Campaign of the Month: September 2018

Shadows of the Rift

Session Sixteen
Confrontation in the Keep

14 Growth 508 (cont’d)

The party is gathered in the shadows at the base of the keep, between the tower and the keep proper. Mõrvar uses his sorcery to conjure an invisible hand place a grapple on the roof of the one-story keep building. Everyone climbs the knotted rope onto the flat roof.

Once everyone gathers on the roof, Savaric stealthily makes his way about, scouting out the area. He finds no other way into the keep, but does find two slots cut into the stone roof where smoke comes wafting out. The slots are two small to climb down through. He returns to the gathered party and reports his find.

Rilka sniffs the air and determines that she smells woodsmoke and cooking meat coming from the vents. Mõrvar speculates on the existence of a secret entrance and exit from the keep, used by the warlord to escape should his hold on his minions grow lax. No one else seems as sure about that. Regardless, the only entrances into the keep seem to be a shuttered window at the rear and the double-door at the front. The front of the keep is watched by a pair of guards. The window could be seen by those encamped to the rear of the keep.

Conversation stops as everyone but Mõrvar hears the front door opening. Surm and Savaric cautiously approach the front of the building. Below them, they see two men emerge. They walk past the sentries and then cautiously make their way in opposite directions around the keep, both men keeping to the shadows. Surm reports back to the others while Savaric follows one of the men around the top of the building until he meets up with his compatriot at the rear of the keep.

One says to the other “You see anything?”

“No.”

“The old man’s getting paranoid.”

The other shrugs and the two start making their way back to the front entrance of the keep.

Savaric rejoins the party at the far end of the keep roof, near the tower. The party discusses their options and present, and then discard, various plans. Finally, they decide to have Savaric check out the area behind the keep. The half-orc climbs down the knotted rope, nearly falling but heroically catching himself along the way, and lands in front of the shuttered window. He hears the sound of commotion and drunken laughter beyond the shutters and can smell the aroma of cooked meat wafting from between the cracks of the shutters.

Surm stealthily makes his way to the front of the keep to peer down and check out the front. He can still hear commotion beyond the double doors and one of the sentries says to the other, “We really got the shit end of duty this time, huh?” The sorcerer then makes his way carefully back to the others, just as Savaric arrives back from his excursion below.

The half-orcs both indicate that, based on Surm’s earlier figuring, that they have about a quarter hour to go before the witch is able to summon the demon again. Once again, the party discusses various options for how to proceed. Time is slipping away. Finally, Savaric announces that the witch could start her summoning at any minute.

Spurred to action, Surm, Rilka, and Mõrvar climb down the rope to the shuttered window while Savaric makes his way to the two air vents and clogs them with cloaks. Then he regroups with the others down below at the window.

While waiting in the shadows near the window, Mõrvar hears heavy footsteps coming down the stairs to the rear of the tower. Savaric and Surm hear increased activity in the keep beyond the window. A strong voice calls out from within “Throw open the door and assemble!” Soon the air is filled with horn blasts and the various encamped warriors start to stir and gather at the front of the keep.

As Surm begins to work at the rod that bars the shutter closed, Savaric returns to the top of the keep and retrieves his cloaks—smoking the assembled warriors out is obviously not going to be necessary as they are gathering to march. Once he returns to the group, Mõrvar uses his sorcerous hand to retrieve the grapple. By this time, Surm has jimmied open the shutter.

With the window now open, the party sneaks inside the keep. Surm ducks under a nearby table while the others keep to the shadows inside what is obviously a kitchen area. Surm emerges from beneath the table and joins the others along a wall. At each end of this wall is an arched doorway. Surm peers around one doorway while Savaric peers around the other.

Each of them see into the main hall of the keep. On the other side of the wall is a dais on which stands a large, wooden chair. In front of the dais are a man and woman. The man is large with a craggy face and a whaler’s beard. He wears scale mail and carries a beautiful battleaxe. The woman is lithe and raven-haired, more than a little attractive, and appears to be wearing no armor. The man says to the woman, “The host is gathering.”

Suddenly, the woman pivots and casts a spell in the direction of Savaric. The half-orc turns pale and flees to hide beneath the table, putting it and the wall between him and the source of his sudden fear. The man strides toward where the half-orc was standing and encounters Rilka waiting for him. She takes the opportunity to strike at the man while Surm steps out from behind the wall to confront the woman.

Mõrvar casts a ray of enfeeblement at the man engaged with Rilka. It seems to have little effect on him. Surm casts tendrils of fire from his hands to burn the woman, to little effect but to gain her attention. Rilka attacks the man while Mõrvar attempts to enfeeble him again—once again, to little effect. Savaric emerges from under the table and, though shaken, engages with the man as well. The woman turns her gaze upon Surm, crushes something in her hand, and her eyes begin to glow like coals. Surm recognizes the spell as “burning gaze”. The man, engaged with both Rilka and Savaric, attacks (and misses) Rilka. Surm decides to step forward and attack the woman with his spear, dealing a fair amount of damage.

Savaric attacks the man and misses, followed by Rilka, who does much the same. Surm attacks the woman again and deals more damage to her. She shrieks in anger. Mõrvar changes his position and engages with the woman, striking her down with his weapon. The man continues to trade blows with Rilka.

Mõrvar moves again and attacks the man from behind, missing him. Rilka continues to miss the man as well. Savaric, recovering from his irrational fear, attacks two-handed, with much success. As the other three engage the man, Surm runs to the front doors and bars them shut.

Mõrvar attacks the man, missing him yet again. Surm runs to the fallen woman—presumably the witch—and searches her body. He finds two pouches, a kukri, and a dagger on her when he also notices a small red spider scurrying away. He attempts to step on it, but it is too quick for him. Rilka finally hits the man—presumably Magrathar and staggers him. Suddenly, his eyes go dark and he roars in anger as he moves forward to attack the half-orc.

The warlord hits Rilka hard, her innate ferocity barely keeping her conscious. Meanwhile, Surm throws a ray of frost at the spider, causing it to stoop scurrying, turn over, and curl up its tiny legs. Finally, Savaric deals a savage blow to Magrathar, followed by a huge by Mõrvar. The warlord falls—followed by an exhausted and injured Rilka.

Surm, ever thorough, stomps on the spider’s corpse. He takes a moment to look inside the pouches he removed from the witch‘s body. One is filled with coins, while the other contains a small, clear crystal. He pockets both pouches and returns to his friends. Noting Rilka’s condition, he retrieves a scroll of healing and brings her back to consciousness.

As Savaric goes about and decapitates the bodies, the barred front doors begin to shake. The party can hear a voice beyond the doors shouting “My Lord! The host is assembled!”

After a brief discussion, the party decides that their best bet is to impress and intimidate these mercenaries. Rilka and Savaric position themselves on either side of the door and Surm stays out of sight. Mõrvar stands in the center of the hall with globes of light (provided by Surm) dancing about his form. He has also collected the heads of Magrathar and the witch. Savaric throws upon the bar and he and Rilka gently pull open the doors, careful not to reveal their presence.

Beyond the door is a gathering of mercenary warriors. Mõrvar, in the eldritch light of his brother’s globes, pronounces, “I have slain your witch. I have slain Magrathar. The Schir demon is free-willed. Disperse or I shall set him free upon you!” Meanwhile, Surm is using his magic to whisper through the crowd “The demon is free! We are in danger!”. Mõrvar uses his own magic to carry the head of Magrathar forward, displaying his trophy.

Suddenly, a shout arises from beyond the doors. “Demon!”

Rilka and Savaric shut the double doors and the party gathers in the main keep to plan for this new development. The demon is apparently on the rampage outside. Horns begin to sound and the troops start to rally. Mõrvar strips the scale mail from the warlord’s body while Savaric takes his axe. Mõrvar then takes up the two heads once again. The party goes to a set of wooden doors that obviously lead into the tower. Inside they find some discarded barrels of ale and some unused tables. There is a door leading to the stairway and a trap door in the floor. Above the trap door is a simple pulley apparatus.

Surm opens the trap door and casts his dancing globes of light down into the darkness below. Inside, he can see more ale casks and grain sacks—and the packed bodies of a number of women. He calls down for his mother, “Hilda?” A tentative answer comes up from below—“Surm?”

Everyone comes out of the basement—fourteen women in total, including Hilda Ulrich. Rilka introduces herself and Savaric to the refugees. She fills in the group on current events. Hilda and Surm embrace, while Mõrvar keeps his distance.

