Mystara Campaign: The Journey...

Croaker Returns
A Dark Request

Just outside Specularm (5 Eirmont 997 AC)

Once he recovered from the nausea and disorientation, Croaker steadied himself and looked around. A smile played across his lips as he remembered fondly the last time they had all been here. Kneeling he bent and kissed the earth before him.

Instinctively he touched his face, searching for any traces of his orc heritage. Nothing. He sighed heavily. He hated that he hadn’t informed Mills and Aidan of his plans, but that had been the arrangement he had made and he knew all too well what happened when he crossed His path. He did not want to involve them in this mess. He couldn’t.

She would be found in Traladara, He has said. All Croaker was given was her name, nothing else, not even a description. The only silver-lining being that the name was peculiar, possibly making the search for her easier.

“Zuggtmoy,” Croaker said, shaking his head at the strange-sounding name.

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Imbralym Skoond
Forgotten Realms

The Three Old Kegs

Croaker opened the door and stepped into his room making his way to the bed, when he noticed a bottle of whiskey standing in the centre of the floor, a sealed envelope propped up against it. Immediately suspicious, he looked around for signs of anyone, but found nothing.

Cautiously walking over to the bottle he bent to pick up the envelope only to trigger a ring of arcane sigils which lit up the floor around him, illuminating the rest of the room. Dropping the envelope, he instinctively withdrew his shortsword, muttering the incantation which allowed the weapon to duplicate itself in his free hand.

Suddenly the door closed behind the half-orc and Croaker turned to see a likeness of himself standing before him, before the illusion dropped to reveal Imbralym Skoond.
“You really made a mess of things,” said Skoond, his one hand reaching into the pockets of his robe.

Not waiting for the wizard to find whatever he was searching for, the half-orc rushed towards him, only to find himself blocked by an invisible barrier. Croaker banged his fists in the air in front of him in an attempt to make sense of the obstacle before him; The barrier was firm and appeared cylindrical in shape.

Imbralym smiled noting the half-orc’s frustration, “This could all have been avoided if you and your friends had just kept out the Wide that day. My plan was perfect but you do-gooders had to involve yourselves in it all.”

Croaker shouted out Mill’s and Aidan’s name repeatedly. “Stop, no one can hear you,” Imbralym said smugly, still with his hand in pocket. The two shortswords flew with deadly accuracy towards the wizard, only to mysteriously deviate and miss their intended target, landing in the wooden wall behind him.

Croaker turned strangely towards the wizard, his eyes slowly turning an oil-black colour. “Finally, there you are,” whispered Skoond.

A roar reminiscent of a cataract filled the room. Black fire shot forth in columns within the Magic Circle, merely to dissipate against a barrier which was visible only in relief – it flickered like a void against the shadows beyond it. The convulsions within the circle lasted only a few moments, before they abruptly ceased, replaced by a perfect hemisphere of silent impenetrable darkness.

“Finished?” asked a shaken Imbralym, trying to look relaxed.

A dark ancient voice echoed in the spellcaster’s mind WHAT DO YOU WANT.

Imbralym narrowed his eyes, “Same as you. I want power.”

WHEN THIS BARRIER FALLS I WILL STRIP AWAY YOUR BODY AND PEEL YOUR SOUL. YOUR ESSENCE WILL EXPERIENCE SUCH UNENDING PAIN THAT YOU WILL BEG FOR RELEASE. DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY LAYERS A SOUL POSSESSES, MORTAL? threatened the fiend’s voice within the Calimshite’s mind.

Imbralym remained motionless.

YOU IMBECILE, I HAVE WAITED OVER A CENTURY FOR THIS, I OUTLASTED THIS BLASTED CITY’S PRECIOUS ADRIAN; YOU THINK I CANNOT ENDURE A SIMPLE SPELL? The entity laughed maniacally.

Ignoring the fiend, Imbralym slowly removed his hand from his robe pocket to reveal a great, perfect ruby, and held it in front of the sphere of darkness. “Do you know what this is for?” he asked.

Black flames leapt up once more within the void, and crashed against the invisible barrier. YOU WOULD NOT DARE, thundered the voice in his mind. The darkness coalesced manifesting into the Ravager, drawing itself up to its full height before launching itself onto the barrier. It held.

“Oh but I do,” Imbralym shot back smiling.

Croaker wondered around aimlessly in the unnatural darkness feeling around for some piece of furniture, a wall or anything but found absolutely nothing, except for a hard concrete-like floor covered in a thick wet substance. Reluctantly he raised his hand to his tongue: Blood, the substance was definitely blood. Where in Karaash’s name was he?

Wherever he was, he could hear the distant voices of a conversation. He stopped to focus and lost his breath momentarily as he recognised the voice…

EVEN WITH THAT, YOU CANNOT ENSLAVE ME FOREVER, Bhaal finally spoke.

