Campaign of the Month: September 2018

Shadows of the Rift

Session One
The Sounds of Battle

4 Awakening 508

The battle against the massive wolf is done and the party buries Soderic upon a nearby hill. As Savaric finishes saying words over his brother, the sounds of battle are heard coming from a nearby rise. The party investigates.

Upon the rise the party spies four massive Urkhani (Orc) warriors felling a human in robes. Savaric calls to them in their native tongue to “Stop!”. This seizes the Orcs’ attention and they begin to charge. Mõrvar strides forward, an intimidating scowl upon his countenance. This brings the leader of the charge up short, forcing him to declare that “this” is their kill. In the meantime, Surm has summoned a fire beetle to fight in his defense and it chooses this moment to appear in front of the Orc leader and attack. The melee begins in earnest.

At the end of the battle, the Orcs lay dead and the party is licking their various wounds. It was a hard-fought battle of magic and blade.

After looting the Orcish bodies, the party checks out their kill. Two humans lay dead—one a warrior and one in robes. The robed one carries a Masterwork dagger with a ring of flame etched upon the blade. The symbol is meaningless to all. Further, hidden upon his person, is a crumpled bit of parchment that looks like a map of some sort. After investigating the map further, Mõrvar determines that it points to a gully some five miles from the site of the battle. After a brief discussion, the party decides to pursue what the men were looking for on the map.

After a short trip to the gulley on the map, the party discovers a crawlspace into the hill. Savaric finds no tracks leading into or out of the crawlspace. Discovering that their battle with the Orcs had taken a lot out of them, the party decides to camp for the night and attempt the crawlspace in the morning.

5 Awakening 508

Rilka leads the way into the crawlspace. It is 25’ wide but only 3’ tall. The path begins to narrow and decline almost immediately. Soon the way is blocked by what appears to be a broken and fallen pillar with strange, disturbing tentacle motifs carved into it. Passing by the broken pillar, she finds that she is sliding down into stone room! Savaric slides quickly after her down the decline while the sorcerers manage to brace themselves and lower a rope down into the chamber to climb down.

In the chamber, the party finds another pillar with the disturbing carvings and Mõrvar insists that something wrong with this place. They appear to be in an antechamber of a much larger room that is split by a 5’ wide rift. Exploring around a corner, keeping clear of the rift, the party finds an alcove decorated in mosaics depicting people bowing to shadowy forms in the sky. There is a statue of an unusually thin, bearded man in robes at the center of the chamber…

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Session Two
The Darkness Within

5 Awakening 508 (continued)

…The party leaves the room with the statue and enters a wide sanctuary split by the 5’-wide rift. The room is distinctive with 5′ × 5′ alcoves along its left side, the walls of each adorned in the nightmarish tentacle motif of the pillars. Rilka and Savaric lead the way, looking ahead with their darkvision, while the two sorcerers ( Surm and Mõrvar ) remain behind, lighting their way with the eldritch glow of magic upon Mõrvar’s spearhead.

Finally, the party comes to a halt at a scene of carnage. Five lifeless bodies lie on the ground before them. Two of them are warriors, marked as such by their weapons and armor. Another carries a crooked staff in the manner of a follower or priest of Yülthn. The two others are skeletons, covered in slick blood—both wear ragged chain armor and carry rusted, broken scimitars. While Mõrvar contemplates the scene, Rilka declares that the men were fighting the skeletons, citing her soldier’s training for her authority—an assertion with which Mõrvar concurs. Further, it appears that the follower of the All-Father had attempted to use holy water on one of the creatures. The blood on the skeletons is much fresher than that of the wounds on the men, which Surm ascertains occurred a few days ago. The sorcerers speculate that perhaps ritual magic was used in the case of the skeletons. In the meantime Savaric has determined that bloody trails lead from the skeletons into the darkness up ahead. Searching the bodies of the fallen, Surm finds another map to this location—this one more professionally made and using Josemeedt as a landmark. He also finds more holy water as well as assorted traveling gear.

While the party debates the grisly scene before them, they are interrupted by the sound of click-clack-clanging coming from ahead, further into the sanctuary. The party immediately goes on their guard as, emerging into the light, they see three armored, bloody skeletons coming towards them, weapons raised to attack. Rilka manages to dispatch hers with her falchion, though she notes that the bones are hard to cut with her blade. Savaric attempts to do the same to his creature but his blade is impeded by the lack of flesh on the bones. Mõrvar attempts to keep the third at bay with his long spear but fails as it moves in to attack. In the meantime, Surm had managed to take a flask of holy water from one of the bodies, water which he flings at the skeleton on his brother. It recoils in pain but continues to advance. Rilka moves to do battle with the creature fighting the humans—allowing Savaric’s foe to take a swipe at her with his blade. Savaric fells his skeleton while the others destroy theirs. Finally, the party bloody and tired, the battle is done.

More sounds of click-clanging are heard on the other side of the rift. Mõrvar casts light upon a stone and throws it across to light the area. Three more skeletons are scene advancing from alcoves across the way. They stop their advance at the rift. After an attack by Mõrvar with his long spear, the skeletons retreat to their alcoves, only to be spelled to destruction by Mõrvar, who lobs acid at them.

The party advances further into the sanctuary, wondering why people are seeking out this place of darkness—and just how many more have maps to find it.

At the north end of the sanctuary, they find a broken obsidian altar, carved with the same strange tentacle motif found on the pillars. Rilka inspects the altar and finds that it has grooves made to collect blood. Skirting past the altar through a doorway made narrow by the rift, the party finds themselves in a vestibule. The rift ends here in a 10’ wide pit. The floor and walls are covered in mosaics depicting tall, thin priests summoning tentacled clouds of darkness from the skies.

Moving on, the party enters a vestment chamber. Desiccated wardrobes hang open, revealing ancient rotten robes that disintegrate at a touch. Mosaics in the room depict tall thin priests being dressed by pages and servants wearing spiked, oppressive collars. The party must choose to continue to the east or west side of the structure. They choose west.

The party enters a wide, oddly-shaped corridor. Mosaics along the walls depict shadowy forms in the sky smiting armies upon the ground. From here the party decides to check out what is beyond a rotted wooden door. Entering, they find an receiving room with two rotted armchairs and an ancient sideboard. There is an arched doorway to the north that opens into a bedchamber. Delicate tapestries depict a tall, thin priest being crowned by shadowy figures in the sky. A large bed, a gold-trimmed basin table with a tarnished brass basin, a desk, and a wardrobe fill the room. The desk holds ancient parchments, crumbling to dust, covered in indecipherable marks and sigils. Extensive searches reveal nothing of interest in the room.

Leaving the bedchamber and returning to the corridor, the party arrives into an antechamber with an iron spiral staircase leading down. A rotted wooden door marks the south wall. Mosaics depict more of the tall, thin priests bowing before shadowy figures in the sky. The door reveals a long hallway lined with dormitory rooms, none of which hold anything of interest, save mosaics on the ceilings depicting tentacles descending down. After an extensive search of each room, the party heads down the spiral staircase.

The staircase descends into a large antechamber with mosaics depicting more of the strange thin priests bowing before shadowy figures in the sky. There is a corridor leading west. Following the corridor, the party comes upon a series of cells, each guarded with a locked door and a portcullis. Continuing down the corridor, they find a large room with a rotating table in the center. The table has leather binding straps upon it. Along the walls are chains and manacles. A wooden cabinet holds the rusted implements of torture within it. The party, save for Mõrvar, is appalled—though he does reiterate that there is something creepy about this place overall.

Nevertheless, they decide to open one of the cells. After ;Mõrvar and Rilka demonstrate their strength, they manage to open the rusty portcullis and break into a cell. Inside is the skeletal remains of an unusually tall and thin humanoid—not human. The party, despite an indifferent Mõrvar, decide to take out all of the bones to inter them outside the temple.

As Mõrvar heads toward the spiral staircase, he sees a vision of a tall, thin priest unlocking a secret panel in the wall opposite the corridor and heading inside. Mõrvar then sets down his load and goes to the wall—and sure enough, there is a secret panel. The others come with their burdens and ask him what he is up to. He tells them about the vision and the secret door. The party is instantly on its guard against whatever gave him that vision. Nevertheless, Mõrvar convinces the party to check out what is beyond the secret panel.

The party continues down a wide corridor until their way is blocked by a collapsed debris and a crawlspace. Crawling through, they find themselves in a partially collapsed chamber another altar in the center of the room. The mosaic on the floor here depicts a massive, tentacled beast. The walls have mosaics depicting this beast destroying cities and people. Set into the altar is a green gemstone, pulsing with green light. The room grows warm.

Mõrvar has another vision, this time of a tall, thin priest casting spells through the green gemstone and burning through warrior after warrior on a field of battle. This causes a great deal of consternation in the party—as well as fear. Suddenly, Mõrvar feels re-energized with life while everyone else feels a cold pain enter them. Surm declares that they need to get out of here now—that this gem is not good and who knows why it wants Mõrvar. He doubts that they have the power to destroy it—an utterance upon which the room starts to grow cold, convincing the party to leave with haste through the crawlspace. They decide to leave the bones behind.