Surm goes upstairs and finds a locked door on the second level. The stairs continue up to the third. He borrows his brother’s Traveler’s Any Tool to pick the lock on the door. He turns the lock and lets himself and Mõrvar inside. It appears to be a pretty standard bedchamber with a moderate-sized chest at the foot of the bed. While Mõrvar searches this room, Surm heads up to the third level. Once there, he again picks the lock of the door.

Opening the door, he reveals a room with a large pentagram painted upon the floor with an altar at its apex. A scattering of cushions line one wall. Surm searches out the room and finds a secret compartment within the altar. Inside, he finds a rolled-up piece of parchment and a velvet pouch. Inside the pouch is an assortment of gemstones. The parchment is written in Tradespeak and details a ritual used to activate the Crystal of Pentharic, an artifact that contains, allows temporary control over, a Schir demon. A diagram on the parchment matches the crystal he found on the witch’s body. He takes his finds and returns to the second level to meet with his brother.

In the meantime, all Mõrvar has found of interest in the room is a map of Jossia. Surm comes in and unlocks the chest. Inside is another assortment of gems, a bag full of coins, and an exquisitely-made short sword. These are gathered by the brothers as they discuss whether or not they will keep the loot or turn it over to King Alrik. Surm feels that they should turn it over to the King to build their prestige within the clan. Mõrvar could not care less for the prestige within the clan.

Surm looks through an arrow slit and sees no sign of conflict on this side of the palisade. He can also hear no sounds of battle. Rejoining the others on the ground floor, they all decide to send Savaric out to assess the situation.

The half-orc ranger runs across the field to the palisade and then creeps forward toward the open gate. Beyond it he sees a small body of warriors being addressed by an obvious leader. The leader says “It is decided” as one of the assembled warriors shouts an alarm and points toward Savaric. The half-orc quickly pulls the line attached to the pulley that closes the gate. He hears a male voice call out from the other side “Hold! We would parley! Tell your sorcerer we would speak!”

Savaric runs back to the keep and reports to the others. After a brief discussion, the party heads out of the keep and to the palisade. Rilka and Savaric make their way up to the right side of the gate, while Mõrvar and Surm make their way up to the left. Surm keeps low and out of sight and casts a set of dancing lights around his brother’s head.

One of the warriors assembled below steps forward. " I am Kragar, son of Vortan. I lead these warriors. We would parley with you. We wish to leave this place and go to Rosemeedt. Our quarrel with the Aethyngs is done, but they lie in wait along the pass. We wish to have leave to go. "

At Surm’s prompting, Mõrvar asks “Do you offer restitution to the king?”

There is much murmuring amongst the men below, but Kragar steps forward again. “We will fight for King Alrik for a season. We will help protect the Aethyngs as they rebuild. Do you speak for the King?”

Mõrvar “I will send messengers to the King with your proposal and they will return with his answer. Prepare horses for my messengers.”

The men below start scrambling and gathering mounts from the various horses milling about the battlefield. The party climbs down from the palisade and gathers to discuss this new development and their future plans. They also discuss whether or not to give the loot found in the keep to King Alrik or to keep it for themselves. They decide to give the loot to the King. It is also decided that Surm and Savaric will return to Aeth with the mercenaries’ offer.

Surm and Savaric cautiously make their way through the gate in the palisade to the waiting mercenaries. They are given mounts and are allowed to ride out of the valley unmolested.

As the two make their way out of the valley, they cautiously approach the first likely ambush point. Surm calls out a hail to the Aethyngs. They are told to halt as the Aethyngs assess them and their situation. They are then approached by a warrior who later gives them the password and location of the next ambushes. The two carry on down the pass with this information in hand and eventually make it back to Aeth.

Once in Aeth, the two adventurers seek out King Alrik. They find him in the longhouse. Surm informs him that they have slain Magrathar and the witch, taken the warlord’s keep, and that the demon has been slain once again. He also informs him of the offer of the remaining mercenaries.

Alrik is moved by this news. War is no longer coming to his village, thanks to the Ulrich brothers and their companions. " The gods, and Yülthn, have smiled upon you, and through you, on Aeth. it is a hard thing to admit one was wrong. But I should not have cast you and your brother out so long ago. "

Surm accepts this apology and tells the king that a word from him would go a long way toward making he and his friends more accepted in the village. Alrik assures him that he will do what he can. Surm then asks for an escort of soldiers to take him and Savaric back to the keep. Alrik tells him that to seek out Frey, a warrior stationed outside. She will gather a force to take with them and give news to the ambush points to return to Aeth, that the threat is over.

Surm and Savaric gather up the promised warriors and start heading up the pass to the keep. When reaching the checkpoints, Surm has the ambushers join their ranks. Soon, a large contingent of Aethyngs arrive at the keep.

Surm has Frey “handle” the mercenaries. She leads the Aethyngs to surround the gathered mercenaries and Kragar follows her instructions to stay within the circle until they return to Aeth and he and his men are oathbound to the King.

In the meantime, Savaric has gathered mounts for his companions, as well as an abandoned cart to haul away the looted supplies from the keep. He then returns to the keep and searches the kitchen area and the dais in the keep, finding nothing of interest.

Mõrvar approaches his mother and reassures her that she is safe. She thanks him.

All of the refugees and loot from the keep are loaded into the cart. Then the cart and its escort head down the pass and back to Aeth.

15 Growth 508

By the time the entourage reaches Aeth, dawn has broken. As the party enters the village, they can see that people have already started gathering. Whispers of their deeds reach their ears. They make their way slowly to the center of the village where King Alrik awaits on a small platform.

Surm strides forward and announces to the King all that they have done, and that they have brought supplies and treasure back to him. King Alrik proclaims that the gods are smiling upon Aeth and upon her benefactors, the Ulriches and their half-orc companions. Without their efforts, war and bloodshed would have come to the village once again. A feast will be thrown in their honor tonight. Whispered messages are cast about in the crowd, saying that the Ulriches are heroes. Cheers go up and the people begin to gather about the wagon. Shouts of “Hail Alrik” and “Hail Aeth” echo about the square. Some of the villagers come buy and clap the party on the shoulders in thanks. Even Lothar Ulrich gives the brothers a nod of respect.

Surm approaches the King again and asks if they may keep the armor and weapons they found on Magrathar. Alrik says that they are the spoils of war and that they may, indeed, be kept.

That day, Mõrvar asks Rilka, who is an armorer, to clean the scale mail they took off of Magrathar. Savaric claims his finely-wrought battleaxe. When Rilka is done, Mõrvar takes the armor and approaches his brother Content Not Found: lother-ulrich encampment. He tells him that he wishes to give him the armor out of respect and to bury some of the hard feelings between them. Lothar does not take the armor, saying that his respect cannot be bought. But he does acknowledge that some of his respect has been earned by Mõrvar and his companions actions.

Mõrvar also approaches his mother once again. She slaps him, hard, saying “That was for Kromas”. Then she embraces him, saying “And that is for coming home.”

That night’s festivities in the longhouse are raucous and joyful. People come around and congratulate the party on their success. Alrik makes a series of increasingly incoherent speeches about the victories they have won. Though food and drink are scarce, the Aethyngs throw a fine feast and celebration of the hard-won victory that the party has brought to Aeth.

View
Session Fifteen
Once More Into the Breach

14 Growth 508

After the pronouncement of King Alrik, the party settles into their camp within the ruins of the village of Aeth. Though they are located within what is left of the walls, no other groups camp near them. It seems that many of the Aethyngs still do not wholly accept their strangeness—the sorcery of the twins and the two half-orcs with whom they travel.

As the group settles in to rest, Surm and Mõrvar discuss their newly restored status in the clan. Surm is pleased, but Mõrvar is still troubled and resentful. He wonders if the clan would accept their uncle back into the fold after all these years. Surm doesn’t think so, as he has done nothing to re-endear him to the King as as they have done. He also believes that Thormax is not interested in being restored to the clan after all these years. This seems to reinforce Mõrvar’s bitterness toward the clan, much to Surm’s consternation.

The following morning, there is much activity in the village. Scouts are running from the village and up the pass in order to give advance warning of an invasion by Magrathar’s troops. Groups of men are working on the broken palisade that surrounds the village. Weapons are being sharpened and ready for the battle that all anticipate will come soon. Savaric and Rilka volunteer to help with the palisade. Their aid is accepted, though it is clear that many of the workers are suspicious of the two half-orcs. Surm and Mõrvar decide to walk about the village and check-in with various family members and acquaintances.

