Adventures of the Night Swords!

Move 234
The Good Ship Manticore

The dwarf citadel of Highhelm, in the Five Kings Mountains
The 20th day of Lamashan, 4713 AR – late morning

The truth of the matter is that few of you have ever been to a dwarven city before, save for Igmar (who was born here) and Omari, who has traveled far and seen much.

Thusly you each stand and gape at the sights around you. You have left the Out-Towns behind, and passed through the Second Wall into the city quarter known as Stonewrought. Above you the “sky” is night-black, save for the tens of thousands of magic lanterns that hang from the stone ceiling of what is basically a hollowed-out mountaintop. Brilliant shafts of sunlight pierce down from one of two massive openings in the mountain above – these openings provide sun- or moonlight to illuminate the cavern at the appropriate time of day. At the moment the so-called dawnhole is brilliantly lit, and casts certain streets and neighborhoods into brightly lit contrast.

The street you are on, however, is dark and overcast. The only light to be had comes from more magic lanterns, which in turn are kept lit by a wizard’s guild known as the Witch-Light Guild. The buildings in this section of the city neat, tidy and kept in excellent repair. The streets are broad and clean, and are relatively empty at this time of day – most who live here are at work, or sleeping in preparation for the coming nightshift.

“Here. This is the place.” Igmar gestures to one of dozens of signs at the front of the nearest building. All are written in Dwarvish, so you are forced to believe him.

“What do we do now?” Sanaya asks. She stands and gazes up at the cold stone structure with more than a little trepidation in her demeanor.

“We knock, of course.” Kymrych climbs the steps to the large oaken door, and grasps the bronze doorknocker. It is crafted in the style of a leering stone giant. He gives it several strong bangs, which echo far within.

Long minutes pass, and Kymrych is forced to knock once more. He is considering knocking again then a viewport at his waist-level clatters open, and a pair of dark brown eyes gaze out at you in clear annoyance.

“Well? What is it? What do you want?” the voice growls. You spend a few minutes explaining to the voice why you have come here.

“A taint, you say? Shadow stuff, straight from the Plane of Shadow. Interesting. Very interesting!” Door locks clatter, and bolts are thrown. Then the door opens, and you gaze upon a dwarf of middle age, younger you would have thought, but still older and more experienced than most. He is clad in dirty but well-made robes and has ink-stained fingernails.

“Which of you has been tainted? Hmm? Which one?” He bangs his cane on the flags and glares at you each in turn.

“Tis’ I, sir.”

“A human, eh? Don’t see many of the Tall Folk hereabouts.” He peers at Akorian through squinted eyes. “Well, get in here. Just the sickly one, and one or two others. The rest of you make me nervous.”

Akorian, Sanaya and Igmar head into the sage’s abode, and the rest of you head off to the market to purchase supplies, and inquire about the so-called sky-ship you heard about earlier. You arrive at the nearest market to find it crowded with a distinctive assortment of people from all over the world – including some folks from places you have never heard of before! (You may now stock up on any equipment you require. Please send me a list.)

It is nearing midafternoon when Akorian, Sanaya and Igmar meet with the rest of you in front of a large statue of a long-dead dwarf hero. Akorian says that he has been cured of his shadow-affliction, and is feeling much better. You then continue north, through a twisting labyrinth of streets until you reach the Runnerton district of the city, and see an amazing sight indeed.

For obvious reasons the sky-ship hangars are located outside the main portion of the city, under the open sky in a neighborhood known as The Winches. Here stand towering derricks and gantries, most crafted of stout lengths of wood and stout iron bracings. Beneath these strange (and very large) contraptions stand two large wooden frameworks: one is empty, and the other contains a long, sleek ship-like vessel without a proper sail, and far, oh so far from any normal seaport.

Her name, you know, is the Manticore. As one you stand and stare at the vessel; her hull is long and graceful, and pointed forward, like a racing dolphin. Her aft section is fish-shaped as well, and seems to have fins designed to stabilize her in flight. Atop her hull is a massive conical balloon as long as the vessel itself – you assume this huge cloth bag is filled with some sort of mystical “float gas” designed to bring the ship aloft. Or so it would seem: none of you have ever seen a functioning airship before, save for Omari who claims to have seen a ship of this type crewed entirely by gnomes. That ship, however, burned at her moorings just before her maiden voyage, and was never rebuilt.

At the moment dozens of dock workers swarm over the Manticore to prepare her for an immanent departure. Most are dwarves you notice. Tall cranes haul up large parcels of food, warm clothing and other survival supplies. Armed guards stand close to the dock entrance to make sure no one who is not authorized approaches the ship or its handlers.

“Let me handle this.” Talathel smiles and approaches the closest of the guards. The dwarf is terribly scarred, nearly toothless, and is covered head to foot in all manner of tattoos denoting his many adventures abroad. Twin hand axes are settled in his belt.

“What do ye want, High Pockets?”

“Hello, friend!” Tal smiles brightly at the mutilated dwarf. “We’re here to see your captain. I know we’re not expected, but…”

“Get lost, Pointy Ears.” The dwarf fingers his axes. “Cap’n Stonethrower is busy with cargo loading and doesn’t have time to waste with the likes of you.”

“Now listen, I—”

Tal never gets the chance to finish spinning whatever lie he has in mind. Instead a dwarf clad in expensive ermines and bedecked with a fortune in jewels appears at the head of the gangway, and peers down at you.

“What’s this, then?” he bellows.

“Just some sightseers, Cap’n.” The ugly dwarf bows slightly. “I was about to see them off the dock.”

“No. Hold on, Mykrin.” He scowls a bit. “What is it you want?” he asks.

“To discuss passage, sir.” Talathel doffs his hat and bows low. “We hope to journey to the Golden Citadel, and were considering using the services offered by this fine vessel.”

“More fools seeking gold, eh?” He rubs his beard, and then seems to reach a decision. “All right. Come aboard. We can talk business in my day cabin.”

With that you are ushered aboard the ship, and head below decks to the captain’s cabin. It tidy but cramped. Upon entering, Captain Clovis Stonethrower offers you some fine Andoran brandy before getting down to business.

Move 233
Arriving in Highhelm

North Point, in Korvosa
The 17th day of Lamashan, 4713 AR – one hour after midnight
On a whim, Akorian breaks out his crystal ball and uses it scry your enemies: the mists clear, and he sees a richly appointing sitting room that would be welcome in any high-born manor house. A warm fire blazes in the hearth, and he sees the one-eyed elf assassin seated at a trestle before the fire, taking wine with a lovely Tien woman Akorian recognizes from other visions he has had in the past.

The two women seem very at ease with one another.

“I’m not sure how they spotted me, Xue-Wei.” The elf frowns. “It was that loutish fellow, the Varisian. He pointed me out to General Vourne, and I was forced to flee.”

“It is of no importance.” The Tien girl smiles slightly and pours herself another cup of wine. “The mission was successful, despite what happened. With luck Lord Akorian and his people will be pariahs here in Korvosa, and our plans can proceed without further delay.”

“I suppose so.” The elf pushes her cup aside, and winces a bit as the freshly bandaged gash in her side pains her. “But what of the Night Swords? We know the Chelaxians are tracking them. Do we add our people to the hunt? It should be a simple matter to run them down, and see them put to the sword.”

“A tempting consideration, to be sure.” Xue-Wei leans back in her chair, and stretches languorously. “But I think not. Let the Hellknights track them to Hell and back; I care not. They are neutralized. That is the important thing. For now I want you to focus on making sure our war efforts are doubled. See to it that our agents seed certain ideas to those in charge. If we play things right the Fleet will set sail in the spring with murder on their minds, and a siege planned for our friends in Magnimar.”

Little more is said between the two women, who soon bid each other goodnight. Akorian sees nothing else of interest, and soon breaks the connection.

Next he takes up the letter, and uses it as a connection trace for the person who sent it. The mists clear once more, and you see a thin, middle aged man in rather plain clothing seated at a cluttered writing desk. He is perhaps 45 years of age, and of dusky complexion. His graying hair and wide, almost almond shaped eyes suggest he is of Taldan blood.

You watch him for a time, but he does little more than read a few letters, and then pen one of his own – the subject matter is unclear, however. From what you can see the entire missive is written in some obscure code. Then he blows out the candles, and heads off to bed. As the image fades you hear a lonesome series of bells in the distance, striking out the hour.

Akorian tells the others what he has seen. You consider this for a moment, and then have a brief conversation about where to go, and what to do next. Some of you wish to visit Harse, and seek out Talis the White. But others believe this is just another trap, and in the end you all agree that returning to the Quest for the “Shards” is probably the safest bet. Omari in particular is very relieved. Akorian then takes out the Horn of Asmodeus, and gives forth its clear, clarion call. Moments later you find yourselves elsewhere.

It is still dark where you are, and the air seems thinner and cooler. A chill wind blows down off the mountainside, and thick stands of fir trees can be seen in the near distance. The moon shines down from a clear, star-filled sky. Omari gazes into the dark sky, and notices that the stars are very different from earlier; apparently you have come many hundreds of miles to the east. Snowcapped mountain peaks rise up all around you, suggesting you are in the midst of a deep, forested valley. You find a quiet spot to make camp and settle in. Needless to say, guards are posted, and a fire lit to keep the cold at bay.

Dawn comes far sooner than expected. With the sun you rise, and cook some meager rations over your fire. The sky dawns blood-red, and stands silhouetted against the far mountain peaks. Igmar rises, stretches, and begins his morning prayers. Then he grunts excitedly, and points at one particular peak a great ways off to the north.

“By the Dawnflower’s Grace! I am home. That is the Emperor’s Peak, the mountain in which my home city of Highhelm is built! Its all just stone’s throw away!”

“Really?” Kymrych peers at the distant mountain, and grunts as well. “I’d say we’re at least twenty miles away from the place. You certainly can throw stones a great way!”

There is laughter at this, save from Evelyn. She peers at the mountain, and scowls. The thought of an entire city filled with dwarves sounds like her own special version of the Hells. Still, there is work to be done, and no time to waste. Soon you have saddled your mounts, and ride up and out of the valley at Igmar’s direction. A broad, partly paved mountain road is found just outside the valley, headed north. Within minutes of following the road you encounter the tail end of a long merchant caravan, and pause a moment to treat with its rear guard. They are a mixed bag as most mercenary units tend to be, but the caravan itself is out of Druma, and is hauling fine cloth, salt, wine, preserved food items like salted beef and raisins, and other sundry goods.

The white-clad caravan master has little interest in bothering with you, but does allow you to join in with his party as long as you behave yourselves. His Master of Guards is careful to keep a watchful eye on your band as you continue north for the next two days. As always Evelyn keeps mostly to herself, and is careful to hide her true parentage! Those two days that pass without incident, however. It is nearing noon on that second day when you first spy the outermost walls of the city, perched above you on a steep mountain trail.

Known as the Plummet Wall, this massive 40’ thick stone wall completely encircles the peak of the mountain, and is topped all along its length by daunting military fortifications. Myriad banners denoting dozens of ancient dwarven noble families flutter from these battlements. All are manned by elite dwarf infantry, armor clad and well-armed with axe, pike and heavy crossbow. The Druman caravan is stopped at the gate, and checked for contraband. Luckily the merchant’s tax permits are in order, and you are passed through without incident. The city beyond the gates is known as the Out-Towns: here non-residents can rent properties and trade goods of any sort within the city proper. This area of Highhelm is open to the sky, and crowded with all sorts of different kinds of people. With that in mind no one pays you the slightest bit of attention as you enter the city, check your horses into the nearest reputable public stable, and then find an inn to stay at long enough to catch your bearings.

The name of the place is the Golden Nugget, and it is owned and operated by one Gladen Dorn, a retired dwarf prospector of great renown – or so he claims. Whatever the truth, Master Dorn runs a clean and quiet establishment that serves fine ale, roast mutton, and other tasty treats that are welcome to your palate after two days on the open road. Soon you’ve paid the man and rented three large rooms, and are in the common room of the place, feasting on a hearty dinner. The common room is moderately crowded by visiting merchants, drovers and other non-locals, all tired after many days in the wilderness. As yet no one seems to have taken an interest in you.

As this is going on you quietly discuss what is to be done next. You know that Master Rayhan had written to a local guide and mountain climber known as Dwalor Brimbottle regarding an expedition to the Golden Citadel, an ancient and long-abandoned dwarf-hold deep in the mountains. Rumors that the place has long been cursed are known to you, but details of these tales are not. Igmar recognizes the address for Master Dwalor is located inside the section of the city that is underground, in a small, tidy neighborhood known as Helmsborough. Here reside many mercenaries, guardsmen and soldiers. If Dwalor is to be found, this place is where he shall be.

Igmar also tells you that maps that show the exact location of the Golden Citadel are easy to find; the well-known and well-stocked markets of Gatebreach should boast a number of legitimate mapmakers. And while some merchants are greedy criminals out to fleece the gullible, Igmar feels fairly certain he would be able to spot a forgery. So buying a map to avoid bringing in yet another unknown party to this endeavor is certainly a possibility.

As the rest of you chitchat about the coming expedition, Igmar extricates himself from the rest of the group, takes up a pitcher of ale, and engages a team of dwarven drovers out for a boisterous night on the town. Curious, Sanaya decides to join him, and keeps a keen eye on the events at hand. Meanwhile the priest provides the dice, and they provide the coin. Soon ale flows and dice are tossed. The game is knucklebones, and the stakes are very low. Igmar cares not whether he wins or loses; what he is interested in is any rumors regarding the Golden Citadel. To his surprise there is a great deal to be learned.