Arriving at the sanctuary once again, the party is met by two bloody skeletons, returned to life! They once again strike them down. Continuing on, they discover that the skeleton that Surm had splashed with holy water did not rise—prompting Surm to sprinkle holy water on the fallen skeletons. Mõrvar casts their bones into the rift.

Surm thinks that the party should collect the fallen men and go to Josemeedt to find a priest of Yülthn and let them know what they found. He doesn’t want to loot the bodies to get the goodwill of the priest. So the party hauls the bodies up and out of the crawlspace and out of the temple. Dirty and tired, the party finds themselves outside in late afternoon with three dead bodies and a lot of unanswered questions.

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Session Three
Return to the Temple

5 Awakening 508

After emerging from the Temple, frightened by the power and influence of the green gem, the party travels eight miles away to camp. The plan? Go to Josemeedt and look for answers. They haul the bodies of the party they found inside up on their mules and head east.

6 thru 8 Awakening 508

Travel to Josemeedt.

8 Awakening 508

The party arrives in Josemeedt and are met with hostility and suspicion. Part of this is due to the fact that they are a band of strangers hauling a pair of dead bodies on their mules. The other part is due to the fact that two of their band, Rilka and Savaric, are Half-Orcs.

The party ties off their mules in front of the Hall of Yülthn. Mõrvar Ulrich and Surm Ulrich decide to go inside while the Half-Orcs wait outside with the mules.

“It’s shameful that the people of Josemeedt allow such scum within its walls!”

Rilka and Savaric turn to find a young Northron man staring at them belligerently. Rilka decides to ignore the young man, maintaining a soldierly mien, while Savaric levels an intimidating stare at the man and snarls. “Then leave. Now.” Properly cowed by Savaric, the man skulks back into the gathered crowd.

Meanwhile, Mõrvar and Surm are inside the hall, a raucous tavern full of travelers hoisting ale and laughing boisterously. The two are approached by a older man with a crooked staff. “Be welcome in Yülthn’s Hall, travelers!” The two explain that they have come with the body of a fellow priest and a tale to tell. The priest, who introduces himself as Grimnir Erolsson, offers to go outside and identify the bodies.

The three exit the hall to find a hostile crowd surrounding the Half-Orcs and a scowling young man fading back into the crowd. Grimnir identifies the priest as “Gunnar” and said that he and the others had come to Josemeedt with a map looking for information on the area presented. He arranges to have pyres built to burn the bodies and to have the mules stabled. Grimnir then brings the party into the hall to talk.

Grimnir leads them into a private room in the hall. He looks uncomfortably at the Half-Orcs but says “All with the blood of men in their veins are welcome in Yülthn’s hall.” Surm and Mõrvar explain how they found the bodies and where, as well as what they encountered with the strange green gemstone. Grimnir reveals that Gunnar was on some sort of mission from his temple, a mission to “find a great evil before it was too late”. He suspects that this gem may be what Gunnar was looking for. Grimnir also believes that the temple may have belonged to the Aedonii, an ancient race that lived before the dawn of man and that this evil may be as ancient as it is powerful.

Grimnir also identifies the symbol of the ring of flame as being the symbol for Jörn, a lying and murderous god who may, or may not, be the son of Yülthn. So if that cult is aware of the gem, they must not have it. Grimnir does not know what the stone is or what it is capable of, but thinks he knows of one who does—a hermit by the name of Karse who was a priest of Yülthn. He lives north of Josemeedt.

Grimnir asks the party if they would be willing to return to that temple, if he had a way to contain the gem. The party acquiesces. So, Grimnir announces that they may stay in the common room of the hall and have food without charge. The party can re-provision with the various vendors in the Meedt. The next day they will travel to see Karse and go from there back to the temple.

While shopping, the party is interrupted by the same youth from before, now accompanied by two friends. “Hey, scum! I’m surprised that your friends haven’t stabled you with the other animals!” Mõrvar steps forward, and with an intimidating air, warns the group off. “Go away. Leave us alone.” The group, cowed by Mõrvar’s dangerous look, leave.

That night, the party is approached by a foreigner by the name of Almaric who offers them a job that is “less than reputable”. Apparently a Boraelan lord by the name of Matrim Quain has taken a grimoire that rightfully belongs to Almaric. Almaric claims that it once belonged to his master and should have been passed to him but it was taken by the same “brigands” that killed his master—brigands he believes were sent by Quain. Quain has the grimoire and apparently moves it from estate to estate, hoping to keep it out of Almaric’s hands. Almaric thinks it is currently being held at Quain’s keep, to the east of Josemeedt, just beyond the Mondira River. He also warns the party not to be foolish enough to open the grimoire and that they will know it by its clasp of twin dragons. The party tells him that they have another task to take care of first but if Almaric is still in Josemeedt when they return, then they’ll talk about it then.

9 Awakening 508

The party spends most of the day traveling north to Karse’s hermitage, a small cottage nestles between two hills.

Karse is an irascible old man, annoyed at having visitors. Nevertheless, he listens to what Grimnir and the party have to say. He believes that the gem is one of five Seals of Akthalos. It is sentient and quite evil. According to what is known of the The Aedonii, the bringing together of these seals would bring about a cataclysm. Grimnir believes that Gunnar’s mission was to find and destroy this Seal. According to Karse, it would take something powerful to destroy such an artifact—such as molten lava or a volcano.

Surm feels that it is isn’t the party’s problem to take care of the gem, but that if they can contain the gem, he’s willing to help Grimnir collect it. The rest of the party agrees. Karse gives Grimnir a thrice-blessed box in hopes that it will contain the gem’s evil influences. Tomorrow, the five of them will travel to the temple to collect the gem.

10 Awakening 508

The party travels from Karse’s cottage toward the temple.

11 Awakening 508

After another day of travel, the party reaches the temple’s crawlspace by sundown. They decide to camp and enter the temple in the morning.

12 Awakening 508

The party, with Grimnir, enters the temple.

Mõrvar has a vision of himself, a crown upon his head decorated with a glowing green gem, sitting upon a throne as throngs of people bow before him. He keeps this vision to himself.

Before heading straight to the green gemstone chamber, the party decides to check out the rest of the temple. While in the sanctuary, they cast light upon the bloody skeletons across the pit. Grimnir doesn’t seem to mind the sorcerous nature of the light, being more curious than afraid.

On the other side of the temple they encounter a dining hall and a kitchen and a parlor before coming to an impassable cave-in. Turning back, they come across a scriptorium. Most of the scrolls dissolve in their hands, but one survives. It is written in an indecipherable script but is obviously magical in nature.

Mõrvar has a another vision of himself, this time opening a secret door in the depths of the temple, revealing piles of treasure within.

Coming back to the sanctuary, the party decides to take care of the bloody skeletons before heading down to the gemstone chamber. After successfully defeating the creatures, they cast the bones into the pit.

Finally, the party descends into the depths of the temple.

Once below, they see the bones of the Aedonii that were disturbed upon their last visit. Mõrvar informs the party that he doesn’t think it’s a good idea if he goes into the chamber. He tells the rest about his visions—including about the secret treasure room. Sure enough, the party finds the indicated secret door but it opens into a corridor, not a treasure room.

Traveling down the winding, switch-back corridor, the party encounters a series of traps along the way, including a 5×5′ pit that party must leap across (to varied success) and a poisoned dart—which reduces Savaric’s health severely. Eventually Savaric, who has been unsuccessful in finding any of the traps, finds a secret panel in one of the walls.

Deciding to continue down the corridor before exploring what is beyond the secret panel, the party continues down the hall. Eventually the corridor ends in an trapezoidal room. The party goes into the room to check it out when a portcullis falls, trapping everyone but Surm in the room. Eventually, the stout half-orcs and Mõrvar manage to lift portcullis and wedge a crowbar into the groove long enough to get everyone out of the room. The party then decides to check out the secret panel.

The secret panel opens into an octagonal room into which Rilka steps. Mõrvar stands ready with his long spear behind her. As she walks into the room, a Dretch Demon materializes in front of her in a cloud of its own stench. Her guts are shaken with fear as it attacks. Mõrvar continues to attack from behind with the reach of his spear. In short order, the demon is dispatched and the party continues into the treasure room.

After divvying up the treasure, the party then decides to go into the gemstone room. Mõrvar stays back with Rilka while Surm, Grimnir, and Savaric (who has recovered from his poisoning) proceed. Once they get into the altar room, Savaric has a vision of himself wielding a mighty sword with a gemstone set into the hilt decimating armies before him. The gem also heals Savaric, seemingly drawing life from his companions to do it. Grimnir works on getting the gemstone out of the altar. Grimnir seems to pause as he goes to place the stone in the box so Surm takes it and the box from Grimnir and shuts the gem inside. Surm then has a vision of he and his brother conquering thousands. Disturbed by the visions, Surm directs everyone to get out there.