First, the twins go and meet with their brother Lothar. The older Ulrich is cold, but answers the questions put to him about how the Ulrich family fared during the twins’ long absence. He left the family soon after their father’s death, fighting and raiding with various other clans. Ren had stayed behind to help their mother and Sonja manage the home. As the twins leave him, he does manage to tell them “May the gods favor you.”

Next, the two Ulrich brothers go to meet their brother Ren, who is camping with many of the other wounded refugees from the warlord’s encampment. He’s not sure how he is going to carry on without his leg—in Northron society, the old, frail, and maimed are often discarded. He was an apprentice blacksmith before the raiders came—perhaps he can go back to that.

Feeling nostalgic, Surm and Mõrvar decide to visit their childhood home. It has experienced extensive fire damage, but still stands.

Finally, the two brothers decide to visit with Rathic and Vorthar in the refugee camps. From the former bard they learn that many of the refugees have committed themselves to standing and fighting with their rescuers and have petitioned the King to become part of the Aethyngs.

Runners are dispatched throughout the village—the King wants all camp leaders to gather in the central longhouse. Surm and Mõrvar reunite with Savaric and Rilka and discuss who they will send to the longhouse. It is finally decided that the twins will go—once Surm exacts a promise from Mõrvar that he will be quiet during the meeting.

Alrik begins the meeting by announcing that he has decided to bring the battle to Magrathar. He has called all of the camp leaders together to discuss strategies to do just that. But first, he calls upon the Ulrich twins to give insights into what the witch in the warlord’s entourage is capable of.

Surm comes forward and orates to the gathered leaders. He tells them that the demon was most likely summoned forth by a ritual spell or an artifact. Though the demon was “destroyed” in this realm, over time it could reform on its home plane and be re-summoned. This could take up to twenty-four hours—which means that if the Aethyngs are going to attack before the witch brings forth another demon, they need to move sooner rather than later. Further, he suggests not attacking but laying in ambush against the oncoming horde. It would be easier to set such ambushes along the pass leading back to Aeth.

The sorcerer’s pronouncements cause a lot of consternation in the crowd. Some shout in agreement while others think the plan to be “cowardly” or lacking in honor. Finally, Alrik calls for order. He will go with the sorcerer’s plan. He calls for camp leaders to volunteer to set up ambushes, while others will work on forging iron weapons and preparing defenses for the village.

While the camp leaders sort themselves out—some staying to discuss the ambushes with the King while others leaving to begin defense preparations, Surm and Mõrvar approach Alrik with some private concerns. First, they warn Alrik that witches are also known to have familiars that take the form of animals—birds, insects, etc. They could be being spied upon as they speak. They warn him to be careful and to pass word to the camp leaders to take down suspicious animals and such over the course of their work. Further, they wanted to pass on to him, out of general earshot, their plan of moving forward and ambushing the keep from behind the line of troops. They will take a mountain pass that their scout (Savaric) had found and make their way behind the palisades and wait for the troops to move. Then they will strike. The King approves of their plan. Finally, the two ask that iron weapons be sent to their group to aid them in the fight against the demon, should the need arise. The King assures them that he will make those arrangements.

The twins return to their half-orc companions and explain the new plan and what transpired in the longhouse. They also make a point of telling Ren what happened and encourage him to help at the forges. Once they receive a cache a of iron weapons from one of the King’s aides, they begin to make their way up the pass toward Magrathar’s keep.

Along the way, they encounter a pair of mercenary scouts posted on the walls of the pass. They stealthily make their way toward one, hoping to take the man out quietly. Unfortunately, they are detected and the man fires an arrow at Savaric. From across the pass, the other scout begins firing as well. After a heated exchange of blows and shots fired by both the twins (with their magic) and Savaric (with his bow), the scouts are dispatched.

Eventually, as the sun begins to descend, the party makes it to the valley where the warlord’s keep lies. They follow the ridge that Savaric had found previously. They move extremely slowly and cautiously along the ridge, hoping to not draw attention to themselves as they move. They can see and smell the carrion remains of the previous night’s battle below them. They follow the ridge beyond the first palisade and make it about halfway to the next before discovering that the ridge ends. They can see movement on the gates and catwalk of the next palisade. The group backs up along the ridge and the ranger scouts for another route. He finds one—but they will have to climb up higher to get to it. Mõrvar uses his sorcery to place a grapple into the higher ridge so that the party can climb his knotted rope to the next level. Savaric climbs up to the new ridge and scouts ahead to see if this ridge will take them all the way to their destination. He follows it to the last palisade and can see that it continues beyond it. He also spots five guards on the gates of the palisade and the rest of Magrathar’s army encamped on the other side, around the keep. He carefully returns to his friends.

As the sun continues to set, the party waits on the ridge until darkness falls. Then, they carefully and slowly make their way along the ridge, creeping along the rocky wall until they emerge beyond the palisade. From here, they can see the warlord’s keep. It is comprised of a single-story square building with a three-story tower on one side. The ridge extends along the mountain wall beyond the palisade to end about parallel with the side-tower of the keep. They follow the ridge to its end and then gently lower the rope down and descend to the floor of the valley. Keeping ot the shadows cast by the various campfires, the group makes their way to the rear of the keep, gathering in the shadowy corner where the tower meets the main hall. . .

View
Session Fourteen
Restoration

13 Growth 508 (cont’d)

The party continues down the mountain pass toward the warlord’s encampment.

Savaric searches the area for a pass that can be used to circumvent the checkpoint. He finds a high ridge that passes about five feet above the checkpoint. He stealthily checks out the situation: at a bend in the pass are two men on the ground and two others perched in rocks of the mountain wall with bows. He takes in the scene and goes back to the report to the others.

After a lengthy discussion, the party decides to try and use the high pass to ambush the archers first and let Rilka take on the men on the ground until the others are free to help. Savaric will lead the way up the pass while Mõrvar and Surm follow. Rilka will give them a ten-minute lead and then come walking up the path.

The half-orc and the twin sorcerers make their slowly, sneakily, up the ridge and around the bend. Surm diverts down a side-trail toward one of the archers, while the others continue on, hoping to down onto the pass beyond the checkpoint and attack the other archer on the opposite side of the pass. As Savaric makes his way past, and over, the first archer, some stones give way beneath his feet, tumbling off the high ridge. Everyone freezes as the archer looks up and around—but not too broadly; he doesn’t wish to give away his own position. Surm uses his sorcery to call up the sounds of goats passing in the night. This seems to placate the sentry and the half-orc and Mõrvar continue on.

Rilka hears the goats as well—and as Surm has used it as a diversion before, she suspects trouble and picks up her pace.

Mõrvar and Savaric continue along the ridge and Mõrvar eventually climbs down to the pass to take up position near the opposite archer, utilizing the advantage he has of his weapon’s reach. Then, all lie in wait for a few moments, contemplating who is going to begin the ambush.

Finally, Mõrvar acts, attacking his foe with his long spear. The others then fire into their targets: Surm with his crossbow, and Savaric with his bow. Rilka charges into the action as well, once the shouts go up. One of the archers manages to light and throw a Sunrod into the pass, lighting the area. After a brief melee, the sentries are down and the party is victorious.

Rilka manages to take the brunt of the damage from the skirmish, so the Mõrvar uses their Wand of Cure Light Wounds on the injured fighter.

Now the party continues down the past to the fourth and, they hope, final checkpoint.

If the checkpoint lies in the same place as before, the sentries will be gathered in an area where the pass expands to a width of twenty feet before narrowing once again. Again, before they get too close, Savaric scouts to see if he can find a route around the checkpoint. While he manages to get close enough to the gap to scout it out, he finds no alternate route.

Inside the gap are four more sentries. The area is lit by a campfire. Three of the sentries are at points around the fire while the fourth seems to be guarding the other narrowed pass on the other side of the gap.

After a long debate, the party decides to have the archers line up in the pass to fire upon the guards near the fire. Surm will lie down in with his crossbow, Savaric will kneel behind Surm with his longbow, and Mõrvar will line up behind the kneeling half-orc with his weapon. Rilka will charge in, bullying past the three guards at the lead and attack the man at the back before he can run for help. Once the plan is formulated, the party skulks into position.

Rilka charges into the checkpoint, praying to Bruni to give her courage. She takes several attacks from the guards she passes, but arrives and engages with her target. Meanwhile, the others of the party fire upon the guards they can see through the narrow entrance to the gap. Then, Mõrvar follows in Rilka’s wake to engage with the guards with his spear. Soon, all the guards have fallen—the party has taken the checkpoint. Once again, the half-orc fighter is in need of healing and receives it.