“The Golden Citadel? Oh, aye lad! We’ve heard of it. Abandoned long ago, it was. But recently its been reopened. After a fashion, that is. I hears that some human bloke stumbled back into town after exploring the place, and said he’d found gold. Piles of it. Mountains even. So the race was on; folks from all over came to the place, seeking easy loot.

“But its never quite that easy, is it? Disease set in. And bloodshed. Men murdered each other over loaves of bread. But there is gold there, just waiting to be claimed. I’d just rather not have to knife someone in the back to get ahold of it. No payout is worth the pound of flesh you have to offer to get it.”

To summarize: ever since a human explorer returned to Highhelm with a fortune in gold in his pockets, settlers have been pouring in from the city, eager to strike it rich. Before the late autumn snowstorms blew in, many miners returned with pockets laden with gold. Many more did not return, however, and dark rumors hint of the desperate measures those trapped at the Gold Citadel take to survive. Deceit. Murder. Even cannibalism.

The only way to take aid to the stranded miners is by airship, and the news from the survivors was positive until the airship Drake failed to return several weeks ago. Another desperate rescue mission is being planned, but hopes are not too high. As difficult it is to find food and stay warm in the old keep during the winter, many citizens of Highhelm are already assuming that their loved ones trapped in the mountains are dead. Others cling to hope, knowing that the Golden Citadel may provide the shelter they need to survive.

You are stunned to discover that the dwarves have mastered the arcane lore needed to create ships that fly! So far only two of the vessels exist – the Drake and the Manticore – and know that the first so named has already gone missing. Soon the Manticore will be “setting sail” with relief supplies as well. You also know that you can simply teleport to the site of the Golden Citadel, but you would be smart to stock up on winter furs and mountaineering gear first. The terrain there is very inhospitable, so bringing horses or mules is ill-advised at best. Before you teleport you should acquire a good map of the region to use as a guide.

Finally, bringing Dwalor Brimbottle along will guarantee your finding the Citadel, if you think there is need of his services. The drovers tell you the Citadel is located about 115 miles to the northeast of your current location. The land between here and there is rugged and mountainous, and filled with certain death.

Move 232
The Red Mist

The Shadow Plane
The 16th day of Lamashan, 4713 AR – nearing midnight
“This way, noble friends. This way.”

The thief known as Elandriu takes the lead as you march to the far end of the prison corridor. There a small side door is found, recessed into the wall. You use the cell key to unlock it, and step on into the dark, dusty corridor that lays beyond. It is close and cramped and the air within is thick with the span of ages. You get the impression that no one has trod this way in many long years.

“How do you know there is a way out here?” Akorian asks.

“Vheed and his cronies spoke of it once in my presence,” the elf replies. “It was years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. He called it an emergency exit, and a place to run if his enemies ever caught up with him. The two men laughed, and then left me to hang like a piece of meat for the loving caress of his favored torturer. Now here, this way.”

The corridor splits into a four-way intersection up ahead. You turn left, and pass through yet another dusty room; this place is a well-appointed torture chamber, complete with a rack, iron maiden, and several tables cluttered with various torture devices. All of it is thick with dust, and apparently untouched for a very long time. Elandriu passes through the room quickly, and leaves via the archway at the far end. Then you descend a long flight of steps, and pass many other intersecting hallways. All around you is dust and abandonment, almost as if no one has been here in a thousand years or more.

“Here. This is where we need to go.”

Before you stands a broad archway craved with mysterious sigils. Many of them bear Asmodean monographs. Like the other parts of the labyrinth, this section of the tunnels is lit by a strange glow that does not seem to emanate from any one location. You continue on, and pass through the archway. The corridor ahead seems to pinch out ahead, and is soon barely 5’ across.

“We must be silent,” Elandriu whispers. “The Greychurch is ahead of us, and the White Monks may well be attending to their duties.

Any whispered queries to this statement are met with a stern look from the crazed elf. You continue on, but draw steel just in case. Soon a brighter glow is seen ahead of you, and another archway is seen to open out onto a much larger chamber.

Isandra moves forward to take the lead, and draws her sword. You hear a tiny intake of breath as she moves to the edge of the archway and peers out; before you stands a broad, high-ceilinged cathedral dedicated to the Black Prince himself. You see dust-choked pews, a distant lectern, and graven pentagrams, all reproduced in exacting detail. All is hewn from an odd gray stone, not granite, not marble – when touched it has a strange waxy feeling to it, as if it were somehow unclean. Braziers lit by burning coals provide the only light and color to the scene. Broad columns serve to hold up the domed ceiling – across the nave you can see a number of cowled monks moving about, performing the various Rites of the Unclean. They pause as you appear in the open archway, and turn to peer at you with gleaming red eyes.

“Yes, well. They appear to want to talk to you. I’ll be here if you need me.” Elandriu gulps audibly and ducks into a decorated alcove as the nearest of the “acolytes” draws back her hood, and gives forth an inhuman shriek.

You see her flesh is leathery and dry, almost desiccated, whilst her inhumanly long tongue lashes out and about, as if testing the air for any sign of her prey. Her fellow monks also draw back their hoods, and then lope towards you on all fours, snarling and spitting.

“Ghouls.” Omari gestures to ward off evil and then readies his sword. “I should have known.”

Igmar murmurs prayers to the Dawnflower, and Akorian casts various protective magics. The rest of you wade in, eager to parry and slay. Isandra is the first to engage two of the creatures; her blades dances and slashes, and severed limbs skid across the floor. A severed head snarls and snaps at her, so she finishes it off with a quick lunge. Then Omari is amongst the throng, cutting and slicing. More black ichor spurts wide, and more of the creatures are felled. Evelyn launches one of her rockets at an approaching ghoul, and it is blasted to pieces in a roar of smoke and sound. Many of those same pieces continue to wriggle and twitch as if possessing a life all their own.

Sanaya turns invisible, and then sneaks around behind one of the demons menacing Omari. She cuts in quick, severing the beast’s spine, and it collapses. Shortly thereafter Isandra and Omari finish off the final two creatures, and an odd silence falls across the strange temple. If you listen carefully you can almost hear the sound of happy children singing in the distance, followed by a low, monotonous chanting.

“Well, you certainly made that look easy.” Elandriu smiles gaily and skips past the still-twitching carcasses scattered across the temple floor. “Now come along, you lot. We’re almost there.”

Sanaya and Akorian share a look; she shrugs, and he nods in agreement. They both keep their weapons close at hand as they once again follow the tattered little scarecrow ever deeper into the labyrinth.

“Elandriu.” Akorian turns to speak to Ealndru and places his hand on the hilt of his sword.

“Yes, Master?”
"If you heard about the passageway from two people talking, and you have been locked in that cell this entire time, how did you know how to get to this door specifically?  How did you know who or what we would find inside? You walked us into an ambush with little to no warning.
“You are not being entirely honest with us, so I am done trusting you to lead us somewhere until we get some answers. I want the whole truth before we continue. Who are you? How do you know so much about these passages that you have supposedly never been in? Where is the priest for this church? What lies up ahead? Where are you taking us?”

Again, the elf gives off an odd little giggle. “I did warn you, Master. I told you of the White Monks. As far as what is next, I do not know for certain. The Red Pit is just up ahead, and is our ultimate destination. As far as what waits for us there exactly, I cannot say.”

When this is not enough for you, the elf continues. “I am a thief, as I told you before. I am not ashamed of this. Before my imprisonment, I was rather famous and well thought of in that field. As far as how I know these passages, the Red Suitor often took me here and there, sometimes for torture. Sometimes to have someone to talk to. I suppose even devils get lonely in the dark.”

He eyes the ceiling above for a moment, and twitches. “The way out of here lays through the Pit of Chains. I have seen it. The Red Suitor guards it, even now. If we go there, we will have to fight him. Well, you will. For I have no weapons.

“As far as the priest of Greychurch, there isn’t one. The undead acolytes were put there by Lord Vheed for reasons of his own. Elandriu knows nothing of the why of things.

Akorian then asks Elandriu to describe this “Red Suitor.” The elf replies that his primary tormentor was obviously not human, and possessed chalky white skin, depthless black eyes, and hideous, inhuman features. His body was covered in writhing iron chains that seemed to move with a life all their own. You recognize this description as matching that of a Kyton, or so-called Chain Devil – an evil outsider that delights in misery and torture.

Akorian eyes the elf for a moment longer, and then nods. “I think we need to find a way to ambush this creature,” he tells the others. He looks again to Elandriu and considers things for a moment. “How far away is the exit chamber? And are you certain this Red Suitor of yours will be found there?”

Elandriu replies that the he cannot be certain where the Red Suitor is at any given moment. However, he is usually found in the Pit of Chains. As to where the Pit is located, Elandriu tells you that it lays just ahead, down a long tunnel that slopes ever deeper into the ‘ground.’ At the end of this tunnel lays the Pit of Chains. The distance is perhaps 250’ from your current location.

You decide to move on, so Elandriu continues to lead the way, and off you go. The tunnel beyond the chapel is long and dark. You are therefore forced to summon witch-light to continue. The walls of this twisting circular tunnel are smooth polished gray stone that shimmers with moisture. It slopes steadily downward, forcing to you trot awkwardly as you proceed. A broad, circular archway appears at the end of the tunnel. You enter cautiously as before, and see a large chamber beyond.

Omari is about to enter when Sanaya places a hand on his shoulder. “Be cautious,” she whispers. The warrior nods and stalks carefully onward.

A circular pit takes up much of this room. Thirty feet above, dozens of strange shadowy stalactites descend from the ceiling, their lengths transforming after a few feet into iron chains that become a tangle of chains suspended over the center of the pit below. Many of these chains are long enough to descend into the depths of the pit – which terminates in a pool of glowing red mist. A palpable sense of anger and death seems to hang in the room like a shroud, and clings to your flesh with icy fingers.

Omari takes one more step into the room, and an icy voice is heard.

“It has been many years since I had visitors. Does Vheed still live? Or does the Pit have a new master?”

The voice is deep and sonorous, and echos far into the surrounding tunnels. Then a figure steps into the light, and the breath catches in your throat like a thing alive. It is tall, manlike, and as pale as death. His flesh is bone white, flaccid, and sickly looking. His eyes are black pits, and his mouth is filled with yellowed fangs. His body is swathed with chains of rusted iron; these chains coil and uncoil, seemingly of a mind all their own. Even as you watch the thing grins, and shows off more needle-like teeth.

Chain devil: you have seen his like before, just recently. But that example of the breed was female, and at least partly civilized. The creature before you seems almost feral.

“We mean you no harm,” Omari begins. He lowers his sword. “We have only come this way, seeking an exit—”

“Liar.” The devil raises a hand, and chains slither from his body, like metal snakes. Even as you watch tiny barbs appear at the edge of each chain, and then they lash out to tear Omari’s flesh like red-hot daggers.

“Attack!” Sanaya screams. She immediately dashes forward to help Omari. For her part Evelyn gulps down a potion of her own devising. Moments later she is scuttling up the side of the chamber walls, and seeking a better vantage to attack the devil.

For their part Omari and Isandra move in close to spar with the creature. It laughs at them, a hideous chortle, and then slashes both with his barbed chains. Soon both are slathered in fresh blood. Akorian summons a bit of magic, and sends a fountain of sparks cascading towards the creature; meanwhile, Igmar darts in around Isandra and Omari, and cuts at the chain devil as well. As the warriors hack away at the devil, however, they see his flesh begin to flow together, and knit itself back in place.

“We can’t beat him!” Igmar cries. “Not with the weapons we have.”

“What do you suggest?” Omari grunts. He screams as a barbed chain slashes him lightly across the cheek. Blood jets, and he falls back, stunned.

“This.” Igmar circles around the chain devil, and stabs him in the shin. More gore wells from the cut, and the wound begins to knit closed. Isandra stabs the creature in the shoulder, drawing its attention away for the moment. Igmar uses this as an opening, and rams one shoulder into the the small of the creature’s back. Now off-balance, the demon totters, and Igmar pushes with all his might. The creature totters once more, and then falls head-first into the pit of chains. Within seconds he has disappeared into the roiling red mist.

“Enough of this, thief. Tell us how to get out of this place.” Akorian fingers his sheathed rapier, and eyes the elf dangerously.

“Of course, My Lord. Of course.” Elandriu turns to the pit of chains, and reaches out to grasp one of the dangling lengths of rusty metal.

“Watch, my friends. And do exactly as I do.” Elandriu grasps the chain, and then swings out over the pit. He dangles for a bit, and peers down into the mist.

“The red mist is actually a portal back to the Prime Material Plane,” he calls out. Fall through it, and you will end up back in Korvosa. Or so the Red Suitor claimed.”

“Wait!” Sanaya called. “How do you know—”

But Elandriu does not wait to hear what she has to say. Instead he releases the chain, and falls with nary a whisper into the glowing mist far below. There is no sound as he disappears, and no proof of any sort that he survives the attempt.

“Do we go?” Isandra peers into the mist, and frowns.

“I’ll go first.” Igmar tries to reach one of the chains, but is too short. Soon Omari has helped him snag one, however, and he grasps it tightly. “We have little to lose otherwise. And I have no doubt that Sarenrae will protect me from harm, no matter what happens.”

