Shadows of the Rift

Session Sixty-Five
Ghoulish Encounters

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2 Illumination 509

The Crimson Cord, accompanied by two of their guards and a troupe of priests of Halor, continue to explore the Tomb of Secrets in hopes of rescuing the sorceress, Hekia Stormwing from the clutches of the necromancer, Kelthior.

After ensuring that the last chamber they encountered was free of spectres, the troupe decides to move on. Having examined the map provided to them by the halfling, Torvald, who was a former companion of Hekia, Surm determines the shortest route to the inner sanctum of the necromancer.

As they head out of the room on their chosen route, they are stymied by a wooden portcullis. It has no apparent mechanism to raise or lower. Savaric finds a hidden panel shielding a mechanism of some sort, but has no idea what it’s about. Mõrvar determines that is a mechanism associated with the portcullis, but no more. Surm says that it has nothing to do with the portcullis and that the group shouldn’t touch it because it’s probably a trap of some sort. He insists that Savaric should just lift or break the gate so that they can pass through, but Savaric refuses, opting, instead, to search the room for some means of using the mechanism: a rod, a key, whatever.

Mõrvar notes the hole in the top of the mechanism and decides that he’s going to try and manipulate the it. Everybody steps away from him and the panel. He places his multi-tool in the hole and turns It. A “click” is heard and the portcullis starts to raise. He manages to figure out how to secure the gate from shutting again. He looks at Surm and says wryly, “It has nothing to do with the portcullis.”

The troupe lines back up in marching order and heads down the corridor, with Savaric at the head looking for traps.

The corridor leads to a locked door. Surm is brought forward to pick the lock. It seems to give him a bit of trouble, but eventually, he manages to get it unlocked. He returns to his place in line. Savaric then bursts through the door to find that a large group of ghouls waiting for him.

The fight between the group and the ghouls doesn’t last too long, with Savaric and Mõrvar making a good showing. The group clambers into the chamber and then heads to the next door along their route—except for Savaric. He feels the need to the check an open archway on the opposite side of the room. He walks up and looks in—and spots another group of ghouls staring at him in anticipation!

Savaric backs away, hoping to leave some room for his compatriots to come to his aid. This allows the ghouls to come forward and surround him in the lower chamber. They all attack, and while he does take some damage, none of the ghouls manage to paralyze him or pass on their deadly disease.

The rest of the party manages to arrange themselves in a manner in which to help their friend by attacking the ghouls. Soon, the ghouls are sent to their final rest.

Savaric takes another look in the room where the ghouls came from and spots a charred shield lying in a corner, a fountain in the center of the room, and a strange, abstract statue of a swirling vortex at the back of the room. Mõrvar comes forward to detect magic on the finds before heading in detects none—however, he does note that the statue is a probably a representation of The Nazul, a force of chaos and destruction that works in opposition to the Acheran god, Azumazran. The rest clerics in the party start discussing what they know—or don’t know—about this evil being and Surm enlightens them with more information—including the fact that there is a “Vortex Grimoire” that details how to bring The Nazul to this world from its home plane.

After the theological discussion dies down, Savaric and Mõrvar both, but especially Savaric, are sore tempted to go and explore the statue room. The rest of the party talks them out of it and the troupe lines up and moves into through the next door on their route.

After traveling a brief corridor, they come to another locked door. Surm is brought forward again and spends some time working on the lock. He pops it open and heads back to his former place in line. Savaric opens the door and peers inside. Gasping, he notes that the room has five wraiths in it—and they all seem to notice him. They float down toward the doorway and start attacking.

Savaric manages to maneuver his way through the wraiths and into the room, allowing Mõrvar space to attack as well. Prioress Drenham assists with guidance spells along the way. Eventually, all of the wraiths are dispatched. Mõrvar and Savaric take a fair amount of damage, but neither succumb to the creatures’ life drain abilities.

Nothing useful is found in this room and the troupe moves further along on their chosen route. They follow a corridor down to an unlocked door, which leads to a large, empty, room. Here the troupe regroups a bit and performs some healing magics to recover from their previous encounters. The door that will take them further along their chosen route is also unlocked. Savaric opens the door and sees a strange sight.

There are a total of 6 ghouls in the room, but these are unlike most of the monstrous, feral ghouls he is used to fighting. Two, the ones facing him, are dressed in robes, headbands, and strange masks made up of pieces of human faces. The other four are wearing breastplates and wielding greataxes. One of the two robed ones facing him points at him and says in a strange, hissing voice, “Intruders!”

Savaric backs away and the rest of the party form a gauntlet for any incoming ghouls to run through. The first of the armored ghouls comes through, and is peppered with shots from Savaric, and attacked by Mõrvar and Rilka. It is quickly brought to its second death. Surm, in the meantime, uses sorcery to cause stones to spontaneously appear and fill the room with the robed ones; the stones and earth fall on the ghouls and cause the floor in their to be more treacherous. Two of the others run through, facing the gauntlet. All of the party members take an opportunity to attack the lead ghoul, while Rilka is skilled enough to get to attack both. Then, everyone is wracked in pain as negative energy bursts through the room, not once, but twice, each from the ghouls that just made it through the gauntlet. They also seem to emit an aura of cowardice about them, making everyone more vulnerable to fear.

The party attacks the ghouls in earnest and, fortunately, make short work of the two before they do more harm.

The last of the armored ghouls makes its way out and is attacked by Mõrvar, Rilka, Savaric, and a couple of the clerics. Rilka takes an especial interest in this one, making two critical hits in a row against, severing tendons and disemboweling it. Still he, fights on—though not for long, as the others all take a whack at him and bring him down.

Then, a single bolt of lightning comes zipping out of the room and striking Surm, though he manages to dodge some of the effect. “Oh, now it’s on,” he mutters as he prepares a return volley. He casts fireball into the room, hoping to hit both of the robed ones.

The troupe is now in a quandary—do they cross the difficult terrain of the dead ghouls and the falling stone that Surm set up in the other room to pursue their quarry or wait and see if these robed ghouls decided to walk their gauntlet?

Mõrvar uses his power to step all the way across the room, through the robed ghoul that attacked his brother, and arrive on the other side of him, shocking it along the way.

Surm cleverly uses a dimensional door spell to take himself and three of the others—Rilka, Brother Thoras, and Prioress Drenham, into the room and into position, instantly. The other robed ghoul manages to send a bolt of lightning into Thoras at point blank range. Unfortunately for it, it is in a position in which Savric can hit it with his bow. He fires and does a massive amount of damage to the creature with a single shot The creature is standing—but is not feeling at all well. Rilka and Mõrvar manage to dispatch their robed one, with help from magic missiles from Surm.

The final ghoul, turns to look at Rilka and casts a spell. She starts to cough and wheeze for a moment, but is otherwise okay—but she figures that the spell was meant to suffocate her.

Eventually, the final ghoul is brought down by the multiple attacks leveled at it.

The group now stands in the room, preparing to search the ghouls for loot, They note that the chamber is decorated with a mural on the ceiling depicting ghouls feasting on corpses.

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Session Sixty-Four
Storm and Shadow

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21 Growth 509

After receiving their information and map from Torvald the halfling about the Tomb of Secrets, the Crimson Cord head to the University of Aldasar to set their sages to work on information about the Shadow Plane and creatures known as Nightshades. According to Torvald, the necromancer Kalthior has two such creatures guarding his inner sanctum. They give the sage until the next morning to gather what information they can. Then they head out to the market place to purchase spells and for Mõrvar to purchase a pair of magic boots.

After this foray into the city, they head back to Lord Cannach’s estate.

22 Growth 509

That morning, they all head back into the city to consult with the sage to see what they had to offer concerning the Shadow Plane and Nightshades. According to the sage:

The Shadow Plane is a dimly lit dimension that is both coterminous to and coexistent with the Material Plane. It overlaps the Material Plane much as the Ethereal Plane does, so a planar traveler can use the Shadow Plane to cover great distances quickly. The Shadow Plane is also coterminous to other planes. With the right spell, a character can use the Shadow Plane to visit other realities. The Shadow Plane is a world of black and white; color itself has been bleached from the environment. It otherwise appears similar to the Material Plane. Despite the lack of light sources, various plants, animals, and humanoids call the Shadow Plane home.

As far as Nightshades, these creatures are monstrous undead composed of shadow and evil. They all emit a desecrating aura about them for 30’, essentially treating the area around them as desecrated ground. They have the ability to channel negative energy. They are light-averse, being sickened by bright light and more so by natural sunlight. The various iterations of Nightshades can summon a variety of undead creatures.

One of the creatures described by Torvald was a spider-like creature. This is probably the Nightskitterer Nightshade. It is a huge creature with the ability to spin umbral webs, summon a greater shadow, and whose bite is highly poisonous. It is immune to cold and is resistant to all damage but that from good-aligned or silver weapons.

The sage did not have time to get information the other creature, the huge ram-horned, bi-pedal creature that Torvald described.

After speaking with sage, the group decides that they need to enlist the aid of the church of Halor on this quest. So Surm and Rilka head to that temple while Mõrvar and Savaric head to the Tavern of the Blue Moon to wait for them.

At the temple of Halor, Surm speaks with the Abbot Padraig Ororke, who listens to the story of the quest they propose, as well as the fact that one of their own, a cleric named Thalia, died at the hands of this necromancer. Abbot Ororke tells them that he will send 6 priests with them and that they will be ready to leave by the morning.

Surm and Rilka head back to the tavern and gather up their companions to head back to Lord Cannach’s.

23 Growth 509

The Crimson Cord, their retinue of guards, and the group of six priests of Halor, lead by the Prioress Drenham, all head out of Aldasar toward the east to the awaiting Tomb of Secrets.

After about 10 miles, they cross the bridge over the Mondira River into Borael. The Boraelan troops inquire as to their business, but Surm manages to talk their way through, helped by the presence of the benevolent priests. On the other side of the bridge is a clearing with a group of bronze statures venerating The Five, a legendary group of adventures from the early days of civilization.

The column moves on after a brief discussion of the group and makes their way to the other side of the city of Whitheron where the troupe makes camp on the road.

24 Growth 509

The troupe continues down the road toward Yulania. At the end of the day, they pull over to the side to make camp and note that a small adventuring party made up of three human’s and a dwarf are making their own camp on the other side of the road. The two camps do not interact.

27 Growth 509

After a few more days of travel, the party makes to the other side of the city of Ebongate, the capital of Borael and into Yulania. As they pass the city, it appears that there is a fair going on there, based on the people heading inside. Nevertheless, the troupe moves on.

28 Growth 509

After traveling through the wooded hills of eastern Yulania, the troupe makes camp for the night. During the second watch, Rilka hears movement heading out of the camp. She tries to pursue it with stealth, but fails and hears the sound of someone running off. She calls for help and Leif and Jerrik come up with torches. She loses track of the runner and starts rousing the camp.

Savaric armors up and starts tracking. He finds a trail fairly quickly and he and Mõrvar start following it. As Savaric armors up and finds the initial trail, Rilka determines that 5 days of food are missing from their stores. Surm hints strongly that Rilka should accompany Mõrvar and Savaric in chasing down the thief and orders Mahgnus to check all of their gear to ensure that the food was all that was stolen.

Savaric tracks down the thief to a group of scrub brush and spots him hiding. He draws his bow and orders the figure to come out. The others, who did not see him, watch warily. A man dressed in a tattered Boraelan prison tunic comes crawling out. Savaric recognizes him a Trews Hanric, an Ornish thief. Mõrvar pats him down and finds nothing more than a shiv, which the thief apparently used to kill a guard during his escape. The three, after a brief discussion, decide to let him go after recovering the five days of food. They head back to the camp.

Surm seems upset that they let the man go, especially as he had apparently murdered a guard. But there was nothing to be done about it at the time and everyone went back to bed.

30 Growth 509

After another couple of days of travel, the party pass by the city of Edeva and move on toward the Tomb of Secrets.\

1 Illumination 509

After another day of travel, the troupe makes camp some five miles from the entrance to the sanctum of the necromancer. As they make camp, rain begins to fall and thunder begins to roll.

That night, during the second watch, Rilka hears a thunderous sound that is definitely not from the storm. She rouses the camp and as Mõrvar and Savaric get ready, they see three hill giants lumbering toward camp from the nearby mountains. Savaric fires repeatedly with his bow, as does Mõrvar. Surm even casts fireball between two of them to bring them down. Finally, before any of them can strike a single blow, they are killed. Everyone works together to move the giant bodies out of camp and the rest of the night passes without incident.

2 Illumination 509

That morning, the troupe arrives outside the entrance to the Tomb of Secrets. It is a cleft in the side of a mountain from which an eldritch green glow can be seen emitting from the inside.

After a discussion, the party elects to only bring in two of the guards. Alasir calls for volunteers and Tarben and Sorcha step forward.

The tunnel appears to lit by eerie green witchlight that casts many shadows along the corridor. Surm stands at the head of the tunnel and casts dancing lights down the hall, illuminating it more fully.

The party lines up to head down the narrow corridor. Savaric takes the lead, followed by Mõrvar, then the Prioress, Brother Thoras, Rilka, then Surm, Brother Caric, Sister Senna, Sister Prinella, Sister Aria, Tarben, and finally Sorcha. They finally head inside.

Savaric searches for traps all the way down and finds none. He finds the secret door marked on the map at the end of the corridor—and also discovers that it is trapped. Surm makes his way forward to try and disarm it. Instead, he sets it off and two greataxe blades spring forth from the walls and cut through him. Fortunately, one of the priests has iron spikes and the party is able to jam the blades into the walls to keep the trap from springing again.

The map has the next room marked as “ghouls.” Mõrvar, Rilka, and the Prioress come forward, ready to address the threat. Mõrvar darts inside and side-steps to allow Rilka to come in. He is immediately facing off with a ghoul wearing a breastplate and wielding a greataxe surrounded by four other lesser examples of the species in the room. In short order, between the Prioress’ channeling of energy and the blades of the two Crimson Corders, the lesser ghouls are dealt with, as well as greater one.

As per usual, Mõrvar decapitates the bodies.

Savaric searches the room and finds nothing of interest. They do find a magical belt of giant strength +2 on the armored ghoul and opt to let Savaric wear that for now.

Checking one of the north doors, Savaric finds that it is not trapped, but it is locked. Surm comes forward and manages to unlock it on the second try. Savaric then carefully opens the door onto a large room that appears to have 8 spectral beings floating in it. He shuts the door and reports to the group.

While the group decides what to do, and how to do it, one of the spectres comes floating through the door. They all work together to dispatch it, though the priests are clearly expending a lot of their channel energy abilities. The spectres keep coming, one by one, and soon two by two, through the walls. Eventually, all eight are finally dispatched.