Finally, the party sneaks forward along the pass and finds themselves standing before the enemy encampment. Savaric once again finds the pass along the east side of the valley and leads the others along it to the other side of the first palisade. Once at the palisade, Rilka slips on some stones on the ridge, alerting a passing soldier. The party stands in stunned silence—then Surm manages to summon the sounds of goats passing, which seems to alleviate the man’s concerns, allowing the party to continue down the pass to the other side of the wooden wall.

Once the party is on the other side of the palisade, they descend into the slave’s shantytown. They stealthily make their way through toward the hut where they had met Rathic before. As they make their way between shacks, an enormous bald head emerges from one of the huts and looks back and forth, clearly alerted by some noise or another. Satisfied that no one is there, the figure re-enters his hut and the party continues on their way. Finally they make it to Rathic’s hut where Surm raps on the doorframe.

The slave answers the rap at the door and ushers them all inside. “So it’s happening, so soon?” he asks. Surm tells him that it is time and inquires as to whether Rathic has been able to get word to others that they are to take the gate once the commotion starts. Rathic says that he has, and that he has distributed the few weapons that the twins were able to leave during their last visit. He has also been able to speak with Ren, as asked. The young man is willing to help, but will not be able to do much—he is missing half of one of his legs. As to their mother, Rathic has not seen her.

Suddenly, Mõrvar is on alert. He’s heard a noise outside. Surm skulks out of the window and starts heading to the door, sticking to the shadows as he moves. Gazing around the corner to the front of the shack, he sees an enormous bald slave standing at the door. His bald head glistens in the moonlight; it’s the man that heard their approach earlier.

The sorcerer whispers, casting his message on the wind to be heard by those inside. “It’s a large bald man.” Rathic returns the message. " That’s probably Vorthar. He’s alright. " Surm makes his way back inside the hut while Rathic calls out to Vorthar to come inside. The big man enters the tiny, already crowded, hut. Mõrvar manages to keep to the shadows behind the behemoth, his hand on his knife, just in case things go south. Rathic informs Vorthar that the time has come: the attack will be tonight. King Alrick is bringing his army. Vorthar grunts in response.

After a discussion of their various options, the party decides to have Rathic inform the others in the shanty town of the approaching army. They will take up position in a shack near the gate. As fortune would have it, Ren Ulrich’s hut is near the gate. The party decides to there and confront the estranged brother of the twins and, hopefully, launch their attack on the gate from his shack.

As the group winds its way through the shantytown, Rathic knocks in code on some of the shacks and leaves more weapons behind, informing folks that the time has come—King Alrik is on his way. Finally, they make it to Ren’s shack.

Surm raps on the doorframe. Lurching forward into the moonlight is a young man on crutches. His left leg is missing from the knee down. His bright eyes sparkle in the sparse light.

“Surm?”

Ren Ulrich looks about in disbelief at the people assembled at his hut. Surm nods.

“Yes, it’s me.

Everyone then followed the sorcerer into the hut behind the injured man.

“What is this?” Ren asked.

“Alrik sent us. We working as a scout group ahead of the army. They’re coming to break you out but we need to take this gate from the inside.”

Mõrvar notes that his brother hasn’t acknowledged his presence.

“Where’s our mother?”

Ren turns to his brother, the man who killed his father, and says, “In the keep.”

The tension in the room is palpable. Surm tries to cut through it with the urgency of their mission.

“We need to come up with a plan to take out those guards on the gate.”

As they approached, the party noted that there were three guards on the ground and one archer on each of the high platforms surrounding the gate.

Strategies are made and discarded, discussed, and digested. Finally, a plan takes shape. Rathic sends word to the slaves that are poised to fight to bring flammable materials to place at the gate. All that remains is to wait for the signs that the Aethyngs have arrived.

Horns are heard approaching the encampment. The Aethyngs have arrived.

Rilka and Surm exit the hut and head towards the gate where a mob of slaves have gathered and have started attacking the guards. Mõrvar and Savaric fire arrows at the guards on the platforms. Savaric hits his man so hard that he falls from the platform. Mõrvar injures his man as well.

As the horns continue to blare and the sounds of battle carry over the palisade, the mob attacks the guards at the gate. Mõrvar fires again at the man on the platform, taking him down. Savaric then takes Ren and heads to a place of safety.

Surm shouts at the collected slaves, asking them to make a path for a warrior to get through. Rilka impatiently awaits for an opening in the mob. Meanwhile, slaves begin to fall in the fight.

Mõrvar makes his way up the ladder to the platform and begins taking pot-shots at the guards below. Finally, an opening occurs and Rilka inserts herself into the fray. Soon the guards are dispatched.

Mõrvar surveys the area beyond the palisade. The melee below is chaotic and undisciplined. Pockets of fighting dot the plain. He also spies movement at the other palisade, though the gates remain closed.

Mõrvar calls out what he sees. The half-orc fighter then takes up the pulley line to open the gates. Surm bolts through the open gate toward the banner of King Alrik. Rilka leads the refugees out of the encampment and onto the battlefield as Savaric carries Ren. Mõrvar stays behind to ensure that the newly formed barricade catches fire and ushers the remaining refugees out of the gate.

As Surm makes his way to the banner, he is stopped by a mercenary warrior who charges him. Calling upon his powers, he summons a snake to drop on the man’s head, distracting him long enough to get out of harm’s way and keep running.

Meanwhile, Mõrvar is gathering canvas and cloth from the nearby shacks to add to the fire formed at the gate, which is growing into a steady blaze. Gazing at the next palisade, he sees its gate open and shut, a single form emerging. It’s too far away to get any details, but soon the screams begin—“Demon!” he hears people cry as the form makes its way forward. Eventually he sees a large figure, with long, goat-like horns and features carrying a halberd making its way through camp, stabbing slow-moving slaves as it goes. Once he sees that the fire is in place, Mõrvar runs after Rilka and the refugees.

Surm makes it past the King’s guards and to the man himself. He informs him of the movement of the refugees, the fires set at the gate, and the need for the army to retreat, according to the plan. Screams of “Demon” start to carry across the field, prompting the King to sound the retreat and order a detachment of soldiers to take up the refugees into the troop movement.

The refugees, lead by Rilka, Mõrvar, and Savaric, are soon surrounded by Aethyngs and slowly escorted into the retreating forces. The movement is slow-going, but steady.

Meanwhile, cries of “Demon!” begin to escalate as it approaches King Alrik and his banner. Surm asks if any cold iron weapons were made and the King tells him that, yes, some weapons were made—they’re being wielded by his personal guards. Those guards form a tight circle around the banner and their King—and now Surm. King Alrick, who is wielding two weapons (a battleaxe and a sword) hands the battleaxe to Surm.

Rilka and the others begin to try and break out of the line of troops to catch up with Surm. But the going is slow as they are moving against the tide of troops and refugees. Both she and Mõrvar attempt to intimidate their way through, but they can’t fight the sheer numbers of slow-moving people.

The ring of warriors around Surm is rocked back as the demon attacks. An unholy stench fills the air. Surm makes his way stealthily out of the ring to take up a position behind the beast. One of the Aethyng warriors fall as he moves, the ring closing to fill the gap. Finally, the sorcerer is in position behind the demon and readies his weapon. Aiming carefully, he strikes the beast hard in the back with the iron battleaxe.

With his impressive strike against the creature, Surm draws the demon’s attention. It wheels on the sorcerer and strikes with the halberd. Surm narrowly dodges the long weapon. The Aethyngs, now behind the demon, plunge their weapons into it, taking the beast down. It’s remains fade away, leaving behind only its stench and its corroded and nasty halberd.

The circle regroups around the King and Surm who start making their way to rejoin the rest of the Aethyng host. Rilka, Savaric, Ren, and Mõrvar Ulrich reunite with their comrade and all retreat back to their camps at Aeth.

Once at Aeth, King Alrik demands the attention of the gathered warriors.

" We have fought hard today and gained a victory. We should celebrate that. You have earned it. But this fight isn’t over. Soon, Magrathar will respond and we will fight again for our homes and families. So we must remain vigilant. This is not over. For this reason, the alehalls will not be open this night.

“But we must also not forget that we owe today’s victory to our former comrades and brothers, Surm and Mõrvar Ulrich and their companions. Without their work, the battle could have turned out much differently.