“Maybe, but perhaps I will only need to enslave you long enough until I have mastered my new abilities, until I have ordered you to reveal all to me,”
Bhaal leaned in as the wizard’s plan slowly dawned on him.

Stroking his beard, the spellcaster continued, “Unlike your pathetic Bhaalspawn, who were never given the opportunity to truly understand their full potential before being cut down, I intend to be in control of my own destiny. I won’t make their mistake, being but a tool for you to use until you discard me for something shinier, as you did to the others. I dare not waste your gift."

Bhaal punched the barrier in a moment of rage as he realised just how much he had underestimated the Duke’s right-hand man.

“Speaking of waste…as much as I enjoy talking to a fallen deity,” the last two words spoken in scorn, “I’m rather pressed for time. We can pick this up later.”

Croaker heard Imbralym begin to recite arcane texts over and over and over. Throughout it all, Bhaal threatened, and cajoled, and entreated, and pleaded, and finally begged. Imbralym ignored it all continuing with the incantation.
YOU MUST MAKE ME AN OFFER, Bhaal screamed.

It felt like an eternity to Croaker and then finally…

“Quiet,” Imbralym’s voice was firm.

Silence.

“Kneel before your Master," there was a momentary pause. “Good. Now revert back into orc and come to me.” Croaker then heard a strange noise he could not make out.

“Tilt your head back” commanded the wizard. Pain suddenly coursed through Croaker.

The half-orc dropped to the floor of the room, gurgling while clutching his slit throat in vain. Imbralym kneeled before him watching him bleed out.
“Hmmm, think I will keep this,” he gestured to the bloodied shortsword. He wiped the blade off on Croaker’s tunic. “Don’t feel bad for yourself, you just weren’t worthy,” he added before standing up again…then things went dark.

Wonder if I will see Montano, thought Croaker before he died.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Croaker coughed and gasped for breath. Opening his eyes and adjusting to the darkness he found himself naked in a rectangular, sealed, wooden box. Recalling his last memory, his hands instinctively reached for his neck searching for a wound or blood. Nothing. The air inside the box was old and stuffy. No noise came from beyond.

None of it made any sense to Croaker. If only he had taken up that redhead’s offer to sleep over at the Blue Onion.

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Preparations for Glantri
On the Trail of Gotryk

Corunglain (20 Sviftmont 997 AC)

Janice Wynn put out the cigarette just as Chord sat down, biting her lip in anticipation. She disliked being in this position, but things had become desperate. The fool had risked his life travelling to the one destination where clergy were forbidden.

“Well, I did it. I gave the envelope just as you asked,” Chord said, while attempting to catch a waitress’s attention. “So, what now?” Chord liked the high walled-city, but he knew that their time in Corunglain would be brief. He made a mental note that he would have to return one day.

“Did you have any trouble?” asked Janice, avoiding the question, reaching unconsciously for another cigarette.

“A little. When did you start smoking?” Chord had known Janice for almost two years, and in that time he had never known her to touch a cigarette, but these were not ordinary times for the Company. They had been on Gotryk’s trail for just over a month, ever since they had been summoned to Fort Hobart by an old friend of the Preacher’s, a Commander Jeremiah ‘Mudd’ Arundel, who had informed them of the events that had transpired as relayed by Gotryk’s letter to him.

“When I was 15. What do you mean a little?” queried Janice, getting annoyed with the waitress which had approached their table.

“One Halfling Cider for me please,” Chord made a motion towards Janice’s empty glass. She shook her head. “That is all, thank you,” he added before giving the waitress a quick look-over as she turned to place his order.

“Well?” Janice asked, as soon as the waitress left.

“He wanted to know, who the message was from; was quite insistent. Honestly, it became rather tense. I thought he wouldn’t let me leave,” Chord replied matter-of-factly, remembering his exchange with the moneylender.

“You didn’t tell him? Tell me you didn’t tell him, I explicitly told you –,” shot back a rather alarmed Janice, as a momentary panic overtook her.

“No, of course not,” Chord said, holding up his hands defensively, “you said not to. I told him it was an old friend who preferred to remain anonymous.”
The youngest member of the Company was rather surprised by her reaction. He was aware there had been history between her and some of the past members of the Company, but no one had offered up any details especially about him. Mills had called the entire situation stupid and had said little else on the matter. Croaker, in typical Croaker-fashion, had simply offered a lewd gesture as an explanation while Montano had promised to tell him the day he was to become a full-fledged member of the group.
Only Aidan was kind enough to provide him any insight, hinting that the issue involved Gotryk and how the relationship between men can become complicated as soon as a woman enters the equation.
“He assured me Mr Matheson would get the letter that evening,” added Chord.

