WORK IN PROGRESS…
Climbing up from out of the mire of Explictica Defilus’ lair, the party (with the carpenter’s children and Rahme in tow) sorted themselves out as best they could. Exhausted barely covered it. If the face-to-face with the terrifying Naga herself hadn’t worn them out, then transporting the dense amounts of loot they managed to raid certainly did. Despite their familiarity with the oppressive and sluggish conditions of the Moors, all who climbed out from beneath embraced the bits of sunlight that pierced the thick canopy above. Together, they sighed a breath of relief. The carpenter’s children sank against each other, clustered together in a sibling’s bond. Moira turned and smiled back at the siblings. Memories of a long-lost bond similar to theirs flickered in her mind, and for a moment, a longing was triggered in her that had been buried for quite some time. She turned her attention back to her steed and, as with the others, prepared for the day’s ride back to the Dim Forest, and beyond that, Orlane.
The air hung low and while the fog of the Moor had lifted, its feverish hallmarks remained. Flesh sweltered underneath clingy leathers, linens, and heavy metal armor. The salt of sweat gathered in their eyes and mouths for what they hoped would be the last time. The party did their best to move through the marsh as fast as they could, but the addition of the two siblings and an old (and apparently powerful) wizard to their group, plus several pounds —of treasure and equipment, only served to slow down their pace. The old wooden wheels of their cart strained to turn through the wet mud. All were silent and focused on pushing through the marsh towards the firm earth and fresh air of the Dim Forest.
Vetnik and his steed (surely the most powerful of all the horses in the party) did their best to keep a timely pace while letting the expert tracker of the bunch, Grum, take the lead. He was motionless atop his horse, even as gnats and flies buzzed around his helmet and danced on his fine, blonde beard. His cool blue eyes squinted, trying to flush the humidity from his sight in an effort to stay focused. Below, his armored horse trotted through a particularly deceptive patch of marsh. His hooves splashes as he moved through the wet bog, pushing around thick patches of mud and floating peat. As Vetnik and his horse continued, the floor of the bog seemed to descend deeper still. Water levels rose up to the barbarian’s boots, splashing against his already-muddied greaves with every step further. Suddenly, he felt something gently tug at the bottom of his foot. Vetnik lifted his leg, thinking little of the act, when soon his eyes split open with a shock. Out of the water and clinging to his boot was a none other than a giant leech, its body black and segmented and closer in size to an eel!
”Vatun’s frozen beard,” Vetnik cried out! He did his best to jerk his leg and shake the slithering critter off, but his movements only seemed to entice the leech more. The black worm’s segmented tail pulled the rest of its slick body up Vetnik’s armored leg, giving little regard for the barbarian’s movements. Before Vetnik could cry out again, the leech sprung into action. The leech unhinged its toothy jaw and, using its tail as an anchor, slung the rest of its body upwards towards Vetnik’s face. With the blades of its jaws exposed, the leech bypassed the opening in Vetnik’s helmet and buried its mouth against his. The others in the party watched in horror as Vetnik’s steed stomped and splashed in a panic. Before the others could come to his aid — and just as the leech began to unleash its razor-sharp proboscis — Vetnik steeled himself and gripped the writhing thing firmly with both hands. With all of his might, he tore the giant leech away from his face. The party watched as the leech’s jaws and proboscis struggled to retain their hold. Bloody cuts from where the leech’s jaws pierced him notwithstanding, Vetnik bore his fingers deep into the boneless black tube and with a light grunt, tore the creature in two! Disgusted, Vetnik immediately drops the leech parts back into the dark bog water; he wiped his beard, now a mix of sweat and blood (both his and the leech’s) and launched a hearty spit into the water. He had clearly had his fill of the sensual offenses found in the Moors. ”Let’s keep moving,” he said grimly. The said not a word, and did as they were told.
Vetnik’s encounter with the bog leech aside, the ride itself was uneventful and continued on in relative silence. Things began to look brighter, literally, as the last hour of the ride approached. The thick canopy of trees thinned, allowing for larger rays of sunshine to shine down upon the party. Patches of brighter green lay sprinkled throughout the fields of fetid peat and moss.
”Just a couple more miles,” Grum languidly reported back to the others from the front of the march.
The last hour through the Moors, another leech attempts to swim up through the marsh and attach itself to Moira. Thom draws his bow back but falls from his horse. Grum leaps off his horse to protect his brother but stumbles, messing up his shot. Moira is startled but quickly cuts the leech in half from atop her horse. Now they find themselves at the edge of the Dim Forest. The group settles to camp and Moira takes up first watch. The night goes by smoothly, undisturbed by anything.
