The Golden Cage

Game XXV
The Keep of the Gremlin King

—The party members emerged from the tunnel after nightfall, pondering how to proceed next. The information they had gathered from the dragon had been vague at best, but Foren offered a place to start – the Gremlins.
—Corta reminded them all that she had been named King of the Gremlins on their last encounter with the tiny Fey creatures.
—Though Cyrus seemed a little perplexed by this notion, the others decided that gathering information on where the Gremlins were located would be a good next step. Foren consulted his book of the Fey, and discovered that the area had been known to be inhabited by Gremlins in the past.
—Corta took out her crystal ball, and concentrated on Karvex, the former Gremlin King. Instantly, the clouds swirling within the orb cleared, and the party looked upon an image of a dense, dark forest.
—Standing in a clearing surrounded by large stones were a group of Gremlins, all chattering away in Sylvan. Atop a big, flat stone was a Gremlin just like all the others, though this one seemed to be giving orders. Corta deduced that this must be Karvex, who seemed intent on getting the others to build some sort of shelter from twigs.
—As the image faded, they all decided to take note of the elements they had just witnessed in the surroundings of the Gremlin’s clearing.
—Cyrus and Owtikk got to work assessing the natural landscape of the area, attempting to determine any clues that could tie their surroundings to the image they had just seen. They hoped that by looking at local fauna, they would be able to recognize that the clearing was fairly close by.
—Meanwhile, Lizer decided that it would be prudent to go and report their findings to Mayor Thistledown, and to warn the townsfolk of what could be in store for them should the party members fail in their quest.
—The others agreed that this idea was sound, and Lizer stalked off toward the town hall, the others wishing him luck.
—It took mere minutes for Lizer to reach the hall, and he was welcomed inside by the guards at once, who told him that a meeting was in progress.
—As he moved inside, Lizer found himself shrinking in size again, as he had done at Annora’s house previously. Lizer stepped toward the long table at the end of the hall, and saw Mayor Thistledown speaking with four elderly Halflings in different colored town clothing.
—As Lizer approached, Mayor Thistledown stood up, eagerly asking if Lizer and the others had discovered anything.
—Lizer nodded rather bleakly, and began explaining their encounter with the Xorn earlier that day. The elders listened as he described the creature, and how it had been stealing the unripe vegetables for its mistress.
—After some initial surprise, Mayor Thistledown smiled, and breathed a sigh of relief. She addressed the elders, and told them that each of their families had now been proven to be uninvolved in the disappearances of the vegetables, and that they could now focus on the real problem at hand.
—The family leaders seemed to grumble a grudging ascent to this comment, and they agreed to cease blaming one another for their problems.
—However, when Lizer got to the part of the story involving the dragon, the others were aghast. The gravity of the situation took some time to fully set in, as the elders from each family reacted to this troubling news.
—Mayor Thistledown looked stern as well. She thanked Lizer for bringing this to their attention, but told him how unprepared they were for such dire circumstances.
—Lizer told them that they should begin preparations to evacuate, for if the dragon’s demands could not be met within three days, then the village would fall under attack.
—This news did nothing to quell the fears of the elders and the mayor, and the elders began explaining that they were deeply rooted in their ancestral home. Evacuation would not be an option for the Halflings, for they would rather stand and fight a hopeless battle than to lay down before such a a violent aggressor.
—Though the elder Halflings were deeply shaken by Lizer’s news, Mayor Thistledown attempted to remain calm, asking Lizer precisely what the dragon demanded.
—Lizer explained that the dragon was missing a music box which had been stolen from her by Gremlins many years ago. He told them that was one of the reasons he had come to the town hall – to find some answers regarding the Gremlins that were rumored to reside in the area.
—Mayor Thistledown told Lizer that the Gremlins had not been seen within the boundaries of Tillgrove for some time. The Halflings had managed to protect their homes from these mysterious creatures using Gremlin Bells on the doors of their dwellings. These non-magical bells prevented the Gremlins from entering, and thus the Fey creatures had stopped coming to the village.
—When Lizer asked where these Gremlins had gone to, Mayor Thistledown told Lizer that the Gremlins were said to dwell within the nearby forest called Madman’s Hollow. However, she warned him that Madman’s Hollow was a place that no one dared tread for fear of going insane within its boundaries.
—Lizer seemed dubious about this, and asked the Halflings if they had any proof of this. Mayor Thistledown told him that Bantor Ferngnarl had disappeared for years into the forest, and had emerged a completely different man. She said that he had the most recent experience in the forest, and that though he was undoubtedly mad, Ferngnarl could likely be useful for information of some sort should Lizer wish to go to the forest himself.
—Lizer took note of this madman’s name, and thanked the council for meeting with him. Lizer assured the Halflings that he would do what he could to stop the dragon from attacking the village, but warned them that evacuation would be their only hope should the beast attack.
—Mayor Thistledown was resolute, and told Lizer that Halflings had been oppressed in the past, and would never give up their lands and homes without putting up a fight first.
—Lizer seemed to respect this stance, and bowed to the council before leaving the hall. As he left, he heard the elders making plans for protection should such a horrible event take place.
—Lizer returned to the small crop of trees on the border outside of Tillgrove just as the others sat down to a meal around a hearty fire they had built. Night had fallen in earnest, and the merry flame cast long shadows of the group as they sat on rocks and logs in the makeshift encampment.
—Cyrus had caught some rabbits, and was just ladling stew for the others (while Owtikk ate some stewed wild vegetables she had scrounged up) when Lizer arrived and presented his findings at the town hall.
—They seemed interested in this news about Madman’s Hollow, and thought that it would be a good idea to speak with this madman, though difficult a task it would be.
—Lizer, Cyrus and Owtikk did not want anything to do with a person that the Halflings would consider “mad”, and so Corta and Foren elected to go and question this Bantor Ferngnarl should he reveal anything to them that could be of use.
—Corta and Foren left the camp, and decided to go to the local tavern to find out just where this Bantor lived.
—They ventured inside of The Tiny Giant Inn and Tavern (reducing in size as they did so), and spoke with the barkeep amid the raucous company assembled there, drinking and singing and dancing, forgetting their troubles for another night.
—The barkeep was a friend of Corta’s, Kestro’s brother Quickjab. Quickjab was taller than Kestro – and really quite tall for a Halfling in general, and wore the same long cap as his brother.
—Quickjab was a merry sort of fellow, and was happy to see them both. When Corta asked where they could find Bantor Ferngnarl, Quickjab told them to go and see Coltan, for Bantor was his uncle and was now under his care.
—They thanked Quickjab, and left the tavern, striding down the dark path toward Coltan’s place once again.
—They explained to Coltan at the door why they had come, and Coltan’s surly face grew dark. He asked if they had come to laugh at his uncle, but the two of them assured him that they would do nothing of the sort.
—Once certain of their intentions, Coltan led them inside. They did NOT resize in Coltan’s modest dwelling, and were thus fairly stooped as they moved through his dusty halls down toward the bedroom where Bantor lived. The room was locked up tight, and Coltan explained that it was for Bantor’s own good, for the old man liked to escape and get into mischief.
—As Coltan opened the door, he told them to be careful, and not listen to a word that the old madman said. He showed them inside rather darkly, and closed the door, standing outside.
—The room was covered in charcoal etchings, from the walls to the floor to the ceiling. Incoherent scribbles were everywhere, saying nothing that made any sense at all. Bantor sat in the corner, drawing concentric circles in a rhythmic sort of way on a piece of parchment, his back turned to them.
—Bantor had wild hair and a long, unkempt beard, and both were scraggly and grey. His eyes were a sharp, stormy grey, and when Corta spoke to him, the man turned slowly to stare at her, unblinking in a terrifying sort of way.
—“…The sun meets the earth…Where the walls breathe…” Began Bantor, babbling under his breath. Foren was interested in what was written on the walls, and could make out some phrases, but nothing that seemed too coherent.
—”Sleeping…Where he sleeps…Walls that breathe… Eyes…Eyes of blue…Where the sun meets the earth…” Bantor continued babbling, and Foren decided to try and read his mind.
—Taking a slip of parchment from his pocket, Foren asked him what he knew of Madman’s Hollow. The parchment filled rapidly with overlapping phrases and sentences that could not be read quickly enough before the entire parchment was coated in ink.
—Foren shook the excess ink off of the paper, and put it resolutely back in his pocket. Corta asked Bantor if by ‘where the sun meets the earth’ meant at sunset. Bantor nodded slowly, and repeated “Eyes of blue…The eyes of blue, where the walls breathe…A crown of spikes…”
—Bantor repeated these phrases over and over, leaving Corta and Foren to puzzle over his words. Corta asked him where this was to happen, and Bantor held up the piece of parchment he had been drawing on.
—The paper showed overlapping circles densely close together. Bantor mumbled “The forest….In the forest where the sun meets the earth…” and pointed in the center of the mass of circles.
—Corta and Foren looked at each other as Bantor pressed the paper into their hands. “Time looks behind and watches it go…Walls that breathe…The eyes…”
—Bantor fell silent, and began scribbling on the papers around him once again.
—Foren and Corta took their queue, and left Bantor alone, heading back to the encampment.
—When they arrived, they shared what Bantor had told them. Lizer seemed to put very little stock into the ‘map’ that the madman had given them, and thought it would be more fruitful if they ventured into the forest and had Corta call her Gremlin followers to her.
—However, Foren and Corta thought that the madman had said some very interesting things, and Foren thought that his words should be heeded.
—In the end, the group decided to rest for the night, and to head for Madman’s Hollow in the morning, in attempts to find this clearing they had seen in the crystal ball. They hoped that Bantor’s words would make more sense come the morning.
—Foren summoned a secure shelter for them to rest in, and Cyrus, taking no chances, took the first watch, sitting atop the shelter, and keeping a wary eye open for anything unusual.
—As midnight rolled around, Cyrus noticed a scuffling down near the ground. The scuffling turned to a scratching sort of noise, and Cyrus looked over the edge of the roof to see a tiny insectoid creature attempting to open the door to the shelter.
—Immediately, Cyrus took aim, and dove off of the ceiling, tackling this small creature, and holding it fast within his grip.
—The creature was a Vexgit Gremlin, and struggled and yelled in his arms. Cyrus shouted to wake the others, and they stepped outside to see the thing trying to wriggle its escape.
—They identified the creature as a Gremlin, and Owtikk offered the use of her Iron Bands of Binding to better hold the little beast. Cyrus attempted to question the little beast, but it struggled and shouted and clacked its pincers, and wouldn’t answer to a word he said.
—However, Foren stepped forward, and managed to console the Gremlin, telling him that they were its friends. The Gremlin faltered, confused for a moment, and Foren went on to say that binding the Gremlin in this way was a friendly greeting where they came from.
—The Gremlin nodded its understanding, and stopped its squirming, now intent to listen to what they had to say. Foren presented Corta, and told him that she was the Gremlin King.
—The Gremlin nodded vigorously upon seeing the orb mounted upon her staff, and said “Ohh! Yes! Corta, the false king!”
—They all looked at each other, and Corta seemed slightly crestfallen. “You mean there is another king?” She asked him.
—The Gremlin nodded and told them that The Mad King Ragardrail, King of The Gremlins was the true king, now and forever.
—Cyrus stepped forward at this point, and spoke to the Gremlin. He told the creature that because they were friends, they would like to visit the Gremlin and this king for a meal. He asked kindly that the Gremlin lead them to where this king lived, stating that it is what any good host would do for his friends.
—The Gremlin agreed heartily, and told them that it would happily show them to Ragardrail’s castle, because they were such good friends and all.
—With the Gremlin’s directions, the party members set off into the pre-dawn darkness toward Madman’s Hollow.
—They entered the forest, which was very dense and dark. Gnarled roots grew everywhere, and the party would surely have gotten lost if they hadn’t had the little Gremlin to guide them along. All the while the creature attempted to assure that they would be having a grand meal once they got to the keep, to which Cyrus and the others told him “of course they would”.
—Eventually, they came upon a familiar-looking clearing of assembled stones and grass underfoot. They recognized the standing stones from the crystal ball, and all stood within the wide circle, as directed by the Gremlin.
—The Gremlin then said “Ahh. Now all we need to do is wait for the sun to meet the earth. And then it’s just a matter of getting past the guardians.”
—The party faltered, and chimed “…Guardians?”
—“Yes,” Explained the Gremlin patiently. “The Primal World of the Fey is protected by guardians – the Lurkers. No mortal has made it through without facing them.”
—Foren’s ears stiffened at the mention of The World of the Fey, and was about to say something when suddenly light crested over the horizon, visible through the trees, shining a pale golden light over everything.
—As they stood within the circle, they witnessed something mystical occurring. The colours around them shined more vibrant. The dawn stretched, but only served to light the trees with gold, and did nothing to lighten the dark sky above. They felt the air about them, and felt their emotions swell and pulse more brilliantly than the colours around them.
—They turned and looked toward a tall cliff face further into the forest, and saw there, lit by the gold from the sun a massive Keep made of marble towering over them. This Keep had certainly not been there before.
—Foren hastily took out his compass, and held it in front of him, facing this keep. The golden needle was pointed squarely at the cliff where the keep sat before them.
—As they stood within the circle, they noticed something else appearing. The Gremlin chattered a horrible laugh as creatures appeared around them, shining with light, glowing with a strange eminence. Five small humanoids which looked like emaciated Elven Children with glowing wings appeared out of the darkness, and hovered there between them and the keep.
—These appeared to be the guardians of which the Gremlin spoke.
—The guardians spoke, their light, airy, haunting voices ringing out in perfect unison throughout the clearing “We suffer no mortal to pass into our realm. State why you have come, that we may pass judgment upon you.”
—Foren strode forward to address these creatures. He told them that he was once a Faun, a member of the Fey race, and that he wished to return to such a state. He hoped to request this of the Gremlin King.
—The guardians continued. “We allow no mortals to tread within our borders for the safety and sanity of all. Though you once were a Faun, you are mortal now. We cannot allow you to pass.”
—As the conversation continued, Cyrus became very wary of these creatures, and decided to slink quietly to the edge of the circle, his weapons at the ready should they need to fight or flee. The others similarly stiffened themselves for a fight, prepared to do what they must should things turn ugly.
—Foren strengthened his resolve, and strode forward. “I do not wish to harm any of you, for you were once my kindred,” Foren said in a commanding tone. “However, I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
—With that, Foren put one of the creatures to sleep with lightning-fast reflexes. The other party members were better prepared for the battle than their opponents, on high alert due to Lizer’s natural strategist training.
—Corta wasted no time, unleashing a blast of Searing Light against the nearest Lurker, dealing considerable damage to the small defender of the realm beyond.
—Cyrus moved in and struck at one of the creatures with his spear, severely bloodying it.
—Owtikk ran forward, and thrust out her arm, holding the Rod of Wonder. Pointing it directly at one of the creatures, at first nothing happened. Then, quite suddenly, the grass around them began to grow. The entire clearing – and indeed much of the forest was covered by a blanket of short grass, which grew to ten times its normal size.
—Unhindered by this, Ghost sniffed out the location of the next creature, and dashed forward, striking hard into it with an incredible bite.
—Lizer got into position, and dashed forward in a charge, killing one of the Lurkers instantly, bursting it into motes of gilded light and dust.
—One of the remaining Lurkers lashed out at Cyrus, striking him, but Cyrus was able to easily stave off the effects of the poison hidden within the creature’s tiny blade.
—Corta smote one of these guardians with another flash of Searing Light, bursting it instantly into golden, shimmering dust with a shriek.
—Cyrus easily killed the one that had struck at him, crushing him with a strike from his spiked shield.
—Owtikk moved into position, and ordered Ghost to attack once again. Ghost tore the final Lurker to shreds, covering his muzzle in the gilded dust, sneezing as he did so.
—The group stood on the threshold of the World of the Fey, and the reality of what they had done sunk in. At first many of them were concerned that what they had done would hamper their efforts with the Gremlin King, but then they heard the captive Gremlin laughing behind them.
—The Gremlin congratulated them on a job well-done. A little perplexed, Foren asked if they should have done such a thing, and the Gremlin told them that they were guardians, and that they were there as a challenge. There would be many more challenges before them should they wish to see the King.
—Taking this as an ill omen, the group lashed up the final Lurker which was put to sleep, and carried it with them over the threshold and toward the Keep on the cliff before them.
—Cyrus briefly stayed back a moment, and told Korrice to return to the encampment with Scarto, sure that the Keep would be no place for a pony. Korrice obeyed, and left the clearing as Cyrus pressed forward with the others.
—It was not long before the party members came to the foot of the cliff where the Keep of the Gremlin King stood. Before them they saw a massive gap of earth before the Keep above, with many pillars of stone jutting from the gorge below. On each of these pillars of stone were sections of stairs, all facing different directions from one another.
—It seemed as though these stairs were once part of a grand marble stairwell which led to the balcony of the Keep – only now they had been twisted and broken.
—The Gremlin brightly told them that they must simply climb the Insanity Stairs to reach the doors to the keep.
—The party member exchanged glances. Cyrus waste little time, and began preparing climbing tools, rope and a grappling hook. Meanwhile, Foren teleported Cyrus and Erasme to the top, while Owtikk shifted to the form of a pterodactyl and flew. Corta had sprouted wings and grabbed hold of Cyrus, carrying him to the balcony as well.
—They all resumed their natural forms, and stood upon the marble balcony, beholding the keep in front of them. The place looked as though it were once beautiful and grand, but that some sort of madness had twisted the place beyond mortal comprehension. The balcony was warped and twisted, as were the walls of the keep itself, which seemed to move rhythmically, breathing in and out.
—The dark sky above gleamed with blackness, and on the balcony washed a golden light from the strange, distant-looking sun. The Keep stood within a maelstrom of clouds above, swirling into nothingness and back again.
—Before the party was a set of double doors made of iron, which were locked tight. On either side of the protruding keep were alcoves that ran along the sides of the exterior walls of the entrance.
—Cyrus and Owtikk explored each of these alcoves in turn while the others stood near the doors, taking in what they could.
—Cyrus, down the left alcove discovered a statue of a royal, elven-looking male with a sickening grin, and rolling eyes. In his right hand the statue held a human heart. His left hand sat clasped atop his head.
—Unsing his communicator, he told the others what he had found. As he did so, Owtikk explained the statue that she had found herself down the right alcove.
—The statue on the right depicted an identical male elf-like figure to the one on the left. However, this one’s face was contorted in fear, eyes bulging, mouth hanging agape. In the left hand, this statue held a human brain. This statue’s right hand clutched at its chest.
—Lizer pondered a moment, and suggested that the two of them switch the organs found at each statue. The two complied, Cyrus taking hold of the heart, and Owtikk taking hold of the brain. Immediatley upon removing them, these organs each transformed magically from marble to flesh and blood in their hands. Quickly, they rushed to the opposing statues, and placed the organs in the hands of the royal figures.
—A resounding click could be heard, and the doors to the Keep opened. The party members stepped cautiously inside, the doors clunking shut behind them.
—They moved into a small antechamber which connected to a grand hall beyond. On either side of them were small statues depicting the four varieties of Gremlin. Pointing each of them out, Lizer named them: Vexgit, Jinkin, Nuglub and Pugwampi.
—As they moved into the grand hall they took note of the high ceiling above, which was shadowy, and positively teeming with chattering, giggling, gnashing Gremlins of every sort.
—The ceilings were supported by six pillars below, each carved with a horrible, bestial, toothy visage, all identical, with bulging eyes, a crown of spines and a lolling, long tongue. At the far end of this hall was a set of stairs leading up to a landing above.
—As the party moved into the hall, the Gremlins created a din of excitement, all sniping away happily, echoing about the room.
—However, as figure draped in dark clothing emerged from a pair of doors atop the landing, and began striding down the steps toward the party members, the Gremlins all fell silent.
—Darkness and fear seemed to trail behind the lanky man as he walked in springy strides down the steps. Everything about this strange creature made him seem tall, from his jet-black tailcoat to his ebony-coloured stovepipe hat. The only feature of his face that was visible was his set of gleaming white pointed teeth, set in a perpetual, twisted grin.
—“My my it has been a long time since we have had any visitors…” The strange man began in a lazy, yet somehow commanding drawl. “My name is Shabboreth, and I am his majesty’s royal attendant. Now, may I inquire as to your reason for bein’ here?”
—As Shabboreth reached the bottom of the steps, a wave of fear passed over the party members. “Oh, now where are my manners?”Shabboreth said, scolding himself. Immediately after saying this, the sense of fear that washed over them subsided and ebbed away. “Us bogeymen have a poor habit of frightening the unprepared. You must forgive my rudeness.”
—Foren revealed that they had come to speak with the Gremlin king, and that they were seeking a music box. At this, the Gremlin horde chattered excitedly, laughing and clacking up above. One look from Shabboreth was enough to silence them again.
—“Well, I am afraid that my master is indisposed at the moment,” Shabboreth began, in a tone of mock disappointment. “And in any case, I doubt that my master would want to speak to the likes of you.”
—The man turned and began striding towards the steps once again. The party members protested, saying that they had come a long way already, and that they would prefer the king told them that himself.
—Shabboreth turned slowly, ponderous. “Well, I suppose there is one way that the master would see you…In fact, it is the only way anyone gets in to speak with him.”
—The party listened, eager to hear more. “This keep is just FILLED with wonderful trials and challenges to prove your solemn worth as mortals. If you survive the trials of this keep, and solve the riddle on the door to the Gremlin King’s chambers, then you will be free to enter and speak with him.”
—The party members looked at one another, and smiled. They were sure they were up to such challenges. However, seeing their smiles, Shabboreth spoke again.
—“However, I must let you know that no mortal has ever made it through with their sanity intact…In fact, it is most certain that many of you will die in the process.”
—Cyrus spoke at this moment “But…Couldn’t you simply let us through, and SAY that we had completed these trials?”
—Shabboreth laughed, baring his menacing teeth. “Oh my dear boy, but then, what FUN would THAT be?”
—With that, Shabboreth vanished in a wisp of shadow, and the Gremlins above chattered and cheered, and began to disperse, the show just about to begin. The party members began getting ready to inspect the room around them. As they each split off, Cyrus decided to stop one of the Gremlins, and ask some questions.
—A Jinkin sat, leering down at the party members with a toothy grin. The candelabras decorating the walls reflected an eerie light off of the Gremlin’s red scales and pointed ears. He sat on an outcropping of crown molding, swinging his feet idly.
—Cyrus approached the Gremlin, and asked if there was some way that the Gremlin could help them through the trials of the keep.
—However, the Jinkin only grinned, and told Cyrus that helping them would be cheating, and that Ragardrail cared very little for cheaters.
—Cyrus still pressed further, asking what the Gremlin wanted, hoping to bribe the creature into assisting them. However, the Gremlin merely leered stating that its only wish was to watch them suffer through insanity and pain.
—It then got to its feet, and crawled off with the others chuckling, leaving the hall.
—Crestfallen, Cyrus moved off to rejoin the others.
—Meanwhile, the rest of the party members began inspecting the hall. Lizer began by moving toward the double doors which presumably led to the Gremlin King’s throneroom. The tall iron doors bore an inscription, and were engraved with the image of a mighty elven-looking king and a humble, beautiful human woman. The two engraved figures stood with their backs turned to one another, facing opposite directions.
—The inscription on the doors read:
Stubbornly, they’ve turned apart,
Not facing what should be.
If only they could use their hearts,
Then eye to eye they’d see…
—Lizer puzzled over this, his brow furrowed.
—Meanwhile, Corta moved off back to the entranceway to look at the Gremlin statues. She uncovered no special significance about them, only that they signified the primary denizens of the Keep.
—Foren began looking at the six pillars supporting the hall. As he did so in great detail, he discovered that each of the strange faces that were carved into these pillars had a gaping open mouth full of teeth. If he wanted to, Foren surmised that he would likely be able to put a hand inside.
—Owtikk took flight as a pterodactyl once again, and circled the high ceiling. In doing so, she spotted an inscription on the floor which read:
So many secrets can we hold,
And trap them deep within our souls.
But loud and clear one of us shouts,
So reach in deep, and yank it out.
—Owtikk relayed this information to the others below, and took one final circle around the room before landing once again.
—Back up at the double doors, Lizer decided to move on as he pondered the riddle. He took note using his Elven senses of a secret door down the left side of the landing. If his senses hadn’t alerted him to this, he would surely have had trouble finding it otherwise. However, he was unable to open the door by any means he could think of.
—Back in the center of the hall, the others pondered the riddle Owtikk had read on the floor. As Foren continued to inspect the faces carved on the pillars, he took particular notice of the one on the far right corner of the hall.
—This pillar was mostly identical, except that one of its eyes were closed in a sort of wink. Foren mentioned this information to the others, and they pondered the words on the floor some more.
—Corta offered that he should try putting his hand inside, following the directions of the riddle.
—Foren was apprehensive, and decided to try shining light inside the mouth of the pillar first. In doing so, he spotted a pair of stone buttons deep inside of the pillar’s mouth – much deeper back than the physical space allowed.
—Afer much deliberation about which button to press, Foren decided to push the right button – the same side as the closed eye on the statue.
—However, Foren decided to use a Mage Hand spell instead of putting his own arm inside to do it.
—As soon as the button was pressed, a resounding click could be heard, and a secret door opened on the right hand wall.
—Owtikk and Corta decided they wanted to see what was through this door, and so ran into the next room together.
—Foren elected to stay behind to try and solve the mystery of the double doors, as Lizer continued inspecing the secret door next to it.
—Cyrus made his way up to the landing as well, and went down the right side. There was a door on this side of the landing, which seemed unlocked. He told the others that he was going inside, and ventured forward into another, smaller hallway.
—This hallway seemed to extend into a dark room down at the far end of the chamber. To Cyrus’s immediate right was a small alcove containing an altar.
—Upon the altar were two half-burned yellowish candles sitting on either side of an engraved ceramic urn. The urn bore the image of a large fly on each side, surrounded by smaller swarms of flies. Without touching the urn, Cyrus was able to read an inscription upon it:
A legion churns with hungry mouths,
Who crawl on bellies white.
A humming drone when fully grown,
This army takes a bite.
—Cyrus relayed this info to the others, and Lizer thought for a moment about whether or not he knew of any deities devoted to flies. He could not recall any at all, and surmised that the altar was probably for some other use than diefic worship.
—Cyrus decided to leave the altar alone, and moved to the other end of the hall, where it opened into the next room.
—Meanwhile, Lizer attempted to get Foren to use his magic to open the secret door. Unfortunately, it seemed that it would not open except under specific circumstances.
—Lizer took one final look at it while Foren began work on the double doors. Foren removed two patches from his Robe of Useful Items – two full-length mirrors. He placed the two facing the doors at an angle, hoping to reflect the images of each door upon each other in such a way that they would appear to be facing one another.
—Ingenious though this solution was, it appeared that this was not the answer to the riddle that the door posed. Foren let the two mirrors fall and break, and then joined Cyrus in the hallway.
—After a few more moments of inspecting the hidden door, Lizer did the same.
—Corta and Owtikk moved through the secret door into the room beyond. This room’s main feature was a fountain set into the left wall, bearing the same gruesome visage that was carved into the pillars. However, this face had a torrent of clear water pouring from its mouth.
—On the the far wall was a door, seemingly unlocked. On the wall to the right, directly across from the fountain was another door, though this one was most definitely locked tight.
—Corta and Owtikk approached the fountain closer, and as they did, the statue’s eyes began to glow a striking blue. When they got within five feet, the fountain spoke in a snarling voice:
A babbling brook of nonsense,
Contained within your mind.
To gain a fairer fortune,
Means leaving some behind.
—They told the others this fresh riddle over their communicators, and Cyrus told them to drop a coin into the fountain – leaving fortune behind.
—Owtikk took out a gold coin, and dropped it in. In an instant, the locked door opened, revealing a long chamber inside.
—Corta and Owtikk split up, Corta checking the open door at the end of the room, and Owtikk going into the newly opened chamber.
—Back in the hallway past the landing, Foren and Cyrus stood on the threshold of the next room, while Lizer came inside, and began inspecting the altar.
—Lizer definitely concluded that the altar was not to any deity he had ever heard of. However, he also noticed that the two candles were each made from human fat.
—Though this was disgusting, Lizer decided to see what would happen if he lit the candles. He did so, and a wave of brief euphoria passed over him after he did so. When they were lit, the urn seemed to sink slightly into the altar, Lizer noticing then that it had been propped up by a bit of stone beneath it.
—Lizer decided to extinguish the candles, and in doing so, the euphoria left him, but the urn raised up again on the mechanism.
—Lizer was curious about this indeed, but joined the others at the mouth of the next room.
—The room that the three of them looked upon was dominated by a large grandfather clock on the far end, with its hands pointed at roughly three o’clock.
—The room was lit with a blue light emanating from four braizers set below the walls on either side of the chamber. Above these braizers were four Gremlin statues, one for each burning flame, each holding an urn.
—In front of the grandfather clock was an open chest with a rod-like object inside. It was too far to make out from the door, so the party members stepped inside.
—At once, the Gremlin statues sprang to life, dumping their urns of water onto the blue fire braizers below. The fires were extinguished in a flash, and the chest closed and locked tight.
—The party members were aghast, and Foren tried to light one of the braizers. It lit, except with a normal orange flame. The chest remained motionless, still locked.
—Owtikk stepped into a room with eight pillars, each with a large bell set into it near the base. Atop each of these pillars were different carvings of the same royal Elven male. Each of these statues showed a different stage of this royal figure’s life, from birth all the way to death. The different stages were arranged in a nonlinear fashion.
—At the end of the chamber was a locked chest, with a small beam of light shining upon it from above.
—Corta’s door led her outside onto the balcony once again. The door seemed to open out onto a portion of the balcony that sat at a corner, with a pathway leading around to the front of the keep. In the middle of the balcony was a large marble statue of a beautiful human woman, carved as though deep in song. On the wall to the left was a closed and locked door.
—Corta approached this statue, and read an inscription at its base:
A silent song is sung,
But only for her ears.
To enter, play her music
She hasn’t heard in years.
—The party members all puzzled over the riddles and trials which stood before them. They had thus far seen no sign of the creeping madness that was said to lurk within the walls of the keep, but they knew that they still had far to go before reaching their quest’s end…

