Rodorsceaft: Pillar of Heaven

Welcome to your Adventure Log!
A blog for your campaign

Every campaign gets an Adventure Log, a blog for your adventures!

While the wiki is great for organizing your campaign world, it’s not the best way to chronicle your adventures. For that purpose, you need a blog!

The Adventure Log will allow you to chronologically order the happenings of your campaign. It serves as the record of what has passed. After each gaming session, come to the Adventure Log and write up what happened. In time, it will grow into a great story!

Best of all, each Adventure Log post is also a wiki page! You can link back and forth with your wiki, characters, and so forth as you wish.

One final tip: Before you jump in and try to write up the entire history for your campaign, take a deep breath. Rather than spending days writing and getting exhausted, I would suggest writing a quick “Story So Far” with only a summary. Then, get back to gaming! Grow your Adventure Log over time, rather than all at once.

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7 March 2010
13 - 14 Mawr Helfeydd, 6 B.Blodd.

The start of the day found the party in the depths of the swamp, tracking down a strange feeling that the casters could perceive. Investigation led them deeper into the swamp, bringing them eventually to a strange dome of brambles, a thicket made of plants that ordinarily have no business in a swamp, surrounded by the stench of blood and swamp rot.

Kyton was the first to investigate, but upon pushing his way into the hedge, he was gripped with a fear so intense he could do nothing but flee. Ishlin tried next, and though he had difficulty making it past the thorns, he proved more stalwart and was able to shake off the supernatural terror. At the center of the thicket he found a strange, twisted tree with near-black bark, surrounded by thick vines … and skeletons tangled therein. Deciding it was best to back away and live, Ishlin and Kyton made their way back to the others, and decided all around to continue their investigation of the mysterious tree at a later time.

They hauled the bulette’s paw back to the halfling village and received their reward, a small chest with 8 bars of bullion within. Taking their bounty, they made their way back to River’s End.

An interlude …

In River’s End, Constable Gene had kept occupied by tracking “the” were-rat into its sewer lair and slaying it. On the heels of that achievement, he received word from his informant in the Perfectly Legitimate Businessmen, Vinny the Chin, that the tauren were in town and they were after one of the Council of Twelve. Because of his achievements with the were-rat business, Head Constable Brondir placed Gene in charge of a small detachment of the guard and charged him with preventing the assassination.

Upon returning to River’s End, the party and Brenda went shopping for the ball. They bumped into Gene, who filled them in on his adventures from the previous days, and also to their counterparts from Dark Moon House. They also were exposed to the wonder that was Ice Moons, a frozen treat provided by a gnome at the fair.

The following day, Brenda took the party to “the best tailor in the Rhysmarch,” a drow elf named Virek. Virek welcomed them into his shop and talked their ears off while taking their measurements, and then ushered them away, promising he would have their clothing ready for final fittings by midafternoon. The party spent the intervening hours shopping, visiting the apothecary to ready themselves for the Wild Hunt after the ball. A quick trip back to Virek’s provided them with fantastically well put-together attire, and then it was time to go to the party.

Brenda arranged a fine coach (out of her own wages) and off they went to the opera house. The music was audible from outside, but they didn’t have to wait long. A quick pass through security, in which their weapons were peace-bonded (and just as quickly un-bonded by a watchful Gene), and they were inside. The dancing was already underway; the bar and the buffet were set up and the best and best-dressed of River’s End were already hard at work socializing.

Ishlin made a beeline for the bar, where he was approached by Councillor Nyzmor, a fellow Thran. Nyzmor spoke to Ishlin about Thran things, including his general discomfort with the affairs of high society. Meanwhile, at the buffet, Hershlag and Kyton were greeted by Councillor Jommeju, a huge, boisterous, gossipy Ur-Skek. Hershlag made his way to the roped-off area next to the stage, and found another man, who identified himself as Councillor Buglakk, fiddling with a locked door.

Buglakk promptly shooed the inquisitive halfling away. Hershlag left, but went to collect Gene and Kyton; unfortunately, Buglakk was gone by the time they got back. They inspected the door, which Gene had previously secured, only to find that it had been unchained.

Meanwhile, Councillor Goicel had taken Ioan by the ear and was prattling on about music and theatre. It turned out that Goicel was a strong patron of the arts, who took in a large amount of money through the Opera House itself. Suddenly, the arrival of Councillor Buglakk was announced; this raised eyebrows among the party but they did not pursue the matter.

A backstage investigation by Gene, Kyton, Ishlin and Hershlag led to a short fight with ninjas in the catwalks above the stage. The ninjas were in their element and armed with poisoned hand crossbows, and so were easily able to elude the party. Meanwhile, Brennis and Ioan continued to talk with Goicel, and collected an agitated-looking Buglakk, bringing him to the bar.

Buglakk indulged very quickly in large amounts of Ur-Skek Ambrosia, a potent drink. As he quickly became inebriated, Goicel suggested they get him out of sight. They quickly brought him backstage, where he promptly vomited and passed out.

The party decided to casually mingle with the rest of the Council to try and work out just what was going on. Leaving Gene to stand guard over the inebriated Buglakk, they emerged back to the ball and started to chat.

They quickly found that the recent hardships in the council had centered around some kind of trade bill, the nature and sponsor of which was a matter of some circumspection. Brennis spoke to the Cymru Councillor, Oadlay MacFarren. Ishlin went back to talk with Councillor Nyzmor. Ioan leveraged his bardic whiles to dance with Councillor Rhivleg, a handsome older woman and heir to a trade fortune. Councillor Goicel introduced them to the mad Councillor Byhill. Brenda spent a great deal of time engrossed in conversation with Councillor Pyawi. Finally, they spoke again to Councillor Jommeju, who talked at some length about the trade bill and his general disapproval of those who tried to make money through dishonest means.

This was enough to confirm their suspicions, that Buglakk had founded the bill and had contracted with the tauren to eliminate some of his competition, but had reneged on his deal with them. Tauren honor would demand an example to be made of him; despite the general consensus that he probably deserved what was coming to him, the party resolved to do what they could to protect him from the assassins and bring him to justice. They went backstage to confront him, but he refused to confess to everything, instead getting back into the perceived safety of “the open” as quickly as possible.

Then, the feast began. Each of the members of the Council took their place at the head table and made speeches, one by one, as the food was brought forth and served. Councillors Gewaegue, Nhuayl and Lameyek went first, then Oadlay, Jommeju and Goicel. Udrat, Rhivleg and Nyzmor went in turn, and it was then that some in the party started noticing that some of the servers were taking an unusual interest in the proceedings.

As Buglakk stood up to make his speech, one of the servers threw off his uniform, casting aside the illusion that had been disguising him. Where a tall, bald human had once stood was now a bare-chested, muscular, tattooed tauren assassin. Yelling a threat, he charged the stage and made a death attack on the surprised, helpless Buglakk.

As Buglakk slumped into his seat, the party charged the stage. Though the assassin was boxed in between the party and Gene’s guards, other assassins revealed themselves and joined the fray. In the confusion, the assassin escaped, though the party was able to capture one of the tauren ninja for interrogation.

The evening ended with the arrival of the Constabulary along with the Council. Buglakk was taken into custody on suspicion of hiring the assassins and the characters were given the thanks of the Council for preventing the assassination and further harm to the guests and attendees. Gene took custody of the captured assassin as the party departed to head for the woods to meet Rothgald and Legandir to embark on the Wild Hunt.

Loot:
800 marks

XP:
Brennis 1025
Ishlin 1275
Ioan 1025
Kyton 1275
Hershlag 1275
Gene 1475 (RP bonus)

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14 - 21 March 2010
An Interlude: 1 Cyn-Braenar to 7 Hwyr-Braenar, 7 B.Blodd

At the conclusion of the Mawr Helfeydd festival, the Red Branch took some time to regroup, regather and recover from the intense events of the preceding seasons. With no pressing matters to attend to and no new jobs coming in, the men of the Branch passed their days pursuing their own projects.

Ishlin trained with Cedrick the Bear, gaining more skill with the way of the bow, and hunted, and occasionally visited with Councilor Nyzomr.

Brennis divided his time between drinking and smoking with Councilor Oadlay, drinking and smoking with Cutter Jack, attempting to renew his ties with the monastery and attempting to locate his parents. On the latter two counts he was unsuccessful; the monastery doors remained closed to him and the walls silent, and the trail of his parents had long grown cold.

Kyton spent his time with the grove near Gerrard’s Cross, helping partake in the training of the young druids and rangers, all the while ruminating on the apparition he had seen during the night of Mawr Helfeydd.

Ioan, between time spent with his lover Lyssah in the grove, returned to the Conservatory to hone his skills. In addition, he was tapped by Councilor Goicel to fill in at the Opera House for an ill performer. His two-week run as the third man in Moriarti’s Chantez au Ciel was well-received.

Hershlag visited a healer in order to try and recover his memory. Shortly thereafter, he returned to the Brewhaus, packed his belongings and left without a word to his compatriots. He has not been seen or heard from since.

Gene, of course, spent his time working as a guard and occasionally taking meals at the Brewhaus with the Red Branch.

In the town at large, the populace returned to business as usual. The end of the harvest season meant an increase in airship travel as the traders and farmers work to move their wares to markets all over the branchlands. An increase in airship traffic means an increase in local prosperity; the inns are constantly full and exotic travelers wander the streets day and night.

In politics, Councilor Buglakk was tried and convicted of hiring the Tauren to assassinate Councilor Rhivleg. The assessed weregild ruined him and reduced him to poverty; his seat on the Council was sold to Councilor Montrose Graham, a wealthy eccentric.