Janice sighed in relief while easing back into her chair, raising the newly lit cigarette to her lips. The moneylender’s reply confirmed that he was in the city or at least he would be tonight. If this was to work, Fingers was not to know she was behind the message. He would never agree to see her if he knew she was the one who had made the request, of that she was certain.

“So, I take it we wait,” Chord stated, more so than questioned. Janice gently nodded.
The waitress returned with Chord’s drink. Janice gave Chord a quizzically look.

“I dunno, I like it, it’s deliciously sweet. And cheap,” he said defensively, before taking a swig.

Cheap Janice thought. Thank Asterius for that. Money was becoming an issue: With Gotryk having withdrawn the entire Company’s savings, Janice was starting to feel the pinch. The monies Gotryk had arranged to be given to her by Captain Arundel had run out fast. Information, bribery but most importantly their unorthodox excursion into the elven homelands, in an effort to save time, had been financially taxing. However it had all been for naught, as they had still missed Gotryk by a week.

“So,” began Chord, “how can this Fingers-fellow help us find Gotryk?” asked Chord.

Janice took a moment to answer. “He works for Corun House. They practically own this city outright. Their primary trade happens in Glantri and Ethengar and chances are we are going to need the assistance of Corun House agents in the principalities. My time with Umbarth House obviously never permitted me to develop any close relationships with the Coruns and remember I cut ties with Umbarth House , the only other major merchant house, besides the Coruns which trades with Glantri.”
Chord marvelled at her forethought.

“Also back in the day, Fingers had the extraordinary ability of networking, I can only imagine what a person with that particular skill-set could do with the infrastructure and support of a Darokinian power-house behind him. The contacts he would have developed in the principalities would be invaluable. ”

Let’s hope he has forgiven me, Janice thought to herself.

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The Clay Model Ziggurat
Forgotten Realms

On the road from Candlekeep

“So Baldur’s Gate, got its name centuries ago when the great explorer Balduran returned from one of his escapades, spreading around wild stories of his adventures as well as huge amounts of wealth, some of which he spent to have a wall constructed around his oft-raided town,” Leosin Erlanthar stated, glancing over at the half-orc who appeared preoccupied with shooing away a persistent fly. In an attempt to open dialogue between himself and the foreigner, the Harper had been casting Tongues intermittently during their journey from Candlekeep to the city.

At that moment, Croaker noticed the human looking in his direction, the half-orc quickly nodded, smiled and motioned for Leosin to carry on with his story. The Tongues spell had worn off some ten minutes ago, but Croaker wasn’t going to let on. He disliked having to wait while Leosin stopped their journey so he could scratch through his numerous backpacks to find the small clay model ziggurat which he utilised for the casting of the spell. Leosin had proven to be an insatiable talker. Croaker had never met a person who loved the sound of his own voice this much and he knew a fair number of bards. He was certain that son-of-a-cunt Mills was aware of this.

Leosin smiled back. The half-orc was in better spirits this last half-hour and appeared to have taken quite an interest in the story. Feeling encouraged, Leosin continued, “The city grew from pirates’ port to farmers’ fort to the bustling urban centre that it is today. And even now, it refuses to be constrained, just wait till you see the Outer City…”

Some 15 minutes later…

Leosin paused for a moment, looking up at the sky, trying to gage the time, making a mental calculation in an attempt to determine how long it had been since his last casting of the Tongues spell.

Croaker noticed the quizzical frown play across Leosin’s face and hastily enunciated the words yes and in the form of a question in the common tongue of this world succeeding to break Leosin’s concentration.

“Ah, where was I?” said Leosin, before gathering his thoughts, “Did I mention Tymora’s temple?” Based on the half-orc’s thoughtful expression, Leosin got the impression that this was the first time Croaker was hearing about it, “Well, the Lady’s Hall is made from the local granite mined near and around the city. It features a modest spire, rising only so slightly above the Upper City’s already tall buildings…."

Croaker breathed a sigh of relief. His lesson with the patient Candlekeep monk seemed to have paid off. He didn’t know how long he could keep fooling Leosin like this – at some point the human would eventually figure it out and begin his painful search for the little ziggurat. Croaker gazed at the road ahead hoping to catch sight of Baldur’s Gate.
He hadn’t yet decided how he was going to explain to Leosin that he had accidently cracked the clay model while playing with it on their last break.

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A Covey Convenes
Forgotten Realms

Sargasso Sea, somewhere off the Sword Coast

Ambraga watched out the window as the cargo vessel slowly sailed away, helped along only by the mysterious funnelling cloud of whirling air which was tirelessly pushing and pulling against the sails. Things had taken an unexpected turn within the last hour or so: The refusal by the paladins to accept the proposal was unfortunate but anticipated; The seawolf’s suspicious absence and the hag eye’s blindness was annoying but in the end mattered little; The sudden presence of the air elemental as well as the djinni presented a complication but even that, given the strength of the Covey and it’s forces, could have been surmountable; It was however the arrival of a githyanki scouting party aboard the deck of the vessel that gave the hag a cause of concern.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

She heard them long before they entered the room. They would no doubt, be frustrated.

