The Legacy of Heroes

Restless Knights


The moon hung high over Orlane, and cast barely a light over the small, quiet village behind the clouds that gathered around it. Stars flickered here and there, but such a cloudy night left much of the town veiled in night. The few that were out carried with them lanterns, while the occasional house burned candles and lamps that floated in the inky darkness of the evening. Many members of the party felt uneasy in the darkness of the small town. Moira and Trisoll had both grown up in the almost non-stop buzz of urban life in Greyhawk, and the Twins knew the darkness here and there from adolescent adventures but had always been comforted by a pair of loving parents through such ominous hours. It was Lyssa though, who knew this kind of darkness far too well. That darkness that concealed the sight but seemed to silence as well, taking away the joy or pain from a village and leaving it mute. Much of her youth in Bayerton had been blanketed in this foreboding darkness, and yet even in womanhood, nights like these still felt unsettling.

Vetnik, though accustomed to harsh isolated environments, had still grown up in a kingdom full of family and servants. With a brave face and alert senses, he had separated himself from the rest of the pack and journeyed north into town. Across a small bridge stood yet another inn, much more humble in presence. Outside, a slender old woman stood lighting the last of her lanterns. Above her hung the sign for the Inn of the Slumbering Serpent: a red dragon whose tired, content head rested on its paws. The old woman blew out her wick and turned to see the ironclad barbarian, his coal black armor and thick blonde beard hiding a gentle countenance. She pulled her thin lips taught together as she smiled, her rosy cheeks rising up to her gentle old eyes. Vetnik smiled back and gentled nudged his steed forward and continued closer towards the inn.

”Hello, traveler! You can lash your horse up to the posts here if you wish.” the old woman beckoned as Vetnik neared the inn. From atop his horse, Vetnik took a quick look at the nearby structures. Closest to the inn stood a sturdy farmhouse, whitewashed with candles visibly burning in the windows. Further north stood a less than impressive sight, a well-built farmhouse with boarded doors and windows with a barn in similar neglect. Returning his eyes to the old woman, Vetnik began to dismount and lead his horse closer to the inn on foot.
”Evening, milady,” Vetnik greeted as he slid off his helmet and bowed his head.
”It’s quite late, good sir knight. Come inside, and unwind. My name is Belba. My husband and I own this inn.”
”Many thanks for the hospitality, good woman. How long have you and your husband been in business?”
”We aren’t the oldest in town, but we pride ourselves on being the best,” Belba replied with genuine enthusiasm. ”Would you care for your drink outside or in?” Belba continued, admiring the coordinating armor of adorning himself and his horse, ”We’re more than happy to accommodate someone of your station. Your raiment shows you to be a man of good deeds and honor!”
Vetnik smiled and nodded, overcome by the old woman’s warmth. He continued to lead his horse closer and bound the reigns at the post. Together, Belba gently led the cavalier into the inn.

Inside, Vetnik was met with quite the contrast from his brief visit to Orlane’s other lodge, the Golden Grain Inn. Three fireplaces roared and warmed the cozy common area, and while the volume of patrons was meager for the evening, their discussion was lively and apparently quite humorous (if not a little blue.) A bar stood off to the side, and above it across a wall of empty casks hung a sign of prices more reasonable for tourists and locals alike. The air of the space left Vetnik feeling at ease for the first time since arriving in Orlane (even the paranoid tension at Nowell Graven’s place made for uneasy hospitality at times.) ”A fine lodge you and your husband keep. How many other guests are here?”
”A few this evening,” Belba informed as she tidied up, ”not a full house, only a few.”
”How many beds?”
”Oh, well, there are a pair of rooms available now. One double and another can fit three. And if you’re willing to share a room, stranger, well I’m sure we could offer you a discounted rate.”
Vetnik continued to study the room. Both men sat with their mugs of ale and continued to alternate between hushed debates about “road women” and boisterous laughter. Behind the bar in a nearby kitchen, Vetnik could hear the sounds of routine: dishes being dunked in water, silverware and cups clanging together. ”You said you’ve been here long?”
”Yes, well…”
”Longer than the Golden Grain Inn?”
Belba cheerful disposition relaxed at the sound of the aforementioned inn, but she remained upbeat. ”No, but what we lack in age we make up for in service!”
Vetnik nodded and smiled at her once more, relieved to find someone so welcoming. ”You seem quite… genuine.”
”So nice of you to say,” Belba replied, her smile still wholly fixed across her face. ”Now, can I get you that drink, Sir Knight?”
”Some water’ll do.”
Belba slipped behind the bar as Vetnik perched his heavy armored frame upon a barstool and set his helmet onto the seat beside him. Belba retrieved a metal pitcher of cool river water and poured the knight a cup and gently rested it in front of him. “I’m not from around here, obviously. I do always like to here tales of the town,” Vetnik said before taking a sip.
“I don’t like to gossip, but business has been down,” Belba divulged, her smile now more relaxed as she spoke, -“not everyone is as welcoming as they once were. I don’t like to speak ill, but it isn’t the same. Can I get you something to eat?”_
“No,” Vetnik replied as he pushed his cup forward for a refill, ”but do tell me, who has been unkind?”
“Oh, well, not to us personally, but… Oralne is not as welcoming as it once was.”
“Did you notice… do you feel like this happened along with something?”
“Oh no no, it was a slow decline.”

From the kitchen, an older man emerged with a cup of wine in hand. His entrance seemed to divert the pleasant innkeeper’s attention from Vetnik. Belba waved the man over and was visibly eager to introduce him to Vetnik. ”Good knight, this is my husband Ollwin!” Ollwin was a slender and aged man, moreso than his kindly wife. The one youthful black and his beard had nearly entirely greyed. As he approached Vetnik, the deep brown orbs that sat recessed underneath thin, tired lids and bushy pepper-colored brows beamed with excitement.
As he inspected and admired Vetnik’s char-black armor, he began: ”Oh my, a knight in our fair inn! How good to have you, sir! It’s been quite awhile since one stepped foot in Orlane, let alone our humble lodge, and of such stature. May I interest you in the last of our house special?”
”No, your wife has been most kind to keep my cup full though.” Vetnik declined politely.
Belba smiled back at her husband, who continued to be in a quiet, boyish awe of Vetnik. She patted Ollwin on the shoulder and continued to watch the men’s exchange.
”Do you have a name, good sir knight?” Ollwin asked.
”Tret,” Vetnik replied, recalling his alias advised to him by the Black brothers.
”Tret! Your armor is so unique, what order do you answer to?” Ollwin continued to pry.
Vetnik took another sip of water and smiled. Without hesitation or hint of dishonesty, he responded, ”The Order of the Wolf.”
Ollwin smiled back and extended his hands forward, unable to contain his admiration any further. ”I welcome you, sir knight! If you like any food or drink, let me extend a discount worthy of your station!” Belba kissed her preoccupied husband on the cheek and nodded at Vetnik to excuse herself as she tended to the other patrons of the bar. Ollwin continued, ”I must finish cleaning in the back, but if there’s anything you need for the night—“
Vetnik sipped the last of his water and set his cup aside. Standing, with his helmet under hand, he stood at the bar for one final pleasantry. ”Much appreciated. Good eve to you sir, and your sweet wife as well. I must be on my way though.”
”No room for the night then?” Ollwin asked.
”Not now, but many thanks.”
Belba returned from the tables of the common area to see Vetnik off, sharing in her husband’s disappointed expression. ”Well, if you need one Sir Tret, I’ll leave the bell out. Just ring it at any time and I will be down to greet you!”
Vetnik tipped his head at their servitude and placed his helmet back on, which seemed to only incite more wonder in the kindly innkeepers. Vetnik shot them a parting smile and made his way back to his steed.

In the East of Orlane, the rest of the party from Greyhawk gathered together off the path, in front of a small but polished cottage, per Grum’s enthusiastic beckoning. Whomever continued to live there made sure to keep up appearances, as the exterior maintained a fresh coat of white wash and the gardens surrounding seemed to be fruitful. Through the thick linen of one window’s curtains, the party could see the faint glow of a lantern burning. Grum waited eagerly for their next move, while Thom, Trisoll, and Moira reasoned whether or not to pay the house a visit. Lyssa, in her usual way, stayed back and aloof.
”They might make for good allies,” Thom reasoned to the group, ”if they are elves. I imagine a Naga would have a helluva time trying to charm them, not to mention they’d probably be older and might have seen more.”
”Then let me make the first move,” Moira interjected. The group collectively shot a look of dubiety towards the paladin. She leaned in closer to the twins, and began to reason, ”Would you rather I do it, or an ill-tempered mage?” The twins and Trisoll shrugged and conceded, while her remark elicited a noticeable eye roll from Lyssa. ”Listen, my armor marks my station as a paladin clear as day. Any one who knows of paladins knows the company they’re permitted to keep. Let me talk to them, Cortox knows the people of this town are nervous enough as it is!” The party shrugged in agreement and together, under the cover of night, followed Moira up towards the quiet little cottage. Lyssa, however, stayed back with the mounts and cart. Her interest in mingling with small town strangers had dried up, and so she stayed with the horses and immersed herself in the small, bound-leather book as if reading at night for her was no chore. The book itself was the only one in her possession, and it stood to reason that despite the lack of light, she had already read the volume cover to cover countless times over.

”If we do find them to be worthwhile allies, then I say we drop our pretense. Better to start off on the right foot” Moira suggested as they entered the front yard.
”We could,” Thom hesitated. ”Or perhaps, we keep our names and we feel it out, let them know of our true mission and see how it unfolds.”
”It’s just that… if we hope to strengthen alliances within Orlane, I feel we should be as open and transparent as we can be.” Moira responded, whispering as they neared the cottage porch.
”Paladin, your nobility is refreshing. But with all do respect, my family and I have been at these sort of intrigues for quite awhile now and there’s a time and place for honesty!” Thom continued to debate.
”Hey,” Trisoll spoke up in his usually relaxed manner, ”how about we do what makes us feel comfortable?”
Grum interjected, wary of such a plan of action (or lack thereof), ”Yeah, and if you tell the truth then we have to tell the truth!”
”I just don’t understand the value in lying to people we want to befriend!” Moira continued, trying to reason the virtue in deception. ”How would they even know if we’re from Greyhawk?”
Thom turned around as the party stepped together onto the front porch, and with a hushed and unusually firm tone, he explained, ”Here’s why: if they know anything about us personally, they know how to hurt us personally. That’s how Kr’zzt came for our families, I don’t ever want to have to experience that same kind of torment!”
The rest of the party shuddered at the very mention of the wicked Drow’s name. Moira looked into Thom’s eyes, which even in the dark of night, glistened with a hint of tearful intensity. She bowed her head and conceded to the half-elf, and with their squabble put to rest, Moira moved to the front of the group and gently knocked on the simple wooden door. After a few moments, a set of thin fingers jerked the curtain away from the door’s glass insert. From behind it, a pair of thin, almond-shape eyes surveyed Moira and the others behind her before a voice called out. “What do you want?”
Moira smiled and replied in a soft, gentle voice, ”Hello! My companions and don’t mean to disturb, but do you have a moment to talk?” She titled the holy medallion dangling around her neck closer towards the glass insert, as if to show off her rank.
”I see your sigil, but I’m unfamiliar with it,” the man’s voice barked from behind the door.
”Yes, it’s the symbol of Cortox. The one true god!”
The man from behind the door audibly scoffed, but continued to entertain her, ”Hmph. Will you vouch for the men in your company then, paladin?”
”Of course.”

Slowly, the door creaked open. As it did, Moira and the others could see a traces of a dimly-lit parlor, humbly decorated and brightened with low-burning candles. From behind the door, a small man of slender build and modest dress appeared. In the glow of the candlelit room, they could make out the long extended point of his ears with sandy hair tucked behind them. He was most certainly elf, a full-blooded one at that! Thom and Trisoll bowed as the elf stepped onto the porch. He waved away their formal greeting and quickly lead the party inside. In the candlelit parlor, another full-blooded elf sat quietly in a corner of the room, book in hand and glasses fixed to the bridge of his nose. His hair was blonde, but considerably ashier and thinner than the other elf, which gave him a more mature appearance. The walls of the home were lined with shelves of books, journals, and elven ceramics and bronzes. On a low wooden table, a simple wooden platter rested with an assortment of fruits and elven treats, while a pair of cups filled with hot tea steamed in the candlelight.
”Brother,” the younger elf began, ”this is a paladin of the Cortoxian faith, and her companions.”
The bespectacled elf looked over Moira and her party and, pursing his lips, lowered his eyes back down into his book.
”He is Llywillan, my brother. I am Dorian. You must excuse us, but it’s not often we receive visitors, especially ones from outside of Orlane.”
”I am,” Moira began, forcing herself to abide by their shared intrigue, ”I am Mary. These are my escorts, Tom Blade, Grun, and Mark.”
Llywillan gently lowered his book and rested it on the arm of his chair, making sure to keep the book separated at his stopping point. ”You have our audience, paladin. What is it you want at this hour?”
Moira steeled herself, and with upbeat resolve, she answered, ”We have made some discoveries about your village.”
”Oh? What might those be?”
”What do you know of the Golden Grain Inn?”
Llywillan paused, his mouth slightly open and struggling to mine a response. He leaned in closer, and with an earnest tone, asked, ”A better question, milady, is what do you know of that inn?”
”They’re a bunch of cunts, that’s for sure,” Thom chimed in jokingly. ”Food’s so bad it’ll put you down!”
Worry crossed the younger elf’s face while the elder stayed suspended in suspicion. ”Not what we were expecting. Did you stay?” Dorian asked.
Thom continued, doing his best to remain pleasant amidst the increasing severity of the parlor. ”Heh, well no. I fear if we had we might not have awoken!”
”What else about the Golden Grain Inn did you find inhospitable?” Llywillan asked intently.
”The list of offenses could go on, good sirs,” Thom continued. ”Tell us though, have either of you heard of travelers visiting the inn and not returning?”
The wariness of the Orlanian elves had fully shifted into curiosity. Dorian took a seat while his brother relaxed in his, taking off his glasses and resting them upon a nearby table. He smirked in disbelief as he stood, approaching Thom and the others. ”We’ve heard quite a bit. Tell us though, what else did you find there?”
_”Signs that whoever was running the place might be up to no good? The patrons there were, well, they weren’t terribly interested in being courteous. We found odd things, secret doors, poisoned traps, a maze of tunnels, and some wretched stew!”
Llywillan and Dorian were silent for a moment, taking in the bizarre string of information. Thom and his company stood together, unsure of what mood to make of things. After a few moments of awkward stares and silence, Llywillan’s lips began to relax. ”Heh,” he began with a throaty chuckle, ”hahahaha!” Thom and the others returned the laugh, though still unsure of what to make of the brothers. Llywillan stood and sauntered towards the party, a slight smile forming across his face. ”And tell me, halfblood. How did you and your friends manage to make it through the inn so easily?”
”We have our ways, and our ways are our business,” Grum spoke up, offended by the very term “halfblood.” ”Arrows pointed at people’s heads seem to make them more compliant.”
Llywillan laughed off the young half-elf’s aggressive tone, patting him on the shoulder before moving towards a bookshelf. Perusing a series of self-made journals, he pulled one out and began to thumb through it as he continued to address the party. “We’re pretty sure a cult here in Orlane, working to control the minds of the villagers, including two clerics at the temple of Merikka just north of here.” He sets the journal down, face open to a series of dates and notes scribbled in elven across the pages. ”My apologies to you and your companion, we should have been quicker to trust our own,” Llywillan said, approaching the party once more.
“Understandable,” Thom replied, accepting the apology on both he and his still-perturbed brother. ”There’s quite a bit of madness going on here, we honestly didn’t expect this much hospitality.”
”You’re brothers, yes? Dorian and I are brothers too, we’ve been here a short while doing what we can to find out whatever’s been going on here in Orlane. By ourselves, we’re quite stealthy, but we aren’t the warriors we once were. It’s good to have you lot here.”

”My companions and I will do what we can while we’re here. That said, is anywhere in Orlane safe?”
Llywillan reached down at the table towards the platter of edibles. Taking up an apple for himself, he tossed a pynade at the scowling Grum. Grum looked it over reluctantly at first, but shrugged his disposition away as he dined on the tasty snack. Dorian stood and held the tray out before the rest of the party, who graciously picked on the freshly made honey cakes and pynades as well. ”The Inn of the Slumbering Serpent, if you’d believe it,” Llywillan answered, swallowing a piece of chewed apple. ”That place is clean, and run by good people. They’ll take care of you.”
”It’s quite refreshing to meet fullbloods who don’t look down upon us with such disdain,” Grum exclaimed with sweets still full in his mouth.
_”Oh, have you been to Celene then?” Lllywillan joked, he and his brother chuckling at the very idea. Grum paused and furrowing his brow once more.
Thom quickly began to change the subject, their visit to Enstad still a dour spot in the group’s collective memory. ”Do you know of a man named Gelnar?”
”Why yes, but he’s not been seen for quite some time!” Dorian responded. ”We’ve feared the worst.”
”Rest easy, he is the man who sent for us,” Thom revealed. The elven brothers sighed in mutual relief. ”Corellon’s favor is surely upon that one!” Llywillan cheered. ”Is he well?”
”As well as a man who had his journey can be. Fret not, though. He is safe!” Thom replied. ”And once we find the Naga that has somehow cast a stranglehold of your fair village, rest assured Orlane will be safe once more!”
”Naga?!” the elven brothers questioned, doing their best to stifle their excitement.
”Yes, well, perhaps,” Thom began to explain. ”We found a statue in one of the tunnels beneath the Golden Grain Inn.”
”It’s so much clearer now,” Llywillan murmured to himself.
”Truth be told, it’s why my brother and I were so anxious to meet with you,” Thom continued. ”We knew if anyone would have a chance in a village besieged by some wicked charm, it’d be a coupla elves!”
”You were right to do so!” Llywillan exclaimed. ”Dare I say, boy, you and your friends may have indeed delivered us the missing piece of this entire puzzle!”

Suddenly, a hearty knock rumbled the front door. Together, the party and their hosts seized up, unsure of who could be paying them such a forceful visit!
”Did anyone else come with you?!” Dorian nervously whispered.
”Yes, but that’s not her knock,” Moira replied, just as anxiously. Llywillan quickly stood and drew the longsword from behind his chair. He rushed to the door with the blade balanced behind his back and peered through the curtain.
”It’s… it’s a knight,” Llywillan reported back, ”a rather large one from what I can make out. In blackened armor, trimmed with pelt—“
”Vetnik!” Moira proclaimed as she stood. ”He’s our companion, he’s one of us!” Trisoll and the twins glanced at each other with a mischievous glint in their eyes as Moira approached the door. Llywillan backed away and made way for the lady.
”You best be sure of it!” he ordered, his blade still hanging from his hand. Moira quickly opened the door and, sure enough, Vetnik stood waiting. Their eyes met, and Vetnik smirked. ”May I?”
Moira rushed the cavalier in, wherein he towered over the elven hosts in his black barbarian armor. He warmly extending his gauntleted hand towards the suspicious Llywillan, who reluctantly lowered his blade and rested it against a nearby mantel. ”Vetnik Talthraudii, Earl of Granrud. Your hospitality is appreciated.”
”Llywillan,” he replied, shaking his hand, ”you’re quite an imposing sight.” Vetnik smiled and snickered back, while Llywillan took up his blade and returned it to its sheath behind his seat.
”It’s getting late,” Thom began to speak up once more. ”We ought to be on our way. Thank you though, for everything. We’ll do what we can to keep you posted.”
”Aye, and we shall return the courtesy,” Llywillan nodded from his seat, saluting him with his bitten apple.
Dorian rose from his seat and approached the party, raising his palms up as he closed in. ”Let me offer you this, before you go.” The party looked at Dorian and his brother curiously. Llywillan nodded his head silently and bit once more into his apple. The party turned back to face Dorian, who stood by waiting for their blessing. Thom prudently nodded his back head at Dorian, giving him the go-ahead for whatever it was the elf wished to bestow upon them. Dorian smiled back and closed his eyes. Softly, he began to speak in his native elven tongue. The party waited patiently, with some (like Trisoll) closing their eyes to take in the quiet ritual. Embers of golden light began to materialized around the elf’s open hands, floating together to form glowing rings of elven symbols. The candles danced and flickered as he chanted, and suddenly the party could feel the air surrounding them warm up, while a garden of herbaceous notes (basil, cinnamon, violets, and juniper) filled and flavored their palates. An elven sigil flashed beneath their feet, much to their awe, and quickly disappeared along with the glowing symbols and strong, pleasing scent. ”There,” Dorian said in common, opening his eyes and smiling back at the party. Many of the members recognized the incantation to be a protection ritual. They nodded and bowed graciously at the elven brothers, and Dorian showed them out.

The group walked briskly back to the beaten path, where Lyssa waited in the cart, her book still open and her attention elsewhere. ”Come along,” Moira spoke, ”we must be off.” Lyssa clasped her book shut, rolling her eyes as she did so. She climbed out of the cart and, along with the rest of the group, took to her mount and continued onward. This time, Thom (whose night vision was only matched by his brother’s) and Vetnik (who had already ridden the same path) led the way. Together, they came upon path leading up to a house set further back from the road than any other structure. The clouds moved across the sky and, for a moment, the moon brightened the shadowy town. Beyond a pair of towering elms, the large structure seemed to glisten as moonlight glided over it: freshly whitewashed walls almost glowed, while wooden shingles — each one stained in rich-looking golden color — and thick wooden columns carved with leaflike latticework only added to the opulence. The windows glowed an amber hue, and signaled to the party that whomever occupied this home was still awake. Curious, Grum leapt off his horse and darted up the path, much to the surprise (and in some instances, chagrin) of the party.

As Grum dashed down the pathway, he could hear something heavy fall behind him. He skidded to a halt and looked around. Laying in the center of the road was one of his own blades, which had fallen out of a loose holster in mid-dash. Grum kneeled down to pick it up and as he stood back up, he could see a small figure carrying a lantern, standing on the wide front porch of the house. It was a young girl. Together, Grum and the child’s eyes stayed locked for a moment. ”Shit!” Grum muttered to himself angrily.
”AAAAAIIIIEEEEE!” the young girl cried out with a wretchedly-sharp pitch.
”Shit, shit, shit!” Grum quickly fastened his blade back into his holster, looked around, and with nowhere but the road and the trees to go, leaped into the shadows provided by the great elms nearest to him. He maintained perfect stillness and listened as men burst out of the front door. One man shushed the child and carted her away, while the others continued running down the path towards the road. He counted three men, their ringmail, swords, and shields clanging with every hurried footstep. Grum lowered his hood and relaxed himself against the trunk of the elm, steeling his body into complete motionlessness. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see one of his hunters: a young man, barely into manhood, brandishing a broadsword. His lean body outfitted with a uniform and armor he’d not yet grown into. A second man approached, outfitted similar armor though much older and thicker than the young lad, with thin grey-taupe hair and a heavy, weathered brow. Just inches away from Grum, he barked at the lad, ”tell yer father the girl must’ve been seein’ things. Get her to bed!”
”Yessir!” the young man responded before jogging back towards the house. The older man looked around once more, pointing his broadsword into the seemingly-empty shadows beneath the elm trees. Satisfied that nothing was there, he sheathed his blade and stomped back up to the house, unbuckling his chest plate as he walked. Grum slowly peeked back from behind the tree trunk and, with a the lawn clear, bolted back to the road.

Without missing a beat, Grum leaped back atop his horse in mid-trot, and continued on with the rest of the party as if nothing happened. The others, meanwhile, seemed to be in quiet discussion regarding their presence in Orlane:
“I don’t like an evil priest,” Trisoll declared. “The worship of Merikka isn’t something I find particularly useful for my day-to-day life, but she’s a respectable goddess with a good-natured dogma. Shame for it to be perverted the way it has been here in Orlane. So long as I can restore to honor to her and her faithful, I feel like I’m in the right place.”
“Likewise,” Moira agreed.
Vetnik flexed and slapped his bicep in solidarity. The eagerness between the three of them seemed to only annoy the visibly exasperated Lyssa, who yawned in lieu of a biting retort. Riding past the Golden Grain Inn, the party collectively tensed up, tightening their hands around the reigns of their horses. Outside, local officers had surrounded the inn. Lanterns moved throughout the windows (some of which remained broken thanks to earlier altercations.) A pair of constables and what appeared to be a robed cleric were overheard from the front porch, discussing what manner of magic was used to bar the front door shut. The party did their best to keep their eyes forward, but from their periphery they could see the constables stare down the party as they passed.
”It’s only a matter of time before they come for us,” Thom whispered to his companions.
As the party approached the small wooden bridge overlooking the thin but deep stream cutting through town, Vetnik called out to the front of the party,”Grum, can you find us another path to the inn? Something less… visible?”
”I’ll do what I can.” He motioned to the rest of the party to follow him off the beaten path, through the grassy field the lined the river. In the distance, Grum spotted an old mill house, with its water wheel still churning through the water. Behind the house were two small, rocky banks that met at the closest distance, damming up the great lake in the center of town. While the rocky gap was only a small jump away, the leap seemed to make much of the party nervous. That is, except Vetnik, who charged ahead and with leaped across with grace and swiftness. Vetnik waited, still seated upon his horse, while Trisoll and the twins followed. Together, they carefully leading their horses across the craggy gap with little disturbance. Moira was next, and she was quite nervous. Fearing her bulky armor might hamper her attempt, she moved at a much more cautious pace than the men before her. As Moira guided her equally nervous horse across, she noticed its hooves begin to stumble. The horse struggled to gain its footing, and in doing so, knocked Moira off the bank as it reached steady land. Moira crashed against the rocks and slid down into the river. She panicked, realizing the armor adorning her body only hindered her ability to stay afloat. As she struggled to stay above water, she could feel the river seep underneath her armor and begin to pull her down. Vetnik jumped down off his horse while the others rushed to the edge of the bank, reaching out for the sinking paladin as she splashed around, gasping for air. The current of the river coupled with the churning mill and weight of her garb looked as if it was to prove to be Moira’s undoing. She thrashed around under the water, and did what she could to quickly remove the armor adorning her body, but panic quickly began to take over. Sinking deeper and deeper, she reached down and did her best to begin unbuckling her greaves when, all of a sudden, she could feel a pressure rise in her gut. Some unseen force from within began to pull her upwards. Underwater, her body relaxed and she moaned at the familiar feeling. It was a force she’d felt only hours ago, back at the Golden Grain Inn. To the shock of the rest of the party, Moira slowly began to float upwards out of the river. At the opposite bank, the saw Lyssa standing beside her horse, her eyes aglow, guiding the paladin back up to shore. Moira snapped out of her watery daze and reached out to the rocky bank. Trisoll and Vetnik extended their arms and helped guide her back onto dry land while Lyssa quietly escorted her and her horse across with ease.
“Thank you Lyssa,” Moira said, struggling to catch her breath while also hesitant to acknowledge the kindness shown. ”I appreciate the help.”
“Fine. Come along,” Lyssa responded in her usually guileless way, ”Let’s just keep moving. I’m tired.”
Vetnik helped the soaking-wet paladin back up to her feet. “Of course,” she responded carefully, returning to her horse.

In the mill, stuff is scattered. A family lives in another wing of the building. Lyssa and Moira continue along and Vetnik speeds ahead to prepare their rooms. He comes and rings the bell and is greeted by Olin. “It’s the knight, dear.”
Belba comes down.
“Yes, a bunch of my companions seek beds for the night.”
“Oh dear, I only have room for 5.”
“No worries, I’ll stay awake and let you all rest.”
Belba scampers upstairs and prepares the rooms with new linens and things. Vetnik ties the horse to the post.
”Well, as long as no one here tries to kill me I’ll be fine.” Lys.
They see Vetnik sitting alone in the common area. Belba comes down to greet the party. “Hello! Your rooms are ready.”
“You are a vision” at Moira. “And so impressive.”
“Stop, thank you!” the dripping wet Moira bashful.
The twins separate into their room. The girls and Trisoll together. “Tris, turn around.” she orders as Moira undresses. Her body is a perfect 10. Trisoll inches but keeps his honor. Lyssa glares at him and he blushes. “Pathetic.” she mutters.
“You’re fine now. I’m going to turn in now. Again Lyssa, I genuinely thank you. Good night.” she lays down. Trisoll looks to the both of them and sighs with relief. “Goodnight.” Lyssa stays up, reading spells.

Thom refreshes on his spells and works to identify his loot: a shield and a trio of vials. Grum works out, doing push ups and crunches before taking a watch.

Vetnik stays in the common room. Lyssa, unable to sleep, she enters the common. Vetnik offers her some tea. “would you care to have some tea.”
Lyssa silently sits and receives the tea. “Are you going for a stroll.”
“No, I… I couldn’t sleep.”
“What troubles you?”
“I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“I’m misunderstood is more like it. Things aren’t always what they seem.”
“Do you always have trouble sleeping?”
“I think we’ll be ok as long as you keep your temper under control.”
“What temper?”
“Sometimes your actions can be much for certain situations.”
“Certain actions call for certain severity.”
“I came from a cold hard land, where my father commanded me to earn his love and respect.”
“What do you think is going on at the other inn?”
“I don’t know.”

Thom comes down to see Vetnik and Lyssa having a civil discussion. He lets it be, greets them politely. Thom pats Vetnik and tags him out. Thom is silently scribing in his journal. Lyssa quietly leaves and heads out of the inn. Lyssa walks back through the path across the empty bridge towards the GGI. Cutting across the bridge, she saunters past the secondary building and nears the GGI and sees the front door barred and enters. Inside, a night watch is startled and orders her out.

Lyssa finally returned to the Golden Grain Inn and found the crowd that gathered outside had retired for the evening (but made sure to bar the front door shut with a piece of red fabric nailed to the frame, meant to dissuade intruders or squatters from entering.) A parchment from the mayor’s office denouncing the inn as a habitable place for the time being hung from a nail above it. Lyssa creeped up the stairs and waved away the red ribbon with a flick of her wrist and a flash of her red eyes as she approached. As the ribbon tore itself from the frame, the door unlocked itself and slowly swung open. Inside she could see the faint halo of light from a lantern in the common area. She continued to creep down the foyer and closer towards the light in the commons, wherein she saw an unexpected sight. Reclined on the very same blood-stained bench, where only hours ago a man had been slain, a constable was seated. Instead of fleeing at the sight of the slacking constable, Lyssa stood and waited for a moment, watching him as he tried to adjust and recline against the rigid wooden table. Suddenly, the door slammed itself shut! The constable awoke in an instant, darting his head around the poorly lit common area in search of the disturbance. Standing at the edge of the darkness before him, his eyes focused on freckled waif. ”Wha… what… you can’t be in here! Can’t you read?”
“I suppose not,” Lyssa dryly replied. The constable shot up off from his post and quickly began to approach. Lyssa stretched out her open hand and gazed into his rheum-crusted eyes, and as he neared, began to intone a spell of charm. Her confidence quickly waned as the man continued his approach and unsheathed his short sword. Her enchanted words failed to enchant, and before she could finish, he swung his blade at her. Lyssa was quick on her feet though and swiftly stepped aside. ”That wasn’t terribly bright of you,” she scolded and as the constable readied himself for another swing, she did her best to grab him by the neck. The constable hastily jerked back away from her and in response, swung his blade low with a heavy slash. ”AHHHHH!” Lyssa screamed out as she fell back against the wooden floor, clenching her hip with her hands. On the ground she could feel the flesh around her hip sting and tear with every spasm. Lyssa could feel beneath her palms the loosely torn flesh and fat of her upper thigh under her thin linen skirt. Blood colored his blade and as she lifted her hands from her hip, she could see the white of her skirt was now fully colored in the same hue. An unfamiliar sense of panic shot through the young mage with an intensity never felt before. She looked up from her hacked thigh to see the constable quickly approaching, his blade ready for another swing. Her eyes seethed with magical energy and, before he could bring his blade back down, fire began to gather in the bloody palm of her hand. She wailed as she sent forth a stream of flame from her hand. The torrent of fire engulfed the constable and set his tunic ablaze; despite the fires, he was determined and took a second swing but the pain of immolation was too much to bear. As the fires continued to cling to the fabric of his uniform, Lyssa maintained her furious pose. She extinguished her flames, and in their place, summoned a sphere of choking black smog that enveloped and invaded every hole in his head.

Back at the Inn of the Slumbering Serpent, Grum awoke alone in his room. Garments of armor and thin armor laid strewn about the floor around his bed (a stark contrast to the well-maintained order of his brother’s side of the room.) He sat up, messied back his thin, dark hair, and massaged the sleep from his eyes all in an attempt to wake. It was the first bed he’d slept in in weeks, and the simple cotton-and-down mattress felt like the luxe in comparison to the swamps, caves, and dungeons he’d spent a month in. Slowly meandered about the room in search of clothing. He slipped a simple tunic over his thin, sinewy torso and over that slung his quiver of arrows over his shoulder. He struggled to slip his boots on and after a moment of struggle, tossed them aside and descended back down into the common area in bare feet. The creaking wood of the steps underneath his feet broke Thom of his concentration momentarily. Thom sat alone in the common area scribing and scribbling in his journal in the dim glow of still-burning fireplaces and lanterns. A tea set sat in front of him untouched, as he had spent his watch wrapped up recounting the details of his day in Orlane. Grum yawned as he reached the bottom of the steps and saw his brother with his face and pen buried in the pages of his journal. ”Brother,” Grum spoke up, patting his brother on the shoulder, ”time to get some rest.” He looked down and snuck a peak at his brother’s latest entry: the trio of Ghouls that haunted the tunnels beneath the Golden Grain Inn, and the glowing radius of light that Moira summoned to turn them. Grum slid the quiver off his shoulder and plopped it onto the table beside Thom’s set up. Thom hurriedly bound his journal closed and gathered his writing tools back into his sack. _”You sure you’ll be alright, brother?” Thom asked, gathering the last of his things. Grum cocked his tired head and lifted his quiver of arrows as a wordless acknowledgement. ”Heh. See you in the morning then.” Grum silently tilted his head goodnight and maintained his voicelessness as he began to take out his bastard flint and an arrow from his quiver. ”By the way, Lyssa is went for a walk or something, I’m not entirely sure. If she doesn’t return by shift’s end, we’ll have to adjust the watch.” Grum shrugged as Thom made his exit, unbothered by the mage’s absence or possible shift in duties, and continued to concentrate on sharpening the edges of his broadheads in silence.

The constable collapsed to the ground, swatting at the relentless smoke in vain. Lyssa struggled to hold on as the blood continued to rush out of her leg and felt it pool beneath her thighs. With tear-blurred vision and shaky hands, she managed to tear a piece of her blood stained skirt off and fashion it into a binding tourniquet. Her hands a mix of blood and sweat, they trembled as they rummaged through her side pocket. Buried at the bottom, she felt the coolness of a small metal flask. As quick as she could, she pulled it out, uncorked the cap, and downed the healing elixir inside as fast as she could. She voraciously chugged at the flask, drawing every last drop of potion out that she could. She could feel the surging blood in her leg slow and the meat and flesh of her thigh quickly begin to rethread with every gulp. Drawing the final drop, Lyssa saw that her leg had healed, and while the effects of blood loss still left her shaky, she could finally stand again. She tossed the flask aside and rolled over onto her knees, drawing a dagger from her holster as she rose. With a heavy limp, Lyssa shambled over to the choking constable. As he stayed curled up on all fours like a whimpering dog, Lyssa moved in and began to mount him. The thick black smoke parted as she pressed the entirety of her weight onto him. Her hair cascading down her face and down onto his, she plunged her dagger deep into the back of his neck. Lyssa stayed heavy on his back and held the dagger firmly in place as his body jerked with every death rattle. As his body stilled she jerked the dagger out and rolled off of him. As she withdrew her blade, the body turned over and revealed a face marred by smoke and fire. Beside him, she sat with chattering teeth as her heart raced and did its best to return the blood back to her shivering body. She searched his corpse casually, finding nothing of value but a crossbow fixed to his side, a bolt at the ready. Lyssa straddled his body once more and dragged the crossbow up from the ground and high above her head. Her shivering intensified as she held the crossbow in her hands and, until her teeth could grit no more, she brought the butt of the handle crashing down into his skull. Crack! His head wobbled and the sound of cartilage snapping apart broke the intense silence of the space. She lifted the crossbow again, her blood pumping rapidly, and forced it back down against his face. Crack! Blood erupted from his now broken nose, and his lip began to split across his front teeth. Crack! His nose was now swollen beyond form as blood pooled under the skin. Crack! Every hit of the crossbow fell harder and came quicker. Crack! Crack! Crack! Every blow devastated his face into new mangled expressions. Crack! Crack! Crack! Crack! The constable’s face was now a shattered and unrecognizable mess of meat, blood, and bone. Lyssa struggled as she began to stand, using the bloodied crossbow as a sort of makeshift cane. Like a ghost released of its residential prison, she limped silently away from the battered and burned watchman and made her out of the inn.

Evening black slowly gave way to the gradient cool blue as dawn began approach. Lyssa continued down the path towards the bridge, stumbling back to the Inn of the Slumbering Serpent. She trekked across yards of unkempt grass and trodden paths with the bloodied crossbow dangling at her side, past darkened windows of farmhouses full of families savoring the last of their sleep before sunrise. At the Slumbering Serpent, Moira rose from her sleep, unable to rest thanks in part to the snoring cleric sprawled out on the bed beside hers. She sighed, her chance at rest deafened by the his boisterous snore, and resigned herself to watch the sunrise. She searched the floor below for her cherished volume, a holy book penned in honor of Cortox. She stood, clad in her evening wear, and looked around slowly-brightening room. While Trisoll continued in his heavy, undisturbed sleep, Moira stumbled across her volume nested in the bulk of her armor. Holy book in hand, she turned to return to her bed when she noticed a peculiar sight: a third bed left empty, except for the shape of a small book. She approached it and gently grazed it with her fingertips. The touch was noticeably thin and taught, like leather. She too could feel unmistakable magical energies surrounding it. Lyssa’s spell book, no doubt, but where was Lyssa she wondered — and where had she gone without her book? Moira quietly slipped on her leather boots and, with her own Cortoxian volume in hand, made her way quietly out of the room. Trisoll remained as he was: on his back, his limbs spread out, with his own holy book cracked open across his belly. Moira creeped down the hall and down the stairs to the common area, where Grum continued to sit in near-silence, with only the sound of his arrow head scraping across his flint filling the room. ”Grum?” Moira called out as she descended the stairs. With sleepy eyes, he paused and nodded back at her for a brief moment and continued to sharpen his arrows. As she approached his table, Moira looked around the room but found him to be the only person present. ”I can it take it from here,” Moira said, softly excusing the half-elf. Grum sighed a breath of relief and quickly packed his arrows and flint back into their places in the quiver. He patted her on the shoulder and headed back up the stairs quietly (and seemed quite unbothered by her unarmored form, a reaction she had honestly not quite expected considering the usual leers her shapely form drew from males in the past.) Moira sat down in Grum’s place and cracked open her volume to a ribbon-marked page. Pouring herself a cup of hot water for tea, she savored the early morning ritual. The calm of it was something she dearly missed.