Trouble In Tillgrove

—Owtikk awoke on the hard stone floor of the dungeons below Thornholm manor. The first person she saw was Zephar, who nodded his head toward Cyrus. Cyrus lay in his holding cell, back in his human form, naked, facing the wall.
—Fixing her with a stern look, Zephar told Owtikk that he had seen monsters with the affliction Cyrus had lurking within him, and said that Cyrus was a dangerous threat to people should he get loose in his lycanthropic form.
—Owtikk protested that though Cyrus had transformed, she and the other party members were more than capable to handle him once he had done so. While Zephar agreed that this was true, he still seemed to mistrust the ranger.
—Owtikk asked timidly if there was something that could be done to cover Cyrus’s naked form, and Zephar called a guard to his side.
—Cyrus awoke as one of Zephar’s guards unlocked his cell, and placed a cloak over him. Cyrus was more than a little ashamed of what had transpired the previous evening, and bashfully explained to Owtikk that his ailment was a curse.
—Owtikk told Zephar that they could take care of him, and make sure that no harm would come to others should Cyrus be released into the care of the party. After some careful discussion and consideration, Zephar agreed to this, and allowed Cyrus to go free.
—Cyrus was given back his armor, and he dressed before joining Owtikk as she walked toward the stairs.
—Cyrus and Zephar exchanged cold looks before Cyrus left the dungeons.
—The party convened in the dining hall for breakfast with the Duke and Duchess, and their two children.
—Conversation was friendly and light for the most part, and the meal was wonderfully prepared.
—As they completed their meals, Olivia asked them where they were traveling. Corta told her that they were on their way to Thorek to investigate matters there. She also took this opportunity to tell Olivia that the Retriever had been summoned by cultists – cultists who bore Wargoth’s sigil.
—Nathanial and Olivia exchanged dark looks at this, having had personal dealings with Wargoth before. They took the news very seriously, and after some discussion with the group, decided to send a letter to the King of Weldor to warn that such evil cultists were at large.
—The party deemed this an adequate response, and urged the Duke and Duchess to remain vigilant for any more insurgents.
—Just then, a butler appeared with a perplexed expression, mentioning that there were two visitors who wished to speak to “The Heroes of Algordale”.
—Olivia and Nathanial looked to the others, and asked if they were expecting anyone, to which the party members all shook their heads.
—The butler was about to return to the door to gather more information from these guests, but turned to see the two visitors standing there, smiling up at him.
—The butler turned slowly around, and haltingly introduced a pair of Halflings to them all. The Halflings were named Tumble and Topple Dawnburr, and appeared to be identical twins. They were red and white clothing with kerchiefs, and smiled happily up at everyone in the hall.
—Olivia and Nathanial exchanged exasperated looks, but allowed the Halflings to approach the table and state their business.
—The twins were only too happy to oblige, and strode forward, one taking an apple from the table, and the other explaining why they had come.
—Tumble revealed that the two of them were from the Halfling village of Tillgrove, a farming community to the southwest of Golaria, right near Thorek’s borders. They were both farmers, and told them all that Tillgrove relied heavily in the winter months on the crops that the villagers would be harvesting in the fall.
—However, the root vegetable crops that they would be eating during the winter months had been mysteriously vanishing from their fields for the past several weeks, causing great distress for the village inhabitants. The potato, turnip and radish crops were not yet ready for harvest, but the unripe tubers were being stolen from the fields all the same.
—What was worse, no one in town could discover the culprits, despite many attempts. In the end, Tumble explained that he and his brother had left the village to try and seek help from adventurers – and when they arrived at Algordale and saw what the Heroes of Algordale were able to do, that solving the mystery of missing vegetables would surely be child’s play in comparison.
—Tumble finished, and helped himself to an apple as well, just as Topple had finished his.
—The party thought about all this, perplexed at the conundrum before them. Tumble was quite right of course – such a simple issue seemed nearly meaningless to such accomplished adventurers.
—However, after some discussion, the party members decided that since they were on their way through Tillgrove as they moved toward Thorek anyway, they might as well lend a hand as they passed through.
–The Halflings were overjoyed when the party agreed to help, and they set out shortly thereafter, piling into the carriage, and heading off down the road.
—On the journey, the Halflings sat politely together in the back of the carriage, smiling at the party members, and looking out the windows as they went.
—Corta, Foren and Owtikk took it in turns to find out more about Tumble and Topple’s predicament. They quickly determined that the twins were very inquisitive and brightly astute to the point of nearly uncovering important secrets. Whenever either of the Halflings got close to such information, Owtikk and Corta would point out the window as a distraction, fully derailing their line of questioning, and effectively so.
—Outside the carriage, Lizer and Cyrus rode on their mounts. Lizer questioned Cyrus about his transformation the night before, and Cyrus explained a little more about the curse, and how it had come about.
—Cyrus revealed to Lizer (who vigorously scribbled away in a journal as he spoke) that this curse had befallen the entire Montessori family after the Aligheris had attacked their home city of Fallforge. Since the wolverine was the sigil of house Montessori, the Aligheris transformed them into werewolverines as a bit of irony.
—Lizer knew that under most circumstances, lycanthropy could be cured with the proper applied alchemy. However, when bestowed as a curse, curing such an ailment was far more difficult, particularly when such a curse is applied to an entire family.
—They party journeyed onward toward the southwest of Golaria. They passed a stone-walled monastery by the river, noting that it was a structure dedicated to the deity Herde, and the Ramhorn Monks.
—The Halflings mentioned that they had been there once or twice, but that they were never well-received. The monks seemed to always think they were stealing bread. Cyrus keenly asked if the two of them were usually visiting the monastery in order to steal bread, and Tumble and Topple replied in the affirmative. Cyrus and Lizer rolled their eyes, and continued forward.
—Foren took particular interest when viewing the monastery, but did not express any desire to venture into such a place.
—As the group got nearer to Tillgrove, they noted that the grass began to grow greener, and more trees and shrubs sprang up on either side of the pathway. As they went, the Halflings delightedly pointed out landmarks, evidently excited to be near home once again.
—The carriage followed the path, and seamlessly entered the village of Tillgrove as the tall oaks grew thicker overhead. On either side of the path were modest, green hillsides with small houses set into them. Here and there, cottages sat atop these hills, sitting next to long lawns and rolling fields. Nearly every dwelling had a crop growing nearby, demonstrating that these folk were primarily farmers.
—As the carriage trundled further down the dirt path into the village, the party took note of a gathering of Halflings out front of what appeared to be the town hall.
—Standing on the slope leading up to the doors of this hall was a Halfling woman, who appeared to be attempting to quell the ire of the townsfolk gathered around.
—The party left the carriage, and strode closer. Tumble and Topple rushed forward to press their way through the crowd.
—The townsfolk appeared to be casting blame upon each other for the disappearing vegetables, claiming that the fault was clearly due to rival families in the village attempting to compete with one another.
—The Halfling woman, who appeared to be the mayor, shouted over the rabble as they squabbled and placed blame on one another, telling them in an exasperated tone that blaming each other was preposterous.
—When the crowd began to cast aspersions upon the mayor herself, she grew angry, attempting to explain that she could only do so much to assist the town while they bickered amongst themselves, and used this problem as a crutch for their age-old rivalries.
—Just then, Tumble and Topple emerged to the front of the mob, smiling up at where the mayor stood.
—The mayor seemed quite surprised to see them, and said aloud that she had not expected them to return with assistance.
—She spotted the party members over the heads of the townsfolk ask they moved forward, and Tumble and Topple exclaimed that they had brought The Heroes of Algordale with them to assist in solving the problem.
—The party members sheepishly approached, rather unsure of how to proceed. Lizer pushed forward ahead of the others, and announced himself as Lizer of Weldor. The woman said her name was Heliodora Thistledown, mayor of Tillgrove, and told him that she was happy to have help in solving their problem.
—Lizer asked her what was being done to resolve the issue, and Mayor Thistledown explained that she would take them to one of the men of the village who was furthest ahead at setting out traps for whatever was stealing the vegetables.
—She then said at large to the group of Halflings that their help had come to them, and that the problem would be solved before they knew it. She urged them to return to their homes, and the mob gradually dispersed, seemingly mollified by this turn of events.
—Mayor Thistledown wiped her brow, and approached the party, each of them introducing themselves in turn. She told them that she was at her wit’s end for how to proceed with uncovering the mystery of the stolen crops, saying that every attempt that had been made to uncover the culprits had turned up nothing.
—When Lizer asked just what was happening, the mayor continued to explain, telling them that each night it was a different crop of unripe root vegetables being grown for the winter that was taken. It seemed to everyone that the vegetables were being pulled under the ground from beneath, root, stem and leaf.
—Though many had tried to wait up and catch these thieves at work, none were able to stop this from happening, nor catch any glimpse of those at work – this is why, the mayor said, that many of the townsfolk were blaming each other, sure that it was some kind of insidious witchcraft at play.
—This seemed both to annoy and perplex both Lizer and Cyrus, who appeared to have little time for folk who could not solve their own problems, as simple as they were. Lizer began by asking them if they were quite sure that it was not simply animals that were attacking the crops.
—Mayor Thistledown explained that they had first thought that they were dealing with particularly fastidious badgers, burrowing underneath the soil and pulling down the vegetables from below. However, they laid out traps as they had done in the past for such creatures, and the results told them that they were dealing with larger, more intelligent creatures, and ones that left no trail in the soil behind them.
—They had also tried digging down to uncover burrows, but after digging several feet down encountered solid stone lying beneath almost every crop.
—At this juncture, the group reached the house of Coltan, the Halfling who had apparently been inventing traps to try to uncover the beasts responsible for the disappearances.
—Coltan emerged from his home, wearing a blue tunic and kerchief, a sombre expression on his surly face. Coltan was a fairly simple man, but seemed practical. For instance, though the yard outside his home was strewn with planks of wood and broken contraptions of all sorts, his fields were surrounded by fences topped with barbed wire.
—When bidden to do so, Coltan led the party into one of the crops that were sill active in his field, where he planned to wait to capture the creatures. An elaborate trap had been erected, almost like a cage dug halfway into the soil around one of the plants.
—Tumble and Topple (who had been following along) pointed out that this trap looked more effective than the last they had seen, seemingly impressed at the amount of screws and nails he had put in.
—The party seemed very unsure if they should trust such a device to capture anything at all, and asked how it would work.
—Coltan did his best to explain that through trial and error, he had narrowed down how he believed the creatures attacked the fields. He told them that using a spring-loaded winch, he would capture anything that would try to touch the plant that it protected.
—Cyrus and Lizer took particular bemusement at Coltan’s invention, and seemed to be keen on finding a better way of discovering the culprits.
—However, the party decided that with no other options readily in mind, they would wait until nightfall to assist Coltan should he capture anything with his contraption.
—Each party member decided to find a different spot to get some rest, tired after their journey, and hoping to sleep a little before the night. Owtikk, Corta and Foren each settled down for a nap, but Cyrus and Lizer decided after only an hour or so that they would like to find another way to discover the thieves.
—The two of them decided to see Mayor Thistledown again at the town hall, and asked her at the door if there was a well in town they could inspect. Mayor Thistledown told them there surely was, which was near the edge of town next to Annora’s place.
—Lizer and Cyrus thanked her for her directions, and told her that they intended to inspect the well in case they could find any clues deeper underground. The mayor nodded to them, but asked that they do their best to keep the water supply clean in the process.
—Before they left, Mayor Thistledown mentioned that they should see about speaking to Annora while they were down that way. She said that Annora was very eccentric, and rarely advised the townsfolk well, but that she had a better interest in travelers, and often provided sage advice to adventurers who passed through.
—Cyrus and Lizer seemed unsure about visiting someone the Halflings deemed to be “eccentric”, but decided to stop by on the way to the well just for good measure.
—They made it to the other side of town in just a few minutes, and saw a stone well sitting atop a nearby hill. They spotted Annora’s dwelling sitting facing the exit of the village, a house set against a stony cliff face sporting a sign that read “The Shop of Nine Tails”
—Cyrus and Lizer decided to investigate, and knocked on the door to the shop. In a moment or two, a beautiful Halfling woman come to the door, with pale skin, platinum hair, and blind, white eyes. She wore an ivory dress patterned with geometric shapes, and stood staring past the two of them.
—She began by greeting the two of them by name, and invited them to come inside, mentioning that they were quite early, and that she had not been expecting them until the next day. Cyrus seemed quite confused at this, but Lizer recognized her as some sort of seer, and was interested to speak with her.
—Annora had laid out five cups of tea on a nearby table, and poured one for herself. The shop looked more like a healing house, octagonal in shape, and filled with clean, white furniture, tables, and the occasional urn of white flowers.
—There were instruments on the walls for conducting surgeries, and also shelf upon shelf of mystical bottles and tinctures, likely used to heal the wounded, cursed, or sick. The entire house seemed pristine, and though she was blind, Annora seemed to move through her space with ease.
—Before entering this place, Cyrus used his communicator to rouse the others, and to tell them to come to this strange place where a seer was waiting for them to arrive. The others indeed got up, and made their way toward Annora’s house as the others moved forward.
—As Lizer and Cyrus stepped inside, they found themselves reducing in size. When they came through the threshold, they were the same height as Halflings, magically shrunk to fit better indoors. The two of them thanked Annora for the tea, and took seats at the table.
—Annora sat as well, facing them, and they began to ask questions of this strange seer. They attempted at once to discern the breadth of her powers, asking how she had known they would be arriving, and if she had seen anything of their own futures.
—However, Annora indeed proved her eccentricity by explaining that though she foresaw many outcomes to events, she was never able to discern the clearest path of action, least of all when she was asked about future events. She told the two of them that things she saw in the future rarely came to pass if she warned travelers of such events, which in turn would send ripples through time.
—Annora appeared to prefer to leave the future untold for this reason, instead offering the different sides and outcomes to those who questioned her at length.
—Cyrus nonetheless asked her about Thorek, and about what would happen should he attempt to free it. Annora merely smiled at him, and said that his future was vague, and dark. She said that if she told him anything, whatever she said would no longer apply to his future, and thus her words would mean nothing to him.
—This caused Cyrus and Lizer to both become annoyed and impatient, deciding to waste no more time with this woman who claimed to know so much, and yet told so little. Lizer attempted to discern if their trip to the well would yield any positive results, but he too received a cryptic answer from Annora.
—She told Lizer that even this future was seen from many facets. She said he would not find a thing if he decided never to look. Lizer had heard enough at this point, and stormed out in a huff, followed closely by Cyrus.
—The two of them bumped into Foren just as they were leaving, and Lizer strode up the hill toward the well. Cyrus gave Foren a brief word of warning, told him where they were heading, and walked off toward Lizer.
—Foren stepped inside the shop while Cyrus paused and saw Owtikk and Corta approaching. Cyrus stopped Owtikk on her way to Annora’s door, and asked that she assist he and Lizer in going down the well. Owtikk was only to happy to oblige, and joined them at the top of the hill.
—Meanwhile, Foren sat down with Annora, who seemed quite pleased to see him, mentioning him by name, and offering him some tea, which he gladly accepted.
—Annora told Foren straight away that he was very close to something he had been wanting for quite some time. When Foren asked exactly which thing she was referencing, Annora smiled and told him that he knew of what she spoke.
—Foren sat and pondered a moment, and then asked if she meant he was physically near, or just close in terms of timing. Annora stood a moment, and told him that it was up to him. She explained that time was often too difficult to measure in visions, and that proximity didn’t necessarily mean he was ‘close’.
—However, she told him that he was on the right track to gaining what he was seeking, though it was hard to say what the outcome of it all would be. She urged Foren to take the right path, and assist the village. She assured him that it would lead him to what he wanted.
—Foren thanked Annora for the tea, and left the house, pondering what she had told him.
—Corta was waiting outside, and passed by Foren as he left to see what was going on at the well. Corta took her turn moving inside the house, and began conversation with Annora.
—Annora, once again, knew Corta before she even arrived, and mentioned to her that Corta lacked control of her powers of divination. Annora told her that she could teach her more of how to better understand these powers, but that she had not expected any of them to come to her so early. She suggested returning “tomorrow’ in order to learn more from her.
—Corta finished her tea, and thanked her rather confusedly for her words and suggestion, and then left to rejoin the others.
—Meanwhile, Lizer, Cyrus and Owtikk stood over the well at the top of the hill. It was a standard-sized well, with a roof and a bucket, winch, and rope on a pole. Cyrus suggested that Owtikk transform into an animal to climb down, and inspect the water below.
—Owtikk promptly transformed into a purple otter, and shimmied her way down the rope to the pool of water beneath.
—The water sat in a sort of low cave, with no lights and no exit visible around the stone. Owtikk rolled over on her back, and used her communication gem to tell the others that it was too dark to see anything.
—Foren arrived at the side of the well at this moment, and cast Dancing Lights down to where Owtikk swam. Owtikk scurried in the water around the sides of the cave, and at first saw nothing. Then, she heard a splashing sound coming from one of the walls.
—She turned and was startled to see a pair of ruddy brown, three-fingered hands washing what looked like an under-ripe potato in the water of the well. The hands were extending straight out of the rock.
—Before she could so much as make a peep, the hands jutted backward into the solid stone, vanishing potato and all.
—Owtikk quickly rolled on her back again, and told the others what she had seen, and that she was going after it.
—With that, Owtikk transformed into a large-sized, violet-coloured stone creature. She dove into the solid rock after the creature, gliding through the earth like a fish swimming through water.
—She soon came into contact with the three-fingered creature, and grabbed ahold of one of its arms with lightning speed.
—At once, Owtikk shot toward the surface, and burst out of the earth and onto the path near the bottom of the hill. The others ran down in the fading afternoon light to see Owtikk’s violet, stony form holding the most bizarre creature by one of its three limbs, squirming and writhing in protest, gurgling something in a strange tongue.
—The creature was the colour of mossy brown earth, and was vaguely frog-like in appearance. However, it was oddly symmetrical, with three, three-fingered arms, three feet, and three eyes. Atop its neck-less body was a wide, groaning mouth.
—As the strange thing shouted on in its odd, gravelly language, Lizer inspected it, thinking of what do do. He knew communication would have to be reached, and so he began trying to speak to the thing in as many languages as he knew.
—Suddenly, the creature responded, just as Lizer spoke some words in Draconic. In kind of a broken speech (suggesting that this was not the beast’s first language), the thing spoke in Draconic.
—It pleaded with Lizer not to kill it, saying that it had done nothing wrong.
—Lizer countered back in Draconic, telling the creature that it and its kind had been stealing from the Halfling villagers, and that it would have to answer to its crimes.
—The only one of the party members who understood what was being said was Corta, who manifested some of her magic to Comprehend Languages.
—The creature yelled in fright, and said that it and the other Xorns had meant no harm, and that they only wished to be left alone. When Lizer said that the Xorns had been eating what little food the Halflings would need for the winter, the Xorn faltered.
—It told Lizer that they did not eat the vegetables, and that they did not each such things. It said that it was not stealing for them, but for their mistress.
—This made Lizer worried. He Xorn still dangled from Owtikk’s stony fist, as Lizer transferred to common in order to confer with the others, and discuss what he had found out.
—The all agreed that they were wary of meeting the ‘mistress’ of this strange Xorn, but that they would certainly like to have words with whoever was responsible for the blight on the village.
—Corta used her language ability to ask the creature in Terran where its mistress lived. The Xorn replied that his mistress lived deep under the village, and had been there for months.
—They decided to ask to be taken to see this mistress of the Xorn, and the Xorn seemed only too happy to oblige. It led them off into the woods a ways, telling the party that it was leading them to a more direct path down into the ground.
—Then, the Xorn dove into the ground, followed closely by the earth-elemental Owtikk, who made a burrow for the others to follow down into the earth.
—They traveled down this tunnel, over five hundred feet under ground, and then emerged into a wide, dark cavern.
—Foren cautiously cast Dancing Lights once again, and had them hover near the party members. The Xorn stood patiently, and led the party members down a sort of hall of rough stone.
—There were more Xorns here, many of them sorting unripe root vegetables, others seemingly gorging on precious gemstones. All stared as the party members passed by.
—As the party members kept moving forward, they heard a low rumble from the end of the chamber. The stiffened, and readied themselves for a fight.
—Then, the Xorn led them into a wide cavern. At once, the party members were amazed at the sight before them. Hundreds of ancient gold and silver artifacts, antiques, baubles, coins and gemstones sat in an orderly fashion, lining the walls of the massive space. Everything seemed to have its place, and was all laid out in a manner pleasing to the eye. The wealth of the assembled objects was hard to fathom at a single glance, but the treasure there was substantial to say the least.
—However, the treasures were not the most impressive thing contained within the chamber. Laying elegantly on several sets of ornate antique rugs was a crystal dragon the size of an elephant, with glass wings which expanded to fill the room.
—The dragon exhaled with a bored sort of noise, and demanded to know why they had come. After saying this, she cast a disparaging eye at her Xorn minion, which backed off frightened down the corridor.
—Lizer strode forward, and in his best Draconic extended a pious greeting, and pledge of service, as was standard courtesy when approaching a dragon. The greeting put the crystal dragon slight at ease, and she asked again what they wanted with her.
—Lizer began to explain the situation in the town above, telling the dragon that she was harming the residents of the village. The dragon seemed not to care about this, but rather found the information slightly amusing. She had not known where the Xorns had acquired the vegetables they had been bringing as tribute for her, and did not seem to intend to tell them to stop.
—Lizer further explained that the village would soon run out of the vegetables that she was having stolen, and that if she continued to take from the Halflings, the village would surely fail, leaving her with nothing in any case.
—The dragon pondered this, and agreed that this was a mild inconvenience. She told Lizer that she enjoyed the morsels being brought to her, and would prefer that they did not run out.
—However, the dragon went on to say that the vegetables that the Xorns were bringing her were only a treat. She had no real need to continue feasting upon such things, and merely came upon the vegetables by chance. She told Lizer that should she deplete the foodstuffs of the village she now knew to be above, she would have a treat of another kind – and devour the village of Halflings instead.
—She said their sweet meat would be a fine change from the vegetables in any case.
—Lizer thought quickly, and formulated an alternate proposal to the dragon. He drew himself up, and in a clear, authoritative voice suggested that instead of wiping out the village that she attempt to strike a mutually-beneficial relationship with the village.
—At first the dragon balked at this, but Lizer went on. He suggested that the dragon leave the villagers their last few vegetables in their crops, and give them the chance to replenish their goods the next year. If the Halflings lived, they could renew their crops, and bring her a portion of these vegetables yearly.
—Lizer mentioned that the dragon herself had said that she would have to find food elsewhere anyway, so why not create a reliable source of this delicious treat on a yearly basis?
—The dragon seemed to ponder this awhile, mulling it over. As she did so, Cyrus clutched at his spear, twisting it in his hands, prepared to strike should he be given the signal.
—Meanwhile, Foren began inspecting the room, looking at the treasures around them all. At once, Foren spotted something rather out of place. A very fine golden chest sat open on a plinth, and inside was a violet velvet pillow with gilded trim. Nothing sat upon the pillow, but the display seemed to signify some sort of importance to Foren – almost like whatever was supposed to be there was missing.
—The dragon exhaled, and readdressed Lizer, who stood hoping his words had made an impact. However, the dragon’s following words were far less encouraging than he had hoped.
—The dragon said that perhaps Lizer had a point. For she had come to this particular place not simply to steal vegetables, but because the location held other significance for her. In not wanting to move on, she told Lizer that perhaps it would be time to arise from the earth, and demand tribute from these lowly farming creatures. That forcing these people into servitude could indeed yield results for her and her decadent lifestyle.
—Lizer began to protest, about to tell her that this was not precisely what he had in mind, when Foren spoke up, bowing to the dragon and asking her what had once sat upon the chest in the corner.
—The dragon’s head whipped to this item of her collection, and then turned slowly back to face Foren. The dragon commended Foren for his keen eyes, and said that it had once held her dearest possession, which had been stolen from her many years ago.
—When Foren inquired as to what this item had been, the dragon admitted rather shamefully that it had been a music box.
—Owtikk asked what had taken the box, and Corta piped up asking if it had been Gremlins. The dragon shifted slightly, and said she did not know what the things that had taken her treasure were called, but that they were small, and crawled cackling down through holes in the rock near this very spot, when she had settled in this area long ago.
—The dragon said that she had sent her Xorns searching for it many times, but that they had never been able to find it. She said that the surface world was difficult for her to traverse, and that finding such a small item was challenging for such a large creature.
—She went on to say that the music box had been the only thing that had been able to grant her sound sleep at night. Now that it was gone, she said that she would give anything to get it back. She said she would trade anything in that chamber to hold it once again.
—At this, Foren’s ears perked up. Foren suggested to the creature that they try to find it for her, and bring it back. He said that should they do this, he would ask that she promise to leave the Halfling village alone.
—The dragon pondered this, staring into Foren’s eyes. Lizer shook his head, and asked aloud how he thought that they could trust the dragon with the lives of the village above. He did not believe that the dragon’s promises would be kept.
—However, Foren turned to Lizer, and told him that the choice before them was simple, and that granting the wish of this creature would foster enough trust between them for an agreement to be reached. He told Lizer that he felt the honor of dragons was sound enough to put stock into what she said, and that he awaited the answer of such a pristine creature.
—The dragon finished mulling this offer over, and concluded that she saw no trace of lies in Foren. She agreed to allow them the chance to find it, however, she also told them that she was impatient. If she was to hold off on stealing any more vegetables from the Halflings while the party searched for this item, she said she would certainly be in a foul temper if the party returned with nothing – or did not return at all.
—Hence, the dragon thought for a moment, and told them that she could possibly wait three days for them to come back with her treasure. However, she said that if they did not return with what she sought after the three days had expired that she would take her wrath out upon the town above, and simply seek any future fortune elsewhere.
—The dragon said that all joy was gone without her music box, and that her soul was devoid of happiness without it anyway. She cared nothing for the village, nothing even for the morsels that the Xorns brought her – they only served to fill the gaping void left behind by that which she loved and missed so dearly.
—The party agreed grudgingly to the terms of the dragon, and turned to leave. Lizer, Foren and the others bowed, and made their way out of the dragon’s chambers.
—While Foren believed that they would soon achieve this goal, Lizer began to worry that this dragon was not trustworthy, and feared what should happen if they should come back – with or without the music box.

The Journey Westward

—Before heading to bed, after the meeting had ended, Corta was one of the last to leave the hall (except for Lizer and Cyrus, who were still drinking heavily).
—She had not had much to drink, and was startled when Hakka turned from the front doors as she was leaving the dining hall, telling her that someone was there to see her.
—She asked Hakka who it was, and he told her that it was a man named Lyle. She said she would go to the door, and Hakka warned her not to be too shocked by his appearance.
—She quickly dashed over to the door, and opened it, revealing Lyle the Bartender, heavily bruised and bloodied, his hands in his pockets looking sheepish.
—Corta asked what had happened, and Lyle told her that Azaim had come down on him hard after Lizer had spoken to the crime lord. Lyle said he realized that things needed to change, and so that very evening, he had just attempted to take Azaim down himself.
—He gestured to himself and told her that it had plainly not gone so well. Azaim had beaten him, and he ran from his tavern.
—Corta moved forward, and kindly laid a hand on Lyle’s arm. She used her magic to heal him, curing him of his wounds. Lyle thanked her breathlessly, and Corta asked him why he had come.
—Lyle said that he had thought about what Lizer had said, and that he wanted to come clean with the guards. He said that after visiting her, Lyle was about to go and turn himself in, giving information about Azaim, no matter the consequences.
—He told Corta that he was thankful for the kindness they had shown him, particularly her, who had stuck with him on his side even despite the awful deeds he had helped commit. As a thank you, Lyle presented Corta with a diamond-shaped ruby set into a thick gold chain.
—He explained that he managed to wrench it from Azaim’s neck, and that it must be worth some gold, at the very least.
—Corta thanked him heartily, and told Lyle she was glad that he had decided to come to his senses. She wished him luck, and hoped the guards would be merciful. Lyle smiled, and told her that he needed to face whatever fate he had wrought on himself. With that, he said goodbye, and walked off down the street.
—Corta inspected the gem, but found no magical properties of it. So, she tucked it away in her pack, and went upstairs to sleep.
—The next morning, the party members each awoke, and began preparing for the day. They planned to leave sometime in the afternoon, leaving themselves plenty of time to get ready for the long trip into Thorek.
—They planned their route, and decided to travel through the southern end of Thorek, stopping in Fallforge before heading northward to Cobble’s End.
—Lizer awoke in the dining hall, very hungover, searching for some hair of the dog. Hakka eventually apporached him as Cyrus spat out a swig of Dwarven spirits he acquired in the kitchens.
—Hakka offered to go to the market to buy and sell supplies for them to use on their trip, and Cyrus agreed that this was a good idea. Together they assembled a list, and Cyrus said he would go and speak to Corta about getting him goods to sell as payment, and to acquire gold for the trip.
—Meanwhile, Lizer awoke, and looked through his books. He packed all he could about the Orbs and Towers of Telledor, and decided he would need to get some information regarding events in the last year in Thorek.
—Lizer went downstairs, and went to saddle up Erasme, finding Owtikk brushing Ghost, getting ready for the journey herself. They greeted one another, and Owtikk asked Lizer if he knew a way to restore the burned journal that she had found in Luntikk’s fireplace.
—Lizer told her that this could be done with the help of the Loremasters, and he offered to take her there, as he was headed to see them himself. They rode off further into the Knowledge District, and eventually came to an old, distinguished-looking stone building.
—An elderly gentleman dressed in scholar’s robes and spectacles and a white beard came to the door, and led them inside. They saw several small tables with Loremasters hard at work writing documents, and doing research. The scratching of quills was all that could be heard in the near-silence.
—Lizer asked about information regarding Thorek, and the butler rushed off and fetched a familiar face – Sir Warrick Jauneplume.
—Lizer and Warrick embraced as old friends, and Warrick happily greeted Owtikk. She presented the burned book tentatively, and Warrick quickly healed the book for her, restoring it to its original state. Owtikk began reading at once:
—Entry One

After all these years, STILL I am no closer to finding the answers I seek. It is discouraging that no matter how hard I try, the Realm of the Fey continues to remain just out of reach. I must admit that I am growing impatient as of late. If I do not find the answers that I so sorely deserve after all of my hard work, I am afraid that I may have to try something a little more drastic…

—Entry Two

Lyle came to visit me today. The poor fellow seems to have gotten himself into more trouble, somehow. He begged me to help him complete a transcription and perjury job to help him save his business. I tried to refuse, but Lyle has been a friend for many years, and has helped me through tough times. In the end I agreed to help him, though I do not feel right doing it. But perhaps he will learn from his mistakes after this, and live as the good man that I know he is inside. I do hope that this does not take me long. I still have much more work to do…

—Entry Three

These blasted ledgers! I have set them aside for the time-being as I can scarcely bear to write another word on the tedious subject. Lyle is lucky to have me as a friend, else I would never think of completing such a menial task! I now am feeling flustered, and behind on my work. This, combined with my frustration that has been brewing since the start of the week has made me even more impatient for concrete answers on my research.

