Darkwave Tales: Kingmaker

Snicker Snack!

After slaying the Stag Lord in his sleep and the handy defeat of his lieutenants, the party had only the basement dweller to contend with. It was difficult to tell who the captives loathed more: the party of vicious adventurers or the lurking man-hag below. In the process of an intimidating inquisition for more information, Stehlen uncovered which of the brigands was Felgrim Sneeg — the wanted criminal whose bounty was an attractive choice from a collection of masterworked weaponry.

Auchs, as dumb as one, was selected by sly Phuralq to be the first to enter the underground lair in a ploy to draw out the old man for an ambush. His acid burns were painful enough that with the threat of more, he was convinced to seek healing below. The stupid oaf might have spared himself later miseries if he had only had the wits to not mention the little game.

With Phuralq’s plan foiled, the old gnarl withdrew further into the dank darkness under the monastery fortress, grumbling magics under his breath.

Tolixan snatched Auchs back and pushed him out of the way, charging below to catch the old man before he might escape, followed closely by the rest of the party with Akiros above to watch his recently ex-comrades. It was scarcely a moment before Trajan and Phuralq heard a muffled grunt and a thud from above, which attracted Trajan back to the surface to investigate. The others were much too occupied by then.

Nugrah had used magic to submerge himself into the earth of the basement walls, preparing an ambush of his own. When he lunged out, it was in the company of an ant the size of a man! The old man himself had taken the shape of an imposing, furred ball of muscle and teeth clinging to the ceiling and scuttling back and forth while screaming more magical chants.

The assault was so swift and severe that Tolixan was stabbed badly by the unnatural insect’s sting and the party could do little more than react as the wolverine dived toward a new wall.

The melee was intense in the sweaty, claustrophobic space, giving Byzalte little chance to use his bow and little room for Stehlen’s spells. Phuralq found the old man’s crazed and willful mind too difficult to assault directly. Enlarged by Stehlen’s spell, Tolixan managed to reach the ceiling to snatch Nugrah’s tail and wrestle with him before he could complete another spell of summoning. The monstrous ant was already proving a match for the party.

Even Byzalte’s greataxe could not be wielded effectively enough in the cramped quarters to find good purchase on the insect’s carapace and Tolixan was quite occupied in a deadly grapple with a frenzied wolverine. Stehlen’s aerial servant likewise found it difficult to do more than impede the ant’s onslaught, and Phuralq could do little but keep himself safe (which he did with shrewd fervor).

Seeing that Tolixan’s temporarily great size afforded him the advantage, it was Phuralq who instructed Tolixan to pin the writhing man-nee-animal so that Byzalte’s axe could find its neck. It was only moments before the old man’s crusty corpse lay still, his summoned ant soldier vanishing with the fading magics that had called it.

Trajan only then appeared at the steps dusting his sleeves and looking pleased. Auchs had smitten Akiros unconscious and made a break for freedom when Trajan managed to chase the oaf down with spellbolts.

The basement was being used as a damp storage space for the bandits’ lucre, including stashes of trade goods, jewelry, coin and sundry. Coin was easily divided, but the rest of the loot they would need to return for with wagons. There was limited capacity to transport unwanted prisoners, however, and Stehlen’s fiendish codex ever thirsted…

Only the ex-paladin rager, the tubby lummox and the petty career criminal were selected to make the journey back north to Oleg’s. A stray troll and ogre encountered along the way stood little chance of more than slowing the party’s march, but did betray the fact of the Stag Lord’s allies from the south.

Phuralq took the evidence as a matter of course for no one rises to even the modest peaks of influence which the Stag Lord had occupied without aid. Unraveling the tatters of the Stolen Lands’ patchwork of politics would be a task requiring patience to ensure absolute completion. And the party had little desire to leave any alive who might oppose their ambitions.

Long Pig

The captive bandits had told the party that they knew the password was changed at least once a week. Without the password, the bandits would sense a ruse or simply fire from the closed fortress. Therefore, the party needed to learn the current passphrase in order to safely approach the Stag Lord’s fortress since an all out frontal assault would be difficult or impossible.