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Session Sixty-Three
A Preponderance of Halflings

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3 Growth 509

The Crimson Cord sets out from Aeth, across Jossia, heading southeast toward the city of Aldasar, the capital of Leilior. Surm says farewell to the King and the Aethyngs, with special good-byes to his mother and his brother. Surm announces that “the Ulrichs are children of Aeth and the Crimson Cord is a ready ally should they be needed!”

4 Growth 509

Along the way, traveling across the northern plains, Rilka spots a cairn of stones with a crude, makeshift grave marker. Scrawled in Tradespeak on a piece of sandstone is:

TIRZON LIES HERE. HE WAS BRAVE. HE WAS MY FRIEND. AN ORC KILLED HIM. 507

Savaric searches for tracks and other evidence around the grave. At the grave marker, Mõrvar points out that it was marked two years ago. “That grave has been there longer than we be traveling together,” he observes, and then displays no more interest in it.

5 Growth 509

Around noon, the group passes through (or around) Josemeedt in central Jossia.

6 Growth 509

As the sun is setting and the time to camp approaches, the group finds their path crossed by a decent-sized caravan of Yulanian merchants and performers. They, too, appear to be settling in and making a camp. The atmosphere is joyful as musicians play jaunty tunes while folks work on pitching tents and tending to their livestock.

The caravan is made up of colorful box-wagons, cloth-covered wagons, and flamboyantly-dressed folks riding horses and ponies. They appear to setting up a central “square” with their wagons. There are small merchant wagons, tinkerers, and other such salesmen. There are also performers—jugglers, musicians, clowns, acrobats, and the like.

Two wagons are set off a little from the others—a small, red box-wagon with the words ZENYA ZAORAVARIAN’S TRAVELING SHOW stenciled in Tradespeak on both sides of it in big black letters, and a mid-sized, multi-colored wooden wagon with a banner hanging on it reading “ARINNA’S WAGON OF EXOTIC TREASURES!” Various signs in multiple languages hang from the wagon’s walls inviting the public to “VIEW AND PURCHASE MAGICAL WONDERS FROM AROUND THE KNOWN WORLD!” or “SEEK THE SAGE COUNSEL OF RESIDENT FORTUNE TELLERS!” and “RECEIVE TATTOOS FROM SKILLED ARTISANS!”

Several of the members of the caravan’s crew wave to the Crimson Cord in welcome as they work, clearly inviting them to come and join their encampment.

It is clear from the set-up of the encampment that the “Zenya Zaoravarian” wagon is probably that of the person “in charge”. There are probably a good 80-90 people in the encampment from what can be seen, mostly humans, though they can spot a few dwarves, halflings, elves, half-elves, and even a couple of half-orcs in the mix.

As the party makes its way closer to the encampment, they are met by a colorfully-dressed woman who has emerged from the box wagon marked as “Zenya Zaoravarian’s.” She is smiling as she approaches. She is apparently unarmed.

“Hail, fellow travelers. I am Zenya. Do you come to share our camp? We’re not offering our show tonight, but we do offer fellowship, good food, and fair trade from our merchants. Here you can find goods both mundane and exotic. I, myself, can even offer you a glance into the past or the future, for a few coins, of course.”

She gives them a winning smile and spreads her arms wide in welcome.

Savaric asks, “How few coins for the fortune telling?”

Zenya smiles at Savaric and says, “I can already see that you are one that values your coins. Only five pieces of silver.”

Savaric says, “I’ll follow you,” to Zenya.

“Then we shall go,” Zenya says and leads the way to her wagon.

Inside the narrow confines of the box wagon are many colorful scarves, pillow, and curtains with beads and other accessories hanging from the ceiling and walls. The small quarters smells of spices, wine, and incense. Hanging on the wall is a small, well-wrought, portrait of a handsome Yulanian man in his prime. Below it is a small nook where a small unlit candle sits. She lights the candle with a piece of flint and steel and directs the half-orc to sit at a small table in the center of the “room.”

Zenya goes to a cabinet and pulls out a small wooden box. She opens it carefully, almost reverently, and removes a burgundy velvet bag. From within the bag she withdraws a deck of cards. She kisses the top of the deck gently and delicately places the it on the table as she takes her own seat across from Savaric.

“Now then, my large friend, you must tell me, what is it you seek? Is it Love? Honor? Fortune? What is it you wish to explore?”

Savaric replies, “I don’t know…”

Zenya chuckles amiably. “Oh, you are shy. That is adorable. You like your money, yes? Let’s look at that…”

She pulls out one suit of the cards from the deck and shuffles them. She then spreads them out before you, face down.

“Pick a card, my dear…”

As Savaric picks a card, Savaric insists, and truthfully, “I really don’t know what I want. Money and fortune are a clear path to the THINGS I seek but those are only means to help me protect me and my mismatched family; as dysfunctional as we are. We seek Glory, we each have our own call to honor, fame, and all the what-not with Mirka. I feel as if I don’t know my ultimate goal or how to get there. I had hoped that was something you could help me with,” Savaric breaths out somewhat lackadaisically as he pulls his card.

Before he pulls his card, Zenya stops him. “Ah, a very thoughtful answer to a not-easy question. The first step in this reading is called The Choosing. We will explore your current place in the world and see if the cards have a message for you in relation to question at hand. Then we will delve deeper into the timeline of your life. Perhaps by looking mindfully at the past, present, and future, you can find for yourself the answers you seek. Wait.”

She returns the cards she withdrew from the deck and pulls out another suit. “Now draw,” she says.

Savaric draws “The Owl.”

“The Owl represents the eternal Wisdom of natural order. It is the harsh reality that causes a pack of wolves to cull the weak in the herd—it is tragic for the culled deer, but through such actions the herd grows stronger. See here, the needle The Owl holds binds life together, but can just as easily pick that life apart.

“This is you, is it not? It shows us what you ultimately seek—Wisdom. The Wisdom that comes with the balance of what others term “good” and “bad”. For you, there is only life and it is made of both. You are the binder, the one that brings disparate forces together.

“I see a role for you as a guide, bringing others to the truth of the order of things. Others are blinded by their dedication to god, to glory, or to themselves. Your influence will be a weight in a balance that will tip the scales in one direction or the other, depending upon the needs of the natural order.”

Zenya then takes the card back and places them all back in the deck and begins shuffling.

“Now, we will begin the reading in earnest.”

She takes out top nine cards of the deck and lays them out face down, in a spread—a 3 × 3 square. Then she smiles and “And so, we begin.”

She turns over the one at the upper left—“The Wanderer.”

“In the past you have gone through life as a collector, appreciating the things that others find worthless. Indeed, much of your life has centered around the acquisition of Things—wandering about the world, finding new things, selling things, buying things, trading things…”

She then turns over the card in the center row at the far left—“The Rabbit Prince.”

“Now, here is a quirky fellow. Here is where the path of your past becomes more filled with shadows and moonlight—clear in some places, hidden in others. Here we have the vagaries of battle personified—note the broken sword in the Prince’s hand. I think you have seen many battles, and have seen that anyone—no matter how skilled or prepared—can fall. Perhaps you have even fallen yourself.” She shrugs. “As I said, shadows and moonlight.”

Then she turns over the last card in the left-hand column: “The Paladin.”

“Here we see a symbol of strength against adversity. But, in your past, I think this has been seen this as something that was foolhardy, yes? Perhaps you encountered a situation in which the wisest course was to run—but that has it’s own consequences, does it not?”

Now she turns to the middle column. “But that all is in the past. Let us look at the present.” She turns over the card in top row, middle column: “The Courtesan.”

“Here we have political intrigue. Perhaps you are involved in matters of the court or other important factions. You have striven and come much higher in the world than your station would normally indicate. You wear one face for the public, but quite another amongst those that know you well. I think you often find yourself in situations now that require the niceties of society and that your actions, the way that you shape events, depends largely upon how you are treated.”

Next she turns over the card in the center of the spread. “The Demon’s Lantern.”

“Here, the present situation is unclear, but perhaps an opportunity is at hand to guide your way, if you but reach out for it. I think you find yourself presently in an impossible situation—or at least, it seems to be. You are looking for a guiding light to keep you from sinking into the mire. Be careful, though, of these will o’ the wisps, leading you astray and to your doom. Not all that shines is a light.”

She turns over the card in the middle column, bottom row: “The Publican.”

“Here I see that you have in your life a place of refuge and safety, fellowship and camaraderie. But it is tainted—something is wrong with your safe haven and it is no longer the refuge it once was. The cause is unclear—I cannot see if it is from without or from within. But your fellowship is now a place of strife and acrimony.”

She turns to the final column of the spread. “Now we look to the future.” She turns over the top card of the last column. “The Crows.”

“Now this is a dangerous bunch. They have eye to taking that which you love. Perhaps you have gained an enemy, or some new danger lurks that threatens that which you hold dear. But, I see that calamity is likely to be averted—though never without consequences.”

She turns over the middle card in the column: “The Eclipse.”

“Things are bit more hazy here. But I see you questioning yourself more and more in future. You will be filled with self-doubt and loss of purpose. I know that it is purpose that you seek now—but from what I can see here, you may not find it in the short term.”

Then she turns over the final card: “The Liar.”

“The lamia shows a future for you in which you discover love at its most treacherous. This is not the love that moves mountains—this is the love that rips the heart in two and causes lovers to leap to their deaths. It may mean obsession, unrequited passion, or doomed love. Expect the passion and the fire—but beware the burn and always sleep with your eyes open.”

Zenya sits back and sighs. “Now, my friend, we have glimpsed into your past, your present, and your future. It is possible, and even normal, to have more questions than when you came in! But, my sincere hope for you, is that you find the wisdom you seek. Many do not have the presence of mind to seek out their purpose, expecting it to be handed to them. I have found, and this only the wisdom of experience that speaks, that purpose must be made for one’s self, it must be forged, if it is to be strong. Now, go with the blessing of the gods and spirits, my friend, and think on what we have seen together.”

Savaric says, “This gives me much to ponder. You’re definitely right about it bringing up more questions than answers. Is there anything more concrete you see in these cards. Some thing more in the way of direction other than just, ‘make your own path?’”

Zenya smiles as she leads you from her wagon, "Ah, my boy, if the cards were THAT precise, I’d charge you much more than 5 silver. No, the cards give you some clarity—they illuminate the past, present, and future in the hopes that you can see some places in which to blaze a path—they do not dictate, they illuminate. They cast light into the shadows. Only you can decide the direction.

“Besides, and here is some free advice, worth exactly what you pay for it, but if you follow a path someone else lays out for you, then aren’t you living their life, not your own? Isn’t the entire point of life to make your own path?”

Savaric and Zenya emerge from the wagon. Zenya has her hand on Savaric’s shoulder in a friendly gesture of guidance.

When Savaric and Zenya emerge from her wagon, Surm simply shakes his head disapprovingly. He then moves to intercept Savaric after he walks away from Zenya.

“Put no stock into what you have heard in that wagon. She is a Charlatan speaking of vagaries and ambiguities that provide nothing useful. Her ‘wisdom and magic’ is the ability to read a person, then speak of vague situations and circumstances that encourage that person to apply whatever she is saying to their own circumstances. It is entertainment only Savaric, do not waste thought on her words and do not be disturbed or excited about anything she said. She is a performer and the cards are only painted pictures with no meaning other than what she decides in the moment depending on who is sitting across from her. If anything, be sad at the 5 silver you just lost and learn a lesson from this experience.”

Surm does not visit any wagons and encourages the others to avoid the theatrics and guard their pouches.

Mõrvar approaches the wagon marked as having tattoo artists, as does Rilka. “Am I to understand tattoo’s of a mystical nature can be purchased and applied here?” Mõrvar asks.

At the wagon, a Yulanian woman greets them warmly and says, “That’s right. We have artisans that can apply such things inside. Follow me.” She leads them inside the box wagon.

Inside—they are surprised to see that the inside is clearly bigger than the outside. There are rows of potions, wands, scrolls, and other objects from around the world. She motions for Mõrvar to follow and takes him toward the back where the tattoo artists are.

“As far as mystical tattoos, we usually offer these,” and she motions to a sign on the wall:

Animal Totem Tattoo : 12,000 gp
Hypnotic Tattoo : 900 gp
Runeward Tattoo: : 1000 gp
Serpentine Tattoo : 2000 gp

“Does anything catch your eye?”

Rilka stops at the counter and sees a waifish Yulanian woman, who greets her. “Welcome, friend. How can we help you today?”

Rilka expresses wonder at the size of the wagon and browses some of the wares. She decides that she’s not buying today and goes outside to join Savaric in sitting by the fire and listening to music. She inquires if they know any Northron sons. They do and they oblige by playing some.

Meanwhile, Mõrvar says, “Not anything I was really considering. I was curious about the caster’s tattoo. I will admit, the animal totem is intriguing, but 12,000 turns it from intriguing to un-interesting. So, you’re traveling, no long lines waiting, is that your best price?”

Arinna smiles. “I have been known to give some credit, some mind you, for a tale well-told. Do you have any tales, pale one?”

Mõrvar will grin, “Ms. Arinna, I have tales of love, hate, friendship and fear. Tales of justice being brought to those who exploit the weak, and tales of journeys that brought riches. I have tales of adventure and glory and tales of fallen friends. I have tales that will leave you smiling or crying, leaving you feeling warm and fuzzy or a bit shaken with butterflies. I can tell you tales of Warlords, radicals, Frost Giants, Drow, dwarves, elves, and even the Adonii. I can tell you tales of ancient artifacts and hoards of orcs, of skeletons, bloodbeasts, drakes, griffons, pegasus, and winter wolves. I have a tale where I beheaded the same lich three times before we found his soul and crushed it. I even have a tale of coming face to face with a red dragon, and having a conversation that, in a strange way, was pleasant. Are these the tales you would like to hear about?”

Arinna crosses her arms. “Then impress me, tale-spinner. Tell me your tale.”

Mõrvar asks her, “Tell me, with all of your travels, have you ever heard of the Cursed Isle of Salvi?” She arches and eyebrow and nods, “I’ve heard the name and a few things.”

And with that, Mõrvar begins his tale.

After he is done, Arinna gives him a slow, respectful clap. “A tale well-told. I salute you, Northron. I tell you what, I will give you the totem tattoo for 9000 gold.”

Mõrvar will smile, “That is very generous of you. Still, I am on the fence. This is a lot of money for something I wasn’t sure about to begin with.” Mõrvar contemplates for a moment, “Tell you what, if you will take 6000, and allow me to cover the other 3000 by trading you a cloak of resistance and an amulet of natural armor, and a promise that you’re a fantastic tattoo artist, then we have a deal.”

