"A Rollicking Band of Adventurers We"

Session 6.08: Green
In Which the Heroes Face Legendary Beasts.

28 September 1380 C.E.

The green-scaled dragon had two powerful legs and a pair of long, leathery wings. A long spike adorned its thrashing tail. It flicked its head from side to side scanning the clearing and then lunged at the hobgoblin huddling against the rock. When the dragon’s quarry rolled out of the way of its snapping jaws, it sprang lightning-fast back into the air, taking wing and flying up over the tree line.

“Well then,” said Moria. “Shall we retreat to the safety of the trees?”

Nylth took a deep breath and began a song about a legend known as the Dragonborn.

The hobgoblin plucked the arrow from his back, casting it aside with a curse. Rolling up into a crouch, he reloaded his crossbow with trembling hands, eyes on the sky. Quinn held his position, accepting a strength-bolstering prayer from Nima before the priest followed Moria back into the trees.

The dragon disappeared behind a line of trees before winging around, its eyes searching the clearing.

“Thass right,” Quinn muttered. “Suren ye see me.” The dragon espied the paladin holding his ground and flew toward him. Nyleth drew back and let fly an arrow, which struck the dragon and elicited a loud hiss! “Here!” Quinn bellowed at the beast. “HERE!”

The hobgoblin shouted at the copse of trees to the west and withdrew under the boughs of the nearest elm.

“I gotta kiss fer you, numpty,” said Quinn, his sword ready to strike as the dragon flew closer. Moria turned on his heel and rushed back toward Quinn. When he was back in range for it, he cast haste on the spellknight, himself, and Nima. The priest then summoned his elemental.

Flapping its leathery wings, the dragon turned its head in the direction of the arrow that wounded it, locking eyes with Nyleth.

“Well, damn it,” said Quinn.

The soldier pine shuddered with the force of the dragon as it crashed through the boughs to a perch not five feet above the bard’s head. A beat later, Nyleth’s song transitioned into something almost like a lullaby. The dragon’s long, sinuous neck arched under its wing, and it drew its spiked tail back to strike … but held, staring at the singer intently, unmoving.

While the adventurers watched Nyleth snare the dragon with her song, an arrow flew out from behind a tree and struck Quinn. “What the!” he complained, turning to see a mounted worg charging him. The spellknight struck first, his blade biting deep into the hairy beast’s flank. Then it bit through Quinn’s greave and shook its head vigorously. The paladin shoved the beast off of him with his shield.

Moria cast an enchantment, tossing sand at the worg and its rider. With a thump, Quinn’s nearby assailants both collapsed to the ground. The wizard moved up beside his friend, scanning the tree line for additional threats. Quinn glanced at Moria as he approached, confusion giving way to gratitude. “Roiling mist?” said the wizard, sounding puzzled. He drew Quinn’s attention to the west edge of the clearing.

“Someone shot me wi’ an arrow, too,” said the Dalesman. Then his gaze dropped to the sleeping goblin and the shortbow it held. Nima approached, and with a quick prayer healed Quinn’s hurts.

The dragon continued to stare hard at Nyleth, unblinking, while her companions heard the sound of beating wings from the west as a second dragon swooped over the clearing. Moria glanced up at the new monster with no small amount of concern. Quinn’s eyes glazed over as he tracked its movements. The scaly beast inhaled as it glided toward them and belched forth a great glob of mucoid slime, which burst into a cloud when it struck their midst.

“Look oot!” cried Quinn.

Moria reeled as the caustic cloud opened weeping wounds on his sensitive skin. The others were burned by the acid as well, though not so badly as the wizard. Seeing this, Nyleth’s voice caught for a moment, but she managed to keep singing. She made her way farther out on the branch, trying to catch the second drake’s attention. It was just out of range of her enchanting voice, but she did add a casual line into the chorus about two more worg riders hiding in the southwest corner of the clearing and beneath the tree between the two buried boulders. It rhymed better in Faerie.

Quinn strode out of the cloud left behind by the dragon’s caustic breath and waved his arms to get the second dragon’s attention. He cast protection from evil upon himself and then channeled St. Immotion’s healing energy to restore himself to fighting fit.

