Nether Hallow

Chapter 4
Mr. elf save us

Chapter 4
It was quite, slow going, and most of all boring; the half of the group that liked books and long research were all gone investigating the asylum. The other half sat at the table trying to stay focused on the endless stack of books that walled them off from each other. Harren had been reading for two days straight and his eyes were starting to cross, he needed a break.
“Hey Sanford, you are from Burgenbees right. What is it like?”
The elf that was at the table with them closed his book wanting the answer also, anything to avoid that angry pile of books.
“You know it’s nice.”
Harren was amazed at the simplicity and avoidance of his answer; “It has to be more than just nice! It is the capital, biggest city out here, what is it like?”
“I don’t know I lived there my whole life, never thought of it before. It just is. It is like every other city I figure, just really-really big.” Sanford could tell they wanted to hear what happens in the big city, he knew he would not win the fight of avoidance, and he was afraid to disappoint them. “I have lived there my whole life and not gone down every street, or in every store, there is always something new. I mean, well it is not all new all the time there is old buildings and people. Ok… Well what… There is a lot of things you need to watch out for in the slums; someone is always trying to pull something off. Sometimes they just want your boots, your coin purse, sometimes it is sinister. I think those country folk got it easy, lots of fresh air, open space, not too many people, animals and whatever. It is mostly crowded, too crowded, growing up I shared a room with another family, eight kids in a room the size of this dining room. In the summer you were lucky to live on the first floor so the roof didn’t leak, in the winter you were lucky to be upstairs over someone else that had a fire place. Lots of people live like that, people are always sick, one house will be sick and then that house across the street gets sick, eventually everyone gets sick. The landlords are monsters too, they don’t care where the money comes from, as long as it gets paid and no one dies in their spaces. It smells bad all the time, even in your house the bad smells find their way in. Do you know what heads up means? That is what you call before you empty your chamber pot out of the window to the street, like I said it smells bad. You would think that the rain would clean everything up, wash the streets clean, it doesn’t, that fresh rain makes fresh sludge and reinvigorates the stink. Most of the sewers are in the better parts of town and the sewers that we got are boarded and masoned shut so the people can move things under the city, we live like pigs in our own filth. Winter time is bad, a day like today there would be people dead in their bed from the night before, frozen solid, they line the streets, they don’t get them every day. We found one that just kept getting snow piled on it one year, it was sad because when it starts to get warmer you feel a bit better, but that man was sticking out of a melting pile of snow, makes you remember where you are, and never forget it. There is an underground dog fighting ring that is pretty good, sometimes they use other animals; dog fighting is not illegal, it is just an exclusive club of sorts. If you stay to the better part of town they have the arena that has weekly fights; that is what you have to avoid. If you get arrested you are most likely going to end up the meal to a tiger, the dog fighting club is more on a working man’s budget. In the slum there is not too much work, you are either a whore or a cutpurse, it is best to scam your way out and not look back; most people leave as sailors, mercenaries, or what have you to make money and send for their family; that is kinda what I am doing right now, don’t make fun but I am doing this for my mother, sorry. So everybody is always watching each other; we watch the guard, they watch us, the guild watches the guard and the well-to-dos, the well-to-dos watch other well-to-dos hoping that everyone is watching them and whatever fancy new thing they want to show off. Any time you go into a city you get watched, not this city though it is too proper got too many well-to-dos. That’s funny too, whenever a big shot needs to do something illegal or meet someone in secret they always go to the worst part of town, I wonder where the scummy part of this town is, there is always a dark underbelly. If I had a copper for every time that the ‘Black Daggers’ blackmailed some sorry up-and-to-do for going to the whores, or having a secret meeting, or doing lowlife things like the rest of us. There is something to talk about, it’s weird to think of a crime syndicate as the slum’s city guard but it kinda is. I don’t agree with everything the ‘Black Daggers’ do, but they are fair; they run everything from the slums through the cities underground, for a person like me you either work for them, work against them, or pay them off monthly to keep your teeth; I have really nice teeth. My opinion they are the best thing for the slum, no one gives us help, half the time their hush money fed entire families, you just never snitched. You always turned your head out of respect and walked away when they was thieving. One time, I got lucky, found some well-to-do that just got the tar beaten out of him and boots taken, whoever did it forgot the coin purse. Two platinum coins and a pile of silver, and don’t you get high and mighty on me; I was eating rats, almost sleeping in the streets, didn’t have any shoes, and I am not justifying what I do but a boy has to eat. He was some rich fool he could spare it, he was going to the whore house anyway, I am not going hungry so a rich prick can get his jollies off. That’s how I got out of the slum anyhow, bought some new nice clothes and a bath, the black daggers noticed and said I cleaned up nice and could help fool merchants and whatnot. They took me around the richer parts, not to brag but I am really good with ‘fixing’ a lock, always watched my back with them though, I seen them turn real quick; they don’t like us freelancers doing too good. Yeah so, the rich burbs, they got these streets made from blue cobble stones, really nice, after it rains they look like a river with everyone walking on the water. They have lamp posts with oil lamps, green grass, tall buildings set a bit off the street. It smells good too, that is the best thing; it is not one smell pursay but more like the bad smells just aren’t there. Someone is always wearing perfume, or the fresh breeze carries the smell of flowers or cut grass; you can always tell how nice a place is by the way it smells, always remember that. They have these rich people stores that sell candy, and cake; I had a cake from one of those stores it cost more than a working man makes in a week, it is the best thing I ever ate if you have the money you got to try it if you ever go. Ok so you go to the separating gate to the well-to-do part of town, and find the bronze fountain with the man on a horse holding his sword high, there will be a small foot bridge that goes over the stream follow that and just go straight down the street, it is that blue cobblestone stuff, not really the main road more of a row of shops that cost too much money to shop in. There is a garment store, a boot store, I think there is still this store that just sells things to put on a study desk, couple more really pricy stores, and there is the cake store in the middle of them. Its painted white with a pink sign, it is the family name or something, but they have small tables in the front that overlook that stream, and the garden across the small street. You sit down and tell them the type of cake you desire; chocolate, yellow, there is a red one, something they called marble, all with really thick whipped cream and fruit, I had chocolate with white cream wild-berries and some strawberries too, best thing I ever ate. Then they bring out the cake on this silver plate on a stand thing, like a special plate table, they do not let you cut it yourself, you wave them over and they do it for you, they even put it on these white little plates, and keep bringing you tea, high class.”
Sanford stopped for a moment to see his colleges had lost interest with his tangent, but they were sitting there wide eyed thinking of this mystic chocolate cake on a tiny white plate.
“Yeah the food is really good across the wall. You don’t need to go to the rich burbs to find good food though. Down on the pier there is fish straight off the boat, us poor folk usually stick to the lobsters, those sea spiders, they are good too. They make good noodles, bread, olives, outside the slums people are real big on cheese and smoked meats, and I don’t see what the big deal is about. One thing about the capital is that people are always importing things so there is all kinds of food from all over, they got this spicy curry stuff from Northern Rilycia, even some of that elven stuff. What else… Oh like I said there is always new things, like glass windows, black powder for pistols, they make buildings bigger like that lady at the temple was talking about, umm, there is a watermill saw that makes lumber, it always smells good there. Actually it is becoming common now but they were the first to have glass windows; that was amazing, hard to open from the outside too, but you could see right in at what you wanted to take. They make these really tall big buildings out of polished white stone, there is domed state house, fountains, bronze statues, so many really nice houses. There is a big open area just over the wall, the ‘Hudush Common”, that’s where I saw Ibrahm in the circus, there is always something going on there. A couple times a year they make it a farmers market, everyone sets up their tents and wagons and sells things right out in the field. Every year the jousters come and have a great big tournament all big noble well-to-dos. That is fun lots of out-of-towners come for that, touristy types, not gonna lie keep your coin tight, the ‘Black Daggers’ pick that place clean every year. So, if you guys are planning to go there just stay with the touristy areas, look at the old buildings and temples, stock up on gear and whatever, go to a few taverns, trust me it is fun. Well, I say this with the kindest intentions; get a body guard or something. No demihumans live in the city, hardly any visit, people still really hate elves, again no offense just don’t want to see you guys get hurt. Anyway, there is a whole lot of museums with paintings and sculptures; actually that is what I want to see. People always say that we have the best collection of art in the world, it is right there on my door step and I never have been. Hopefully we can get some coin on the side of whatever we are doing; those places cost money to just walk around them. I guess you can get anything in the capital if you know where to look and ask. Go get that cake I mentioned.”
The three daydreamers chained to the books buried their faces back to work when they heard the lock turn knowing the foremen had returned; it was the other half of their group. Their meeting with Nate Bodo created more questions than answers; clearly he was mad, but had his three decade stay add to his delusions? Klind was nice and accommodating for a price but to directly ask him for more information on the patient may raise more questions that they would not want to answer or leave open for any spy to question. They had to have something written on him for the length of his stay, a log, possible a book given the amount of time he was with them. Mimi said they were deeply hallucinating at times; Nate may not of been able to handle it, this could all be part of his past drug induced imagination that never went away. They had gotten stories from too many sources and nothing had brought them in a straight line or simply fit with anything else.
Justen made his way to the dining room fireplace, sitting on a chair near the table perched dwarf, he started to warm his hands before speaking. “Whoa it is really bitter outside. Did you fellas find anything in those books?”
Harren tried to force his eyes open big to readjust his vision from the handwritten book he held. “These quatrains read like nonsense, two hundred and fifty eight vague incomplete sentences that are so broad they could mean anything. Those things that were quoted in that note we found, they are not even quatrains, not even in the book. Unless they are four or five that is missing, there is a happy note from the author stating they were ‘missing from the original manuscript and left blank intentionally to recreate an authentic copy’. This Crowzig was an idiot, and the people that buy into this book are idiots.” Harren reached for the parchment he had been taking notes on to read off the list of key words from the book. “The ‘Marcou’ is mentioned a couple times near the end; along with a knight, monster, cannibals, something with a ten horns and seven heads, a plague, a doom prophet, a star, a creature of legend, Astrosis’s boulder, finished with an angle that is going to burn the world. Really this is the type of book you read to your kids when you tuck them in at night.”
His joke fell short.
“Alright, so call me an idiot maybe it is not all nonsense, ‘233- Babbling the invaders flee, The Marcou still laughs with no knowledge, deep hole, pit of the earth, rises a nameless horror.’ The other ones before it could, and I stress could reference that glass pyramid that was destroyed two years back in Port Julia, 231. I am convinced 232 references the orc invasion this past Autumn in Razel, and Bannist joining the war. So if we are in ‘233’ who is the Marcou, what hole, what pit, what horror? If this book is written in any order there is,” Harren fumbled through the book to find the page he book marked, “234- seven bodies, seven trips, seven sons, unearthed graves a century old, not enough holes for all his sons, they get up and fight again.’ That would be after the Babbling Bannist fleeing. See, it is too vague; I still do not want to believe it. How did you guys do?”
With his hands facing the fire palms first Justen talked over his shoulder. “Good work, good catch. ‘Deep hole, pit of the earth, rises a nameless horror’, well at least we got something from Nate after all. He kept raving about sixes, ‘that which had no name’, and eyes and teeth. A little bit of math, six by six by six is two hundred and sixteen; does that get mentioned in anything?”
Harren had a questioning look on his face, “I believe it does; where did I see it?” He began fumbling through the book again with determination in search of a clue he quickly disguarded.
Justen started again while the dwarf searched. “So the asylum is very creepy, and Nate is flipping mad. We still do not think we are getting a complete story, and to ask again may raise too many questions. After three decades there should be something written down somewhere; we think,” looking over his shoulder to Sanford and Pierre, “you two should break in and find something written. Lanius can tell you of a window to a vacant stairway that should get the two of you in, if you guys also agree that is.” Both Sanford and Pierre looked at each other with a silent agreement to what Justen proposed.
Harren perked up, “HA! ‘Missing from the original manuscript and left blank intentionally to recreate an authentic copy’, quatrains 213 through 216 are missing!” He turned the book around eclipsing his face, taping his forefinger over the author’s edit.
Ibrahm and Lanius followed their frozen comrade to the fire hoping to capture some heat; both looked like they wanted to join the conversation. Justen turned keeping his back close to the fire, “Alright, well now I don’t feel so bad about trudging around in the cold all day. Obviously if they have been lost to time any conventional means to track them down has already been attempted. Crowzig is one of those weird topics that scholars love to talk about and make assumptions of his predictions; I have been caught in too many of those debates.”
“Yes you are correct; I too have heard some of my professors ramble on about their Crowzig theories endlessly. If there were anything on the topic it would have undoubtly surfaced by this point. The missing four is a hot topic amongst my teachers, everyone has their personal theories, but that is all they are.” Lanius finished his statement with a slight nodding of his head showing agreement with his own statement.
“If Nate knows of the 216 quatrain he may know what it says, maybe the ‘riddle of sixes’ he would not shut up about is the quatrain. Random idea, since this reads sequencelly what happened during the quatrains we are looking for? Because it already would have happened; could we just follow the clues backwards through important events and see what was not mentioned? Or maybe it was just too boring to write down. I am so very glad you guys want to go check it out; I never want to go to an asylum again, way to creepy. I really hate tight spaces full of crazy people; much rather be here with Sparky.” Ibrham reached up scratching his fox behind the ear.
Everyone seemed happy that some sense was beginning to be made from the unusual collection of information they have acquired. Breaking into this secure building will be much easier than trying to break out, any plan that they would create had to be influenced with that in mind. The plan needed to stay uncomplicated there would only be two going. Enter through the window Lanius mentioned, try to find anything written on Nate that may answer some questions that he created, and the group that already visited the asylum today unanimously agreed that they should avoid the basement from what the guard told them. There was a discussion to the layout of the building, an attached contingency plan was devised, and wide eyed the dwarf watched as his study group left him to the task alone, stranded again on this secluded island of a table.
Sanford knew that an elf didn’t get cold easy, and his elven companion added extra streets to their route so they could avert the phantoms he imagined would trail them. It was cold, the extra time walking out in the night air had cut through his gloves and boots the winter bite felt so cold it burned.
“Enough! I’m not going to be able to climb if my fingers freeze off first!”
The elf stopped mid maze creation, “We need to cover our tracks.”
Sanford looked at the well-traveled street; there were hundreds of foot prints from hundreds of people pressed in the mud and snow; the two sets he and the elf were leaving melded into the backdrop of redundancy, perfect unnecessary camouflage.
“You run around the in cold, do what you need to do. We just added, what, maybe two miles to an already tediously long walk, I’m done. I’m going to get a pint, got to warm up.”
Much to Sanford’s surprise Pierre continued to plot out the foot maze by himself, “I will get you when I am done.”
Sanford entered the tavern down the street, he had enough time to enjoy two pints of warm beer and take his boots off to warm his toes back to life before Pierre returned. The elf never sat down, he just loomed over Sanford until he forced the last bit of his tankard down, redressed and they were out the door. Thankfully it did not take long to complete the rest of the journey.
It was late when they arrived at the asylum; blessed by a cloudless night and a moon that was brightly amplifying the snow; which caused Pierre to squint not to be blinded. This moon worked to guide them, and his human associate would not be blinding his superior elven night time vision with a candle or torch; he knew they would have no problem going unnoticed in the night if he could just Sanford to stop chattering his teeth. They looked to the large white building that shone like a beacon across the yard. The moon neglected to show any of its black shutters making the large building look as it boasted large black holes that festered with abyssal wounds. Approaching the beacon by the main walk and then staying close to the building to loop around in search of the second floor window. There was large piles of snow recently removed from the flat roofed building careless thrown to the ground below, making it very easy to walk the perimeter worry free of leaving noticeable tracks. Finding the window was easy, thanks to Lanius’s directions, everything was as it was described. Pierre less effected from the cold started first, he made short time of the icy stone wall.
“There is an elf outside the window climbing the wall, Mr. elf save us, let us climb with you!”
Several other voices began to yell from the building calling for the savior elf. Immediately there was a more baritone voice that parted what was believed to be another psychotic episode from the asylum, it yelled out threats, confirmed there was no elf outside, and helped to weigh the consequences for another outburst at this hour of the night. Pierre laughed to himself ‘the one and only time I ever want to see a guard.’ At the black shuttered second floor entrance Pierre inserted his shimmering opaque created dagger between them, taking only slightly longer than he hoped he was able to flip the latch and gain silent entrance. Sanford needed several attempts to get up the wall; luckily there was a large pile of roof snow to catch his fall on the ground below him, twice. Pierre pulled him into the window easily when he got into arms reach, “No more drinking on the job”. It took Sanford a minute to warm his fingers enough to function on fixing the lock before him. It was like walking around inside the building plans they discussed over the table. Beyond this door would be ascending stairs to the locked third floor door behind that would be the whitewashed hallways, and small rooms for the patients. The door to the third floor opened slowly and quietly, down the whitewashed hall there was a low candle light warding off the darkness. Several voices three of which were arguing about the recent hand of cards their comrade had just played, then there was the repetitive Bodo chant of sixes from the distance.
Staying to the abundant shadows they passed by many doors with external accessible locks, each holding a unique noise and lunatic. Pierre halted mid-sneak causing Sanford to collide into his back. The wall was odd, not as flat as the rest of the whitewashed boards that created the hall, ever so slightly curved at the bottom like it was dragged on the stone floor forced into place. It was big enough to be a large door, and Pierre was convinced that it was. Sanford casually reached over the elf’s shoulder and pressed the wall causing it to open to a stone set of stairs leading down.
“What if it was trapped!” the elf almost forgot to whisper.
“It would not be, too many loons running around, this would be set off regularly, not good for business.”
Pierre did not like the human logic at all, there could have been another beam of fire like with the floor box, or spears that shot up from the ground, he stepped back to let the confident human proceed first, no elf blood would be spilt tonight by any careless basic check. The flight of stairs were wider and taller than the false door they had opened; almost identical to the stairway they had entered in across the building; Pierre closed the false wall behind them dragging it into place and securing it with a wooden dowel conveniently attached by twine. They continued down the stairs into the darkness following what little light Sanford’s freshly lit candle allowed, stopping on a landing. A doorway had been filled with new masonry and they assumed it was at one point an entrance to the second floor; more stairs down shared this platform. The combination of landing, new masonry filled door, and downward stairs happened again on what they believed would be the first floor. Sanford felt nervous looking into the blackness, the downward passage led down one more flight to what everyone said to avoid, the basement. He felt as though his candle seemed to dim, like it too was afraid of the sub-terrain insanity they were warned of, it wanted to go back upstairs as much as he did.
“This goes against everything we planned about in the plan.”
Pierre looked at his frightened comrade as he past him to take the lead.
A lightless single room was at the end of the foreboding stairs. They were fortunate to find a glass oil lantern at the entrance; they lit it so they could both see the room better. The oil lantern first exposed three impressive stone walls and one oak wall that were standing opposite to the entrance stairs. Their eyes adjusted to spy a long work table in the center of the room that was equipped with leather restraints for a person’s neck, hands, and feet, there was also a few other tables that had strange objects on them. Different colored glass vials erect in holders, alchemist grinding stones, copper wiring, steel rods, and the big metal device. Quickly passing everything else they went right to it, paying no mind to the colorful glass vials or torturer table.
Shinny well-polished steel, the size of a quarter keg of ale lying on its side, the bottom was flat but the top kept to the ideal of a keg. There was a small shelf that was depressed into the side, it had a darkened glass like backing and several knobs built into the shelf like top. Save for the shelf the steel surface was featureless. From the end that rested closer to the head of the torture table came a hose made of well fastened and preserved animal intestine, it was bloated full by a liquid allowing it to keep its in shape not to collapse. Attached to the end of the hose presented another oddity, a funnel like hat with a chin strap made of well worked tin and molded glass, neither of them wished to place the funny cap on themselves. It mocked them holding back the secret to its purpose; they toyed and prodded at it for some time; neither could figure out how to get the machine to function, they had no idea how this device could be an instrument of torture.
After the time of failed experimentation on the steel keg like find they searched the room further. Knowing that there needed to be more than what was easily on display Sanford went to the oak wall to look for any other hidden clues. As he started his search he noticed that there was a device built into it, a trap. Both he and Pierre took their time disabling the trap so the poisonous gas it begged to release was no more than a threat. The hidden door was easy to find after the well hidden obstacle, it opened inward, and was in much better construction than the previous fake door. Inside was no larger than a latrine, but it was full to the brim with books, papers, and illustrations, stacks of handwritten pages piled high to the ceiling, unstable giant pillars of patient notes. They eventually found the hand written book that was being kept about Nate Bodo in a pile dedicated to what they assumed were other delusional inmates. The book was large, cumbersome, and heavy; thirty years of note taking in one package. There was still many pages blank near the end; it was also dated, its last entry being three weeks ago.
Pierre heard it faintly, through the wall, a screeching, gut wrenching screaming, accompanied by syllable like blood curdling throat tears; no human could ever make that noise. He found another door in the oak wall they had completely overlooked. He waved Sanford over while gesturing to be quiet with a finger over his lips. Sanford placed his ear on the new fake door, it took him a moment to comprehend the incomprehensible; the color ran from his face leaving him completely placid. He hung his ear to the door as if it was nailed to the wood, frozen. Pierre gave him a smack to the head which successfully knocked the sense back into him.
“I refuse, I completely and adamantly refuse, there is no way in the Nine Hells you can get me to open this door. This is the plan, that is not the plan, we need to stick to the plan, why can’t you stick to the plan?”
Pierre’s silence to the last question frightened Sanford, the rest of the group had been questioning Pierre’s sanity and he was being presented with another prime example. He could tell the elf would, if he had the ability to, open that door without consulting him. How could he spend hours leaving useless tracks in well-traveled streets being above the caution level any other in the group possessed just to blindly want to open a door. They stood there at an impasse staring at each other in silence trying to win the wordless debate.
“We, or just you, can come back. We know where it is, let’s tell everyone else.”
“Coward.”
“Stealth man, stealth. Confronting mutant tortured whatever they-may-bes is not stealth.”
Sanford won the fight, he was happy that is was short because that was his only point to debate other than he was terrified of what lurked behind the wall. They got what they came for and it was time to leave, they placed the room in the condition they found it deciding not to venture into the horror beyond the fake wall out of the scope of the detailed plan. They used the dreary stairs that led them below back up to the third floor. Sanford made more noise than he should have closing and dragging the secret door causing his fumble to awaken the screaming maniacs of the third floor. It was as if an alarm had been sounded; it started with the one yeller, then a second, third, fourth, fifth, joined in until it became countless. Neither of them wanted to stick around for the rest of the show and ran to the door, luckily it was still unlocked from their entrance. For the third time of the night Sanford found his way backside into a pile of snow from the side of a building. They both quickly left running up the walkway and out to the street. Sanford swallowed hard to catch his breath, “I refuse to go on the extra walk you are planning in your head, and I am going straight home.” Pierre watched as Sanford left his sight and he completed an additional course to repel any trailing phantoms.