Moments ago, I took a break, and found a passage in a book about the Planes (The Realm of The Fey excluded, of course). Perhaps I could try to get answers from a more corporeal source than books and guesswork… I will try the summoning spell tonight (luckily I bought cold iron powder this week!) If anything, this should take my mind off things. I DO hope that I take the proper precautions…if I miss something in the writings, this could go poorly for me…and for many others…
—Meanwhile, as Owtikk read, Warrick and Lizer strode scholarly down the rows of desks, their hands clasped neatly behind their backs. Lizer asked Warrick if he could give him any books on recent events in Thorek, and Warrick happily obliged.
—He gave Lizer his notebook, which he duplicated smoothly. He told Lizer that the information contained therein, while in an unfinished format, would be the most up-to-date.
—Lizer thanked him heartily, and after asking a few more questions about the towers and Orbs of the Harbinger Gate (of which Warrick had no knowledge), Lizer fetched Owtikk, and the two left to return to the Manor.
—Back at Edenvale, Corta awoke and decided to check her crystal ball to see how Lyle had fared the night before. She concentrated, looked into the ball, and saw him sitting in a jail cell, speaking to one of the guards.
—She came in mid-conversation, but heard the guard telling Lyle that they believed his story, and were willing to give him a second chance, as this was his first offense. The guard said that his mind had been searched by mages, and he had been interrogated by investigators, and that he was found to be not guilty of anything but being a fool.
—He told Lyle that they had tried to capture Azaim, but that he had escaped before they arrived. The guard told him that he would set Lyle free if he agreed to stay within the laws of the realm. Lyle happily acquiesced, and the guard began unlocking his cell.
—Corta smiled as the image faded, and she thought for a moment. She then withdrew Azaim’s necklace from her bag of holding, and focused upon it, remembering what Magatha said about using an item to scry upon people you’ve never met.
—Soon, an image of a Halfling with flaming red hair appeared in the crystal ball, hidding under a blanket in the back of a wagon. The wagon trundled under a bright blue sky, heading in a northwesterly direction. The image then faded, and she pondered awhile before heading downstairs.
—Cyrus and Corta met as they passed into the entrance hall. Cyrus explained that Hakka would be aquiring supplies, and selling things that they did not need to unburden them, and Corta happily shoved a number of gems into his hands, along with a scroll, and a few potions.
—Hakka took these from Cyrus a moment later, and left for the market.
—Foren had been awake for some time, and packed his things for the journey. He sat thinking a long time, and then went over to Henry’s room, knocking.
—He and Henry went upstairs to the sitting room for a chat. Foren sat Henry down, and told him that he was concerned for Herny’s safety, and that his level of magical aptitude was not high enough to keep him protected if a war broke out.
—Henry agreed sadly, and Foren was quick to tell him how impressed he was by his progression so far. He explained that this was the reason he was enrolling Henry in the magical college of Lorehome.
—Henry’s eyes lit up, and was overjoyed by this notion. He suddenly flung his arms around Foren in an embrace, before letting go quickly, embarrassed.
—Foren said they would go that afternoon, after he had gotten the right amount of gold together. Henry thanked him, and told him that he would not let Foren down.
—The day progressed, and everyone prepared their things in the cart for the journey. Foren had dropped Henry off at the college, and they said their goodbyes. Hakka had returned with the money, and supplies, and they began loading them into the carriage.
—As they all stood around, getting their things together, Hakka paused and mentioned that someone was approaching in a carriage.
—They all looked, and spotted a handsome, extended carriage in black and gold being pulled by two phantom clydesdales. The carriage stopped, and a young driver in a top hat and tails jumped from his perch, and opened the carriage door.
—Out stepped Luntikk, looking to be in great spirits. Owikk noticed that he was wearing his necklace, and she beamed.
—Luntikk greeted them merrily, and announced that he wanted to thank them properly for saving his life. With that, he gestured toward the carriage, and the group stood, mouths agape.
—Lizer rushed forward, and shook Luntikk’s hand for his generosity. Luntikk laughed and told him that if he liked the carriage NOW, then he should see its other feature. He bustled to the back of the carriage, flung open the doors, and pressed a small button. The carriage shrank itself down to miniature size, and could be place in a pocket.
—Luntikk told them that this could only be done when nothing was being stored in the carriage, and when no one was riding in it.
—He then restored it to normal size, and reached into a pocket. He withdrew a notebook that Lizer recognized, and haded it to him. Luntikk explained that he had made a copy of his guide to deciphering runespeech. He said that it was very difficult decode, even with the guide, but that a scholar like Lizer would be able to handle it.
—Lizer thanked Luntikk heartily, and Luntikk moved over to Foren, handing him an ornate compass. The compass’s needle didn’t point north, and was gold on one end, and a cold-grey on the other.
—Luntikk explained that this was an artifact of the Fey that he figured would be more useful in the hands of an adventurer. He told Foren that he did not know how it worked, but that it would surely serve some purpose to someone searching for information on the Fey.
—Foren took it, and promised to keep it safe, and to check it often. Luntikk then moved over to Owtikk, smiling deeply at his sister.
—He then produced a collar from his pocket, and extended his arms, saying that this gift was for Ghost.
—Owtikk hesitated, unsure that Ghost would like it. Luntikk winked and told her to trust him, and so she affixed the collar to his neck.
—As soon as the clasp was fastened, Ghost changed immediately in size from his large, dire wolf form to the form of a small, white wolf puppy.
—Owtikk exclaimed with glee, and Ghost began bounding around her legs, barking and yipping playfully, his puppy tongue lolling out of his mouth.
—Owtikk thanked Luntikk for the gift, and gave him a hug. Luntikk returned the embrace happily, and bade her a fond goodbye. Luntikk looked to the others, and wished them all luck on their quest.
—The rest of the party waved to Luntikk as he strode down the street with the driver, and out of sight.
—Hakka began loading the new carriage with the provisions, and Cyrus strode off toward the stables to fetch Scarto. As he saddled his pony, and began leading him from the stables, he caught a glimpse of Korrice, his back turned, facing the inside of the shed.
—Cyrus said nothing, and kept walking. However, he heard Korrice clear his throat, and he turned. Korrice faced Cyrus. He was wearing boots and traveling gear, and was fastening clasps on a pair of hardy gloves. He had a bow strapped to his back, and a warhammer at his side.
—“You weren’t leaving without me, were you?” Korrice said in his low voice.
—Cyrus looked him up and down. “We ARE leaving. That much is certain.” Korrice strode toward Cyrus, and looked at him seriously.
—“I thought about what you said. You are right. The time has come for redemption. I will follow you, Cyrus. To a better future for our country.”
—Cyrus nodded to Korrice sternly. “Welcome aboard.” The two of them strode off toward the carriage.
—Lizer crossed paths with them on his way to pick up Erasme. Korrice looked at his master and said “I am taking a leave of absence, sir. I hope that is alright.”
—Lizer told Korrice that this was quite acceptable, and that he didn’t expect that the manor would have much need for a stablehand without any mounts to tend anyway.
—They all got themselves ready, and then returned to the carriage. As they were loading themselves inside, and saying their goodbyes, a messenger ran up to the group.
—Cyrus recognized this boy as the messenger who had presented him with his summons the day before. However the boy still looked to each of them and said “…Cyrus? I’m looking for a…Don Cyrus Montessori?”
—Cyrus’s expression turned to a glare. “Really?” He said, fuming. “You don’t remember me?” The boy shook his head, and Cyrus angrily grabbed the letter the boy held out, annoyed. Cyrus began reading the message, addressed from the King:
—Esteemed Don Cyrus Montessori

I trust this message finds you in good health. In accordance with the discussion shared between us yesterday, I feel the need to further express my support for the endeavour you have been so bold to undertake. This gift best befits a leader who wishes to guide his closest few through the giving and taking of thoughts, plans, and strategies. Whether on the battlefield, or off it, it is my sincerest hope that you will make keen use of this gift.

May knowledge guide you, and courage bind you.


Augustus Lumière Gendarme, King of Weldor
—The boy also produced a small, ornate chest. Lizer took it and opened it up. Inside were five identical pieces of nondescript jewelry, each with a gem set in gold.
—Lizer picked one up, and it turned into a fastening for his cloak. He affixed it there, and then read a small card, explaining the function of these items.
—The card revealed that the jewelry pieces were communication devices that could be used to contact others with the same device. One could activate the device by touching it, and speaking into it once the others received the transmission. Others being contacted could ‘answer’ their communicators by picking them up once they began to flash.
—Cyrus showed the others the jewelry pieces, and each party member took one. Each of the pieces of jewelry took a different shape, and the party members put them on.
—Cyrus returned the chest to the messenger, pressed a silver piece into his hand, and sent him off.
—The group then waved their goodbyes to the staff members of Edenvale Manor, and rode off with the carriage driven by Korrice. They left Lorehome, and went out into the wide, green expanse of Weldor.
—The carriage rolled over the hills, past the freestanding oak trees, and far out of the realm of Lorehome. As they went, they passed travelers and farmers of varying description, nodding as they passed by on their own journeys. They spent two days traveling under bright blue summer skies before they reached The Lazy Griffin once again.
—The exterior had been fixed up perfectly, save for the broken Griffin statues, which seemed to have been glued hastily back together, and rather poorly.
—The group went inside, and spent a merry evening among plenty of guests seated at the long tables. The bartender was still as owlish as ever, and seemed a little grumpier due to his burned-away beard.
—The group laughed, ate and drank. Cyrus and Korrice began a silent drinking competition, Korrice going at one point from stern and silent to belting out old Thorekian battle tunes in a ragged voice.
—As the night wore on, Corta sat in silence a moment. Through the crowd, she spotted a strange figure seated in the corner. The figure was dressed all in sickly-green robes, and wore a feral-dog mask over his face, carved from wood, and painted a metallic green.
—As she looked upon this figure, another person passed by her vision, and the figure disappeared.
—Corta shook her head, and looked about the tavern, but could see no sign of the figure. She kept the notion to herself, and they all went to bed, sleeping soundly in comfortable beds.
—The morning came, and the party rode onwards out into the country of Golaria. Flatlands of golden wheat filled their eyeline as they rode forth, the land covered in tall, crisp grass. Locusts and butterflies clicked and fluttered around them, and birds soared happily overhead through the lush country.
—Two days passed, and they spotted the city of Algordale on the horizon. As they rode closer into the farmlands that sat outside of the city walls, they were greeted by those they passed, merrily.
—Many travelers and farmers were riding along the rode toward the city, and all were dressed in their finest, brightest clothes. On every house, every barn, every structure were banners displaying the purple-falcon sigil of Golaria. Streamers were set up spanning across the road. Everything seemed to be decorated, and made to look the best.
—Corta and Lizer pondered upon this for a moment, and Corta exclaimed that the Summer Harvest Festival must today. Lizer nodded, and went into detail about the history of the festival, and what items were harvested and presented.
—The party moved in through the city gates, and were wished a “Happy Festival” as they did so. The city looked much different without the black cloud hanging above it, and the streets were decorated with banners, streamers, hanging lanterns, and all manner of embellishments that showed them all the festival had arrived.
—The party moved through the streets toward Thornholm Manor, and noted all the people, rich and poor talking and laughing with one another, and treating each other as equals. Everywhere farmers were offering samples of their wares, from apples, to peppers, to cider brewed by the Dwarves of Brookden Abbey.
—Soon, the carriage rounded a corner, and the group spotted a familiar face. Duchess Olivia was giving directions to a group of people setting up decorations in the city square. She was gesticulating wildly with her hands, making her golden locks spring, and her fluffy pink dress pouff.
—Not far off, Nathan was helping some workers erect some towers, evidently being used for the festivities later in the evening.
—Corta caught sight of her childhood friend, leaped from the carriage and flung herself into Olivia’s arms. Olivia let out a shriek of delight, and exclaimed at how pleased she was to see everyone.
—Olivia asked Corta many questions, and they introduced Lizer and Cyrus whom Olivia had not yet met. Nathanial strode over and extended greetings to them as well, mopping his brow.
—As Olivia and Corta talked, Lizer asked to speak with Nathanial in private. The two of them strode over to where the towers were being constructed from wooden planks, where the hammering drowned out their conversation.
—Lizer asked Nathanial if he had heard anything about Thorek. Nathanial’s face turned grim. He told Lizer that they had received only a little word, but that the Dwarves had taken over, and that they had several refugees travel through.
—Lizer asked if there was anything they should know if they were to travel through Thorekian lands, and Nathanial thought a moment. He told Lizer that the entire region could be dangerous if the Dwarves had seized the capital, but warned specifically about the road from Tsarmina to Cobble’s End.
—When Lizer inquired as to why, Nathanial told him that a swamp had evidently sprung up overnight, blanketing that section of road. He said it was not a natural swamp, and that stories told of treachery dwelling there.
—Lizer thanked him for his input, and then left to rejoin the others. As he returned, Olivia was inviting them to attend the festival’s open-air banquet, at the royal table. She told them that the heroes of Algordale were welcome as honored guests any time in the capital, and that she would be more than happy to have them there.
—The group were only too happy to agree, and Owtikk rushed forward to assist Olivia in putting up the decorations.
—That night, the festival began. Many long tables were arranged in the square and down the wide street, overlooked by the grand royal table on the hill leading up to Thornholm Manor.
—The party sat at this table, gazing happily down at the feasting city. All food was paid for b the crown, and the merriment, dancing, and singing was rising to a fever pitch.
—Everyone was enjoying themselves at the grand table. Olivia, Nathanial and their two children Even and Selene were seated in the center. Also at the table sat Argus Blackhorn, the guard they had met previously, and halfway through their meal, Zephar Goldbiter arrived.
—They all greeted Zephar happily, and he explained that he had been busy training his own task force for protecting the city from incursions by Demons and Monsters of the night.
—As the the night went on, bards climbed the towers erected earlier, and began firing snapdragon fireworks into the air, ranging all the colors of the rainbow.
—The crowd were dazzled by this, and bursts of applause could be heard rippling throughout the streets.
—As this was happening, Corta, Lizer and Owtikk each noticed something occurring in the space between the towers, down at the end of the street. This area had been used by dancers and fire-eaters earlier, but now was clear except for four hooded men.
—Over a hundred feet away, they began rhythmically moving in a pattern. Each step they took was like a dance, but somehow more ritualistic. They began to draw phosphorescent lines upon the ground, which glowed a bright green. The lines grew more complicated with every step, until they had created a runic circle.
—When they were finished, the hooded men folded their hands, and began what looked like a prayer.
—No one else seemed to notice this. Corta, Lizer and Owtikk exchanged significant looks. They were just about to warn Olivia, when she stood up, and addressed the people of the festival in the beginnings of a speech.
—As Olivia thanked everyone for coming and participating in the festival, Corta and Lizer told the others what they had seen. Corta knew this to be some sort of ritual, and Lizer identified the runes to be part of a summoning spell.
—At this point, Olivia introduced the “Heroes of Algordale”, and the party members stood up politely to accept applause before sitting down. Owtikk took the opportunity to transform into a purple falcon, both impressing the crowd, and using the guise to land closer to the summoners.
—Foren transported himself closer as well, arriving before Owtikk even had a chance to perch nearby.
—On a nearby rooftop, Foren looked down at the hooded figures. He saw that their faces were obscured by carved dog masks in green, and that they indeed were droning a ritual used in conjuration.
—Meanwhile, Corta grabbed Nathanial’s attention, and told him of the cloaked men. Nathanial told her not to worry at first, sure that this was just part of the show. But when Corta continued to explain, Nathanial’s face grew grim. He agreed to tell Argus of the problem immediately.
—Corta turned to tell Zephar, but found he had been listening the entire time. He said he would muster his troops should things get ugly, and whisked off into the night.
—At this, Lizer and Cyrus nodded to each other, and made their way forward, Korrice in tow. Lizer mounted Erasme, and cautiously made his way through the crowd.
—As Olivia’s speech continued, unabated, the conjurers continued their work. Foren was about to act, but moved too late, as the ritual completed.
—A bolt of lightning flashed from the sky, and struck the marked stone where the circle had been drawn. Gradually, welling up from a portal to the Abyss came a horrible, black creature on long, thick legs. A mechanical spider as big as a bull elephant rose from the depths, its four red eyes flashing menacingly.
—The crowd nearby screamed, and Olivia faltered in her words as she spotted the monstrosity. She trailed off into pleasantries, and then urged everyone to run as the spider drew itself it its full height.
—Foren wasted no time, firing a bead from his hands, striking the creature dead in the eye, engulfing the spider, and all four of the conjurers in an eruption of flame.
—As two of the conjurers crumpled from their burns, Foren fired a second bead, and it burst a second time, killing the other two, and wounding the massive spider-beast. Foren saw that he had destroyed one of the creature’s four eyes.
—Foren was pleased with the short work he had made of the conjurers, but balked as the enormous spider turned its gaze upon him. A ray of freezing cold energy shot from one of the creature’s eyes, striking Foren in the chest.
—Foren was nearly killed by the blast, his skin frosting over, his blood going instantly cold.
—The spider then walked towards him, climbing over obstacles as though they were nothing.
—Meanwhile, Corta instructed Olivia to save her children and to get back to the manor. Olivia nodded breathlessly, seized Selene, and grabbed Evan’s hand.
—As they bustled off, Selene began to cry. Evan was looking over his shoulder as he ran, and exclaimed “…Cool!” as the spider fired a ray at Foren on the rooftop.
—They left Corta’s sight, and she removed the collar on Ghost, turning him back into a wolf. Ghost ran down to the battlefield, and Corta took flight, landing on the edge of the square.
—Lizer dashed forward on Erasme, and turned toward the spider, getting into position for a charge. He inspected the spider, consulting one of his books. Lizer shouted out facts about this demonic beast, telling the others that it was named a Retriever, and that it was a formidable creature owned by Demon Lords in the Abyss.
—Owtikk took flight, and soared above the Retriever. In a flash, she turned into her Gnomish form, but as she fell, she assumed a new form – a purple-furred mastodon.
—She landed directly atop the Retriever, slamming it down upon a wooden pillar it had been climbing over. Owtikk could hear its carapace crack, and it let out an awful shriek as it was compressed by Owtikk’s girth. Owtikk rolled from her position, and onto her feet nearby.
—As this was occuring, Cyrus trudged slowly from his position slightly nearer to the battle. He felt slightly overwhelmed by all the feats of power being displayed by the others, and looked sheepishly at his spear and spiked shield before striding forward.
—However, as he walked, a chill ran down his spine. Cyrus looked up to the sky involuntarily, and saw the clouds part over the moon. It shone, bright and full down through the night air, and captivated him in a beam of light.
—Before even panic could set in, the change began. Cyrus’s body wrenched horribly, and he began to shift. Face elongated into a fearsome snout, and filled with pointed teeth. He grew in size, and fur covered his muscled body. His ears snapped flat against the side of his head and he grew long, thick claws from his pawed hands.
—Appearing like a man-shaped wolverine, Cyrus tore at his armor, pulling it off until the shift was complete. Looking to the nearest target, he spotted Korrice, and let out a horrible snarl.
—Korrice was shocked by this transformation, and looked over to Ghost, who was growling and whimpering nearby. Korrice debated firing an arrow at Cyrus, but instead drew two from his quiver, and aimed them at the Retriever.
—The first one hit, striking hard into the beast, the other going wide. He then turned to face Cyrus, wary of any moves the creature might take.
—Foren got to his feet, and ran down the length of the building on which he stood. Badly hurt, he did not want to risk being attacked by the creature again. He moved to the edge of the building, and aimed a ray of light at the Retriever.
—However, the beast took the full brunt of the blast, but withstood its effects, the Slow spell falling short of its expected power.
—The creature righted itself easily, and then struck heavily into Owtikk several times with mechanical movements. It hit her first with a bite, and then with four separate claws, wounding her deeply.
—Corta saw this, and took flight instantly, landing nearby her dear friend. She wasted no time, and applied her healing magic, curing some of Owtikk’s wounds.
—Lizer uttered a challenge at the Retriever, and spurred Erasme onward for the charge. He struck deeply with his lance, striking hard at the beast, spilling ectoplasm upon the flagged stone street.
—Owtikk retaliated with a trumpeting call from her trunk, and swung her tusks into the Retriever, landing a resounding blow.
—She ordered Ghost to move away from Cyrus, and Ghost obeyed, circling around to the other side of the battlefield.
—Meanwhile, Cyrus lunged at Korrice, who failed to fend him off with an arrow. Cyrus swung a massive set of claws at Korrice, who only narrowly evaded being shredded to ribbons, taking a nasty set of cuts on the arm.
—Korrice then attempted frantically to pin Cyrus down, but was thrown clear by his powerful limbs, snarling incoherently.
—Foren’s attention was divided. He stood atop the building, his gaze drifting from the Retriever to the left, and the Werewolverine to the right. He decided that Cyrus was the greatest threat to the party, and so unleashed a Deep Slumber spell upon him.
—As Korrice attempted to guard himself against Cyrus, the creature’s eyes drooped. He fell in a heap on top of Korrice, fast asleep, no longer a threat.
—The Retriever let loose a blast from one of its eyes, narrowly missing Owtikk in her mastodon form. The bolt of lightning went rogue, and struck a nearby tower, lighting it aflame with a crackling blast of energy. The Retriever then crawled its way backward, up on top of the building on which Foren stood.
—Lizer and Owtikk were able to strike the beast as it moved, and drips of strange protoplasmic fluid oozed from its joints.
—Corta took one final aim at the spider-like beast, and unleashed a blast of Searing Light. With a resounding cry, the Retriever’s life force left it, and the creature crumpled atop the building, its many limbs hanging lifelessly down onto the street.
—The party members gathered themselves after the battle, and began inspecting the fallen enemies around them. Lizer looked at the Retriever, and could not find out who had sent it by the runes on its body, though his suspicions were for a Demon Lord of the Abyss.
—Corta, meanwhile inspected the bodies of the conjurers. She took note of a symbol on the backs of their robes – a hound with crab’s claws stitched in lighter green cloth. She knew this to be the symbol of Wargoth, and surmised that these must be cultists of some sort.
—She removed one of the hound masks to inspect it, and saw that the conjurer had surgically removed an eye.
—Inspecting the other three, she saw that they had done the same. Remembering Galithor’s single good eye, this was distressing news indeed.
—Lizer drew closer to Corta, and she revealed what she had found. Lizer asked her if there was anything else, and Corta showed that she had also recovered two magical headbands used to increase mental functions, and four identical daggers bathed in alchemical silver.
—Owtikk conjured a stream of water from her trunk, and sprayed it to put the fire out on the nearby tower. She then turned back into herself, and gathered up Ghost, scratching him on the ears.
—Owtikk walked over to Cyrus, who was snoring loudly. Korrice mumbled meekly, and Owtikk had Ghost pull Cyrus to the side, freeing Korrice from beneath.
—Korrice stood, and thanked Owtikk before staring down at Cyrus, not saying a word.
—Foren was inspecting the Retriever, and identified the creature’s remaining eyes as being instruments of lighting, cold, and petrification effects, when properly used. He removed each of these eyes, and stored them for later.
—As the party members took in their surroundings, they began to hear a sound. A strange sort of roaring noise coming in from all sides. Still on the alert, the group lifted their guard.
—The sound grew louder, and then they recognized it for what it was. The entire city was flooding toward them, cheering their victory. The crowds rushed forth, and calls of thanks for the Heroes of Algordale could be heard.
—Olivia and Nathaniel pushed through the crowd, and embraced Corta, and thanked them all for saving the town once again.
—Foren caught sight of Zephar over Nathaniel’s shoulder, standing over Cyrus’s sleeping body. Zephar met Foren’s glance, and raised an eyebrow.
—Foren mimed that he used magic to put him to sleep, and Zephar grinned, baring a mass of gilded teeth. He hefted the huge beast onto his shoulders, wavered, and was assisted by several identically-dressed soldiers, who looked as though they were the new recruits Zephar had mentioned.
—They all carried Cyrus toward the manor, and eventually, the rest of the party followed.
—Olivia offered them each their most comfortable guest beds, and most of them accepted. However, Owtikk decided to follow Zephar and his men down to the dungeons, where they were keeping Cyrus until he awoke. They locked him in a cell, and all of the men stood watch for the evening.
—Zephar nodded at Owtikk as she crept inside, and slept on a nearby chair. The party soon fell into sleep, exhausted from the evening’s events.