“Why did you call us off? What could have been that important –” croaked a voice, shattering the sounds of the ocean. The oversized lifeless glassy eyes of Kurul appeared larger than normal.

Gakara lowered her emaciated body, onto the desk. Slimy water oozed out her seaweed-like-hair as she purposefully drenched it over Ambraga’s paperwork. “Yes, tell us, our dear, sweet, sister,” the last few words uttered in no uncertain mockery.

Retaining her composure, Ambraga slowly rose to her feet, all the while maintaining her illusionary appearance of a beautiful woman, knowing how much it frustrated her sea-cousins to see her like this. She moved around them until she was standing behind them, forcing them to have to turn to address her.

“Well?” Kurul asked, her tone strongly indicating her impatience. Ambraga had the exasperating habit of drawing out her answers. “We had that blue-monstrosity in our sights, when that seabitch of yours told us the attack had to stop. You’d better have a good enough reason.” Gakara merely nodded and waited.

Ambraga, allowed for a momentary pause before she replied, “While the two of you were frolicking under the sea, hunting for Umberlee, the ship was being boarded by over a dozen githyanki.”

“Githyanki?!”

“Yes. They just, teleported in and as much as we wanted that cargo vessel and some new slaves including the possibility of the services of a djinni, none of that would have been worth it, if we incurred the wrath of those astral marauders.”

“But, I thought the Realms were shielded, ever since –” Kurul began.

“I don’t know,” Ambraga cut her off, “but we are certainly not going to get mixed up with the Followers of Gith.”

“And their infamous queen,” added Gakara. The two knew that Ambraga had been right in calling off the attack, although none were going to admit it or thank her, especially Gakara. “Any news on our hag eye or its wearer?”

Ambraga shook her head.

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Fiendish Exchange
Forgotten Realms

The Fugue Plane, the City of Judgement

Heavy footsteps echoed across the courtyard. Elyera cocked her head to the side noticing the giant winged creature making its way towards her. She stood up quickly making herself presentable: Dabbing on some blood-red lipstick, deepening her cleavage by lowering her netted negligee and extending her feathered wings in a welcoming pose.
She knew this meeting was going to be difficult.

She turned to meet him, dropping to one knee, “My lord…ungggh!”

A large burning claw wrapped tightly around her neck lifting her up into the air. Her wings fluttered in panic, her legs flailed wildly while her hands feebly struggled in an attempt to release herself from his crushing grip. It seemed like an eternity before he finally spoke.

“What was so important that you felt the need to summon ME here,” bellowed the fiend inches from her face. Green vile spat out as he spoke. Reluctantly he eased the pressure on her neck, allowing her the opportunity for a reply.

“One has arrived,” tears streamed down from her eyes as she continued, “someone whom I think you would like, no, need to meet.” She could now see the city beneath her.

“You forget yourself bitch,” his eyes burned with renewed anger, “the petitioning of souls is beneath my station.”
She felt her life slowly passing out of her.

“He is not from Toril, Oerth or any of the other mortal worlds,” she cried out in desperation. “He says he is from…Mystara.”

And then she fell and everything went dark.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

When she finally came to, he was standing before her. They were no longer in the city, but based on the grey, bland surroundings they were still in the Fugue Plane. Her neck was aching from when he had almost strangled her earlier, she touched it gently. It would be weeks before the bruises would disappear. It was then she noticed she was naked and that fresh wounds now decorated the rest of her body. She held back her burning rage to remain composed in his presence.

“Has anyone come to claim him? Who else knows about this?” he asked, inwardly smiling while studying her reaction as the full extent of her violation dawned on her.

“No one, as yet,” she replied. Her mouth was dry. “But it won’t be long before word gets out. He is a perfect candidate for the wall. I fear Kelemvor will make no exceptions in his case. Jergal will see to it, of that I’m certain.” Elyera slowly rose to her feet, looking around for her clothing, which she could not find.

“And your attempts?” he queried, admiring his work on her.

“He is remarkably steadfast in denying me, even with the promise of power and knowing of the alternative. I’m afraid we might lose him, worse still, lose him to a thieving Tanar’ri,” she replied, accentuating the last word.

“What is his name?”

“Montano.”