The hobgoblin ducked under the tree across from the adventurers, drawing his longsword and slashing at the ground … and the buried cord in front of him. They heard a SNAP as it t whipped off the ground, disappearing into the trees to the east, and then the CRASH of tree limbs snapping. The dragon hissed as the air above filled with stones raining down into the trees to the west, pelting the dragon and the hobgoblin. The worg riders emerged and fired arrows at the airborne beast, but its scales deflected each shaft.

Moria cast another spell and vanished from sight, stumbling invisibly away from the cloud and the gathered humanoids. Nima channeled healing energy into his nearby companions, including the invisible wizard. His elemental advanced on the hobgoblin, which clutched his head and bled profusely from the bludgeoning wounds he had inflicted upon himself in an effort to bring down the dragon.

The flying dragon made a sound like a tremendous crocodile, rumbling in outrage. Landing between the two worg riders, it struck its long neck out, snapping its jaws just shy of one goblin and lashing out with its tail at the other, opening a vicious gash across the worg’s face.

The treed drake continued staring at Nyleth, salivating freely and tail at the ready. Seeing that the bard’s song was keeping it occupied, Quinn charged the dragon on the ground. His falcata opened a bloody gash across its flank, and the beast shrieked in pain, arching its neck over its body and biting the spellknight.

The worgs backed away from the drake warily, their riders drawing bows. One arrow lodged fast in the scaly beast’s neck and it cried out loudly again. Moria cast another spell, then moved invisibly toward the melee. The elemental continued attacking the hobgoblin, which cried out in anguish and beat out the flames that threatened to engulf it. Nima cut one of the worg riders down, and as he slumped to the ground, its mount bared its teeth and growled uncertainly at the dragon.

The drake turned slowly, its eyes fixed on Quinn. Hissing loudly, it snapped its jaws at the spellknight, drawing blood. Simultaneously, it lashed out with its tail at the worg flanking it, which darted out of the way to let the iron-hard spike lance into the ground. It shrieked again, eliciting a moment of distraction from the dragon looming over Nyleth, but with renewed passion, the bard held her quarry in her musical snare.

Quinn took advantage of the flank provided by the other worg rider to engage fully with the grounded dragon. The monster raised up on its legs, shrieking mightily and stretching its wings out to their fullest extent. Opening its great fanged maw, which dripped with acidic bile, it descended on the spellknight, biting and pursuing him as he dodged and moved alongside it. Quinn spun around, knocking the dragon’s head away with his shield and brought his falcata down upon it, chopping deeply into the base of the monster’s skull. The dragon collapsed to the ground, raising a great cloud of leaf-fall and detritus as it shuddered, then lay still.

With the greater threat dispatched, the worgs turn on Nima and his otherworldly servant. The priest held off his attacker, but the other worg managed to sink its teeth into the fire elemental, an altogether questionable tactic.

Moria and three illusory duplicates reappeared as he cast color spray in a cone that caught the mounted worg and its rider. Both took the full brunt of the scintillating brilliance. The goblin fell unconscious and slipped from his saddle, and the worg hung its head, standing on suddenly unsteady legs. Nima and the elemental continued their heated melee against their target.

At the sound of its mate’s death throes, the dragon above Nyleth blinked and started, looking suddenly over the tree line at the inert body between Nima and Quinn. Giving an outraged shriek/hiss, the beast launched itself out of the tree and flew straight toward the adventurers. Nyleth fell out of the tree in the wake of the beast’s departure, but still somehow managed to keep singing, changing the magic of her tune to bolstering her companions.

Quinn turned to face the oncoming dragon, steely-eyed and unafraid. The monster belched forth a gob of acidic bile, exploding into the midst of Nima and the worg. The priest avoided the worst of the burning, but the worg howled as the cloud engulfed it, falling dead with a bloody choking sound. The spellknight moved out to meet the drake, laying hands on himself again, bellowing and smacking his shield with the pommel of his sword.

Moria stepped up and brained the sleeping goblin, putting the wretch down once and for all. Nima prayed and a beam of searing light lanced forth from his outstretched hand to strike the dragon. It shrieked in pain and dove at the priest, full of rage. Nima flinched as the monster landed awkwardly in front of him and closed its jaws just shy of his face. Hissing in frustration, it leapt back into the air.

“Oh, hells,” said Quinn. Without another target, he struck the stunned worg but didn’t manage to slay the beast.

Nyleth regained her feet and stumbled toward her companions in the clearing, still singing. Moria conjured a deadly illusion, targeting the dragon. With a hiss, it back-winged in mid-air, lashing out with claws and tail at a phantasm only it could see and shrieking in pain. Nima’s healing energy invigorated his companions and the elemental.