On the second day of travel, the party saddles up and rides through the Dim Forest. No encounters. The day is not eventful, and the party sets up camp at the edge of the plain. The third day, they travel quietly together through the abandoned plains and near the city of Orlane through the West. Signaling their entry, Thom sounds a triumphant drum beat. The first thing they notice is people being social on the streets, a complete contrast to the atmosphere before they got there.
“Help strangers, what brings you here?” they look shaken?
“We found two of your lost souls” Thom, showing off the teens. The people sob and cheer for their return. The town seems to be truly free of the Naga’s charm. While the crowd is social, they’re discussion are wrought with panic.
“We did it! We freed them! Everyone should be free!” Tri
Thom takes his course to the elves house. He knocks, there’s no answer. The door creaks open slightly. A note is pinned to the table.
“Well met bros, your handiwork has born fruit. We have departed Orlane and have other matters to attend to. We applaud your efforts and can find friendship with the elves of the Dim. Word of your good deeds has traveled there.”
They are met by a pack of guards. “Strangers, the mayor would love to speak with you.” They take them to the familiar mayor’s house that Grum scouted a few nights ago. They meet with the Mayor, his wife, and 2 daughters and 2 older sons.
Thom cracks a joke in their presence, and the family finds the joke hilarious. It’s a welcome respite. “Stranger, your levity brings joy to a somber situation. I know what you’ve done. The Naga lays dead, otherwise my people would not be free. We owe you deepest thanks.”
“You do, but you owe more to Cirll.” Th
“O my, I will insure she’s taken care of. Is her family?”
“We’re looking into that. We left her with elves.”
“There were elves in town?”
“Then I must pay them my respects as well.”
“I apologize to any brusk treatment you received from my charmed guards. Tell me, how did you come to know our plight.”
“Gelnar came to us in Greyhawk.”
“Greyhawk?! Oh my, allow me to bestow an honor. If you have a few hours, allow us to make the honor.”
“We really don’t.” Lys whispered.
“No need, mayor. Just doing our job” Gru
“We are people of honor, we serve those who are weak.” Mo
“Gather your strong men, go beneath the GGI and into the Temple and retrieve the statues. Use the funds to rebuild your village.” Th
“I intend to, and will be sending men through the Moors to extinguish any lingering threats in the lair.”
“Sure, I’ll make you a map with directions.”
“Absolutely. Give me 2 hours, we’ll assemble a crier. “ The mayor orders a servant and departs with his thanks.
“One more request sir, an appraiser for our found gems.”
“Of course, go to the jeweler and money changer. He can help you.” He scribes a note for Thom and thom responds with a bow.
“To a brighter Orlane, Mayor.”
Grum and Thom goes and sees a heavy set man, balding, at the counter. Counting coins with 2 guards in leather armor in the room. “Hello, stranger. What can I do for you?”
“I have a fair bit that needs to be appraised.”
“Here’s a list of our fees—“
Thom hands the note. “What’s this?”
“From the mayor” Thom winks.
“Oh…I see. Well then.” He says, sliding the fee plate back in place.
Thom places his gems down and the changer has good news, telling them the gems and jewelry is worth $$$$$. Thom dumps 13k copper down to change, much to the frustration of the changer. After changing, he bids Thom and Grum a bitter adieu.
Vetnik, Moira, and a distant Lyssa head to the stables while Trisoll explores the rest of Orlane. After tying the horses, they gather in the town square. People have begun to gather early.
“Ppl of Orlane, take heed of the kindness of strangers. PPl who answered the clarion call for help, they freed our town of the terror of the Naga. Unselfishly. I want to recognize everyone individually. Please, step forward!”
All but Lyssa step forward and asks them by name.
“Vetnik Talthraudii, I offer you title of Protector of Orlane” hands Vetnik a medal fashioned of electrum. Repeats the process for Moira.
“Hi!” Grum says. “I’m Grum!”
“You are now Grum, protector of Orlane!”
“I’m the Blade!” Thom says. “Dim Razor, protector of Orlane!”
“As a token of my personal appreciation, I present my own longsword to you. Given to me by uncle, a great paladin who used it in service of his god. I have little need for it, this should go to someone of worth.”
Vetnik takes it and holds on to it. “It is called Suffering’s End,” the mayor informs.
Neveen arrives and greets everyone with a great smile. Meats and pastries pass through the humble gathering. Grum votes to stick around and hang out, Lyssa is visibly over it and wants to go home. Grum gets slightly buzzed and finds himself a nice, yet hesitant, farmhand to flirt with. “It’s OK, I’ve never done this before either.” Grum fibs. Thom is drinking conservatively and buddies up with the mayor and the blacksmiths, discusses design notes on the statue for Cirilli.