“It is for this reason, that I, your King, welcome these men back into our clan and allow them to reclaim the blood of the Aethyngs.”

A murmur arises in the gathered host, with some scattered cheers. Surm grins in obvious satisfaction while Mõrvar scowls in discomfort. Some of the Aethyngs approach them and clasp their shoulders in thanks for their efforts and celebrate their re-entry into the clan. Mõrvar goes to find Ren, who is resting on the outskirts of the encampment, checking to make sure he is alright. Ren acknowledges that he is and looks his brother in the eye and says “Thank you.” The taciturn sorcerer murmurs an acknowledgement and walks away.

View
Session Thirteen
Valley of Blades

10 Growth 508 (cont’d)

The party looks down into a valley that is filled with various encampments. At the far end of the vale, is a long, wooden palisade with a large wooden gate in its center. They can see large torches and the movement of men in the firelight atop the gates. The smell of cook fires, wood smoke, and sweat fills the air. The party is gathered at the foot of the vale, discussing and debating their next move. They eventually decide to have Savaric look for a trail up into the mountain wall to the side of the valley for a trail that could be used to circumvent the camps. But before he can act on it, the party spies the arrival of a couple of perimeter guards coming in their direction. They all fade into the darkness and back away from the perimeter. One of the guards hears something, but his companion dismisses it as nothing and the two move along.

After the close call, Savaric starts to quietly make his way across the rocks of the mountain wall. Meanwhile, Surm Ulrich and Mõrvar Ulrich start quietly making their way along mountainous perimeter of the camp toward the palisade. Rilka hides near the entrance to the valley.

Surm and Mõrvar quietly sidestep the light of the fires and the rocky terrain, making their way all the way to the palisade without being detected. Along the way, they observe that there are no banners associated with these soldiers and that they seem to be a group of individual camps as opposed to a unified military force. These are mostly likely clanless mercenaries. At the palisade, the twins decide to climb over it, using the angled corner where wood meets stone to their advantage. Mõrvar tried to climb up but managed to fall off of the structure, alerting a guard at a nearby campsite. The two stand still, depending on the shadows to protect them, and the guard moves away. Surm has better luck, nimbly making his way up the palisade and gazing out over the other side. There, in the moon light, he can see the shadowy outlines of shacks lining this part of the valley. Beyond them is another wooden palisade, its gate alight with torches and obviously guarded. Beyond the palisade, the young sorcerer can see the upper stories of a keep tower. Mõrvar throws a rope up to his brother, who secures it to the palisade, and makes his way up the rope. The two then scamper down the palisade and begin walking around the perimeter of this other encampment.

Meanwhile, Savaric finds an elevated trail along the wall of the valley. At first he has trouble lifting himself up to the ledge, but finally manages to get it. He begins following the trail down toward the palisade. Looking down, he can see various campsites and can hear drunken singing and guffaws issuing from others. The half-orc quietly makes his way down the rocky trail, hoping that he can follow it enough to discover if it will allow him to bypass the camps below.

Surm and Mõrvar make their way in the darkness toward one of the structures. They are brought up short by a man’s voice. “You’ve already had your rations, now move on.” Surm can make out a shadowy figure, holding something in his hand. The sorcerer tells him that they’re not after his ration and the figure tells them to move on. The twins move on. Arriving at another structure, a mud and wood affair with a thatched roof, they can hear light snoring within. Mõrvar spots a figure coming down the perimeter with a torch in their hand. They still have time, but while Surm goes into the structure to talk to the inhabitant, Mõrvar elects to stay outside and watch for the guard.

Surm creeps into the shack to find a heavy-set form lying on the floor, sleeping. He sneaks up to the form and places his hand over the snoring man’s mouth. The man stirs and Surm warns him not to scream, that he’s not going to hurt him. The man acquiesces and Surm removes his hand. Surm learns that the man’s name is Rathic and that he is a skaald, a loremaster/storyteller. He was taken by Magrathar while he was traveling and it apparently amused the warlord to have a bard in his midst. This area of the compound is filled with slaves, about a hundred. Some are from Aeth. Rathic has been trying to keep the slaves’ spirits up, but it is hard. Food is scarce—they get one ration of food in the mornings and fights have broken out over the rations. Rathic has befriended a man named Vorthar, an apparent brute of a man. Each of the palisade gates have a contingent of about 5 men. Overall, there are probably two hundred soldiers outside in various camps.

Meanwhile, Mõrvar sees that the approaching patrol guard is going to be able to spot him. He can tell that it is armed figure, probably female. He ducks inside the hut to find his brother and the slave talking. He then hears the approaching footfalls get louder, but then fade into the distance. Surm is forming a plan. If Rathic can gather up some insurrection-minded slaves, then perhaps they can attack the guards from this side of the first palisade when the Aethyngs come marching upon the keep. He and Mõrvar leave some weapons with Rathic, burying them within the shack to conceal them. Rathic will distribute them to some of the slaves and will be prepared to attack the guards once the commotion of battle starts. Surm also tells him to find a slave named Ren and warn him that King Alrik Brytagsson is coming. Rathic is not to mention Surm or Mõrvar to Ren. Once the weapons are concealed, the twins head out into the darkness to creep their way back to the foot of the valley.

In the mean time, Savaric has made his way about 2/3 down the valley toward the first palisade. At this point, he decides to turn back and reunite with Rilka at the foot of the valley. Soon after, they are joined by Mõrvar and Surm. The party then makes their way out of the valley and back to Aeth.

In Aeth, the party meets with King Alrik Brytagsson to report what they’ve seen. He seems pleased with their work, telling them that they have done well. A discussion of various plans ensues, with one coming to the forefront. A small party will go through and eliminate the checkpoints along the way, ahead of the Aethyngs. Then that party will sneak along the goat trail around the warlord’s army and get inside the slave area. Once the Aethyngs arrive, they can help lead the slaves to revolt and open the palisade gate. The Aethyngs will then slaughter as much of the warlord’s army as they can and then pull back, hopefully with the freed slaves and the lead party intact. The companions agree to be that lead party. Alrik tells that the Aethyngs can march in three days.

13 Growth 508

Over the past three days, the party has encamped outside the village of Aeth, resting and tending to each others’ wounds. Finally, it is time to march.

As evening falls, the party comes upon the first checkpoint. The only light they have is that of the waxing, nearly full, moon. Rilka and Savaric, being half-orcs, can see in the darkness. They approach stealthily and confirm that there are four guards at the checkpoint—last time there were only two. Savaric manages to find a upper trail along the mountain wall and creeps along it toward the other side of the guards. As he gets to the end of the trail, one of the guards is alerted by the sound of falling stones under the ranger’s feet.

“Who goes there?” he cries, drawing his weapon. The others pull their steel as well. Further back, in the shadows, Surm casts a spell and the sound of goats fills the small pass. One of the guards puts a hand on the alerted man’s shoulder and tells him to calm himself, that it is only a mountain goat. They all seem to be on edge.

With the element of surprise, the party goes on the attack! Rilka and Mõrvar spring from the shadows and attack the guards. Savaric attacks with his bow from the shadows and Surm fires his crossbow. In the course of the action, one of the guards yells “Ambush!” and attempts to retreat. He is eventually brought down. Another guard casts down a sunrod, coating the area in light. Finally, after a tough fight, the guards are brought down and the party is victorious. They take the weapons and armor of the guards and move on.

They then move on toward the second checkpoint. They come upon the guards in a bend in the trail. This time there appear to be two on the rises around the trail, two on the ground. The party approaches cautiously, hoping to have the element of surprise on their side. This checkpoint is taken with more ease than the first; the party’s ambush is much more successful. After a relatively brief skirmish, the party is once again victorious and the checkpoint is taken. These bodies, too, are looted and an intact, unlit sunrod is taken.

The party proceeds toward the third checkpoint.

TO BE CONTINUED

View
Session Twelve
Blood Money

7 Growth 508 (con’td)

The marketplace at Josemeedt is as robust as the party remembers; merchants hawking their wares, traders negotiating prices, and travelers gathering at the Hall of Yülthn to swap tales and drink ale.

The party makes their way to the Hall of Yülthn to find Almaric. The hall is full of travelers, the smell of smoking meat and sweat, and badly-sung songs of battle. Eventually, they find the Boraelan in his usual seat. He seems glad to see them—until they reveal that not only do they not have “his” book, but that it may have been destroyed. They try to make it clear that they were never at the burnt out keep but at the same time make it clear that they were not able to retrieve the item the wizard seeks. They do, however, offer to sell him a spellbook they “came across in Borael”. Almaric grudgingly purchases the book for 75 gold pieces.