Beyond that, it’s business as usual in River’s End, as the days grow shorter and the weather cools.

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11 April 2010
8 - 10 Hwyr-Braenar, 7 B.Blodd

A bit of deus ex machina, to begin the day. As the characters were having breakfast, Brenda came into work bearing news. Seems she’d had dinner with a “friend” the night before and had brought up the Anchorite’s auguries of the day, and her companion had had some insight to provide. What he revealed was a dirty little secret of the gnomes: the Daemons.

Armed with this knowledge, the party went to the Anchorite for further information. After catching the tail end of his morning service, they spoke at some length about demons and ways they could be fought. The Anchorite promised to provide them with blessed weapons and some of the Church’s cache to aid them in their quest.

They returned to the temple that afternoon, and Linnaeus made good on his promise, blessing their weapons and providing them with scrolls, rituals of protection, and a candle whose light would cause evil to flee. Wasting no time, they set out immediately towards the small farming community of Barley Row, roughly twelve leagues sinstward.

An uneventful night passed, and they continued their travels the following day. After a minor, easily-overcome skirmish with some overconfident bandits in the middle of a field, they arrived at Barley Row in the early evening. They were greeted coolly by Burton, a Cymru man unimpressed with the length of time it had taken the group to arrive. He told them that most of the disappearances had been people foraging in Diggswood Forest, but the previous night the Finch family, mother, father and daughter, had been stolen from their farmhouse. He called upon Billy, a big farmhand, to take them to the house.

The farmhouse itself, located at the forest’s edge, was unremarkable: a small, stone-walled, thatched-roof affair common to poor farmers. There were no real signs of struggle within; it appeared that the family had just gotten up and left in the middle of the night. The only unusual feature of the scene were all the animal tracks. Tracks were everywhere, tracks of wolves, tracks of cougars, foxes, even non-predatory animals like rabbits and deer. The tracks circled the house, but dissipated once they went into the forest.

The party decided to camp at the house in the face of the encroaching evening. Billy offered his family’s home and then took his leave, and Brennis used the ritual the Anchorite had provided to create a salty circle of protection around the farmhouse. They assigned watches and settled in for the night.

The night passed uneventfully, except for one strange occurrence. At one point during the night, the man on watch noticed a single wolf, sitting just inside the forest, watching him. The wolf did not approach the circle, and after a time, wandered off into the forest.

The following morning, the party resolved to head into the wood. They felt the best course of action was to sweep the entire forest, starting at the edges and moving in deeper, to attempt to find some sign of the missing townspeople and their captor. The first day of searching proved fruitless; the second day started out similarly uneventful, until the party encountered a half-orc druid previously unknown to them. He did not introduce himself, but spoke briefly about the temple which had been uncovered in an earthquake some time before and the evil it had released. After disclosing his location, he left, calling over his shoulder that the party should beware the walking corpses.

This warning in mind, the party approached the temple. En route, they encountered a strange and frightening sight: walking skeletons! They attempted to sneak past, but somehow the skeletons heard them and attacked. The fight went well for the party, and as the day drew to a close, they came into sight of the temple. Rather than entering the temple at night, the party created a circle of protection and hunkered down, warily keeping watch on the walking dead.

XP

Brennis 1160 (RP)
Ishlin 910
Kyton 910
Ioan 910
Gene 910

Loot

800 marks

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25 April 2010
11 Hwyn-Braenar, 7 B.Blodd

The dawn broke, and with it came rain. After a simple breakfast, safely ensconced within their salt circle, the Red Branch applied themselves to the task of entering the ancient Solarian abbey in search of their quarry, That Which Slept.

Their first obstacle was a horrific sight to behold. The entrance to the abbey was defended; four shambling, rotting corpses wandered the valley in front of the entrance. Worse, though Ishlin’s arrow flew true, it seemed to have no appreciable effect. As one, the four horrid creatures turned and engaged.

After much gore and pus and splatter, the party stood victorious. But as they descended into the valley, a pall fell over them. Something in the air felt off; there was a wrongness, a chill, that penetrated them deeply.

Upon entering the ruined abbey, they encountered more of the walking corpses, this time accompanied by skeletons. One of the corpses charged ahead of the others, brutally engaging and injuring Ishlin before Brennis tore it apart with his bare hands (spraying ichor and gore all over the party). The other creatures engaged more slowly but no less recklessly, and in relatively short order the party was able to discern the appropriate tactics to use against the beasts.

The abbey’s entrance was a long, ruined hallway with a weak floor, sloping down. Ishlin led them safely around the weakest spots, and they descended a stairwell and entered the sanctuary of the temple at the heart of the abbey. The spacious, cavernous room was absolutely black, so Kyton cast light on an arrow and Ishlin fired it towards the nave.

What they saw disheartened them. Another mob of the rotting, shambling corpses waited by the dais, this time accompanied by a new monster: a big-toothed, purple-skinned wiry hairless humanoid. Heedless of the danger, Gene charged in; the new purple creature met his charge and bit into him, causing his muscles to lock up, rendering him helpless.

The rest of the party ran to the rescue before the purple monster could finish Gene off. Kyton summoned the power of nature; drawing on the fury of the storm high above, he blasted the purple monster with a powerful bolt of lightning that shattered it, likewise blowing a large hole in the roof overhead and letting the wan light of day shine down. With the new terror destroyed, the party made short work of the remaining corpses.

Taking a moment to rest, they searched the nave, finding nothing but rubble and the old Solarian altar. Leaving this behind for a moment, they arbitrarily decided to explore the sinstward wing, leaving the dextward for later.

The sinstward wing presented a dead end with a collapsed roof and a series of doors: a locked pair of heavy stone doors, and two individual wooden doors, once gilded, whitewashed and ornate, now showing the wear of hundreds of years of damp and murk.

The party decided to try the stone doors first. Ishlin got to picking; the rest waited and watched. Finally, after an extended effort, Ishlin managed to disengage the lock. They opened the heavy door … only to find a mummy, somehow come back to life, waiting for them. Simultaneously, another of the purple-skinned monsters, accompanied by a coterie of walking corpses and skeletons, emerged from the dextward wing and charged.

The mummy proved to be fiendishly strong and tough, delivering a mighty blow to Ishlin that brought him to his knees. However, quick thinking on his part demonstrated that the creature was vulnerable to fire. Kyton drew his flaming sword and struck viciously, driving the dessicated corpse back as the purple horror paralyzed Brennis and began to chew on him.

The party re-focused their efforts, and quickly brought the host of walking dead to the ground. Just as they were about to regroup, however, the mummy, which had retreated into the catacombs, returned … with another mummy! In desperation, Brennis called upon the ancient knowledge of his order and wrapped his fist in a sheath of flame, allowing him to strike the mummy for massive damage. In a single blow, he brought down both of the creatures. Unfortunately, Kyton had been not only wounded, but afflicted with some manner of unholy blight. His skin greyed and he began to shrivel, dessicating within like the mummies had been.

The immediate danger past, the group decided to take a rest, and then, rather than risking the catacombs, turned their attention to the other doors. Before this, Brennis created a salt circle to guard the stairs. Taking great care, they opened one door to find what looked like private chambers: a latrine, a dressing room, a closet, and finally a bed-chamber, with a long-dead skeleton under the blankets of the bed.

The party was about to leave well enough alone, but caught the scent of magic from the ancient body. When they tried to investigate, however, a new horror presented itself: a wispy, insubstantial hand shot up from the bed and drained some life-force out of Ishlin!

Ioan opted to use mage hand to lift the blankets and loot the body, but this only angered the shadowy, dark creature, which rushed to attack. Brennis, thinking quickly, dodged its ghostly swipe, and doused the remains in holy water, causing the creature to boil away. This allowed them the time to make a more thorough search of the body. On it, they discovered a magical periapt, an enchanted holy symbol, and a small silver key.

Next, they decided to take a moment and re-light the fire on the dais. For the first time in hundreds of years, the light shone from the Dais of Samael. As the fire burned, they felt the oppressive pall in their bones and souls lift away.

Heartened, they returned to the one remaining door, discovering that it led to the belfry. A small ledge ten feet up gave them reason to investigate further, and there, they found a bas-relief carved into the wall. A careful examination of the sculpture revealed a small keyhole, which the key fit perfectly, causing a section of the relief to pop out like a door.

Darkness greeted them on the far side, darkness pierced only by two glowing red eyes. When the eyes caught sight of Ishlin, who had taken the holy symbol and placed it about his neck, however, they turned green. The stone guardian recognized Ishlin as its controller and accepted his commands.

They had discovered the reliquary, and within it, the treasures of the abbey. These treasures consisted of a fine ivory bow, an ornate, alabaster harp, a small hand-sized Raptoran statuette, and a fine kama, which shrieked aloud when Ioan tried to pick it up. The kama, it turned out, had a mind - and voice - of its own, and it showed no fear of expressing itself at great length. It introduced itself as Simon’s Claw, and begged to be brought along to face That Which Slept, which, it said, was no longer in the abbey.

Gathering up the treasures of the reliquary, the party returned to the sanctuary, leaving instructions for the guardian to continue guarding the now-empty room. With two paths remaining to them, those being a door at the far end of the sanctuary and the dextward wing, they opted to explore the wing.