With that said, the dwarf swings out over the pit, and says a brief but heartfelt prayer to the Dawnflower. Then he too releases the chain, and falls. The mist feels chill against his skin as he falls into it, and a quick flash of red light washes across his flesh. Moments later he feels his body slam ungently into rough cobblestones, and the sound of pealing church bells can be heard in the very near distance. He stands, brushing off his soiled trousers, and peers about. A tall, strangely grotesque building stands before him, crafted in the old Chelish style – soaring arches and columns, and decorated with leering gargoyles. After a moment he recognizes it as Korvosa’s famous Jeggare Museum, a rambling structure filled to the brim with historical artifacts culled from sites all over the world. Igmar knows full well that the museum is just a few blocks away from the Chelish Embassy – apparently the elf was not lying after all.

The building is dark at the moment, and the small park at the front is abandoned. Then there is another red flash, and Sanaya slams to the ground a few feet away. Igmar rushes to help her, and soon the rest of the group has emerged back into this plane of existence, seemingly none the worse for wear.

“Kymrych, can you hear me?” Akorian was pleased to note that the spell connecting him with his fellow party members was still active.

There is a pause, and then Akorian can clearly hear the “voice” of his Varisian friend.

“Yes, we’re still here. Where are you?”

“Safe enough for the moment. Are you still in the Embassy?”

“No. Tilda came and got us out. But there’s a problem: an alarm has been raised, and the Watch is beginning to patrol the city. I think something has gone very wrong – other than the fact that Paracountess Jeggare has been murdered, of course.”

“We can worry about that later. Can you meet us? Say at Jeggare Circle?”

“We’re on our way now.”

“My Lord, I believe I will be taking my leave of you now.” Isandra bows slightly, and smiles.

“I understand.” Akorian bows in reply. “Thank you for your help. I suspect we wouldn’t have made it out of that madhouse without you.”

“Think nothing of it, My Lord.” Her smile widens. “I found the entire affair rather invigorating, to be honest. Perhaps we can do something of the sort again sometime.”

“Perhaps.” You all watch then as the noblewoman moves off into the shadows, and is soon lost from sight. It is only then that you realize that Elandriu is also nowhere to be seen, and that none of you have seen him at all since he slipped into the red mist back in the Plane of Shadow.

An hour passes as Akorian and his fellows leave the vicinity of Jeggare Museum and head a couple of streets over, to Jeggare Circle. This wide confluence of streets in the center of North Point is often crowded by street merchants and political revolutionaries during the day. But tonight the paving stones of the Circle are empty, and the surrounding streets are silent – save for the continuous clamor of ringing church bells. The party huddles in an alley to one side of a shuttered apothecary, and watches as yet another patrol of mounted watchmen clatters through the square. Then the night falls quiet once more, save for the endless bells.

Soon thereafter a shadowy figure is seen across the way, skulking in a darkened alley. Akorian signals with witch-light, and sees his signal returned to in kind. Dark figures leave the cover of the alley, and cross the way quickly. Shortly thereafter the entire party is reunited, and a quick confab is held.

“We met with Albia and the rest of the Brimstone Harpies,” Talathel tells you. “They’re in the process of leaving town. Now. Tonight. Apparently Iacobus has already headed for the hills, and left us to rot.”

“Why would he do that?” Igmar asks. It is Kymrych who answers, however.

“Albia told us that the Embassy guards found a dead Asmodean priest shortly after we escaped the premises. Apparently he was the Embassy chaplain. He was stabbed in the back, and stuffed away in a closet somewhere. They supposedly found Akorian’s personal sigil clenched in his hand. Now the Watch has been turned out to capture or kill us, and rumors are afoot that word has been sent to Citadel Vraid for Hellknight patrols to help in the search.”

There is more, of course. Rumors that Lord Iacobus has been forced to flee the city are rampant, and that Cressida Kroft had been named Grand Marshal once more. Queen Ileosa has declared you enemies of the city, and ordered the forces under her command to arrest you on sight. With this in mind Albia has suggested you depart the city immediately, and do not return to any of your usual haunts at all. It is likely that they are already under some sort of watchful eye. Fortunately your minions and all of your equipment was sent to you by Doxine, who is also on her way to safety.

Move 231
The Prisoner

The Chelish Embassy in Korvosa
The 16th day of Lamashan, 4713 AR – late night
The half-orc Hellknight stands over the body of the Chelish ambassador for a long moment, as if considering something. Then he turns to Lord Vourne and bows slightly.

“If I may beg your indulgence, My Lord?”

The soldier’s eyes grow hard. “Ask what you will of me, Dal Mordu. I serve the Crown first and foremost.”

“then we must move quickly, My Lord. I do not see Lady Sian, the commander of the Embassy guard staff. But you hold more rank than anyone else here. Please take command of the guard force, and cordon off the Embassy grounds. We must move quickly to make sure the murderer does not escape.”

“It will be done.” Vourne turns and departs without another word. Dal Mordu ascends a dais near the body, and speaks clearly so that everyone present can hear.

“Make yourselves comfortable, My Lords and Ladies. No one is leaving this room until the murderer’s identity can be discovered.”

You are quick to notice that the crowd does not complain overmuch – either due to a sense of duty to the Crown, as Lord Vourne indicated, or to more than touch of fear at the Hellknight’s hulking presence. Whatever the truth of the matter, soon a war horn sounds, and armed men move to seal off the exits.

The three of you search the crowd, looking for anything out of the ordinary. It is Talathel who finally does just that – he sees a lovely elf maid clad in the livery of a House Jeggare servant take up a serving tray, and then head for a side entrance in the western wall of the banquet hall. At first Kymrych and Jayne do not understand why Tal points the girl out, save for her attractive features – but then you notice her right eye is covered by a black velvet eyepatch.

(A reminder: a rather dangerous looking elf with one eye has been shadowing the party since they returned to Korvosa. She even tried to kidnap Whisper recently, and Akorian has managed to scry her. This young woman matches her description almost exactly)

It does not take long for you to act. “Lord-General Vourne? A moment, sir.”

Kymrych dashes after the general, and stops him just shy of the exit.

“Well? What is it man?” The soldier eyes you dangerously.

Kymrych points to the departing assassin and scowls. “That woman there? The elf? I believe she is the assassin. We had dealings with her before, and know her to be dangerous. If nothing else I know she is no mere servant.”

“You’re certain of this?”

“Yes. Certain.”

“Very well. Guards! Seize that woman!”

The elf turns at the general’s shout and spies you both. She then drops her tray and dashes for the exit. As she runs she draws twin, slender swords from the folds of her garments, and dashes onward. Servants shriek in terror as she speeds on by; one young serving girl as slashed across the stomach, and falls to the floor amidst a shower of gore. She will die out soon if nothing is done.

“Tal! Help her!” Kymrych growls. The bard pauses kneel at the girl’s side even as the rest of you hurry on.

Onward you dash, through a dimly lit chamber where tuns of wine are stored, and on into a long hallway crowded with more servants. The assassin runs onward, makes a sharp left, and emerges into the broad foyer you passed through earlier. Moments later she has emerged into the long verge leading up to the main gate, and doubles her speed as she sees freedom just ahead. Then she angles in towards the pair of Chelish marines who move to stop her. Both men draw their own short swords as she draws near, and the three are quickly lost amidst a whirling tangle of steel and flesh.

Kymrych and Vourne draw steel as well, and move to follow her. Kymrych is only dimly aware of Jayne and several other party guests giving chase as well. As far as the elf maid goes, her steel is whirring death as first one guard is sliced down, and then another. She then dashes on with the rest of you in very close pursuit.

Onward you run, out into the street. There a row of parked carriages waits. Their drivers are clustered together, drinking wine and having a chat as the assassin streaks past them, and clambers up into the seat of the closest carriage. She grasps the reins, snaps them, and sets her carriage off into motion. The wheels clatter on cobblestones as she speeds off into the night.

General Vourne does not hesitate to climb up into the next carriage in line. The driver who attempts to stop him is smashed across the face as a result. Kymrych is barely able to clamber into the seat beside the general before the reins are snapped, and the team of horses leaps into notion. Jayne’s long dress and tight bodice do her no favors, however, and the last you see is her standing in the street, watching you roar off into the night. The clatter of the wheels against the cobbles is deafening as Vourne sends your carriage hurtling along at a breakneck pace.

“Hold on, boy!” he shouts. “She’ll never get away, not if I have anything to say about it!”

And hold on you do; you can dimly see the other carriage ahead of you, clattering along Baker Street and running parallel to the river. Dark manor houses and other buildings flash by to either side, dimly seen against the night. Then you see the assassin’s carriage almost miss a gentle turn in the road ahead, and sideswipe a stone fence; it occurs to you then that the assassin may not be the best wagon-driver in the world. Luckily Lord Vourne was born on horseback, and seems to be very expert at guiding your own conveyance.

Then, dim lights flicker in the darkness ahead. Before you rises the dark bulk of Korvosa’s Great Tower, a 270’ tall monolith that stretches above every other structure in the city. Here stands the headquarters of the city’s fabled Sable Company Marines, as well as their infamous griffon mounts. It is also supposedly the tallest freestanding building in all of Varisia. Even as you watch, the assassin speeds on towards the tower, and does not slow even one iota.

“My gods. She’s lost control.” You can barely hear Vourne’s voice over the clatter of the carriage wheels.

Just then you see something tumble from the carriage even as the horses plow into the dark stone wall of the tower at full speed. You hear the tortured scream of the horses as they are badly injured, and then the horrible clatter-smash as the carriage is torn to splinters against the side of the tower. Two of the horses lie amidst the pile of wreckage and ruin, neighing in agony.

“She jumped at the last second,” Kymrych growls. “I saw her.”

“I saw her too.” Vourne draws back on the reins with all his might, and slows his own team of horses before they can crash as well.

Kymrych is leaping down even as the carriage comes to a complete stop. The screams of the dying horses echo far against the night as he turns towards the row of small buildings just across the road from the Tower. You are fairly certain the assassin ran that way, and thusly gives chase. Vourne is but seconds behind you, and hurries to catch up.

Sadly, the warren of alleys and roadways beyond Baker Street is like a maze, and the assassin is easily able to disappear into the night. You pause there, wary of an ambush, and know that she has managed to elude you. It is then, however, that Kymrych sees something on the ground at his feet. He kneels to retrieve it, and sees it is a black leather glove of the sort worn by Chelish servants so that their unclean naked skin would never touch the flesh of their betters.

“She’s gone. I say we go back.”

Vourne agrees. He then leads the way back to the Tower, where he then bullies a pair of remounts from the marines there. Two Sable Company men escort you back to the Embassy, and their horses are returned. Once there Dal Mordu insists on questioning you closely. He also wants the glove, although no mages are present at the moment who can scry, using the glove as a focus. A mage is sent for, and then your questioning begins.

The rest of you have not been idle. One by one you file into the glowing rectangle, and feel your skin prickle as you are transported…… Elsewhere. The long gray corridor is exactly as Sanaya had described it and you stand for a moment, considering what to do next. Akorian can no longer communicate with Kymrych or the others, but the spell-connection is still active, suggesting that he will be able to do so once he returns to the Prime Material Plane.

As one you continue to the doors at the far end of the corridor, and listen intently. Igmar’s hears a shuffling sound on the far side of the door, as well as a low, bestial growl. He gestures to the others that something is on the other side of the door, and the rest of you draw steel or prepare spells as a result.

Akorian and Sanaya lock eyes, and nod. Then Omari shoulders open the doors, and you dash in, ready for battle.

Before you stands a wood-paneled hall. The ceiling rises to a height of twenty feet above, with a single fifteen foot high shelf filled sparsely with books along the wall to your left. Eerie wisps of shadowy fog coil and writhe upon the floor, which unlike the walls seems to be made of polished black stone.

Even as you stand there, taking all this in, another low growl is heard. Then a pair of muscular hounds appears from out of the murk; each creature has a coat that drinks up the light, and drawing in the shadows around them. The maw of the closest hound is full of sharp teeth, and a wisp of shadow drips from its writhing tongue.

“Shadow hounds.” Even as Omari speaks the word, the closest hound steps forward, and begins to howl.

The sound is amongst the most terrible, shrieking sound you have ever heard. It roils in your belly, and threatens to make you soil yourself. Of those present, Isandra, Akorian, Evelyn and Omari cannot bear the sound, and flee immediately. This leaves Igmar and Sanaya behind to hold the line – seeing the hounds approach, they too are forced to withdraw. Soon you find yourselves back in the entry corridor, where you can retreat no further – the portal has closed itself behind you, leaving you trapped. This realization steels your nerve, and those affected by the magical howling turn, and force themselves to stand firm.

The two hounds stalk into the entry corridor. Their claws tap-tap-tap on the obsidian floor, and wispy drool oozes from gaping maws as they approach, clearly hungry to taste your flesh. Instead you stand forth with Omari and Igmar at the forefront, naked steel held firmly before you.

That first hound leaps, and takes down Omari with snarling fury. Within seconds the warrior is struggling to keep those snapping jaws from his throat. The rest of you are too busy fighting for your lives to help him. Akorian chants the words to a spell, and takes Sanaya by the hand; she is startled as he draws her with him through a tunnel of shimmering light, and suddenly finds herself in the immediate space BEHIND the snarling mastiffs. Meanwhile Isandra steps forward to help Omari, and steel flashes as bared fangs bite and flay.