The crowing and cawing of livestock sounded the sun’s return. In the east, the cobalt sky hemorrhaged shades of violet and red as the sun cut through the horizon. Lyssa remained unfazed and continued her desperate march back to the inn. Once across the bridge, she could see a row of horses and an empty cart fastened to the posts outside, underneath the motionless, wooden sign of the Slumbering Serpent. Inside, Moira continued to absorb her scripture with quiet reflection, sipping on warm milky black tea as the sun began to brighten the morning sky outside. All of a sudden, Moira noticed the locks of the inn’s front door slowly come undone from the outside. With a quick turn of the knob, the front door swung open but showed no signs of a visitor. Moira set her book and cup of tea aside and cautiously made her way towards the front door. She could hear the shambling of boots approach closer. Slowly, Lyssa stepped into view, a pathetic sight that immediately disarmed Moira. She stood in the doorway, her body shivering and still cold to the touch. Moira quickly sorted the gory details of her companion as she rushed her inside towards the common area. ”By Cortox, what happened?” Moira asked, guiding Lyssa into the inn. The splatter of deep red stains decorated Lyssa’s face and body, while Moira noticed the mage’s skirt torn to bloodied rags (and around her thigh, a bloodied bandage made of the same linen.) Moira slowly unwrapped the filthy bandage to see traces of a gash, halfway healed but open enough to invite infection. She sighed, thankful dawn had returned to her her blessings of healing, and gently laid her hands over the gaping wound. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. As she exhaled, she could feel Cortox’s blessing surge through her like a cool current of energy pouring out from her chest into the palms of her hands. Moira lifted her hands to reveal the thigh healed, leaving only a long scare matted with dried blood. Moira continued to scan Lyssa when she noticed something large hanging from her limp hand. ”Go, rest. We’ll deal with this later,” Moira urged, as she slowly took the crossbow from Lyssa’s hand and held it in her own. ”Take my bed if necessary, I’ll be up to see you in a short while,” Moira offered as she gently escorted the dazed mage towards the stairs. She watched as Lyssa limped wordlessly upstairs and disappeared. Moira sighed and, as she looked over the crossbow, became more and more mortified as she saw the thick coating of blood drying on the weapon’s butt. She rushed back to her place at the table, and quickly took up a cloth napkin and wrapped the end of the crossbow in it. She set it aside and sighed once more, pondering over what role it had in Lyssa’s outing. Moira sat down and did what she could to calm herself, pouring another spot of tea to sip on as she immersed herself in sacred text as much as she could.

Moira kept her head buried in her book as the streets of Orlane filled with the light of morning. Outside, the commotion of farm hands and livestock began to emerge and fill the air with daily life, while inside, the rustling of metal tins and pans stirred in the kitchen. Moira, paying little mind, kept herself preoccupied, meditating over the same chapter. ”Morning, dear!” a gentle woman’s voice called out from behind the bar. Moira snapped out of her meditation and quickly glanced around the room. Behind the bar, she could see Belba the innkeeper turning down the lanterns. She emerged from behind the bar with a smile and began to make her way towards the window, when suddenly she spotted the still open front door. ”Dear girl, did you have company?” she asked in passing as she shut it.
”Um…” Moira began to mutter as she struggled to form an appropriate and coherent response, ”No, my apologies, I must’ve forgotten to shut it.” Belba shrugged off the excuse and continued her morning chores humming a spritely tune. A sinking feeling came over Moira as she realized she still had beside her the bloody weapon carried in by Lyssa. She quickly closed her book and, clutching the crossbow close to her, rushed back towards the stairs. Belba quickly smiled back and continued on, drawing open the curtains and letting the sun pour into the inn. As she marched up the stairs, she was startled by the presence of another! ”Whoa, easy there, paladin! In rush a to get back to bed?” Moira looked up and saw Trisoll, dressed in his blue and green robes with his rough sack and staff, and his own holy book under his arm. ”No worries, I was going to let everyone sleep an extra hour!”
”How sweet of you. We should be on our way though.” Moira urged before quickly making her way back to her shared room. Trisoll shrugged of her peculiar exit and continued on downstairs to greet the kindly innkeeper. She waited at the door outside and bowed her head, praying to herself and Cortox that the mage was safe asleep in her bed. Lyssa was indeed still in her room, but sleep had not yet come to her. Her glazed eyes stared at the wooden panels and planks of the ceiling, fixated on the intricate knots that decorated them. The blood of the hours prior had still left its stain on her skin, but most of it seemed to flake off onto the white bedding beneath her body. Knock, knock! Moira tapped at the door, waiting anxiously for a response. Knock, knock, knock! Lyssa continued stare blankly at the ceiling until finally, a last round of knocks snapped her back to reality. Moira waited by the door, hearing the sounds of movement behind it. After a minute, the door knob turned slowly and opened, with Lyssa peering out from behind it. Lyssa stood for a moment, and the two lingered on opposites sides of the door in joined silence. Moira was first to speak: ”Are you alright?”
”We should be quick,” Lyssa replied softly. The ominous tone of her appeal sent shivers up Moira’s spine. Lyssa drifted out of the room, carrying her sack of belongings in one hand and holster of daggers in the other. Moira quickly slipped past and shut the door behind her, and leaning against it, exhaled a troublesome sigh. She raced to buckle herself into her armor and gathered her weapons together as quickly as she could, storing with them the mysterious crossbow.

Gathered together, with Moira keeping Lyssa close, the party packed their supplies into their cart and unfastened their mounts for the early morning ride to explore the rest of Orlane. Belba and Ollwin watched from the door and waved cheerful goodbyes (especially directed towards Vetnik, to which he responded with a courteous bow of his helmeted head.) After the kind couple returned inside, Thom looked around for any onlookers and, with the coast clear, placed his hand on his brother’s shoulder. Grum sighed, knowing what was coming, and Thom closed his eyes and began to recite a familiar spell. Thom was quick about it, and after a few swift mutterings, Grum’s form dissolved into nothingness. Thom patted his brother’s invisible shoulder and together, the party watched slight imprints begin to form in the dirt path. The party took to their mounts and, lead by Thom, they followed the unseeable half-elf north down the road. The ride itself was uneventful: villagers sparsely decorated the countryside and roads, beginning their early morning rituals like feeding their livestock and tending to their gardens. The party continued to follow until suddenly, they saw Grum’s footprints trail off of the road into the greenery beside it. They paused together for a moment, and waited to see if Grum would make his presence known to them. Moments later, the party could hear the scraping metal against dirt. They honed their sights towards an old elm tree just off the road, and in the distance could see chunks of dirt fly up and hit the trunk of the tree. Thom slid off of his horse and quietly approached. ”Grum?” he asked as he approached the tree.
”I think I found something!” Grum’s disembodied voice exclaimed. Thom quickened his pace and walked to the tree, to find a small hole between roots, appearing to dig itself! ”I saw something from the road. Looks like whatever is down here was put here on purpose, and was done so in quite a rush,” Grum continued.
Thom stepped away from the tree, back towards the party on the road, and called out to them, ”We could use some muscle down here!” Moira opened her mouth, but before she could volunteer her services, Vetnik climbed down off his armored mount and trudged towards the twins. Moira sighed and stayed with Lyssa, Trisoll and the horses while the rest of the boys continued at the foot of the elm tree. As Vetnik neared the hole, the three boys could see, buried in the shallow hole beneath the tree, a old box made of dark, lacquered wood. Vetnik kneeled down and grabbed at both exposed sides of the box and tugged with all his might, releasing it from its earthen keep. Vetnik set the small wooden box aside and stood back as Grum moved closer to it, the specks of earth falling from his invisible body revealing his presence as he moved. Thom and Vetnik listened as Grum searched for traps on the lock of the box. Grum paused, and moments later, Thom and Vetnik watched as a pair of super-fine pins were pulled from the lock and tossed aside. The lid of the box flung open in a flurry of dust, and revealed two bundles of velvet cloth.
”Anyone care for the honor?” Grum asked, stepping aside. Thom stepped forward, and as he unwrapped them, each bundle revealed a single dagger. Each weapon was identical in shape and condition, with only one noticeable difference: carved in the enamel handle of the blades were symbols of cryptic origin.
”I’ve seen runes like this before,” Vetnik remarked, ”but these look much cruder than them, much older. The only words close to them I can recall are ‘Lyn’ and ‘Slå’.”
”Which mean?” Thom asked.
”’Shock’ and ‘hit’,” Vetnik replied, bundling the daggers up and placing them back in the box. ”We take these back with us, to Greyhawk. Perhaps Master Lyks will know more.” The twins handed the box off to Vetnik and together the trio made their way back to their mounts waiting for them on the road.
”What’s going on?” Trisoll began to pry, ”what’d you find?”
”We aren’t entirely sure,” Thom answered, climbing back up on his horse. Trisoll shrugged, not wishing to pry further. Grum made his way back to the road and soon the party was back to following the subtle tracks left behind with every step.

They continued up the path and made their way east. The first structures spotted down the road were poorly maintained: a barn and separate farmhouse stood, with a vineyard in the distance. The exteriors of both buildings were weathered and unattended to. The porch and fences maintained the same unkempt conditions, while flocks of chickens — led by a large rooster — clucked and pecked unattended to around the house. In the yard, they spotted what appeared to be a family: two women watched on, one with a young infant in her arms, as older men and boys toiled moseyed about the yard, carrying supplies and bundles of feed about the property. The family said nothing as the party passed, to the party or between themselves (even the infant was remarkably docile.) The chilly lack of reception kept the party on the path as they made their way towards the next structure: a cottage. Grum had rushed ahead, impressed by the bountiful floral gardens that seemed to create a wall around the small house. Its structure in contrast to the neighboring farmhouse was well-kept. Surrounded by not only floral gardens but a grove of elm trees as well, Grum approached softly towards the peaceful-looking abode. Sneaking up to a nearby window, he peered in and saw a daintly-furnished parlor. Strewn about the furnishings were pieces of fine jewelry: medallions on gold chains, necklaces of pearl and other precious metals, and bracelets inlayed with rich minerals and gemstones. Cats roamed the space freely, of all manner of domestic breed. He continued to watch, and as the party closed in on the home, Grum saw an old woman slowly hobble into the room carrying a delicate, silver tea set on a matching tray between thin, shivering hands. Grum, though curious, sneaked back down the porch back to the party. ”There’s someone in there, an old woman!”
”You should be more mindful to announce yourself, brother,” Thom said as he stopped, slightly startled by the sound of Grum’s voice. The rest of the party gathered around the walkway leading up from the road and gathered around to listen.
”Yes, well, there’s an old woman up there in that cottage and it looks like her home is full of treasures!” Grum continued.
Thom raised his brow at the very idea. ”Treasures?”
”Perhaps we can press her for some more information,” Moira interrupted disapprovingly. Thom and Grum let out a mutual exhale as the paladin dismounted.
”Moira and I will go ahead,” Vetnik declared as he disembarked from his horse once more. ”I think we’d present the least amount of threat to the old woman.” Thom and Grum said nothing, and motioned up the path to the cottage, conceding to the pair of virtuous knights. Moira and Vetnik shared glances between each other and up the path, through the thick of blossoming flowers, and to the front door of the cottage. Upon the doorknob, they noticed a woman’s faced carved into the bronze, surrounded by stalks of wheat. Vetnik tapped on the front door with a light knock (though a light knock for him still seemed booming.) The pair waited, and could hear feet shuffle against the ground and the muffled sound of an old woman shooing away her pets. After a few moments more, the doorknob jiggled and slowly creaked open. Behind it stood the old woman Grum had seen: frail in figure, her manner of dress a humble contrast to the opulent jewels that adorned each of her knotted fingers. Heavy rings made of precious metals, encrusted with a variety of precious jewels including rubies, opals, and amethysts. Her face was round and wrinkled, with thinly-framed glasses that rested on an old, aquiline nose and ample cheeks. She finished opening the door and looked up to see the two knights standing before her. ”Oh my! Blessed Merikka, two knights,” she cried out, her eyes widening with marvel. ”To what do I owe the pleasure of a visit?”
”My… companion and I,” Moira began.
”We are on our way to the games, but stopped here in Orlane for some rest. We were on our way out but were so taken by your gardens, we wanted to pay the owner of them a visit!” Vetnik finished.
”Of course, of course. Come in,” the old woman said, enthusiastically inviting the pair in. ”Have some tea, or wine if you prefer!” Moira looked at Vetnik, thankful for his quick cover story, and the pair followed the woman into the house. Inside, cats continued to lounge about the parlor while the old woman shuffled back through the parlor to the kitchen. The silver tea set rested on reed mat laid across a thick, carved polished table. Vetnik and Moira marveled at the delicateness of everything, and did their best to enter the sitting area as discreetly as possible. On a mantel stood a stout wooden statue of a maiden, her outstretched arms holding a bundled scroll in one hand and sheaves of wheat in the other and draped with garlands of flowers from the old woman’s garden. Their host returned to the parlor with a pair of delicate ceramic cups and took her seat. She reached over to pour her guests some tea, but Vetnik quickly intervened, and took it upon himself to pour for himself, Moira, and their host. ”How very thoughtful. Please, drink up!” Vetnik and Moira smiled and obliged, standing for fear of ruining the fine upholstery of her sitting lounges.

”My name is Vilma. Vilma Merridie. I’m a widow here in Orlane, y’know? Fifty years ago, my husband Alfons and I moved here to start a life together. Sadly, he passed on a good twenty-four years later,” she began, clutching and releasing a silver locket dangling from around her neck. ”They were my best years, of course! After that, I did what I could to keep the farm together, but I was getting much too old for such a lifestyle. Y’know, getting up with a cocks and tilling and harvesting, day in and day out. But, Merikka saw in me a dutiful servant and continues to make sure I’m well kept after. I have my health, my cats, this cottage, and my livelihood. I know Alfons is serving Merikka well and together they make sure I’m alright. I need them now more than ever in these uncertain times. Orlane isn’t the same as it was, even a decade ago! The old days, I tell you, families were more neighborly than they are now. Now, you don’t know who you can trust. I don’t mean to sound suspicious, but I’ve lived in Orlane quite a long time and have only seen stranger goings-on over the years. Old families have become weird and isolated, others have left town or disappeared altogether. Something strange is going on in Orlane. Even the soil isn’t the same, and yards are left teeming with weeds and livestock roam wildly. Times are always changing, I’m old enough to know that but… they’re not changing for the better. Even the people are changing! The carpenter and his wife barely leave their home anymore, and even the smith…oh, the smith! Now, there’s a lad whose had something go on in his life. I mean, don’t mistake me, I appreciate that he’s more even-tempered now, but it’s not natural. It doesn’t feel right. Did I mention the families down the way? Oh, filthy children just standing around and staring off into space while their parents toil in the fields without a word at all hours of the day and night. It’s all so very odd! Especially the family up the way, I’ve honestly never been too fond of them. I mean, the hog farmers used to be quite pleasant but not anymore they aren’t. That father is as cold as winter itself now! My, how they’ve let their gardens go, Merikka would be maddened by the sight! Then there’s that quiet little cottage by the mayor’s who never seem to come out. I’ve not seen anything go on there, but something strikes me as odd about whoever lives there now. I hope whatever they do, they keep to themselves and leave the mayor out of whatever… strange goings-ons are happening there. Oh, Mayor Ormond at least we have one good man left in this town. That is to say, the east side of town. I can’t say much for the western part of Orlane, I’m old and keep to myself, and don’t have much reason to visit, y’know? Oh, but just the other night I did see something peculiar. I thought there were men heading towards the temple, but thankfully I had my spectacles on! I saw them head towards the wall and all of a sudden, they started climbing the thing!” Vilma finally paused, taking a short sip of her tea.
Vetnik and Moira stood, suspended by her everlasting story. Moira opened up and asked hesitantly, ”Who did you see?”
Vilma strained as she gulped down a sip of now-lukewarm tea and slowly started up again. ”Strange men, covered in scales, with things like fins on their heads! They crossed just north of here and scaled the wall like it was nothing, I had honestly never seen anything quite like it. I was almost sure I was dreaming until one of the cats started pawing at my evening gown. Ugh, but anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the temple. I used to visit all the time. Merikka has kept me in her good graces and if not for my health, I’d still be attending service. These old bones don’t allow for much movement though, but thankfully I had a statue carved in her honor by the carpenter some time back. Y’know, back when I could have a nice afternoon tea with he and his wife. Not anymore though, Merikka only knows! It’s such a gorgeous temple too, my the workmanship that went into it! I wouldn’t want to go back anyway, not with the way things are run there now. Temple workers barely tend to the yards anymore, and the clerics who operate it are cold, cold people now. You’d wonder if they ever even picked up a copy of ‘A Most Worshipful Guide to Benign Merikka’ with the way they handle visitors now. Such a shame. I don’t know what it was, but they went on some pilgrimage for about a week or so last year and returned worse for the wear! As I was saying, I’m just happy I can have my own worship, here in the privacy of my own home. I have my altar, I make sure to make offerings when and where I can, and help out when and where I can, but despite everything going on in Orlane, I know she’s watching over me, and what with strapping visitors such as yourself, I know I’m as safe as I’ll ever be! Even if the peaches don’t have that same sweetness the way they used to back in the old days. Oh, but listen to me prattle on about nothing, what about you?”
Moira and Vetnik stayed silent for a moment, their teas barely touched, and together they digested what they could of the old woman’s “conversation”.
“Thank you for the tea, milady. We must actually be on our way,” Vetnik said politely, setting down his cup of tea. ”I’ll be back to visit.”
“Oh, of course, Sir…” Vilma struggled to recall her guests’ names.
”Tret, Order of the Wolf, and Lady Mary,” Vetnik elucidated
_ “Of course, Sir Tret and Lady Mary. Do come back anytime! I’m always around,”_ Vilma replied with a fanciful chuckle. Vetnik urged to the old woman to stayed seated, as he would see he and Moira out just fine. Vilma waved goodbye as she continued to sip on her tea, while her cats mulled about the sitting room, swinging their tails and yawning their day away.

As the pair headed down the front porch back towards the rest of the party, who stood beside their horses and waited, a separate voice buzzed from behind. ”That was quite a long time you both were in there!” Startled, Vetnik and Moira spun around to see… no one.
”Grum, er… Grun!” Moira called out, shaking off the surprise. ”What were you doing?”
”Making sure the old crone didn’t pull anything!” Grum joked as the three of them regrouped on the road.
”What’d you find out?” Thom asked.
Moira and Vetnik both struggled to sum up the lengthy one-sided discussion had inside the widow Merridie’s cottage. ”Well,” Moira began, ”it seems she doesn’t trust too many people on this side of town, the elves included. She made mention often of her allegiance to Merikka, but claims she won’t return to temple due in part to what’s been happening at the temple?”
”Such as,” Thom continued to probe.
”Unwelcoming priests and servants in Merikka’s keep. That, and…” Moira paused, looking to Vetnik who seem to share a similar look of disbelief.
”She claims she has seen lizard men stalk the temple at night.” Vetnik whispered.

Further down, a teenage boy watches from a porch and runs inside. Shortly, the boy returns with a larger man. Thom waves, but they don’t wave back.

The party continued north up the road and followed its curve towards the thick stone exterior of the Temple of Merikka. The granite wall surrounding the domed building stood a massive twenty-feet high, and showed no signs of weathering or any point of weakness. Its blocks held firmly in place over the ages, yet their smooth surface made them wonder how anyone (or anything) could hope to scale it. Connecting the wall were a pair of thick, wooden shutters. As the party rode through, they noticed each panel embellished with the relief of a beautiful maiden of simple dress, her thick ringlets of hair pulled back to reveal a tranquil expression. On one panel, she carried in her arms a basket of wheat; on the other, she held open a scroll. The continued down the broad path and entered into the courtyard beyond the wall. Something unsettled them as they passed through the courtyard. For a deity who so revered the health of fruitfulness of the garden, her own gardens were ill-tended to. Dry, brittle grass and clustered together in patches, while pissabed weeds overwrought the greenery and lined the path. A sole priest wandered through the courtyard, haphazardly uprooting weeds and tossing them aside, while the rest of the vegetation seemed to grow and die untouched.
“Excuse me, sir—“ Thom called out to the gardening monk.
“Go to the main temple!” he yelled back, seemingly annoyed by their very presence (a most unbecoming greeting of a typical priest of Merikka!)
Thom brushed the cold welcome off and together they moved closer towards the main entrance of the church. After dismounting, Thom unhinged his drum from off his back. With his tanto blades in hand, he began to lightly drum an impromptu rhythm in honor of their arrival to the benign goddess’ temple. The sight of the central sanctuary was one to behold: stepping into the large room, they felt the floor shift from paved dirt to sturdy ceramic tile in brilliant, earthy russet tones, intercut with random lapis-colored tiles that created a wondrous surface to kneel upon. Looking up, they marveled at the series of elm trunks that served as pillars to the great room, where bronzed latticework kept the logs in place. Long, faded tapestries depicting innocuous field landscapes and crops of varying ages lined the windowless room, while at the center a great statue stood. Resting on a low stone dias, a polished form emerged from rough jade: the image of Merikka, as she appeared on the wooden gates of the temple, stood flanked by torches that caused the milky greenness of the statue to almost glow. Her arms were extended — one hand carried the basket of wheat, while the other another hand carried a tapestry embroidered with the dates of harvests past. Her carved eyes stared blankly over the room, and her mouth bore neither a smile nor a scowl.

”Hello, strangers,” a soft voice called out to them from behind. The party turned and saw standing in a doorway a slender beauty, dressed in a chainmail bodice worn over a flowing white gown. With a shield strapped to her back and a mace hinged to a belt at her side, she looked curiously off in such warlike garb, especially in a temple devoted to such a benign goddess. ”Can I help you?” she asked.
”Praise Merikka!” Thom called out as he approached the mysterious maiden.
”Was that a song to Our Lady of the Calendar?” she asked blithely. As she approached Thom, the bard couldn’t help but to be transfixed by the rich medallion that rested upon her breasts. A golden snake’s head, with two glistening ruby eyes that almost glowed when light touched them.
”Yes! Yes, of course it was. I am but a humble bard though, milady,” Thom replied as he nudged Trisoll forward. ”Our resident cleric can engage you more expertly on our admiration for the goddess!”
Trisoll reluctantly stepped forward and gave an awkward bow. ”Yes, well… I’m actually a priest of Trithereon. I hope you don’t mind my being here.”
“No, of course not,” the armed priestess reassured them. ”Enjoy the center, but please know that non-members are not permitted to visit the rest of the grounds.”
Trisoll chuckled, relieved by her pleasing demeanor. ”Of course! I’m Mark, my friends and I are actually traveling performers in the company of these knights on our way to The Games!”
”We had heard there was a beautiful temple to Merikka here!” Thom interjected.
The priestess’ expression of pleasant vacancy stayed as it was as she returned the introduction. ”Why indeed, it is magnificent. Will you not be staying long then?” she asked.
”Just long enough to get a good look at things,” Thom said with a charming smile.
”Very good then. My name is Misha,” the priestess revealed uncovering a thin stack of long pamphlets to the party, ”hopefully this will answer any more questions you might have.” The pamphlet itself bore the woodcut print of the goddess Merikka herself, bearing the hallmarks seen all over the church. The piece was titled A Most Worshipful Guide to Benign Merikka, Abridged. As Mark took the pamphlets into his hand, Thom shot his brother a subtle nod. Grum silently returned the nod and moved closer towards Mark and the priestess, Misha.
”Tell me, my lady, how long have you been in Merikka’s service?” Grum asked, positioning himself between the two. Meanwhile, Thom hovered around the group and began to recite a charm spell under his breath, his gaze fixed on the young priestess. As Misha began to answer, she could hear the half-elf muttering quietly. She turned and immediately recognized the speech to be arcane in nature.
”Heathens,” she cried out! Grum dropped his polite pretense in frustration.
”By Cortox,” Moira groaned. Misha panicked and did her best to flee. In return, Moira drew her longsword and swung, and hoped the weight of her blade would be enough to subdue her. Misha proved to be quicker and more determined, and as Moira’s blade slapped against her, Misha pivoted away at just the right moment and rushed towards the nearest exit with even greater urgency.
Thom lifted his hand and began to aim his finger at Misha. Concentrating his gaze, he began to chant in a low, hurried tone. Suddenly, a halo of bright white light surrounded the head of the priestess, its core beaming from the space between her eyes. ”Eeeee!” she cried out, her vision consumed in blinding whiteness. Misha staggered in place, crying out for release from the glare of Thom’s spell. ”My eyes! I… I cannot see!”
Grum drew his dagger, rushed past his brother, and whipped the frantic priestess against the back of the head with the butt of his blade. Misha staggered to the ground and with a echoless thud against the ceramic temple floor, she toppled to the ground.
_”Strip her, I see an amulet and ring. Take it off her. The chain mail too.” Moira ordered.
”Dim,” Thom said, dispelling the light masking her face with a word. He knelt down beside her body and began to bind and gag her unconscious body with available rope and rags. Vetnik made it his duty to tend to the captive priestess; he reached down and with the ease of lifting a small child, he pulled her up off the ground and slung her over his pelt-trimmed shoulder.

Together the party moved closer towards Misha’s route of attempted escape. The twins doubled-up on the door, performed their joint door ritual, and entered into a hall more extravagantly decorated than the sanctuary. The tawny tones found on the floor of the sanctuary gave way to cool, white marble tiles. Along the east wall, a series of alcoves lined the length of the hall. Windowless and lined in velvet, stone scrolls embellished with old prayers to Merikka frame the alcoves. On intricately carved marble pillars rested a series of statues of molded gold, each one more glistening than the last. A stalk of wheat, a potato, a cluster of oats, a corn stalk, a carrot, turnips, and a bunch of grapes all stayed still in the alcoves, their forms even more dazzling set against the voids of black velvet lining each recess.
_”These are clearly blessed items. Best to steer clear of them,” Mark cautioned.
“For now”, Thom said, muttering to himself as he passed.

As they neared the last alcove, which featured a gilded sack of beans, Grum noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Across from the alcove, he noticed a a thin, irregular slit down the marble wall that seemed to cut through the tiles. Grum approached it and pressed his body against it, and as he knocked he noticed a hollowness that could only mean one thing: secret door! He and Thom tapped and knocked against the wall and together they pushed their weight upon wall to reveal a panel, a hidden entrance into a separate room. The space was small, and bore little decoration: it’s walls and floor were a modest clay brick and on the floor laid a simple reed mat decorated with the design of the ever-present sheave of wheat. Upon the mat, large spots had formed and worn down the reeds in the darkened areas they occupied. This was a prayer mat no doubt, once used for meditation. The dust that collected on the surface of the mat indicated that its use had long since passed, however. In the southernmost area of the barren room stood a solitary wooden door — no doubt the more apparent entrance to the cell. Once again leading the charge, Thom tip-toed towards the door and pressed his pointed ear against it. No noise. His fingers traced the old brass knob and the plate around it. No traps. He jiggled the handle and found no tension. As he opened the door, before him stood a trio of men, their heads crudely stripped of hair. Their ceremonial tunics seemed to imply their station as monks, but looked old and frayed, the embroidered patterns of grains appeared to have aged without great care. Thom released the handle and let the door continue to sway open. The three monks stood together, and as Thom and the party came fully into vision, the monks silently scowled as they assumed more offensive poses. They clenched their linen-bound fists and widened their stances: these men were ready to fight!

From the back of the party, Lyssa still felt unsettled by the thought of another fight. She lifted her hand and with glowing red eyes, began to focus on the air between the monks. She began to channel the magical energy around her, doing what she could to change the air around the monks into bank of thick, obscuring fog. As she she focused, she could feel something was amiss. Without warning, sparks of scarlet energy began to charge around her arm. Within seconds, the sparks seemed to beam up her arm and surround her entire body. The sparks flashed more wildly and rapidly and seemed to envelop her. ”Uh… Lys?!” Trisoll glanced over, calling out to his companion with worry. In the flurry of red sparks, Trisoll watched as Lyssa’s body quickly shrunk down and began to change shape. ”By Nemound!” he cried out, drawing the attention of the rest of the party. The party glanced back and saw, standing on four legs in Lyssa’s place, a wild red fox! Moira, wracked with confusion, looked at the fox and back at the monks and wondered what manner of sorcery had befell the mage. In a hurried panic, she charged past Thom with her longsword drawn and slashed at the first monk in sight, cutting through his tunic sleeve. With first blood drawn, Thom quickly whipped out his longbow and fired off an arrow which caught the arm of a second monk. The third monk lunged at Thom in return and delivered a quick pair of punches to the bard, knocking him back for a moment. Trisoll watched as Lyssa’s fox form sparked once again with fiery red energy. As her form began to change shape once more, Trisoll reached out his hand towards the sparring monks and concentrated his energy on holding them in place. His attention was divided though and he only managed to bind a single monk, when out of the corner of his eye he watched Lyssa change shape from a fox into a large red kelpie hound! Rushing to defend his brother, Grum drew back a pair of arrows and fired them in tandem, piercing the attacking monk through the chest and laying him out cold. The second monk rushed towards Thom, who staggered back into position, and as he swung his bloody arm at the bard, Thom quickly shifted away and narrowly missed another blow.

Before Lyssa could bark, chaos energy consumed her shape again. In a flash, she changed from dog to cat! Trisoll watched as Lyssa, now in the shape of a tabby, fled the prayer cell. As she rushed towards the secret panel leading back into the white marble hall, Trisoll looked on helplessly, as her feline body burst into another flare of chaotic energy. As Lyssa entered the hall, she could feel her delicate cat paws quickly change shape again. Her body began to expand, and as she ran, she could feel her weight intensify with every step. The aura of chaos energy fizzled away as her body collided into the alcove-laced marble wall of the hall, reveal a new form: a hippopotamus! Lyssa struggled in her heavy new body to gain her footing, and as she stumbled through the hall, every step seemed to shake the golden statues on their pillars.

Back in the prayer cell, Grum drew a pair of arrows a second time, and aimed them at the frozen monk. ”That’ll break the hold!” Trisoll yelled from the back of the party. Grum quickly readjusted his aim and fired off his arrows at the other monk. The first arrow flew past the monk and fell to the ground, while the second pierced the monk’s thigh, dropping him in mid-charge. Thom quickly drew another arrow back and let it loose. While the monk wretched in pain, doing his best to pull Grum’s arrow from out of his thigh, Thom’s arrow zipped through and lodged itself into his upper arm. Blood burst forth as the arrow drove itself through his artery. The monk struggled to stay on his feet, but the arrows proved to be his undoing. The monk collapsed to the ground and Thom watched as the blood surrounding his arrow began to spurt less and less. Leaving the second monk to die, Thom approached the last monk who stayed frozen in his position. ”He can hear us, but he can’t answer us,” Trisoll informed.
”It’s your call, what do you want to do?” Thom allotted.
Trisoll looked back towards the secret panel and noticed that the noise in the hall had quieted. Turning back to Thom, he settled, ”We’ll tie him up!”

Back in the marble hall, Lyssa steadied herself against the frame of an alcove. Returned to her original human form, she was beside herself. Alone, quaking with fear, she cowered against the frame of the alcove as a golden stalk of wheat and its marble pillar lay toppled on the ground beside her. Had the chaos finely begun to consume her, the young mage pondered? Would she make it out of Orlane alive?


Far beyond the foundation of the Golden Grain Inn, gathered together in a winding complex of subterranean tunnels, the adventurers from Greyhawk stood by in a dead-end chamber, staring in a mix of horror and relief. They watched a trio of frail undead cower before one of their holy own. Their pallid, gossamer skin reflected in dim torchlight, the Ghouls strained their atrophying limbs, their bony fingers and broken nails tearing feebly at the dirt walls of the underground chamber. Their dry throats screeched with every attempt to dig as their knees sunk deeper into hard earth littered with the remains of rodents and larger prey. The aspiring heroes stood and watched over their small triumph and saw, in the ghostly white eyes of the Ghouls, themselves.

”So…” Lyssa began to ask Moira impetuously. Moira herself was suspended in silence, for only a moment. In that moment, she savored the the strength of Cortox’s blessing as His blessing lingered in the musty darkness of the chamber. Since childhood, she had desired to know his grace as her fathers had. She had desired to champion his holy name since she could pick up a sword, wanting so much to follow in her fathers’ righteous bravery. Moira stood, Cortox’s sacred symbol in hand, the last radiant sign of His power now vanished into the æther. For what lasted only a moment sent a lifetime of memories flooding through her. ”Are you going to kill them now or what?”

Moira snapped out of her daze. She replied, her tone lacking in defensiveness this time. ”No.” Draping her symbol back around her neck, she quickly regained her composure, and recalled who was addressing her, ”no, better to air on the side of caution. Should the turn break and one of these things gets its hands on us we’d barely stand a chance.” Lyssa shrugged it off and remained quiet while Grum returned from the shadows. Moira passed her torch to him and he began to lead the party back up the through the tunnel. Moira turned back around one last time before leaving to see the Ghouls continue to writhe and hiss in the fleeting torchlight. Cortox lingered in the chamber, keeping the undead at bay.

The monotony of the tunnels began to take its toll on the party. Drenched in shadow with only a pair of torches to guide them, every twist and turn appeared identical (save the occasional cluster of tree roots or patch of cobwebs.) Though Grum was a confident and adept tracker, his skill did little to boost the spirits of the party. Together they marched, too cold and weary to complain aloud but eager to find some semblance of variation. Grum led them back up the path and continued upwards, passing new chambers, each with forks of their own leading into other unexplored chambers. The only thing that outweighed the monotony was their apprehension, their fear of the unknown. ”Come, if we at least finish this path we can come back down and figure out where the other tunnels lead,” Grum urged the party. They were at the mercy of the tunnels, and with Grum the only one with a real sense of direction, so too were they at his mercy to explore. As Grum began to pass one such cutaway, he could see through the darkness a chamber and the silhouette of some foreign body jutting through the center. He squinted his eyes and did his best to decipher the shape of the thing, its form so seemingly perfect and synthetic in a space so made of natural chaos. He stopped and lingered in the threshold of the chamber, motioning to his companions to hold. ”We need to be careful.”

”What do you see, brother?” Thom approached and asked.
Grum began to slowly creep closer down into the chamber. ”I don’t know. Stay close but not too close, I’m going to see.” Grum handed his torch back to Moira and, with his hand axe held tightly under his cloak, began to edge his way inside. The others waited a few paces before following behind, and did their best to not draw too much attention towards themselves — though clanging armor and burning torches already seemed to do that for them.

Grum also did what he could to be a quiet as the cool, Spring breeze that fluttered through the tunnels on occasion. He was far too wrapped up in the notion of being stealthy though, and forgot his surroundings. As he neared the clearing of the chamber, his boot knocked against a small rock and sent it rolling down the tunnel. Grum seized up for a moment, both embarrassed and petrified by his clumsiness. (The long afternoon in Orlane was clearly taking its toll on Grum!) He lingered and raised his axe above his head, prepared to take on whatever dormant form might have awakened by his sloppy footing. He peered into the dark chamber and saw everything as it was, no signs of life or movement; slowly, Grum moved into the chamber, closer to the towering form. His axe more ready and body more alert than before, he paced around the pillar. He caressed his hand against the form and felt a stunning smoothness. The pillar was tall and deliberately carved, smoother than soapstone. It was a surface he recognized from childhood, and had not felt since: ivory! While he fingered through its carvings, he could detect no seams in the tall piece of ivory. The touch of the pillar hypnotized him. Grum continued to trace the mysterious and carved patterns etched into the ivory pillar. The shapes seemed to repeat themselves, like scale mail. Through the blackness of the chamber, he circled around the pillar and spotted something. He saw atop the pillar the shape of a pointed or crowned head, and carved into that head, the expressionless face of a man. Was this a tribute to some long fallen knight, he wondered, or something more sinister? Either way, the prospect of nabbing a pillar of ivory certainly made the loot-hungry half-elf even more ravenous.

A moment of clarity zipped through Grum’s mind, and suddenly he broke out of his treasure-induced trance. He darted his eyes around the unlit chamber and back down the tunnel where he could see the glow of torches moving further and further towards the clearing. He slid his fingers across the cool, smooth surface of the ivory pillar one last time before he rushed back out to rejoin his company. Before leaving the chamber, Grum quickly scrambled around the perimeter of the statue and searched for any possible traps or other objects of desire, but came up empty-handed in both efforts. As he searched, he found nothing but what felt like earth-encrusted bones, old and brittle. What possible shock Grum might’ve had over such horrific findings paled in comparison to the excitement of a potential new ivory bounty.

”What did you find?” Thom asked as he saw his brother approach.
”Hmph, not much,” Grum began to answer, ”some old bones in the dirt. Like tributes of some kind.”
”Tributes? Tributes to what, Grum?” Moira interjected.
Grum silently shrugged, ”I’m not sure!” Grum was honest in his ignorance, his knowledge of most theological figures extended only to the ones from his parents’ stories. He leaned in closer to his brother and began to recall the details of the chamber, more specifically, the statue: ”There’s a pillar, or a statue, in there. It’s big too. Made of ivory!”
Thom perked up at the sound of something so potentially valuable. ”Ivory?! Are you certain?”
”As certain as sunrise, brother!”
”What statue? Grum, what was inside that chamber?” Moira continued to interrogate. Unable to maintain his secrecy, Grum elaborated on what details he could make out in the dark. The texture of a repeated geometric pattern, a limbless pillar bearing only the face of a man, the pointed crown adorning its head. A collective expression of woe crossed the faces of Moira, Thom, as well as Vetnik (while Lyssa seemed clueless but intrigued.) ”Show us.” Moira quietly commanded.