Questions and Answers

—Owtikk looked to her brother. “Our parents?” she said, a little bewildered. “Not much…I didn’t know them, they left when I was a baby…”
—Luntikk nodded. “Ned never told you why they left, did he?” Owtikk shook her head.
—Luntikk continued, solemnly. “I was young when they left, just reaching adulthood. I had a lot of trouble letting them go, I really didn’t understand why they were leaving. After they had gone, I told Uncle Ned that I wanted to find them. He told me that they had gone somewhere that it was hard to follow. But he urged me to take the journey to Lorehome, to begin researching and finding answers.”
—Luntikk paused, remembering. “I left that very week. It was hard saying goodbye to you, but I knew Ned would take care of you…I suppose that’s why he kept us apart…Finding where our parents had gone became an obsession for me, and stopped me from experiencing many things in life…I know Ned wanted a different life for you.”
—Owtikk was puzzled that Ned would do such a thing, but seemed to understand. Luntikk seemed to be so consumed in his work that he had little room for anything else. Meanwhile, Owtikk had been adventuring only a short time, and yet had made many friends, and had countless stories to tell.
—She looked at Luntikk and said “Did you find out where they went? Our parents?”
—Luntikk sighed deeply. “I know where they were headed…But I do not know yet how to follow them there.” He stopped for a moment before continuing. “What do you know of the Primal World of the Fey?”
—Owtikk told him that she knew nothing of such a place, and Luntikk nodded. “There are few who know of it. Most of the information has been lost to the ages. It is a place where the Fey call home, a place that is very very difficult (if not impossible) to get to without being a Fey creature yourself.”
—He continued sternly. “I think our parents were tying to get there. And I think they made it. The Gnomes were descended from the Fey, or so many scholars believe. After they left, they traveled to Zelefast, where the Deep Gnomes live.”
—Owtikk’s eyes went wide. She remembered banishing Addibara and her family to that place, and shuddered to think that her parents would be close to them.
—Not noticing, Luntikk continued. “The Deep Gnomes are tied closer to the Fey than most Gnomes. It is said that the lines between the Fey realm and the material plane are thinner down there. I think perhaps they had gone to research there, and never came back.”
—“I have spent all my time trying to discover a way to get there myself, but have come up with nothing substantial. As you can see, I have collected all that I have been able to on the Fey. Artifacts, books, scrolls…”
—Owtikk piped up at this point. “I remembered! We have something we would like to show you! We need something deciphered, if you can!”
—Luntikk smiled and said “I would be happy to help…You saved me didn’t you?” Owtikk nodded. Luntikk said “I had strange dreams of an evil woman…I fear I might have brought whatever put me to sleep into this world…It was my own fault if I got hurt…”
—Owtikk said “Well, we saved you. So don’t worry.” Luntikk smiled and said “Well, I will certainly help you decipher whatever you need…But first, I would like to freshen up a bit…I just realized I am in my bedclothes…Hardly proper…”
—“Oh! Of course,” Owtikk said politely. She was about to leave, then paused. “Um…Luntikk? I was wondering…” Owtikk looked down at her gemstone necklace her parents gave her. She looked back up, holding it in one hand. “Do you have a necklace like this? Uncle Ned said it was from our parents…”
—Luntikk strode quickly over to a cabinet nearby, and withdrew a small chest. He opened it, and revealed an identical necklace with a gemstone set into it.
“I have kept it here because I was afraid of losing it, or it getting worn out…They mean so much to me, I would hate it for the only thing I have of theirs to get ruined…” Owtikk and he remained silent for a moment as they looked at the necklace.
—Owtikk smiled, and told him she would give him privacy. Then, she flung her arms around his neck in a hug. Luntikk stiffened, and patted her on the back, evidently not ready for such an emotional commitment.
—Owtikk let go sheepishly, and then took Ghost with her out of the room.
—Downstairs, Lizer, Foren, Corta and Cyrus stood in the courtyard. As Lizer and Cyrus were discussing the battle quietly, Cyrus spotted a young man run toward the archway of the gate to the courtyard, and then, checking the address, ran through toward the four of them.
—“Umm…I’m looking for Cyrus? Cyrus Montessori?” The boy said, holding a scroll.
—Cyrus, rather perplexed raised a hand to indicate that it was him. The boy strode toward him and unfurled the scroll, about to read.
—“Let me guess,” Said Cyrus. “I am summoned by the King?” The boy faltered, and looked at the scroll. “Yes…Um…I am supposed to read it…”
—Cyrus rolled his eyes, and waved his hand for the boy to get on with it. The boy cleared his throat and read “Don Cyrus Montessori of Thorek, you are hereby requested to attend an audience with the King of Weldor this afternoon. Sincerely, King Augustus Gendarme.”
—Cyrus asked the boy when he was expected, and the boy said “Oh…now. In roughly an hour or so.”
—Cyrus’s eyes widened in shock. He asked the others how he looked, and then realized that he needed a shave. He quickly thrust a gold into the boy’s hand, and then ran into Eldergleam Estate to ask Luntikk to use a bathroom to freshen up.
—Owtikk bumped into Cyrus on the way, and together they got together a fine, if out-of-date outfit for him to wear, and provided him with shaving supplies, and scented oils (all with Luntikk’s permission of course).
—As he was getting ready, Lizer and Corta spoke briefly, and agreed that they wanted to speak to Luntikk further about the orb and staff. Lizer also said he had a scroll he would like deciphered, if possible, and so the two of them entered the entrance hall, and sat to wait for Luntikk to come down.
—Foren followed them inside, saying that he wished to speak to Luntikk as well, although about the Fey.
—A few minutes later, Owtikk and Cyrus descended the steps, Cyrus looking quite good in his fine clothes.
—He paused at the base of the stairs, and the group agreed that he looked excellent. Cyrus nervously told them that he was off to see the King, and that he would meet them back at Edenvale Manor when he was finished.
—The others nodded, and Cyrus strode out the doors, mounted Scarto, and galloped out of sight.
—Owtikk strode over to the others saying that Luntikk was just readying himself for company.
—They all waited patiently, and within a few minutes, Luntikk came down the steps, dressed as a Scholar of Weldor in mainly violet and gold fabrics. He wore half-moon glasses perched on the end of his long nose, and his short curly hair sat atop his head, neatly combed down on either side with a few curls hanging down.
—He strode forward, smiling. After being introduced to everyone, he said “So, what can I help you with? Owtikk tells me you have something for me to look at?”
—Corta promptly produced the staff with the orb from her back, and taking one look at it, Luntikk’s eyes widened. Lizer nodded to Luntikk significantly, and the Gnome asked “…Where did you get this…”
—Corta said “Well, the Orb I got as a gift for becoming the King of the Gremlins…The staff I got from an evil witch.”
—Luntikk seemed all the more perplexed, but could not take his eyes off the orb. “I think we should continue this discussion in my library…There are books we need to consult…”
—The group hastily followed a muttering Luntikk up the stairs and down a side hall into his vast library.
—Foren, Owtikk, Lizer and Corta all followed Luntikk over to a desk, where he pulled out various tomes, and laid them open at specific pages. After he had finished organizing himself, Luntikk began.
—“This orb…Is the Orb Of Axis…The first piece of the Harbinger Gate…A gate that, once assembled, can open a gate to other worlds…” The party all looked at each other, and told Luntikk that the knew this. They explained about the tower of Algordale, and meeting Aphelion, and how they had been given a quest to assemble the Harbinger Gate to confront a menace in the Abyss.
—Luntikk took this all in, very interested in everything they had to say. He explained that he had thought that the Harbinger Gate was a myth, but that he had hoped to find it someday so that he could use it to enter the Primal World of the Fey.
—He looked more closely at the orb, and produced a book that was covered in scribblings of runic symbols. He looked back and forth from the orb to the book for a few moments, and afterward explained “The runes on the orb are more than just symbols. They are part of an ancient, complex mathematical language known as Runespeech. It is no longer taught by anyone living, and the secrets of this ancient script are all but forgotten…However, over the years I have developed a way to decipher it. I made my own key in this book.”
—He told them that the orb indicated nothing more than that it was the key device to assembling the Harbinger Gate, and that it was essential to completing the puzzle.
—Lizer produced his runic scroll with the runic writings along the border. The center of the page was blank. Inspecting it a moment, Luntikk read “The chosen shall point the way to redemption…”
—At this, Luntikk thought a moment, and then asked Corta to touch the scroll. Corta touched it, and her eyes began to glow. Then, down her arm, a ripple of runic energy cascaded down to where her finger touched the page, making the runes on the sheet glow.
—Then Lizer said “…Corta…Touch the Orb to the page…” Corta did as she was asked. The orb glowed with the same energy, and then, at the place where the Orb touched the page, a map spidered its way over the length of the parchment, revealing a map of all of Telledor.
—At specific points on the map were small, glowing orbs. Luntikk exclaimed with delight, telling them that this was certainly a map that would lead them to the remaining orbs to the Harbinger Gate.
—They inspected this map, and noted that there was one in their current location of Lorehome – likely indicating that they were carrying the Orb of Axis in their current location.
—They also noted an orb in Coldhearth, Valarys, one in Tsarmina, Thorek, and the final one in The Dreadmire Ruins, The Wild Lands.
—This new information intrigued them all, as they now had a way to find the other orbs, wherever they were. Luntikk was also overjoyed at this, and he was happy to have made such a breakthrough.
—He tentatively asked Owtikk if after they had found the Harbinger Gate they would allow him to use it, in order to enter the World of the Fey. He said he had always wanted to go there, and that it was difficult to get any information on how to travel there.
—Owtikk and the others agreed that they would help him in any way that they could. Luntikk was very pleased at this, and thanked them for their kindness.
—Lizer asked Luntikk exactly why no information was available on the topic, and Luntikk answered that they Fey were mysterious, and very elusive – it was hard even finding any to speak with, let along getting any to talk about that sacred realm.
—Lizer then mentioned that Foren had once been a Faun, and that he could perhaps provide some insight further into the matter. Luntikk was intrigued by this, and looked over to Foren. “Yes…I would very much like to speak with you about this Foren, if that would be agreeable.”
—Foren nodded, saying “In fact, I wished to speak to you about this same matter.” Luntikk looked to the rest of them and said “I thank you all for all you have done for me. I suppose you will be leaving in the morning to continue your journey?”
—They all agreed, stating that they were eager to continue their quest. “Well then, I shall let you go and get your rest. I’m sure you have much to discuss. I will show you to the door, and will return Foren to you as soon as we are complete!”
—At this, Luntikk led them downstairs, and said farewell to each of them. Owtikk was the last out of the door. He smiled warmly and said “I am glad we have finally met, Owtikk. I am glad to have you for a sister.”
—Luntikk hastily extended his arms wide, and Owtikk lunged forward in a big hug. Luntikk stiffened instinctively once again and said “Heh…I suppose one thing at a time.” He patted her on the head, and she smiled deeply. He bade her goodnight, and then went back inside to rejoin Foren, while the others left for Edevnale Manor.
—Meanwhile, Cyrus rode hastily down the crowded streets of Lorehome, sending pedestrians leaping for cover as be tore down the walkways, and up the slope toward the castle.
—The palace of Lorehome was situated high on a hill, overlooking the rest of the city. High, white-walled turrets reached for the heavens, with green-shingled spires and long, flowing banners bearing the Weldorian yellow and black colors catching the afternoon wind.
—Cyrus made his way through the courtyard, where many well-do-do members of the court were milling about, discussing the latest news or exchanging tales.
—As he approached the doors, the guards requested to see his summons. Cyrus complied quietly, and the guards opened the doors to the castle. Inside the doors was a rather snobbish fellow waiting for him. The man called for a page to come and stable Cyrus’s pony (Cyrus pressing a coin into the boy’s hand for the trouble), and led Cyrus inside.
—The man led Cyrus down the magnificent hall, describing the different features of the castle, and the people they passed as they went. Cyrus had never been to such a place in his life.
—After a few minutes of walking, they reached a set of enormous double doors, and the man told him that they had reached the throneroom. The man slipped inside quickly, and then emerged a moment later.
—He told Cyrus that the council was just finishing a meeting in a private chamber, and that he many wait inside the throneroom to be presented.
—Cyrus went tentatively inside, and saw a long row of soldiers armed with pikes lining an ornate carpet, which ran from the doorway all the way up to a heavy throne on the opposite end of the room.
—On either side of the large chamber were bookshelves, and tables where courtiers were eating and drinking food laid out.
—Once inside, Cyrus caught sight of a boy, who strode up to him proudly. “Don Cyrus?” The boy asked. Cyrus nodded, his mouth dry. “They are just finishing up their meeting. I will announce you once they have finished. Before that, you may have a look around, if you wish. Just look for my signal.”
—Cyrus nodded, and then decided to go over to one of the bookshelves to find any information regarding local customs and noble traditions.
—As he pored over a musty tome about Weldor’s military traditions, a man sitting at a nearby table piped up. “First time at the castle is it?”
—Cyrus managed a strangled “Yes” before the man continued. He was portly, and enjoying a large turkey leg and a cup of wine. “Not to worry.” The man said, kindly. “The King is good, and fair. Long as you have something good to say, the King should be amicable. Try not to get on his bad side, though. He’s an important man.”
—This did little to quell Cyrus’s fears, but he took the advice. A moment later, the doors to a side chamber opened, and a crowd of gentlemen in robes emerged into the throneroom. They all filtered out of the room through different doors, and Cyrus spotted the boy motioning for Cyrus to come back over to the carpet.
—Cyrus did as he was asked, and stood as straight as he could, awaiting further instruction.
—“His majesty, The King,” a voice called out. Cyrus stood expectantly on the carpet, and heard an odd sound. ‘Step, KLUNK. Step, KLUNK
—As he watched, a noble man wearing the black and yellow squares of Weldor and an ornate circlet emerged from the side door, and made his way slowly across the room.
—The man had a full, neatly-cropped black beard and hair, and walked with a limp. Cyrus spotted as he moved toward the throne that he had a club leg. He walked with his weight upon a scepter, and carried a long cloak draped over one arm.
—It took him quite some time to reach the throne, up the steps. But the man was not helped by anyone, nor did he look like he wanted it. After he was settled, a moment or two passed in reverence before the small boy took his cue.
—“Your majesty, I present Don Cyrus Montessori of the Thorek Montessoris.” The boy called proudly.
—Cyrus walked forward, and bowed deeply to the King. “Thank you for this meeting, my liege.”
—The King nodded, and beckoned for him to stand. “It has been a long while since a Montessori entered these halls. Your family is welcome here, Cyrus. I received word from one of my guards that you wished to speak to me on some matter. What did you wish to discuss?”
—Cyrus cleared his throat, and explained his concerns for his homeland of Thorek. He mentioned no specifics, but told the king that he wished for assistance in helping restore the honor of his people.
—The king pondered a moment, and his face grew rather stern. “You have not been to your homeland in some time, I trust?” Cyrus told him that this was so. “…I think the remainder of our discussion should be made in private. Please join me in the council chamber.”
—The king rose, and led Cyrus into the side chamber that the council had just left. The doors closed, and Cyrus and the king were left alone in the room, save for several guards, which the king assured Cyrus were trusted individuals. The chamber itself was well decorated, and was dominated by a square table colored yellow and black, surrounded by high-backed chairs.
—The king took a seat, and offered one next to him for Cyrus.
—The king began “I will be blunt. I have received news only this morning concerning the nature of Thorek. The note was hastily scribbled, but told me this: The king of Thorek is dead. He has evidently willed the kingdom to the Dwarves of Burkehome, who have taken over management of the realm.”
—He waited for the shock to pass from Cyrus’s face before continuing. “I trust that this comes as grave news to one in your position, Cyrus.”
—Cyrus agreed, and appeared very disheartened at the news. The king had a bereaved look about him as well, and he paused a moment before continuing.
—“The Dwarves have long had their eyes on overtaking Thorek – they did little to hide this secret. And Thorek has been a nation teetering on the edge of collapse for years. The Dwarves have always said that they will bring prosperity to the realm…But I do not believe it. They will mine Thorek’s resources to depletion, and the people will suffer for it.”
—Cyrus nodded his agreement grimly, and looked up into the King’s eyes in a silent plea.
—“The council and I discussed this matter at length this morning.” Said the King, continuing on. “It was agreed that under the blanket of the treaties that Weldor has signed with both Thorek and Burkehome, Weldor has no grounds to intervene. The crown was taken as it was willed. There is nothing Weldor can do…”
—Cyrus crumpled in his chair, his hopes deflated. The King noticed this physical change, and caught his eye. “I know why you have come here today, Cyrus. It is plain that you are in this palace seeking aid for your country, for your people. They do not call this place the country of knowledge for nothing.”
—Cyrus smiled, and said “Yes, you are right. I suppose it wasn’t hard to put that all together…”
—The King returned the grin, before it faded solemnly. “I will be blunt, Cyrus. I have always trusted the Montessoris, and I was troubled to hear of the problems your family had with the Aligheri family – a family who I do not trust in the slightest. I am sure that they are behind this silent coup, and that foul play is involved.” The King’s temper flared a moment before he restrained it, calmly.
—“But I am afraid that without definitive proof, I cannot send any men to Thorek, even to investigate. It would be viewed as a treaty violation, and the Dwarves of Burkehome will be on their guard for any activity like this.”
—Cyrus further sagged in his chair at this news, and let out a sigh of defeat. The King stood carefully from his chair, and limped with his cane slowly around the room.
—“…However…” The King began quietly. “That does not mean that there is nothing that can be done.”
—The King stopped, and placed a hand on the table. “The people of Thorek have been beaten down by an oppressive, hopeless existence for years. But if Thorek is to return and become self-sustaining again, the people must take charge themselves.”
—The King paused, then smiled adding slyly “I cannot give any advice, as that in and of itself would be a treaty violation…But let’s say a man of Thorek wanted to assist his people…If I were him, I would start in Cobble’s End, and see a man named Lord Dalton – the late King’s brother. Rumor has it that he has already begun starting a resistance, and could use some help…”
—Cyrus stared at the King, and a half smile grew on his face. The King returned it warmly.
—“Now then, I am a busy man, Cyrus. I am afraid our time is up. Good luck in your future endeavors…Oh, and thank you for stopping that gutter-rat, Nefaric. He has been a thorn in my side for some time now.”
—Cyrus stood to leave, in much different spirits, and as he approached the door, the King laid a hand on his elbow.
—“You have the power to change it all, Cyrus. Send me word when you can, and don’t give up hope.”
—Cyrus nodded firmly, and strode out of the room, leaving the castle, and galloping through the fading light toward Edenvale Manor.
—Corta, Owtikk and Lizer arrived at the Manor before Cyrus, and spent some time meandering around before he arrived.
—Foren came in not long after Corta, Owtikk and Lizer, and went about some duties of his own before Cyrus breathlessly burst through the front doors.
—Cyrus approached Lizer, and asked that he call everyone for a meeting over some glasses of wine. “There is much to discuss, and I want everyone there.” He said, a look of determination in his eyes.
—Lizer nodded, and set to work, assembling everyone in the house. A few minutes later, Corta, Lizer, Foren, Owtikk, Cyrus, Henry, and the staff of Edenvale all sat, waiting for Cyrus to speak.
—Cyrus cleared his throat, and began. “Thank you all for coming. I will get straight to the point. Thorek has fallen to the rule of the Dwarves. They have been looking at my country for years, and they have finally taken it. They will rape the land, consume its resources, and my people will fall into decay. I cannot let this happen.”
—He paused and took a deep breath of air. “I want to ask you a favor. I need anyone who can help me accomplish this feat. We need to go to Thorek, muster a resistance, and take back the throne for the people.”
—Corta piped up at this point saying “Actually, that works out. We found out today that one of the orbs we are searching for is located in Tsarmina. We could do both while we are there!”
—The other party members seemed to agree to this, stunning Cyrus that they would agree so readily to such a dangerous cause.
—“I have been told to go and see someone in Thorek who is forming a resistance. His name is Lord Dalton, and he rules over Cobbles End -”
—Owtikk squealed and said “Yay! We know him! He actually owes us a favor!” Cyrus’s eyes widened at this fortunate turn of events.
—“Well then, it is settled. But I must warn you…This is a dangerous thing we are undertaking. The Dwarves are a menace, and they need to be taken down. If things get ugly, I will not hesitate to use force agains these vile intruders. I will kill them if they cross me, and you must understand that you may be asked to do the same.”
—This seemed to trouble the party more than anything else. Lizer spoke at this point. “But surely, Cyrus,” he said sternly. “Killing will only be a last resort? These are people after all…And I would prefer not to kill innocents.”
—Cyrus turned to him, fire in his eyes. “These people are not innocent. I will kill every Dwarven man, woman and child that seeks to further the goals of the Dwarves. If they stand in the way, they must be stopped.”
—Lizer did not take kindly to this notion at all, and the others seemed a bit squeamish as well. “I will not take the killing of common folk lightly. I need you to assure me that you will use restraint unless absolutely necessary. I want to explore every avenue for peace before outright killing.”
—The stern look Lizer gave Cyrus quelled his fire a little. “…Ok. Yes, I see what you are saying. But this is a possibility we need to accept. This could turn to war. I only ask that you do what you can to assist.”
—The other agreed, but made it clear that their views echoed Lizer’s in that the killing of Dwarves would have to be a last resort to accomplish their goals.
—Cyrus then addressed the others at the table. “If anyone else would wish to join the cause, I would gladly accept more recruits.”
—Cyrus at this point stared pointedly at Korrice, the ex-ranger from Thorek. Korrice seemed to be avoiding his gaze, staring blankly at the table. “It might be,” Cyrus said, addressing him now. “An opportunity to regain honor.”
—Korrice looked up angrily. “There is no honor to be gained here.” He said quietly. “Thorek has fallen, just as I said it would. We would be walking into a slaughter. It is done, and it cannot be redeemed. Not by you, and certainly not by me.”
—“This is your homeland, Korrice,” Cyrus began again. “We can save it, but we need to be strong. We could use the help of a ranger.”
—“It is NOT my homeland any more. I have forsaken it as it has forsaken me.” Korrice stood up, and turned to walk out of the hall.
“You are right.” Cyrus said, calmly as Korrice strode for the door. “Thorek is not yours. You are not worthy of our country. Especially if you do not have the courage to save it.”
—Korrice paused, and then left, slamming the door. Cyrus sat back down, and poured himself another glass of wine.
—Lizer then said “It is decided then! To Thorek! We will leave tomorrow!” Everyone raised their glasses, and drank to the decision.
—The night passed calmly, and merrily. Most stayed for an extra drink, and then went to bed. However, Lizer and Cyrus remained behind, finishing the bottle of wine, and talking deep into the night.
—Eventually they each fell asleep, resting until the following morn.

Game XXI
Rude Awakenings

—Cyrus and Foren stepped inside the Healing Houses, and followed the guard through the nearly deserted halls into the embalming room, where the doctors prepared their dead for burial.
—The room smelled strongly of embalming fluid and sacrificial salts, and was filled with implements for performing autopsies and medical science on posthumous specimens.
—In the room were two doctors, dressed in violet robes. They each were elderly, and had thick glasses and stringy, whitening hair.
—There were also guards protecting the room itself, and a few standing near a body laid out upon a nearby table.
—The guard that led Cyrus and Foren inside introduced them as being members of the Equilibrium Scholars, and after a pause the doctors agreed to allow them to see the body, claiming that they could have all the assistance they could get.
—The doctors stepped back, and revealed the body. It was as Foren and Cyrus feared – the body belonged to Garidell, the doctor who had been doing research on Luntikk’s blood sample.
—The two of them set to work immediately, inspecting the body from head to toe. Garidell had been stabbed by a large knife in the abdomen. His face, though still concealed partially by his surgical mask, was contorted in agony and fear, frozen in a look of terror.
—As the two of them inspected the body, the doctors made mention idly to one another that it was clear that Garidell had not been killed by the stab wound.
—Cyrus overheard this, and wheeled around in disbelief. He asked the doctors what they meant, and the doctors explained that elven physiology did not allow for such a strike to be as fatal as it would normally be in a Human. In short, the strike had been made inexpertly, and had missed any vitals.
—They also added that there was too little blood around the wound and at the scene for him to have died from blood loss.
—As Cyrus puzzled over this, Foren inspected the body further. He determined that it was unlikely that Garidell had been poisoned, and he could not discover anything significant about the knife that had been used, at least with a cursory glance.
—Cyrus stepped back over, and then took notice that Garidell was missing a book from one of his side-slings.
—Cyrus inquired with the other doctors what this book may have been, and they agreed that it was likely a notebook for recording cases.
—Foren and Cyrus concluded that they would need to find out more in Garidell’s study, and so the two of them ventured upstairs.
—Meanwhile, Corta was striding through the bustling city streets of Lorehome, deciding what to do next. She resolved that she would have to do more research to find any more information on the mystery at hand, and so headed toward the College of Lorehome to use their vast library.
—Inside, she was directed to several tomes on the nature of dreams by a helpful Gnomish Loremaster, and Corta set to work reading them.
—The Gnome also pulled many tomes on magical dreams, and set them at the front desk.
—Though Corta poured over many of these books, she was unable to uncover much more than she already knew.
—As she was getting ready to inspect the books that the Gnome had prepared for her at the desk, she turned and saw a familiar face. Lizer had walked into the Library, evidently to do research as well.
—Lizer spotted her at the same moment, and walked over in greeting. As Corta explained that she had fled the manor due to a horrible nightmare, Lizer revealed to her that they had all had similar experiences in the night.
—Corta seemed relieved that she wasn’t the only one who had experienced this, and was just getting ready to ask Lizer what he was looking for in the library, when she noticed that Lizer was staring at her quite avidly.
—In truth, Lizer had taken notice of Corta’s staff, topped by the golden runic orb that she had strapped to her back. His eyes were wide as he took in this sight.
—Corta asked Lizer what was going on, and Lizer requested rather breathlessly where she had gotten the orb atop the staff. Corta told him that they had found it with a band of Gremlins, and that it eventually led them to a tower.
—Lizer asked to see the staff briefly, and opened one of his many books. Corta complied, and pretended to read a book of her own as she watched Lizer researching.
—Eventually, Lizer handed Corta the staff once again, and thanked her before muttering about needing to do further research at home, and dashing out of the Library. Corta was left with many questions in mind, meaning to ask Lizer about them in the near future.
—Corta decided to go and find Owtikk at Luntikk’s, and headed off in that direction.
—Meanwhile, Owtikk dozed on Luntikk’s bed, resting sadly as she felt the health of her brother gradually trickle away.
—She did not know how long she had been resting there before Harriet meekly entered the bedchamber, and told Owtikk that it was time to change Luntikk’s bedclothes and sheets.
—Owtikk understood, and left the bedroom. Harriet closed the door, and Owtikk decided to explore further into Eldergleam Estate while the handmaiden was occupied.
—She took a few moments looking here and there in the different rooms upstairs, but found nothing of any significance before going down to the ground level.
—When she passed by the living room, the fireplace hearth caught her eye, and she caught a very faint whiff of recently burnt ash.
—She walked over to the fireplace, and noticed that someone had tried to burn a small book in the fireplace recently. The book was nearly destroyed, but she could gather from the few pages that had decipherable writing that the book had belonged to her brother.
—Carefully, Owtikk removed the book from the hearth, and put it in her pack. She then moved past the kitchens in order to inspect Harriet’s room.
—Back at the Houses of Healing, Cyrus and Foren were escorted upstairs to Garidell’s study. The two of them thoroughly inspected the room, taking note of anything out of place.
—There were signs of a struggle at Garidell’s desk, but neither of them could spot any blood, nor signs of forced entry into the room.
—Inspecting Garidell’s alchemical table, Cyrus saw that Luntikk’s blood sample was nowhere to be found. Nearby, Foren spotted a pile of misshapen ash upon a brazer, and inspected the contents.
—Foren revealed a partially burnt book, which likely was the one missing from Garidell’s person. As Foren held this up delicately to show Cyrus, the two heard a voice from behind them.
—Foren and Cyrus spun around to see a Weldorian Knight in full armor, minus the helm. He had a bald head, and dark features with a neatly trimmed mustache, and earrings down one ear.
—The man appeared to be the head of the investigation, and after a moment or two of sizing them up, asked for Foren to hold out the book in both hands.
—The Knight then placed a hand delicately upon the burnt notebook, and a blueish light emanated from beneath his palm. Slowly, the book appeared to burn backwards, repairing itself and the contents within. When he was finish, Cyrus proclaimed “…That….was the most useful thing I have ever seen a Knight of Weldor do.”
—The Knight smiled in spite of his grim visage, and said that it was a trick Loremasters were taught to restore important ruined works.
—As Foren and Cyrus stood there, impressed, the Knight looked at them sidelong, and then told them that he found it curious that neither of them bore the traditional vestiges of the Equilibrium Scholars, of which Foren had previously said they belonged.
—Foren and Cyrus exchanged glances, and Foren decided to come clean, telling the Knight that they were interested because of a personal matter.
—The Knight nodded solemnly, and told them that in truth, he was happy to have all the help he could get, as his own investigators were less than helpful. At this, he threw the guards near the door a disparaging look, which they took, shifting their feet nervously.
—Cyrus leafed through Garidell’s book, which seemed to be a journal of patients, and their diagnoses. He came to the final page, and read through it. When he had finished, he transferred the book to Foren, who took in what the page said as well.
—The journal stated the following: I have stayed up well beyond the hour of midnight, but I have discovered the answer to Luntikk’s problem! Indeed, Luntikk’s issue was not a normal disease at all – but a horrible curse! My analysis detected the following elements:
- An increase in “Dream Chemical” in the bloodstream.
- Decrease in “Blood Guards” (white molecules in bloodstream)
- Decrease in speed of bloodstream, low verve in the veins.
- Traces of Abyssal energies present in Luntikk’s blood sample.*
My diagnosis is that Luntikk is being continually subject to the effects of a curse that puts him in a dream-like state, and removes his energy, or “life force”. This is slowly killing him, and will likely finish him off by the end of the week if it is not stopped.
*Additionally, I discovered traces of Abyssal energies in Luntikk’s blood sample. I came to this conclusion after a meeting with a strange jester in town, who had me test his blood with Cold Iron Powder. I decided to try the same with with Luntikk’s blood, and it reacted sharply.
—As Foren read through this, Cyrus relayed the information from the journal to the Weldorian Knight.
—As they all pondered over this, a guard ran upstairs and burst into the room, holding the murder weapon in one hand, exclaiming that he had found something.
—The Weldorian Knight, surprised at this, inspected the knife under the guard’s advisement. It appeared that the knife had a false handle, which could be removed to reveal the symbol of a needle and thread engraved in gold.
—Recognizing the symbol at once, Foren and Cyrus excused themselves, deciding to head toward Luntikk’s. The knight thanked them for their assistance in the investigation, and asked them to report should they find out any more.
—Meanwhile, Lizer returned to Edenvale manor, and began pouring over his books. He soon found the tomes he was looking for, and flipped them open to the pages regarding the towers of Telledor, mainly the one situated in Algordale. An illustration showed an image of the exact same orb that Corta had been carrying, and Lizer’s eyes widened.
—An idea struck him, and he descended the steps, fetching Tristan, who was having his hair brushed meticulously by Shanna. Lizer asked Tristan to come with him on an errand to see Luntikk, and Tristan happily followed him onto Erasme, and down the street towards Eldergleam Estate.
—At Luntikk’s, Owtikk was inspecting Harriet’s quarters. Opening the door, she saw that the room was spotless. Everything was simple, neat and incredibly tidy. Owtikk further inspected the room, and saw that Harriet didn’t have any possessions. The drawers were empty, as was the closet.
—Puzzled, Owtikk left the room, and looked down the narrow hall. There were several other rooms devoted to servant quarters, but these were all empty and unused. Owtikk decided to head back upstairs, now keen on inspecting the laboratory.
—Quietly, Owtikk transformed into a purple mouse, and slipped under the heavy locked door to the laboratory. She took in the room as Foren had done before, looking at the run of cold iron dust, and the various books on the table.
—However, in her tiny form she spotted something that Foren had not seen – a book laying beneath a desk entitled “A Caster’s Guide To Summoning”.
—Intrigued, Owtikk opened the book, and flipped the pages, searching for anything to do with ‘dreams’ or ‘nightmares’. Eventually, she stumbled upon a page that rung out in her mind’s eye: ‘Night Hags’.
—Owtikk read down the page, and saw that the binding process for this creature required cold iron powder, and the offering of a creature’s soul to complete to summoning ritual. A subscript warned caution to any attempting to summon such a creature.
—As Owtikk read this in horror, she heard a terrible sound from the door to the room, which made her jump. It was as though someone was taking in deep breath through their nose, sniffing the air, yet drinking it in at the same time.
—Harriet’s voice rung out through the high-ceilinged room. “….Is that a tiny soul I smell?” Another intake of breath was heard. “And all alone, I see? Good…”
—Owtikk was horribly frightened, and hid herself under the desk as best she could, waiting to hear more.
—Corta stepped inside Eldergleam Estate tentatively, having knocked and waited a few minutes to be let inside. She quietly walked up the steps toward Luntikk’s bedroom, and as she walked she heard Harriet’s sinister-sounding voice.
—Corta hid behind the corner at the top of the stairs, and spotted Harriet outside of the Laboratory doors.
—Suddenly, mouse leaped out from beneath the door, and scurried through Harriet’s legs towards Luntikk’s bedroom. At the same moment, Corta sprung from her hiding place, confronting Harriet in the hall.
—Harriet turned to look at her, and then back to the rapidly running little mouse. She grinned horribly, and her features began to change. As they watched, Harriet’s face melted away, revealing a horrible, indigo-skinned crone, covered in warts, with blackened hair streaked with gray. The hag said “Perhaps a more fitting setting is in order….Come….Enter MY domain…”
—Suddenly, the entire house began to grow dark, and shift, and warp. The walls and floor melted away to reveal a darkened, open city street, covered by a blackened sky. Luntikk lay in his bed on one end of the clearing, light emitting brightly from the glowing black gemstone on the chain around his neck. Tendrils of energy twisted up from his chest and into the gem as he twitched in his sleep.
—All around the stone street was blackness. The hag had seemingly transported them to another realm, one of darkness, dreams and fear.
—Lizer had arrived at the estate just moments before, Tristan in tow. However, when the building began to change and shift, Lizer told Tristan to run home, and get to safety. Tristan did what he was told, and Lizer watched at the landscape changed, leaving him amid the darkness with the others.
—Lizer sat atop his elk, and readied his lance.
—The combat began with the Night Hag calling in a haunting whistle for reinforcements. From out of the sky came three skeletal dogs, howling and braying through the chill air, sending fear down the characters’ spines.
—Owtikk wasted no time in transforming into a purple Dire Gorilla, and readying herself to strike the hounds as they landed nearby.
—As Lizer prepared himself to ride, he caught side of a figure from his side. An elf emerged from the darkness, garbed in the clothing of Nimdulari, greens and golds flashing through the dead air. The figure grinned, and lunged with a rapier. Lizer took the brunt of the strike, but only narrowly, as the Elf got back into a battle stance. The pain coursed over Lizer, but he shook it off, his mind focused on the battle.
—Lizer struck at the Elf with his lance, making contact with the point, and the Elf roared in pain, and for an instant, a strange creature could be seen, before it flashed back to the Elf again.
—Nearby, Corta weaved around the hag, trying to get to Luntikk’s bed. The hag struck at her with heavy claws that wracked Corta with pain. However, Corta made it to Luntikk’s bedside, and slipped something around his neck.
—Immediately, the gem that was siphoning Luntikk’s energy began to fail. Luntikk’s eyes began to flutter, and the Night Hag let out a shriek of rage. Corta had put the protective Dream Amulet around Luntikk’s neck, the one she had acquired from the Mimic’s Mouth earlier that day.
—The Hag wasted no time in running forward, and trying to yank the amulet free from the Gnome’s neck. However, she grasped it just as a pulse of energy coursed through, and the hag let out a terrible shriek as her hand was burnt with negative energy. She turned her horrid gaze upon Corta, preparing to strike.
—Foren and Cyrus arrived at the Estate moments later, and took notice of a strange, shimmering energy surrounding the place. They decided to ready themselves for combat, and proceeded to head through the archway, onto the grounds. At once, they were transported into the darkened realm, and spotted Owtikk and Corta a ways off, facing down the horrible hag.
—They nodded at Lizer nearby, who readied himself atop Erasme for a fight. The others did the same, getting into battle stances and drawing their weapons.
—Two of the skeletal hounds moved in to attack. One struck at Owtikk, but she shrugged off the hit, her strong form withstanding the bite.
—The other attacked at Ghost, but missed as the dire wolf evaded the attack.
—Owtikk retaliated with a resounding strike on the nearest hound. The thing whimpered, and crumbled a bit under her powerful limbs.
—Owtikk ordered Ghost to do the same, and Ghost promptly struck at one of the hounds, tripping it to the ground.
—On the other end of the battlefield, Cyrus looked to his left, and saw a shadowy creature emerging from the darkness. Suddenly, his vision seemed to clear, and Cyrus was staring at a familiar man, a very influential member of the Aligheri family. Dressed all in muted reds and burgundies, the man flashed a grin, and drew a knife, bearing down upon him.
—The man struck, and pain wracked Cyrus’s body. He felt his cognitive skills weaken as the pain from the hit coursed through him.
—Cyrus roared in anger, and struck with his spear and shield at the man. He struck a significant blow, and again, the beast beneath the illusion was visible, only for a split second before regaining its form.
—Foren got into position close to the hag, and fired off a Scorching Ray at her turned back. The fire coiled around her, but it seemed to cause no damage at all.
—One of the hounds leaped up, and took flight into the air, running in the sky until it landed in front of Lizer.
—Lizer took a step back upon Erasme, and let loose an ability, encircling the himself, Foren and Cyrus in a protective aura. Lizer shouted to to them, explaining that they would be safe as long as they did not attack the creature fighting them. He then told them to get into better fighting positions, and to spread out so that they were no longer cornered.
—Corta fired a beam of Searing Light at the Night Hag, and she shrieked curses at her, sputtering and snarling in an almost feral manner.
—The hag lunged at Corta, ripping at her with her claws, dealing considerable damage.
—The hound nearest Owtikk bit at her, tearing at an arm before being thrown free. The other skeletal dog nearby Ghost righted itself, and was struck by Ghost in the process.
—Owtikk struck at the hound once again, grabbing it with each clawed hand, tearing at it, and powerfully prying it apart. The dog fell lifeless to the ground in a heap of skin and sinew.
—Ghost snarled and lunged at his hound as well, and landed a killing blow on the beast’s scrawny neck.
—Cyrus wheeled around rand to a different strategic spot, and struck at the nearby hound. The beast yelped and died upon his spear.
—Foren ran forward, and cast a Slow spell upon the Night Hag. At once, she seemed to become sluggish, as though her movements were weighted.
—Lizer turned Erasme around, and got into position to charge at the creature that appeared to him as an Elf.
—Corta took another step backward, and cast Doom upon the hag. She seemed to further slump, and could barely muster a retaliative attack in response.
—Owtikk cast Greater Magic Fang upon herself, and moved closer to the Hag, preparing to hit next round.
—Ghost ran forward to bite the Hag, but was unable to penetrate her thick, bony hide with just the strength of his jaws alone.
—Cyrus turned his attention back on the creature, and struck with his spear and shield. The strike with the spear landed a blow, and the creature howled in anguish.
—Foren then sent a fireball flying toward the creature, and it landed engulfing the beast in flame.
—Lizer charged forward, striking the final blow with his lance, cutting the being from existence.
—Corta moved back, out of the Hag’s reach, and used Lightning Breath, causing great damage to the awful woman. The hag moved forward toward her, but could not attack as well in the same round, due to being slowed.
—Owtikk lunged toward the hag, closing the five foot gap between them easily. She struck with both her claws, lifted the hag in the air, and with a powerful roar, ripped her almost in two.
—As the hag’s screams echoed across the clearing, the strange shadowy landscape faded away, gradually replaced by Eldergleam Estate.
—Those who were riding creatures dismounted, and they all stood nearby Owtikk’s bedchamber, where the poor Gnome still slept. The glowing light faded from the black gem, and the light that had been draining into it siphoned quickly back into Luntikk’s heart.
—The party gathered close around the dying hag as she croaked her final breaths.
—The hag revealed that Galithor had sent her to hinder their plans. Before she died, Foren told her to tell Galithor to send better minions next time.
—The hag laughed, and agreed with a sneer. The hag died, and erupted into a cloud of smoke before vanishing to the Abyss.
—Owtikk jumped onto Luntikk’s bed immediately, and removed the black gem necklace around Luntikk’s neck.
—At first, nothing happened, and Owtikk’s heart sank slightly. Ghost laid his large head next to her, and quietly licked at her hand in comfort.
—And then, Luntikk’s eyes began to flutter a little. Owtikk called “Wake up!!”, but Luntikk still snored slightly, and seemed to doze back off.
—At that moment, Ghost jumped, put both his paws on the bed, and let out a resounding “BARK!”
—At once, Luntikk’s eyes snapped open with a start, and he scampered for a moment before calming down, and looking at all the unfamiliar faces around him. A little embarrassed, he asked who they all were, and what they were doing in his bedroom.
—Owtikk exclaimed that she was his sister, and Ghost gave two happy barks.
—Luntikk was startled, and squinted for a moment from Owtikk’s gemstone necklace, to her purple hair. Then a smile cracked on his face. “Owtikk? Why…I haven’t seen you since you were a baby…”
—Owtikk was surprised that he had met her at all, and Luntikk told her that there was much to say.
—However, Luntikk looked around the room, and after saying he had felt like he had had a poor sleep, requested that everyone except Owtikk leave the room, as he was feeling a little overwhelmed.
—Everyone decided this was a good idea, and so they each went downstairs, and into the courtyard.
—Owtikk began asking questions of her brother, wondering why she had never heard from him, and why they had never met.
—Luntikk sighed at this, and pondered a moment. He then looked into Owtikk’s eyes and said “It is rather a long story…And I’m not sure where to begin…” After a pause, he looked back at her and said “Tell me, Owtikk….What do you know about our parents?”