For long moments Igmar and Isandra manage to hold the shadow creatures at bay; then Sanaya sneaks in a blow from behind, slaying the hound that faces Igmar. Moments later Isandra strikes out with her gleaming Aldori sword, and separates the second hound’s head from its body. Omari is freed from beneath the massive beast’s limp remains, and helped to his feet. Then Igmar spirits away the worst of your injuries, and you regather. Evelyn peers down at the dead shadow hounds, and gives forth an almost bestial growl of her own. She does not step one foot closer to the deceased demon dogs than she has to, however.

“Come on. We should keep going.” Omari brushes aside Igmar’s ministrations and leads the way back into the area where you first encountered the shadow dogs. You pause a moment to investigate some of the books on the shelves, and see they are assorted manuals devoted to the “Art” of torture. You do what you wish to with them and continue on.

Meanwhile, Kymrych, Jayne and Talathel sit and wait as the interrogations continue. Kymrych was questioned closely by Dal Mordu, and his answers seemed to mollify the mountainous half-breed. But then a low murmur sweeps through the gathered crowd, and a hurried rumor reaches your ears: apparently the Embassy chaplain cannot be found, and that has Dal Mordu and Lord Vourne rather worried.

Onward you travel through this strange, shadowy dreamland. Beyond the hound’s lair lies an unusual chamber that takes on the form of a square shaft – the walls feature a spiraling stone staircase that winds up the left and down to the right. There is no floor below or ceiling above, almost as if the shaft is an endless tumble in both directions. Igmar takes a spare dagger from his boot and lets its drop, only to see it tumble past him from above seconds later. It does not reappear. You see a door on a landing above you, so you climb the stairs, moving carefully. Upon reaching the landing you open the door and gratefully step on through. The chamber beyond consists of yet another long, dark stone hallway, 5’ wide and 50’ long. Six locked prison cells stand arrayed along the length of this hallway. You peer inside the closest, and see a simple straw mattress with a dark figure slumped upon it. A key ring hangs from a peg by the door; you take it, and open the cell.

“Hello?” Akorian pulls back the blanket, and recoils at the sight before him: the man on the pallet has been dead for so long that his flesh has turned leathery with rot. He pulls the blanket back in place and turns to the others.

“I think we should—”

“Hello? Hello! Is anyone there?” A strange and rather strident voices echoes from one of the cells just down the hall.

“Yes, we’re here. Hello!” You move to the last cell in line, and see a dirty, disheveled scarecrow stare back at you through the cell bars. He is gaunt, almost skeletal, and clad in filthy rags. By his features and sharply pointed ears you take him to be elvish. The grim specter of madness is clearly visible behind his expressive gray eyes.

“You’re here? You’re…. Real?” His voice croaks with scarcely concealed excitement. “Are you the ones the Woman in White spoke of? The ones she left the letter for?”

Kymrych sits and mulls the rumor that the Embassy’s priest of Asmodeus has gone missing. As he does so, a beautiful young woman of regal bearing approaches him. As she draws close he opens his mouth to beg her off, wand then he realizes there is something rather familiar about her. Tal immediately recognizes her as well.

“Hello Tilda. It’s been a while,” the bard says.

“Hello, Talathel. Hello Kymrych.” Tilda Duvanti has the dark eyes of her mother. She pauses a moment to regard the distant figure of Dal Mordu and Lord Vourne.

“You’re in a great deal of danger, the both of you. You should have left this place the moment the Ambassador died. Now it may be too late. I think the Hellknight already suspects you were involved; I just overheard him tell one of the guards to keep an eye on you, and prepare to arrest you the moment the signal is given.”

“Really.” Kymrych eyes the pair a moment before nodding. “I assume you were sent to keep an eye on us by Iacobus?”

“Yes. And I can use my magic to get you out of here. But we have to move soon. Before they put you in irons, and guard you too closely.”

You question the ragged elf, and he tells you the following things:

He says his name is Elandriu, and that he was captured by while attempting to break into the Embassy grounds to steal a priceless artifact for a scion of the Arkona family. Ambassador Vheed decided to lock Elandriu away instead of killing him, and had a servitor devil torture the hapless elf for years – before people just stopped coming.

How long has he been here, you ask. THe reply is “years and years and years and years” – you note that none of you have ever heard of an “Ambassador Vheed”. He also mentions that there is another prisoner at the end of the hall, but he stopped talking to Elandriu some time ago. The elf suspects the other prisoner is mad at him for some imagined slight.

The “Woman in White” came to visit him just a few days ago, and told him a Chelish lord would be visiting soon. It was the first visitor he’d had in longer than he can remember. She gave Elandriu a sealed letter and asked him to give it to the lord. She was very pretty, and dressed in a white gown. Another woman was with her – a foul tempered elf with one eye. He has not seen them since, save in his dreams. He shows you the letter, but refuses to hand it over. You’ll have to unlock his cell first.

Sanaya offers him a piece of fruit. He takes it, and eyes it warily. He tells you he hasn’t eaten “real” food in a long time, and doesn’t remember what it tastes like. He seems afraid to find out now.

Sanaya takes the key and unlocks the cell door. She breaks open a second pomegranate and eats some of it before offering the rest to the prisoner.

“I am going to leave this fruit on the floor here Elandriu.” She carefully backs away from the cell door. Her eyes never leave the prisoner. 

“You are free to come with us if you wish.”

The elf grabs up the food and puts it in the same place as the first. Then he eyes Sanaya with the air of a feral cat.

“No. I’ll stay here. Leave the door open, Pretty Eyes. I don’t trust you. The White Lady said you were trouble. But you can have this. I don’t need it any more.”

He tosses you the letter, which is still sealed with a blob of wax. Akorian eyes the letter for a moment, and asks the elf a few more questions. He casts Detect Magic on it when he has a private moment, and sees then that it is drenched with Conjuration magic. The idea of opening the letter does not appeal to him.

Tilda pauses a moment to speak with Talathel, and the bard nods. You look back at Lord Vourne and the Hellknight, and see that they are still busy interrogating various party guests. So Tilda leads the three of you away from the area you were waiting in, and you walk to the south end of the room in the section that is filled with tropical trees and plants. Spells are hurriedly cast, and within seconds you each take on the appearance of a fully armed Chelish marine!

Tilda wears the crimson-on-black livery of a marine officer. She tells you to get in march formation, and leads you through the doorway and through the storage area you passed through when you were chasing the assassin. Marine guards posted in the hall outside do not challenge you. Then you march outside, and head for the main gate. Men posted there only nod as you march past them, and no one appears to think to challenge you. Moments later you are on the street outside, and head into a region of deeper shadow. As you pass from sight outside the Embassy, Tilda and Tal allow the illusions to fade, and you find yourselves safe once more.

You head to the rented manor house just up the street, and enter to find your horses and Whisper none the worse for wear. What you do now remains to be seen.

“I have more to tell you.”

The elf sit in his cell, eying Sanaya expectantly. She is not foolish enough to get close enough for him to touch her.

“Go ahead.” She sits on the floor and eyes him through the door of the cell.

“There is another way out of here. Out of this place.” He giggles, a strange sound. It is filled with pure, gibbering madness.

“Why would we need to know about another way out?” Sanaya asks. Isandra comes to stand behind you, but says nothing.

“I’m not stupid, you know.” He grins, showing rotted teeth. In all your travels, none of you have ever met an elf with bad teeth before. “You came here without the Devil’s permission, the same as I did. But you weren’t caught. Now you look nervous. Excited. Something went wrong, yeah? Something big. And now you need a new way out. And I just happen to have have one for you – for a price.”

“What price?” Igmar asks. He is almost dreading the answer.

“I want two things.” Another crazy giggle. “First, I want five gold coins, and a nice sharp dagger. A man can live for a year on five gold coins! Longer even. And the dagger is to keep the riffraff at bay.”

He pauses then, and scowls. “And I want you to let me come with you. There are nasty things in the dark here. Ugly things. And I’d rather not end up in their stomachs, if it’s all right by you.”

The streets are quiet now; well, for the most part. But then the group hidden in the rented manor house hears the blare of a trumpet, and sees two mounted men clad in crimson diplomatic courier cloaks ride out from the Embassy. One is headed to the north, and the other to the south. Both ride as if the very Hounds of Hell are at their heels.

What do you do? NOTE: Akorian has about 30 minutes left on his Telepathic Bond spell. What next? M

Move 230
Murder Most Foul

The Chelish Embassy in Korvosa
The 16th day of Lamashan, 4713 AR – night
Your initial encounter with the Ladies Vourne is a bit tense, but Akorian is able to talk them down from the precipice of violence. Janivan departs then, intending to keep unwanted inquisitors at bay, while Isandra decides to tag along to see what you are up to. Neither woman seems particularly hostile. Rather they seem to suffer from a boredom well known by the idle rich, and are on the lookout for something interesting to do this night.

Once Janivan is gone, Akorian subtly twists a blend of light and shadow across himself, and becomes the virtual twin of the young Embassy chaplain, clad in full Asmodean regalia. Then he gallantly takes Isandra by the arm as if giving Her Ladyship a tour of the more private areas of the Embassy. Sanaya, Evelyn, Igmar and Omari pull up the hoods of their dark cloaks and follow along, now looking for all the world like a coterie of silent acolytes attending to their dark lord and master.

Once past the priest’s chambers, you enter into a private library piled high with books. You on head through without pausing, and enter the room beyond: here you find a private bath that boasts a huge brass washtub. Like the library, the washroom is deserted as well. The room beyond this is a comfortable lounge, paneled in dark tones, and possessing of a fully stocked bar. You move on quickly, and enter the last room in succession: an inner foyer that is largely empty, save for a set of stairs that climbs to the building’s second floor. You enter, shut the door behind you, and climb the stairs.

The room at the top is yet another comfortable lounge area, decorated in dark Vudran mahogany. As you enter, you hear a sudden, girlish laugh, and hear muffled voices in the hallway beyond.

Akorian gestures to the others to remain silent, and creeps forward. He listens at the door, and hears more laughter. Then a key is fitted in a lock, and a distant door is heard creaking open.

“This way, my pet. Quickly.”

“All right, Borgan.” Akorian eases the door open, and sees a long hallway lined to the left with doors – his map suggests they lead to spare bedrooms for Embassy guests, and are currently unoccupied. He sees a young Chelish lord and one of the ladies from the party downstairs. The back of her dress is already partly undone. She giggles once more, and the door is shut softly behind her.

“This way.” Akorian leads the way once more with the others following behind. As you pass the door containing the amorous couple, more laughter is heard. Then you are safely at the end of the hallway, and Akorian pauses for a moment to examine the wall there. At first glance it is bare and unremarkable.

“Ah. Here.” He presses a loose piece of brick, and a secret door slides silently inward. A dark, dusty corridor is revealed, leading ever deeper into the bowels of the manor house. You file inside, and Omari is careful to shut the door behind you. Akorian then summons a globe of witch-light, and you follow the tunnel about 130’ to the west. You suspect you have traveled almost two-thirds of the way across the length of the entire manor.

Another secret door is found at the end of the tunnel, and its opening latch is discovered. You let your witch-light fade and step next into another guest lounge – this one cluttered with chairs and sofas. It is well lit, but unoccupied as well. Another door feeds onto a short hallway that opens onto a long gallery that overlooks both the Garden of Earthly Pleasures and the banquet hall. The murmur of the party below comes to you quite clearly.

Luckily the gallery is currently unoccupied. You gaze across the wide chamber, and see that the stairs to the floor above are blocked by a velvet rope with a sign saying “Do Not Enter.” You peer at one other for a moment, and Evelyn offers up a devilish grin. Then you creep across the gallery to the stairs, and slip past the rope and sign. Moments later you creep up to the third floor, and stand in a vast, dark and cluttered space. This is the attic of the manor house. More witch-light is summoned, and you see row upon row of old crates, dusty furniture and other, less identifiable items piled high for as far as your light can reach.

“This way. Come on.” Akorian leads the way onward, to the north. You soon find a locked door that leads to a separate chamber. Akorian tries his key, and you pass this way as well. The room beyond is similar to the main attic chamber, save that the things here are older and much, much dustier. A third secret door is discovered (thanks to the map you were given) and opened. The small chamber beyond is empty, and very dust-strewn. Even a cursory look on the floor shows that the dust in here has been recently disturbed, however. On the northernmost wall stands a pair of double doors made of flat grey metal. You close the secret door behind you, and approach the strange doors.

“How odd.” Sanaya’s skin crawls as she gazes upon the gray metal. To her eyes the surface of the doors is moist, and reflections from your light make strange shadows seem to writhe within the metal.

“I think I understand how these doors work. You can’t open them the traditional way, but…” Akorian channels a bit of his magic into the metal of the door without touching it, and suddenly……. SNAP…….. The doors are replaced by a bright, shimmering glow that hurts your eyes when you look at it.

“Its a Portal!” Akorian says. He cannot quite take his eyes off the light. “If we step into it, we will be transported somewhere else. Where, I cannot say.”

Isandra cannot tear her eyes away either. “It’s beautiful.” The smile on her face is almost manic.

