Ptolus: Blood in the Streets

Session 24: The Downfall of Moog and the Finding of the Black Lute

As Baffin and Malachi moved to help Snow against the ghouls surrounding her, a loud crash of breaking glass erupted from behind them at the other end of the hall. Baffin whirled around and discovered that Nameless was gone. What the hell?!?! thought Baffin, as he dashed toward the freshly broken window. The bard could only see broken glass and blood on the street below.

Meanwhile, as Snow regained her feet and faced the slavering ghouls, they viciously slashed and clawed her, and copious amounts of shifter blood spattered the ground. Malachi sprang down to rescue Snow, and with his new-found zest for combat, the party’s guide displayed both daring and skill in fending off the ghouls. Realizing he could do nothing about Nameless’s sudden disappearance, Baffin turned back toward the fighting. With Snow hurting badly and still within the clutches of several of the foul beasts, Baffin unsteadily scampered down to her side to protect her flank and be close at hand to provide arcane healing to her and Malachi.

Suddenly, a massive humanoid charged in from the other end of the alley … Moog! Right behind him was the sorceress Ophelia, wielding her staff with deadly intent. Soon, with Moog slamming ghouls around and Ophelia blasting them apart, the battle turned in the party’s favor. The ghouls, originally silent and intent on keeping their unexpected prey to themselves, now let loose with their dreaded howls, to bring more of their twisted brethren before the party overwhelmed them.

Too late! After silencing the last ghoul, the party quickly scrambled up the drainpipe to reach the roof, and then nervously clambered across the roofs of various buildings as they made their way to the house of the wizard Tiren.

Following Malachi’s instructions, the party stopped after crossing several buildings and quietly climbed down to street level, the closest point from which they could reach the entrance to Tiren’s house. The navigator – the World’s Finest – pointed to a house three blocks away and made motions for the party to pick their way carefully through the litter-strewn and debris-filled street. He also pointed out the furtive movements in the buildings lining the street. Ghouls on the prowl, no doubt.

In a lengthy, whispered discussion, Moog and Baffin reached different conclusions on how best to proceed. Exasperated by the delay, Malachi left, and he quickly slipped away to the other end of the street. Finally, the party agreed to move ahead in pairs, Moog and Ophelia first, followed by Snow and Baffin.

As Moog stepped forward and approached a broken down cart, he stepped on the end of a long-handled tool, perhaps an over-sized rake, and the goliath yelped in pain as the handle smashed against his face. Instantly, a few ghouls snapped their heads around to stare at Moog, while they crept menacingly toward him. In a desperate ploy, the goliath let loose a challenging roar and ran screaming down the street to draw the attention of all the ghouls in the area.

Pouring out of the shadows and buildings, more ghouls, with drool flying from their fang-filled mouths, bounded after the sprinting goliath. Moog put on a burst of speed and dashed into an alley on his right … and saw a dead-end at the far end. Without hesitating, not even for the pun, he raced toward the dead-end and the drainpipe leading to the roof. With ghouls snapping at his heels, the goliath leapt onto the drainpipe and pulled himself upward. Moog, impressive in his athletic abilities, yelled from the drainpipe at the ghouls climbing after him, “I could feed you for a week!” Challenged and enticed by the prospect, the ghouls howled with bloodlust, and more ghouls burst from the buildings along the alley.

Perhaps in a strange twist of fate, as Moog neared the top of the drainpipe, his grip slackened for an instant, or the decrepit plumbing crumbled from the weight of the goliath and ghouls. Or both. No matter, goliath and drainpipe fell away from the side of the building and crashed down amidst fifteen ghouls. Instantly, a barrage of rending claws and gnashing teeth swarmed over his prone body. Moog surged to his feet for a moment, but then the mighty goliath fell and disappeared under the frenzy of ghouls as they feasted on his flesh, bones, and entrails.

R.I.P. Moog

To be continued …

Session 23: The Keep of the Damned

As Nameless stared down blankly at Krystin holding his hand, the World’s Greatest Navigator, Malachi, wearing another fabulous hat, approached the returning adventurers. Speaking in a low voice, he said, “Unfortunately, the Princess has fallen ill. Nothing that rest and time cannot heal, but it means we are delayed in our journey for at least a few days.”

Before anyone could express any frustration, Malachi buoyantly offered, “We can, however, use the time to our advantage. Nearby lies Hempstead Keep, abandoned twelve years ago, but rumored to still have the Black Lute. With me as your guide and you doing what you do best, we could recover this wondrous magical instrument! What do you say?”

Moog grimaced at Malachi and immediately walked away and toward the bar. Snow would have bolted, too, except that Krystin had taken hold of Snow’s hand. With one hand held by Snow and one held by Nameless, the little girl was now swinging and playing between the two disconcerted adventurers.

Undeterred, Malachi related that a catastrophe of some sort had befallen the Keep, and the few surviving citizens had left twelve years ago. Stories portray the Keep ruins as haunted, and no one goes there anymore. One of the survivors, however, happened to be living in Barabis, and the party could meet and talk with him. Sensing little enthusiasm, particularly from Baffin, and seeing that they needed to recover from their search of the haunted orphanage, Malachi suggested the adventurers rest and think over his proposal.

In the morning, Nameless, Snow, and a hay-covered Baffin decided to take up the mission to explore Hempstead Keep and to visit the survivor on their way. Moog, however, was ill, so Krystin stayed behind to care for the goliath. Also, Snow had received a note written by Ophelia that the eladrin sorceress had to depart suddenly and would be gone until the next morning.

So the small party of Nameless, Snow, Baffin, and Malachi set out for the edge of town to meet with the survivor, Mr. Harwick. There, they found a fifty-ish looking man sitting on his porch, and though dispirited and obviously worn down by the tragedy, Mr. Harwick agreed to tell his story.

“Terrible things happened there twelve years ago,” he whispered hoarsely. After pausing to steady himself, he spoke more strongly and in a voice rising with emotion, “I was eighteen and freshly married then. No one knows what really happened, but I saw people turned into savage beasts, and they began eating everyone in the keep. The beasts went about howling and killing and rending the bodies to shreds!”

Harwick shook slightly as he recalled the horrific images. Quietly he uttered, “There was nothing I could do. I ran away. I never knew what happened to my bride …”

“You should have saved your bride, that’s what you should have done!” Baffin peevishly exclaimed. Nameless and Snow glared at the bard.

Stung, Harwick heatedly replied, “I tell you there was no way I could have gone in there and come out alive. Those monsters were everywhere! Killing everyone around! I would have died if I had tried to fight them.”

After a few moments to calm down, Harwick softly asked, “Are you really going to the Keep?” After an affirmative nod from the party, he brokenly continued, “Please. F-f-find my bride … go to my house and check the cellar … f-f-find out wha-what happened to her.” He paused again, and more steadily, requested, “Find her wedding ring and bring it back to me.” Tears fell from Harwick’s eyes.

“You mean do the job you should have done,” muttered Baffin under his breath. Sharp of hearing, Nameless turned to Baffin and gave him a look that clearly meant “Shut-the-hell-up!”

Through further conversation, the party learned from Harwick that thousands of people used to live in the Keep, and though unlikely, possible survivors might include Tiren, a wizard; Lord White, ruler of the Keep; Lord Mayor, who would be fortified within the guard house; and anyone holding out at Saint Lucian’s Church, a church of Pelor. The traumatized man also described these persons and locations, as well as the location of his former house.

Afterward, Harwick generously served breakfast to the party, and Baffin was a most ungracious guest, eating everything he could in a slow and dawdling manner and taking a jug of Harwick’s wine for the day’s journey. When Baffin began to methodically eat apples one by one from a bowl that had the only remaining food on the table, Nameless snapped them all up and gulped them down to bring the meal to a merciful end.

Once on the road, Malachi guided the party south, and after many hours, they passed a chest high gate with a warning sign “Cross at your own peril.” Curiously, the party also discovered horse and wagon tracks not a few days old. Malachi informed everyone that, unfortunately, an occasional trader, not knowing the tragedy at Hempstead Keep, still made the trip unaware of the danger.

After about twelve hours of travel and in the late evening, the party reached the outlying former farmlands of the Keep, and soon, they found the remains of the trader, his dead horses, and his wagon. Suddenly bounding and crashing into the party, ghouls knocked Nameless and Baffin to the ground, and the beasts slashed away at the three adventurers. As usual, Malachi slipped behind some rocks to hide, but unexpectedly, he darted into the fight at a few opportune moments for several well-timed strikes. The battle was a bloody struggle, and though the party survived, everyone was severely injured.

Concerned about being out in the open at night, the party quickly resumed their journey to reach the Keep. A fine white ash covered the road, but everyone eventually realized the ash was actually a gruesome layer of bone dust. Legends of the King of Ghouls, ex-arch of Orcus, and his White Kingdom stirred uneasily in their thoughts. Could the beasts Harwick described actually be ghouls? Could the citizens of the Keep have been transformed into ghouls? Thousands of ghouls?

During their journey, the party encountered shattered and ruined farmhouses, with holes in the roofs, doors ripped apart, and windows smashed open, but they also found a boarded up farmhouse. Desiring a place to rest and get out of sight, the adventurers examined the house and discovered that a family had taken refuge inside and was trying to hold out against the ghouls roaming the countryside. The man, his wife, their two children, and his father had not eaten for days, and fortunately, Baffin had taken a large sack of dried meat from the dead trader’s wagon. The bard dropped the sack and let the hungry family eat as much as they wanted.

The family, at the behest of the man’s father, was trying to return to the Keep, because the father, who had fled twelve years ago, wanted to know what had happened and if he could return to his home in the Keep. The trip turned disastrous when the ghouls set upon them, and the family barely managed to shelter themselves inside the farmhouse. The man’s brother, however, was killed.

The terrified and exhausted family pleaded for the adventurers to help them get across the nearby hills, where they would be safe from the packs of ghouls and could flee back to Barabis. As the party wrangled with what to do, the man suggested the party could draw the attention of the ghouls and act as a distraction while he and his family ran away. Baffin countered that the party could help the family, and especially the father, reach the Keep to fulfill the father’s wish to see what happened. The father immediately lost control of his bladder and clearly no longer desired to see the Keep. Nameless privately brought up the possibility of going along with the man’s plan, but instead, turning the family into the distraction while the party quietly slipped away.

Getting nowhere, Nameless invoked the question, “What would Vennman do?”

“Arrgh,” thought Baffin. What would Vennman do? I know exactly what he would do. He would help the innocent against evil. That’s what he would do. Damn, I don’t know if I can sacrifice myself like Vennman did. What do I have to gain by all this? Which of my friends is going to die next? I’m not sure I have any friends left anyway, now that Vennman is dead. Nameless? He just asked about feeding this wretched family to the ghouls while we sneak away.

What would Vennman do? Fine. I know what to do. Yes, Nameless, to honor his memory, as you say, I will do what Vennman would do.