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His Eminence, Loric II
Buried History

Selenica, Great Cathedral of Darokin Church in Anna Square, Hallonica Quarter (14 Fyrmont 997 AC)

The meeting with the level-headed Captain Justinian and his subordinates ran longer than expected and by the time they took their leave one could hear the sounds of the cocks crowing. After the militia left, you finally settled in for a much needed and deserved rest after an impressively long adventuring day.

It was a little after noon, when the lot of you made your way down to the common area of the inn which was relatively empty. The traumatic events of the previous day meant most of the townsfolk would be trying to find loved ones and piece their lives back together.

Unsurprisingly, there was a visitor awaiting you; the Traladaran Cleric, Landries, who assisted you on the subterranean bridge against the gnolls, their witch and her pet troll. He informed you that the clergy leadership had insisted on a meeting this morning,.. an unavoidable meeting. Landries fell silent, letting the significance of his wording sink in. He explained he requested to alone escort you rather than have some official entourage “order” you to follow them which might have made things worse.
Landries spared you any hopes of expecting much understanding from the clergy, warning you that his colleagues were both anxious and irritated and that this morning’s proceedings would not be easy. It was not lost on you that Landries and Father Kalin with regards to their support of you had now been reversed.

He further informed you that the party’s midnight affair with Captain Justinian had not gone unnoticed, and it only seemed to have added further insult to those of the cloth. As you stepped out onto the street and made your way to the arranged meeting, you observed an increase presence of the city guard. Captain Justinian was not taking any chances.

The clergy had opted to meet at Darokin Church’s Great Cathedral in Anna Square within the Hallonica Quarter. The Great Cathedral of Selenica was one of the city’s architectural marvels: A large, tall, three story stone-made, gothic-building which dominated the square. Its coloured stained windows, intricate decorative carvings, religious statuettes, marble steps and large welcoming doors only added to this wonder.

The wonder was quickly lost some 30 minutes later when the Archbishop of the Cathedral, his Eminence Ioric II, a healthy man in his late 60’s, lambasted the party for ‘deliberately evading’ the clergy’s questions the night before. Slamming his hand hard on the table, his Eminence accused Gotryk of disregarding those of superior rank, undermining clerical authority and participating, along with his “arrogant, uneducated, glory-seeking, treasure-greedy, condescending cohorts” treason against both of the churches by revealing the long-kept secret of Thanos Ansalon to Captain Justinian and his officers after his word had been given to Father Kalin. Of course there were technicalities in the issue of treason: That it was Croaker not Gotryk that betrayed the church’s secret; that Gotryk was the one responsible for the actions of his Guild Members which Croaker was a member of; but that at the time Croaker was in the employ of the Darokinian Military. It was all getting rather messy and rather complicated.

To Mills, the argument could have been distilled down to Principles and Duty versus Reason/Logic, a debate that had the potential to be more intellectually stimulating than the one currently engaged in. Sadly the opportunity appeared to have been lost on all present but Mills did give a dangerous amount of thought to mentioning it……loudly and interruptively.
Aidan had long checked out of the discussion, his mind still focussed on the previous day’s events where Thanos Ansalon, an undead no less, had literally offended him to his face…..not just once, but multiple times; he was damn sure of it! It didn’t help matters when the rest of the party had dismissed his protestations at this deep, and personal affront.
Montano could not help not staring at an incredibly long strand of white hair growing out of Ioric’s left eyebrow. Someone needs to tweeze this. I cannot possibly be the only one to have noticed it. By Kagyar’s beard it is long! As the conversation progressed, his Eminence’s increased expressive actions allowed the strand to become the ever-growing centrepiece of this dispute, at least so it appeared to Montano. Just one good pull. That’s is all it will take and this will all be over.
Gotryk felt the issue had become tiresome and he found he was repeating himself. He had heard enough, he found his mind drifting to thoughts about Janice. His far away, glazed-eyed smile only increased the clergy’s annoyance and anger.

“Did you not think we would notice when you brought back decapitated heads?” his Eminence’s voice was painfully whiny. Father Kalin Luciu sighed. At that moment a loud commotion was heard coming from the adjoining room. It was followed by some angry shouting and ended with the doors abruptly opening. Immediately, almost everyone got to their feet, but none faster than Croaker.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Well that Commander Arundel is quite a character. Haven’t been talked down to like that in years. Even Mill’s kept quiet. Boy did he let us all have it, he didn’t spare anyone in the room, except of course…” said Aidan finally breaking the silence of their slow walk back to the inn.

“Are my cheeks still red?” asked Montano, “They feel red.”

“That look on the Archbishop’s face was totally worth it though,” added Aidan, completely ignoring Montano who was busy touching his cheeks.

“I wonder what that business with Croaker was,” said Mills.

“Hmm,” replied Montano, “I imagine he is being recalled to Fort Hobart. What else could it be?”

Gotryk kept quiet and smiled inwardly. He wondered if Mudd had recognised him.