You talk things over for a bit, and then Sanaya cloaks herself with an invisibility charm, and steps through the Portal with her magic rope tied about her waist. Her skin prickles, and her stomach flip-flops. But then she is ELSEWHERE. A long corridor extends from the shimmering field of light, which now stands at your back. The walls, floor and ceiling of the hall are paneled in gray wood, including several empty alcoves along each wall. The only obvious source of illumination is the glowing portal at your back.

As she stands here, Sanaya sees shadows that seem to dance at the corner of her eye. Soft, barely audible whispers are heard, although no one else seems to be present. At the far end of the hall (about 100’ distant) you see another set of gray metal doors.

It is a distinct relief to step back through the portal, and return to report what you have seen.

Meanwhile: Kymrych “listens” intently to Akorian’s running commentary on what is going on. Sanaya has just stepped back into the room from wherever the Portal took her, seemingly unharmed, when a piercing scream is heard across the room. He and Jayne turn to look in that direction, and see a crowd gathering at a table near the far end of the room. Kymrych scowls, and whispers to Talathel and Jayne to stay put. Then he heads on over by himself, and makes his way carefully through the crowd.

“Oh, how terrible.”

“What’s happened?”

“The Ambassador. I think she’s fainted.”

You pause about 15’ from the cluster of people gathered around the still form of Paracountess Mayal Jeggare. Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the people of Korvosa lays upon the carpet, unmoving. Both General Vourne and the Hellknight you saw earlier kneel over the body. Even as you watch the Hellknight stands up from beside the countess and gives off a dour look.

“She’s dead. Poisoned. I’d say a dose of dark reaver powder is to blame. But I can’t be certain.”

A low murmur runs through the crowd then, followed by an excited babble. Moments later orders are shouted, and marines summoned. It seems likely, you decide, that the party is over….

Move 229
A Gala for the Ages

Teveras Manor, Korvosa
The 13th day of Lamashan, 4713 AR – late afternoon
Whisper and Akorian left the manor house early in the morning, and had been out all day. Upon his return less than an hour ago, he had immediately gone to speak with Zusa Parneste, and a muffled shouting match had ensued. Standing now in the manor foyer, Kymrych eyed the clutter of baggage scattered as far as the eye could see. He knew then that his day would now be taking a rather dark turn.

“What’s all this?” he asked no one in particular. He was almost dreading the answer.

“It appears that Akorian and Zusa had a row of some sort,” Talathel replied. He bites into an apple. “I offered to take the poor child under my wing, but he insisted she was to leave the manor. I’m not sure why.”

“I know why.” Sanaya sidles up to you as Zusa and Yulen descend the grand staircase, and approach the door leading to the front entrance to the house. Only Zusa is dressed for traveling. The two stand and speak to one another as servants move to stack Zusa’s baggage on the cart outside. A carriage stands ready to take Zusa to the docks.

“Well, don’t keep us in suspense.” Talathel grins a bit as he downs the last of his apple.

“Akorian is sending her away. He went to see Lady Doxine this morning. Whisper went with her, but doesn’t know what was said. Now Zusa has been sent to an inn near the docks. And supposedly, to a ship that will carry her to Cheliax.”

“Ah, true love. How grand.” Tal grins again, showing bits of mushed apple on his teeth.

“I suppose he could be taking a page or two from his brother’s book.” Kymrych grunts. “But why now? And why so abruptly? We have business at the Embassy in two days, and this isn’t the time for pillow games.”

“It is always the time for pillow games, friend.” Tal scrunches up his nose and turns to peer at Sanaya. “You smell…. pungent. What’s happened now?”

Sanaya’s smile fades to nothing. “Evelyn is in the pickle barrel again.”

“Oh?” The two men trade glances. “Is she stuck?”

“No. Just hungry. But I think someone needs to tell Hartley to head into town to restock our supply.”

“A good point.” Kymrych pauses as the two Varisian women embrace. Then Zusa turns to mount her carriage, and heads off to wherever the Fates will take her.

“That was an ugly business. But I’m glad its over.” Akorian stands at the window, gazing below as Zusa’s carriage pulls away. He watches Yelen for a time, and then she too turns and heads back inside.

“I doubt Yelen is sad to see her go, Akorian. Those two did not get along at all.” Igmar sits at a table by the fire, sampling a new cask of brandy someone brought up from the cellar.

“There isn’t much time, you know.” Omari sits there as well, but his brandy remains untouched. “We need to start preparing now, if we’re going to be ready in time.”

“Right you are.” Akorian lets the curtain fall back into place. “Call Hartley. Tell him we’ll need the best seamstresses he can find. And, we’ll need to memorize that map Sanaya’s benefactress provided. There is no room for error here. Not this time.”

The following two days pass in a frenzy. Fancy dress garments are purchased, fitted, and prepared. You learn that Lady Doxine will be Akorian’s companion at the gala, but otherwise your plan is to go as suggested earlier. Lord Iacobus makes sure that carriages are hired, and servants put in place to see to every detail. You make an attempt to locate the mysterious Ailyn Ghontasavos, but no one by that name is to be found in the city. This, Omari suggests, means that your supposed benefactor has gone to ground, and does not wish to be found. Whatever the truth of the matter, you continue your preparations, and in time the night of the gala draws nigh, and you steel yourselves for the planned incursion.

Of the group, Akorian, Kymrych and Talathel will go into the Embassy as guests. Jayne and Doxine will accompany them. Thusly, the remainder of the party – Sanaya, Evelyn, Omari and Igmar will dress in dark clothing and gather together at the manor stables just as night begins to fall. The sky above is clear and bright, with no ill weather expected. The four mount up as usual (with a terrified Evelyn seated before Omari) and ride out, intent upon arriving in the area of the Embassy with enough time to claim a good hiding place before the gala starts at dusk. Meanwhile, the other party members ready themselves for a different field of battle than the one they usually find themselves upon.

The shadows lengthen as the second group arrives in the Heights, led by Sanaya. The five of you (with Whisper in tow) are clad in dark clothing, and have brought enough horses for everyone. Unfortunately, the presence of ten horses is rather a lot, and threatens to bring undue attention to the group while they lie in wait for Akorian’s signal. Luckily, Sanaya and Igmar have already thought of this, and asked Iacobus to rent a riverside house just a few doors down from the Embassy. You enter the gated property quietly, and stable your horses there. Omari enters the house itself, and finds it completely barren of furniture, as expected. The group files inside, save for Whisper, who stays in the stable to mind the animals. Then the rest of you settle in to wait for Akorian’s signal.

With this in mind Evelyn clambers to the roof above, and sets up a stealthy lookout. From here she can clearly see the nothern face of the Embassy grounds, and the ground floor corner bedroom the party intends to use to enter the building.

Meanwhile, a pair of carriages have been brought around to the front of Teveras Manor. Night has fallen, and the rest of you have gathered for the ride over to the Embassy. Akorian looks splendid in the crimson and russet colors of House Sarani. His rapier is belted at his side, and he is bedecked with gems and baubles as befitting his status. For his part, Kymrych looks imposing in his black armor, black tabard, and dark cloak. His armor gleams in the torchlight. Talathel wears a cloak and doublet of hunter’s green, and has the look of a carefree nobleman about town, eager for a night of fun.

The ladies who will accompany you are even more impressive. None of you have ever seen Jayne dressed as a proper lady before now, so it is very easy for you to forget that she is noble-born. But not tonight – her gown is spun silk, blue to match her eyes and with low-cut bodice bedecked with borrowed pearls gilt with silver. Her honey blonde locks are piled high above her head, and her smile is uncharacteristically radiant as Talathel gives forth the most formal bow any of you have ever seen him attempt.

“My Lady.”

“Master Talathel.” Her return bow is as practiced as any highborn courtesan. But then Jayne’s companion steps into the night, and you take in her appearance as well. Doxine Barontine is dressed in a gown with a flame red bodice, and cream skirts and matching sleeves. Her curly auburn hair is bedecked with sapphires, and held in place with a delicate mesh. She is lovely beyond compare, and she smiles at each of you in turn as she enters. Save for Akorian, who she honors with a brief and businesslike nod.

(Note that social convention prevents both Jayne and Doxine from going to the gala armed, save for a dagger or two hidden away somewhere)

“Well. We’re all here. Should be go?” Akorian gestures to the waiting carriages, and soon you have climbed aboard, and clatter off into the night.

The Chelish Embassy is located down by the river, along a stretch of property occupied by ornate manor houses, vast parkways, and the largest temple dedicated to Asmodeus in all of Varisia. The dark spires of the place can be seen in the darkness across the way as you dismount from your carriages and gather together for the walk in from the main gate to the embassy grounds. Dozens of red-on-black liveried servants stand post to greet the arriving guests and you pair off as needed, and stride towards the embassy itself. To your eyes the building is gray and lifeless looking in the ruddy half-light of dozens of torches. This is no mere house, but rather a bloated near-castle of ochre and black, ringed with rusting iron gargoyles dancing along its gables. Bright lights burn from every window, and white smoke boils forth from the nearly two dozen chimneys atop the black-slate roof.

Other guests have arrived as well, and together you walk down an awning covered walkway to the colonnaded main entrance to the manor. There more liveried servants offer to take your hats and cloaks, and a well-dressed, regal-looking woman of middle years greets you with a broad smile. This is Crosael Simiin Rasdovian, the Embassy chief of staff, and she bows with great respect as Talathel presents her with the group’s invitations to the gala.

“My Lord Sarani. On behalf of Her Infernal Majesty, Empress Abrogil II, welcome to our humble embassy. Long may Our Dark Prince rule over us, and bring peace, prosperity and righteous domination to our great Infernal Realm.”

Akorian bows, and thanks her graciously. As do you all. Then you climb the steps to the entrance foyer, and enter the building. Richly paneled and deeply carpeted, the halls of the manor hang with paintings of the Empress and her forebears, former Ambassadors, and various Infernal saints. A gay hubbub fills the air as dozens of arriving guests doff their cloaks, and head on through a set of double doors at the far end of the hallway. You follow the rest of the guests, and enter into the next room: here lies the Embassy’s rightfully famous Garden of Earthly Pleasures, a room that is seemingly open to the sky. Here the sky above is always cloudless, and sparkles with myriad pinwheeling stars far overhead. Below a quaint wooden bridge spans a burbling stream, and lush vegetation lines the banks of this “river” for as far as the eye can see. It it truly a beautiful sight, and largely maintained by powerful magics.

An archway beyond leads into the manor’s grand dining room; this immense chamber is heated by six huge fireplaces decorated with unsettling landscapes of hellish appearance. Two thick wooden pillars support the roof above, and are carved to represent tangles of serpents – continually animated to seemingly writhe and twist by more powerful magic. The room is already rather crowded. Here you see many scions of Korvosa’s assorted noble families, as well as wealthy merchants, military officers, and other important folk. Servants wend through the crowd, bringing refreshments, and at the far end of the chamber you see a bearded devil standing post, garbed in Chelish livery and bearing its signature barbed halberd. Most of the guests intently stay away from this obvious reminder of Chelish might, something the hosts of this gala likely find very amusing.

You all glance at one another, and then enter into the melee before you. In some ways, the Night Swords are very famous here in Korvosa, and many of the guests recognize you on sight. Within moments you are inundated with greetings and well-wishers, some people you actually know. And many you do not. The introductions come at you faster than you can manage, and many of those names are lost forever as a result. Talathel soon finds himself with a pretty girl on each arm. Kymrych is thankful for Jayne’s presence at his side; in part because far too many feminine (and more than a few masculine) eyes watch him with interest. And also because she can easily handle any attempts at unnecessary conversation.

Akorian, on the other hand, dives into the sea of humanity with nary a pause. Doxine is right by his side, of course, and together the two begin to speak at length with a great many people. His Lordship also appears to drink a great deal, although Kymrych knows that this is largely an illusion.

“Ah. Finally! A man after my own heart.”

Kymrych turns to find a tall, well-built man standing beside him. Two pretty young women are with him; one looks rather bored, while the other eyes Akorian and his companion with obvious interest. Both girls wear identical swords sheathed at their sides. The man himself is a bit older, perhaps fifty, with iron in both his hair and his gaze. He wears the black-on-crimson of a Chelish soldier, and also wears a massive broadsword at his hip.

“I beg your pardon, My Lord?”

“Ah, where are my manners? Please excuse me. These things always bring a bit of bile to my stomach.” He grunts. “I am Lord-General Nevan Vourne, of Her Infernal Majesty’s ‘Queen Esa’s Dragoons.’ My daughters here tell me you are Kymrych something-or-other, and that you fought at Bleak Rock Hold.”

“Oh. Well, yes. I did.”

“Wonderful!” His Lordship grins and summons a servant with more drinks. “And this Doom Child they speak of? It was real, and not just some nursemaid’s tale?”

“It was real enough, My Lord. I saw it in the flesh.” And so it goes, as Lord Vourne monopolizes Kymrych’s time for several minutes. You notice that the Vourne sisters, who were not even introduced to you by their father, wander off then to find something else to amuse themselves with.

An hour passes, and Akorian decides it is time to begin. He turns to Doxine, and nods. Her face colors slightly, but she nods back nonetheless.

“Do what you must.”

“Aye.” Akorian scowls as he scans the crowd. Soon he spies a man named Simo Follon, a member of the Chelish Ministry of Trade, and a recent widower. Doxine sees the man as well, and walks over to introduce herself. As this is going on Akorian gestures minutely, and casts a spell he learned just recently; a charm spell designed to bring out the worst in people.