Finally, the party reunites and then exits the temple.

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Session Four
Almaric's Proposal

12 Awakening 508

After camping en route from sunken temple back to Josemeedt, Mõrvar has a vision again from the imprisoned Seal of Akthalos. Both he and his brother, Surm, are wielding stones, conquering all manner of enemies and slaying them before them. Orcs, elves, dwarves, and men fall before their, and the stones’, might.

13 Awakening 508

That sundown, the party returns to Josemeedt. They are met, once again, with stares and speculation, especially having come back with the priest, Grimnir Erolsson. That night, in the common room of the hall of Yülthn, the party discusses their options and the various merits and setbacks of Almaric’s proposal. The foreigner even approaches them at one point but is told that they are still discussing the proposal.

The party also discusses Grimnir’s plans concerning the stone. He will gather a party of men, perhaps some of the warrior-priests of Saemundil that reside in Josemeedt, to take the artifact northwest to be destroyed. He offers to allow the party to go but Surm Ulrich declines, stating that the stone has had too much influence already over his brother.

14 Awakening 508

Surm Ulrich and Mõrvar Ulrich take the various goods recovered in the temple around to the vendors of Josemeedt to trade for cash and supplies. In order to sell tapestries at the Meedt, Mõrvar must meet with the Trademaster to establish himself as a vendor. The Trademaster drives a hard bargain with the sorcerer, finally demanding 4% of his take as the Meedt’s share. Later, Mõrvar manages to barter the tapestries to Korl Bransson, the horsetrader, for 8 fine horses.

That evening they approach Almaric about his proposal. Allowing Mõrvar to do the talking, the party listens as he tells the foreigner that if they determine that his tale is true and the book is his and that they recover it, the party will gladly sell his Grimoire back to him for 100 gp. Almaric does not like the sound of this deal at all, offended that his tale is called into question and that the party continuously pries into affairs that, to his mind, have nothing to do with retrieving the Grimoire. Further, put in those terms, he is afraid that the “price” for the Grimoire has become negotiable and will rise at a later date. The party is disconcerted by the man’s hesitation to divulge his background but agree to pursue the proposal and retrieve the Grimoire from Matrim Quain.

15 Awakening 508

The party first decides to head to the city of Sarra, some 11 miles south of Quain’s keep. According to Almaric, the keep is due east of Josemeedt, 5 miles from the Mondira River that marks the border between Jossia and Borael.

16 Awakening 508

The party continues to travel toward Sarra.

17 Awakening 508

The party continues to travel toward Sarra and arrive at the Mondira River. Here they decide, instead, to travel north and find a village or a bridge at which to ford the river. This location may also prove to be a “getaway” spot in the event that the heist of the Grimoire goes badly.

18 Awakening 508

The party continues to travel north along the river. Across the water they spot a tower flying the colors of the queen of Borael. Finally, near sundown, the party reaches a fishing village at the mouth of the river. They send Surm into the village to check it out.

The village, Filnas, straddles the river. There is a main bridge that is manned by Boraelan troops. These troops serve Queen Beatrix Marat of Borael. They collect taxes for Her Majesty from all those that would cross into her lands. Surm leaves and reports back to the party that perhaps this isn’t the place they want to cross—it is small and they will be noticed in the crossing. They decide, instead, to head to Sarra where at least they may be lost in a crowd.

19 Awakening 508

The party heads south along the river toward Sarra.

20 Awakening 508

Around midday, the party reaches the junction of the Ros River and the Mondira River. Around a natural harbor formed by the conjunction of the waters stands the city of Sarra. The city flies the banners of both the Queen of Borael and those of a black falcon on a field of blue. The party purchase a ferry ride across the rivers and are met by Boraelan soldiers at the harbor to collect entry taxes. Rilka declares her flask of mead as alcohol under their tariff and, rather than having her pay, the soldier merely pours out the flask. This seems to anger Mõrvar more than Rilka.

After a bit of asking about, the party heads for the Crimson Goose, a “reasonably priced” establishment to stay the night. The Goose is a busy establishment that seems to cater to humans, elves, and dwarves. The half-orcs receive some stares but not the open hostility of Josemeedt. Savaric buys a round of drinks for a table full of dwarves after greeting them in their own tongue while Mõrvar attempts to woo a elf maiden. Savaric is the more successful of the two, securing an introduction to a dwarf called “Throndin” while Mõrvar receives nothing but haughty disdain.

After discussing various plans of action, Surm decides to seek out a shop of arcana in hopes of getting information on Almaric and to secure healing magics. Mõrvar woos another girl in the common room, this time setting his bar a bit lower, and succeeding. In the meantime, Savaric passes out in a drunken stupor.

At the arcana shoppe, Surm discovers that much of Almaric’s story was true. His master was a man called “Bulsara” who was murdered, apparently by bandits, on the road between Sarra and Northold. This occurred about 10 years ago. The current Queen has reigned for 15 years, so Surm supposes that Almaric (whose full name is Almaric Amberscale) may not have had any proof against Quain. The proprietor also sells him a wand of light healing that can used 42 more times Cure Light Wounds. Surm trades a mithral bracelet for the wand.

Once the party gets back together at the Crimson Goose, it is decided that they will approach the keep on the following day.

21 Awakening 508

Initial reconnaissance of the grounds of the keep indicate that it is surrounded by a perimeter of farm land extending about a mile from the main keep walls. Various cottages dot the lands, probably homes for the serfs attached to the lands. The keep itself sits on top of a hill overseeing the lands.

The party waits until nightfall and then sends Savaric to scout ahead. He sneaks up to the walls and makes his way around to the rear of the property where he sees that a portion of wall has worn away, making it only 15’ high instead of the 20’ of the rest of the wall. The guard towers house two men each. One man will stay in the tower while the other walks the wall at irregular intervals. The towers stand 10’ higher than the wall. There are 6 guard towers in total, including the gate towers. Savaric reports back to the others.

The party decides that the 15’ high section of wall will be their entry point. Perhaps the irregular intervals of the soldiers indicates a lack of discipline that the party can take advantage of. First Savaric goes up, securing a grapple and rope for the others to use. Next comes Rilka, followed by Surm Ulrich, and finally Mõrvar Ulrich. Each manage to stay silent and dodge the scrutiny of the wandering guardsman—until all are on the wall. Then, from an adjacent guard tower, they hear the sound of “who goes there?” Surm, thinking quickly, casts a spell and the sound of dogs barking and running away fills the night. After a heart-wrenching few moments, the party continues down the wall toward the north-east gate.

The last one to enter the tower is Mõrvar. The sound of his entry is heard by the guard on the platform above them. He looks down with a cry of alarm, followed by “INTRUDERS!”. Mõrvar stabs him with his longspear. Surm and Savaric continue down the tower while Rilka and Mõrvar face the incoming soldiers. After dispatching two more soldiers, Mõrvar and Rilka are left to cover their exits from the tower…

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Session Five
Quain Keep

21 Awakening 508

Mõrvar Ulrich and Rilka remain on the northeast tower of the keep wall. Quickly, each dons a soldier’s overlay while Mõrvar prepares a ruse with his magic and his own guile. Using a spell, he transports a torch east, and then north from the tower while shouting that the intruders are heading north. In the meantime both Mõrvar and Rilka spot torches heading her way down the keep wall. They hear a shout to head toward the north and north-east towers, that the intruders are escaping. The ruse has worked—all too well. Soldiers are beginning to gather at Rilka and Mõrvar’s tower!

In the meantime, Surm Ulrich and Savaric find themselves in a lighted corner of the keep facing soldiers as they emerge from their barracks. Savaric dispatches one as Surm attempts to put out the torch with his cold magic. The torch sputters and Savaric fights on as more soldiers begin to emerge from the barracks. Surm summons a fire beetle to assist Savaric. Savaric fights on. Finally Surm manages to put out the torch, throwing the corner into darkness. Then he casts a Ghost Sound to give the impression that they have run around the corner of the barracks. Finally, he casts a whisper on the wind toward Mõrvar and Rilka to tell them that they need help below.

By this time, Rilka and Mõrvar have descended from the tower and the eluded the gathering soldiers at the wall. All four sneak carefully across the courtyard as soldiers gather from both ends of the barracks and make their way northeast at the command of a voice that rings across the keep. The soldiers are commanded to enact “Drill A”. Keeping to shadows as much as possible, the band hug the wall of the keep proper, making their way west toward the gates. As they make their way, they hear the shout of “who goes there?” from one of the soldiers on the wall. Mõrvar manages to bluff his way past, saying that he is “checking the perimeter”. The man on the wall corrects him with disgust, telling him that he is either to gather at the front of the keep or at the northeast tower. Mõrvar assures him that he will do just that and the band continues to sneak across the darkened courtyard.