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Chapter 3

Chapter 3 {Other People’s stories}

Justen had paid the price for valuable information gathering the next day, the daylight hurt his eyes and his head ached and throbbed. “Never again”, even speaking the words softly made his head throb. All of the heavy drinking with fellow scholars the night before did more than make his head pound it was the first time Justen came to grips with his age. He was not old by any means, he just could not drink like the fish he once was. Before he enrolled as an acolyte to serve Magicta he was an apprentice with scholarly goals. It was those days working as the apprentice, learning to read, copying texts, and speak new languages he loved most. There were other younger students his age, and when they began to be the height of the counter of the local tavern they began to get served. He remembers parts of the nights he and his friends would call being ‘Black Out Drunk’, this of course refers to drinking so much one passes out, or does not remember the details to the previous night having a friend fill in the details. He remembers those mornings they were free of their duties; he and his friends worked easy labor jobs at the dock on the side to get some drinking money. The other dock hands always teased them for being so scrawny for their age, they were twelve with no meat on their bones. Taking their earnings straight from the dock to ‘The Harbor View’ a skeevy sailor’s tavern they would drink until they ran out of money. Justen got into more trouble than he would like to admit, never with the law, but situations he wish he avoided. He bedded ol’ Betsy Hog, that was her real name, Betsy Hog, the very wide daughter of a pig rancher. For a while after he was known as Justen the pig rancher. Or when he woke up wearing a women’s dress on the road outside of town, nobody ever explained that one or thankfully brought it up. He remembers part of the night they had stolen a guard’s crossbow and shot random things all evening. He was ever so happy he was not the one to land the bolt in his friend Cory’s hand attempting to extinguish the candle’s flame he held, he was even more happy that he was not Cory. It was one of these ‘Black Out Drunk’ nights that would change his life forever; ironically he was ‘Black Out Drunk’ and his friends told him about it the next morning. Justen had woken with his left eye swollen shut, the taste of blood in his mouth, and a handful of someone else’s hair. The handful of hair was new, but he was use to the occasional scuffle resulting in black eyes and bloody lips. His friends watched him as he sat up on his cot rubbing the foreign hair off his palm. They quickly moved in asking questions Justen had no answers for, he did not know what the ‘that’ was in reference to in ‘What the hell was that?’ He had no clue why everyone was huddled so close to him and starring. Justen finally began to ask questions of his own, his panicked friends began to worry him. He got the highlights from the previous night. They left the dock as usual, started drinking on schedule, they made friends with a few different tables, rounds were bought, songs were sung, all a regular evening. It was getting late and Phyllis, the very attractive blonde that worked at the fish market, came to walk her husband home for the night; his friends said that he could not stop starring at the doe eyed yellow haired maiden from the moment she walked in. She went around the tavern looking for her inebriated husband table to table, his friends all confirming that Justen got up and managed his way toward her. She had just begun to walk out of the tavern guiding her husband when he reached her. Without warning Justen grabbed Phyllis by the waist pulling her in close and kissed her deeply on the lips. She was fighting to get him away and her husband fell into the door frame hitting his head, waking him up angry. He stood up tall grabbed Justen by the back of his head pulling him off his wife and began to slam his face into the doorframe he had just hit. His friends said that after the third slam Justen’s hand got funny, he reached up and melted most of the guy’s face off with his touch. Everyone backed off watching the swaying fifteen year old try to stay on his feet. “I love you Phyllis” those were the words that everyone claims he said to the sobbing wife huddled over her husband before he turned to drunkardly exit. His friends exited with him afraid for what the crowd would do to him or possible them, rumors of witchery bloomed before they could leave the tavern. Justen looked back down to the long brown hairs he had been trying to get off his hand, they looked melted. It was impossible, he did not feel like a witch, but he did wonder if everyone else was right, what if he was a witch. He did not know his parents too well, they had sacrificed much to pay for him to apprentice in the city and make more of his life than he could working the fields they were bound to. He remembered their faces and names but knew nothing of them besides the fields they kept, what if they were in league with demons; the thought sent shivers down through his core, he could be the offspring of monsters. That previous night forever changed his life, he could not remember it but it was the most important thing that ever happened to him. The rest of the day Justen refused to use his hands and everyone was afraid he may accidentally bump into him so they gave him his space. Quietly moving to a back room for solitude, he cried, sick from the previous night’s partying, tired, and afraid for the monster he was. The tears that rushed down the sides of his face stayed there afraid he might melt his own face off if he touched them. By late afternoon a loud commotion rumbled from outside, lots of people, too many to count, all demanding the witch; this was not how he wanted to wake up, wishing it was only a nightmare. His master refused to hand over the boy to an angry mob, only when the guard came to take him to the keep did he let Justen leave. His teacher was not the nicest person he ever met but he was smart, he walked with him and the guard asking questions to figure out what Justen had done. His teacher plainly said if it was in his blood and there was nothing he could do about it, he would need to accept it. Locked behind an oaken steel bound door it was a long two days living in the dungeon below the keep, bored, terrified, and hungry; he was actually thankful the rumor had spread underground with him, this kept the other scared prisoners away from his young frame. He was taken up to meet the lord of the keep in shackles, thankfully his teacher was there pointing things out to him. He was going through an old book with very nasty drawings in it saying all matter of odd things; “See no tail”, “His eyes are not like coal.” “No forked tongue.” “He bleeds red.” After a painstakingly long presentation he requested that the boy be given to the church of Magicta so he would not harm anyone else, and should he be incorrect and he was a witch they could deal with it there. The decision was a reluctant decision on the lord’s behalf but eventually he agreed. They left with guards that night, and two weeks of riding brought them to a large city. He did not want to become part of the church but he had no alternative, there was no one that would have him; he was also afraid if his teacher was incorrect and they would have to deal with him here, he did not know what that meant. “Enough reminiscing for now”, Justen sat up on his bed, adjusted his eyes to the painfully bright light, he looked in the mirror across the room thinking ‘I am old, what happened’; eventually he made the slow transition downstairs to his new group that sounded like they were debating on who was going to answer the door.
There was another knock at the door, Ibrahm and Sanford both looked at each other oddly signaling to the other to answer it. The knock continued followed with “I can hear you, open up”, the voice was calm and not hostile. Justen walked down the stairs and casually opened the door, making sure to stand in the way blocking any entrance. He was not expecting to see another elf in this city, but there he was. The tallest elf he had ever seen, towering well over six feet tall, this giant was bigger than most of the people he knew. The tall elf’s lanky frame was hidden by the loose fitting tunic and his black hair was tied back as to almost show off the prominent elven ears. The elf started “Hello, my name is Lanius I was sent to help out. I have a symbol to show you if you let me in.” Bryan stepped back letting the giant elf enter and shut the door behind him. Lanius pulled out a folded hand sized piece of parchment that had the red feather and circle. “I am to be your escort in West Nulpent.”
It was decided that since Harren was the only person recognized and wanted for questioning he should not venture from the house. He would stay back and continue to go through the works of Crowzig staying out of sight, Pierre opted out of the trip to the museum also; he was growing tired of libraries and small distractions. The rest of the group led by their new elven city guide, headed for the museum, they soon discovered that the fire was in the “Private Museum of Lord Crowzig University”; not sure if this was a good sign or coincidence that Crowzig had his name attached to everything in this city. Lanius made it very easy to get admittance into the private museum, he just told them they were students of the university, said a few professors names and they wanted to see the exhibit, there was no questions asked. They walked past the guard, up a flight of very ornate stairs, and stopped in front of a large room that had taken some very recent fire damage. Justen looked at Lanius, “What is the plan? You seem to be running us quickly through this without letting us know what you are doing.” He looked down at the human, “I thought you wanted to see the museum? I actually attend this university, this is normal to view the exhibits. Do you want me to find out what happened here? I do not mind, I can wing it.” Justen froze with the phrase ‘wing it’, that almost failed horrible at the temple of Riula, but it did manage to work, this lanky elf had done well so far; “You may be the best suited to do so, yes please.”
There was a rope that ran across the entranceway holding up a hand written sign, “no admittance”. Beyond the rope was an older lady in her late fifties or early sixties, she seemed very upset with the charred mess before her and was trying to organize anything she was able to salvage. They stood there staring at her until her head popped up and looked at them, “Is there something you need?” she barked with a sense of spite in her tone. Lanius answered politely, “No Madame curator, we had heard of the terrible fire and wished to see what was left of the damaged exhibit in case it would get packaged away. I will attending the history class of Saund Ruwe next semester.” The older women satisfied with the answer allowed them to cross the rope barrier. She spoke, “Good morning I am Mimi Desule, the person responsible for this archeological find many years ago. Please do not touch any of the items they are badly damaged.”
The group spread out looking at various charred items that came from the Black Cave, some bone tools, stone knifes and arrow heads. Lanius addressed the curator, ”Why would someone torch the natural history museum?” His question was delivered with substance and seemed sincere, everyone in the room knew that he just secured their cover. She answered openly holding back nothing, “I have not the faintest clue. I would imagine the theft of the three stone tablets may be a genuine cause. We are investigating the deaths of the two guards that worked that night, it is unclear if they died from the fire. As for the other delicate finds I retrieved from the dig they are lost forever, thirty years of work up in flames. This is the first time anyone actually stole anything of such a precious origin from the museum. Small bits of vandalism and petty theft as any building that displays antiquities should expect, but never any major exhibits. The tablets are, well to me priceless, to some collector they would get a heavy sum.” Lanius interrupted trying to get more background on the archeological dig, “Forgive my ignorance, but is this just another misfortunate event that revolves around the Black Cave?” She exhaled quickly like someone had punched her in the chest, “I really wish you kids stopped calling it that, it is the ‘Caves of West Nulpent’, the whole reason this university was placed here in West Nulpent. Is that what you are here for, to hear the ghost stories people have made from tragedy? I take it you are here gathering information to write an article of some sort.” Lanius nodded his head, “I will be taking the class there is no lie present, I find this completely fascinating. Would you give me the privilege of recording your account so I do not misrepresent the facts.” She was hesitant to answer, “If my name is overshadowed in the history books by whatever it is you plan to scribble down, I would like for it to be accurate. I could use a break from this disaster of a room.” Mimi led them back down the stairs, and pass the guard. She took them across the first floor to a lecture hall style room, with chairs and desks parted by an aisle. “This room has plenty of chairs please.” Everyone sat as Mimi instructed and she stood leaning her backside on a heavy desk. Justen pulled out a paper and quill to assist Lanius with his information gathering. He wrote down Mimi’s account of the archeological dig, and the misfortunate events. “Before the dig I organized there was no official excavation of the ‘Caves of West Nulpent, it was a well-known spot, a common place for students to research, the main reason this school was built here. I was able to get lots of funding, everyone wanted to have their name attached to what would be discovered about the ancient people. I had planned to go deeper than any other, employ the best and largest crew, and hopefully have it wrapped up in under three years. We started by recording and recreating the cave paintings in the entrance way, and followed them deep into the cave, afraid our lantern smoke would damage them over the three years we had planned. As we finished an area of cave paintings the digging crew would follow behind and carefully un earth the cave floor looking for artifacts, there were so many. Even the first few weeks when it was slow so many finds to study and catalog. Three months in, two of my dig team went into the cave and never came out, we never found them, and to this day that is the only mystery of the cave. It raised many questions no one had answers for, no one opposed the dig or had reason for it to be stopped, foul play was not suspect. Another three months later a student took a pickaxe to several other students that were digging, the only way to get him to stop slamming the remains was to put him down on the spot. It took us another year to discover the ‘Black’ of the cave was a mold of sorts that was causing hallucinations amongst us all. Those were some scary nights in the cabin just outside the mouth of the cave. We sometimes could not sleep for days, some of the crew mutilated themselves, some very badly, at the time we thought demons were among us, it was scary. Nate Bodo, my partner never recovered, I believe he is still locked in the asylum receiving treatment. After the amount of gore and death the ‘Black’ cave caused it lost much momentum as a scientific spot. The funding disappeared, no one wanted their name attached to the death trap. I still continued, in small ventures with small groups. That mold is not too powerful unless you spend weeks working the cave. On one of my independent trips we found the Tablets buried beneath a very elaborate cave painting of a cloud with eyes and teeth. I went back a few times finding small items but I think from being around the mold so often my body lost any tolerance to it, I immediately begin to hear and see things inside the cave. I have taken a lifetime rummaging through what we found and I am still learning new things from it today. The stone tablets were my crown jewel, each two feet long, two inches thick, flawless. This was centuries before any bronze was being used and these polished tablets must of taken years to make without any metal tools. They were covered in glyphs that have never been identified, even with magical aid. If you boys find out anything please let me know, this is my life’s work.” Everyone nodded in agreement that they would not deny this old women of her life’s career. Lanius thanked her deeply for all her help, and would be in touch if he needed further information or finished writing the article. She seemed indifferent with either and more intent that whatever he was doing would go down on paper correct and not the ghost stories that people had made up.
As they left Ibrahm was the first to thank Lanius, “That was some fast thinking, a lie to write a book, I would never of thought to.” Lanius without stopping, “I plan to write the article, it is interesting. As for the black mold she is not explaining it correctly, many students go into the cave to collect the mold for recreation purposes, it is very potent when smoked or ingested, it does not take weeks for it to effect someone. May I suggest that we go to the library to verify Mimi’s story before we invest time looking for the possibility of a lead.” Everyone was on board with the newest member’s idea, they were thankful he was level headed, smart, and charismatic; no one questioned the reference to drug use.
The library was very close to the museum, several buildings away on the university campus. There was much information of the archeological dig of the Black Cave, they were also able to find rubbings of the tablets that were stolen, and had Sanford make a hand written copy. Justen and Lanius found information that confirmed the story Mimi had told them. Ibrahm found the strangest thing in a big book of recreated cave paintings, a folded up piece of paper that fell from the book landing on the table. The words “I’m caught send help, To the group with the dwarf” were quickly written on the outside of pressed paper staring back up at him. “I think it is for Harren.” Justen reached across the table snatching the note, “It is addressed to ‘the group’.” He unfolded the note which was two pages together, completely filled with words, “Why couldn’t we find this earlier. Let’s get back to Harren.” They wasted no time with the exit.
They all gathered around the table back at the house the demi humans had claimed. Lanius introduced himself eloquently to the dwarf and the other elf. They were happy to have him when they heard what a good job he had done at the museum. Justen opted to read the note aloud so it would not need to travel through six sets of hands, the inside of the folded letter had the words written across the top, in a different ink “Look for the Marcou.” Sanford swears that whomever wrote that was not sitting down because of the shapes of some of the letters, it looked hurried compared to the rest of the fine calligraphy, and proper punctuation that was the notes mass. Justen read the rest of the letter verbatim; “This is the account and informal report of Yohan Bluebird. It is in the Lord Crowzig University Library we, the group first sent on this task, discovered several clues. Notably from- ‘The End of All Things’ hidden in the quatrains. “ground above ground in the fields” and “Man and Beast together will carry the mask of destruction with fake stone.” Both quatrains sequenced for this year. Pulling apart the verses of the ‘End of All Things’ we “investigated” the Crowzig estate. Using magical aid we were able to navigate through the estate without any detection. It was there in the attic of the main estate building our strong arm, Phillip Masue, of all people discovered the statue. It was as described in the tome, body of a standing man, head of a jackal, the statue not of stone but of painted plaster, Crowzig himself hid a clue in his own work, most unsettling because all his predictions are very grim. After cutting a hole in the roof, and magically removing it we smuggled it back to our house. There the base was removed from the statue, Phillip inspected it, reached in and pulled forth a gold mask. Without warning our historian David put the mask on and began screaming. No action we attempted would remove the mask. His flesh began to become strange, he yelled about the burning. Upstairs to the tub we brought buckets of cold water to draw him a bath there was no time to heat it. He screamed until, as I hope, he finally died Neighbors began to knock at the door. David’s body went missing from the bathtub it was left in during the confusion. We searched the entire house finding it in the basement, it, for lack of a better word, had rotted away David’s skin. The gold mask was attached to the exposed skull, his entrails and sinew dangled from the skinless ribcage, holding him up and moving him like a spider on the ceiling. Mucus strands of his muscle were attached to the ceiling rafters that was below the accursed black statue, rotting or melting the wood above it; we had discovered it partially through the ceiling gaining access back inside the hollow statue. I toppled over the black statue upstairs just in time to notice that it retrieved more golden artifacts before slipping back into the destroyed wooden floor. In the cellar the creature attacked Phillip and attached to him. He was fighting to pull his face free from the fleshy mass but it had fused with him and would eventually consume him. We attacked it with magic, the firewood axe, and the pistol. Phillip continued to struggle, it looked like he was digested externally. Eventually, I assume, we did enough damage and the creature fled up the fireplace onto the roof. It ran out the back yard and consumed a barking dog before running off into the snowy night. After a long search for it the tracks had completely vanished. With returning to the house Quaid the pistoleer began to lose his grip with reality, not able to grasp the creature that had consumed two of our comrades with demonic grace. He became paranoid and began ransacking everyone’s room, cutting apart mattresses, and smashing things. He claimed we were keeping information from ourselves, he did not even give me an attempt to find out if I could help before he shot me. Thankfully a flesh wound to the shoulder, at that point we decided it better to leave Quaid to his madness before he fired again, we would return when he had calmed. I was the only one to return a week later, Quaid had never left a victim of his own hand. Ublin the other mage tracked me down and informed me that he found a lead at the university’s natural history section. There was a rumor of a fire, and no word of Ublin, I fear the worst. Vistide, our chief scholar, said he had a hunch about two things. One he would be returning to the Crowzig estate because something was missing. Two the Bannist spies are on our tales. Someone that looks like him was killed during the night at his inn, he felt he needed to disappear. I have done an enormous amount of research of the type of creature this may be. The best hypothesis I can conclude is that it is an aberrant parasite of some sort. Please forward this to Sallot Mae and his bastard of a lackey. To Sallot- Damn you for this hell we have released into this world, all the blood is on your hands. Rot in Hell. Sincerely, Yohan Bluebird”
Justen placed the note back down on the table and slid it to the center, should anyone else wished to read it. He looked over the faces around him, everyone was speechless. Pierre started, “This has taken a turn to the fantastic and paranormal, but it still changes nothing, we have nothing except the stories of others. I would like to know what that crazy archeologist was seeing before they placed him in the asylum before we head toward that Black Cave you keep talking about. You should go look into it, we are going to read that end of all things book.” All the heads around the table began to bob in recognition of an easy plan that made sense.
Lanius was nominated to get them audience with the lunatic, his university also had ties with the asylum that could open a few doors. The building was near the city’s jail on the Eastern side and nobody complained that it was a far walk from the houses they were staying in. The large white stone building was camouflaged by the snow of the front lawn making it hard to distinguish its true shape. The shutters were all painted black and shut they glared at the approaching group as if the building was a many eyed monstrous snowman with coal eyes. Lanius did not knock when he, Justen and Ibraham entered the front maw of the building. He led his human followers across a brown tiled floor to a desk in the main foyer and decided to keep the plan they made before leaving the house. The man looked up from the paperwork he was tirelessly working on, it did not look like this was his usual job seated at the front desk. He was too burly, muscular, and looked like he had no way with people. There was a fresh scar that ran from the side of his left eye to his neck, that eye was also bruised badly, he fumbled with the charcoal pencil with his wrapped wrist, he had a paper name tag pinned to his white orderly shirt reading Kevant. When Lanius was within conversation distance the grizzly man spoke in a loud overcast voice with what seemed like it was rehearsed many times but still needed improvement, “Do you have an appointment?” Lanius answered trying to keep it simple but not insulting the man’s ignorant tone, “No, would it be possible to create an appointment for today?” Kevant’s eyes rolled up the way someone remembers very important details, “You then look at the book to make an appointment, find an open spot, and then use the charcoal pencil to write it in.” Content with his own answer he did all of those actions in the correct order. The appointment book was very full and the writing inside was soft and delicate, clearly not this man’s. “There is this today,” he pointed at a blank spot on the page. Lanius spelt his name for the man several times as he wrote it in, this secured the open time slot. “You are doing well with this desk job, have you done it long?” The big seated man looked at the tall lanky elf, “No, I work the back and rough up troublemakers for doc Klind. Trouble makers have been bad bad bad those weeks, some got to this lady in the front, got to keep doing her work until she comes back, she got hurt. They have been naughty troublemakers up all night screaming, they cut my face and stepped on my hand, up front until my rib fixes. I am getting better with the pencil.” The grizzly man was not simple just a little slow he was very happy that someone complemented him on a job well done. The group waited in the building for their appointment time, unfortunately it was for the end of the day and it was only noon. No other people came into the asylum while they waited and their big friend would look up and flex his crooked smile at them every couple of minutes. It had not been an hour before Lanius approached the desk again, “I am here for my appointment, and I am here on time.” The hulking man took his tiny pencil and checked off his name, “I am sorry for making you wait, following the rules”. The man at the desk got up and unlocked the door behind him to let the other three enter. He was able to point out the office for Klind down the tiled hall. He locked the door behind them making the candles fight to keep the hallway dimly lit. There were several doors that branched off from this hall, behind some manic yelling could be heard, they went to the door with the name Doctor Klind carved and gold-leafed into it, and knocked. “The door is not locked, please enter.” The candles in the hall were given a moments break by the light that flowed in from the now opened door. There were several oil lamps around the room in addition to providing the light, aided with the heat. There was a small fire in the fire place across the room with two cloth topped chairs in front of it, between the fireplace and oil lamps there was no draft in this room. Besides the comfortable atmosphere the office was furnished eloquently, tasteful sculptures in the corners, a modest collection of books occupied a shelf, and there was a standing liquor cabinet with tumblers and bottles upon it. Klind sat patiently behind his desk that was covered in stacks of paper, he had an inviting demeanor. “Well met I am Doctor Klind, head of this facility and to whom do I have the pleasure with speaking?” “My name is Lanius from the university, currently my associates Ibrahm and Sanford are working on a paper we hope you may be able to assist with. It is on the tragedy that befell the Caves of West Nulpent, the ‘Black Caves’, over thirty years ago. We wish to speak with Nate Bodo if it could be arranged.” “If it were any other time I would arrange such a meeting, anything to help the University. However over this last string of weeks the patients have been so disruptive and violent, it is just not safe, I cannot in good conscience. After the problems reverse we could make such an arrangement.” Lanius reached forward and placed a small stack of gold coins on the man’s pile of paperwork; “Sir, I humbly request that you could make such an exception, and could provide us escort to him.” The man leaned forward to inspect the common man year’s wages stacked on his work. He took a deep breath in and looked at the bribing elf, he knew the man wanted to say yes but was about to tell him no. Before he answered the elf placed another pile of coin next to his first deposit which caused the doctor to take another breath in before answering. “You may speak to him, on the condition that if things begin to get hostile inside you will leave and set up an appointment as I have previously requested. Is that understood?” “Yes sir, I thank you for rethinking the matter.” Klind walked them out of his office, and to a door midway down the hall, this was one of the doors with screaming behind it which continued. Klind looked at the group with the expression of ‘you wanted this’ on him as he unlocked the door. The doctor called forth a very large orderly that was wearing a cage on his head and carrying a baton, he instructed him to guard the elf and two companions and bring him to Nate Bodo’s room to talk. Klind locked the door behind him leaving them to the guard. It was set up like a dungeon behind the doors, they were in a large hall with cages on both sides filled tight with the mad. Many had been restrained in locking jackets, others by chains to the wall. It smelt of refuse, dirty, sweat, and too many people breathing stale air; the grey stone of the building’s interior had patches of discoloration where the inmates had done various vile acts in the previous weeks, the blood was left and never cleaned. The hall of the mad went on for longer than any of them wished it would; towards its end the caged rooms became one large room with a countless mad pushing on the bars reaching toward them, some spitting, each raved the obscenities of their individual madness. Opposite form the reaching hands across the hall was a barred gate that had a set of stairs behind it. The second floor of the asylum was heaven compared to the hell below. As the escort unlocked the oak door at the top of the stairs he spoke to his followers, “Scary, the basement is far worst, that is hell.” Beyond the door was a small room that served as a landing; there was an oaken door with an exit to the current floor, and another that allowed access to another set of upward stairs, and a medium window with shutters that were closed to keep the snow out. Their guide unlocked the door to the upward stairs, a similar locked door barred entrance to the third floor at the top of these stairs. As the guide used the key on the new door he said from behind his caged face, “We make sure no one gets out, some of these monsters are dangerous.” The third floor was heavenly compared to what lay beneath it. There were wooden walls that had been white washed, the air was cleaner, a few lanterns lit the common areas to keep it bright. The best sign of this floor was the guards did not have their cage masks on. Long halls divided this level giving every patient a separate room. It was quiet, and there was a tenseness present as they walked by the free roaming patients; one man sat with his legs crossed back to the wall slamming his head to the floor then the wall behind him in a time keeping thud thud thud, another stared out the window using his finger to trace objects outside in the air in front of him before he snatched the imagined sketch and shoved it in his mouth to eat, there were too many extreme patients with quirks but none of them were violent. After checking with another guard that worked this floor he brought them to a white sturdy door with a bolt on the outside, “This is Nate, looks like he has been acting up.”, the guard tapped the doors bolt before unlocking his room which was completely pitch black inside.
“Six by six by six they come, six by six by six is two one six, six by six by six…” The droned out dry voice slid out from the darkness and crept forward breeching the silence of the level, other inmates became very uncomfortable with the release of Nate’s dry voice; the thudding from down the hall became louder and faster, the man at the window began to wildly vocalize that he was eating entire buildings that he traced, other more quiet ones began to moan and wail in response to the few that had increased their madness. “Get in and shut the door, it needs to stay shut, knock when you are set, he will not let you bring any light in so do not try.” They reluctantly entered into darkness, the small room contained Mr. Bodo and chant of his sixes. Justen took the lead, “Mr. Bodo we need to talk to you about some work you did in the past a long time ago.” Nate’s chant of sixes became louder. In a forcefully quite voice Justen pushed on, “Listen to me, what did you see in the Caves all those years ago, we plan to hunt it and kill it.” Nate’s chant ceased and there was a moment of quite assumed to be him thinking over this possibility. “No, that which has no name hunts you. It speaks to me and tells me to live in this darkness, it has given me the riddle of the sixes. It does not get hunted, it is the hunter, that of eyes and teeth consumes, it is the beast. You are too sane to hear it, those two however, they are not deaf. It does more than kill, it consumes, it is coming.” “What is coming?” “That six which by has six no by name six.” Nate’s chant started up again and there was no reviving him from his compulsion, they knocked for the guard and were released. Klind waited for them in the hall that connected his office to the first floor patient hallway, he was happy to see that no one was harmed and said he would not be able to allow them access again until the population was calm. They thanked him for making the exception this time bidding him a good evening. The complimented Kevant on his good job again when they exited past his desk and out the door.
They talked on the long return to the house.
“What did he mean that we two are not deaf? I hear fine, hey Lanius you hearing fine? I know you are hearing fine why did he think you were deaf?”
“I think he meant that the two of you were crazy.”