Grum did as he was told and cautiously lead the party down into the chamber. Together, their torches revealed the macabre contents of the chamber, and only served to make Grum even more anxious over his findings. The chamber itself was much like the ghoulish vault they had encountered earlier: barren, empty, hurriedly carved into the earth. Old bones rested in the dirt, long-since dead and on the verge of becoming dust. In the center of chamber the pillar stood, raised atop a stone dias chiseled with illegible runes and elaborate carvings of serpents devouring human figures. It stood several feet high and rose above the head of even Vetnik the Barbarian himself. The geometric patterns Grum had felt were now in torchlit detail: the curved pillar was erect, its base a coiled serpent’s tail; the length of it was covered in expertly carved scales ranging in size; the pillar itself was indeed crowned with a man’s head, it’s expressionless eyes seemed surveying the entirety of the chamber. Both Grum and Thom took stock of the pillar’s value and began to inspect it for flaws, of which they found none. The snakelike statue was a pristine example of master craftsmanship. Seamless in its executing, the statue appeared to be a fluid piece of ivory, though both boys knew better. No creature could singularly yield that much ivory. It was a masterwork, and one that would serve to make their earlier hardships all the more worthwhile.
”Naga,” Moira whispered as she obsessively surveyed the statue! The party gathered together and stared upwards into the face of the towering ivory serpent-man.
”What’s ‘Naga’?” Grum asked.
”*A* Naga,” Moira answered, ”I don’t recall much about them, only that they’re powerful and dangerous creatures.”
”I’ve heard of the Naga,” Thom inputted with a strange enthusiasm, ”Demons with the body of a serpent and the face of a man. I remember reading about them in one of father’s journals. Said they use their gaze to charm, cause men to think of them gods!”
”That begins to make this afternoon seem more clear,” Vetnik commented as he broke away from the party, checking the walls and roof of the chamber for cracks or holes. ”The sort of… blankness of the men, not to mention their stubbornness. Is it possible a Naga is here in Orlane?”
Lyssa meanwhile seemed transfixed by the impressive idol. Her wispy fingertips and dull brown eyes danced slowly moved across the form, up and down, trying their best to connect with traces to something that was clearly more powerful than anything the party had encountered. _”Did you see find anything else in here,” she asked Grum, too preoccupied by the marvel of the statue to acknowledge him directly.
”No, just a bunch of dusty bones.”
”Lost men like us, perhaps—” Trisoll began to ponder.
”Or ritual sacrifices,” Moira scoffed in disgust. “Savages!”

Thom too was quite taken by the idol, but for very different reasons. His knowledge of ivory smithing lead him to two conclusions: whomever sculpted the pillar was a master of sculpting several pieces together to form a seamless whole; and while the piece was seamless, it could still be taken apart with enough care and precision. He beckoned to his brother to marvel and inspect beside him, ”the ivory alone would be sure to fill our coffers nicely! My guess, intact, about 5,000 gold, maybe up to 7 or 8 if we find the right buyer.”
Moira turned to her companions, confused as to why they’d wish to take such a heretical item. ”You mean to sell this… this horrible idol? But how?!”
”Listen, Moira. We’re all able-bodied folk here. I’m sure together we could lug this back up to through the inn and get it back to the cart with little strain.” Thom explained.
”That, or take it apart. Cuts the value down, but makes it easier to carry.” Grum reasoned.
Moira racked her brain, trying to find the strength to digest the twins’ foolhardy plan. Brushing her bangs away from her brow, she looked around the chamber and took stock her companions’ reactions. None, besides her, seemed very dismissive of the idea on cashing in on such an unholy treasure. ”We take it and then what? We do not know what else is lurking down here, or up there for that matter!”
The Twins looked at each other and back at Moira, then sighed in unison. The expressions of the others returned from curious to reason. One by one, the remembered where they were and how far they still had to go.
”She’s right,” Grum pouted. ”Best we leave it here until we know for sure we can get it out safely.” Moira exhaled in relief, that their desire for gold gave way to sanity. Grum waved the party on with his torch in hand and together they emptied out of the chamber, leaving the Naga idol to wait for their return.

Once more, the party followed Grum up and down and through the dark network of tunnels. All looked the same and every new tunnel seemed to split off like a hydra. Where one path seemed to end two more seemed to show. Their journey became more and more disorienting with every tunnel explored. Were they new chambers, or had they not realized they’d been explored? The party pondered on their exploration, saying less and less between each other. As the party entered another separate chamber, they could feel the ground beneath them begin to subtly decline. The terrain was lower, with the ceiling above inching farther away with every step. In the distance, Grum could make out the sight of three more paths sprouting from the deep chamber. The party descended into the chilly chamber together and wondered of what possibilities might lurk at these depths. Suddenly, Trisoll cried out in a startled panic as he felt something cold and thick fall against his body. ”Agh!” Grum and Thom waved their torches frantically as the sound of rustling earth echoed through the chamber.
”What happened?!” the twins asked in tandem.
”I… I don’t know!” Trisoll replied, his voice shaking.
Thom lowered his torch to the ground and slowly crept and kept his eyes focused on the ground beneath. At the edge of the torch’s light, he could see the scaly body of what appeared to be a snake coil and writhe. Thom followed the winding thing with his torch and suddenly found his eyes met with that of a large, hissing constrictor. Grum tossed his torch to the dirt and quickly drew a his bow. With two bolts perfectly balanced between his trembling, cold fingers, he fired. The first zipped through the air beside the snake, but the second stuck itself straight into the serpent’s tail and bound him to his spot in the dirt. Vetnik stepped forward, his longsword drawn, and did his best to end the wildly squirming snake in one fell swoop, but the dim of the chamber did much to hinder his aim.
”A mighty blow, warrior,” Moira jabbed at the Ice Barbarian as she took up her own longsword. She did her best to chop the serpent down but the beast frantically darted its body out of her way. Vetnik chuckled to himself as a look of mild, momentary embarrassment crossed Moira’s face. Thom kept continued to keep his torch low until the snake whipped its fanged head around, startling the bard into dropping his torch to the ground.
”Oh, enough of this!” Thom said, grabbing his own bow. Casually, he fire a single arrow into the wiry snake and put it out of its misery.

Thom picked up his torch as blood from the slain snake began to pool beneath it, darkening the dirt. As the brothers continued to light the chamber, Trisoll emerged from the center of the party snickering to himself. The party watched on in confusion as Trisoll sauntered up to the chamber wall and placed his hands up it as if to dig his hands into the dirt. As he did so, the wall of the chamber itself began to crease like fabric. ”A-ha!” Trisoll exclaimed, and with a single mighty tug, pulled the wall of the chamber down. The wall as no wall though, but a curtain made of canvas, painted with dirt-like tones and texture, nailed to a surrounding wooden threshold. The party watched as the fabricated wall flapped to the ground, and much to their astonishment, the entrance to another chamber was revealed! Grum took it upon himself to inspect, and kneeled down with torchlight guiding his way.
”How did you know?” Lyssa asked.
”I’m familiar with how earth looks, Lys. Whoever made this maze was clever but not clever enough!” Trisoll exclaimed.
Inside, Grum was greeted with more musky odors and threads of cobwebs doing little to aid his vision. Crouched down in the low and dingy chamber, Grum spotted a row of three wooden chests lining the furthermost wall. Each chest was wide open, and Grum was once more eager to explore. He scuttled towards the end of the chamber and kept his torch close. He hovered the flame above the opening of the first chest and saw… cobwebs. Grum used the butt of his torch to dig through the mass of webs and banged against the base of the chest. Still, he found nothing. He slid to the second and found a similar lack of treasure. The third chest delivered the same disappointing results. Nothing but long abandoned spider’s webs. Frustrated, Grum cleared the cobwebs away from his face and hands and crawled back out to join the others. ”Nothing,” he pouted once more. His brother motioned to him to lead the way and so Grum did as was requested, and once more did his best to follow his senses back to the inn.

The party trudged behind Grum, whose speed seem to intensify as they began to slowly come upon an incline. Soon though, they found themselves once more in another large chamber.
”Care to lead us somewhere more useful,” Lyssa sneered, ”perhaps out of these tunnels?”
”Be thankful, mage. I’ve not led us into any ambushes.” Grum fired back, his frustration now coloring his usually deadpan inflection.
The party noticed that this chamber was in more disarray than the others. A number of its wooden supports had either rotted or had completely broken. One wall was little more than a mound of dirt. Fearing that the stability of the chamber might be compromised, the party quickly began to inch their way out of the chamber. As Grum lowered his heel into the soft earth of the chamber, he could feel something quickly dart beneath it. He leapt to attention and swung around to find another snaked coiling in defense! This was a venomous snake though, a mud viper, whose entire length was concealed by mounds of dirt. The snake moved slower than a snake of its size though, a symptom of the chilly temperature no doubt. One man who was more than accustom to such inhospitable temps was Vetnik; he knelt down, longsword on standby, and stared the dirt-covered serpent down. His crystal blue eyes stayed fixed on the snake’s own amber slits, and with a small wave of his hand, the snake recoiled back into the dirt. (The party had come to know the barbarian to be less patient with man than he was with animals, and were thankful for his tender nature with the beast.) Vetnik rose to his feet and once more towered over most of the party. Moira herself was taken by the show of honorable restraint the barbarian expressed, and thanked the shadowy chamber for concealing her expression.

Grum led the party back onto the main trail and continued up the inclining tunnel. As the earth began to level under their feet, he began to pick up on a scent. It was a woody note, something definitely much sweeter than anything he had smelled in the bowels of the tunnels. ”Wine!” Grum cried out, ”we’re getting close, I can smell wine!” Grum and the others hastened their pace and soon the stout entrance to the cellar of the inn was visibly in reach. In the last few feet, the party rushed back into the civilized strutted of the cellar. Vetnik single-handedly barred the door once more while the the others rested on the hard, dusty benches that sat throughout the small room. As Thom placed his torch in the socket, the sconce pulled down from the wall and lowered. As it did so, a panel in the wooden wall separating that room and the cellar slowly panel began to open.

”Crafty buggers!” Thom remarked to himself, and together the party passed through and soon found themselves back in the cellar of the Golden Grain Inn. Lyssa was first to enter and as she neared the stairs, she paused and looked around the room. ”Nine hells!” Thom spat, darting across the room to a pile of rope gathered on the cold, stone floor. Lyssa continued to look around the dark cellar and was soon joined by the others. The merchant of Hookhill and the mysterious patrons of the Golden Grain Inn were nowhere to be found!
”And suddenly my methods don’t seem so extreme, now do they?” Lyssa muttered as she rubbed a piece of cut rope between her fingers.
Thom darted back over to the mage and hovered his fingers close to her lips, shushing her as he kept his eyes above him. One by one, the party quickly hushed themselves and listened as the creaking of footsteps sounded against the wooden floor above them. They listened intently, and while there were no voices heard from upstairs, they deduced that there were more than one set of footsteps walking above them. Thom kept his finger to his lips and motioned to Vetnik and Moira to lead the way up the stairs.
”I think you’ve earned it, lead the way!” Moira whispered to Vetnik. Vetnik nodded and, with his longsword drawn at his side, creeped up the stairs (as much as a hefty, armor-clad barbarian can.) He cautiously opened the cellar door and pushed it open further with the end of his blade. With his sword taking the lead, Vetnik lead the party through the kitchen and towards the sound of footsteps coming from the bar.

As Vetnik neared the exit of the kitchen, he could see a pair of shadows cut across the floor. Both Vetnik and Moira kept their blades in front them and together, they edged out of the kitchen. Alerted by the sound of the warrior’s rustling armor, the party found not their once and former hostages but a pair of armored guards with blades of their own. Dressed in banded mail and brandishing longswords, the two men called out to the party from Greyhawk to stop where they stood! ”Halt!”
The party emptied out of the kitchen: first were the warriors, who lowered their blades just enough to seem diplomatic; followed by the Brothers Black, who cradled their arrows in their bows in unison; and lastly came Lyssa and Trisoll, who kept to the back. Thom hissed muffled expletives, regretful that maybe Lyssa was right about not keeping the hostages alive, while Lyssa watched intently as Vetnik lowered his blade and stepped forward.
”I’m a reasonable man, lower your weapons.” Vetnik requested with gentle affect.
”You do not command us, barbarian!” the older of two armored men shouted. ”You all are kidnappers, submit to arrest or be dealt with!”
Vetnik kept his eyes locked on the older guard as he inched closer and closer. ”Do you not see my armor? I am no kidnapper. I am Vetnik Talthraudii, Earl of Granrud—”
”Fuck your armor and titles, they don’t hold weight here. Now, stand down!”
A slight smirk creeped beneath Vetnik’s blonde beard. His fingers clinched together around his fists as his grip around his blade handle tightened. The younger of the two guards was shaky in his stance, while the elder remained unwavering. Vetnik quickly jerked his sword at the guardsman, quietly goading him into combat. ”Last chance.”
Without a word, the elder guard lunged at the barbarian with his sword. Vetnik sidestepped just in time, and swatted the guard’s blade away with his own longsword. Vetnik quickly returned to his battle stance while the guard prepared to rush him once more. Just as he steadied to his feet, Lyssa silently pushed through the twins and the warriors and emerged with her hand outstretched. Before Vetnik could react, they watched as the mage held her palm over the eyes of the guard. Vetnik watched with awe as the mage’s eyes flickered with embers of chaotic energy. Suddenly, scarlet-colored sparks crackled around Lyssa’s hand. While she remained stoic and unmoving, the foolish guard began to howl and cry out. He dropped his blade and began to grab at Lyssa’s wrist, but Lyssa was unyielding in her grip. As the sparks flared up with ever-growing intensity, the party began to smell the scent of burning hair and flesh. The guard continued to scream as his knees buckled and sunk to the floor, and his blood trickled from beneath Lyssa’s palm down his cheeks into his beard. Pop… pop! The staggered, muddled sound of two eyeballs bursting in their bony sockets caused Lyssa to release the pitiful guard from her shocking grasp. Her eyes quickly returned to their normal state and the sparks of scarlet energy flickered into nothingness. Lyssa stared down at the blood on her hands with little emotion and watched the smoke waft in the palm of her hand, while the now blinded guard wriggled at her feet and began to crawl towards the foyer.

All who watched took a moment to let the shocking sight sink in. The younger guard was the first to make a move after, and quickly he began to back away, his shaking arm his brandishing a blade. Vetnik shook off the horrid smell of burned flesh and charged at the young guard. With a quick swing of his sword, he slashed into the guard’s arm. Moira did her best to follow suit, but the sight and smell lingered much longer with her and seemed to affect her aim. She slashed at him but was too late; holding his bloodied arm, the young guard began to make his way to the front door. ”Stop!” Trisoll shakily commanded from the back of the party, and all of a sudden, the guard seemed frozen in his step. Trisoll tearfully focused his hold on the young guard while the blinded one stumbled back up to his feet. As the guard began to back away from the cruel mage, Grum impulsively raised his bow and released his waiting arrow. In a split second, the arrow zipped from his fingertips into the boiled socket of the blinded guard. The young guard watched in suspension as his partner yelped in pain; holding the arrow in place, the guard was determined to flee and continued to rush towards the front door. Panting and panicking, the blinded guard was unusually spry and determined. He continued to stumble towards the door until Moira stepped forward. Sheathing her sword, she rushed behind the fleeing man and tackled him to the ground. As he fell to the floor, the arrow lodged in his eye splintered and broke against the ground. The blinded guard cried out, no longer able to weep, and in defeat settled his body in Moira’s grappling hold.

Grum pulled another arrow from his quiver and stood watch over the unmoving guard, his arrow tip mere millimeters from the space between the guard’s eyes. Trisoll stayed close to the kitchen entrance and concentrated on both holding the guard in place, while holding himself together in the midst of such a brutal and gruesome confrontation. Vetnik meanwhile, housed his blade and strode past the enchanted guard. ”There was a different way we could have handled this,” Vetnik said, in a remark that fell somewhere between cockiness and regretfulness. Lyssa followed after him, wiping her bloodied hand on the fabric sleeve of the guard as she passed. Lyssa stood before Moira, who continued to press the body of the blinded guard to the floor. As Lyssa reached down towards the skull of the guard, Moira began her warning, ”You will not lay a hand on him. Back away, now, lest I drop you in a similar fashion!”
Lyssa backed her hand away from the broken shaft of the arrow and paused before retorting. ”I don’t need to put my hands on you to deal with you, paladin.” Vetnik’s ears perked and he began to make his towards the sparring women.
”I am Cortox’s holy vessel,” Moira said, lifting up her head with confidence, _”harm me, and you will incur my Lord’s wrath!” Moira’s eyes lit up as she spoke her god’s name. She stared the mage down, more sure in her piety than ever (her command of His having turned the undead a sure sign of His divine favor!)
”Enough!” Vetnik’s voice boomed through the entirety of the common area. Vetnik stood above Moira, who continued to subdue the blind guard, and with a vicious look he continued to berate Lyssa. ”I speak for all of us when I say we have had enough of your petty squabbling! It ends now, you will not continue pick at Moira like some rotten child!”
_”Vetnik, it’s alright, I—“ Moira quietly began, attempting to calm her companion.
_”No! It ends here and it ends now!”
Lyssa pursed her lips together and continued to stare down the angered barbarian towering before her. Keeping her eyes locked with his, she reached down and with a quick tug, yanked the broken arrow from out of the guard’s blackened eye socket. She tossed it aside and without a word, sashayed away from the two warriors. Moira herself was speechless. She looked up at the fuming Vetnik and offered up an awkward smile of appreciation.

Meanwhile, Thom and Grum both kept their arrows hovering in the face of the unmoving guard. Their tips were blurry as they pointed at each of his eyes, a threat to mimic his companion’s affliction should he try to flee. ”Speak,” both brothers commanded, and with a wave of his hand, Trisoll released the guard from his unseen bondage.
”We…we were here to investigate what at the inn,” the guard began, stammering, ”we found the front door barred somehow, so we came up through the secret entrance to investigate.” The twins rolled their eyes, disappointed that they missed such a thing. ”In the cellar, we found others, some dead, some alive and bound together. We set them free and searched for clues. That’s… that’s when you, Barbarian… you and your men raided and blinded us!”
As Lyssa walked past, she cut in, ”*He* didn’t do anything,” and fired a smug glance at Vetnik.
”You lay gleeful claim to these horrors, witch?” questioned the disconcerted guard.
”There was no joy in what I did. You attacked us!”
”Do you see my armor?” Vetnik asked, doing his best to calm his voice while beating his gauntleted fist against his chest plate. ”While I can’t speak for all of my comrades,” he said, returning a smug glance back at Lyssa, ”rest assured we are no villains and show mercy when necessary!”
As Vetnik, Lyssa, and the guard traded banter, Trisoll began to speak up. ”Guys? Friends, listen,” he struggled under the volume of the others, ”hey, maybe I can…” Suddenly, Trisoll shouted, ”HEY!” Vetnik and the guard silenced themselves and turned to see the distraught cleric still lingering against the bar. ”There’s a chance these men might be charmed? If you give me, say, 20 minutes to pray, I might be able to find out for sure.”
Vetnik and the others nodded in agreement, and together he and Moira roped together the two battered guardsmen and sat them on the bloodied bench where their previous hostages had sat before. Trisoll left the common area and made his way to the quiet of the large bedroom. Lyssa followed quietly after and lingered at the door, making sure to keep out of sight while Trisoll meditated.

As Trisoll prayed to his god for renewed blessings, Thom searched the bodies of the two captive guards while Grum maintained his aim of arrows. The guards were now both silent and unmoving, much like the eerily silent men they’d encountered in the inn earlier in the day. Thom found little of worth on the men as he dismantled their armors and weapons. Among the standard pieces, Thom found a piece of magically-charged plate mail and could even feel the magic from an enchanted shield. ”You’re going to strip us too?” the younger guard began, full of contempt, ”what hole are you going to bury us in? You wear a knight’s garb but your actions are no better than raiders,” Together in the cellar, Vetnik and Moira searched for anything else of interest. Much to their dismay, they found another previously unseen door slightly ajar. Vetnik huffed as he slammed the door shut; Moira, meanwhile, stood back, unsure of what to say. ”Thank you,” she began, letting the words organically fill and fall from her lips. ”Thank you for defending me up there, with Lyssa.” Vetnik turned around and was momentarily silent, unsure himself of how to respond. ”But… I didn’t need you to do that for me.”
Vetnik took a pause, unclear of the paladin’s intent. ”Come, the others are waiting,” he replied, waving her on as he made his way back upstairs.

Trisoll sat on the bed, his eyes closed, and he did his best to clear his head of the ugly sensations this trip had afforded him. The sight of rotting ghouls, the smell of burning flesh, the taste of poisoned stew and ale; Trisoll did his best to clear his mind of the awfulness of the journey and focused solely on reconnecting with Trithereon. Lyssa waited at the door in silence as she listened to Trisoll softly repeat his prayer, over and over. After about 20 minutes, Lyssa heard footsteps approach the door. Lyssa quickly backed away from the door as Trisoll emerged and returned to the common area. As she and the two warriors reconvened in the commons, Trisoll entered the room. He stood before the two guards and lifted his head. As he did, he stared at the guards with ghostly white eyes. The others watched beside him in silence as he looked over the men. While his companions saw nothing out of the ordinary, Trisoll’s divine vision offered different sights. He saw, enveloping their heads like strange ribbons of clear smoke, the lingering signs of a charm enchantment. He slowly exhaled as he focused on the strange ribbons, and as honed his vision further into the undulating enchantment, he saw constricted around their minds the inky silhouette of a mysterious black serpent. _”The Naga!” Trisoll blinked and both his vision and his eyes returned to normal. ”These men have seen the Naga, and I fear that aren’t the only ones.”

Thom and Grum put their bows and arrows at ease and escorted the bound men down into the cellar, while the others gathered the rest of their things and prepared to exit the Golden Grain Inn. Lyssa waved her hand and released the front door of her barring enchantment. Together with the twins, Lyssa lead the party out of the inn and saw that the sleepy town of Orlane was even more still as the sun began to settle.
_“Do you think it wise to keep the man blind and bleeding down there,” Lyssa asked as she stepped on to the porch.
“I don’t see him posing a threat. It’s time we head forth.” Moira answered back sternly. They continued to banter as they approached their horses and cart, all of which were miraculously undisturbed.
_“As a paladin I would have expected more mercy from you,” Lyssa jeered.
Moira slung her items across the saddle of her mount and whipped her head around. “He wouldn’t be in this position if not for your over zealousness,” she chastised!
“My overzealousness was me trying to defend your Cavalier!” Lyssa fired back, eyeing Vetnik as she did so.
Thom stepped forward to interject on less petty matters, while the others continued to mount. ”Lyssa, can you seal the door shut again?”
Lyssa turned to Thom and furrowed her brow as if revolted by the very idea. ”Excuse me? No, I can… I will not.”
Thom continued to do his best to charm the annoyed mage. _”Listen, we’ll wait for you if you need to learn it again, but it would be in all of our interests if you sealed that place shut. We can’t afford to have anyone else sneaking about—“
”I said no.”
Thom shrugged in defeat and hopped atop his mount. Before the party could finish gathering there things, they heard the snap of reigns. They turned their heads and saw Vetnik speeding off down the path they came towards the front of the village.
”Should we—“ Moira began.
”Seems like he’s got some steam to ride off.” Thom guessed.
Together in silence, the rest of the party continued down the path beyond the inn, deeper into Orlane. Grum kept on foot and clung to the shadows now gathering around each of structure of the village as the dusk fell into evening, while Moira kept his horse beside hers. Trisoll and Thom rode beside each other, while Lyssa stayed towards the back of the party. With the inn still in sight, Lyssa looked back and, with a quick flare of her eyes, the front door of the Golden Grain Inn slammed shut. She turned back ahead and continued on with the rest of her party.

The first building Grum came upon was a sturdy one, its windows shuttered with heavy wood and iron bands. As she sneaked around it, he peered into an open window. Inside, he spotted several men counting gems and coin. Above the door hung a wooden sign, dangling from iron chains and decorated with the painted image of a lavish ring. Grum waved at the party to continue onwards down the path as he scoped out the next building. Grum’s sensitive nose picked up the scent of horse manure, and he made his review of the building as short as he could. This building was quite a contrast from the jeweler’s: its wooden structure indicated it was once (and possibly still) a stable. Its wood was run-down and knotty, with its exterior paint weathered away by time and lack of care. Grum was mindful as he tip-toed around the house, careful not to jam his boots into any of the piles of shit that lay strewn about. As he circled back towards the front of the path, he spotted on the porch a small boy whose face and clothes were caked in what he desperately hoped was dirt. Once more, Grum waved his companions further down and continued to sneak around through the back lots of the village. Back on the path, the party spotted a smaller wooden building, its lanterns brightly burning in the windows. Thom waved his brother on and together they waited on the path, surveying the building. Another wooden sign hung above the door, this one painted with images of a pot, a plow, and a sack. Inside, waiting beyond its wide-open door, they could make out everyday implements of village life stacked on shelves, from grains and beans to pots and pans. Thom was first to dismount, and soon the others followed. ”Wonder why they’re still open when it’s getting so late out.” he quipped to his brother and together they led the party inside.

The party was greeted by a pair of smiling elders, a man and woman who stood side by side. ”Hello, strangers,” they greeted in unison. The stock of the store was much more elaborate than grains and dishes. Inside, they saw the walls and shelves decorated with everything a village could need, from fabric to food to even weapons. The surplus in the store was quite a jarring contrast to the sparseness of the rest of town. In the middle of the store sat a table bordered by several benches, outfitted with cutlery and empty cups and untouched cloth placemats. _”How can we be of service to you today? Some wine, perhaps,” the older man asked separately. Thom approached the counter while the others stayed in close proximity, thumbing through the various grains, spices, and meal.
”Actually,” Thom began, leaning in and turning on his charm, ”you can! Have you noticed anything amiss?”
_”Why no, sir. Orlane is a sleepy little town in the middle of nowhere, not much else goes on here.
While perusing the hanging knives and cutlery, Lyssa called out from a nearby aisle, her eye carefully honed in on the shopkeepers: ”Then why is your shop still open? Seems rather late, wouldn’t you say so?”
”Ah, we do get the occasional traveler late in the day, so we like to keep our doors open just in case. Not to mention, who doesn’t enjoy a hearty drink after a hard day of work?” Thom chortled in agreement. ”Speaking of travelers, you all must be exhausted.”
_”We are, actually. Say, friend, after we’re done here, where’s a decent place to lay our heads?” Thom leaned in and asked.
The shopkeeper’s eyes widened as a smile spread across his mouth. ”Why, the Golden Grain Inn of course!”
Thom and his companions tensed up at the very notion, but did their best to relax though the very utterance of the name sent shivers up their spines. ”Many thanks, sir. I believe we must be off,” Thom politely began, cooly bidding his party’s slow and careful farewell. “Thank you for the suggestion.”_ The elderly pair continued to smile as their eyes watched and followed the party as they slowly exited the store.

On the other side of town, Vetnik and his steed pulled up to the home of a familiar friend: the cheese makerNowell Graven. As Vetnik dismounted, the clanging of he and his horse’s armor caused quite a stir. As Vetnik stepped towards the Graven home, Nowell himself cautiously opened the door, his eyes concealed beneath his usual wide-brimmed hat.
”Hello, friend!” Nowell called down.
“I know it’s late, but do you have a moment to sit?” Vetnik waved, steading his horse by the reigns.
”I… I could spare a few moments. Some cheese perhaps? Tea?” Nowell said stepping down slowly from his porch, his head shifting left to right. He waved the barbarian on and began to lead him back to the stable where his cows and goats rested for the evening. Vetnik fastened the reigns of his horse to a nearby post and together the men journeyed back into Nowell’s humble cottage for a quick chat. Vetnik lifted his helmet off and sat at the quaintly decorated kitchen table, just as he had done earlier in the day. He cradled the tiny teacup between his thick, metal fingers and sipped on warm herbaceous tea while Nowell darted around the kitchen, piling on cheese and biscuits onto a wooden platter.
”Any of them will do,” Vetnik assured Nowell and waved him towards the table. ”Have you had any encounters with the constables here in Orlane?.”
”No,” Nowell nervously replied, ”as I said, my family and I keep to ourselves. We have little interaction with anyone else in the village anymore.”
Vetnik reached across the table and grabbed a hunk of the pungent Isobel cheese between a piece of bread and squished it into a tiny, bite-sized hunk. ”Mind if I regale you with a story, Nowell?”
”Of course not. Thrill me, stranger!”
Vetnik took a sip of tea and washed down the hunk of bread and cheese. He rested the teacup on table and began to recite to him a story of strangers, entering a quiet town and finding men under the charm of some unseen demon at a sleepy little inn. Nowell’s once eager expression broke and his eyes brightened with worry. With quivering lips, he quietly asked, ”You need to leave. I… I need to get my family and…”
Finishing up the last of his tea, Vetnik leaned in, ”is there anyone else I need to warn?”
Nowell shook his head, his mouth still trembling, ”as I said, my lord. We keep to ourselves, and with good reasons it seems. Good evening.” Nowell, wiped his mouth and quickly excused himself from the kitchen and rushed upstairs. Vetnik polished off the last of the cheese left on the tray and marched back to the stables to retrieve his horse. Night had now completely blanketed the small village of Orlane, and little was visible beyond the flickering of candles and torchlights in the windows of the town’s buildings. Vetnik returned to his mount and together they rode north until, after crossing a bridge and passing a thick cluster of forest, spotted what appeared to be yet another inn. This building was much more humble than the Golden Grain though, with a large painted sign hanging featuring a sleeping red dragon. Outside, an old woman stood lighting a lantern. She looked up and noticed the darkly-clad knight atop his armored steed, and smiled.

Outside, Thom, Moira, Trisoll, and Lyssa unfastened their horses from the posts outside the general store and waited for Grum to return. Grum, meanwhile, scouted ahead under the cover of night, where he was most free to do so. The half-elf sneaked in darkness further east and found a small cottage, its exterior freshly whitewashed, and its windows draped in heavy curtains. The flickering of lanterns could still be seen behind them, and as Grum continued to scout around the house, he noticed a window whose curtains were partially parted. He reached up and peered inside, and while he could make very little out, what he did see seemed to astonish him. Quickly, he came rushing back to the party who stood at the side of the mounts. ”I think there’s elves here!” Grum excitedly whispered as he approached his party. ”There’s a cottage further up, and through the window I saw a whole spread of food and treats, like the ones we had as boys!” Grum hurriedly waved his companions on as he rushed back to the cottage, eager to find out more about the mysterious elven cottage.

The Winding Ways of the Golden Grain Inn

The Brothers Black huddled together in the secret bedroom of the Golden Grain Inn, voraciously picking through the treasures found within. It was, after all, the first real booty they’d managed to nab as adventurers no longer under the watch of their parents. The boys gathered the coin into every available pocket and sack, like dogs lapping up a fresh meal. They were nearly deaf to anything else beyond the sound of small metal coins being shuffled into their possession. However, as they finished up emptying the treasure chest, the faint sounds of quarrel could still be heard from the common area of the inn. The brothers finished their pillaging and hurriedly returned to regroup with their companions. Upon returning to the common area, Thom and Grum could see a party divided: Lyssa did her best to steady herself with one hand on a windowsill in the main parlor, while the other massaged the side of her head; Trisoll lurked behind her at a safe distance. On the far side of the bar, Moira paced and fumed, shaking off the last of whatever charm spell Lyssa inflicted upon her, while Vetnik also kept his distance, quietly spouting assurances and calming words to the incensed paladin. The twins took a moment, unsure of how to address their companions at odds. ”This doesn’t look good,” Thom remarked; Grum nodded in silent agreement. The boys paused and pondered on how best to address their companions without adding to the tension. With an apprehensive sigh, Thom stepped forward: ”Hello, mates. I see all the commotion’s died down now?”

Moira snapped from her frantic pacing and saw the twins had returned to the common area. Her nostrils flared as she addressed them, ”That witch is no mate of mine!,” her armored finger singling out the dazed mage. Vetnik stepped in, gently trying to calm his friend once more. Lyssa barely acknowledged any of her companions, save for Trisoll, who she saved a particularly pained expression for. Thom lifted his hands and limply gestured for peace. As he stepped further into the common area, he looked down and saw the once polished wooden planks of the inn’s floor painted in a sanguine puddle. He followed the pool’s trail and upon the even-more sullied carpet he saw the still-bound body of a patron. A small yet deep slash through his neck had clearly been made by a dagger. His eyes continued to survey the situation and upon Lyssa’s off-white linen rags and leather hip holsters, he could see a smattering of blood. He stayed motionless, save for his chest which inhaled and exhaled frustrated breaths. He sighed, no longer having to ask “what happened?” and instead began to roll the corpse of the bound man towards the other two bodies that lay rolled up in rugs beside the bar. Grum stayed behind, his attitude clearly more casual than his brother’s. The last of the patrons of the Golden Grain Inn remained unfazed, watching the party unravel in silence.

While Thom collected the bodies of the slain men together, Lyssa’s disinterest in the doings of her companions was apparent as she continued to rest against the windowsill, staring out into quiet Orlane. Trisoll slowly approached her, his arms opening. He leaned into her, loosely wrapping his arms around her. He took in a deep breath and as he exhaled, Lyssa could feel the ringing in her head calm and her swollen cheek subside. Feeling that his healing embrace had done its job, Trisoll quickly and awkwardly withdrew his arms and stepped back. Without a word to the mage, he began to walk away. Before he could get too far, Lyssa’s voice cracked: ”You swore an oath to protect me. Always!”
Trisoll turned back around and saw, from behind the strings of auburn hair, Lyssa’s brown eyes staring deeply into him with a combination of sadness and confusion. Exhausted, he began to respond: “Are you going to be alright? Can we proceed?” Gone was the compassion he had when addressing Lyssa, his once warm timbre now replaced with hesitation, even a bit of fear, at how the troubled mage might respond.
“Are your vows not sacred in the ears of your god?” Lyssa questioned back.
“Trithereon asks little of his followers,” he replied, shrugging, ”only that we stay true to ourselves.”
Lyssa brushed her hair back and did her best to wrap her mind around the cleric’s now aloof attitude towards her. She began, leaning in, “I… I don’t know why I’m even here! Why I’ve been dragged into any of this. My mother speaks of some mysterious ‘birthright’ and names your father as the man to seek, and yet he is just as oblivious as you! So he sends me on some bizarre snipe hunt, and for what?!” Trisoll stayed quiet as Lyssa continued to lay into him with increasing venom, ”His name wasn’t the only thing he passed down to you, it seems his cluelessness was inherited as well.”
Trisoll shook her vitriol off and sighed once more. ”When we get back to Greyhawk, my father and I… we’ll do what we can to find out why you’re here. Maybe it’ll offer you some much needed peace of mind.”
Trisoll backed away and regrouped with the two warriors of his party, leaving Lyssa left by herself, speechless.

Grum stood by the bar and watched as his brother finished gathering the bodies together. Moira continued to vent to Vetnik, and now Trisoll, about the murder of the patron Lyssa had slain. Grum allowed her to vent, but as she quieted, he stepped forward to debate. ”Y’know, I can’t completely fault the mage. I mean, if these men had every intention of doing us harm and were willing to die doing it, then why should we wait around?”
Moira looked to her companions, baffled at the blade’s reasoning. ”Because we aren’t… because I am not a killer! I will not hesitate to defend myself but—“
”No one is saying you should be one.” Grum interjected, correcting the paladin, ”but this quarrel is ridiculous.”
”You’re right, ‘Brun’, it is!” Moira agreed, still heated. ”So too is casting spells on your companions. It’s not only wasteful, it’s disrespectful!”
”You don’t command my respect!” Lyssa yelled from across the commons.
Grum looked down at his brother and muffled his ears as Thom pursed his lips around his thumb and middle fingers, letting loose another one of his sharp whistles. Both ladies quieted themselves while Thom returned to his feet. He walked across the bloody rug of the common area and towards Lyssa. ”What did you plan on doing to the body then? What if more had come into the inn and found this?”
Lyssa stared into the bard’s eyes and uttered only this in response: ”I would have burned them.”
Thom’s eyes slightly widened with worry at the —mage’s cold response. He turned away and continued to process the disarray his party was currently knee-deep in. He looked once more towards the pile of dead men stacked beside the bar and sighed. ”We should take the bodies to the cellar.”

Thom gathered his companions together in the common area, the quiet locals still in their sights, and together they began to develop a division of duties. Grum agreed to guide Moira and Vetnik upstairs through the rest of the inn in search of any more threats or witnesses. Thom and Trisoll promised to dispose of the bodies of the dead barmen (and hinted at keeping a watchful eye on the remaining patrons as well as their wild card, Lyssa.) While Grum led the two warriors upstairs, Thom asked Lyssa to keep watch in the commons as he and Trisoll dealt with the corpses. The pair of men took Lyssa’s silence for obedience, and together they carted the carpet-bound dead out of the bar area, through the kitchen, and down into the cellar. As Thom began to lift up the cook by his shoulders, he noticed a strand of leather draped around his neck down his chest. Yanking it off the dead man’s neck, he found tied to a string another darkened, brass key. Showing it off to his party mates, he nervously joked, ”See! See what not yelling at each other got us!” Only he seemed amused.

Upstairs, Grum followed the course of the hall while the pair of warriors trailed behind, awaiting his go ahead. The blade sneaked down the winding hallway, passing a pair of identical, wooden doors, and made his way further down. The walls of the hallway remained blank and undecorated, save for faded whitewash and the occasional, modest brass sconce with melted candle. Past the final bend, Grum found a row of seven more identical doors and a dead end. An end table stood against it, with the peculiar sight of a solitary vase devoid of flowers or water. Without hearing nor seeing anything threatening, Grum slinked back to his warrior companions and together they began to investigate each room, one by one. Sensing no immediate danger, they entered the first room with ease. Inside was a boarding room, unassuming and plainly decorated. Simple linens decorated a modest wooden frame and down mattress; a decently-crafted set of chairs and a matching table sat in the middle of the room atop a roughly made rug. As Moira and Vetnik prepared to investigate the room across the hall, Grum waved them back over, his eye catching something particular about the wooden wall of the room. Between the planks, he could see an irregularity. The spaces were uneven and one particular segment felt deeper and wider than the other spaces on the wall; as he slid his fingers up and down the crack, he could feel a bit of breeze slipping through. A secret panel, he deduced; but how to open it? The pair of warriors watched and waited while Grum searched all across the wall with control and stealth. As he pulled the bed away from the wall, he felt the frame snag on something heavy underneath. He quickly backed away and slowly crouched down to investigate, while his companions watched on with their hands swiftly reaching back towards the handles of their blades. Lo and behold, tucked far back beneath the bed was something large and rectangular. Grum slowly reached in and he began to discern the texture of dented metal. He fumbled around more until finally he felt something thin and leathery — a handle! With a single, hearty pull, Grum drug it out from under the bed for all to see. It was another chest, this time crafted of dark, hammered iron and much larger than the one found on the first floor. Without hesitation, he pulled out his kit and began to tinker with the lock of the chest. He furrowed and huffed as the thin metal picks navigated the old, clunky locking mechanism. As he felt the picks start to loosen the intricacies of the lock, Grum leaned in; with one final flick of his pick, he cracked yet another chest! His eyes beaming with pride, he eagerly threw the lid open. ”Ouch!” he hissed as he yanked his hand back. Moira and Vetnik rushed in and hovered behind him and together they spotted a fine metal needle piercing the thief’s finger. Grum quickly pulled the needle out and tossed it aside, and thinking little of it, sucked on his finger to sooth the needle prick. With the pain in his finger a quick afterthought, he continued to rummage through the chest. The trio were in various states of amazement over Grum’s findings: a set of five gems, coins of platinum and gold, and three glass vials filled with clear liquid wrapped in velvet cloth.