“I would’ve never thought of this, celebrating our own in freeing themselves as well is a remarkable point!” They make their way back to the ISS late at night, for stays free of charge. Grum takes a room of his own with the farmhand. Thom looks around for lasses of his own. He’s not picky, and finds quite a few ladies. He attempts to woo a pair for the evening, and succeeds!
“The mask always stays on” he says wooing one of them.
Lyssa is still visibly annoyed and forgoes partying with the others and retreats into her room, alone.
In the morning, they awaken in their rooms alone. Grum is hungover, while Thom is slightly groggy. Everyone else is fine. Thom heads out to buy more horses and padded saddle bags and ditches the cart.
Together, they head through the Rushmoors again making their way to the Gran March without incident. On the left, they see the Dim Forest edging up their way on the left. Lyssa finds 2 rare plant life for potions/polstices before clearing the Moors entirely. They enter the Gran March and camp in the plains. In the first hour, the most delicious odor hits their nose. They follow the path, and they see a man eating the most awesome food. He pays the group no mind as they ride past.
“Smells good, bro!” Tri
“It is good!”
In the 5th hour, they see a small caravan of fighters heading north, rolling up behind. The group scoots by as they roll by. “To the games!”
Grum smirks and leers at the dashing knights, “Those are some games I want to head to.”
The quarter moon flickered high above in a dark, cloudless sky. The openness of the Gran March plains was a pleasant and expansive. Everything about it was a welcome contrast to their travels in the Rushmoors. The party made their camp and slept easy in the open grassiness of the plains, their bodies snuggling under their sleeping bags with every passing cool breeze. As the moon began its slow descent from midnight, Lyssa took watch over the camp.
Lyssa sees a very hairy man stumbling through the night. He approaches. cautiously. “I need help quickly.” There’s a small gecko on his shoulder.
“I’ve been robbed, they’re using my book as precious book as kindling. “
“My name is Uthar,”
“Just be quiet. “
“Down there!” The raiders throw the unwanted things in the fire. Lyssa extinguishes the fire magically, causing them to panic. She turns the flame into a pillar of flame and shocks the group .
“You will be handsomely rewarded if you save my spell book!”
The raiders turn and fire their bows and stick the levitating mage. The first arrow grazes her but the second shoots in her stomach. Full of rage, she turns the pillar of fire into choking cloud using Pyrotechnics. Two of the men are blinded, but the third
The third takes a blind shot and breaks a rib, stunning Lyssa and breaking off the levitation. Enraged and losing blood, Lyssa sends forth a burning hands spell, incinerating the last two men. She collapses to the ground.
Uthar runs over and asks to help. He runs the opposite to get his spell book and runs to the camp.
Thom wakes and sees Lyssa is gone. He casts invisibility over himself, nudges Grum.
Thom starts to scout the area. He sees an old man running down the wizard.
“Help, the female mage, she’s badly hurt!”
Moira wakes “WHICH WAY?!”
“Down the road, by the ravine.”
Moira jets off with Thom rushing after. Uthar stands, bewildered and helpless. “She’s badly hurt, can she help her? “Jingo, calm down!” He orders the gecko running across his head. “May I rest here for a moment?”
He laments over the turn pages of his book.
Moira runs down and sees Lyssa. “This is gonna sting!” She rips the arrow out and places a healing hand upon her.
“Are you OK?”
“I wanna go home.”
“Why did go alone?!”
“I…” she passes out.
Moira picks her up, carrying Lyssa’s unconscious body in her hands. Vetnik and Grum run up the road behind Thom. Thom sneaks past and investigates the raider camp. Back at the camp, the raiders struck an exhausted Uthar, who was completely depleted of spells.
“She’s real bad, we have to get her to Trisoll asap!” Mo
Vetnik takes Lyssa and rushes back.
“Where is your brother, Grum?”
“Did you check the camp?”
“Just a bunch of thugs. Only found a few of the old man’s pages. Three of them seem to be fine, another is partially burned.”
Vetnik rolls up to Trisoll and Uthar talking. “Lys, is she ok?!”
He holds her unconscious body, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” and gives her +8
“I’m glad you can help, I couldn’t live with myself if someone died over this.” Uthar explains he’s a truly powerful wizard in travel, who got robbed while gone of spells.
“Where are you heading?” Vet
“Valuna, what about you?” Uth
“We’re on the road to our next stop!” Th says, vaguely.
“I owe you for the bravado of your companion. If there’s any way I can help you travel…let me check my book!”
He thumbs through and cries out as he does, seeing how destroyed the book his. Thom floats the pages to him, and he rejoices! “Yes, yes, ahhh! If you tell me your destination, I can take you there!”
Vetnik looks to Thom to level with the old mage.
“Greyhawk!” Trisoll cries out. “Greyhawk, you think you can help us out with that?”
“Yes, yes of course. If I didn’t have my book. I owe this young lady a debt of gratitude that will be repaid.”