Game XX
The Stuff Of Nightmares

—Owtikk emerged from Nefaric’s study, and approached Foren and Cyrus. They exchanged the information they had uncovered, and were disheartened to hear that Nefaric was not the man they were looking for.
—However, Cyrus decided that due to Nefaric’s illicit side-business, he would still have to be brought to justice. Foren followed Cyrus over to the study, and Foren cast Knock upon the door. It swung open, and Cyrus retrieved the journal for evidence.
—Then, the three of them devised a plan to involve the guards in the situation. Cyrus scaled the stairs of the chateau, and took to his Pony, Scarto. Drawing an ornate Thorekian horn from his belt, he rode down the street, trumpeting a call to arms.
—Meanwhile, in order to keep Nefaric from escaping, Owtikk and Foren remained hidden in the chateau, waiting should anyone awake due to the sound.
—Luckily, Nefaric was a heavy sleeper, as were his men, and did not awake as Cyrus rode out into the night.
—As he rode forward, it was not long before Cyrus was met by a contingent of guardsmen, armor glinting in the moonlight.
—Cryus wasted no time in telling them that a devious crime had been uncovered, and rode off for Nefaric’s house, the bewildered guards in tow.
—When they all reached the manor, the lead guard recognized the place as being the home of Nefaric Luciana, who he described as being a well-known, wealthy, respectable businessman.
—As the guard began to explain that they could not simply stride into his house and arrest him without proper proof, Cyrus let out a battle-cry, and reared on Scarto, smashing the door down with the Pony’s hooves.
—Cyrus charged in, leading the guards down the stairs into the secret room, where, they saw the vast amount of drugs being kept. At this, the guards were forced by the evidence collected there to take Nefaric into custody.
—Owtikk and Foren slipped out of the manor unnoticed, and re-approached the scene, appearing as passersby.
—As the guards took care of Nefaric and his men inside, Cyrus accepted praise from the guard captain, standing outside. Just out of earshot of the others, Cyrus used the opportunity to ask the guard captain if he could speak with the general of the Weldorian army.
—The guard captain told Cyrus that he would do him one better – the guard agreed to gain Cyrus a meeting with the King himself. The guard said that the King would likely wish to commend him for bringing Nefaric down anyway.
—Cyrus seemed excited at this, and thanked the guard profusely.
—A moment later, Neferic was brought out, flanked by two heavily-armored guards, bound in irons. Cyrus threw Nefaric a nasty look, but Nefaric simply smiled his sneering glare. The moment between them passed, and Nefaric was hauled away with his men to the prisons.
—Cyrus then said his goodbyes to the guard captain. The guard told him to wait for a summons from a courier, who would deliver his meeting time with the King.
—The three heroes then met back up, and walked off toward Edenvale Manor.
—Meanwhile, Lizer descended the steps of the inn, and approached Corta’s table, where she had viewed his conversation with Azaim through her crystal ball.
—They decided that nothing more could be done that evening, and left the inn to return to Edenvale for the night.
—The five of them exchanged brief greetings upon arriving back at the Manor before all heading off in different directions to rest.
—Foren, still intent on searching Lizer’s library for information on the Fey, fell asleep, once again, his head face down in a book.
—Cyrus went to the kitchens, and found himself a bottle of brandy to swig on. He became drunk quickly, and was carefully brought to a bedroom by Hakka, who locked him inside delicately so that he would do no damage to any of the other rooms in his state.
—Cyrus fell unconscious almost immediately, brandy bottle in-hand, sprawled across the comfortable straw bed.
—Corta found a comfortable as well, and Lizer took to his quarters upstairs.
—Owtikk, as usual, spent the night in the stables outside, laying with Ghost, curled up in the warmth of his pure white fur.
—The entire group fell into a deep slumber, drifting fully one -by-one.
BANG. Cyrus awoke with a start as he heard noise on the outside of his door. Groggy, and unclear, Cyrus wondered if he hadn’t dreamed the noise, and so waited to hear the sound a second time before acting.
—As he sat in the thick silence, he took in the room around him for the first time (having been too drunk to do so earlier that evening).
—Gradually, as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he began to notice that his room was decorated with paintings and vases depicting battle-scenes and colors and sigils from Thorek.
—Though Cyrus found this rather odd, he only had a brief moment to reflect before he heard another loud BANG on the exterior of his bedroom.
—Sure he had heard something real that time, Cyrus rached in the darkness for his spear, which he found, and clutched in both hands.
—He waited in the blackness for what felt like an eternity before the slamming on the door began again. This time, it was more of a pounding sound, as though something large and strong was trying to break through from the other side.
—As Cyrus readied himself for a fight, he heard a low, snarling voice. “Cyruss….” It called sinisterly from behind the door. Cyrus’s eyes went wide.
—”Face me….Face me, Cyrus…” The voice called with a sneer. Cyrus could only level his spear in terror, attempting to steel himself for what was to come.
—The creature began to laugh, and slammed against the door again, this time harder, and accompanied by snarls and howls of rage.
—Before he could decide what do to, he saw the door splinter under the might of a set of long, curving claws. In moments, the door had been shredded to splinters as a hulking, hairy black beast with red eyes strode inside. It stood more than seven feet tall, stooping over with a white band of fur at its neck.
—The creature closed in upon Cyrus, who swung his spear at the beast. The creature swung a heavy arm and reduced the weapon to tinder, blocking the blow entirely.
—The creature laughed. “You cannot run from me, Cyrus. I am your destiny.”
—With that, the creature flung Cyrus to the ground, and opened its fanged maw wide. Cyrus felt the sensation of having his soul drawn from his body, torn from his physical form and into the blackness of the beast’s maw.
—Everything went dark. Then, moments later, Cyrus’s vision began to clear. He looked down at his hands, and saw that he had claws. He was taller than he had been before. And he startling came to the realization that he was no longer in control of himself.
—He flew into a rage, and began attacking the walls, destroying the artwork depicting images of Thorek. He tore at the walls, ripped at the carpeted floor, and reduced the room to rubble. Gradually, as he raged on and on, his vision clouded over with darkness, and he knew no more.
—Meanwhile, a floor above, Foren saw a bright flash behind his eyelids, waking him up from his slumber with a jolt.
—He was certain something had just whizzed by his eyes, and he spun around in his chair hoping to find the source of this annoyance.
—The library was dark, and gloomy, lit only by the low-burning candle sitting next to Foren on his desk full of books.
—Eventually, Foren caught sight of something sitting idly atop one of Lizer’s many bookshelves. A very small creature was sitting, its feet dangling over the edge of the shelf, glowing a hearty yellow through the dark of the high-ceilinged chamber.
—Foren puzzled at the creature a moment, but recognized that it was some kind of Fey. “…Hello…” Foren ventured in a friendly manner, hoping to communicate.
—However, with a quick tilt of the thing’s tiny, yet over sized head, Foren could see the nature of this creature was less than wholesome. It grinned at Foren, menacingly, baring its teeth in an unsettling fashion.
—Before Foren could think to do anything, the little creature whizzed down from its shelf, and landed deftly upon the open book that Foren had been reading.
—Perplexed but intrigued, Foren watched as the thing took a page in two hands, and roughly flipped it over. At once, a similar creature, yet glowing a radiant blue, whizzed forth from the book, and buzzed about the room.
—The two of them split off, and Foren observed as they began pulling books from the shelves, and letting them plummet to the floor. As these books splayed open, more Fey emerged from the pages, who also set to work doing the same.
—Gradually, the creatures pulled larger books from the shelves, and larger Fey came out. Brownies, Grigs, Pixies, Korreds, Gremlins, Redcaps – almost every type of creature imaginable sprung into existence, and filled the corners of the room.
—With larger creatures helping the others, even bigger beasts came forward. Pulling several books of the shelves at once caused Trolls, and Goblins, and other hideous beasts to emerge.
—Soon, the room was entirely filled with eerily silent creatures, all staring down at Foren, keenly observing him as he stood in awe, transfixed. The creatures filled the entire library, from the wooden floorboards to the dark rafters shrouded high above.
—Then, Foren heard a voice ring out through the silence.
—A tall, slender woman garbed in white, with golden flowing hair descending down to her ankles strode out from behind a shelf, a radiant figure through the darkness.
—”Still you search for us, Foren. Still you yearn to become one of us once again.” Nagarill’s voice was cold, and distant. “But what you fail to realize is that you are not one of us. You were never one of us.”
—Foren’s eyes widened as she said this, aghast at what he head heard. Nagarill then snapped her fingers, and several Fey swooped down to carry something up to Foren’s eye-level.
—The Fey carried a mirror, sneering as they leveled it to Foren’s gaze. Foren saw his reflection, and was horrified to see that the image of himself with a wolf’s head in place of his own.
—Foren acted quickly, and in a moment of panic and fear, he blasted a Scorching Ray from his fingertips, striking the mirror with the bolt of fire.
—However, the mirror only served to reflect the ray back toward Foren, hitting him square in the face.
—As his face burned, Nagarill and the Fey began to laugh. “You may run from your future, Foren Truthliar,” Nagarill said in a mirthless voice “But your past will always catch up to you…”
—With that, the creatures surrounding Foren descended upon him, ripping and tearing at the burning flesh on his face. The moments passed in agony, and Foren lost consciousness, the blackness overtaking him.
—Lizer awoke in his bed, the distant sounds of roaring and clashing metal ringing in his ears. As his head cleared of sleep, he more clearly recognized the sound of a battle taking place somewhere downstairs.
—Suddenly alert, Lizer hastened to don his armor, and took up his weapons before moving to the door.
—Placing a hand on the doorknob, Lizer found that the door was hot, scalding him slightly.
—Taking a deep breath, Lizer wrapped his hand in his cloak, turned the knob, and found himself standing in the sitting room outside his bedchamber – the room filled with dark smoke, the walls alight with flame.
—Panic struck Lizer, and he thrust himself from his room, only to spot Hakka’s dead body laying sprawled on the small table in the sitting area.
—Lizer steeled himself against this grisly sight, and crossed the room hastily to the door to the library, hoping to find Foren still I good health.
—The door to the library was jammed, and Lizer could do nothing to open it.
—Remembering the others, Lizer quickly headed to the stairwell, and descended the spiraling steps down to the second level. He passed two bodies on his way down – one was the lifeless form of an Elven soldier, and the other was Shanna, staring up at the ceiling with blank eyes.
—Lizer managed to take note that Shanna’s stomach had been pierced by a thin weapon, likely a rapier, though he could not tell what type of blade exactly from the wound.
—As he reached the bottom of the stairs, Lizer caught sight of a sword battle between Hookrel the Guard, and an Elven warrior garbed in green.
—Lizer could not close the gap between he and the Elf quickly enough, and Hookrel was killed, stabbed through the chest with the Elf’s rapier.
—The Elf deftly cleaned his blade on his green elven cloak, and then turned to face Lizer, a sneer on his face.
—Lizer ran forward, and cut the Elf down with a single blow, knocking him from the balcony down to the first floor.
—Lizer then tore down the stairs, the fire burning brighter and hotter the lower he went, until he came to the double-doors leading into the dining hall.
—He burst through the doors, and rushed forward into the burning hall to see an Elven warrior turn around. The Elf had Tristan tight in his grip, with a bade held firmly to the child’s neck.
—Lizer stopped in his tracks, trying to decide what to do. The Elf sneered at Lizer, and Tristan looked at Lizer boldly, yet appeared frightened.
—The Elf spoke in a satisfied drawl “I bring a message. From the future of all Elvenkind.”
—Without another word, the elf bared his teeth, and drew his blade across Tristan’s neck.
—Lizer charged forward, but was too late to save Tristan. The boy’s eyes were wide with horror as the Elf backed away. Lizer caught Tristan in his arms, and held him close as his last few breaths began to fade.
—He looked around for a means of escape, but the dining hall was collapsing in, beam by beam from the raging fire which was consuming the manor.
—The Elf did nothing to secure his own escape from the room, hid grim deed already accomplished.
—Soon, the falling structure caved in, trapping both Lizer and Tristan beneath. As the fire raged on, Lizer held Tristan tightly, accepting the death that swirled like smoke into his lungs, darkening his vision until he saw no more.
—Corta’s eyes opened, and were forced to adjust to a strange, pale light. She found herself laying upon cold, hard stone, staring up at the gray sky above.
—She got to her feet, and surveyed her surroundings. Corta stood on a bleak expanse of stone, with various clumps of rubble and rock laying here and there.
—The only features of interest were the strange, twirling lines of blue-white runes which soared upward, like backwards falling rain, twisting toward the heavens above.
—Unsure of what else to do, Corta began to walk. She strode off into the bleak expanse, which seemed never to end from horizon to horizon.
—She walked for what seemed like hours, and as she did, more and more she began to realize that she stood in the ruins of a large city. The piles of rubble began to resemble the foundations of houses, shops and businesses. Not only that, but things began to seem familiar to her.
—As this was dawning upon her, she found a portion of ruined stone walls that she felt compelled to inspect. As she moved within the wide ring of low stone bricks, he realized where she was. This had undoubtedly been Lizer’s Edenvale Manor.
—As she stood within this broken foundation, she watched the runic symbols twist upward, wondering what they were.
—Suddenly, a familiar voice made Corta jump. “Unbelievable, isn’t it? The destruction one can wield.”
—Corta turned slowly to see Galithor standing near the threshold of the manor, grinning slightly.
—Corta appeared to ready herself for a fight, but Galithor merely laughed, and said “What point would there be in fighting? Everything worth fighting for has been eliminated. You saw to that.”
—Corta tried to ask what Galithor meant by that, and Galithor went on “I couldn’t have done it better myself. So simple when your work is done for you before you even arrive. I had hoped to usher Wargoth into this world in order to wreak chaos over this realm, but I suppose clearing it of all life was just as good…”
—She paused and whispered “…I did this?”
—Galithor laughed dispassionately. “You should be proud. Such rage and power combined is rarely ever so effective. And without even lifting a finger, this realm is ripe for the taking. Don’t feel sad, Corta. This realm was doomed long before you tried to save it.”
—At that, Galithor pointed to the horizon, where a dark shadow loomed high in the distance. The figure of a hideous demon, with crabs’s claws and a hound’s head towered over the landscape taking great strides over the barren place.
—Corta looked down at her feet after seeing this, then asked Galithor “…and my friends?”
—Galithor grinned snidely. “Look around you.”
—Corta looked to each of the beams of spiraling runes, and she at last could make sense of what they meant. The runes coalesced into images of her friends. Foren, Owtikk, Grom, Lizer, Magatha, Henry, Jordan….so many people she had known, unraveled into nothing more than formula.
—As more and more of her friends materialized in this fashion before her, she saw the city begin to fill with these apparitions as well. As far as the eye could see, the runic columns transformed into people Corta had unraveled.
—As the weight of this sunk in, Corta fell to her knees, the reality of it all sinking in, as Wargoth loomed ever closer in on the horizon.
—Owtikk awoke to a cool nip in the air around her.
—She found herself laying on a small pile of hay in the stables outside of Edenvale Manor. She rubbed her eyes, and stood up, looking around her. The morning was mist-covered and chilly. She could see the city all around her, but the structures were only visible a few feet ahead through the heavy fog.
—As she took in this sight, she began to realize that she was alone. Ghost was not next to her, and neither were Scarto, Erasme, or anyone else for that matter.
—Owtikk decided to go and check inside the manor to see if anyone else was awake. She ventured inside, but could find no one at all in the vast house, no matter how long she called.
—Owtikk went back outside, puzzled and feeling quite worried, and ventured off down the street through the fog.
—She encountered no-one in the normally busy streets of Lorehome. The city appeared to be entirely deserted. She began to feel quite scared and alone, wishing Ghost would appear at her side.
—Then, as Owtikk walked, she spotted a figure standing not far ahead, just visible through the fog. She ventured closer, and she saw that it was Luntikk, standing in the cold streets wearing the same bedclothes and amulet she had seen him wearing before.
—Confused, Owtikk ran closer, Luntikk simply standing there idly watching as she did so.
—”Hello Owtikk,” Luntikk said to her, his voice rather flat and emotionless.
—Owtikk paused. “…You know who I am?” she asked, tentatively. “Oh, yes.” Luntikk responded. “You were quite young when I left, but I would never forget my own sister.”
—Owtikk was nervous at Luntikk’s hollow-sounding voice. “Shouldn’t you be resting? How are you feeling?”
—Luntikk blinked slowly. “I am fine, Owtikk. You should stop worrying about me. Where are your friends? You should worry more about helping them. Forget about me.”
—Owtikk became frightened in earnest now. Luntikk was speaking strangely, and Owtikk did not like the sound of his tone. “Where are my friends? Do you know where they are?”
—Luntikk looked to the side, his eyes downcast. “No. I don’t know where they are. You should go look for them. Maybe I can help.”
—With that, Luntikk let out a shrill whistle. Out of the fog came Ghost, striding forward with red eyes, snarling at Owtikk at Luntikk’s side.
—Without warning, Ghost charged at Owtikk, and leaped on her, snarling and biting, ripping and tearing. Through the pain and horror, Owtikk’s last glimpse was of Luntikk, smiling before her vision failed.
—In Edenvale Manor, everyone awoke at roughly the same time. The events during the night had all been horrific dreams, although they could scarcely tell what was real or false.
—Lizer was woken by Hakka rapping at his bedroom door. Lizer opened it, and threw himself into Hakka’s arms in a wide embrace. Hakka was quite puzzled, and did not return such affection.
—Lizer apologized, and asked Hakka if everyone was alright. Hakka was confused, and agreed to check on each of the guests to ease Lizer’s troubled mind.
—Meanwhile, Lizer began dressing for the day, his nightmare still ringing in his mind. Then, quite suddenly, Lizer remembered Foren, and dashed to the library to see if he was ok.
—Bursting into the library, Lizer found Foren fast asleep, his face buried in a book. Lizer shook him vigorously awake, startling Foren a great deal. The two of them had a brief exchange, both mentioning having slept rather poorly. They did not go into detail about the dreams they had had, but each shared a weariness of the visions they had endured.
—The two agreed that checking on the others was likely a sound plan, and they followed Hakka down the steps to the second landing
—Hakka had begun knocking on the nearest bedroom door, belonging to Corta. Inside, Corta awoke, horrified at the things she had seen and done in her vision. Thinking this was a prophetic dream, Corta began to panic.
—She decided not to endanger anyone else’s lives, and while Hakka hammered on the door, she gathered her belongings, flung open the window, and took flight down to the busy street below.
—As Foren and Lizer spotted Hakka knocking politely over and over on Corta’s door, Foren became worried that something had happened to her in the night, and he opened the locked door with a Knock spell.
—Foren immediately saw that Corta had fled from the window, and he tore over to see if he could spot her. Far, far ahead, Foren saw her disappear in the crowded streets below.
—Without wasting any time, Foren focused his energy, and used Dimension Door to transport himself to her location.
—This worked very well, and he appeared mere feet from Corta, in a dazzling display. Foren called out to her, but as she caught sight of him, Corta took flight once again, soaring up into the air, and out of the city as fast as her wings would carry her.
—Foren stopped chasing, and stood in the street watching her disappear.
—Meanwhile, back at the manor, Hakka and Lizer became worried for the other guests. Lizer strode into Corta’s room, trying to discover what had made her run away, while Hakka began knocking on Cyrus’s door.
—Cyrus awoke with a jolt, and grabbed his spear. The nightmare still fresh in his mind, Cyrus could not think straight. He closed the gap between himself and the door, and readied himself to attack.
—Hakka decided to unlock Cyrus’s door from the outside, and as he opened it, Cyrus lunged.
—Hakka’s breath left him, and his eyes bulged a moment as the spear sunk deep into his gut. Cyrus’s menacing glare vanished in an instant, replaced by shock and horror.
—Hakka sunk down to the floor, and Cyrus called for help, aghast at what he had just done.
—Lizer ran from the nearby room, and cradled Hakka in his arms. Hakka muttered in his polite tone meekly. “I believe I have been stabbed, sir…I apologize if this effects my daily duties….”
—Recognizing that Hakka was going into shock, Lizer tried to calm him down. Meanwhile, Lizer told Cyrus to find some help, and to go and get Owtikk.
—Cyrus nodded vigorously, and fled down the stairs to the stables.
—Owtikk awoke of her own accord, hastily checking to see that Ghost was there. She breathed a sigh of relief, as Ghost lifted his head from beneath her, and gave her face a lick, wagging his huge tail.
—She had little time to reflect on the dream she had had before Cyrus burst from the manor, telling Owtikk to come and help immediately.
—The two of them hastened upstairs, where Shanna had arrived with towels to staunch the bleeding.
—Owtikk set to work, and healed Hakka almost instantly. Hakka groggily got to his feet, supported by Lizer. Hakka wanted to return to his duties, but Lizer ordered him to go and take a long rest while he recovered.
—Cyrus was apologetic and ashamed at what he had done, but the others knew that it could not have been on purpose, and also understood why someone might be on edge after the night they had all had.
—Foren arrived shortly, and the four of them went downstairs to the dining hall to reflect on what they had learned, and to decide what they would do next.
—Meanwhile, Corta soared above the streets of Lorehome until she was outside the high walls, and out into the hilly countryside. She flew until Lorehome looked quite a bit smaller, and landed atop a hill with a tall oak tree.
—She continued to panic, wringing her hands and thinking about what to do next, when she heard a voice from behind the tree.
—A small old man was sitting on a blanket with a few books enjoying a cup of tea. The man kindly offered Corta some tea, and she sat down on his blanket across from him, still worrying and fretting.
—The man asked her what was troubling her, his manner bright and cheery, drinking his tea through his long, white beard.
—Corta told the man that she had had a horrible dream, and she thought it had been a prophetic vision.
—The man nodded sagely at this, and told her that dreams should not be ignored, for they often hold secrets. Corta started to worry at this, but then the man added: “But you must understand that sometimes dreams are simply dreams. They drift in, show us our deepest desires, or deepest fears, and then drift away into nothing.”
—Corta seemed perplexed at this, and mentioned that her dreams had come true before. The man nodded and said that he knew a great deal about prophetic dreams, and the nature of divination. But he cautioned her not to put too much stock into visions, for they can be changed and evaded with careful choices.
—Corta sipped her tea, and pondered this. She began to calm down, and asked the man if there was a way for an enemy to invade someone else’s dreams.
—The man nodded, telling her that there were spells that could achieve this effect. He told her it was magic that many would be capable of in the city, but that only a true enemy would think to wreak such havoc on another’s subconscious.
—Corta thanked the man for his kindness and his advice, and sat with him awhile longer, reading one of his books. As she got up to leave, she asked the man if there was some way to protect against such incursions into the dream state.
—The man told her that she should go check with the owner of The Mimic’s Mouth Magic Emporium, who would have many trinkets that could protect against such spells.
—Corta thanked the man again, and left back for the city.
—Foren, Cyrus, Lizer and Owtikk sat in the dining hall, each of them pondering the dreams they had experienced. While they all came to the conclusion that they had gone through nightmares, none were too interested in speaking about the contents.
—They agreed that Corta must have had such a nightmare as well, which was the reason for her taking off. But they agreed that she would return soon, and that her vision must have simply been particularly starling.
—Cyrus was strongly concerned for what he had done to Hakka, and could not be consoled by the others, despite their attempts.
—Putting these dreams aside, they decided to part ways in order to discover more about what had happened to Luntikk.
—Foren and Cyrus decided to go and speak to Nefaric, to ensure that he truly knew nothing more about Luntikk’s ailment. Lizer elected to head up to his study to research dreams, and discover why they had all had such an awful experience. Owtikk decided to go and visit her brother once again, hoping to make sure that he was all right.
—They each set off in their separate directions, all intent on finding answers.
—Foren and Cyrus found the prison quite easily, and were led down to the basement cells to speak with Nefaric. Cyrus lamented the fact that this prison seemed to be more comfortable than most houses found in his homeland. The guard explained that their focus was on rehabilitation, and that they felt that the time spent locked away should be spent reading, and bettering one’s self.
—Cyrus was still shaking his head as they arrived at Nefaric’s cell. The Dwarf was laying on his bed, reading a book, and did not look up as they approached.
—Cyrus and Foren got Nefaric’s attention, and though the Dwarf drawled on, and was quite rude and malicious to his captors, they did not uncover any evidence that would tie Nefaric to the nightmares they had had, nor Luntikk’s sleeping sickness.
—Cyrus and Foren were forced to let Nefaric rot in his cell as they left the prison structure to try to find more leads.
—Back at Edenvale Manor, Lizer retired to his library, intent on discovering answers about the nightmares. He searched book after book, and could only turn up information regarding magical dream effects.
—He uncovered a spell description which seemed to present the same symptoms that the party had experienced, but the root cause was still a mystery. Lizer continued to search, determined to find any answers he could.
—As Owtikk made her way with Ghost down the streets of Lorehome toward Eldergleam Estate, she spotted a crowd gathered out front of the House of Healing.
—Owtikk dismounted, and crawled her way through the knees of the observers to the front of the scrum, where Weldorian guards were keeping onlookers from infringing on the scene.
—Owtikk asked what had happened, and the nearest guard told her that it was strictly the business of the Crown.
—However, a nearby observer piped up, claiming that a doctor had been killed inside, and that there was an investigation underway.
—The guard, exasperated confirmed that this was true, apparently tired of keeping the truth under wraps. As Owtikk did not see any way she could investigate, she left the scene, and got back onto Ghost.
—Owtikk rode Ghost over to Luntikk’s, and was let inside by Harriett. She led Owtikk back to Luntikk’s bedroom, where she curled up once again on her brother’s bed. Luntikk seemed worse than the day before, and Owtikk sobbed slightly as she wished her brother would return to good health.
—Meanwhile, Corta strode back into Lorehome, and began following the directions the old man had given her to the magic shop.
—She crossed into the knowledge district, and soon found the building she was looking for. A huge painted sign depicting a treasure chest with teeth sat under the words “The Mimic’s Mouth Magic Emporium”. The building had many wooden beams that were painted bright orange, making it stand starkly against every other building on the crowded street. The windows were wide, and had many plush pillows displaying magical wares and tokens.
—Corta strode inside, and surveyed the place. The shop was very well-kept, and had glass cases and cabinets everywhere showing numerous items and trinkets for sale, as well as spellbooks, scrolls, and artifacts. The walls were covered in maps and antiques, and the atmosphere gave the impression that the owner was a great traveler.
—Corta heard a voice shout from the back “Be with you in a minute! Make yourself at home!” Corta strode in further, and looked up at a huge metallic man, made of interlocking iron plates.
—Just then, she heard a noise at her side. Corta looked down and saw a tiny, bright-orange dog-like reptilian humanoid wearing matching orange robes.
—The creature stared up at her, and licked its lips, letting go of the bag hanging at her side.
—”Don’t mind him,” came a voice beside her that made Corta jump. “He’s just being friendly! Hi! My name is Dimitri Domenique! Welcome to The Mimic’s Mouth! How can I help you today?”
—The fellow was handsome, though he had a severely crooked nose, and appeared to exude a smugness that told Corta that this man thought too much of himself.
—Corta explained that she was looking for information on repelling nightmares, and that she was wondering if he had anything that could provide this sort of protection for sale.
—Dimitri set Corta up with a book with more information regarding magical dream states while he searched his shelves for an applicable item.
—As she searched through the tome, Dimitri slyly mentioned that he had encountered a great deal of dream-altering creatures in his travels, and that he would love to tell her the stories sometime.
—However, Corta seemed too immersed in her reading to notice. She discovered a passage that mentioned a spell called “Nightmare”, the same one that the old man had talked about.
—Without much else to say to Dimitri, Corta purchased an amulet that he said would protect her against further dream incursions.
—As Corta was getting ready to leave, she caught sight of the Kobold standing behind Dimitri.
—Corta exclaimed as she saw the little creature reach up a dagger, and almost stab Dimitri in the back. At her shout, Dimitri turned just in time for the Kobold to hide the weapon swiftly.
—”Don’t worry!” Dimitri said, patting the Kobold on the head. “He’s harmless. His village was causing some trouble for a bunch of Halflings, so I had to wipe most of them out. But I saved this little guy! Been friends ever since!”
—The Kobold muttered something that can’t have been friendly before wandering off.
—Corta shook her head at the lunacy of this, and left the shop.
—As Foren and Cyrus were leaving the prison, they caught sight of a crowd forming around the Healing Houses. At once, the two of them pushed their way through the crowd, and got the information from one of the Weldorian guards about the doctor who had been killed inside.
—Foren wasted no time, and cast an Arcane Mark upon his arm, one that mimicked the symbol of an Equilibrium Scholar.
—Foren, using cunning wordplay convinced the guard that he was here to inspect the crime scene on behalf of the Equilibrium Mages. He also told the guard that Cyrus was his bodyguard, and would need to come along to assist as well.
—Not understanding why the Equilibrium Mages would get involved, the guard nevertheless did not want to cause any trouble, and led the two of them inside to inspect the body of the deceased doctor.