“Why yes, Milady. I do believe we have met. I remember speaking to you at Lord—” Minister Follon pauses then, and blushes a startling shade of crimson. He then takes a seemingly startled Doxine in his arms, and kisses her with all the passion he can muster.

“My good man! Unhand her immediately!” Akorian storms forward, and all but tears Doxine out of poor Minister Follon’s arms. Doxine does a wonderful job of playing the hapless and confused victim. She does manage to give poor Follon a powerful slap across the jaw, and then storms away.

“My Lord. I don’t know what came over me, I assure you. I’ve never… I would never…”

“I am in a kindhearted mood, Minister Follon.” Akorian turns to the others, and gestures towards Kymrych. “So I shall let this pass. This time. Do you see that brutish fellow over there? The one in the armor? He is my second in matters of honor. Keep that in mind the next time you wish to paw at my lady love.”

Follon’s face turns a startling shade of crimson. “Of course, Milord.”

Akorian then stalks off after Doxine, who has walked off in a huff. He seizes her arm, and together the two exchange heated words. Most of the eyes in the room are upon them. Then she hauls off and slaps Akorian as well. He sees stars, and reels under her assault. Then she too turns and storms from the dining room, never to return.

“An amazing performance, My Lord.” Jayne is finding it hard to keep the laughter out of her voice. Akorian fingers his bruised face, and nods.

“I do hope Doxine enjoyed that. Because I did not.” Akorian then secretly weaves together the strands of magic on a very powerful spell, and subtly links the minds of his companions together. Within moments you hear delicate whispering in the back of your mind, and realize they are the very thoughts of your comrades!

“Turn your gaze somewhere else, friend Talathel.” Jayne turns her eyes to the elf and offers him a mock smile. “Lady Doxine is not the only one here who can defend a lady’s honor.”

“Of course, Milady. I meant no offense.” Tal turns his gaze up and away from Lady Jayne’s bodice and offers her a smile in return. Then Akorian clears his throat to regain everyone’s attention.

“All set, Tal?” he asks.

“Aye. Just say the word.”

“Let’s go over here for a bit. Then I’ll be off.”

You find a quiet corner far from the action, and Akorian pretends to sulk. Well, perhaps “pretend” is only half-right, but I will allow you to decide the truth of the matter for yourself. During this time Jayne and Kymrych keep any and all interested parties away. You are informed, however, that a gentleman has offered to take Lady Doxine safely home to Teveras Manor, where you know from your preparations beforehand she will await your return.

A few minutes pass, and you see that interest in your personal drama has faded. Akorian nods once more to Talathel, and together the two begin to cast a complicated weave of spells. First, Akorian fades from view, invisible, and Tal takes on Akorian’s form using a disguise charm. He then creates a simple illusion of himself; this illusion is made to sit quietly by “Akorian’s” side, offering moral support. Then the real Akorian quickly (and silently) bids his companions goodbye, and drifts off into the crowd, careful to avoid bumping into anyone if he can help it.

Soon Akorian has navigated his way through the crowd, and only managed to collide with drunken party goers on two occasions; luckily no one seems to notice, and he soon finds himself passing through an archway that feeds onto a connecting chamber. This room is called the Jungle of Nectar – he sees now that the room contains a sparkling fountain of crystal clear water, an illusory sky similar to the one in the Garden of Earthly Pleasures, and several large tropical trees filled with fruit. Several amorous couples have slipped in here seeking privacy; Akorian sneaks by them all and makes a beeline for a door set in the far wall.

The door, of course, is locked. He quickly produces the skeleton key their benefactor provided them, and tries it in the lock; the tumblers fall, and he opens the door and slips inside. The room beyond consists of a small house shrine to Asmodeus; Akorian’s starts a bit as he sees twin statues of the Black Prince looming over him, scowling with disapproval. He moves on quickly, however, and tries the door opposite. It too is locked, and he once more produces his key. Beyond lays the bedchamber of the Embassy chaplain, empty now as His Unholiness is almost certain to be at the party.

Akorian pauses then, and thinks of Kymrych. “I’ve made it. How are things going?”

There is a pause, and then Kymrych’s gruff voice sounds deep within your mind. “Fine, I think. Those twin sisters came by to bother us, but Jayne shooed them off. So far no one else seems to be taking an interest in us.”

“Good. I’ll summon the others.”

Akorian sees that the room itself is quite plain, with well-made but simple furniture and little in the way of the elaborate decoration found elsewhere in the house. A wooden stand that holds a set of armor sits in one corner, while another stand across from it is bare; Akorian decides the priest’s fancy-dress raiment usually rests here when he is not tending to his duties.

Pleased to see that no one is here, Akorian crosses over to then northernmost window in the chamber and draws asides the curtain. The Embassy grounds are dark and silent as he unlatches the window and slides it open. A cool breeze wafts in as he realizes his invisibility charm has worn off. Moments later he intones the words to a simple illumination spell, and gives forth the agreed-upon signal to summon his fellow party members.

“That’s it. Let’s go.” Evelyn sniggers a bit as she scuttles down the side of the rented manor house. Omari, Igmar and Sanaya await her there. There is no more talking as the quartet heads down to the river and crosses over onto the loose sand along the bank. You move as quietly as you are able, although Omari’s presence makes a lot of that effort pointless. Soon you reach the stone wall that surrounds the Embassy on three sides, and runs down to the edge of the waterline. Sanaya pauses a moment, and then nods to the others.

“Wait a moment.” She raises her hands, and gestures. Moments later Omari is fading from view, and is soon completely visible. Then Sanaya uncoils the stout length of rope from her shoulder. She holds it, and whispers something to it. The rope shivers, and then uncoils, snaking up the side of the wall as if possessing a mind of its own. Soon the rope has tied itself to an iron crenelation at the top of the wall, and Sanaya begins to swiftly climb up and over. In less time than it takes to tell the four of you have joined her, and Igmar, the last climber, throws the rope back down to her. Then he lowers himself, and tumbles to the ground with a dour grumble.

They then dash across the verge and head for the window on the building’s northern-most face. Moments later they arrive there, and see Akorian lurking inside.

“Get in here, quickly.” This is accomplished with little difficulty, and soon Akorian is shuttering the window behind them.

“Any problems?” he whispers.

“No. I doubt anyone saw us.” Sanaya’s smile is but dimly visible against the darkness.

“I would not speak so quickly, if I were you.” The voice is soft and feminine. The creak of a door-hinge comes to you then, and door to the chapel swings wide. There is a soft, saffron glow as witch-light is summoned, and two slender figures are seen standing in the doorway.

“Have we interrupted something, My Lord?” Isandra Vourne-Aulamaxa says. Her dark eyes have a mischievous glow. “My sister and I could not help but notice your departure from the gala, despite your friends’ best interest in keeping it a secret.”

“Yes, dear boy.” Janivan Vourne’s expression is not as playful, nor are her eyes as friendly. “We were hoping you were up to no good, of course. Parties like this are dreadfully dull at the best of times.”

“Yes, I—” Isandra pauses a moment, and gazes at Evelyn. Her eyes show stunned shock. “Is that…. Is that a goblin…..???”

Move 228
Returning Home

Fair Haven village, Varisia
The 12th day of Lamashan, 4713 AR – middle afternoon
The party questions the captive half-orc, and searches the ruins for more clues. Little new is discovered, however, and you regather at the burned out tavern shortly thereafter. By this time Igmar and Evelyn have recovered the charred skull of the dead wizard, and have packaged it for transport. You pause a moment to consider what to do next. At the moment Talathel is on guard duty, and is huddled atop a cottage just off to one side of the now burned out tavern building. The air reeks of woodsmoke. He pauses a moment to look down at the others, and smirks at the paltry sum of money that was recovered. Then he looks up again, and sees the tall grass in the plains that surround the village begin to sway, as if disturbed by the wind off the sea. 

Then he realizes that the wind is blowing in the opposite direction, and that a large force of some sort is stealthily approaching the village through the tall grass. They are currently about 300’ out, and closing fast. You cannot make out what sort of men or creatures they be, although they move with great speed. It is almost impossible for you to imagine that they are human. Your initial estimate is that perhaps 20-30 individual creatures are now approaching you at a very fast pace.

“We need to get out of this place,” Omari hisses. “Now.” Igmar hastily scribbles down something on a piece of parchment, and hands it to Akorian. The nobleman smiled, and drops it to the ground.

“Let us go.” Akorian takes up the Horn of Asmodeus, and sends forth its clarion call. Mist swirls, and your bellies clench as the magic takes you. Moments later you are once more in the foyer of Teveras Manor, safe and sound. It is almost as if your trip to the coast had never happened. Zusa and Yelen are both pleased (and relieved) to see you safely return – although both women are clearly distressed with the blood and soot that stains your clothing.

“We should clean up a bit, and consider what is to be done next.” Kymrych turns to your captive. “You, friend, are to be our honored guest. Come with me.” The big Varisian takes the half-orc by the scruff of the neck and leads him hither. Sanaya and Evelyn joins him and together the four of you head down into the cellar of the sprawling manor house. There, in the depths of an old wine cellar is a secret door that slides silently aside. Beyond it is a short hallway lined with dank cells, each secured with a stout iron gate and padlock. The locks are old but lovingly cared for, and allow your prisoner to be stored here without difficulty. You secure the archer therein, and strip him of his equipment. Then you see to it that he is fed, and left with a ever-burning torch and some much needed peace and quiet. Then the three of you head upstairs to rejoin the others.

You take the time to strip out of your tattered garments, bathe, and generally refresh yourselves after the harrowing trip to Fair Haven. Whisper, Jayne and Athera are present, and inform you that a messenger arrived while you were gone, and left a sealed letter for Akorian. He breaks the seal, and reads the letter. The scowl on his face speaks volumes.

“Tis’ from Iacobus. He says the Korvosan Navy has fought a battle with ships loyal to Magnimar near the mouth to Conqueror’s Bay. Our forces won; apparently we lost one ship, while they lost two, including one galleon that was taken as a prize. Dozens were killed on both sides.”

“Blood has been spilled, then.” Igmar’s expression is just as dark. “I fear peace may well be impossible now.”

“We should rest, and eat something.” Sanaya’s voice is pitched low. “You in particular need to rest, friend Igmar. And pray for guidance. Perhaps then we can attempt to summon the spirt of the dead mage, and see if he will cooperate with us.”

It is hard to argue with her logic, so you head off to your individual rooms as needed. For their part, Sanaya, Akorian and Evelyn gather in the main dining room to investigate the cache of magic items that you recovered from Fair Haven, and attempt to divine what each of them is capable of. You are just finishing up when Hartley enters to tell you that one of the servants claims to have a desperate reason to speak with you.

“Which servant?” Akorian wants to know. He is instantly suspicious. Or tired. It is hard to tell which. Evelyn climbs over the back of a couch cushion to sneak a biscuit off a silver tea service. She takes one scone, and then another. When no one complains, she scoops the entire tray’s worth into the folds of her cloak, and scurries off to the corner to gobble them up, one by one.

“The girl called Niaveh, My Lord.” Hartley harrumphs in distaste. “She is one of the upstairs maids. Normally I would shoo her off, but she insists that it is rather important.”

Akorian shrugs. “I see no reason to be rude, Hartley. Show her in.”

“As you wish, Milord.” Moments later the so-named girl is ushered in. You all remember her, and know that she is one of the girls brought over from Venk manor. She is rather pretty, but quiet.

She blushes, curtsies, and turns immediately to Akorian. “Good evening, Milord. I mean, I—”

“Calm down, girl.” Akorian smiles, and gestures for her to sit. “Start from the beginning, and tell us what brings you here.”

Niaveh blushes again, but soon finds it within herself to tell the tale she has come to tell. She and two other girls were at the market yesterday, intent on purchasing a barrel of pickles on the orders of Master Hartley. Apparently goblins are very fond of pickles, and your majordomo desired to keep the delicacy in stock. Other provisions were needed as well, and soon the party’s wagon was being loaded. With nothing better to do for several minutes Niaveh found herself wandering amongst the market stalls, eyeing bolts of imported cloth. That was when she encountered the woman dressed in red and black.

She was beautiful, Niaveh tells you. And obviously a woman of means. Her clothing was of an expensive cut, and in the latest Chelish style – an oddity here in Korvosa, you know. Most Korvosans do not usually garb themselves in the devilish colors of House Thrune, despite their Chelish heritage. The woman smiled, and asked if Niaveh worked for Lord Akorian. Niaveh admits to being so startled by the woman’s sudden appearance that she immediately admitted the truth. She is ashamed by this, and readily awaits any punishment you may hand her.

Akorian asks her to continue, and this she does: the nobleborn woman handed Niaveh a bulging envelope, and asked her to deliver it to Lord Akorian personally. She pulls said bulging envelope from her skirts, and hands it over. She is obviously rather relived to be rid of the thing, you think.

Sanaya ushers the girl out, and tells her that there may well be more questions for her. Then you all watch as Akorian breaks the wax seal on the envelope, and a bulky iron key marked with a pentagram clatters to the table. The pages inside are crafted of the finest vellum, and show a well-drawn map of the grounds and buildings of the Chelish Embassy here in Korvosa.

“How interesting…” Sanaya picks up one of the pages and eyes it expectantly. It is the main house’s second floor, she notes. There a set of double doors have been circled in red ink. It is interesting to note that the doors are set in an outer wall of the house, and appear to open out into a bricked up wall. Those of you who have been to the Embassy before know there is no door there – at least not on the outside. None of you, however, have ever seen allowed to see the second floor of the house.