Care and caution served them well, as they checked room after room as the day wore on. Mostly, the found nothing: ruined furniture, decayed cloth, simple implements long-since rusted and useless. They did happen across the abbey’s sacristy, where the non-magical wealth was contained, and they looted it, finding a bracelet, a flask, a scarab and a portion of a stained-glass window, presumably representing Samael. Simon’s Claw warned them about a big bad evil near a pair of double doors, so they steered clear, instead wandering into the dining hall, where they encountered another of the purple monsters and a host of walking dead.

Ishlin took the initiative. Using the ivory bow from the reliquary, he nocked an arrow and loosed it at the purple horror. The result was spectacular: gold-white light erupted from the wound and the monster’s mouth and eyes, and it burned away from the inside, exploding backwards in a puff of ash.

With their new weapons, the party was able to handle the remaining pack of abominations with little difficulty. Ishlin’s new bow dramatically increased his effectiveness against the creatures, and Simon’s Claw enthusiastically brought itself against the terrors two by two.

The day had worn on, and the party had suffered fairly serious injuries over the course of their many battles of the day. Their supplies of salt running low, they decided to make camp on the dais, near the warming Flame of Samael, which mysteriously still burned, even though they had only furnished enough oil to last an hour …

In-between activities: Go through the potions and find out what’s good.

XP:

Brennis 2100
Gene 2100
Ioan 2100
Ishlin 2100
Kyton 2100

I split the RP bonus among everyone; I couldn’t pick a winner this week. IMPORTANT: Even if you have enough XP, you don’t actually level up until you’ve recovered all health, ability damage and taken a full night’s rest in a safe location (i.e. town).

Loot:
  • Thorn of the White: +3 holy burst longbow
  • Simon’s Claw: +1 intelligent kama
  • harp of dreams
  • Raptoran statue
  • lesser ring of the chameleon
  • Potions:
    • mage armor
    • shillelagh
    • spider climb
    • bless weapon
    • cure moderate wounds
    • eagle’s splendor
  • lead crystal flask with gold and silver filigree: 700g
  • portion of a stained-glass window depicting most of Samael: 300g
  • golden bracelet with emerald inlay: 750g
  • platinum scarab with ivory inlay and ruby eyes: 2000g
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2 May 2010
12 - 13 Hwyn-Braenar, 7 B.Blodd

The night passed uneventfully, the Flame of Samael burning true until the first rays of the morning sun streamed in through the ersatz skylight in the sanctuary of Diggswood Abbey. The Red Branch had placed their trust in the Light and received a blessing for their faith: though the ground had been uncomfortable, they woke up feeling exceptionally refreshed, though Kyton still suffered the ravages of the mummy’s black touch.

Ishlin and Ioan had received an additional omen: a dream of the winged being of light leading them through the sanctuary and into a hall of doors. Ioan paid it little mind; Ishlin, when he woke, found his mind and perceptions fogged and his body filled with adrenaline, as though a rage lurked just below his skin, ready to burst out.

With several possible paths to choose from, the party opted to return to the cafeteria, assuming that the kitchen lay beyond. Their assumption proved correct; though there was little of value in the kitchen, it was also devoid of any walking corpses or other dangers. A stairway led down to the collapsed root cellar, and another door led into the larder and storage area. The only thing of value remaining in the larder were two large bags of salt, which they appropriated. In the partially-collapsed storage area, however, they made a fortuitous find: axes and sledges, weapons that would potentially prove more effective against the hordes of horrors then what they had so far found.

Brennis was prepared, then, to take on the remaining “great evil” that Simon’s Claw had sensed; Ishlin, however, spoke up and mentioned the dream he had had, viewing it as a positive omen. The rest of the party acquiesced to investigate the remaining door at the far end of the sanctuary.

The door, crafted so as to appear unobtrusive to visitors to the temple, led into a long, narrow hallway, broken every twenty feet by a narrow door with a slot in it through which small items could be passed. The doors, interestingly, were able to be locked from either side, and each led to a small “cell,” of sorts, a tiny apartment just large enough for a single person to live and work. Indeed, some few of these cells contained ancient skeletons, clad in decaying monk habits.

The entire hallway, by contrast with the rest of the abbey, felt peaceful and serene, so the party pressed forward. Upon turning the corner, however, they came across a sobering sight: one of the doors had been shattered and scorched, blasted off its hinges by some unknown power. The cell within seemed empty, save for two interesting features on the upper floor: a pile of humanoid bones, and the remains of a runed iron hoop, three feet in diameter, shattered into pieces.

Before any of this could sink in, an apparition appeared. Bearded, tonsured, clad in robes and bearing a faint halo, the apparition said nothing; instead, it drew back a fist and smote Ishlin with the power of the Light!

Simon’s Claw called out to the figure, begging it to stop, but it pressed its attack, stunning Ishlin. Then, to everyone’s surprise, it mustered a bright flash of light and, chanting in Celestial, performed a turn undead.

When nothing happened, the figure paused with confusion. He asked the party to parley, to discern their intentions. Identifying himself as Brother Didymus, he stated that his task had been to guard the dark thing that had been imprisoned within the iron ring, a task that he had minded for centuries. He explained that, though the party had re-lit the fire on the Dais of Samael, Ishlin (at least) had also scanned as evil. Brother Didymus assumed that this meant Ishlin was being possessed by the daemon.

It seemed that, a few weeks prior, a large tiefling of frightening countenance had burst into Brother Didymus’ cell. Presenting a profane artifact, he had forced Brother Didymus to flee; when Brother Didymus had returned, the ring had been shattered and the daemon had vanished, fleeing the abbey where he had been imprisoned for so long.

The party offered to help Brother Didymus by finding the daemon and imprisoning it, if he would provide them with information on just how exactly to do that. At first, Brother Didymus demurred; he did not trust that the party would use the knowledge he imparted responsibly. Finally, after impassioned words from Ioan, he agreed to furnish the needed information on the condition that the party swear the Sacred Vow. Brennis declined, but the rest remained, and swore themselves to the service of the Light.

Satisfied, Brother Didymus provided them with information on the daemon’s weaknesses and abilities. They would know its host, he said, by its fiendish strength and its blacker-than-black eyes. It could not be killed, he said, only imprisoned within a specially-prepared gemstone, a Soul Prison, and only by performing a rite and extracting it from its host before the rite was completed. Finally, he provided the rite.

There are two means of forcing a daemon from its host, he explained: by beating it out, or by turning it out. In its true form, the daemon would not be able to act upon the real world, but nor would it be able to be influenced by anything save the holy rites.

Finally, Brother Didymus provided them with a Soul Prison that he had crafted centuries before, that they could find the daemon and trap it. What to do with after that, he was unsure; while the daemon would be held secure for some weeks within the prison, there was no known way to kill it. If they wished to cleanse the spirit and defeat the daemon, Brother Didymus suggested, then perhaps they should take it to Lux, the Solarian capital, where the best, brightest and most powerful servants of the Light could be found.

As the Red Branch prepared to leave, Brother Didymus stopped Ishlin, and made a proclamation: Ishlin had been touched by the Light, and had within him a great holy power: the mantle of paladinhood. Brother Didymus offered to help Ishlin wake this power if he so desired, so long as he passed Brother Didymus’ test. Brother Didymus would help Ishlin, he said, if Ishlin and his friends cleansed the remaining evil from the abbey, and if Ishlin was able to imprison the daemon without killing any host in which it resided.

The first task presented was fairly straightforward: there was only one area remaining that the party had not explored, only one last pocket of corruption to clear: the mysterious double doors that Simon’s Claw had warned them about. Checking the door, Ishlin found that it had been trapped, and recently, though the job was shoddy and easily handled. Grasping their weapons, Ishlin and Brennis kicked down the door …

... to find a room full of shambling, rotting halfling corpses, surrounding a nine-foot-tall, three-armed abomination of flesh.

As the zombies shuffled forward, Ishlin leaped back into action. Nocking an arrow, he loosed it to fly true, striking the hulk and disabling one of its shoulders. Enraged, it rushed forward to engage in melee, pushing the dead halflings aside with a horrible, gurgling roar. It struck at Gene with surprising strength, hurting him badly.

Worse, three of the dead halflings were much more energetic than the others, showing intelligence by rushing forward, tumbling through the fray, and flanking the party. These creatures, deeply aggressive, struck much faster and harder than the others, opening up a second front for the party to worry about.

Nonetheless, the party triumphed in the end, Ishlin bringing down the huge monstrosity in a burst of holy light and Kyton slicing the heads off the three aggressive corpses. The remaining mob pressed forward but Brennis leapt into their midst, drawing their attention and expertly dodging their fumbling, bony hands while he and the rest of the party picked them off one-by-one, or six-by-six.

As the last of the mindless corpses burned away into a pile of ash at the strike of the Thorn of the White, a scrollcase dropped to the floor. Inside was a collection of magical scrolls, as well as several pages of what looked like a diary. Unfortunately, as it was written in Celestial, there were none present who could read it.

With the abbey cleared, the party turned their attention to the larger problem: finding the daemon and the missing farmers. As it had been several days since they left Barley Row, they decided to send Kyton by air to see if any more farmers had disappeared.

Burton wasn’t pleased to see Kyton, brusquely calling into question the length of time it was taking to settle the problem. The residents of Barley Row had taken to sleeping together in a barn for protection, so there were no further disappearances to report, but Burton was eager for positive news so that they all could get back to routine.

Disgusted, Kyton made his way back to the abbey to rejoin his allies, and they struck out to continue searching the forest. The afternoon was fruitless; just before sunset, though, they came across an odd sight: a brown bear sitting motionless by a pool of water.