Mõrvar then smiles, “And I’ll even tell you a tale about that amulet I took off the lich I beheaded three separate times before finally destroying him in our fourth meeting.”

“I suppose I can live with that arrangement,” Arinna says. “I, actually, won’t be administering the tattoo. But my cousin, Maella, is a fantastic tattoo artist.” She smiles. “And save your tale. Don’t give them away for free. You may need that for trade sometime.”

Arinna warns him that the working of the tattoo will take about twelve hours, which will make them late in leaving the next day.

Mõrvar lets the rest of the party know of his plans. Surm will ask, “What tattoo and why? Do you even know the details of how they work? Why don’t you wait and think about it first? If you still want one, get it in Aldasar. This seems like an impulse buy that a bunch of creepy carnies sold you and you’ll regret buying later.”

In the end, Mõrvar decided against the tattoo.

7 Growth 509

That morning, the party breaks away from the encampment and heads further down the road toward Aldasar. Later that afternoon, they encounter the city of Skeene. They go around that city and move on, camping off the road later that night.

8 Growth 509

The party sets off once again, southward, in the morning.

Later that morning, they encounter the city of Kivley. They move around the city and travel onward.

9 Growth 509

On this day of traveling, as they take a break for a rest, Savaric finds, discarded in the brush, a battered and muddy wizard’s hat. Examining the hat, he finds a note inside written in Leilioran:

Upon the 8th day of the Reign of Charity, when the Black Serpent lies in blood and the Moon is crowned, the Lich Tyrant shall be slain.

Later that afternoon, they arrive at the city of Aldasar. Instead of the going into the city, they head straight to the estate of their friend, Lord Cannach.

As they approach the front gates of Lord Cannach’s lands, they recognize one of the guards—Tarben! He greets them and assures his compatriot that they are welcome here and to lets them inside. He escorts them into the estate proper.

When asked, he indicates that Lord Cannach’s guard captain has been working them into their rotation while they are staying on the lands and drilling. It’s easy work and Lord Cannach is a good boss. They’ve had one other job while they’ve been here—a cushy guarding gig at a social function. It was easy work and there was free food afterwards—-it’s been a semi-vacation, but most of the guards are ready to go back on the march.

Tarben drops them off at the manor house where they are greeted by Lord Cannach’s chamberlain, who fetches the lord of the manor. Lord Cannach greets them all warmly and welcomes them into his home.

As usual, his hospitality is impeccable and he brings them food and drink and sits them down in his parlor to hear about their exploits and future plans.

Surm tells the story of the frost giants, demon skulls, and victory. Lord Cannach enjoys the story thoroughly, wishing he had more exciting things to report of life here in Aldasar. Not much has been going on in his world, of late.

Surm also gets with Mahgnus about his progress on the orphan-retrieval front. The valet has been putting out feelers for wet-nurses that will be available for travel in month of Ardor. They are to inquire of him at the estate.

The Cord asks for, and receives, permission, of Lord Cannach to stay on his lands while they are conducting business for a couple of weeks here in the capital. Surm and Mõrvar arrange to do some retraining while Rilka arranges to have a magical item enhanced. Savaric seeks for, and finds, work to build capital for his dream of an inn.

They all settle into their work, ready to pass the next two weeks in peace.

11 Growth 509

On his way back from his retraining, Mõrvar is walking down the streets of Aldasar toward Lord Cannach’s when out of nowhere a halfling appears out of the crowd, walking beside him.

“Say, I know you. You’re Mõrvar Ulrich, aren’t you? Of the Crimson Cord?” he says.

“Why, yes, I am,” Mõrvar says, full of pride. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Daveth. Yeah, I’ve heard of you. I heard you carry that big sword around because you’ve got a little dick.”

Mõrvar is struck speechless for a second and then says something about showing the halfling his dick. The halfling says, “Oh, no, I don’t swing that way, thank you very much. Bye!” and disappears into the crowd.

When Mõrvar gets back to the estate, he shares his encounter with his friends. They all warn him that its a trap, not to fall for it and to ignore it. They also decide to travel with a “buddy” in the city in case they’re targeting the whole group. Nobody walks alone back from their retraining. Rilka will walk with Mõrvar, Savaric with Surm.

12 Growth 509

As Mõrvar and Rilka are walking back from Mõrvar’s retraining session, once again the halfling pops up out of the crowd and says to Rilka, “You don’t want to hang out with this guy! He’s all talk, no action!”

After a brief exchange of insults, the halfling disappears again into the crowd.

When they get back to the estate, Mõrvar is fuming. He wants to concoct a plan in which Savaric follows them and tracks the halfling back to whoever hired him to antagonize him. The rest of the party try to warn him off of this plan, advising him to leave it alone, that if he ignores the trap, the trap can’t spring. Mõrvar insists that he needs to do something about this or its going to happen every time he comes into this city. The rest of the party can’t seem to dissuade Mõrvar from pursuing the matter.

13 Growth 509

Sure enough, the following day, as Mõrvar and Rilka make their way back from retraining, the halfling appears again. “Oh, you’re on the wrong side of town for pliable, young boys. They’re much cheaper on the other side of the river.”

Mõrvar puts his arm around Rilka and says, “Come on, let’s get out of here. Ignore him,” and leads Rilka down the road, not looking back. He seems to be taking his friends’ advice!

Rilka hears a disturbance behind her and a gasp from some of the walking throngs. She sees the halfling dusting himself off as he waves at them. “Have good night!” he says.

14 Growth 509

This time, Mõrvar’s final day of retraining, Rilka and Mõrvar take an entirely different route home, away from the neighborhood that they they had been traveling through. They made it through their trip unaccosted by halflings.

15 Growth 509

Surm completes his retraining efforts on this day and begins looking for rumors and leads for potential work for the next month or so.

He hears about about a sorceress named Hekia who is imprisoned in the Tomb of Secrets by “chains of magical shadow.” Following up, he learns that the Tomb of Secrets is in the Uralda Mountains of eastern Yulania.

He also hears about a magical fountain reputed to grant strength to those that bathe in it. However, the fountain is located in the Gauntlet of Emirkol the Chaotic, a stronghold in the Jorani Mountains.

Surm takes these rumors to the party to judge their potential for the Crimson Cord’s next undertaking before escorting the half-orc orphans back to Yrda.

It is decided that he will seek more information from the sages at the University of Aldasar.

16 Growth 509

Surm takes his information to the University and makes arrangements with two sages to look into the two quests. He gives them until the 21st (the day Rilka’s belt will be ready) to come up with the information.

21 Growth 509

On the 21st, Surm goes to the sages to pay them and collect the information they have gathered while Rilka goes to collect her magical belt.

Hekia was a heroic sorceress from an adventuring party styling themselves as “The Sableflames.” She was captured by their archnemesis, a necromancer by the name of Kalthior, when the party attempted to slay said necromancer in his base of operations, the Tomb of Secrets. Kalthior had previously unleashed a horde of undead on a small village in Yulania and the Sableflames had been brought in to protect it. They followed him to his lair and went inside.

The sole survivor of the encounter was a halfling by the name of Torvald. He came out of the lair, determined to have his friend rescued. He spent all of his money to hire another adventuring troupe to go in and get Hekia. None returned and now Torvald is penniless and hopeless, living in the slums of Aldasar.

This expedition took place nine months ago.

The sage offers Surm a map to the Tomb of Secrets, as well as directions to the neighborhood in which Torvald now lives.

Emirkol the Chaotic was (or is, according to some tales), by all accounts, mad. This is no wonder, as he is also purported to be/have been a worshiper of Sabreel, the old Midron god of madness. The summoner created his Gauntlet as a test for adventurers to go through to test their mettle. He felt that the “adventuring class” was bloated and needed some thinning.

Survivors of the Gauntlet—of which there are very few recorded—tell of a maddening place that threatened their bodies and warped their minds. One such survivor spends his days reliving the experience in his mind while sitting in an asylum. The Gauntlet has been reputed to have existed for over a century.

The sage can, once again, provide a map to the destination of the purported whereabouts of the Gauntlet.

After Surm takes his information back to the Cord, they decide to pursue the quest for Hekia—though the thought of more strength clearly intrigued Mõrvar. They decide to look up Torvald to get more details.

They all head into the city and to a run-down part of town near the city center. According to their information, Torvald lives in a shack a block from The Three-Billed Duck Tavern.

They arrive at the shack and Rilka knocks on the door, asking for Torvald. After a few seconds, the door opens slightly and a milky blue eye gazes back out. “Yes? I am Torvald.”

Surm explains that they are there for information on the Tomb of Secrets and his last expedition there. At first, the halfling behind the door is reluctant to help the party. He doesn’t want to talk about that because it is “too sad.” But once it is clear that the Cord is going after Hekia, he lets them inside to discuss the matter.

Inside, the furnishings are sparse, spartan, but clean. And presiding over them is a the oldest halfling any of them have ever seen. He has no place on his face without wrinkles. His hair is white and wispy. He also carries a small, wooden, walking stick for support. He motions for them to sit down, ignoring their expressions of dismay at his aged frame.

He confirms that he is, indeed the Torvald that went on that failed expedition to the Tomb of Secrets. When the party went into the necromancer’s lair, there were four of them altogether.

“Thalia, the cleric, she was the first to fall. It was ghouls that did her in. Next went Landros. Even his mighty greatsword couldn’t save him from that trap. He was disembowled.” That left he and his friend, Hekia Stormwing, to persevere and complete the mission so that the others will not have died in vain.

They made their way to the inner sanctum of the necromancer. Torvald stuck to shadows, trying to get an advantage over the spellcaster and stab him from behind while he and Hekia battled. But Torvald wasn’t good enough and was spotted. The necromancer uttered a word and suddenly Torvald was an old, wizened halfling. Soon, Hekia was bound in “chains of magical shadow” and Torvald, now old and afraid, ran from that place, leaving his friend behind to her fate.

As soon as he got back, he gathered all of his resources to launch another expedition to save Hekia. The necromancer had a special hatred for the young sorceress, and the feeling was mutual. Torvald was sure that the necromancer was keeping her alive and in pain. He spent all of his money—and the expedition never returned.

The party asks the halfling what else he can tell them about the necromancer Kelthior. Torvald knows that he is “old beyond his time” and that he is also resistant to magic. He is not a lich or another sort of undead, but is a master necromancer, a wizard of the arts of death magic.

Torvald states that he can offer no recompense for the rescue of his friend. Surm assures him that none is needed. Then Surm asks if Torvald can give them a map of the lair and Torvald says that, yes, he will draw out a map based on what he can remember.

After thanking Torvald provides them a map and thanks them profusely, Surm and the others head back into the city to research and purchase the necessary spells they’ll need for the expedition. They speculate that the spell used to age Torvald is an enhancement of a known spell, Sands of Time, but obviously more powerful and probably of his own devising. It is also thought that it is probably through the use of ritual blood magic that Kelthior is keeping himself “old beyond his time.”

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Rage and Raven: The Curse of Punari (Part Four)
Part Four

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23 Ardor 508

Rhain, Lenoria, Tag, Regna, and Tavayne are inside the cursed monastery of Punari. They have just finished off 5 skeletal monks and are sifting through the treasures they have found distributed on the floor of the chamber. After collecting the treasure, they continue through the monastery.

Eventually, they find their way into a large chamber containing the shambling, walking, corpse of a mummified monk. This formidable creature proves to be a challenge for the party, but in the end they prevail. Tag finds a secret door and discovers two rooms filled to the brim with exotic weapons of various types and styles. He finds nothing more of interest.

Moving on, they encounter more of the lesser skeletons, as well as a wraith, along with a fair amount of treasure, and eventually make their way to the other side of the monastery, where they encounter more skeletal monks, and, finally, a mummy that must be Punari himself. After a long fight, in which Lenoria finally calls upon the intervention of Imtiau, the mummy is defeated—with both the luck of the goddess and a well-placed throw of alchemical fire from Tag. The remains burn quickly and drop a blackened heap of ashes upon the floor in the shape of a raven.

Going through, they utilize Lenoria’s hide from undead spell to avoid encounters with more horrors. They encounter another couple of mummies (one which they catch on fire) and then come upon a chamber with a pedestal holding a book. Hovering over the book and pedestal is a shadow. They dispatch the shadow and claim the book, “The Manual of the Mountain Panther.”

They gather up all of treasure they’ve collected and place it on the carts outside. By this time, the sun is sinking low on the horizon and they decide to camp for the night and tackle the rest of the monastery in the morning—with the help of Lenoria’s spell.

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Session Sixty-Two
Departures

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18 Awakening 509

Before the expeditionary forces and the Aethyngs make to return to Soos, Rilka says a blessing to Bruni over all. Surm and Mõrvar finish up identifying magical items for everyone. Then the ships head out of the narrow harbor and back south toward Soos.

The Crimson Cord head back across the city and below the cathedral to where the huge viper skull is located.

After a long, logistical discussion, it is decided on how they will teleport with the skull to Kalimsport involving a combination of bull’s strength spells, communal ant haul spells, magical belts, and the like. They then decide to explore the cathedral before leaving.

They head upstairs and Savaric finds some food stores near the site of the slaughter of the thralls. He takes some picked fish.

Exploring the other floors, the eventually find a large stash of mundane items that Savaric goes through to find items to sell later. They find their way back to the eighth floor bedroom of the priest. Savaric searches it again and finds a secret compartment. It is magically trapped. Surm fails to dispel the trap—twice—so the rest of the party head downstairs while Savaric opens the compartment.

An arced chain of lightning shoots across the room toward Savaric, but he manages to fully evade it. Inside the compartment is a large chest. The chest is not trapped, but it is locked. Surm cannot disable the lock so each of the Cord take a turn at trying to pry it open and eventually it is broken into.

Inside is a neat horde of treasures—coin, gemstones, scrolls, potions, and wands.

They gather the bed clothes of the priest in hopes of carrying out some of the Ysar remains with them back to Kalimsport.

In going through the mundane items, Savaric comes across a signet ring depicting a rose and a trident. Surm identifies it as a noble signet for a branch of the Cantrill family in Borael out of Northold.

Rilka says a prayer over the bodies of the slaughtered thralls. She and Savaric also gather fuel to make a pyre to burn their bodies.

The party then descends into the chambers beneath the cathedral.

They explore all of the chambers save those that delve deeper into the city and the deep, dark pit at the center. They find nothing. Savaric keeps wanting Surm to cast dancing lights into the pit, but Surm refuses, not wanting to draw the attention of anything large enough to call that pit home.

They return to the skull chamber. Surm and Mõrvar determine that the skull is emitting what is essentially the equivalent of an unhallow spell—making all the area around it unhallowed ground. This may explain the reaction of the Aethyngs. While it only seems to be lightly affecting them—it could have a more repellent affect on others.