Phuralq proposed they pose as a merchant caravan leaving Oleg’s Trading Post along the eastern road, baiting the bandits into an attack during which they might be subdued and questioned. Oleg was willing to lend a spare wagon and some supplies to give substance to the illusion. Indeed, it worked, for the party was set upon by a group of thugs scarcely a day’s ride out. It was a trivial matter to deal with bandit scum suffering from dysentery and dim wits besides. The ogre they had with them was unexpected, but slain as well after the trap was sprung.

It was Byzalte who spotted the lookout on the hill and covertly warned the others to prepare. Oddly, the brigands gave opportunity for surrender before approaching the wagons. With weapons laid down, they felt the courage to inspect their loot. Of course, this put them easily within spells’ range. Before they could recover from the surprise, most were dead, unconscious or gravely wounded. The Ogre rounded the hillside in a fury to find himself outnumbered and easily dispatched while he lumbered through difficult terrain.

The captives were quick with the password in hopes it would spare their lives, to no avail. Stehlen’s demonic spellbook craved blood, and he inked several pages therein. Oleg was appalled by the suggestion that the captives be fed to indentured prisoners laboring at his post and so the corpses served no further purpose. There was a need for haste, however, as the party’s advantage would be lost if they tarried.

Phuralq’s stratagem was to avoid the dangers of a frontal assault by cleverness. His magical hat of disguises could conceal his true nature perfectly, and the Elan seemed fully human. With Trajan’s quick tongue tasting the passphrase, they could gain entry to the fortress while the Tiefling and Oread took cover to await their chance. The thieves would pay little notice to three humans presenting whiskey as looted homage, but it was certain they would remember whether they had a Tiefling and stone-kin among their roster.

The Stag Lord himself was eager to dive into his cups and collapsed into a stupor quite quickly before the party’s spies sussed out the instabilities of personalities brooding within the monastery. Second in command only recently, Akiros was unhappy with his lot in life, remembering his standing as a paladin, though he avoided giving details about his history and motive for falling to thievery. A sleek-looking man named Dovan had more than his share of ambition, and a misshapen lout named Auchs must have lost his share of brains in one of the games of cards that so frequented the living quarters.

It was his discovery of the remains of a devoured pig that gave Phuralq the inspiration he needed to begin fracturing this band of rabble.

Telepathically, he instructed his comrades waiting outside to send Byzalte’s tamed boar into view of the walls. It was a simple matter after that to suggest that the bandits have pork for a feast that night.

Two men left, neither survived, though in the dark of fallen night it appeared from the walls as though the boar had simply gored and trampled them. So Dovan sent out an ogre and another man to fetch yon pig. The ogre was much longer in dying, smiting Byzalte with a fury, and Dovan perceived the attack.

Raging downstairs, he sought to wake the Stag Lord from his bottle and found instead Tolixan emerging from the bedchamber with a spear red to the haft. Sleeping men are easily spit, and Dovan showed the upright fared little better. Akiros, though complicit, needed do little as Phuralq’s psychic assault subdued five, including the brute Auchs, before they could do more than wonder in confusion. The remaining ogre escaped alone into the night with a yodeling cry of fear.

The owlbear remained safely in his cage, hooting the hour.

The party knew there was a basement to the fortress and from the prisoners’ tales of dread, they knew it harbored some manner of witch…

Five Shadows In A Cave, We

Byzalte discovered he had caught a nasty case of cabin fever after spending day and night for more than a week training an obstinate pig. He found that he preferred the company of devil-kin and aberrations: they at least bathed.

Having been given directions on the party’s intended destination before they departed, there were enough indications of their passage to speed the ranger along in the wake.

After they had so very nearly found fate from fiendish foes, the four companions were nearly exhausted and spent a night resting with fretful eyes on the barred doors. So it was that the next morning they had a caller — Byzalte was made quite welcome.

Diving deeper down dark corridors, the party was haunted by a strange, almost rhythmic knocking. On closer inspection, the source seemed to be an entirely un-animated skeleton whose skull was intermittently disturbed by the breezes from below as he sat moldering guard over a descending stair.

Presently they came upon a rift in the rough-hewn stone passage spanning some ten or fifteen feet. Pebbles tossed in returned no clatter. The remains of a rope bridge half dangled, desperately clinging to a last few pitons. Using several lengths of rope, fastened by hook and several bruising leaps, the party managed to secure a rudimentary passage of their own which led to yet more stairs down… securely blocked by crumbled debris.