Ishlin attempted to sneak closer to get a better look, but stepped on a branch. At once, the bear fixed beady, glowing-red eyes on him, and lumbered to attack. Gene rushed in to cover Ishlin, and the stench of death rushed over both of them. The bear was dead, and rotten on the inside; it had been brought back to an awful semblance of life by the same magics as the corpses in the abbey.

Though the bear was strong, the skills of the party were stronger, and the monster was quickly overcome. The party pressed on through the woods, but the light was failing and they decided to pitch camp, Brennis creating a salt circle to keep them safe.

The following morning, Ishlin found that his anger and aggression had intensified; worse, his thinking was clouded, making it hard for him to focus. Worse, Gene was feeling similar symptoms. Simon’s Claw confirmed that there were shadows clinging to them, but it couldn’t identify the source; it was unlike anything it had ever sensed.

Regardless, it seemed like the only thing to do was press on and finish their quest. Back to searching; finally, they turned up with something. Low, incoherent cries for help echoed through the wood. Rushing to the scene, the party found cages, crafted of wood and bone, suspended up in the branches of two huge trees. Within the cages were visible the forms of prisoners; wandering the clearing beneath the cages were three black bears, bloated and rotting where they stood and yet still moving.

With no apparent recourse, the Red Branch engaged. They had the initiative, and were able to destroy one of the bear monsters before it was able to act. Ioan summoned a great beetle to capture the attention of one of the bears, while the rest of the fighters converged on the other, destroying it. The third bear went down as readily as the first two, and the party set to work freeing the prisoners.

They were almost too late; the people in the cages had suffered horribly, their skin flensed and scourged, their fingernails ripped off. They were covered with blood, starved, parched, emaciated; they looked as if they had been in the cages for days. Kyton tended to their wounds, but they remained unresponsive. A cursory inspection led the healers to the conclusion that they had been drugged or poisoned; in either case, they required more care than could be immediately offered.

The party paused to take stock. Somewhere in the wood, the daemon was creating these awful things. There were now innocents in danger, innocents that would need protection. And finally, Simon’s Claw reported that he could feel something awful, nearby in the woods …

XP

Brennis 1990 (RP)
Gene 1740
Ioan 1740
Ishlin 1740
Kyton 1740

Loot

Scrolls:
  • dispel magic
  • charm animal
  • control weather
  • invisibility purge
  • rusting grasp
  • stone shape
  • cure critical wounds
  • flame strike
  • restoration
View
Daemon in the Wood pt 3
13 - 17 Hwyn-Braenar, 7 B.Blodd

Unable to wake the daemon’s victims, the party decided to secure them within a salt circle and continue their search for other survivors. After several hours and a scuffle with some rotting wolverines, they started hearing hoarse cries for help echoing through the woods. Quick as they ran to aid, Ishlin called a halt: something lurked in the brush, something guarding the cages in the trees from whence the calls came.

Four cougars, rotting, flesh falling off, waited to strike at anyone who would dare approach. Brennis, with typical aplomb, immediately brought the fight to them, charging in. Kyton attempted to fly above the monsters, but one leaped up a tree and pounced, dragging him back to the ground and mauling him. The party seemed in a bad way until one of the victims in the cages offered to help if only they would free him.

The newcomer proved strong and tough and, swinging a borrowed woodsman’s ax with ferocious strength, helped turn the tide; with his help, the party made quick work of the cougars and freed the other prisoners. One, unfortunately, was dead; the others were the man’s wife and daughter. He introduced himself as Gill Finch, the most recent missing farmer from Barley Row.

Gill was able to shed some light on what was going on. It seemed that a tall, smelly, scarred half-orc had been using the artificially-animate creatures to steal the townsfolk away in the middle of the night. His family had been abducted by all manner of creatures, large and small. They had been in those cages for days without food or water; sometimes the half-orc had come back and taken one of the prisoners away to the dext. Screams would follow, and the prisoner would not return.

The hour grew late, so the party decided a rest was in order. Brennis drew a large circle to protect them, and they slept, Gene, Ishlin and Brennis taking watch.

The morning arrived without apparent incident. Ishlin and Ioan woke to discover that they both felt awful, their minds clouded and their adrenaline pumping. Whatever was wrong with them, it was getting worse. Kyton was able to alleviate some of the worst of the suffering, but the trials of the preceding days had caused them all no insignificant distress. Worse, Gill, himself, was suddenly not feeling well either. While he had offered to accompany the party to the dext the night before, he had experienced a change of heart and asked to remain with his family.

Ishlin, acting on a hunch, surreptitiously tested him to see if he held the daemon, but Gill was able to cross the salt circle without difficulty. It was decided that he should go to find the other victims and get them to safety, if possible, while the party began the search for the half-orc.

They headed dextward, and a lucky break on Ishlin’s part got them a trail: a giant half-orcish footprint flanked by the prints of two huge wolves. Heartened, they moved onward, Simon’s Claw talking the whole time about how he “didn’t feel right.”

It wasn’t long before they found out why. Amidst a growing sense of foreboding, they came upon a strange object in a small clearing. Simon’s Claw fairly jumped out of Brennis’ hand at the sensation of evil pouring from the thing, a rough stone table covered with dried blood and … something else, something that stung like nettles when touched. Simon’s Claw identified this as essence of agony, and realized that that was what the half-orc was up to. He would torture his prisoners for days, bringing them to the edge of pain and death, and then bring them here, to this profane object, this Black Altar, and kill them painfully … and then extract that pain, in liquid form, to feed the daemon.

Repulsed, the party fanned out to check the area. It didn’t take long for them to come across a charnel pit, where the gnawed remains of two or three humanoids lay. All the while, Simon’s Claw was calling for the Black Altar’s destruction, a call to which the party acquiesced.

Unfortunately, the altar was not undefended: a pair of shadowy creatures emerged from it abruptly, their chill touch sucking the life out of the party. Fortunately, Brennis remembered the encounter at the Abbey and, acting on a hunch, doused the charnel pit with holy water. The shadowy creatures dissipated silently, and the Red Branch were able to apply themselves to the task of destroying the altar.

This grim task done, they continued to track the half-orc, whose trail now led treeward. They came across a small pack of not-dead boars, but were able to avoid them. Pressing on, they caught sight of the smoke of a camp-fire, half a mile away. More, the surrounding forest was eerily quiet. Not a single bird cawed, not a single insect buzzed, not a single rabbit made its way through the brush. It felt as though nothing lived in that patch of Diggswood anymore.

Kyton took to the air to investigate. They had found the half-orc’s lair all right, a rough cave in the foothills of the mountains of High Watch. But he was not alone: a pair of enormous dire wolves lay near the fire, still breathing, still alive.

Kyton had little time to investigate further, however; the half-orc caught sight of him and, raising a sinewy arm, called on the spirits of the trees to entangle the hapless bird-druid. Kyton dodged the grasping branches and made good his escape, winging back to his companions to tell them the news.

It was resolved to make their attack, though the light was fading. They pressed through the woods, attempting to sneak up on the shaman. Ishlin took aim at him and let fly an arrow …

... only to see it snatched out of the air. The shaman, it seemed, knew they were coming.

The battle was joined, as the huge dire wolves got up and charged, viciously attacking. The shaman called for a mist to rise in the middle of the clearing, obscuring him from the view of his attackers. This did not deter Brennis, who charged in … only to find himself paralyzed by the shaman’s dark magic.

And then, unexpectedly, the daemon chose to reveal itself. Gene’s eyes went black and he charged Kyton, stabbing the surprised druid. The rest of the party recoiled from this sudden betrayal, momentarily forgetting the other dangers and turning to subdue their former ally. Unfortunately, the daemon’s presence made Gene supernaturally tough and resilient; the fact that Ishlin wanted to keep him alive in order to fulfill Brother Didymus’ request further complicated things.

The wolves ran rampant, the shaman healing them and bolstering them, as the party continued to fight on many fronts. Thinking quickly, Ioan used a scroll to cast a magic circle against evil to contain Gene’s daemon-possessed body, neutralizing him and taking him out of the fight. Concentrating on a single wolf brought it down in relatively short order; it looked like the Red Branch was gaining the upper hand. Ioan used another scroll, this time to restore Ishlin’s health and strength; truly, it was looking like an easy triumph after all.

This impression was not to last. The shaman, rolling aside a pair of heavy stones at the entrance to his den, loosed a new threat: a swarm each of skeletal and still-rotting rats. It looked as though every rat in the forest had been slain to form the chattering, clacking, writing masses. Wasting no time, they moved to engulf the party, slowly creeping towards the magic circle to attempt to free the daemon.

Fortunately, Ioan had cast it some distance away from the cave, which bought the party time. Brennis discovered that he could stomp on the rats to crush them, and did so with relish; Ishlin finished off the swarm of bone rats with a shot from his holy bow. They did not fare quite so well against the corpse rats, however; they swarmed Ishlin and nauseated him. As a last ditch, Brennis reached deep within himself and drew forth his hidden ki to set his fists aflame; this was enough to destroy the corpse rats, some of whom fell mere inches from the circle of silver powder that kept Gene imprisoned.

During this time, the shaman had summoned another dire wolf, who raced to join the one remaining in combat. Under their combined attacks, Ishlin fell, badly injured. Finally, the shaman himself marched forward, bringing magical might to bear against the party. Brennis seized the opportunity and charged, striking a mighty blow which dropped the shaman just as the second great dire wolf fell. Ioan’s healing magic got Ishlin back on his feet.

Alas, it was not yet over. The shaman, in a last, desperate gasp of activity, played his hidden card. Calling on powerful dark magicks, he restored life to the two dead wolves. He collapsed in a pile as they shed their hair, their skin turning purple, their jaws stretching and their teeth growing.

