Of Crows, Dirt and Dongs

The One with the Unicorn Trampling
---- Or The Gang Takes on The Old Keep

The recount is hastily scrawled – in handwriting that is practically illegible to anyone that isn’t Henry – on the back of a love letter addressed to Tess. The spelling is appalling; It would make pretty white high elves cry. At the top of the page reads ‘I WASN’T DRUNK, THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED’

Today I was brutally attacked by a fucking unicorn. Yep. You heard me correctly. A living, breathing, (albeit magically summoned, but still legit), me-hating unicorn. I was not drunk, I was not high, nor had I been hit really hard in the head. Turns out Ruffles is pretty dangerous with that magic of hers.

As one of Laucien’s first acts as ruler of Destrum – I missed a lot in the few days I spent with… Melanie? Elena? Shit, I don’t know—that bard in the tavern – he took us down into the Old Keep under the city. Now I haven’t got much interest in what magic shit lurks beneath the depths, but from my experience, if there’s a place no one wants to go, chances are there’s good stuff there that no one’s claimed. So I was willing — what’s a few lizard creatures when there are 6 of us? The things went down easy, even in the dark, but of course the halfling, being a motherfucking sorcerer, set off some kind of weird space time universe magic shit while she was trying to destroy the beasts, and tore a portal open in the middle of the great hall. And hey look, out pops a unicorn.

I’ve seen some shit. But nothing like this. The girl flips, because of course she does. Anyone who wears that much pink would freak out if they saw a unicorn. I was quite happy to ignore its presence entirely and pretend the fabric of reality can’t be bent out of shape so easily, but then it charged.

All my knowledge of unicorns came running back to me as I took a horn to the gut and got dragged back into the hallway. It was the moment I hit the floor and it started trampling me that I realised I was royally fucked. If I could remember every man I’d killed and all the laws I’d broken, they would have flashed before my eyes, but it’s an extensive list and I had more pressing matters to attend to, like evening the scales and stabbing the unicorn wherever I could reach it. I could practically hear the betrayal in Ruffles’s eyes as I blacked out. Probably more bad karma for me, but fuck it.

I came to once the unicorn was gone. Ruffles looked disappointed but she saved me, so that’s got to count for something. Once I’d gotten my breath back, I found the rest of the party and got a good look at the hall. Cages, with people still alive in them, and a lot of dead bodies. There wasn’t much to salvage, but the dead guys had been dead down here for about a month.

Bit pissed I missed most of the action, but this group is actually competent, which is something. I’m not looking forward to the fall out when we get out of this place. Gotta find a suitable explanation for the unicorn attack that doesn’t compromise me too much. Dunno how well they’re going to take the news that I’m not as “good” as I might seem. BUT that’s a worry for another time.

Also Lord of the Cloaks got frozen and it was really hard not to laugh – don’t forget that.

Beneath the chunk of messy text at the bottom of the page it says ‘SIGNATURES OF WITNESSES’ with space for other members of the party to sign.

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The very long, no good, rotten night
From bloody bar brawls to gorey gambling games.

Lliira’s Adventure Log

Inside the strawberry scented pink pages Lliira’s normally neat and curly writing becomes increasingly messy

Waiting outside Captain Valaria’s rooms, its super boring, there aren’t any paintings out even windows! I try to skip around but even that gets boring so I just end up humming and booping against the wall. Elspeth tries to eavesdrop but the guard gets cranky and she sulks off.

After some time we hear a knock on the door and Valeria calls for Blaise and she soon comes past. as always she is so nice and tells me about a garden down stairs which I walk off to find. The garden is so pretty and I manage to get some Aloe and Thyme too! GS-017-Courtyard-Garden.jpg

Blaise walked past giggling and I ask how it went, she seemed to think it was going well. Our conversation turns to gardening and just as im about to ask where she got her pretty dress a messenger comes and tells her she has a visitor and she excuses herself. Im not left alone for long though as the others join me with Laucien who looks like he is going to puke. Although he doesn’t tell us how things went he does say that Valaria has given us a new mission, which is to bring in the leader of the Grey-Guards which Else is happy about.

A man pokes his head through the door and we call him over to ask what he wants and he asks us if we are adventurers as he needs a group to help him arrest Thumpkin, which is pretty handy as Im pretty sure they are connected.The man, named Adriel asks if our group has a name and I shout out “LLIIRA’S BAND OF BATTLING MEN” it doesn’t go down well.

We decide to talk tactics at the Temple and Else and Sanjo go find Skani and Henry. They come back but henry isn’t with them. Skani tells us that he had gone outside to fight some shady assassin guys and when he returned Henry had disappeared along with some singer and we decide to head back to the bar to scout it out and possibly track the possible assassins. However when we get there its in the middle of the lunch rush, we manage to get a table and fill in time by chatting and Else makes some money by playing on stage which is so AWESOME!
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At 6 on the dot, the door slams open and two men walk in wearing grey robes with a thin man following and looks around the room he announces himself as Thumpkin however I recognise he is a con man known Sible Hawksworth and starts addressing everyone but mostly directs his conversation to Else. Else smiles back at him, introductions are given and a conversation, it devolves into threats and as the man walks out he says “hope you all enjoy the entertainment” and as he does everyone in the bar stands up, suddenly Skani shouts and flips the table and as he does 2 arrows thud into the table.

In the midst of the battle the big bar dude steps out from the bar and smashes Sanjo with a tree. From under the table I cast Crown of Madness and he attacks his comrade hitting him across the room.
From nowhere a huge blue shadow wolf appears and attacks Else knocking her down, she casts Thunder-wave and knocks it back.
Two men attack me, one with a crossbow and one with an axe, the arrow misses however the axe hits me. A man with a spear also attacks me and shoves me back into the table driving his spear into my shoulder tearing my dress further. Sanjo burns the crossbow guy and I make the Bar man smash into the spear man, bonking him on the head and knocking him out too. Adriel runs over and heals my wounds. Then the bar man seeing that no-one was near him he attacks me, smashing the table above me however missing me, and managing to break free from my spell.

I look over to see Laucien battling a part snake, part monkey, part bird person, he manages to grapple it down and knock him out and the bird like creature becomes at this point we have managed to either kill or knock out the other attackers. My dress is torn and bloody and I know I won’t be able to salvage it. I can feel the adrenalin wearing off and I’m starting to shake.
Sanjo and Laucien begin to tie everyone up, I ask if Laucien or Adriel can heal the men that were knocked out from the tree trunk hits from the bar man, I couldn’t bare it if they died because of me. Laucien heals one who doesn’t look as bad and Adriel attempts to heal the other and although his heads knits back together however he doesn’t seem to recognise anything Lauc tells me that the damage was too much and asks Sanjo to put him down, Sanjo walks up and chops off his head. This is too much. This is my fault. I need to learn how to control my magic. I walk off to the side of the room, cast"Mending" on my tattered dress, although it doesn’t remove the blood which is a mix of mine and others, and start to cry.
Laucien and skani start to interrogate the captured men and skani snaps one’s’ finger to make him talk, I shiver at the sound of the snap.

After the questioning Skani pulls the corpses into a pile and Adriel covers them with a sheet and every one walks away from them. I get up and give them their last rights so that I can at least know that they will move on and find peace.

Sanjo asks if there is a way to stop the Doppelganger (silver grey man) from escaping and I cast “Phantasmal Force” to make him believe that he is in a mesh cage.

Laucien wakes him up and they begin a conversation.
The grey man, still claiming to be the con man Hawksworth switches from multiple times at one point becoming a young girl, just as he does I notice an old woman has come down the stairs slightly, staring at the scene, I call to Laucien and point out the woman, and she runs back up the stairs. the conversation continues. He brings up that Else has disappeared, and that she is a spy. He also reveals one of Laucien’s secrets about how he used to bully halflings.
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Laucien steps forward through the walls of the cage and Hawksworth steps backwards also through the bars however no harm seems to come to him.
They come to a conclusion and Laucien gives him 100GP to arrange a meeting with the true Thumpkin, Hawksworth turns into young man and runs out the door. Laucien then lets the other prisoners go and then he and Adriel start to get into a verbal disagreement about Laucien’s true identity and Skani starts rummaging around behind the bar and begins drinking the alcohol. Sanjo goes up stairs to investigate and soon returns.
Everyone is getting ready to leave and I ask if they are truly going to just leave this place without doing anything about the dead or informing Valaria. Laucien agrees and says that we should talk to Valaria and I decide to follow him. We head off in silence.
We get to valaria’s quarters. she gets super cranky about the fact that Lauc lets everyone go. He tells her about our night although seems to gloss over most of the details, he also tells her about the meeting that has been arranged.