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Chapter 3

Chapter 3 {Other People’s stories}

Justen had paid the price for valuable information gathering the next day, the daylight hurt his eyes and his head ached and throbbed. “Never again”, even speaking the words softly made his head throb. All of the heavy drinking with fellow scholars the night before did more than make his head pound it was the first time Justen came to grips with his age. He was not old by any means, he just could not drink like the fish he once was. Before he enrolled as an acolyte to serve Magicta he was an apprentice with scholarly goals. It was those days working as the apprentice, learning to read, copying texts, and speak new languages he loved most. There were other younger students his age, and when they began to be the height of the counter of the local tavern they began to get served. He remembers parts of the nights he and his friends would call being ‘Black Out Drunk’, this of course refers to drinking so much one passes out, or does not remember the details to the previous night having a friend fill in the details. He remembers those mornings they were free of their duties; he and his friends worked easy labor jobs at the dock on the side to get some drinking money. The other dock hands always teased them for being so scrawny for their age, they were twelve with no meat on their bones. Taking their earnings straight from the dock to ‘The Harbor View’ a skeevy sailor’s tavern they would drink until they ran out of money. Justen got into more trouble than he would like to admit, never with the law, but situations he wish he avoided. He bedded ol’ Betsy Hog, that was her real name, Betsy Hog, the very wide daughter of a pig rancher. For a while after he was known as Justen the pig rancher. Or when he woke up wearing a women’s dress on the road outside of town, nobody ever explained that one or thankfully brought it up. He remembers part of the night they had stolen a guard’s crossbow and shot random things all evening. He was ever so happy he was not the one to land the bolt in his friend Cory’s hand attempting to extinguish the candle’s flame he held, he was even more happy that he was not Cory. It was one of these ‘Black Out Drunk’ nights that would change his life forever; ironically he was ‘Black Out Drunk’ and his friends told him about it the next morning. Justen had woken with his left eye swollen shut, the taste of blood in his mouth, and a handful of someone else’s hair. The handful of hair was new, but he was use to the occasional scuffle resulting in black eyes and bloody lips. His friends watched him as he sat up on his cot rubbing the foreign hair off his palm. They quickly moved in asking questions Justen had no answers for, he did not know what the ‘that’ was in reference to in ‘What the hell was that?’ He had no clue why everyone was huddled so close to him and starring. Justen finally began to ask questions of his own, his panicked friends began to worry him. He got the highlights from the previous night. They left the dock as usual, started drinking on schedule, they made friends with a few different tables, rounds were bought, songs were sung, all a regular evening. It was getting late and Phyllis, the very attractive blonde that worked at the fish market, came to walk her husband home for the night; his friends said that he could not stop starring at the doe eyed yellow haired maiden from the moment she walked in. She went around the tavern looking for her inebriated husband table to table, his friends all confirming that Justen got up and managed his way toward her. She had just begun to walk out of the tavern guiding her husband when he reached her. Without warning Justen grabbed Phyllis by the waist pulling her in close and kissed her deeply on the lips. She was fighting to get him away and her husband fell into the door frame hitting his head, waking him up angry. He stood up tall grabbed Justen by the back of his head pulling him off his wife and began to slam his face into the doorframe he had just hit. His friends said that after the third slam Justen’s hand got funny, he reached up and melted most of the guy’s face off with his touch. Everyone backed off watching the swaying fifteen year old try to stay on his feet. “I love you Phyllis” those were the words that everyone claims he said to the sobbing wife huddled over her husband before he turned to drunkardly exit. His friends exited with him afraid for what the crowd would do to him or possible them, rumors of witchery bloomed before they could leave the tavern. Justen looked back down to the long brown hairs he had been trying to get off his hand, they looked melted. It was impossible, he did not feel like a witch, but he did wonder if everyone else was right, what if he was a witch. He did not know his parents too well, they had sacrificed much to pay for him to apprentice in the city and make more of his life than he could working the fields they were bound to. He remembered their faces and names but knew nothing of them besides the fields they kept, what if they were in league with demons; the thought sent shivers down through his core, he could be the offspring of monsters. That previous night forever changed his life, he could not remember it but it was the most important thing that ever happened to him. The rest of the day Justen refused to use his hands and everyone was afraid he may accidentally bump into him so they gave him his space. Quietly moving to a back room for solitude, he cried, sick from the previous night’s partying, tired, and afraid for the monster he was. The tears that rushed down the sides of his face stayed there afraid he might melt his own face off if he touched them. By late afternoon a loud commotion rumbled from outside, lots of people, too many to count, all demanding the witch; this was not how he wanted to wake up, wishing it was only a nightmare. His master refused to hand over the boy to an angry mob, only when the guard came to take him to the keep did he let Justen leave. His teacher was not the nicest person he ever met but he was smart, he walked with him and the guard asking questions to figure out what Justen had done. His teacher plainly said if it was in his blood and there was nothing he could do about it, he would need to accept it. Locked behind an oaken steel bound door it was a long two days living in the dungeon below the keep, bored, terrified, and hungry; he was actually thankful the rumor had spread underground with him, this kept the other scared prisoners away from his young frame. He was taken up to meet the lord of the keep in shackles, thankfully his teacher was there pointing things out to him. He was going through an old book with very nasty drawings in it saying all matter of odd things; “See no tail”, “His eyes are not like coal.” “No forked tongue.” “He bleeds red.” After a painstakingly long presentation he requested that the boy be given to the church of Magicta so he would not harm anyone else, and should he be incorrect and he was a witch they could deal with it there. The decision was a reluctant decision on the lord’s behalf but eventually he agreed. They left with guards that night, and two weeks of riding brought them to a large city. He did not want to become part of the church but he had no alternative, there was no one that would have him; he was also afraid if his teacher was incorrect and they would have to deal with him here, he did not know what that meant. “Enough reminiscing for now”, Justen sat up on his bed, adjusted his eyes to the painfully bright light, he looked in the mirror across the room thinking ‘I am old, what happened’; eventually he made the slow transition downstairs to his new group that sounded like they were debating on who was going to answer the door.
There was another knock at the door, Ibrahm and Sanford both looked at each other oddly signaling to the other to answer it. The knock continued followed with “I can hear you, open up”, the voice was calm and not hostile. Justen walked down the stairs and casually opened the door, making sure to stand in the way blocking any entrance. He was not expecting to see another elf in this city, but there he was. The tallest elf he had ever seen, towering well over six feet tall, this giant was bigger than most of the people he knew. The tall elf’s lanky frame was hidden by the loose fitting tunic and his black hair was tied back as to almost show off the prominent elven ears. The elf started “Hello, my name is Lanius I was sent to help out. I have a symbol to show you if you let me in.” Bryan stepped back letting the giant elf enter and shut the door behind him. Lanius pulled out a folded hand sized piece of parchment that had the red feather and circle. “I am to be your escort in West Nulpent.”
It was decided that since Harren was the only person recognized and wanted for questioning he should not venture from the house. He would stay back and continue to go through the works of Crowzig staying out of sight, Pierre opted out of the trip to the museum also; he was growing tired of libraries and small distractions. The rest of the group led by their new elven city guide, headed for the museum, they soon discovered that the fire was in the “Private Museum of Lord Crowzig University”; not sure if this was a good sign or coincidence that Crowzig had his name attached to everything in this city. Lanius made it very easy to get admittance into the private museum, he just told them they were students of the university, said a few professors names and they wanted to see the exhibit, there was no questions asked. They walked past the guard, up a flight of very ornate stairs, and stopped in front of a large room that had taken some very recent fire damage. Justen looked at Lanius, “What is the plan? You seem to be running us quickly through this without letting us know what you are doing.” He looked down at the human, “I thought you wanted to see the museum? I actually attend this university, this is normal to view the exhibits. Do you want me to find out what happened here? I do not mind, I can wing it.” Justen froze with the phrase ‘wing it’, that almost failed horrible at the temple of Riula, but it did manage to work, this lanky elf had done well so far; “You may be the best suited to do so, yes please.”
There was a rope that ran across the entranceway holding up a hand written sign, “no admittance”. Beyond the rope was an older lady in her late fifties or early sixties, she seemed very upset with the charred mess before her and was trying to organize anything she was able to salvage. They stood there staring at her until her head popped up and looked at them, “Is there something you need?” she barked with a sense of spite in her tone. Lanius answered politely, “No Madame curator, we had heard of the terrible fire and wished to see what was left of the damaged exhibit in case it would get packaged away. I will attending the history class of Saund Ruwe next semester.” The older women satisfied with the answer allowed them to cross the rope barrier. She spoke, “Good morning I am Mimi Desule, the person responsible for this archeological find many years ago. Please do not touch any of the items they are badly damaged.”
The group spread out looking at various charred items that came from the Black Cave, some bone tools, stone knifes and arrow heads. Lanius addressed the curator, ”Why would someone torch the natural history museum?” His question was delivered with substance and seemed sincere, everyone in the room knew that he just secured their cover. She answered openly holding back nothing, “I have not the faintest clue. I would imagine the theft of the three stone tablets may be a genuine cause. We are investigating the deaths of the two guards that worked that night, it is unclear if they died from the fire. As for the other delicate finds I retrieved from the dig they are lost forever, thirty years of work up in flames. This is the first time anyone actually stole anything of such a precious origin from the museum. Small bits of vandalism and petty theft as any building that displays antiquities should expect, but never any major exhibits. The tablets are, well to me priceless, to some collector they would get a heavy sum.” Lanius interrupted trying to get more background on the archeological dig, “Forgive my ignorance, but is this just another misfortunate event that revolves around the Black Cave?” She exhaled quickly like someone had punched her in the chest, “I really wish you kids stopped calling it that, it is the ‘Caves of West Nulpent’, the whole reason this university was placed here in West Nulpent. Is that what you are here for, to hear the ghost stories people have made from tragedy? I take it you are here gathering information to write an article of some sort.” Lanius nodded his head, “I will be taking the class there is no lie present, I find this completely fascinating. Would you give me the privilege of recording your account so I do not misrepresent the facts.” She was hesitant to answer, “If my name is overshadowed in the history books by whatever it is you plan to scribble down, I would like for it to be accurate. I could use a break from this disaster of a room.” Mimi led them back down the stairs, and pass the guard. She took them across the first floor to a lecture hall style room, with chairs and desks parted by an aisle. “This room has plenty of chairs please.” Everyone sat as Mimi instructed and she stood leaning her backside on a heavy desk. Justen pulled out a paper and quill to assist Lanius with his information gathering. He wrote down Mimi’s account of the archeological dig, and the misfortunate events. “Before the dig I organized there was no official excavation of the ‘Caves of West Nulpent, it was a well-known spot, a common place for students to research, the main reason this school was built here. I was able to get lots of funding, everyone wanted to have their name attached to what would be discovered about the ancient people. I had planned to go deeper than any other, employ the best and largest crew, and hopefully have it wrapped up in under three years. We started by recording and recreating the cave paintings in the entrance way, and followed them deep into the cave, afraid our lantern smoke would damage them over the three years we had planned. As we finished an area of cave paintings the digging crew would follow behind and carefully un earth the cave floor looking for artifacts, there were so many. Even the first few weeks when it was slow so many finds to study and catalog. Three months in, two of my dig team went into the cave and never came out, we never found them, and to this day that is the only mystery of the cave. It raised many questions no one had answers for, no one opposed the dig or had reason for it to be stopped, foul play was not suspect. Another three months later a student took a pickaxe to several other students that were digging, the only way to get him to stop slamming the remains was to put him down on the spot. It took us another year to discover the ‘Black’ of the cave was a mold of sorts that was causing hallucinations amongst us all. Those were some scary nights in the cabin just outside the mouth of the cave. We sometimes could not sleep for days, some of the crew mutilated themselves, some very badly, at the time we thought demons were among us, it was scary. Nate Bodo, my partner never recovered, I believe he is still locked in the asylum receiving treatment. After the amount of gore and death the ‘Black’ cave caused it lost much momentum as a scientific spot. The funding disappeared, no one wanted their name attached to the death trap. I still continued, in small ventures with small groups. That mold is not too powerful unless you spend weeks working the cave. On one of my independent trips we found the Tablets buried beneath a very elaborate cave painting of a cloud with eyes and teeth. I went back a few times finding small items but I think from being around the mold so often my body lost any tolerance to it, I immediately begin to hear and see things inside the cave. I have taken a lifetime rummaging through what we found and I am still learning new things from it today. The stone tablets were my crown jewel, each two feet long, two inches thick, flawless. This was centuries before any bronze was being used and these polished tablets must of taken years to make without any metal tools. They were covered in glyphs that have never been identified, even with magical aid. If you boys find out anything please let me know, this is my life’s work.” Everyone nodded in agreement that they would not deny this old women of her life’s career. Lanius thanked her deeply for all her help, and would be in touch if he needed further information or finished writing the article. She seemed indifferent with either and more intent that whatever he was doing would go down on paper correct and not the ghost stories that people had made up.
As they left Ibrahm was the first to thank Lanius, “That was some fast thinking, a lie to write a book, I would never of thought to.” Lanius without stopping, “I plan to write the article, it is interesting. As for the black mold she is not explaining it correctly, many students go into the cave to collect the mold for recreation purposes, it is very potent when smoked or ingested, it does not take weeks for it to effect someone. May I suggest that we go to the library to verify Mimi’s story before we invest time looking for the possibility of a lead.” Everyone was on board with the newest member’s idea, they were thankful he was level headed, smart, and charismatic; no one questioned the reference to drug use.
The library was very close to the museum, several buildings away on the university campus. There was much information of the archeological dig of the Black Cave, they were also able to find rubbings of the tablets that were stolen, and had Sanford make a hand written copy. Justen and Lanius found information that confirmed the story Mimi had told them. Ibrahm found the strangest thing in a big book of recreated cave paintings, a folded up piece of paper that fell from the book landing on the table. The words “I’m caught send help, To the group with the dwarf” were quickly written on the outside of pressed paper staring back up at him. “I think it is for Harren.” Justen reached across the table snatching the note, “It is addressed to ‘the group’.” He unfolded the note which was two pages together, completely filled with words, “Why couldn’t we find this earlier. Let’s get back to Harren.” They wasted no time with the exit.