Uthar rolls up a page and places the scroll in Lyssa’s belt. “Gather your things, this will take me a few minutes to gain the magic. Please, watch over me.”
Uthar meditates, and asks the group to visualize their destination. A bright flash of light and they feel themselves transported to the city gates of Greyhawk. 1,000s of miles traversed in seconds. The teleport spell shocks Lyssa out of her slumber.
“How long was I out for?” Lys
“A couple hours. The man you saved, Uthar. He was true to his word, he gave you the scroll and teleported us back here!” Mo
“To the manor, then?” Thom says “And Lys, when I said be frugal with that brooch, I didn’t mean to be that frugal!”
The group stands at the gates, the early hours of morning approaching. The town is quiet at 4:30 am, and together they head through the town to Pimpleton Manor. Trisoll leads the party inside and sees the parlor empty, the fire at a low roar. Gibbs the bear smells the party and walks down the hall, bellowing and signaling their return.
“George!” Lyks calls out.
“Yes sir, right away sir.” George rushes down, rejoicing at the sight. “You’re back, you’re all back!”
Thud, thud, thud. “Oh, you all didn’t kill each other.” Lyks jokes, arriving in full Druidic vestments.
“There were attempts.” Lyks
“Uncle, the people of Orlane are free.” Mo
“A naga. We defeated a naga!”
“George, prepare a breakfast. I want to hear everything.”
Real food smells fill the house. Together they all sit down.
“I’m going to my room.” Lys
“Nonono, you come back!” Lyks
“Lyssa, head upstairs.” Moir
“I understand Lyssa has changed in our time together, there was a time though early on in our travel… she hurt people. But I don’t believe it is her. I know that there’s something good in her.”
“Yeah, she spat butterflies!” Th jokes
Lyks digests it silently. “So, a Naga, huh?”
“Naga, and we ran afoul of a dungeon in Enstad.”
“How’d you make it out?”
“Elven sisters, one who was serving time for helping humankind. Her sister, a jail attendant.”
“I’m aware of the queen.”
“And the queen is aware of the Black bros lineage.”
Vetnik lowers his head.
“What did you tell her?”
“I told her that… they’re her grandchildren!” Vet
“That info may be a bit sensitive.” Lyks
“It was a faux pas, but that crazy old hag of a grandmother would’ve found out any way. She would’ve thrown us in jail regardless.” Th
“She never even spoke to us. She spoke through a scribe, Tvylouss.”
“He sucked, I don’t like that guy.” Tr
The twins stay with Lyks to talk as well as Tris. Moira goes home to see Vortis, and Venik takes his leave to explore Greyhawk. Lyssa sleeps alone.
“Good to see you dad,” Tr hugging Lyks.
“I’m glad you made it back safely.”
“Me too. I’m not too proud to say I was scared, but everyone really pulled together to make it happen.”
“That’s why I wanted to talk to you 3 first.”
Entering his private chamber, in a display case is a crystal orb, blackened and dimmed. The party sit around the table. They all indulge in Lyks’ private stock of spirits and talk.
“Given that you all made it back alive, and no one killed each other”
“Lyssa and Moira had their moments”
“Moira found something troubling about her.
And you let her in my house!”
“Dad, there’s good in her. you don’t understand, there’s something else.”
“What is it then?”
“We need to help her then. She saved a man’s life, alone.”
“Quiet, how do you expect to save someone who doesn’t want to be save.”
“Trust me, dad.”
“I have witnessed some strange mishaps in her spell casting.” Th
“her spells were going nuts” Tr “She needs training.”
“Funny you bring it up. I went to the Mage’s guild and talked to the head. Their grounds are open and accepting new students. But first, we need to figure out what’s wrong with the situation.”
“Of course, thank you! I promise, it’ll be worth it! We’ll get a tutor for her, everything will work out.”
“Fine. As for you, brothers Black.”
“Yes, Master Lyks” Th
“I have some things lined up for you guys. Perhaps you’re interested in weapon craft. I’m allowing you access to my warehouse, to craft what you need.
“Moira will be happy to try her hand at steel! She wants to honor her father” Tr
“Also, I would hope you guys keep the peace.” Lyk
“They did a great job! Sneaky, pulling traps, don’t be modest, they were impressive!” Tr
“I have lined up a contact a tutor for Lyssa, as well as you two. I thought those contacts to aid you both, enlisting with the Bard’s Association.”
“It’s an honor. I’m glad we didn’t let you down” Th
“I’m very proud.” Lyks
Twins leave. Father and son stay. “I want to get some tutoring. I think it would help you. There’s also a letter for you.”
Trisoll bolts the room excited.