Coming out of the spell-induced stupor, the dragon looked around in confusion before turning to look at the adventurers.

“Come on, you overstuffed lizard!” Moria shouted.

“May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your nostrils!” yelled Nima.

Ignoring the verbal taunts, the dragon glared at Quinn, its mate’s killer, and swooped down upon him. The spellknight raised his shield and stood his ground. The drake staggered as it landed, its jaws snapping against Quinn’s upraised shield. Then the paladin counterattacked.

His smite struck the dragon straight in the chest the falcata piercing its heart. It was slain instantly, not even able to utter a death cry as it fell heavily to the ground. The woods fell eerily silent, and Quinn spun to glare at the worg, which sniffed the air intently.

“Flee,” Moria commanded it in Fomoraig. “Now.”

The worg took the cue and bolted for the woods. Nima bowed to the elemental before dismissing it back to its home plane.

“Are … you … we … are we all okay?” said Nyleth, idly pulling leaves and sticks out of her hair as she stowed her bow.

“I hurt,” complained the wizard. “Worst. Breath. Ever.”

“Oh dear, Ecoriel,” said the bard, fussing over his wounds a little.

“Aww, c’mere,” said Quinn, laying hands on his friend and healing him.

Moria nodded his thanks to the paladin, then moved to examine the bodies. “So. Dragons?”

Quinn sounded absolutely giddy as he said, “Aye.”

“Guess so,” said Nyleth. “They seem to like music, though.”

“Who doesn’t?” Moria said glibly.

“Ev’ryone likes yer music, Nyleth,” said Quinn, elbowing the wizard in the side.

“S’truth, Sayyadati Nyleth,” added Nima. “Your songs are most wondrous.”

Moria nodded. “You, if you’ll pardon the expression … killed.” He offered a small smile.

“Thank you all,” said the bard, rubbing her throat unconsciously. “That was … unnerving.”

“I wanna get one o’ their teeth, I think,” said the Dalesman

Moria nodded. “They have – had – plenty.”

“Quinn, that will make such a song for Pastanti!” Nyleth exclaimed

“Song, hell. Necklace,” said Moria.

“Necklace and song!” said the bard, grinning brightly and clapping her hands together before bowing to everyone.

“And such a blow, Ghazi Quinn!” said Nima with his own bow. “The djinn themselves are in awe.”

“Well, shucks. Ye’r the one who made me all strong-like,” said Quinn. The paladin returned the bows to Nyleth and Nima, then offered one to Moria for good measure. “So, they gotta have a lair ‘round here someplace, right?” he asked. Moria nodded and returned his attention to examining the Historical Find.

“Are any of the, erm, bits useful, Ecoriel?” Nyleth wanted to know.

The wizard tsked. “I don’t think these were true dragons,” he said. “More akin to wyvern-kind. A mated pair, though.” He sounded thoughtful. “Formerly.”

“Do you think there might be, well, wee ones around?” she asked.

Moria shrugged. “That is possible. Easily inferred.”

“Oh, goodness, wouldn’t that be the cutest pet?”


“Difficult to train, I would expect.”

“An’ do the dragon-kin keep treasure hoards, too?” Quinn wanted to know. “‘Course, fer all I know, the true dragons didn’t either…”

“I am not sure I can speak to that,” said Moria. “You are, after all, referencing legends.”

Nyleth poked him in the arm. “Just mostly kidding, though do you want the organs from inside? If it was a true dragon, the humor-producing organs would be useful, as would the scales. Though, if this is a lesser one, they may not be as useful.”

Moria feigned an appalled expression. “What do I look like? A necromancer.” He looked down at himself. “Oh. Shut up.” The last was directed at Quinn, though the wizard had not looked up at his friend.

“I wasnae gonna…” said the Dalesman, though his tone suggested that maybe had been. Nima grinned.

Nyleth poked at the dragon corpse with her index finger. “It’s … not as slimy as I would have guessed.”

“If our missin’ elf ran intae these two, there might be some proof in their lair,” said Quinn.

“That’s true, though it might be grim proof,” said Nyleth.

“I do not disagree,” said Moria, examining the barbed tail. He collected a handful of scales, a couple of teeth and a claw.

The bard pulled out a tiny knife and removed a single scale from one of the drakes. “I wonder why the hobgoblins were trying to get them in the open?”