They all gathered around the table back at the house the demi humans had claimed. Lanius introduced himself eloquently to the dwarf and the other elf. They were happy to have him when they heard what a good job he had done at the museum. Justen opted to read the note aloud so it would not need to travel through six sets of hands, the inside of the folded letter had the words written across the top, in a different ink “Look for the Marcou.” Sanford swears that whomever wrote that was not sitting down because of the shapes of some of the letters, it looked hurried compared to the rest of the fine calligraphy, and proper punctuation that was the notes mass. Justen read the rest of the letter verbatim; “This is the account and informal report of Yohan Bluebird. It is in the Lord Crowzig University Library we, the group first sent on this task, discovered several clues. Notably from- ‘The End of All Things’ hidden in the quatrains. “ground above ground in the fields” and “Man and Beast together will carry the mask of destruction with fake stone.” Both quatrains sequenced for this year. Pulling apart the verses of the ‘End of All Things’ we “investigated” the Crowzig estate. Using magical aid we were able to navigate through the estate without any detection. It was there in the attic of the main estate building our strong arm, Phillip Masue, of all people discovered the statue. It was as described in the tome, body of a standing man, head of a jackal, the statue not of stone but of painted plaster, Crowzig himself hid a clue in his own work, most unsettling because all his predictions are very grim. After cutting a hole in the roof, and magically removing it we smuggled it back to our house. There the base was removed from the statue, Phillip inspected it, reached in and pulled forth a gold mask. Without warning our historian David put the mask on and began screaming. No action we attempted would remove the mask. His flesh began to become strange, he yelled about the burning. Upstairs to the tub we brought buckets of cold water to draw him a bath there was no time to heat it. He screamed until, as I hope, he finally died Neighbors began to knock at the door. David’s body went missing from the bathtub it was left in during the confusion. We searched the entire house finding it in the basement, it, for lack of a better word, had rotted away David’s skin. The gold mask was attached to the exposed skull, his entrails and sinew dangled from the skinless ribcage, holding him up and moving him like a spider on the ceiling. Mucus strands of his muscle were attached to the ceiling rafters that was below the accursed black statue, rotting or melting the wood above it; we had discovered it partially through the ceiling gaining access back inside the hollow statue. I toppled over the black statue upstairs just in time to notice that it retrieved more golden artifacts before slipping back into the destroyed wooden floor. In the cellar the creature attacked Phillip and attached to him. He was fighting to pull his face free from the fleshy mass but it had fused with him and would eventually consume him. We attacked it with magic, the firewood axe, and the pistol. Phillip continued to struggle, it looked like he was digested externally. Eventually, I assume, we did enough damage and the creature fled up the fireplace onto the roof. It ran out the back yard and consumed a barking dog before running off into the snowy night. After a long search for it the tracks had completely vanished. With returning to the house Quaid the pistoleer began to lose his grip with reality, not able to grasp the creature that had consumed two of our comrades with demonic grace. He became paranoid and began ransacking everyone’s room, cutting apart mattresses, and smashing things. He claimed we were keeping information from ourselves, he did not even give me an attempt to find out if I could help before he shot me. Thankfully a flesh wound to the shoulder, at that point we decided it better to leave Quaid to his madness before he fired again, we would return when he had calmed. I was the only one to return a week later, Quaid had never left a victim of his own hand. Ublin the other mage tracked me down and informed me that he found a lead at the university’s natural history section. There was a rumor of a fire, and no word of Ublin, I fear the worst. Vistide, our chief scholar, said he had a hunch about two things. One he would be returning to the Crowzig estate because something was missing. Two the Bannist spies are on our tales. Someone that looks like him was killed during the night at his inn, he felt he needed to disappear. I have done an enormous amount of research of the type of creature this may be. The best hypothesis I can conclude is that it is an aberrant parasite of some sort. Please forward this to Sallot Mae and his bastard of a lackey. To Sallot- Damn you for this hell we have released into this world, all the blood is on your hands. Rot in Hell. Sincerely, Yohan Bluebird”
Justen placed the note back down on the table and slid it to the center, should anyone else wished to read it. He looked over the faces around him, everyone was speechless. Pierre started, “This has taken a turn to the fantastic and paranormal, but it still changes nothing, we have nothing except the stories of others. I would like to know what that crazy archeologist was seeing before they placed him in the asylum before we head toward that Black Cave you keep talking about. You should go look into it, we are going to read that end of all things book.” All the heads around the table began to bob in recognition of an easy plan that made sense.
Lanius was nominated to get them audience with the lunatic, his university also had ties with the asylum that could open a few doors. The building was near the city’s jail on the Eastern side and nobody complained that it was a far walk from the houses they were staying in. The large white stone building was camouflaged by the snow of the front lawn making it hard to distinguish its true shape. The shutters were all painted black and shut they glared at the approaching group as if the building was a many eyed monstrous snowman with coal eyes. Lanius did not knock when he, Justen and Ibraham entered the front maw of the building. He led his human followers across a brown tiled floor to a desk in the main foyer and decided to keep the plan they made before leaving the house. The man looked up from the paperwork he was tirelessly working on, it did not look like this was his usual job seated at the front desk. He was too burly, muscular, and looked like he had no way with people. There was a fresh scar that ran from the side of his left eye to his neck, that eye was also bruised badly, he fumbled with the charcoal pencil with his wrapped wrist, he had a paper name tag pinned to his white orderly shirt reading Kevant. When Lanius was within conversation distance the grizzly man spoke in a loud overcast voice with what seemed like it was rehearsed many times but still needed improvement, “Do you have an appointment?” Lanius answered trying to keep it simple but not insulting the man’s ignorant tone, “No, would it be possible to create an appointment for today?” Kevant’s eyes rolled up the way someone remembers very important details, “You then look at the book to make an appointment, find an open spot, and then use the charcoal pencil to write it in.” Content with his own answer he did all of those actions in the correct order. The appointment book was very full and the writing inside was soft and delicate, clearly not this man’s. “There is this today,” he pointed at a blank spot on the page. Lanius spelt his name for the man several times as he wrote it in, this secured the open time slot. “You are doing well with this desk job, have you done it long?” The big seated man looked at the tall lanky elf, “No, I work the back and rough up troublemakers for doc Klind. Trouble makers have been bad bad bad those weeks, some got to this lady in the front, got to keep doing her work until she comes back, she got hurt. They have been naughty troublemakers up all night screaming, they cut my face and stepped on my hand, up front until my rib fixes. I am getting better with the pencil.” The grizzly man was not simple just a little slow he was very happy that someone complemented him on a job well done. The group waited in the building for their appointment time, unfortunately it was for the end of the day and it was only noon. No other people came into the asylum while they waited and their big friend would look up and flex his crooked smile at them every couple of minutes. It had not been an hour before Lanius approached the desk again, “I am here for my appointment, and I am here on time.” The hulking man took his tiny pencil and checked off his name, “I am sorry for making you wait, following the rules”. The man at the desk got up and unlocked the door behind him to let the other three enter. He was able to point out the office for Klind down the tiled hall. He locked the door behind them making the candles fight to keep the hallway dimly lit. There were several doors that branched off from this hall, behind some manic yelling could be heard, they went to the door with the name Doctor Klind carved and gold-leafed into it, and knocked. “The door is not locked, please enter.” The candles in the hall were given a moments break by the light that flowed in from the now opened door. There were several oil lamps around the room in addition to providing the light, aided with the heat. There was a small fire in the fire place across the room with two cloth topped chairs in front of it, between the fireplace and oil lamps there was no draft in this room. Besides the comfortable atmosphere the office was furnished eloquently, tasteful sculptures in the corners, a modest collection of books occupied a shelf, and there was a standing liquor cabinet with tumblers and bottles upon it. Klind sat patiently behind his desk that was covered in stacks of paper, he had an inviting demeanor. “Well met I am Doctor Klind, head of this facility and to whom do I have the pleasure with speaking?” “My name is Lanius from the university, currently my associates Ibrahm and Sanford are working on a paper we hope you may be able to assist with. It is on the tragedy that befell the Caves of West Nulpent, the ‘Black Caves’, over thirty years ago. We wish to speak with Nate Bodo if it could be arranged.” “If it were any other time I would arrange such a meeting, anything to help the University. However over this last string of weeks the patients have been so disruptive and violent, it is just not safe, I cannot in good conscience. After the problems reverse we could make such an arrangement.” Lanius reached forward and placed a small stack of gold coins on the man’s pile of paperwork; “Sir, I humbly request that you could make such an exception, and could provide us escort to him.” The man leaned forward to inspect the common man year’s wages stacked on his work. He took a deep breath in and looked at the bribing elf, he knew the man wanted to say yes but was about to tell him no. Before he answered the elf placed another pile of coin next to his first deposit which caused the doctor to take another breath in before answering. “You may speak to him, on the condition that if things begin to get hostile inside you will leave and set up an appointment as I have previously requested. Is that understood?” “Yes sir, I thank you for rethinking the matter.” Klind walked them out of his office, and to a door midway down the hall, this was one of the doors with screaming behind it which continued. Klind looked at the group with the expression of ‘you wanted this’ on him as he unlocked the door. The doctor called forth a very large orderly that was wearing a cage on his head and carrying a baton, he instructed him to guard the elf and two companions and bring him to Nate Bodo’s room to talk. Klind locked the door behind him leaving them to the guard. It was set up like a dungeon behind the doors, they were in a large hall with cages on both sides filled tight with the mad. Many had been restrained in locking jackets, others by chains to the wall. It smelt of refuse, dirty, sweat, and too many people breathing stale air; the grey stone of the building’s interior had patches of discoloration where the inmates had done various vile acts in the previous weeks, the blood was left and never cleaned. The hall of the mad went on for longer than any of them wished it would; towards its end the caged rooms became one large room with a countless mad pushing on the bars reaching toward them, some spitting, each raved the obscenities of their individual madness. Opposite form the reaching hands across the hall was a barred gate that had a set of stairs behind it. The second floor of the asylum was heaven compared to the hell below. As the escort unlocked the oak door at the top of the stairs he spoke to his followers, “Scary, the basement is far worst, that is hell.” Beyond the door was a small room that served as a landing; there was an oaken door with an exit to the current floor, and another that allowed access to another set of upward stairs, and a medium window with shutters that were closed to keep the snow out. Their guide unlocked the door to the upward stairs, a similar locked door barred entrance to the third floor at the top of these stairs. As the guide used the key on the new door he said from behind his caged face, “We make sure no one gets out, some of these monsters are dangerous.” The third floor was heavenly compared to what lay beneath it. There were wooden walls that had been white washed, the air was cleaner, a few lanterns lit the common areas to keep it bright. The best sign of this floor was the guards did not have their cage masks on. Long halls divided this level giving every patient a separate room. It was quiet, and there was a tenseness present as they walked by the free roaming patients; one man sat with his legs crossed back to the wall slamming his head to the floor then the wall behind him in a time keeping thud thud thud, another stared out the window using his finger to trace objects outside in the air in front of him before he snatched the imagined sketch and shoved it in his mouth to eat, there were too many extreme patients with quirks but none of them were violent. After checking with another guard that worked this floor he brought them to a white sturdy door with a bolt on the outside, “This is Nate, looks like he has been acting up.”, the guard tapped the doors bolt before unlocking his room which was completely pitch black inside.
“Six by six by six they come, six by six by six is two one six, six by six by six…” The droned out dry voice slid out from the darkness and crept forward breeching the silence of the level, other inmates became very uncomfortable with the release of Nate’s dry voice; the thudding from down the hall became louder and faster, the man at the window began to wildly vocalize that he was eating entire buildings that he traced, other more quiet ones began to moan and wail in response to the few that had increased their madness. “Get in and shut the door, it needs to stay shut, knock when you are set, he will not let you bring any light in so do not try.” They reluctantly entered into darkness, the small room contained Mr. Bodo and chant of his sixes. Justen took the lead, “Mr. Bodo we need to talk to you about some work you did in the past a long time ago.” Nate’s chant of sixes became louder. In a forcefully quite voice Justen pushed on, “Listen to me, what did you see in the Caves all those years ago, we plan to hunt it and kill it.” Nate’s chant ceased and there was a moment of quite assumed to be him thinking over this possibility. “No, that which has no name hunts you. It speaks to me and tells me to live in this darkness, it has given me the riddle of the sixes. It does not get hunted, it is the hunter, that of eyes and teeth consumes, it is the beast. You are too sane to hear it, those two however, they are not deaf. It does more than kill, it consumes, it is coming.” “What is coming?” “That six which by has six no by name six.” Nate’s chant started up again and there was no reviving him from his compulsion, they knocked for the guard and were released. Klind waited for them in the hall that connected his office to the first floor patient hallway, he was happy to see that no one was harmed and said he would not be able to allow them access again until the population was calm. They thanked him for making the exception this time bidding him a good evening. The complimented Kevant on his good job again when they exited past his desk and out the door.
They talked on the long return to the house.
“What did he mean that we two are not deaf? I hear fine, hey Lanius you hearing fine? I know you are hearing fine why did he think you were deaf?”
“I think he meant that the two of you were crazy.”

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Chapter 2

Chapter 2 {Productivity}

Lusparish landscape is long flat and featureless under winter waste. Cottages sparsely dotting an endless sea of white and it appeared that what little sunlight that has broken free from clouds was engulfed by plumes of chimney smoke. The trip that normally would take just a few days by carriage had taken a full a week. The new group had much time to further get to know each other, and put together a plan. They knew that there would be spies from Bannist that could not learn of their presence. The other piece of concern was the two demihumans that were part of the group. Ritter was right, outside of their native lands demies were almost completely hated, especially elves. The plan was loose but simple. First the humans would stay in one safe house, the demies in the second, using the third for emergency meetings. Next they would investigate the address of the first group Sallot provided them with for any clues.