It was Byzalte’s scouting eyes that found a doorway obscured by mosses in the dank dark, and beyond was a largely occupied room. The centipedes lairing there were as fearsome as they were venomous, winding and slithering over each other, large as houses. As long as they were, their verminous minds employed predictable tactics which led them to brutal ends as arrows, sword and spells found the weaknesses in their loathsome armors. The pitiful remains of what could only be surmised was humans served as well decayed nesting. Their few items, posthumously bequeathed, would serve the living now better.

It was the second hidden doorframe which drew up anxious eyes, found behind a collapsed bookshelf older than modern kingdoms. Within was a bedchamber and laboratory, handfuls of arcane scrolls surviving amid the powders of many more on the shelves. Sprawling on the floor still in bedclothes was the master of place, though he had quite lost his head. His attire dated him older than Tolixan’s original era by the best guesses of the historians in the party, and since there were many objects of both psionic and arcane nature scattered through the chamber, he could be safely assumed to have been quite the savant in life. Phuralq recognized the tell-tale anatomy of a Yuan-ti.

Among decayed cupboards were found a Spellbook bound in the tortured yet living flesh of a demon, a diamond of preposterous proportions which whispered of a soul trapped within, a handful of other minor gems which also whispered into the mind, and a few surviving articles of adornment.

While cautiously probing the chamber’s secrets, the party slowly became aware of the shadows which watched.

On noticing their noticement, one of the spirits stepped forward to address the group. They were souls trapped in this place, members of a party of adventurers who had taken upon themselves the task of slaying the Yuan-ti before his world-wrecking plans could see ends. They told a tale of the pyrrhic victory which had preserved the world from a new age of scale, explaining the scattered bones of humans which still protruded violently from the scorched southern wall. Though they had slain the snake-mage, their own deaths resulted in many centuries of entrapment as they could not pass beyond the circle of conjury on the floor above even if they could have gotten to it past the chasm. So they offered the living party a bargain.

Carry the five spirits across the chasm and past the dimensional anchor, and they would in turn grant a boon they had in life.

Phuralq was immediately suspicious, as his kind is wont to be, for he saw that if the spirits of these adventurers were trapped here, where, then, was the shade of the dead mage? And why would a pit into the dark depths of the world have stopped a band of spirits desperate for freedom… to roam the sunlight wilds of the surface?

The party eventually agreed to the deed and carried the chill shades into the dusky twilight of the edge of the wood. Once there, the shades did grant their boons: items of magic which had aided them in their living travels, now made manifest by the pact. Trajan had an interest in a longer-term companionship with his passenger.

With this deed done, the party returned to the mouth of the underground lair to collapse the stone lest the hordes of the underdark emerge to trouble them. Phuralq was relieved to have a measure of stone between him and those dark denizens.

It took more days to travel back to Oleg’s Trading Post with lucre weighing heavily in the mind. Oleg greeted them with news that more caravans had been falling prey to ever bolder bandits, and the Stag Lord amulets left behind as calling cards were the proof of blame. The bandit lord had not been idle, and seemed to be taking a personal interest in the doings of the little band of interlopers.

So it was decided that something must be done about the Stag Lord once and for all.

Now the only question was: how to do it?

Ring Around The Boneses, Pockets Full Of Stoneses

Traveling west from Oleg’s Trading Post, the party made good time at first. Until, that is, they made their way into the woods. Spotting a wolf standing oddly on a boulder, the party was at a loss to explain why it would stare and not shy away from their approach. It did bound away into the foliage eventually, giving no answers from its tail.

Trajan had the poor fortune to step in a bear trap in a glade on the eastern edge of the forest. It was difficult, but the party wrestled the steel jaws off his lamed leg. A little searching revealed what a miracle it was that they had not all found themselves snared as the entire glade was snapping with the devices. It took the better part of a day to uncover most of them, and the rains soon turned to sleet and then spring snow. So the party made pitiful shelter for the frigid night for fear that the snows would obscure more traps ahead.