Finally the party arrives at the northwest tower of the keep proper. Gazing around the corner, they see more torches and soldiers gathering at the keep’s gate. Rilka climbs the tower and sets up a grapple and rope for the others to climb—but not without nearly falling in the process. The others scramble up the rope onto the roof of the keep. Here they see walkways emerging from each of the four keep towers and a wood beam/tile roof. At Surm’s suggestion, the party makes their way to the center of the roof and starts removing tiles. Finally, they come to the wooden planks of the roof. Surm attempts to remove a plank, using the grapple to pry it loose. He does so—but also jars the gathered tiles as well. Gazing into the keep, the party sees soldiers beginning to gather at the tops of the stairways near their entry point through the roof. They have been detected.

Soldiers begin to emerge from the towers. The party runs into the nearest tower as the other soldiers arrive right behind them. They bar the door shut as they run down the stairs of the tower.

Once they reach the bottom of the stairs, they can either exit the tower via a door or continue down a set of stairs. They bar the door and head further down. Finally they are met with a locked door. Using the grapple as a pry bar, they manage to pop the locked door open. Moving on, they find another locked door. Prying this one open as well they find themselves in a small dungeon comprised of three empty cells and no other way out. With no other options, they make their way back up the stairs of the tower.

As they pass the first barred door at ground level, they can see that soldiers are attempting to hack through it with an axe. They can also hear a man identifying himself as Lord Quain assuring them that they “may find mercy if they surrender themselves. Otherwise, they will surely find nothing but death.” They continue up the stairs to emerge again on the roof.

This time they are met with a retinue of archers and spear-men. Rilka fights her way through one side while Savaric fights his way through the other. The tide of the battle turns against, even with Surm and Mõrvar casting spells to assist their friends. Surm is forced to used the healing wand that he had purchased in Sarra the previous day to keep Rilka in fighting shape. He runs back and forth between Rilka and Savaric, keeping both the warriors alive as they finally turn the tide of battle back to their favor. Rilka and Savaric eliminate the archers and spear men, leaving the roof momentarily empty—but only momentarily…

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Session Six
Fire and Sorcery

21 Awakening 508 (cont’d)

The roof is lit by bright, instantaneous light that Surm identifies as a “Flare” spell—a low-level cantrip. Suddenly the roof is covered by volleys of arrows apparently being fired from the walls that run parallel to the keep. The party makes their way through several volleys to the edge of the catwalk on the keep to find cover from at least one side of the archers. They use their wand of healing along the way to keep everyone moving from the numerous hits of the arrows.

After several volleys have passed, a voice calls out from below. “This is futile! The only way to avoid death is to throw your weapons over the side of the keep!”. Mõrvar and Savaric answer with shots toward the archers with longbow and crossbow.

A voice identifying himself as Lord Quain calls out demanding to know who they are and what they hope to accomplish by this. Surm answers that they are the Peasant Liberation Front and they are tired of the way that they are treated by Lord Quain.

In the meantime, Mõrvar and Savaric make their way to the torches left by guards killed on the northwest side of the roof. Mõrvar uses sorcery to take one of the torches and then casts it into the hole they had previously made in the roof, catching a tapestry on fire near the mezzanine.

As Surm lists the demands of the PLF, Lord Quain screams “You dare! Men, kill them all!” Shouts of “Fire!” and “Sorcery!” emerge from the hole as Mõrvar continues to cause a torch to dance about the guards attempting to put out the fire in the mezzanine.

At Quain’s order, men start emerging from the towers and volleys of arrows are let fly—even at the risk of killing Quain’s own soldiers. Surm and Rilka fight off guards at the northeast tower while Mõrvar and Savaric shoot at the guards in hole. After Surm and Rilka dispatch their guards, Mõrvar and Savaric start making their way back to the tower. Surm and Rilka enter the northeast tower and head downstairs into the keep while Mõrvar and Savaric intercept the guards that are coming from the other towers and converging at the northeast.

Inside, Surm and Rilka make their way through the long corridor that comprises “Tower Hall”. The corridor makes a perimeter about the keep, allowing only two entrances to the guard towers. Muffled shouts are heard from deeper within the keep. Surm decides to stay in the keep while Rilka doubles-back to the roof to aid Savaric and Mõrvar. She bolts the tower doors behind as she makes her way up. Surm finally finds an exit from “Tower Hall”—only to find it guarded. He bars that door and returns to the southwest tower to ponder his next move.

In the meantime, Rilka has returned to Savaric and Mõrvar, who have dispatched more of the guards. They decide to head into the keep and catch up with Surm. Smoke is starting to pour out of the hole in the roof.

Meanwhile, Surm has climbed to the top of the tower and sees a series of lights of illuminate the roof from above. The sorcerers both identify the spell as “Dancing Lights”, another low-level cantrip, probably meant as a signal or temporary illumination of the roof. Surm drops down to the catwalk, stealthily evading the guards that are gathering around the hole in the roof. Surm makes his quiet way to the northeast tower—his original entry point into the keep and the only tower without barred doors. As he makes his way down, he bars the doors behind him, effectively trapping eight of the guards on the roof.

Rilka, Savaric, and Mõrvar, meanwhile, have dispatched a pair of guards in the “Tower Hall”. They find the barred tower door of the southwest tower and decide to make their way back to northwest tower to secure that door. At the other end of “Tower Hall” they find a guard, which the three quickly dispatch. Savaric enters the tower and bars the door. They are then met by Surm who has secured the northeast tower.

The reunited party emerges from the “Tower Hall” into a foyer. Directly across from them are two guards hacking at the other hall entrance with axes. These guards are quickly dealt with by the party.

The foyer has two arched doorways as well as the doorway leading into the center of the keep. There is also an open set of double-doors leading to the outside. Smoke is pouring into the foyer from the central hall. Muffled shouts are also heard from within. Surm decides to check out one of the arched doorways.

In the gloom of the smoke, three figures emerge from the center of the keep and are killed—two are guards but one is a finely dressed woman with a purse and no weapons. Though she was killed by Rilka, Mõrvar quickly takes time to search her body for valuables, taking her jewelery and purse.

Mõrvar rejoins his brother in the next room, a kitchen with a pantry and nearby servant’s quarters. The pantry has a staircase leading down, which Mõrvar decides to investigate. Surm decides to search the other side of the foyer with Rilka while Savaric joins Mõrvar in the basement.

Finding a locked door, Mõrvar attempts to open it by casting “acid splash” on it indefinitely until the lock is eaten through. Inside he finds a wine cellar. Taking several bags from his pack, he takes some of the bottles. Across from the wine cellar, Mõrvar also finds the keep’s well. Meanwhile, Savaric searches out a storage area filled with old furniture, paintings, festival decorations, and the like, finding nothing of interest.

While Mõrvar and Savaric search out the basement, Surm and Rilka search the other side of the foyer. Here they encounter and search a small library, a lush receiving room, a study, and a well-searched closet. Finding nothing of interest, they re-emerge into the smoky foyer, discouraged. Determined to find something of value for all this trouble, Surm attempts to enter the main hall but turns back due to the smoke.

Savaric and Mõrvar return from the basement and search the library, closet, and study again. This time Mõrvar finds a secret compartment in the study desk containing a pouch with 50 gold coins and a compartment in the bookcase that conceals a book. The party reunites in the smoky foyer after hearing several loud crashes from the second floor.

Surm drags the body of whom they assume to the Lady Quain into the main hall while Rilka throws two guard bodies outside into the torchlight. The two guards are fired upon by arrows. The party decides to exit the keep through the northeast tower.

After climbing to the top the tower, Savaric climbs to the roof of the tower to see a guard dangling from one of the walls, trying to escape the fire that has already caused two parts of the roof to collapse. The party then stealthily makes their way along the catwalk to the far end of the keep, away from the soldiers that are gathered below to catch their comrades. They climb down the keep wall on knotted rope—except for Savaric, who falls trying to climb the wall without the aid of rope.

The party then trots to the broken section of wall where they first entered the keep, depending on the fire to maintain a decent distraction for the soldiers on the ground. Both Surm and Savaric fall from the wall as they make their way out of the keep, with Savaric needing to be healed by the wand yet again in order to continue. They make their way to their hidden horses and ride out as fast as they can with Savaric attempting to hide their tracks. They plan to find a ford in the river and head south to the city of Skeene in Leilior.

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Session Seven
Savaric: Monster Hunter

21 Awakening 508 (cont’d)

The party is running from the burning remains of Quain Keep, with Savaric covering their tracks. They frantically run north along the Mondira River, looking for a ford. Once the fording point is found, they make their crossing, with only Savaric being unhorsed. As the sun rises, they camp in the wilderness of eastern Jossia, hoping that the ranger’s efforts have been enough to deter Quain’s soldiers from finding them.

25 Awakening 508

Over the course of several days, the party runs across the wilderness of Jossia to the southwest toward the highlands of northern Leilior. Finally, the arrive at the Ros River. There they find a river ferry they can signal to cross the river. The ferryman lets them know that the town, Stavan, is beset by a “beast”. The local inn, The Green Maiden, closes when the sun goes down. The local lord, Ulliam Stavan, has placed a bounty of 100 gold marks for the beast’s hide.