Ishlin decided that the time had come to draw the sacred candle and light it. Sadly, one of the new horrors had other ideas. It rushed Ishlin, afflicting him with a paralyzing bite. Kyton, thinking quickly, released a flood of Primal power from the reserves of his being and attempted desperately to shape it into something to free Ishlin from his magical bindings. Fortunately, Kyton’s experimentation worked, and Ishlin was able to move again.

With that, he lit the candle. At once, it was consumed in a rush of holy power; a blinding burst of golden-white light filled the clearing. The two wolf-monsters burst into flame and crumbled into dust, utterly destroyed by the power of the Light. The daemon, likewise, was affected: under the blistering power of the candle, it burst out of Gene’s mouth, a snaking coil of black smoke.

Gene, once again in control of his own faculties, quickly left the circle, leaving the daemon to swirl there impotently, thrashing against the sides of its ersatz prison and crackling with electricity. The rest of the party turned their attention to the remaining dire wolf, quickly bringing it down.

At last, the fight was over. Though their injuries were severe, the party decided that they could not afford to lose any time. Simon’s Claw guided Brennis through the ritual of binding, and the daemon’s dark form was drawn into the clear crystal, which shrunk and darkened as the ritual completed. Finally, it appeared as a dark amethyst, with a swirling silvery mist inside.

Since the monastery was only a short distance away, the party opted to make the journey there before resting for the evening. Brother Didymus was pleased to see them, and thrilled that they had captured the daemon. Inspecting the prison, he assured them that it would be unable to free itself for some weeks.

After healing them of their injuries, Brother Didymus asked of them a final favor: since it was his task to guard the daemon, and since they had demonstrated themselves capable of dealing with it, would they not mind taking it to Lux? Though it could not be destroyed, perhaps it could be cleansed, if the full power of the Light were to be shone upon it. If the daemon could be cleansed, Brother Didymus’ task would be complete, and he would be free to leave this world and join his ancestors.

The party acquiesced, and then there was just one further order of business. Brother Didymus instructed Ishlin to go before the Dais of Samael and prepare himself, reflecting on the perfection of the Light and taking its attributes into himself.

Ishlin did so, and after a short while, Brother Didymus joined him. Asking him to kneel, Brother Didymus called forth the power of the Light. He drew what appeared to be a mantle made of light out of the air, and placed it around Ishlin’s shoulders, consecrating him as a paladin.

There was one final test to be passed, though, one final lesson to be learned. Brother Didymus explained that, though he now bore the Light, that every paladin knew that there remained darkness within them, a darkness that could never be truly defeated, only controlled. As he said this, a shadow started gathering in the sanctuary. As Brother Didymus pointed, the shadow solidified … into an exact double of Ishlin!

Brother Didymus explained that Ishlin could now fight the manifestation of his dark side, fight with it, overcome it and embrace it. The shadow-Ishlin loosed an arrow, which zipped unerringly towards Ishlin, trailing tendrils of shadow. Ishlin tried to return fire, but the arrow only passed ineffectively through is doppelganger.

As Ishlin charged his dark half, Brother Didymus again spoke, chiding: Ishlin could never destroy the lingering evil within him, only embrace it, accept it, and thereby master it. Understanding, Ishlin ceased his attack and literally embraced the manifestation, which dissipated.

Well done, said Brother Didymus, as he faded away. Well done, Ishlin Brightheart … paladin. The last word echoed throughout the sanctuary as Brother Didymus vanished.

The party decided to rest in the fire’s light that night, and woke up the next day feeling rejuvenated … though many of them still bore a strange malaise. Ioan proved none the worse for wear from his experiences with the rat swarm, but he and Ishlin both could feel the edges of the strange rage and insanity starting to cut back into their minds.

Still, they decided to start making their way back to River’s End. They stopped in Barley Row to let them know the problem had been taken care of. Burton was magnanimous but still curt; the Finch family was much more effusive in their praise, offering first their life savings (which the party generously declined, Ioan in fact slipping more money into the box) and then a pair of heirloom boots of elvenkind that had belonged to Gill’s grandfather, a ranger. This, the party graciously accepted, and then they left on their long trip back to River’s End.

They made it to the Count’s the following day. He thanked them for their efforts and awarded them a chest containing 25 bars of bullion, and also offered to arrange passage to Lux and a letter of introduction to the magistrates, if such was their desire.

Finally, as the day wore on, they made it back to the Brewhaus and Brenda, who tackle-hugged each of them as they walked in the door. Days of no word had worried her, and things had been afoot. First of all, Anchorite Linnaeus had been in asking them to stop by at their earliest convenience. Secondly, the Red Branch wanted their money, two thousand marks, which the party was now in a position to easily pay. Third, Lyssa, Ioan’s druidic lover, had been in and had left a note. Fourth, what did they want to do with that dragon’s egg? Because people had come in asking about it. What people? Well, just some men with a strange, trident-like tattoo on their neck.

Reflecting on this, Ioan left the scrollcase from the abbey with Brenda, and the party went to talk to the Anchorite. Upon catching sight of Ishlin, he immediately dropped to his knee. Paladins, it seems, are farther up the hierarchy than anchorites as far as the Church is concerned. His amazement only widened as he caught sight of Thorn of the White and Simon’s Claw. As they related their tales, he was by turns incredulous and worried. The tales of the abbey’s loss had been told in the big city, but the truth of the matter had never been certain. Likewise, this talk of walking corpses, or “necromancy,” as he called it, were disturbing. Those arts were supposed to have been long lost, and to see the daemon practicing them, let alone a living thing … very worrisome.

After listening to their tales for some time, the anchorite pledged his own service, and that of the church, to Ishlin, as befit his newfound station. Likewise, he offered to write a letter of introduction to the Arch-Praetor in Lux, and gave them some advice on getting by in the capital of the Solarian Remnant.

Finally, it was time to relax. Brennis headed off to the Smoke-Filled Room to kick back with Cutter Jack, and the rest of the party retired.

The following morning, as the members of the Red Branch were sitting at breakfast at the Brewhaus, the door burst open and several men, wearing black chain and colorful sashes, tromped in, accompanied by Constable Brondir, head of the Constabulary. Quickly and efficiently, these newcomers surrounded the Red Branch. Stepping forward, speaking formally, the apparent leader, a tall, balding man with a large, hooked nose, identified himself as Bassa Selim of the Dhal Dominion, and said:

“By the authority in me so vested, through the extradition treaties arranged through the Crown of Dominex, you are hereby placed under arrest.”

Red Branch Irregulars resumes September 2010

Loot

2500g (25 ingots) – 2000g (Red Branch fee to Brenda) = 500g
boots of elvenkind

XP

Brennis 2730
Gene 880 (RP)
Ioan 2730
Ishlin 2730
Kyton 2730
View
Emmermann's Tower
17 Hwyn-Braenar - 6 Cyn-Tymestl, 7 B.Blodd

In which our heroes journeyed to Colfannen, took on a tower of evil, retrieved the stolen treasure and returned it to its rightful owner. Along the way, they encountered a tiefling, a wizard, a clockwork astrolabe and a dragon, and allied themselves with a band of followers of the Light sworn to see it take hold in the midst of the land of daemons. Upon returning home, they discovered that their fame had spread, they had potential new recruits, Brenda demanded and received a raise and the dragon’s egg finally hatched.

Day One

Brennis was not at the table as the Red Branch gathered for breakfast. This was unusual, but they scarcely had time to reflect as men from the Dhal Dominion marched in and placed them under arrest. They were charged, said the leader, with the theft of state treasures of the Dominion.

The party spent some time in the jail at River’s End, there finding Gene, also arrested for his part in the theft. What was definitively known was that they had conveyed the stolen property, some time before. Finally the pieces fit together: the package they had taken on Cutter Jack’s behalf to Colfannen Hold before Mawr Helfeydd had been stolen from the Dominion, and they wanted it back.

Bassa Selim, the head of the detachment sent to retrieve the artifact, offered the Red Branch a deal: if they could return the stolen treasure within ten days, they would not be charged with the theft and the whole incident would be forgotten. With little alternative and facing a show trial in Dhal, the party agreed to attempt the recovery.

Wasting no time, the Red Branch headed for the Smoke-Filled Room to have a word with Cutter Jack. Discovering that the Dhal delegation’s airship was moored right out front of the cover warehouse, they contacted a “dock worker” and received a key to the back door. Jack was waiting for them, of course; they exchanged a few sharp words before inquiring about Brennis’ whereabouts. Cutter Jack told them that Brennis had left late the night before to return to the Brewhaus, and that he would keep an ear out for him.

With no further leads, the heroes hit the trail. After spending the night in Bryn, they were stopped on their way out of town. It seemed, said the local guard, that a minor noble in the Count’s court had had an extremely valuable necklace stolen the preceding night. After briefly questioning the Red Branch, he allowed them on their way.

Day Two

The rest of the trip passed uneventfully, and the party arrived in Colfannen late on the second day. They spent the night at the Bright Castle, a well-appointed inn kept by a half-dwarven woman named Golda. The talk in the inn was brisk, allowing the party to overhear many choice topics of conversation.

First, they encountered Gestin, the captain of the town guard, eating his dinner. A sullen, sour man, he cautioned the Red Branch to keep their heads down and not ask too many questions about events in Colfannen. Perplexed by this, the party proceeded to ignore his advice, asking the patrons of the inn about Emmermann and his tower, looming over the town like a dagger in the back of the countryside.