Game XIX
Nefarious Deeds In Lorehome

—As the sun came up over Lorehome, Owtikk was the first to rise from her slumber in the hay-strewn stables. Korrice, the stablehand was already preparing to get to work, and greeted Owtikk quietly as he prepared to clean the stables.
—Owtikk brightly began to groom Ghost, letting the sleeping Cyrus lie, a bottle of empty spirits still clutched in one hand next to his pony, Scarto.
—Inside of Edenvale Manor, Lizer awoke with a start, as a few short raps came at his chamber door. Hakka the Half-Orc butler stood there, reminding Lizer of his guests, and that they should be needing breakfast.
—Lizer brightly remembered this, and bade Hakka to arrange a feast that would cater to many different appetites. Hakka nodded, and left Lizer to ready himself.
—After dressing, Lizer promptly strode over to his library, where he discovered Foren sound asleep on an open book. Lizer shook him awake, and invited to join him downstairs for breakfast.
—Lizer also took note that Foren must be doing important research of some kind, due to falling asleep during his reading, and inquired as to what Foren was looking for.
—Foren attempted to play off his interests, but Lizer saw through the ruse easily. Foren then asked Lizer if there was any other place he could find information about the Fey in town.
—Lizer told Foren how scarce information on the Fey was just about anywhere, but not to give up looking for answers.
—Foren seemed to remain encouraged that Luntikk could have information, and so followed Lizer downstairs.
—Outside, Cyrus finally awoke to the sounds of a pitchfork scraping along flagged stone, as Korrice began gathering the hay to change it.
—Cyrus and Korrice gave dark nods to one another, and Cyrus remained seated for a time, glaring at the stablehand in abject disgust. Cyrus then began
—Cyrus and Owtikk soon rose from their positions, and strode back inside the keep, moving through the kitchens toward the dining hall. The Dwarven cook, Dolwin was hard at work, preparing many different dishes at a hurried pace.
—Cyrus seemed suspicious of this Dwarf at first, but after making sure that the Dwarf had not slipped anything into the food, he moved through the doors into the dining hall with Owtikk.
—Hakka was already there, laying out dishes and goblets, and utensils neatly on the tablecloth. He offered for them to sit down, and Owtikk immediately displayed rather poor table manners.
—Cyrus looked at Hakka with an apology, and Hakka suggested that Cyrus look after Owtikk, and teach her some manners before the others arrived.
—He then left the room to fetch their drinks, and oversee the meal preparation.
—Meanwhile, Foren accompanied Lizer out to the stables a moment while Lizer greeted his mount, Erasme. After this, the two of them headed back into the Manor, and took their seats near Owtikk and Cyrus, bidding them a fine good morning.
—Upstairs, Corta heard a few timid knocks on her bedroom door, and opened it to see Henry, who mentioned the breakfast being made downstairs.
—Corta told Henry that she would be down shortly, and Henry went down to join the others. Corta took a few moments to explore the Manor in greater detail, taking note of the old artwork and craftsmanship. However, not discovering anything of particular note, Corta went down the stairs and joined the others for breakfast.
—After partaking in some of the food Hakka laid out, the group began to discuss their interests in town, and where they planned to head to next.
—After only a small amount of discussion, the group agreed to head to Luntikk’s last known address, a manor home in the Tower district known as Eldergleam Estate.
—This decided, the group went back to their meal, and were soon joined by the members of Lizer’s staff, upon his request. Shanna the maid scurried forward from the double doors, and handed Lizer a sealed note addressed to him.
—Curious, Lizer opened the note, which revealed that Tamsin had elected to follow her own path of adventure, having left the manor early that morning. She thanked the group for their efforts in rescuing her, and thanked Lizer for his hospitality, signing her name at the bottom of the page.
—Shanna then addressed the others at the table, offering an apology for having been so harsh the night before. She particularly mentioned this to Owtikk, who had been overwhelmed by her previously.
—The rest of the staff members emerged from their different stations to partake in the feast laid out before them.
—After everyone else had been seated, save for Hakka, a small boy of roughly 12 years of age emerged from a side door, and trotted up to Lizer’s side. He politely asked if he could join them for breakfast, evidently having slept in, and Lizer amusedly told him “of course!”
—The boy happily sat down next to Owtikk, Shanna moving over to accommodate the boy. The boy brightly introduced himself as Tristan, and was impressed by Owtikk telling him of their adventures, and all that they had seen.
—The boy was a half-elf with blonde hair and bright eyes, and seemed to be a cupbearer in Lizer’s employ.
—After everyone had left the table the group got up, and excused themselves from the manor, taking some food with them as provisions for the day before them. Then, saddling up their various mounts, the party moved off toward Eldergleam Estate, eager to meet Owtikk’s brother at last.
—The tower district in Lorehome was filled with wonderful structures, beautiful to behold, and Eldergleam Estate was no exception.
—Standing three stories, the estate sat at the end of a wide, well-kept lawn enclosed by a tall, spiked wrought-iron gate. Just in front of the doors, at the end of the main path stood a marvelous statue of a beautiful woman with long, flowing hair. In one hand the statue held a needle, and in the other, a spool of thread.
—While the others moved forward towards the doors, Foren held back, examining this work of art.
—Lizer, bringing up the rear stopped as well to regard Foren taking in this sight. Lizer knew this statue to be of the goddess Nagarill, keeper of nature, and Queen of the Fey. He also knew that most Gnomes paid reverence to her, but not by name, and more by her other title, “Mother Nature”.
—The group assembled at the doors, and Owtikk ran towards the golden knockers with the eagerness of an excited child…but she stopped short of the handle, succumbing to nervous jitters, and hid herself behind Corta’s skirts.
—Foren, interested in meeting Luntikk himself, took the lead, and knocked soundly upon the fine wooden doors.
—After a few moments, the doors creaked open revealing a handmaiden with black hair and a drab brown dress and apron.
—The woman asked the group if they had come to see Luntikk, and what relation they were to him.
—The group nodded, and Owtikk told the handmaiden that Luntikk was her brother, and that she very much wished to see him.
—The woman nodded solemnly, a concerned look upon her face. She introduced herself as Harriet, and bade them to enter. She sat them on chairs in the foyer, and told them to wait a few moments, as she said that Luntikk already had someone visiting.
—Harriet strode back up the stairs, and out of sight. The group waited patiently, taking in the myriad masterpiece paintings, artifacts and statues sitting on displays all around the beautiful mansion.
—Foren noticed a Fey-oriented theme amid the works of art in the foyer as well, even spotting a small statue of a gilded needle and spool of thread once again standing atop a pillar.
—After several moments, the party heard footsteps echoing throughout the chamber, and a figure appeared at the top of the stairs. However, this figure was not Harriet, but a well-dressed Dwarf, with many golden rings and clasps over all of his clothing, and a smug expression on his bearded face.
—The Dwarf paused before exiting the premises, exhaling amusedly and saying to the group at large “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”. He then chuckled to himself, and pushed open the doors, leaving at an even, jolly pace.
—The group seemed to be perplexed by this behavior, and wondered what sort of business Luntikk ran out of his home.
—Several more minutes passed, and Harriet did not return to fetch them. The party remained patient, sure that she had become busy with something or other.
—Around ten more minutes after the Dwarf left, the doors to the estate opened once again, and a doleful black-haired half-elf strode in, plodding along hurriedly, with a pained expression on his dog-like face.
—The man had short, curly hair, a puffy-sleeved white shirt and a deep green vest with a hornet embroidered upon the back.
—He paused a moment before noticing the party around him, and seemed to grow nervous at seeing that Luntikk already had visitors.
—The group attempted to greet the newcomer, but the fellow seemed to lose his nerve, and could not keep from stammering. When they told him he was free to wait to see Luntikk with them, the man hastily muttered about “not wanting to get in the way, perhaps another time”, and exited out the doors as fast as he could.
—Even more confused, the party exchanged glances as Harriet came down the stairs at last. She asked the party about the sound of the door closing, and they explained about the strange man.
—Harriet told them that the man was named Lyle, who worked at the Drunken Hornet Inn and Tavern in the market district. When the party inquire about his relation to Luntikk, Harriet told them that they had been associates for some time.
—The party members pressed Harriet for information about Luntikk’s business affairs. Harriet told them that Luntikk quietly works on private research that he has been doing his entire career. She also said that often he does side work for clients who have need of his linguistic, mathematic and historical knowledge.
—When asked what kind of research Luntikk has been doing, Harriet would not budge, telling him that his research had not been published, and that it was a private matter that she did not wish to discuss, adding under her breath “Particularly now…”
—The group stopped asking questions, and proceeded to follow Harriet up the stairs. They entered a finely decorated, dimly-lit hall. The walls had more masterpiece artwork depicting Fey creatures, and strange kings and queens.
—The party also took note of framed parchment fragments with odd phrases written in strange, dead languages, and odd runes.
—Eventually, the party reached the end of the hall, at a set of finely-carved oak double-doors.
—”Well… here he is…” Said Harriet sadly. She opened the doors, and the party stepped into Luntikk’s large bedroom.
—The room was finely furnished with oak dressers and tables, and the walls were filled with more artifacts, scrolls and paintings. A bright, wide window sat at one side of the chamber, with the curtains drawn.
—Laying in the grand, fur-poster bed was a small Gnome with short curly hair, which was the precise same shade of violet at Owtikk’s. The Gnome was sleeping deeply, breathing very slowly from his long, thin, pointed nose. Luntikk was dressed in expensive, white bedclothes, but looked like he had been in bed for days.
—Owtikk ran over to her brother, and attempted to shake him awake. However, Luntikk remained fast asleep, not stirring even a bit from his slumber.
—Owtikk asked Harriet what was wrong with him. Suddenly, a tall elven man emerged from a side room, making them all jump. He answered Owtikk by telling the group “That is the question, isn’t it?”
—This man was obviously some sort of doctor. His face was partially obscured by a surgical mask covering his mouth, and his long hair was held back by a tall, cylindrical, purple hat.
—He strode into the room swirling what appeared to be a sample of blood in a tall, thin glass tube. On his waist were vials and bottles of all shapes and sizes, colors and contents. He also carried a number of books that seemed to contain alchemical recipes.
—When the party nervously inquired about the blood in the bottle, the man chuckled, and told them that it was part of his analysis. He introduced himself as Garidell, a healer from the Healing Houses. He said that he had been Luntikk’s physician for many years, though the Gnome rarely got sick.
—The party asked how long Luntikk had been sleeping, to which Harriet replied “Three days”. She told them that healers had tried every kind of spell that they could think of, and nothing seemed to work to rouse the poor Gnome.
—Garidell told them that he had ruled out most types of magical effects and diseases, and that he was investigating other causes that would be revealed through his analysis of Luntikk’s blood. However, he also told them that this analysis would take time.
—Owtikk sadly transformed into a little purple kitten, and curled up on Luntikk’s slowly rising and falling chest. Owtikk noticed that Luntikk had a black gemstone necklace hanging around his neck on a golden chain.
—Garidell told them that he would have the analysis as soon as possible, and the would be checking back with Harriet when he had found the answer. With that, he approached the door to the bedroom.
—Harriet hurried in front of the doctor, opening the door for him, and striding out before him down the hall. Garidell brushed past one of the others on his way out the bedroom doors, and dropped a small vial on the floor, which shattered, spilling its gray-ish contents in a powder all over the floorboards.
—Garidell looked pained at dropping the substance, and told them that he was saddened to have lost it. He told them that it was cold iron powder, which was very expensive.
—Without cleaning it up, he hurried down the hallway, and out of sight.
—With Harriet and the doctor out of the room, Cyrus, Corta and Lizer began to inspect the room a little.
—Meanwhile, Foren slipped out of the door, and followed Garidell down the hall. Foren took some time inspecting the hallway a bit, taking in his surroundings in greater detail.
—Before Garidell could leave, Foren caught up with him, and asked him where he could be found, should Luntikk’s condition change. Garidell gave Foren directions to the Houses of Healing where he made his home, and bade Foren goodbye.
—As Garidell wound the corner and out of sight, Foren caught sight of a patch of the carpet that was worn far more by foot traffic than the rest of the floor in the hall, just outside a set of large, heavy doors.
—Inspecting the ground more carefully, Foren detected a silvery powder residue clinging to the carpet’s fibers. The powder seemed to be strewn from under the door’s threshold, and so Foren, interested, slipped quietly inside to have a look.
—As it was pitch dark inside the room, Foren cast Dancing Lights, and took in his surroundings. He was inside a high-ceilinged laboratory with a stone floor. Everywhere were little desks and tables with open books. The books were complex tomes on numbers, runes, and symbols, which Foren could not make any sense of. On one end of the room was a small alchemical set, with a few vials nearby.
—Foren inspected these vials, and discovered two empty vials with powdery residue, and one that seemed full of this powdery silver substance.
—He continued exploring, and found a small alcove at the end of the room. There he noticed a strange pattern of the same metallic powder on the floor. It was sort of in the shape of a ring, with the center a clear circle, but the fringes brushed away. The circle had been broken in places, and it seemed that some of the powder had been stepped on, or had blown toward the exit doors.
—As Foren inspected this, he heard footsteps outside of the lab, and extinguished his spell, casting Invisibility upon himself.
—Harriet’s voice run out into the quiet lab, saying she had seen the lights inside the room. Foren pretend not to exist for a moment, waiting to see what she would do. Harriet protested, saying she was sure that someone was there, and that no one was allowed to enter Luntikk’s lab, not even herself.
—Foren decided to test this, and dropped a book onto the floor. This startled Harriet, and she became angry, insisting that the hidden person come out.
—In the end, she did not enter the lab, and closed the doors, going to join the others in a huff.
—Meanwhile, Lizer took a piece of parchment and scooped up the substance Garidell had spilled on the floor. He was unable to pick all of it up, but got a fair sample into the paper before folding it into an envelope, and stashing it away.
—As Lizer busied himself with this, Cyrus and Corta began discussing how this could have happened to Luntikk, and spoke to one another about their suspicions surrounding Lyle and the Dwarf.
—While Corta remained suspicious of Lyle’s nervous nature, Cyrus was far more concerned about the Dwarf they had seen, and his carefree attitude in the face of such a troubling incident.
—Lizer sided with Corta, and the two of them agreed to go and speak to Lyle to get some answers down at the Drunken Hornet.
—Cyrus spoke briefly to Owtikk, who agreed to help him find out more about this mysterious Dwarf.
—Just then, Harriet appeared at the threshold to Luntikk’s bedroom, and questioned them about someone being missing from their group. She told them that someone had been in Luntikk’s laboratory, a forbidden area, even for her.
—Though the party attempted to make excuses, Harriet could plainly see that one of their number had gotten into mischief, and told them that they had to leave.
—The group decided that this was best, and agreed to gather up their last companion on their way out. Harriet waited until they had all left the room, and tended to Luntikk as they made their way down the hall.
—Cyrus stopped on his way out, and quickly asked Harriet who the Dwarf had been who they had seen earlier. Harriet told him that the Dwarf was an entrepreneur named Nefaric Luciana, and that he lived just outside the Market District in a Chateau.
—Cyrus then rejoined the others, passing by the laboratory with Foren still inside. Cyrus loudly told Foren that they were leaving, and Foren took the hint to stay as long as he wished, and remained hidden.
—The group exited the premises, and then split off into two’s. Cyrus and Owtikk headed off toward Chateau Luciana, while Corta and Lizer rode off toward The Drunken Hornet. They agreed to meet back at Edenvale Manor at day’s end to compare notes.
—At the Drunken Hornet Inn and Tavern, Lizer and Corta hitched Erasme to a post, and strode inside. The place was empty due to the hour (or so it seemed), except for Lyle who was very intently scrubbing a plate behind the bar counter.
—As soon as the two of them approached, Lyle got very nervous. He stammered and struggled, and would not answer any questions. It was only a few seconds before he lost his nerve entirely, and dodged off through the kitchens into a back room.
—Corta, determined to find out what was going on followed at his heels, Lizer keeping up pace behind her. They passed through the kitchen with an elf idly stirring soup, and followed Lyle down the steps.
—Lyle was on the other side of a door, hastily trying to lock it with shaking fingers. The two of them forced the door open, and Lyle began to panic.
—Lyle begged Lizer and Corta not to kill him, and told them that his debts had been paid. Corta and Lizer calmed him down, but demanded that he answer their questions.
—Lyle seemed resigned to the fact that he was not going to evade his trouble, and decided to tell them his story. Before beginning, he made the two of them promise not to go to the guards with the information he was about to divulge, and the both of them swore to keep his information private.
—Lyle launched off into a story of how he nearly ran his tavern into the ground due to a gambling debt. The landowner who held the title to the property that The Drunken Hornet was built on was demanding that Lyle pay his taxes, or he would seize the tavern from him. As the Drunken Hornet was not doing very good business at the time, Lyle saw no way to pay back those he owed…at least not without turning to illicit business dealings.
—Therefore, when a Gnome entrepreneur named Azaim came to call, and offered Lyle a business partnership, Lyle was eager to agree. Azaim had smuggled a great deal of the drug known as Pesh into the city of Lorehome, and had devised a plan to sell it to customers by lacing it in Stinger Ale, the house-brewed drink signature to The Drunken Hornet.
—At this point, Lyle took Lizer and Corta down to the cellar, where vats of Stinger Ale were being brewed and bottled. Here and there were barrels of a white powder that was definitely the drug of which he spoke.
—Though Corta had merely heard of the drug, Lizer was familiar with Pesh, having read about it in a book on illegal substances. The drug produced a mild hallucinogenic effect, and was highly addictive. It was also not very expensive, making it a popular drug in the underground of society.
—Lizer immediately began to regret his promise not to tell the guards about all of this, but kept quiet for the time being. Corta pressed Lyle further, telling him that she did not yet see Lyle’s connection with Luntikk in all of this. Lyle continued his explanation.
—When Lyle went to pay off his debts to his landlord, the landlord got suspicious of Lyle having paid is debt so easily and quickly after having declared he was bankrupt. The landlord then told him that he would send the guards to investigate his business dealings, just to ensure that Lyle was staying on the positive side of the law.
—Lyle had left that meeting shaken, and went to Azaim for help. They had placed no precautions for such an event as the guards making an inspection, and Lyle began to panic. However, Azaim told Lyle that all they needed to do was doctor the business ledger to reflect proper business numbers that would be more feasible than what was written. Azaim told Lyle to find an expert in numbers and linguistics, and to pay them to make a forgery of the ledger before the guards arrived.
—Lyle remembered his good friend Luntikk, and decided to ask him to assist. Luntikk agreed grudgingly to do this work for his friend, and took the ledger to make a copy with different numbers.
—Lyle finished his story by telling them that he had gone to check on Luntikk, after finding out he was ill, worried about his friend.
—Lizer didn’t buy this, and told Lyle to be honest with them. Lyle sighed, and told Lizer that he had been hoping that Luntikk had finished copying the ledger. He had hoped to bring at least one of the ledgers back, whether original or duplicate. If the guards saw that the business had no ledger at all, they would surely do a full inspection, and discover the Pesh.
—Lizer was stern with Lyle, telling him that though he would not tell the guards due to his oath, he was quite cross at what the man had done.
—Lyle seemed to cave in after this, telling them that he never meant to do anyone harm, and that he simply wanted not to lose his business. He admitted that what he had done was wrong, but he saw an opportunity, and took it in his time of need.
—Corta seemed to be more sympathetic of Lyle’s plight, and when Lyle asked if they could help him, she agreed to do what she could. Lizer needed more convincing, and did not wish to go against the side of the law, as the landlord was clearly in his rights.
—In the end. Corta and Lizer decided they would speak to Azaim in order to get him to leave Lyle alone, and stop the drug trafficking. While Lyle begged them to aslo help him confront his landlord, they would do no such thing, as this seemed illegal.
—Corta asked the name of his landlord, and Lyle told her that his name was Nefaric Luciana – the Dwarf that they had met earlier that day.
—Meanwhile, Owtikk and Cyrus had made it to Chateau Luciana, and were preparing to knock on the doors. The place was a squat manor home, very compressed but very elegant for the street on which it sat. Owtikk had remained in kitten form, staying on Cyrus’s shoulders.
—Cyrus knocked on the fine doors, and they were answered by a human dressed in finery with a long, hawkish, crooked nose.
—When Cyrus asked if they could see Nefaric, the man asked them if they had an appointment.
—Owtikk spotted that the man clutched a notepad with names on it, and whispered one of the ones on the list in Cyrus’s ear.
—Cyrus proclaimed that he was called “Dargellius”, and that he had an appointment for that afternoon. While the assistant seemed irate and skeptical, he allowed them inside. They took a seat, and waited for him to return.
—After looking around themselves for a short time, inspecting the fine place, the man returned from past the dining hall, and told them that he did not think that Cyrus was Dargellius. His reason was that Dargellius had been growing a beard he was quite fond of for the last thirty years.
—Though Cyrus merely said “….no I haven’t!” this proclamation was not quite enough to convince the man, who asked them to leave.
—Cyrus had had enough of his snobbishness, and head-butted him clear in the face, breaking his nose.
—The man fell in a bloody heap, unconscious. Cyrus and Owtikk tore through the dining area and into the kitchen. Coming through a back door were two men in fine brown cloaks wearing daggers at their sides. Between them they were carrying a crate, and had perplexed expressions on their faces.
—Cyrus paused only a moment, and gestured down a set of stairs to the left asking the two of them if Nefaric was down there. They looked at each other, still confused, and one of them nodded. Without another word, Cyrus and Owtikk tore off down the steps into the cellar.
—The cellar appeared to be nothing more than that – a room filled with wine, and barrels of ale, and two very large casks set against the wall.
—Rather confused, Cyrus and Owtikk went back up the steps, where the two men had dropped the crate, looking more prepared to deal with the two of them.
—The first one asked Cyrus if he found him down here. Cryus shook his head, and the man suggested that he try outside. Cyrus took the hint that this man and the other wanted them to leave.
—He argued a little with them before leaving, giving Owtikk the chance to slip from his shoulder, and run into the front hall to unlock a window for later.
—The two of them exited the premises, and the two men shut the doors behind them. Cyrus and Owtikk now stood in a gated back lawn, with a cart off to one side. Cyrus and Owtikk inspected the cart, and found two barrels of ale, and a couple of crates.
—Curious, Cyrus cracked open one of the crates, and discovered several sacks the size of gold pouches.
—Opening one, Cyrus noticed that they were filled with a fine, white powder – the drug known as Pesh.
—The two of them exchanged significant glances, and then left the lawn to go down to The Drunken Hornet and see if their friends needed assistance.
—As these events unfolded, Foren took another look around Luntikk’s laboratory. Finding no additional information of note, he carefully crept out of the room, and made his way down the hall to Luntikk’s bedchamber.
—Harriet was nowhere to be seen, and Foren took the opportunity to Teleport himself from the building down onto the street, still in his trademark burning leaves effect.
—This theatric casting of the spell drew approving coos from some passersby, and even spurred one elderly gentleman to ask Foren if he had been to the University of Lorehome.
—Foren inquired as to what was studied there, to which the man replied “everything!”. Foren took this down in his mind, thanked the man, and then stalked off toward the Healing Houses to have a chat with the doctor, Garidell.
—Inside the stone building Foren was directed to the third floor, where he entered Garidell’s office and lab. The room had many books, an alchemical desk, and a desk, behind which Garidell himself sat, writing.
—Foren sat down and questioned the man about what he knew about Luntikk’s illness. Garidell did not know much, but told Foren that he had ruled out most magical effects and conventional sicknesses. He told Foren that the blood analysis would tell him more, and would provide definitive answers.
—Garidell talked for a few moments on the nature of the doctors of the Healing Houses, and how they wished to uncover the truths behind illnesses and wounds instead of simply applying healing magic, which did not always work, or uncover underlying conditions.
—Foren decided to question Garidell about the possibility of a poison being used, and cleverly decided to use Detect Thoughts on him as he answered. However, though Garidell’s mind seemed to be a whirring, mostly illegible cluster of thoughts and theories, he did not have any malicious musings on the subject, merely that it could be a factor.
—Satisfied that he could safely trust him, Foren asked Garidell to do done more thing for him. Foren produced the vial of powder he had taken from Luntikk’s laboratory, and the man immediately recognized it as Cold Iron Powder.
—Garidell told Foren that it was often used to ward off Demons and Fey, though there were none who were experts on why this was so.
—Foren, his curiosity piqued asked Garidell to take a sample of his blood, and test it with a pinch of Cold Iron.
—For the sake of posterity, Garidell did this. There was a minute reaction for a brief second, but then nothing changed, and Garidell concluded that the initial change must have been a trick of the light.
—With that, Foren exited the building, and went back to Edenvale Manor to wait for the others.
—Back at the Drunken Hornet, Owtikk and Cyrus had been discussing the idea of breaking into Nefaric’s chateau, and finding answers for themselves without the workers present.
—They decided upon going that night, and were soon joined by Lizer and Corta. Together, they shared the information they had gathered, and exchanged their plans so that everyone was aware of what was to come that evening.
—Owtikk sent her silver raven to tell Foren where they were, and he joined them at the tavern as they were all enjoying drinks. The tavern was very sparsely attended, even at the peak hours, showing how far downhill that place had gone in recent weeks.
—After they had waited long enough beyond the fall of night, Foren, Cyrus and Owtikk left the tavern to investigate the drug-peddling Nefaric, while Lizer and Corta remained behind to have a chat with Azaim.
—As Cyrus and the others stepped out of the tavern, they brushed passed a very small fellow with flaming red hair barely concealed beneath a black cloak. The man stepped inside the tavern, and the others kept walking, though they recognized from his description that this man was Azaim.
—When the Gnome passed by Lizer and Corta’s table, he authoritatively called the barmaid over, and told her he would be in his usual room. He then walked up the stairs and out of sight.
—In order to confirm this man’s identity, Lizer asked the barmaid who he was. With a frightened nod, she told Lizer that this was indeed Azaim.
—Lizer promptly rose from the table, and nodded to Corta, who got her crystal ball ready, hoping to scry on the events upstairs.
—Lizer used his armor’s glamor ability to make himself more intimidating, and slammed his fist on the door to the bedchamber. A confused voice said “….enter”, and Lizer crashed through the door, an imposing sight.
—In the fine bedroom sat Azaim behind a desk, having paused slightly in his writing at seeing Lizer standing there.
—Lizer wasted no time in attempting to muscle answers out of the Gnome, but Azaim calmly responded to his imposing figure by asking who sent him.
—Lizer, taken aback mentioned that he had come on behalf of Lyle, who was a good man, and deserved to be left to his own devices.
—The two of them argued for a time, their eyes shooting daggers, and each made their case clearly. Lizer wanted Azaim to pack up and leave the city, which Azaim seemed keen to do once the Pesh had been sold.
—Azaim revealed to Lizer that he had no intention of continuing the drug trade in the city, and that he was simply doing this as a form of revenge against an old business rival, Nefaric.
—As this perplexed Lizer, Azaim explained that he had stolen some of Nefaric’s Pesh less than a month ago, after Nefaric had been doing business in Azaim’s territory – the region of Golaria. As an added insult, Azaim decided to sell it back to Nefaric’s clients in Weldor at a lower price, simply to show Nefaric what happens when territory is disturbed.
—While this seemed to mollify Lizer a bit, he did not take kindly to the actions involving Lyle, or the sale of drugs in the first place. He additionally ridiculed Azaim for his plans going so poorly due to his inexperience in the city.
—While Azaim admitted that he had been out of his element, Azaim told Lyle to deal with the real problem, which was clearly Nefaric, the true drug lord. He also suggested that it was Nefaric who had poisoned Luntikk, as Nefaric would gain the most from him perishing.
—Lizer left Azaim to return downstairs, having more information than before, at the very least.
—Meanwhile, the other group arrived at Chateau Luciana, ready to make their way inside the quiet building.
—Luckily, the window that Owtikk had opened was still unlocked, and casting invisibility, Foren slipped inside with Owtikk as a silent mouse. Cyrus drank an Elixir Of Hiding, given to him by Corta, and jumped into the quiet house as well.
—They were so well hidden that they heard no sign of anyone inside the chateau as they moved down into the cellar once again, hoping to get evidence of the drugs stored there.
—However, when they arrived in the basement, they saw no trace of the crate they had seen earlier – only the barrels and giant casks as well as the shelves of wine remained.
—Curious about this, Cyrus examined the large casks. One said “Dwarven Ale”, and the other read “Private Reserve of Dwarven Spirits – DO NOT TAP”
—Cyrus knocked on this one, and found that this was hollow. He wasted no time, and soon found that by pressing the handle of the tap on the cask, the door opened to reveal a small passageway.
—They went through, and found themselves in a warehouse room filled with crates.
—Checking these crates, they found a supply of Pesh that would last a decade. They each inspected the room, Cyrus checking out the table near the back. There he found an open ledger book, possibly the one that Luntikk had been copying – the smile Nefaric had worn on his face earlier that day now more easily explained.
—Foren found many books on a nearby shelf, most detailing the finer points of smuggling and dirty business dealings.
—Owtikk squeezed her way under a set of double doors, and found herself in a fine office. She got onto the desk, and opened a small book, which appeared to be Nefaric’s journal.
—With effort, Owtikk flipped to the last few pages, and read the final few entries, the last one ending on that very day:
—Entry One: Curses! It seems that my fears have been realized! Lyle DeBabineaux, owner of the Drunken Hornet Inn and Tavern has come up with the money he owes me! My efforts to bankrupt his petty tavern have somehow gone astray…But HOW? I have been careful in my approach, but it all seems for naught. Something is afoot here, and I must get to the bottom of things. I threatened Lyle with intervention from the guards, and that seems to have shaken him a little. Maybe Lyle will slip up, and I may have a chance to put him away for good, and seize the tavern even sooner than I had hoped…
—Entry Two: My contacts have delivered strange news, but I think it can work in my favor. For once I respect my dual nature within this city, both on the side of the law and above it! It seems that my recent nemesis, Azaim, has been working with Lyle to sell the Pesh he stole from me less than a month ago. The gall to do such a thing within MY city is baffling!! But without proof, I can only do things by the book. I informed the guards that I suspect Lyle of illegal activity, and they agreed to inspect his business at the end of the week. Lyle had better hope for his sake that he knows how to run an illegal business, especially where the books are concerned…
—Entry Three: It seems that Lyle is as naive as I suspected! My contacts have reported that Lyle has delivered his business ledger to a Gnomish scholar in town…The Gnome in question is an expert linguist and would most certainly be able to forge the numbers in the ledger to reflect a more feasable influx of gold. It is important that this Gnome be stopped at all costs…
—Entry Four: HAH! The rumors were true! That meddlesome Gnome which that oaf Lyle hired has fallen ill, and just in time too! Now Lyle will have no escape from the scrutiny of the guards when they search his premesis, and discover his illicit business dealings! Again, the Deep One smiles upon her children, granting luck when all seems lost. Now, without even lifting a finger, Lyle and Azaim shall be under my foot, and I shall again reign supreme as Crime Boss in Lorehome! The coincidence is strange, but fortune favors the patient!!
—Owtikk stopped reading, her eyes wide, her tiny mouse heart beating fast. It appeared that Nefaric wasn’t the culprit either…But who was?