“Okay, Nameless. I agree. To honor Vennman’s memory, let’s get the family safely out of here,” the bard wearily concluded.

Wasting no time, the party and family stole out of the house and, with shadow magic from Nameless, stealthily approached a field that led to the safety of the hills beyond. With the ongoing help from Nameless and trying to stay in a group, everyone quietly and carefully moved forward. Snow and Nameless gradually recognized the furtive movements of creatures hiding in the field – no doubt ghouls waiting in ambush. Abruptly, Snow stumbed directly into a ghoul with a muffled crash, and responding to the noise, several of the monsters rose up and charged toward their prey!

Snow, Nameless, Baffin, and even Malachi in a few instances desperately fought the ghouls to protect the fleeing family. When the man, husband to the wife, fell under the claws of a ghoul, Baffin made a difficult decision to help secure the rest of the family, rather than go to the man’s aid. The poor man died shrieking while the ghoul ripped away in a frenzied feast.

Snow had cleared the way forward, and while she led the surviving family members to the hills, Nameless and Baffin finished off the last few ghouls. The bard, filled with a burning rage barely held in check, immediately went to the dead man and took all his valuables and personal effects: 6 gold, a wedding ring, and a Pelor necklace. Heavily beaten and battered, the party returned to the shelter of the farmhouse they had just left, boarded it up, and spent an uncomfortable night on watch for prowling ghouls.

The next morning, the adventurers made for the Keep and decided to check first the house of Tiren, the wizard. Perhaps he was sufficiently powerful to ward off the ghouls. The party passed more fields, then small houses all in shambles, before reaching the outer walls of the Keep. Smashed doors gouged by claws, bloodstains on buildings and the ground, crumbling and broken stone walls, random bones scattered about, and bone dust thickly covering everything … a formerly prosperous and healthy town lay completely in ruins.

The party entered Hempstead Keep through the east gate, the closest to Tiren’s house, and the debris of bones became nauseating from the sheer number of crushed and gnawed skulls, rib cages, thigh bones, etc. Sighting a pack of ghouls to the north, the adventurers noiselessly slipped across the street and hugged the shadows. Eventually, the party ducked inside a building to try to cut through the city without being exposed on the streets. Inside, they surprised a lone ghoul that ran out the back, and they gave chase but could not catch it.

Realizing the noise would draw more attention, the party quickly moved onward toward Tiren’s house. Needing to head north and west, they cut west through a few buildings but reached a dead end alley. Rather than head back to the street, they attempted to cut north through the building there, but after listening at the door, they heard movment inside.

Altering their plans, the party climbed a drainpipe to reach the second floor, and after walking down a hallway to a large window on the other side of the building, they could see no way to exit from the window without being seen by the ghouls they had originally sighted. So they turned around to climb the drainpipe to the roof.

Snow, being the best climber, went first, and she immediately slipped from the pipe and fell to the ground below. A pack of ghouls, bursting from the door on the first floor, instantly pounced on her.

To be continued next session …

Session 22: The Haunted Orphanage

Before Moog, Baffin, and Snow left the beach, they spotted a dismal sign, a pair of boots washed ashore … Vennman’s boots. Crushed, Baffin passed out again, and the dejected group headed into the city. At the Inn of the Dirty Griffon, Snow headed straight for the bar, while Moog carried Baffin upstairs to their rooms. After depositing the sleeping bard onto a bed, the goliath joined Snow in drinking away their sorrows. Nameless, already in the same room as Baffin, attempted to converse with him, but the exhausted and grief-stricken bard pretended he was fully asleep. Mildly hurt at being ignored, the gnoll went downstairs to join Moog and Snow.

Soon a loud knock interrupted Baffin’s rest, followed by more knocking and an insistent voice asking to speak with Baffin, who was trying to ignore the visitor. After the person identified himself as Buron, a cleric and leader within the Gate Pass Resistance, the groggy Baffin reluctantly allowed him inside.

“What do you want?” snapped Baffin, who was over-tired, short-tempered, and overwhelmed by the loss of Vennman. The irritated bard slumped back onto his bed.

“I came to speak privately with you … did you find the item at the Lyceum?” eagerly inquired Buron.

Confused, the bard struggled to prop himself on his elbows and clear his mind. He muttered, “The item?”

“Yes, the item that you were supposed to find that could aid the Resistance …” offered the puzzled cleric. “Don’t you remember?”

It seemed like ancient history, but with a rush of memories, Baffin suddenly remembered. “It wasn’t there. The Lyceum was attacked and the item was stolen. It’s in the hands of Leska’s forces. She could already have it by now,” Baffin replied in a dull monotone before lying down again and rolling over.

Aghast, Buron quickly calmed himself. “What about the other item, the one you already possessed? Do you still have it?”

“Oh, we still have it. Yes, it’s safe. Don’t worry.”

“Well then … I request that you give it to me to help support the Resistance against Leska. We will need it more than ever, if she has obtained more pieces of the evil bracelet.”

“What good is one piece without the other pieces? It’s useless!” barked Baffin.

“No, it’s a start! It can help us!” countered Buron. “Please, give it to me.”

“One piece will not help you,” repeated Baffin.

“Do you have it? Who has it?” Buron asked with building frustration.

With a bit of contempt, Baffin answered, “It’s safe … and I’d rather not say who has it.” A hard edge crept into the bard’s voice as he finished speaking.

“The people of Gate Pass are suffering, and the Resistance needs …” Buron began again, but Baffin exploded, “We have suffered, too, in this search! On the journey to the Lyceum … the journey here … and it cost the life of one our companions!”

Buron paused and then spoke firmly and with compassion, “Yes, I had heard the wizard was lost. You all have my condolences.” Sensing an end to the conversation, the cleric continued, “Very well. I will ask your companions for the aid I seek, and I hope they will be more reasonable than you.” Unsatisfied, Buron exited and left the bard to rest.

The Resistance cleric, however, had no better success with Nameless, Moog, and Snow. Pressured by the necessity to leave Barabis within minutes, Buron gave up pleading his case to the party. Instead, he returned upstairs and surreptiously tried to open the door to Baffin’s room. Unsuccessful, the cleric turned to depart, but he ran into Nameless, who had wisely followed Buron and observed him trying the door. The gnoll blocked the cleric and gave a quick signal to Moog and Snow, who immediately joined them. While the goliath and shifter kept an eye on Buron, Nameless entered the room … and found Baffin was gone!

The alarmed gnoll returned, deftly grabbed Buron, and dragged him into the room, as Moog and Snow followed and watched to see if anyone noticed the scuffle. The cleric vehemently protested, but Nameless ignored him and shoved him into Moog’s vise-like arms. The gnoll started tracking Baffin’s scent … not difficult given the unwashed and fragrant state of the notoriously sloppy bard. Soon, the gnoll ended up in the stables and found Baffin, asleep and snoring by a pile of hay. Overjoyed, Nameless hesitated between returning to his friends with the good news or staying to watch over Baffin.

Meanwhile, Moog and Snow interrogated Buron, and the increasingly angry cleric finally had enough and seared Moog with divine energy to break the goliath’s grasp. Buron warned Moog and Snow against touching him again, and frustrated and simmering, the cleric left to join his men and depart Barabis. Just as the goliath and shifter went after Buron, Nameless returned and shared that he had found Baffin, who still had the evil relic. So the three adventurers decided to let Buron go.

Snow made sure Buron and his men indeed left, before she returned to her station at the bar. Moog joined her, and the two veteran drinkers resumed their training. Nameless went back to the stables to keep watch over Baffin. Earlier, the bard had confirmed to Nameless that the piece of Lolth’s Bracelet was still in his possession and that he had crawled out of the room so he could avoid Buron and rest without being bothered.

Unfortunately for the physically and emotionally exhausted Baffin, his plan to sleep the day away was ruined by the appearance of Snow, Moog, and a desperate farmer whose three children had gone missing. Clearly grumpy, the bard inquired of the farmer, “Do you have any spares?” before he grudgingly agreed to join his comrades in searching for the lost children. Baffin only joined the search because everyone else was willing to help; inside, he felt empty and adrift one moment, then sullen and resentful the next.

The farmer led the party to an abandoned house, which used to be an orphanage and now had the reputation of being haunted. People generally avoided the place. His children, however, had gone to explore it, as children do, and they had not yet returned home. Perhaps they were emboldened by the fact that a family had recently bought the house and were moving in today. Sure enough, a wagon sat outside the dilapidated structure, but no one was around. The wagon contained furniture, plates, utensils, jugs of wine, etc., and it obviously belonged to a family moving to a new place. Without breaking stride, a silent and gloomy Baffin walked up to the wagon, took a jug of wine, and hefted it to his greedy mouth, before rummaging inside the wagon for food. Coming away with a loaf of bread and the wine, the bard brought up the rear as the party entered the house.

In a harrowing search of the house, the party confronted a possessed woman, the mother of the family, and an enraged zombie, the woman’s unlucky husband. Before realizing the woman’s altered state of mind, Baffin grew impatient with her and the mission in general. In the kitchen, he frantically searched an empty cupboard, where she said her son had supposedly hidden, and then in a frenzy, he searched the oven, which held the aroma of fresh baked bread but was also empty. Baffin eventually began threatening the woman unintentionally as he rushed about madly, occasionally clutching and yelling at her, especially after she brought them to the dining room and tricked them into eating a rotten and moldy feast.

Soon more ghosts and visions hampered and aided their investigation, which led them to the basement, where rocks had been piled over the door to the cellar. Despite the scrawled warnings “Don’t move the rocks!” and the burnt and shattered remains of a past group of adventurers strewn around the basement floor, the party pushed aside the rocks and descended a ladder down into the cellar. At the bottom, they found themselves in a natural cavern with walls lined by wooden shelves holding piles of bones, the small skeletons of children.

One adult skeleton lay on the cavern floor, and four children wimpered and hid in the cavern corners. Suddenly, Moog and Baffin began conversing with each other, but speaking as if possessed by ghosts. Within Moog, the spirit of a little girl argued with the spirit of an old woman possessing Baffin, and the cellar door fell closed. Realizing the little girl had tricked her and trapped her in the cellar, the old woman lashed out and attacked the party through Baffin’s body. The hidden children grew silent and attacked the party, too.

The little girl’s spirit did nothing further to hinder or help the party, and although Baffin managed to purge the old woman’s spirit from his body, the deranged ghost took possession of other members of the party and continued to force friend to fight against friend. Snow burned the adult skeleton with the divine power of the Raven Queen, and the old woman’s ghost screamed in agony. Everyone quickly worked to destroy the woman’s bones, while also defending themselves from her and the possessed children.

At the destruction of her bones, the ghost wailed with despair and faded from existence, and the cellar door flew open. “Quickly!” shouted the spirit of the little girl, though only Moog could hear her. “Finish it! End the curse and banish her evil spirit forever! Or else she will return! You have one chance!”