They finally arrived to West Nulpent just before it was getting dark; separating briefly to settle into their individual ‘safe’ houses. The houses were lightly furnished, and the pantry stocked with dry goods that could last a winter, and much to please the dwarf each house has a keg of ale. The homes were all in normal residential parts of this small city, very plain they did not stand out from the others around them. That was good because this small city had lots to offer and distract someone’s attention from the normal. It was bustling for its size, and one of the few universities of Luspar was located here. It was named after the man that funded its creation a century and a half ago, Lord Glenester Crowzig University. This is mostly a scholarly city full of doctors and teachers, there is even a fair amount of mages that keep to this city in public view offering services and taking on apprentices. Trade was good because it is so close to the capital, but items are slightly overpriced catering to a wealthy demand. There were several temples to gods, a large library, and plenty of taverns and entertainment.

After meeting at a local establishment and gaining some liquid encouragement they all set off to the first group’s house. It was like the houses they had now, featureless against the backdrop of houses around them. This was in a slightly better part of the city set back several yards from the street, a chest high cast iron fence casually blocking entry to the front lawn. The elf which the party has begun to notice was overly paranoid decided he would sneak to the house and make sure it was safe before everyone trekked up the front stairs. Stanford agreed that this was a good idea and he would be useful so he also went, the rest waited across the street in the dark. They noticed it on the approach; nobody had been up this walkway for days evidence of the undisturbed snow. Adding to the overly paranoid elf’s paranoia no lights or signs of life could be seen either. The hopped the fence and walked the perimeter entering from the back door with the aid of Stanford’s ability to “fix” a lock. The door opened into the kitchen, the dry goods have been partial consumed and the keg tapped. The first floor was what was to be expected, lite furnishings, several wooden bowls, the fireplace had been used and it’s ashes laid there in a pile to prove it. It was the front foyer that had the first unique misplaced item. There was a black statue, well over nine feet tall, and wide. It was a likeness of a jackal’s head on the body of a well featured man. They opened the front door and waved in the rest of the group. Inside several candles were lit so the humans could see.

To quickly cover more ground the group split up. Ibrahm stayed with the statue to investigate it with the aid of Harren. Pierre and Stanford went upstairs and Justen rechecked the first floor. It was at the top of the stairs Pierre first smelt it, he smelt it before on the battlefield and prison camp, there was a dead body here. They began to check the rooms of the second floor before going up to the third. Slowly and cautiously listening at every door before opening them, when they found the mess they called down to the group.

Ibrahm became obsessed with the statue; he knew there was something to it. The statue itself was Bannist by style, and this could be one of their desert gods for all he knew. They worshiped strange things, they have a living god king with three goddess concubine wives, he figured it was not above them to worship dog faced people. With the aid of Harren they were able to slightly prop the giant statue to the side revealing a recently opened hollow interior. The other astonishing thing about the statue was it is made completely of plaster. Justen searched over the first floor again but nothing new came from his search. When the call came from upstairs both he and Harren quickly followed it’s beckoning. This left Ibrahm alone with the plaster jackal headed statue. He immediately began to get to work.

Upstairs Pierre and Stanford had discovered bedrooms that looked ransacked, papers tossed about the rooms, mattresses cut open, items thrown about the place. Someone was looking for something. It was in the wash closet as the search continued something else raised a question. The claw foot porcelain tub was full of something. It looked like a red coppery substance had settled at the bottom and water was at the top of it. It was hard to tell with the thin sheet of ice created from this cold house, more evidence they had not been here for some time.

It was on the third floor the pungent smell of death was noticed by the others. Following their noses they passed through the attic study to a door. This was the first time Pierre had seen a pistol, let alone how powerful they could be. The man had a gaping hole on the side of his head; he was half lying on the bed holding the firearm. Though this room was also a mess it had not been turned apart like the others below him. Sheets of papers in small stacks tiled the floor. There was a holy book to the goddess Riula with a strange key placed on top of it next to the body. Justen went to the holy book first, it felt lite. The binding had also been ruined from the careless removal of pages. Inspecting it the gold leaf book had been defaced in an unintentional way, lines had been crossed out, words have been circled, some circled then crossed out, the words yes, no, maybe, and question marks were abundant on every page. Sanford began to thumb through the piles of papers on the floor. They were all pages from the book Justen held. Many had big black "x"s on them. There were several pieces of parchment with the words “Hidden within the words of Riula’s last goodbye” scribbled in different sizes over and over. They quickly searched the attic study outside the dead man’s room. On the table was an almost complete volume of the same books Sallot had sent them out with. Next to them was a recently handwritten family tree of the Crowzig family, many names have been crossed off. The tree rooted back seven generations to Glenester Crowzig himself. They gathered and took all the books and paperwork with them.

Before they could reach the bottom of the stairs Ibrahm excitedly burst out “I found something!” They quickly surrounded the jackal headed statue that towered in front of him. “What, what in the nine hells did you do to it man!” The dwarf said astonished. “Like I said, I found something.” They were staring at a big hole Ibrahm had apparently melted into the chest of the large statue. He pointed into the darkness of the hole expecting a reaction of awe, or at least a reaction. The dwarf started again “ok, please do more than point we do not have time for this.” Ibrahm took a deep breath. “Well looks like I just may be the brains of this outfit after all. Well there is this goop. And it goes into the fruit cellar through the floor, burnt right through it, …most likely. Watch, look.” They all squeezed down the tight stairs into the cellar. Harren noticed it first. Small smooth rounded tracks, starting under the floor where the statue is, running up the stairs across the dining area and to the chimney. From there it looks to of gone straight up. “Well I’ll be damned” Justen blurted out.

They had decided to call it a night after inspecting the roof and awaking a neighborhood dog. Harren was upset that these added delays would keep him from the capital Burgenbees; this was his new site he longed to see, he had just decided laying there in his cold dark room. Every corner of this medium sized human city fascinated him and wanted to see what exactly a metropolis amounted to in person. He felt all the stereotypes of humans hating dwarves was completely fake, no one had even given him a dirty look. He did notice the hate in people’s eyes when his elf friend was walking about though. His personal plan was to assist in the task Sallot sent them out to do, make sure the first group was safe, capture the spies, expose any ill bearing plans, and see all the human sites he could, it was going to be that simple. After all this was much more exciting than the court he worked in, there was even a dead body. He knew he needed to not focus on all the distractions. It was hard to remind himself that a man was dead; this was not hearing it in the court, or from his father. He had seen him, he had discovered him, and he was going to be the law-bringer responsible to bring this atrocity to light. Whatever the atrocity would turn out to be, he knew the excitement of the events was starting to cloud his judgment, but who can fault a dwarf for dreaming about his first big investigation. It took a minute for him to blame something else for his inability to sleep. “Tomorrow we at least lite a fire to get the draft out of the house.” That sounded good to him, especially when he saw his words mock him as they left, his focus was now on the cold, and over paranoid elven roommate. The trip they took to get to the house must have been increased by two miles, twisting down all these roads to fool anyone trailing us. Then placing a trap on our front door to catch any smart enough to trail us. He is clearly insane. It was then Harren knew he would get no sleep tonight.

They had decided to meet at the library in the afternoon. There was some connection to the dead man and the holy book of Riula he obsessed over. Riula was a goddess of death, but by natural means. She also looked over newborns, as well as the sick. Suicide was looked down on by any followers of the faith; the dead man clearly was not a believer. The phrase they had found written many times around the room he was in had to be important. They just needed to find out what was “Hidden within the words of Riula’s last goodbye.” After a day of research they had nothing to show for it. One break they did catch was almost completely by accident. Sanford had noticed a small section of the library that had books about the desert country of Bannist. He spent some time looking for the jackal headed man statue. It was discovered that it is the devourer of the dead, and a gate keeper to the afterlife. A young man, most likely a student of the university, not minding his own business was noticed by Sanford to be minding his. The student approached Sanford. “They still haven’t found it, the statue. It’s amazing actually taken right out of the roof; rumor has it there is a big hole.” Sanford was able to fish out a little more of the rumor from this student without causing suspicion. This would be their next stop.

The Crowzig estate has been around even before the famous Glenester lived in it, this family has always had money. They did build this town in their interest, and took a huge plot of land just outside the city proper to make theirs. Still quite a long walk, but for a house of this manner, with all the wheat fields, windmills, and people with feudal ties one would expect to find this in the deep country miles out. They approached at night. Pierre and Sanford went first making a wide loop looking for any way to keep any tracts from tainting the snow. They followed a row of trees a distance out that lead straight to the manor’s side, this would be perfect. Once at the side of the house they flagged the rest of the group over. From there they assisted each other in climbing up the side of the house to the roof. It was hard to see just how big the estate was when they approached, now three stories up on the snow covered roof the rest of the world disappeared and they were left on this steep floating island. Carefully and cautiously they were able to access the tarp covered roof repair still in process. Below the tarp was a large hole that dropped into the attic. Taking their time they quietly lowered themselves in and began to search. This collection of artwork, family heirlooms, sculptures, and historical finds could take days to sift through. The Crowzig family had always had a knack for the items that filled museums, and this was the prime example to that rumor. Ibrahm and Justen both used magical means to detect magic auras attempting to quickly spot anything from the ordinary. They were successful in finding a magic rock the size of a rough cobblestone. The other item they found was a golden scarab beetle, with strange markings on its back. Not content with what they were finding in the attic Pierre and Sanford decided maybe they should inspect the house. They knew lots of the family lived on the estate and to proceed with caution. They went slowly about the main body of the manor avoiding the east and west wings that were primarily the living areas. With ease they were able to navigate the house and managed to find their way into a large study. The walls were lined with all manner of books, scrolls, and expensive collectables. Everything kept neatly on hard wood shelves reaching up to the ceiling requiring ladders to access midway up the walls. It was in the shelf they found something amazing. Carefully hidden was a pair of hinges that would allow a section of the shelf to move, possibly open to a space behind. Sanford was able to bypass what he felt was a particular deadly trap without breaking a sweat. With the trap disabled the entire shelf silently swung open like a great barn door. There to reveal a large vault. “Does it ever end?” mumbled Sanford. It took him several minutes to fix this lock; during that time Pierre discovered another space under the desk that looked suspicious. He did not have time to get too involved with the new find when Sanford opened the vault. Pierre watched Sanford’s jaw drop before the shimmer of gold bounced from his reflection. “There is so much…” Sanford’s words hung waiting for Pierre to say anything, he did not. They both stood there for a moment staring at a pile of gold bricks tightly stacked inside the vault. “How much do you think it is?” Sanford said as his trembling hand reached out just to touch the mass fortune. The elf replied “Is it just gold? We cannot take it, not even a little.” “I know, didn’t think we would I just need to touch it a little, this is one of those dreams I have had before, just a little.” Pierre pointed to the area he discovered under the desk motioning that Sanford tackle that and stop drooling. He was able to find a small trap door that blended flawlessly in with the hard wood flooring; it was difficult to open with the coats of lacquer that sealed it shut. When it was opened there was a long flat metal box sitting between the floor boards looking up at them. Sanford felt confident there were no traps or alarms that would sound if the box was removed. However when Sanford reached in and pulled the box from its hiding place it became very hot very quickly. Smoke poured out from the lid as well as a small red flame whatever was inside was being burnt quickly. Pierre formed an opaque magic knife out of thin air and quickly pried open the box. Another flame jet shot up from the box striking him square in the chest throwing him back toward the gold filled open vault, he landed silently like a cat. Sanford was patting the contents with his cloak hoping to extinguish the growing flame. When the flames stopped not only was Sanford’s cloak ruined but so was whatever book this was. The book had the top half heavily burnt and damaged, inside was a language neither one of them had seen before. They pocketed the book and placed everything back the way it was before disturbing it, including the bars of gold. They carefully retreated back to the attic.

While they were waiting for the scouting team to return from the floors below the rest of the group continued to search the contents of the attic. It was slow going; everything was covered with drop clothes to keep the dust away. Just about anything one could imagine was located in the attic. A grand Piano, taxidermy brown bears, antiques, paintings, furniture, tools, and even trunks stuffed with clothing. They knew it would take days, maybe weeks to go through everything up here. Justen sat under the large hole looking at the saw dust and snow that had been there before they arrived. Unfortunately the repairs had already started and the damaged wood had been removed leaving him with no way to identify how the roof was opened. The hole was as wide as the black statue they encountered yesterday in the first group’s safe house, and the drop cloth next to it suggests the correct size. Justen gave a quite whistle to gather the remaining group pointing out the evidence he just discovered. “How do you think they got it out?” That was the question they pondered until the scouting party returned, it left them clueless.

The elf entered grasping at his charred ribs, he smelled of burnt meat. Justen quickly went to him offering his services as a follower of the god of magic. He did a few somatic gestures and pulled out the charm from inside his shirt when he touched the elves skin the burnt smell did not dissipate but his ribs reset and the flesh was healed. The elf gave an accepting nod and handed Justen the half book they recovered. He curiously opened it not knowing what to expect. It took him a minute to realize what he was looking at but when he did his face became alive with excitement. “Do you know what this is! It is an original book written in code by Crowzig! He always wrote in code out of fear of being sentenced as a witch or devil worshipper. If we can figure out if this book is one we have we can make a cypher! Excellent work, excellent indeed!” It may have been several things, the little noise they made opening the vault, quietly rummaging through the attic, or even Justen’s quite gitty little outburst, the fact was someone was downstairs looking around. Quickly they hid until the person below passed then decided that it was time to depart. Carefully leaving from the roof in which they came and back to their individual houses deciding to meet up midday.
The tavern they met at was full of college students getting their afternoon meal and drink. It was very hard to talk over the crowd but they managed. Justen had decided that they should ask a follower of Riula at the temple about the dead man’s riddle and everyone agreed that was a good idea. The party however was spilt between walking straight in and asking outright and making an elaborate scheme to get entry. This debate went on for some time all manner angels were covered. It was when Ibrahm said “How about someone stabs me in the thigh and I go get it bandaged.” Before anyone had time to agree or disagree the elf formed a shimmering opaque knife out of thin air and plunged it into Ibrahm’s thigh. Everyone paused including Ibrahm, he was also to end the group’s silence. “Am I bleeding? Is it deep? Alright let us get moving.” They all helped Ibrahm limp to the temple to receive services. The temple was a long two story structure with many rooms for any patients. There was a section of the temple for expecting mothers and new born children, one for the generally sick, another for the elderly that would be passing on soon, and in Ibrahm’s case an area for the injured. Immediately one of the sisters came to the limping man’s aid, “Oh that looks bad, let us get you stitched up quick.” Ibrahm went into the joining room where he got his stiches, no one in the group had thought past this point and did not know what to do. Another sister came into the entrance foyer where they all stood, “May I help you?” They had no immediate answer for her, the sister walked to the group with a lite smile on her face. Sanford was getting extremely uncomfortable with the black robed figure walking toward him; he noticed she looked like one of those flightless sea birds, a penguin; he chuckled thinking of her sitting on an egg. The sister’s smile perked up seeing Sanford’s chuckle, “What is so funny?” Sanford quickly replied, “Umm, we are here to look around.” Sanford saw from the corner of his eye the looks the group was giving him, they were not good. “I see “ her tone dropped from cheerful to monotone, “If you could spare any coin for our coffers it would be much appreciated.” Like clockwork everyone was reaching for their coin purses. In her monotone voice she started again “Thank you. This temple was constructed over one hundred and twenty years ago using all the new achievements in engineering of what is now known as the gothic style. It can be seen from the foyer, notice the high vaulted ceilings, arch, and dome. These were all new styles…” she continued on and began to walk away talking. Apparently the group had just paid for a tour of the temple’s architecture. They followed the sister and paid attention, expecting to have to answer questions at the end. It was midway through the tour in the funerary room Harren noticed the stone relief above the preparation area. “Though the body dies, the soul lives on, say farewell to this mortal life, and embrace an eternity of peace”. Harren jabbed at the elf’s side and pointed to the stone relief giving him a nod. “Excuse me, Sister what is that inscription from?” Harren was pointing at the stone relief. She took a second to collect her thoughts as if someone had shaken her awake from sleepwalking, everyone could tell this lady had done this tour too many times and was most likely daydreaming. “That is a prayer for the departed, it is the last goodbye. Any other questions?” Harren stepped up and began to converse with the sister about the particular architecture of the stairways making her lead the way. Sanford and Pierre stayed behind to investigate the stone relief. It was a large giant sheet of stone mortared into place well over their heads. They pulled a funerary table over to access it, they were still to short but they could reach the stone lip to remove it. Sanford quickly produced a pry bar which the elf gave an odd look at, Sanford quickly replied “You make magic knives, I carry a crowbar.” Pierre was content with that explanation and they began to work. Sanford was able to move out of the way from the falling stone sheet, luckily the elf was strong enough to catch it himself. Looking at the large sheet of stone the elf held they knew there was no replacing it to the wall. Sanford quickly lifted himself up so he could peek into the hole, he turned back wide eyed with a stupid grin on his face, “More gold bars!” They pulled out the ten gold bars, they were heavy each weighing at least thirty pounds, they also recovered a large sack of silver, and a white tube made of a brittle substance neither of them had seen before. They flagged Justen into the room to help carry out what they had found. Each of them had weighed themselves down with all they could possibly carry, exiting the room going the opposite way of the tour. They were able to leave the temple unnoticed and returned to the extra house. Meanwhile the dwarf had exhausted all the knowledge of stone work he could muster up, he was reciting things he heard his brothers talk about without knowing the technical aspects of them, he was getting very embarrassed having a human female outsmart him. The tour ended with just the two of them in the front foyer it began, she began asking what happened to the rest of the group angrily. Harren simply responded “They do not associate themselves with me because I am a dwarf.” He said thank you and left leaving her a silver coin for the tour. She began to retrace her steps for her wayward audience, Harren quickly retreated to his house.
Eventually Pierre went to get Harren after he had retrieved Ibrahm from his house. The items were already spread out across the table being inspected when the trio arrived. There was a large pile of ten unstamped gold bricks, flawless, crisp sharp corners with slightly angled bottom to top, the craftsmanship alone made them into a piece of art. There was the large heavy sack of silver pieces, they were Lusprian minted, roughly made, these were old coins. Lastly was the thin white tube, it felt like it was made out of thin glass, another object of master craftsmanship. This was the object of most attention, if held up to a bright light protective wards could be seen etched on the inside of the opaque glass. They seemed to be a collection of various magical protective wards, the combination of them together made no sense. It had two brass prongs on each end with a slight discoloration of blue, as if lightning had struck it. Luckily the tube was just the right size to fit into a scroll case Ibrahm forfeited to the group. No one had any idea on where to proceed, Justen got up and put his collection of heavy coats on turned to the group “I need a drink I will be right back.”
Justen walked the snowy roads looking at drinking establishments and the people that were exiting. After a good long walk he found what he was looking for, “The Stone Rose”. Older scholarly types were inside huddled around tables, smoking pipes or a cigar, sipping from glasses of what he assumed was expensive liquor. He entered the establishment, checked his coats, and secured a table near a group of gentlemen having an animated debate. It did not take long before Justen was knee deep in the debate and invited to the neighboring table. He was there until almost closing, he wished his new friends a goodnight and returned home. “Productivity” he thought, during the course of the numerous debates the cities news was talked about, Justen had plenty to tell the group, and they now had lots to do.
Sanford greeted him outside the establishment, “We have been taking turns watching you making sure everyone is safe.” Justen’s reply was “Well then who was watching you?” Sanford looked confused saying, “I did not think about that.” They were quite the rest of the walk to the safe house, listening to the distant ambient sounds that a city makes at this time of night, it was peaceful. The rest of the group had been waiting for him and any information he would bring. He told them of the several oddities that have happened in this city over the last couple of weeks. The fire at the Museum of Natural History, the prison break of some very deadly criminals and the orphanage abduction they are accused of, the search revealed they used the sewer to get out of the city, there was a large amount of missing people from the country side, and lastly that the temple of Riula is looking for a dwarf they believed defiled a piece of the temple. He gave this last bit of information in a snooty funny voice, the group then realized he had done a good job but he was completely drunk.