Lizer Of Edenvale Manor

—The party watched sadly as Grom rode away down the cliffside, leading his people back to their homeland.
—The remaining group now stood in an empty camp, the large fire still crackling away as the morning sun peeked over the horizon, washing the sky with orange light.
—There were roughly fifteen slaves milling about, unsure of what to do next. Henry and Timothy wasted no time in thanking the party members, and introducing themselves to the members of the group they had not yet met.
—Timothy asked if they had seen Sir Warrick, and the others told him that he had been injured, but was quite safe back at The Lazy Griffin, which made Timothy pleased.
—Henry was happy to see that Foren was doing well, and thanked him for finding him, and freeing he and the other slaves.
—In turn, the slaves began to thank the party members for their efforts, shaking hands, and hoping for instructions for how to return everyone safely home.
—Cyrus took charge, suggesting that everyone rest for the night, and warning everyone not to leave the camp alone, for fear of other dangers in the wild. While some of the former slaves took umbrage with this, they all agreed to use the camp to sleep, and to leave after a rest.
—Foren worked his magic, conjuring three small cottages from the dusty plateau ground, impressing everyone with his aptitude.
—Everyone enjoyed a long, safe rest, and awoke the next day with renewed purpose.
—In the morning, the group rose from their places of rest, and explored the camp in earnest. They found a few items stored in chests around the camp. Aside from several mundane weapons (which Cyrus distributed among the freed slaves), they found a few magical items, and bits of clothing.
—Foren discovered a drab, brown hat that transmogrified into a jester’s cap to match his own as soon as he picked it up.
—Tamsen uncovered a book with a large gold lock on it, and gave it to Foren. Foren recognized this as a wizard’s spellbook, and set to work reading the inside cover, and milling over its contents.
—Upon exploring the camp around, Corta found a set of bloodstained violet robes, bearing the insignia of the Equilibrium Scholars – the same robes that had been worn by the two healers back at the Lazy Griffin.
—Corta recalled the woman having mentioned losing one of their companions to the horde of rampaging Orcs. Not finding a body, Corta was forced to assume the worst by finding the clothes, and stored them solemnly in her bag for later.
—Gradually, they broke camp, and started off down the cliffside. Roughly half of the slaves went off toward Weldor, while the rest followed the group back toward The Lazy Griffin with the party.
—When they arrived, the party saw that The Lazy Griffin had been largely repaired by craftsmen. The sound of hammering and sawing could be heard as they got closer, and it appeared that things were slowly returning to normal.
—While the slaves waved goodbye and offered their gratitude one last time, Warrick and Kerrigan greeted the party, happy to see that they had returned safe.
—Warrick was happy to see Timothy, and after the two reunited, Warrick explained that Kerrigan had provided him with a good deal of magical healing – however, he grumbled that her particular brand of magic was one he was not used to, and he seemed uncomfortable for having been made to endure such darker energies.
—Kerrigan and Tamsen greeted one another happily at a table near the back of the place, Kerrigan delighted by the fact that Warrick had been so afraid to accept her spells of healing.
—Corta approached a table near the front of the tavern where the two Equilibrium Scholars sat, drinking mugs of tea. She quickly produced the bloodstained robes, which had belogned to Thalakar The Lesser, their companion.
—The two of them seemed quite saddened by the fact that their friend had not returned safely, but they were happy to have closure on the matter.
—When Corta offered her condolences, the Elven man, Dalon glanced at his female companion, Shallindra, and then told Corta that life is a great balancing act, and that things would find their equilibrium in time.
—Corta said her goodbyes, taking note that the two mages offered her welcome should she ever need the aid of the Equilibrium Scholars.
—She rejoined the others, as they began discussing future plans with Warrick.
—Owtikk told Warrick that they were headed for the city of Lorehome, and wished to find out where her brother lived.
—While Warrick had no knowledge of Luntikk, nor where he might live, Warrick suggested that they go and visit a friend of his who lived in town, and had extensive volumes on a number of subjects.
—Warrick said that he needed to return to Lorehome to report his findings on the Orcish menace that had plagued the region. Kerrigan also mentioned that she would tag along, as she wished to return to her shop in the city, which had surely been vacant for years.
—The group agreed that this would be a good course of action, and thus they prepared to leave that afternoon.
—After they had gathered all of their supplies, and readied the partially burned carriage for the journey. They realized that they no longer had any horses to drive, so Owtikk offered her services, transforming into a large, purple Triceratops. In this form, she was more than capable of pulling the carriage with everyone inside.
—And so, Warrick led them off down the path toward Lorehome.
—On the way to their destination, Foren presented Henry (who had changed into his jester’s uniform) with the spellbook they had recovered on their excursion.
—Henry was overjoyed by this, and Foren proceeded to give Henry another lesson, explaining why they wore the jester’s outfit. Foren told Henry that is was essentially ‘hiding in plain sight’, and that is was a key part of exploring the mystery of magic.
—Henry scribbled down what Foren said, and began pouring over the book.
—Two days passed before the party arrived at the city gates. The city of Lorehome itself was a sprawling metropolis, an enormous city with beautifully-crafted buildings.
—As the party made their way down the streets, night was just beginning to fall upon the place. Clouds had formed overhead, and rain began to sprinkle down upon them, first in a few drips, then turning into a downpour.
—Warrick led them dutifully through the twisting streets, dictating the landmarks and locations as they went. Passing through the Market District, and arriving in the Knowledge District, Warrick soon exclaimed aloud as they arrived at a three-story stone manor that looked as though it predated the surrounding buildings by at least one hundred years.
—The lawn was little more than a puddle of muck with a small stone path leading to a pair of old front doors.
—Warrick led them happily forward, and rapped smartly upon the door with his steel gauntlet.
—After a few moments, the door swung open with a creak, revealing a handsomely-dressed Half-Orc. The Orc was wearing a pinstriped tailcoat and trousers, and had a clean, white ruff at his neck. His hair was tied neatly into a ponytail, and his smug, stoic face was covered in scars.
—His hands clasped firmly behind his back, the Half-Orc greeted them in an opulent drawl. Warrick apologized for the late hour of their arrival, and asked if they could speak to Lizer, the friend he had been mentioning.
—The Half-Orc dubiously regarded the number of guests at his door before responding “certainly”. The man introduced himself as Hakka, and suggested that those with animals go over to the stables to hitch their mounts before venturing inside.
—And so while Foren, Corta, Warrick, Timothy, Henry, Kerrigan, and Tamsen entered the manor, Cyrus and Owtikk moved off toward the stables to store the carriage, and get Scarto safely secured.
—Owtikk was eager to see inside of the place, and so quickly dropped off the carriage and Ghost in an empty stall before transforming back into a Gnome, and traipsing off happily through the mud toward the doors.
—Cyrus took a few moments longer, ensuring that Scarto would be comfortable for the night.
—As he prepared to hitch his pony to the stables, he heard someone approach. He turned around sharply to see a man with a pitchfork stop in his tracks, the two of them noticing one another for the first time.
—The man was dressed rather shabbily, and looked like he had not shaved his face in some time. However, Cyrus had keen eyes, and noticed that this man bore many of the hallmarks of an Elkmoon Ranger, a freedom fighter for the people of Thorek.
—Determined to find out more about this fellow later on, Cyrus followed Owtikk into the manor nodding at the ranger in greeting as he passed by.
—Meanwhile, as the party members entered the manor, Hakka urged them to wipe their feet on the mat before stepping over the threshold. He then welcomed them to Edenvale Manor, showing them into the sitting room just inside the doors.
—The interior of the manor was old and dusty, with a few benches sitting on a stone floor. A nice rug sat in front of another pair of double-doors, which led into a different room. Overhead they could see a balcony on the second floor, with two stairwells leading up, one on each side.
—After making sure they were comfortable, Hakka disappeared up one of the sets of stairs, walking stiff-backed and with elegant posture. The party sat down, and waited for Hakka to return with this ‘Lizer’ person.
—Only a few moments passed before Owtikk opened the doors, the rain pattering down on the muddy lawn. Missing the request for her to wipe her feet, Owtikk happily ran into the room, her feet tracking large swaths of mud onto the clean stone floor, plopping down to sit on one of the benches.
—Close on her heels, Cyrus stepped inside too, though he remembered his manners, wiping his feet smartly on the mat before walking in.
—A minute or two later, the group saw the double doors open and close quickly, as a very small woman entered the sitting room. She let out an exasperated huff, and began vigorously scrubbing the floor to clean it of mud.
—The woman was clearly a Halfling wearing a dirty apron and simple brown clothes. On her head she wore a red and white kerchief holding down a tangled mass of curly brown hair.
—As she worked, she muttered indistinctly to herself, not engaging any of the party members as she did so. The group seemed so perplexed by this woman, that they did nothing but sit and stare.
—After several more minutes passed, they saw Hakka descend down the stairs once again. Standing next to the stairwell he cleared his throat and proclaimed “Presenting Lizer, master of Edenvale Manor, and Scholar of Weldor.”
—And following down the steps came a well-dressed Elf, a beaming smile on his face as he observed the crowd of guests at his doorstep. Lizer scoffed at Hakka, telling him there was no need for such formality. Hakka merely agreed in his trademark drawl, and fell silent.
—Lizer greeted everyone with much mirth. Warrick stood and shook hands with his friend, telling him that he had brought these guests with him as they had need of his services.
—Lizer seemed overjoyed by this, and took time to introduce himself to each of the members of the group. To each party member, Lizer displayed great interest, mainly concerning the backgrounds of each of them. He had little trouble pointing out where each of them were from, naming a thing or two about the customs of each race present.
—After the introductions were complete, Lizer offered them the hospitality of his home, saying that he would be happy to assist them in uncovering any information they required.
—At this, they all heard another great “huff” from the little halfling, who had just stood up from cleaning the floor.
—Lizer smiled and began to introduce the halfling woman as his maid, Shanna, but she cut him off. With the ferocity and speed of an angry squirrel, Shanna crossly and loudly began reaming Lizer out, complaining about the late hour for guests, and expressing her displeasure at cleaning up after them.
—Lizer told her to calm herself, but this only added fuel to the fire. Shanna delved into a tirade about how little she enjoyed having to deal with guests and their unclean natures, and she stormed out through the dining hall, still muttering and fuming under her breath.
—The rest of the group were aghast by this behavior, but Lizer played it off with a great laugh, and shook his head as though to say “that’s our Shanna”.
—As Lizer readied to show the group upstairs to the library, Warrick decided to take his leave, saying he had work to do up at the castle. Lizer understood, and bade him goodbye with the others. Timothy smiled at everyone and waved, leaving with his master back out through the doors into the stormy streets.
—Kerrigan too decided that she would leave to try and see what had become of her shop, Kerrigan Trundletoe’s Hexes and Woes. She bade Tamsen a fond farewell, telling her to keep her manners, and asking her to visit often. She then followed Warrick and Timothy out into the city.
—Explaining that the maid tended to get carried away at times, Lizer led the party up the steps to the second floor, giving them a tour of the place as he went. Muninn, sitting on Tamsen’s shoulder expressed his immediate dislike of Lizer’s cavalier attitude, but remained nearby, watching as events unfurled.
—On the third floor, Lizer led the group into his modest library, where Owtikk told him she wished to uncover information concerning her brother, Luntikk.
—Lizer quickly found an old compendium of records from the city of Lorehome dating back thirty years. He soon found an entry concerning a Gnome by the name of Luntikk Vanerfkaer, who had lived in a place called Eldergleam Estate.
—This excited Owtikk a great deal, as they had a starting point to try and see if Luntikk still lived there.
—The group resolved that they should go and visit this place in the morning. Lizer proudly offered his home to them if they wished to stay the night, and the group were pleased to accept his hospitality.
—Lizer then led the party out of the Library, and into the fine sitting room beyond. The group took up positions on the various seating around a small table, and Hakka arrived with some tea for the party to share.
—After a bit of visiting, and sharing of adventures, Lizer told the party to feel at home to explore the place as much as they wanted. He also offered to show whoever was interested the rest of the manor.
—Foren and Tamsen decided to go with Lizer and explore the rest of the place – though Muninn decided to remain behind, not happy to have to hear more from Lizer, who he seemed to dislike for some odd reason.
—Lizer promptly led the two of them downstairs, telling them that the only room that was off limits was his own master suite, which sat across from the upstairs sitting area.
—Owtikk decided that she wanted to head downstairs to bring some food to Ghost in the stables.
—Cyrus mulled over going to speak with Korrice, and settled on heading to the stables himself.
—Meanwhile, Corta decided to slip over to the library to investigate a thing or two she was curious about.
—As Lizer showed Foren and Tamsen the second floor bedrooms and bath, Owtikk trotted happily past them, running down the steps and jumping down onto the ground floor landing. In the hall was Shanna the maid once again, who had just gotten the floor clean from more footprints.
—Seeing Owtikk’s dirty feet on the floor once again made Shanny fly into yet another tirade, this time taking it out on the poor Gnome.
—Owtikk was quite startled by her fiery behavior, and apologized all she could, but Shanna angrily continued until Owtikk slipped through the dining hall doors, and out of sight.
—She trotted her way past the long dining table and chairs, and turned a corner, making her way into the kitchens. Once there, she spotted a portly dwarf in an apron with a shiny bald head, scrubbing away at a mound of dishes in the dirty kitchen.
—Owtikk greeted him happily, and the dwarf was startled, but seemed pleased to see a guest. He offered her some meats to give to Ghost, and some fruits for herself, and she happily thanked him and ran out through a side door to the stables outside.
—She curled up next to Ghost, gave him the meat, and sat with him awhile, cozy in his fur against the cold rain beyond the stable roof.
—Once down the stairs to the ground floor, Cyrus had his own altercation with Shanna the maid. Cyrus seemed not to want to have to deal much with her, but during conversation let slip that they were spending the night.
—This bit of knowledge made Shanna even more furious at how much she would have to clean, and proceeded to mutter angry threats under her breath until Cyrus left the doors.
—Once outside, Cyrus began a conversation with the stablehand, who introduced himself as Korrice. Cyrus got to the point quickly, ascertaining that Korrice was indeed a Ranger of Elkmoon.
—Korrice told Cyrus in a low, mumbling tone that he had once been a member of the Elkmoon Rangers, but that he had left that life behind long ago.
—Aghast at this, Cyrus did his best to try to convince the man that thing in Thorek had gotten worse over the years and told Korrice that he needed help to save his homeland.
—Korrice seemed detached from Thorek entirely, and told Cyrus that it was no longer his home. He seemed to be happy as a simple stablehand, and wanted nothing to do with any reclaiming of Thorekian heritage.
—Cyrus was quite crestfallen by Korrice’s reaction. In his shock, Cryus went over, and began grooming his pony, Scarto. Korrice went about his work as though nothing had happened.
—Meanwhile, inside the manor, Lizer led Tamsen and Foren past Shanna (who had a great deal to say to Lizer about these late-night house guests), through the dining hall and down a set of stairs to the basement.
—Lizer began telling them about the cellar as they walked down the stairs. He was halfway to explaining the different vintages of Elven-made wine he owned when he was interrupted by arguing voices.
—These voices were coming from behind a barred door at the end of the chamber, facing the door that led to the cellar. Foren and Tamsen had a peek inside the window, and saw three guards sitting and talking inside of what looked like a small dungeon.
—None of the cells were filled, which is what seemed to be the topic of discussion among them.
—One of the men had a black beard and a rough, ugly face. He was named Hookrel, and seemed to be vociferously proclaiming that they should be paid more if they were expected to just sit and do nothing.
—One of the other men, named Lionel had a shaved head and had a few teeth missing. He kept dumbly saying “Yeah!” to what Hookrel had to say.
—The last of the three was named Sinker, who was a bit younger than the others. He shook his head and argued politely that he though Lizer treated them well, as they didn’t even have to guard anybody.
—Hookrel contested that they had gotten into that line of work to GUARD people, and that if they did not get to at least do what they were good at, they deserved compensation, at least if they were expected to stay.
—At this moment, Lizer cleared his throat loudly, and warmly greeted his guards. The youngest one scrambled to open the door, and let Lizer into the room, the other two behind him.
—Hookrel seemed about to tell Lizer off, but he stopped when he saw the two newcomers behind him. He smiled nastily, and said “now THAT’S more like it!” gesturing to the two of them.
—Lizer said “Oh! No, no, these are guests, not prisoners!”
—The smile slipped directly off Hookrel’s face, replaced by a grim scowl. He told Lizer that they wanted to have people to guard, and that if he didn’t bring them a prisoner soon then they would have to negotiate their contract.
—Lizer laughed and played this off, mentioning that the did this all the time under his breath.
—Tamsen, Foren and Lizer bade the guards goodnight, and Foren sarcastically said “keep up the good work…”
—They closed the door, had a brief look at the cellar, and then went upstairs and outside to the stables.
—On the top floor, Corta was in the library, searching through books to try to uncover any information she could about the Elves, and also the strange dagger she carried, left behind by her father’s killer.
—She found a good amount of information on the Elves, reading that they lived in the realm of Maldaerys. History recorded that the Elves had split into two competing factions, the Nimdulari and Thosolesti.
—The Nimdulari were focused on change, and moving forward toward a greater future for all Elvenkind. They were more warlike than their other kin, the Thosolesti, who lived on a high plateau, and kept to a strict set of historical beliefs referred to as “The Old Ways”.
—The Thosolesti were said to have been dealers in ‘creation magic’, though information on the direct nature of this was scarce.
—On the dagger, she discovered more startling news. The dagger bore all the trappings of a ceremonial Blood Magus blade, likely used in ritual sacrifices during blood magic practices in Delgaroth. The Blood Mages were a dangerous group of spellcasters dedicated to the discovery and mastery of all life.
—One thing that the two subjects that she referenced had in common was that both the Thosolesti Elves and the elusive Blood Mages of Delgaroth seemed entranced by the subject of ‘creation magic’.
—Pondering this, Corta took a break, the two tomes sitting open at a desk in the high-ceilinged room.
—She was therefore startled to hear a voice behind her. Munnin the raven was perched atop one of the nearby bookshelves, watching her, smiling.
—Muninn mentioned the blade that she was inspecting, telling her that it was from the Blood Mages, confirming what she had read.
—Muninn asked her if she had ever used it, to which she replied ‘no’.
—Muninn explained that if she ever decided to use it, to prepare for the consequences of using such violence with such a device. He told her that the dagger she held was very powerful in the hands of almost any wielder, and that if used mildly, she would be in for a shock.
—After considering the gravity of this, Corta decided to go into the sitting room before bed. Muninn happily joined her at her request, landing upon her shoulder as she left the room.
—Stepping out into the sitting room, Corta caught sight of Henry, sitting in one of the chairs, intently reading his new spellbook.
—Corta greeted Henry happily, and asked him how his studying was going. Henry was pleased she asked, and told her it was progressing well.
—Corta asked if Henry would show her a trick. He seemed nervous at first, but raised a hand, which began to glow with a ball of light. The light emerged from his hand in an orb, and then dropped to the floor, dissipating.
—He gave a half smile, telling her that it wasn’t as good as Foren’s but that he would soon get better.
—Corta smiled, and told him to keep up the good work. She then went down the stairs to the second floor, and went to sleep in one of the cozy bedrooms.
—Henry didn’t take much time before going and doing the same, picking one of the other rooms and falling asleep quickly.
—As Cyrus finished brushing Scarto, he saw Owtikk emerge from the side door to the manor, plopping down beside Ghost.
—As she groomed her wolf, he looked over to her in a solemn greeting. Owtikk smiled and brightly greeted him back.
—Though Cyrus smiled, he frowned quickly afterward. He got up, gave one last glance at Korrice, and then trudged out into the stormy night into the dark, deserted streets.
—Around this point, Lizer, Foren and Tamsen arrived out at the stables. Lizer relieved Korrice of duty, who went indoors after nodding to the others in goodnight.
—Lizer then introduced them all to his mount, a giant elk who was named Erasme. She proudly tossed her head before Lizer bade her goodnight along with Owtikk, who had elected to sleep in the stables with Ghost.
—The rest of them went back inside the manor, Tamsen and Lizer both retiring to their quarters. Foren decided to do a little reading before bed in Lizer’s library. He selected a book on the Fey, and began reading heavily.
—It was not long before he dozed off, face in the book, fast asleep.
—Owtikk selected the fruit she had left, and got up from her place at Ghost’s side as the other’s went indoors.
—She first went over to Erasme, activating her ability to speak with animals. She offered Erasme an apple, and the elk looked down upon it with one eye, while determined to keep her head held high.
—Owtikk introduced herself to the elk as a friend of Lizer’s, and the elk eventually took the apple, chewing it slowly.
—She asked the elk how long she and Lizer had been together, and Erasme answered “5 years”. Erasme mentioned her loyalty to Lizer, and in every word she betrayed a fierce pride and dutiful demeanor.
—Owtikk wished Erasme goodnight, and went over to do the same with Scarto.
—Feeding Scarto an apple, Owtikk engaged the pony in a discussion. Scarto was far more talkative than Erasme, and was more intent on getting another apple than anything else.
—Scarto appeared proud and strong, a war mount like none other with a fierceness and determination unrivaled by most other creatures.
—After handing over a second apple Owtikk wished Scarto goodnight, and then flopped to the ground alongside Ghost, curling up and falling asleep.
—Cyrus trudged down the rainy streets of Lorehome alone, his shoulders braced against the cold night air. In his turmoil over what to do about his homeland, Cyrus plunged into a depression, seeking a means of escape.
—He soon found what he was looking for, glancing down a nearby alley. A homeless fellow sat in rags, taking swigs from a wide-bottomed bottle.
—Cyrus offered the man a gold for the rest of the bottle, and took a hearty swig of the clear, foul liquid.
—He and the bottle staggered back to the stables. He finished drinking the contents, and let the bottle roll out onto the hard stone with a clink before collapsing in a drunken heap on the hay, fast asleep.