Moog, shaken by the visions and being possessed, nervously attempted to exile the old woman’s ghost, and the goliath put forth his best effort. Exorcism, however, was neither part of his training nor his natural strength. “You have failed,” the girl mournfully intoned. “Leave now and do not let any return. Leave us to our doom.”

Needing no additional encouragement, the party grabbed the four real children and scrambled up the ladder. In the basement, they immediately slammed the cellar door shut, piled rocks over it, and ran out of the house. Outside, the three children were re-united with their father, the farmer, and the other child was re-united with his mother, who was no longer possessed. Moog suggested burning the house to the ground, and everyone readily agreed. With the haunted house ablaze in flames, the party thoughtfully walked back to the inn.

Epilogue (by Leland)

When you arrive back at the inn from your adventure at the orphanage, you find that Malachi and the royals there waiting for you with news—Torrent left to catch up to Buron, leaving the party. You look around for the girl, wondering if Torrent took her also. Just then, a little voice peeps up beside Nameless as a small hand slips into his hairy paw, “I am part of your pack now?”

To be continued next session …

Session 21: Vennman’s Sacrifice

For the remainder of their passage on the Good Ship Flea, the party tried to avoid getting into more hot water with the captain and his crew. The presence of a mysterious passenger staying in a cabin on the aft deck, however, increased the adventurers’ paranoia over Leska’s plots and Malachi’s secrets. At dinner one night, Baffin attempted to spike Malachi’s drink with a few drops of Moog’s green “happy” potion, but the clumsy bard failed miserably and spilled the entire vial into the cask of dinner ale. Trying to cover his mistake and protect people from ingesting the tainted drink, the bard quickly broke the tap from the cask and allowed its contents to drain onto the floor. Yelling a few choice words, the dwarves jumped into action to try to save what they could, and Baffin proffered an apology, publicly for the loss of the ale and privately for fumbling the green potion.

Over the course of dinner, Snow asked Baffin for a moment to talk, and the close-mouthed shifter uncomfortably offered an apology on the matter of her offending the bard. Quite surprised, the shocked bard gladly accepted the gracious gesture and proposed that the two end the grievance between them with a toast. Snow heartily agreed, and after touching mugs, the two comrades gulped down their ale. Baffin then proposed that they seal the matter completely … by Snow giving him a kiss on the cheek. The infuriated and horrified shifter growled in disgust and backed away from the impudent bard.

The following night at a special feast above board, the mystery person emerged from the cabin … a well-dressed man with a precious and stylish sword and dagger at his side. As the man served himself a plate of food and headed back to his room, Moog and others in the party noted his sword bore the insignia of Ragesian nobility. Even more interesting, Sylvus became visibly upset upon seeing the stranger, and Malachi immediately escorted her and Mara below decks.

While the party conferred about the implications of a Ragesian noble being on board, Malachi approached and asked to speak in private. In a frank conversation in his cabin, the navigator explained that Sylvus was actually Princess Airia of Ragesia, daughter of the former Emperor, and the stranger was her brother, Prince Aildred. The Princess intended to sneak into Gate Pass and rally the Ragesians to fight against Leska. Airia, however, had promised Aildred that she would stay safely in hiding during the war, and she feared his reaction to her dangerous plan. Malachi, at Airia’s instruction, was now planning to set up and mediate a meeting between the siblings to clear the air.

Since Airia, as one of the rightful heirs to the Ragesian Empire would be in grave danger on her journey to Gate Pass, Malachi further requested that the party, already traveling the same route, escort and protect the Princess. Baffin, remembering the cost of ship’s passage for Malachi’s party and being sensitive to Moog’s and Snow’s disgust in feeling used by Malachi, countered that the adventurers required compensation for the task. The navigator, well-versed in contract work, agreed to raise the issue with the Princess.

Following the meeting between sister and brother, Malachi informed the party that Aildred had similar designs as Airia for raising the Ragesians against Leska, and the two nobles were now joined together in this cause. Also, as payment for escorting them to Gate Pass, the nobles would provide 3500 GP to the party upon reaching Barrabas, the port city at the end of the ship’s journey. The party agreed to the bargain, and everyone celebrated (or brooded in the case of some) at a final feast. After drinking up the last round of drinks, Snow and Baffin fell unconscious … for three days. The industrious dwarves had managed to save the ale polluted by the green potion at Baffin’s unsteady hands. Fortunately, no one else was impaired, and the puzzled dwarves tossed the remainder of the contaminated drink.

After Snow and Baffin regained their senses, the party returned to the problem of the case and their contract with the annoying imp. Instantly, the imp appeared. After more unsuccessful negotiations, both sides gave up, and the imp vanished. At wit’s end, Baffin wondered if the hidden compartment in the case was connected to Lolth’s Bracelet, and in desperation, the bard spent the day secretly studying the bracelet piece that he wore under his shirt. After rejoining the rest of the party, the bard attempted to open the case, and he was promptly knocked unconscious.

Early the next morning, just off the coast of Barrabas, the crew spotted a large sailing ship approaching fast on the starboard side, and shouts of “Sea Reavers!” filled the decks of the dwarven ship. The enemy ship was manned by creatures with heads engulfed in flame and fire, and the diabolical fiends pulled with inhuman strength on the ship’s oars and scrambled to ready four ballista. At Captain Shallowgut’s behest, the adventurers helped with the ship’s defenses by manning three ballista, each requiring crews of three, and two adventurers and one dwarf raced into position. Along with a dwarf at each station, Snow and Ophelia, Moog and Baffin, and Nameless and Vennman formed the three ballista crews, and they enjoyed some early success knocking out enemy ballista.

The Reavers, however, blasted the hull of the Good Ship Flea, disabling the dwarven sailing vessel, and two boats with hellish boarding parties dropped into the water and surged toward the dwarf ship, which was now sinking. Captain Shallowgut shouted the order to abandon ship, and dwarves began jumping overboard. Hesitating at first, Baffin, Snow and, very reluctantly, Ophelia abandoned their posts and plunged overboard on the side closest to shore. Nameless and Vennman hung in for a bit longer and launched a blast that smashed one of the approaching boarding parties, but then Nameless leapt overboard as well. While Moog hid as best he could to ambush the first enemies to climb on deck, Vennman raised himself to his full height and then launched himself, blazing staff in hand, at the remaining boarding party. In a defiant rage, the wizard plumetted down onto his enemies, shattering them to pieces and utterly destroying them. In disbelief, Moog waited momentarily, but seeing no sign of his comrade, the goliath turned away and dove overboard.

After all the survivors reached the shore, Moog shared the tragic news of Vennman’s demise with the remaining party members. Refusing to accept that Vennman was lost, Baffin began patrolling the beach and soon found the wizard’s staff. Seeing that it was undamaged, the bard took hope and walked back and forth along the shore, looking for any sign of his friend, and Snow joined the somber search. In the meantime, Ophelia, Moog, and Nameless escorted the royals, Malachi, and Mara into Barrabas and obtained rooms at the Dirty Griffon.

Baffin and Snow trudged up and down the beach all night, and while Ophelia and Nameless guarded the Princess and Prince, Moog returned to join the search. After an exhausted Baffin finally dropped senseless onto the sand, Moog picked up the sleeping bard, and Snow offered a silent prayer and toast to Vennman. With that, the goliath, carrying the bard, and the shifter returned to the city to join their remaining companions.

R.I.P. Vennman

To be continued next session …

Session 20: Leska’s Lure and an Old Friend

After a night’s rest back at the Glass Window Inn, the party planned over breakfast how to convince the Council to have the Lyceum join the war against the Ragesians. During the conversation, the god-child Krystin appeared to exert subtle influence over Torrent and Vennman, soothing away their concerns and calming their demeanor. Puzzled but not overly alarmed, the party left Krystin in Vennman’s care while they and Torrent went to speak with the Council.

When the adventurers reached the Lyceum and were admitted to the Council chamber, they found the mages in animated discussion. Master Ken, head of the Council, stopped the proceedings and informed the party of the news that Leska desired a peace conference at Gate Pass. She had requested representatives from the Lyceum and specifically the presence of the “Ptolus Six” meaning the six adventurers. As a sign of her good will, she provided the six with a staggering gift – six astral diamonds worth 10,000 GP each!

The party warned the Council not to trust Leska and raised the issue of the Ragesians outside the city, which caused a nervous Master Renn to lose his composure and shout that the adventurers were traitors. Taken aback at first, Master Ken believed Moog’s claim that Renn was under a lot of stress from rebuilding the Lyceum tower and had probably just cracked from the strain. In the end, despite pressure from Master Ken to join the Lyceum contingent and travel to Gate Pass together, the party only agreed to provide an answer to the Council by the end of the day, and they were dismissed.

After returning to the inn and regrouping with Vennman, the well-tested adventurers decided to travel on their own by the quickest route to Gate Pass, which meant going by ship up the coast for the first leg of the journey. They also decided to sell the astral diamonds to avoid any potential magical connection between the gems and Leska. Nameless immediately wanted to spend his diamond on magical enhancements for his claws. And with only a twinge of hesitation, Baffin quickly gave away his diamond to the gnoll, to fulfill the promise to repay his friend for the wagon of gold they returned to the Dassen military.

While Nameless sought his desired magic and Torrent watched over Krystin at the inn, the rest of the party went to the docks to rent a ship. Fortunately, they discovered that one of the fastest ships had room to take them and was preparing to depart with the evening tide, though it was already booked with a few passengers. Curiously, the ship was manned by dwarves, including Captain Shallowgut (he of the lean proportions for a dwarf and the tri-point Bonaparte hat) and First Mate Fergel (he of the tall height for a dwarf, but only when wearing his very tall hat).

Even more surprising, the person who had already booked the ship was none other than Malachi Longshadow! The World’s Greatest Navigator! As the dashing fellow climbed up from the hold to join everyone on deck, his magnificent hat preceded him, to the delight of some and the consternation of others.

“Hey! Malachi! Greetings!”

“Oh no, Malachi … How did we end up with him again?”

For more on Malachi, read Sessions 3-6.

Upon learning Malachi was escorting two female passengers to Gate Pass, the party entered into financial negotiations and aired their concerns about Malachi’s relationship to the two females. Infatuated daughter of an angry and powerful businessman? Fiancée running from an angry and powerful future husband? Mistress swept away by Malachi from an angry and powerful nobleman? Married woman stolen away by Malachi from an angry and powerful merchant? Who knew what trouble Malachi offered to entangle the party in. Finally, the party agreed to pay 3500 GP for passage and food for themselves, Torrent, and Krystin, and with grumbles of disgust from Moog and Snow, for Malachi and his companions.