Hours pass. Lyssa stays in her room. Vetnik returns to a happy Lyks. They discuss the difficulties of the journey but that Lyks is sure Isygrad would be proud. He pulls out a pouch, a new supply of sleep powder. Vetnik is jazzed.
Moira returns after spending the afternoon with her father. Nice to hear his approval and pride over her. She knows Drayden is proud as well.
“I’m proud too”
“I tried to keep everyone on the right path. Not everyone follows my ethos though. The brothers are godless but capable.”
“The brothers are spectacular, as are you.”
“I have a lot to live up to.”
“That’s why I’m here. I’ve given up a lot.”
“have you spoken with Lyssa yet?”
“I’m not going to hobble all the way upstairs”
“She’ll come down for me.”
Moira knocks. Opens up.
“I’m glad to see you getting rest.”
“Are you saying I look tired.”
“No, just all that you’ve been through. Lyks would like to speak with you.”
“Why, to chastise me more?”
“No, we just want to help.”
“Help? I’ve been hearing that since I got here. Trisoll, Lyks, you! In the month I’ve been with you I’ve been attacked near death, out of control of my magic. Maybe it’s you people who are the problem!”
“Lyssa, I… I promised to help you and I intend to keep that promise. Will you come down.”
With her spell book tucked in her belt, Lyssa followed Moira downstairs through the manor to meet with Zemilay in his private study. Moira tapped on the door as she opened, signaling her arrival (and her manners.) ”Uncle?” she called out, entering the cozily lit study. Zemilay sat alone, in front of him rested an glass filed with the remnants of elvish brandywine. Further out on the table, the polished black quartz orb continued to rest undisturbed in its tall, ornate brass holder.
”Enter,” he replied, tapping the butt of his gnarled staff lightly against the ground. Moira did as she was told and stepped lightly into the study, with Lyssa straggling behind. Moira, arms at her side, tipped her head slightly and smiled warmly at Zemilay before standing back to allow Lyssa to enter the druid’s view. Her arms crossed and jaw clenched, Lyssa stood at the head of the table before Lyks as uncomfortable as ever — much to Zemilay’s dissatisfaction. He gripped his gnarled wooden staff and slowly rose to greet the two women. Across the table, as Lyks rose, something arrested both his and Lyssa’s attention immediately. The smoky threads running through the black quartz orb resting on the table began to flicker and surge with currents of white light. The flashes were subtle at first but noticeable. Zemilay watched the orb flicker, his brow furrowing with a mix of curiosity and concern. Lyssa slowly turned her head to watch, and as she did, the bursts of light became more brilliant. Moira stood by and watched with concerns of her own as Zemilay slowly turned to see Lyssa standing, her body relaxed and transfixed by the flashing lights. Lyssa glanced up from the orb for a moment and noticed that no longer were the others in the room fixated on the light, but herself!
”What?” Lyssa asked, backing away from the table.
Moira sheepishly approached the mage, balancing her gaze between Lyssa and Zemilay cautiously. ”That orb doesn’t usually glow… at all!”
”Both of you, sit,” Zemilay ordered, his tone eerily calm. Moira did as she was asked and took her seat across from Zemilay. It was hard for her not to pay mind to the orb, whose flickering only seemed to brighten and increase. Lyssa began to make her way to a seat beside Moira, but the orb’s pull was strong. Lyssa paused and continued to gaze deep into the currents of light undulating within the crystal ball.
”What is this?” Lyssa asked, approaching the table (and the orb.)
”I’m not entirely sure,” Zemilay began, creeping towards the young mage. ”What I do know is that it is mine, hard won in a quest ages ago. When you two were but small children.”
”What does it do?” Lyssa asked, leaning towards the orb for a closer look.
”It usually sits and does nothing but serve as an ornament.”
Lyssa briefly turned her attention away from the orb, the standoffish expression she entered with now replaced by a relaxed and almost devious demeanor. “Purely decorative, eh? Didn’t figure you one for sentimental trinkets,”_ she quipped.
Zemilay scowled, and throwing caution away, moved closer to the girl. ”That trinket, as you so blithely put it, helped to put a curse on my family. Your sensitivity is appreciated.” Lyssa’s defiantly rolled her eyes and returned to watching the light show within the crystal orb. Moira’s body and expression seized up with tension as she slowly lifted herself from her seat. ”I had arranged for a tutor for you at The Mage’s Guild, given the regard your companions seem to have for you. Your overwhelming brazenness had me curious ever since you stepped foot into my home. How does a girl from the middle of the Furyondy plains arrive, so entitled and with such a curious knack for magic?”
”Divine providence,” Lyssa muttered back sarcastically, ”or shit luck.”
”Everyone here seems to have faith in you but me,” Zemilay revealed as he made an effort to separate Lyssa from the orb.