Finally, they make their preparations to teleport and do so—into Lecture Hall #12 of the University of Kalimsport.

19 Awakening 509

It is late at night/early in the morning when they arrive. Fortunately, no one is in the lecture hall, as the huge skull takes up most of the room. The Cord makes their way out and heads to the offices of Mandreth Kerendal.

They find the sage in his office, dozing at his desk. They apprise him of the current situation in lecture hall #12 and Surm also explains that they would like to discuss arranging an expedition to explore an Ysar city (as they realized now that they forgot to gather up the Ysar remains). Would Master Kerendal make arrangements for them to meet with Chancellor Valtaer in the morning? Around 10 am? Master Kerendal is a bit overwhelmed, but happy to help. He will also arrange for no one to go into lecture hall #12.

That morning, the group sorts out their magical gear and goes to the markets to sell. Rilka goes and gets her falchion mended.

At 10 o’clock, they return to the University to meet with Chancellor Valtaer. It is clear that he is not pleased. He chastises them for not notifying them of their return with a giant, evil skull before teleporting into one of their lecture halls. Surm tries to placate him and wants to make arrangements for a pre-assigned point in case such a need comes up again. The Chancellor assigns them Simdak Hall in Choynden College, an older hall that is probably no longer in use.

Surm then talks up the Ysar site, though he does caution that they cannot guarantee that the site is 100% safe. But if they are interested in sending an expedition there, the Crimson Cord can help them do that. The Chancellor seems interested, but says that he will have to consult with the Master Bevins, the Master of Antiquities, to be sure. He will get back with them at noon. The Chancellor also bluntly asks Surm for his terms. Surm says that, of course, the University will need to provide the means to teleport them there and back. Further, he will require two caster level thirteen greater teleport scrolls for his trouble. The Chancellor says that if the Master of Antiquities wishes to launch an expedition, that the terms are acceptable.

While the party waits for the Master of Antiquities to be consulted, Mõrvar goes to see if Beldis is in town. He finds out that she has been seen around in a week—the theory is that she’s lying low for some reason. Mõrvar comes back and tells the others, wondering if they want to help him find Beldis. No one else is really interested. He grows angry, saying that they don’t care about his feelings, and then he sits and broods.

At noon, Chancellor Valtaer lets them know that the Master Bevins is, indeed, interested, and is sending Esteemed Professor Lanara Tevis to lead the expedition. What they can do is take their wizard, Magus Solman Barrow, to the site so that he can be familiar with it and plot out a place to put a teleportation circle in order to bring others. Professor Tevis wants to come on this outing if there is space. There is.

Tevis and Barrow have their cold weather gear ready and they all gather for the greater teleport. Surm readies the scroll and casts, taking them into the first floor of the cathedral. Magus Barrow starts plotting where he is going to set his circle and Surm takes Professor Tevis down below to see the Ysar remains.

She’s clearly taking it all in. She confirms that it is Ysar architecture, but it is also different than that she has seen—much more twisted and dark. She also doesn’t know what being these Ysar were worshipping but is clearly different than the ones presented at other Ysar sites. She also confirms that the remains are Ysar. She is clearly fascinated and happy to be there.

Finally, they gather up to return. Magus Barrow handles the return trip.

Chancellor Valtaer hands the two requested scrolls of greater teleport over to Surm.

The Cord then head out and scroll over to Soos. They arrive just outside the village. They then walk in after being greeted by the sentries and reacquaint themselves with their horses. The people of the village recognize them and inquire about the success of the, which Surm is happy to report. Then they start asking about the individual fates of their loved ones, which makes Surm uncomfortable. He persuades them all to wait for the rest of the force to arrive before worrying about it, and they all take it in stride, just being thankful that the raid was successful.

Savaric goes out and hunts, finding food for day for the Cord.

Everyone finds a place to sleep for the night, between offers from townsfolk or the main longhouse.

20 Awakening 509

That morning, the ships arrive from Jarlheim. There is much rejoicing from the people on the shore as the raiders disembark. Kremlach declares that the journey back was easy—smooth sailing all the way back. It’s also clear that he and the majority of the expedition are a little bit drunk.

Surm gives Kremlach the money from their sale of the magical treasures and Kremlach thanks him.

A feast is prepared in the longhouse. Many songs are song and speeches made. Their victory is attributed to strength of arms, the blessings of the gods, and their strong brotherhood. The only somber moment is when Kremlach calls out the names of all 140 fallen warriors and then leads the room in a song of Valhalla. Then the festivities begin again and last into the night. Eventually, the feast dwindles down people start heading off to their beds.

21 Awakening 509

The Crimson Cord and the victorious Aethyngs ready themselves and begin their march west to Aeth.

27 Awakening 509

As the column marches along, Surm and Savaric notice that two winged creatures are flying overhead. One, a dragon, continues flying to the west, toward the mountains. The other, a strange creature with the body and head of a lion, accompanied by the heads of a dragon and a goat, is plummeting to the earth.

Savaric shouts a warning, debates whether or not to fire on the flying dragon, and eventually settles on keeping an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t double-back. Surm casts feather fall on the strange falling creature.

As the creature gently wafts to the earth, the column forms a circle around the site of its landing and readies itself. It alights and the creatures rights itself, puffs itself up with a defiant roar, and attacks. The Cord and the Aethyngs are ready for it and make short work of the creature that Surm identifies as a chimera.

Mõrvar decapitates it and Savaric cuts out its teeth.

2 Growth 509

The troupe finally arrives in Aeth. The King is hale and healthy and eager to hear of their victory. Surm tells a passable version of the tale, but promises more at the feast. Rilka and Savaric are less than helpful with their interruptions and attempts at tale-telling.

The Ulrich’s visit with their family while feast preparations take place. Mõrvar broods the entire time.

That night, the Aethyngs feast and Surm tells a more rousing version of the tale. The Crimson Cord sit at the King’s right and left hand. In the course of his speech praising the Aethyings, he thanks the Crimson Cord for presenting Aeth this opportunity for glory.

The seven elite Aethyngs and Brythia present the King with the Viper banner and the twin war hammers of the frost giant leader. King Alrik is well-pleased.

After the feast dies down, people head to bed. The Crimson Cord plan to head to Aldasar in the morning.

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Session Sixty-One
The Darkness Below

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17 Awakening 509

The four primary members of the Crimson Cord and an elite team of seven Aethyngs are below a cathedral in the frost giant city of Jarlheim. They have just dispatched three frost giant guards that had attempted to ambush them from a series of alcoves.

Surm shows the rest of the party the bridge he’s encountered and the chamber it leads to. The party lines up to continue through the strange ruins that have attributed to the long-extinct Ysar.

Mõrvar and Savaric lead the way, with Surm and the Aethyngs following, and with Rilka watching their backs.

They walk into a what appears to be a crypt. There are six alcoves with stone sarcophagi sitting within them. Surm sets about trying to open one. They discover that the sarcophagus has a curse lain upon it, a trap of sorts, to punish the disrespectful. Surm dispels it and removes the lid. He finds a strange, humanoid, skeleton inside and magical scroll of mage’s faithful hound. He takes the scroll and decides to deal with the rest of the sarcophagi. He manages to remove some curses—and just flat out risk a few—and take out a phylactery of negative channeling and a potion of endure elements to add to the party’s growing horde of treasure.

After this, the party moves on through the ruins. They eventually make it around to a large sanctuary where 5 guards and 3 other frost giants await—with a huge viper skull what has a vapor of darkness bleeding from its oversized fangs.

A major fight ensues, where the Cord manages to bottleneck the frost giant guards into the doorway and then proceed to take on the remaining frost giants. One of the giants, the last one they fight, has twin hammers that he throws and retrieves with deadly effect. Nevertheless, the Cord emerges victorious.

The skull gives off an unholy aura that the heroes of the Cord can withstand quite well, but the Aethyngs wish to avoid and so they refuse to enter the sanctuary chamber. Savaric manages to find a secret door and Surm dispels a magical trap on it. Inside, they find a horde of goods.

They figure out how to carry their newfound riches and decide to leave the huge skull—for now. They leave the sanctuary and head back out into the cathedral and into the city to see how the main battle has fared.

They discover that the main force is fighting a huge, draconic ice worm called a linnorm that is guarding the treasures of the amphitheater. Many frost giant bodies lay about, looted. The party witnesses the Northon finish off the linnorm and open the doors of the amphitheater. Inside, is another large horde of loot.

Surm finds Kremlach and says that the Crimson Cord is willing to forego taking a share of the amphitheater loot if they can claim only the horde found in the cathedral. Kremlach agrees that that is fair. The war leader also reports that the Northrons overwhelmed the frost giants and took them handily. There were, of course, some casualties, but not near as many as there could have been.

The Crimson Cord and the Aethyngs camp for the night as the shouts of celebration go up in the night.

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Session Sixty
Jarlheim

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17 Awakening 509

As the Northron raiders approach through the harbor in Jarlheim, the longship from Soos carrying the Crimson Cord and the Aethyngs has veered to the east to deposit that smaller team that will be going in to raid on their own. Savaric has felled one of three giants on the shore with a volley of flaming arrows as the ship approached the shore.

Savaric targets another of the giants as they begin chucking stones at the ship. The raiders are not equipped with missile weapons—only Savaric.

As the ship moves inexorably closer to the shore, a stone hits the ship, causing it to shake. Surm comes forward and casts a fireball at the giants on the shore while Savaric continues to fire. Between the two of them, the giants are dispatched and the ship makes landfall.

The four members of the Crimson Cord—Surm, Savaric, Mõrvar, and Rilka, as well as seven hand-picked Aethyng warriors, disembark and head deeper into the city while the ship turns and heads deeper into harbor with its brethren.

As the stone city looms, Mõrvar notes that the architecture is not designed for giants but for human-sized creatures. In fact he believes that it is similar to Ysar architecture.

Rilka takes a high position on top of one of the buildings and scouts the area. She sees a tall building to the northwest—a cathedral, maybe? It’s clearly a landmark and easily distinctive. Maybe the skull is being kept there? She can also see that battle has begun in earnest in the harbor and on shore near a huge amphitheater.

As the party makes their way through the streets, they notice that many of the dwellings are abandoned—most are simply too small for a frost giant. However, they do see some that have been made into make-shift homes for giants. In fact, they see one emerge from such a dwelling and engage with it, eventually dispatching in the street. They leave its corpse—not before Mõrvar decapitates it—and move on, moving northwest through the city.

It appears that most of the frost giants must be on shore fighting the Northron raiders. The streets are quiet.

They eventually make it to the far northwest corner of the city. Approaching the large cathedral quietly, they see that the broad entry way is guarded by four frost giants warriors.

Savaric has Ilona make him invisible and the two head through and around the guards and into the cathedral. Once inside, he avoids another couple of warriors and finds a huge spiral staircase that heads both up into the heights of the building and down into its depths. He heads up.

On the third level, he sees what appears to be a frost giant priest of some sort on the landing. He begins firing arrows into him, eventually taking the giant down. Savaric crosses the landing and peers into the doorway to see a roomful of human thralls chained together. He signals for them to be quiet and he returns to the staircase and invisibility. A frost giant guard starts coming up and sees the dead priest. The guard starts calling for his compatriots.

Savaric uses the distraction to start heading out the way he came in. He eventually makes it back to his friends and reports on what he sees. They decide to assault the cathedral.

The Crimson Cord and the seven Aethyngs advance on the four guards. Between Savaric’s arrows, Surm’s fireball spell, and the force of arms of Rilka and Mõrvar, the four guards are dispatched. The group heads inside the structure.

They check out the bottom floor, secure it, and leave three Aethyngs on the bottom floor while the four members of the Cord and four Aethyngs ascend the staircase.

On the third floor they find the corpse of the giant Savaric slew. They also find the slaughtered corpses of the thralls, apparently slain in retaliation for the murder of the priest.

The group head up the stairs to the eighth floor—the only floor large enough to bear the size of a frost giant. It is single chamber that is apparently been set up as the bed chamber for the priest. Here they take the Viper banner and the priest’s battle axe that is hanging on the wall. They head back down the stairs to rejoin the other Aethyngs, who have encountered no troubles since they were separated.

They decide to head down the stairs and see what is beneath the cathedral.

Carefully they go down and find themselves in a smallish chamber—still large enough for a frost giant, but not grand in any sense.

They follow the old, moldy hall the only way it goes. It winds a bit and then gets into an area where the outer wall falls way into an abyssal pit. The pit is so huge that even Savaric and Rilka, with their darkvision, can’t see the bottom or across it. They move on apprehensively, not knowing if that deep darkness is truly empty.

Eventually they come to a area with three (relatively) narrow alcoves—relatively narrow because they are large enough to contain ambushing frost giants!

A fight ensues between them and the Crimson Cord, who are bottle-necked into the preceding corridor. As members of the party fight their way through to take on the foes, Mõrvar manages to intimidate on into running into the next chamber, clearing a path for more of the Cord to come through.

Surm moves on even beyond the shaken the giant and his brother to a narrow bridge that crosses over a passage heading into the that deep darkness. Their passage heads into another chamber. Behind him, the rest of the party dispatches the three frost giant guards.

View
Session Fifty-Nine
Trouble at Home

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26 Changewind 508

After bidding their troupe of guards farewell, the four key members of the Crimson Cord turn and leave Soos, heading west toward Aeth.

They travel for about half a day, until the sun starts to set, and then camp for the night. The night passes without incident.

27 Changewind 508

They continue to travel west across the northern plains toward Aeth. The day passes quietly, as does the night.

28 Changewind 508

This afternoon, as they make their way west, they are met by a traveling smith, a dwarf by the name of Nimor Grayslate. He drives a square box-wagon hauled by a pair of cantankerous mules. He travels the north, mending various works of metal and performing other works of smithing for folks that may not have a smith in their village. He likes the travel, even if he doesn’t make much in the way of coin. It’s a living, which is more than some folks can say…

Mõrvar says to Surm, “Perhaps this dwarf can be of use with information on upcoming expeditions.”

“I really don’t see much opportunity with a traveling salesman. It’s not really something we should discuss with random people we meet in the wild.”

“Perhaps we should direct him to Soos, now they are preparing for war,” Mõrvar states. Mõrvar asks the dwarf, “What kind of materials do you have to forge?”

Nimor says, “Mostly pig iron, some steel, bits and pieces of other metals for mending.”

Surm waits impatiently.

Rolling his eyes at Surm, Mõrvar will say, “Soos might could use your craft.” Mõrvar will point the direction, and bid him good day.

Nimor shrugs and loads himself back into the wagon and trundles off toward Soos.