Nameless rejoined the party with a joyful bounce in his step, and the grinning gnoll dropped a 5000 GP diamond into Baffin’s hand, change from his magical purchases. Seeing the enlivened gnoll and with a few hours remaining before the tide changed, everyone left the ship to convert their diamonds into magic items and laundered gold. Nameless, however, followed Malachi to learn as much as possible about the navigator’s companions and their plans. Unfortunately, the gnoll learned little of use, though he was lucky to avoid having the watch called on him.

Just before the tide changed, the party sent a courier with a message to the Council that the party would meet the Council at Gate Pass, and everyone boarded the ship, including Torrent and Krystin despite not being told about the ship. To the chagrin of Baffin and exactly as Vennman had predicted, Krystin somehow knew where to be at the right time. Baffin sighed in disappointment at not being able to rid himself of the dangerously powerful orphan girl.

Captain Shallowgut welcomed everyone aboard, but also warned them that Hold Four was off limits. Malachi then introduced his companions, Sylvus a brunette woman and Mara a younger blonde woman, and the crew directed the passengers to their section of the hold and their sleeping hammocks. Malachi and company, however, were led to the door of a small, private room. Several of the adventurers scowled at the disparity, but said nothing. Typical Malachi.

In short order, though, Snow, Moog, and Baffin were happily drinking dwarven ale with some off-duty dwarves, while Vennman talked with the first mate about ships and pirates and Nameless prowled the holds. Meanwhile, Ophelia boldly approached the door to Malachi’s room and was quickly let inside.

A few minutes later, both Sylvus and Mara suddenly emerged from the same room, looking a bit confused and very annoyed. After what must have seemed like an eternity to Ophelia, the eladrin sorceress magically appeared outside the room … falling down drunk. Nameless was passing by, so he scooped her up and brought her back to the hammocks. Not before wretching on the gnoll’s coat and on the floor next to Baffin, Ophelia blurted out to the bard in a slurred voice, “Malachi … the princess … Princess Sylvus … unnhhh … zzzzzz,” and passed out.

“Wow,” thought Bafin, “She’s good.” The bard was gaining even more respect for Ophelia. He was always impressed by Shialis, especially after the locket incident, but more so for sending Ophelia to monitor the party. Not only had Ophelia extricated the party from the brow-beating and potential jailing at the hands of a paranoid Dassen officer, but she delivered a barrage of heavy magical attacks in a fight. Now, she had obviously taken one for the party in order to finesse a shocking secret from Malachi.

While everyone cleaned up after Ophelia and resumed their drinking, Nameless placed the sleeping sorceress in her hammock. Vennman also turned in for the night, but Snow and Moog continued their efforts to drain every barrel of ale in one night. Responding to a look from Nameless, Baffin decided it was time to join the gnoll in exploring the ship’s holds, especially Hold Four. Surely, the bard’s greed and curiousity would get him killed some day.

The two comrades soon approached Hold Four, already scouted by Nameless, and they met three dwarves sitting at a table and watching the door that led into the hold. Baffin tried to distract the dwarves by joining them in their drinking, playing and learning sea songs, and playing a drinking game that involved brined pork. When the dwarves’ attention wandered from the door, Nameless attempted to pick the lock … and set off an explosion that destroyed the door and sent deadly shards of wood into the gnoll’s body.

Immediately, the dwarves regained their focus, jumped up, and reached for their weapons. In the now open doorway into Hold Four, three ogres roared at the five puny figures blocking their escape. Simultaneously, a thunderously loud thump echoed throughout the holds, as the hatch to the decks above fell closed in a flash and trapped the ogres, and everyone else in the holds, below decks.

The ferocious battle lasted only a few moments, but resulted in an ogre splitting one dwarf into two halves, and the destruction of three pieces of precious cargo (the ogres). Nameless defended his poking around the forbidden door by arguing that the symbol “4” marked on the door was meaningless to him, while Baffin tried to restore his strength with a snack of brined pork but, instead, accidentally bit into a gobbet of dwarf flesh sent flying by the brutal ogre attacks. A steamed Captain Shallowgut was only mollified after the party agreed to pay for the door and his lost cargo.

To be continued next session …

Session 19: Seaquen

After the havoc of fighting the Matriarch’s possessed son, a thankfully peaceful night passed. The next morning the adventurers met with the Matriarch at her keep, but clearly filled with grief and regret, she only spoke briefly to the party before returning to her private chambers. She had neutralized the threat of the Mandressa by imprisoning her son Darkon within an amber of stasis, and though Darkon was technically alive, the Matriarch mourned for her son and his lost life.

As a reward for stopping the Mandressa without killing Darkon, Captain Willamis informed the party that the Matriarch offered that the marsh elves would take the party by boat to the end of the marsh. More materially, she provided 600 GP and magical gloves, fingerless and woven from wondrous marsh reeds, a pair for each adventurer. Slipping them on his hands, Baffin wiggled his fingers and delightedly found his hand and finger agility dramatically improved. Useful perhaps for blazing through viciously fast tunes on his lute … or the next time curiousity gets the better of him and his hands.

Two days journey by boat, including a night’s stop on a marsh island, ended at a dock near dusk of the second day. Back on land, after two more days of uneventful travel, the party reached a road headed south onto a peninsula, and following the road, the adventurers soon smelled the tang of the sea. Cresting a hill, they could see below at the tip of the peninsula a walled city of light and, in the center of the city, a large tower made of blue and yellow stone. The party had finally reached Seaquen and the Lyceum.

As the party approached the city, they noticed scorch marks and other signs of damage on the tower of the Lyceum, and near the front gate, they found the outer buildings were smashed, burned, and abandoned. After being escorted inside by ten soliders, including Captain Merris, the adventurers discussed with the captain their business with the Lyceum and the case of Ragesian military plans and their run-in with Ragesian forces within Dassen. The captain, in turn, related that the Ragesians had recently somehow gained entrance into Seaquen, attacked the city, and stolen the city’s gold and some items from the Lyceum. The party quickly returned the recovered wagon of stolen gold to a slightly stunned Captain Merris. The captain, grateful and now judging the party to be allies, told them to seek Master Renn who was managing the day-to-day Lyceum activities, including its repair.

At the Lyceum, the adventurers found a harried young man in a library strewn with documents and scrolls as numerous people entered and left to get orders from the man. Introducing himself as Master Renn, he asked what the party wanted, but upon seeing Krystin, he demanded that she leave the room immediately. “Obviously a man of keen intelligence,” thought Baffin. Torrent took the hurt girl into her care as they both left. Good riddance. Who needed that spoiled, all-powerful brat?

“Who the fuck are you?!” snarled the young half-elf. Baffin stood in front of an old man sitting on a three-legged, wooden stool, but the two were eye-to-eye. The old man seemed amused by the question. Another human man, who had just removed the blind-fold and rope bonds from Baffin, was less friendly and barked, “Watch yourself youngin!” But the old man gently raised a hand and waved at the other to calm down.

Outwardly, Baffin was putting up a brave front, but inwardly, the skinny kid was scared. First, it had been a long time since someone got the drop on him and, even worse, tied him up like a bundle of sticks and carried him off. Also, these guys were not the usual pathetic wretches, petty criminals, and penniless rabble he had encountered during his life on the streets. On the streets of Ptolus, at least the ones where Baffin eked out his life, the denizens did not chat with you or preserve you for later conversations. No, you took, you stabbed, you ran, and then if you had any breath once you reached a place to trade in your loot, only then did you talk.

“You’re pretty tough for your stature, young man,” the old man mildly announced to Baffin as he looked the half-elf in the eye. “You’ve also got a talent for … how shall we say it? Negotiating a situation to your advantage.”

“Do you recall this?” he continued as he opened his other hand and held up a small locket of gold. It was a small locket, not worth terribly much, and barely the size of a grown man’s thumbnail.

Uh-oh, thought Baffin with chagrined recognition, as he said, “I’ve got bad eyesight. Bring it closer so I can see it.”

The old man laughed and nodded at the other man, who then pushed Baffin a step forward. The laugh made Baffin nervous, and now the old man was smiling as he slowly brought the locket forward to within an inch of Baffin’s face. A cross-eyed Baffin started to feel overwhelmed but gamely offered, “I’ve never seen it before.”

Now both men laughed at the lie, and Baffin started to flush with embarrassment.

“Come, stop with your lies,” the old man chuckled as he withdrew the locket. “I’m not mad at you, and I’m not going to hurt you. You had this item on you, along with some other interesting things, including a sizeable bag of gold for a street urchin.” At the mention of his bag of gold, Baffin slouched his head and made a sour face.

“Be calm. You might be able to earn your gold back, but surely this locket did not fall into your pocket accidentally.”

At ‘earn your gold back’, Baffin perked up and looked at the man again. What was going on? As a street orphan, and a half-elf on top of that, Baffin had learned to trust no one, except himself. Bully, humilate, and steal was how street children related to each other. Adults were worse.

Suspicious, Baffin quietly asked, “What do you mean?”

“Tell me the truth about the locket.”

Baffin stared at the old man to try to read what he really meant. No hint. The boy turned his head and peered up at the man behind him. The man looked down at Baffin with outward annoyance, and Baffin, sensing the man was also amused by the situation, finally asked in a cocky voice, “Well, what do you think? Should I accept the old man’s offer?” The man rolled his eyes in exasperation.

“Fine,” Baffin said evenly as he turned back to the old man. “Yes, I know that locket, and the fool I keep stealing it from. He pays quite well each time he gets it back. Now what do I have to do to get my gold back?”

Without a word, the old man turned to reach behind him, and when he turned back to face Baffin, he held a small bag in one hand.

“Here,” said the old man as he pushed the bag of coins into Baffin’s waiting hands. Astonished, the boy immediately dropped the familiar bag, scattering gold coins around his feet. Dropping onto all fours, Baffin quickly started picking up his gold, while the old man continued talking.

“You have a rough life on the streets of Ptolus. No home, no family … a few punks you work with, but no real friends. Yes, we’ve checked around about you. You’re tough, you’ve survived as a street orphan for this long. You’re smart, too. Duped one of my men for weeks now with your locket stealing scam.”

“I’m Hayman Knapp, Guildmaster of the Longfingers Guild. Would you care to work for me and my Guild, and would you like a home here?”

Baffin smiled fondly at the memory of meeting Hayman and joining the thieves’ guild of Ptolus. Hayman was an old-fashioned, “honorable” thief, and the Longfingers instilled his philosophy into their members. They also policed their own, which fortuitously for Baffin meant catching the young half-elf taking advantage of a slow-witted member of the Guild. Baffin marveled again at the remarkable transformation in his life. Alone, hungry, and homeless, then suddenly the kindness of Hayman, apprenticeship with true friends and comrades, and meals and a bed at the Guild.

Master Renn’s voice brought Baffin back to the conversation. “Meet with the Council this evening, and they will determine the proper course of action for this magical case you bring. In the meantime, take this marked silver piece to the cafeteria. It will provide you entry and whatever dinner may be available.” Yes, obviously a man of keen intelligence.