While he emptied and organized the findings from the chest onto the floor beside him, sweat quickly began to pool on his brow. While sorting through coins, his vision started to blur and his stomach started to rumble. As he tried to rise to his feet, his knees immediately buckled, and with a great shout he collapsed to the floor. ”AGHHHHHHHHH!” Grum howled in pain as the feeling of thousands of fiery pins buzzed through his muscles. His face gathered with all manner of sweat, tears, spit, and snot as he whimpered in sudden agony, pain the likes of which he had never before experienced.
Moira rushed to Grum’s side and cradled the pitiful thief. ”Curse you, Lyssa,” she muttered under her breath as she tried to her best to remain calm. ”I can’t heal him, Vetnik! I used my last blessing of the day on that damn barman!”
Vetnik turned into the hallway and called down to the others with a great bellow: ”WE NEED AID!” Down by the bar, Thom’s ears piqued at the cavalier’s call and he sprinted up the stairs with a panicked quickness. Trisoll rushed behind his companion as quickly as he could, while Lyssa straggled behind in the common area. Before she headed up after the pair, she paused and stared at the hostage men for a moment, with a look that reminded them of their fate might they try anything foolish.

Thom sped upstairs and rushed into the boarding room to find his brother curled into a pathetic pose, his body convulsing as he did his best to muffle his cries in Moira’s belted lap. ”Brilliant!” Thom said, shaking his head in disbelief. Trisoll stumbled in behind the bard, his eyes wide with panic.

Moira stared at both men doing her best to keep a calm composure. The cracking of her voice immediately dispelled any sense of steel. ”I… I don’t know what happened. I think he’s been poisoned!” Moira said, one hand gently stroking Grum’s jerking head, the other quivering as it held before his brother the faint, metal sliver of needle. Trisoll rushed into the bedroom under Thom’s outstretched arm, and quickly knelt beside Grum. Trisoll hovered over his companion’s trembling body and he leaned in to embrace him. His forehead pressed against Grum’s convulsing back, his breath began to ape the labored repetition of Grum’s own breath. As Trisoll recited his plea to Trithereon to bless his friend, the pair of men’s breathing began to sync with one another, and after moments of prayer both men’s breathing had slowed to a calm. Not only had their breathing calmed, Grum could feel the fiery stabbing pains slow down to dull aches. Grum lifted his head out of Moira’s lap as he rolled over onto his back, finally able to lay his body out without wrenching in pain. Suddenly, Thom recalled he had taken a vial of healing elixir from the cave in the Lortmill Mountains! He rushed to his brother’s side, drew the vial from his ruff sack, and (doing his best to keep steady) opened the vial. His hands quaking, he poured the contents of the vial into his brother’s mouth. The clear-yet-viscous fluid trickled past his lips and down his throat, and as soon as he began to swallow, Grum could feel himself regain control over his body.

With the final drop emptied into his body, Grum laid on the floor of the boarding room, the symptoms of poisoning now washed away. Thom sighed relief and tossed the empty vial aside; wiping the sweat from his brother’s flushed brow, he noticed the pile of loot beside him. In better spirits, Thom jested, ”Good score, brother!”
Clearing his throat of the taste of the strange elixir, Grum replied, ”I think I deserve the entire share if you don’t mind.”
”That’s quite a lot of treasure, brother.” Thom said with a smirk.
”That was a lot of poison.”
Those in the room quietly chuckled to themselves in a show of momentary relief. Thom reached over his brother’s body and picked up the roll of velvet. Inside, he saw three glass vials of clear fluid. More potions, he wondered to himself, or perhaps local spirits? Either way, he had not the patience to properly deduce their origins. Grum struggled to sit up, rubbing his tear-filled, bloodshot eyes, before gathering the rest of his findings into his sack.
”Did you find anything else?” Thom asked.
Grum closed his sack, stood, and walked over to the exposed wall. He delivered a few well placed knocks with a closed fist and, with the last knock, the wood paneling of the wall revealed itself to be more than just a wall. ”I did, actually.”

Grum stood at the entrance of the passageway and let his curious brother enter first. He peered down the passage and saw little: a long, unlit hallway without features or decoration. Only the dull afternoon light entering the guest room did anything to help illuminate it. ”After you, brother,” Thom quipped, motioning for Grum to lead the way down, ”we’ll both be mindful of traps this time too, eh?” Grum rolled his eyes and did as was asked of him. Moira was quick to back him up, as was Vetnik, and together the three of them lead the rest of the party down the mysterious passageway. Grum was expectedly much more thorough in checking for traps every few feet. Thom did his part in scouting for details that might help unlock the secrets of the lonesome passage. Deeper in, Thom could feel the unusual outline of what might be another panel. Grum rushed back and obsessively checked over the wall for traps, as Thom pressed his pointy ear against the wood. Nothing, not a sound; though as Thom pressed against it, he could feel it give way a bit. He silently motioned to Grum and together they began to search for a catch to the panel. With a few well placed knocks, Grum managed to open the panel into another room. They slowly opened it and, to their surprise, found another guest room. Its furnishings were cramped, with the small windowless room filled with a pair of identical beds and a small desk set. Before Grum stepped forward, Thom placed his hand upon his brother’s shoulder. Grum turned back and saw his brother reciting the invocation for Armor.

”Either someone was using this to enter or flee,” Grum remarked, looking over the sparsely adorned room.

The brothers decided to continue on and led the party deeper into the increasing darkness of the passage. Together, they searched the corridor for any other passages and to their luck, found a series of three. The next couple of rooms grew increasingly more cramped, piling up with multiple beds and furnishings. Each of them all appeared to be accessible via the one-way panels the twins were discovering. The final room was deserted, but much more posh than the others. In lieu of sparse furnishings and suffocating accommodations, this room was decadent in its decor. Within the large guest room, windows were lacking though in place of them were lush tapestries filled with simple-yet-exquisite embroideries. A large, plush down mattress rested atop a skillfully carved wooden frame, decorated with the sheaves of wheat motif that was a fixture of the Golden Grain Inn. A similarly constructed table set sat across the room, while a brass mantle decorated with ornate images of sprites, fairies, and dryads surrounded an unused fireplace.

”This must be the end of the hall!” exclaimed Grum. His brother looked at him curiously. ”Outside, there’s a hallway that had a series of doors. There were four lining one side, and another door on the other.” Grum moved quickly to the more obvious door, opened it, and peered down the hallway. ”Yup! Just as I suspected. And the panels we passed through, those are entrance only.”
”Meaning there is only one way through them.” Thom concluded.
”There are still three more doors we haven’t opened yet.” Grum said, reentering the room to face the others.
With the secret passage investigated, the group decided to once more split up: Thom, Trisoll, and Lyssa headed back through the panel and through the passage to close the other open panels, while Grum, Vetnik, and Moira left this large guest room and began to make their way through the other doors down the “real” hallway. Grum performed his (now routine) search for traps on the door and found nothing; inside rows of bookshelves decorated the wall; in the center of the room stood a long wooden table with a row of five chairs on each side, all of which were arranged in such a way that indicated they once been used; windows framed by thin white linen peered out into the eerie openness of Orlane. Grum thumbed through the books, lightly tugging at them for any chance of trigger or interesting prose. He found little of substance, save for trite tales of bumbling romance and heroism.

Trisoll, and Lyssa regrouped with the team at the second door; Thom exited the first guest room, having sealed the last panel shut and spent a little extra time casting a spell of Strength over himself. Together, Grum checked the door for traps while Thom pressed his ear to the wooden door in search of sound. Neither bid was fruitful, much to the party’s relief. Thom reached down and jiggled the handle of the door and felt it turn with ease. Slowly, he opened the unlocked door and entered the room. The layout of this room was similar to the other guest rooms, though Thom noticed the bed had certainly been slept in. In the corner of his eye, Thom noticed something moving in a shadowy corner of the room. He motioned to his team to enter carefully as he approached. He stepped in silence, tanto blade in hand, and with a swiftness grabbed the wooden chair and whipped it away. As Thom tossed the chair aside, he found trembling in the dark corner of the room an older man, draped in nothing but a darkly colored robe. Thom repositioned himself, making his blade ready for whatever the mystery man might have in store. ”Pl… please sir,” the man sniveled, tightening his robe around his body. ”I’m not one of them. Please, sir!”

Thom backs away, blade still ready, and commanded the stranger to stand and come into the sunlight. He did as he was told; the waif-like man struggled to rise to his feet as he did his best to cover his wrinkled nakedness in his oversized robe. As he entered the light, the party could see an older man, thin but not malnourished, with hair of dirty silver and a beard to match. While he was visibly shaken, there appeared to be no markings upon his skin, no bruise or cut to indicate violence. He stood, shivering, his sunken eyes pleading mercy.
”Who are you?” Moira asked, stepping forward.
”I’m… my name is Iggy.” the anxious man replied. ”Iggy Olivero. I’m but a simple merchant, from Hookhill! Please, tell me milady, am I free now?”
Moira scanned the merchant for any sign of evil as Thom continued, ”Not yet. There were others at this Inn who did their best to do us in.”
”And what of them, sir?” Iggy asked.
”They’re dead now,” Thom informed. ”You should come with us until we’ve finished searching the rest of the inn.”
”Yes… yes, safety! I cannot imagine any safer place than at the side of my liberators! I am forever indebted to you—”
Moira interrupted, ”If you were a prisoner, why was the door unlocked?”
Iggy paused and looked at the party. At a loss for words, he became anxious once more and he began to stammer, ”They… they kept me in here. I heard goings on downstairs, and I hid!”
”You hid in your room. Your unlocked room?” Moira continued
”I…I… they drugged me and threatened me with violence if I ever made motion to flee! Please milady, have mercy on an old soul and let me go!”
With a wave of his hand, Thom order the room sacked. Vetnik and Trisoll began to search around the room, under the bed and through the bookshelves, while Grum quietly approached the old merchant. Iggy continued to softly whimper and plead and Grum silently jerked and pushed him around, shaking out every fold of the robe. ”Please sir, this robe is all I have on me! All I need is to get back to Hookhill, to get home!” Grum ignored him, though he was careful when searching the lining of the robe as to not disturb the frail man’s naked body too much.
”How did you get here?” Moira continued to interrogate?
”This is the second story, what do you mean, milady?!” Iggy answered curiously.
Lyssa had remained oddly quiet the entire time, her usual critique of the party’s actions (a once unwanted fixture of the group dialogue) were nowhere to be heard. Without word, she rushed forward towards the lowly merchant as Grum completed his search of his billowing robes. Iggy winced as she grabbed at his collar and clinched the fabric between her fist.
”Stand the fuck down, Lyssa,” Moira commanded through clinched jaw. The rest of the party took pause for a moment, having never heard — or expected — such a word to fly from the paladin’s lips. Lyssa glowered as she released the merchant, shoving him away from her. She sauntered away from the feeble man and returned to the back of the room, scowling at Moira as she walked past.
”We cannot hold her back for long.” Thom quipped, rifling through a nearby bookshelf, ”there are others downstairs who have paid for their fables. Now, are you going to tell us the truth?”
Iggy sunk to the floor, no longer holding his robe to his pasty body, and feebly he answered back, ”I’m just a merchant. I’m not in cahoots with anyone here, none of them are friends of mine. I’ve just been trying to make enough coin to get back to Hookhill!”
Thom finished searching the bookshelf and knelt beside the whimpering merchant. He gently adjusted the robe on his body, offering more coverage. ”Why would they capture you in an unlocked room?”
”I… I don’t know, sir,” Iggy said, his pathetic eyes locked with Thom’s. ”They fed me terrible food!”
Thom chuckled, ”Us too!” He leaned in closer to the merchant and pointed at the sulking mage lingering by the door of the guest room. ”Be truthful,” he began to warn, ”a man was already slain because of her impetuousness. She can’t be controlled, I can tell you that. If you come with us though, and keep to the truth, I promise no harm will come to you.”
”As you wish!”

Thom helped the merchant to his feet and together they began to make their way out of the room, with Grum and the two warriors leading the way. ”Did you sense anything?” Vetnik whispered to Moira as they walked quietly behind Grum.
”No evil, but there is something amiss here.” she whispered back.
At the next room, Grum performed his usual check and together they entered to find what appeared to be a dining doom. A table sat in the center, with six sets of dirty plates, cutlery, and mugs. Grum touched the plates and hovered his hand over the remains of the food. ”Still slightly warm.” As Grum investigated the remains on the table, Thom bare walls of the room. As he sneaked to the west side of the room, he could hear muffled and indiscernible sounds from behind the wall. Thom quickly backed away and fell back with the rest of his group.
”There’s one more room down the hall,” Grum whispered to his teammate, ”We should man both entrances.”
”Agreed, brother.” Thom whispered back.
Vetnik turned to Iggy and placed his hands upon his shoulders. Looking him square in the eyes, he asked, ”Who else is here?”
”They’re…” Iggy began, clearing his throat while doing his best to whisper, ”they’re the men who kept me here. They aren’t knights, but they do have armor and weapons.”
Vetnik handed off the merchant to Trisoll while Thom silently gestured for the pair to stay and keep watch in the room, while Grum lead the others quietly down the hall to the final door. Grum and Thom stayed back and let the more intimidating warriors of their party, Moira and Vetnik, charge in. With a mighty kick, Vetnik beat the final door down and found clamoring at the opposite side of the wall, a group of five men dressed in humble leather armor and helmets. Silently, he quickly jammed his longsword through the belly of one of the surprised men, felling him in an instant. Moira marveled at the sight of the barbarian in action, his swiftness and efficacy was surely a sight to behold! Being a paladin though, made her presence more known to the men. ”Stop, villain!” she cried out announcing herself, and as one of the leather-clad men charged at her with his short sword, she tore his armored chest open with a perfectly timed slash of her longsword. The bodies of the men fell to the guest room floor, bleeding out and breathless. Those left alive stood in momentary shock.

Grum and Thom did their best to enter the fray but the pair of Vetnik and Moira were more than enough to pick the paltry warriors off. Grum fired off two bolts from his bow, and while one landed in the chest plate of a man, the second caused the half-elf to lose his balance and fall to the ground. Thom attempted to launch his tango blade at the leg of an agent rushing to the secret panel for safety but missed. In stark contrast, Vetnik moved through the room like a living shadow, his black armor form slashing and goring his would-be attackers with speed and mercilessness. Blood splattered against his coal-black armor, but it did little to deter him. The last agent stood in vain, his short sword quivering in his hand. Moira adjusted the longsword in her hand and swung against the lone warrior. She her steel blade collided with his skull, she could hear the sound of cracking in his skull. Thin rivers of red trickled out of the man’s nose and ears and he crashed to the ground. Moira stood astonished at her own strength and then glanced over at the man she hit. As the blood continued to run, the man’s breathing slowed to a stop. The two warriors relaxed their weapons and took a breather while Thom and Grum regained their bearings and entered the room. While Thom searched their corpses for anything of value, Grum opened the secret panel and saw Trisoll and Iggy, standing in silence.

Back in the abandoned dining room, the party gathered to probe Iggy further. Exhausted by Iggy’s incessant cries of innocence, Lyssa let out her signature sigh of disapproval. Grum looked to the mage and asked, ”Well, what do you suggest we do with him while we continue on?” Lyssa cocked her head and shot Grum a knowing glance.
”No, no, no!” Moira protested, ”We tie him up with the others!”
Iggy’s expression changed from pathetic to sheer panic. ”What? No. NO! No, you cannot… please!” the merchant pleaded, grabbing at Trisoll’s cloak for some kind of mercy. Thom reached for the lasso of rope fixed to his ruff sack and silently began to bind the merchant’s hands together. ”You don’t have to do this! Just let me go! Let me go!!!!” After binding Iggy, Thom wrapped his arm around the the crying merchant’s shoulder and together they led the party out of the room and back down to the common area.

Downstairs, they saw the quiet patrons of the inn still sitting, still bound, still silent. Upon seeing the patrons, Iggy’s pleas for release only grew more passionate. He wriggled in Thom’s grasp, too weak to free himself or stop them from returning to the common area. Iggy looked down and saw an empty spot at the table the three men were seated at. ”No! No! Nooooo!!!” he cried out as he was between them. Upon his seat he saw the lingering stains of blood that trailed down from the table to a large, dark red patch of stain in the rug beneath him. Thom left the merchant pleading at the table as he fetched more rope from behind the bar. He returned and began to create a chain of rope between each of the men, binding their hands together in a row. ”By the gods, I don’t belong with these people! I am a merchant!”
Thom teased as he finished his rope-chain gang, ”Well, tell you what? How about you do us a favor and keep an eye on them for us then?”
Iggy continued to plead and cry out as Grum lead him and the other men past the bar, through the kitchen, and towards the cellar door. The rest of the party followed behind the chain gang, and together they found themselves in a dark and musty room, windowless and teeming with cobwebs. Flanking each side of the staircase, Thom spotted a pair of doors as well as rows of unlit torches in equally cobwebbed sockets. Grum sat the men down in a row of sheet-covered chairs, and as Lyssa entered the dank cellar room, the cool torches burst with mysterious flame, illuminating the cellar for all to see. While Grum organized the hostages, Thom took up a lit torch and began to investigate the two doors. The first door was trapless and unlocked, containing nothing more than kegs and casks. Thom could feel damp earth under his boot, while the scents of ale and wine drifted throughout. At the second, southern-most door, Thom followed his door-opening procedure and found the experience to be similarly underwhelming. Beyond the unlocked door, he found a room filled nothing but stacks of crates, while boxes filled with diningware, sacks of flower, grain, and beans piled up. ”Nothing,” Thom proclaimed as he reentered the main room of the cellar.
”Might as well try the door we found earlier, see if that leads anywhere?” Grum proposed.
Thom set his torch back in its socket and together the made their way back up stairs. Iggy continued to cry out, to be released. Lyssa was the last to leave, and as she shut the cellar door behind her, the torches immediately extinguished themselves, leaving the wailing merchant and quiet men alone in the darkness of the dank cellar.

Grum and Thom led the party to the bedroom they had raided earlier. Inside, they threw up the rugs that covered the floor. Together, they watched as Grum knelt down to pick the small lock lodged in the floor boards. With a well-timed flick of his tools, Grum unsealed the door with ease. As he threw it open, he spotted a ladder descending down into the secret room, with a pair of torches already lit. Grum climbed down first and took up a torch, and as he surveyed the room he noticed little of interest. The room itself was furnished with a long table and several benches, with little else to speak of. The flame of his torch flickered as a soft, cool breeze entered the room from the south. ”This room is further out than the cellar does,” he remarked, noticing in the shadows another door in the southeast corner. The door itself was stout and built of a thick wood, with an even thicker piece of lumber barring the door shut through. As Grum and the others approached, they could feel the chill of a breeze slip through the cracks of the door.

Thom stood beside Grum and together they looked over the door. While Grum found no traps, Thom could hear a faint scratching sound coming from behind. He motioned to the others to ready themselves as he and his brother lifted the bar from its metal brackets in unison. Tossing the heavy wooden bar aside, the door creaked open. As it did, a small rat squeaked out and ran into the shadows of the room, startling the brothers for a brief moment. They slowly swung the door open and the party was immediately hit with the musk of damp earth and decay. Thom let his brother lead the way while he illuminated the rear. Grum handed his torch off to Moira, his sight already keen enough in the darkness, and together the party made their way into the earthen tunnel. Rats continued to scurry past their feet, free to roam the hastily made corridor into the in stone and wood of the inn. As Grum led the party deeper through the winding passageways of the tunnel, the air grew cooler and cooler. The corpses of rats and other vermin littered their path as they continued underground, beyond the boundaries of the inn. With every step, the tunnel grew colder and quieter until finally, the skittering of vermin was gone. In the torchlight, the party could see their breath fog before their lips. As the roof of the tunnel seemed to expand into a large chamber, Moira and Thom continued to light the way. The sound of rats was nowhere to be heard, but in its place crept something… heavier.

Thom stepped towards the shuffling sound with his hand ready at his wakashazi blade while Grum clung to the side of the chamber, cloaked in shadow. In the darkness he could hear not the squeaking and pitter-patter of mice, but with more labored breath. The brothers waited, focusing their hearing on the strange sounds filling the end of the chamber. ”EEEEEP!” The sharp cry of a rat trickled through the tunnel, followed by heavier shuffling and a strange, wet slurping sound. Thom drew his blade — a sign to his teammates behind him to draw their weapons — and with his brother still tucked away in the shadows, they moved closer. The flickering of torchlight danced on the shapes filling the end of the chamber. At first they could see it reflected in the tiny, black eyes of the rats that seemed to flee in collective terror. As Thom leaned his torch in closer, the light of the flame danced across the slick, wiry flesh of something hunched over. Thom’s visible breath trembled in the torchlight as he struggled to illuminate the end of the passage without getting too much closer. The silence of the dark chamber was broken again by the weird, wet crunching sound. Thom lurched his torch forward and, suddenly, a deep throaty groan echoed through the chamber. Thom inched back and drew his blade while keeping his torch high. He could see through the darkness a cluster of thin, tall shadows rise and gather. The groaning continued as the sound of feet dragging against the earth chilled the party even more. Soon, they appeared together: a trio of ragged, spindly creatures. In the dim light, they looked like men, but not living men. Every step closer revealed more terrifying details. Their flesh was sickly in its pallor, translucent and tight against complex systems of sinew, veins, and bone. Moira inched forward, longsword drawn, and with shivering breath she announced the creatures: ”Ghouls!”

In the hand of the foremost Ghoul hung the devoured remains of a rat, its furry flesh and viscera dangling through its clenched fist. The blood of his prey glistened in the torchlight, as did his milky white eyes. A pair of Ghouls shambled behind him, equally putrid in their decomposition. Unlike the undead they had faced in McKinley Cemetery back in Greyhawk, these filthy creatures bore little resemblance to any living being and stood only as pitiful necrotic flesh, hairless and void of sympathetic features. Moira moved closer to Thom, one hand aiming her sword at the vile creatures with her other hand holding her torch firmly. ”Keep away, Thom,” Moira softly ordered, ”these demons can paralyze with only a touch of their hand upon your flesh.” As the paladin approached closer, the Ghouls howled, their desiccated cries reverberating throughout the chamber. The leader of the pack dropped his bits of rat, and together the trio of Ghouls reached out their bony hands and lunged at Moira and Thom. Moira nudged Thom aside and stepped forward; she threw down her torch and lifted her holy symbol. Focusing every ounce of piety in her, she invoked: ”In Cortox’s holy name, I turn thee!”_ A bright, white light shone around Moira’s holy symbol and sent out a wave of sacred goodness through the tunnel. The Ghouls hissed and fell to their knees cowering at the sight of Cortox’s paladin. Sluggishly, they began to claw at the earthen walls of the tunnel as if trying to escape the holy aura. ”It… it worked!” Moira quietly rejoiced to herself, ”Cortox’s… he’s still watching over us!”

Trisoll stepped forward, picking up the still-burning torch, and patted the stunned paladin on the shoulder. ”Truly, you are in Cortox’s favor today!”

Welcome to Orlane

The final day in the Rushmoors was a quiet contrast to the disorienting days prior. The party from Greyhawk was well on their way out of the swampy forest in the morning, alive and virtually unscathed. The thickets of tall, wiry grass and moss-covered willow trees began to thin as they rode closer toward the border between the Moors and the plains of the Gran March. They had even acquired a new companion (a giant frog named Mugwump.) The haze of the Moor had thinned to nothingness as they ventured out onto the tamed and trodden borders of their destination: Orlane. While clouds had gathered in clusters above, a balmy breeze passed over the party and released them of the stagnant, humid grips of the Moor.

For many, this was to be their first adventure in a far away land. Moira and Trisoll had been kept in the relative safety behind Greyhawk’s gates, devotees to their faith and guarded by their heroic parents; though Vetnik had journeyed for weeks on horseback from the tundra of his homeland to the bustling metropolis of Greyhawk, he had yet to truly answer a calling such as this; Lyssa was all but sheltered in the small farming village of Bayerton until a little over a month ago; only the Black brothers had traversed the many realms of Oerth, though their parents made sure to pace their adventuring from being too boundless. Thankfully, the brothers had heeded the mentorship of their more experienced parents and, with Thom taking a lead, began to lay out a unified plan before heading into the mysterious village.
”What do we know so far about the goings on in Orlane? Or at least, what have we all heard?” Thom asked openly. ”Poisonous well water, for one.”
”A creature of many heads snatching the children of the town.” Vetnik answered back.
”Not to mention crocodiles from the Moors sneaking into the village.” Trisoll finished.
Grum posed to the party one potential plan: ”If it’s the well water we’re worried about, I can scout ahead and bring back a sample for us to inspect?”
”The makings of a good plan, brother. Perhaps it’s best that we work in tandem.” Thom brought his mount to a halt and motioned for his companions to do the same. ”Let me bestow a spell of invisibility on to you. You can go ahead a scout in safety, while we ride into town behind you.”
Grum shrugged in agreement and allowed his brother to place his hand upon him. Thom closed his eyes and began to intone the magical rite as he had weeks ago in the mountains, and with every word uttered, Grum’s body faded away.
”What about us then?” Trisoll asked the bard.
”Well, perhaps…” Thom began to rack his brain for a likely story, ”perhaps we’re traveling entertainers? Yes! That’ll be it!”
Vetnik and Moira turned to each other and back at the bard. Moira spoke first, ”a convincing guise for you all perhaps, but Vetnik and I are too heavily armed for such a deception.”
”Then, we’ll be on hand to entertain you!” Suddenly, as Thom continued to devise his intrigue, something clicked in his memory and his eyes widened with a spark of immediate genius. ”The games! Yes, that’s it, you two will be knights on your way to the games, like the ones we spotted in the Iron Woods. Myself, Trisoll, and Lyssa will be in your entourage. Ready to entertain and enlighten at a moment’s notice!” Thom was once again visibly beaming at the idea of diving into his first intrigue alone, without his parents.
”I wanna be Mark then.” Trisoll spoke up, nodding his head in agreement with Thom’s charade.
Thom himself was almost boyish in his excitement as the rest of the party began to dive into the spirit of things. He turned to his brother’s mount, where upon Grum sat in complete invisibility, ”You can be a squire, brother.”
”Fair enough.” Grum’s bodiless voice replied in passivity, ”I’ll be… Brun. Brun the Squire.”
”Vetnik, Moira, what about you two?”
”Mo…Ma…” Moira stammered, unfamiliar in the art of deception. ”Mary?”
”Tret,” Vetnik replied (a simple name befitting a barbarian.)
Lastly, Thom turned to address the mage, whose disinterest in the whole ordeal was palpable. Thom barely uttered her name before Lyssa replied with a terse ”No.”
Trisoll cocked his head slightly towards his discourteous companion and whispered, ”Lys, c’mon…”
Lyssa sighed and with a roll of her eyes, replied to Thom as courteously as she could. ”Fine. No-ah.”
”Fair enough, No-ah.” Thom shrugged and together, with their new identities in tow, readied themselves for the rest of the ride into Orlane. All except for Lyssa, who made the point of calling out one not-so tiny addition to their group. ”How do you all expect to explain the presence of a giant frog from the Moors in our party?”
The rest of the party looked to Mugwump’s keeper, Trisoll, for an answer. In his carefree way, he leaped down off his horse and placed his hand upon the top of the frog’s head and stared straight into his glassy, amber eyes. ”Mugwump. Can you keep yourself here until we return? It’ll only be a short while.” The massive frog sat squatted like a hound and blinked its thick, glossy eyelids in compliance. ”Good boy!” Trisoll turned back to his party, his charm over the great amphibian visibly affirmed. ”Shall we?” he asked with a smirk as he sauntered back to the rest of the mounted party. The obedient Mugwump stayed squatted and watched as the party took their leave.

In the distance stood what appeared to be the quiet village of Orlane, its modest wooden buildings sparsely laid out behind groves of ancient elm trees. As the party journeyed forth down the road leading into the town, the breeze carried on it the scent of dairy and livestock. Cows, goats, and chirping birds filled the air and grew louder as the party rode closer — though not even a peep from man, woman, or child could be heard. In the distance, sitting atop a northern hill, a great stone wall encased what appeared to be the village’s grandest building, with only the tip of its domed roof peaking out from above. No gate nor post announced the village by name, but as they rode further they could see signs of human life sprinkled about. To their right stood a modest wooden farmhouse with a barn behind it. Surrounding the home were impressive, blossoming flower gardens whose scent kicked up with the breeze and delighted the noses of the party. Behind the gardens, a young maiden stood alone on the porch of the farmhouse, silently churning butter. As the party came into view, the girl quickly retreated back into her home without a word. Suspicious, Grum silently leaped down off his mount and left the horse to his brother’s care, while he sneaked away to the back of the farmhouse. The party could make out, just barely, the faint silhouettes of other figures standing in the window behind closed, linen curtains. As the party walked ahead, Grum spent his time spying on the mystery home. In the barn house he could see a trip of a dozen or so goats penned in the barn along with bushels of corn and wheat. He moved closer to the farmhouse, and peered into an unveiled kitchen window. Through foggy glass he could see the young girl from the front of house cowering with another woman, much older than she.
“Shouldn’t we tell these people we mean them no harm?” Moira asked as they slowly rode past the farmhouse. Before the farmhouse fell completely out of sight, the sound of the front door squeaking open forced the party to stop and return. On the porch, an older man stood in a guarded, awkward pose.
”Hello, strangers. Can I help you with anything today?” he called out to them from the porch.
Thom and his horses approached first, extending his hand in greeting. The man stayed within the confines of his teeming flower garden and kept his arms crossed. ”Um, yes good sir. Are there any Inns for us to rest at, or any stables for our horses?”
“Indeed, just down the road past the dairy farm. The Golden Grain Inn, it’s hard to miss.” he informed politely but bluntly.
The quiet of the town made it easy for Grum to hear the two men awkwardly converse. The invisible twin decided to investigate this inn the man spoke of and he darted ahead past the barn and made his way along the path. Meanwhile, Thom did his best to remain pleasant and engage in small talk with a local. The man, it seemed, was un-wooed by Thom’s usual charisma. “Stranger, Orlane has changed. We don’t… I wish I could talk but I must return…” he trailed off as he hobbled his way back towards the porch.
“Isn’t it polite to invite us in?” Lyssa spoke up sarcastically.
“NO! No strangers!” the man yelled back as he hurried back into the safety of his farmhouse, slamming the wooden door behind him. Shadowy figures continued to stand behind the linen curtains, their shape unchanging. The party took a moment to process the peculiar exchange that had just occurred. They feared that this unwillingness to speak to outsiders might plague the rest of the townsfolk they were to meet in Orlane.

Grum sprinted through the grass beside the beaten and rocky path of the village, as to keep from leaving footprints. He passed the whitewashed wooden structures of the dairy farm, where several cows could be seen meandering about, and made his way further down the road. Finally, he came upon a large wooden building, more ornate than many of the others he had passed. Along the lightly-colored wood of the roof were carvings of sheaves of wheat. A lacquered sign swung in the breeze from rusted iron chains and featured painted illustrations of a cluster of wheat and an ornate pitcher of ale, between it read the name of the building: Golden Grain Inn. As he approached, he spotted both a corral and a stable, both of which were in complete disuse. He could tell as he softly stepped foot upon the porch that the inn had once been whitewashed as well, but time nor innkeeper had been kind enough to keep it from peeling. Behind him a hard-faced local began to saunter up the steps. Grum moved to the side of the door and clung to the wall, waiting for the man to pass. As the man entered the inn, Grum made haste for the door; Grum slipped inside with wraithlike stealth just as the door was about to close behind him. The door quickly shut, ringing a small brass bell as it did so. Inside, he crept up the foyer and into the main common area. There he saw, in the haze of afternoon sunlight, the hard-faced man sit alone at a table. Three other men sat quietly with their cups of drink in hand, keeping to themselves, not a word between them uttered. Barren fireplaces and unlit candles and lanterns decorated the common area, while rays of sunshine offered up the only light to the drab parlor. On the other side of the inn was a bar, with casks of light and dark ale stacked atop one another behind it. A man of hearty proportions kept to himself behind the bar, cleaning mugs and wiping down the once decorative bar in a soiled rag. Everything seemed extraordinarily underwhelming to Grum here, but the isolated vibe of the room did little to ease any apprehension he had about the small, quiet village. Grum’s ears perked as he heard the bell sound once more. With the grace of the most agile feline, Grum quickly slipped back outside as another man quietly entered.

The rest of the party were slow in making their way to the inn. As they approached the whitewashed dairy farm that Grum had passed while scouting, the party could hear the faint laughing of small children. From the back of the house, three little girls were spotted, chasing each other and giggling as they did so. Their joy was a stark contrast to the dour welcome of the first house visited. The party stopped and watched the scene play out. All three girls were small and sun kissed, clearly familiar with farm life but still too innocent to complain. The girls, upon noticing the band of strangers staring at them from the road, stopped their games and stood in silence. This was a different kind of silence than the one they were treated with earlier. This silence was curious and youthful. Eager to entertain, Thom climbed down off his horse and drew his tanto blades. Smiling, he began to juggle them from a safe distance, and the girls watched and smiled back at the funny, pointy-eared man. They giggled and lightly clapped their hands for more, the sound of which brought forth a taller, older girl who burst through the front door. Quickly, she hurried the children back into the house, whispering chastisements in their tiny ears as she glared at the playful bard. Thom stood, almost disappointed, and sheathed his blades. As he prepared to mount again, an older gentleman stepped out from the whitewashed house. From under his wide-brimmed hat, a scruffy older face smiled, his skin tanned from years of labor. “Ahoy oi, strangers! My name is Nowell Graven, don’t mind the girls. Come, what brings you to Orlane?”
“No worries, sir,” Thom said, stepping forward to shake the farmer’s hand, ”my companions and I were wondering what kind of services your town might have for us visitors?”
“Cheese, milk, or butter is all I can really provide. Prepared by myself, with the help of my wife and five daughters.” Nowell paused and turned back towards his home, ”Give me a moment.”
Moira cocked her head and focused on the kindly farmer as he returned inside. ”Well, I detected no evil from him.”
”Yeah, he seemed rather pleasant to me!” Trisoll seconded.
”Too often it’s the strangers who eagerly smile in your face without reason who are quickest to stab you in the back.” Lyssa said, her voice dripping with her distinct brand of cynicism.
Soon, the dairyman made his way back to the party bearing a vintage, wooden cheese board decorated with a selection of five cheeses, each one smellier and more ripe than the next. The more urbane members of the party could tell this was unique cheese, made with the utmost quality and care. ”My family and my cheese are the things that keep me most happy here in Orlane. These are my five favorites, each named for my daughters: Iviane, Ingrerith, Igraine, Ileen, and — this pungent number here — is Isobel, named after my youngest.”
Thom picked up a piece of Isobel and sniffed; while he winced at the first scent, he knew it to be the hallmark of quality cheese. The piece crumbled in his fingers yet seemed to melt on his tongue. ”Fine cheese indeed, dairyman!”
Noeel bowed his head in humble thanks and passed the board back to the rest of the party, encouraging them to indulge freely on the bold, nuanced selections of the dairyman’s goods (even Lyssa was hard pressed to resist, as she sneaked a nibble of the herbaceous Iviane cheese.) “Things in Orlane are in some peril. I can’t say for sure what, but people here… they aren’t the way they once were. This village used to be welcoming and free with strangers. No longer. It warms my heart to be able to meet such kind strangers and offer some kindness in return.”
”You do us quite the service, sir.” Moira said with much appreciation.
“Yes, you are indeed blessed in your craft and family.” Vetnik followed.
Noeel smiled and even blushed a bit at their praises. “Say, do you have a moment? Tea, perhaps?”
Thom looked to his other companions, all of whom seemed satisfied with the dairyman’s offerings, and together they obliged. Nowell led them to the adjacent barn where they could house their horses for the time being. He then led the party on foot back up to the house, which was similarly well-kept. Inside, five girls of ages ranging from toddler to teen, gathered in the kitchen (the eldest of them finished setting up a spread of cracked bread, freshly churned butter, and even more cheese.) The older daughter who had scooped her sisters back inside remained in the kitchen, carefully ladling spoonfuls of boiled water into modestly crafted tea cups. Tea leaves wrapped in cheese cloth steeped in the hot water of the cups and slowly begin to fill the kitchen with the scents of wild herbs and flowers native to the area. Together, Nowell and the party from Greyhawk took seats at the table while the girls took their leave to play in the rest of the house.
Thom was first to speak, and did so blowing away the hot steam of the tea with his lips. ”Your hospitality is remarkable. What else can you tell us about your fair town? Everything we’ve seen so far very quaint, except that building on the hill. The one surrounded in stone. What is it? Is it a hall or a temple or—”
”Who do you worship here in Orlane?” Lyssa asked rather abruptly, as Thom seemed to dance around the issue.
Nowell took a sip of his tea and began to divulge: ”It is indeed a temple to our most benevolent matron, the goddess Merikka. As a matter of fact, it is the only stone structure in town, furnished with granite from the Lortmill Mountains themselves.”
Lyssa, being from a farming town, was no stranger to the deity. She continued to probe, ”does anyone here still attend worship?”
”Yes,” Nowell began to answer, ”but visits are only permitted during the day. The temple gates are barred to visitors at dusk.”
While Moira, Vetnik, and Trisoll remained content to sip and snack, Thom continued his inquiry: ”Truth be told, Nowell, we’ve heard some rather outrageous rumors on the road about Orlane. Have you heard of any strange rumblings in your town?”
“This is the work of scared tongues,” Nowell leaned in to reveal, _”but I’ve heard of people being changed.”
”How so?” Thom asked, the others listening intently.
”I… I’m not sure. The only way to tell them apart from those untouched are by a pair of fang marks.”
“Are they seen during the day, or only at night?” Lyssa asked.
Nowell took another sip of his tea and waved his hand as if to brush away the talk. “Let us not prattle on about the lore of fools!”
Thom, convinced the dairyman had no further information, drank the last of his botanical tea and wiped the mess of crumbs from his lips. The others followed suit and began to make their way back to the barn to their horses.
“We appreciate the hospitality,” Thom thanked.
”As is your company, strangers.” Nowell replied, leading them back to the barn. Once there, he helped the party to untether their horses. Nowell waved goodbye to them and the party returned to the road in search of the Golden Grain Inn.