“Could be th’ only way they could take ‘em doon,” said Quinn.

“They lay a cunning snare,” Moria commented, indicating the stone shrapnel.

Nima examined the hobgoblin’s body. “This one really does have … a particular skin,” he said in a bemused tone.

“How so?” asked Nyleth.

“It is made of mithral.”

“Oh?” said Moria, his interest apparent.

Nyleth stood and crossed to look at it. “Are you certain?”

“Yes. It is magical, and his longsword is also of high quality?”

“But, how?”

Their musings were interrupted when Quinn called to them from the edge of a depression he’d gone to investigate. “I think I got somethin’ over here.” The others joined him. The crevasse was approximately twenty feet deep, lined in weathered limestone, and appeared to be full of bones and grimy refuse. In the shadowy depths, they could barely make out the bottom. “Mebbe they lived doon here?” he suggested.

“Perhaps,” said Moria.

The adventurers descended to search the pit. The floor was deeply piled with the bones of humanoids of all shapes and sizes: humans, goblins, bugbears, and others. There was also a great heap of well-gnawed leather and steel, but some of the equipment was newer and is retrievable. Among the armor and weapons, they found a scattering of precious metal coins and gemstones. They had discovered Quinn’s dragon hoard.

As they looted, a rusted out pot-helm stirred in a far corner, and a glimmering light flickered to life within. Overturning it, Nyleth found a hollow in the stone containing four emerald-green eggs and a lithe, diminutive creature that looked like a humanoid with wispy, moth-like wings and long thin ears.

“Hello there!” Nyleth said brightly in Faerie.

The sprite looked up at her, hope blooming on her face. “Greetings, Tuatha Sylva-Gleann. I am called Amquis.”


Session 6.07: Versus Plants Zombies
In Which the Heroes Encounter Fauna-Flora.

26 September 1380 C.E.

Nyleth pulled her bow and began to sing a rousing song to bolster her companions. Nima cast searing light, burning into the wretched creature’s flesh. The horror exploded into embers without a sound. Moria stood and pulled a shaving of licorice root from a pouch. It vanished as he cast a familiar transmutation, speeding everyone in the party up. “Ah, here we go,” said Quinn, holding his ground and invoking the divine bond with his falcata.

The creatures shambled forward, making no sound other than the rustling of leaves as they groped for the adventurers. Nyleth’s arrows embedded themselves deeply into the walking corpse, and Nima called upon the power of sunlight to turn undead. The undead did not balk at the searing burst of magical sunlight. Instead, they sprouted tiny leaves from the shoots growing out of them. Frowning at the unexpected development, the priest drew his scimitar.

“That’s innerestin’,” said Quinn.

“Not the prettiest flowers, I suppose, but greenery is good for them,” said Nyleth.

Moria took a cautious step away from the nearest sprouting undead, then gestured swiftly. Five more Morias sprang into existence, indistinguishable from the wizard himself. Quinn advanced on the nearest of the monsters and introduced it to the power of St. Immotion. The animate collapsed before his blade in a pile of bones, rags, and detritus. His falcata didn’t stop moving as it cleaved through the first and into the one beside it. The second had the courtesy to fall as well, exploding in a shower of desiccated leaves and fur.

One of the creeping horrors swung its gnarled paws at Moria, shattering one of his glamors. Quinn was flanked by two of the reeking monsters, and one managed to get inside the paladin’s guard and draw blood. Nyleth’s next two arrows sank deep into the body of the horror attacking Moria.

Nima attacked another creeper, his slashes quick and sure. He parted the leafy tendrils that bound the rotten monster’s body together, and it fell. “I used to want to be a gardener,” said the priest, cracking an uncharacteristic joke. Clearly his companions were a bad influence on his sense of humor.

Moria produced his trusty wand and leveled it at the nearest creeper. A magic missile streaked from the tip to slam into the horror as the wizard and his duplicates moved to support Quinn. The spellknight’s falcata sang again, causing another plant-zombie to explode and showering Quinn and Moria with compost. The wizard gave his burly companion a look, but Quinn paid him no mind, shearing off the head of the remaining shamble. Despite the decapitation, the creature continue its assault until the paladin bashed the headless horror into pieces with a backswing of his shield.

“Ew, gross!” said Nyleth.