29 Changewind 508

Another quiet, cold day on the plains of Jossia

30 Changewind 508

They’ve now entered the wooded foothills of Grundr’s Teeth, the northern mountain range along Jossia’s western coast. It’s cold, as icy winds blow off of the mountains down into the foothills, though the large, evergreen trees act as somewhat of a break.

1 Awakening 509

They spend the first day of the new year traveling through the wooded foothills. It’s cold, but not as cold as it could be—or will be—when they travel more northerly still.

2 Awakening 509

They have now entered the mountains proper and are on their way to Aeth, which lies at the foot of Sigurthmun, the tallest peak in the known world.

They follow a little-used pass through the mountains that will take them to the foot of the great mountain. They are surrounded by the not-insignificant other mountains of the range as you pass through. Sheer cliffs enclose the pass like indomitable walls, broken only by the occasional shelf jutting out high above them.

As they travel through the pass, with Savaric scouting ahead, they all (except for Mõrvar, who’s busy brooding), see, up on one of the ridges above them, an 8’ long, 4 1/2’ tall white wolf, readying for a pounce. Savaric also sees a second large wolf on a ridge slightly ahead of them, also readying for a pounce.

Savaric shouts “Wolves!” as he looses a volley of arrows at the wolf directly above them. The arrows ignite as they leave his enchanted bow. After his first two shots, the wolf falls, then he turns and fires three more arrows into other wolf. That wolf turns tail and runs up into the ridge from which it came, disappearing from view into the cover of the crags.

Savaric attempts to climb the ridge to pursue the wolf, but has trouble gaining purchase. He lets everyone know that another wolf took off into the ridge, so keep their eyes peeled.

Mõrvar will confusingly say, “Wolves? Running away?" He looks around him, confused. “What it the hell are you talking about and why are you foolishly trying to climb that rock?” He is now looking at Savaric, still oblivious to everything that just happened. Mõrvar will then point to Ghost, “Your wolf is right there!”

After the party explains what happened, Mõrvar attempts to climb the ridge. Once he gets up there, he sees no sign of the wolf. He climbs down.

Savaric determines that these must have been Winter Wolves, a type of intelligent worg. What they were doing up here, he has no idea.

They decide to move on to Aeth.

They travel down the pass another couple of hours and then it narrows. At the end of the pass are two sentries and a banner depicting a black spear on a round shield with a red background—the banner of Aeth. Mõrvar and Surm ride forward to introduce themselves.

One of the sentries recognizes them as the Ulrich brothers. He allows them to enter with welcome. He also indicates that King Alrik is ailing. The other sentry clearly doesn’t recognize them.

As the two ride through the village, it has clearly been growing since they left. Buildings are being reinforced and there are more of them. They head for the King’s longhouse at the center of the village. When they arrive, they hear a voice call out behind them: “Well, what in the Underworld is this?”

They turn and see their brother, Ren, coming to greet them. After they embrace and hail each other, Ren inquires as to whether or not they have seen their mother yet. They say they have not, as they have business with the King. He urges them to do so as soon as they complete their business—she’d love to see them. Then he leaves them to it.

They are recognized by the sentry at the longhouse door and admitted inside. There are a couple of the local warriors conversing in the longhouse near the area that is the King’s residence. They look up as the Ulrich’s come in and great them with welcome. They discuss the King’s illness a bit with the warriors, who speculate that since he took a wound in their last battle, he simply hasn’t recovered due to his advanced age.

Surm knocks on the door and they hear the King call for them to enter. They see the once-hale man propped up in a great bed, looking much older than the last time they saw him. A pretty young woman sits nearby, knitting quietly.

Alrik greets the Ulrich’s warmly and bids them come closer. After they exchange pleasantries, Surm gets down to business. He tells them of their plans in Soos, of the raid against the frost giants, and the plan to unite the villages of the far north. He also tells him of their need to capture the Skull of the Viper God for their own purposes.

Alrik appreciates the audacity of the plan and the cunning of having their own motives coupled with those of their allies. He also likes the idea of Aeth participating—there will be much glory for the village. He tells Surm and Mõrvar to go to the people Aeth and ask for volunteers to go on the expedition. He would be willing to spare 50 of their warriors for the journey. Surm can tell that, despite the old man’s bluster, he is sad that he is too weak to go out and make the call himself.

After Surm and Mõrvar leave, they speculate on the nature on Alrik’s illness. Mõrvar is convinced foul play is involved. Surm is not so sure. They then head to their mother’s home.

Hilda Ulrich greets her sons warmly. Mõrvar acts awkwardly nonetheless. He did kill her husband, his father, after all. The three chat for a bit and they learn that Ren is doing well, even thriving, despite having lost his arm. This is largely due to the woman in his life, Sulva.

Meanwhile, Savaric and Rilka ride into the village and head toward the center. They are warmly greeted by the villagers they helped liberate.

That night, the village has a great feast in honor of the party’s homecoming. King Alrik is brought in and propped up in his great chair. The Crimson Cord is seated to his left and right. There is a skald present who retells the story of the village’s liberation at the hands of the party that is now known as the Crimson Cord. Plenty of mead is shared as well as good food.

When the proceedings start to lull, Alrik signals Surm and he rises and gets the attention of the room. He then makes his proposition regarding the frost giant raid. He speaks of the glory to be had in the expedition, the success rate of the Crimson Cord, the partnership and bravery of the Soodthyngs, and the ability to boast of slaying frost giants.

After he is finished, a burly, slightly drunk warrior stands, holding onto the long table. “I, Karthan, will go.”

A woman rises. “I, Brythia, will go.”

In all, 57 Aethyngs stand up.

Alrik nods his approval to the party and the celebration begins in earnest again.

Soon, the King starts to fade a little and a couple of warriors nod to each other in understanding. They rise and lead the King out of the main hall and gently guide him back to his residence area.

The party approaches the village’s priest of Yülthn and consult with him about the King’s illness. He confirms the speculation of the warriors that spoke earlier—he took an injury in a previous raid and never quite recovered from it, probably because he is quite old. Yülthn could probably heal him, but the priest would need to have a hundred gold pieces worth of diamond dust to complete the ritual—which is more than this poor village can afford.

Surm takes the party aside and presents a plan. He wants to use their greater teleport scrolls to teleport to Kalimsport, get the needed components, and teleport back. While in the city, he can purchase another set of greater teleport scrolls to use as their contingency plan in the frost giant stronghold. It’s an expensive proposition, but will buy them a lot of goodwill in Aeth,. The party decides to go for it. They will do so first thing in the morning, before the volunteers gather to march to Soos.

The party separates to their respective places to spend the night in the village.

3 Awakening 509

Early the next morning, Surm and Savaric use the greater teleport scroll to travel to the campus of the University of Kalimsport. They then travel to the Bank of Kalimsport and withdraw some funds. Then, to a scriptorium to purchase two more greater teleport scrolls. Next, they go to the market and purchase the diamond dust spell component. Savaric makes a stop off to buy more arrows. They then find a secluded spot in the city from which they can make their return to Aeth.

Meanwhile, the volunteers begin to gather at the village center. After a series of boring speeches wishing the volunteers well and praising their bravery, Surm and Savaric make their arrival and head to the King’s longhouse. They grab the priest of Yülthn along the way.

They give the priest the diamond dust he needs and they go in to visit the King. The King wonders why they aren’t out seeing the volunteers off and Surm says that it would be better if the King did that. The King demurs, citing his health. Then the priest comes forward and completes his restoration prayer. Immediately, the King looks more hale and smiles, saying that perhaps he could come out and see them out after all.

King Alrik comes out and greets the volunteers, to many cheers and bellows of “Hail King Alrik!” He gives them a rousing speech and the column starts heading out of Aeth, east, toward Soos.

10 Awakening 509

After nearly a week of travel, the only thing of note this day is that the party see a great eagle flying overhead. Is it an omen? It is difficult to say. The column moves on…

11 Awakening 509

This evening, as the party makes camp, Savaric finds a holy symbol of Jörn buried in the earth where he is helping to pitch the tent. After the initial panic and wild speculations, the party decides to keep it and Mõrvar puts it in his backpack.

13 Awakening 509

As the party is making camp on this night, Surm encounters a hidden bear camp in the area. He disarms it and casts it aside.

14 Awakening 509

The column from Aeth finally makes it to the village of Soos. There are other encampments established outside of the village proper, flying a variety of war banners.

It is decided that Surm and an Aethyng named Brythia will represent Aeth in the war council being gathered in Soos.

Surm and Brythia head into the longhouse where the leaders of the other clans have gathered. After a couple of hours, a plan of action is formed: The war bands will attack the harbor at Jarlheim head-on while the Crimson Cord, with an elite team of Aethyng warriors, depart during the chaos, and try to (1) cripple the heart of the frost giants by taking on their leadership and taking their war banner and (2) find the artifact that they are looking for. Surm is able to sell the other war leaders on the Crimson Cord portion of the plan and they agree. They are to leave at first light in the morning.

Before bedding down for the night, the elite squad of Aethyngs are selected: Karlthar, Dagmar, Svenlars, Wulfram, Tjarl, Hrolf, and Larna.

15 Awakening 509

The ships of the united coalition of Northron villages sets off from Soos toward Jarlheim at first light.

That night, one of the warriors on the crew of the longship spots an approaching craft. As the rest of the crew witnesses its approach, cries of fear begin to go up. The ship is a longship, constructed in the Northron style, but made entirely of bones. It cuts through the cold waters slowly, but inexorably, toward the gathered coalition. As more warriors gaze upon it, more cries of fear and calls that it is a “bad omen” go up.

For it’s part, the ship itself poses no other threat than its eerie presence. No undead warriors or monstrous threats appear on its shadowy decks. It just slowly passes by, bringing despair and consternation in its wake. Savaric is not immune to the fear the ghost ship cause and is shaken by it, himself.

Finally, the ship of bones passes into the night. Kremlach does what he can to restore order and morale on the ship, but some of the warriors are shaken by the sight of the apparition.

16 Awakening 509

A sudden blizzard blows up on the water, blinding the navigator and slowing all of the ships as they cut their way through the Swordwind Sea to the north. After a few hours, it abates and the ships continue on their way toward Jarlheim.

17 Awakening 509

After a day of high winds, which accelerated the fleet toward its destination, the coalition of Northron raiders see the harbor of the frost giant settlement.

The Northron ships begin to ship into the narrow harbor of the city. The ship from Soos veers toward the east so that they can deposit the Crimson Cord and their elite Aethyngs away from the main force.

As they approach, they see three frost giant warriors on the shore. Savaric begins firing at them as soon as he gets within longbow range. He fires an impressive volley of arrows and one of the giants falls.

View
Session Fifty-Eight
Northward Bound

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16 Changewind 508

In one of Lord Cannach’s drawing rooms, the principals of the Crimson Cord gather to discuss the day’s activities. Rilka begins.

“It’s been an interesting morning. I did have a letter waiting for me from Mirka. She found homes for both of the children in Yrda.” Rilka smiles and adds, “And she sends her greeting to you, Savaric.”

Rilka passes around the letter.

Dear Rilka,

I am pleased to hear that you are doing well and that the Gods continue to work through you. Bruni has truly found a worthy servant.

I have spoken with two families here in Yrda and persuaded them to take on the children in question. Surna Brunosdottir is a fine woman with a strong backbone who will be up to the challenge. Kila Stromsdottir is another fine woman with a large heart who will also be a fine mother to one of these unfortunate orphans.

Fortunately for these babes, this village has had our example to lead the way against prejudice to allow them to have a home here. That, and Ulfethinn has lent thunder to my voice and squelched any doubts these women may have had along the way. Regardless, the deals have been struck and the children will have a home waiting for them in Yrda.

Will your group be bringing the children yourselves or will you be sending them another way? It will be good to see you. The village is thriving under Sigurd’s leadership. We are at peace—fortunately there has been no retaliation as yet from the Jörnites, but we are ever-vigilant.

May the gods bless your journeys. Say hello to Savaric for me.

With joy,

—Mirka

“Sounds like she looks forward to your next encounter, Savaric," Mõrvar says teasingly. “Perhaps we should stop by and see how they are doing in Yrda anyway.”

Surm says, “Well, thank you for sharing your letter with us, Rilka, I’m glad Mirka was able to make arrangements for the orphans.”

“While in the city, I was able to purchase two scrolls of ‘Greater Teleport’, it seemed smart to have a back-up. I assume see you and Mõrvar are without your swords that ‘flames’ are being added? Two day wait? When we pick up the weapons we can purchase more rations, we are not out yet, but I prefer to stock up before we head North.”

“One other thing for the group to think about, I’ve considered the option of not taking our men North of Jossia. Since, worst case scenario we cannot guarantee their escape, we should leave them behind. Perhaps we attempt to organize a raid and sign on with one of the raiding crews.”

“Yes, we delivered them to be worked on, however,” Mõrvar is obviously frustrated, “We had to take them to different shops, and I would not be surprised if I have issues with the shop I took Deathblow to.”

Rilka looks squarely at Mõrvar. “Well, as I gathered from the kinds of questions you had to ask to find someone who could even pick up your sword, you may very well have issues. What exactly have you done to Deathblow? Judging from the reaction of the first tradesman, it’s not pleasant. If one of us had accidentally touched it, would we have been harmed as well?”

“Harmed by touching it?!? What exactly happened at the shop?” Surm asks.

“Nothing any different than touching Savaric’s ring does to us,” Mõrvar looks offended. “My sword is aligned in unison to me, just as Savaric’s ring is to him, just as that miserable scabbard presumably is to that Paladin.” Mõrvar turns to Rilka. “Hold Savaric’s ring, and I’m sure that’s what the shop keeper felt. The magic and its tuning is too much for you to want to bear as Deathblow most likely was for him.” Raising an eyebrow at Savaric as if a thought just came to him, “Though, it probably wouldn’t bother Savaric.”

“Hmm, this makes me even more curious to what work has been done to the sword. Are you saying your sword has consciousness like Ilona or that paladin’s scabbard?” Savaric asks.

“Yes, he does, why?” Mõrvar asks. “This is the whole reason I constructed him; to serve me when blood is to be shed. He has multiple abilities to aid me. Soon, he better have flame as well. If we would have known we were doing this before we left Kalimsport, I would have had my contact take care of this there, and this non-issue wouldn’t be an issue.”

Rilka says, “The issue is that you didn’t tell anyone what you did. If you’ve created a sentient magic weapon that is aligned to you, for the protection of us all, we needed to know that. What if we needed to visit a Temple of Skondir to obtain more information about the Heart of the World? What if we needed to seek healing or restoration from priests of Halor or Cereth? We would have been taken completely unaware by their reaction to Deathblow. At best, that’s how trouble gets started, and at the worst, people get hurt.”