We return to the bar and find that new people have arrived, they introduce themselves as Talin, Jerome and other men. we decide that Talin and his men will enter the warehouse with us and that Jerome will wait outside and raise the alarm if its needed.
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We wait until 11pm and then head of to the FARTHERS (aka farthest) DOCK, and see a warehouse with the lights still on, Laucien walks up and knocks. The door swings open, and we all enter. A man is playing an upbeat song, everyone is barely dressed, and we make our way through the crowd and come to a door with a portcullis with traps on the stairs that lead up to the next floor. We head up and enter as large room, there is another door at the other end that is covered in gold and has Amos (Thumpkin) written on it. As we reach the top of the stairs I look up and see another portcullis that is about to shut, I jump forward, ultimately shutting myself inside.

The guilder door opens, but the portcullis is still shut, and Amos steps out with a band of children. He brags about running the town and how he has killed his way up. He and Laucien decide to play a game of wit and the portcullis in front of Thumpkin opens and Laucien and Skani walk in. The rest of us are told that we must remain where we are. We hear that they decide to play a game of throwing knives at one of the children. and we hear the occasional yelp or whimper as that child is hit. They get to the last throw when they decide on the terms, Laucien says that if he wins he and Thumpkin will take a long walk alone outside, however if Thumpkin wins all of us out here becomes his slaves.
They take their final throws and Lauc wins as they are about to depart Thumpkin tells Skani to kill the child. Instead Skani attempts to hit Thumpkin and Thumpkin Shouts “FIRE” to the archers waiting in the gallery above us and the room erupts into fighting.
I notice that the room is filling with some kind of liquid which soon ignites and I manage to create a barrier of Ice around Talin and me with “Ray of Frost”. I create a path through the fire with my ice and Talin follows me into Thumpkins room.

I run to the window which has been smashed open and grab a Naked Lady paper weight of Thumpkins desk casting “Light” on it before throwing it down to where I could vaguely make out people. I see Sanjo slice into a huge wave monster with his axe, freezing it from the inside out, Skani is unconcious nearby and Laucien is nowhere to be seen.
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I look to my right and see Adriel coming out of a corridor I ask where it leads and it says it goes to the gaming room downstairs and I run down and out without looking back.

I emerge out into the rain and see Jerome and the guards are on their way, I shout at them that the fight is this way and run around the side of the building. I just hope that I can make it there on time.

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The One with the Bar Brawl
Adriel's Letter

Dear Ardo,

I find myself well, if not weary from my travels, and pray that you and the temple are too.

I made my way to the city of Destrum after the long and arduous journey from our hometown there in Ameril. The journey was perilous and fraught with tribulations, many of which due to ill favour and misunderstanding, I believe Pelor continues to test us.

As I was leaving for Draks I sought transport upon a ship. My naivety put me in the unfortunate position of dealing with some rather unsavoury fellows. I swung passage on a ship with a rather egregious bunch. As we were travelling, the ship was beset by the king’s soldiers who took the crew and myself hostage under the assumption that we were pirates. Me, a pirate! Thankfully, Pelor had smiled upon me this day and the soldiers recognised me as a cleric. It was hard to convince them I was unaffiliated with my travelling companions but I managed, somehow.

The ship I was on was towed to Destrum and I finally completed the journey across the great ocean that divides our two continents. Somewhere amidst the anarchy I noticed that the captain of the ship was no where to be found. He had managed to evade capture. I wonder if he really was a pirate? Maybe the captain was just another misplaced soul like myself.

Arriving at Destrum this morning I sought our Sister, Blaise Salenski. The city is much larger and greater than our humble town of Grenfeld but there is something foul grasping the landscape here. The air hangs thick with corruption and disease. The guards warned me upon entry to mind my step and not to trust anyone. This has made me quite on edge, to say the least. I pray for His continued strength to make it through.

Many of the citizens of Destrum seem downtrodden and miserable, the light extinguished from their eyes. These people are in desperate need of new hope; maybe that is the role I am destined to fulfil here.

Master Menos’ description of Blaise was not wrong, she indeed is quite beautiful, but I fear that this city has also taken its toll on her. Her voice was frazzled and filled with woe, I attribute this to her being stretched so thinly. I hope my aid and counsel will be of great boon to her, and the city. She has tasked me with bringing an Amas Thumpkin to justice; a dangerous man, apparently responsible for a great many crime in the city. She warned me that I should seek assistance in this task and that it would be difficult for me to go it alone.

As I was setting up my lodgings in the temple a strange group of people presented itself in the courtyard gardens, they spoke of business they had in the city. From what I gleaned at the time, their armaments looked like that of mercenaries. There was also what appeared to be a young girl who wore a dress that glittered and shone like a beacon of light, almost as if Pelor himself was presenting himself before my very eyes. My intuition to speak with them served me well, this fortuitous encounter must have been predestined.

The group contained four strange individuals to which I later found out there were two others. By the time of writing this, I have yet to meet their sixth but he was “sharing his tip” with a singer at the tavern. He must be a Bard, then.

The rest of the group comprised of:

  • A guarded looking human, Sanjo. He said very little to me but I could sense there have been dark times in this man’s past. His eyes, a cold blue, like a lone wolf separated from his pack.
  • A half-elf woman with a vibrantly coloured blue hair who goes by Elspeth. Despite being such a fair maiden, her words were cold and untrusting. I had always heard tales of bards being one of the friendliest of folk. Yet there is more than meets the eye with this one.
  • A Halfling named Lliira, her stature and size belie her age. I made the mistake of calling her a young girl and yet she has lived over two of my lifetimes. She certainly doesn’t act as I’d expect of someone twice my age, she has such a youthful and innocent energy. I dare say she’s more naive than I was in my youth.
  • A Half-Orc, name of Skarni, a man of few words. His presence and stature was overwhelming. His few words and grunts towards me made me uncomfortable. I sense an intense burning rage that I pray I don’t find myself on the end of.
  • Finally, a man who appeared to lead the group, a fellow Amerillian with unnaturally bright green hair who introduced himself as Kevin. Kevin was.. Interesting. I do not believe he is as he says. For someone to lie to a cleric I assume he has either done something terrible or he is in serious trouble. I felt it wise not to push the issue further as our relationship is fragile and I’m not in a position to decline help when it is offered so freely.

The halfling introduced the group as ’Lliira’s Band of Battling men’. An odd name, I grant you, but you always taught me not to judge a book by its cover.

The group were rather secretive about their task and altogether suspicious. They looked capable albeit strange. The guards words echoed in my head not to trust anyone in the city and so I felt it best to take heed and be cautious dealing with anyone other than Blaise. We eventually struck an accord and traded our tasks. They have promised me aid in my task so long as I assist them in theirs. Our tasks seem to intertwine in some way, although they’re withholding that information. They seem to be hiding a lot of things, but I cannot expect them to trust me if I do not yet trust them myself.

They had business at the main temple in Destrum to which, surprisingly, there was no major shrine to Pelor, the only chapel seemed to be in the keep. I’m concerned at this news, the situation is grave indeed if Pelor’s light is not reaching the citizenry.

We concluded business there promptly and continued to the courtyard where we discussed their task. Again, the group seemed to talk in riddles, not revealing anything of consequence other than that they had business at the tavern, that they knew something of Thumpkin and that their task is to bring a leader of a group called the “Grey Ghosts” to justice.

We later moved on to the Minstrel’s Flagon, a local tavern where the group had arranged to meet a local business man, to which I found out should have been Amas himself. Alas, it was not him but a shapeshifting monster that I can only describe as off-putting. The group demonstrated their mettle and battle prowess when chaos descended upon the tavern and our training in the Trials proved invaluable. I hope my assistance did not go unnoticed and that they trust me a little more now. We managed to capture some of the ambush party as well as the shapeshifter. I hope we can use him to find Amas and bring my task to a swift resolution.

I shall keep you updated on my quests.

Stay safe Brother,

Adriel

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The One With The Sexual Inuendo's
Laucien becomes a walking pot plant

Inside Lliira’s Strawberry Pink note book our adventures continue~

We make our way back to the Temple and just as we get to the gate I see a huge shadowy figure coming from an alleyway. I Tap on Laucien’s knee to get his attention..it takes longer than it should.. but he gets ready for a fight, the shadow emerges and we realise its Skani holding hands with two urchin children. We are all super confused as to how this whole thing works but its all very vague. but we basically establish its got something to do with Thumpkin.

Anyway we are all feeling super gross, so I lead everyone except Skani to the hot bath. Else and I help each other to remove all the worms and mud. from the other side of our bubble wall comes Henry’s voice “Oi shortstuff, wanna check out my blade?” I look at Else, because surely I didnt hear that right. She pokes her head through the bubbles and asks what the hell he is talking about and the entire bath basically devolves into dick jokes…..
Finally Henry explains himself, reminding me to inspect the dagger he had found in the warehouse. Laucien ends up looking at it however and he finds that its a “Dagger Of Beast Slaying”.
After our bath we crowd into on of the guest bedrooms to discuss our lives, our fights or our loves. We talk into the night but finally we head off to sleep, need to be ready for the next morning.

After breakfast, everyone except Lauc goes to the market place Lliira needs to buy more dye for Lauc’s beard. Henry and Skani head off to the bar where we are meeting Thumpkin later.