Arriving at the Green Maiden, the party is met by the proprietor with a bit of consternation over the half-orcs. However, his wife convinces him that with the larger matter of “the beast” that it would be wrong to turn away strangers so close to nightfall. The nervous man acquiesces. The party (covered in soot, dirt, and blood) order baths and rooms (with much complaint at the prices by Surm) and settle into the modest common room.

Despite their questioning (and some intimidation of traveling farmers by Mõrvar), the party finds that the locals don’t want to talk about this “beast”—except for the proprietress of the inn. She is more than happy to discuss it, almost gleeful. The Beast has haunted Stavan for generations, scaring children and adults alike. It has only been in the past month that attacks of livestock have been happening, attributed to the legendary creature. The strangest part of all is that all the blood is drained from its victims. The most recent attack was at Bowlan Greenbough’s farm where he lost two sheep to the Beast.

Surm removes the bounty poster from the tavern wall and announces to all that will hear that Savaric the “monster hunter” who defeated the minotaur under Grundr’s Teeth, will claim this bounty. He buys a round of Tarsian wine for everyone in the common room.

26 Awakening 508

The next morning, after breakfast, the party begins exploring the area, questioning the victims of various “Beast” attacks. At Tannen Corley’s farm, Savaric finds a partial track and determines that beast is bipedal, has clawed feet, and is of medium size. The only clear pattern that emerges from their numerous questions is that something is coming out of the western woods to prey upon the livestock. And whatever it is is either quite strong or has help.

That night, Surm buys a round of Yulanian wine for every one and the party celebrates the free meal that is given to them as the “monster hunters” friends.

Lord Stavan pays the party a visit, wanting to cast his eyes on the “monster hunter” that has come to his village. Soon after taking his seat, Surm and Mõrvar begin to try and up the take of the bounty, first swearing that their comrade, Savaric, the slayer of “Bulvi’s Wolf”, seldom worked for under 500 gold pieces. The Lord reminds the party that he is not hiring a monster hunter, that he is offering a reward for whomever can kill the beast. Nevertheless, he may be persuaded to up the bounty to 150 gold Marks. He then takes his leave of the party.

27 Awakening 508

The party finds a commotion in the common room the next morning—another farm has been attacked. The crowd leads the party Hapner Plowred’s place where two cows have been drained of blood. Savaric finds tracks leading once again into the western woods. The villagers stay behind, whispering amongst themselves as the party ventures into the woods, following the trail of the Beast of Stavan.

ChupThe trail leads about a mile outside of town to a large hill with a narrow cleft worn into its side. The cleft is only about three feet wide, though it stands about six feet in height. Savaric ventures into the small cave where he finds two creatures lying on the floor. One is medium-sized, the other smaller. Both are bipedal, reptilian creatures with iridescent, color-shifting scales and spiny protrusions coming from their back. One, the larger of the two springs up with a predatory hiss and lunges at Savaric. The ranger tries to dodge but is grabbed by the creature, who brings him forward and starts to suck the blood from his body in rapturous frenzy.

Meanwhile, Rilka grabs Savaric to pull him from the cleft in the hill. Savaric desperately tries to disengage from the creature and finally does so, allowing Rilka to yank him from the cleft. The creature steps out of the cave to continue his attack but is slain by the party. Then the other emerges and, despite its great speed, is quickly dispatched.

Mõrvar Ulrich is determined to search out the cleft while Surm wants to go and collect their bounty. While Mõrvar searches, he hears what could be voices from behind the small cave. His curiosity piqued, he rejoins his companions to tell them of his find.

Rilka and Mõrvar find another cave entrance on the far side of the hill. Inside the cave are three passages. The two approach cautiously, listening for voices, but hear nothing. Savaric and Surm stay behind. Mõrvar lights his spear with magic and leads the way down the left-most passage, listening. After a few twists and turns, as well as a descent, the two find a damp, mossy chamber with four mounds situated around a platform on which sits a long box. The box has bronze runes fitted on all sides, writing from a language that neither understand. Mõrvar approaches the box, but does not touch it. Finally, the two decide that this was not the source of the voices and that to leave the box untouched would be best.

Returning to the first chamber, the two now try the middle passage. This passage double-backs on itself several times as it descends into the hill. Eventually the two come upon a grisly sight—a man’s corpse lies in the corridor, his head crushed by a stone. It looks like the body has been stripped and left to rot in the tunnel. Both can hear the faint sound of voices coming from further down the corridor. Fearing more traps, the two exit the tunnel with the body, thinking that it may be that of the soldier Kirlan that had gone hunting for the Beast.

Now Rilka and Mõrvar try the right-most passage. This one is marked by its dampness and sharp descent into a chamber whose floor is mostly covered in water. The clear water of the pool fills the chamber nearly to the walls, leaving a three-foot walkway around the room. Near the water they find piles of dung, indicating that something has been using this as a watering hole. The two back out of the passage and return to the surface.

Mõrvar wants to check the source of the voices while Surm wants to go collect the bounty, as does Savaric. Rilka agrees to stay with Mõrvar while the sorcerer and the “monster hunter” return to Stavan to turn collect the bounty and return the body of Kirlan to Lord Stavan.

Surm and Savaric head into the village to find Lord Stavan. As the sorcerer and the half-orc approach the village, they start to draw a crowd. Whispers of “monster hunter” and “two beasts” can be heard from the group as they approach the village and Lord Stavan’s manor. At the manor house, Surm and Savaric enjoy Lord Stavan’s hospitality as they discuss the bounty and the fact that there were two beasts, not just one. Lord Stavan sees the sense of upping the bounty and pays them in both gold and with a silver torq, a piece of jewelery that the nobleman reassures Surm is not a family heirloom. They also discuss the hill that the other half of the party is exploring. It is known by the locals as Corocal’s Barrow and is said to be haunted. No one approaches the burial place of the ancient king. No threat has ever come from there other than ghost stories told about campfires and taverns. After being fed and bathed, the two make their way back to the hill where their companions await them. Kobold

The party decides to camp in front of the cave entrance to see if anything emerges at night. The camp’s light is away from the entry way, giving the half-orcs space to see at night with their darkvision. During Rilka’s shift, a strange-looking creature emerges from the cave. It is a small, reptilian humanoid carrying a spear and a shield. As Rilka stirs the others, it is joined by a companion. The two converse in an unknown tongue. They finally seem to notice the camp and approach on the attack, but both are quickly dispatched by the party.

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Session Eight (Part I)
Trouble Under the Hill

27 Awakening 508 (cont’d)

The party, having slain two of the strange reptilian kobolds that had emerged from the hill, reset their campfire in front of the cave entrance. They decide to take up their guard shifts and see if any more emerge. Later in the night, Mõrvar sees several more skulk out from the cave mouth and put out the fire. As he wakes the others up, the kobolds continue to approach their camp. Rilka takes time to put on her armor while Surm and Savaric sneak out of camp to evade their attackers. Mõrvar gets ready to attack with his spear.

Two of the creatures charge into the camp from the outer darkness. Mõrvar dispatches one with a mighty, primal scream, cowing his companion into a shaken state. Rilka continues to struggle with her armor while the other, shaken as he is, attacks Mõrvar anyway. This one is quickly slain as well.

Meanwhile, Savaric sees another kobold skulking in the darkness. He fires upon it and misses. It attacks, though he quickly runs it through. Surm, hiding on the other side of camp, where he hears another of the odious creatures tromping through the woods. He fires a crossbow bolt blindly, to no avail, and runs, screaming, into camp.

As the party regroups, they hear movement in the woods—that suddenly stops. Surm and Mõrvar go to check it out and are ambushed by the kobold, who is as quickly dispatched as his kin. The party decides to wait out the rest of the night (Mõrvar was last watch, after all) and decide what to do in the morning.

28 Awakening 508

The next morning, after a lot of debate on the matter, it is decided that the party will go inside the hill to investigate the kobolds. Perhaps they can enhance their reputation with the town of Stavan by further protecting them from the monstrous threat.

Savaric and Rilka descend into the cave first, followed by Surm and Mõrvar. Taking the center tunnel, they pass the trap where they found the corpse before and continue down the long and winding tunnel. The cavern is cramped, damp, and smells of earth. Suddenly, the earth moves beneath Savaric and Rilka. Rilka manages to catch herself but Savaric falls into a 20’ pit. Rilka climbs down and touches him with their Wand of Cure Light Wounds. Mõrvar move the grapple to the other side of the pit with a mage hand and then Rilka and Savaric climb up the other side. Mõrvar and Surm do the same and they continue down the corridor after collecting their rope.

Savaric manages to find two more traps along the way, allowing the party to avoid them as the corridor finally opens into a chamber. Inside the chamber are 5 kobolds. After an awkward silence, one of the kobolds orders the others to charge, which they do. Rilka and Savaric quickly slay the four creatures and notice the fifth running down another tunnel. The chamber has a pile of cast-off goods from the town, coins, and the belongings of Lord Stavan’s man, Kirlan, whose body they had recovered previously. After a brief debate as to what to do with the pile of stuff, Mõrvar loads it into the dead man’s backpack and his own so that they can return it to the town—to further enhance their reputation. The party then decides to follow the last kobold down the tunnel.