Surm and Mõrvar go with Almaric to his room to make the exchange of funds for book. There, Surm asks about the other news that Hakak had brought—that of their brother, Lothar. Almaric confirms that Lothar had been in Josemeedt, looking for them. From what he understands, he and three others were camping out some half-day’s walk north of the settlement.

At this point, the party takes their leave of Hakak. While the split is amicable, it is clear that the party will not miss him, and that he will not miss the party.

The party travels north, with Savaric tracking along the way, looking for the encampment. Sure enough, they find the remains of a camp. The tracks lead to the northwest—toward the village of Aeth, Lothar’s home—and Surm and Mõrvar’s former home. It seems that the band has gotten a two day head start on them. However, the party is on horseback while Lothar and his group are on foot. They decide to head toward Aeth, thinking to encounter Lothar along the way.

9 Growth 508

Having encountered thick forest the previous day, the party is slowed in their trek toward Aeth. Nevertheless, they encounter Lothar and his band that morning.

Lothar Ulrich is a tall man with blond hair and beard and piercing blue eyes. He carries a greataxe and wears several throwing axes on his belt. He travels with three others, two men and woman—all Jossians.

The meeting between Lothar and his two brothers is tense. Surm, as always, tries to keep the peace while Mõrvar is sullen and antagonistic. Lothar seems to be using all of his willpower to keep his anger in check. It seems that Alrik Brytagsson, the King of the Aethyngs (the clan to which Surm and Mõrvar used to belong), has told Lothar that he must offer Mõrvar the option of paying the weregildt (or blood-price) instead of killing him outright for the murder of their father, Kromas, two years ago. The price has been set at 500 gold pieces. In course of the conversation, it is also revealed that Alrik has called the Aethyngs to battle. A new warlord called Magrathar has been riding down from his stronghold in the mountains and raiding various small settlements in the area. Recently, he had the audacity to raid Aeth. In the process, the Ulrich’s sister Sonja was killed and their brother, Ren, and mother Hilda, were taken as slaves. This, so Surm speculates, is why Alrik has insisted on the weregildt. And this is a way in which the two of them could come home again, if they help the Aethyngs defeat Magrathar and rescue their mother and brother. Mõrvar doesn’t see why they should bother—the Aethyngs don’t want them and he and Surm do not need them. But Surm is insistent. After Lothar and Mõrvar trade more barbs, Surm asserts that, right now, they will not pay the price nor do they wish to battle Lothar. Lothar insists that Mõrvar is a coward—but allows the party to leave without attacking.

Surm and Mõrvar decide that the party should go to see their great-uncle Thormax. Like them, Thormax had been exiled by King Alrik for his sorcery and his undead-touched heritage. When Surm and Mõrvar were exiled, they went and lived with their great-uncle for a time. Along the way, they also tell the story of the death of Surm and Mõrvar’s father, Kromas. When the twins were 17, they returned home to attempt to reconcile with and forgive the family for the “taint” their father passed on to them. Upon the suggestion that he carried the tainted blood, Kromas became enraged and charged Surm with an axe. As the young man stared in disbelief, Mõrvar stepped in front of him, caught his father’s wrist in his hand, and as the older man physically shook with fear, Mõrvar slit his throat with the man’s own dagger. Mõrvar then tossed the bloody dagger at Lothar’s feet and said calmly, “I dare you to avenge him.” Mõrvar then just turned and walked away as if nothing had occurred. Surm surveyed the family as they stared in shock, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, you’re forgiven.” Then he followed Mõrvar out of the village. They have not been back there since.

Later that afternoon, they arrive at the hut where Uncle Thormax lives. After greeting the old man and settling, Thormax confirms Lothar’s tale regarding the raid on Aeth. Though they exiled him, Thormax keeps his ear to the ground for news from home. He also relates that Magrathar apparently has a witch in his employ—a witch with a bound demon that turns the tide of battle in his favor. When asked about Surm’s thoughts regarding helping the Aethyngs against Magrathar, Thormax agrees with the young man’s reasoning, and that Alrik needs all the help he can get against the witch’s power, but is not as optimistic that they will be accepted. Thormax allows the group to camp at his home and to leave some of their gear and treasure behind with him when they go to Aeth to meet with Alrik Brytagsson in the morning.

10 Growth 508

The party arrives at Aeth early in the morning. The village, never particularly large or grand, still smolders from the raid. Burned out buildings line the dirt streets. Families camp outside the remains of their homes. Warriors are gathering in camps throughout what is left of the village. They finally arrive at the longhouse, the seat of government for the village.

Here they are met by a villager called Koran, a man who remembers Surm and Mõrvar. He grimly greets the twins and their party and offers to let the King know that they are here. Soon, they are seen by Alrik Brytagsson. Alrik is a hale, but elderly, Jossian with white hair and a long white beard. He has a hawk-like nose and piercing green eyes. He is also currently in a leg-splint.

After exchanging tense pleasantries, Surm presents his proposition of aid to Alrik. The old king is persuaded by the sense of it, but, as Surm proposes, the two exiles cannot join the main forces. They will act as a separate scouting team. The two also come to a compromise on the weregildt. Surm and Mõrvar will aid the Aethyngs in their fight against Magrathar and pay a sum of 50 gold pieces to Lothar Ulrich in order settle the death of Kromas Ulrich.

Later that day, Lothar and his companions arrive in Aeth. Though still angry, he agrees to the settlement negotiated with King Alrik and is paid the 50 gold piece weregildt.

The party decides to head out near nightfall to start reconnoitering the keep of Magrathar. Given directions from King Alrik, they follow a narrow nearby pass. Along the way, the group encounters—and successfully ambushes—three sets of guards place along various checkpoints along the pass. After hiding the bodies, they continue down the pass. They finally come to the end of the trail, which opens into a valley where they can see various campfires being lit beyond a final checkpoint with four mercenary guards. The group manages to ambush and successfully dispatch this group as well. They then settle in hiding to determine their next course of action.

View
Session Eleven
Lair of Thieves

3 Growth 508 (cont’d)

Robella Autumnwhite leaps across the counter and attacks!

As Mõrvar and Hakak engage with the enraged—and feral—shop owner, Surm makes his way to the back of the shop to let in Savaric and Rilka.

As Robella attacks with tooth and nail, Mõrvar attacks with his longspear and Hakak summons a viper to drop on the woman’s head. The shopkeeper’s attacks are vicious, quickly bringing Mõrvar down to a staggered state. In the meantime, back-up arrives in the form of the two other half-orcs who also engage with the snapping Robella. Finally, they manage to subdue the woman, dropping her unconscious.

Mõrvar binds Robella with twine found off one of the crates in the backroom while Rilka calls for guardsmen to come. Two guardsmen arrive and the party quickly explains that they have been working with Captain Feldane on a case involving the circus and that they have strong reason to believe that this woman—who is unconscious but who mouth and hands and covered in blood—is involved with the Gilded Hands. The guards seem to recognize them and have heard that they are working with the Watch and take the party at their word, taking Robella into custody and escorting the party back to the Watchhall.

Once in the Watchhall, the party reports to Captain Feldane and gives her a run-down of what all has happened and their growing cache of evidence. Convinced that the party is on the right track, Feldane gives the party permission to search the shop for any other evidence that might link Robella Autumnwhite to the crimes associated against the circus. She also sends two guardsmen, Alyn and Rychter, with them.

Back at the Curiosity Shoppe, Savaric finds a secret panel in the back room of the shop that leads down into a corridor heading north and south. The party descends, leaving the guardsmen behind to guard their backs, and head north. After about two and half hours of search travel and searching for traps, the corridor finally ends at ladder leading up to a panel. Savaric emerges from the corridor to find himself in the forest outside of the city. The panel has been camouflaged to look like earth. Climbing a tree, he can see that they are now about five miles from the city and about the same distance from the circus grounds. Apparently the corridor is an escape route of some sort.

Without bothering to check for traps, the party jogs back down the corridor to the Curiosity Shoppe to inform the waiting guards what they have found. At this point, Surm decides to go back to the alchemist, Master Gatling, to find out what the vial found in the skulk village contained. Hakak decides to join him while the others will venture south down the corridor.