”She’s done good, uncle! We’ve all seen it—“ Moira cried out in her companion’s defense. Zemilay rose his hand to hush the impassioned paladin, his eyes still on Lyssa. Moira silenced herself and was cautious to speak out of turn again.
”I’ve opened my home to a stranger,” Zemilay continued while Lyssa’s eyes continued to frustratedly dart between the elder druid and the glowing orb. ”My son revealed to me most disturbing news from your journey. News I think you had best sit down for.”
”I prefer to stand right now.”
”Bayerton, I found it while you all were away. I did some digging of my own, to see if the tale of this poor young girl abandoned by her mother here in Greyhawk added up. It’s true, you do have a mother. Violetta, banished from Bayerton after you tried to burn your fellow villagers once they discovered your macabre interests. There was another, Martra, a witch who had also been exiled from the town decades earlier. Does her name ring any familiarity in you?”
”Yes! Both left me to fend for myself.”
”They both left you because you were… are dangerous!”
The air around Lyssa’s body began to rapidly heat with every revelation Zemilay made. Her eyes welled as she recalled the feelings of abandonment each of the aforementioned women burdened her with. ”Stop!”
”Tell me, Moira. How do you feel about someone like that? Is your faith still so sure?”
”Is all of this true?” Moira asked, her voice still soft with compassion.
”Yes, and what of it?!” Lyssa bit back.
”Moira herself has detected evil in you!” An immediate and shared expression of shock crossed both women’s faces.
”You… you think I’m…” Lyssa began, choking on her words as she processed all the revelations laid out by Zemilay. ”You think I’m evil?”
Moira immediately stood and approached, palms up and pleading, ”No! No, it’s not like that!” Both Zemilay and Moira could feel Lyssa’s aura as they neared her. The invisible coils of chaotic energy that surrounded her body warmed with rapid intensity. Behind Lyks, the orb too seemed to react to Lyssa’s stress. The currents of light flickered more and more rapidly with growing visibility! ”I wondered at first,” Moira continued, ”and I definitely felt something. As the weeks went on though, I saw a change in you. We all did!”
”You smile in my face and call me friend now, yet you’ve harbored this fear of me the entire time? What kind of paladin keeps such secrets from her so-called friend!”
”Lyssa, no! You must understand—“
Lyssa’s temper cooled for a moment of uncharacteristic vulnerability. ”Out of everyone, even Trisoll, I trusted you the most,” she revealed.
THUD! Zemilay banged his staff against the floor, frustrated by the back and forth between the two women. ”Unfortunately, child, I do not trust you.” Lyssa’s tearful expression returned to its usual fiery intensity. With flared nostrils and a clenched jaw, she continued to stare menacingly at Moira. The air in the room was now unusually heated. As Zemilay spoke, Moira noticed the candle wax trickle and melt more rapidly while the fires in the study seemed to extend slowly without cause. Zemilay continued, ”as faithful and trustworthy as my niece may be, I must do what is best for my house. Your temperament is one I seriously question—“ Before Zemilay could finish and without warning, Lyssa darted towards the flickering orb, reaching out to grab it. Zemilay proved to be more spry than his lame gait as he quickly pushed himself between the orb and the mage. At the table, Moira looked away and saw the once smoke-black orb was now burning with strobing white light.
”Back off!” Lyssa growled as her familiar chaotic gaze appeared. Her eyes flashed a red glow and with a wave of her hand she did her best to subdue Zemilay in place. Lyssa’s power over gravity seemed to take little effect on the much more experienced Zemilay. His body jerked towards the ground for a brief moment, but he steadied himself on his staff with ease. ”The orb calls to me!” Lyssa hissed, realizing her attempting at manipulating Zemilay’s personal gravity failed. Meanwhile, George Pimpleton was making his rounds through the house and was well on his way to check in on Zemilay. As he neared the door, George could feel the intense heat radiating even outside of the study. He placed his hand upon the brass knob and could feel the unusual warmth carried through it.
”Master Lyks,” George called out as he rushed through the door.
”Moira! George! Get her out of here now!” Zemilay barked as he took notice of the changing environment of the room. Both George and Moira did their best to grab at the mage, but she seemed to move with a remarkable agility. George stumbled to the ground as she rushed past Moira and Zemilay towards the wildly flaring crystal ball.
Immediately as Lyssa placed her hand upon the flickering orb, the light within flared with a solid brightness. The mage’s mind swelled and drowned under a siege of foreboding sounds of some alien place. The noises filling her mind were violent and overwhelming, an amalgam of frenzied sonic elements crashing together to create a deafening storm. Suddenly, a voice cut through the chaos of sensorial tempests. It said with a clear and booming echo:
”THIS IS YOUR LEGACY. THIS IS THE EYE OF MODIUS!”