This attended to, you put the map and the key in a safe (and secret) place, and go to dinner. The other members of the group are immediately told of what Niaveh has reported. Afterward you do as you wish before going to bed. Jayne and Whisper stand watch as always, and the night passes quietly enough. With the dawn you rise, greatly refreshed, and Igmar attends to his morning prayers to greet the rising sun. Then he attended to the fire charred skull, and casts a spell to allow him to speak with the dead.

For long moments brilliant, sparkling motes of power swirl about the skull, flitting too and fro like tiny fireflies. Then the magic fades, and the skull goes dark once more.

“I’m sorry.” Igmar scowls. “His will is too strong for me, even from beyond the grave. There is nothing more I can do right now.”

Move 227
Big Tom

Fair Haven village, Varisia
The 12th day of Lamashan, 4713 AR – late morning
“All right. I think we’re in the clear.” Talathel hunches down from his cautious observation of the ruined village, and nods to Akorian. The mage nods back, and gestures. Moments later inky black shadows rise up from the ground, and envelop the party. The tendrils of midnight feel cold and slick upon your skin as they slide across you, and swiftly solidify. Within moments you stand within a shadowy box crafted from pure illusion; inside the box, you see nothing out of the ordinary. Without, all that is seen is the grassy field you stand in. You are effectively hidden, as long as Akorian keeps up his concentration. Kymrych leads off, and you begin your cautious approach of the enemy’s lair.

Your progression is as slow as it is cautious. You crest the lip of the hill, crouching, and come down the slope towards the walls of the closest buildings. Akorian perspires from the raw concentration needed to maintain his illusion. But he does so, for he is a very skilled magi. Soon you arrive just outside the tavern building, and pause. Akorian releases the threads of the spell, and nods. Sanaya and Talathel weave spells of their own, and fade from sight. Then Omari kicks in the back door of the place, and together you storm in with sword and spell made ready. The room beyond was once a kitchen, complete with a stone hearth, an oven, and a dust-shrouded trestle table. Another set of double doors leads deeper into the place, and Omari slams those doors wide open as well. You stream into the cobweb-strewn common room of the place, and see the following:

The main room of the inn is tall and airy, and ringed along its western face with a tall balcony. Doors atop the balcony probably lead to bedrooms. The taproom is filled with moldering tables, benches, and piles of broken crockery. You immediately see that three dark figures are crouched atop the balcony itself; the cloaked archer from before, a towering orc warrior clad in heavy armor, and clenching a wickedly curved blade; and finally, a nattily garbed man in scholarly attire. His clothing is of the latest Taldan style. Even as you watch, the human raises his hands and begins to intone the words to a powerful spell.

The battle that follows is as sudden as it is violent. Igmar and Omari immediately charge up the stairs to engage the orc swordsman at close range. The enemy bowman once again pounds Kymrych with hammer-blow accurate bow-shots, badly bruising him beneath his armor. The Taldan mage raises his hands, and speaks the last words of a powerful charm – Kymrych feels the skin on his hand begin to harden, and take on the appearance of solid granite! But somehow he manages to fight off the spell, and his flesh begins to return to normal. Then Akorian casts a spell of his own, a very powerful version of his regular charm spell, and sees the eyes of the half-orc bowman grow slack. The spell has taken effect! Even as Akorian watches, the bowman lowers his weapon and stares about in confusion.

Evelyn feels no confusion, however, as she pulls one of her whistling Bombs of Doom from her pouch, and lights it with a taper. It shrieks and roars, and detonates with a deadly peal of thunder! The far end of the balcony bursts into sooty flame, and the enemy wizard finds himself cut off from escape. He backs away from the flames, clearly terrified, and the aged wood of the tavern begins to burn.

Meanwhile Igmar parries with the sword-wielding orc, and knocks his blade aside with a well-timed thrust. Omari follows up with a thrust of his own, and more orc blood mists in the air. The creature collapses, dying, as the pair reaches the top of the steps, and stands eying the now confused archer. He seems unsure if they be friend or foe – then a second rocket screams from Evelyn’s fingers, and detonates with an earth-shuddering blast. The far end of the balcony is now completely engulfed in flames, and the the roof-beams creak and groan overhead. The pair rapidly withdraws, and after a moment’s pause the half-orc follows. The air is thick with acrid smoke, and in the distance you hear someone – probably the mage you saw earlier – screaming for help. He appears to be cut off by the flames, and cannot get out – then the groaning becomes a shout, and the far end of the building rapidly begins to collapsing in upon itself. Within moments the entire building is a raging inferno.

You all file outside, and pause a moment to collect your breath. Evelyn looks back at the blazing ruin, and giggles excitedly. Rarely has she ever seen a fire so big – and to think she is the one who set it!

Kymrych and Omari still stand ready, however. They finger their blades, and eye the archer as he stands gazing at the burning building.

“We’re not going to hurt you, friend.” Akorian stands nearby, speaking in soothing tones. “Those men in there weren’t your comrades. Not really. We are. In fact, I promise—”

His Lordship never quite gets the chance to finish the thought. A bestial growl is heard somewhere in the smoke, and a huge shadow appears moments later, coming at you at a steady lope. The very ground shakes with its passage. Moments later an immense ogre clad in crude wolfskins and a stout iron helmet comes into view, lugging a tree-branch sized wooden club. He spies you and howls once more, clearly maddened beyond reason.

“Stay to your bows!” Talathel shouts. “Do not let him get within close range, or he’ll crush your skull!”

“CRUSH YOUR SKULL!!!” the ogre howls, and charges Omari and Kymrych. No doubt the two men wish Tal would stop giving the creature so many nasty ideas. Then that immense club lashes out, and clips Omari in the shoulder. The lean-faced warrior sprawls in the grass, badly wounded. Kymrych’s blade flicks out in response, and more fresh gore spurts far and wide.

Talathel’s bow whispers, and Akorian and Sanaya weave complex mystic formulas that summon bolts of magical energy. That same energy sears the flesh of the ogre, and it snarls once more. It raises its club on high, and smashes Omari back to the ground. The bones in his shield-arm ache from the impact, but somehow he manages to avoid serious energy. Then Kymrych slices the creature in the thigh, distracting it. Omari darts in then, cutting low, and opens the ogre’s belly with one swift stroke. The dim-witted behemoth stares down at its entrails for a long moment, seemingly dumbfounded, and crashes to the ground with a resounding THUD. The battle thusly ended, you turn as one to face the half-orc, who simply watched the battle without moving a muscle.

“His name was Big Tom,” the archer tells you. “And to be honest, I never much liked him anyhow.”

You detail Kymrych to keep an eye on the archer, and then move to examine the dead ogre. It is well and truly dead; this determined, you return your attention to the blazing tavern. Sanaya sighs, and mentions what a shame it was that whatever evidence that is to be found inside will likely go up like a torch.

“Maybe not,” Akorian tells her. He gestures then, and the very shadows around him congeal and flow, and spirit him away with nary a whisper.

Akorian reappears inside the smoke-shrouded tavern, and quickly holds the edge of his cloak over his nose and mouth. The northern wall of the building is one solid sheet of flames; this wall of heat sears his flesh, and tells him he dares not delay here long. Then he spies what he came here for: a large sack left on a table near the bar, apparently abandoned in haste. He grabs it, and then shadow-shifts his way back out into the open air.

“What is it? What did you get?” Evelyn eyes the bag greedily, but somehow restrains herself. Akorian upends the bag on the grass even as Omari and Talathel bind the hands of the archer behind him.

“Ah, loot.” Igmar smiles broadly as he surveys the scattering of money and items before him. He sees two pairs of finely wrought boots, a plain looking necklace, a tiny, semi-precious stone, a finely made belt, a quiver of arrows, and a length of strong rope. A simple charm shows him that each item is magic, but not what each item does.

There are also some coins, you see. Talathel kneels down and runs his fingers through the contents of the bag of coins, and grunts. Then he sees something that catches his eye, and picks it up. It is a silver coin, you see, and recently minted. He hands it to Akorian, and nods thoughtfully at the sight of it.

You all stand then, and consider what to do next. As you do so, a towering column of sooty black smoke climbs ever skyward, tinging the air with an acrid taste.

Move 226
Blood and Battle

The wilds of Varisia, near the ruins of Fair Haven village
The 12th day of Lamashan, 4713 AR – mid-morning
After discussing what is to be done next, Sanaya heads out with the rest of the party strung out behind her. The sky above is grey and ugly, and a cool wind howls in off Conqueror’s Bay. You slink along angling to approach the ruined village from the northeast. It is therefore a bit of a surprise when the first orc blunders in upon you from out of the tall grass.

There are three of them in total: the first you see is huge, simply massive, with impossibly broad shoulders and gnarled, bestial features. He is clad in chain armor, and his fists are covered by heavy, steel-studded gloves designed to pound human flesh into mush. Beside him stands another orc, this one half-human. He is clad all in grays and greens, and wields a fine-looking compound bow. The last orc is the drunkard Evelyn and Sanaya spied earlier. He clenches his massive two-handed sword and howls defiance as the three ready themselves for an all-out charge.

As one you begin to spread out, intent on flanking the orcs as they charge. Talathel channels arcane energy into his bow, and nocks an arrow. Igmar sidles off to one side, hoping to catch the orcs off guard. Kymrych and Omari immediately charge, ready to go toe to toe with the iron-fisted orc. Both Akorian and Sanaya fade from view, cloaked by magic. Only Evelyn holds her ground, and kneels on the grass. From her many pouches and pockets she withdraws a long cylindrical object, pointed on one end. Long fins decorate the other. She holds a burning taper to a fuse, and the rocket hisses and shrieks as it leaves her fingers. Moments later it screams downrange, and detonates with a hearty BOOOOMMMMMMMM.

The biggest of the orcs staggers as he is peppered with pieces of shrapnel. Then he and Omari and Kymrych meet in a flurry of steel, and an angry melee takes place. Even as the trio comes together in a tangle of flesh and blood, however, the half-orc draws his bow, and looses. That first shot hits Kymrych on the shoulder-armor with a stunning blow, and knocks him back a step. The half-orc’s second shot slams into Kymrych’s breast plate, driving him to one knee. The force of his shots are stunning! It is hard for the Varisian to catch his breath.

The big orc slams his fist into Omari, sending the quick-moving Garundi sprawling. Then Kymrych and Omari pull themselves together, and begin to circle the towering orc, intent upon finding a chink in his armor – as they do so, Kymrych’s orc-bane sword begins to shimmer and hum, as if sensing the blood of its foe. He thrusts out, and feels his blade sink deeply into the chest of the massive orc – the creature snarls and snaps his tusk-like teeth, and begins to pull itself forward, plunging the sword ever deeper into his rib cage. He grasps for Kymrych’s throat, but cannot quite reach it. Then Omari strikes out, and severs the big orc’s head from his shoulders, and the massive corpse collapses in a heap at the feet of the two warriors.

Meanwhile, Talathel, Akorian and Sanaya spy the other sword-wielding orc moving in to engage Igmar. Akorian sears the creature with lightning, while Sanaya turns invisible, and dashes in to engage him with her blade. Tal launches arrow after arrow, wounding the orc. Then he locks blades with Igmar, and the two begin to circle and parry, eager to find an opening in the other’s defenses. The orc grunts, however, as Sanaya suddenly appears beside him, and strikes a telling blow. Thusly wounded, the orc allows his defenses to suffer, and Igmar sneaks in the killing blow.

The enemy archer sees his companions fall, and turns to flee. Tal sends a few arrows chasing after him, but does not land a fatal shot.

“He’ll warn the others. We’d better move.” Kymrych has to wait, however, until Igmar has used his magic to stave off the worst of their many scratches and bruises. Then the group reforms, and continues on towards the ruined village. They do not get very far, however, before a new threat presents itself.

“Wait.” Sanaya holds up a hand to halt the group. “What is that?”

You pause, and listen. Then you hear it: a low, sibilant moaning sound. And the slow shuffle of many feet. You smell the stink of rotting flesh, and see the first of more than a dozen undead fiends stumble towards you from out of the tall grass. They are the simple undead; animated corpses, brought to life through foul necromancy. While not dangerous in small numbers, they can overwhelm even the strongest of groups if allowed to swarm. With this in mind Akorian calls worth one of his most potent spells, and sends a crackling ball of flame towards the center of the pack.

WHOOOOOSSHHHHHHH…….. A dozen emancipated stick men go up in flames, tottering, blazing, collapsing into smoldering piles of blackened bone. The rest continue to shuffle on, undaunted. The rest of the group begins to pick off the remainder of the undead with bow or spell, and more fall. But many remain. Soon they come into close range, and you switch to your hand to hand weaponry. Within seconds Sanaya is surrounded, cut off from the rest of you, and battles on bravely. More of the creatures fall, but not quickly enough. Talathel is forced to drop his bow and go to his sword, hacking, slicing. He guts one of the last undead, and then they are all down and you stand there, panting from your recent exertions.

“That wasn’t so hard.” Evelyn grins as she pokes a severed head with the tip of her dogslicer. “Stupid dead people.”

“They forced us to use up precious resources.” Omari scowls as he wipes rotting flesh from his sword. “Plus the orcs now have a pretty good idea that we’re coming. I’d say things just got a bit more interesting.”