After buying the dye the rest of us head back to the Temple and Else and I convince Lauc to drink the green potion and suddenly all his hair becomes green grass, Else, in fits of laughter attempts to cut that grass however messes it all up horribly, I manage to salvage it and also add in small flowers so now he looks like a pretty garden! We make ur way up to the keep, Lauc is meeting with Valeria to discuss rewards and to be honest I think we are pushing our luck.
Our favorite guard is still on duty and I try to perk up his spirits, I dont think I really helped though. We get told that only Laucien can go in at first so we wait outside.

I think its all going to be ok though…maybe…

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The one in the Wormhouse
Elspeth gets friendly with worm people

Inside a small pink notebook with strawberry scented pages is Lliira’s small neat overly curly handwriting~

Lliira’s Adventure Log!

This is so exciting, We started off inside the Blue Dragon Inn, I’m glad that I have made these new friends, I have never had the courage to come in here but these guys don’t seem to mind at all! Else manages to never have to buy a drink, she has this way of smiling that make men buy them for her! We are sitting around the table when Sil huffs and says that he can’t waste time any longer. He tells us that he needs to find his parents and that he really doesn’t care about what happens to this town and that worms are disgusting. He gives Else his special coin and wishes us all luck, well at least I guess he did, he didn’t actually say it out loud but I know he definitely thought it.

We stay there for ages waiting for Skani to come back but he never shows. Instead another man sits down with a huge bucket of ale ( like massive, way bigger than my head!) he has a shaved head a this awesome green beard, personally I think pink would have looked better but green is still cooler than normal hair. He starts this huge story about following a man who seemed to have been lured into a warehouse by a woman and then killed by these worm people, He says that he roused the guards but they all died too. After all of this he has drunk almost the entire bucket and he seems to notice me (Finally) and introduces himself as Laucien!?! He looks nothing like I imagined Cea told me he was dreamy and that he had the prettiest eyes. Also he isn’t a demon bear which was also a little disappointing. He asks about what we have been up to and we fill him in ending with how we have lost our half orc. Laucien tells us that he heard a group of dock hands talking about of a half orc being carried off by a group of guards and that he is probably in jail…or the morgue!

Laucien suddenly spots a man at the bar listening to our conversation, and basically asks him to join us on this attack on the worm people, and this new guy (Henry I think his name is) is all for it…

Else gets up and sexy walks over to two men playing with knives she starts up a conversation however she seems to be getting angry all the guys are watching and as Else walks off one of the guys smacks her butt! Instatntly Laucien tells him to apologise, and amazingly this guy does and walks off, it was so cool.
Else and I go up to the bar to get a drink and she actually pays for herself. Else tries to talk to her about the recent problems but the dwarvish lady wont talk so I ask if she is ok because she looks so scared and sad, she passes me a not ( and call it my TAB, Im like some kind of secret spy now) and it say’s that they are watching! which is super creepy.

I tell everyone that it’s getting dark and we should head back to the temple for the night however they are SOOO thick and take ages to get the hint. We finally make it back to the temple and I tell them that they can’t just be so open about all their plans and things they act like they have never lived in a city where you always need to be careful.

Finally we regroup after going to get their stuff and setting up a meeting with THUMPKIN!! (hahaha) and we start to talk about the worms again, Lauc seems obsessed so we head off to investigate the warehouses at night in the dark….

We go to the first one where the lady’s body had been found and the place had to be burnt due to all the worms, I wonder if they need the docks for a specific reason, maybe the sewers or maybe it actually came in on one of the ships… We find that the roof collapsed due to a massive weight upstairs. Laucien points out claw marks and drag marks as well as meat hooks hanging from the ceiling, he tells us that they were in the other warehouse too.

I can tell that the fire wasn’t magical however I see Henry pick up a knife that i can sense magic in. I take a closer look and detect Enchantment and Transmutation, there are also runes inscribed but I can’t yet read them.

We go to the other warehouse that laucien was at and we find it chained up and locked. Who could do this??
We find out that the worm people are amazingly dexterous however they can’t speak, perhaps one of them locked it up..

Henry picks the lock and Sanjo walks in setting off a trap he manages to miss the meat hook mostly however gets sliced up a bit. We all look inside carefully and see that the floor is covered in dirt and grossness and we can see small worms wriggling through the dirt. The roof is sagging and gross water is dripping through the cracks in the wood, there are three bodies in the corner and we can just make out their chainmail and we assume that these are the guards that were left behind, the one guard that Laucien die has apparently been chopped up and turned into worm food…. Adventuring is kinda gross so far.
Sanjo listens carefully and tells us that the bodies are still breathing however he can see that they are bulging strangely.
We decide that we need to go and get Blaise so we leave Laucien and Henry to guard the WORMhouse! and head back up to the keep. just as we get there we hear a horn blow from downtown which doesn’t seem good.
We wake up Blaze and Captain Valeria and with a whole bunch of guards we head back to the wormhouse, we get there and find Laucien talking to another group of guards, they come up with a plan and Blaze, the Captain and all the guards go to the big front door and we all head in through the side door carefully.

Else casts “Thunderwave” to clear a space in the floor and we all step in, Henry staying just outside the door. The guards have managed to bust open the door and they all walk in fanning out so check it out. One of the guards stands on the stairs and we all hear a groaning and a loud crack as the floor above splits and a wave of filth and bodies rains down Including a huge gross tentacle monster (apparently its called a Otyugh) falls in right near the front door and everyone starts fighting……

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I don’t remember most of the battle, however I remember actually being helpful by freezing the wormpeople. We manage to kill everything without losing anyone from our group, however a lot of guards died.

We realise that the whole of the southern wall is on fire, I attempt to freeze it however it doesn’t stop the fire completely.

Else inspects the Otyough, found in sewer systems and filth, scavenger, possibly that the worm people kept it as a pet.

I attempt to get out however I slip on the wiry muddy-ness and get all dirty.
Outside a crowd has gathered the guards are attempting to hold them back, between the legs of the adults are orphans, possibly Thumpkins (THUMPKIN!!) watchers.

I ask the guards to get buckets to stop the fire from spreading, they look like I’m some kind of idiot and I wish I could kick them in the shins, Henry then steps in to back me up and Valaria also steps in to threaten the stupid idiots and they go off.

We have nothing else to do here so we all head back to the Temple to get some rest and clean up!

Overall, we had a pretty decent night. I think I might actually be ok at this adventurer life!

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The One Where We Play Detectives
---- Or Llira Makes New Friends

Elspeth sits at a rickety table in the Blue Dragon Inn writing notes in her journal. With her are Sil, Sanjo and Llira.

Laucien has opted to remain behind with Talin while the rest of us go ahead to Destrum. His reasoning, that at this point I do agree with, is two-fold – further strategy discussion with Talin would not go amiss, and the difficulty of sneaking him back into the city cannot be denied. Seeing as Skarni is also a wanted man half-orc, I created a rudimentary disguise with the aid of a cloak for his warpaint and some tactfully applied makeup.

As we arrived at the main gate into the town, we were indeed halted by the guard. Security has been seriously beefed up as there are now roughly twice as many men at the gate. Of course this didn’t stop us because we are simply a band of travelling entertainers. They did get a little more interested in Skarni and Sanjo. Before I could get in there with an explanation Skarni declared that he was a sword swallower… I think Sil and I deserve some kind of medal for managing to keep our faces straight at that. Sanjo was more realistic and placed himself as our protector – our rather battle worn appearance actually gave us an advantage here. We were let inside with the admonishment that there is a zero tolerance policy being enforced with regards to trouble. At the time I didn’t really think anything of this, but of course it’s never that simple for us.

We made a beeline for Cea’s tower (which is now significantly bigger and better than the last time we were here), noting multiple patrols along the way. We were definitely marked in return, with especial attention paid to Sil and Skarni as they stand out as obvious non-humans. I find it rather entertaining that no one seems to notice my ears and takes me for a fellow human, if only they knew how wrong they were.
When we arrive at the tower I noticed a couple of urchins looking like suspiciously innocent bystanders outside her tower. Clearly someone deems it necessary to keep an eye on the Halfling wizard. If I hadn’t already been planning on speaking with the thieves and the urchins, this would have clinched the decision.

Once Cea realised who it was that was knocking on her door, she welcomed us in with her usual good, if rather vague, humour. Apparently we had arrived just in time for tea, but only Skarni was brave enough to accept the initial offer. As lovely as Cea is, she is erratic enough that I would consume things in her home with caution – better let someone else have a taste first.
While we were waiting for the tea, Sir Fluffy Rumpskins came dashing past dressed in a pink tutu of all things, closely followed by another Halfling. Sir Fluffy looked highly betrayed when Sanjo handed him back to the Halfling, who introduced herself as Llira. She is an acolyte of the local Forgotten Realms temple and apparently named after their goddess of joy. I am struck by the similarity to our very own Llir who presides over poetry and literature. Where Cea’s upbeat attitude is made somewhat diffuse by her absentmindedness, Llira is as intense and focused as a hot blade. It’s a lucky thing her attention span is so short – she managed to aggravate Sil in record time with a barrage of inoffensive but inane questions. The wizard was most flabbergasted when she asked him what his favourite spell was. Apparently it’s a difficult one, because he has yet to give her a satisfactory answer. She is a sorceress, which would grate across his nerves quite significantly. What was more entertaining was watching the Halfling try to explain to Skarni why the cat was dressed in a tutu, hampered by the fact that he doesn’t actually know what a ballerina is. I am not going to intervene since the party could use a laugh.