As the adveturers headed to dinner, Torrent and Krystin rejoined them. While eating a second and third helping of the adequate Lyceum fare, Baffin mused, “Clearly, our agreement with Krystin to help her and her poor father through the Fire Forest has been met. She caused us a lot of heartache, especially Moog, and I don’t see any reason for her to stay with us. It was a shame that the poor man passed away, but the girl is now safe here in Seaquen, though pity the unsuspecting citizens. Better, the Lyceum would be a logical home for her to apprentice and gain better control of her power. She’s dangerous to us, and we’re not proper guardians for a child anyway. She could be Leska’s child for all I know.”

With dinner finished and settling nicely into the bard’s stomach, it was time to meet with the Council. The Council consisted of fifteen mages who were human, elves, half-elves, and even a few half-orcs. The head of the Council, Master Ken, had a stern demeanor, and though he was abrupt, he did run an orderly meeting while allowing everyone to have their say. He also had perfect hair. In the end, the Council agreed to send Master Howenrack, a drow wizard specializing in magical locks, to rendezvouz with the party later at The Glass Window inn.

At the inn, the party obtained rooms, and about forty-five minutes later, Master Renn came to their rooms with Master Howenrack. The drow set to work on the case, muttering incantations as he held the case in his lap. Sweat broke out on the wizard’s brow as he concentrated. Then suddenly, the case flipped open, and his tensed muscles relaxed.

Inside, the group found maps and papers that definitely looked like Ragesian military plans. Master Howenrack agreed to take the plans to the Council and magically send them to the Shahalesti Empire, as per the party’s agreement with Shialis. The wizard also mockingly noted that the case had a smaller magical compartment, but that he would not attempt to open it. Instead, he watched as Vennman, Nameless, and Baffin unsuccessfully tried to gain entry into the compartment. After Vennman and Baffin were knocked unconscious, the drow laughed and departed.

Oddly, Master Renn stayed behind and exuded a nervous energy, and after some conversation with the party, Renn admitted that he needed the party’s help. It was he that secretly let the Ragesians into Seaquen, because they had abducted his wife and threatened to kill her. Now, he thought the party could help him free his wife. He knew where the Ragesians were holding her, and he could lead the party there.

After a short discussion about Renn’s ethics and the possibility of being led into a trap, the adventurers were swayed, particularly by the opportunity to kill more Ragesians. Baffin fleetingly wondered about sampling the inn’s dinner menu, but was happy to go on a rescue mission with everyone else. So the party immediately set out for the Ragesian camp with Renn as their guide.

Several miles outside the city, the group reached a bridge, and on the other side, they could see the fire of a camp. As the party attempted to sneak across the bridge, Baffin took the lead and gained the other side … and miraculously slipped behind a few hidden Ragesians without notice. A trap! Hidden by a magical glamour, a half dozen or so Ragesian archers had their bows aimed at the rest of the party still trying to cross the bridge.

All hell broke loose after Baffin unleashed a magical blast of energy that scattered most of the Ragesians, and Nameless, Moog, Vennman, and Snow charged into the fray. More Ragesians joined the battle, and Moog, Nameless, and Snow took the brunt of their attacks. At first, Vennman got knocked around pretty good, too, but soon, the wizard and then the bard were on the fringe of the battle casting magical attacks from range. Meanwhile, Moog and Nameless held the center of the battle, while Snow skirmished from flank to flank.

Seeing that Nameless and especially Moog were getting hammered by the Ragesian commander, Baffin provided magical healing to them … and none to Snow, who had made it clear she did not want the bard’s help. Despite the internal squabble, the party finished off the Ragesians and looted their corpses and their camp. In the process, the adventurers freed Renn’s wife, and the couple was happily re-united.

Nameless, however, was far from happy. Angrily, he snapped at both Snow and Baffin to apologize to each other and stop the feud within the pack. Neither seemed inclined to give in. Every fiber of his being and every experience of his gnoll life made the situation incomprehensible. Packmates help packmates in need. Packmates trust each other. Packmates rely on each other. This behavior was not a healthy pack. What was the pack now?!

Lacking resolution on the conflict, the party trekked back to the city, and on the way, they decided to warn the Council of the Ragesians they found and fought just outside the city. Some undetected enemies could mean more were hidden around Seaquen.

Session 18: The Mandressa

In the morning, the adventurers visited the Matriarch and shared their misgivings about Baffin’s and Snow’s visions and the two bodies the party discovered. The Matriarch’s son was present, and the conversation so upset him that the audience was cut short. Baffin was certainly glad that the party had not shared Ophelia’s vision with the Matriarch.

Back at the Inn for lunch, Baffin finally had enough of Snow’s high-handed morality and hypocrisy. The shifter made a superficial judgment about him beginning with that first adventure in the Necropolis, believing him to be nothing but a common thief. Then she broke her own morals to steal from Baffin, but still held the bard’s actions against him. Perhaps her morals were broken by that promise to serve Phaetos in direct conflict with her oath to the Raven Queen. Baffin at least claimed no high morality. His motto: live and let live, but protect the innocent and weak from evil.

“Snow, I don’t appreciate being accused of stealing from the party. I have NEVER stolen from anyone in the party,” began Baffin.

“What were you doing with my pack that one time?” Snow retorted.

“I was merely trying to help. I saw a loose opening and thought something might fall out,” bluffed the bard.

“I don’t think so. What about when you tried to take Moog’s gold at the bar?” accused Snow.

“He was drinking himself to ruin and wasting all his gold. I was trying to save him from going broke! He was giving away his sword for more booze! What would have happened when he needed to fight?!”

“You were trying to steal something from my pack!”

“No. I. Was. Not! I do not steal from the party! Yes, I am naturally curious, but I was trying to help you!”

“Well, I don’t want your help!”

“Fine! I won’t ever help you again!”


Baffin was enraged by Snow rendering her verdict that he stole from the party, all based on a single incident of examining her pack. That was a serious accusation! If she didn’t want his help, Baffin would be happy to oblige. In fact, the angry bard decided he would not help Snow until she apologized to him for calling him a thief within the party.

The acrimonious argument led Ophelia and Vennman to obtain two keys to room “L” so that Baffin and Snow could work out their … differences … in private that evening. “Room L, at the end of the hall,” Vennman clearly enunciated several times. Baffin, not taking any chances, snatched both keys for himself.

The bard felt injured by the shifter’s suspicion toward him. What about all the mending and care he provided? The healing potions he gave to her, at his expense no less? In return, harsh judgment and mocking insults under her breath about his weight. Yes, he liked the gastronomic delights and a pocket full of gold, but only his friends had any right, if any, to tease him about his vices. She should judge Baffin based on ALL his actions and treat him like a complete person, not obsess about a single incident that she chose to interpret as malicious. And she should get a sense of humor aside from simply insulting him.

Why was she so judgmental and aloof from Baffin? Moog shared Baffin’s love of desserts – treats from Tavoh’s bakery could not happen soon enough – and he protected Baffin in a fight by keeping foes off the bard’s back. Vennman, barely able to survive the hazard of the lava lake, still tried his best to help Baffin make it to the other side. Nameless, like Baffin, relished gold and the finest meats — though perhaps a bit on the rare side for the bard — and of course, Nameless had basically sacrificed himself to protect Baffin a few nights ago.

Speaking of Nameless, the gnoll was still occupied in the back room with a bloody and tasty (to him) carcass, but the rest of the party had finished lunch and were ready to leave to follow Ophelia’s vision. Baffin gave the innkeep a few gold to make sure the gnoll, probably still recuperating from his recent death and resurrection, had a steady supply of fresh meat for the day.

Ophelia’s vision focused on a tower, common in the southern part of Suthegeard, so the party was taking a guided tour of that part of the city. They had the same guide as yesterday, and he informed the party that the towers were actually Suthegeard’s temples. He was, however, reluctant to speak more about the temples and the religious practices of the marsh elves. The guide also recommended they eat dinner at the Slimy Eel, known for its marsh specialties.

After identifying two likely towers within a set of five towers, Baffin and Ophelia decided to investigate further while everyone else went to check out the Slimy Eel. Mimicking those entering the temples, Baffin and Ophelia found one tower had a fountain in the center with a statue of a female marsh elf standing in the fountain and holding a spear in each hand. Males and females prayed silently in separate sections of the temple. Wracking his brain, Baffin was unable to decipher any indication of the temple’s religious domain.

Opposite the entrance and on the other side of the temple, the two adventurers spied a dark doorway. Upon leaving, the real worshippers dropped a few coins into pots set on the floor along the walls. Aghast at his ill luck, Baffin grudgingly dropped 1 GP into a pot on his way out.

At the other tower, Baffin and Ophelia entered and … had to disrobe completely to follow the customs of the temple. The bard was none too shy and quickly undressed. But he hesitated when he saw the naked worshippers holding coins in each of their hands, probably for the pots scattered around the perimeter of the temple. Silently cursing, he retrieved two gold coins from his belongings.

The worshippers stared upward at nude statues of two marsh elves, one male and one female, near the back of the temple. Baffin later learned from Ophelia that behind the statues was a door and stairway, but at the time, the bard was trying not to stare at a particularly attractive female supplicant. Unable to learn more about the marsh elf religion or the temple, the two adventurers departed. Twice cursed by his ill luck, Baffin dutifully dropped 1 GP from each hand into different pots on his way out.

Later at the Slimy Eel, the party enjoyed a stupendous feast of live marsh eels in spicy yellow sauce, whole blackened frogs on skewers, and buttery crab biscuits … all on the house on the occasion of their first visit to the establishment. Baffin was in heaven! Excellent food, free food! After dinner, the bard joined another musician to play a duet, and some of the patrons tossed a few coppers and silvers his way. Suddenly, the attractive woman from the temple appeared in the crowd and gave Baffin a smile, and the delighted bard winked back.

Finally, seeing the signal from Ophelia to head out, Baffin finished the song, thanked his fellow lute player, and ordered a round of drinks for the house. While handing the bartender some gold, the bard heaved a sigh of contentment. After the brutal battles with the Ragesians and subsequent harrowing flight into the fire forest, Suthegeard was rapidly growing on him.

Once outside the restaurant, the party quickly made their way back to the two towers investigated by Ophelia and Baffin. Immediatlely, Ophelia recognized that the second tower, with the nude statues, was the one in her dream. Upon nearing the tower, however, she realized her vision was leading her past its location and across a small waterway. There, the party found a small ruined building with the word “WAIT” recently burned into the front door. After a brief check of the area, everyone hid themselves behind some old crates and boxes, except for Snow, who climbed the house to hide on the roof.

After almost three hours, a male figure cautiously approached the house, and he held the hands of a young girl walking by his side. She was blind-folded, and her hands were tied together. As the man came closer, the party recognized him as the Matriarch’s son! A dagger hung from his belt.