The townsfolk had little to say. Quiet voices, downcast eyes, speaking of tributes demanded and collected, bands of thugs enforcing Emmermann’s law and the tower stuffed full of priceless objects and dangerous creatures. They also heard some mention of the “Merry Men,” but the panicky peasant mistook the party for Emmermann’s secret guard and immediately bit his tongue.

Stymied, Ioan was able to tease some other interesting rumors out of the crowd:

- A strange fog was known to occasionally rise, in the wake of which the spirits of the world could be seen for a time.

- Barge pirates had made a deal with a covey of hags, exacting a high toll for use of the river.

- Two well-known heroes, Gwomaseth the Repugnant and Vortar Moondrinker, will soon fight a duel.

With nothing but dead ends and red herrings, the Red Branch decided to retire, renting the only available room at the Bright Castle. Unfortunately, it seemed that their questioning had drawn some unwanted attention, as a gang of thugs showed up in the middle of the night to kill them.

The thugs, however, proved no match for the seasoned veterans, and were easily dispatched. The leader of the posse had an unusual ring, nonmagical but worth a bit of coin, and the rest of the would-be assassins carried only a small amount of cash between them. Slim pickings, but the important fact was that someone was clearly alerted to the Red Branch’s presence in Colfannen.

Ishlin decided to check the other rooms and make sure that nobody was in any danger. Across the hall, he encountered Saxleda Brungarsdottir, a warrior woman with a massive sword and a sharp eye for archery. After nearly shooting Ishlin for his trouble, she recognized him as an agent of the Light. It turned out that she, herself, was a servant of the Light, a warrior and defender of the nascent church in Colfannen Hold. They were underground, on the move, constantly harried by Emmermann’s thugs. They had allies, though: the Merry Men, a loose band of thieves and burglars who took it upon themselves to liberate Emmermann’s tribute-earned wealth and return it to the people. If they wanted to strike against Emmermann, Leda told them, they should go to Dock Street and the Pious Kingfisher.

Feeling exposed where they were, the Red Branch left at once despite it being the middle of the night. The Pious Kingfisher was easy to find, but was closed for the night. While they were deliberating breaking in to wait until morning or finding someplace out of sight to sleep, the heroes were arrested by a passing guard and taken to the dungeon.

Gestin, captain of the guard, dressed them down for being so obvious about their presence and mission in a town under such oppression. He was on their side, he said, but was constantly fighting corruption in his own men as well as keeping the town as safe as he could under the circumstances. He would let them go, but he’d have to take a thousand marks as a bribe.

Day Three

Grudgingly paying their fee, the party returned to the Pious Kingfisher, which was, by this time, open. Leda had provided them with the correct password to use, and they were shown into the back room and provided with excellent food. It was, unfortunately, drugged; the Red Branch found themselves rendered unconscious.

They awoke, hours later, in the secret underground hideout of the Merry Men. Leda was there; she apologized for their methods but stressed that they had to be absolutely careful with those they were not sure they could trust. She wanted to help them, she explained, but had something in mind for a return favor. Among the artifacts Emmermann kept in the tower was a chalice, the Chalice of Reeds; reclaiming it for the Church of the Light would both strengthen the local church and deal Emmermann a blow. She would accompany the party if they wished, bringing along one of the Merry Men, a strange purple-scaled man named Caeric.

Day Four

The party agreed, and was allowed to retire to recover their strength. On the following day, they were presented with maps and plans of the tower, and taken to see the Anchorite, Gaisur Geserius. He performed divinations on their behalf, asking for guidance:

“The sweat of the serpent will be both friend and foe in its time.”

They were permitted questions:

Is there a dragon in Emmermann’s tower? Yes.

Are the objects we seek in the tower? Yes.

Are the objects we seek in the top three floors of the tower? Yes.

Is Emmermann himself in the tower often? Yes.

Is Emmermann aware of our presence in Colfannen Hold? Yes.

Is Emmermann human? No.

Armed with this knowledge, the heroes discerned that the “sweat of the serpent” was acid, and they’d likely have to fight a dragon within the walls of the tower. They decided to seek out an apothecary to attempt to find a way to shield themselves against the dragon’s power.

The Anchorite sent them to Honest Alishor’s, a tiny, out-of-the-way alchemist near the docks. Alishor’s shop was a strange affair, only a single aisle wide, but much, much taller on the inside than it looked on the outside. Alishor, himself, was a very strange man, dressed in a turban and smoking a pipe, able to hover and flit about, appearing and disappearing at his whim. Alishor provided them with potions that would help them resist the dragon’s acidic breath.

The Red Branch returned to the Anchorite, who healed and refreshed them, and they met with Caeric and Leda to plan their assault on the tower. There were two plausible entrances: through the latrine into the basement, or through an unlocked window on the second floor. The party decided that the latrine was the safer approach, and retired in advance of the following day’s assault.

Day Five

The party made it up through the latrine without difficulty, and quietly worked their way through the basement levels of the tower. They avoided the barracks and climbed the stairs into the kitchen. Unfortunately, the cook, an angry troll, was waiting for them.

After a brief but spirited fight, the party consigned the troll’s remains to the fire and prepared to enter the rest of the tower. The commotion, however, had drawn the attention of some of Emmermann’s guards, who quickly barricaded the door and called for reinforcements.

Thinking quickly, Ioan used the wand of invisibility to conceal his allies, and cast grease on the entrance of the room to stall the guards. They also deployed a smokestick to shroud the approach. Just as they finished, however, they were treated to a new terror: the frightful, demonic creature who had faced them down on their last trip to Colfannen strode into the room, clad in heavy plate armor and leaving flaming, smoking footprints wherever he walked.

The tiefling, as he was called, ordered the bulk of the guards down the stairs, but left a few behind “just in case.” Ioan tried to use illusory sounds to get the few remaining guards to follow their compatriots down the stairs, but they simply called the tiefling back, referring to him as “Emmermann.”

The tiefling returned, blustering and shouting, and the party decided to act. They assaulted the tiefling. He turned out to be far more impressive in appearance than he was in combat prowess, though he did manage to severely injure Kyton before falling.

More guards arrived from the front of the hall, but upon seeing “Emmermann’s” body on the table, they fled. The party looted the tiefling’s body, retrieving his magical full plate and greatsword.

Undaunted, the party made its way further up the tower. The second floor was nearly uninhabited and they made their way to the third floor unopposed. There, they encountered more guards, handily dispatched.

The third floor of the tower was dominated by pillars, rising up into the ceiling. Around the perimeter of the room were several paintings, locked behind sturdy cases. The cases’ keyholes were too small for lockpicks to fit; the party tried using one of the goblin pistols to shoot the locks out but failed. The noise, however, drew a cadre of elite guards, which the Red Branch overcame with a bit of struggle.

The pillars on the third floor passed through holes in the ceiling, coming up through the fourth floor and terminating as pedestals above which floated various inaccessible objects of art. Very little on the floor was accessible; however, behind a heavy curtain they found a narrow hallway. The hallway contained trap after trap; Ishlin avoided most of them but set a few off. Fortunately, despite their extreme lethality, he was able to survive.

The hallway led to a heavily-locked door, but Ishlin was able to bypass them nonetheless. They had uncovered Emmermann’s armory; though the room was magically dark, Zippo’s portable torch still worked just fine, and the Red Branch was able to clean house.

Leda led them up one more floor, which was where the Merry Men’s maps and infiltration experience came to an end. It was Emmermann’s menagerie, consisting of nine identical doors and no obvious way to move further up the tower.

The first cell they examined contained an injured unicorn. The tiefling had been draining her blood, she explained, for nefarious and unknown purposes. She begged the Red Branch to escort her to safety. After some dithering, they agreed to take on the task, and led the unicorn down through the tower.

They encountered no resistance until reaching the great entrance hall. There, the master of beasts stood in wait with his pet dragon. Blustering and threatening, he turned the dragon loose on the Red Branch in order to reclaim “his” unicorn.

Despite their preparations against the dragon’s acidic breath, the party failed to employ them, opting instead to attack quickly. Indeed, it may have been the wise course; the dragon was defeated surprisingly quickly, and the beast-master was run out of the tower altogether. The unicorn made her way to the safety of the forest, leaving behind a gem of brightness as a reward.

Bolstered, the Red Branch made their way back up the tower, and inspected the other rooms. Some were empty, some contained monsters and horrors from the far branches of the world. All of them were eventually overcome, and the secret staircase up to the next level of the tower located.

The next levels of the tower appeared to be quarters and private chambers. One seemed to belong to a scholar, or a wizard; one to the tiefling warrior, one empty, one to the beast-master, and the top one to Emmermann himself. It contained several treasures, including the Chalice of Reeds sought by Leda and the Church.

Unfortunately, the heroes had neglected to ask exactly what it was they were looking for. Since they were unsure they had completed their objective, they were obliged to continue their way up the tower.

As they climbed the stairs to the next level, the ominous tick and whirr of clockwork filled the air. As the stairs spiralled up, the noises of machinery became ever-louder, until finally, they emerged into the midst of a mechanical wonder: an astrolabe perfectly matching the movement of Mother Tree and all her moons and sun. The giant mechanism took up the entirety of the massive dome-sphere in which it was located. Atop it stood a tiny figure swathed in black robes and wielding a staff. Cackling, he launched an assault on the party.

Four more elite guards appeared as the robed figure rained fire and death down upon the Red Branch. They wasted no time in responding to the challenge, however. Ioan’s music inspired them to great heroics; Ishlin’s bow, while useless against the wizard’s magic, brought down the guards; Kyton became a cat and leaped onto the mechanism, trying to climb it to reach their opponent, who stood atop it; Caeric and the wizard exchanged fire; and Leda leapt into the mechanism to smash it with her mighty sword.