Mõrvar looks dumbfounded,“You mean to tell me that if there was an issue with me walking into the doors of a Skondor temple, it would be because of Deathblow? You don’t think it would be because of me? I am not sure how that makes any sense. The only way that Deathblow would be an issue is if A) they touched him, which won’t happen, or B) they do a detection of alignment of some sort, in which Deathblow would be the least if our issues. I really don’t understand why this is such a huge issue with you, and it’s very offensive.” Mõrvar looks hurt. “You act as if I don’t take things into consideration when in reality, I consider everything. I already took precautions if I need to conceal Deathblow. I already considered situations that puts me around those jackasses who think their holier than everyone else and their shit smells like roses. This is why several times I’ve said we need to be discreet with the Heart quest, and find inside contacts, not try and make a deal for it. They won’t give us the time of day anyway. It’s a fucking Dwarven secret we aren’t even supposed to know.” Mõrvar is getting frustrated, “What the hell has happened to you guys? Why the fuck do you care about all of these other people and how they might feel about us? Where were they when our parents turned their backs on us? Where were they when inns didn’t want to accept us because we were half-breeds? Where were they when Aeth and Yrda were taken by war lords? Who stopped the blood beast from murdering people? Who destroyed the lich? Sure, the Bronze Dragons helped with the rescue, but we could have done that without them. Hell, I would have preferred it that way. Then I could have gotten rid of that arrogant scabbard. Instead, one day it may become an issue for us, or at least me, if we ever cross paths again.” Mõrvar at this point is turning red with anger. “What fucking happened to us?”

Mõrvar looks at Surm as he calms himself, “Who stopped Father from killing you for something that wasn’t your fault? Who has been there EVERY time you have been in trouble?” He then looks at Savaric. “Who put their life on the line with no help when the lich polymorphed you, to protect you from what he might do next?” He turns to Rilka. “Who stood with you while you buried your stepfather wishing his own biological father loved him even half as much?” Talking to all of them, he says “Who always puts themselves between you and danger, regardless of the odds or threat with no regard to his own well-being?” Looking a little detached, “Yet you constantly question my motives and intentions and now even care more about what others might think or how they might react to you than you do about me.”

Rilka holds up her hand. “Before you start yelling at everyone in this room, I was the one who said there was an issue. Not Savaric. Not your brother. If you have a problem with what I said, then lay it at my feet. Don’t attack them because you’re angry. I strive very hard to protect our group from danger. It is my calling and I have been blessed by Bruni to have some talent in this matter. So, I am concerned when I believe that our actions, or even inaction, threaten that protection. What happened today was a shock. The situation was one that could have caused problems for us all if that sword came in contact with the wrong person. You said you’ve already taken precautions to conceal Deathblow, so you also knew that possibility existed. Why didn’t you then think to mention its existence to anyone else? To us, the very people who fight side by side with you?”

Mõrvar replies, “We went to see a tradesman whose job includes the same making items such as Deathblow. I didn’t break any laws, I didn’t threaten him, I didn’t rob him, I wasn’t even rude to him. It’s not a crime to have a difference in beliefs. I did nothing to harm him, and Deathblow did nothing to harm him either. In what situation would any of this get us ‘into trouble?’ There is no reason to have to tell you what I do or how I spend my money, or what abilities my weapon has. Someone else coming in contact with Deathblow is not different than if I were to have come into contact with that stupid fucking scabbard, or Savaric’s ring. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean I have anything against the person who owns or wields it, unless of course that item or weapon is a holy item that’s purpose is to destroy me and my kind. Deathblow isn’t a holy weapon and has no specific purpose other than to aide me when it’s time to fight. There is nothing about him wrong, or unethical regardless how you may feel. Now, if the time comes I decide to give Deathblow a purpose, then, yes, I believe I would have an obligation to alert you before I did so because then his chosen purpose could potentially impede us on something we may be trying to accomplish. For example, if his chosen purpose was to kill all paladins, then you would need to know that so that it would never be a good idea for me to walk into a temple full of paladins, unless of course we were there to kill them anyway. However, that isn’t the case, he doesn’t have a specific purpose, there is nothing wrong, unethical, or even harmful about him unless of course he’s being wielded in combat, then the harmful part is a different story. Rilka, I love you. You are my sister. You are my family, more so than any other bloodline relative other than Surm. I trust you. I have no idea what you have spent your money on to better prepare yourself for combat, and I don’t believe you need to tell me either, unless what you have done has a similar affect to what I just described about an item or weapon with special purposes. For all I know your falchion could be an intelligent weapon, and I could care less unless it had a specific purpose. I trust you and trust that you would understand that, just like I expect you to trust me. Never have I put us in a situation that put this family into harm’ way, at least not that I know of. I still haven’t either. The paladin from the Bronze Griffons and I have very different views on life, morals, and values, yet we worked together. I don’t have a problem with him, unless he makes me his problem. I hate his scabbard but that doesn’t make me hate him. And I would like to point out the only reason I hate that stupid fucking scabbard is because it’s an ungrateful, disrespectful, mouthy asshole. So, again, I don’t really understand why you are so upset. Would you feel the same if I was a paladin and he was a holy weapon? Would we be having this same conversation?” Mõrvar stands waiting for an answer.

Rilka returns his look. “You didn’t answer my question. You took precautions to conceal your sword. You knew it could cause trouble for our group. Why didn’t you say anything to us?”

“I did answer you! He is only an issue because you are making it an issue. There is no reason for him to cause us trouble. Again, he isn’t a holy or unholy artifact. He doesn’t have a special purpose to kill or destroy specific people or religions. He is no different than any other magical item we have other than he has awareness around he and I that benefits me in combat. When I say I took precautions to conceal him if needed, I am not talking about his abilities, I mean him, all together. Never will I have to walk into a place that wants us to hand over our weapons and be without mine again! I could be carrying him right now and not a single person in this room would know or be able to detect him as long as I was alive. As a matter of fact, once I earned a bit more coin, I was going to surprise you all with weapons that I could keep concealed for you in the same event that we enter an area that doesn’t allow weapons so that none of us are ever without the ability to defend ourselves again. Now, you haven’t answered my question: if I were a paladin, and he was a holy sword, would we still be having this same conversation? Or, is the answer no, because that would be the acceptable status quo as to where I am not?” Mõrvar is staring a very daring stare right into Rilka’s eyes.

Surm interjects, “How exactly are you able to conceal him? I would like an explanation of that especially in the scenario you describe – we are ordered to hand over our weapons – and you plan to disobey that order, then you put us all at risk. Now my safety is contingent on your ability to conceal your weapon, so, I want to know exactly what magic or ability you claim to have that I am putting my trust in.”

Mõrvar will smile, at Surm, turn to Savaric and say, “Savaric, I think we all would agree that your ring being an intelligent item, would give off a very powerful magic radiation, agreed? Will you allow me to use her, and your powerful magic bow, for a very quick demonstration? I promise on my life nothing ill will come to either one of them.” Mõrvar stands holding his hand out.

Ilona says in Savaric’s mind : I don’t want to go! I don’t like him and I want to stay with you!

Savaric hands over his bow and says, “Ilona doesn’t want to be apart of the demonstration."

Mõrvar, with a bit of frustration, says, “Very well, doesn’t really matter, I just wanted to demonstrate that it matters not how powerful of magic the item is.” Mõrvar removes his masterwork leather backpack bearing the Ulrich sigil.

Mõrvar opens the backpack, then reaches inside as if opening something else, and then simply slips the entire bow into the pack. Mõrvar follows that up by taking off his ring of protection, Belt of Giant Strength, and Cloak of Resistance and places every bit of it into the backpack. He then seems to seal something in the backpack up, closes the pack, and with a huge smile on his face says, “That should be enough magic to make it highly detectable.” He then tosses the backpack to Surm and says, “There, brother, find the items, or even just detect the magic of the items that are in the bag. If any of you can, I will give you 100 GP each. Go ahead, detect magic, search it.”

He then states, “As long as I am alive, only I can access it’s contents. Detect Magic and Identify will not even penetrate the bag. All items I just placed in it are completely undetectable, even if somehow in some way someone actually finds a way to detect magic on the actual backpack, which is very unlikely. I have tried to find a way for all of us to be able to access the contents, but so far, I haven’t found a way yet.”

Mõrvar then sits, crosses his legs, and just smiles.

Rilka, who has been observing the demonstration, just shakes her head. “Mõrvar, you were the one who began this entire conversation by saying that there may be trouble because the nature of your sword required you to take it a disreputable shop. By your very words, you prove my point.”

“But to answer your question. If you were a paladin and you created a sentient holy sword without telling anyone, I would still have an issue. We were just in an city of drow. An entire civilization of evil creatures. Carrying around a powerful sword that radiated good could have easily caused trouble for us.”

“You are the alignment that you are. As am I. These are things we know and can account for when deciding what best course of action we should take. What battles we should fight. What paths we should choose. But even now, your very attitude about this conversation makes me wonder if you intentionally disregard the potential impact of your decisions or you really just don’t understand.”

Mõrvar says, “If Saveric took his ring to the half-orc that has my sword, he would respond the same way as the tradesman responded to my sword, yet we don’t seem to have a problem with Savaric’s ring. My sword does not radiate holy or unholy, even in a temple of paladins or antipaladins. It is no different than I am, probably does not even radiate as strongly as I would. The same tradesman we took your sword to may even react the same way to Savaric’s ring. I know that both Surm and I did. And it bothers me that you call the entire underworld of drow evil. That is a very generic and blanket statement. I am willing to bet you that the majority of those people are not so different than us. Born into circumstances and adapting to survive in them. This thought of Good and Evil is just really fucking stupid to me. What makes some ass wipe who worships some god that the general public thinks is some goody two-shoe better than someone like me who sees no “god” worth following in my eyes? Does that make them better than me? Because for some reason they are put on a pedestal as some great person who stands for the people, they should get better treatment than someone like me who thinks their shit stinks like everyone else? I’m fairly confident in making the statement I have had more than my share of playing hero and saving people. All four of us here have. Just because someone claims to be a good guy doesn’t mean they are any better than me. Hell, half of them probably were not born in the same circumstances Surm and I had to deal with. I am willing to bet that the “Good Guys” in the north where we are from are more in tune to yours and Surm’s beliefs than many of these people here. Does that mean these “Good Guys” are better than the North’s “Good Guys?” It’s all a matter of perspective, beliefs, values. My values and beliefs which Deathblow is in tune with are obviously different than the guy we went to first. In another area of the world, the half-orc may be the norm, and the other guy might be the shady guy we have to find. Does that make these people here better than those people there? If you start talking about religious practices and beliefs, then I could see a valid argument from you, because now you’re aligning with deities. If I come across someone from Jörn, you can bet your ass I am going to kill the evil slimy bastard. I trust your Bruni more than I would ever trust those fucking pricks. Why? Because they tried to fuck me. The Bronze Griffons religious practice, no idea, and could care less. I’d work with them again, have no problem with them, and understand that they most likely have a different philosophy than I do. Now, might have problems with them because of that fucking scabbard. it would probably push me past my boiling point listening to his fucking BS. Hell, I rank that scabbard right there with Jörn as my favorites to hate – ungrateful piece of shit. My point is, if anyone is going to have a problem with my sword, then they already have a problem with me. I am willing to bet we have more items between us than my sword that could cause us just as many “problems” or “hassles” that we don’t even know or think about. So, again, why this is such a big deal to you is beyond me. Just because someone doesn’t like it doesn’t make it wrong, illegal, bad, evil, or give cause for someone to have to “take action” or put us in a situation. If that was the case, everywhere we went we would have issues, because I guarantee you that every inn we go into, every tavern we visit, every city we enter has many more people and items with much more extreme philosophies then us, and they seem to live side by side every day."

Rilka speaks very slowly, choosing her words carefully. “Mõrvar, as much as you want it to be otherwise, this is not a conversation about good, evil, or valuing one person’s beliefs over another. This is about protecting the group. This is about knowing what may put us in danger in any particular situation. This is about understanding that decisions made by one of us might impact everyone. Clearly, this is not what you want to hear right now. I can only pray that you will take what I’ve said to heart.”

Mõrvar says, “Rilka, what you’re saying is that everyone of us should know every thing each other is carrying. As I stated before, something you think may have potential harm to the group I, or the rest of the group might not. Likewise, something I, or the rest of the group might think is harmful to the group, you might not. Therefore, what you’re saying is that we all need to know every little thing that everyone of us is carrying at all times.”

Mõrvar looks at the other two. “So, does anyone else agree with this? Do we need to take a vote that we all need to share every single item we are carrying with us at all times and have absolutely no secrets about it from each other, ever? This would even include exactly how many coins and what variety of coins we are carrying. If someone knows that one of us is carrying a large amount of platinum, it could cause us trouble with a bandit raid.” Mõrvar then pauses, “I guess this would include all members of the Crimson Cord, including our soldiers. Does anyone here know what they may have bought with their money that might cause us trouble?”

Meanwhile, Surm has cast detect magic on the backpack and discerned no magical aura. Looking inside, he only sees a Water skin, 2 smooth waxed stones, 50 feet of knotted rope, a grapple, 4 days of trail rations, a bedroll, and a blanket. No sign of the items that his brother has just placed inside the pack.

Rilka glances at Surm and Savaric and shrugs. “If you wish to continue this conversation, then I will do so. However, I believe that it has gone as far as it can.”

Mõrvar again turns to Surm, “Any luck there brother? I didn’t think so. So, to answer your question, yes, I totally plan to be prepared when someone won’t let us in somewhere armed, or asks us to hand them our weapons. Of course, if it’s city watch or something that takes all of our stuff, that’s a different story, but I have been considering doing the same thing to a pocket in a pair of pants. It’s just terribly expensive to do what I had done to that backpack.”

Surm says, “I guess I can see Mõrvar’s point of everyone not needing to constantly update each other of every little thing we do. However, I don’t understand your reluctance to explain what was done now that you’ve been asked? Why is it still such a guarded secret?"

“Whether or not you, Mõrvar, think we should be concerned about what was done, whatever happened at the Craftsman shop and the subsequent Craftsman of questionable ethics (even you suggested he may cause you problems when you go to retrieve the sword) has given Rilka reason to worry. But rather than explain what you had done, you continue to keep it a secret and just get angry because you feel like she doesn’t trust you. But, you display your unwillingness to trust us by not divulging the information when requested. It makes me concerned that if you feel the need to keep it a secret when asked, and you felt the need to develop a special backpack to hide it, that it is something we should be worried about, otherwise, why hide its abilities from us?"