Game XVI
The Staff of Addibara

—Each of the party members inspected their new forms, acclimatizing themselves to the bodies they now inhabited. Sandred’s rings had worked, protecting their minds from being lost to Addibara’s evil spell.
—As they were all finding their feet, Foren let instinct take over, marking his territory on a nearby bush.
—The group followed Sandred through the mystical-looking woods as the gathering darkness deepened around them. After a time, Owtikk remarked that they were drawing near to the grove of her homeland.
—Suddenly, Grom caught a whiff of something in his snout, snorting the air surrounding a nearby tree. Above in the boughs of this tree was a small cat, with violet fur.
—When it saw that Grom had taken notice of its presence, the cat leaped down from branch to branch until it was on the lowest limb overlooking the group. The cat let out a low “mrow” in greeting.
—Owtikk knew at once that this cat must be her uncle, transformed by the same spell that had effected them all. However, catching sight of the cat’s glowing green eyes, Owtikk knew that he must have been enchanted by Addibara.
—The cat spoke, in a high, but somewhat flattened tone, greeting Owtikk, and telling her that Addibara was expecting her in the grove beyond.
—Owtikk was saddened to think that her beloved uncle was being forced to serve Addibara, and knew that he would surely lead them into a trap if they followed him into the grove.
—As the group began to think of a way to use the foreknowledge of this impending meeting with the witch, Grom spoke up, asking Uncle Ned if Addibara was expecting ALL of them.
—Ned replied, swishing his tail, repeating that Addibara was expecting Owtikk. Grom understood immediately that this meant that Addibara had only expected Owtikk’s presence in the woods.
—The party formulated a plan, hoping that Uncle Ned would not have enough control over his mind to confer the information to his mistress in his mind-controlled state.
—They decided to split up, letting Owtikk follow her Uncle into the grove followed by Corta, who would catch flight, and watch from the air, out of sight. Grom, Foren and Sandred were to fall behind, take shelter in the undergrowth, and hide in wait for an opportunity to ambush.
—As they got to the edge of the grove, Corta took to the air, more than 80 feet up, leaving Owtikk below to follow her uncle into the grove. The two of them began inspecting the scene before them.
—The grove sat above the underground Gnomish city of Amithor, and was a clearing of tall trees surrounding an expanse of grass. In the center of the grove stood a tall tree, in the middle of a deep pool of water. All around were strange rocks and marble tiles showing that this place was more than just a beautiful piece of landscape.
—As Owtikk strode forward, she and Corta began to notice that the grove was filled with animals of every kind. Tigers, antelope, badgers, sloths, snakes, and any animals one could think of wandered about the clearing. These animals were varied in color, just like Gnomish hair, and they each sported a set of the same glowing eyes as Uncle Ned.
—On the tree in the center of the clearing, at the end of a twisted bough almost thirty feet above the pool below was a person, who was familiar to Owtikk. Sitting in a throne of warped wood at the end of this branch was Addibara, clutching a gnarled wooden staff with a glowing greenish orb at one end.
—Corta saw this as well, but as an eagle she had sharper eyes than Owtikk’s bear form. As such, she also took note of the gray-skinned Gnome they had seen leaving through the tower window in Algordale – the same Gnome that had carried off the staff that Addibara now held.
—When Ned reached the edge of the pool, he looked up toward his mistress, and alerted her to Owtikk’s presence. Addibara sneered down at her former rival, and gleefully gloated over her new powers and stature.
—Owtikk angrily fought back, bravely accusing Addibara of being selfish and greedy, having taken so much from the homeland they both shared to further her own evil gains.
—Addibara tried to assert that things were simpler for all her subjects, now that they had all become primal versions of themselves, free from decisions and the troubles of normal daily life.
—Owtikk countered again, aghast that she could think that depriving the Gnomes of their minds and freedoms could be any kind of utopia for anyone.
—Addibara grew tired of Owtikk’s accusations quickly, and got straight to the point. She told Owtikk that she knew that she had been traveling with others. Owtikk tried to deny this, but Addibara mentioned that she had caught sight of a boar and wolf nearby in the woods.
—When Owtikk still refused to admit to this (though she took note that Addibara had said nothing of the presence of a bull or an eagle in her grove), Addibara attempted to weed out these companions using the staff she now carried with her.
—Foren and Grom, who were in the trees close by felt as though they were being pulled toward the grove, felt that they should walk to the clearing. Luckily, Sandred’s rings worked, keeping them from succumbing to this enchantment.
—In a huff, Addibara changed her methods, instead casting her staff to the other side of the woods, calling forth a trio of animal minions with glowing green eyes. She commanded these minions to go into the woods and root out Owtikk’s friends, to which the animals each gave a nod in unison.
—As they strode toward the woods, Addibara sneered at Owtikk again, and called forth a thirds minion to deal with Owtikk herself. Out of the woods stepped a pure white wolf, which Owtikk knew to be Ghost. Her heart gave a jolt of sadness as the wolf bared its teeth, snarling with glowing green eyes, ready to strive her should she move.
—Thinking quickly, Grom sprung into action. Bursting from the woods and running into the clearing, he circled around the pool, hoping to draw the mind-controlled beasts toward him, creating a diversion for the others to strike.
—Nearby, one of Addibara’s minions caught sight of Corta circling overhead. The Dire Bat lunged into the air, soaring skyward toward Corta’s eagle-form.
—Down on the ground, Owtikk plunged into the water of the pool surrounding Addibara’s tree. With great skill, Owtikk swam quickly across the water, and began deftly climbing up the trunk of the tree toward Addibara, sitting on her throne-like branch.
—At this moment, Foren lunged out of the woods, running along the edge of the water toward where Grom stood, beckoning the foes toward him.
—With Owtikk out of reach, Ghost turned to where Grom stood, and rushed toward him, snarling as he went.
—Seeing Owtikk begin climbing toward his mistress, a great, green-eyed Bison delved into the water, swimming with ease across the pool’s length to the base of the tree. The Bison then began ramming its thick head against the tree’s trunk, shaking the branches above.
—Owtikk clung to the tree with ease, and neither Addibara nor the gray Gnome were shaken free from their perch on the branch (although, Addibara did look annoyed at the idiocy of her minions).
—Sandred, seeing the Bison’s intent rushed from his hiding place into the water, swimming forward and rending into the beast with his massive horns.
—Nearby, a Dire Gorilla dove into the pool, swimming its length and attempting to grab hold of Grom’s boar form. Grom shrugged off the ape’s grasp, and gouged his tusks into the creature before him, wounding it terribly.
—In the tree above the scene, Addibara cackled as she waved her staff around, directing her thralls, deep in the grasp of concentration.
—Corta continued to soar overhead, catching sight of the staff in Addibara’s hands. With a shriek, Corta went into a sharp dive, swooping with her wings at her side toward Addibara, thrusting out her talons, but missing her target by inches as the witch wheeled her staff around.
—Grom attacked the Dire Gorilla with his tusks again, knocking it unconscious at the water’s edge.
—The Dire Bat shrieked and dove toward Corta, striking her with a resounding bite.
—Owtikk, now within reach of her rival, swung her free claw up at Addibara, digging deep into her skin, and pulling her into her grip. Holding her tight in her grasp, Owtikk bit deeply into Addibara’s shoulder, causing her to howl in rage and pain.
—On the ground, Foren rushed forward at Ghost, snapping down on the white wolf’s leg, and twisting him to the ground in a trip.
—Ghost promptly rolled over onto his feet, provoking attacks from both Foren and Grom. Each of them struck at Ghost, bruising the wolf, keeping him from attacking any further.
—The Bison turned its attention to Sandred, and attacked at the bull with its horns.
—Sandred forced his own horns into the beast, striking it hard, and knocking it unconscious.
—Addibara tried her best to wriggle free of Owtikk’s grasp, but she could not seem to wrest herself from the bear’s solid arms. She clutched hard to the staff, making sure not to drop it into the pool below.
—Overhead, Corta got into position, and flew with great strength toward the staff once again. This time, Corta’s talons struck true, taking hold of the staff, and pulling it free from Addibara’s fingers.
—At this moment, the gray-skinned Gnome got up from his silent position on the branch above the battle, and leaped swiftly from the bough down to the shoreline below.
—With a lighting-fast motion, the strange Gnome drew a wicked blade, and cut deep into Grom’s side, just narrowly missing a vital area that would have surely killed the boar had his aim been true.
—Grom turned his attention on this Gnome, lunging forth with his tusks. However, the Gnome stepped aside, smiling in a sickening manner, evading the attack.
—The Dire Bat rushed toward Owtikk, landing a bite on her arm. Owtikk maintained her firm grip upon Addibara, despite feeling the bat’s huge teeth sink into her flesh.
—When the bat reared back, Owtikk turned her head to Addibara, who was still struggling in a rage. Owtikk spoke to the witch, telling her that she had lost the fight. Addibara seemed quite reluctant to admit this fact, holding firm to that she was superior in every way to Owtikk and her friends.
—Owtikk pressed the matter, explaining that she could simply kill her, and end her tyranny once and for all. Her staff taken, and her minions falling one by one, Addibara slumped in Owtikk’s arms, conceding defeat.
—However, though she had given up her end of the fight, Addibara’s minions continued to press the attack, the magic of the staff continuing without a wielder. Additionally, the Gnome appeared to be working his own agenda, not answering to anyone but himself.
—Owtikk climbed her way down the trunk of the tree, and swam across the pool, Addibara still clutched in one arm, unable to get free. She paused at the edge of the pool, catching sight of Ghost, who seemed battle-harried and fatigued.
—Meanwhile, Foren attempted another trip at Ghost, hoping to knock him down, and put him out of the battle. Ghost evaded this attempt, but looked very close to collapsing from his wounds and pure exhaustion.
—Nevertheless, Ghost let out a growl, and attacked Owtikk on the neck. Ghost’s strength was diminished, and he could only strike a weak blow, causing more pain to himself than to his former master.
—Sandred, having defeated the Bison, rushed out of the water, and galloped toward the fray where the Gnome was dancing around Grom’s strikes.
—Looking up at Corta holding the staff, Owtikk told her break the orb, which she hoped would dispel Addibara’s magic.
—Before she could take action, Culainn took a step back, firing an arrow into Corta’s foot. The blow caused Corta to drop one end of the staff. She held fast to the other end, searching for any rocks that could cause the orb to shatter.
—Grom turned his attention back to Culainn, this time striking him hard with his mighty tusks.
—The Dire Bat attempted a strike on Corta once again, but missed as she flew overhead.
—Foren caught sight of the gray-skinned Gnome, and grabbed hold of his small leg, pulling him to the ground, falling hard upon his back.
—At this moment, Corta spotted her opportunity. She soared over a large rock on the ground, and suddenly plummeted down toward the earth, the staff and orb clutched in her talons.
—She narrowly evaded a strike by the Dire Bat next to her, and continued to drop, using her weight to force the orb even faster towards the stone below.
—The orb connected with the stone, and a bright flash of green light mingled with smoke erupted from the shattered glass.
—Corta tumbled forward, and as she did, she rolled onto the ground, breaking her fall. When she realized what had happened, she saw that she was a Half-Elf once more – the plan had worked.
—Everywhere, the animals of Nezrel transformed back into Gnomes, the green light fading from their wide eyes.
—With a start, Corta spotted the Gnome that had once been a Dire Bat plummeting toward the ground, as she had once done. Thinking quickly, Corta dove for the Gnome, catching him before he could hit the earth.
—Owtikk stood knee-high in water, an arm lock over a struggling Addibara. Before Addibara could try to escape (which would be easier now that the two were the same size), Owtikk bound the witch with her Iron Bands of Binding, holding her still, unable to struggle.
—Nearby, Grom stood over the gray Gnome, who pushed himself up on his elbows, a look of shock in his eyes. Grom plunked a foot on the assassin, leering down at him with his large tusks. Foren stepped in nearby, and let loose a Ray of Enfeeblement, weakening the Gnome so that he couldn’t escape easily.
—As the Gnomes of Nezrel rubbed their eyes confusedly, wondering what had just happened to them, a high, cracking voice rang out in the clearing, silencing the many questions erupting throughout the rabbling crowd.
—Owtikk turned with a jolt of glee to see her Uncle Ned striding along the bank of the pool, proclaiming in a loud voice that they had been saved by Owtikk and her friends. Owtikk promptly dropped Addibara at the shore’s edge, and gave her Uncle a warm hug.
—The Gnomes seemed to have only a hazy recollection of the event, save for Ned, who adamantly explained that they had been transformed into animals, and then restored to their forms and senses by the efforts of the heroes before them.
—Still dumbfounded, and with many questions, the Gnomes began to talk amongst themselves again, before being told by Ned to return to their lives, and carry on their business.
—Ned even went so far as to shoo everyone away out of the grove, to which the Gnomes confusedly obeyed, still rattled by the events of the night.
—The Druids remained in the grove, while most of the Gnomes returned to the deserted city of Amithor below the surface.
—A Druid elder known to Owtikk as Arumbaer came forward to hear a more detailed retelling of the events that had happened in Nezrel since the townsfolk were transformed and enslaved.
—When Owtikk finished telling him the story, Arumbaer had a group of Druids step forth, and seize Addibara by the arms.
—Owtikk took back the Iron Bands as the Druids held her, and gave the ball to Grom. Grom tossed the ball down at the Gnome under his food, binding him up in the same fashion.
—Arumbaer proclaimed that Addibara had committed a number of atrocities against her people, and that she would have to be punished accordingly.
—When Arumbaer asked for suggestions from Owtikk, she suggested that the Gnomes banish Addibara, never to return to Amithor.
—Arumbaer agreed that this would be a just punishment, and sentenced the witch to be sent to live out her days with the Deep Gnomes to the northern caves. At this, Addibara’s eyes widened in fear, and the druids hauled her off to locate the other members of her family to give them the same fate.
—Ned took this juncture to say how proud he was of Owtikk for saving the town, though he remarked how delightful it had been to be a cat for so long.
—Owtikk pressed her Uncle about restoring her powers, and Ned agreed that they needed to get to it as quickly as possible.
—With Uncle Ned’s help to calm Ghost down, Corta went and healed him of his wounds, restoring him to normal. However, without her powers, Owtikk was not able to reunite with the wolf she once knew as her companion.
—Ned told the others that they would be traveling to a sacred grove to the gods of nature – the very grove in which Owtikk had been born, in fact – and that they would need to tread lightly to avoid offending the gods.
—Sandred elected to stay behind in order to keep watch on the Deep Gnome, held tight by the Iron Bands of Binding beneath Grom’s foot. Grom traded places with Sandred, allowing the minotaur to lay his thick hoof atop the Gnome as Grom rejoined the others.
—The group told Ned that they understood the importance of remaining respectful within the deeper glades of the woods of Nezrel, and followed him up a pathway toward a nearby hill, flanked by tall trees.
—For a time the group walked in silence, observing the beauty of the forest surrounding them. It seemed the deeper they went, the more wondrous things became.
—It was not long before they came to a set of stones on either side of the path, tall and flat with many etched ancient symbols, covered in ivy.
—Ned gave a solemn nod to the others and then stepped through. The others did the same, and found their senses filled with a heady, green haze which lapped at the edges of their senses.
—After a moment, they realized that what they were feeling was the essence of life, pure energy filling their bodies and minds.
—Their wounds from the battle were cleansed and healed as they stood, and Ned took Owtikk’s hand, leading her forward into the sacred glade.
—The glade itself was a circular clearing with a perfectly flat expanse of tall, green grass, Around them were trees growing so thickly together, it seemed as though they all had the same trunk. This almost made it look like they were inside a tree, were it not for the grass at their feet.
—The night sky above was visible through gaps in an immaculate latticework of tree branches and boughs overhead. Poking out of the knee-high grass were several ancient stones, arranged in a circular pattern around a small mound of earth in the center.
—It was to this mound of grass that Uncle Ned lead Owtikk. The two of them knelt down, and Ned addressed the gods, pleading for Owtikk’s powers to be restored.
—In response to Ned’s request, a blinding light filled the grove, so that they could not even see one another, nor where the light was coming from.
—An ethereal female voice, lyrical and filled with power boomed in their ears. The voice accepted the terms of restoring Owtikk’s wrongfully stolen powers, but told her of the importance of setting things straight. The goddess told Owtikk to exact punishment upon the one who stole her innocence.
—Then, the light vanished, leaving them standing in the sacred glade. Owtikk’s hair brightened again, and she felt her powers surge back into her. Ned asked her if it was time to go and find Ghost, and Owtikk excitedly agreed.
—The group found their way back to the grove above Amithor, and Owtikk began calling out for Ghost, who was no longer in the clearing.
—Soon, however, Owtikk’s face lit up as her white wolf bounded from the tree line of the grove, and into her arms, licking her face and barking happily. Corta joined in on the mirth, and they were overjoyed to have their friend returned safely.
—The group the decided what they were to do with the rest of their evening. Although already fairly late in the night, the party members were growing hungrier by the minute.
—Uncle Ned offered them all some mushroom stew back at his hut, but the group declined in order to find something a tad more palatable.
—It was finally decided that Owtikk, Corta, Grom and Sandred would head down into the city of Amithor below, and that Foren would hang back for a brief conversation with Ned.
—Grom decided to take a shift looking after the Deep Gnome and hefted him onto one shoulder.
—Uncle Ned looked at Sandred, and waved a hand, shortening him to human height, making it possible for him to enter Amithor.
—The group were just about to head off before they heard Ned give a great sniff. He looked over at Corta, and told her that he smelled something with a powerful magical aura. Corta and the others were perplexed, but she allowed Uncle Ned to inspect her bag of holding for the source of this aura.
—Ned fell into the bag, which dropped to the ground, causing everything within the small sack to tumble about noisily. However, Owtikk helped Ned back out of the bag, and he emerged holding the Orb of Axis.
—Ned immediately recognized the orb as an artifact, and told the group how powerful it surely was.
—The group exchanged glances as he inspected the runic markings on the device. Foren asked if he could read the markings.
—Ned told him he couldn’t, but that Owtikk’s brother might be able to decipher it.
—Owtikk was stunned for a few moments before replying that she didn’t have a brother. Uncle Ned persisted by telling her that she surely did. Ned said that her brother, Luntikk “The Lunatic” left Nezrel for Weldor before Owtikk was born.
—Ned also told her that he wrote often, always saying “hello” to Owtikk in his messages.
—The entire group were utterly befuddled by this, but none more than Owtikk who was both confused and outraged that her Uncle never told her that she had a sibling.
—Ned argued that he had a lot to deal with, what with his cats, and protecting the grove and all.
—While Owtikk sputtered at this response, Ned told her that Luntikk had become obsessed with magical writings and ancient languages, and that he had gone to live in Weldor to further his pursuit of this passion.
—Owtikk calmed down, but remained deep in thought as they waved goodnight to Ned, and descended down into the city below. Foren took pace beside Uncle Ned, and they walked toward Ned’s home nearby.
—As Grom walked with the others toward the concealed steps which led down to the city, he rounded a corner behind a set of trees, silently evading detection by the rest of the group.
—Concealed within the ring of trees, out of sight from the Druids keeping watch over the grove, Grom stood the Deep Gnome up on his feet, still trapped in the bindings.
—Grom attempted to discover where Galithor may have been since the events in Algordale, questioning Culainn gruffly, but receiving little more than sharp looks from his old enemy.
—When Grom realized that Culainn would divulge nothing to him, Grom flipped him onto his stomach, and drawing his war razor, cut Culainn’s right hand from his wrist.
—Culainn made no sound as this brutality occurred, and Grom took the hand, placing it on a cord around his neck with the demon head pendant he had secured from Crowtop Keep.
—Grom then released Culainn, who bound the bloody stump of his arm in spare cloth using a belt to staunch the flow of blood. Without sign of pain or anger, Culainn turned his head to Grom, saying “Until we meet again”.
—Culainn then strode off into the woods, vanishing from sight.
—Meanwhile, Foren walked along with Uncle Ned toward Ned’s old hut. Foren struck up a conversation with Ned about the Fey, and how the Gnomes were connected to them.
—Ned seemed to know very little on the subject, but told Foren that it was fabled that the Gnomes were once Fey, but that they were cast out of the Fey Realms when they were created long ago.
—He went on to tell Foren that the subject of Fey and their relation to the Gnomes was the very subject which his nephew, Luntikk was studying in Weldor.
—With that, the came to Ned’s hut, which was constructed of twisted branches and boughs. The place was covered by two things: creeping vines, and cats.
—Ned proudly proclaimed this as his home, and began naming his cats off one by one. Foren was lucky enough to dash off into the woods, back toward the others without Ned noticing he was gone.
—Foren made it down the stairs guarded by one of the Gnome Druids, and into Amithor to rejoin the others. Amithor was a city constructed finely of marble, with many artistic embellishments everywhere.
—The group went inside a fine-dining establishment known as “The Nightcap”, and ordered meals and flower wine while discussing where they would travel next.
—Sandred told them that he would be heading off toward Thorek, now that he had found Foren. Foren asked Sandred a bit more about the condition of Valarys, wanting to know if the monastery was involved in any way.
—Sandred told him that stories were vague, but that the Monastery was said to be a part of the goings on of the region, though he did not know this for certain.
—Foren told Sandred that he had little interest in assisting the people of Valarys, which Sandred seemed to understand. However, Sandred warned Foren that if he wanted to discover more about his past that he should go to Valarys before it was too late.
—Foren pondered this as the others made plans to head into Weldor.
—Corta began by stating that they should try to find out more about Owtikk’s brother, before vociferously being cut off by Owtikk, exclaiming a similar statement with great fervor.
—It seemed a certainty that their next stop should be in Weldor, to try and uncover some of the mystery behind the Orb of Axis, and Owtikk’s family.
—As the group below the grove in Amithor discussed this, Grom returned to the entrance to the stairs leading down to the city. However, due to the freshly cut Gnomish hand dangling from a cord on his neck, Grom was politely refused admittance to the city below.
—The Druid told Grom that he would send for the Druid elder, Arumbaer to try to settle the matter, and Grom sat on the grass, sharpening his axe while he waited.
—Grom waited a long while, until the Druid changed shifts with another, before realizing that Arumbaer would not be paying a visit that evening.
—Upon realizing this, Grom got to his feet, took a whiff of the air, and strode off in the direction in which Foren had marked his territory earlier that evening (which marked the tree line of the forest of Nezrel).
—About this time, Owtikk looked around at the others, and realized that Grom had been missing. Everyone suddenly took notice of this, wondering where he could have gone.
—Remembering that he had the prisoner with him, Sandred asked if they could trust the Orc with the Deep Gnome. There were mixed feelings about this.
—Owtikk decided that Grom could probably take care of himself, but Sandred seemed more worried about the Gnome, or the damage he could do to the grove if he was left on his own all night.
—The group decided to split up, agreeing to meet back at The Lazy Griffin back on the road to Weldor should they be apart for long.
—Foren and Sandred went to track Grom down, and Owtikk, Corta and Ghost curled up in the grove above the city with a bottle of lavender wine to themselves, and fell into a deep, comfortable sleep.
—Sandred was able to track Grom by his smell, and he and Foren teleported to the likeliest place Grom could be on the trail, appearing not 30 feet from him.
—Grom explained that he was heading to The Lazy Griffin as well, eager to get on with other matters.
—Foren spotted the Gnome’s hand hanging at Grom’s chest. Foren asked Grom what it was, to which Grom replied “Gray man’s hand”. “Where’s the rest of him?!” Foren had exclaimed.
—The two bantered back and forth, Foren arguing over letting him go, Grom explaining that they had told him “no killing” while in Nezrel.
—Eventually the two calmed themselves, Sandred chuckling all the while.
—They went to sleep next to the trail leading back toward The Lazy Griffin.
—During the night, Owtikk had a nightmare of a busy, unfamiliar city street, with people without faces. She turned around, and saw a woman with black hair and gray streaks wearing a dark dress, with her back turned to her.
—The woman turned, and then vanished into smoke. Owtikk got the feeling she was being watched, and as she turned around again, her eyes met with a horrible old crone, with indigo skin, warts and pustules on her crooked nose, long horns, scraggy hair, and red, glowing eyes. She smiled with gleaming yellow teeth.
—Owtikk woke up screaming. Corta woke up as well, and calmed Owtikk down as best she could. Owtikk relaxed, and explained her dream to Corta. Corta told Owtikk that they would keep an eye out for anyone with this description in their future travels.
—The two groups met up that morning as Foren and Grom were saying farewell to Sandred. Sandred was happy to say goodbye to the others as well, and told Foren that they would meet again.
—With that, Sandred strode off over the hills, and the party tromped down the road toward The Lazy Griffin, and Weldor ahead.

Game XV
Sandred The Bull

—As the bull capered around with Foren on his back, Corta, Owtikk and Henry emerged from the coach to watch this strange event unfold. Grom sat on Drakkar nearby, unsure of how to proceed.
—When they came to a stop, Foren asked Sandred how he came to be in this new shape, knowing that he had previously been a Minotaur.
—As the bull seemed unable to respond in the common tongue, Foren asked his friend to focus on the answer, and cast a spell to read Sandred’s thoughts.
—Pulling a slip of parchment from his pocket, Foren watched as a series of lines etched their way across the page, maze-like and rigid. The lines organized themselves into words, which read “I have been cursed by the spell of an evil witch.”
—Foren was surprised at this. He then asked Sandred to tell him which way he was going, and whether they could be of any help leading him to his destination.
—Sandred focused once again, and the words formed on the page in the same fashion as before: “…I have been searching for you, Foren. We have much to discuss.”
—Foren again registered a look of shock at this, and decided to introduce Sandred to his friends, and see if something could be done about this strange predicament.
—Foren rode Sandred closer to Grom and Drakkar, and as they approached, Sandred appeared to assume a menacing stance. Foren introduced Grom as a friend of his, attempting to alleviate any aggression between the two of them.
—Grom looked at the bull skeptically, but remained in his seat atop his mount.
—As they got closer to the coach, Sandred appeared to catch the scent of something, and shook Foren from his shoulders. Sandred then ran toward the space where Owtikk stood, between Corta and Henry outside of the coach.
—Sandred gave a great sniff at the invisible Gnome before giving a hearty “moo”, and thumping down on his hindquarters, sitting directly in front of her.
—Owtikk exclaimed “You found me!” before Foren removed the invisibility spell he had cast upon her.
—Foren introduced Sandred as his friend to the rest of the party, telling them that he had been cursed by a witch. He then asked the party members if anyone had the ability to converse with animals.
—Owtikk piped up, and leveled her gaze with the bull. To the others, she appeared to be speaking in moos and grunts, but to she and Sandred, they suddenly spoke the same language.
—Sandred, happy to have someone understand him, told Owtikk that he had been transformed into a bull by a Gnomish witch named Addibara, who had taken over Nezrel with foul, dark magic. He went on to say that everyone in the region had been turned into animals as well, and were being controlled by Addibara.
—Owtikk grew in a foul temper, and exclaimed in the common tongue: “That bitch!!”, which startled the others. Owtikk had never seemed to have had cause for such language before.
—While Owtikk and Sandred were speaking, Grom began searching through his bag, looking for the potion that Jorg Probirka had given him ages ago. Finally fishing out a glowing blue bottle and exclaiming “Curse!!”, he handed the bottle to Foren, standing nearby, throwing on a happy grin.
—Foren took the bottle, and offered it to Sandred, who gave it a sniff. After confirming with Owtikk that neither Grom nor Foren had brewed the concoction, Sandred opened his mouth, allowing Foren to pour the liquid down his throat.
—Suddenly, Sandred doubled over, hunching his back, and curling into a ball. Gradually, his form began to shift, and within seconds, he assumed his natural form – that of a fully grown Minotaur.
—Sandred thanked them for changing him back, pleased that the potion had worked. He told the others of the terrible events that had unfolded in Nezrel nearby, mentioning that Addibara had been behind it all. Owtikk explained that Addibara had been a rival of hers, and that she knew her to be mean-spirited and selfish.
—The party opened discussions with Sandred about whether or not traveling to Nezrel would be wise at this time. Sandred asserted that Addibara had a great deal of power, and that it was a likelihood that the party would be transformed into animals after simply setting foot into the forest. However, the party were determined to go to Nezrel in order to sort out Owtikk’s lost powers, and to help her restore her homeland.
—Grom was one exception to this, who harrumphed, and seemed disinterested in the endeavor. However, at this moment, Sandred changed his tune, happy to simply goad Grom on, asking if he was a coward, or afraid of a little Gnome.
—In the end, they all agreed to travel to Nezrel, and see what could be done about the events unfolding there.
—At this point, Corta asked how Sandred was able to escape the powers of Addibara, especially since she seemed capable of mind-controlling the subjects of her spells.
—Sandred responded by holding up a ring he wore on one of his meaty fingers, explaining that he had imbued it many years ago with the power to retain mental attributes to those who had been polymorphed. He also said that it provided him with a degree of resistance to spells that effect the mind.
—Sandred told the party that if they were to indeed venture into Nezrel to confront Addibara, then he would need to make them rings of similar strength.
—At this moment, Henry piped up, explaining that though he enjoyed traveling with the party members a great deal, he was worried for his safety, and the safety of his horses should they ride the coach through
the wilderness to the forest.
—Henry seemed terrified at the thought of being turned into an animal, and to be forced to do the bidding of a witch, with no defenses available to him.
—After some discussion, the party decided to proceed along their original course, and head to The Lazy Griffin Inn and Tavern before heading back on the road toward Nezrel to confront Addibara. They decided that they could leave Henry at the Inn, where he could tend to the mounts, and stay safe from any undue harm.
—With that, the party members set off down the road once again. After a short distance, Sandred strode close to the window of the coach, and asked for Foren to join him in a walk for a private word.
—The two hung back, and kept pace outside of earshot from the others. Sandred did not notice that Grom rode Drakkar behind them, and began speaking to Foren at once. Foren noticed Grom, but saw no reason to keep secrets from his friend, and allowed him to listen in.
—Sandred explained that he had just come from Valarys several weeks ago. He told Foren that strange things were happening to their homeland, and that he was only able to barely escape being hunted down for being what he was.
—He told Foren of the resurgence of the great plague which wracked the region of Valarys for so many generations, and a new leader who the people dubbed the Wolf Mother gathering followers, and creating turmoil in the streets.
—He had come to find Foren to warn him not to travel back to his homeland idly. He had also come to him because, for the sake of the innocent people of Valarys, Sandred knew that Foren was immune to the plague, and that he could perhaps help the people should he ever return there.
—Foren thanked Sandred for his information, and went deep into thought. The prospect of returning to his homeland was far from Foren’s mind, and he decided to devote his thoughts to his current task, rather than worry about those who had wronged him in his past.
—Before going back to the rest of the group, Sandred told Foren that Addibara was not alone, and that she had with her a Gnome with gray skin, and short black hair, wearing the emblem of a black crow on his chest.
—Foren told Sandred that they had seen this small creature, and that they knew that he had some connection to Lord Galithor.
—Noting Sandred’s skeptical look, Foren related the whole story of how they had come to be there, and how Galithor had effected their lives.
—The two of them finished their discussion, and Grom finally revealed that he had been listening the whole time to their private conversation, which seemed to make Sandred annoyed but not angry, although he did berate Foren for not telling him Grom had been there.
—As night fell, the group pulled the coach under a tree which marked a roadside camping area, and the party started a fire.
—As they finished a fine meal of good food packed into the coach by Olivia and Nathaniel back in Algordale, the party began talking amongst themselves.
—Sandred sat next to Henry, working away with tools and gold, gradually crafting the rings that would soon be worn by the party members.
—Henry spoke up after awhile, mentioning with a good deal of nervousness his unease with being with a group growing in power such as they were. He cast a glance at Sandred, who chuckled and continued his work.
—Corta and Owtikk tried to reassure Henry, letting him know that they wished to keep him safe from harm, but Henry could not seem to shake the sense of dread he felt when faced with such dangers as the party had seen.
—Foren was listening to all this, and asked Henry if he had ever been interested in magic. Henry nodded, explaining that he had had a great deal of interest in the subject, having read quite a few books about magic, though he never had any talent for it.
—Foren told Henry that magic was something that could be learned with enough patience, and the right teacher. He also told him that magic could help protect him if he still wished to travel with the party. He offered to make Henry his apprentice, and Henry joyfully accepted.
—Sandred spoke with Owtikk some more, discussing Addibara and the state of Nezrel, watching Owtikk pace up and down before the fire in a grumpy mood.
—Sandred told Owtikk and the others to get some rest, and they all turned in for the night.
—The next day, the party awoke, and traveled down the wide dirt road once more. After a time, they began passing farmers and travelers as they went. —One or two farmers reacted with fright at seeing Grom and Sandred on the road, hiding beneath piles of hay, and cowering as Grom laughed.
—In time, the group could see The Lazy Griffin in the distance, and picked up the pace as night began to descend upon the countryside.
—As a colourful entertainer’s caravan passed by their coach, a portly man in a green and gold troubadour’s outfit exclaimed at seeing Grom, seeming to recognize him.
—The man excitedly rushed to the side of their coach, and met the others, calling each one of them by name (though he pronounced each name rather incorrectly).
—The man introduced himself as Johnathan The Magnificent (making the driver of his caravan cringe and shake his head)
—He told the party of their fame in the region after saving Golaria from the clutches of evil, and pompously simpered over them all until the party decided to leave.
—Before they said their farewells, Foren asked Johnathan if he had a spare jester’s costume. Johnathan gave him a resplendent, barely worn outfit colored with midnight blue and silver trim, free of charge as a gift to the heroes.
—The party then went toward the tavern, Sandred heading toward a tree nearby for the night, Henry taking the mounts toward the stables as the others went toward the doors.
—Once the group entered the tavern, they all split off to explore the place and to unwind after a long journey.
—The group noticed as they came in that they attracted a fair amount of glances as they went. Obviously news of the events in Algordale had come as far as this tavern.
—Owtikk went straight to the bar, meeting the hawk-faced Dwarven bartender, and asking for a chicken for Sandred, and a mug of raspberry beer for Sandred and she.
—The bartender stoically corrected her grammar like an old, grouchy schoolteacher, making Owtikk lose some of her excitement for the place. However, when they had finished their interaction, the Dwarf smiled to himself as he turned his back, letting Owtikk see that it had all been a game.
—Owtikk then went outside of the tavern, and went to find Sandred, giving him the whole chicken, and handing him his sweet-tasting drink.
—Corta went and sat down in an entertainment pit in the middle of the room, with a roaring fire in the center of a few rows of seats, and a band singing songs about The Heroes of Algordale.
—As the band finished their song, someone came and whispered in the half-elven singer’s ear, making his gaze turn toward Corta. Announcing that they would take a short break, the singer took a seat next to her, and delightedly told her of the songs he had written about the exploits of the group, and asking whether or not Corta had enjoyed the performance.
—Corta was taken aback, so she did not have much to say to the man, who took it in stride, and seemed to decide that he would impress her before the night was through.
—The band nervously, but determinedly struck up a tune once again, while Corta happily watched.
—Foren met Henry as he strode through the side door to the stables, and began his first lesson on the nature of magic. Pointing to a group of dancers enjoying the music of the band, Foren told Henry that magic is the power to harness life essences, and shape it to your desires.
—Henry was excited to learn what Foren was teaching him, and ran back to the stables to fetch some paper and a quill to make notes.
—Meanwhile, Grom thumped his way toward the back of the tavern, but stopped when he heard a small voice in front of him. He looked down, and was surprised to see his old mercenary companion, Torque.
—He and Torque found a table at the far end of the Tavern, and Torque remarked openly about Grom’s transformation into a full Orc, and of the tales they were telling about the exploits of Grom and his friends.
—Grom sat in near-silence, offering the occasional grunt or grin.
—Torque then proceeded to warn Grom of the Orcish slavers that were moving their way through Weldor into Golaira, hoping to keep his old friend from doing anything stupid – like trying to confront them, and ruin his business venture as a caravan guard leading people to and from the two kingdoms.
—However, when Torque mentioned that these Orcs were not flying the banner of Krotusk, Grom suddenly became very interested, and in very few words expressed his interest in setting these wayward slavers straight.
—Torque became frustrated, trying with exasperation to explain to Grom how lucrative his business had become, and how much he relied on the dangerous slavers moving through the territory for his income.
—Grom didn’t seem to be listening, and had focused on putting a stop to these blasphemous Orcish riders.
—Torque pleaded with Grom, begging him to give him at least a week to settle his business affairs, and Grom gave a gruff answer: “Fine. Ok. One week. Deal.”, and shook Torque’s hand as he sat bewildered.
—After a meal, some dancing, and enjoying the music in the place, the party all paid for rooms, and turned in for the night. After a breakfast consisting of many varieties of eggs the next morning, the group set off once again for Nezrel, leaving Henry, Drakkar, and the horses behind.
—As the neared the forest, the group met up with Sandred, and he handed out a ring to each of them, with the same protections that he had described earlier.
—They each donned the rings, and proceeded, with caution, past the tree-line into Nezrel.
—As they ventured forth, they lost sight of Sandred, who was leading the way through the thick underbrush and trees. When they found him again, he had transformed into a large bull once again.
—However, this time they could all understand him when he spoke, telling the group “Welcome to Nezrel.”
—The party each looked at each other, and themselves, and discovered that they were now animals.
—Foren had become a dire wolf, Owtikk a grizzly bear, Grom a dire boar, and Corta a giant eagle.
—The group then made their way forward into the forest, ready for the adventure beyond the leaves.


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