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Grumaka
Selenica's Buried History
The Ancient Catacombs of Selenica (13 Fyrmont 997 AC)

Grumaka cried out in pain and fell as his left leg gave way. Brushing his hair from his face he looked at the wounds which had just opened up along his leg. His regeneration was not keeping up with the foul curse that was placed on him, it was only a matter of time before the magic killed him. He was tired, hungry, lost and most of all he was in constant pain. If he could just put some more distance between himself and the cavern, then maybe…

It had been wrong to trust the human, he had personally warned Yagrah. Grumaka shook his head, wincing at the fresh wounds which appeared across his body and let out a grunt. Now, the mighty Gnoll Horde of the Black Peak Mountains was little more than a handful of warriors and all for what? A foolish attempt to destroy one of the humans’ prized settlements. Those pesky puny humans would just build another in its place. Rats, that’s what the humans are. No better yet cockroaches. Yes, just like cockroaches there are plenty of them, they are annoying and weak. That is it.

Grumaka managed an awkward smile at his insight, somewhat sad not having shared it with anyone. It was however his last thought, before a lithe elven figure slipped out of the shadows behind him and with one swift motion separated his head from his body.


Ansalon Tomb within the Hall of Heroes (13 Fyrmont 997 AC)

“Hey, I didn’t realise gnolls ate vegetables.” Aidan half-stated, holding the half-eaten tomatoes that they had found amongst the gnolls’ belongings.

No one replied. Content Not Found: montano was still engrossed with the maps, Mills was weighting the dead gnoll lord’s glaive against his own, Gotryk was inspecting the walls of the room while Croaker was busy decapitating the remainder of the gnolls.

“I asked,” said Aidan a little louder in an attempt to get anyone’s attention, “is it common for gnolls to eat vegetables?”

“Correction, you didn’t ask. You stated,” replied Mills without looking in the direction of the halfling and still balancing the gnoll’s glaive.

“No. It was a question in the form of a statement. Montano back me up on this, will you?” implored Aidan.

Content Not Found: montano with papers in hand looked up, quizzically,. “What statement, what question?” Mills couldn’t help but laugh.

“Absolutely useless,” muttered an annoyed Aidan under his breath.

“See,” replied a rather smug-looking Mills. “It is possible you never even spoke, and you imagined this statement-like question altogether,” he teased.

“Sometimes I wish you were an imagination,” answered a now irritated Aidan, “One can only…” He was interrupted before he could finish by a loud crash and a slight tremor of the room.

“What was that?” asked Content Not Found: montano, packing away the maps back into the scroll-case with a certain sense of urgency.

“Now that, was a question,” goaded Mills.

“Mills!” interjected a concerned-looking Gotryk, “Croaker can you hear anything?”

Croaker who was closer to the door, stepped someway into the passageway and looked back at Gotryk quizzically. “It sounds like,” pausing momentarily, “like water.”

His eyes grew large in panic as a thought dawned on him, “It’s the water!” he shouted back.

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Hunting Canines
Selenica's Buried History

The Ancient Catacombs of Selenica (13 Fyrmont 997 AC)

 There is no natural light source and the filthy murky water, black in colour, offers no true reflection. The water itself reminds you of an enormous black pudding and you feel that your clothing and equipment is slowly dissolving in its very presence;

The horrifying darkness is temporarily pushed back by Ka’s light, but with every step deeper into these forgotten corridors, the unwavering darkness swallows back lost ground;

 The stench here is unbearable, like a thick paste, seeping into your nose, ears, mouth and skin, dominating every smell with an uncaring ruthlessness which is hard to ignore. You struggle to not throw up;

 In your haste and to not let fear take hold, you make the conscious decision to ignore the strange sensations and movement sometimes felt by the submerged part of your body. And when you do sometimes give in to your curiosity, your search ends up empty;

 The catacombs reveal violently formed entrances evidenced from the warped and twisted stone, without which, would have made it otherwise impossible to enter them. The passages are wide, and the ceilings low, which appear to be even lower given the considerable height of the water levels;

 Corpses of frogs, rats and other vermin float in the water aimlessly, and at certain points you find the life-sucked shells of recently deceased gnolls indicating, along with markings on the walls, that the ominous path taken by the group is in fact correct;

 You have long past the point where the map was of any use, this is uncharted terrain – and besides the gnolls and defiler that recently travelled through here, you are almost certain that the subterranean passageways have been absent of life for decades if not centuries;

 Although physically your body is free of fatigue and injury, and this mostly due to the work of the clerics, your mind and spirit is weary of the events of the last few hours, knowing a night’s rest would certainly go far to boost your alertness and confidence levels;

 Taking a moment you think back on the Curate’s words of encouragement, before your thoughts are interrupted by the sudden appearance of Croaker rising out of the water before you. The glint in his eyes, reveal he has something to tell you. You steel yourself for the news and what is to come.