The corridor leads to a dead-end with a trap door in the ceiling. Hand-holds are cut into the wall leading up to it. Savaric notices dust falling from the trap door, so the party suspects that the kobold scrambled up there recently. Rilka climbs up and opens the trap door and, sure enough, a spear comes stabbing down at her from above. Angry, the half-orc charges up into the space above where she squares off with the creature. Though this one seems stronger than the others, it, too, is quickly dispatched.

The party now finds themselves in an abandoned shack. Savaric climbs a tree and can see Corocal’s Barrow about a quarter mile from their location. The ranger manages to lead them back to the hill and to their waiting horses.

As the party rides back into town, a dead kobold slung over one of their horses, the usual whispering campaign begins. “The hunters return with another beast!” At Surm’s urging, the party stops in front of the Green Maiden Inn and impales the kobold on an upturned spear. “This is a kobold. We slew him and others at Corocal’s Barrow.” Then the party left the hushed crowd at the inn for Lord Stavan’s manor.

Knocking on the door, they are met by Lord Stavan himself. Surm tells the tale of what was found in the barrow and offers to show one of the Lord’s men the tunnel and the proof. Lord Stavan asks them to show him. So they take the Lord out to the abandoned shack and show him the tunnel into the barrow. He tells them that he cannot thank them enough for their service to the town and that they will be his guests tonight at the manor.

After cleaning up and during a fine dinner, Surm hints at the possibility of letters of recommendation for employment in Skeene, which is where they are headed next. The lord responds that he knows of no one in need of master hunters per se, but he can recommend them to his friend Lord Donat in Skeene and will do so gladly.

29 Awakening 508

The party, with a letter of recommendation in hand, leaves Stavan for Skeene.

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Session Eight (Part II)
The Circus Comes to Town

29 Awakening 508

On the way out of Stavan, on the way to Skeene, the party encounters a large caravan of wagons, carts, and animals headed toward them. Two outriders approach the group and introduce themselves as Almara Delisen and Selevan Skewes. Almara is a beautiful Southron woman, while Selevan is a balding, pinch-faced man of Midron stock. They represent the Umbra Carnival. Apparently the carnival was on it’s way to Stavan, chasing a rumor that they had a beast in their midst.

Surm informs them that the beasts, both of them, have been slain by Master Hunter Savaric and that the bounty has already been collected. Almara takes this in stride, noting only that Berthold, her Master of Beasts, would be disappointed. She then invites the group to ride to Skeene with the carnival as there is safety in numbers. She also invites them to her wagon to tell her the tale of the two beasts. As she rides away, Selevan informs them that they must not ride with the crew but in the back of the train with the Winding Market. When Surm asks what the Winding Market is, he is informed that it is where a variety of merchants have attached themselves to the carnival in hopes of increasing their sales.

The party takes their place at the rear of the carnival as it makes it way south toward Skeene.

That night, as the carnival settles into a rather raucous camp, Surm and Mõrvar invite themselves to dinner with one of the market families: Liesel, Handor, and their baby, Ran. It is an awkward dinner, but Liesel makes them feel welcome to share their stew.

Meanwhile, Rilka and Savaric make their way toward the section of the camp where they had seen some half-orc laborers. Along the way they are stopped by Berthold, a half-elf, at the traveling zoo. He warns them away from the animals because of the danger. Savaric sniffs at the danger, being a Master Hunter. Affronted, Berthold assures them that they will be duly impressed by the menagerie when it stops in Skeene. They boast a manticore and a baby dragon, among other marvels.

The two half-orcs continue on in search of their brethren, which they find in the crew area of the camp. The camp is lively, with music and dancing and spicy food. Rilka and Savaric converse with the half-orcs for a while before returning to their own camp and to bed. Over the course of the evening they met all of the half-orcs: Kranoc, Trask, Zamar, Thora, Kenda, Forlassa, and Gahndor.

30 Awakening 508

The next morning, as the camp gets ready to depart, Surm helps Handor hitch their wagon in return for the previous night’s meal. The party continues to travel with the carnival toward Skeene. Mõrvar manages to find himself riding with a troupe of dancers and attaches himself to a girl named Lanii. He flirts with her throughout the day as the caravan travels on.

That night, Surm attaches himself to Liesel and Handor again while Rilka and Savaric seek out the half-orcs again. Mõrvar Ulrich briefly eats with Liesel and Handor, but then abruptly takes off to be with Lanii.

1 Growth 508

The carnival arrives just outside of Skeene about noon time. As the crew begins to set up the carnival tents, a contingent of riders, including Almara Delisen, head out toward the city. The party catches up to the outriders, who are going into town for supplies and to speak with the Lord Mayor of Skeene. Almara admonishes them lightly that no one ever came by and told the story of the beasts, but wishes them a good journey.

The party continues into Skeene in search of Lord Donat. After making some inquiries, they find his estate near the city center. They are coolly met by the lord’s guards, but find that their host is a warm gentleman of good humor with much good to say about Lord Stavan. Lord Donat assures the party that, while he has no employment opportunities for them now, he will keep them in mind should any arise. He also reveals that he has heard of the beasts that were slain in Stavan, that they are called “Chupacabra”. He inquires as to where they are staying in Skeene and he is asked for a recommendation. He recommends the Nine Sisters Inn near the city’s north gate.

As the party settles into the Nine Sisters, the carnival’s parade passes through town. There are jugglers, clowns, dancers (including Lanii), men on stilts, and music. Even the half-orc crew are part of the procession. Hawkers call out the various thrilling events at the circus, all to be had for only a few coppers. Rilka, Savaric, and Mõrvar decide to go to the carnival tonight while Surm refuses, citing a distrust of carnival folk. He cannot be persuaded otherwise, so the others proceed to the circus.

The carnival midway boasts many games of chance. The group stops at one game involving a tall pole with a stuffed lion’s head on top. The harder you hit the base with a mallet, the further you move a puck up the pole, and the louder the lion’s head roars. A Northron strongman urges the crowd to demonstrate their “pride and passion” by moving the mallet up. One man goes forward and hits the base, causing the lion to roar majestically. Savaric confidently steps up with his copper to try his hand at the test of strength. His effort is less than heroic, getting nothing more than a pathetic “mew” from the lion. Finally, after numerous failed attempts (and pieces of copper spent), the half-orc elicits a monstrous, thunderous roar from the lion that can be heard throughout the circus. Solemnly, the Northron reaches into a wooden case and presents Savaric a paper crown, pronouncing him “King of the Carnival”. Not to be outdone, Mõrvar steps forward with his copper to try his hand. He, too, goes through many tries and many coppers before producing a monstrous roar. With the same solemnity, and without a trace of irony, the Northron presents Mõrvar a paper crown and pronounces him “King of the Carnival”.

Moving away from the midway, denying themselves the pleasures of Mistress Masque and Hajeck the All-Seeing, they find themselves in the traveling zoo. Along with some mundane animals such as elephants and bears, the zoo sports three chained animated skeletons, an emaciated manticore (with its tail spikes removed), and a baby dragon. The group is skeptical of the baby dragon, thinking it to be merely a large lizard, but no one can say so for certain.

After the traveling zoo, the group decides to go to the big top. There, Mõrvar will be able to see Lanii dance and the others can enjoy the other attractions. The group is charged two copper—except for Mõrvar and Savaric, who are only charged one on account of being kings of the carnival. After a performance of acrobats, clowns, and other artists, a large cage is wheeled out on the floor. Inside is a sphinx, introduced as Jherizhana, from the wilds beyond The Rift. Her handler, Berthold, asks her some questions, which she answers demurely. Finally, he says, “as a demonstration of the power held over the mighty beast”, he unlocks her cage. She springs forth and takes to the air, flying over the crowds, eliciting screams of fear and of delight. Berthold positions himself near the cage and commands the animal back into the cage with a mighty flourish of arm gestures. The beast flies into the cage and he locks it behind her. Skeptical, Mõrvar notes that Berthold had cast no spell he had ever heard of. Next come the dancing girls, which the group enjoys thoroughly. Finally, the big top shows wind down and the group starts heading away back toward the midway.

Suddenly, screams start erupting from the midway. “The baby dragon is on the loose! Loose dragon!” The group make their way to the heart of the trouble where they see the beast, running on its squat legs and hissing at passersby. Flying above is the strangest sight of all—a bald humanoid with enormous floppy ears, gliding to and fro, calling out to the group not to hurt the baby dragon. Savaric steps forward and uses his ranger abilities to calm the beast. A breathless Berthold arrives with a muzzle and rope and two other carnies to collect the beast. Mõrvar, snickering, tells Berthold to use his magic to control the beast, which gets a laugh from the crowd. Finally, the beast is muzzled and led away. Berthold asks to speak to Savaric privately, but the half-orc has his friends join him. Regardless, Berthold thanks him for securing the beast before anyone got hurt and gives him 25 gp for his troubles.