Grum continued to prowl down the paths of Orlane. In his search, he came upon little more than abandoned stables and empty corrals. While he continued to investigate, the party finally arrived at the peeling exterior of the Golden Grain Inn. They tethered their horses to the empty posts and approached with collective caution. Thom took it upon himself to head in first, the brass bell above the door ringing and signaling their entrance. As they entered the common area, they were greeted by the thick barkeep Grum had seen before (unbeknownst to them.) His jaw and mouth were covered in a thick, well-maintained beard while his rosy cheeks and tufts of brow hair caused his eyes to appear tight and recessed. “Hello, strangers,” he called out them as they slowly scanned the commons, ”welcome to the Golden Grain Inn!” On the opposite side of the bar, the landscape of the room had not changed since Grum’s visit. Only this time, in the dim common area sat eight men, each one still keeping to themselves. The party approached the bar, with Lyssa hanging back a bit, curious about the strange men who sat in silence.
”What can I get for you lot? Some wine, or a bit of brandy?” the innkeeper began to offer.
Above the bar hung a blackboard, its surface cracked and marred with the streaks of past chalk. The latest addition to the board was a menu of prices — unusually high prices for common pub in a quiet little village. A pint of light ale went for one silver, while a cup of wine fetched two. Lyssa was first to comment on what appeared to be no less than extortion.
“How do you expect these peasants and farmhands to pay for drinks at these prices?”
“We charge what we do since what we possess travels such a long ways, milady” the innkeeper replied, deflecting the mage’s agitation. ”Our spirits and foods are perfect for those who wish to indulge after a hard day’s work. We also have rooms for travelers like yourselves.”
Thom interjected, once more doing his best to charm the innkeeper with small talk. ”Barkeep, we’ll take a couple cups of ale then!”
Lyssa wandered away from the bar as the innkeeper prepared a round of drinks for the party. As she did so, she spoke to Moira and Vetnik under her breath, “You two ought to speak up if you wish to convince these people you’re our keepers,” and trailed off to browse the common area’s decor (as well as keep on an eye on the suspicious men sitting quietly.)

”You have a name, son?” the barman asked Thom, setting his drink in front of him.
”Tom,” the bard replied, with the others throwing a side eye at the bizarrely uncreative alias, ”T. O. M. Tom Blade.”
”Bertram Beswill, at your service” the innkeeper informed as he gave Thom’s hand a vigorous shake. ”What brings you to Orlane?”
“I met the company of two touring knights, heading to the games,” Thom replied, motioning to Moira and Vetnik behind him, ”we thought we’d stop in on our way to rest for a bit. I myself am a bard, my other companions deal in cantrips and tricks as well.”
”Curious accent, Tom Blade. Where do you hail from?” Bertram asked, readying the rest of the round of drinks.
”Greyhawk, sort of.” he replied with a bit of a chuckle. He raised his cup to his lips but made sure to pantomime a few sips, as not to indulge too much. Content Not Found: null laid out a few more cups of ale for the party and pushed them forward. ”Greyhawk, eh? I’ve never been, but I know it must be an awfully long journey from there to here. Come, you all must be thirsty. We’ve also got plenty of rooms and food, perfect for you to rest and relax a bit before heading back on the road. Here, a round on the house for our first visitors from Greyhawk!”
Vetnik and Trisoll were quick to take the innkeeper up on his generous offer of free booze. Moira kept to herself in the back, her chest up and back straight, in a pose befitting a true knight.
”Mayhaps,” Thom replied. ”Is there a general merchant or something of the sort? We’re still trying to get a feel for the town.”
“Yes, all sorts. We have a tailor, a blacksmith, a currency exchange, even another inn — but we shan’t speak of them!”
Bertram watched as the men of the party all sipped graciously on their drinks. He looked up and saw the two women not imbibing. He motioned to Moira first. ”Come, milady. You must be thirsty. For you and your curious friend over there, some beer perhaps?”
“I don’t care for beer,” Moira replied, raising her hand to politely abstain.
“Even a knight is not above a little wine,” Bertam persisted.
“I will have to pass, though I appreciate your hospitality.”
“And your lady friend," he said, nugging at Vetnik, “you there! Some wine, or even stew perhaps!” Vetnik shrugged as he continued to down his cup of ale.
Lyssa glanced over at the bar, and delivered a simple and dry, “No,” and returned to perusing the decor of the inn, this time fixed on the dust-covered ornate brass mantel, decorated with the ever-present sheaves of wheat. Bertram brushed off her coldness and remained spirited in his hospitality.
”Listen, if you like, the cook’s just finished a fresh stew, you ought to be the first ones to sample it.”

Bertram set aside his dishrag and made his way to the kitchen, just off behind the bar. While they waited and the men continued to drink, Lyssa returned to the gathering at the bar and waited.
”Seems nice enough to buy us these drinks,” Trisoll whispered to Moira, taking a drink in confidence.
”Like your… friend over there,” Moira began, glancing briefly at the impudent mage, ”I must refrain and stay vigilant.”
”I don’t know, it doesn’t seem like they have anything to gain from us other than company. They could just be friendly, in their own weird way.” Thom whispered back, setting down his half-empty cup.
Bertram returned with several bowls of stew on a tray. He set them down gently before the party, the steam floating warmth up to the party’s faces while their noses filled with the savory scent of onion, wine, spices, and boiled beef. Trisoll was hard-pressed to resist and was the first of the party to lap up the innkeeper’s warm offering. Before he could dig too deeply in, Lyssa reached from behind and flung the bowl of stew down the bar, away from the cleric. ”Come now, Lys, what’s all this about?” Next, she took the cup of ale from his hand and bent over the bar, pouring the last of his drink down the bar drain, which seemed to incite a bolder reaction in Trisoll: ”Whoa, whoa, whoa! Now that’s just not fair!”
”Come, we’ve spent enough time here.” Lyssa barked.
”But… but Lys!” Trisoll whimpered.
Thom gently pushed the bowl away from him and set his cup down upon the bar. ”Our apologies, but the lady is probably right, we had best be on our way before the daylight escapes us. Thank you again, sir, for your hospit… hosssppi…” Suddenly, as Thom began to rise from his stool, it seemed as if his vision began to fade in and out of focus. His legs felt unsteady, and he gripped to the bar for leverage. ”I… I fink…” Thom began with slurred speech, ”fink theere’s somefhin wrron… wrong wif ourr drinkkkss.” As Thom finally steadied himself to his feet, Vetnik’s head slammed down against the bar and it remained there unmoving for quite some time, the only sign of life being his thunderous, barbarian snore. As Lyssa and Moira rushed to the aid of the men, they looked up and watched Bertram step away from the bar, his friendly countenance now cold and expressionless, his hands and words weaving together an incantation. Before either of the women could react, Lyssa collapsed to the floor, overcome by the barkeep’s sleep spell.
”Grum, if you’re here, now’s the time to show yourself!” Moira cried out, doing her best to wake the sleeping barbarian. Bertram turned to her, continuing to recite his arcane speech, and with a wave of his hand the paladin sunk to the floor in slumber.

Both Thom and Trisoll did their best to steady themselves as they stood, the last two awake against the innkeeper-turned-mage. Each of the men did their best to focus, both attempting to recall and cast spells of charm, but the overwhelming dizziness they felt only hindered their recollection. Bertram turned to Trisoll and, with another wave of his hand, brought the stumbling cleric down upon the floor. Outside, Grum circled back towards the inn when he noticed the horses of his companions tied to the posts outside. Fearing he might interrupt their intrigue, he sneaked to a window overlooking the bar area. Peering inside, he saw the bodies of Lyssa, Moira, and Trisoll splayed out on the ground; Vetnik slumped over on the bar, his face pressed in a puddle of ale; his brother staggering while the eight men who sat quietly at their tables began to rise. Grum quickly bashed the windowpane in with the nock of his bow. He hurriedly drew an arrow, pulled back, and fired with a quickness. The half-elf’s arrow zipped through the window and across the bar, where it quickly made its home in the spell-casting innkeeper’s neck. Struggling to breath or speak over rising blood, Bertram turned to the window (clasping at the arrow jutting from his neck) and pointed at Grum, who in firing had broken the spell of invisibility and revealed himself to those inside. As Bertram crashed to the ground, hand still gripped tight around the arrow, another man of short, lanky stature, sprinted from the kitchen and leapt over the bar with a dagger in hand. Dressed in disheveled cook’s attire, the rat-faced man hissed, squinted, and launched his dagger at the window. Grum did his best to turn from the oncoming blade but his agility failed him. Though the dagger had only sliced into his shoulder, Grum began to feel weary as he ran to the front door. Before he could fully make it upon the porch, whatever poison the blade was laced with overtook him and he collapsed on the wooden steps.

As the men of the common area approached the bar, and the cook paced around him, Thom unhinged his drum from off his back and began to back away towards the broken window. Upon the drum, he tapped a beat using the butts of tanto blades with great urgency — a familiar warsong used in battles as old as recorded history, known by bards across the realms as The Saving March. His mouth hung open and as sweat gathered at his brow, he continued to beat away at the skins, hoping that his song might revive his fallen comrades from their mystical slumber. ”Nine hells!” he grieved and tossed his drum aside in favor of two of his larger blades: his beloved wakashazi and the short sword found in the cave in the mountains. Thom engaged the cook in a battle dance and lunged at him, first with his short sword (which dug into the cook’s chest through his soiled apron) and then again with his wakashazi blade (which seemed too heavy to balance in his affected state.) The cook fumbled as he attempted to wrestle the bard down; Thom steeled himself and with another slash of his short sword, fell the ugly cook. As the cook collapsed dead to ground, Lyssa began to wake, shaking off the effects of Bertram’s enchantment. Thom kept his blades drawn and backed away towards the front door. Once outside, he sheathed his blades and scooped his sleeping brother up into his arms. As he made his way back into the inn, the quiet men of the bar quickly dashed ahead of him, rushing to make an escape. Though Thom was helpless to stop them, Lyssa was not. ”NO!” she growled, her eyes burning with chaos energy, and before the last of the four men could flee she magically held the door. As the door slammed shut, the once barren fireplaces and unlit candles and lanterns erupted in unison with fire. The common area and the bar were now illuminated, the peeling of old damask wallpaper and cobwebs gathered in the corners of the rooms now lit for all to see.

Vetnik suddenly awoke as hot stew slid down the bar and neared his face. He shot up, quickly wiped away the drool and ale from his cheek, and looked around at the mess that he’d slept through. He quickly processed that his party was in danger, and turned to the front door to see the patrons of the bar standing in the foyer with the twins. ”Sit!” he ordered, his head still groggy from whatever had done him in. Thom carried Grum back to the open bar area and laid him beside the bodies of Bertram and the cook. He cradled his head and gentle shook him back to consciousness. The patrons continued to stand in the foyer, this time though they remained still, staring down the party. ”Sit down now!” Vetnik snapped as he came to his feet. He stomped over to the foyer and began to push the men together back into the common area. Grum coughed a bit as he returned to consciousness, and rolled over onto the faded woolen rug of the inn. He shrugged off the effects of whatever poison had leaked into him and stood over the body of the cook. He gave him a light kick to confirm death, as Thom began to search the bodies of the pair of no goodniks. On the cook, nothing; on Bertram Beswill, however, he found of a dagger of unknown origin. Thom helped Lyssa to her feet and the two of them began to shake Moira and Trisoll back to consciousness. While they tended to their companions, Grum stumbled about the bar and wandered past it into the kitchen. Inside, aside from the staples of any kitchen (cupboards filled with jars of grains and flour, with racks of salted meat hanging within) he saw the evidence of a seasoned poisoner. On surfaces unfit for preparing food for even the lowliest of beasts, the cook appeared to have been concocting a series of poisons from deadly herbs and flowers — many of which Grum found steeping in the stew eaten by Trisoll. Clarity began to return to Grum and as he perused the kitchen, he found no traps. Grum continued to sneak about and found, unlocked, a door with a descending wooden stairwell. The room was black as pitch, but his partially-elven eyes were keen in the darkness. He stepped down and found nothing of interest, only masses of cobwebs and covered tables and chairs.

Thom returned his drum to the hinges on his back and began to roll up the bodies of the would-be assassins in the faded, worn down rugs of the Inn. He hastily departed the common area and, together with his brother, began scouting the rest of the inn. The fate of the four remaining patrons was left to the trio of Moira, Vetnik, and Lyssa. Vetnik used what little rope he could find to bind the men’s wrists and ankles and sat them together at a table. Moira approached and paced around the captive men, holding in her hand the holy symbol of Cortox. As she circled the men, she could feel vibrations of evil echo around her, intensifying as she brandished her badge. She returned to her companions’ side and muttered to them softly, ”there’s evil here, I can feel it. These men know something.” Moira stepped forward once more, holding her sacred symbol high enough for all to see, and began her interrogations. ”Hear me now, we do not wish any more bloodshed in your village. We will, however, defend ourselves as necessary. How this ends depends solely on you: speak, answer our questions truthfully, and we will leave you unharmed. I swear it, my sacred word as a paladin, on this the symbol of the one true god, Cortox! Deceive… and I will know!” The men remained silent, their resolve unwavering. One man was even so unmoved that he placed his bound hands on the table and turned his back on Moira, shunning the pious girl’s pleas for truth. Unnerved by the man’s blatant disinterest, Lyssa took it upon herself to instill in him a bit more respect. The fires she had mysteriously conjured in the inn rose and roared as she quickly approached the grouping of hostages at the table. Before Moira could utter another word, Lyssa stepped forward — dagger in hand — and drove the thin blade as hard as she could into the man’s hand. His silence broke into cries of pain as he jerked in vain to free his himself, now pinned to the wooden table. Moira quickly rushed over, pulled out the dagger, and forcefully pulled Lyssa aside. ”Stop! What do you think you are doing?!”
”Getting them to talk.” Lyssa responded without remorse.
Moira dropped the bloody dagger at her side and did her best to reason with Lyssa. ”By torturing them?!”
”These men wanted nothing to do with you and your piety. Did you not sense evil?”
”Yes… yes, but evil or not, we do not torture!”
”If your divination was right, and they are evil, then nothing should be out of bounds when dealing with evil. No?”
A look of disgust mixed with confusion crossed Moira’s face. She struggled to deliver a counter to Lyssa, who remained more icy and detached from her violence than ever. ”If that is how things are done, then… then I will have no part of this!”
Vetnik stepped in and did his best to cool the tensions between the two women, ”We should keep our tactics level-headed—“
”We… we will say NOTHING!” a voice from the common room yelled defiantly. The trio turned and found the stabbed man curling his hands down into his lap in a feeble attempt to keep the blood from gushing. The other three men sat and remained unshakable.

Moira returned to the common room and clasped her hands around the man’s wound. She softly uttered prayers to Cortox, never allowing Lyssa to move out of sight. Lyssa stood by and watched, remorseless and eerily calm. As Moira released the hostage’s hand, Lyssa’s expression turned more cross when she saw no wound in the man’s hand, only dried blood where the dagger’s hole ought to have been. Lyssa moved forward towards him, but Moira stood to defend the man from any more of Lyssa’s physical torments. ”Watch yourself, mage.” she warned, her hand pressed tight against the shoulder that she had only weeks ago healed.
”I intend to get him to speak.” Lyssa said with certainty. She set her sights back to the once-wounded hostage and her eyes quickly flashed from obsidian black to ember red and, in a blink, returned to normal. Moira’s brow tensed at the thought of what Lyssa’s ocular outburst could mean. Lyssa looked up to the concerned paladin and cocked her head. As Lyssa stared the paladin down, Moira could hear the healed patron begin to pant and heave. Moira whipped her head around just as the man fell from his seat at the table and curl onto the floor, his face twisting in a series of pained expressions. Moira watched as the man could hold back no more, as his muffled whimpers turned to full-on cries of anguish. Moira’s grip on the mage’s shoulder tightened as she pushed her back towards the bar. ”This is not how we do things!” Moira chastised.
Her eyes a fiery red glow, Lyssa growled at the paladin, ”back off!” Moira felt something churn within her gut, as if some unknown force was propelling her body upwards. Soon, she realized, that force was Lyssa’s doing as her body began to lift off of the floor and float rapidly up towards the ceiling. Her legs kicked in a futile attempt to gain footing, and soon, she found herself only inches away from the wooden planks that lined the ceiling of the inn’s bar.
”You had better pray that this trick of yours is permanent, Lyssa! When I get back down there, I’m ending this!” Moira warned.
Trisoll stood by, unsure of where to even begin to help, while Vetnik stepped forward with authority, ”I insist you stop!”
Lyssa had now made sure to float the young paladin as far up as possible, her chest pressing against the roof as Moira struggled to push against Lyssa’s magical current of levitation. Braving the irritable mage, Trisoll placed his hand on Lyssa’s shoulder and began to plead for civility: “Please, stop! There’s enough going on here, enough bad vibes, please… we don’t need to add them!”
Lyssa turned from Moira’s floating body and looked at Trisoll, his expression transparent and stressed. Lyssa gave one final look at Moira before her eyes cycled back to their natural state; as the glow of her eyes extinguished, the effects of the levitation instantly ceased. Moira gasped as she fell heavy to the ground, landing hard on her hip. Moira winced in pain and struggled to return to her feet (Vetnik, being a noble gentleman, stepped in to her aid.)

The commotion of Moira’s heavy, armored body crashing against the old wooden planks of the floor shook through the quiet, desolate inn, even into the passages that the twins were exploring. Thom left his brother for a moment and rushed back out to the common area to investigate. ”By the gods, what’s going on out here?” he whispered to himself upon arrival. A quick survey of his companions revealed all: Trisoll stayed leaning in close into Lyssa with his hands up and begging for peace; Vetnik steadied the paladin to her feet as she shook off the pain dealt to her hip upon landing; across from them, the prisoner continued to twitch and whine in pain, his face red with flush and streaming with tears.
Trisoll continued to do his best to calm Lyssa, ”I know you have it in you to calm yourself. Please, for my sake and yours! Moira just… she believes there is another way to get what we want, and right now, we have to make it through this as a team—”
”What she believes is going to get you and I killed here.”
”You’re out of control!” Moira snapped back.
Thom put his fingers to his lips and let out a sharp whistle, announcing his return to the room. ”What is all this back and forth about? What’s going on?” Thom questioned, ”and why is that man laying on the floor squirming about like that?”
”I’m doing what everyone else here is scared to do. You want these men to talk, it’s not done with grace and sweetness.” Lyssa said.
”While I agree, these men should be held accountable for their role in whatever attack was attempted on us here, we have to keep a level head about this.” Thom started, ”We have no idea what else is waiting for us in this town — in this Inn no less — it’s no use wasting spells over petty squabbles!”
More to Thom’s point, Trisoll continued to plead (with his intent still mostly fixed on Lyssa), ”Can we just, for a moment, bring it back down and be cool? Everyone?”
Thom left the cleric to reign the impulsive mage in and returned to his brother, while Vetnik and Trisoll continued to separate the two women. Trisoll backed away from Lyssa and moved in to embrace the shaken Moira with a healing hug, with Vetnik stood guard beside them. Lyssa took the opportunity to finish what she had begun and moved in closer to the captive, whose skin appeared to be teeming with a rapidly-growing skin rash. She asked in a comfortless voice, ”Do you want this to end?”

The twins continued through the Golden Grain Inn, so far finding very little of interest or foul play. The inn was quite ordinary in both its layout and its furnishings. In an unlocked room, the twins entered a den filled with crates filled with diningware stacked in a corner, with a set of plush-yet-dusty chairs and an unlit fireplace in the middle of the room. The second door they came upon was locked, however. Grum drew his lock picking tools and with deft accuracy, he forced the door open. Inside, a mess of feather-down comforters and pillows lay piled atop a great bed. Flanking the unmade bed was both a wooden desk and chair covered in parchments; as well as a large brass-bound chest that both boys were eager to open. As they entered the room, the could hear the floorboards creak. Under the boots they saw a series of woolen rugs laid out across the floor in no particular fashion.

Lyssa silently watched the nameless patron writhe in helplessness. She focused intently upon the man’s form as the scourge of rash crept up past his collar onto his neck and cheeks. ”Do you want this to stop?” Lyssa pressed once more.
”Do your worst, we’ll never speak!” the man growled through gritted teeth. He drew his mucus as deep as he could through his throat and immediately hurled it at the mage with a furious spit. She swiftly turned her head from him just in time, with the wad of saliva landing in her flat, auburn hair. She turned back to face the hostage, ignoring the spit dangling in her hair, and withdrew a dagger from hip holster. Without word or warning, Lyssa jammed the short blade into the man’s neck and drug it through (much in the same way a butcher would a goat’s throat.) His eyes widened and stayed locked with hers as she quickly pulled the blade out. The mystic swollen hives began to clear themselves from his skin just as blood ebbed from his gash. His hands and feet twitched and kicked as life poured in rivers of red from his throat and mouth.
”WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!” Moira cried out from across the room. She blitzed forth with a fury and jerked her longsword from its white-chrome sheath. With a mighty swing, the paladin delivered a thunderous slap to Lyssa across the side of her face with the side of her blade. Lyssa quickly collapsed, her spit-laced auburn hair flowing and falling as she sunk to the hard, wooden floor. ”STAND DOWN!” she shrieked at the mage, her hands trembling as she pointed her blessed blade at Lyssa’s face. Lyssa gently rubbed the side of her head, her ear still ringing from the crash of hard steel against it. She turned and gazed into the paladin’s eyes, watery and squinted as if doing their best to contain weeks worth of bitterness. Lyssa kept her eyes locked with Moira’s and with wave of her hand and a whisper of a mystic word, cast a charm over the paladin that quickly subdued her hostile mood. Moira blinked a few times, as if trying to fight some unseen irritant away, but soon her eyes emptied and her expression softened. She lowered her blade and helped the mage back to her feet, all with an awkward and abrupt smirk.

Vetnik and Trisoll knew the signs of magic when they were cast, and stepped forward to intervene. Over Trisoll’s panicked blubbering, Vetnik’s voice boomed. ”Lift the spell!” the cavalier commanded.
”Test me, barbarian. You don’t know what other spells I have at my command.” Lyssa bit back, staying focused on Moira (who stood silently enchanted, paying more mind to the intricacies of the bar than the quarrel taking place before her.)
”Careful, mage. I see you’re plenty weakened after Moira’s swing on you. I can take you out with a mere slap. Now, undo it!”
”Lyssa!” Trisoll yelped from behind Vetnik as he pushed his way closer to her. ”Lys, please!”
Lyssa turned away from the two warriors and glanced over to Trisoll. Silently, he pleaded with her, his eyes becoming glassier with every unblinking second. Lyssa’s lips pursed and trembled, and with a flippant wave of her hand, she released Moira from her enchanted submission. Moira took little time recovering her senses and just as quickly, her breathing and heartbeat began to excel once more. ”You… you witch!” she cried out as she attempted to tackle the mage. Vetnik and Trisoll intervened once more as the two men held the violently upset paladin at bay. Vetnik did his best to meet eyes with her and talk her down, while Trisoll silently watched Lyssa slink away.

In the relative safety of the hidden bedroom, the brothers Black continued to probe the room for any more insight into their attackers, or at best, loot. As Thom rolled and beat out the rugs that laid as the foot of the empty bed, Grum slithered against the floor in search of anything underneath the bedroom’s furniture. Thom tossed the rugs aside and much to both of their surprise, the outline of a secret door lay square before him. Just as Thom found the door in the floor, Grum himself came upon a small, metal object jutting from under the bed, lodged in the under frame itself. Grum reached down, his nimble fingers gently doing their best to coerce the metal thing out. In a matter of moments, Grum had it free and brought it out from under the bed into view. It was a key, made of weathered brass. Grum tossed it to his brother; Thom caught it with little effort, knelt down and placed the key inside the secret door’s keyhole. ”Nothing,” Thom muttered in defeat, the key unable to trigger the lock. Grum crouched beside the bed and did a quick survey of the room again. The chest, he remembered! He motioned to his brother and without word, Thom pulled the key from the floor door and tossed it back to him. Grum caught the key and plugged it into the keyhole of the chest without missing a beat. With a little resistance, the key turned. Success! Grum eagerly opened the chest and found two things of various fortune. The first was a trigger mechanism, made familiar to him in his studies of traps (and something that made him thankful he hadn’t picked the lock to the chest earlier.) The next was a modest bundle of aprons, blankets, and a solitary longsword of unremarkable make. Undeterred, Grum emptied the contents of the chest out onto the floor beside him as Thom watched from the secret door and wondered. Grum reached deep down into the chest and glided his fingertips across the chest’s bottom. Lightly, he began to knock in quick and rapid beats. After a few quick knocks on solid wood, he could at last hear something hollow from within. With a firm slam with his closed fist, Grum caved the bottom of the chest in. Thom’s ears perked at the sound of what could only be wood falling into small pieces of metal. ”Coin!” the bard exclaimed as he scrambled to his feet and moved beside his brother. There, buried within, the shimmering of copper, gold, and silver sparkled in the twins’ eyes. Finally, they were at least getting something for their troubles.

Into the Moor

The sun fell and rose, and still the traveling party from Greyhawk laid their heads inside the cave that once housed the corpses and the exotic plant that fell them. So exhausted were they that the more toughened warriors of the group had taken it upon themselves to alternate and keep watch while the rest of the party slept through their fatigue. Even for the hardened Ice Barbarian, Vetnik — whose kingdom was little more than a harsh, frozen wasteland on the outer edges of civilization — the month after leaving Greyhawk had been one that none of them were prepared for. Though the Black brothers spoke often of the storied and mythical quests authored by their father, the party collectively realized that tales were one thing, but the harsh realities of Oerth were quite another. Turmoil and strife seemed to follow them at every turn, and it showed no signs of letting up (whether from outside forces, or internal provocation.)

Vetnik was the last of the warriors to keep watch over their encampment, who waited outside of the caves and kept to himself by the campfire made in the clearing just outside the cave mouth. Beside him, his char-black helmet, crudely embellished with the symbols of his barbarian kingdom. The last bits of flame flickered before they died with the rising of the sun. Vetnik sat, taking in a rare moment of tranquility and solitude, his sword resting across his lap. For a moment, his grip loosened and he relaxed.

The moment was short-lived, when through the quiet hum of dawn he heard the rumbling of earth come from the cave. He turned his gaze from the pile of ash that laid before him and saw the familiar, brilliant metal gauntlets of the paladin, Moira Steelshaper, was first of the party to wake. Vetnik quickly rested his sword beside his helmet and helped to pull the young warrior out of the cave. Moira stood before Vetnik and wiped away the dirt from the argent metal of her paladin’s armor in what was more futile habit than effective cleansing. The pair stood together, a stark contrast in refinement, as the eastern sky made way for the sun. “Water, milady?” Vetnik asked with a canteen in hand. Moira softly smiled, ungloved her hand, and took the canteen. Just as softly as she smiled, she took a few sips, and then poured a bit of the water in her hand and gently massaged it over her face to wipe away the filth of the cave sleep.

”Thank you,” Moira said as she handed the canteen back to the cavalier. “Before everyone wakes, while we have this moment, there’s something I must confess. It’s about Lyssa.”
The pair knelt down while Vetnik began to gather his things. “Your father was a good and wonderful man,” Vetnik began, ”I’ve heard tales of his bravery from my father. Don’t let the venom of some… stranger color your image of him any differently.”
“Her words don’t hurt me, but…” Moira paused, trying to find the most diplomatic way to reveal her findings, ”I did use my gift to detect evil on her, when I confronted her after she stabbed the dwarf.”
“Lyks has to know about this!”
“When we get back, I’ll definitely have to speak with Lyks. Until then,” she turned to Vetnik, their eyes meeting, ”I need you to help me keep an eye on her.”
“I’ve always been watching her,” Vetnik revealed, turning away from her as he completed bundling his bedroll. He stood to sheath his weapons, ”my father taught me the importance of protecting my friends, as he has always done.” After sheathing his longsword, Vetnik extended his hand to Moira and lifted her back to her feet. Vetnik brought her close to his chest, and the two embraced each other in a hug. Their white and black armor collided, breaking through the still quietness of the clearing. Together, they shared a moment of much needed tenderness.
“Every day we’re here, Orlane is in peril,” Moira said, backing away. Vetnik nodded in silent agreement and crawled back into the cave to wake his companions for the rest of the long journey ahead.

Inside the cave, the party lay scattered on thin bedrolls, curled into themselves and surrounded by armor, books, and weapons. Vetnik’s shadow passed and elongated over them as he entered and one by one, he moved about to wake them from their long, overdue slumber. Most woke with little resistance, greeting the cavalier with groggy yawns and stretches. As he approached and shook Azariah to wake though, her reaction was quite different. He stood over her momentarily and watched as her eyeballs twitched and writhed beneath her eyelids, the muscles in her face wincing beneath her dirtied flesh. As Vetnik laid his hand upon her shoulder, Azariah’s eyelids shot open and a gasp of waking relief escaped her mouth.
”Easy, easy!” Vetnik began, trying to soothe her while keeping a distance, ”it’s only me!”
Azariah did her best to steady her breath as she sat up. Her head hanging low, she solemnly revealed, ”I’m sorry… I was having a dream. I… I thought I was back in the cells at Enstad.” Azariah lifted her head and looked into Vetnik’s face, “Talindra… I cannot rest easy until I know what’s happened to her.”
Vetnik knelt in closer as the others shuffled about behind him. He whispered, “she did what she did because she loved you. She sacrificed herself to save you.”
”I know. Everything I have now, I owe to her sacrifice,” she began with tears pooling at her waterline, ”my life is dedicated to going back and returning Enstad to its former glory. Once we get to the Duchy of Ulek, I will depart to contact allies far beyond the mountains into the Silverwood. I should be safe there while I gather forces.” Azariah took another deep breath and wiped away the tears that gathered in her lashes with her fingers. As she collected her things together, she continued, ”we’ll take the main road to Axeguard, there we can arrange a ferryman to take you up to the Rushmoors.”
”Very well then.” Vetnik finished.

All rested and packed, the party climbed out of the cave and silently made their way back down through the small passage to their horses and cart. Grum once again took the lead of the party and headed the caravan up through the mountain path that the dwarf, Orvak Dwinig, had recommended to them, before departing in the wake of Lyssa’s assault on him. The ride began as a quiet, uneventful one. The hours passed, the sun rose through the cloudless blue skies and rested high above the party. Spring gave way to breezes that made sure to keep the group cooled down enough to endure the long, tiresome ride. Water canteens and light conversation passed between riders, but mostly, the party kept their focus on Grum and the path ahead. It was a peace that was not to last, however…

As the party continued through the range, above them the terrain turned from smooth and grassy to more jagged, clifflike formations with sparse trees crawling up the mountainside. They thought little of the changing terrain until, suddenly, the twins ears began to perk at the sound of rumblings above. Before they could draw their blades, a cadre of large figures descended from the cliffs above! Quickly, the horde rained down upon the party; one creature did its best to club Grum, but only succeeded in slamming hard against the dirt, stirring Grum’s mount. Before his brother, Thom, could ready his weapons, he felt the swift hit of another club bludgeon him against his cheek. In his periphery, Thom spotted another weapon swinging towards him and, determined to not be made a target a second time, quickly leaned his body backwards against the back of his horse and felt the air above his torso cut with the swipe of another weapon. Trisoll did his best to steady his mount amidst the ambush, looking ahead and behind to see his companions in peril. The cleric turned away from Thom for only a moment and his eyes widened to a shock: before him stood a beast whose form he’d only heard about in stories from his mother as a child. It crouched at the side of the mountain with a staff of bark, jagged stone, and leather crudely binding the weapon together; the creature was a filthy thing, its skin a sallow shade of ochre barely covered in mange-ridden burgundy fur, covered in the crude hides and bones of forest prey. Its long, pointed ears and scarred snout confirmed its nature: it was a bugbear! Trisoll’s eyes locked with the bugbear’s for what seemed like an eternity (though in reality, it was barely a moment) and before the cleric could mutter Trithereon’s holy name, the bugbear howled and swung its staff at the priest, knocking him off his mount and down onto the ground. Trisoll cupped the rising knot on the top of his skull, blood coursing down his forehead and pooling in his eye. With his other hand shaking from pain, he motioned towards the rest of his party and whispered, ”In Trithereon’s name, I bless you!” A swift, light breeze passed through the battle scene and as each member of the party inhaled, they could feel their adrenaline rising, their minds clearing, and the grips upon their weapons tighten.

Azariah was the first to charge with renewed energy, drawing her short sword, she did her best to slash at a nearby bugbear but missed. Fascinated by the grizzly beats that surrounded her companions, Lyssa’s curiosity was only outweighed by her her anger as she saw Trisoll at the mercy of a lumbering bugbear. She looked around and began to recite a venomous script; her eyes emptied into pools of glowing scarlet energy and the party watched as the bugbears all fell to their knees in terror with every word uttered. They growled and trembled before her, as if the mere sight of her chilled them to their very bones. The rest of the party wasted no time in using whatever intimidation Lyssa bestowed upon the bugbears to their advantage. Thom leapt off his horse and swung his wakashazi twice into one of the quivering bugbears, its final howling breath filled with the thickness of his own blood. In response, another bugbear shook free of Lyssa’s curse and leapt at the half elf, whacking him across the jaw and forcing him to the ground. With his longsword in hand, Vetnik stayed atop his steed, rode to protect the Bard, and slashed the bugbear into submission across the back. With a longsword and axe, Grum took his revenge on the bugbear that had tried to ambush him and plunged his sword through the creature’s throat; he did his best to finish off a second, scared bugbear from atop his horse with his handaxe but missed. For Moira, the battle tested her medal as a holy warrior: to cut down the terrified beasts in their disoriented state, or to uphold her virtues and face a fair fight. Moira made her decision for the latter quickly: she stepped down off her horse and loomed over a bugbear writhing in fear on its back. With an audible huff, Moira delivered a backhand to the beast, bringing it back from its waking nightmare; Moira positioned herself into a battle stance, bastard sword drawn, as the bugbear quickly rose to its feet. Before the bugbear could finish shaking off the lingering effects of Lyssa’s spell, Moira lunged forth and drove her blade deep into the belly of the bugbear. She held the bugbear down with sheer brute force and watched as it struggled, kicked, and scratched its way to death. While Moira finished off her attacker, Vetnik himself was locked in a showdown with the last of the feral bugbears. The beast snarled and goaded the cavalier on, its jowls dripping with frothy spit. The pair charged at each other in unison, Vetnik swinging his longsword the air with a determined motion as the bugbear leaped forward with claws and teeth ready to maul. The bugbear landed on his feet and Vetnik looked back, his sword disappointingly clean. The bugbear glanced at the small cut across his shoulder and cackled at the cavalier. Lyssa stepped forward, throwing him her patented eye roll (a look Vetnik was all too familiar with at this point) and she pointed an open palm at the laughing beast. Before the bugbear could utter a hiss, Lyssa’s eyes quickly shifted with chaos magic and she blanketed him with a wave of fire, engulfing it in her magical flames. The bugbear shrieked in agony as the flames filled its throat and collapsed at Vetnik’s horse’s hooves.

Vetnik nodded reluctantly at the mage, acknowledging her force in the fight, and took it upon himself to journey up the cliffs to scout for anymore possible threats to their journey. Thom, on the other hand, raided the corpses of the bugbears as the rest of the party steeled themselves to return to their march to Axeguard. Much to his satisfaction, Thom finally came upon coin! A mixture of copper, silver, and gold pieces (no doubt the spoils of previous ambushes) as well as a pair of small metal vials tied with leather straps around the bugbear’s necks. He pocketed the coin in the party’s communal treasury and did his best to identify the mysterious fluids occupying the flasks with his heightened sense of smell, but uncovered nothing. Vetnik returned a short time later, informing the party that while there were no traces of other bugbears on the cliffs above, the end of the path through the mountains was still a day or so away. Not wanting to stall any further, the party took their mounts once more and continued onward. Grum and Vetnik continued to lead; Thom and Trisoll dressed their wounds as they rode, while Lyssa quickened her pace and lingered behind the cleric; Moira and Azariah kept to the rear of the pack, the elf still drawing their undamaged cart down the path. The day or so that Vetnik had estimated passed without incident and the party safely rode finished making their way through the Lortmill Mountains. Back on more even ground, the party camped for the evening and with the rise of the sun, continued their ride through the placid greenery of the Duchy of Ulek. The calm of the ride was only briefly interrupted by a running herd of wild deer. ”It looks like they’re heading south, as we should if we wish to reach Axeguard,” Azariah noted. Together, they trekked across the flat, grassy plains to the main road where, as the afternoon sun began to slowly lower, they came upon a fork in the road. A weathered post with a pair of wooden arrows pointing in opposite directions had upon them two names burned into them: to the right was Waybury while the left arrow read Axeguard! The party let out a collective sigh of relief. No one though was more relived than Azariah, who had successfully crossed through the mountains and avoided capture. ”Come, friends. Axeguard awaits!”