But during the night, under Trajan’s watch, a predator came hunting. Larger than a burly dog, lithe like a great cat, with a snout like a vicious shrew, the thylacine skulked on the edge of the dying fire’s light. When Trajan spotted it, the thing was already charging the nickering horses and seized upon Tolixan’s mount by the neck, savaging it brutally before Trajan’s spells could drive it away. The horse’s neck broken meant too few mounts since they would be unable to carry two riders for long. Luckily, a wizard always comes prepared and Stehlen displayed no small skill in the Art conjuring a temporary steed instead.

The party made their tortured way sluggishly west as the weather insisted against them. After breaking free from the tangle of the woods, they emerged to rough hills and could make better speed, following the rough and aged map Stehlen kept close. The promise of a gypsy boy is slim insurance, but a whisper of treasure and mystery is all the call an adventuresome soul needs.

When at last they came upon the crypt of ages past, its broken jaws gaped hungrily from the earth, a menace and invitation. The party was shrewd enough to retrieve some basic lumber from the nearby woods to fortify the crumbling edifice before trusting it with their heads, though. And wise they were, for it was not too far in that a malicious trap set the ceiling to collapse on them. Luckily, the bracing held, and only Tolixan and Stehlen were pummeled with rubble.

A mysterious statue of a Nalfeshnee should have given strong clue about the nature of the place; it begged for blood from its alcove with a bowl raised in salute. When Tolixan donated alms of his own, the passageway was filled with a dim and eerie light.

Just around the corner, Stehlen found himself again assaulted by a cunningly hidden device which sent pulses of corruption into his foot. Phuralq was clever in his probing, and devised a means to cross the patch of ground by triggering it first and leaping across before the mechanism could reset. Trajan proved a little less agile in the dim lighting, not having the advantage of sight which the others did.

Around another tight bend in the cramped corridor, Stehlen discovered a leering doorway: the crypt proper. It welcomed him with a deadly tongue to the navel.

He crawled backward, casting an infernal spell as Tolixan dashed to his defense. The door was opening, and a greeting party was waiting impatiently, hungry for dinner to be served.

Under such confined conditions, neither side could use an advantage of numbers, and the first ghast through the brink proved a solid match for Tolixan’s skill at arms. The melee raged in sober heat as the party pressed into a large open chamber to see several decrepit skeletons animated in their jealousy of the fleshed and living. Phuralq’s walking staff proved worth its weight in gold that day, as Tolixan employed it with cracking good aim to smash a few dusty skulls. More stinking undead lurched into view from the gloom beyond the doorway, and Tolixan did not like the odds.

Stehlen came prepared for this, too, and at his word the stones showed their fickle fury, crashing upon the monstrosities and leaving the remaining skeletons in ruin. The ghasts were more resilient, but still hampered by the rubble, which unfortunately did not hamper their spellcasting. The closest ghast flung a missile at Stehlen, forcing a hasty retreat. Trajan then stepped forward and gave a demonstration for the pupil. His shielding spell blocked hostile missiles while his own streaked out in relentless blasts of force.

The remaining ghast enjoyed no better tactical advantage, having trouble finding footing at first amid the fading magically conjured rubble and slippery ephemeral slicks of Stehlen’s spells. Phuralq’s psychic powers could do little against the voided minds of the undead, but he was determined to prove his willpower in facing these terrifying foes. Tolixan succumbed to a spell invoking his own fears and Phuralq saw an investment to protect.

While the ghast stumbled and slipped, and Tolixan cowered in a dark corner, the three remaining poured their last dregs upon the stinking thing that writhed on the floor. It scrabbled its way in a stumbling frenzy to attack Phuralq who managed to avoid its talons at first. Then a glint of reason showed in its crazed eye and it turned attention to Trajan who’s spells were shredding its undead flesh. The corrupting foulness of its touch put a stop to that, and it even managed to overwhelm the mind flayer’s senses in its frenetic advance.

As things were quickly turning grim, with Phuralq and Trajan incapacitated, and Stehlen having exhausted all his spellpower in vain efforts to destroy the revenant thing, Tolixan called upon desperate inner reserves of willpower to conquer his fears and he stepped to the defense of his comrades with a vengeance.

Parting the gloom like a stroke from heaven, a spear flashed out to smite the rotting beast’s carcass to the floor where it slid with a last silent gasp.