Just then an orc war horn sounds, echoing far across the grassy plains. You pause in your labors, and quickly form a defensive square.

“Stay alert.” Kymrych’s eyes never pause in their searching of the tall grass. “They’ll be here any—”

The first orcs come at you screaming defiance. They explode from the tall grass at a full run with their weapons on high. Thrown javelins fill the air; a second wave follows moments later, and then their first ranks slam into you, howling and spitting. Steel clashes on steel, and gore spurts. Most of it it theirs, but not all. They fight with no elegance, and no thought of tactics. Just anger and blood-thirst, and a need to kill. Igmar and Omari are the first to slay, but the orcs get some licks in as well. Sanaya gasps as a thrown javelin pierces her in the thigh, and she sinks to one knee, nearly spent. Talathel stands firm, plying his bow with deadly accuracy. More orcs fall. Evelyn cuts loose with more of her whistling terror bombs, and the air is filled with acrid smoke and hellish cries. Chaos surrounds you as more blood is spilled.

Then, a third wave of orcs appears. Akorian scowls as he realizes your lines are in danger of collapse. He must use yet another precious spell, and raises his hands – there is a roar of flame, and more orcs are reduced to charred husks. Then, the sounds of combat drift away, and Igmar hurries to Sanaya’s side. He prays to the Dawnflower, and Evelyn helps him remove the javelin from her gore-smeared thigh. You watch as his magic burns away the tears in her flesh, and she is made whole once more, save for the memories of both terror and pain.

Igmar pauses a moment to examine the closest of the dead orcs. He sees a clan fetish attached to an armored hauberk, and grunts.

“These orcs belong to the Black Sun clan, out of Belkzen. They are landless mercenaries, keen to work for the highest bidder. We faced them when the Doom Child was nigh; I’d say this bunch is left over from that fight, and never went home.” Igmar eyes Kymrych with a lopsided grin. “Old business indeed.”

As the others talk Akorian and Talathel hustle over to the nearest hillock and scramble up, staying low. At the top they go to their bellies and peer over the lip, down into the ruined village. There they pause for a moment to watch for movement.

Moments later they find some – the archer you faced earlier is seen running at full tilt towards the tavern, carrying his bow in one hand and a fresh quiver of arrows in the other. He is visible for a matter of seconds before he reaches the rear door of the building. Seconds later he has dashed inside, and the ruins of Fair Haven go silent once more.

Move 225
The Wolf at the Door

At Teveras Manor, in the Heights – Korvosa
The 11th day of Lamashan, 4713 AR – early morning
“Gather together, everyone.” Akorian stands in the grand foyer of the manor, clad in rough traveling attire. His field pack is slung across his shoulders. The rest of you gather as well, also dressed for rough weather and distant climes. The manor’s servants are nowhere to be seen, and only Jayne, Whisper and Athera are present otherwise.

It has been a busy two days; you have moved out of Castle Korvosa, and taken Count Melkor Teveras up on his offer of house-sitting while he is in the country. His house is large, rambling, and beautifully appointed. Your search of the house and its grounds has turned up nothing usual, so you have finally decided to return to the ruins of Fair Haven via the Horn of Asmodeus. Omari does a quick head count to make sure everyone is present, and then nods.

“All set here, Akorian.”

“Aye.” Akorian puts the horn to his lips, and gives forth a mighty blare. The world shimmers and swirls, and you find yourself tumbling end over end through the fabric of reality. Moments later you are on your knees in a patch of wet grass in the midst of a dank and windswept moor.

The sky above rumbles with uneven thunder, and fat droplets fall. You all stand for a long moment and peer at the surrounding terrain, and decide that you are nowhere near the village.

“What happened?” Talathel asks. He looks no too happy to the prospect of a long walk in this weather.

“The Horn’s magic is fickle, or so I am made to understand.” Akorian puts the device away, and hikes to the top of a nearby rise. “We should be in the general vicinity of the village. All we need to do is find the coastline, and Fair Haven should be relatively close by.”

“This way is south. Come along.” Omari leads the way, and off you go, following the gentle rise and fall of this desolate land. Onward you walk, moving cautiously; it is easy to see a long way off in this empty land, and you never know what you are going to encounter in the wilds of Varisia.

“Oi. Everyone. Look at this.” Kymrych stands at the base of a low hill a bit later, keeping watch while the rest of the party takes a brief rest.

“What is it?” Sanaya asks. She peers into the grass, and recoils at what she sees.

“By the First Pharaoh.” She gestures to ward off evil: before her a tangled pile of gnawed bone sits beneath the cloudy sky, buzzing with bloat fleas. Even from here she can see the jagged tooth marks on the bones, which probably belong to a cow or horse.

“What did this?” Akorian asks.

“Something big and mean.” Igmar kneels at the edge of the mound of bones and grunts knowingly. “Ogres, most likely. You don’t see many full-on giants in this part of the country. Not this far from the eastern mountains.”

“We should keep an eye out, and keep moving.” Omari strings his bow and leads the way once more. Soon he finds a series of large, bare footprints in the grass, and suggests the party follow them. From what he and Igmar can tell the prints do indeed belong to at least one ogre.

You follow the tracks for several hours, but lose them as darkness begins to fall across the moors. You make a cold camp with the coming of night, and settle in for some uneasy sleep. Guards are posted, and weapons kept close. Talathel is fairly certain he could see the coastline in the distance, but would not swear to it before the gods. Lots are drawn as to who stands watch, and it is Evelyn and Kymrych who find themselves huddles atop the nearest tor, staring out across the plains.

“Look, High Pockets! Do you see it? That light, far away.”

Kymrych squints and peers into the dark. After a moment he sees it too – a glimmering flicker that winks at him twice before fading away completely. “Yes. It is very far off, though. You have good eyes, Evelyn.”

The night passes quietly enough, and onward you march after a quick breakfast of cold sausage and hard cheese. You attempt to angle your way towards the area where you saw the light the night before, and soon see the misty vestiges of the coast in the far distance. A hour of hard walking brings you in towards a darker smudge on the coast – this gray mass soon resolves itself into neat rows of buildings, all huddled by the water along the banks of a small cove. As you draw cautiously closer you see perhaps two dozen buildings of various types – small houses, a church or temple, warehouses and other buildings, all tucked in tidily at the edge of the water. Talathel squints as he peers into the distance, and grunts audibly.

“That be Fair Haven, sure enough. You can see the manor house we searched last year, plain as day.”

Akorian squints and grimaces. “If you say so, Tal.”

“Keep low.” Omari gestures for you all to go to ground. “If we can see them, they can see us.”

After some discussion it is decided that the more stealthy members of the party will go in first to scout ahead. With this in mind, Akorian, Evelyn, Igmar and Sanaya slink away from the others and move carefully towards the seemingly abandoned village. Hungry gulls are seen circling over the ruins. You soon arrive at the very edge of the village, and pause a moment to watch the place. From your vantage point you can see that tall grass grows in the streets, and many of the roofs of nearby buildings sag from lack of care. Several of the closer houses are burnt out wrecks.

You huddle close for a time, and decide to let Evelyn and Sanaya go on ahead separately. They are both easily the quietest members of your band, and should be able to enter the ruins unseen. So onward they go, with Evelyn circling around to the east, through a cluster of silent fisherman’s cottages, while Sanaya enters the village from the west, nearer the town hall. For her part, Evelyn moves like a ghost, and peers inside several empty buildings. Doors hang loosely in their frames, and empty windows gape like staring eye sockets. Each cottage is empty, save for dust and dirt, and broken furniture left behind by whatever disaster struck this place. Here and there yellowed human bones poke up through the sand, suggesting that whatever happened here came quickly for the villagers, and did not spare them from its fury.

Sanaya creeps along silently, keeping close to the buildings, and never exposing herself in the open. The wind howls in off the water, stirring the long grass and tugging at her cloak. She steps in close to the side of the town hall, and pauses a moment beside a boarded up window. She listens, and hears a low, rumbling voice growl in a language she remembers all too well from the Slave Pits of Fort Fang… The Tongue of Giants! She pauses a moment, and lifts her head up to peer through a crack in the boards. After a moment she sees a hulking figure in the shadows – it is too dark to see it clearly, although she does know that the beast is far too big to be human. An ogre, perhaps. Or a hill giant.

Then another figure stalks by, and grows something in Giant. This figure is tall and hulking, but more akin in size to a human. She slips back down then, and pauses a moment to consider what to do next. She grasps her medallion, and concentrates. The smaller figure, she cannot read. But the big brute’s thoughts are like an open book to her. Unfortunately, she cannot understand it’s language, no matter what magic she uses. But she does realize that the thing is both hungry and bored, and sick of having to do what it is told. Anger boils in its heart like a thing alive. She releases the medallion and slinks away.

A few minutes later she and Evelyn reunite near the center of town. After a whispered confab, the two move to the north, towards the shoreline. There they see the village’s sole tavern, and decide to approach it. As the do so, however, they spy sudden movement, and instantly go to ground to avoid detection.

Moments later they see a tall, broad shouldered figure approach, clad in a heavy woolen cloak. Its hood is down, however, exposing weathered, bestial features, a piggish snout, and a tusked lower jaw that protrudes rather abruptly. A heavy sword is belted at his side; this, you know, is a full-blooded orc, and a horrid savage. He makes for the tavern’s front entrance, and enters without knocking.

“Come on.” Evelyn rashly leads the way to the side of the tavern, and together the two huddle close to listen to what is said. Luckily, Evelyn is fluent in Orc, and understands all of the following:

“Oi! Koldak. We want some grog, and we want it quick. Its cold as piss at night here, and you won’t let us keep a fire. We’ll freeze our nibblets off if we don’t get some relief.” The voice is gruff and menacing, and speaks Orc with a distinctive northern accent. The voice that follows, however, is altogether different – more refined, and almost civilized in both cadence and tone.

“You have to patrol tonight, Throg. So no more ale for you. Now get out of here before I cave your skull in. And tell that scum Rokath that I’ll be out tonight as well, making sure he does as he’s told.”

There is a long silence then, before the first orc who spoke gives off a grudging acknowledgement. You both hunker low as the orc storms out of the tavern, and slams the door shut behind him. You watch as the creature stalks back towards the ruined temple dedicated to Pharasma. You wait until the orc has entered the place, and is lost from sight. Then you sidle up underneath the same window, and listen as the second, more cultured voice continues to speak. This time, however, he says what he needs to say in Taldane.

“It’s a tough business, keeping these bully boys in line. One day I’ll have to put my knife between someone’s ribs, you mark my words.”

“A bored orc is a dangerous liability, Koldak. Perhaps some sport is in order. For some of them, at least.” This voice sounds human, Taldan perhaps by the accent. The other person sighs at this comment, and then grunts audibly.

“We have orders to lay low. To avoid notice. Sending my lads out to rape and murder runs contrary to that.”

“They’ll do us no good if they go mad and start killing one another,” the more cultured of the two voices replied. “Those Varisian traders passed this way just a few hours ago, headed west. If Orog and his warriors leave now they should have no problem catching them when they next make camp. Then they can play to their hearts content. If we bury the bodies deep no one will be any the wiser.”

“Its a risk, Davalus. I don’t like it.”

“You’ll do as you wish, of course. But deep in your heart you know I’m right.”

As she hears these words, Sanaya grasps her medallion and concentrates. The orc-blood tracker known as Koldak Ironfang does not like the pale human weakling he has been ordered to protect at all costs. Dr. Rolth Davalus is some sort of bigwig, a top-drawer leader in whatever organization Koldak and his men are apart of. Sanaya gets the impression that the big warrior knows very little about who pays him. But he does not like Davalus, and would dearly love to see him leave. But for now the effete wizard is trapped here, and must await the summons of she who is mistress to them both.

“We should go.” Sanaya whispers the words even as she cuts the link between herself and the hulking half-orc. Evelyn nods, and leads the way back towards the others. A few tense minutes of skulking brings you to the edge of the ruined village; you come upon Igmar and Akorian, who seemed relieved to see you. Then a low growl sounds from somewhere behind you – you turn then to see an immense wolf step into the open. It growls once more, and eyes you with obvious hostile intent.

A long, jagged scar marks the beast’s features. Even as you notice this, it growls once more, and leaps to the attack!

Nasty beastie! Bad dog! Evelyn grins like pint-sized maniac as she hurls a flaming bomb at the wolf. It howls and snarls as the flames sear its hide. Then Igmar plies his bow, and Akorian raises his hand to send waves of scintillating color to confuse and sicken the beast. Sanaya leeches away its very strength with a different spell, and the creature is badly staggered. Evelyn grins some more, and hurls a second bomb. This one engulfs the creature in searing heat, and it collapses to the ground amidst a wave of inky black smoke. The stench of rotting meat carries far on the stiff morning wind. Luckily, the wind is coming in off the sea, and pushing both sound and smell AWAY from those in the ruined village.

The four of you turn and run back the way you came. It is only a matter of a few short minutes before you arrive back at the main body of the party, and report what you have seen and done. Even at this close distance the smoke from Evelyn’s fires is difficult to see. The stink of roasting flesh, however, is very much on everyone’s mind.

“So. What do we do now?” Talathel wonders. Even as he speaks the words, however, a long, echoing note is played on a horn of some sort. The same sort of horn heard whenever an orc host is marshaled forth for battle.


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