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Potatoes
Hallonica House

Millington Klantyre’s room, in the Salonikos Rest Inn (12 Fyrmont 997 AC)

There was a knock at the door. “Come in.”

Aidan entered the room, and looked around, “First one here?”

“Seems that way,” answered Mills, too engrossed in his woodcarving to look up.

Closing the door behind him, the halfling walked over to Mills. “What you got there?” said the Aidan, pointing towards the small pouch lying on the bed.

“Some…food-thing I picked up in Armstead. Try them if you want.”

Aidan leaned in to inspect the crisps, and after a moment, picked a dried-brown flakey crisp. “What are they?”

“Potatoes” Mills didn’t raise his head. He was working the fine detail into the sculpture.

Aidan bit into the crisp. The taste was like nothing he had ever tasted before – but he found himself enjoying it. “Tastes nothing like potato,” he stated, reaching to grab another.

Aidan propped himself onto the bed next to the pouch full of crisps. There was a quick knock and the door opened – Gotryk entered with Chord following. “Good, you’re back” he said looking at Mills. “So? Any news on Croaker.”

Mills set the woodcarving aside, sheathed his carving knife and gave the priest his attention, “Nothing much really – all that could be confirmed to me by some Captain Jakov, was that Croaker was to infiltrate the orc operations in the Dwarfgate Mountains.”

“For how long?”

“Three months.”

“Alone?”

“Yes.”

“Exit strategy?”

“His own way, but he is to make use of Alfheim to get back to Selenica – safest route. Apparently this operation is a collaboration between the boys of Fort Hobart and the elves.”

“Is it just reconnaissance or something more?”

“Captain implied this is just a fact-finding mission.”

“Good. Aidan?” Gotryk now turning his attention to the halfling.

“The farrier is coming tomorrow morning to inspect, same price as last time should we require his services.”

“These are quite good,” said Chord, munching away on a particularly brown crisp.

“Potato,” answered Aidan, even though the question was not asked.

“Seriously?” asked Chord incredulously.

“So why are we here? And why are we meeting in my room instead of downstairs?” Mills asked…he didn’t like this many people in his room.

“I’m waiting for the other two before we start.”

“Other one corrected Content Not Found: montano as he entered the room. “Hmmm what is that?”

“Try them, bet you won’t guess what they are?” challenged Aidan. He was thirsty now – these brown flakes were rather salty. Content Not Found: montano tried one. “Does anyone want something from the bar?” he added – everyone confirmed.

“Chord, come with me,” Aidan said as he turned to leave.

“Wait” said Content Not Found: montano, as he reached into his pocket and handed the halfling his set of cuffs. “Whatever these are, they make the cut,” added Content Not Found: montano, his tone and expression reflecting his approval of the crisps.

“Would you believe they are potatoes?” said Aidan, leaving with Chord, right after witnessing the quizzical look upon Montano’s face.

Gotryk closed the door behind them, blocking out the noise from below, and turned to Content Not Found: montano, “What happened with Adelmar?”

“The guild took him, no problem. Also Janice was right; we found a home for the drakeling with one of the guild members, someone you would approve of. Trust me.”

Gotryk made a slight nod.

“How much?” asked Mills

Content Not Found: montano smiled and gave a momentary pause before answering, “3,000 daro,” amused by the look on their faces. “This has been an elite day for us my friends!”

Both the priest and Mills expressed their amazement on the amount. “All cash?” queried Gotryk.

“Nah, got a CLOC.”

“So where is Janice now?”

“Said she had a quick errand to run, but that it wouldn’t take long,” Content Not Found: montano replied, while he grabbed a few more crisps out of the pouch. “These are unbelievable. Where did we get them?”

“Armstead’s fair” Mills grumbled, while cleaning up the shavings on the table, trying hard to hide his annoyance. They were going through the bag like vultures.

At that moment the door opened with Aidan and Chord walking in carrying two large pitchers of ale and several glasses. A rather jubilant Janice followed them in. The pitchers and glasses were placed upon the table.

“Where have you been?”

“Confirming our sources,” she answered before handing Gotryk an envelope. “I’m sure Montano’s broken the news.”

“What news?” asked Aidan turning to Content Not Found: montano.

“Only that Mills slaughtered 12,000 daro worth of drakes, enough for all of us to enjoy a fairly long holiday in the Ierendi Isles,” cut-in Janice cheekily, winking at Mills.

“Well it was Umbarth merchandise, All I do, i do it for you,” Mills sort-of badly sang the last line making reference to one of Montano’s soppy romance ballads. Janice laughed.

“Did you sort out the supplies,” Janice asked Gotryk. Gotryk nodded.