“You keep comparing it to Savaric’s ring, but we’ve met the personality of the ring and are aware of its capabilities. Savaric also doesn’t feel the need to hide her abilities from us. Make your ‘its the same thing’ argument ring true, and let us know what Deathblow’s abilities are and pass him over so we can meet this new personality that is traveling with us. Because, if he is sentient as you say, he has a personality. I don’t think its unfair to ask to meet a new member of the group.”

“Also, what did you do for this backpack, or is that a carefully guarded secret as well?”

Savaric says, “I agree with Surm, I don’t feel it’s necessary that we all update each other on everything we are doing, but it’s obvious why Rilka is concerned about it. I’m just tired of all the secrets. Why are there so many side bars between individuals in the group. If we are family, when is anyone hiding secrets, why is it such an issue to be open and honest about what’s going on in our personal time? No, I don’t want to hear about the gooey details of Rilka and Kortash, that’s reasonably personal if she doesn’t want to share; but you did spend a large amount of coin to keep this a secret from everyone, including us.”

“Deathblow very much enjoys the thought of blood running down his blade. He is still learning that there is more to surviving than just killing whoever is in your way, or who you don’t like, but at this early point in his awareness, that’s what he looks forward to. His conscience is his newest ability, so he is still really in his infancy of the learning process. Because of this, I was careful when constructing him not to allow him to have such an ego that he could wield himself. Therefore that is not an issue. He isn’t strong enough to just lunge out and hit someone, unless of course a mindless zombie is wielding him I guess,” Mõrvar chuckles.

He continues, “I only allowed him the ability to communicate telepathically because you do not know what kind of personality you’re going to get, regardless of how you’re aligned. You can thank that arrogant scabbard for that. I didn’t want to create something that could cause us problems by voicing opinions or threats for all to hear, so that isn’t a problem.”

Mõrvar begins to grin, “And though I find conversations with him….mmmm…rather enjoyably humorous, once he became aware, it didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that until he does learn, conversations with you (looking at Surm) and Rilka would probably not be pleasant experiences for either of you (referring to them and the blade). I have no issue with you meeting him when I get him back, at this point, though, I believe that neither of you two will want to be in contact with him for very long for two reasons. The first, because I believe you will feel the drain such as we did with Savaric’s ring. Secondly, because he is very blunt, and will most likely tell you that you are not worthy to wield him and demand you put him down. Until he learns more, I can see him being a bit abrasive toward you. For this reason I figured it wasn’t time yet. As far as Savaric, I doubt there will be any issues between the two of them, though I am not sure how good of an idea it would be for Savaric to possess both the ring and the sword at the same time. But, again, for these reasons I didn’t say anything as of yet, and still, not an issue. I mean seriously, when is the last time anyone of you ever even touched him? Wait, I can answer that, never.” Mõrvar says with the very slightest sarcasm.

Mõrvar then describes Deathblow and his various abilities.

Mõrvar follows up by saying, “I will say that you would appreciate Deathblow doesn’t want anything to do with the Dragon Orb either. And I have been considering all that was said in our last conversation about it. That’s all I want to say for now about the Orb. Just let me think on it some more. Good points were brought up and I just want some time to consider them.”

“Now, as far as my backpack,” Mõrvar begins to stretch a large grin across his face. “Intriguing isn’t it?” He says as he looks at Surm. “So to answer your question brother, yes, I have full intentions on being prepared and the ability to be armed even when we enter a place that wants us to be disarmed, or anytime anyone asks us to hand our weapons over. Of course, if it is a city watch or someone else taking all of our stuff, that is a different situation. I have actually considered having a pair of pants made with a pocket that does the same thing just in case of a situation such as that, however what I did to that backpack is extremely expensive to do.”

With a victorious, “point-proven,” smile, Mõrvar begins to explain, “Outside of being a masterwork backpack that perfectly centers the weight of the bag, it also has concealed within it another pocket, very hard to find. It is called a “Bag of Concealment” and even if the concealed pocket is found, it appears only as a concealed pocket. Only I can access the pocket and retrieve the true contents. Even if by some measure, someone was to figure out the bag itself was magical, they could only detect the magic of the bag, and the contents within would still be undetectable. Therefore, regardless, no one but I could, or would ever know, what contents are hidden within the pouch.” He continues, “I have searched for ways to allow more than one person to be ‘keyed’ to the contents of the bag, however I have been unsuccessful. As long as I am alive, only I can gain access to the contents. There is not other way for anyone else to do so, unless I willingly gave up the connection to someone else, but then I would lose the ability to gain access. The only other way is if I were to die, then the next person to claim the bag would be the one connected to it.”

Mõrvar then states, “What is amazing about this concealed space is that, much like Surm’s bag of holding, it can hold a lot of stuff. The mouth of the concealed pocket can expand up to 4 times it’s size to allow large items to be pushed in. I may have picked a bad location for the pouch, not considering whether or not I could access the hidden compartment and utilize the expanding ability. The space within however is 70 cubic feet and can hold up to 500 lbs. of weight.”

Mõrvar continues, “This allows us to greatly increase our carrying capacity, and have whatever we are carrying completely undetectable by anyone else. I was waiting for the right time to show you guys, and as the situation presented itself, here it is. If I had the coin, I would have made one for each of you, however, this is the most expensive thing I have ever purchased—even more so than the 9,000 plus I have put into Deathblow.”

“So, what do you think?” He asks with confidence.

Surm says, “I am confused why you think Deathblow would be a ‘drain’ on Rilka and I, but not to Savaric. Last I heard, you and Savaric were not in tune, unless Ilona accepts you as a wearer and I didn’t realize it? Seems strange that Deathblow is tuned to you and Savaric, but Ilona is only tuned to Savaric.”

“Two, based on the information you just gave us, you would’ve been smarter to share from the beginning. Now Rilka’s concerns are legitimized. If there were a situation in which you fell unconscious and someone, me for example, had to pick up your sword, then felt the drain and the telepathic verbal assault. I may have tossed it aside as being cursed, since the experience would have been unexpected and I would have expected that you would have warned me of the changes. Without warning of what to expect, there is no way to predict my reaction. It would have been molded by the situation. You may have taken other people’s reactions into consideration, but you did not consider every possibility. More than putting the group at risk, you risked losing your new precious sword. Just understand, keeping big secrets like this is risky. Its impossible for you alone to predict every circumstance, that is why we are a group. If you are going to keep things from the group, don’t be surprised when we are unprepared to help with whatever situation may arise simply because we were uninformed. In my theoretical scenario, I may have caused you to lose your new sword simply because I didn’t know you made the changes. Keep us out of the loop, we can’t help you.”

Surm also reflects on his knowledge of the arcane and comes to the conclusion that such a bag would have been constructed through the use of spells like magic aura, fabricate, and secret chest.

Rilka speaks up again. “Mõrvar, I do appreciate you sharing this with us. My hope is that you are upfront about such things moving forward. Right now, it feels like we are only having this conversation because you got caught.”

She glances at the backpack, “I would also advise against putting your sword inside if someone asks us to hand over our weapons. At that point, if we’re not turning our weapons over, we’re preparing for a fight. And if you decide to magically hide your weapon while the rest of us are turning ours over, it will go poorly for all of us.”

Mõrvar says, “To answer your first question. You and Rilka tend to be very structured. Without structure and whatever sense of code you go by, you both become edgy. Also, you both tend to try to maintain a sense of balance in everything we do. I on the other hand, see structure can be beneficial at times, but there are other times where that structure is a hindering, and gets in the way of efficient progress. Unlike you, I don’t have patience for a lot of the stupid shit people do. I realize I am a bit more temperamental then you two are, but some shit just gets annoying. Savaric on the other hand, well, he seems to just go whatever direction the wind is blowing. Have you ever seen Savaric not get along with someone? Of the four of us, I believe Savaric may be the only one of us that would fit in with whomever he is around, regardless of their beliefs. Deathblow may not be super excited to be within his possession, but I get the feeling he wouldn’t mind it either.”

“To answer your second thought, what is the likelihood we would ever be in a position where I fell unconscious, and we were in a situation where you couldn’t get me up then and there, and had the safety to grab me and my belongings? Let’s be quite honest, if we were ever in a situation in which I fell, and you couldn’t get me up there, then there is probably more to worry about then whether or not you recover any dropped items. If I fall in combat, and you can’t get me back up and we are in a situation where you have to grab me and run, you’re not going to have time to grab my sword, and there is a good chance I, or we, are dead anyway.”

“As for putting my sword in my bag if someone ask for it, Rilka, I don’t think you understand what I mean. If we are going to enter a temple or we are going into an place where we expect that, my hammer will be all they see me carrying. It would be completely ignorant for me to do something like that in front of them. Where would that make sense? The point is for them to not have an idea. Otherwise, everyone and their dog will know my backpack is magical. Not what I want.”

“As for your comment Rilka, this is a prime example of having to have this structure, or control over knowing. The time would have eventually come, however I didn’t feel the time was now. His awareness is still pretty new, and I am still trying to help him adjust, and learn there is more to life/awareness than hack and slash. Sometimes those whose views we don’t agree with can still be allies and help serve our own interest. Likewise, sometimes those whose views we agree with are sometimes the very ones that need to be disposed of because they are the ones who are impeding us. He still has to learn and understand that. Regardless what you think about me not telling you, the fact is, I didn’t think it that big of deal and saw no reason to bring it up at this point. In the future, perhaps once his reasoning begins to take shape, sure. If the time came I decided to give him a special purpose, then definitely. Now, with what he is, not a big deal. You say the only reason we are having this conversation is because I got ‘caught’. I really don’t give a shit that you were there to learn. I am frustrated that I had to go find someone else when I could have easily had this taken care of in Kalimsport with no trouble at all if we had known we were going to do this to begin with. I understand plans were not prepared then, but I am not one who likes to just find someone to toy with something I have put a lot of time, money and effort into without knowing who the fuck they are. Truth is, the only reason why we are having this discussion is because you had an issue with something I still believe isn’t an issue, for all of the reasons I have stated previously."

Mõrvar then looks sternly at all three of them, “I have never lied to any of you. I have never tried to deceive you in any way. I would like for any of you to think of one time, just one time where I intentionally lied to you. No doubt there are times where we have had miscommunication or misunderstandings in which we gave each other corrupted or completely wrong information by mistake, I think we can all agree those things happen. What I am saying, is name ONE TIME I have ever intentionally and maliciously lied to any of you. When I say this whole situation to me, in my mind, was a non-issue, I fucking mean it. Name just one time, and I will remove myself from ever having a vote again in the Crimson Cord because then obviously I am just a lying son of a bitch who hides important information like items I possess from the rest of the group with the least care how it effects them, thus I don’t have the best interest of the Cord in my heart and shouldn’t have the right to vote. Hell, I’ll even remove myself from the Cord if that’s what you want.” Mõrvar’s voice, obviously frustrated and angered, begins to rise, “PLEASE, JUST NAME ONE FUCKING TIME!”

Surm says, “Mõrvar, this behavior, right now, is where the concern comes from. You are currently standing there, angry and cussing us, your family, over what? An imagined slight! Nobody called you a liar! The conversation was quite calm for a moment. I gave an opinion that you rejected. Rilka an opinion that you rejected. Nobody yelled at you, got angry, or cussed out. And nobody called you a liar.”

“Yet, somehow, that’s where you’ve taken this and have become irrationally angry. So, I think the concern for us is not lying, it’s questionable judgement on your part. When you act like this, unprovoked, over some insult that only exists in your mind, it shows you do not have a level head that thinks things out completely. So when you’ve made mysterious alterations to your sword and are acting secretive about it, but then demand that we trust you, that you’ve taken all precautions, I think of the way you are acting now and have so many times in the past. You show time and time again that calm, rational thought is not your strong suit. And as much as you claim to have our best interest in mind, you are quick to lash out in anger against us.”

“Everyone has flaws, and two of yours are rashness and arrogance. Two qualities that have lead you to make bad decisions that have created problems for the group as a whole in the past. If you’re honest about the past, then you should easily understand why we’re guarded.”

“So, you have a choice; accept that we have different opinions than you and recognize nobody made any demands of you, only made our preferences known and you have the option of respecting them or rejecting them. Or, stubbornly stand your ground now, and challenge me to ‘name one time I caused the group trouble’, and deal with the fallout of that conversation. But we don’t have to go there. I’d rather not, but I will if you want me to. I prefer we end this conversation before it gets worse.”

Mõrvar, who is visibly upset, returns all of the items that were in his bag. Looking at Savaric, he says, “As I promised, no ill would come to it.”

Looking at the group, he then states, “If you have a weapons or gear you want stored in my bag for one of those occasions, it would be a good idea to get it to me before we leave the confines of our ally to head North on our journey.”

Mõrvar then simply gathers his things and heads towards the door.

No one stops him and he leaves.

Surm turns to the others and says that something that Savaric said earlier stuck with him. About not having any secrets. So reveals that he had the sages at the University there in Aldasar working on family trees for himself and Mõrvar. They trace their lineage back to the lich, Ulrich of Barth, whom the Crimson Cord killed her some months back. Surm was embarrassed and ashamed to admit the connection.

Rilka reassured him that no one can choose their bloodline or their progenitors. But you can choose your family. And that who are is dictated by what you do, not by your blood. So Surm shares the large parchments mapping out the bloodlines of the sons of Ulrich and some of the highlights of the information he has learned of their lines, such as the tragedies that have befallen those of his own line and the fact that it also spawned a legendary paladin.

They also discuss whether or not they wish to take the guardsmen to the far north to face the Frost Giants and how they want to handle the escort of the half-orc orphans back to Yrda. After some debate, they decide to leave the guards behind after they know where to go to find the Frost Giants. The guards could work with Lord Cannach or find other work until it is time to pick up the babies in the month of Ardor. Then they’ll travel to Kalimsport and Asdari to pick up the children, with or without their mothers, to return to Yrda. Mahgnus will see to all the arrangements and Alasir will command the troops.

Surm calls Mahgnus and Alasir in and explains the plan to them. They agree to it and Alasir vows that it will be done as they say.

Surm, Rilka, and Savaric then go to Mõrvar’s room to explain the plan to him. Mõrvar’s only concern is that if there is a land-born way to access the Frost Giants, then they should keep the guards in play. Surm says that they know this isn’t the case, but does agree they need more information before they cut ties with the guards just yet. So, the Cord is in agreement that they will set the guard loose before taking on the Frost Giants.

That night at dinner with Lord Cannach, Rilka asks about the young survivor of the attack at the mining community the last time they were in Aldasar. Lord Cannach reassured her that the young lady was doing fine, being raised by one of the temples and would move on to an apprenticeship and a good life.

Surm broaches the topic of the guards coming back to Aldasar and taking up work with Lord Cannach after they head to the far north. Lord Cannach says that, of course, they may. Their Captain Alasir can coordinate with his man and work it out at the time.