Mind Matters

Phuralq awakened as the night watch changed, troubled by sensations like worms in his head. Mind clouded, difficulty concentrating and making telepathic contact, he sought out Tolixan’s council.

The two decided to attempt an experiment by burying the Cloak of Strangulation and then gaining distance from it, in case it was projecting an aura of interference. The sounds of their digging awoke Trajan in time for him to see the two disappear into the night. Awakening Stehlen, they followed the psychic pair, angry that the watch was endangered.

Tensions rose as egos flared, Phuralq quite touchy about the mysterious ailment afflicting him and unwilling to show weakness before establishing that the Wizard and Sorcerer were not the cause. Trajan was all too eager to provoke the matter, but timely diplomacy by Tolixan and Stehlen allowed the group to continue on to Oleg’s.

Shortly after dawn, the group spotted a strange arachnoid figure dodging into the forest for cover. They decided to pursue, and spent some time to catch up. The spider figure was waiting for them in shade of the woods. It was a mount for a trio of Mites who had been hauling an enormous club as a secretive errand. One might surmise they had a giantish master.

The mites were easily dispatched, and so the group continued on toward Oleg’s.

Unfortunately, the priest, Jhod, had no insight to give about the nature of Phuralq’s affliction, only to say that he was certain it was no disease or poison he had ever heard of. Phuralq bent Oleg’s ear about encouraging trade to pass through the Post since its safety was clearly secured well enough to warrant the pursuit of the riches the party had uncovered. A nugget of gold is lure enough to catch many merchants’ ears.

The next day, Phuralq made a visit to mad old Bokken who also had no insights to provide about what ailed the Mind Flayer. He did mention that he would like the party to track down his brother and his very bothersome familiar while working on concoctions to cure diseases and poisons.

Earth and Air

In the middle of the night, the party was of course encountered by the returning bandit patrol on horseback. The four brigands were hampered greatly by the darkness under the canopy once the adventurers moved away from the campfire. It was barely a minute before two were dead and two more were captured.

Once returned to Oleg’s, there was a sizable gaggle of indentured convicts to deal with, many of them in various states of health. Kressle proved exceedingly difficult to control and then to kill. She clung to her life with a stubborn intensity beyond all prediction or reason, but at last succumbed to Trajan’s patient beating. His obsession was, no doubt, of a personal nature, considering the threat she had posed to his manhood the previous night. A little trickery by Stehlen, and the corpse was still able to properly twitch when Kesten hung it up on the wall as a warning to all.

Seeing great potential in the available pool of labor, Phuralq began serious talks with Oleg about the construction of infrastructure surrounding his trading post. With seven indentured captives working off their debt to society, the logistical challenge of feeding and housing so many under secure conditions did pose something of a dilemma. It was decided to set them to work cultivating the land nearby as man and horsepower was now in great enough abundance to make the task allowable. A woodmill would require a great deal of resources and labor, however, beyond the capabilities of the facilities at present. Without a suitable power source, such as a stream, a significant stable of horses would need to be maintained. The horses were largely already procured — but their feed was not. Cultivating the land to provide hay and farmland was therefore the obvious priority while allowing opportunity to present to begin developments which would precipitate more-permanent lodging and encampment for the little fortress.

Phuralq was shrewd enough to recall the rumors of a largely unexploited gold vein in the hills to the south, though it was associated by word of mouth with the kobolds. The danger of the lurking giant spider near where the gold vein was said to be drew Stehlen’s eye — ’twouldn’t do to have a monstrous arachnid prowling near the resource stream!

So the party set off to crush the pest. Or, rather, to set it alight.

Stehlen’s plan made impious use of his natural affinity with the hellish, and webs are famously flammable. The fanged thing came bursting from its home in a fury, all bristle and hiss, only to die, pitifully, scrabbling at a Grease-slicked hillside after Tolixan’s sword met it with a stroke. Phuralq’s caution seemed, by comparison, unwarranted, if not un-understandable.

There was a corpse in the spider’s den, somewhat charred, but still holding a bit of legible parchment which had survived the blaze by virtue of a shielding leather gauntlet. It depicted a tree on a hill under which an X marked a spot!