As they fought, even more of the shambling monsters emerged from the depths of the surrounding woods. They neither spoke nor uttered any groan, merely shambling resolutely toward the adventurers, their viney arms outstretched. “Saints preserve us,” Quinn swore.

Nyleth wheeled around to notice the corpse of a tremendous worg with a weedy vine growing from one eye lurching clumsily toward her. She took a prudent step back and buried two more arrows in the beast up to the fletching. The worg did not seem the least bit staggered by this development. Nima’s blade flashed and sliced, relieving a walking cadaver of one of its limbs, yet still it came. Moria sent his next magic missile streaking into the creeper menacing Nyleth, and the undead reeled from the arcane bolt.

Quinn sought a new target and felled yet another monster. The one-armed horror attacked Nima, who moved too fast for the clumsy blow. The creature on Nyleth slammed it rock-hard skull into her chest, knocking her back a few steps. Her next arrow shore off a fragment of the beast’s skull, revealing a mass of wriggling maggots and vines beneath … and still the creature stood! “Oh, disgusting!” she cried as she loosed another shaft. The final arrow collapsed the wretched body in on itself, where it continued to wriggle futilely on the ground. Nima cleaved the creeper he fought from chest to groin, felling it soundly.

“Mind the south!” Moria cried, blasting yet another creeper with magic missile. The hasted Quinn dashed to attack the only monster he could see, and obliterated it. Out of the black night beyond the limits of the campfire, the elves saw another creeper shamble violently out of the gloom. Quinn had only time to blink before the horrific visage was inches from his face, beating him about the head and shoulders and knocking him backwards.

Nyleth’s arrows and Nima’s blade sliced at the newest threat, but still the monster fought on. Finally, Moria stepped up and brought his quarterstaff to bear. Under the effects of the haste spell, the weapon blurs, shattering the dead hobgoblin’s skull, from which leaves and grubs spilled onto the ground.

“Now there’s somethin’ I dinnae see ever’day,” said Quinn.

“Huh! Well struck, Ecoriel,” cheered Nyleth.

Despite the battering the creeper had just received it still kept coming. Quinn stepped up beside Moria and sliced the abomination’s legs out from beneath it. Then he finished the monster off with a stomp that splattered what little remained of its body onto his legs.

“Sorry aboot that,” said Quinn. “We’re a right mess, we are.”

Moria nodded to the spellknight then looked back over his shoulder at Nyleth. “Is everyone all right?”

“I am currently unharmed,” Nima reported. “Sayyadati Nyleth?”

“Just bruised,” she said, rubbing her clavicle. The priest’s healing prayer eased her pain.

The paladin laid healing hands on himself. “Ah am now.”

“Something reeks of rot,” said Moria. “I fear some curse or plague accompanies these shamblers. We should quit this camp anon.”

“I think that would be wise,” said Nyleth.

“Aye,” said Quinn, moving to store his gear. “I think I slept enough anyways.”

“Huh,” said the bard. “I can’t smell anything rotting inside camp. Only out there. What about you?” she looked up at Moria and Nima questioningly.

The wizard nodded. “Fascinating. Perhaps it was linked to the extraordinarily tough one?”

“Perhaps?” Nyleth said uncertainly. “Either way, I would feel safer elsewhere.”

“I see that you are determined to move our camp,” said Nima. “But I feel it is unwise to move around in the dark.”

Moria evoked a light. “Then, we will not move far. What do you think, Quinn?”

“I’m fer quittin’ this spot, aye,” said the spellknight. “Ain’t like I’m any more graceful when I kin see where I’m goin’.”

“Very well, then,” said Nima. “Let us be away.”

* * *

27 September 1380 C.E.

They broke camp and made their way back to the ravine as soon as the slimmest lances of dawn penetrated the piney canopy above them. Quinn struggled in the misty gloom, but those with elven eyes started to make out the shapes of trees and rocks, beyond Moria’s magical light. They trekked deeper and deeper into the valley, and the only sound was the wind in the trees and the occasional caw of a crow in the distance. They continued to track the hunting party’s trail, which blundered and crashed through the valley, but again the day passed without success.

“Welp,” Quinn sighed. “Issa big valley. No sign o’ their quarry either.”

“Aye,” said Moria. “If Kaldar survives, he must be quite clever.”

Darkness fell quickly in Drakles Valley. From her bag, Nyleth pulled out some bread and cheese, along with a couple of apples and assorted pastries, passing them around to the others.