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Session Nine
Murder's Mark

1 Growth 508 (cont’d)

After the incident with the baby dragon, the three companions decide to take in the sphinx’s show. The sphinx, Jherizhana, holds court in a large tent outside of the big top labeled “The Lair of the Sphinx”. A line of folks gather outside the tent and are managed by a couple of circus “toughs”. Inside is a large, bottomless, cage with various cushions and pillows lying strewn about the interior. Jherizhana lounges on the cushions, politely answering questions of the audience, who are then herded out by the circus crew. As Rilka, Savaric, and Mõrvar Ulrich come by, Rilka asks the impressive creature about the possibility of sabotage at the circus. The idea seems to surprise and disturb her, throwing her out of her usual aloof manner. The others ask questions as well, but Jherizhana seems to be thrown so much by Rilka’s question that they get unsatisfactory answers.

Afterwards, Mõrvar decides to hook up with Lanii and persuade her to come back to the inn with him. Meanwhile, Rilka and Savaric explore the circus a little bit more and then head back to the Nine Sisters. Mõrvar is successful in his persuasion of the dancing girl and heads back to the inn a little bit later.

2 Growth 508

That morning, the rest of the party explain to Surm the events of the previous night. He reiterates his extreme dislike of “lying carnies” and is altogether unimpressed with the tales of monsters and fun. Mõrvar decides to escort Lanii back to the circus for her morning rehearsals. He is met on the way by Trask, one of the half-orc crewman for the carnival. The half-orc confirms that Mõrvar was one of the ones that stopped the baby dragon and traveled with them from Stavan. Trask tells him that Almara Delisen wants to see them at her wagon as soon as possible. Mõrvar excuses himself from Lanii and heads back to the Nine Sisters Inn to fetch the others.

The four gather at Almara Delisen’s box wagon and knock on the door. “Enter,” she calls from within. The wagon is cluttered with mementos of various shows and attractions. With the five of them in there—and several members of the group being on the large-side, it is quite crowded. After introductions are made, she chides them again for not visiting her with the Beast of Stavan story. “But, no matter. I appreciate your efforts yesterday in the regrettable incident with our dragon. I fear I could also use your help with another matter. You may have heard there was a murder in town last night…” The others asserted that they did not and Surm asserted that in a city of Skeene’s size, murders probably happen there all the time. Almara accepts this but continues “However, in this case, the circumstances, I am told, implicate people from my circus—something I find very hard to accept. I’d like to contract you to represent the Umbra Carnival to determine who is really responsible and preserve our reputation.”

Almara offers them the sum of 600 gp to accomplish this task. She also offers to draft a letter to Captain Kyra Feldane, Captain of the Watch in Skeene, indicating that the group is her designated third-party investigator in this matter. Surm, who hasn’t bothered to disguise his contempt for the carnival and its folk up to this point, wonders if Captain Feldane will accept their interference in this case. Almara counters that the letter should help in that and that, hopefully, by being fully cooperative, she can be persuaded. She encourages them to go to her before starting the investigation so as not to step on any toes. Surm makes a point of asking if she wants the truth or only information that exonerates the circus. Almara attempts to reassure him that she is confident of the innocence of the person implicated—Jherizhana the sphinx and that the truth of the matter would put things to right—so, yes, she wants the truth. She also says that she will give them access to most of the circus for their investigations. Surm asks about this, wanting to know why they don’t have access to all the circus and if she is going to tie their hands in the investigation. Almara responds that no, she not going to allow a tent-to-wagon search of people’s homes for no good reason but if their request is reasonable, she would allow searches of private spaces. Surm responds that “then our hands will be tied, then.”

The four have a vote and decide to take the case, mostly for the money involved. They are not subtle about this fact. They also decide to have Almara draw up a written contract for the arrangement.

Almara doesn’t have too many more details. The murder took place last night after the circus let out and that Captain Feldane came by her wagon this morning to let her know that the sphinx has been implicated and to not leave until the matter is settled. Almara isn’t afraid that Feldane is incompetent, but that her priority is order in the city, not necessarily the truth of the matter.

The four leave Almara’s tent and, after a bit of discussion, decide to question the sphinx. When they arrive at the sphinx’s tent (“The Lair of the Sphinx”), they see a line of people waiting and some circus “toughs” moving the spectators along. Surm approaches one of the toughs and asks how long until the show is done. He approximates about half an hour. Surm lets him know that when the show is done, that they want to see her. The tough says that he can’t do that, but if they want to see the sphinx, they can get in line. Frustrated, Surm goes back to Almara for something indicating to the circus staff that they are working on the circus’ behalf and to allow them full access. Almara concedes that word-of-mouth may not have reached everyone yet and gives him a writ. Surm then goes back to the tough and presents the writ. The tough takes it stride, letting one of his fellows see the writ as well, who goes into the tent and reemerges a few minutes later. “Jherizhana will see you briefly after the show,” the tough informs them.

The sphinx lounges in her cage on her cushions and pillows. Surm actually seems impressed that it is an actual sphinx. She is beautiful and aloof, asking the four what they want of her. They ask her what she knows of the murder that she is implicated in and she replies that she doesn’t know much—only that she is implicated in a murder she did not commit. She was in her cage, bound by Berthold’s powers last night after the show. She knows of no one who would want to frame her or bring harm to the circus. During the questioning, Mõrvar moves forward to examine the cage in which Jherizhana is imprisoned. Both the circus tough and the sphinx herself are quick to warn him back away from the cage. This piques his curiosity further, making him believe that not all was as it seemed. Nevertheless, he could see no change in scene before him. If this was an illusion, he could not part the veil of it.

Meanwhile, the sphinx seemed to grow more exasperated at the numerous questions from the party about her captivity. Surm knew from his arcane experience that such creatures were civilized, wise, and not known man-eaters. Savaric and the others doubted Berthold’s powers as a sorcerer and as a ranger. Something did not sit right with them in this situation. Finally, Jherizhana told them to tell Almara to let them speak with Ika. Then, all their questions would be answered.

The group then heads back to Almara’s wagon where they tell her that Jherizhana told them to tell her to let them speak to Ika. Almara seems irritated, but then resigned, and has a carny fetch her from the Midway. Soon they are all joined by a beautiful woman—a woman wearing the sphinx’s face! Ika explains that there is no Jherizhana, that she creates her with illusions. The entire carnival is in on the trick, ensuring that their main attraction is not found out. Ika apologizes for the confusion, but Almara takes responsibility for the deception. This is why she is positive that the sphinx has committed no crimes—there is no sphinx. Surm, taking this as proof of the untrustworthy nature of carnival folk, is exasperated and wants to know why she didn’t admit this in the first place. Almara asserts that it still doesn’t solve the problem. Someone was murdered and if the carnival loses its main attraction, then they can’t reprovision in town. All admitting the truth will do is further implicate the carnival in lying and threaten its ability to do business. Further, whoever is trying to implicate the carnival gets away with it—and with murder. After asserting that there are no other “secrets” that the investigators may need to know, Almara suggests that they go speak with Captain Feldane about the murder.

After the group leaves Almara’s wagon, they have a discussion about their next steps. Surm insists that they need to present a more professional front when speaking to Captain Feldane. He thinks that they need to have a militaristic cover story, placing “Captain Rilka” in charge of their troupe and speaking for them in public. They also need to have uniforms. After a long discussion of who would portray what role and how the uniforms would look, the four go off into town in search of new outfits and weapons. When finished, Captain Rilka is bedecked in a full helm, black shirt, black gloves, black pants, and black boots with a red cape and a red sash with a red belt. The others in her command (Herald Surm, Second Mõrvar, and Tracker Savaric) are dressed; in white shirts, red gloves and belts, black pants, red boots, and red hooded cloaks. They are under Captain Rilka’s command, a former militia soldier from Jossia, and have been commissioned by the carnival to investigate this matter. Finally, long after midday, the group approaches the Watchhall, home of the City Watch.

They are met at the Watchhall by guardsmen wearing tabards with the colors of the city—a boar’s head on diagonal bands of orange and white—and ushered into the Captain’s office. Captain Kyra Feldane is a woman in her late twenties with fiery red hair in a short soldier’s crop. Rilka presents Almara’s sealed letter and introduces her group. Feldane asks her what she is captain of, and Rilka reiterates that she formed her own group, the Redcloaks, after leaving the militia in Jossia. Feldane says that she will accept their part in the investigation so long as their behavior is exemplary. Their behavior will reflect directly upon the carnival they represent and will be directly proportional to the amount of aid they will receive from the Watch. If they behave badly, they will find the Watch to, in fact, be an impediment. So long as they are clear in this, they can work together. Rilka indicates that they are in full understanding of her meaning. With that, Captain Feldane provides more information on the murder.