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Chapter 1

Chapter 1 {Tart Liquor}

It had been a long journey for Harren, Dwarves do not usually venture far from their homes and this was far even by human standards. He had traveled half a country away because of a note. Vague, brief, but a note with a sense of urgency, also it was signed by Sallot Mae. He found it odd this well-known scholar would request his audience with the instruction of complete secrecy, so he wasted no time to answer its call. Emphasizing that he had no time to waste was the human carriage driver that hand delivered the note waiting to assist him with his bags, it inflated his ego to hear this man end every statement with a “yes mister Silverhelm”. Besides he had never met anyone who actually met Sallot that within itself was interesting, and anyone who would pass up an all-expense paid trip for the opportunity to do so would be a fool. Keeping the requested secrecy Harren bid farewell to his father, mother, six brothers, and four sisters; never answering the question on where he was heading with the human carriage driver. He knew that people would begin to speculate, honestly he liked that idea, but the truthful answer was he did not know himself.
The trip North had been three weeks, Harren had grown tired of the snow covered roads and the dangerous drifts that toyed with his carriage, these were annoyances between stops where he was experiencing new things. Seeing much of the Lusparian landscape from his trip he was beginning to fall in love with the surface world. Things were so different out of the mountain, he found adjusting difficult; not out of a stubbornness and refusal but of being a tourist and naïve to new things which there were many. Sunrise breaking the cobalt blue just before dawn, intensified by the white blank canvas that had consumed the never-ending wheat fields, he made every effort to attend it daily waking like a farmer to a rooster’s call. Frozen rivers and lakes, covered bridges, windmills, farmhouses; these were all new sites that he could not get enough of; others called them scenic and plain but the new sights were captivating. Complementing the sights of the open road was a fresh cool breeze nipping at his round nose, a very new and wonderful experience not felt in the stuffy mountain halls of home. There were also things he didn’t like, mostly times when the flatness of the land made him uncomfortable, seeing no end to the plains one could feel as if the sun goddess herself was pulling them from the ground as night beseeched the land. His human carriage drivers felt the same way finding how disturbing the sunsets were on the open plains. That was another thing he was really beginning to enjoy, the human peoples. Sure there were diplomats in all the dwarven cities of Reuluephos, with servants, expensive clothing, impressive education, and overly polite manners, but they were not good specimens to their species. Poets, craftsmen, guards, homeless, each just as different to the next these were the real humans he liked to talk to. He of course had to judge his complete knowledge of humans from whom he met in his clan’s hall deep within the mountain, and more recently at his nightly stops at inns and taverns. It was here he first heard human music; quick plucked string instruments, flutes, harps, and drums. They did not sing the long drawn out low songs that dwarves are known for. These songs had a variety of rhythms, tempos, some had silly words, they most of all were upbeat. Their art was soft and beautiful, not painstakingly chiseled in stone, not all of it anyway; he took time to look at paintings, wood carvings, and tattoos whenever they stopped. He loved it all and wondered why dwarves were so… bland. Continuing with the testament of dwarven blandness was the food of his homeland, he was not sure if he would be able to look at dwarven food in the same way again, after what he was eating during his nightly stops. Dwarven food was good, hearty, and to the point but had little or no taste; boiled cabbage and meat, turnips and potatoes, no his eyes have now been opened. Spices, especially the ginger from Port Julia, rhubarb, all types of berries, fruits, honey braised beef, breaded chicken cutlets, meat pies, and fish, how could he return to boiled cabbage. Ale was the only complaint he had outside of his homeland, some brewers had tasty concoctions, honey mead, sunflower wine, corn whiskey, but nothing could compare to a good strong dwarven ale. If he had to pick the one thing that he missed from home it would be the ale.
His carriage had just past a sign post revealing that the town of Nulpent would be reached by afternoon, the proof that this long ride was soon to end comforted him. The destination they were set for was on the outskirts of the city, and was able to be reached without an unnecessary trip down the city’s streets. In the distance it could of past as a sleeping giant, but the large manor was almost lost in the naked plains that surrounded it, appearing much closer to the traveled road than it actually was. Enormous was the only word that could describe anything of this size. This manor the carriage pulled up to was the thing that impressed Harren the most, surpassing by far anything he had seen on this trip. A long driveway with tall shrubs on both sides led to the water-fountain centered in a pool that separated the drive into a circle. It’s bare chested maidens pouring now frozen water from the carafes they held; it looked frozen in time and frost. The manor itself was painted a greenish color the white shutters were lost under a thin coating of fresh snow, above the front entrance was an extended roof held up by pillars across the drive, creating a canopy for carriages to deposit their passengers without being accosted by the elements. The steep roof was taken over by snow, supporting varying lengths of dangling icicles, smoke plumed out of several chimneys, and the frost glazed windows mocked the cold with reflections of the flaming hearths within. The carriage pulled under the overhanging canopy that also housed a wide light green marble stairway with a dog carved from the same stone perched at both ends of the top stair. Seeing the giant brass dog head that held the door’s knocker he knew this place was very impressive.

Harren stretched before getting out of the carriage, and remembered what his father always told him about first impressions. He tucked his red shirt into his pants, tightened his belt, made sure his long brown braided beard was crumb free and quickly ran his finger across his teeth to clean them. Exiting the carriage he landed in a good size pile of snow covered mud thinking ‘so much for that’. The butler’s arm outstretched was waiting to take his cloak and hat as he opened the door. Harren Silverhelm had not even finished brushing the mud off his black boots when he noticed the old man. He knew Sallot was very old, but this tall man before him looked youthful. “Hello Mr. Silverhelm, I hope the accommodations were adequate.” He had a wide smile, his voice was calming and slow, he was very polite and welcoming. Even the way he presented himself was calming, comfortable clothes, house slippers, and silk handkerchief added to his quite peaceful demeanor.

Sallot would greet the other four guests he requested as they arrived in the same cheerful manner. The second of the remain guests was a quirky human; he opened the door while knocking entering with his face curiously peeking around the corner. “Umm hello sir, Mr. Mae? This is Ibrahm Falscorn you wrote me a letter.” He was not tall by human standards, but the bright garments he wore exaggerated his height while tricking the eyes to slender his width, adding to his false height was his bright yellow hat with a brown cord. All his intense clothing fell short to what he casually had perched on his shoulder, it was an orange fox, and this of course became the focus of everyone’s attention. He had a very serious look to him with the way he waxed the ends of his moustache and raised his brow the way someone seriously thought while agreeing with them. “I know what you’re thinking” he said in a direct no nonsense voice, “is the hat too much, does it really draw too much attention.”

The next guest to arrive was elven at least that is what Sallot said. There was one solid stern set of knocks from the brass knocker, the man that followed them stood upright and military. His tall black boots made no noise and he moved so gracefully one could suspect him to be a haunting specter. The tops of his elven ears looked to be sawed off leaving rough edges, his long brown hair did nothing to hide the obvious deformities, and this only complemented the variety of scars that covered his face and hands. Quietly he walked over and appeared to size up the group without saying a word. Sallot introduced him with “ah Mr. Pierre glad you could attend”. The elf gestured only with a nod.

The last two arrived at the same time. Sallot greeted them by name, though with the addressing mismatched them. Sanford was an above average looking human, a bit on the lite side, but the look of agility and youth about him. He had a big inviting smile that was caught and supported by dimples on both his cheeks all topped off with perfectly white and straight teeth. Dark long curly locks gently dangled to frame his baby face. Wearing expensive looking embroidered dark clothes, a few pieces of tasteful jewelry, and the back of his hair pulled back loose by a leather cord. He was the exclusive nightmare to every farmer that had a daughter, or inn keeper with a similar blight. Lastly there was Justen, another human, slightly over dressed for the weather. Taking off his second heavy coat a small charm of the god of magic slipped out from under his grey shirt which he casually placed back. His hair and beard were auburn, both kept short; his skin was the type of light that a person gets from not getting outside too often. He rubbed his hands together trying to get the warmth back, “So did I miss anything, sorry I am late.”

After Justen, the last of the expected to arrive entered the room, Sallot spoke to the group. “I am going to keep this brief; there will be plenty of time for you to mingle over dinner.” He quickly introduced his invited guests to one another as a good host should, there was small light hearted chit chat and handshakes then dinner was ready. In the dining room all were seated at a long mahogany table with hand carved matching chairs. There was a feast of wild turkey, sweet butter, greens, gravy, and a variety of custom dishes by a top chef fantastically displayed on the oversized table. As the wait staff began to serve the meal a butler entered the room and cleared his throat.

“Introducing Mr. Ritter”

The introduction called forth a short bald aged man, wearing very formal wear, and spectacles too big for his head. Everyone immediately knew that this was Sallot’s star pupil from decades past, now Sallot’s research partner. This man stood properly at the head of the table and waited for all to rise before he took his seat.

The meal was delicious, the desert was to die for, chocolate mousse, and the only complaint was the mood. Mr. Ritter completely had taken away any small talk, jokes, and welcomes from the table and replaced it with the over the top rigidness of strict foreign nobility. They could all tell that he was not native to Luspar, his accent was too thick. Ritter definitely had to be Rilycian by birth, most assuredly that was his native tongue. He struggled with certain words and his very nasally voice was not only funny to listen to added much confusion to what he was attempting to say. After the meal Sallot quickly ushered everyone out of the dining room, trying to regain the more laid back atmosphere he previously created. Passing through an impressive gallery with animal furs on the floor as carpets, paintings lining the walls and white marble statues from an age long ago they entered the master study. The study he led everyone into had two tables, a desk, shelves upon shelves of books, and what looked to be several other chairs that had been added to this room special for this event. One table had stacks of books upon it; the other was set like a desk with a cozy leather topped chair. Everyone noticed that Sallot checked the room they just exited, making sure no one had followed them to this side of the house, he then secured the door. After inviting everyone to sit comfortably he made his way to the desk in the center of the room, Ritter sat at the table that appeared as a make shift desk. Their host produced a bottle of Raspberry Liquor filling the set of small glasses that were waiting for the event and sat in the chair after passing them out to his company. He took a very tiny sip closed his eyes and brought his nose in close to enjoy the aroma. His moment of ultimate comfort was disrupted when he noticed that all but Justen and Ritter had taken their drink down in one large sip. Passing the wide straw bound bottle around again with the instruction to enjoy this, Sallot emphasized ‘in small sips to savor it’. When all the glasses where topped off again Sallot began with what seemed like a speech that he had practiced to include proper punctuation and pauses for dramatic effect.

“Gentlemen now to business. Has everyone heard of Glenester Crowzig?” Everyone nodded in recognition of the inventor and author most famous from predictions of the end of times through visions. “Of course you have. Well, this is hard to explain,” extending his hand in the direction of Mr. Ritter, “we are still confused by this so bear with the minor holes and possible inconsistency in the facts.” He took a deep breath as he looked over the people standing patiently before him followed by a tiny sip from his glass. “We believe that the army of Bannist invaded because they were looking for something. When they invaded their army was spread wider than it should have been. The reports of destruction, looting and murder are not what an invading army that plans to expand their boarders traditionally would do. This is where Ritter and I were brought in to verify the facts and advise on the tactics they may continue to employ. At first we thought the survivors were a few that got lucky, able to find a horse and outrun the pursuit. When wagons of women and little girls began to retreat without any wounds and not pursued we began interviewing every refugee taking notes on their accounts. Several things were consistent with each story, every man and boy was round up after the initial invasion and executed in the street. The only women that were harmed were the ones that tried to defend the males dragged into the street for execution. No major vandalism was occurring, the only buildings that were being burnt down were heavily defended and causing injury to the invading army. There were absolutely no women rapped.” There was another pause as he raised his glass for another tiny sip, the room was deadly quit as the speech paused on such an uncomfortable subject. With starting up again he extended his hand to Mr. Ritter to give him the credit. “That fact Mr. Ritter discovered and disturbed us both. The black army and the demons they control are not eunuchs, when they invade they leave their mark. No women were misused, abducted as slaves, eaten, or abused for entertainment, this was very unlike the demon backed army. Also the looting, originally as they pressed forward very little spoils of war or trophies were taken. For invading armies that is a right. Temples kept their golden idols, coffers remained untouched, the dead laid unmolested with their belongings. They only took two things with the advance, food and weapons. Continuing to venture into the strange was what they did with the weapons, cast them into the centers of ponds and lakes, down deep wells, or disposed of them quickly so they would not be used. For the food, they were traveling lite, eating off the land as they went. This we assumed was the reason for such a wide advance, with no line behind it for resupply. These were the facts Mr. Ritter and I have been trying to piece together. It is well known that the black army without warning or cause began babbling causing a break in their line, inability to communicate, and forcing a retreat. On the unorganized retreat they could not even communicate with each other and this is where whatever plans they had fell apart because of the complete change of behavior. They began to devour the kills they made, women were also getting slain, ransacking and looting keeping weapons and trophies for themself, the demons toyed with their victims providing hours of torture. The one consistent fact was the absence of rape.” Another pause for a small sip. “Through our own investigation and spies we discovered that whatever they are looking for is related to the works of Crowzig, and Bannist had sent spies looking for it. We had organized a group of specialists hand-picked mostly from the group that was assisting with the initial Bannist problem I was assigned to, and a few others that were highly recommended. We sent them to West Nulpent, the town Crowzig grew up over a century ago to find the spies and thwart any Bannist motivated plans. As of now we have not heard from the group in several weeks. This brings us to you.” Sallot gestured again to Ritter as to give him the floor to speak. The small bald man pushed his chair back and stood next to the table almost losing height with the switch of position. He proudly lifted his head and shoulders back like he was a general addressing his army, overdramatic as always. Ritter began again with his very nasally voice. “Master Sallot and I feel our organization may be compromised and employing an outside source would give us time to address that matter. We have selected each of you personally for your individual talent and ideals. We humbly request that you to check in with the first group, assist them, figure out what Bannist is searching for, and report back with any findings. Both my manor as well as Master Sallot’s is in Burgenbees. We are renting this manor to conceal your identities, so please use discretion. We are setting you up with three secure houses in the city of West Nulpent, and a collection of all Glenester Crowzig’s works. Exercise extreme caution with the Bannist spies, we don’t want to scare them off before we know what they are up to. Last of all see this; it is a picture of a red feather in a circle, my design. That image is from us, we, including yourself, are the only ones in the room that know of it. We will address each other in written form with this included, or to get you future assistance. Now if there are any questions.”

The serious discussion that followed was halted by Ibrahm. “I just want to point out that I was in the circus.”

There was an uncomfortable silence and stillness.

Ritter’s nasally voice broke the silence. “That is it! I told you this was a bad idea! These simple circus going peasants will fail and give the upper hand to Bannist. Why are you so sure about the circus monkey anyhow? And two demies, not to point the obvious out here but there are no demies in Luspar! How is a dwarf AND elf going to walk around without raising a brow! I can see sending in the linguist and pick pocket, I chose them for a reason. But the other three are set for failure.”

Sallot’s face grew red, losing any sign of the pleasant old man and generous host, he was transmutated from that caring jovial man into the teacher reprimanding a student. “That’s enough Gunther Ritter-Mitter”.

Gunther Ritter-Mitter’s facial expression changed from arrogance to embarrassment, he quickly attempted regaining his composure. Giving the announced circus performer an unwelcoming stare that all felt would extinguish the study’s hearth, Ritter’s only bitterly spat out word was “Welcome”. Moving quicker than anyone would have expected he burst through the door after fumbling with the lock and damaging the dramatic exit he was trying to achieve. Another moment of silence took over the room again, and hung in the air until a distant door slammed shut.

Disregarding his own instructions Sallot finished his small glass in one large gulp. “All the gods help me.” Refilling the small glass and passing the bottle around again. “You have been picked because you are good and failure is not an option. He means well but his arrogance often gets the better of him, it is a cultural barrier I am afraid. I must deal with this brat now, gentleman good day. Most of all good luck, please feel free to finish the bottle.” He had a difficult time standing on his own as if the reprimanding of his student drained him of the years he cleverly hidden from time. Shaking the hands of his guests and telling them what a pleasure it was to allow him the opportunity to meet them. Sallot exited the room following the trail of open doors the little Ritter left.

This left the five guests and half a bottle of tart liquor alone in the impressive study. “So the circus you say?” Justen asked reaching for the bottle. “Yes that is what I said. I never could settle on a stage name that fit well, Ibrahm just does not rhyme with anything, unfortunately there was already a Butano the Great, so I could not use ‘the great’, I mean how believable would it be having two ‘the greats’ under the same tent, no sir not for the few coppers we charged. I don’t care that he was my teacher and a better wizard, I am still aloud to be secretly jealous.” Sanford perked up, “I’ve seen Butano the great before! I knew I recognized you, you did the thing with the animals.” Sanford looked around the room with the look of being seriously impressed; “He can make a dog appear, walk on his back legs, while balancing a ball on his nose. And he has this spider that shoots these webs at things he throws up in the air. A ball, a hammer, an unlit lantern, that ladies baby! Phew, phew the spider is shooting that web and attaching all this stuff to the tent pole. Very good sir, very funny.” “It was a little person not a baby, I would never throw a baby, for my routine. Thank you.” The elf, dwarf, and Justen’s eyes all met with the unmistakable look of ‘really!’. Justen probed this fun little tidbit further throwing caution into the wind, “So you are a magic user, conjurer possibly?” “That would be correct sir, student to none other than the Butano the Great previously mentioned. I can however do more than summon puppies and bugs. On the open road we must all protect the caravan from highway men, I have been known to do some damage.” Ibrahm twisted the end of his waxed mustache between his forefinger and thumb, and his perched fox stared wild eyed at Justen as if it too was answering the question. Content with that answer Justen spoke, “Alright this is a good idea, let us get to know each other a little before we leave, I am officially curious. We should all just say what we are good with, and let us leave any stories involving throwing little people around for another time. Again my name is Justen, more or less a linguist, well studied in many areas, bit of a book worm, follower of Magicta, also refined in the art of the arcane. What is your story?” Pointing to the very quit elf. Before answering his elven eyes looked over the small audience, everyone could tell he was put on the spot and trying to search for the words. “Well I am not pretty” he reached up and flicked his left deformed ear. “I am a veteran, to you humans I am a ‘tricky elven bastard’, I fought in the land wars between Luspar and Saelaedeu over a century and a half ago.” Flicking his left ear again, “Got myself captured and was subject to human hospitality. Good with those tricky elven tactics.” Pierre left it open and uncomfortable, no one wanting to probe his background further, disappointingly he did not explain why he had a human Lusparish name. Harren took the floor since he was sitting to Pierre’s left and the elf did not make any gesture for the next person to go. “Harren Silverhelm of Bear Hallow, my father is the judge for the city. I am a practiced lawbringer, and diplomat. Do not let the name lawbringer fool you, we are the strong-arm of the dwarven law. As any dwarf worth his weight I know how to use an axe and a shield. I am a strong believer of truth and justice.” He felt the last words ‘truth and justice’ would impress the group, he was completely wrong, they reached no reaction from anyone. Slightly displeased he pointed to the boy faced slender human. Sanford nodded with his dimpled smile as someone embarrassed usually does when they have to talk about themselves. “OK, my name is Sanford, I grew up in Burgenbees, I am good at talking to people, sometimes. Umm, I guess I am good at information gathering.” Justen interrupted, “And you are a pickpocket, according to Ritter.” Sanford’s big dimple smile faded to a sad face, he did not ‘want’ to be known as a pickpocket, but a man needs to eat. They waited the moment for his reply, “How can I answer that, yes I am a street person. I do not wish any of you to think ill of me please. I am here for a reason, it may not be the most admirable reason but it got me here. Trust me I am useful in my own way. I am a street person with some reputation, enough to be scouted to get here anyway.” Everyone seemed content with that answer, and Justen nodded with acceptance. After they had finished the bottle and had a few laughs, the carriages were ready to start their trip. They left after sunset and rode through the night

View
Orcs and Princesses: Prelude to war and Bannistii interference.
Where we are surprizingly efficient.