“Still gotta get me one o’ them bags, an’ no mistake,” said Quinn.

“If I find another, it’s yours,” Nyleth told him.

“It does seem to be quite useful,” said Nima.

“Everyone in my family has one,” said the bard. “I think it’s because we are all artists of some sort.”

* * *

28 September 1380 C.E.

Nima had the final watch for the night, his companions slept or tranced as their biology dictated. He watched the gloom beyond the dying embers of the fire warily throughout the night. Finally, the stars in the sliver of firmament above his head winked out and the sky turned purple, heralding the morning.

“Praise be to every power o’ good there is,” Quinn said upon awaking. Moria sat with his book propped open, munching on some breakfast. He practiced a hand gesture every so often as he prepared his spells.

Nyleth sang songs in Fomoraig, just to practice her pronunciation. In the lulls between her songs, she noted that only the wind and occasional crow made any sort of noise. “It’s actually quite relaxing out here,” said Nyleth. “Reminds me of home a little – the quietude.”

“Much greener than I am used to,” said Nima.

“Quiet’s th’ whole reason I ever came doon to th’ borderland,” said Quinn. “We aboot ready?”

“Of course, as long as Ecoriel is,” said Nyleth.

“I am prepared,” said Moria, securing his spellbook in his pack.

“Let us continue our search,” said the priest.

They broke camp and set out on the trail of the hunting party. The path became rockier and more difficult to follow, but they tracked it along its meandering course. The trail descended steeply into a narrow defile where the trees grew slightly farther apart than they had seen so far. Everyone but Quinn noticed a pile of freshly de-fleshed humanoid bones in a pile beneath a tree. Nima directed the paladin’s attention to the grisly sight.

“Nima, is it … Can you tell if it was … elven?” asked Moria.

“I may be able to determine that, but let us be cautious,” said the priest.

“All right,” said Quinn. I’m right behind ye.”

As they approached, Nyleth examined the tree, a forty-foot-tall soldier pine with a worn old boot hanging from one of the lower boughs. It was well made, and seems to have hung on a limb, like it had fallen from above and caught. She drew the others’ attention to the wayward footwear. Up close, they could see that the bones of the dead thing had been gnawed on thoroughly, making identification impossible. “Well, it was around the right size for an elf, I think,” said Nyleth unhappily.

“What about that boot?” asked Nima.

“I know not, but it gives me an ill feeling,” said Moria.

“Mebbe I kin get it doon,” said Quinn.

“I suggest not,” said Moria.

“I agree. It makes me nervous,” said Nyleth.

“Perhaps someone could hit it with a rock and cause it to fall?” said Nima.

“Leave it be,” Moria advised. “Let us continue.”

“If yer suren,” said Quinn.

“I am,” said Nyleth. “And there’s a clearing up ahead. Be careful and wary.”

“I am reluctant to expose ourselves needlessly,” said Nima. “Shall we observe from the trees before we enter the clearing?”

“I suppose,” said Moria.

“Nae fer too long, though,” said Quinn.

“If we don’t’ see anything, we can move on,” said Nima.

Moria was impatient to continue, but he waited with Quinn while Nyleth climbed a nearby tree and the priest readied his bow to cover her. “Nima and I can cover you from here,” the bard called down softly. “Just be careful, Ecoriel.”

He nodded and had begun walking toward the clearing when she called again in Faerie. “Hold. Across the clearing – behind a boulder. Something … man-sized is hiding there.”

“Man-sized?” asked Moria.

“I believe so – and behind the clearing there is a larger depression where there are no trees. I have you both covered, but be wary.”

“Suren I will,” said Quinn, starting toward the tree line. He dispensed with creeping once he was out in the open, his falcata in hand, but not raised.

“Quinn, rope,” said Moria, pointing to the ground maybe fifteen feet in front of the paladin. There Quinn saw something concealed beneath the leaf-fall. It lay across the ground from tree to tree, disappearing beneath their roots. “I am thinking ‘net’.”

“Mebbe I kin just avoid it,” said Quinn. “Dy’e see any more?”

“No, but I have an idea.”

Moria cast a spell and the image of an elven figure appeared. The wizard sent his illusion “walking” between the trees across the rope. The figure from the boulder suddenly peeked up above its cover, its beady eyes looking at the image from beneath a heavy steel helm. Moria made the “elf” look around cautiously, put a bit more uncertainty into its expression, and had it continue on toward the rock. Slowly. The lurking figure raised a crossbow and steadied it on the boulder, taking aim.