“So is anyone going to tell us why we are meeting in the tin-suit’s stuffy room instead of the comfort of the tables and chairs below," asked Aidan, before grabbing one of the pitchers and a glass and finding a place on the bed to sit, near Chord.

“I can only imagine to eat me out of house and home” Millington muttered under his breath.

“There are too many ears downstairs and for a little guy, your voice carries too much when you get excited,” teased Gotryk. Aidan snorted. The priest then turned and addressed Janice , “..the floor is yours.”

Janice waited till everyone got into position before she began. Content Not Found: montano filled his glass with ale from one of the pitchers, leaned up against the wall near the window while Mills sat back down in his chair – the only one in the room.

“Well I was speaking to Tom Eskarden back in Armstead…”

“The Hallonica man?” interrupted Mills.

“Yes” said Janice “it appears our friends in the Hallonica House have been suffering attacks on their people and merchandise travelling the Black Peak Mountain pass between Reedle and Duke’s Road Keep in Karameikos.”

“Could this be related to what you were involved in some weeks back?” asked Content Not Found: montano looking at Gotryk and Mills.

“No,” assured Janice, “these attacks are completely unrelated. From what Tom said, the attackers are a group of mismatched humanoid races led by a spell-caster.”

“How long has this been going on?” asked Aidan, while filling up his glass with more more ale.

“Two-three months or so, on and off” answered Janice.

“But Verun never mentioned it,” said Mills, “and we met up with him a few times. Why wouldn’t he tell us? That sort of work is pretty much our purpose.”

“I’m, thinking this has to be personal,” Gotryk replied, “probably a sensitive issue. Also I felt our last meeting with him could have gone better.”

Hallonica House has sent their own people to investigate the matter but have had no success,” added Janice.

“Verun Hallonica,” said Mills, “had all the opportunity in the world to employ us, when we were there last time, but he didn’t. Has he changed his mind – did he reach out to us?”

“No,” Gotryk answered, taking the now near-empty pouch of crisps from Chord.

“Then, why are we here? What do we hope to accomplish?” asked Aidan.

“Verun is on his way out,” stated Janice flatly. “My sources inform me that the other two Hallonica siblings voted for him to be replaced as head of the Hallonica House – my guess is there have probably been too many incidents: with House Luciu and the Al-Azrads, these attacks, and who knows what else. His term ends at the end of this month. The new figurehead of Hallonica will be Verun’s older brother, Bertram. They say he is quite amenable. Good news is, we have an in with Tom Eskarden – after what we did at Armstead on Market Day. I’ve arranged for a meet, later today.”

“As I said, an elite day,” commented Content Not Found: montano.

“What about this spellcaster and humanoid entourage, what do we know of them?” asked Mills thoughtfully.

Gotryk handed the crisp-pouch to Janice. “Well, it appears from the descriptions of the attacks, the wizard is some sort of defiler.” After seeing the confused look upon the faces of his colleagues, Gotryk explained, “A defiler is a spellcaster who draws his power from sacrificing the life-force inherent in all things to fuel his spells.”

“Vicious,” remarked Aidan. Chord nodded in agreement.

“Yes, rather,” added Content Not Found: montano.

Janice finished the crisps and placed the emptied pouch on the table and reached for the pitcher and a glass. Studying Janice carefully, Mills challenged “10 Daro says you don’t know what these crisps are made from.”

“Make it 50 Daro and we have a deal.”

“Mills don’t,” Gotryk warned, remembering his first encounter with Janice back in Corunglain.

“She is bluffing,” tested Mills, eyeing her shrewdly. Gotryk buried his face in his palm.

“That drake-armour you had commissioned back in Armstead is going to cost you a little. I’m guessing 50 Daro is a little too rich for you, Milly” stirred Janice.

“You just sold us a drake, I’m flush right now,” replied Mills coolly, although everyone could see him making a mental tally. It was actually going to be a close month, lot of debts were coming due in fact. Mills figured if the smith finished the armour anytime soon, he was going to have to do some fast talking…

“So make, the, deal,” baited Janice, sensing his weakness.

“Buddy,” began Content Not Found: montano “think about it, she finished the crisps, never commented on them once, not a thing. Don’t do it.”

“He’s got a point,” chirped Chord, Aidan agreed.

“Fuck it. Forget it.” Mills backed down.

“We wouldn’t want you to look stupid now would we?” smiling Janice turned to the others.
“The rest of you bozos owe me 50 daro and I’m taking that out of your pay.” Finishing her drink and placing the glass on the table, she turned to leave the room.

“Can she do that?” Chord asked.

“She knew,” Mills agreed with the others, trying to convince himself that he didn’t just lose out on 50 daro.

“Potatoes,” Janice said without turning before opening the door and walking out.

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