It was too much for Baffin. The bard attacked and demanded the man surrender, but the surprised marsh elf pushed his captive into the water and then ran away. Moog immediately jumped into the water to save the girl, while the rest of the party chased the fleeing elf.

After the Matriarch’s son dove into the water and swam for the south gate, the pursuit led outside the city. Snow and Ophelia boarded a small raft to close on him, while Baffin and Vennman ran along a short dock just outside the city wall. The party caught up with the elf just as he surfaced from the marsh and turned toward them. Shockingly, the young man’s features began to melt and transform to reveal a disgusting marsh hag! It was actually a water witch!

The witch blasted the party with a thunderous wave of water, capsizing the raft, flinging Snow and Ophelia into the water, and dazing Snow, Ophelia, and Baffin. For most of the fight, Baffin remained dazed, and Ophelia struggled to swim to the safety of the dock. Vennman battled the witch successfully on his own, before Snow was able to recover and join the fray. Moog, after saving the girl and taking her all the way back to the temple, burst onto the scene by crashing onto the witch with a running broad jump. The evil hag quickly regained the upper hand, and soon Moog and Vennman were unconscious and dying. Snow and Baffin sporadically lashed the witch with ranged attacks, and finally, Ophelia – with some rope and magical inspiration from Baffin – climbed onto the dock and blasted the witch with arcane energy.

Just as the party was gaining the upper hand, the Matriarch and her escorts showed up. “Don’t kill my son!” pleaded the Matriarch. “Please, I beg you! It’s not his fault! He’s possessed!”

“Your son has nearly killed two of my friends!” roared Baffin.

“It’s not his fault! It’s the Mandressa! Please, don’t kill him!” implored the Matriarch.

Deeply troubled, Baffin struck the witch a final time, knocking her unconscious, rather than killing her. Her prone body floated to the water’s surface and transformed back into the form of the young man, the Matriarch’s son. Quickly, Baffin stripped off his armor and equipment, and shouting for Ophelia to hold the end of the rope, he jumped into the water to recover and resuscitate Moog. Meanwhile, Snow brought Vennman back to the safety of the dock to revive him.

“Thank you for saving my son,” spoke the Matriarch softly. “I know I have a lot to explain, and tomorrow if you will meet with me, I will explain then. But right now, I want to get my son back home.”

“You might be able to explain the matter to us,” responded Baffin, “But you have some explaining to do to your citizens. They trust you as their ruler. Instead, you’ve deceived them to protect your son, rather than protecting them.”

“I know. I will make it right with them. Please, meet with me tomorrow, and we can discuss this matter further.”

Disconcerted, wounded, and tired, the party agreed. The Matriarch and her escorts took her son into their care, and everyone rode ferries back into the heart of the city. The five adventurers returned to the Inn.

Feeling unsatisfied by being put off by the Matriarch and her failure to protect her citizens from her son, Baffin glumly let himself into Room L. He fleetingly thought of the young woman from the temple and the Eel, but he knew he would be poor company that night. Softly, the bard tuned his lute and played Bergond of the Seven Seas, a slow mournful tune. (Behr’-gond)

Bergond was young and strong, a hero of the day.
So he sought those to slay, for he would be champion of the age.

And so Bergond sailed the seven seas …

Entered the dark forest, with his mighty bow,
Bergond slew the ogre, and aye, he was praised.
Bergond was young and strong, a hero of the day.

And so Bergond sailed the seven seas …

Stormed the stone castle, with his crushing axe,
Bergond slew the witch king, and aye, he was praised.
Bergond was young and strong, a hero of the day.

And so Bergond sailed the seven seas …

Climbed the high mountain, with his piercing sword,
Bergond slew the dragon, and aye, he was praised.
Bergond was young and strong, a hero of the day.

And so Bergond sailed the seven seas …

Bergond was young and strong, a hero of the day.
But he found none to slay, for he was the champion of the age.

And so Bergond sailed the seven seas …

And so Bergond sailed the seven seas …

And so Bergond sailed the seven seas …

Sailed the seven seas, with his trusty ship,
Bergond found none to slay, and aye, he was missed.
Bergond was young and strong, a hero of the day.

And so Bergond sailed the seven seas …

Sailed the seven seas, with his trusty ship,
Bergond grew stiff with age, and aye, he was mourned.
Bergond was old and weak, hero of yesterday.

And so Bergond sailed the seven seas …

And so Bergond sailed the seven seas …

And so Bergond sailed the seven seas …

Then heroes young and strong, the heroes of the day,
They sought Bergond to slay, pressing for the start of a new age.

Bergond was old and weak, hero of yesterday.
Yet he held them at bay, for he was still champion of the age.

The heroes young and strong, the heroes of the day,
They fought him night and day, crying for history’s newest page.

Bergond though old and weak, hero of yesterday,
He killed those of the day, for he was still champion of the age.

And lo, Bergond was despised and loathed …

And lo, Bergond was despised and loathed …

And lo, Bergond was despised and loathed …

What did his life now mean? And, aye, he grieved.
What did his life now mean? Aye, he grieved.

Bergond now old and weak, no hero of the day.
No longer is he praised, for he is unwanted in this age.

And so Bergond sails the seven seas …

And so Bergond sails the seven seas …

And so Bergond sails the seven seas …

Session 17: The Lantern Bearer of Suthegeard

That night, while Baffin shared watch with Ophelia, the bard discretely returned the two bars of gold he had earlier lifted from the wagon. None had seen him swipe the bars, none had seen him put them back. Treasure taken, boldly or cleverly, from a real foe or challenge leads to glorious tales of legend and song. Who sings about stealing gold already stolen from innocents to pay for a war against more innocents?

Downcast, Baffin approached the tree where Nameless rested.

“Nameless?” the bard whispered. “Are you awake?”

After an agonizing pause, the gnoll responded flatly, “Yep.”

“Look, I’m really sorry about wanting to return the Dassen gold and arguing with you earlier. You’ve got every right to feel like you’ve earned that gold. You did die to protect me, when I screwed up our escape.”

“Yeah,” Nameless sighed, “I’m not happy about it, but I’m not happy about arguing either. Let’s put it behind us.”

Nameless dropped the four gold bars to Baffin, who promptly caught the first one with his upturned face and fell flat on his back, knocked out cold.

“Uh, what are you guys doing?” Ophelia asked with some confusion, as she approached the conversation but now saw the unconscious bard.

“Is he okay?” she continued, as Nameless, amused by the irony of his greedy friend being sent to dreamland by a brick of gold, ambled down the tree to check on Baffin.

As Baffin came to his senses, Ophelia asked again, “Are you okay?”

“?Que?” replied Baffin in a daze.

“I’m outta here. You guys are too weird for me,” Ophelia burst out, as she spun on her heels and walked back toward the rest of the camp.

Baffin and Nameless looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders.

“Here, take these,” offered the bard. He handed Nameless two healing potions. “It’s all I’ve got, and it’s the least I can do to repay you.”

“I did die,” mused the gnoll.

“I promise you, I’ll repay your lost gold. I don’t know how, but I’ll do whatever I can.”

In the morning, Vennman shared his discovery of two alcoholic potions, a green one and a red-orange one, possessed by the Ragesian interrogator.

“Hmmm,” thought Baffin, “I wouldn’t trust any tools of the trade used by a tiefling who professionally tortured people.”

Too late, Moog was convinced to try the green one. After the first swig, the goliath lost awareness of his surroundings and began hallucinating. A second swig knocked him out completely, drool running from his mouth. Baffin quickly plucked the green vial from his senseless friend. Snow wisely withheld experimenting with the red-orange potion, which she had eagerly obtained for its alcohlic content.

The rest of the day was uneventful, save for Krystin waking Moog from his stupor, and the day turned to nightfall near a ridge in the mostly open plain.

During the first watch, Baffin talked quietly with Torrent about how to bridge the split between her and the party. The veteran of the Gate Pass resistance made her position clear: help take down Leska and her Inquisition. Baffin countered that his primary concern was for his comrades who were under a blood oath to serve Phaetos, while he and Torrent were free to interfere and hopefully save them. Torrent quickly offered the full aid of the resistance and Gate Pass once the threat of Leska was removed. Nodding his head, the bard agreed to focus on ending Leska’s reign … at least for now.

Later, during the third watch taken by Nameless and Snow, Baffin was dreaming of a feast and sighing in his sleep, “meat pies, meat pies, meat pies, meat pies …” when he awoke to the sensation of someone rummaging through his pack, which he loosely held in one arm. Warily, he cracked open his eyes and saw Snow fondling her way through his possessions. Fascinating … was she trying to be friendly? She hadn’t really taken an interest in the bard, other than giving him disapproving looks and passing judgment on him. Perhaps his charm had wormed its way past her tough exterior? Nah, probably not.

After a few moments of considering her clumsy attempts to pilfer something from his pack, Baffin calmly inquired, “Snow, what are you doing?” and gave the shifter a hard stare.

“Um, I was looking for a roll,” blurted Snow.

“No, you weren’t. We both know that. What were you really looking for, Miss Kettle?” Baffin wasn’t sure if the shifter knew the saying about pots and kettles, but the bard seethed with anger. He found it the height of hypocrisy for Snow to hold her harsh moral attitude about him touching her pack but then she breaks her moral stance for her benefit. Miss Kettle indeed.

“A roll. I’m hungry,” Snow said in a small voice as she continued her bad bluff.

“Fine. Here’s a roll,” Baffin replied. “And, Snow, don’t ever try to steal from me again.”

The night’s excitement included Ophelia touching Krystin’s bracelet, getting blasted backward, and setting off Vennman into thinking the party was under attack. The wizard’s piercing magical light and shouting woke everyone needlessly. In addition, while Snow was doing a poor job of stealing from Baffin and lying to him, Nameless disappeared into Krystin’s dream to meet Phaetos, who wanted an update about the efforts of the Six Traitors to release him from his tomb. Luckily, the gnoll reappeared after only a short absence.

The next day the party traveled a great many leagues before reaching the edge of a marsh. Torrent recommended stopping at its edge for the night and traversing its treacherous paths in the morning. With a full day, the party should be able to reach the elven city of Suthegeard at the heart of the marsh.

For obvious reasons, Baffin chose to share watch with Snow.

“Snow, what did you really want from my pack?” demanded the bard. “I know you were lying to me about the roll.”

After a moment’s hesitation, the shifter simply responded, “I wanted the green potion.”

“Well, why didn’t you ask me for it?” Baffin asked in bewilderment.

“Because I didn’t think you would give it to me.”

“Why not?”

“I wanted to give it to Moog, because it seemed to … help him forget his pain and his lost family. But you were against him or anyone trying the potions.”

Hearing Snow’s sincerity and realizing that the potion could indeed lighten his friend’s mood, Baffin responded uncomfortably, “Okay. But only if you give me the other potion.”

“Deal,” Snow agreed, and they exchanged potions.