The road leading into Axeguard was a bustling one, full of other riders and caravans of merchants selling all manner of food and supplies. Realizing how low they were on edibles after losing a cart back in the Kron Woods, Thom proposed to the party that they stop for a bit and mingle with the merchants in an effort to stock up on rations for the rest of the journey. They agreed and rode slowly alongside the various carts, gazing about to find a cart that suited their needs. Lyssa was the first to spot one and hopped down off of her horse and guided it towards an cart resting at the side of the road displaying its variety of fruits and salted meats. Lyssa was also the first to complain: after perusing the exotic looking fruits and vegetables, she remarked to the peasant merchant, ”These prices are atrocious! What are you even offering?!”
Unfazed by the abrasive mage, the aged merchant reached into a nearby barrel and drew an odd-looking pomegranate-like fruit, something Lyssa had never seen before. ”It’s a glumberry!” the merchant commented as his calloused, tanned hands sliced into the fruit’s thin, cerise-colored skin to reveal a clear, seedy pulp that dripped with a translucent ooze. The merchant’s hands tremored as he handed the mage the slice of exotic berry fruit. ”My prices are as good as any you’ll find on this road, we stand to make little and lose a lot to raiders and thieves. Consider it an import tax.” Lyssa hesitated before tasting, for such sweet things were foreign to a girl with her culturally-barren upbringing (raised on little more than common farmed vegetables and meats.) As she suckled on the slimy, saccharine pulp her expression twisted in discomfort; the fruit, she claimed, was far too sweet and shocked her palate in ways that intimidated her. She reluctantly swallowed her bite as the rest of the party gathered behind her to get in on the taste. Thom offered the merchant what he could for 12 days worth of rations, to which the merchant hurriedly packed a bushel of a variety of fruits and crude charcuterie. The merchant nodded graciously and handed the bard the rest of the cut glumberry, ”Take it! Take it! Fharlanghn’s blessings to you and your party!” Thom and the others bowed in gratitude, digging into their slices of sweet, sweet glumberry (all except for Lyssa, who returned her partially eaten slice to the bewildered merchant) and returned to their mounts to ride with the others on the road into Axeguard.

On the third day out of the mountains, the party finally had made it to the close-knit province of Axeguard. Thom and Trisoll spotted through the mid-morning afternoon hustle and bustle a traditional-looking inn. From the rod iron awning, the pair could see on a rectangular slab of wood the crude profile of a red-painted ram’s head; beneath it in Gothic type read the inn’s aptly titled name: The Red Ram Inn. The pair championed the idea of tying up the horses to indulge in a warm cooked meal — something they hadn’t properly done since leaving Pimpleton Manor! Azariah spoke, ”Go, enjoy a meal. In the meantime I will seek out the dock master and collect quotes for both our travels.” The rest of the party looked to each other and shrugged in agreement. Together, they secured their horses to the available posts outside of the inn; Azariah split from the group and headed to the docks while the rest of the party sauntered into the dining area.

Inside the hazily lit pub, only about seven townsfolks sat at the tables spread across the entirety of the room, quietly sipping on crudely-made mugs filled with ciders and ales, while dining on roasted venison and quail. ”You all find a table, I’ll get us some drinks!” Thom said with a smirk on his face. Before sitting, Moira made sure to declare her sobriety, “No spirits for me, please.” Thom shrugged and continued onto the bar while the others parked at a booth in a back corner of the pub. The diners glanced up from their meals and stared a bit at the strangely dressed travelers (who arrived in a variety of armors and colored leathers) but soon returned to their meals out of respect. At the bar, Thom lightly tapped out a rhythm across the booze and grease-stained wooden bar. A balding, portly man with a long scar that traveled the length of his neck to his temple shuffled over, wiping his hands on his camel-colored apron.
“Wha can I git ya?” he asked in a husky but gentle voice.
“A couple pitchers of water and some tankers of ale?” Thom replied in his charming way. The barkeep shrugged and began to pile and pour the drinks before Thom on the bar in relative silence (save for the occasional scratching of his throat.) Thom waved his brother over to help assist him in carting the drinks over to the table, which he obliged. Thom remained at the bar to probe the bartender about his meal selection.
”We got quail an’ venison.” he informed.
Handing over a few coppers for the drinks, Thom placed his order for a few trays of each meat to be delivered to the table. ”Hey, ma!” the barkeep began to shout at the back of the house,relaying the incorrect amount of portions much to Thom’s amusement. While the bartender shuffled back to the kitchen to help his alleged mother, Thom looked around and surveyed the clientele of the pub. All seemed like level, salt-of-the-earth types (not a seedy character sat among them.) His desire to liven up the spirit of the space overtook him. Not content to play a beat against the bar, Thom took up his small drums and began to rap upon them. He crouched on top of a central, empty table and quickened the rhythm of his drumming; soon, he was reciting to a captive audience of seven their escape from the elven capitol of Enstad. Their weary expressions lit up with every stanza, some even began to clap and sway, their smiles energizing Thom’s storytelling. The grizzled barkeep stepped out from the kitchen to see the commotion and could barely contain the childlike wonder that overtook him. Thom knocked out his final beats and the patrons erupted with laughter and applause! The brothers graciously bowed before them as the barkeep quickly limped his way over to them. ”Ma loved yer act, yer coin’s no good ‘ere. A round of drinks on the house for one more song!” The audience egged Thom on and the bard had little reserve in him to resist. He sat back down while the bartender began to lay the steaming, roasted meats at his companion’s table. Thom changed his beat up and began to sing them a song of how they fell a pack of mangy bugbears in the mountains! Even his brother joined in on the spectacle: at the mention of his name, Grum drew his blades and twirled them between his fingers in a dance of expert blade play. After distributing a mug of cider to each of the patrons, the stout barkeep shuffled on over to Thom’s party with a tray of cider for the group. ”I’m Mors,” he revealed, patting Thom on the back, ”we thank ya fer stoppin’ by our humble inn. Not e’rryday we get a’venturers in ‘ere! This was really a pleasan’ surprise, one we all needed! Where d’ya hail from?”
“The far and away city of Greyhawk!” Thom answered, gathering his breath.
“How is it?” Mors probed further.
“Fine once you get passed the smell,” Thom joked. “Tell me, have you heard anything about what’s going on in Orlane?”
Mors leaned in with a more dire tone, “aw, yeah, nuthin’ but ill in that town innit? We’ve ‘eard several rumblin’s from beyond our borders. Tales of creatures with 50 heads snatchin’ little kids up at night, while crocs from the Rushmoors have been crawlin’ into the town and feedin’ on all the livestock!”

As Thom continued to humor the barkeep, Trisoll marveled at Grum’s talent with his blades. “Where’d ya learn to do all of that?”
“My mom,” Grum replied with pride.
“My dad told me about her, the blade mistress. It all makes sense now, you being able to do all of that. Cool… REALLY cool. I loved it!”
While the boys bonded, Lyssa finished her cup of ale quickly and excused herself from the table to take some fresh air. Outside, she saw the usual fixtures of a traveler’s town, but decided to pass some time in a nearby general store. Inside, she was greeted by an amiable young shopboy.
”What can I do for you?” he asked, his energy unusually high.
Lyssa furrowed her brow, ”Um… what else is around here?”
”Not much here in Axeguard I’m afraid! There’s a the Red Ram Inn, the weaponsmith, the bakery, the docks—“
”The docks? Where are they?”
”Oh, just hang a left outside and continue down to the water, can’t miss it!”
Lyssa, still disturbed by the boy’s cheerful disposition, slowly made her way out of the general store. ”Have a fine day!” he called out as she made her way back to the streets. Outside, before she could surprise her elven companion at the docks (the paranoia of possible betrayal still lingering after escaping Enstad), Lyssa turned right to see Azariah enter the inn.

Inside, Azariah quickly made her way to the back of the pub where Thom and the others continued to dine and drink while they conversed with the patrons of the inn, all of whom were still enchanted by Thom’s riveting tales. She silently pardoned her interruption of Thom’s storytelling and stood beside the booth. “I found a man who can take you all the way to the edge of the river for 10 gold. It won’t be a comfortable ride, it’ll be a barge.”
From behind her, a cold familiar female voiced a question: ”What about the horses?”
Azariah quickly whipped her head around to see Lyssa standing behind her. Surprised and startled, she replied “Ah! Um, yes, of course, there should be room on the barge for them.”
Azariah stood back to allow Lyssa to take her place at her party’s booth. Doing her best to avoid Lyssa’s confrontational stare, Azariah continued, _ “My ferry is preparing to leave for the Silverwood. Wish me luck.“_
“Safe travels,” Vetnik said as he stood and hugged the elf. The others reached over the table and one by one she embraced the members of the party, kissing each of the males on the cheek. As Azariah bid farewell to Trisoll, Lyssa’s eyes shot figurative daggers through her (while Trisoll remained completely oblivious, wrapped up in the bitter moment.) Azariah saved Lyssa for last; Lyssa didn’t bother to rise and Azariah was unsure of how to say goodbye, other than uttering the words verbatim. She awkwardly knelt down and lightly hovered her arms around the mage, giving her a light pat on the back. ”Alright then.” Just as quickly as she embraced Lyssa she withdrew and returned to the head of the booth. ”Thank you all for freeing me,” she quietly acknowledged, ”you’re good men… and women.”
“We can help you when the time comes,” Thom chimed in.
“It will take a plan and some time to form it, but when that time comes, I will contact you. Gadhelyn guide and protect you! Go see Jered at the docks, he will be your ferryman.”
Azariah gestured a quiet goodbye and once more the party was on their own. Thom remarked, “I must say, this has been a great day. Coin, a great meal, and a maiden’s kiss!”

Having finished the meal, the party swallowed the last of their ale and left the inn and its charmed patrons. On the street, they untethered their mounts and followed Lyssa to the docks (as she had already learned the directions from the cheerful worker at the neighboring shop.) A mile onwards, they came upon a solitary man tidying up on the open area of a moderately-sized cargo barge. The party stood together at the edge of the dock and watched as the man lazily moved towards the rails. “Oy, kin I help ya?” the husky, bald man shouted in a thick, slurred mutter.
“Yes,” Thom answered back, ”an elven lass said she made arrangements. Jered, right?”
“Oh ya, yer headin’ to tha Rushmoors, eh?” he called back.
”Yessir! My companions and I, along with our horses and cart.” Thom confirmed, doing his best to appear polite while digesting the bloke’s almost-incomprehensible dialect.
”Awlrigh then, git um on board!” Jered said, waving them on.
With the bald man’s permission, the party boarded his barge with Thom, Grum and Vetnik taking it upon themselves to guide the horses calmly aboard.
“Were you a fighter once, friend?” Vetnik asked the mumbling captain, doing his best to acquaint himself with their host (Jered, upon closer scrutiny, bore an maze of jagged and lengthy scars across his skull that, coupled with his unique speech, meant only one thing to the cavalier.)
“Ya!” Jered excited slurred back, the rest of his exposition a series of melted fragments of words used to form what Vetnik and the rest assumed to be sentences. Vetnik wholeheartedly patted the ferryman on the shoulder and chuckled to himself. ”Thank you, again!”

The weather favored the party as calm yet sturdy winds guided the barge down the river with an ease and quickness that was uncommon for such a vessel. Over three days, the party did their best to sequester themselves in the small cabin under Jered’s kindly watch. As the first day of their river ride passed, Lyssa took it upon herself to engage with the party. More specifically: Trisoll. She stood from her tight corner and walked over to Trisoll’s area of the barge, where he and the paladin laughed and engaged in playful banter. ”Trisoll!” Lyssa dryly called out.
The cleric turned to her in mid-chuckle. “Yeah, Lyssa?”
“A word,” Lyssa demanded, her eyes fixed on Moira. Though the paladin was to many still quite naive, she did have a knowledge of the ways of young women. A sly grin crossed her face as she stood. ”Another time, Trisoll” she promised as she moved to another end of the cabin.
Lyssa sat hunched over across from Trisoll, and in her pointed tone she began, “Why did you do that?”
“Um… do what?”
“Why did you save me, back there at the caves? Why didn’t you save yourself from inhaling those… things?”
“Oh!" A light seemed to suddenly go off in Trisoll’s scattered brain, "well, we’re friends… companions, right? My dad taught me to be there for the people in my company.”_ Lyssa continued to stare, like a rigid dog ready to pounce. She stayed still though, and continued to listen. Trisoll leaned in as the conversation turned more intimate (though the cabin itself lacked the space to provide total privacy.) ”I see a lot of pain in you, Lys. Seems like the Gods haven’t dealt you the best of hands, but I figure if you have at least someone in your corner you can start to feel safer.” Lyssa’s expression subtly shifted as her brow began to relax. Trisoll began to chuckle to himself, ”Heh…heheheh, Lys and Tris! Hahaha!”
Lyssa cringed a bit at the sentimental exchange, but surprisingly, stayed close to the cleric. “Thank you. For not leaving me behind.”
“Of course, it always gonna be like that!”
Lyssa scanned the expressions of the others in the cabin, all of whom seemed engaged in their separate spaces, and scooted herself beside the paladin, still keeping a bit of distance between them. “Are you?”
“Am I what? Going to always be like that? I mean, as long as you don’t stab me in the shoulder.”
Lyssa’s tone changed, and for the first time, it seemed to emote something beyond disdain. Quiet though it was, it was the sound of concern. “You’re too trusting. It’s going to get you killed one day.”
“Not if you’re there to save me! Hahaha,” Trisoll loudly joked back and raised his arms, stretching them above his head. As he brought them down, he did his best to wrap them over Lyssa’s shoulder and move her closer. Without flinching, Lyssa’s voice returned to its usual coldness: “You leave your arm there and I’m going to keep it.” Trisoll sheepishly brought his hands back to his lap and hoped to himself to not make the same intrusive mistake again. Together they sat in silence, side by side, while the others conversed around them.

The sights that flanked both sides of the river were repetitive (save for the far off hamlet spotted on the final day.) The river was surrounded by trees and high, untamed grass, and beneath the barge the water flowed without interruption. No longer put off by Jered, the party did their best to joke back and forth while he kept them entertained with baffling tales of his past that were only understood through his passionate gestures. Grum and Thom kept to themselves separately, the former occasionally putting down his blades and flint to engage in bits of conversation or check on the horses and cargo; the latter seemed fixed in his journals, taking the time on the barge to document their travels with even more precision and calm. The connection between Vetnik and Moira also seemed to take shape, as both showed mutual respect for their abilities in combat. A number of their discussions were deeply philosophical though, often debating the merits of fighting with valor and virtue as opposed to the use of brute, barbaric force.

On the third day, Jered docked at a riverbank leading into the Rushmoors. “Dis is ath far as I go!” the ferryman said, pointing towards the wild grass and gnarled trees of the swampy marsh land. The party each thanked the ferryman as they drew their mounts back onto land and, as Jered pulled up his anchor and began his journey back to Axeguard, the party made their way into the Moor. The party traveled north and over the next few days, they rode deeper and deeper into the heart of the Rushmoors. The vegetation flourished and went unchecked, with willow trees stretching high towards the sky to create a patchwork canopy of wispy, billowing leaves. The sun bleached greenery of the riverbank deepened in color under the protection of the willows, while citron and ash-colored lichens spread across every visible surface. Grum did his best to use his sense of direction to lead the party through the swamp, the small bits of light piercing through the willows did little to help in guiding him. Nor did the moss, which in most instances would seemed to shun the sun; in the Moors though, the moss coated every tree in every direction. The humid air clung to the party as the first few days seemed to drag. The air of the bogs was thick made riding all the more arduous. By the third day, the terrain was at its wettest. The ground was more mud and marsh water than dirt, and the grasses rose well up to the heels of the lowest-riding party member. In the distance, Grum spotted the branch of a willow dangling from threads of broken bark. As they rode closer, Grum saw it break and fall to the ground. Instead of hitting the grass with a soft thud, he could see the branch bob and then sink. “Stop!” he cried and pointed the party towards the sinking branch. Together they examined the fields ahead and beheld fields of sinking muck. Beyond the quicksand, in the gathering foggy haze of the Moor, they could also see faint wisps of white light hover above the grass and flicker. Together, the filed behind Grum and rode through the thin tracks of land between the pits of quickmud. The deeper in they rode, they found the globes of hazy white light to be nothing more than bubbles of rising swamp gas, popping in tiny bursts of white incandescence.

As the bubbles of swamp gas floated closer towards Grum, their bursting released disorienting fumes that only added to Grum’s fleeting direction savvy. He wiped away the swamp dew and sweat from his brow and did his best not to show panic, but it was clear to the others (especially his brother) that he had lost his way. The cooing of strange insects and birds buzzed and pierced the otherwise quiet journey, and Grum did his best to keep himself together. Grum continued to ride aimlessly, tugging at his collar and mask for air while the others continued behind, to beaten down by the bog’s humidity to fight. Grum exhaled and briefly shook off the lethargy long enough to see a knot of giant frogs. They squatted on fallen willow trunks and in patches of dampened, run down grass, blinking and croaking. Without a word, Grum raised his hand and motioned to his companions to back away and find a less cluttered path. As they did so, they were immediately faced with another frog, the size of a large boar, with the color of the surrounding fen plants, covered in raised ridges and warts. Without warning, the toad croaked and released it massive, fleshy tongue and fired it at Thom. Its tongue lash missed Thom, but before the bard could draw a blade, a familiar red glow could be seen out of the corner of his eye. He turned to see Lyssa’s head cocked and her hand outstretched. The air itself gathered in a fractal of energy around her palm and surrounded the frog in a funnel of chaos. The amphibian wheezed and kicked as Lyssa began to slowly levitate it from off of its stump. As she examined the creature, Trisoll whispered to Lyssa, ”Wait, don’t hurt it!” He stepped down off of his horse and moved slowly towards the floating frog. The two locked eyes and Trisoll concentrated his energy to charm the amphibian as it hovered in the air. The great frog stopped kicking and floating motionless, blinking calmly. ”Lower him,” the cleric ordered. Lyssa obliged and after touching back down upon the the mushy earth, the frog began to hop around like a large, playful hound. The frog writhed on its belly and Trisoll quietly motioned for his friends to come watch and pet it before he commanded the frog to hop on the back of their cart. ”His name’s Mugwump!” Trisoll relayed, smiling back at his friends.

Three days through the Rushmoors, Grum finally acclimated to the less than pleasant environment of the marsh. His bearings returned, he continued to lead the party through with familiar ease. A few miles out from Orlane, the party settled upon an razed surface of the swamp, where an encampment once stood. All that remained was a tent and a fire pit, but it was all the party needed to rest for the evening. Thom took the time to attempt to uncover the nature of the potions acquired off the bugbear corpses and deduced them to be for fire resistance and speed. Mugwump served the group well and feasted upon the buzzing pests that hovered around them. They were only hours away from reaching the border of Orlane.

Trouble in Enstad

The sun was already quite high in the late morning hour, and clouds were nowhere to be seen as the party came through the Kron Hills. The air was warm and, as they reached the southern edge of the hills, the distant scents of civilization trickled between them. Could there be a city willing to house them for the day, to help them stock up on the food and drink they had lost back in the Iron Woods, they wondered? His eyes fixing on the surrounding sights with much keener vision, Thom casually rode atop his steed with journal and quill in hand, quickly sketching the wonders of the Kron Hills as he saw them. Down a beaten path through the hills, Thom’s attention turned ahead of the party. Nearly a mile down, his half-elven eyes began to make clear structures: ornate spires of brick, bronze, root, and crystal spiraled up towards the clear blue sky, surrounded by an equally impressive structure. A wall covered in the greenest ivy and similar bronze and root filigree contained the impressive spires. As Thom sketched, and remembered where at the foot of the Mountains they were, his wonder turned to worry.

“Friends, there’s a city up ahead,” Thom began, his voice low with concern.
“Oh?” Grum muttered.
“Yes, brother. And if I remember father’s tales as true as they were told, it looks like we’re heading towards the kingdom of Celene.”
“What troubles you then?” Moira asked.
“Celene is Elven land. Land all of us are forbidden to enter.”

Through the playful sound of Springtime finches chirping, Moira could faintly hear hooves riding against the earth. The party slowed their pace and altogether halted as the sound of the hooves grew more apparent to all. Moira watched in the distance as dust kicked up into the air, and through it, the glare of brilliant armor and iridescent silk banners shone through. As the horsemen rode closer, the party could more clearly make out the banners; upon the rich, iridescent silks, the banners bore the sigil of Celene’s capital: Enstad. Moira ordered the party to step down off the horses in a show of good faith, but warned them to be ready for anything and to have their story straight. She turned a special attention to the spellcaster, Lyssa:

“Lyssa, I beseech you. Steel yourself!”

Moira quickly turned back to see the oncoming party of elves as they neared their stop on the path. As the horsemen approached, the party were almost collectively in awe. Banners of beetle-like hues of green, blue, and gold billowed in the wind high above the elves. Together, the horsemen were a shimmering pack, outfitted in delicate-yet-durable bronzed platemail, featherweight chainmail, velvets, and the finest elven blades and bows crafted in the realm. Truly, they were a sight to behold, an ornate cut above anything most of the party had ever seen.

The leader of the pack — a typical elven male of delicate features and refined build — stepped down off his horse (his lightweight armor barely making a rattle) and he approached Moira with hand across his hip, ready to draw his blade.

“What is your business here, scum?”
Stunned by his brash language, Moira replied, “Hold your word, sir. I am a Paladin and my companion, Vetnik, is a— "
“I don’t care who or what you are,” interrupted the elven guardsman. “On this road, you humans and halfblood trespassers!”
“I can assure you, sir, we are not!” Vetnik declared. “We are merely trying to get through—”
“You’re not allowed on these lands!” the guardsman barked as he quickly unsheathed his blade. “Do you know what we do with invaders, like you and your mouthy human sow?!”

A strong, sure voice called out from the back of the elven pack, “Stand down, Ser!” The huff of a steed and the sound of heavy feet landing on the earth below signaled the arrival of another figure. The blade-wielding guardsman’s sneer quickly morphed to obedience as the figure behind him called out again, the patience in his voice missing. “I said: stand down!” The guardsman immediately returned his blade back into his filigreed sheath and stood to attention. From behind him, a tall, broadly-built elf emerged. Less adorned in ornate armor, the cloak and quiver fixed to his back giving him more of a Raider’s appearance, he stood a foot above the boorish guardsman and his elven cohorts.

“My apologies, Captain Ash’a’na!” the guardsman replied, bowing his head and returning to his horse at the front of the pack.

The genteel captain stood before the party of humans and half-elves, bow in hand but relaxed. “I apologize for the hostility,” he began, his voice now a mix of soft sincerity and aged weariness. “I am Captain Cortellius Ash’a’na. I am old enough to recall better times, times where my city’s gates were open to all. Alas, those times have long since passed, and in these times I am duty-bound to bring you in.”
“Bring us in where?!” asked Thom.
“Before our court, where they shall decide what to do with you.”
Thom slowly approached the guard Captain, stepping around Moira and Vetnik. “Good sir, we beg of you. We do not wish to do harm, we were on our way to Orlane—”
“Yes, my lord.”
“I know of no such land. I’m sorry, lad, but you and your companions are trespassers.”

With that, Captain Ash’a’na motioned to his men to step down off their horses and bind the party and their supplies. While the elves rounded up the party’s horses, Thom was the first to lay down his arms as a show of good will.

“We do not wish to fight, my lord,” Thom said as he and his brother handed over what seemed to be blade after blade, much to the amazement of the Captain’s elven crew. Moira and Vetnik were next, followed by Trisoll. Lyssa was last to disarm, locking eyes with the elf that approached her as she slowly slipped the dagger holsters from her body. A second wave of elves baring finely woven ropes moved through the party. They followed through the crowd, binding one by one: first Moira, followed by Vetnik. Grum, however, was not so willing.

“If we come willingly, then there should be no need to bind us.”
“It is for your safety, young halfblood,” Captain Ash’a’na began to tell Grum. “We have enough men to cut you down should you decide to strike, though I would prefer that not play out today.”

Grum shrugged in compliance while Thom held out his own hands, wrists together in such a way to sneakily keep the knots from becoming too tight. Grum watched his brother’s slight of hand and fixed his hands outwards in a similar position, but much to his dismay, felt the constricting of the ropes bind him all the same. Trisoll submitted, but Lyssa kept her arms at her side. Her eyes continued to fix their gaze with the elven captors as they approached with ropes in hands.

“Bind the human and let’s be on our way,” ordered the Captain in his direct tone.

An elf quickly took Lyssa’s wrists and with a bit of tension, was able to bind her as well. Bound together, the party were now at the mercy of the Enstadian elves with their horses, weapons, and remaining supplies in the hands of captors. The Captain motioned for his men to return to their mounts and slowly the caravan of captors made their way towards the ancient gates of Enstad with the party marching along behind.

The elves led the bound party through the Naseloth, the northern gates of the city, its structure comprised of both stone and wooden masonry that felt almost out of place amongst the majesty of the city within. Almost crude by comparison. On both sides of the gate, elven gatekeepers stood to attention at the sight of Captain Ash’a’na and his returning men; while their eyes stayed focused on the incoming trespassers, their nimble hands were alert, ready to draw their longspears and longbows at a moment’s notice. Beyond the gate, the party were momentarily lost in the majesty of Enstad’s supernatural architecture. Even the hardened human mage Lyssa had a hard time hiding her fascination with the city’s splendor. Pillars of living wood, crystal, marble, and metal dazzled in the sunlight, while the buildings of the city seemed to have a fluid quality to them, as if they were currents made of ivory, wood, and brilliantly colored stained glass fixtures swirling through the city rather than standing isolated. At the city’s center, a grand hall of domes and spires shot towards the heavens. Its exterior sprawling with even more delicate and ancient elven sculpture and natural ornamentation forged from stone, crystal, vines, and even unmelting ice, with its archways and thresholds of marble carved to mimic the natural and flowing forms of the surrounding forest!

Their wonderment was short lived however, as the hypnotic beauty of the city was quickly shattered by boos and hisses from its occupants. Crowds of slender, delicate-looking elves (peppered with the occasional gnome) gathered at both sides of the party. As the party shuffled behind Ash’a’na and his men, the elves launched insults in their native tongue as well as produce at them! Most of the party kept their eyes forward and bared the contempt; Trisoll did his best to plead peace to them in his common tongue while Lyssa seethed, her jaw clenched and her scowl unyielding.

“What has bred such hatred in them?” Moira pondered.
“Fear.” Vetnik answered before being pelted with spoiled fruit.
“Yeah, you said it!” Trisoll supported, his tunic flaking with wilted greens.

The Captain led the party beyond the main entrance of the Royal Palace and to a separate common, a lock up for those awaiting trial at the royal court. The setting was a stark, cold contrast to all that had awed the party outside. The Captain’s men circled the party inside the cell, undoing their restraints quickly and silently before exiting the cell. Captain Ash’a’na’s guard watched with weapons ready as exited the cell. Before closing the old steel door, Vetnik spoke up.

“Captain, I hope when this is all over you will have some regret for how my companions and I were received on this day.”
“I regret my actions now, cavalier,” Captain Ash’a’na sighed, “but this is my duty.”

The Captain slowly closed the steel door to the cell behind him and left the party in isolated silence (only the muffled sound of footsteps trailing away from them could be heard.) Sunlight beamed through the sole window, covered by an ornate metal security grate. In the patterns of light, little was revealed to the party beyond what was already known: they were alone in a barren cell awaiting their fate.

Hours passed and the sunlight began to dull in the cell. The group stewed in silence, unsure of what to do next. Lyssa kept to herself, while Thom and Grum huddled together (Thom rapping against the cold stone floor, doing his best to keep a rhythm); Moira and Vetnik stood alert while Trisoll surveyed the faces of those in his party, ready to ease the burden of capture at a notice. At the third hour, the silence of their capture was interrupted by the sound of footsteps. Keys rattled and the steel door swung open to reveal a Captain Ash’a’na and his cadre of elven guardsmen.

“Come,” he motioned to the party. “Follow us, her majesty commands an audience.”

Moira and Vetnik lead their companions out of the cell, hands at their sides (the guards flanking both sides of the door brandishing their weapons.) In pairs, the party marched surrounded by the royal guard through the opulent halls of the palace and into the Grand Court. Elven gentry surrounded the perimeter of the grand hall, keeping their distance in alcoves lit with a kaleidoscope of brilliantly colored stained glass fixtures. Amber light poured in through the large windows above the alcoves as the party made their way to the center of the court, it’s cool alabaster floor almost glowing under the sunlight. Censers and flowers filled the room with a deceptively calming blend of fragrances. The sound of horns filled the silent space, followed by an announcement. “Presenting Her Fey Majesty, Yolande, Queen of Celene, Lady Rhalta of All Elvenkind, and her royal Advocate, Lord Tyvollus Stilmust.”

Captain Ash’a’na moved forward and kneeled before bringing forth his captors before the most grand of audiences. Atop a raised center stage sat her Majesty on a grand throne of ornate bronze upholstered by fine, plush silks and velvets; strong, ancient roots covered in jasmine flowers of every variety, twisting together to meet the large bronze sigil of Enstad surrounded the stage. At her Majesty’s side, Tyvollus stood, a sinewy elven man in flowing black brocade. In his alabaster hand, a thin wooden staffed topped with a rough, violet crystal.

Tyvollus spoke, his voice cold and aloof, “You may rise, Captain. Tell us, who stands behind you… unbound?”
Captain Ash’a’na stood to attention and did as was ordered, “My Lord, my men and I found these trespassers outside the northern gates. They came with us of their own will and good faith, and have surrendered all weapons and possessions to us—”
“That is all, Captain,” Tyvollus interrupted, shooing the soldier away. “Bring them forth.”

Captain Ash’a’na stepped aside as was ordered of him and waved at his men to present his captives. The sinewy elven lord tapped his fingers against his staff and scanned the motley company in cold silence. The Queen herself kept her head down, her seemingly endless locks of silver hair falling beside her face down her bust.

“Cretins. Do you not know to bow before your betters? You stand before her Fey Majesty!” Tyvollus hissed. While most in the party did their immediate best to comply out of respect, Lyssa stood defiant, head cocked staring the nobleman down. The elven lord pursed his lips and as quickly as he could bat an eye, a guard stepped forth, butting her in the back of the leg with his longspear. As Lyssa fell to her knee, Trisoll quickly glanced at her, his eyes wide with concern (for both Lyssa and everyone else.) Much to the cleric’s surprise, Lyssa stayed on her knee in silence, her expression tense with rage, but obedient nonetheless.

“Now, humans and halfbloods, you may rise,” commanded Tyvollus after a few moments of silence, “rise and speak.”

The party rose mostly in unison, Lyssa staggering a bit as she did so. Thom moved slightly forward, hands in front of him as a sign of peace. “My Lord… your Majesty, we have come all this way from the Free City of Greyhawk on a quest. A mission of mercy, to aid the city of Orlane, a city in dire need of our help. We are not invaders nor trespassers, my company and I merely wish to pass so that we may continue on our way.”

The Queen was silent and barely responsive. The Grand Court was eerily quiet as well, everyone on the edge anticipating the regent’s response. Instead, of a verbal acknowledgement, the gem fixed atop Tyvollus’s staff begins to glow from within. Tyvollus looked into his gem, took a moment to interpret the flickering violet light within, and nodded to the Queen. “How does her Majesty know that you are not spies?” he asked, returning his attention to Thom and his companions.
“With all due respect to her Majesty, if we were spies we wouldn’t be terribly good ones to be caught so easily.” Thom quipped.
“Incompetence. It would not be the first time human or halfblood spies have been captured.” Tyvollus fired back.
“Your majesty, with all due regard," Moira began as she stepped forward, bypassing Thom and Tyvollus’s exchange, “I am Moira Steelshaper, Paladin of Cortox. As a Paladin, I am sworn to follow a code of good and law. In your wisdom, you must know, we are no invaders!”
“You dare to address her Majesty directly? Speak again, human, and incur her wrath further!” Tyvollus warned.
Vetnik was next, the sound of his heavy coal black armor echoing through the Grand Court as he stepped forward, helmet cradled under his arm. He bowed his head before addressing her: “My Lord… your Grace, I am Vetnik Talthraudii, Earl of Granrud. The Paladin and the Bard speak the truth. Your suspicion in us is misplaced. Your Majesty, these brothers, the half elves that have traveled with us, they are your own. They are your flesh and blood!”

A hushed awe blanketed the room. Tyvollus’s eyes widened at the notion while the gem of his staff shot from a benign violet flickering to burning with a fiery red glow. Queen Yolande’s head slowly began to tilt upwards. Her expression was tense as she did so. Her lips smashed together to form a rage-filled grimace. Her eyes twitched with frenzy at the accusation, the sweat of strain forming against her temple. “Heresy!” Tyvollus whispered between gritted teeth. He gripped his staff tightly and pointed it at Vetnik. “Cuff him! Cuff them all, at once! Take them to the dungeon hall!”

The clanging of iron cuffs echoed throughout the Grand Court as guardsmen swarmed around the party, swords and longspears drawn. The party looked to each other for some kind of clarity and to the gentry for compassion (of which they had none.) A lone guard bludgeoned Vetnik’s unarmored head with the butt of his longsword, sending the cavalier to his knees. In the commotion, Thom and Grum decided to pull their slight of hand tricks again, and while they appeared to be cuffed, they were secretly free of the bondage that befell the rest of the party. While the elven gentry riotously cheered the royal guard as they drug the captive party to the royal dungeons, Tyvollus and Yolande remained silent.

Through winding corridors and steps, the party were led into the dungeon halls beneath Yolande’s royal palace. With little regard for their pace or safety, the party were yanked into the cells: a long hallway black as pitch (fit only for those with keen, elven eyes.) Closer to the cells, the walls were decorated with the occasional lit torch, and in the faint flickering of torch light rod iron bars could be seen lining both sides, with individual cells separated by thick, stone walls. The funk of molding hay and captors’ waste made the already oppressive hall that much more rank. A pair of guards unlocked a single cell and the rest of them forced the shackled party inside, quickly sealing the cell door shut behind them. The guards marched back to the great steel door that sealed the hall shut, exiting without a word. Thom and Grum quickly unfastened their hands and worked their lock picking skills on the rest of the shackles, freeing the rest of their party. Together they stood in near darkness, wondering what was to become of them.

Vetnik massaged his cheek and rested by the rod iron entrance, still face still quite tender from the blow delivered in court. Lyssa wandered around the cell and finally settled against the front bars, her arms dangling out as if to reach for any passersby. Thom and Grum sat side by side, both keeping to themselves at first (unhappy the secret of their lineage had been spoiled before their Great Grandmother, who had seemingly doomed them to imprisonment.) Together, they argued the virtue of staying versus the risks of fleeing. The party waited, the sounds of other prisoners’ hacking and groaning keeping them company.

What felt like a couple hours passed before the party could hear the great door at the end of the dungeons begin to slowly open and close again. They focused their ears on what was coming: a soft pair of footsteps along with the sound of metal rolling against the cold stone floor. The party recognized a pattern repeating: footsteps, rolling, the sound of metal rustling and sliding against stone. (A purveyor of the day’s meals, perhaps?) As the pattern of sound neared their cell, the party gathered around the rod iron opening. In the dim of the torchlight, they could barely make the figure out at first. As it approached, the figure’s features materialized in the dull dungeon light. It was a custodian, pushing a cart with trays of food; she was young, an elven maiden of fair beauty, with flaxen hair tucked under a linen bonnet that revealed floppy, pointed ears. As the maiden parked up to the cell, she withdrew several trays of food (stale bread, mashed root vegetables, and gristle.) As she stepped towards the cell, Lyssa struggled to reach for the girl, grabbing at her ears but failing to make it. The maiden, while shaken, was no stranger to this kind of cheap apprehension, and quickly pushed the remaining trays under the bars before returning to the rest of the cells. Lyssa’s head sunk in defeat while Moira shook her own head in disapproval, taking the trays and dispersing them among the party.

“Calm yourself,” ordered Vetnik to Lyssa as he took the tray nearest to him. Lyssa rolled her eyes in silence and returned to hanging against the bars, ignoring her portion of the meal. Hoping to find something among the slop to fashion into a key or a weapon, Vetnik removed his gauntlet and began to poke around and pull apart his meal. Nothing but slop, he thought, holding the tray in his hands. As his fingers traced the perimeter of the crude metal tray, he could feel something on the bottom of it. Fixed to the back of the tray with honey, he found a folded up piece of paper. Carefully he pulled the paper off as not to rip it, and just as carefully unfolded it — tossing aside the metal tray. Upon the paper, a note was written:

“Strangers, I seek your help. My sister Azariah is held here for helping humans to escape the city to return to safety. In return I can help you escape as well. If you agree, leave a morsel of food on the tray and I will return to collect it."

Moira and Thom, finicking with their slop, both took notice of Vetnik has he struggled to read the note in the dim light, his eyesight very much human. Vetnik passed the note along to the pair as he took one last bite of his bread and placed a piece upon his tray, as instructed. Thom, being of better sight, read the note softly to Moira, who in turn passed the message along to her fellow companions. Vetnik pushed the tray out just as the custodian returned to make her final rounds. Vetnik and the maiden’s eyes met for a moment, and though it was too dark to tell if she acknowledged his stare, she hurriedly stuffed the tray into her cart and scurried back into the darkness, out of the dungeon halls. Vetnik sighed to himself and turned to the rest of the party. All were on edge, but far too tired to stay as alert as they would’ve liked. Grum, uncomfortable by the lack of action in his comrades, slid next to Vetnik and, using pieces of cartilage and bone found in his meal, began to twist and turn inside the lock. Finally, after a minute or two, the faint sound of old metal clicked. Grum backed away and slowly opened the gate.

“For being so much better than us, they sure are shoddy steel workers,” Thom joked at his brother.

The party was astonished by Grum’s inventiveness, even his own brother conceded to his twin’s skillful handiwork! The party could barely contain their volume as they discussed the pool of possible outcomes staying or going could have.
Moira asked, “Do we make the escape ourselves or chance our stay a little longer and help this girl?”
“If we leave, and are caught, we fail any way,” Thom reasoned. “If we stay and wait, perhaps the maiden who left us this note will bring further instruction on how she plans on getting us all out of here!”
“Then your brother has given us a chance to flee for nothing!” Vetnik grumbled. “Why not the both of you use your elven eyes to scout these halls, see if there’s another way out?”
“She means to free her sister, I’m sure she has a plan of some sort for us,” Thom replied.
Vetnik snapped, “I’m sure she does!”
“Whoa,” Trisoll interjected. “No need to be a stoggy bummer! We’re all in this together—”
Lyssa, unable to bite her tongue any longer, pushed away from the bars to quell their squabbling. “How about less bickering and more action, even if that action is sleep. And while I’m at it, Trisoll, stop trying to play peacemaker and start praying to Trithereon to help get us all out of here alive?”
The men stilled their tongues as Lyssa stomped off to find a place to rest; Trisoll conceded and made his way to a corner of the cell to meditate while the remainder of the party circled the cell, fashioning bedding from hay and extra bits of clothing. Thom and Grum agreed to keep watch while the others slept, with Vetnik promising to return the favor when he awoke.