Mõrvar, Rilka, and Savaric make their way southward down the secret corridor and encounter a door on the right, left, and ahead. Savaric listens at each, and, hearing nothing, proceeds to open the right-hand door. Upon entering, he is attacked from the darkness by two men bearing short swords. He and Rilka manage to subdue the assailants, causing them both to surrender. The party calls the two guardsmen down from upstairs to secure their new prisoners and begin to vigorously question them. As the guards place manacles on their wrists and cover their heads with sheets from from nearby cots, they reveal that their names are Pinder and Feclan. They are members of the Gilded Hands and Robella is their boss. There are others, which they name, and they are out on a job with Borvius, Robella’s husband. They don’t know why the circus was targeted—they only followed Robella’s orders. She is the one who makes the Shiver that is distributed to the skulks and to others on the street. Beyond the door ahead is a corridor that leads to the docks. To the left is a series rooms.

Satisfied that they aren’t going to get much more out of them, “Captain” Rilka sends one of the guards back to the Watchhall for more guardsmen in case there is more trouble.

Meanwhile, Surm and Hakak arrive at the alchemist shop. Master Gatling confirms that his analysis determines that the vial they found contained Shiver. Surm asks him if he knows of anyone that makes it and the man replies that no, he does not associate with anyone so disreputable.

One their way back to the Curiosity Shoppe, the two encounter a crowd gathering a nearby park. Apparently some guardsmen have been called and a body is being removed from one of the trees. The man has his eyes gouged out and his left hand severed at the wrist. He was apparently hung on the tree by a long scarf—similar to the style worn around the waists of the dancing girls at the circus. There is also a blood-stained note written in an unknown language pinned to the man’s chest. Surm approaches and identifies himself as one of the team that is investigating the crimes for which the circus stands accused and indicates that he is working with Captain Feldane. One of the guards, Rambal, recognizes the uniform Surm is wearing and is aware of the investigation. The other, Colton, is not. Regardless, the guards allow him to help in the investigation. On the body is found a harrow card, The Desert, which depicts an androsphinx on its face. Also is found a folded-up note from an Arnaheem Braeton indicating that the bearer of the note is to be a worker on one of his boats and that he has permission to purchase boots on credit. Rambal recognizes the victim as Filton Legg, a drunk, Shiver-head, beggar, and local reprobate who was rumored to be trying to dry out. As the guards collect the body, Surm and Hakak make their exit and continue to the Curiosity Shoppe.

Once the party is reunited beneath the shop, they decide to explore the complex of rooms they have discovered beyond the left-hand door. Amongst their discoveries is a conference room with a large, hand-drawn map of Skeene and various notes detailing various crimes—including a diagram of Archivin Walder’s route home from the circus, notes on pickpocketing assignments at the carnival, and ideas on where to string up someone named Filton Legg. There is a also a listing that includes “Captain” Rilka and her troupe, complete with accurate descriptions of each of their features. Beyond this room and a practice chamber is a corridor with more doors leading deeper into the complex. There is also a ladder leading back up. Surm decides to take the ladder up and see what lies above.

Surm finds himself in a small closet filled with cleaning implements and file boxes. Most detail transactions for both the Curiosity Shoppe and for Autumnwhite’s Storage and Hauling. The closet opens into a file room with cabinets set along the wall. Of the two doors in the room, Surm chooses the southmost and walks into an office occupied by a single figure behind a desk. Both seem to have startled each other, asking who the other is. The man behind the desk threatens to summon the Watch and Surm encourages him to do so. Then the man bolts out the front door. Surm decides to wait for the Watch. After waiting for awhile without the arrival of guardsmen, Surm steps outside and finds that he is in street outside the warehouse next door to the Curiosity Shoppe. Deciding that the Watch is not coming, he rejoins his comrades below the shop.

In the meantime Mõrvar and Savaric decide to explore the remaining rooms of the complex. They goe down a corridor that leads to area with three holding cells, two of which contain dwarves. One offers Mõrvar a valuable magical object if he will free them while the other tells him to beware of some “freak” that blends in with the shadows. He begins using his acid splash to slowly eat away at the locks of the cells to free the captives.

Now more guards have returned and Rilka goes over what has been found, including the evidence that exonerates the carnival from wrongdoing. The evidence is gathered and Surm inquires if Captain Feldane wants to see all of this and the guards inform them that the Captain currently seeing to an occurrence at the Braeton estate. Surm points out that this is who Filton Legg, the dead man he investigated earlier, worked for. The rest of party decides to leave the complex, go with the guards back to the Watchhall with their prisoners and the evidence, and then on to the Braeton estate near the waterfront. Mõrvar is determined to explore more of the lair so he and Savaric stay behind as the others leave. Finally, he and Savaric manage to break the weakened bars of the dwarves’ prison, freeing them.

In their exploration, Mõrvar and Savaric find an interrogation chamber and an office with alchemical implements. They also find a logbook detailing the names of various guild members and their criminal specialties. In the same office as the logbook, they find a chest with a tiny clockwork device. One of the dwarves, Barengar Gearwright, manipulates the device and extracts two scrolls and a strange looking device that resembles a bar with hundreds of tiny hinges, levers, and other movable parts. Mõrvar determines that the scrolls are for locate object and cure serious wounds. His brother, Pietros Gearwright, reveals that the strange tool is a traveler’s any tool.

Inside another room, Savaric is attacked from the shadows by a female skulk! After a brief altercation with the half-orc, the creature is defeated and falls. Mõrvar drags the body out of the room and continues on to find yet another room with crates and a set of steel doors. At this point the two finally decide to leave and meet up with their companions at the Braeton estate.

The party reconvenes at the Braeton estate where Captain Feldane awaits them with a pair of small, shell-shocked children. The gathered crowd of onlookers and guardsmen all point and whisper at Rilka as she makes her way to the Captain. The Watch Captain seems a bit stiff as she inquires of Rilka where she has been and what she has been doing. Rilka reports all of the activity that has been going on at the Curiosity Shoppe, including all of the evidence gathered that exonerates the carnival and implicates the Gilded Hand in the murder of Filton Legg—a crime of which the Captain has not been informed yet. She has the party, sans Hakak, gather away from the crowd so that she can speak with them privately.

Once secluded, Captain Feldane informs them that the entire Braeton family, except for the two children, have been killed. And, further, one of the children described the perpetrator as someone fitting Rilka’s description perfectly. Fortunately, Rilka has been wearing her helmet so she hasn’t traumatized the children. However, it appears that the half-orc can more than account for her activities over the past few hours. Feldane then sends the children to the Watchhall with some of her guard and summons two guardsmen to accompany her back to the Curiosity Shoppe so that the party can show her the underground lair.

Back at the Curiosity Shoppe, the group tours the Captain around the premises, showing her the various secret doors and features of the rooms below the shop. She then has one of her men go fetch more guardsmen—she plans on checking out the warehouse next door as well. She declares that Borvius Autumnwhite is officially a person of interest in this case. She invites the party to accompany her next door and they accept.

Once inside the warehouse, Captain Feldane announces herself. The warehouse appears to be emtpy—it is certainly dark. The half-orcs, with their darkvision, decide to sweep the inside of the warehouse, looking for more Gilded Hands members or even Borvius himself. They finally come to a door in the far corner of the building. Rilka opens the door and is attacked from the shadows by another skulk! The creature is soon dispatched and drug from the room. Inside they find a cot, a dinner tray, and footlocker. Inside the footlocker is ragged clothing, a raggedy cloak, and some vials containing a blackish fluid.

Captain Feldane sends some of her men back to the Watchhall to gather another squad of the Watch to accompany them to the docks. They are to seek out and detain Borvius Autumnwhite before he tries to leave the city. In the meantime, she will accompany the party down the secret tunnel that supposedly leads to the waterfront.

The tunnel eventually ends with a ladder leading up. Savaric leads the way and finds himself in a narrow alleyway. The strong smell of the ocean fills his nostrils. The others emerge from the secret panel and follow Savaric from the alleyway and onto the docks. There they find that a squad of Watchmen have indeed detained Borvius Autumnwhite, who is indignantly demanding to know why he is being treated in such a manner. Captain Feldane informs him that he is a person of interest in a variety of crimes including murder, kidnapping, pick-pocketing, and host of other crimes. He claims that this is preposterous, but the Captain counters that it is not preposterous when the underground lair of a guild of thieves lies just beneath his warehouse. The guardsmen apprehend the blustering merchant, as well as everyone else on his ship. As Borvius is being lead away, Surm Ulrich and Savaric notice that he is carrying a pair of red gloves—gloves very similar to those worn by Rilka when in uniform.