“Snow,” reiterated Baffin, “Don’t ever try to steal from me again.” His anger was quiet but deadly serious.

Baffin felt the burning sting of the other children laughing at him. He didn’t know what part of Ptolus he was in. Earlier that day, his grandfather, a stern eladrin that Baffin had seen maybe once or twice, had swept into the small, squalid apartment that Baffin and his mother currently called home. The father and daughter — Baffin’s grandfather and mother — argued, their usual graceful composure obliterated by anger, hatred, and grief. The father knocked his daughter to the floor and forcibly pulled his grandson, Baffin, away. Eladrin retainers barred Baffin’s mother, and the young half-elf was dragged screaming out of the apartment by his grandfather.

The boy was bound at the wrists and ankles, gagged, and blind-folded by more retainers, and then he felt himself lifted into a cart and covered by a rough blanket. As the horse-drawn cart meanderd its way slowly through the streets of Ptolus, Baffin cried and felt sick with terror. Hours later, the cart stopped, and the cool evening added to the boy’s shivering.

Baffin heard the driver dismount and then the soft breathing of the horse. Suddenly, the boy felt someone reach under the blanket and cut his bindings, nicking his arm with a sharp blade. Before Baffin could recover, his abductor galloped away.

Soon enough, street urchins slid out of the shadows to inspect their new victim, a scrawny half-elf sniveling in the back of an abandoned cart. Too late, Baffin noticed the dirty and sneering faces surrounding him, practically all of them orphans and definitely all of them human. With shouts of glee, they jerked the dumbfounded boy from the cart and dropped him to the ground, all the while pummeling him, ripping his clothes, and laughing. Starting with nothing but that mocking laughter, Baffin began learning the lessons of the cruel streets of Ptolus.

Baffin let the anger wash through him and drain away.

Following Torrent’s advice was a very wise choice by the party. Travel in the marsh the next day was slow and dangerous, especially with the gold-laden wagon on the narrow and winding marsh paths. Not until evening did the party reach Suthegard, the city of the marsh elves.

A waterway was the only way into the walled and dark city, and the gate sentries helped the party to enter on two ferries. Once inside, the adventurers encountered a funeral procession for a child and observed the ritual cremation of the city’s dead. After the ceremony, the party was greeted briefly by the city ruler, the Matriarch, and then escorted to lodgings at the Yellow Inn. By all appearances and behavior, the marsh elves proved to be hospitable, polite, and friendly hosts. A welcome change that nonetheless provoked suspicion in everyone’s minds.

After a wonderful evening of entertainment, including a singing contest and crocodile wrestling match both won by Moog, Nameless chose to sleep in the stable with the wagon of gold. Baffin also chose to sleep in the stable for that reason but also to avoid being pestered by Snow and Moog.

During the night, Baffin dreamed of a strange figure bearing a lantern and pointing to an ancient building within Suthegeard, and in the morning, the bard felt an unbearable urge to find the building. Baffin discussed the vision with his comrades, and they all agreed to see where it led, though Torrent and Baffin himself were reluctant to delay their mission to reach Seaquen. Krystin claimed the mystery was important and swayed Torrent to investigate.

After breakfast, the group of adventurers went on a boat tour of Suthegeard to locate the ancient building. In talking with their tour guide, a middle-aged marsh elf, they learned that the figure in Baffin’s dream was known as the Lantern Bearer, a myth from long ago who was cursed to walk the city because of some evil act. The guide dismissed it as just stories, though he admitted his grandmother believed she once saw the mythical figure.

Along the tour, the party stopped to visit a magic shop run by an elderly marsh elf, who happily sold the party healing potions and ritual components. He also helpfully examined the magical potions, staff, and cloak previously owned by the tiefling interrogator. The shopkeeper was rather amused when told people were drinking the green potion – he said it was normally used in a bath, though he could not be more specific about its purpose.

Returning to their tour, the party reached the northern part of the city, where the oldest buildings could be found. Sure enough, the party found the building in Baffin’s dream, and to their surprise, the body of a young boy buried in the backyard. The grave was at least 25 years old, and the body had three gold coins ritually placed over it and a dagger staked in its chest. Nameless, with Baffin’s blessing of course, palmed the gold coins while reburying the corpse.

Suddenly, Snow had a flash of recollection of her dream from the night before … the Lantern Bearer pointing at another building. The party readily agreed to continue investigating, which led them to the western part of Suthegeard and dilapidated buildings where the working class and construction elves lived. Behind an abandoned house matching Snow’s dream, the party confirmed their fears and found the grave mound of a young girl, buried more than 20 years with the same ritual placement of coins and dagger.

The bodies of two children ritually buried, in a city that cremated their dead, prompted the adventurers to inform and warn the Matriarch about the horrifying discoveries. They returned to their guide and asked to be taken to the keep to meet the Matriarch. When they reached their destination, the guards informed the party they would have to wait until the morning for an audience.

On the way back to their rooms at the Inn, Baffin stopped in a tavern to chat up the locals about any recent mysterious happenings. Though the citizens were clearly uncomfortable with the subject, the bard did manage to learn that the unfortunate child cremated on that first night the party entered the city had died from violence, that several children had unexpectedly died in the last few months, and that no strangers had recently taken up residence within the city.

That night Ophelia dreamed of a tower bathed in moonlight from a full moon shining directly overhead …

Session 16: Ragesian Rats in Dassen

The night passed uneventfully, with Torrent again watching over Krystin and again apparently not transported by the girl’s dreams during the night. Torrent remained withdrawn and distant from the rest of the party. Privately, Nameless spoke to Snow and Baffin of his concern that Torrent, brooding about a future as a revenant serving Leska, may no longer trust the party known in that future as the Five Traitors. The gnoll warned of the possibility that Torrent may undermine or betray the party in some way. Although Baffin already blamed Torrent for leading the party into two consecutive ambushes in Gate Pass, the bard was not yet distrustful of her motives, despite her recent behavior.

Continuing their journey to find the Lyceum, the party reached the eastern foothills of a mountain range near mid-day. As they prepared to turn their horses south and travel in the mountain shadows, the party sighted approaching riders in the far distance to the south. Retreating at once, the party hid themselves in a wooded area and observed about 30 Dassen soldiers, their military pennants fluttering in the wind, moving north at a leisurely pace.

After a few hours of hiding and waiting for the soldiers to pass out of view, the party resumed their ride south. As evening fell, the party halted in a patch of woods and rested for the night. Despite the desire for secrecy, they used a campfire to ward off the cold winter’s night and used their horses to screen the light from any eyes looking from the foothills.

The sun arose after a quiet evening. Torrent allowed herself a smile as she helped Krystin prepare for the day’s journey, and Baffin breathed an inner sigh of relief. The bard had been preoccupied with trying to reach out to Moog and bring him out of his self-imposed isolation. Realizing that Torrent and Moog were particularly devastated by what had occurred in Krystin’s dreams, Baffin had given the stoic individuals some time and space to overcome their shock. With Moog now slightly reconnecting with the party, perhaps the bard would again approach Torrent.

Two nights ago it was good to see Moog battling alongside the party again, rather than lashing out in frustration or pulling away from everyone. And bless the goliath for his brilliance in solving riddles. The Watcher in the hills obviously possessed powerful magic, and the party barely passed the last and hardest challenge. Praise Avandra for Moog’s timely contributions in skill and might!

As the party rode south, they spotted a group of approaching riders and quickly hid themselves in the slopes and ravines of the mountainside. Nameless, however, remained close to the path to spy upon the riders, who turned out to be 25 more Dassen soldiers. This time the military unit was pulling a large, covered wagon with reinforced wheels and heavy with cargo. Although the gnoll could not discern any clear evidence, he returned to the party with his suspicion that the riders were not actually Dassen soliders, because the uniforms were ill-fitting, very uncharacteristic of the Dassen military. Fearing a Ragesian plot, the party decided to track the riders to their evening camp and investigate.

After giving the soldiers a lengthy and safe head start, the party followed and set up their own camp about half an hour from the soldiers’ camp. Nameless, Snow, and Baffin decided to sneak closer to the soldiers to learn more about them and their cargo. Approaching with caution, the three comrades found the soldiers were camped in the open with no attempt to hide, but had a picket of sentries encircling their camp. With a combination of skill and luck, the party crept past the sentries and hid in some bushes at the camp’s edge. There, they could see a fire, several lean-to’s sheltering soldiers, and the wagon surrounded by four guards.

Nameless shadow-walked to one side of the wagon and noosed the guard quietly into unconsciousness. Carefully, the gnoll rematerialized, and with one claw, sliced a small opening in the canvas covering the wagon. The glint of gold caught his eye! And Baffin’s! Losing mission focus, Baffin frantically motioned for Nameless to acquire the wagon’s contents. Needing little encouragement, the gnoll delicately lengthened the cut and pulled out two gold bars. Blinded by greed, Baffin urged Nameless to get more, and the gnoll successfully brought out two more bars.

Suddenly, the guards around the wagon began to rotate positions. Baffin waved frantically at Nameless and signaled it was time to get out. One guard would see the fallen guard and likely Nameless, and another guard would notice that his replacement was not moving into position. Too late, the bard realized they had learned nothing about the true identity of the soldiers.

As Snow and Nameless silently slipped away from the camp, Baffin panicked and fell face first to the ground. Just when a successful stealth mission was in reach, the real Baffin returns! Shouts erupted from the guards: “Intruders!” Spurred on by adrenaline and fear, Baffin picked himself up and began running, as did Snow and Nameless. Some of the guards and sentries closed on the party, while others moved to protect the wagon of gold. Waking soldiers chased after the three adventurers while others raced into defensive positions.

After a quick entanglement with one sentry, Baffin broke out of the picket. Nameless harassed the soldiers into focusing on him, while Snow and Baffin ran away from the camp in two different directions. Soon, the gnoll was leading the soldiers on a merry chase in a third direction. Baffin paused to hide and check for pursuit. Finding none and trusting that Nameless could elude his pursuers, the bard looked for Snow, who also escaped the pursuit. Hearing the confident howls of the gnoll, the pair of remaining adventurers made a roundabout return to their camp, and Snow was careful to hide their tracks.

Back in camp, Snow and Baffin reported what had happened, and everyone prepared to leave. They decided to wait an hour for Nameless and then continue their journey to the Lyceum, in the belief that Nameless knew their destination and could easily track them down. Staying at the camp was too dangerous with the soldiers searching the area.

Nameless did not reach camp after an hour. The party waited another half hour, and he still did not show up. The worried and nervous party was about to leave when they noticed two soldiers approaching. Leaving now would simply draw attention, so the party, instead, set an ambush. Deeper in the woods, Baffin lured the soldiers toward him by sitting behind a campfire while strumming a jaunty tune on his lute, and the rest of the party hid in the shadows and woods at the edge of the light. Although only one soldier moved within easy striking distance of the party, the ambush was a complete success. One soldier was captured, and other was under Moog’s ministrations. With Moog’s help, Baffin questioned the survivor, and the party learned terrible news: Nameless failed to escape and was killed by his pursuers!