To the hills, the party rode, and there they did find the tree as drawn. It was a matter of minutes’ work to dig under the roots and discover the crate which had been secured there. Tolixan proved caution to be warranted this time, as, when he smashed the crate open, a trap was shown to have been prepared but bypassed. Stehlen was mysteriously eager to look through the contents, though all he found was an almost-dead Wand of petty magic. The cloak it was wrapped in, however, concealed curious properties by which it could obscure magical auras underneath!

Phuralq, in a fit of deadly curiosity, simply had to try the thing on to see how it worked.

And, O!, how it worked… It was a cleverly cursed cloak! It seized upon him, wrapping so tightly he was almost instantly smothered in its bruising embrace. It took all three of the present adventurers’ strength to wrest him free of it, but by then he had been strangled to the brink of death and lay, wheezing and turgidly unconscious on the grass. The spiteful note tucked into the crate only then drew attention: it read “THIEF!”

The party circled the tree, exploring a little more completely while Phuralq recovered, but they made camp there for the night.

The next day, they headed west, homing in on the rumored location of the abandoned gold mine. Along the way, they met a coy, errant stranger who pointed them south and went on his way. The party followed his advice to good effect. There was, indeed, to be discovered a rift in the hills, difficult to find without guide, therein nestled stark, gleaming, glittering veins of gold! Unfortunately for Phuralq’s plans, the natural edifice was innocent to labor and would require a great deal of investment itself to begin productive output. No sign of the kobolds or any occupation was to be found.

The party made camp that night in preparation for a speedy return to Oleg’s Trading Post at first light.

Stehlen uncharacteristically volunteered to take a watch, and was less subtle than he might like to think about the night passing without event…

Fire and Frost

After extensive preparations at Oleg’s Trading Post, the party finally felt ready to attack the outlying bandit camp which had been waylaying caravans on the western road.

It took all of a day’s journey to approach the site as described by Percival, the captured bandit. As the party drew near, Byzalte scouted out the location with supreme skill and cunning. The site was little more than a campfire with lookout perches, supply stash and a small place to tie up horses (which were all absent…).

With night falling, the bandits were sitting around the fire with three undead thralls. Under the canopy of the trees, the light level was significantly dark that the humans were unable to see the approach of the party who, with Byzalte’s guidance, were able to take position completely undetected while arriving at a plan of attack.

The sorcerer, Trajan, convinced the party that he could charm the bandits sufficiently to put them off their guard and gain information in the process.

It did not go exactly as he had planned.

First, he tried to seduce Kressle, remembering the accounts of Percival and Gustave who described her as having loose and eager appetites toward men. Unfortunately, he did not quite remember their descriptions of her being both predatory and sadistic.

This lead to a close encounter with a live ember.

Barely managing to counter the hot coal before it landed, Trajan let out a most unbecoming shriek for help to his comrades which waited, watching with amusement from the darkness under the nearby trees. The attack was swift and brutal. Tolixan’s mental assault left one bandit with porridge between his ears, and Stehlen’s summoned hell hound arose from the campfire to viciously disable Kressle herself. It took only another few moments to destroy the undead and subdue the remaining two bandit minions, but Kressle proved amazingly difficult to keep control of, as she fought with crazed strength.

Finally rendering her unconscious after a drawn out struggle to keep the bindings around her limbs, the party questioned the conscious bandit while Phuralq applied alchemy to save the life of the one which was bleeding to death from Tolixan’s sword. There were spoils still at the camp from the recently robbed caravan and Kressle herself owned a handsome pair of handaxes with which she is quite proficient.

Night was truly underway, so the party had little choice but to make camp there before preparing to journey back to Oleg’s Trading Post in the morning with prisoners in tow.

Cold Eyes

The party, led by Stehlen, forged west to expand the frontier while in search of fortune. Forest’s edge and brisk weather set the tone of a perfectly ordinary foray that piqued curiosity when the ranger spied movement behind the frontline of trees.

Wild boars are rambunctious, to say the least, but a well-braced boarspear and a few spells put down two of the three which had become rather territorial about their favorite truffle-hunting grounds. The surviving pig and a sumptuous handful of truffles escorted back to Oleg’s enough meat to feed the group for a week once salted and properly cured as rations.