After much back-and-forth, the party prevailed. Unfortunately, with the great clockwork astrolabe’s drive shattered, the elevator to the top floor was unavailable. Ishlin had a way around this, however, as did Kyton; Ishlin imbibed a potion of spider climb and simply climed up, and Kyton became a bird and flew up the ten-foot tunnel to the tower’s apex.

The top of the tower was an observatory, with an ornate telescope, books, a stone ring engraved with runes and four little alcoves, in which rested Emmermann’s most prized possessions. Among them was a rabbit’s foot, the only item present that radiated no magic.

Sensing that he was onto something, Ishlin took the rabbit’s foot. Immediately, he felt his fortunes improving. However, almost as a counterpoint to this, the rune ring started to light up. Kyton surmised it was some sort of portal being opened from the other side, and suggested that perhaps it was time to make good their escape.

As they fled the tower, the Red Branch heard angry shrieks and explosions in their wake. Despite their adversary’s anger, they got away clean. Leda returned to the Merry Men and the Anchorite with the chalice; Caeric opted to accompany the party back to River’s End to have a look at the purple dragon egg they had there.

Day Six

On their way back, they encountered another familiar face: the halfling Tom Bombadil met them at the ford of the river. He refused to speak of the rabbit’s foot they carried, instead drawing their attention to the magic they carried and that which he had for trade in his yellow caravan. A few deals were struck, and Tom went on his way to sell some of Emmermann’s treasures back to him.

Day Eight

Upon their return to River’s End, they found the streets emptier than usual, and several of the houses had red X’s painted upon them. Not stopping to reflect on the significance of this, they made their way directly to the Iron Crown, where Bassa Selim awaited. He took possession of the stolen treasure, the rabbit’s foot, being careful not to touch it directly, and then he and his men went on their way.

Immediately, Ishlin felt his luck change.

The party then returned to the Brewhaus to talk with Brenda, who was very excited to see them. She had been worried, since they’d not had the chance to explain their mission to her before leaving. It seemed that there had been some important developments in their absence. Firstly, there was a strange creature with a vulture perched on her shoulder standing like a statue outside their office. She wanted to join up, and she wasn’t the only one who had been by.

After a brief conversation with Cullen, in which they received his blessing to do some recruiting of their own, the Red Branch decided to have Brenda handle the expansion. She asked for, and received, an additional one percent of their gross take, and the deal was done.

The newcomer introduced herself as Dohbanel, a killoren druid. The Red Branch agreed to allow her to accompany them for the time being, as a sort of trial membership to prove her worth. Brenda then mentioned that the dragon’s egg had been moving lately … almost like it was ready to hatch.

They rushed to Brenda’s place, a very nice townhouse in the noble district near the opera house. As they arrived, they could see the egg rocking back and forth. As they neared it, it began to crack, and a tiny purple head poked its way out, caught sight of Ioan, and gurgled, “Ma-ma.”

Chaos ensued as the hatchling demanded food. Brenda was short on meat so Ishlin volunteered to go to the market and grab some. While he was out, he caught sight of someone who looked like Brennis buying from an alchemist. When Ishlin reached the alchemist’s stall, however, Brennis was gone; the alchemist refused to say what he had sold him, but pointed to an alleyway and suggested rather pointedly that Ishlin should go look for him there.

Ishlin warily approached the alleyway, but it was empty. If Brennis had been there, he had vanished up the walls. Defeated, Ishlin procured some meat and brought it back for Ioan to feed to the baby dragon.

The day passed into evening, and then into night. Brenda made dinner for her employers and offered her house as a temporary residence while the dragon gained some strength.

Day Nine

Ishlin awoke with a sore shoulder, having slept on his neck wrong. He banged his shin on the edge of the bed while getting up, and caught his toe on the doorjamb leaving Brenda’s guest room. All in all, his entire day proceeded like that.

The Red Branch resolved over breakfast to take care of some local business before heading out to Lux. They had to visit Anchorite Linnaeus for his letter of introduction, and the same for Count Waeth. They felt that it’d be fruitful to speak to Cutter Jack, also, in order to check whether he’d heard anything about Brennis. In addition, they had a great deal of magical swag burning a hole in their haversacks. Brenda suggested they go visit Ronvan at the Golden Gauntlet for buying, selling and trading.

Ioan went to the Smoke-Filled Room to speak to Cutter Jack. He hadn’t heard from Brennis but offered to show the handsome bard a few tricks, on the house. “We’ll make a rogue out of you yet,” Jack promised, winking.

Anchorite Linnaeus was happy to see that Ishlin was well and healthy. Unfortunately, he had been busy dealing with the odd plague in town and the quarantines to write the letter, but promised to have it ready by the following day.

Ioan and Ishlin went to the Golden Gauntlet to sell some of their goods. They purchased wands and a fine, fine hat for Ishlin, while selling much of what they had plundered from Emmermann’s tower. Ronvan also noticed that something foul was clinging to Ishlin. He attempted to dispel it himself but was unable to; he suggested that his master, Zestolozophalozious in Caer Cumhaill, might be able to assist.

Meanwhile, Kyton and Dohbanel took Caeric on an “initiation,” convincing him to jump into the river to fight a shark. After an afternoon of water-related hazing, Caeric finally turned himself invisible and snuck back to Brenda’s … where the druids were waiting to douse him with conjured water.

Brenda again made dinner. The dragon had gained in strength and coordination and was able to speak to them all in Solarian. He called himself Perenastrasz, but could not yet make sense out of his origins.

The Red Branch retired, sleeping into the night … until something woke Ishlin just in time to become aware of a band of burglars breaking into Brenda’s house. He shouted an alarm as men burst into the bedroom window, fleeing to the main room to see more rushing in the front door. Most had weapons, but a few had nets and tridents … and were after Perenastrasz.

The invaders managed to net the dragon and made for the door, but one after another, they were cut down by druidic magic, Ioan’s delaying tactics, Ishlin’s archery and other sorts of violence. Unfortunately, more and more kept coming. For each one the Red Branch killed, two more leaped through the windows and doors. Ishlin found himself pinned on the upper floors as Kyton took the form of a tiger, tearing his way through those on the lower levels.

As the fight wore on, all seemed lost; the bandits made it out the front door with the baby dragon shrieking in fear. However, help arrived from a most unexpected source: the men in black hats and cloaks arrived like spirits of the night and engaged the bandits. The one on the roof shattered one of the invader’s tridents, and the force of the blow blasted the rest into the air. Another filled the front of the house with lightning, another struck his target so hard he blasted him through the wall, and another killed his foe without touching him. Brenda, for her part, went berserk upon hearing Ioan’s music, rushing like a vengeful ghost through an entire pack of the invaders, felling them all with a single swift stroke.

The fight over, the Red Branch regrouped, and stood in wait to hear the explanation of the men in black …

XP: 8910 to Ishlin, Ioan, Kyton and Caeric, 1000 to Dohbanel

Loot: ZOMGWTF

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Interlude: The Dragon and the Paen
7 Cyn-Tymestl, 7 B.Blodd

Brenda’s hand barely shook as she poured the tea for the stranger at the head of her table. She gave him a nervous smile, which he returned in kind, taking the tea and sipping. “Delightful. Thank you.”

Brenda glanced around. One of the other black-cloaked men was busily dragging the bodies out of the front door; another was replacing the bricks in her wall one-by-one without actually touching them, simply moving his hands through the air. As she watched, her eyes widening, mortar sprouted into being from nothing and filled in the cracks, leaving no indication whatsoever that anything had ever been amiss. Still another was sitting by the fire, tickling and petting the cooing, purring purple dragon.

It had been an interesting night, she reflected. “You’re welcome.”

“So.” The man sitting at the table was the only one who had removed his hat and coat; the others were still shrouded. “I expect you’re wondering who we are and why we’re here.”

“You could say that.” Ioan’s eyes shifted nervously between the stranger at the head of the table and the man sitting at the fireplace. “Also, who those men were and why they were after my dragon.”

The stranger’s mouth twitched at Ioan’s comment, but he said nothing. A thick hand rubbed over his smooth, bald head and flicked one of his silver earrings before he finally spoke. “Well, to start off with, my name. I am Sir Iain Gimms, at your service.”

Ioan peered intently into Iain’s eyes. “No, you’re not.”

Iain looked properly shocked. “Why, whatsoever do you mean?”

“That’s not your real name. An alias, perhaps.”

Iain’s mouth twitched again, this time curving into a slow smile. “Very good.” He stroked his beard. “Yes, very good. I like you, you have potential.”

Ioan huffed, still watching the man by the fireplace nervously. “Are you going to tell us your real name?”

“Alright.” Iain took another sip of his tea. He was the only one who had drank any yet. “My name is Taeligan Moriarti. At least, that’s the closest approximation that your vocal apparatus can produce.”

“What do you mean?” Ishlin asked sharply from his end of the table, arms crossed.

“I mean you can’t pronounce my name as it’s actually said. And that’s just my first name, not any of those that came after.”

“I don’t like the sound of that,” Ishlin replied, straightening. “It sounds like a lot of lies and deceit in your life.”

“When necessary.” Taeligan finished his tea. “I don’t like to lie, but there are times when it’s for the greater good. There are also times when it’s necessary for one’s safety, or the safety of one’s family.”