Seeing the party in shock, the soldier warned, “You should let me go and give up. You’re all going to be caught soon enough. Your furry friend is going to tell us where you are and where you’re going anyway. It’s only a matter of time.”

“Wait,” interrupted Baffin, “What are you saying?”

“You heard me,” snarled the soldier. “Your friend is being tortured by the mage right now. Your incursion into the camp made the mage so angry that he resurrected your friend so he could torture him and find out what the hell happened. So you’d better give up now.”

“Hold on. Tell us what you know, and maybe we will let you go,” replied Baffin in reasonable tones. “If you don’t tell us, well, see my giant friend over there and what he’s doing to your buddy …”

Lying naked in the freezing cold and watching Moog decorate his Ragesian comrade, the captive spilled his guts. As the soldier provided information, Baffin calmly gathered the man’s clothing, methodically folded them, and placed them near the captive. The party learned that the soldiers were actually Ragesians disguised in Dassen uniforms and had stolen nearly 7000 GP from the Dassen military in Seaquen. The Ragesians were transporting the stolen gold north to support the Ragesian Empire in its war against the Shahalesti Empire.

Baffin, feeling the man had kept his end of the bargain, went to release the bonds, when Moog’s axe suddenly crashed down and beheaded the captive. Inwardly outraged by his comrade’s brutality, Baffin felt lucky that Moog was on his side and had good aim. The bard also knew that Moog had suffered tremendously at the hands of the Ragesians and after falling into Krystin’s dreams, may have lost his soul forever.

There was no time to waste on pondering the situation … Nameless had to be rescued. The party left the scene of their ambush, rode toward the Ragesian camp, and stopped about 300’ away, where they dismounted and hid their horses in a small patch of trees. While Krystin stayed behind to watch over the horses, everyone else quietly approached the Ragesians.

As the rescuers closed on the camp, they sighted a few soldiers guarding the perimeter, then more soldiers around the gold-laden wagon. The party paused to try to pinpoint where Nameless was being held, and suddenly an anguished howl of pain tore through the night. Nameless!

With that awful cry piercing their hearts, Moog and Baffin immediately charged the soldiers, and everyone rushed forward to rescue their stricken comrade. Although outnumbered more than 2 to 1, the party grimly hacked their way through the Ragesians to reach Nameless and the mage torturing the prostrate gnoll. Moog, Vennman, Ophelia, and Torrent furiously attacked the soldiers on one side of the camp and allowed Snow and Baffin to concentrate on attacking the mage and getting Nameless free. Soon the two party members secured their comrade’s release, and the battered and beaten gnoll joined the fray. Despite his wounds, Nameless viciously repaid his Ragesian interrogator and then some, butchering the mage’s body in a violent explosion of anger and hatred.

The party began slaying the Ragesians one by one, and finally, the last two soldiers turned tail and fled. While Snow and a hobbled Nameless gave chase on foot, Baffin – aware of his poor conditioning – ran back to the horses. After jumping on one and seizing the bridle of another, he galloped back to join the pursuit. The bard overtook Snow, stopped, and handed the free horse to her, and with the two of them on horseback, they quickly caught up with the fleeing Ragesians. The exhausted soliders dropped their weapons and surrendered, and Snow and Baffin tied them up and loaded them onto their horses.

As the two party members, with their captives, rode back toward the camp, they were intercepted by Nameless. Before Snow could drop her captive as a present for the gnoll, he took matters into his own hands, dragging the Ragesian from the horse and ripping the man’s head off in a spray of blood. Baffin, who had been interrogating the other Ragesian, smelled the sudden odor of human waste rise from the terrified man.

Disgusted by the excrement practically in his lap and the savage execution, Baffin nudged his horse into motion to keep Nameless at bay. The bard had been trying to learn more about the Ragesian infiltrators in Dassen, and he had negotiated in good faith with the captive. Snow helped Nameless onto her horse, and as they tried to catch up, the bard spurred his horse to go faster. By the time they reached the camp, Snow and Nameless were charging after Baffin and the captive.

“I’m not going to let you slaughter this man!” shouted Baffin.

“He’s Ragesian scum, and he deserves to die!” shot back Nameless.

“But he’s just a soldier following orders. You can’t blame him for everything done by the Ragesians. It’s the leaders and commanders that are to blame.”

“If the leader is to blame, then everyone in the pack is to blame for not changing who leads the pack.”

“Humans don’t work that way. They just want to go about their lives, and they get dragged into conflicts created by leaders and are forced to choose sides. I’ve convinced this guy that he’s done with the Ragesian military, and he won’t be fighting for them anymore.”

Snow and Nameless were now chasing Baffin in circles around the camp, because the bard was also not bringing the captive anywhere near Moog. When it was clear that Baffin refused to endanger the Ragesian, the two pursuers gave up. The grateful soldier guided Baffin to where the Ragesians stabled their horses, and after reminding the soldier of his promise, the bard released him, let him take one horse, and gave him 120 GP to start a new life.

Baffin returned to camp with the remaining horses. Surprising everyone, including himself, the notoriously greedy bard argued that the gold had to be returned to the Dassen military in Seaquen. Snow dropped her jaw in shock. Nameless angrily countered that he had earned the gold; after all, he had died for it! Although Baffin ached with sympathy for his friend and with frustration from the party disharmony, he began hitching the team of horses to the wagon.

“You want to kill Ragesians? The gold can be put to better use by the Dassen military. They can kill a lot more Ragesians in the war, than we can. This money will arm and equip them to kill Ragesians and protect the innocent citizens of Dassen. It has to go back.”

Not at all satisfied, Nameless nonetheless repaired the wheels of the wagon, which he had earlier sabotaged, and then the disaffected gnoll climbed into a tree to rest and recover from his horrible injuries.

A dejected Baffin watched his friend and comrade. The bard’s giddy euphoria upon first seeing the hoard of gold had come crashing down, and now he was filled with exhaustion and regret. Regret over the party involving itself in this business in the first place, regret over wrecking their escape, regret over Nameless getting killed while covering for his screw up, and perhaps worst of all, regret over blocking his friend’s understandable claim on the gold. Baffin prayed the morning would bring Avandra’s blessing to revive his and his comrades’ spirits.

Session 15: Rego

Escorted by the Dassen military, the party entered the town of Rego and recuperated within the comfortable confines of the Silver Chalice Pub. Although the Dassen soliders were well-trained, mainly because of the rising threat of the Ragesian Empire, Dassen itself was clearly not a militarized society. In Rego at least, Dassen appeared to be simply readying its military defenses. Rego felt like a normal town relatively unaffected by the Ragesian war. Pub owners and blacksmiths, farmers and travelers, and other merchants and townsfolk went about their business as usual. The only other sign of the Ragesian conflict was the crowd of refugees from nearby regions, including Gate Pass and Ragesia, housed on the bottom level of the Silver Chalice.

Within the pub, the party encountered an old crone and her warnings of the apocalyptic legend of the “Eater of the Dead” who had apparently awakened and intended to consume the world. In addition, Nameless and Snow discretely tore down a hand-drawn, wanted poster showing Vennman in good detail, a poor rendering of Baffin, and three blank silhouettes. Examining the back of the poster, the party deduced that Samantha Baker, the necromancer with a personal vendetta against Vennman, was offering 100,000 gp for the party’s capture. Lastly, the imp – who had contracted for the case holding the Ragesian military plans – paid the party, mainly Snow, another annoying visit.

Though Moog spent most of his time drowning his grief and anger at the Silver Chalice, the rest of the party took the opportunity to sell the weapons, armor, and other equipment they had looted from their fallen enemies. They were also able to purchase healing potions and other magical resources. While running their errands, the party noticed a military headquarters outside of town and the busy movements of soldiers entering, leaving, and training.

At the request of Sergeant Trajan, the party, except for Moog, visited Captain Adolphus, commander of the headquarters. Defusing a tense showdown with the very cautious Adolphus and his soldiers, Ophelia, an eladrin agent of Shialis, saved the party from a night’s detainment inside the jail cells of the Dassen military. Ophelia had worked with Adolphus before, and he trusted her judgment in this matter. Unknown to the party, Shialis, who had agreed to allow the party to take the Ragesian case to the Lyceum, had sent Ophelia to follow and monitor that the party fulfilled its agreement.

Upon returning to the Silver Chalice that evening, the party learned that Hayden had, sadly, passed away. He lay stricken on the pub floor, his skin turned unnaturally gray and waxy. Although the old man was in very poor health, magic was involved in his death, but the party could not determine whether the magic was an attempt to save or … to kill. A heartbroken Krystin pleaded to stay with the party and attached herself to Snow. The little girl also appeared to put her grief behind her rather quickly.

As the party discussed possibly leaving Krystin in Rego, the danger she posed to Rego’s citizens, the danger she posed to the party, the manner of Hayden’s death, the poster placed by Samantha, the desire to avoid a change of heart by Adolphus, … the party came around toward wanting to leave Rego as soon as possible, preferably at first light when horses could be first obtained from the stables. When Baffin prodded Moog about the goliath’s moroseness and disinterest in aiding the party, Moog responded with the belief that none of his companions were real and that he did not know what reality meant anymore. So Baffin, the strongest voice against taking Krystin along, changed his mind and planned to send Moog back forever to his more pleasant reality. After the party left the pub and went to sleep outside the stables, Baffin convinced Krystin to sleep near Moog and try to dream about Moog living with his dwarf family. Torrent refused to leave the girl’s side, despite her own experience with being transported and more warnings from the party. In the morning, Torrent was still by the girl, but Moog had disappeared.

The party readied to leave on horseback for the Dassen city of Sequin, where the Lyceum was located some 200 miles away, when Moog re-appeared, looking older and more beat up than the previous night. He seemed, however, more amenable to continuing the journey with his comrades. Afer 40 miles of travel, the party reached the edge of the forest surrounding Rego and began moving through a hilly region.
They followed a twisting path weaving this way and that through the strange hills, while the temperature dropped and snow flurries filled the air.

A man – sitting on the path and wearing a cloak that hid his face – blocked the party’s progress. The party cautiously approached and parleyed, but the man suddenly and magically teleported everyone to within a few feet in front of him. Forced to engage in a riddle contest with the mysterious Watcher, the party nearly failed the challenge, but Moog and Nameless brilliantly solved the fourth and last riddle.

Shortly after passing by the Watcher, the party was attacked by wraiths – including a giant wraith wielding a 14-foot long broadsword – and giant ghost spiders. Torrent refused to join the fray, and instead, retreated with Krystin and protected the girl from the monsters … and possibly Moog. Vennman and Baffin were decidedly not thrilled by their lack of support during the battle. Still, the party handily defeated their enemies. With the day ending, the party prepared to make camp for the night.


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