The tea, once Skarni tried first of course, was surprisingly palatable, if very hot. Cea could not specify the mix of herbs used, but it had a strong lemon-grass finish. Apparently in our absence, the Earl and Captain Valaria paid Cea a visit to quiz her about Laucien – when was the last time he had been seen, does he have any special allies or powers etc. It is pleasing the she did not reveal much, although I am not sure what the Earl would make of her gushing over Laucien’s “beautiful” eyes.
I began probing for her opinion on the Earl, as a precursor to perhaps allying her further, but once it was clear that while she thinks the martial law situation is a bit silly she doesn’t really care about the politics, and more importantly, takes her loyalty to the Earl as her employer very seriously; I decide that pressing her to join us would not be a good idea. She can be surprisingly professional. She has set up a number of wards, alarms, and protections around the Keep itself, so as well as the increased manpower on the streets; the magical defences have also been updated.
Llira prompts Cea to relate a story of something odd that had happened during our absence – on a trip down to the market Cea had spotted a shiny bauble on the ground down an alley. When she went closer to investigate, she found what could only be described as a human skin sleeve… As though a human had been emptied of all their insides… As gruesome as this was, it didn’t seem to bother either of the Halfling’s unduly, which is rather impressive. Cea showed us the bauble which looked like a large pearl. If we wish to find out more, talking to someone from the poorer quarter of the city would be a good idea as the folks there are often targeted and more often disregarded by the authorities due to their low social status. The cliché that if you want to know what’s going on in a city you should ask a beggar isn’t for naught. None of us have ever encountered something like this, the closest being the vampires around Neon’Allure but what kind of vampires take everything from inside a body? And associating with something this… depraved doesn’t seem like the Earl’s style, unless of course he has been hiding some very dark secrets from his subjects.
I asked Sil to get details of the work Cea has done for the Earl recently, on a scholar to scholar basis. It is useful information for us, and as a wizard Sil would be the best placed to try work around these spells. The only thing to guarantee access to the Keep without raising all the alarms in the world is possession of an Earl’s Coin, one of which has been distributed to those members of the Earl’s force ranking Sargeant or higher, as Blaise (the cleric) has to bless each one individually.

After our conversation with the two Halflings, Llira decided to join us, seduced by the idea of adventuring and loot. I wonder how she will feel after having to sleep in mud or battle worms…
We decided to go to the market to check the notice board regarding the missing people. Although it seems that there is more at play here than potential Drake or Harpy attacks. Before we went though I had to change out of my leathers into something little more civilised. I also offered to fix up Llira’s hair – it is the most lovely shade honey gold, but apparently tormenting Sir Fluffy wreaks havoc with it (no great surprise there). Sil made the error, well as far as he is concerned, of asking Cea to fix his wrecked robe. She did – with a lovely floral embellishment, which is so obviously not to his taste.
Once we arrived to the market the wizard went straight to a tailor to have the flowers removed; I feel next time he will go to a tailor first, and ask the Halflings (because Llira also possesses the Mending spell) as a last resort. Skarni rented a blacksmith’s forge to make himself a new great-sword from his accumulated metallic loot, including those silver plates he took from the Bastion. The inferior materials combined with his lack of skill resulted in an inferior sword (although it is silvered). Even I can tell that it has poor balance, and I am pretty sure everyone within earshot of the smithy heard the blacksmith’s opinion. As a professional bard I felt it was my duty to note down his exact words – “It’s SHITE, my 5-year-old daughter can forge a better sword than this.”

There were a couple of updates to the notice board – the, potentially, haunted house is up for sale; an Amos Thumpkin (Llira told us that is a local mobster who runs protection rackets, and is apparently extremely sensitive about his surname) is looking for “Men With Discretion”; and several new missing persons posters. Elarion’s notice regarding his missing wife is still there, with his address.

Elarion turned out to be an ageing elf, grief-stricken as his wife Cariss has been found dead in a warehouse in the Warrens. She was apparently discovered with her chest burst open, as if something had crawled out, leaving a trail of slime and an awful stench. Cariss wasn’t robbed, but she was taken quite far as the last time anyone had seen her was at Saffa’s Nest (a very reputable inn in the High District). The cleric in the Keep used a Speak With Dead but apparently all she could get was “it’s inside me”. None of this sounds even remotely Harpy or Drake related, and actually much more malignant. It seems that all the known victims are from the High District, but all their bodies were found around the Warrens (the latter is logical). We need to speak with Valaria and Blaise to get more information.

Skarni split away from us since he would be welcomed at the Keep only as a prisoner, to see if he could figure out a pattern to the patrols in the streets. This will be information that would undoubtedly come in very handy to us. We agreed to meet at the Blue Dragon Inn later on.

When we reached the Keep the guards at the entrance stonewalled us so hard I think I got concussed. The one in charge, Hauser, refused to let us in or notify either Valaria or Blaise, until Sil stepped in with some good persuading using previous dealings with Valaria. I sometimes forget that I am not a common minster to be pushed around, but a noble’s arrogance does not come easily to me. Hauser did go to find Valaria and she was far from impressed that we had been kept waiting. Apparently the guards “accidentally” burnt down the warehouse that Cariss was found in, but she is not able to give us much more information. She was however able to give each of us an Earl’s Coin for save passage into the Keep – what a stroke of luck! We have made an enemy out of Hauser as he has been punished with a full week of gate duty because of us. Somehow I fail to care.
Valaria left us to find Blaise ourselves since Sil had met her before. When we managed to speak with her, she elaborated that most bodies were left as empty sleeves or husks, such as the one found by Cea. One of the bodies also had a pearl on it like Cea’s, but Blaise was not able to give us any further information on it. She does think that the reason Cariss’ body was in a different sate is that she was found before the process was completed – she called a “transformation”, although into what is anybody’s guess. Blaise was able to clarify that the guards burned the warehouse down because the feared attacked by the multitude of malignant worms present; and that the other bodies she tried to communicate with either had no spirit left to speak at all or could only scream. This is deeply disturbing.

Coming to the conclusion that the pearl Cea found is quite possibly an egg of some kind we rushed back to her tower only to find that she’d cooked and eaten the thing… according to her it was spongy and rather sweet. I actually threw up a little in my mouth when she told us this. Cea told us her theory on what it could be, based on all the talk of worms – Kyuss the Wormgod, because he is said to wander in the guise of a man made of, well, worms, and is an evil deity. I would have never guessed this as I do not know much of him – the acolytes of Nerull will destroy any shrines to him they come across and his teachings are forbidden; and the only name we have for him is the Bonemaster. As far as I know he represents some necromantic aspect of Nerull’s worshippers but there is clearly some kind of division – I am not sufficiently familiar with the lore to speak confidently about it.

Elspeth stops writing and checks the clepsydra frowning. It has been a few hours and Skarni should have made his way back to the Inn by now, but clearly something has forced the half-orc to delay. She hopes that he hasn’t gotten himself into trouble again.

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The One with the Beholder
---- Or We Lose One of Our Own

Sitting outside Talin’s command tent in the bandit camp just out of Destrum, Elspeth writes. It isn’t a letter this time, nor is it a composition of music or poetry. That will come later, possibly, but for now the grief is too harsh and she simply writes an account of what happened, so as never to forget.

I had lost consciousness for the first part of this, but piecing together what I have been told by the others, the encounter with that Beholder creature went as follows.

Sil had managed to get through the door out of the chamber and was the only safe member of our ill-fated party. His investigation of the hallway turned up what was possibly a fail-safe of some kind? It is impossible to know without someone to translate the Sylvan writing that is everywhere in this Bastion.

Skarni clung to the edge of the pit, being pulled by the Beholder and by my unconscious form, while the remaining three did their best to engage the aberration. Ama, keeping the potion of disintegration Skarni had thrown her in reserve, managed to take out on of the tentacle stalk eyes out with her crossbow. The thing still fired its magical blast, but without any accuracy and the creature was obviously hurt. Meanwhile Skarni lost his grip on the ledge and plummeted down, managing to smack into the Beholder and actually hurting it a little bit on his way down.
Sanjo tried to get it to close its main eye, I think anyway, so that we could have the door open again, but while his arrow found its mark, it didn’t do any tangible good. The now eyeless stalk kept blasting in random directions, so it was purely bad luck that a paralysis beam struck Ama, freezing her in place, while Sanjo managed to dodge a blast from one of the healthy stalks.
Laucien had been holding Skarni’s and my combined weights while all this was going on, although he was slowly sliding towards the edge as Skarni is far from a featherweight. In a flash of inspiration, he called to Malkuth to open a portal and as soon as the Watcher obliged, he backed into it still holding the rope (now quite a literal life-line).
Skarni’s armour stopped the Beholder from being able to chew on him while he was in range of its mouth. I think he fall must have dazed him because he actually let go of the rope to grab his great-sword in an attempt to hack at the monster. Not that it did any good as the levitating thing simply moved out of the way, leaving the half-orc to fall into the pit. If it weren’t for the terrible situation, it would have been farcical.
Following Laucien through the portal, Sanjo grabs the rope to help pull, and since it was just me by then, within a few quick heaves I was almost to the top. Unfortunately this had left Ama the sole target for the Beholders rage, and it hit her with a sleep ray, but the tough rogue resisted and shot back at it, her bolt missing by a hair’s breadth.