The jovial proceedings are interrupted only once by Lord Cannach himself, who addresses the table.

“My friends, please forgive if I overstep my bounds and speak to something which is not my concern. But I could not help but notice a measure of strife in my drawing room. Is there anything I can do to ease it?”

This pronouncement is met with an embarrassed silence that is broken, finally, by Rilka, who states that sometimes even families have quarrels.

“Too true,” Lord Cannach agrees. “I mean no offense. It is only because I consider you friends that I wish to mend it. We will speak no more of it.”

He calls for more wine and the dinner progresses.

After dinner, everyone settles in for the night after a very long day.

17 Changewind 508

The party spends the day in quiet ease on Lord Cannach’s estate. Ilona manages to get Savaric to play with her out in the trees, going invisible, and then visible again, for a while.

That evening, they have another pleasant dinner with Lord Cannach and adjourn to their rooms.

18 Changewind 508

Rilka and Mõrvar head into the city to pick up their respective weapons. Rilka asks Mõrvar if he wants her to accompany him to get his weapon back from the disreputable dealer. If he’s expecting trouble, he might could use the help. He seems indifferent and says that she can if she wants to. She says that she’ll meet him back at the manor and he seems just as fine with that idea.

Rilka goes to her dealer and picks up her newly enflamed falchion and then she returns to Lord Cannach’s manor to await Mõrvar’s return.

Mõrvar heads into the ramshackle part of town where he found the half-orc weaponsmith that he left Deathblow with. He finds the half-orc at his makeshift forge. The craftsman spots Mõrvar, smirks, and rises to meet him.

“I’ve come for my sword,” Mõrvar says.

“You got my money?” the half-orc asks.

“Yes,” Mõrvar says.

“Let’s see it,” the half-orc says.

Mõrvar pulls out the money and shows it to him. The half-orc nods and heads back to a shack and returns with Deathblow in his hand. He looks at the sword, then at Mõrvar and says.

“I tell you what, keep your money. I’ll keep the sword.”

Mõrvar then proceeds to tell the half-orc what he’s going to do him in no uncertain terms and how he’s not even going to pay him the rest of the money for the sword and how the half-orc is going to turn over the sword right now.

The half-orc pales and hands over the sword. “Get out of here and don’t come back,” he tells Mõrvar. Mõrvar hurls another epitaph at him as he leaves.

Bah. I was hoping for a bloodletting, Deathblow says in Mõrvar’s mind.

I was hoping he would stand his ground. I would have ended with you chopping his body into small enough pieces to feed his furnace. Mõrvar says.

Mõrvar heads back to Lord Cannach’s manor to meet with the others.

Once everyone is reunited, the Crimson Cord loads up and heads away from Lord Cannach’s manor and from Aldasar, following the road north through Leilior toward Jossia.

That afternoon, the troupe encounters the town of Kivley. They opt to save their money in gate taxes and go around rather than through.

Later that evening, the troupe pitches a camp on the side of the road. Mõrvar calls Surm over for a private conversation. Surm admonishes him, stating that in light of recent discussions, he may not want to have yet another private conversation away from the others in the Cord. Mõrvar states that this discussion is between brothers. Surm says that supposedly they are all family and that, again, what has gotten everyone in trouble lately is keeping secrets. Mõrvar insists that this is nothing hurtful, and Surm insists that this isn’t the point—it’s the perception of it that makes it hurtful. Mõrvar then invites Rilka and Savaric over to the conversation.

Mõrvar then proceeds to “introduce” the party to Deathblow, offering to let each of them hold the greatsword. He offers it to Surm first, who declines, citing the fact that “he’s already heard that he’s a jerk.” So Rilka takes the sword. She instantly pales and feels weaker and hears a male voice speaking Joslac in her head stating that “if this is what family feels like, he wants no part of it.” He also states “I thought your kind were more bloodthirsty.”

They then pass the sword to Savaric. He, too, pales and feels weakened. On top of that—Ilona is having none it—screaming in Savaric’s mind to drop the sword. Deathblow is roaring at him to take off the ring. Deathblow calls him puny and unworthy to wield him. Savaric is unimpressed and hands the sword back to Mõrvar. He again offers the sword to Surm. Finally, Surm takes it. He, as the others, is weakened by the sword. Deathblow again bemoans that if this strangeness is the bond of family, he wants no part. He demands that Surm hand him back to Mõrvar, who seems amused at the entire affair.

The party doesn’t have much to say after this demonstration of Deathblow’s personality and they all head back into the camp.

The night passes quietly.

19 Changewind 508

That morning, the troupe bypasses the city of Skeene. They travel on toward Braith along the road throughout the day. That evening, they break for camp and Mõrvar spends the evening mingling with the troops.

The night passes without incident.

20 Changewind 508

That afternoon, the troupe arrives on the outskirts of the city of Braith. Rilka, Mahgnus, and Sorcha head inside to by a supply of rations before the troupe heads into Jossia. Mahgnus manages to talk the merchant into delivering the bulk order to the troupe waiting outside the walls.

The party also discuss their future plans. Surm recalls that there is a raiding clan, the Soodthyngs, that reside in a coastal village in northern Jossia called Soos. Mõrvar knows where the village lies. Between the two of them, they can guide the troupe there. It is entirely possible that the Soodthyngs have fought and raided against Frost Giants, according to Surm. The party decides to head north to Soos after going to Yrda. They load up their supply of rations and leave Braith.

That night, the troupe makes a camp and the night passes quietly.

21 Changewind 508

After traveling that morning, the party comes to the river Ros, where they must ford across to enter Jossia. Everyone but Kortash crosses with no problems—Kortash takes a tumble and ends up wet and cold.

The troupe camps on the other side.

22 Changewind 508

Shortly before noon, the Crimson Cord arrives in Yrda and are given a hero’s welcome by King Sigurd, Mirka, and the townsfolk. Sigurd reports that the village prospers and has actually grown a little since the party was there last. He also announces that there will be a feast in the longhouse that night. Rilka excuses herself to go to the temple of Bruni while Mirka and Savaric flirt with each other and Savaric gives her a pegasus feather, which she places in her hair. Townsfolk come forward and shake everyone’s hand and clap them on the back, offering to let the Ulrich brothers stay in their homes. Mirka tells Savaric to come up to her temple tonight. Rilka is determined to hold vigil in the temple to Bruni.

Later, Rilka and Savaric head over to the temple to Ulfethinn to see Mirka. Rilka explains the situation with the quest and the plan to send the guards after the orphans. She inquires about the wet-nurse situation and the adoptive mothers. One woman will be able to nurse the babe herself. The other will not and will require a nurse. Rilka says she’ll pass that information on to Mahgnus. Then she leaves Savaric to be alone with Mirka.

That night, a feast of meat and mead is had in the longhouse. Sigurd has the Crimson Cord seated on his left and right, places of honor at the table. Surm tells the story of their upcoming quest and Sigurd asks the gods to bless their journey, for Bruni to give them courage, Ulfethinn to give them thunder, and Yülthn to give them guile.

As the feast dies down, Rilka heads to the temple for her vigil and prayers, Surm and Mõrvar head to the townspeople’s homes, and Savaric is taken by the arm by Mirka to her temple.

23 Changewind 508

The troupe leave Yrda, heading north toward Soos. Over the next few days of travel, Savaric desperately tries to convince Surm to give him another pegasus feather, but Surm refuses. The nights are quiet, if cold, in the west-central hills of Jossia.

26 Changewind 508

In the afternoon, the party arrives on the outskirts of the village of Soos. They can men gathering, noticing the large entourage of soldiers approaching their town. Surm and Mõrvar ride forward, with the rest of the troupe following, as a group of warriors from the town step forward, their leader striding ahead in turn.

Surm hails the people of Soos and announces that he is Surm Ulrich of the Crimson Cord and that they are there to make a business proposition with the village. Village leader who came forward, a powerfully-built, grey-haired man with a double-bladed axe, says, “Ulrich? I’ve heard that name.”

The man, Kremlach, has heard of them and what they did in Yrda some months back. He is willing to listen to what they have to say. He invites them to come to their longhouse to talk. Surm asks for permission for their soldiers to come into the village. Kremlach says that that will be alright. Their reputation precedes them and they will be welcome.

In the longhouse, the main party is met by Kremlach, an old woman named Dorya, and an old man named Sigmun. Other townsfolk are also there to witness the meeting. Kremlach invites them to sit at a table and Surm tells them why they have come—about their quest for the Dead God’s skull and their theory about the Frost Giant’s connection to it. He wants to join a raiding party to the Frost Giant lands, taking the fight to them, and get this skull in the process.

Kremlach confirms that they have fought the giants that fly the banner of the viper skull—he calls them Jarlites. They apparently hail from a place called Jarlheim, a ruined city that they have made their home in the frozen north. The Soodthyngs have raided the Jarlites, but most retaliatory raids to retrieve goods and people, attacking the outskirts of Jarlheim or just Frost Giant raiding ships—not striking into the heart of the place, like Surm is proposing.

Surm proposes that they meet with the other village leaders and put together a coalition to attack the Frost Giants together. Kremlach says the idea is ambitious. The other area villages think that the Soodthyngs are mad for even doing what they do now. No one has proposed banning together to attack in force. Kremlach is for it. Dorya is tentatively for it. Sigmun thinks its foolhardy. But apparently, two out of three carries it, because Kremlach says that Soos is behind the endeavor and promises 100 men, a longship, and the use of auxiliary ships to carry others that are recruited that do not have their own ships.

Surm decides that he wants to go to Aeth and recruit his own people to go on the endeavor. Kremlach believes that, with his own reputation and the reputation of the Crimson Cord behind the endeavor, he can convince enough of the other villages to participate to make it a worthy showing. There are four other villages that he can think of that are regularly raided by the Jarlites and each can probably contribute as many men as Soos. If all will participate, that’s 500 warriors heading north against what they estimate is 150 giants.

The Crimson Cord make preparations to start heading west to Aeth while Kremlach sends runners to the area villages to send their leaders to a meeting at the longhouse in Soos.

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Rage and Raven: The Curse of Punari (Part III)
Part Three

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3 Ardor 508

The party, made up of Tag, Rhain, Lenoria, Regna, and Tavayne, all set out from Asdari with 2 carts and mules to venture into the jungle toward the mountains to the south.

For the most part, the journey this day is uneventful. It is Achera in summer, which can be warm, and the jungle is moist, making it sticky and miserable. However, no encounters are made.

8 Ardor 508

After traveling for several days through the thick jungle, the party makes a disgusting discovery. It happens when Tag throws himself into yet another small stream of water in hopes of cooling off. Rhain has been walking beside the carts as well, preferring his own stride to riding in the cart. Both men discover that they have been attacked by ghost leeches! Large, translucent bloodsuckers that can be deadly if untreated, the leeches have glommed on to both, presumably from the water. They manage to detach the disgusting creatures from both themselves and the mules.

As a result, Tag takes to riding in the cart and they also check themselves and the animals after every water crossing.

15 Ardor 508

That night, during Tavayne’s watch, the party is alerted by the bard’s yells and the sounds of battle. A huge, living mound of vegetation is attacking Tavayne! The party finally manages to slay the shambling mound, but it is a hard fight.

The rest of the night goes by much more quietly.

20 Ardor 508

As the party is making their way through the overgrowth, they are set upon by a band of 3 dire apes! The primal primates descend in force from the canopy and attack with ferocity. Nevertheless, they are soon dispatched and the party continues into the jungle.

22 Ardor 508

Finally, the party emerges from the thick jungle canopy into the bright sun. The mountain pass lies before them.

As they traverse the narrow pass, they come to an area where they are ambushed by a band of Ogres! The giant humanoids have the carts surrounded all sides, with two Ogres in the ridges above the pass and two more coming from in front and behind.

Despite the long odds, the party emerges victorious and slays all four Ogres.

Inside an nearby cave, the party discovers a hoard of treasure collected by the Ogres. Along with coin and gems and weapons, there are many more mundane items that were clearly part of the gear and goods of a good number, and wide variety, of travelers.

Among the items is a puzzle box that fascinates Tag for a good while, until he finally opens it, revealing a small, green, leather pouch with an intricate wolf pattern embroidered on its face. Tag believes he recognizes the symbol as belonging to a Eacenian family that is associated with a tragedy of some sort. He takes the bag and puts it on.

Regna is more dubious and wants to check it for magic—and possibly curses. Tag lets her examine the item with her magical abilities—but won’t let her hold it. She then, sure enough detects not only magic but a curse laid behind it. She believes that the pouch is going to cause Tag’s clothing and armor straps and other gear to start rotting off his body.

Tag, for his part, wants to keep the bag and doesn’t want to believe Regna.

The party decides to camp in the Ogre cave for the night and press on in the morning.

23 Ardor 508

That morning, Regna manages to remove the curse on the bag. Tag still opts to keep it.

They move out from the Ogre cave and up the pass to the monastery.

Later, they arrive at a plateau where a cross-shaped building of sandstone sits, it’s domed roof gleaming in the sun.

The perimeter is checked and it is determined that the building has but one viable entrance. There are arrow slits to allow light and air into the building, but not proper windows. The party lines up: Regna Tag, Lenoria, Rhain, and finally Tavayne. Regna is detecting magic while Tag looks for traps and other such secrets along the way.

After traversing a long corridor, they arrive in a largish room adorned with mosaics depicting the symbol of Dhakranism (an 8-colored swirl in a circle), the monk Shandor in various martial poses, and serene landscape scenes. In the center of the room is a statue made of bronze of an Acheran monk in a ready pose. There are stone benches along the walls.

And coming toward them five skeletons adorned in the tattered robes of Shandorian monks.

They dispatch the skeletons relatively quickly and then notice a pile of treasure discarded in the room. The treasure is collected and the party moves on.

In the next room, they find that there are murals painted on the walls of people taking tea and serene natural landscapes. There is a wooden sideboard at the on the east side of the room. There is a low, wooden table in the center of the room with the remains of a porcelain tea set sitting smashed in the center of it.

In this room, Regna hears the stones calling to her and manages to find a hidden panel with a chest inside. The chest is full of treasure. They combine their hauls and move on.

They explore a few more rooms, noting the variety of mosaics on display and encounter nothing further for awhile. Some of the doors are stuck, but Rhain manages to make quick work of them.

Finally, they arrive in large room where rotted straw mats litter the floor. Murals on the wall depict Shandor in various poses of meditation, as well as serene landscape scenes. Here are 5 more of the strange skeletal monks—though these seem to be of a higher order than the ones previously encountered.

After dispatching the skeletal monks, they find a hoard of treasure cast about on the floor of the room.

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