The faint cawing of cocks from far outside the palace signaled the approach of dawn. Thom and Grum (who had already nodded off against his brother’s shoulder) sat in the center of the almost lightless room, as Vetnik woke with a large yawn, stretching out his armored limbs. Vetnik slowly rose to excuse the brothers of their duties. “Go now, your turn to rest,” he said, patting Grum on his shoulder (startling him awake in the process!) Suddenly, Vetnik could hear the main door opening again. He quickly darted back to the iron door and clung to the rods in anticipation (deciding whether or not to swing the door open or keep the door barred shut.) The familiar pattern of footsteps and metal wheels marked the return of the elven maiden from the night before. As she drove her cart closer to their cell, the party one by one began to wake. Moira adjusted her armor and rose to attention while Trisoll, still in Lotus Pose as he had been during his meditation, woke himself up by the sound of his own snore. The maiden returned and quickly slid several bowls of morning potage through the bars, though she was careful when giving Vetnik his bowl by hand. She nodded and resumed her custodial duties. The party all had similar reactions of disdain as they smelled and sipped on the questionable potage served to them: a thin, stinking brew of boiled spoiled corn, carrots, and cabbage. Vetnik kept a watchful eye on the hall, making sure the maiden exited the hall before inspecting the bowl for further communication. As the great door creaked open, Vetnik tossed the broth aside and found another piece of paper fixed to the bottom of the bowl just as the other note had been. He carefully peeled it and handed it off to Thom to read.

“I will return to you after dark, alone.”

The long hours passed, the wait feeling almost unbearable in the dank squalor of the dungeons. Trisoll continued to meditate, though his willpower was only so much. Lyssa made attempt after attempt to sharpen her dull wooden spoon into a shiv against the stone floor, but the floor itself was too caked in ages of dirt and grime to provide traction. Moira stayed close to Vetnik, and continued to pray to Cortox for their safe exile out of the dreaded city of elves. While Thom and Grum traded rhythms against the ground and iron bars, Vetnik waited with an eerie patience, waited for the maiden’s return. The distant sounds of life beyond the dungeons had calmed to near silence, marking the day’s end. Still, they waited, the cell door unlocked, praying their faith would see a return. Alas, it seemed as though they had been had as the silence outside seemed to sprawl from minutes to hours.

Suddenly, a series of muffled thuds against the great door could be heard at the end of the hall. The party collectively shot to their feet while a new sound could be heard coming down the hall. Footsteps raced towards their cell. Other prisoners shuffled to the front of their cells, moaning and groaning for release (or even just hoping to get a glimpse of the excitement.) Finally she had returned; the maiden stood, less a custodian and ready for battle in an outfit more befitting an adventurer. Across her torso she carried a leather satchel, with scrolls peering out from beneath the hefty flap. Her crystalline eyes glistened in the torchlight, meeting Vetnik’s own. Before she was able to reach for the cell door, Vetnik slowly opened it.

“The door, but how?” the maiden asked Vetnik in astonishment.
“We knew you’d come!” Thom replied, stepping out from behind the cavalier (while Grum shrugged with a hint of pride at his technique.)
“I see I chose wisely. Come, quickly!” the maiden hastened, taking down a torch from its sconce as she lead the party deeper down the hall, where torches no longer burned for the prisoners who dwelled deeper inside. The party kept pace behind the maiden, avoiding the gnarled hands of malnourished prisoners as they grabbed at them for hope. Finally, the maiden stopped and placed her torch into an empty sconce. She fumbled through her satchel of scrolls in search of keys.

“A name, milady?” Vetnik whispered to her as she pulled the keys from her satchel.
“Talindra.” she responded, distracted as she struggled to find the right key.
Lyssa, fearing the delay might get them found out, broke off from the party and moved back down the hall. In the darkness, she began to intone a spell to hold the main entrance door shut while Talindra hastily tried key after key upon the mystery cell. As Lyssa finished her incantation, Talindra finally happened upon the right key. She quickly threw the cell door open, grabbed the burning torch, and together the party slipped into the quiet cell. From out of the darkness, a soft, toneless voice spoke up.

“Are these the ones you spoke of? The ones I’ve heard whispering?” it asked from the shadows. Talindra moved closer, torch in hand, to reveal a ravaged elven woman. Her once-long tresses now shredded to an androgynous length; her delicate elven features encrusted with the muck of the dungeon. Vetnik stepped forward, extending his hand to help, but the mysterious elven women rose to her feet of her own will.
“Yes, sister!” Talindra whispered.
“I am Azariah Obrilyn,” the elven woman said, gently bowing her head before the party, “thank you for coming to aid us in our time of need.”
“No, thank you. For the mercy you’ve bestowed upon the innocents in this mad city, who I’m sure have suffered tremendously!” Moira encouraged.
“Then you understand what we’re dealing with," confirmed Azariah. She then turned to Talindra, “Sister, we need weapons.”
“The scroll of Sleep I burned on the guards will only hold for so long," Talindra replied, rifling through her bag once more. “A-ha! Come, sister… friends, I’ve hidden uniforms in a nearby cell. Come quickly!”

With a bundle of scrolls and dungeon keys in hand, Talindra rushed the party back out of her sister’s cell and into another cell, empty of bodies and only filled with spoiled hay. Talindra set down the scrolls and keys and she dug with her hands through the hay, kicking up dust and dirt. After a few moments, she tossed back out of the shadows a moth-bitten elven guard’s uniform. Then another. More followed, enough for all except herself.

“What are we to do with these?” Moira asked, picking up the uniforms and inspecting their slim fit.
“You’re going to wear them…” Talindra began, distracted as she unfurled the first of many scrolls. Moira and the rest of the party’s brows rose and furrowed, confused as to how they’d accomplish such a task. Talindra unrolled the first scroll from her bundle and as she recited the elven text, the paper itself began to break away and float through the air like flakes of ash caught in an updraft. The pieces of paper rapidly spiraled around Moira, fixing themselves against her body, creating not only a shell, but a new body. She began to polymorph right before the party’s very eyes! Her features bent and shifted with every word, changing and becoming more angular. Her ears began to extend out from under her golden hair while the pristine silver of her armor was covered in mystical pieces of paper that seemed to not only change her entire wardrobe, but also slimmed down her frame. As the last of the scroll drifted from Talindra’s fingertips, the last lingering pieces of scroll danced around Moira’s ears and finished them to a point. With that, her transformation into a full-blooded elf was complete. “Put the rest of the armor on, quickly! Who’s next?” Lacking any other visible options, the party stepped up and one by one and Talindra intoned the rest of the series of scrolls, transforming the human and halfblood members of the party into full-fledged elves!

“Am I more attractive now?” Vetnik joked, sliding the elven armor over his magically slimmed frame.
“The ears don’t suit you.” Thom jokingly critiqued.

Talindra saved her sister for last, who though already of high elf descent, was a known criminal. The next scroll she read was a different kind of polymorphing spell, one that rapidly shrunk her breasts and broadened her features. Talindra now, by all accounts, had a new brother! Azariah wasted no time in marveling at her newly acquired male form and instead quickly sheathed herself in the last uniform.

“Come, the exit’s this way!” Talindra said, digging through another pile of hay. The party huddled around her, wary of how much longer they might have before being found out. After a few moments, Talindra had cleared the way of a long, forgotten tunnel (once used by Azariah to help emancipate prisoners like herself!) Talindra ushered the party through as fast as she could, led by Azariah, who was already quite familiar with the passage. After minutes of squirming on their bellies, Azariah squeezed her way out. She was first to make her exit back onto the city streets, and with a watchful eye, guided the rest of the party out one by one until the last person (Talindra) cleared the tunnel: an old drainage fixture now concealed by thriving shrubs and ivy.

“The only way out of the city for you now is through the Sixth Gate.” informed Talindra. “The Gate to the Underworld.”
Panicked, the company huddled together as they moved away from the passage. “Wait, what kind of underworld?!” Trisoll anxiously asked.
“There is a gate that leads to a system of tunnels under the city that will take you to the foot of the mountains," Talindra began, “there is peril underneath the city. The quicker you escort my sister out safely, the quicker we can hopefully begin to start change. Come!”

Outfitted in new elven bodies, Talindra quickly escorted the party through the now quiet (but still dazzling) city, making sure they kept to the shadows as much as they could. Before long, Talindra brought them to a halt, just outside the officers’ barracks.

“Sister, how did you find the gate?” Azariah asked. “It’s been hidden for ages! Not even I—”
“I did many things that I am not proud of while you were locked away, sister,” admitted Talindra, “all that matters now is getting you out safely through the gate, which is hidden deep within the barracks. Stay here and stay quiet, I’ll go scout ahead and return as soon…”

As Talindra sneaked away to investigate the barracks, a lone elven commander on his way back to his post made sight of the party.

“Hark!” he greeted them. Whether by instinct or by training, the party stood to attention as to not uncover any suspicions. The members of the party pantomimed Azariah’s strict elven salute, which seemed to appease the commander. That is, until he caught wind of one less than enthused member of the party (Lyssa, her posture and greeting insufficient for a soldier of her apparent rank.) Slowly, he walked down the line and approached her.

“I see we have a slouch in our company. Stand to attention, girl!” the commander ordered. Lyssa did so, in her ill-mannered way, rolling her eyes as she aped the posture of her party. “I said, stand to attention!” the commander yelled, visibly annoying the young mage in disguise. “Drop, and give me 50!” the commander yelled once more. Lyssa looked to her companions for some semblance of guidance. Not a moment too soon, Azariah quickly intervened and pushed the ignorant mage to the ground with all of her might.
“You heard him, 50 pushups!” She turned her attention to the commander, “My apologies, knight commander. If it pleases you, Sir, I will see to it personally that she is reprimanded for her insubordination, and she’ll return just as disciplined as the rest of my company!”_
The commander, satisfied with Azariah’s intervention, scoffed one last time at Lyssa’s impudence, and nods to the gender swapped elf. “At ease then, and see to it she isn’t on my streets in this shape again!”

As the knight commander sauntered off towards the barracks, he passed Talindra who greeted her with a gentleman’s salute. Making sure the coast was clear of any more soldiers, Talindra returned to the party as Lyssa rose to her feet. “I can’t wait to burn this city to the ground,” she seethed under her breathe as she stood, dusting herself off.

“That knight commander is on his way to relieve the current officers of their watch. After that, we only have a short amount of time before the shift changes. Stay close behind me, but once inside, look away until I send for you. There is one last guard for me to handle.”
Before Talindra could leave the party again, Vetnik gently took the elven maiden by the bicep. “Here, take this with you,” he said, handing her a small pouch bound by a leather cord. “The finest dust in all of Granrud, crafted by my own father.”
Talindra paused for a moment, both confused and strangely grateful. “Thank you,” she responded as she undid the leather cord. The party waited, gathered together just outside the entrance to the barracks as the first wave of soldiers emptied out. Talindra slipped inside as they marched out and headed down the hall towards the stables. There, the lone stable guard kept watch for the rest of the evening. Seeing her slink forward, he relaxed his stance.

“Hullo, girlie.” the watchman greeted in his now sleazy tone. “We have about 15 minutes until the next watch comes through, let’s make this quick, what d’ya say, girlie?”
Behind her back, Talindra emptied the contents of the pouch into the palm of her hand as she approached. “I won’t need that long!” Quickly, she brought her palm to her mouth, closed her eyes, and unleashed a mighty blow which sent sparkling slate-colored dust billowing around the watchman. The dust swirled around his, filling his nose and mouth, his eyelids batting with irritation. Before he could step forward, his eyes rolled back into his head and his body sunk to the ground like a sack of sand. Talindra stared at her conquest, wiping the rest of the dust against the watchman’s face before returning to the entrance of the barracks. “Come! We must hurry!”

Vetnik sighed, quietly thanking his father for blessing what in reality was a risky move to make against any elf. Talindra led the party to the office of the stable watch, wherein they dragged his body and hid it inside an empty stable. “Your horses and supplies are in here, Azariah and I will fetch them for you,” she promised. “At the other end of the barracks is a great stone wall. Take off your armor there and we will meet you with your mounts. Hurry!”

With a prowess for direction sensing, Grum took the lead and charged through the hallways, navigating them with an ease and agility that seemed almost clairvoyant. After a minute or so of running, Grum and the company were halted at a dead end: a wide stone wall, undecorated and with no exit in sight. The party looked around, and quickly turned back towards the hall they had just arrived from. The slow clutter of hooves could be heard against the ground around the bend. The party backed against the wall, weaponless but ready to defend themselves if necessary. Closer and closer came the clopping of several sets of hooves, followed by the sound of ill-greased wheels squeaking and spinning. Turning the corner, Grum spotted the pair of elven sisters leading a procession of horses and a cart. The company collectively sighed a sigh of relief, if only for a moment before realizing that they themselves were altogether trapped in the barracks. Azariah and Talindra brought the horses to a standstill.

“Quickly, take off your armor!” Talindra whispered with great urgency as she drew another scroll from her satchel. The members of the party did as was told of them, removing and tossing aside the used elven armor and retrieved their weapons from blanketed bundles resting in the back of their last remaining cart. Talindra pulled one of her last remaining scrolls out of her satchel, unfurled it, and began to read aloud the arcane text. Upon reciting the scroll’s final word, the parchment evaporated into a burst of unseen force. As the radius of the force quickly spread through the room, the first effect to take shape was the immediate return of the party’s true forms. As the party marveled at the return of their original bodies, their wonder soon intensified as they turned around to see that the wall that was once a dead end had now vanished. The scroll had dispelled the magic of not only their polymorphed forms, but did away with the illusionary door that blocked the Sixth Gate from view.

The party hastily began their exit by taking back their arms and hopping atop their once-confiscated steeds. Grum once again took it upon himself to lead, and manned the front of the party through the gate. One by one they filed out of the barracks, leaving the carted horse for Azariah and Talindra.
“Take care of yourself, sister,” Talindra said, as the party began to depart. “Be safe, ride swiftly, and gather allies.”
“Wait, you aren’t coming with me?!” Azariah asked, shocked and saddened.
“My place is here. This city is not as it should be, but if I keep trying to help as you did, maybe I can begin to set the city on the right path for your return.”
“I will return! Soon,” Azariah promised as Talindra quickly helped her elder sister onto her horse, “I swear it.”
“I know you will. Now go!”
Moira and Vetnik turned around to see the last of their party at a stop. So too did Thom, who whistled to the elven women to pick up their pace. Azariah squeezed her sisters hand tenderly and faced the depths of the gate. She snapped the straps of her bitless bridle and, with one final look back, left her sister Talindra behind in the barracks. Azariah and the rest of the party began their journey into the depths of the elven underworld.

Only a few yards in, after clearing the last bit of light from the barracks, Talindra’s voice shouted down to them from the entrance of the gate: RUNNNN!!!”
Azariah jerked at her bridle and brought her horse to a sudden halt. She leapt down off the saddle and began to run back to the gate’s entrance. TALINDRA!!!” she cried out as she ran. Those ahead of her brought their horses to full stops; Moira and Vetnik were the first to dismount and they followed as fast as they could after the panicked elf. TALINDRA, WAIIITTT!!!!” Azariah howled, running towards the entrance. For a brief moment, Azariah could see the silhouette of her sister, reading off another scroll, while forces of elven officers rushed behind her with weapons in hand. Suddenly before Azariah could return to the barracks, the scroll in Talindra’s hand began to unravel into threads that filled the tunnel in a cluster of massive webs. Light faded as the webs filled the entrance, the last bit of torchlight flickering off of Azariah’s tear-soaked cheeks. TALINDRA, I’M COMING! TALINNDRRAAA!!!!” Azariah called out as she wildly and hopelessly thrashed at the webs. She could hear the sounds of rattling armor and weapons under her defenseless sister’s screams. Moira and Vetnik soon emerged behind her, pulling her back to her horse. Azariah struggled to keep her hold on the web but the combined strength of the Paladin and the Cavalier were too much. Azariah pleaded as the pair drug her away, “We can’t just leave her! There is NO honor in running! STOP!!!”
“We can’t fight an entire army!” Moira reasoned.
Thom turned around, while casting a strength spell over his brother, “We won’t force you to come with us, but we cannot stay!”
“Then swear you will avenge the life of the woman who saved yours! Swear it by whichever gods you hold dear!”
“Tritheron strike me down, I swear it,” promised Trisoll.
Moira followed, “In Cortox’s name, I swear to you!”
“Do you know what a cavalier is my lady? I pledge it on my life!” Vetnik vowed. “Come, those webs won’t hold their numbers for long!”
Azariah wiped the tears from her dirty cheek and Vetnik quickly lifted her back onto her mount. As he did so, the hacking sounds of bladed weapons could be heard from behind the webs. Moira and Vetnik rushed back to their horses and Grum, imbued with both his natural sense of direction as well as his enhanced elven eyesight, quickly dug his spurs into the belly of his steed and led his teammates through the thick blackness of the tunnels.

The party raced through the dark tunnels as fast as they could, the hooves of their horses echoing through the dark chambers as they raced against the earth. While most of the horses kept their pace with Grum’s, Lyssa’s mount struggled, the darkness of the tunnels spooking it. Lyssa jammed her boot heels into the horses belly, attempting to stress the urgency of their ride to the beast, but to no avail. Moira, seeing her companion lagging behind, slowed her mount and chose to ride at the mage’s side. Behind them, the faint warcry of the elven army sounded at the tunnel’s entrance. Vetnik (being the most experienced rider of the bunch) brought himself to a halt and waited for Lyssa and Moira. While Moira rode on, Vetnik used his way with horses and soothed the terrified beast. As the gap between themselves and the elven army began to shrink, Vetnik waved Lyssa and Azariah ahead. He rushed back to his own stallion and climbed back onto his saddle with a quickness, and together the party rode as a whole deeper into the tunnels until the sounds of angered elves could be heard no more.

Deeper into the tunnels, Grum slowed the party to an even pace. The chamber was humid and the darkness showed no signs of ending. The occasional sound of water trickling against ageless rocks echoed around them. The humans of the party stayed close to one another, riding between the elf and halfbloods, who did their best to guide the party through the ancient veins of the underworld. While he rode, Vetnik could feel a warmth emanating from above, like small fans of warm air hung above him. He lifted his heat, straining to see its source, and even in the pitch black of the tunnel he could make out that the tunnel’s ceiling was… fluttering. Without warning, a loud crash came from behind the party: the equipment still carried by the cart begin to bang into each other as it passed over rockier terrain. Before the party could adjust their equipment, the collective screeching of large bats rung through the tunnels. The bats swarmed violently around the party, their horses neighing and kicking up onto their hind legs. Realizing their newest companion almost defenseless against the swarm, Moira jerked her horse around and rode to shield the elf; while Grum looked back at the elf, called out to her (“Catch!”) and tossed his handaxe to her. After catching it, Grum put his gloved fingers to his mouth and let out a high-pitched whistle! His whistling seemed to calm the aggravated colony, and in a matter of moments the bats flew down the tunnels in search of more quiet place to rest.

Some time later as the party continued to ride in apparent peace, Grum led them down another cavern, the dim reflection of trickling water bounced off of what appeared to be a ceiling now covered in stalactites of varying lengths. While most of the party carried on through the cavern undisturbed, Lyssa felt what seemed to be water trickle onto her chest. As she began to lift her head, the crumbling of rock sounded above. Not a second later, one of the stalactites fell from the ceiling and before she could move, the rock speared her in her unarmored chest. Lyssa winced in pain and held tight to the stalactite tightly with both hands as she steadied herself on her horse. As she attempted to pull it out, she felt something wiggle beneath her palm: an eye ball! Lyssa screamed in shock and all of a sudden, more and more stalactites began to descend from the ceiling onto the party. Once more, their horses galloped in panic as the craggy vermin fell to the ground around them. Thom, Grum, and Moira jumped off their horses and drew their blades and noticed that, as the stalactites hit the ground, they seemed to move on their own. Slowly, they began to squirm against the cavern floor towards the walls. Their fascination only outweighed by their desire to return above ground, the twins hacked away at the mysterious creatures, their blades cracking through their rock-like shells into gooey, soft insides. As the twins dispatched the critters, Lyssa managed to pull out and tossed it at the approaching Paladin’s feet. Moira held the piercer beneath her boot and jammed her longsword into it’s rocky shell, killing off the last of the beasts. Lyssa clutched her chest as blood seeped onto the off-white linen of her skirt and into the mane of her mount. Moira quickly approached Lyssa, reached up to her, and placed her hands over the wound. Moira shut her eyes and muttered a Cortoxian prayer, and Lyssa felt under the warmth of the paladin’s hand, her skin begin to tighten and pain begin to dissipate. Moira removed her hand and Lyssa inspected her chest with her fingers to find her chest sealed whole. Before Moira returned to her horse, scolded Lyssa once more: “You know, next time we’re faced with peril, do be so kind as to step to attention!” Lyssa sneered in the darkness and adjusted herself, and together the party resumed their ride.

The group continued on in relative peace for quite some time. As time passed, their pace collectively began to lessen. At first, the party assumed it to be from sheer exhaustion, their mounts having experienced far too much excitement for one ride. However, they began to notice the horses’ trot slow to a slumping gait, as if walking through molasses. Vetnik clicked into his stallion’s here, and while the horse seemed responsive, his movement still seemed hindered. Vetnik pressed his heels into the horse, snapped his bridle, and shifted his weight forward. The horse responded in turn by pulling itself together and charging down the tunnel. While he rode he could hear the rumbling of the earth above him, the sound of something scraping quickly against the cave walls. Charging through the darkness, he drew his longsword for any more bats or would-be piercers that might attempt an ambush. Instead, Vetnik was greeted by something far more imposing: a giant spider! Blade already in hand and his heart racing, Vetnik continued to bolt forward and with a hearty swing of his sword, he sliced through the spider’s neck. Its legs thrashed around and kicked at the walls of the cavern as Vetnik pulled his sword back and backed his horse away. The rest of the party gathered behind him and, as they drew their own weapons, the cavern began to filled with three other spiders of equally horrifying size. Trisoll reached into a pouch of his, pinching off a bit of powdered silver, and with a grand wave of his hand, scattered the powder around his allies while intoning the rites to a protection from evil ward. Peering through the darkness, Grum took his throwing axe and reached as far back as he could to launch it. As he flung it from his hand, the spiders proved too swift and scuttled out of the way. One spider crawled up the side of the caverb, crept above Azariah, and swung at her with its mighty front claws. Thom drew his Wakazashi blade, slicing in the darkness, but the spiders proved too swift. Meanwhile, Lyssa stayed further away and held her hands close together, concentrating the chaotic energy between them until suddenly, a burst of flame emerged in the shape of an orb. As her hands parted, the orb’s surface spread and she soon launched into through the cavern, the light of the flame illuminating parts of the spiders as it rolled around them. Drawing his longsword, Grum engaged a spider in combat and the pair viciously swung at each other in the darkness. Azariah continued to fend off an attacking spider, while Thom struggled to land his blade into it. Lyssa focused on maintaining the direction and intensity of the flaming sphere until she could hold it no longer; she balled her fists up and summoned the flaming sphere back towards her. As the orb rolled back up to her, it passed through the back end of one of the giant spiders, engulfing it in magical fire. Amidst the chaos in the cavern, Moira failed to notice a third spider creep behind her. As she whipped her head around, she saw the massive, grotesque head of the spider rise. She could barely see herself reflected in the spider’s glassy eyes (the flaming body of its brethren barely keeping the cavern aglow) as she swung with her mighty longsword. Moira missed though, and in return the spider drew its fangs and sink them deep into her shoulder, piercing through her armor. Trisoll turned around as he heard the paladin cry out and fall from her horse. The clergyman raised his staff to bash the spider in the head but his aim was hindered by the darkness. Vetnik steered his horse around to Moira and Trisoll’s aid and before the spider could drive its venomous fangs into Trisoll, Vetnik rushed beside it and drove his sword straight through the top of the spider’s head, pinning it in place. While the spider struggled in vain to free itself, Thom fell the final spider with a fatal swing of his Wakazashi blade.

The party took a few moments to catch their breath and gathered their composure. Trisoll immediately ran to Moira, who staggered as she rose to her feet. “Shh, easy now,” Trisoll consoled as she collapsed into his arms. With one arm placed around her shoulders and the other reaching around her head, he buried his cheek against hers and whispered in her ear a blessing of Trithereon. As they embraced, a faint glow enveloped them and Moira’s posture began to return to normal; his hug was a healing hug, one that purged the venom that polluted her body. Trisoll backed away, patting her on the shoulder to ensure her return to better health. As the party gathered their bearings, Grum noticed that the cavern they occupied split off into several new paths. The halfblood took a deep breath and, began to concentrate, focusing on his tracker’s instinct. He closed his eyes and focused on his senses, concentrating on which path had the most attractive smell, which path he could hear or feel a bit of breeze flowing inward. After taking the time to gather his assessment, Grum turned his horse and began to lead the party down the chosen path. Towards the back, Thom rode alongside the distraught Azariah, who held tight to Grum’s hand axe as she drove the party’s cart. To soothe her, Thom untied a small drum that dangled from the side of his saddle and began to rhythmically tap against its skin, while chanting an impromptu verse based on their journey so far. He continues to entertain them for another half hour until Grum called out, “Light!” In the distance, Grum could make out a pinhole of light. His heightened senses gave way to the scent of forest air flourishing just beyond the end of the tunnel. “Come on!” he urged his companions, and together they kicked up their pace and soon found themselves back above ground.

Dawn was on the rise as the party exited the elven underworld. Once more, they were greeted by the sound of early morning birds chirping in the forest surrounding. High above them, the Lortmill Mountains stood in plain sight. Exhausted from the night’s getaway, Lyssa suddenly stopped. “We should set up camp before going further.”
“Why? Just because we left the first wave of elves in the dust doesn’t mean they aren’t still after us!” Thom countered.
_"It would take any army days to accomplish above ground what we accomplished in an evening underground. I’m tired… we’re all tired. We need to rest." Lyssa turned and glared at Azariah, her grip still tight on Grum’s axe. “What say you, elf?”
“While what we faced in those tunnels was horrible, what waits for us in the mountains could be just as dreadful. Even moreso. We should wait… wait until we’ve had some time to rest.” Azariah responded.
Grum interjected, “Why don’t we compromise? We’ll take the horses and set up camp at the base of the mountain and continue on once we’ve all had a bit of rest.”
“Fine.” Lyssa conceded, too exhausted to argue.

The amber of dawn bled into the dull blue of morning and the party continued lightly on the beaten path at the foot of the mountains. In the distance, out of plain sight, the shadow of a figure moved through the adjacent forest. As the party rode closer, the figure crept behind the safety of lone tree and stayed there, peeking out from behind it. The slender figure stepped out from behind the tree as the party closed in. “Morning!” Grum and the others jerked their horses and stopped as the figure revealed itself to be an elf. “Yer on the run from the elves too then, yea?”
Vetnik, confused and wary, spoke on behalf of his party, “Yes, and you are?”
The elf stepped onto the road and towards the party, and as he approached his height began to shrink while sparkling orbs of light swirled around him, blanketing him in a strange argent glow. When the lights drifted away, they revealed not a tall, lean elf but a stout, mohawked dwarf.
“Orvak Dwinig” he replied, extending his hand up to Vetnik’s and greeting him with a hearty dwarven handshake. “How’d you run afoul the pointy-eared arses?”
“Running our mouths.” Thom jested.
“Ahh, a coupla halfbloods. They’re none too fond of your kind either, eh?” Orvak said, taking his bota bag from his side and popping off the cork with his teeth. “Where are ya headin’?”
“We’re going to the Lortmill Mountains” Grum answered.
“Yeah,” Orvak replied, finishing a gulp of wine, “and judging by the direction you’re all comin’ from, you need this a bit more than I do!” Orvak wiped the spigot and handed his canteen to Grum. Grum shrugged and sipped, then passed it back through the party beginning with his brother. Thom sniffed, took a sip, and recoiled at its potency; Lyssa stayed dry, as did Azariah, the latter of whom replied, “I prefer to stay alert on this expedition.”
“Yer a true elf! What’re ya doin’ with this lot?” Orvak noted with a hint of suspicion in his voice.
“I’m an ally, I too am hunted by my own people. My sister and I, we helped people like you escape Enstad. My sister gave her life so that I could continue to help your kind.”
“Fair enough, lass! I believe I’ll have an extra taste for yer sister later, then.”
Vetnik took his swig, and then another. “Tastes like the stuff back home!”
Trisoll was last to drink; he took a drink and coughed as he swallowed. “That’s dwarven alright!”
Orvak took canteen back and fixed it to his belt. _"Come, ya must be tired. There’s a trail through the rocks just down the path. I’ll take ya!"

The party complied with Orvak, who remained on foot, and together they continued down the path through the forest.
“If ya run into any more of those fuckin’ elves, tell ‘em Orvak says he wishes beards on the whole lot of ’em!” Orvak blustered as he took another deep chug of wine. “Gods help them if I ever get my mitts on a Wish spell!”
The dwarf began to lead the party off of the beaten trail towards a gathering rocks leading up to the mountain. He motioned to the party to follow him through a break in the scree. Unable to fit themselves as well as their horses through, the party agreed to leave their horses and cart hitched, taking their supplies on foot while they journeyed forth for the day.
“Orvak, are you sure there are any caves here for us to rest down this path?” Vetnik asked. Though Orvak was visibly intoxicated while leading them up through the jagged path, he still somehow managed to come upon a cave, whose entrance was slim but wide. “Therrre ya are,” Orvak slurred as he took refuge against a pile of rocks, the wine now taking full effect over him.
With little other options around and both sleepiness and wine taking their hold, the party stopped and began to set up a small camp. Grum took it upon himself to take a peer inside the cave first. “I smell decay!” he cried out.
Hearing this, Lyssa quickly stomped up to the now-sleeping dwarf. “Wake up!” she barked impatiently. Orvak’s only response was a barely coherent mumbling; Lyssa knelt down and rapidly tapped him against the cheek. “Wake up! What do you about this cave?”
Drunkenly, he mumbled in reply, “Iunno…there’s a lot of mountains…”
Fearing for the safety of his companions, Thom began to intone a spell to summon an unseen servant. He concentrated and could suddenly feel the presence of another hovering around him. “Go, fetch whatever is decaying in there,” Thom ordered. He waited at the mouth of the cave alongside his brother. Louder and louder, the sound of something scraping against the earth approached the cave’s exit. Thom and his brother stood back, their blades at the ready; suddenly, the source of the sound revealed itself. Slowly, armor-clad skeletal remains emerged, as if being lifted by its shoulders.
“Do you wanna go back in?” Thom turned to his brother and asked
“Ugh, fine.” Grum sighed.
Thom put his hand upon his brother’s shoulder, closed his eyes and began to chant. The party watched as Grum’s body faded into nothingness, becoming completely invisible. Together they all watched as his unseen boots kicked up dirt while he crawled his way back down into the cave. Inside, Grum scoured the cave floor for anything of alarm. Inside, he found only two things of notice: a pile of corpses in various staged of decay and on the opposite side, a cluster of what appeared to be spiny seed pods reaching out from vines and thistle-like leaves. Alarmed by the unknown plantlife, Grum slowly backed out of the cave and returned to the gathering outside.
“Find anything?” Thom asked, returning his brother to visibility.
“Dead bodies, lots of them.” Grum informed. His tone turned more concerned with his next observation, “There was also something else, some kind of plant. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“Lyssa,” Thom began, turning his attention to the spellcaster, “you seem to be able create fire itself. Perhaps you can send another one of those flaming spheres inside to burn it away? Y’know, like the magic you used on the spiders back in the tunnel?”
Lyssa stood and crossed the camp to the mouth of the cave alongside the twins. “That will take too long for me to learn again. Maybe I can just go inside and set fire to whatever this plant is.”
“Are you sure about that?” Thom asked with concern.
“Your brother didn’t see anything else inside, did he?” Lyssa replied impatiently, turning to Grum for a quick answer.
Grum shrugged his shoulders, “No, but—”
Lyssa squatted down and ducked her down headed into the cave. “Light!” she demanded, from anyone with access to it.
Trisoll rushed to cave mouth with his staff in hand and placed the head of it inside. He furrowed his brow and whispered “In Trithereon’s name,” and suddenly, the tip of staff glowed a brilliant golden light.
As Lyssa slowly began to journey deeper in, light faded. Swatting away the buzzing carrion flies, she called out to Trisoll, “Come down here!”
“I don’t think that’s wise!” he shouted back, straining to balance his staff deeper into the cave while still remaining outside of it.
“The sooner you come down, the sooner I can do this, and the sooner I can rest!”
Trisoll sighed in compliance, held his staff tight, and slid down into the cave to meet her. As he approached Lyssa, his staff revealed the true massiveness of the plant: a large vertical-climbing mass of shades of green and ochre, its twisting vines sprawled up towards the cave’s ceiling. Behind them, a pile of bodies festered, some clad in pieces of decayed flesh and armor, some nothing more than lingering bones. Lyssa’s eyes shifted into their eerie blackened signature as she stretched out her arms and she released with all of her might a large wave of fire from her hands. As the flames consumed the plant, its leaves and vines began to collapse like burning paper. As the plant continued to burn though, Trisoll noticed in the flame’s glow something squirming inside the semi-translucent pods. The heat of the flames caused whatever was inside to writhe rapidly and suddenly, as the flames began to lick the pods, they burst open. Lyssa was too involved in concentrating her flames, but Trisoll could see thick clouds of tiny, fungal spores fill the cave. Soon they began to descend, lighter than air. Without saying a word, Trisoll dropped his staff and quickly tackled Lyssa to the ground, covering her face with his hands. “Get us out of here!!!” he cried out. While he tried to bury his face in Lyssa’s auburn tresses, it was too late; Trisoll kept his hand over her mouth while he himself struggled to breath, his eyes tearing up with every hacking cough. Together, they stretched out their arms towards the cave mouth, where Moira, Vetnik, and the twins were quick to respond, doing their best to shield their faces as they reached for their companions. Together, they drug the pair up out of the cave and back into the safety of the fresh open air. Lyssa rose to her hands and knees and turned to find Trisoll struggling to breathe, his face red and veins tensing through his neck. Moira knelt above his choking priest and bowed her head. She laid her hands upon his head and chest and begin to chant. Lyssa crouched and watched as Moira purged Trisoll of the spores; Moira lifted her hands and head, and with a violent thrust, Trisoll rolled onto his belly. From out of mouth, the spores flowed in a river of putrid bile. His heavy breath slowly returning to normal, Trisoll’s watery red eyes gazed into Lyssa’s own and he smiled, a thread of vomit reaching from his mouth down his beard. For a moment, Lyssa almost smiled back, but the calm of knowing they’d escaped was soon broken by the loud snores of the passed out dwarf in their keep.

Lyssa’s expression returned to her usual scowl and she quickly shot back up. She stomped over to the slumbering dwarf and with all her might, delivered a heavy slap across his face. “What was in those cave?!” she demanded to know.
Orvak awoke, flinching and cupping his cheek. “I… I dunno what you’re talking about…“ he slurred.
Dissatisfied, Lyssa quickly drew a dagger from her holster and without warning, buried it into the dwarf’s shoulder. The once-groggy Orvak yelped in great pain, AGHHH!!!”
Gritting her teeth, she snarled in dwarf’s face, “LIAR!”
“Stop!” Moira cried out and ran to the dwarf’s aid, swiftly pulling the mage away from him. Moira tackled Lyssa, pressing her back against a nearby rock surface. Keeping her at bay, Moira turned around and expressed her sincerest apologies to the dwarf. “Please, forgive her! She didn’t know—”
_"She knew exactly what she was doin’!" Orvak cried out, pulling the dagger from his shoulder. He tossed it to the ground and began to make his way back to the road. “There’s a path that continues up ahead past the cave, it’ll take you up through the mountains if ya follow it.” Orvak drew his bota bag and tore the cork out with his teeth, taking an even larger gulp to ease his pain. As he staggered away, his free hand clutching his bloodied shoulder, he remarked one final thing: “By the Gods, that one’ll get you killed!” The party was left stunned, and now left without a guide, gathered to figure out what to do.
Moira backed away from Lyssa, turned to face her, and whispered, “I’m beginning to think there is evil in you.”
“And you really must be as foolish as you look,” Lyssa hissed with offense!
“My father trusted a dwarf of great honor—” Moira began to reason. Before she could finish, Lyssa quickly fired back.
“Your father is dead, and besides, this isn’t about dwarves. It’s about A dwarf, one who could’ve been leading us to our very ends!”
Moira slowly backed away, her jaw clinched and her eyes buzzing with tension. She turned her back to the mage and slowly began to follow the clearing out from the camp. As she did so, she hammered her fist into the side of a rock, shattering any illusion of poise.
“You should take a walk,” Vetnik said to Lyssa with a sneer. The mage sneered back just as pointedly and, instead of leaving the camp, planted herself down onto the dirt. She glanced up at Vetnik with a bitter glare before turning her attention to her spell book.

Thom broke away from his brother to follow after the enraged paladin. In the seclusion of the rocky path leading back to the main road, he found her there, head hanging low.
“Don’t let her words get to you.” Thom said as he approached her, trying to calm her.
“I thought it was just her being her, but there’s something else, Thom. Back there, I detected evil!” Moira exclaimed.
“In what way? The dwarf? In one of our companions?” Thom asked, pulling up beside her.
“The one I just walked away from," Moira replied with concern. “As a paladin, Cortox gifted me the ability to detect evil wherever it dwells. In her tone, heard it. I could hear evil.”
“Does your god allow you to divinate—?”
“No. I don’t know… it’s not clear though. Not black and white. It’s just a feeling.”
“Maybe Trisoll can help? There are tales of demons who invade the helpless. Perhaps she’s possessed? I mean, it would explain her disposition. Perhaps you’d better seek counsel with the cleric.”
“Thank you, Thom. I will. For now though, I suggest we keep an eye on her.”_

Thom and Moira soon returned to the encampment together, just as Lyssa finished memorizing another spell to summon a flaming sphere. Lyssa, ignoring the return of her companions, sat at the base of the cave mouth. Once more, she clasped her hands together and concentrated on the surging of energy between them. She opened them up and sent the flaming sphere rolling violently throughout the cave, guiding it with her open hands. Outside, the party could hear faint popping sounds, the heat from the fiery orb torching the last remaining spores in the cave. With the last of the popping sounds, Lyssa quickly clapped her hands together and the flaming sphere was extinguished.
“I think it’s done," Lyssa boasted. “Paladin, would you do the honor?” she goaded as Moira and Thom approached from behind.
“What, don’t you trust in the effectiveness of your own spells?” Moira jeered back as she stepped beside Lyssa and headed down into the cave.
One by one, they trickled down after the Paladin. Trisoll once more illuminated the cave with his staff, and together they found the scorched remains of not only the deadly plant but the huddled mass of corpses as well. As the once blue morning had now shifted to a grey afternoon, Thom and Lyssa rummaged through the pile of the blackened dead. Among the remains, Thom found a sword, while Lyssa snagged herself a vile of viscous liquid. Together in the apparent safety of the stinking cave, the party unfurled their bedrolls and laid their heads to rest as best they could.