With the utterance of the mysterious name, Lyssa was suddenly thrown out of the chaotic realm and back into reality as some unseen force ripped her person from the orb. That same force flung the mage’s body against a nearby bookshelf, and as Lyssa’s unconscious body slumped to the floor, the orb that strobed so wildly in her presence had immediately returned to its cloudy black state. The air of the room had also immediately returned to its original temperature, and the flames of the fireplace and candles had calmed. Moira rushed to her companion’s side and kneeled beside her, scooping her up into her arms. Zemilay looked at the orb and noticed it was once more an blackened crystal ball.
_”Shall I take her to her room,” Moira softly asked her mentor, cradling the unconscious mage in her arms. Transfixed by the now blackened orb resting on his table, Zemilay took a moment to respond. ”Uncle?” Moira asked again less patiently.
Zemilay darted his head down towards the two women and immediately fired back with an expression most severe. _”Anywhere but here,” he commanded. Moira knew better than to argue with her chosen uncle, especially when his tone was as grave as it was. Moira nodded silently and propped the unconscious mage up. Together, the pair quickly vacated Zemilay’s study.
”Master Lyks,” George nervously began, moving aside to let the two young women leave.
”Leave me, George,” Zemilay commanded as he took a seat at his table. George said nothing back, and in a similar fashion to Moira, nodded his head in silent obedience and left the study without a word. George quietly closed the door to the study and left Zemilay alone. The sound of burning candle wicks and kindling in the fireplace were the only company left as Zemilay sat alone once more at his grand oak table, his eyes unmoving from the mysterious spherical void.
Elsewhere in Greyhawk, the Brothers Black took their leave of the local bathhouse. Their afternoon was one spent in much-deserved relaxation (with Grum getting an additional helping hand from one of the house’s strong caretakers!) Freshly bathed, the pair made their way beyond the warehouse district to the Greyhawk bazaar, which was steady in its activity. Textile and metal fineries, strange and exotic fruits and vegetables, and handcrafted weapons from all over the realm populated the booths here. The boys silently reminisced to themselves and remembered what it was like to run as boys through the aisles while their parents were bound to their offices. The time they spent in Greyhawk as children was short, but the worldly items found within the bazaar had always captivated the twins. While Grum meandered about, rifling through bladed weapons, his brother was more focused in his search. Thom soon came upon a booth that was tented off from the others, draped in exotic tapestries. Grum waited outside as Thom entered, holding his satchel close to his side as he did so. Minutes later, Thom returned without a word, his satchel much less full than before.
”How much did the horn go for?” Grum asked casually.
”Enough for a few pints. Shall we?” his brother replied. Grum shrugged and together, the boys continued onwards to the New Hope neighborhood of Greyhawk — formerly known as the den of crime, Blood Alley.
The businesses in Newhope were steady for the afternoon. Newhope was now a hotspot for tourists and citizens alike, who all came to indulge in something lighthearted. Most lively of the businesses was a thin yet tall building, its exterior brick painted a vibrant crimson. The sounds of awe and laughter from inside poured onto the streets as they approached. The wooden sign above read in gilded letters: ”Welcome… FRIENDLY STRANGERS CABARET” The twins smiled at each other as they made their way in.
Inside, the lighting was dim, with only the lantern-lit stage at the front of the house and daylight peaking in from the curtained windows offering up details of the crowd. Rows of tables were filled with the afternoon audience: a mix of visitors from neighboring cities, jovial locals, and daytime drunks with enough coin to spare all huddled together along benches and tables. On the stage, a thin, tan man decked out in exaggeratedly exotic costuming and body paint danced and posed across from a tall, clay urn. As the dancer stretched and moved, a serpent slowly began to rise from the urn. Its body was massive and adorned with an intricately scaled hood that widened as the dancer approached. The giant snake hissed and opened its mouth to a gaping expanse, revealing a pair of dripping, razor sharp fangs. The twins reclined against the bar and watched the captive audience recoil in horror as the painted performer drew closer towards the cobra’s mouth, and slowly placed his head between its jaws. The performer lifted his hands and stood completely still, his head neck deep in the cobra’s mouth. The triumphant pose set off an eruption of applause from the audience! Things had certainly not changed here at the Friendly Strangers Cabaret.
Further down the bar was a table of young, unaccompanied women. A figure stood above them, regaling them with what the boys assumed to be a most amusing (if not off-color tale, judging by some of the ladies’ blushing expressions.) The boys honed in closer and saw that it was no mere man, but a man outfitted in metal from head to tow. Even the mustache he twirled between his metallic, hinged fingers was made of gold!
”Tic!” the boys called out in unison. The metal man looked up from the giggling maidens and immediately excused himself from their table side.