Out of sight of everyone, Skarni, somehow, managed to cut short his fall by catching one of his meat-hooks on the rock-face. It must have placed a dreadful strain on his body, and he lost his great-sword to the darkness. I was move in the completely opposite direction as Sanjo hauled me up onto the ledge. When Laucien stepped back through the portal into this chamber, it must have been a bizarre sight – Ama firing her crossbow madly, Sanjo pulling my limp form along like a damn sack of potatoes, and the mad eyes of the Beholder glaring at everyone. He Lay on Hands, and I finally regained consciousness, but in the process Ama was distracted by us and she took a full blast from one of the eye-stalks which threw her off the ledge. Even while still groggy, I threw a quick Feather Fall after her, so she would not be killed by the fall, and managed to pierce one of the eye-stalk with an arrow. I felt dizzy and tried stepping behind Laucien so I could have a moment to gather myself, but as I did that he snarled something about us being fools and disappeared back through the portal. Fortune favoured me over Sanjo because in the very next moment two blasts from the Beholder targeted us, but only Sanjo was hit, and he crumpled to the ground deeply asleep. I went to fire another arrow at the monster but the ledge crumbled beneath my feet and the shot went wide. It was only my acrobatics training that allowed me to fling myself far enough up the ledge to grab Sanjo and drag him through the portal and to safety.

Skarni tried to grab Ama as she floated past him but she was out of his reach, so he followed her down, using the hook to help scaled the wall, but as he was made stealthy, by necessity so as not to attract the Beholder’s attention, she floated even further out of his reach. Nothing was stopping the Beholder from noticing the Tiefling however and it swallowed her whole. Skarni was the only one to hear the crunch and snap of her bones, but I feel the echoes of it in my dreams. I hope the potion of disintegration she had on her at least did some damage, so even in death she would have harmed it.

The rest of us had no idea this was happening as Laucien made Malkuth open a portal into Imerial’s portal room, thus closing the one into the crystal chamber. He was furious with Sil for leaving and charged through the portal with his halberd drawn to find the wizard. It was sheer coincidence that at the very same moment Sil walked into the chamber through the secret passageway. I didn’t actually know what was going on as I woke Sanjo up and then followed after Lacien. I think there is something especially frightening about a normally kind and gentle person expression rage, and Sil certainly seemed frightened of Laucien who had him pinned against a wall. It turned out that he ran because he knew what kind of creature the Beholder was, and had simply assumed we would do the same. I do understand his actions on some level… being a frail wizard he is the most disadvantaged against such a creature, but the way he abandoned us was not right.

It was then that we heard the stone door into the crystal chamber grate open and slam shut again. Skarni, after witnessing Ama’s death used the hook to climb up out of the pit, and with grief-fulled strength forced the door open just enough to squeeze through, oblivious to the Beholder’s blasts around him. That is where we found him, slumped on the ground, and he relayed what happened without moving a muscle.
While I may understand why Sil did not stick around for a fight with the Beholder, I cannot comprehend the utter disregard for Amaranthine’s death. They may not have been friends, but they travelled and battled together, so they were at the very least companions. All elves that I have ever met take passing of those they know to heart. They may grieve with dignity (as an elf tends to get used to burying their less long-lived friends) but they still grieve. Not this… I don’t even know. I refuse to believe that Sil is so utterly self-absorbed that he doesn’t care.
That aside, there is no question that the Beholder must be killed. Not only to enable the full use of the Bastion and access to the mithril in that chamber, but also to avenge our companion’s death. We cannot return however without significant preparations, and in the meantime, we must deal with Talin and Destrum.

We took a little time to recover in the bandit camp of the mine. Laucien is either incorrigible or utterly naïve – he went to look at Cassandra’s “sword” which actually did turn out to be a sword but not at all what the girl intended originally. The Staff of Life that I found really does appear to just give me lemons… Sanjo tried to eat one but all he could report was that it was sour. Perhaps some further experimentation is in order.

The weather turned foul on our journey back towards Destrum, and it was in a thick fog that we came upon the prearranged meeting place. Jerome was there, waiting for us (I feel there is far more to him than appearances suggest), and as he lead us to Talin’s camp informed us that Destrum is in a state of upheaval – patrols have been reinforced, the population is under near-martial law, and there are several pervasive rumours working against us. I feel that this last one is a problem I ought to be able to assist with. Laucien, apparently channelling a very clever politician, gave him some gold for his troubles, although Jerome remained rather phlegmatic.
The bandit camp is well organised, as we have come to expect from Talin, but the men are on edge. We were searched and forced to disarm ourselves (with particular attention being paid to Sil and Skarni), however Laucien persuaded the guards to return our weapons before we went on through. Oh charming Laucien of the perfect manners. At the very least he would make a courteous ruler. We left it to him to break the sad news to Talin, who seems genuinely upset. This throws Sil’s lack of emotion into an even worse light of course, but maybe the wizard just isn’t very good at “feelings”. I am trying to give him the benefit of the doubt.
The conversation quickly turns to tactics as the bandits have been here for a week, waiting in the rain and that would erode the morale of even the most upbeat person. Perhaps we should refer to them as rebels more now, as they are far from simple bandits, although many would have started out as such, but the disenfranchised often turn to a life of crime in order to survive.
We can get into the city without any real trouble, but the Keep itself is a completely different story. A frontal assault would require an army, not two score fighters from the fringes of society, many of whom do not have any formal training. Skarni all but demanded that Talin give him a vanguard to help take the city. In a move that surprised only one person, Talin declined. I am impressed that he did so politely. Skarni then laid claim to the Earl’s life, and this time Talin did acquiesce but advised that he would kill Destrum if the situation so demanded. After Sil mentioned the portal in the Bastion, we spoke about the possibilities that provided, but decided the logistical nightmare it presented did not warrant the potential gains as the other portal opens in the old Keep therefore only granting access to the city and not the current Keep. We cannot have the bandits rebels sitting around here for another week while we sort it out. We have failed to secure enough good feeling with the population of Destrum and surrounding areas, we cannot afford to alienate our only fighting force too.

Elspeth puts away her writing tools, and picks up her lute. She has already played and sung some for Talin’s people, and the atmosphere is already less gloomy, rubbish weather notwithstanding. However there is more work to be done, and so she begins strumming the opening notes of a rather ribald, but popular tavern song.

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Because -Almost- Dying Once Down There Isn't Enough

I wake up in Talin’s bed warm, clean and happy, that is until I remember that my idiotic group members are probably going to want to go back into that mine again tonight, and they are going to want me to go with them. I do not understand why I have to go down there, and its not like good things ever come from it.
I spend my day exploring the forest surrounding the mine, keeping my distance but watching Elspeth attempt to find food and Sil make I presume snide comments under his breath. I don’t know what to make of Elspeth, she is so happy and confident all the time, its annoying, and that overly friendly thing she is doing just makes me think she is trying to trick me, but at least she isn’t condescending like Sil. I see Sanjo checking out his new cloak and working out the best way to pack them all into his bag, and Skani attempting to be a miner.

I wait around, keeping to myself, until night falls, I see everyone is congregating together at the elevator to the mine- I should have just walked away, I should not have walked over to say good bye but to be honest I really didn’t think I would be seeing them again.Why did I not just walk away?

Then they all start trying to convince me to go into the stupid death trap, Sanjo is talking about how cool its going to be, Elspeth is babbling about how she wants me there (she probably just wants my last health potion) and Sil is standing silently flicking through his stupid spell book, (probably looking for Suggestion ) and then Skani says it, “Don’t let this beat you, don’t let it go unfinished”. I don’t know why but this really got to me, this stupid brute thought that I was being beaten by a stupid mine! Sure I was kinda scared, I lost an arm in the last mine, but I knew that I was not going to let him think I was some little weak girl who was scared of the dark! SOOOO down the rickety elevator we all go.

We open up the doors and find it empty, In the light of Sanjo’s torch we can all see that the Hook Horror bodies are gone, not gonna lie first thought was that they weren’t actually dead and they were like above us or something, but we then notice the slime trail from a Gelatinous Cube heading down one of the corridors.
Elspeth casts a spell and the familiar blue light travels towards the stone statue, this time we catch the glimpse of script wrap around. Sil Stalks up to the statue and casts another spell in an attempt to see the script again, even from my place by the door I can see his pompous face go sulkie and the fact he hasn’t declared how it some long lost Elvin saying about blah blah blah proves he can’t read it, god its funny.