The victim was Archinvin Walder, a moneylender and sometime pawnbroker who owns a local business called the Locked Box. Walder was found mauled while walking to his home after the circus last night. Walder’s wife (Agnes) went looking for her husband when he never came home and discovered the body. Agnes begged her husband’s four full-time guards, who lived at the Locked Box, for help. Three left their post to help while one stayed behind to secure the office. Thieves, presumably in league with the creature that killed Walder, burst into the Locked Box, killed the remaining guard, and stole many easily carried valuables (gems/jewelry). The robbery was interrupted by the arrival of the guards bringing Walder’s body back to the office instead of his home. They glimpsed two humanoid figures fleeing into the night. Upon finding the guard dead and the building burglarized, the three remaining guards secured the building until the Watch could be notified.

Feldane confides that she isn’t entirely convinced that a creature from the circus is responsible for the murders. Nevertheless, she explains that the people of Skeene can be fiercely independent and reactive: “The mood in town is sour. There are stories all over the place about a great four-legged beast flying over town last night after the circus closed down, silhouetted across the moon. Of course, I’ll be damned if I can find a single eyewitness who actually saw the sphinx. Now poor Walder is left dead in some bushes. It’d be one thing if these deaths were accidental, but the robbery angle stirs a lot of unworthy opinions of outsiders.” Feldane offers her cooperation but reminds the group that she has to do what she feels is in the best interest of the city. She also cautions them to watch out for people nursing a grudge against outsiders.

She offers to have her guardsmen take them to where Walder was found. Surm asks to see the body and Feldane says she isn’t sure that it will be possible. The priests of Sadum have the body and have probably interred it in the necropolis by now. When asked, she reiterates that he appeared to be mauled by some large animal. In hindsight, there were no bite marks—only claws.

Guardsmen escort the troupe outside the city to where the body was found. Savaric searches the area for tracks and finds the tracks of a big creature, but also with swept away portions of humanoid tracks leaving only the paw prints. The tracks are not leonine and are not deep enough for a creature as large as Jherizhana—or the manticore in the traveling zoo, for that matter. Clearly someone tried to make it look as if the creature had flown into this spot.

The watchmen then escort the band back into the city to the home of Agnes Walder, widow of the victim. They are met at the door by an armed guard, who, upon noting the city watch, lets them in. Another guard is in the room and Agnes sits on the couch, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. The group, led by Rilka, asks the woman questions about the previous night. Archivin decided, after seeing the processional, to take in the circus. She did not, not being interested in watching Archie ogle that topless “she-lion whats-it”. In fact, she’s convinced that if she had gone with him, this wouldn’t have happened. After it got late, she decided to go looking for him and came across his body. She went back, notified the watch at the gates, and got Archivin’s guards from the Locked Box to help her retrieve his body. When the guards returned to the Locked Box, they came upon humanoids running from the premises and later found their comrade with his throat cut. They notified the watch of this new crime as well.

When asked why the guards took the body to the Locked Box instead of the home, Agnes replied that she wasn’t ready to have her husband’s mauled body in the house just yet. She was in such a state that she asked two of the remaining guards to stay with her, so she wouldn’t be alone, and the third to take Archie’s body to the Temple of Sadum, as was proper. Rilka asks for permission to search the Locked Box and Agnes, as the group is being vetted by the Watch, grants it, having one of the guards, Kaldis, take her key with them to the place of business, just a couple of doors down the street.

Savaric checks all of the alleyways around the building for signs of suspicious activity while the others of the Redcloaks wait. Finally satisfied, Savaric rejoins the others. The guard opens the door and lights lamps in the interior.

Here in the showroom, glass display cases, broken in a few places, line the walls, while two additional cases sit like islands in the center of the room. The cases contain an eclectic mix of valuables such as unusual tools, masterwork weapons, jewelry, fine china, antiques, and artwork. A set of merchant’s scales rests on top of one of the display cases. Doors to the north lead to the Office, the Guard’s Quarters, and the Vault areas. Surm asks about what items were taken and the guards indicate that the inventory is probably in Archivin’s office.

Surm asks to see the Guard’s Quarters, as that where the dead guard was found. Inside, two cots and a bunk bed sit in the room. Footlockers are tucked underneath the cots to store personal belongings. A table and chairs are in the room’s center, a well-used deck of harrow cards on the tabletop. A large rusty red blotch remains on the floor where the guard’s body was discovered. The guard tells them that his throat had been slit.

Next the group heads to the Vault. The double-doors lead to a wide staircase heading down into a corridor. The corridor widens into a chamber with another set of double doors at its end. The guard cautions them that there is a trap in this room but that the key will disarm it. Sure enough, when he turns the key in the lock, the group feels vibrations beneath their feet. The guard indicates that it is a pit trap designed to catch thieves after they leave the vault.

Inside the vault, the guard stands aside and lets the group enter to investigate. The chamber is lined with shelves, including freestanding shelving in the center. There is ample room in the vault, but labeled boxes, bags, weapons, and armor are spread throughout. The Redcloaks begin to investigate the state of the vault, trying to determine what, if anything, was taken from here by the robbers. They do find several of the boxes in states of disarray—just as Rilka dodges a blade that springs from the darkness. The short sword is being wielded by a strange-looking humanoid with charcoal-colored skin that seems to blend into its background. Rilka returns the attack and misses. Suddenly, everyone is attacking the Skulk (as Surm has identified it)—including the guard. It drops its weapon and surrenders, crying “I give!”

Under stern questioning, the Skulk reveals that it was locked in here after his comrades fled. The guard confirms that that could happen by unlocking the vault door not disabling the trap. The Skulks work for humans that pay them in Shiver, an alchemical drug. They never see the humans—there are two of their number that work for the humans and act as go-betweens. The Skulks live in a tribe of 15 outside of the city.

The Skulks are taken away by the City Watch, who had, in the meantime, fetched Captain Feldane. She assures the group that she will follow-up on the Skulk lead. Shiver, while highly addictive and responsible for the incitement of many crimes, is not illegal in Skeene in and of itself. There is no telling where they got the Shiver from without checking out these two Skulks. Feldane asks what their next course of action is, as they still haven’t solved the murder. The group will return to the circus to see what can be found there.

As the Redcloaks enter the circus at the parade grounds, they see many people making their way out, clearly disgruntled, and hear cries of “these thieving Southrons are bleeding the town dry!” A group of four townsfolk and two of the circus toughs are facing off in the parade grounds. Rilka and Mõrvar face off between the two groups, attempting to intimidate them into submission. Surm interposes himself and persuades the townsfolk to disperse, assuring them that he is one of them and distrusts the carnival folk as well. He learns that “Ed Jones” has gone to the Watch about it and he assures them that between he and his friends and the Watch that the situation will be handled. The townsfolk leave.

As the others handle the disturbance on the parade grounds, Savaric is approached by one of the dancing girls. “There’s a body in the sphinx’s tent!” she whispers urgently. Savaric lets the others know and they rush to the Lair of the Sphinx tent near the Big Top.

The body lies near the rear of the tent. It is a woman in the black-trimmed, red robes of a priestess of Barthal. Her wounds look like the claw marks of a large animal. Circus toughs keep the crowds away while the group looks for more clues.

The party finds a slender rope burn about the woman’s neck. Very little is found in the way of tracks, much less feline or heavy animal tracks. Toward the back of the tent some of the stakes have been pulled to form an exit. There lie three sets of pull-apart clown costumes. They also find three small vials near the body. Surm determines that they contained alchemical materials, not true magic potions.

About that time, Almara arrives with the circus’ chief enforcer, Master Venlok. Almara sends one of the toughs for Captain Feldane. Surm sends Master Venlok to account for all the clowns in the circus. In the meantime, Captain Feldane arrives and identifies the body as that of Sister Esrelda Woodmere, a priestess of Barthal who is half-Yulanian, half-Leilioran and wanted to confront the sphinx about the crimes in the hopes of bringing justice to those that are perpetrating them. Venlok returns with news that all clowns are accounted for, though three clowns were seen loitering near the sphinx’s tent earlier in the day.

With the new body and the rash of pick-pocketing, the Captain seems to be at her wit’s end. She demands that Almara let her see the sphinx. Almara hedges, saying that the sphinx isn’t really a captive and that she resides in a private wagon… Captain Feldane snaps. “You’ve brought a dangerous creature into this community—-a creature you clearly cannot keep track of, let alone control. I can’t say I know for certain there’s wrongdoing here on the part of your people, but after a point it ceases to matter. For the saftey of my city, I’m putting this circus under quarantine. I don’t want any of your people leaving these grounds unless it’s to leave town completely. I’m giving you two days to get packed up and go.” She turns to the Redcloaks and tells them that if they want to continue investigating, so be it. But they should know that any evidence they find had better be more than reasonably convincing if the circus is to be exonerated. Captain Feldane and her troop of guards collect the body and take it out of the carnival grounds.

The group lingers in the tent, discussing their various options and theories as to what is going on with the carnival. There seem to be far more questions than answers…

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