Duty Bound


The sobbing goth girl cowers in Moira’s arms. Thom casts read magic, revealing that she was intending to speak with the dead but accidentally casted animate dead.

Sobbing, “I didn’t mean to.”

Trisoll consoles her, saying he was able to turn the dead. He comforts her, compliments her on her goth fashion. He introduces her to the Blacks, dressed in black.

Grum “black is cool.” to which Imelda cowers.
“Can we go home please.”
“PLEASE” Lyssa reinforces.

She finds comfort with Vetnik, also clad in black armor.

Lead her out of the mausoleum. As they make their way up, the turned skeletons meander in the halls. Lyssa prepares herself by casting Armor over herself. Moira pulls out her longsword and heads to the front of the party. Thom and Grum ready their bows and fire off in unison, killing both desired targets. They high five! Vetnik and Moira draw their longswords and crush the remaining skeletons. The party back tracks and once above ground, she begins to sob. She realizes she’s crying in front of a bunch of strangers, and stiffens up.

“I don’t trust the streets at night. Would you accompany me?” she asks Vetnik.

Thom asks about the creepy Morbius, who she scoffs at. “He’s gross! Always leering at me”
Lyssa snarks “It was your blunder.”
Imelda watches in awe as Thom spider climbs across the grave stones. Lyssa complains further “maybe we can just take the child home?”
Thom asks Lyssa if she has considered joining the Mage’s Guild.

“Are you from Greyhawk?”
“No, I was born at sea.”
“Really, what was that like?”
“We were babies so we don’t really remember” jokes Grum.
“Rough but rewarding.”

Martha opens the door, eyes puffy. Imelda is unconcerned, captivated by Thom’s stories. Martha rushes out hugging her daughter. “Thank you so much, Trisoll!”
“My dad, he’d do anything for you guys.”
Imelda gives her thanks. Vetnik says “be safe.”
“Never give up on fashion!” exclaims
“Where’s our money?” asks THom.
Moira: “We aren’t mercaneries!”

The twins argue the value of paid work with Moira. Grum agrees that this a pro bono job but should get money later. Thom wipes out his drum and scores their walk back to manor. At the manor, George and Xanti are asleep.

Lyks greets the party. Grum brings the remnants of hot tea to everyone and sits at Thom’s feet. Lyssa stands arms crossed outside the perimeter of the group. Trisoll keeps himself close to Lyssa, while Moira and Vetnik sit beside each other, she respecting his true honor.

Lyks: “You made it back quicker than expecting.”
Moira: “Grum was able to dispatch series of traps. Trisoll turned the dead”
Lyks: “What was she doing?”
Lyssa: “She was a child playing with dead things.”
Thom: “She attempted to cast speak with dead but instead cast animate dead.
Trisoll: I was just one part of this, we all worked really well together.

Thom begins to recount their story with his bard powers, Trisoll is very into it. Everyone but Lyssa is engaged. As Thom wraps his performance up, a hurried knocking at the door. Lyssa goes to the door and sees a man in his 30s, bedraggled and tall.
“The champions of the stars, where are they?”
“You’re 20 years too late.”
Lyks: Can I help you? (He excuses Lyssa, telling her that they’ll talk later.)
The visitor, from Orlan, tells Lyks that the village is dying. The city is closing itself off. Disappearance runs rampant.
Grum: Well, we can help you!
Lyks sighs.
“Who are you?”
I am grim, this is my brother thom.”

You aren’t too late. I have some potentials who can help.

Grissar comes in, shaken. Moira uses her paladin aura to calm him. Lyks asks him to retell his story while he fetches him food and drink.
Grum asks if they’ve checked the water supply, to which Grissar tells him of rumor that the water has been poisoned with a powerful drug.

Grum and Lyks bicker about their need for supplies and money. Vetnik steps forward “I will help! It is the right thing to do.” Lyks provides a map made while he was traveling, to Orlan.

Lyks shows everyone to their individual room. Thom asks Lyks for quill and ink, to document their stories. “You are quite interesting, as your father was.”
“They were very close to my heart.”

To Grum: Something else is very interesting about you. Sleep well, see you in the morning.

To Vetnik: Sleep well. Good night.

To Moira: “Goodnight uncle. So glad to make you proud on our first outing.”
I know my father is shining down on us right now.
“I’m sure he is. You’re very much like him in many ways.”
They hug.

To Trisoll: Please, meet me downstairs.

To Lyssa: This is where you’ll sleep. But before that, please come with me downstairs.
Sure, I’ve got nothing better to do than sleep.

Downstairs, Lyks asks his son to mediate a conversation to Lyssa.

“Dear girl, you come to my door banging it.”
“What he means to say is he’s glad to welcome you, but..”

“Part of this is going to be dealing with people and helping people.”
“What he means we can

“You remind me of myself at that age. If I saw myself at that age, I’d smack him. I am only here to help you.”
“What he means to say

Discusses with Lyssa’s history and Lyks’ history. Lyssa tries to intimidate him but only freaks Trisoll out.

Trisoll and Lyks discuss Lyssa’s brashness. He pledges that he will be the glue for the group while Lyks is away. He says that since they’ve been back in Greyhawk, thing felt better.

In the morning, the house is full and bustling. Grum slicks his hair back to grease his hair back. Vetnik and Thom are sparring outside. Moira comes out to apologize.
“I just wanted to apologize.”
“I understand your knee jerk reaction, but do well not to make the same mistake.”
“Fair well, dear lady.” A shade, given Lyssa is only 2 years older.

Trisoll talks to Grum, adoring his coolness. He begins to prosthetize over his church and deity of Trithereon. They geek out over freedom and individuality. Outside, Thom duels with Vetnik. He misses his first two swings. Vetnik misses as well. They chuckle. Vetnik lays into him with his longsword while Thom uses wooden tanto blades. Vetnik slams into Thom, laying him flat onto the ground sliding across the dirt. Before Vetnik grabs him, Thom leaps back to his feet.

Lyks asks the party to meet them at the warehouse after getting the cart. Out of a trap door in the house, a bear climbs up and Lyks mounts him and heads to the warehouse. At Korbo’s Transport, the party meets the hulking Jacksus the Minotaur.

At the warehouse, the party guffaws over the Minotaur to Lyks.
“I’m glad he’s friendly!”
“Is he from Kyrnn?” asks Thom. “I read about your adventures on Krynn from my father’s journals.” Thom also notices a forge, that he wishes to use once he can afford the metals.
Lyssa requests a set of daggers from Lyks. She is furnished with 6 throwing and 6 stabbing dirks. Lyks warns them to be mindful of where they’re going because of traps, and to return their items after using. “I’ll gladly give you them back, I’m sure some of these are my mother’s!”
Moira says “I will be given my birthright when Cortox feels I’m ready.”

Thom begins to rouse up adventuring gear. Ropes, feed, tarps. Before heading to the piers. Lyks: “If you can’t be good, be safe.”
“We’ll be good and safe, uncle.”
“Don’t die. I’ll be watching you.”

At the docks, they seek out Cargin. Vetnik politely asks for him. This person takes kindly to him, and points him out. Vetnik compliments him and winks. They load up their vessel, steered by Cargin. The Sea Slicer is their ship with 6 fellow seamen. They move down the Nyr Dvr and they run into a whirlpool. They narrow the whirlpool. They head down the Velver Dyer River. Cargin and his men are expert sailors and they driver them to the beaches of the elven city of Vervonic, in Celene.

(Alathedra’s mom closed off the city gates to humans after finding out of her affair.) They had heard stories of his past unfolding from their father.

Vetnik docks first upon his mount. Two elven guards approach the boat. “Humans you have a lot of steel coming here. And you, what are you mudbloods doing here?”
Grum: “I resent that!”
Thom: “We’ve heard of trouble in Orlan and have been asked to investigate.”
“And you thought you’d simply travel through our nation.”
Grum: “No, we simply would’ve ASKED you to pass through your KINGDOM to see if it was Ok.”
Moira steps up to ask them to please grant them access. The guards step away, speaking Elven. Bored while barred, Thom begins to play his drums, attempting to soften the mood.

After lightening the mood, an elf general Rothnell steps forward. “You ask passage? We may be able to arrange that, with some kind of boon or payment.”
Vetnik deduces that 500 gp would satisfy the boon.
Thom: “What boon do you speak of?”
Rothell: “Just outside of town in the iron wood, there’s been a horde of infected animals raiding some the farms. Check out the source of disease.”
Grum detects he’s leaning towards a payoff. Thom tries to haggle him down to 350, to which Rothell heartedly agrees, but asks to take him around the city. Lyssa straggles behind and finds a flower used in hearing salve.

Suddenly they come upon a band of wagons, full of fighters. Leaving them behind, they continue until they hear a throng of hooves. Most move off the path, while Thom climbs a tree and Grum and Vetnik step aside. Thom spots it first, a Centaur stampede. Moira asks for aid up into the tree. Black brothers help Moira up a tree. Vetnik hacks down a tree and climbs up the tree in the knick of time. In the distance, they hear the slow thundering steps and thom sees a hill giant tearing through the forest.

Trisoll pleads with his companions to run instead of fight. “It’s not the time.” The horse holding the supples bucks, turning over! Grum steers back and tries to hook his horse to the broken cart. They successfully latch the cart to their horses, and moira and vetnik rush in to help turn it over. All but Grum stumble as the giant closes the gap between himself and the party. The hill giant’s huge club hits the ground next to Grum. they finally outrun the giant out of the woods. They find themselves at the base of the Coorin Hills and see a caravan heading in the same direction. as the wagons previous. Thom hears them talking about an event “The Games” in Vartish.

Thom and Grum mull it over while Moira protests even the notion of going to games. They decide against it and convene at the foot of the Lortmill Mountains. They stop in the sleepy town of Raster, tie up their remaining horses.


A New Day in an Old City

It had been almost 20 years since the fabled “Champions of the Stars” had disbanded. Accounts of their heroism were known throughout the realm as legend. They had protected the once-great “City of Thieves” from hordes of would-be invaders, halted a war with the agents of the demonic city of Arachnia, and even helped bring about the resurrection of a god! The two decades following saw both renaissance and ruin as power changed hands over the years. After former thief-turned-revered leader, Nerof Gasgal, renounced his position as Mayor of the city and the heroes of Greyhawk parted ways, the city saw a slow dissent back into darker times. Former head of the Thieves’ Guild, Nystra Greythrush, had usurped the Mayoral office and was laxed in her duties as the city’s leader.

Upon returning to their once fair city, Crunghin Black and his wife, Morgana (former champions themselves, once known as Ix Reed and Silhouette), stepped in to intervene at the behest of city councilmen— their return an omen of good fortune. Their stay as politicians in the city last until the birth of their twin boys, after which the lure of adventure stole the family away once more. In their stead, first the head of the Mage’s Guild, Kerian Jalucian takes office until he is discovered dead in an apparent ritual casting gone wrong. He was followed by Garman, head of the Assassin’s Guild, for a brief time as Garman’s election brought suspicion on both the ballot counts but the fate of Mayor Jalucian as well. Finally a wealthy proprietor and Greyhawk native, Rhytel Craygyn, was elected by the people. Greyhawk was a more hardened place then when the heroes last left it, but the people held hope that Mayor Craygyn could once again turn the city around.

One thing had remained a constant in Greyhawk: Pimpleton Manor. While the greenery outside sprawled, the state of the manor itself was almost exactly as it was two decades ago. The house played home to many of the fabled “champions of the stars” decades ago, but after the champions disbanded, the estate was left solely in the care of George Pimpleton (his vigor the effect of years of potions supplied to him by his lover, Mellisandre.) More recently though, one of its most prominent guests had returned to call the manor home once more: Zemilay Lyks. Formerley known solely by his surname ‘Lyks’, Zemilay once helped to lead the champions; after disbanding, Zemilay explored a more nomadic life traveling the Flanaess before settling down with his wife, the former fortune teller of the Friendly Strangers Cabaret, Madame Xanti. Together they bore a son, Trisoll, in the solitude of a private grove outside of Greyhawk near the Dim Forest.

One day, a stranger sneaked her way onto their property, bypassing all of the Lyks family’s security measures. At their door, she revealed herself only as a Seer and delivered the aged Zemilay a rambling and ominous portent of doom. Though Zemilay dismissed her vague prophecy as a mere raving, something about the personal manner in which she delivered it unsettled him. With that, Zemilay, his family, his travel consort Burbis Baggleton, and his menagerie of creature companions returned to a very different Greyhawk than Zemilay had left it.

Deep in the heart of Rhizia, the royal Talthraudii Family governed over the Ice Barbarian city of Granrud. Lord Talthraudii asks Vetnik to visit Greyhawk to train with the man that taught the king how to be both man and hero.

Ix and Silhouette tell their twin boys that they are to remain in Greyhawk while they return the boat to the demigod. Ix asks him to respect Lyks, “you’re good but you’re not that good.” Silhouette says them to appreciate that what they’re doing is for the best. Tom is excited to spend time with Lyks, having heard stories of his adventures. He warns his parents though that, if too stale, he will go on his own. Grum is apathetic, displeased at his lack of a choice in the matter.

At the docks, the Black family prepared one of their boats for departure down the Nyr Dvr. Dressed in dark cloaks, the family finished bringing aboard the last of supply crates in what was to be a harrowing and long journey through the Flanaess. Crunghin owed much to his Elven ancestry, having aged more gracefully over the decades. Morgana was still fetching in her own right, though she showed clearer signs of aging brought on by her human lineage (having abandoned the uptight attire befitting of a councilwoman for more familiar, stealthier attire.) Their twin boys were young and lean, conditioned by years of adventuring with their parents. While their ears were undeniably Elven in nature, their features were more round and deeper in their complexion, much like their mother.
“I still don’t see we can’t just come with you,” the raven-haired twin whined.
“Because, Cerullian, you’re good—” his father began.
“Grum, father. It’s Grum.”
“Because, Grum, you and your brother are good but you aren’t that good. Where we’re going… the dangers there are far greater than either of you have ever encountered. Your mother and I have been at this game much longer than you have.”
The journey at hand was the return of a powerful weapon, recovered by the champions of Greyhawk many years ago, discovered to be the lost bow of the faerie god, Oberon. A journey that would take Crunghin and Morgana through the outer planes and to the enchanted land of Arvandor.
Crunghin places his hand upon his son’s shoulder, “We love both of you dearly, which is why we must go at this alone. We have only brought you along on adventures we knew you were capable of handling and—”
“You don’t think we’re able to handle this one.” Grum sighed.
“No, we know you’re not.” Crunghin replied bluntly.
“Come brother, this is Zemilay Lyks we’re talking about here! We’re bound to find some adventures under his watch,” Grum’s brother chimed in, bringing the last crate aboard the ship. He moved in closer towards his brother, brushing his bleached blonde hair away from his face. “And if we don’t, we’ll find it on our own!”
“I heard that, Corillion!” Morgana exclaimed.
“It’s Thomas, mother!”
Morgana moved towards the twins, pressing her gloved hands against their cheeks. “Whatever, whoever you two choose to be here in Greyhawk, just promise us you’ll mind Zemilay and be safe!”
Grum shrugged while Thom smirked, “Of course, mother.”

Grum and Thom stepped off the boat and untethered the rope typing their family boat to the docks. There upon the docks they stood, side-by-side, watching their parents sail away towards their next adventure. Thom waved at both of them, and Grum followed suit (half-heartedly out of obligation.) Crunghin and Morgana held each other and took in the sight of their boys one last time before setting off on what would be the longest period away from them. The nest was now empty, and it was time for the Black brothers to become men.

Light grey skies hung over the free city of Greyhawk. Several yards from the city gates, a cart came to a halt, its driver barking at a pair of women to depart — “this is where ye get off!” The women complied; one was an older woman, a peasant of modest dress and weathered features that betrayed her true age. The other was much younger and much more forward in her appearance: clad in a sewn sheep leather and draped with dusty linen fabric, with thick auburn hair falling across pale, freckled skin — such exposure was usually left to barbarian women!

The older woman motioned to the cart driver, “Please, just give us a moment.” The older woman handed the provocatively dressed girl a small satchel full of pieces of stale bread and jerky. “Here, child. Take this with you. Inside there more food as well as coin, enough to get you by until you find him.”
The young girl glared at the city gates, taking the satchel with little acknowledgement given to her companion. The two stood, side by side, the young girl placing the satchel gifted to her inside a larger sack as she replied. “Hmph. This is it, the free city of Greyhawk? Much duller than I expected.”
“Lyssa, please!” the older woman chided. “Now, make haste. Please, do not dawdle. There’s a man, Lyks, he can help you. Go find him, seek out your birthright.”
“Birthright, Violetta?” asked Lyssa in a sarcastic tone. “What would that right be here in Greyhawk? Breaking my back toiling in pig shit or laying on it pleasing the men of this city?”
“Daughter, please do not speak that way. This is all you have left!”
“Mother,” Lyssa coldly responded, “you mean to say this is all you have left.”
“Let us not play this game any more than it needs to be played, Lyssa. Now go. I pray Berei watches over you in my absence.”
Violetta sighed and left Lyssa’s side. With a stiff upper lip, Lyssa moved closer to the entrance of the city, unwilling to look back at her estranged mother.

As she passed through the threshold of the city, the noise of daily life intensified, and along with it, so did her anxiety. While Greyhawk may not have been the bustling metropolis it once was, it was more lively than anything Lyssa had ever previously experienced. In the distance, a large statue of a Paladin stood, a bronze sword held high above its head embellished with stars and the symbol of Cortox — a deity whose worshippers were rapidly multiplying all across the Flanaess in the decades since his discovery and rejoining took place in Greyhawk. Her curiosity in the urban workings of the city was only outmatched by her exhaustion and agitation. She was ready to find this Lyks man; her boorish first attempts at getting directions were in vain but she was persistent. Finally, a city guard entertained her.
“You must be new to our city. What business do you have with Lyks?”
“I do not believe my business is of any concern to you. I simply need to know where he is.”
“Well, child, the safety of all of Greyhawk’s citizens is my business. Now, if you’d like, I can escort you to the office of the Guard Captain and we can see about setting up arrangements…” he said, reaching out to take her by the arm.
“Do not touch me!” Lyssa hissed.
“Fair enough, child. But you will not be seeing anyone but the guard captain if you don’t cooperate. Now, come. There is food and water while you wait.”
Lyssa huffed and followed the guard back to his offices. Once there, the guard motioned for one of his fellow guardsmen, whispering to him as Lyssa took a seat. “Go to Pimpleton Manor, inform Master Lyks that a stranger is requesting to see him.” Lyssa’s eyes fixed on the men, the guard nodded obediently to his superior and quickly made his way to Pimpleton Manor.

Zemilay sat alone in the parlor as the fireplace crackled, quietly reading with a steaming cup of tea cooling on the table beside him. Meanwhile, Burbis and George worked together, setting up one of George’s illustrious meals in anticipation for the arriving guests. A pair of knocks sounded at the door in unison. Burbis immediately rushed to the front door, as eager as ever to play greeter for the house. “Oooh, twins,” Burbis exclaimed as he opened the door. Burbis bowed his head in a gentlemanly fashion before excitedly leading the Black brothers into the sitting room. As the brothers entered the room, Zemilay hobbled to greet them (using his gnarled, wooden staff to steady himself). Thom bent his knee and bowed his head before the aged Druid. “Sir, it is an honor!”
Grum stood beside his brother, more casual in his approach. “Ow!” he cried out, Thom swatting him in the back of the knee.
“Show some respect!” Thom grumbled at his brother.
Before Grum could reluctantly comply, Zemilay motioned to the boys. "Don’t bother, you two are family. Come, George has prepared dinner.

Zemilay lead the twins into the dining room, where Burbis had enthusiastically already taken his seat — his stubby, booted legs dangling from the seat of the chair a good foot above the floor. Drawing his Tanto blade, Thom sliced off a thigh from the roasted hen while Grum greedily filled his cup full of wine. Before Zemilay could take his seat, another knock came at the door. As Burbis slid out of his chair, Zemilay motioned to him to enjoy his dinner and limped to the door, the butt of his staff hitting the hardwood floors with a heavy thud.

“Master Lyks, sir,” a city guardsman said, tipping his head. “I apologize for the intrusion but there is a visitor that requests to see you.”
“If they are requesting to see me, then surely they must know where to find me.”
“Sir, she is not from here. She claims to be from a province outside of the city, Bayerton.”
“I know no one from that village.”
“She is young, and her dress and manner of speaking are… well, fiery to say the least.”
“Is she armed?” Zemilay asked.
“No, sir. No weapons to speak of, only a bit of food and coin, and a journal.”
“Hmph, send her then.”

The guard bowed and hurriedly began to make his way back to the barracks. Before shutting the door, Zemilay beckoned to the guard.
“Any news of the Woodley girl?” he asked.
“None yet, sir.” The guard answered before quickly nodding his head and rushing back down the front steps. Zemilay returned to his dinner and together, they dined and caught up on old times. The twins were enthralled as Zemilay’s began to recount stories the twins with his memories of them as rambunctious young boys. Not too long into their storytelling, Zemilay heard another knock at his front door. This time, the knock was softer. “This must be her,” Zemilay grumbled, setting his tablecloth over his plate. Once more, he took hold of his staff and made his way to the front door.

“Who are you, child?”
Lyssa stood, rucksack draped over one shoulder. “I’m looking for ‘Licks’?”
Without hesitation, Zemilay slammed the door in the girl’s face and huffed his way back into the dining room.
“Who was it? A vagabond?” Grum probed, mouth full of chewed meat.

As Lyks returned to his seat, setting his tablecloth across his lap, a pair of footsteps softly moved towards the dining room. “Uncle Lyks, what’s all the commotion?” In the entryway of the dining room stood the statuesque Moira Steelshaper. With her alabaster skin, flaxen hair, and angelic golden hazel eyes, she was an example of young, feminine grace blended with strong, Paladin poise. Moira was soft-spoken but sure.

Grum and Thom took a double take together. “Mi’lady,” the twins uttered in unison, setting their cups down and standing to greet the lady in a manner befitting her.
“No need for formalities, boys.” Moira said, casually accepting their greeting. “I haven’t seen you two since we were all three just children. You two certainly look more…”
“Handsome?” Thom asked.
“Taller,” she replied, smiling. “You both look just like your parents!”
“Nothing to trouble yourself with child, just a child trying to get a rise out of me no doubt.”

Moira moved to the foyer and peered out the stained glass flanking the great mahogany front door. “Uncle, whomever it was, I think she’s still here? Shall I take care of her?”
“As you wish, child.”

Curious, the twin boys chugged down the last of their wine, pulled their masks up over their noses, and rushed to the foyer.
“Let us help you,” insisted Thom.
“Yeah!” followed Grum.

Together, the three opened the door to find Lyssa, alone, at the bottom of the steps sitting and reading. The three — led by Moira - descended the great stone steps. “Hark!” Moira called out to Lyssa, who slowly swung her head back to see the trio closing in on her. Lyssa sighed, closing her leather journal and returning it to her rucksack. She stood to meet the trio at the base of the steps. “Listen, I have no quarrel with you. I’m only here because I was asked to be.”
“By whom?” questioned Moira.
“My mother, now if you please
-" Lyssa replied, adjusting her sack and pushing through the trio, making her way up the steps. Moira quickly reached out and took Lyssa by the arm, her grip firm but controlled. “I’m sorry stranger, but he does not —”
Lyssa’s jaw clenched at the moment of contact. She whipped her head back and faced Moira straight in the eyes. As she did so, her once normal, molasses-brown eyes filled with an inky blackness. As she spoke, those once deep brown irises flared a searing red.
“Unhand me… now!”
Moira’s cool demeanor was shaken. Startled, she balled her hand into a fist and launched it into Lyssa’s face, knocking her against the stone steps. The boys kept their distance and drew their blades, readying themselves for a fight.
“I’m… I’m sorry—” before Moira could apologize, Lyssa steadied herself and grabbed at Moira’s face, her red irises now crackling in the vacuum of her eyes.
“My turn!” Lyssa hissed, her hand crackling with electricity, sending a shock through the Paladin’s cheek. Thom, with blade in hand, tried to subdue the fiery young woman but she was too quick.

As the foursome squabbled, a brilliant white stallion covered in armor could be heard riding upon the cobblestone. Atop it rode a young man, armored in equal brilliance, his white silks billowing behind him revealing the sword of a Cavalier. He commanded the horse to a halt and quickly leaped off onto the street below. “Come now!” he hollered, his armored hand attempting to intervene. Lyssa unhanded the Paladin woman and turned her attention to the shining white knight charging at her. As she outstretched her hand, a young man’s voice from the top of the steps called out them them.

“Whoa! What’s all this about?”

The Cavalier, the Paladin, and the brothers stopped and backed away from the angered young woman. Down the steps, a man seemingly their age slowly approached Lyssa, his slate blue robes clerical in design, embroidered with a silver Triskelion. Lyssa’s eyes returned to a human white and brown, though she kept her hand up as if ready to cast a spell upon her would-be aggressors. “Relax. No harm will come to you.” The cleric moved behind Lyssa, attempting to place his hand upon her shoulder.
“Don’t.” Lyssa ordered.
The cleric put his hands in the air and backed away slightly. “I don’t want any trouble, mi’lady! Just wondering why you all are fighting on the steps of my father’s home.”
“You should ask the blonde woman then, who feels she has agency to put her hands upon strangers.”
“Trisoll!” Moira called out, “I did not mean—”
“No worries here, what’s done is done,” Trisoll said, excusing Moira. He kept his gaze focused on Lyssa, who kept her hand open and at the ready. “So, you want to see my father, right?”
“Yes.” Lyssa replied.
“Oh, ok… how about you and I go in together? Just, put down down… your palm, and we’ll head right up. Sound good?”
“Fine.” Lyssa abided, lowering her hand and turned to Trisoll to follow him up the steps. As he escorted her up, he made note to himself not to be his usual tactual self. The others watched the pair ascend into the manor.

“This is not how I envisioned our first meeting, Black brothers!” the Cavalier chimed in, taking off his chrome-like helmet to reveal a handsome visage reminiscent of the former champion of Greyhawk, Isrygrad (with eyes crystal blue and hair a deep golden blonde cascading down the sides of his face.) The twins looked to each other, neither terribly sure who this white knight was. “Vetnik,” he revealed, extending his gauntleted hand. “Vetnik Talthraudii, my father—”
“Is the Ice Barbarian our parents told us about” Thom responded, shaking the armored hand heartily. I’m Thom, this is my brother Grum.
“It is good to finally put faces to the names!” Vetnik exclaimed. He turned to Moira, “Mi’lady” he said bestowing a simple bow of the head. Moira responded with a slight smile. “Sir Talthraudii. I believe my uncle is expecting you.”

As the four entered the manor, squabbling between father and son could be heard. “Father, I didn’t mean to anger you but this girl clearly has no one else to turn to.”
“Then the child should do well to learn herself some manners!” Zemilay turned his attention to the party returning inside. “Moira, what happened outside?” he asked, his landing with a great thud against the wooden floor.
Moira, startled by Zemilay’s sudden interrogation, began to stutter, “Uncle Lyks, I’m sorry, I don’t… her eyes glowed like I’d never seen before. I panicked!”
“And you, who are you?” Zemilay began, moving his interrogation to the strange young woman. “A spellcaster, no doubt. Why have you sought me out?”
“My mother sent me here, she said you would know what to do with me?” Lyssa responded in her uninterested tone.
“Oh? And who is your mother?”
“A lowly sheep herder from Bayerton. How she knows any of you would be my greater question.”
“What would she have me do?”
“Help me,” she muttered sarcastically.
“Master Lyk, sir!” Vetnik called out.
Zemilay turned towards the foyer to see, at the back of the party, the son of his former companion. “Vetnik!” he began, the sight of the young knight briefly distracting the Druid from his tirade (only for a moment though.) “What part did you have in this… this debacle?”
“Little to none, sir. I rode up to the house and the fight was already in progress. I tried to keep the dark-haired woman from attacking the Lady Steelshaper, but by that time your son had already shown up and began to make peace!”

“Hmph, only an hour here with you all and already you disrupt my home.”
“Father,” Trisoll began to appease his father once more, “I know where Bayerton is, and it’s not a simple journey from there to here. She would not have come here without reason.”

Zemilay surveyed the rag tag bunch now standing together in his parlor. The room quiet, all but the sound of the open fire. Zemilay took a deep breath and calmed himself. “My son, I apologize for my temper. However, you brought this girl into my home, you would do well to be watchful of her.”
“Fine, fair enough,” Trisoll conceded.
“So, is it adventure you children seek?” Zemilay teased, acknowledging the visitors that cluttered his home.

The Black brothers were visibly enthusiastic at the very idea; an exhausted Lyssa, on the other hand, groaned, her face still sore from Moira’s hefty blow.

Pursing his thin, bearded mouth, Zemilay silently motioned for the youngsters to follow him to his study. Whether eager, obedient, or disdainful, all followed him while Burbis and George looked on.
“Gnomefriend,” Burbis began to speak up.
“Burbis, keep the lady of the house company, I’ve much to discuss with these ruffians.”
Burbis bowed in compliance and returned to his seat at the dinner table. Zemilay hobbled through a corridor and came to a halt at an unassuming wooden door. As he opened it though, it revealed to the party a room much more complex than the rest of the manor. Walls were lined with tomes and books of every imaginable thickness; suits of armor and weapons hung at the ready; scrolls and artworks acquired from his days as both a traveler and a revered cleric adorned almost every visible surface. Above a dormant fireplace, a grand oil painting hung: its subject a majestic-looking nobleman leading men fellow soldiers into battle. As Zemilay moved through the room, with a slight waves of his hand, he ignite candles without flame. In the center of the room sat a grand table, its shape organic and unpolished (as if crafted from a slice of a mighty tree that no longer stood.) It was decorated sparsely, with only a couple candles standing on its surface. “Sit,” he ordered the group. As Zemilay took his seat at the head of the table, the fireplace behind him suddenly roared with an open flame. The twins sat beside each other, kicking their feet up at first before noticing Zemilay’s disapproving expressing. Moira and Vetnik took chairs across from Trisoll and Lyssa, the latter’s glare fixed on the young Paladin.

“I see plainly in all of you a desire for something more. Grum, Drum, I know firsthand your upbringing and what a life of adventuring has done for you. Same with you, Moira. Vetnik, knowing your father, he has sent you here to find a more urbane purpose. Trisoll, my son, I know you owe your life to a higher power. While our paths may not have always met with understanding in the past, it would be blind of me to not see you hunger for more and it would be unwise of me to not allow you to pursue those paths. And as for you…”
“Young girl, you were apparently delivered here to live under my charge. Until that mystery unfolds itself, or until you decide to be open with me, I am at a loss as to what to do with you. You have power, that’s a given. How do you wish to use it?”
Lyssa sighed in reply.
“You all want to see what the world has to offer? Want to know what it is to be a hero? Fine. A dearly departed friend of mine, ”/characters/martha-woodley" class=“wiki-content-link”>Martha Woodley, left behind a daughter, Imelda. Since her passing, Imelda has become too much for her father to handle. Imelda — who has taken up the name ‘Night Pain’ — has not been since her father reported her missing to the guard captains several days ago. Want to show me how powerful you all are? Find her, tonight."
“Where was she last seen?” asked Moira.
“Macinley Cemetery.” Zemilay replied. Moira’s heart sunk a bit, though she did her best not to show it. Lyssa, however, silently picked up on her discomfort.
“Tell me, those of you who arrived tonight, how have you all armed yourselves?”
Thom and Drum stood to attention, unfurling their cloaks to reveal a plethora of bladed weapons tucked underneath.
“I have this sword, gifted to me by my father, made of fine Rhizian steel.” Vetnik said as he proudly displayed it upon the table.
The party turned to Lyssa, wondering what she might have hidden in her rucksack. “What of you, Lyssa?” asked Zemilay.
“Nothing so glorious as a big, long sword. You could just ask the Paladin what I’m capable of?” Lyssa replied.
Moira simply scowled, hesitant to bite back in her uncle’s presence. Grum began to chuckle, “Oh, I know what she’s good at, getting sacked in the face!”
Lyssa finally broke from staring down Moira and turned her sights to Grum. “You may be a lot stronger than I am, but I am certainly a lot more dangerous than either of you.”
“Oooooh” goaded Grum. In response, Lyssa’s eyes once more glowed with eerie black energy. She raised her hand and without warning, engulfed it in flames.
“Enough!” Zemilay shouted, hitting the end of his staff against the floor. Grum silenced himself (not before letting out an “Ouch!” as Thom swatted him in the arm for his childishness.) Lyssa retarded her flames and her eyes returned to their normal state.
“Go now,” Zemilay commanded, “before the moon gets too high.”
“Yes, uncle.” Moira obliged, leaving the study to fetch her armor and weapons.
“Sure thing, father.” Trisoll followed. The rest of the party took up whatever arms they had on them and together, they made their way out of Pimpleton Manor (Drum and Thom leading the charge, with the others sauntering behind.) Meanwhile, Zemilay still sitting in his study, looked to an open window and whistled. Moments later, a small grey finch flew inside, landing on his shoulder. “Do me a favor, friend. Those children, follow them. Be my eyes.” The finch chirped and quickly made it’s way back out into the city.

As the party made their way to the cemetery, they passed through the courtyard featuring the massive statue of the Cortoxian Paladin. Lyssa, once again fixated on Moira, noticed the young warrior was visibly in lower spirits (so much so, she even seemed to be condoled by Vetnik, who strode beside her.)
“It’s a rather obscene thing, this statue. How many homes could’ve been built with the stone and bronze alone?” Lyssa said snidely.
Vetnik halted the party and turned back to confront Lyssa: “Show some respect, witch!”
“The statue is of the lady’s father, a man more noble any of us here.”
As the party passed through the gates of the cemetery, Lyssa continued to prod. “What of your mother, then, Moira?”
Moira calmly replied, doing her best to not give in to Lyssa’s agitating, “I have no mother.”
“Oh? Then what, two fathers?” Lyssa dryly joked.
“Yes.” Moira replied, very matter of fact.
“How progressive.”

As the moon began to rise and peak through the clouds, the party moved deeper into the graveyard. The scraping of metal against gravel cut through the silence of the cemetery. Thom and Grum quickly put their hands to their blades, ready to draw them from their sheaths. A dim candlelight moved closer to them, behind it a ragged ghoul of a man dragging behind him digging tools. “Who goes there?” his voice croaked. “It is late in the cemetery.”
Vetnik approached, “Who goes there?”
The cloaked figure raised up his lantern to reveal a haggard, sunken face under a dirt-covered hood. “I am Morbius, the grave digger. Again, I ask, who are you?”
Vetnik replied, “old man, we’re looking for a young girl last seen in this graveyard.”
“A graveyard is no place for children.” Morbius wheezed.
Trisoll stepped in, “it’s alright if you have seen her. Please, we’re just trying to get her home safely.” As they questioned the grave digger, Grum took the time to search for tracks.
“The Mausoleums, if there’s a child hidding, she’ll be hiding there.” The grave digger said, pointing his lantern across the land. Morbius shuffled through the party, turning his attention to an open grave. The party looked around in the darkness. “We should split up,” said Vetnik, steeling himself beside Moira. Thom and Grum unsheathed their blades and paired off, leaving Lyssa and Trisoll.

Lyssa, unsure of what else to do, went along with the search and headed towards one of the mausoleums. Trisoll did his best to follow after her, keeping her in sight.
“So, Lyssa, like… what’s you deal?"
“I’m annoyed.”
Trisoll stammered. “My apologies, mi’lady, I don’t wish to offend.”
“Is you’re father this patronizing?”
Trisoll stopped, offended by Lyssa’s notion.
“No? If he isn’t, I’d much prefer his company to yours.”

She tries to split off by trysoll follows after.

the twins find a piece of parchment. upon it they find poorly written goth poetry. inside the moseoleum. they find no hidden doors or levers.

vetnik and moira run into lyssa and a silent trysoll. lyssa finds a piece of paper. she groans and tosses it back to the ground.

vetnik finds another sheet and sees more angst poetry. no hidden levers or panels. they all converge on the final moseulem, and sees the woodly crypt open and a stairwell down under the earth. moira lets vetnik head down first. “let’s prove to my dad that we can rescue a little girl!”

trysoll asks grim to check for traps on a door and finds none. beyond the door, they find no other traps. another 10 feet grim notices a flimsy floor trap. trysoll asks if they want to split up but tom advises against, citing his father and his adventuring literature.

down the first passage they find nothing disturbed or questionable. 30 ft in, grim finds a poison needle pressure plate.

in another crypt, they see the undead, 6 skeletons, roll onto the floor and take up arms. lyssa shoots forth 2 magic missiles, taking out 2 skeletons. a skeleton swings its blade at trysoll but misses. vetnik swings with his longsword crushing it. vetnik is struck by skeleton. a second attacks grim, who barely scathes his armor. moira strikes down another skeleton. trysoll tries to strike a skeleton in the name of trytheron but fails. tom shoots an arrow and shatters its skull. grim follows with an attempt to fire 2 more arrows but trips and falls prone before the skeleton, whom vetnik strikes down.

in the last chamber, they hear a girl’s shriek. she shields herself with a coffin, as she’s attacked by 2 zombies and 5 skeletons. around her are crude sigils. lyssa remarks “stupid girl playing with dead things”. tom starts his weapon display. lyssa casts burning hands, setting the zombies ablaze. vetnik strikes down a zombie, crushing it’s burning head. grim shoots several arrows

lyssa and grim are attacked. trysoll turns turns the undead. vetnik throws the coffin off of nightpain.