The party inquires of the Captain whether or not they have gathered enough evidence to exonerate the carnival. She replies that they have and that the City of Skeene thanks them for their work. Mõrvar asks if a letter of recommendation can be written up for them. Rilka points out that they are leaving in the morning for Jossia with Hakak. Feldane replies that she has a lot of work to do tonight, what with questioning various prisoners, but she may be able to have one drawn up by the morning before they leave once again for Jossia. She will also accompany the party back to the carnival to let Almara Delisen know that the quarantine on the carnival has been lifted.

Almara is subdued at the news of the lifted quarantine. The carnival is already halfway packed and, with all of the negative publicity, she doesn’t think they’re going to get much more business in Skeene this season. Nevertheless, she thanks the party for their work and pays them the promised 600 gold in the form of 60 platinum pieces.

That night, the party returns to the Nine Sisters Inn and discusses their next moves. Surm insists that they need to go north to speak with Almaric and to determine what Lothar wants of them. Mõrvar seems reluctant and less interested in what Lothar wants—claiming that he already knows that Lothar wants to avenge their father’s death. Nevertheless, he will accompany them north in the morning.

4 Growth 508

The following morning, the party re-provisions in the market place. They also go to visit Lord Donat to inform him that they are leaving town. However, he indicates that he was about to send a message to them that he had a potential job lined up for them. Apparently a Lord Coln wants to hire a hunter to procure some griffon’s eggs in order to raise the beasts as mounts. He has a lodge near the town of Riverton at the head of the Slayt Mountains. Lord Donat suggests that they go to Riverton and pay Coln a visit. Thanking him for the information, the party makes their exit. Rilka also swings by the Watchhall to pick up the promised letter of recommendation. She is not able to meet with Captain Feldane, but has been left the promised letter as well as a pouch containing 50 platinum pieces—ostensibly a reward for their work for the city. They also inquire as to the whereabouts of the Gearwright brothers and are told that they are staying at the Restful Bard Inn.

At the Restful Bard, the party makes arrangements with the two dwarves to escort them to Riverton, free of charge, when they return to Skeene. The two brothers enthusiastically take them up on the offer, letting them know that they plan on acquiring goods to sell once they get back home, sailing to Jenna and then taking a riverboat on to Riverton.

Finally, the party makes their way out Skeene, riding north to Jossia.

6 Growth 508

Along the way to Jossia, after crossing the river, the party is attacked in the night by a pair of goblins. They are quickly dispatched.

7 Growth 508

The party arrives in Josemeedt in the late afternoon.

View
Session Ten
Curiosities

2 Growth 508 (cont’d)

After a lengthy discussion in the sphinx’s tent, the group decides to start looking for an alchemist to analyze the vials. However, their search will have to wait for the morning so they head back into the city toward their rooms at the inn.

At the city gates, they are recognized by one of the guardsmen who passes on a message from Captain Feldane to come to the Watchhall and meet with her as soon as possible. Once again bypassing the gate tax, the party is escorted to Captain Feldane’s office. Inside the Watchhall, they encounter a half-orc being apologetically ushered out of the building by a guardsman. They overhear something about his being “caught up in larger affairs” and “our apologies”.

The Captain informs the group that, earlier in the day, her troops performed a raid of the skulk encampment based on the information provided by the skulk captured earlier in the day. Her men were “overzealous” and only one out of about ten survived to be taken prisoner. She offers to allow them to opportunity to question him.

She escorts the group deep below the Watchhall, into the dungeons. Inside one of the cells is the skulk, his hands chained high on the wall. He cringes as the group enters. Captain Feldane begins by reminding him that she has a murder without a suspect that she could easily pin on him, as his tribe has already been implicated in the robbery of the murder victim. She suggests he cooperate, else she’ll have a gallows prepared.

Then Mõrvar begins to try and intimidate him into talking, to giving up the names of those involved in the crimes—especially the humans that hired them for Shiver. After few instances of trial and error, Mõrvar’s threats finally seem to work. The skulk admits that his group is used by a group of humans to steal and “hurt people” in exchange for the drug. Only two of their number—Kymeth and Onamae—deal directly with the humans. He admits that a group, including two named Rogi and Zakhar, were solicited to work a “circus job”—rob a man’s shop while he’s distracting himself at the circus. He insists he doesn’t know who else was involved nor the humans that asked them to it—they deal only with Onamae and Kymeth. Finally, as the group is leaving, he tells them that the group of humans call themselves “The Gilded Hands”.

Captain Feldane recognizes the name—it’s an up-and-coming thieves’ guild in the city. She has very little information other than that—she doesn’t know anything about their members or their origins. She also informs that a half-orc traveler got caught up in their raid, but he has been released with her full confidence that he was not part of their operation. Recalling the half-orc seen earlier as they entered, the group decides that they want to speak to him.

As the group is leaving the Watchhall, they see the half-orc, whose name is Hakak, nonchalantly waiting outside for them. After a brief exchange, it becomes clear that he was looking for them and has information for them. They all decide to take their conversation off the street and head to the common room of the Nine Sisters Inn.

Once in the Inn, the group question the newcomer vigorously about his interest in them. It turns out that he has been in Jossia and was hired by the wizard Almaric to find them and get him the book they were hired to retrieve. He went to the keep that they were sent to only to find that it had burnt to the ground and that a “tall pale man and a half-orc” were wanted for the deed. Reasoning that if things went wrong they’d venture south, Hakak made his way to Skeene. He also bore a message from Almaric—that a man named Lothar was looking for Mõrvar and Surm. The twins reveal that Lothar is their older brother. Mõrvar suspects that Lothar is out for revenge while Surm wants to reserve judgment—perhaps he only has news or information for them.

Surm suggests that Hakak stick close to them as they have business with the circus to take care of and then, perhaps, they can accompany him back to the north to prove to Almaric that they do not have the book in question. Hakak agrees and rents a room in the Inn.

3 Growth 508

The next morning, the group ventures out to find an alchemist. After making a few inquiries they secure the services of a Master Gatling. For a retainer, he agrees to work on analyzing the vials found in the sphinx’s tent to determine what was inside them. The work will take until about three in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, the party decides to explore the site of the skulk raid to determine if there are any further clues there. They find a ramshackle collection of broken down huts near the waterfront outside of the city walls. Here Surm finds another empty vial, discarded and half-buried in the dirt. Examining the vial, Surm finds a maker’s mark for the glassblower that manufactured it.

The party then ventures back into the city to find the glassblower who uses the mark found on the vial. After making some inquiries, the group is directed to a master glassblower in the industrial district. Here they find other works bearing the maker’s mark borne on glass vial found at the skulk village. After confirming with the glassblower that he made the vial, he indicates that he makes them in bulk for a Mistress Robella Autumnwhite of Mistress Robella’s Curiosity Shoppe.

With this bit of information, the party decides to stake out this curiosity shop to see who comes and goes. They secure a table at the Restful Bard and watch the shop from one of the inn’s windows. They also note that the shop is not terribly far from The Locked Box, the place of business of the first murder victim. After watching the shop for several hours, the party sees nothing suspicious and decide to return to the alchemist to hear the results of his analysis.

Master Gatling has determined that three vials contained three different materials: a feral mutagen, an Extract of Enlarge, and an Extract of Invisibility. The party reasons that it was probably the feral mutagen and the enlarge that allowed the murderer to pose as a large beast. The invisibility extract was probably used to make their escape. Master Gatling is given the newly found vial from the skulk village to analyze. He says it will take about an hour. Examining the previously found vials, they find the same glassblower’s maker’s mark on each. With such evidence in hand, they decide to go to the Curiosity Shoppe.

As they approach the shop, they decide to split up. Rilka and Savaric go to watch the back-door while Surm, Mõrvar, and Hakak go inside. The shop has all manner of materials on display, from vials of perfumes and other extracts to masterwork weapons and tools to primitive turtle-shell soup bowls. Behind a counter is a thin, dark-haired woman. “Can I help you find something,” she asks. Surm and the others approach the counter. Surm says that yes, perhaps she could help them find some extracts their looking for: a feral mutagen, an Extract of Enlarge, and an Extract of Invisibility. He lays the three vials on the counter with each declaration for emphasis. The woman narrows her eyes and hisses “If anything has happened to my husband, you’ll all find knives in your back”. Suddenly she downs a vial that she has palmed. Her teeth elongate and her nails become sharp claws. She leaps across the counter and attacks!

View
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…

View
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.

View
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.

View