Treasure:
Common items:
(to be clarified; 7 spear scouts, 3 Black Guards)

Magic Items:

  • +1 Full Plate x 3 (Exotic manufacture)
  • +1 Spear x 3
View
The pursuit; Fall of Lusparish settlements.

Outwardly Aran was paying attention to Zeth as he, the undead and Cullan spoke with him throughout the night. Inwardly, he was fuming. “I’m sleeping over there” Soleena had declared five hours earlier, for no other reason than him saying “We can fix your face!” a few hours prior to that in the heat of an argument. He shook his head. Women. “I’m sorry” asked Zeth “Do you disagree?”. “Don’t worry about him” cut in Cullan genially. “He’s put out his girlfriend made him sleep on the couch, so to speak.” Aran rolled his eyes at that. “Whatever.” “What do you mean whatever. She did! I mean she’s not in this building, is she?” prodded the ranger, grinning up to his ears. “I mean, whatever, I’ll figure something out later. That stolen vampire is a bigger concern. Besides, you told me to let her be right? So, I’m going to let her be.” Zeth, looking somewhat confused as his remaining features indicated, cleared his throat and said in an older form of elven: “Yes, and I cannot stress how much we’d like you to bring him back alive, so to speak.” Cullan looked back at the community’s leader. “Well, I’ll try, but I certainly cannot promise that. If he’s out of his coffin, we might have to rough him up, and who knows how that will end. More outrageous things have been known to happen” he added, looking intently at Spigit’s sleeping form. “Do you know where that vampire was from prior to the event? Where he lived while he was alive?” asked Aranethon. Zeth paused for a few seconds, scratching at his scalp causing a fine rain of dandruff to fall onto the table they three where seated at. “You know, I’m not sure… Things were pretty chaotic back then… But I do believe he was from somewhere out east… somewhere along the east coast.” An inhuman howl interrupted his musings, reverberating against the stone walls. Zeth apologized “I’m sorry for that, and for the lack of windows, but many of our old friends are liable to attempt to do something should they see you in the flesh.” Both elves nodded, and the conversation soon resumed.
Morning came, and the rising sun found the group saddling up horses provided by the grateful undead. Aran came whistling back towards the group a shit eating grin on his face. Behind him, a spindly looking undead walked towards a rose bush and started picking some of the flowers. “What’s that for ?” inquired Isaac. “Oh nothing. But I think I’ve just taken care of one problem.” The summoner shrugged. Youthful elves : The pinnacle of weirdness.

A few days later, Cullan brought the party to a halt near a ruined township. The tracks they had been following not only went one way, they came back another. Towards the outskirts of the township to be precise, in the direction of what looked to be the remnants of a fancy house of some sort. Aran took out his spyglass and started to count under his breath. “There are more of those undead people in there. What in the abyss are they doing?” Cullan dismounted with a grunt. “I guess I’ll go check it out. You guys stay here. Aran, you might as well put that red armor on.” He slowly moved forward, gently creeping towards the edge of the ruins. Inside, undead right and left were moving stones, quarrying blocks, digging and otherwise tending to the ruins. Were they repairing the building? Cullan frowned as he stealthily looked around to see if anyone was in charge of this motley gang. Seconds later, he spotted him. A gaunt undead man, wearing some sort of breastplate. The ranger snickered under his breath. “I got you now Yut-Reh.”
Minutes later, Cullan was running away breathlessly, a group of the undead led by Yut-Reh right behind him. “GUYS! I NEED A HAND NOW!” he yelled as the rest of the party finally appeared over the tip of the small hill that lay between the road and the old villa. Spigit stopped short and his hand started to glow red-hot. “SPIGIT! DON’T BLAST THE…” Too late, as a fist-sized ball of flames flew in the direction of the undead villagers forcibly following the cleric’s commands. “… Villagers… SPIGIT!” The path was cleared nonetheless as Aran ran up along with Anima towards the cleric. Swiftly, he channeled his God’s unholy power sending a crackling wave of negative energy to wash over both charging warriors. But that didn’t slow Anima down nearly enough. “You’re going to make crunching sounds now mortal.” he stated tonelessly as he slammed his fists into the cleric. By the time Aran got to the fight it was already over, as the Eidolon cleaned his mighty fists on the dead man’s clothing.

The town of Deerborn was deserted by the time they got there a week later. Cullan fumed and grit his teeth. The orc tracks had led them towards this town. They had been clever, avoiding the various military outposts. But then, at some point in their travels, they decided to open the coffin. And judging by the blood puddles and the orcish corpse they had found along they way, that had not gone well for the orcs at all. By now those that weren’t vampires themselves were thralls to the undead lord. Their opponent was powerful, as evidenced by the devastation that surrounded them presently. What wasn’t spattered in blood was ruined, what wasn’t ruined was broken, and whatever was left was smoldering, when it wasn’t actively still burning. If only they had a clue as to where the vampire was going to go next… But the undead villagers freed from Yut-Reh’s thrall had not known a word of elven. It had taken spells and Spigit making a fool of himself pantomiming their questions to find out that they had traded the coffin a few days ago. Between that and Aran’s lack of manners when he started tossing the cleric’s possessions aside before realizing his mistake and asking them to take it to some guy back in Ceranis, the exchange was while not tense, distinctly awkward. All they had to show for that, apart from Yut-Reh’s possessions was a stupid statue and some notes the cleric had scribbled down on paper prior to his final death. “Guys… We’re going to need to take care of these people. I don’t think anyone wants them to come back as additional vampires.” The group nodded and soon, they were busy staking corpses in the heart as Aran went around and decapitated them. Suddentely Cullan found something. Cowering beneath a porch, a very young dog hid. A sign ornamented with flowers drawn with a child’s enthusiasm proudly named it Buster. Cautiously moving forward, while keeping his flank to the animal, Cullan pulled some stringy pieces of tough jerky making soft sounds as he put it down gently by the dog. Warily, it came out, wagging it’s tail in warning. Slowly reaching for it’s dish, Cullan poured some water as well and proffered it gently towards the emaciated dog. Then, out of the blue, Spigit exclaimed loudly “HEY! I think I can speak to it!”
Later on that day they rode off, the dog resting down on Cullan’s horse, leaving what was left of Deerborn behind. They had to catch up with the vampires, especially since it was found that they had left with a couple of the vegetable wagons present in the town. Quickly, they galloped towards the East.

Tucker’s place was a smoldering ruin by the time they arrived there. The tracks had split in all directions right after the still intact military city of Medford and they had been at a loss as to where to go. When all was said and done though, they had failed to stop the vampire and his orcs. Not that that was a big deal; Tucker’s place had been the source of many problems for our intrepid adventurers. But now the tracks split again. One set of wheels kept going east on the main road. The other… “No, we are NOT letting them get to Mark’s town. They are not touching my house, or anything near my house, or even anything near what is near my house. Shut up Aran, we won’t be able to help Old Rutherford and that’s just going to be too bad, because between saving my house and saving the town where that woman got turned into a bass, I’m going for my house. You know my house right? After all YOU KEEP SQUATTING IN IT! So we are going towards Mark’s Town and barbecuing these asshole orcs before they get me really upset and I start blowing shit up. AM I CLEAR HERE?!?!?” Aran blinked, his jaw agape as Spigit finished his tirade. After a few seconds of awkward silence Cullan cleared his throat and added “He has a point. We have to make a choice and regardless of what we choose someone’s going to get hurt. If you have people you know down there, we might as well save them. Maybe we’ll make good time and intercept them at Wellington before it is too late.” Dejected, Aran nodded and they set off towards Mark’s town.

Fort Worth Loomed ahead and Aran was going over the events of the past few days. After killing the orcish warriors and staking the vampires to the ground before waiting for the rising sun to finish them, they had made their way to Mark’s Town, where while Spigit scryed for the Duke, the rest of them had explained the situation to Doug Bradley, who took the necessary precautions. From what they gathered afterward, Spigit had not quite been able to fully convey the specifics to the Duke, but from what they could see coming into town, that had been enough. Guards where everywhere, alert and asking people what their business in town was. But the alert had not been enough to save Wellington, which now stood an empty, abandoned town. The group had personally dispatched its last residents freeing them of their vampiric curse but forfeiting their lives. “See? I told ya I got the message across alright! You guys, always doubting the gnome… I tell ya.”
“What the fuck is a vampire?” Allister Karadyn, Duke of Fort Worth had just spent the last few days fervently searching through his extensive library to find some clue as to what the gnome meant by “Vampire”. Orcs he understood, and the guard were on the lookout for the thrice-damned greenskins. But vampires remained an enigma which has plagued his sleep for the past few days. So when they strode on in, with the gnome trotting ahead with a smug grin on his face, he stood up, and without even greeting them asked the child that very question. And now, for some reason, the elf, the half-breed with the red armor and the old Rilycian man were snickering while the bearded child looked like he was on the verge of tears. “But, … I thought… I though you understood me…” At a loss for words, Duke Karadyn moaned “Please don’t tell me you’re going to cry…” “NO! I’M NOT CRYING! YOU’RE JUST A STUPID PERSON!” At that point Cullan stepped forward and explained calmly “A vampire is an undead creature who drains its victims of their blood to sustain itself. By doing so, it creates more of it’s kind spreading it’s blight to it’s victims. Its extremely dangerous, but it is susceptible to sunlight. As in, it will burn when exposed to the sun’s light. It’s repulsed by garlic, and cannot enter someone’s home without being invited in. When they sleep during the day, they look for their coffins, as the do when they are destroyed in combat. A stake through the heart will paralyze them as long as it’s in it, but to kill it without sunlight, you need to cut off its head, and some say stuff it with garlic.” Duke Karadyn nodded as he took in the information. “I see… Why didn’t you tell me that before?” “YOU SHUT UP!”

Nothing. Two hours had passed since they ended their meeting with Duke Karradyn, during which the overwhelmed nobleman had agreed to assemble the town guard so that they could all pool in information and prepare for the combined orcish and vampiric assault. In that time, they had scanned the city using Isaac’s ability to summon creatures from beyond the material plane. Sure they had gotten a suspiciously evil echo from the seamstress’s shop, and a far greater evil emanated from the house of some wicker man with a cold. But neither of them seemed to have anything to do with their vampire. The seamstress, insulted by the group’s request to search her shop, did not seem to be a threat. And the wicker man, a elderly gentleman by the name of Lindon Blair, seemed all too convincingly sick to be a vampire, which hadn’t stopped Spigit from getting the guard to lock him away. “I don’t understand it” snapped Isaac irritably. “Something as powerful and undeniably evil as that vampire should appear instantly under the gaze of my lantern archons.” “Uhm, Isaac… I think people are mistaking them for the orbs. That woman just dropped her laundry in the middle of the street” Cullan softly pointed out. “You sure she wasn’t in a hurry … like her roast was on fire or something?” asked Aran, while a bored Spigit looked at the display of a nearby material’s shop, muttering to himself “I’ll need this, and that… How about that too? Not that, that’s just stupid, but that and this would be great.” Cullan looked at Aran funny and stated, emphatically “No… I don’t think so. What are you, stupid?” Aran shrugged irritably. “No, I just… Never mind, it’s not worth the explanation. So, we know the damn thing is in the city, but it’s hidden somewhere we can’t detect it. Maybe a boat docked further away along the docks?”
-No, that would be too clumsy. Besides Buster hasn’t smelled anything like a vampire by the docks.
-Well then where in the nine levels of Hell is this creature? It’s not outside the city walls, it’s not inside. It can’t be under … can … it…"
Cullan and Aran looked at each other, comprehension dawning in each others’ eyes. “THE SEWERS!”

“… their methods have sometimes been .. well.. let’s just say completely original … and sometimes … with more collateral damage than expected, but these guys have definitely helped this city out. And I feel that both your help Professor and with your guidance Father Rafael, we could deal with this latest problem in a manner that is …”
“YO KARADYN! YOU HAVE ANY OLD SEWER MAPS?” hollered a ferociously grinning Spigit as he entered the room, followed by the mortified party. "Ahem … It’s … good that you stopped by. Beforehand I would like to introduce two recently arrived citizens that have volunteered their help with the … “vampire” problem, whatever that creature is…"
-Yeahyeahyeah, but seriously though do you have any old structural maps, from before the disappearance?
-Ahem. Duke Karadyn has told me a little about your group and your current predicament. I am Rafael (I know there’s a last name, need Rei to create an account and join so I can fix this), a humble cleric of the morning flower, may His light guide you.
-I’m pleased to meet you, father Rafael. I’m Aranethon, but you can call me Ara…
-That’s really cool, but yeah we need old maps and shit, so where can we find those?
-Spigit, berated Cullan, could you knock it off for a couple seconds?
-What? I’m just trying to deal with this. You already know what my solution to the problem is.
-So yes, we could really benefit from the wisdom of a man of the cloth…
-Anima and I agree with you Aran.
-Now that wasn’t creepy at all…
-What? Why is that Cullan?
-Nothing, nothing at all. I can’t wait till he tells us what he thinks after materializing from sewage.
-He doesn’t materialize. If you knew anything about the arcane you would know that unlike most summoned creatures, he manifests.
-HEY!
The last voice was that of Duke Karadyn, whose facial expression oscillated between amazement, consternation and horror. "So, to answer your question YES we should have some layout of the sewers somewhere in the archive. But since the Rilycians were in charge of filing all documents, good luck finding it, because we’re still sorting through all the bogus property claims. I can have a clerk accompany you and take you there, but that’s about it. Also, this patient gentleman here is Professor… I’m sorry I’m terrible with names?
-Huh? Oh dude, don’t worry, I’m terrible with names too Chancellor Palestine! replied the elderly gentleman in slow, drawn out tones, a silly grin on his face.
A long awkward silence followed. “Right” finally said the duke. “So if you wouldn’t mind leaving my office for now, I’m trying to get things organized for your presentation to the town guard at noon.”
Moments later they all walked out, with Spigit concluding “Well, that went pretty smooth.”

(to be continued)

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Welcome to the Cernanis retirement community for the Undead.
Or why a periapt of wisdom is in Soleena's near future.

In the wake of the fires that destroyed the mob’s boat as well as some structures inside the city, cleaning up the remainder of the Rilycian mob was almost easy, though Isaac to himself as he sipped on a fine wine provided to him at no charge by the Duke on behalf of the gracious town of Fort Worth. Between this and the profits he and Cullan had made over the past few days, his mood was indeed mellow. In that period of time, Spigit was busy learning new spells and crafting more magical implements, when he wasn’t adding on to those already in their possession. And Aranethon… Well, Isaac thought it was amusingly naive and cute, the way he watched over the girl Soleena in tandem with the nurse Cullan had graciously hired. Of course Isaac had had to ask who that girl was, to be worth such trouble. The explanation on how she came to bear the horrible disfigurement that divided her face made him wince, and although he understood the reasons, he still found it somewhat of a waste of time. The girl was in a coma, and although her bones and limbs had been reset properly by Ba’ob sometime after they had slit the postmaster’s throat and crushed his jeweler friend’s body, the prognosis wasn’t looking all that well. In the meantime that had tried to find ways to spend the vast sums of copper they had “liberated” from the Rilycians, both in the House where the clerk and his man at arms friend had been hiding and the shops of the last two. The treasure they had amassed was considerable, but bulky, with a very large part of it a small cartload of copper coins. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Aran coming in from outside, wiping sweat off his face after having trained with his blades like a man possessed. And almost simultaneously, the nurse came running down from the room where her patient was resting, as a high-pitched scream echoed throughout the inn. Isaac chuckled and shouted after Aran, who was leaping up the stairs “I believe that’s your lady friend waking up!”

A few weeks later, in Spigit’s cellar lab, Aran was munching on some local raspberries straight from the garden the locals had created in the gnome’s back yard while Spigit himself was busying himself with another magical experiment. “So, according to what I’ve read” mumbled the gnome to Aranethon while "these gorgon horns contain power. The same way a tree will record data on it’s living conditions in the rings found on it’s stump once cut, the gorgon’s horns record how healthy the animal was, was strong it was, how old it was and so forth. But beyond that it will retain a “memory” of the animal’s abilities; it’s thick stony skin, it’s great strength, and so on. Now using my superior abilities and mastery of all things arcane, I can bring forth these abilities and “give” them to someone. But that would only last a short period of time as your body purged the power given away, the same way you purge yourself of sickness, fluids and poop. But, this power can also be given to an item, which will keep it “stable”. So I grind the horn up and free the power it contains and imbue it to … this" he said as he produced a masterly crafted belt and set it on his workbench. He then set to slowly sprinkle the ground horns onto the belt, where arcane energies crackled and the belt started to slowly brighten in color. Some other ointments, chants and applications of rare ingredients and it was done. Aran nodded thoughtfully. “Thanks Spig, but I originally asked you about what you were thinking about Soleena.”
“Her? I wouldn’t do her. Seriously, she looks like she’d bite your penis off dude. So you want one of these or what? ‘Cause it’s gonna take a while for the oils to set and the dust to diffuse it’s powers fully.”
Aran waved irritably. “No not that. I mean the fact she wants to go West. And yes, but I already explained that I already have a belt that toughens me, so I would need you to add the horn’s strengthening abilities onto that.”
Oblivious to his friend’s irritation Spigit rubbed his beard and nodded thoughtfully. " I could do that but I’d need to get a purer omnia salvea lotion. And more of that camphor. The good one. Going to be more difficult and more expensive. Maybe not right now, since we’re going to help your girlfriend go satisfy her urges out West. Good thing I kinda sorta like her because if anyone else would tell me they’re hearing voices calling them westward I’d wish them good luck and to get the hell away from me." He took his eyes off his work and said flatly "I think it’s crazy, but hey, who knows. Maybe we’ll benefit from this. Or at least I will. But this is definitely crazy-talk, on the same level as saying “I hear voices in my head”. Could you grab me that hardening solution over there?"

Wind. Cold, freezing cold. Worming it’s way through every bone in the body, yet … not as chilling as it should be. The blizzard seems to calm down as the landscape takes shape before bewildered eyes in an eerie quiet. Rough hills in the distance give way to mighty mountains, jagged and torn in immaculate white. It’s there. Watching. Observing. Taking note of every detail, every physical feature. It watches. It waits. It beckons. Suddenly, a primal roar shatters the silence, rolling off of the mountains ferociously. He responds to that challenge with a roar of his own… But as the claws enclose his fingertips and his face elongates to accommodate the increasing number of lethal teeth, he realizes…
That’s not quite his voice anymore.
Aranethon woke up with a cold sweat, and immediately noticed the scattered bedclothes all over the guest room on Spigit’s second floor. Bringing up his hands to look upon them his fears were confirmed. Claws had grown on them. He felt his face. Elongated. Too many teeth. Too many sharp canines. What was going on? Was it lycanthropy? Bo’ab hadn’t seemed to think so. And he did not look furry. Nor was it the full moon for that matter. Or was it? He leapt out of bed, but instead of going to the window to the west, he barged out of the guest room and threw open the window giving onto the north. There it was. Out in the distance. The mountains. The mountains from the dream. Was that what Soleena said when she said she felt a call from the West? What was going on here? He slowly felt this claws “relax” and sheathe themselves in, as did his jaw, and his face. The north. Something was up there. Waiting. Waiting for him.

