik lurked in the center, ready to set fire, thorns, or claws on anything that moved.  Shard took a silent breath and disappeared from view as he slunk into the shadows and hid around the corner so he wouldn't be backlit.  When Salek's sunrod finally illuminated the room, it took every ounce of discipline for Shard to not curse.  Avandra's own luck – he had managed to step on the three or four foot-sized spots in the straw that weren't covered in sleeping rats.  They ranged from normal-sized up through spaniel-, retriever-, and hog-sized, and every last one was sleeping.  Shard looked at the straw around his feet and reached slowly for one of the grenade traps.  He tried to remember the right order: pull back the spring, set the jaws, place the grenade, release the j- wait, that wasn't-

The springs and counterweights whistled and snapped, and the grenade shattered in his hands, spraying boiling green acid everywhere.  The straw and rats caught fire instantly as he staggered back out of the doorway, knife at the ready.  None of the rats managed to escape the flames, but as Shard hissed and swatted at the flames, he heard something moving to his left.  Two of the larger wererats stormed towards the doorway and were brought up short by the hissing SNAP of the flagstone traps.  Ryken and Irina turned on them while they tried to regain their footing and began thrashing them mercilessly.  The rest of the team waded in, blades and bows at the ready.

The clumsiest of the rats staggered back from a hail of blows, infuriated by the affront of being trapped like a common rat.  His beady eyes focused briefly on Ryken but before he could complete the thought he fell, his wounds closing magically – but too late.  The other one stood bravely, shaking his wounded ankle as he warded off arrows, blades, thorn whips, and countless punishing blows, but he eventually succumbed to the tide and fell, bleeding from a dozen wounds.

A white rat with blood-red eyes emerged from behind a pillar, hissing and cursing as he brandished a fistful of bones and a sickle at the invaders.  With a pair of vicious gestures he shoved Irina back from the fray and yanked Shard closer, eyeing the silvered knife and muttering.  At the same time a horde of rats surged around the corner, writhing and squeaking.  In seconds they were everywhere around Shard, nipping and biting viciously.  Shard took a few swings with his knife and Ryken waded in, grinning and huffing, building up a huge lungful of air for a ferocious puff of wispy smoke… not exactly his usual fierce blast of flame!  Shard cringed for a moment and briefly considered using a grenade, but Orsik beat him to it, laying down a blast of searing flames that consumed dozens of the rats.  They crawled up the heroes' legs in vain attempts to escape.  Irina waded in cursing left and right, enjoining them to cause no more harm on pain of their own swift deaths.  They acted as though they had not
heard her, but the punishing violet flashes of the Raven Queen's disfavor combined with the flames to wipe out the last of them.

Meanwhile at the flanks, Salek and Helena were each attacked by more of the wispy shadows they had seen earlier.  Like living smoke they appeared, slipped around any attempt to strike, and blinded their targets before slinking away invisibly.  Salek was struck immediately by the realization that engaging the rats would keep them in a known place, and endeavored to corner the one attacking him – he forgot, briefly, why the expression "to fight like a cornered rat" was coined.  One of them offered Salek great power – he urged Salek to surrender, claiming that Grigory would bring him "more power than Ilian could ever grant you".  The other made a similar offer to Orsik, but was so incensed at the insulting reply that he struck back more furiously than before.  Helena swatted at the ghostly smoke in her eyes and fired her arrows wherever she could still hear their scrabbling claws, and was twice rewarded with the angry hissing of a rat speared with an arrow.  As the shaman in the southern chamber staggered away from the fight and started a retreat, the shadowy rat near Helena made a break for Salek, hoping to at least help its partner to flank him and bring him down.  They smelled death and blood on him, and knew that he was the only one they had a chance against.  Helena loosed another pair of arrows, and the rat fell to the floor dead, its body sliding to a stop.  By the time the shadows cleared from the corpse, it was no longer a rat but Mika laying in the gravel.

Salek continued dodging and parrying, shedding his close-quarters gear for a longspear and catching his breath before stepping into the dead end where he knew the rat was hiding.  With the rat cornered, Salek waded in, jabbing ferociously and watching his footwork.  It leaped and dodged and swirled to no avail – Salek jabbed it viciously and Lichna finally caught up and helped bottle up the escape route. Outnumbered and cornered, it made one furtive escape attempt, but as soon as it was in sight, Helena dropped it with a pair of arrows in the throat, and it fell right on top of Mika's body.  By the time it hit the ground, its body had also transformed, revealing Arkady, the same scout who had come with them, and whose report had prompted Ilian to make the attack.

Dusting themselves off and checking for more bite-wounds, the party regrouped and searched the area.  The map they found in the makeshift prison confirmed their worst fears: either Mika or Arkady had drawn up the location of Ilian's secret base for the rest of the rats.  The coins in the common room were separated, gold and copper stored openly but silver coins segregated and out of reach.  The discovery of the map struck them all as grave news, and they headed southeast to lay another trap line to cover their retreat.  As he set the traps, Shard noticed another nesting site.  After some brief discussion, they agreed that eliminating all of the rats was crucial, and so Shard and Helena headed around the bend to set the grenade traps and exterminate every trace of rat-kind from the caves.  A series of sharp cracks and pops, a flash of green-and-orange flames, and Orsik's helpful flame seed all combined to obliterate the sleeping rats before they could strike back.  Shard buried his silver dagger in the eye of a particularly hardy rat that tried to flee the flames, and all was quiet.

They hurried back to meet Ilian and tell him the grave news.  Irina patched up Salek and Lichna, and Ilian considered the news for only a moment before he had made his decision: Shard would head to the Ocean Quarter to inform Katya's team that they should be extremely cautious about rooting out any more nesting sites.  The evidence that this site had been at least partially a trap was alarming, and the fact that Grigory's rats were trying to infiltrate his organization and learn of his location was particularly troubling.    Shard headed to the dorms to swap out his gear before departing, making sure to take a fistful of silver coins for his sling; the rest of the team paused briefly around the cook-pot to grab a warm meal.  They ate silently and quickly, then trudged to their beds, hearts heavy with the betrayal and death they'd seen.

Next Week: Shard warns Katya's team and meets our intrepid heroes on the way.


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