Ishlin scoffed. “Right. You talk about safety? You just beat a houseful of burglars without even trying. From where I sit, you easily look like the most dangerous man in the room, more powerful than anything I’ve seen. You don’t need lies to be safe.”

“Not anymore, perhaps.” Taeligan shifted his posture. “But I’m not the most powerful being in this world, at least not by some definitions of ‘power.’ In fact, you’ve met stronger things than me. We’re powerful, no doubt, but we’re not invulnerable, even now. It’s only recently that I’ve felt comfortable really ‘stretching my legs,’ as it were, and even that minor display I just put on is probably going to attract some attention.”

“What kind of attention?” Brenda asked, at the same time Ioan asked, “You? Don’t you mean you all?”

Taeligan said nothing, watching as the man repairing the wall finished his task and walked out the front door. Ishlin followed his gaze. “Where is he going?”

Taeligan’s eyes danced. “I’m going out into the alleyway to make sure all the damage is repaired.”

“What do you mean…” Ioan looked back and forth between the door, the man by the fireplace and Taeligan helplessly.

Taeligan chuckled, and held up his hands. “I’m sorry, I’m not exactly being fair. Look, watch this.”

The man by the fireplace stood up, carrying the little dragon over to the table. He set Perenastrasz down on the table and then straightened, removing his hat.

Everyone at the table drew back in unison. The visage under the hat was identical to Taeligan!

The two Taeligans pursed their lips in unison. “Alright,” said the first one. “Let me uncomplicate things a bit.” With that, the second Taeligan disappeared with a soft “pop.”

Brenda twitched. “I…think maybe…I should have some tea.” She lifted the cup to her lips, hands shaking.

“How many of you are there?” Ishlin demanded, eyes narrowing.

“Only the one,” Taeligan replied, his voice even. “When you get to a certain stage, you’re not so constrained by temporality. It becomes possible to view a single event from more than one frame of reference.”

“Meaning…” Ioan said slowly.

“Meaning all four of the people we saw…were you?” Kyton finished.

“More or less.” Taeligan tickled the little dragon under his chin ruff.

Caeric leaned forward. “Really? I thought they were apprentices…”

“As a rule, I don’t bring students along in first-contact situations. We don’t like to risk exposure when we’re not sure how you’ll react.”

“But you’re exposing yourself,” Ioan pointed out.

“A risk,” Taeligan admitted, “but in general I can take care of myself.”

Ishlin eyed him. “Not afraid of us country folk, of course.”

Taeligan pinned him with a look, saying nothing. Ishlin met his gaze for a moment, trying again to sense his intentions and finding nothing more than a void. Finally, he pursed his lips. “S’pose I wouldn’t be either, in your position.”

“Right.” Taeligan straightened. “Now that’s out of the way, perhaps I should get to just why I’m here?”

“Perhaps.” Ioan leaned forward, rubbing Perenastrasz’s neck behind his tiny horns.

“I’m here about the dragon, of course.”

“Why?” Ioan unconsciously drew the little purple creature closer to him.

“Because his mother was an ally of ours.” Taeligan stood up, and began to pace back and forth along the length of the table. “You must have noticed her…unusual coloring.”

Everybody nodded.

“Well.” Taeligan clasped his hands behind his back. “First, I suppose I should say that we’re…not from around here. By that, I mean that Rodorsceaft is not our home.”

The house was silent for a moment, save for the crackle of the fire and the dragon’s soft purring. Finally, Brenda leaned forward. “Then where are you from?”

Taeligan smiled slightly. “There are things I will explain, and things I will not. That is one of the things that I will not explain. Suffice it to say, we — my companions and I — are from beyond the stars.”

“You mean another plane?” Brenda’s eyes cut into Taeligan keenly.

Taeligan smirked.

“But that’s not possible,” Brenda continued, accusation in her voice. “The Dance of the Fading Spiral has cut this world off from all others. How could you be from a different plane?”

Taeligan met her eyes for a moment while everyone else present gaped at her. Finally, with an impish grin, he replied, “DM fiat. Now. The important-”

Brenda threw up her arms, her pink pigtails thrashing wildly. “That’s all you’re going to give me?”

“For now, yes. Now,” Taeligan continued, “the important fact is that your little dragon’s mother was an ally of ours. She was a part of our vanguard, sent to make contact with others of her kind. That was forty or so of your years ago.”

“So you’ve been here for some time, then,” Ioan said.

“Vanguard?” Ishlin fingered his bow. “Are you some kind of invader, then?”

“Some might see it that way,” Taeligan admitted. “We are House Paendrag, and we wander the worlds to fight tyranny and injustice. Some short while ago, we became aware of your world and its…unusual attributes, and my brother decided to investigate.”

“Your brother?” Dohbanel repeated. “You have a brother?”

“He is the part of us who makes the decisions,” Taeligan replied. “My younger brother. But I digress, if only slightly. We decided to investigate, and…well, set up shop, as it were.”

“And why are you here, again?” Ishlin asked, still tense.

“As I said,” Taeligan answered, meeting Ishlin’s gaze unflinchingly. “The Paendrags stand against tyranny, injustice and the abuses that inevitably come with unchecked power. From world to world we go, spreading our message and training those who would stand against evil to root it out, to fight it and to carry forth our ideals.”

“And those are?”

Taeligan smiled. “That nobody, no matter what, should ever be allowed to have too much power. Nobody, no matter how righteous, no matter how noble, or no matter how black and tyrannical, if you prefer such things, should ever be allowed to have too much power. Power corrupts, power abuses, and it grows without limit.”

Taeligan turned and faced the fire. “A long time ago, House Paendrag stood on our home world as a bastion of goodness and service to the Light. Our ancestor, Naormain Paendrag, was a paladin, like you, and he gave his life defending the world against tyranny. He was regarded as one of the greatest heroes that our world had ever known. But House Paendrag fell, cut down from within and without, and a dark force seized power. It grew, and grew, until it ruled the entire world. And then, the dead rose, the land split and the seas turned to poison under the weight of the corruption and their rampant oppression.” Taeligan tightened his hand into a fist. “Never again. Not while we stand, not while we breathe.”

Everyone stared at him, saying nothing. He stared into the fire a moment longer, and then relaxed. “But again, I digress. Peren’s mother was an ally of ours. She had been in this world for some time, long enough to take at least several mates…” Taeligan’s gaze drifted over Caeric. “We knew she had lay a clutch of eggs. Not sure who the father was, she might have eaten him.”

Taeligan wandered over to one of the remaining corpses, right at the edge of the fire’s light. “When she was slain, we went to investigate. We found her den looted and her eggs shattered…and then we found her body, and a corpse nearby bearing a strange tattoo.” Taeligan knelt and brushed aside the dead man’s hair, revealing the double-headed trident.

“Do you know who they are?” Ishlin asked.

Taeligan nodded. “They’re locals. Hunters. They track down and kill magical beasts and creatures of legend, and then…harvest the parts that they think are of some value.” Taeligan spat. “Vultures.”

“Oi.” Dohbanel’s voice was sharp.

Taeligan flashed her a look. “Apologies. You are correct. Far worse than vultures. These…men…murder creatures of grace, beauty and power for profit. It disgusts me.”

Taeligan walked back over to the table and sat down, slowly and deliberately. “We became aware that one of the eggs had survived. We knew, also, that this band of murderers was aware of the same fact. We tracked them as they tracked you, waiting for the moment when they would gather to take what they believed to be theirs.”

Ioan drew Peren into a protective embrace. “What would they have done?”

“Killed him, perhaps.” Taeligan stroked his beard. “Or sold him into bondage. Such a rare and unusual creature? I wouldn’t even begin to speculate how much money they would have tried to make from him.”

“So you used us as bait,” Kyton said slowly.

“That’s right.” Taeligan reached out and scratched Peren between his wings. “We kept watch, I assure you. At no point were you in any significant danger.”

Brenda sputtered. “I…you…you bastard! These men came into my house, they attacked me-”

Taeligan raised his hands as the tiny woman advanced on him. “Please, young miss, please! We had to wait until they were gathered in their strength to attack you! Had we acted sooner, we couldn’t have made enough of an example to give them pause. Moreover, you could not have made such an example. It wasn’t just the egg they were after, mind you; you stole a significant portion of Zephadoranth’s hoard. They wanted to exact their revenge for that as well.”

Brenda clenched her jaw, but said nothing.

“Please believe me,” Taeligan continued. “What we did here was the best we could have done. You are safe, for a time anyway, and so is the wyrmling.”

Another Taeligan poked his head in the front door. “Constables coming.”

“Ah.” Taeligan stood up, donning his hat. “That’s our cue to leave, then.” He pulled a sack of coin from nowhere and dropped it on the table. “You have our apologies for putting you in danger, minor though it was, and our gratitude for caring for young Peren during his egg time.” He looked around the table, meeting their eyes. “You are good people. If the time should come that you wish to know more about us…look for us, and you will find us.”

Everyone stood as Taeligan approached Ioan, who held Peren like a cat. “The dragon must come with us.”

“No.” Ioan held Peren closer.

Taeligan’s face became strained. “I’m sorry, but I really must insist-”

“No,” Peren gurgled, turning his head and staring Taeligan in the eye.

The two of them stared at each other for a long, tense moment. Finally, Taeligan nodded. “So be it, then. Perenastrasz has chosen to remain with you.” His eyes found Ioan’s, and pinned him in place. “Take very good care of our friend.”

Ioan paled. “Yes, sir.”

Tael flashed another impish smile, tipped his hat, and vanished with a soft “pop.” Immediately afterwards, there came a loud knock on the door…

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