Phuralq sneaked off rather than enter the Trading Post where the guards were lazily making repairs to the catapults and walls. Unused to handling animals, his attempt to run a quick and quiet errand was not nearly as short a task as he had planned. While selling their goods before they spoiled, the party noticed his conspicuous absence and followed an easy trail of a poorly-ridden horse to Bokken’s hut. There, they met with Phuralq who had left a peace-making gift on the mad apothecarian’s stoop.

The party continued on, southeast, to explore a bit the lands immediately surrounding the valuable resource represented by the potion-maker. It was not long before they found a very recent track-path left by what Phuralq was able to identify as an owlbear. With the sun setting soon, the party decided to make camp in the wilderness amongst the scrub and brush before finishing their explorations in the morning.

They were stumbled upon by the very owlbear they had been lucky enough to avoid earlier! Insane and predatory, the monster charged directly at Tolixan who had been keeping watch. He had barely enough time to shout and prepare for combat before the thing was upon him, a hulking ball of fury and feathers.

Phuralq found himself almost trampled before he could squirm away from where he had been asleep in his bedroll, and the tent which Stehlen shared with Trajan practically burst apart as they emerged to see Tolixan engaged. The ranger had had the good sense to sleep in a tree, and was putting arrow to sinew in no short span of time.

The vicious owlbear simply shrugged off the first barrage of spells and psychic powers with barely a bent feather while Tolixan danced in and out of its reach, using the bushes to his advantage. When Stehlen’s spell of Enlargement did put him on even footing, the beast began to take wounds. It was the ranger, Byzalte’s carefully aimed arrow that turned the tide of the battle to the party’s favor as it buried deep in the thing’s screeching face. Slowly and with panicked desperation, the party was able to slay it.

Its pelt and parts would earn a pretty coin at Oleg’s while its gullet and belly proved to contain the half digested remains of a rather unfortunate member of the noble houses. His seal and heirloom dagger were tangled within tattered saddle bags along with a fist of semi-precious gems and petty coin. The road had not been too far away, though apparently just far enough on that bitter cold early spring eve.

In triumph, the party made slow progress back to Oleg’s where they would check in on the progress of maintenance and Percival and Gustave’s internship of menial labor. Stehlen was able to barter the goods for enough coin to make good on his specially-requested magical lore which had been shipped all the way from deep within Brevoy to the north at great risk. It had only been a day or two ago that the Trading Post received word of a merchant caravan which had fallen prey to independent bandits along the road.

Byzalte made himself busy scraping and tanning the owlbear’s pelt, for which Oleg had promised fifty gold coins. Stehlen took up quill and parchment as though possessed of a thousand literate demons. Phuralq made his social debut with the grace of a swan dive onto concrete, plying, first Percival and Gustave, and then Oleg and Svetlana with many vague and pointed questions. The paroled brigands would be wise to heed the thinly veiled threats. Oleg proved shrewd and put on a poker face when the aberration-in-exile offered to invest in the Trading Post as a business. Svetlana seemed to be growing at least accustomed to the unsettling presence of the tentacled one, allowing that elves, dwarves and stranger folk may present in their own differing ways, but are people, all.

The commander of the mercenary guard was cold and aloof, rebuffing the sly one’s attempted probes. It may have been that he detected cause to be so guarded.

Byzalte, sharing much in common with the wandering priest of Erastil, learned that Jhod was searching for the ruins of a temple to the nature god, guarded by some manner of “bear”. What exactly makes this “bear” such an obstacle, he does not know, but it is certainly something the party will keep an eye out for on their travels.


The party prepared to begin in earnest their exploration of the areas around Oleg’s Trading Post, kindled by Svetlana’s demure request for radishes from which to make her husband’s favorite dish as a treat.

First going east, the party met with Bokken, a zany apothecarian and alchemist, who also had need of sundry groceries for his tinctures. Buying a petty potion or two, the party rested before journeying to the edge of the forest.

There they came upon a gaggle of gorged kobolds who had eaten themselves into a torpor from the field of radishes, from which they had been filling several large baskets. Apparently, the radishes are a food the kobolds are also particularly fond of, and they fought with jealous rage, though hampered by their gluttony. A good thing, too, considering how inept the party proved themselves to be at opening combat.