“With my own two eyes, the Black brothers have returned to Greyhawk!” the metal man said to the sound of gears smoothly churning. ”You’re both so tall!” he said in a warm, yet tinny voice.
”Tic-Toc, old man,” Thom cheered, banging his fist playfully against the automaton’s armored shoulder.
”How in blazes are you?” Grum continued, banging away at the opposite shoulder.
”I’m wonderful, even better now that you two are here! Come, let us get you boys a drink!” Tic-Toc replied, waving down a nearby barkeep. ”How did you like the show?” he asked while the barkeep quickly set two cups of ale down upon the bar.
“It was marvelous.” Thom answered as his brother took an early sip.
“Theres a letter for them here from the mayor. Would you like it.”
Tic Toc gives it to them, the letter indicates that their mother is having a street named after her. Morgana Way. The twins propose that they forge the documents to go and attend in their parent’s absence.
Departing the town square, Vetnik had made his way through the bazaar. There, his fingers and eyes traced across the many tables displaying a variety of silks, trinkets, and weapons delivered to Greyhawk from all over Oerth. The Granrudian Ice Barbarian may have been a prince, but was royal in title only. The extravagance of the bazaar was cross-cultural and balanced by the relaxed nature of the vendors and buyers. He savored seeing the eclectic offerings all brought together in one place, a rare sight in his distant kingdom to the far North. He had earned his first coin in Orlane and saw so much to consider spending it on — a new lance, perhaps, or a new wolf pelt to replace the one so dirtied in his travels. The calm of his stroll was shook by a frantic sight moving quickly at the edge of the bazaar towards the Church of Cortox.
”Moira?” he asked himself, focusing on the figures moving through the distance. Stepping away from the nameless booth, he hastily made way towards the temple. His soft blue eyes focused and saw them. It was indeed Moira, with flaxen hair billowing and bouncing with ever rushed step. Her sure and tall frame no longer adorned with the Paladin’s armor. Buckled under her arm, with her boot tips dragging against the cobblestone streets, was the waifish mage, Lyssa. Her auburn hair wrapped and dangled down her unmoving face. Vetnik worried of what possible trouble the mage could have gotten herself wrapped up in again as the distance between the three closed. ”Moira!” he called out as the three approached the broad stone steps of the church. Moira whipped her flaxen hair around and revealed a usual expression where it concerned her intense companion: worry.
Vetnik called out to his panicked friend, ”Where are you going?!”
Moira struggled at first to balance her attention between the approaching Vetnik and adjusting the unconscious mage in her keep. ”Lyks cast her out,” she began to explain as she hurriedly ascended the broad stone steps of the temple. ”The orb in Lyks’ study, she… it started glowing and she touched it and then…”
”What orb? Is Lyssa—“
The trio gathered at the grand, oaken doors of the temple, each of which were embellished with a constellation of bronzed metal stars — symbolic of the pieces of the once-sundered God and his avatars. Moira held Lyssa close to her side as she frantically banged the geometric metal knocker against the thick wooden door. “I do not know,” Moira began to explain in a tone of forced calm, ”the orb flickered in her presence and—” She darted her eyes back to the doors as they slowly (and loudly) creaked open. Standing in the doorway was a young man, a monk whose habit denoted his devotion to Cortox.
”Can I help you?” the young man asked.
Moira steeled herself in the presence of the holy brother. Adjusting the shining metal sigil dangling across her chest, she announced herself: _”I am Moira Steelshaper. Sworn Paladin to His holiness the once-sundered Cortox, and daughter of Drayden Steelshaper! This woman needs aid!”
The monk’s expression expanded from curiousity to immediate recognition (the Steelshaper name was revered as legendary in the church after all!) ”Yes, yes, come in at once!” the monk said rushing the trio in. _”My lady, what ails her?” he asked, leading them down past the pews towards the main altar, where sisters and worshippers lit candles and laid offerings of coin and freshly picked flowers in silence. The monk whispered to a nearby sister, and after a very brief discussion, the sister lead the others out of the altar room.
”I need,” Moira said, pausing for a moment to conjure the words and calm herself down, “I need you to check her for… other presences.”_
Both Vetnik and the monk shared immediate mutual looks of confusion. ”What are you getting at?” Vetnik asked, placing his hand on the paladin’s shoulder.
Moira took a deep breath and did her best to remain calm and collected, or appear as such any way. ”Nothing else makes sense to me! Back at the manor, when she touched that orb she made some kind of connection. However brief it was, it was potent!”
”What are you saying, Moira?”
”I’m not sure… whatever hints of evil I detected from Lyssa over the past few weeks, I felt all at once when she touched that orb. Something else is afoot, Vetnik, and I sense her struggling. There is something else to her madness and I must be certain of what it is!”
”I,” Vetnik began, squeezing Moira’s shoulder gently, ”I trust you.”