I suddenly get shoved from my spot against the door as Skani starts lugging boulders and rubble to form a baricade – against a solid stone door- Sanjo hurries to help him ( men are soooo stupid now its going to take at least 10-15 min for us to move these rocks so we can get out of here!)

The group starts talking about where we should go and eventually decide to go to the kitchen room as they didn’t look in there last time (because old abandoned kitchens in mines is apparently very exciting) and so that they can also check on the other Jelly Cube.
Sil opens the sliding doors and we see the Cube still in the Library and then turn our attention to the Kitchen. Just as the doors close Sanjo lets out a yelp and everyone asks whats up, cause, guys shouldn’t yelp, its just not cool, he starts to describe what could be a giant centipede he uses words like “Gross, long, worm, tentacles, yellow, lots of legs, arms, had a mouth”. Sil regains his smarty pants look, like you could literally see it happen he went from all slouchy and grumpy to straight backed and arrogant in like seconds and begins to lecture us on scavenger centipede’s and how its unusual for one to be down here. I think there was ore but seriously, I don’t care.
Skani, always looking to prove how strong he is makes to break down the door – because asking someone to open it with their magic is too hard for him to understand- and everyone starts screaming at him to stop, thankfully the brute can understand simple words and Elspeth, Sil and I convince him to leave the gross thing alone.
We follow the corridor around and come to some kind of magic control room….maybe, there are weird pipes filled with acrana energy but I really have no clue what it is and as the whole thing is covered in the same language as everything else Sil cant read it ( pretty sure the guy started having a aneurysm. He starts using small spells, in an attempt to look like he is still useful and you can see that a small drop of magic increases in one of the pipes.
Next to the pipes is a door that appears to be a safe Skani and Else start to check it out but cant find a password or key, Skani again tries to bash down the door, its not surprising really I mean we have always known that brains and braun can’t co-exhist (see also our very own know-it-all Sil).
Someone starts talking about another door, with other runes and everyone starts heading that way, again Sil stares at the runes and I think he started to cry a little bit as he struggles to read anything, finally he turns and says that although he can’t read it, its obviously important due to the punctuation or something.
Suddenly Elspeth exclaimed that she can hear voices, which personally I think you shouldn’t be announcing and that there may be something breathing beneath us. All the idiots think that following the voice is a good idea, I can’t see how it is, but its not like I can actually just leave at this point.
We follow the voice to another locked door, Sanjo listens at the key hole like a total creeper and says he can her some one inside, talking and walking around, he rattles the door and we can all hear a man shouting to go away and to stop disturbing him, he says something about “Getting us out”. Which to me sounds like an awesome idea.
stuff is said- I don’t know I wasn’t really listening but suddenly the ever diplomatic Skani is shouting that this guys family is dead! Else tries to diffuse the situation but this guy is super annoying, he kinda reminds me of Sil, from what I can tell this guy thinks he is very important Who introduces themselves as “Imerial the Great Wizard” Sil even gets all like excited about this blabbing about how he knows this guy but that he is like 2000 years old and how he is important but this manages to convince the guy to unlock the door, we hear him walk over and back again, Sil tries to open it but its still locked, maybe this guy hit his head a few times or something. Everyone is discussing ways to open it and Skani is getting ready to prove that he has muscles, I really don’t know why I’m even here, they obviously don’t pay attention to me. I easily open the door for them and see that there is some ghost Elf acting like he is the most important person that ever existed – must be a common trait amongst fancy Elves because Clint was never like this.
Whilst Sil is ring to talk to the dead guy i walk around and find an old ratty Journal and some Amethyst, I don’t really care about the book but i know the elf will so I can sell it to him at least. In the meantime Elspeth has started fight with the ghost and its managed to actually cast a spell on her, its a bad sign when I am the one diffusing situations but I needed to get us out before we were killed by a dead guy. Before I can get us out of here Skani is being his usual obnoxious self and Sil steps in and sends us out of the room hoping for more information like always.
Apparently Imerial talked about an Imp who had released the horrible creatures

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The One With Hurt Feelings & Injured Bodies
---- Or Elspeth Gets a Taste of Real Adventuring

Sitting by the flickering fire, Elspeth writes a letter. Every now and then she pauses to shift uncomfortably as the healing wounds are still sore, and her normal chirpiness is greatly diminished.

Dearest Mother,
Once I return home, we are going to renegotiate the terms of my contract if you are going to insist on picking my traveling destinations – my current allowance is not going to keep me in sufficient health potions otherwise.

I was highly impressed by the party I joined after the killing of the troll – that is the first time I have managed to be so close to the action, and it really does make a difference to the inspiration, although it plays merry hell (HAH) with my hair. As there was a reward promised for the dispatch of whatever creature was terrorising the farmers we needed to return to Destrum Keep in order to present our proof. Due to the current ruckus surrounding him, Laucien decided to remain with Camille (a widowed farmer) to recuperate. I’ve always maintained that infamy is better than obscurity, but I am slowly revising this opinion (don’t roll your eyes at me, thank you very much).
Once back in the town, we split up further as Skarni and Ammaranthine wished to go straight to the markets for resupply. Reaching the Keep itself, our decision to leave Laucien with Camille proved to be fortuitous – the whole place looks like a nest of fire ants that has just been kicked. The main doors were being reinforced both physically and with magical runes, and I haven’t been scrutinised so heavily by the guard since the last time we went to see the dwarves. We were directed to one Captain Valaria to sort out the troll reward. She was on the training grounds, all but whipping the men under her command through exercises. They are on high alert due to Laucien’s escape and are fearing a riot! Apparently the nobility here are holding onto their power so tightly they are strangling their people with it. Their plan is to shut down Laucien as quickly as possible, by force and by infiltrating the local populace with spies… Although with how free these people are with information it’s a wonder anyone has any secrets that need spying out.
The troll netted us a tidy 600gp and an offer of further contract work, or even permanent positions. Please tell me you are laughing at the irony – I found it nigh impossible to walk out with a straight face.

We rejoined Amma and Skarni at the markets, but not before Sil was divested of some gold by a rather enterprising bunch of urchins. I have refrained from saying anything because I will perhaps have a use for these children later on. Plus they looked like they needed it more than him. I purchased myself a good yew bow and some arrows as I find this land to be dangerous, and if I wish to become a proper Skald then I need to be able to defend myself before the foe is close enough for a Sweet Kiss – perhaps the training we receive at court needs to be updated to reflect the harsh realities of the greater world – being charming isn’t enough and I am sadly lacking in claws unlike Lisbeth (by the way, have you heard from her recently??). Skarni proved he was very much the orc by making a scene in the market about the distribution of reward money, of all things. It was only the promise of healing once we returned to our accommodations that calmed him down. However, once I realised the extent of his injuries I could kind of see his point, not that attracting the potentially hostile guard is ever a good idea.

There was some talk about paying of miners and possibly a smith, and a decision to return to “the mine”. It’s rather awkward coming in to the party at this point, as there is obviously a fair amount of history here (including two missing party members, that they don’t seem to be too concerned about which is, itself, concerning). Before we could go anywhere however, we had to retrieve the orc’s things from the guard tower. I created a distraction while Amma snuck into the tower. Honestly, you would be so disappointed in me (well, more than usual eh Mother) because that performance was average at best. I like to think it’s because I am more refined than the street singers, but at the same time it shows an alarming lack of flexibility in my bardic scope – yet another thing to improve on.

As we headed in the direction of this mine (it is called Stonebridge, in a flash of originality) Laucien was still unable to join us, and Amma was acting rather sketchy. Pretty much all my overtures of friendship have been rebuffed by the Tiefling, which while unsurprising is still hurtful. At least I have someone with whom I can converse in Infernal. Upon arrival at the mine, which is obviously in bandit hands and so very very interesting, the guard was also acting strangely – I hate not knowing what’s going on! We had to take a gondola down to the floor of the mine while I was told about what had actually happened here. We were directed to speak to Gorm – the orc in charge of the miners (so effectively there are two leaders in this mine). Skarni immediately went off to find him as apparently patience is a foreign concept for him. We requested one of the other miners to advise Gorm of our presence, when the former returned underground. The fellow was highly taciturn, but I don’t imagine digging like moles all day encourages frivolity.