While packing the radishes for retrieval to the Trading Post, a sudden squall blew in a spring storm that forced the party to camp in the meadow for the night. They set out the next morning intending to explore a little ways to the east with enough time to make it back to Oleg’s abode before night.

As the trees thinned, a wide field opened before them. The bones of many a folk were to be seen in the tall grasses and seemed to center on a boulder near the middle of the field. The ranger’s sharp eyes spotted the trapdoor of a horse-sized hunting spider. The party was ill-prepared to deal with so monstrous a vermin and beat a hasty retreat before provoking the creature any further.

They were chased all the way back by torrents and thunder to be bundled indoors by Oleg and fed a hot meal by the acutely thankful goodwife.

In the two days since the party had left, a handful of soldiers had finally arrived from the Rostlands to the north with the duty of guarding the Trading Post. They were commanded by a minor lordling escaping some simpering scandal, and seemed well content to stay in the fort after hearing the adventurer’s reports of the spider in the copse of corpses. There was also a stray traveling priest of Erastil, pursuing his own mysterious interests. ’Twas a full and hardy house that kept warm the hearth fires of comfort indoors and away from the blustering chills of an early Spring storm.

Phuralq was left to quietly skulk into the party’s parked wagon before the guards had a chance to notice him much in the evening’s wet gloom.

The Tools of Fools

When the decrepit gypsy caravan wobbled up to the gate, Oleg must have first thought he would be welcoming a belated and hapless peddler to his trading post for mere business. Such business as might be had on the outskirts of the Stolen Lands with “rent” due on the very morrow. The adventuring party which climbed out bore a writ from the swordlords of Rostland themselves, declaring the group in an official capacity contracted to clear the trade routes of bandits.

Not quite as pleasant an unexpected visitor as cold, hard coin might be.

Nevertheless, Oleg and his wife bade welcome to the suspect waifs: Trajan, whose smile opened the gate, Stehlen, whose cleverness lacks circumspection, Gran, the base and mighty, and Tolixan, who listened to more than the pleasantries being exchanged. The wagon they left outside the humble fort while indulging at Svetlana’s bountiful table hosted a last member of the little dinner party, Phuralq, an escaped aberration who, too, listened. Business was to be had, indeed.

Oleg described the situation in terms perhaps not as dire as warranted. A local gaggle of bandits had discovered the soft underbelly of his trading post, threatening Svetlana’s virtue in exchange for mere tawdry goods and sundry. These they extracted, at pains, once per month from the couple, and were due again with dawn’s next light. Work was cut out in quick slabs for this pretty platoon.

As predicted, the brigands showed their faces bright and early with all the saunter and swagger mustered by bullies. Of course they were trapped, caught out by greed and ambition without merit. Though they were six, the thugs fell within moments, incapacitated by spell, hammer, spear and psychic craft. The hammer and spear left two notably more scattered, but not before Tolixan left the first quite brained.

No jolly band of brave heroes, our party!

Bypassing the many obvious similes, suffice to say that the three remaining thugs were amiddens before they could rally from stupor. A mind-reader might know what first thoughts passed through their wakening heads, but a gambler would guess it were “in it neck deep”. Phuralq unveiled a sadistic streak in suggesting it, though Trajan enjoyed himself thoroughly once begun, plying the three with questions and kept well-supplied by his accomplices.

One of the men was immediately cooperative when given opportunity. Granted, Gustov’s screams supplied motivation. The party learned much of the bandit tribe’s hideouts, modus operandi and personalities. A pity the leader of the skirmishers was far less happy to oblige in the matter of mundane intel.

Those with the most to give are ever less inclined to do so.

Phuralq found the man’s clumsy deceit distasteful, though the contexture was pleasing. The two who remained might, with a poetic whit between them, have remarked on the opportunity for rebirth presented by these events. They were certainly covered in enough shit and blood for the screams and crying to have made the verse obvious. A new life rather similar to the last, in the end, for it begins in debt to strangers. And, in a continued parody of life, the less friendly remained with his pride exposed to the elements while the more prudent gained a humble abode and clothing to shelter his tool that was almost shed instead. If he were even more prudent, he might be grateful. Oleg showed himself to be — still a businessman though.


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