A scant week later Cullan muttered to himself “What in the five evils have I gotten myself into now?” as undead farmers waved their pitchforks at them. The journey had been pleasant enough. Earlier today they had come across a beautifully decorated, sturdy fence. Roses delicately wove their way around the wooden slabs as they climbed across it. The skulls perched atop each sturdily planted vertical slab gave the entire thing an awkward look, but nevertheless very … artistic. Then they had found the farmer. When Cullan had snuck up on him and noticed he wasn’t breathing as he plowed his field, the elf knew something wasn’t right. And now this. “I guess we should follow them?” said Isaac hesitantly. Both Cullan and Aran nodded as Spigit tried yet another language. “DOOO YOUUUU UNDEEERSTAAAAAAAAAND MEEEE???” he shrieked in the goblin tongue as they were slowly lead towards a spectacular-looking fortified village.

Spigit didn’t quite know what was going on. And now he was getting very frustrated with the lack of communication he was getting across to these undead people. Frustration was both a new and unwelcome sentiment in the gnome, as the man who identified himself as Zeth spoke to his people. Soleena was somewhat separated from the rest of the group by a couple undead, in spite of Aran’s efforts not to be. Besides him Cullan suddenly tensed as the word Myiode was spoken, and taken up as a chant by the assembly. “Hey guys ?!?!? Aran? What’s a Myiode?” asked a nervous Soleena. Another undead, dressed in elaborate robes, stood by Soleena as he spoke to the crowd, interrupting the chanting. The crowd nodded to themselves each other in approval and slowly began to disperse, acting like normal people would. Except undead. And some rotting. “I’m sorry” said Zeth, addressing the group in elven again “but we really need to talk.”

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I have this sinking feeling Soleena is here

Walking back into the city was an easy enough task. By dusk the city guard looked thoroughly pooped, in spite of their increased vigilance. “Do you have anything to declare?” “No.” Spigit peeked out from his hiding spot inside the backpack he was sharing with various pieces of equipment. Soon the gate was out of sight and they made their way quietly towards Main street. Hopefully they would be able to find a demi-human merchant before closing time, which was fast approaching. Cullan pointed ahead at what seemed to be an herbal remedies shop. Pulling the shutters of the establishment closed was an older elf who seemed weary as the group approached him so late in the evening. “Can I help you?” he asked in Lusparish. Cullan nodded, replying in Elven “Yes, our friend here has a little bit of a … skin problem?”

As the herbalist ground the herbs into a fine paste he grunted “I can’t really help you out you know. I mean, I really appreciate what you’re doing, Winds be my witness, but I have a family; I can’t risk their safety like that. But I do know a guy who could help you out.” He stepped back from the mortar and said “Cullan, would you mind finishing the preparation? Then your friend can apply it to his dermis. I need to write a note.” “Sure thing Ba’ob” acquiesced Cullan as he took the pestle and started grinding. A “Hey stop scratching yourself!” emanated from the front of the store with Spigit’s voice, followed by a sigh that distinctly sounded like Aranethon’s voice. Ba’ob quickly returned with a folded piece of paper which he gave to the ranger. “Give this to my friend Kalanth. He will be at home at this hour, but I will give you the address. But please be discreet, I do not want something to befall him or his kin.”
Cullan nodded solemnly. “Of course, we will make sure we’re inconspicuous. Right Aran? We will be inconspicuous?” Another sigh replied “Yes…”

Ward Mill was doing his best to remain calm, but beneath the surface, he was quaking with fear and anxiety. He needed to leave Fort Worth tonight, but with the amount of work he needed to do, things were looking grim. Another assistant dropped another stack of paperwork on the crate he was using as a makeshift desk and Mill groaned inwardly. Suddenly, he spotted something out of the corner of his eye, something which sent his thudding heart into a frenzy. Three figures, one old Rilycian, and two elves. He was done for. They approached him nonchalantly. Mill’s eyes searched frantically for an escape. But too late. They were right besides him. The one with scabs stepped forward and asked “Ward Mill?” Mill nodded in silence, a bead of cold sweat running down his spine. “We were told to give this to you.” The elf offered him a piece of paper. Steeling himself, he took the paper in a trembling hand. As he read it’s contents, the shaking stopped, as Ward Mill started feeling ecstatic. “Perhaps we could have a word?” the elf-man continued. Mill nodded “Oh yeah, sure, sure I know just the place. Follow me.”
Two hours later, the group was sneaking away from the inferno that had suddenly enveloped one of the ships docked in the bay and one of the houses by it. In an alley near the house block they spent some time watching carefully, they paused to make their final preparations and discuss the last few elements of the upcoming fight they knew was coming. This time, the Rilycians were in for a surprise.

Soleena. Aran’s eyes could not believe what they beheld. Tied to a rack, what was left of her lay still, the steady rise and fall of her chest the only indication that she was still alive. Hung above her, the letter he had sent to her asking her to stay put. A floor up, Spigit was rifling through the armored trip-master’s charred remains for valuables. Aran walked up slowly touching her only remaining ear, kept intact throughout this all. The postmaster was going to pay. Dearly. Behind him, Cullan cleared his throat, emphasizing it to be heard over Spigit’s droning “That’s crap, crap, more crap, oh that might be worth something, more crap,…”
Looking back at the Ranger, Aran grit his teeth and rubbed his eyelids, hoping that the gesture would somehow take away some of the overwhelming anger he felt. "So… " asked Cullan “What do we do now?”

OOC: Treasure hoard found in the house.

Cash:

  • 30 pp
  • 1110 gp
  • 3400 sp
  • 17000 cp

Artwork

  • Rose wood medallion set with rose quartz (500gp)
  • Leather belt w/ peridot (300gp)
  • Fox fur longsword scabbard (800gp)

Magic items

  • +1 Shortspear (2301gp)
  • Bracers of Armor +1 (1000gp)
  • +1 Full Plate Armor (2650gp)
  • Broach of Shielding (60/101 charges remaining)

Magic Consumables

  • Scroll: Protection from Chaos/Evil/Good/Law
  • Scroll: Summon Monster IV
  • Scroll: Resilient Sphere
  • Scroll: Greater Invisibility
  • Scroll: Cure Light Wounds x 4
  • Potion: Cure Light Wounds x 5
  • Potion: Hide from Undead
  • Potion: Remove Paralysis

Mundane – Weapons

  • MW Falchion (375gp)
  • MW Greataxe (320gp)
  • MW Heavy Crossbow (350gp)
  • MW Dagger (302gp)

Mundane – Other

  • Climbers Kit
  • MW Artisan Tools
  • Vial of Drow Poison (1 dose)
  • Vial of Acid x 6
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Fort Worth: New allies, deaths in the party and a lot of running.
Apologies, some of this is ad-libbed.

Aran popped open the stopper of the flask offered by Slyvanna and chugged it down. He passed it back to the alchemist while trying to keep the contents of that potion down. “All gods dead and alive, what is in that potion?” She took a coy, mysterious air while replying in a serious tone that did not mesh with her demeanor “You do not want to know, hahahahaha…” Aran looked up at Cullan, who shrugged helplessly. Evidently knowing what was going through her mind was a task for better men than they. Loading weapons and blades into their various bags, they waited out of sight of the main road for their metamorphosis to be complete. Aran took the opportunity to look at their newest ally. Rilycian, like their opponents, the fellow was tall and stout, with a balding crown of white hair that possibly made him look even older than he actually was. He called himself Isaac, and before this morning, he had been working for the Rilycians as an expert in all things magical, or so he said. After summoning some sort of elemental beast to kill some low ranking mobsters accompanying him, he offered to help them, if they helped him take care of “renegotiating his contract” with the Rilycian mob. Aran shuddered at the thought of what that could possibly mean, and he hoped that it wasn’t the grizzly murder he was imagining. Barely a minute later, they all looked human (or dwarfish, in Spigit’s case, a fact that did not amuse the teenage gnome) and made their way towards the gate, where a bored looking guardsman stood in the descending rays of the sun. “Got anything to declare?” Isaac, Cullan and Spigit all muttered variations of “No.”. Aran, disguised as an overweight merchant of a certain age, grumbled a “Nope.” Slyvanna, right behind him, came up to the guard and sighed dramatically. “Unfortunately no.” She (or he as it were) then opened her quiver and shook it before the guard’s eyes. “Used all of them up out there.” Aran’s heart sank a little when the guard, roused out of his lethargy by an empty quiver inches away from his face went “Huh? You are one lousy hunt… Wait… What were you shooting at that you couldn’t get your arrows back?” “Uuuuuhh…” The guard nodded towards his companions, who stopped their game of cards to look on at the situation. “Well? Why didn’t you go pick up your arrows?” “Well, they were … dirty…?” “What’s going on here?” the guardsman asked them all, as Isaac inched towards a shadowed alleyway. “We don’t know this guy” exclaimed Spigit in a surprisingly gruff voice, as Cullan joined in: “Yeah, we just met him on the road and figured we were going to the same place, might as well travel as a group.” Turning back towards Slyvanna, the guard asked again “Ok, so what are you hiding tough guy?” The elven maiden stuttered for a couple moments, but Cullan noticed the hand sneaking up towards her backpack. Grabbing her (him) by the throat, Cullan roared “WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” At that point, the other guards came in to help their companion, just as Aran and Spigit quietly moved on from the gate, soon followed by Isaac and Cullan. Slyvanna only had a brief moment to look towards her companions and see that they were running away, before she was seized by the city guard.

Finding a boat that could outpace their target had not been as hard as it could have been. In that regard they were lucky, thought Aran. But now they were probably going to have to sink the entire ship, a thought which disturbed him considerably as he looked at it through his newly acquired spyglass. The captain of the Siren, as the ship they were pursuing was called, kept looking warily in their direction. Perched on a barrel of water, Spigit could be seen gauging the distance between the ships as their prey tried to outpace them. Finally, the gnome’s face lit up with a voracious grin as he muttered an incantation under his breath. All of a sudden the Siren was engulfed in a roiling ball of fire, as Spigit concluded in an all too cheerful voice “BOOM, bitches!” Aran turned towards his other two companions to gauge their reaction. Cullan seemed focused on their target, and the summoner seemed altogether unconcerned with any of the events unfolding. Shaking his head at the surreality of the situation, Aran focused back on the other ship’s deck, as Spigit started to incant another fireball. He frowned. The crew was clearly doing badly, having absorbed the blast of the spell, as was the ship itself, with it’s sails catching fire. But where was the captain of that ship?
Minutes later, they boarded the slowly burning Siren, looking for any survivors, and specifically that damned message due out towards the mainland and Rilycia. Cullan moved towards the main cabin’s door, only to find it barricaded from within? “WHAT DO YOU WANT? LEAVE US ALONE!” yelled a frightened sailor from within. Isaac approached and commented : “I could have Anima bust down that door.” Aranethon walked on by towards the upper deck as Spigit added his voice to the discussion “Tell them that if they don’t come on out with bags over their heads, we’re going to blast open that door and burn them alive.” “HEY, WE CAN HEAR THAT! DON’T BURN US GOOD SIR! LET US GO AND WE’LL LET YOU HAVE EVERYTHING!” “I don’t think burning down the ship even more is a good idea Spigit” said Isaac with a sigh. “Well, we need to get in there” replied Spigit with a scowl on his face, as a yell, sounding much like Aran’s, came from the upper deck, followed by a large splash. “Tell them to open that door RIGHT NOW, or there’s going to be some crispy… Wait… Did you hear that?” Cullan was already looking to the side of the boat, and saw Aran struggling to swim back to the ship. “No worries” said Isaac in his usual smug tone “I got this. ANIMA!” Anima, Isaac’s eidolon manifested itself from the sea and started moving towards the slowly drowning fighter. Cullan pondered that today was probably the man’s lucky day, as he had just started taking to wearing a suit of hide armor, lightweight in comparison to his usual bright red full plate. Suddenly, a man in some lightweight armor rushed him, attempting to stab him in the kidney and the lung. Cullan slid aside, deflecting the attacker’s blades on the blade of his unsheathing sword. “I HATE INTERRUPTIONS WHILE I TALK!” bellowed Spigit in the high pitched voice he sometimes took when he was angry, blasting at the intruder with a ray of fiery energy. Cullan swung back at the captain,and his blades meet his opponent’s blades in a frenzied ballet of steel. “Could you MOVE please Cullan? I’m TRYING to make that man burn. Trying to push off my piggyback ride overboard like that.” “He didn’t try to push him Spig, he … wait … WHAT?” panted Cullan as he deflected every blow dealt to him by the frenzied captain, replying with his own flurry of stabs and cuts. “Oh, right you weren’t there for that. Forget I said anything.” And with that Spigit blasted another ray of fire at the man, catching him through the thigh. The man hissed in pain, and for a moment looked down. By the time he realized his mistake, Cullan’s blade transfixed him through the heart. The ranger put his foot against the man’s abdomen and pushed. The captain fell over, blood slowly dripping through the wound. “Damn it! I wanted Anima to get in the fray. Couldn’t you have waited a little bit?”

Entering back into Fort Worth, Isaac led them to a safe-house used by the mob to rest and ready themselves. Now that they had dealt with the message and the messenger, the could now start working on his problem. Theirs too he supposed, but that was another thing entirely. Walking into the dockside tavern he usually met his contact, he scanned the patrons for a familiar face. After a few seconds, Issac found him, tending behind the bar, as per usual. He approached, and with a smile he greeted him. “Hey David, what’s up?” The man Issac was talking to was a handsome Rilycian in his early forties who seemed to exude confidence. He looked up from the glass he was polishing and nodded.
-Hey Isaac. Good to see you’re back. Any news on those guys?
-None that I’ve heard of. Say do you have some time later on? I really need to talk to you about my research.
David looked at him straight in the eye, the ghost of a smile playing upon his face.
-Well, I don’t see why not. My place?
-Nah. Given the nature of what I want to talk about, I think it might be better to meet at one of the safe-houses. Say the second one, in about a couple hours?
Again, that same ghostly smile playing on David’s lean features. For a second, Isaac felt somewhat uncomfortable.
-Sure. I’ll see you in a couple hours then.

Two hours and fifteen minutes later, the safe-house was a bloodbath, concerned neighbors were knocking on the door and a confused halfling was wondering what in the 53 principles of Qualash’t was going on. First he was taken away by some Rilycian men, then he was beaten up, and then he got to bear witness to some elven woman’s excruciating death at the hands of those same men, plus the one that was currently being beaten up in front of him by a fully armored elven man in red with some sort of rash. Which was possibly the culmination of the madness he was now involved in. The worst part was that the three other men didn’t seem to care, if they were not actively participating in the events unfolding. Finally the man in red said “Hang on, let me deal with these guys upstairs.”
As he went up, Cullan looked him in the eye and asked him: “Who is Mr Green?” David smiled, shrugged, spat out a mouthful of blood and replied “A candlestick maker.” Cullan tensed, but before he could ask another question Aran ran back down and said “Guys, we have ten minutes before the guard get here. Wrap it up and lets get going.” “Wha… what about my affairs?” asked the halfling who looked like a cleric. “Tough shit Fatso” hissed a venomous Spigit “We need to get going NOW.” “I guess we’re leaving Slyvanna here too then” stated Aran in a tone of voice that indicated he didn’t like the idea. “Hells yeah we’re leaving that bimbo airhead’s body behind! She almost got me killed and molested by city guards while she was alive, I’m not letting her do that to me with her dead corpse!”
Later, in another safe-house, Spigit mused over his now ruined bag of holding as Aran brooded and Cullan tried to brainstorm a way out of this mess. Isaac fumed. At this rate, nothing was going to get accomplished. They needed intel and fast. He sighed and walked towards the window of their current extra-dimensional space a tearful Spigit had conjured. Looking through the aperture, he noticed the door to the house they were hiding in open, and two mobsters walk in. “What the heck is going on?” asked one. “Beats me replied the other, but lets just check this place quick alright? I have a bottle of spirits at home and it’s not going to drink itself.” Issac grinned, his brilliant mind rifling through the possibilities. Minutes later they came back up and the group was once again deadlocked in a discussion, with the newly found cleric offering muted suggestions to Spigit’s cries of “Kill them! Kill them with fire I say!” Exceeded, Isaac stated “Gentlemen, the time has come for decisive action.” and with that, he opened the dimension’s aperture and hoped down before the two clueless mobsters. A dazzling smile on his face he said in perfect Rilycian “Gentlemen, let us discuss your options!” The two men took a second to take in the situation, looked at each other, and in some silent agreement, ran out of the house with a speed seldom seen. “I guess that was decisive” sneered Aran in a toneless voice.

Hours later, in another extra-dimensional space overlooking the main clerk’s office, Aran was now at a loss as to what to do. So far everything had gone relatively better than it had in the past couple days. They had managed to get their hands on a few pieces of very valuable information in the form of a few scraps of paper. And then the clueless civil servant had walked in and tried to take another piece of paper that was carefully hidden away. And with lightning fast reflexes, Aran had reached out from their hideout, grabbed the man and pulled him into the rope trick’s space, where Cullan knocked him out with the police baton Aran had stolen found in Twin City. But now they knew they were there, and their surveillance of the office had not abated in the past hours. And time was running short, as evidenced by a muttering Spigit who was racking his brains to find a solution to their current conundrum. “I can make all of us invisible, but we still need to get out…” Isaac smoothly offered “Well, I could get Anima to break open these windows and we could run out of them since this is only the first floor.” Spigit nodded and said “Right. Aran, Cullan. And you there Munchies. What do you think about meeting up at that farmstead a mile out from town along the road to Wellington?”

The halfling cleared his throat and started talking but was cut off by the other two “Sure” “Sounds like a good place” “I don’t think that will be a problem” “Let’s do that”. Flustered, the cleric sat down and testily pulled out a huge piece of smoked beef jerky which he started eating angrily. Minutes later, Anima had smashed open a window and proceeded towards a tall man wearing plate armor, intent on treating the impertinent human in the same way. As teh eidolon got tripped, Spigit and Isaac gracefully jumped out through the open window and into the street, concealed by the invisibility spell the gnome had just cast. The halfling, Cullan and Aranethon however tumbled down the rope and landed on top of the desk they had been hovering over. Aran was unsure of how that happened, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw the clerk start incanting and the fighter he had called in move towards them. Cullan was the first to try and get up just as the Rilycian clerk’s spell went off, covering them in shining dust. Thus revealed to his eyes, the fighter stepped up to Cullan and with a swift swing of his flail, tripped Cullan back down. The halfling tried to stand up as well, and was swept off his feet. Wishing he had not worn any armor that day, Aranethon stood. A few seconds later, back down on the ground and hurt he saw Cullan crawling out the window. Swearing under his breath he attempted to get up again, only to be put back down by the armored man. Suddetly, two wolves appeared, guarding each window as Anima suddenly disappeared, replaced by three small water elementals. Seizing his chance, Aran jumped away from the warrior, and despite the pain of the nearby wolf’s bite and the shards of glass cutting at him, managed to roll out of the building and into the street. Looking back for an instant he made out the halfling’s sparkling form emerging from the wreckage of the window. Shaking his head, he focused on getting out of Fort Worth as fast as his feet could take him. What was it with them and cities?

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