While we waited for Gorm, we went to speak with Talin who is the leader of the bandits and joy of joys – beer! Not the best brew, but definitely an improvement to no beer (STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT MOTHER). As we waited, a woman left Talin’s private rooms and Amma’s reaction made her previous skittishness crystal clear. I am actually embarrassed that I didn’t twig to this possibility sooner. Good thing I never wanted to be a match-maker. She is clearly highly upset by this situation (the fact that the woman, Maria, is not actually bedding her man wood-elf doesn’t seem to be helping – the girl really has some trust issues).
Thankfully before the awkwardness could burn off the last of the buzz from the beer, Skarni returned with Gorm in tow and we could get down to business. Amma paid 500gp to Gorm for the miners’ work, and an agreement was reached where Talin would take 30 of his fighters to the Keep and await our return in order to wrest it from the Earl, while Gorm would go back to his Clan and spread the word for any willing fighters to also come to the Keep – an orcish berserker is nothing to sneer at when you have the smaller force! After weeks of nothing other than rumours, all this is rather exciting!
What isn’t exciting is the fact that Gorm has recognised me as a fiend-kin, and I don’t know how… Mother is he someone I should know? I am worried! He just blurted it out for everyone to hear!… Not that I’m ashamed of being fiend-kin, but you know, it makes life harder, here especially…

Elspeth looks up from her writing, her lips pressed into a thin line. No one had brought this up after it happened, but obviously certain things would have to be discussed, and soon. Apart from anything, she’d need to explain the Sweet Kiss before people started confusing her for Lisbeth.

Skarni came back from the mine pit with a description of a door, marked with magical runes, and Gorm (really don’t like that guy) told us about a rumour of a magical stone that the King had been very interested in. It seemed logical that whatever the King would want, we should look into appropriating, I went down to the door with Sil and Sanjo. The door was obviously spelled against something fey, I could feel it in my bones, but it was a fairly simple protection (from a wizard’s perspective anyway). Sanjo could hear scratching from behind the door, something clawed and wild. I must have gone mad to want to go and find out what was behind the door, and obviously we needed to involve Skarni and Amma in our madness as well. Skarni proved to be surprisingly persuasive as he was the only one able to bring Amma around to the idea of coming down with us. We waited until it was dark and all the miners had downed tools (at least we thought of their safety) before once again approaching the door.

I think Sil was a little embarrassed that he couldn’t get the door open on the first go, but of course he couldn’t show that, being the high and mighty elf wizard that he is. Sanjo was first through the door while Skarni set bear traps around the entrance as a precaution. Even then, I was still more curious about what was behind the door than cautious. Foolishness. The door opened onto a small chamber with passages leading off from each wall. In the center there was a statue of an elven woman, holding an orb of some kind, although it is clearly magical; and the floor had channels cut into it going down each passageway.
Sil tried to touch the orb using Mage Hand, but the magic just dissipated and was instead absorbed into the cut channels leading to the statue, which glowed. Intuition made me cast See Invisibility. At first nothing happened, beyond my magic also being leeched into the channels (which is really worrying, because all we could, and still can, think of is that the magic is being siphoned off to power something other than a glowing statue and orb). Then I saw what looked like three plate-armoured elves come running from the right-hand passage to the left, clearly frightened of something. I do not know if they were uneasy shades doomed to repeat their last moments, or simply an impression upon the Ethereal of their strong emotions at the time. Due to the amount of magic saturating the area, I am inclined to believe the latter. I want to believe the latter.
The left-hand passage down which the phantoms disappeared was blocked by fallen rubble and rocks. While we were discussing whether we should try move it, Skarni went ahead (after retrieving his bear traps) and started pulling at chunks of masonry willy-nilly. He must have moved something important as the whole lot started shaking and clouds of dust rose up – the fool nearly precipitated a further cave in on our heads! I want to be angry with him due to his impetuousness, but at the end of the day he is an orc… plus he suffers for it himself, more often than not.
With the left passage blocked even more now, we went to the right instead, and were once again promptly stopped, this time by Sanjo crying. Yes you read that right, crying. In our haste, we had forgotten that he was the only one in the party lacking Dark Vision. His emotional development is apparently diametrically opposed to his martial skill. Lighting a torch allowed him to put on his big boy breeches and carry on with us. This hallway split again, with the N side turning to the E and the S side curving away also to the E. I suspect they meet again somewhere ahead. The presence of a lever at the corner of the N corridor piqued our collective interests (well, excluding Amma who at this point could have probably melted rocks with the force of her glare) and it was with some difficulty that we stopped Sanjo from just rushing over to pull the damn thing. Good thing too because within a couple of steps Skarni activated a trap by stepping on a spelled stone and set himself on fire (karma for the near-miss rockfall? I think so). The rest of us exercised far more caution and reached the lever without further mishap.
The caution continued as upon reaching the lever no one pulled it! For a start there was obviously some kind trap just to the left of it, but more importantly the hallway presented us with an upward staircase on our left and a door on our right, before splitting again to the N and S. We decided to have a look at the room first, in case there was something nasty in it just waiting for our backs to be turned. Once again, Skarni rushed in (I suspect this is going to be a recurring theme), and simply busted the door open. There was a simple protective enchantment on it, but it could not withstand the force of his absolute lack of caring. The room turned out to be a small armoury, with a few weapons and other items. Of the six armour slots present, only two were occupied, with the same kind of plate armour the elves in my vision had been wearing. Amma remained close to the lever while the rest of us went to have a closer look at the contents of the room.
Sanjo was the first over the threshold (there was a cloak in there….. yes), but he barely took a couple of steps before both suits of armour straightened up and attacked him! Someone in the party really ought to know Detect Magic.
It was a terrible, confusing melee – Skarni jumped into the room to grapple with one straight away (of course he did), Sanjo engaged the one that attacked him with his axe, Sil’s magical attacks completely failed as they dissipated at the doorway due to some kind of block (it wasn’t until Amma pointed out the magical channel in the floor right across the doorstep that we noticed this), Amma’s fire did not harm them, and my rapier failed to do any damage as there was nothing inside the armour to hurt. Skarni managed to rip the helmet off one, not that it did any good, and Sanjo got some good blows in, but it took a little while for what Amma had been screaming at us to filter through the chaos – if our magic cannot penetrate the room and the clearly magical armours are not getting a reaction from the channels, then clearly the room is blocked off to keep their magic from being leached away, and perhaps if we could get the armours out of the room… I grabbed Amma and pulled her out of the way, because I knew that her frail Tiefling body would sustain heavy damage from my Thunderwave in such close confines. It’s a good thing I did because while the armours and Skarni withstood the spell only taking minor damage, Sanjo caught the full blast and was thrown clear of the room (along with pretty much every unattached object) and knocked unconscious. Amma rushed back in to my aid, as the armour Sanjo had been fighting turned on me. I attempted to lay a Sweet Kiss on it but the blasted thing was more agile than I thought and it cut me with its sword. While we were trying not to die, Sil was being unusually altruistic and fed Sanjo a health potion to revive him. I need to get more of those, as Amma had given me one but that is definitely not enough! Skarni had managed to drag his opponent into the passage where it simply fell apart as the magic sustaining it was absorbed by the channels. He quickly returned to pull mine and Amma’s foe out as well, saving me from further injury.

We chose to rest for a while in this room, as it seemed to be the safest option. Amma stood watch, while I played to settle the party so neither of us was all that well rested. Sanjo seemed very happy with his cloak (and still is as apparently it is somewhat magical and makes him look quite dashing), Skarni picked up some kind of hideous-looking belt and Sil grabbed an amulet that apparently aids in protection, and I took a whip thinking it would be useful although I doubt it can deal much damage.
Whilst on watch, Amma did not see much but heard a lot, and the fact that she saw and heard anything at all, is a bad sign. There is apparently some kind of insectile chittering coming from the N, and footsteps and muttering from the E. This is bad enough, but she also saw something that was at the same time birdlike and insectile rush up the corridor to the right of our room. Judging by the huge sickle-like claws on its hands it is responsible for the scratching and gouging of the door into the mine. It is at this point that Amma gave me one of her health potions – the cynic in me thinks it’s simply because she wants more able bodies to help her survive, but I’d like to believe she is not that damaged.

Once rested we chose to follow the N branch of the corridor after the sickle-clawed creature. After climbing some stairs we came to yet another intersection of corridors – the the N it carried on for a bit before a sharp turn E, the E branch went down some steps and stopped at a door, and to the W was another corridor with some doors along it. Sil translated the elvish inscriptions as “Scriptorium” and “Kitchen” (I think I will ask Laucien if he will help me learn elvish – it’s ridiculous to be a bard that only speaks two languages, only one of which is socially acceptable). Sanjo and Skarni backtracked to retrieve the bear-traps, while Sil, Amma, and I chose to remain so that we could explore these two new rooms. I am not sure why Sil and I were so excited by the scriptorium as a bit of logical thinking would have made it obvious that paper would not have survived the many (many) years in the underground, but hope springs eternal. Our incident with the armoury had taught us a painful lesson in caution, so Sil used Mage Hand to open the door from a safe distance. The use of magic showed us another thing that the channels powered as the doors into both rooms swung open of their own accord, but only stayed open as long as the spell was active. We decided that Amma would remain in the hallway to make sure the door could be opened in case the sciptorium proved to be another magical “dead zone”. Before stepping through, Sil and I both carefully surveyed the room and were glad we did – the scrolls and books were mostly rotted, and almost everything was covered by some kind of clear slime. I guess Sil was too engrossed by trying to figure out if there was anything salvageable in the room, because he completely failed to notice the Gelatinous Cube sitting at the back. Well, that explained all the slime… We made the wise decision not to tangle with it as the risk far outweighed whatever rewards killing the beast would have brought the three of us. We retreated without alerting it to our presence, and Sil managed to grab some paper with his Mage Hand before we closed the door. He truly has fey luck – it was a spell!

While we were up there, we’d heard the loud crack of what we assumed to be the bear-traps being rapidly dismantled, and it wasn’t until Sanjo and Skarni rejoined us, slightly worse for wear after an enounter with the sickle-clawed creature. The feral thing can hook its claws into the ceiling and move around that way, making it highly stealthy and mobile. It was while discussing this that we came to the collective realisation that the doors into the mine were probably spelled to keep exactly this creature confined, and we’d left them wide open… It’s rather mortifying to realise that our colossal fuck up endangered not only ourselves, but everyone else in the mine as well.
The immediate decision was to go back to the doors and close them again as the creature obviously cannot work them, even without magical protection. Skarni and Sanjo sprinted ahead, heedless of their own health, while the rest of us proceeded at a safer pace. Just as we approached the statue room and doors into the mine, we saw that Skarni was standing stock still, utterly focused on a point in the darkness. It was the sickle-clawed creature, or rather one of them as another appeared. You could cut the tension with a knife, and I instantly regretted not taking a proper rest while I could in the armoury.

Amma and I stepped back into the shadows, as the creatures clicked and tapped their claws against their carapaces in some sort of communication. I heard answering taps from back up the passage that we just passed. There are more of the beasts in these corridors, and I swear by Olidammara when (if?) we return to Destrum Keep I am getting so drunk that I can’t walk, talk, or think. There is great danger in this dungeon if Hook Horrors from the Underdark roam its corridors.

I do not know whether it was Skarni moving slightly towards the doors, or whether there was some other unseen signal, but both creatures sprang to attack – one hooking both claws into Skarni’s shoulders, and another skewering Sil through the gut, savaging both. Thank Mayaheine that Amma was able to use the distraction of combat to sneak over to the doors and seal them – the world above was safe, although the same could not be said for us.
I tried to use my new whip to trip the Horror attacking Sil, but I failed to take into account the thing’s keen hearing – the crack of the whip alerted it and it moved out of the way with more agility than a creature of that size has any right to. Poor Sil hung from its hook like a side of meat, blood and guts everywhere. Amma’s fire was doing good damage from her hiding place in the shadows, and before long Sil had been abandoned for dead as that Horror turned it’s awful attentions to Sanjo. I took that moment to heal Sil as even so injured, he was still able to fire off Witch Bolts at the enemy. Perhaps I should have been paying more attention to Sanjo because he was rapidly losing ground to his Horror – it took a strong hit from him so that it would then have an opening to sink one of its claws deep into his body. It was again too fast for me, as my Magic Missle missed it. Or maybe it was because my hand was shaking so much from the adrenaline coursing through my veins. Skarni was faring surprisingly well as he slowly tried to skewer his opponent’s ugly vulture head upon his sword, just as it ripped and tore at him with its claws.

She pauses again, remembering the scene – Sanjo skewered by the foul beast and choking on his own blood; Sil lying in a broken heap on the ground; Skarni roaring in a berserker rage, drenched in the mixed blood from his and the Horror’s wounds; and the flashes of flame from the darkness indicated Amma’s hidden position. It was powerful and frightening, and she feels a tingling in her fingers, a need to write or sing about it. But not yet, it is still too raw, and there are still creatures in the deeps below that need dealing with.

Sanjo had been abandoned for dead as the Horror turned to stalk around trying to find the source of the flames the hurt it and its kin. The earlier clicking from the N resolved itself into the sounds of another Horror approaching rapidly, and I am not ashamed to say that I was frightened, greatly so, but I turned to face it anyway, readying my wand. You can imagine the frustration when the Magic Missle missed, AGAIN! Just thinking about it makes me angry. Sil meanwhile, had dragged himself over to Sanjo and forced another health potion down his throat to bring him back to us. I think the high-elf may be developing some cracks in that icy snobbishness of his, I hope anyway.
Amma’s infernal ancestry had finally done something good for her, as the roaming Hook Horror finally found her and attacked, triggering her Hellish Rebuke – these creatures really do not like fire it seems. Skarni however, was amazing. He used one of his meat hooks to grab the Horror’s head and slowly pull it down onto his sword, to pierce its brain. It shrieked and struggled to free itself, even abandoning its hold on him, but he was remorseless and unstoppable. He brought honour to himself and his clan with that kill.

I, on the other hand, made the poor decision to attack the creature in front of me, hoping my Thunderwave would push it out of the way and leave me out of its reach. I should have healed myself instead, because it withstood the spell, and while I managed to twist out of the way of one of its hooks, it caught me with the other. The pain Mother, I have never felt anything like it. This was no clean sword cut, no simple punch to bruise or break. At first it felt like a punch, knocking the breath out of me, but then I could not catch it again, as the hook was blocking something, and once it ripped out of me again, there was only a sucking emptiness. My mind finally registered the pain and, added to my existing injuries, it pulled me into blackness.
I do not know how long I had lost consciousness for, but when Ammaranthine brought me around with another of her health potions all three Hook Horrors were dead. The room was an abattoir, with the stench of blood and death strangling us. Amma was nearly in hysterics trying to get out of the doors screaming at Skarni to help, but he was barely keeping himself upright. She managed to use a crowbar to open the way for our escape. I do not know who had the presence of mind to shut the doors behind us, before we limped and staggered our way back to the lift to the surface.

We will return below the next night, because we must finish what was started. I fervently hope that Laucien will be able to reach us before then, as his skill as a fighter and a healer was sorely missed. For now, we will wait and lick our wounds. At least one good thing has come of this – Amma all but ran into Talin’s arms, all perceived sins forgiven. This really is an adventure isn’t it? Although I do miss the comforts of home.

It will probably be a while before I can send you another detailed letter like this, but I will maintain the working reports as normal.

Your Heart’s Daughter,
Elspeth

P.S. Tweak Tomatin’s beard for me – can’t let the old man relax just because I’m not there.

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Skarni's Letter
The slaying of a troll, and the introduction of new allies.

His battered book lies inside his pack, strewn with ragged, ripped pages. It is written with a hasty frenzy with simple graphite, smudged with fingerprints. The pages are bookmarked with rags. Written in simple orcish, there is the occasional checklist or sketch.

Warchief Destrum refused to tell me where the Clanspeaker Gorm. He dishonored himself by denying a rite of might. His men put my in the stockade, and starved me for a day. They took father’s greatsword. The humiliation hurts more than the rocks.

I was freed by the man known as Laucien and his clan. They have thrown in with a witch, and one of them bears the sign of blacksoul corruption. There is also a bounty hunter and an elf. I owe them a life debt. I have yet to learn how old Laucien is, for that is how many lives I owe him if he is to pass into the hall of his god as an honoured warrior.

We were stalked by a Warsinger. This Elspeth, of Tradewind Clan. I could hear her sing and play from the stockade, but I did not think to hear or see her again. Now, she travels with us. I believe she is a test from their god, to test our strength and honour in the battlefield.

The elf helped me take back what is rightfully mine. Father’s blade is where it belongs. _Beside the passage about Sil, there are sketches of urban landmarks and a count of steps going from the guard tower, going so far as to showcase the methodical mind of the orc should one have the displeasure of trying to sift through the jumbled journal of Skarni. _

I have overheard them speak of resistance, of betraying the high warchief of their land. They do not wish to pay him tribute in honour, respect or gold. I think the one known as Laucien wishes to challenge this warchief for leadership of the clan. He is strong, and has many rivals. If he leads, I will follow even if his clan questions him every second step.

They led me to the ‘farms’ they have outside the kingdom. They are prone to being raided, as not being covered by walls or palisades. Their guardians are weak. If the Redmaw ever need to feast, these farms are the first place I will check. The Blackmarked and the Warsinger told me that their sole purpose in life is to feed others for protection.

A single page is dedicated to doing the simple mathematics of the attacks on the farmsteads, accompanied with sketches of the damage. There are many errors and corrections, the act of multiplication seems to trouble the orc immensely.

A troll was preying on the weak, I was not the first to have the thought. There was a spearwife, she had knelt in defeat and had not helped her mate. She brings great dishonour upon herself. She is a coward. I refuse any and all gifts from her like any true orc should. I will not bring the curse of weakness upon myself.

Why would she trap her mate trapped in an eternity of lonesome dishonour?

I bled the corpses of the dead guardsmen into the lake to draw the troll out. I succeeded. Stuck in the crack of the book, there is a long heft of damp troll hair, speckling the pages in red. The elf almost did not fight with us, as dishonorable as magic is, any who fight a troll deserve respect.

When the Warsinger sung to me in battle… Mother, I have seen it! She has shown me! I have seen a valley of skulls, lakes of blood. I have seen our death, bloody and thrashing. I saw the one who took your sight, alone and cowed. I will destroy everything she has ever loved.

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