There was a twang of the bolt being loosed and it streaked at the image. Moria incorporated the missile into his illusion and had the “elf” cry out in pain and surprise as the bolt “struck” it. The sound of running feet came from the west side of the clearing as a great worg, ridden by an armored goblin, raced towards the downed “elf”, short spear raised to finish it off as the crossbowmen readied another bolt.

“There,” said Moria, ceasing concentration. “Trap sprung.”

“That works,” said Nima.

“‘Ere we go,” said Quinn, invoking his divine bond.

The crossbowman hissed a sharp intake of breath as Nyleth’s arrow took him in the back. The trees stirred from a sudden breeze, and the worg skidded to a halt, its rider falling from its back shrieking. The worg sniffed the air fearfully before turning and running full tilt back toward the tree line. And in a flash, the worg was crushed by a great green-winged beast.

Moria swallowed. “Oh. Dear.”

Session 6.06: Three Meetings
In Which the Heroes Choose a Course.

26 September 1380 C.E.

The adventurers awakened the next morning to the smell of freshly baked bread wafting from the commons of the Harfeník Dáma, which Nyleth translated as “The Harper’s Lady”. The old babushka is right where she was when they’d retired, as if she hadn’t moved all night. Short, black-crusted loaves baked on the hearthstones, their tops split and crusted with nuts. The crone brooded over them like a hen as the boys approached, waiting for permission to grab a plate.

She glanced up at him for only a moment before taking a wooden spoon and carefully ladling five eggs from a boiling kettle hanging over the fire into one of the wooden bowls off the stack. She then took one of the round loaves and cradled it in her hands, scrutinizing it carefully. She seemed to weigh it, thumping the bottom close to her ear, then nodded satisfactorily before handing it over along with the eggs.

As they took their seats in the drafty common room, the halfling innkeeper brought four tankards of the house ale. The bread was fragrant and moist inside, with an almost painfully hard-baked crust, filled with dried cranberries and bits of pumpkin. The eggs were boiled overhard. “Aye, thass wha’ I’m talkin’ ‘boot,” said Quinn as they dug into breakfast. “I reckon it ain’t too early,” he said with a grin as he took a tankard.

The commons were mostly empty, except for a half-dozen local men, breaking their fasts in similar fashion. After a minute or two of eating, Quinn said, “Well, I like the food here, a’least.”

“We should try to see the richter this morning,” Moria said in Faerie. “Then we decide whether to pursue the escaped Fey or continue following the caravan.”

“Agreed,” said Quinn. “We willnae tarry here o’erlong.”

Nima nodded. “But I am thinking that any information our escaped friend has would only be to our benefit.”

The locals seemed to have a similar sense of purpose, finishing their meals shortly before the adventurers and hefting well-used wood axes to go about their morning. They were quickly replaced by additional hungry timbermen. Moria got the attention of a local to ask where the richter might be found. In his rudimentary Fomoraig, he managed to yield information from a local fellow, who said, “Big … Big house. High! Go up … Up! Big house.” The wizard thanked the man, paid for breakfast, and shared the directions with the others.

The mountain air was crisp and bracing, causing them to pull their cloaks tightly about them. The village seemed alive with activity at that hour. They weaved in and out of women and older children leading goats and oxen up the mountainside. The only men out appeared to be timbermen, hefting their tools as they moved downslope along the road from which the adventurers had entered the village.

“Not quite as barbaric as I had imagined,” Moria confided.

“Nay, not a’tall,” agreed Quinn. “Suren they ken there’s owlbears aboot.”

“Most likely.”

They continued to thread through the tall, peaked houses, always moving uphill until they reached the only path in town not full of people. The largest building in town, dominating the stony northern bend of town, was the village hall. A steep flight of stairs was cut into the rocky slope before the hall, which overlooked Detva Village from a natural outcrop flanked by wooded mountain slopes. Three falconer’s posts were erected at the entrance to the limestone long-hall.

“All right,” said Quinn. “Lessee where th’ door’s at.”

As they approached, they found one of the aged and weathered pinewood doors was ajar. Moria peaked inside and called out in Fomoraig. “Hello?” It was quite dark inside, but he could hear sounds of conversation deep within. He shrugged and entered, the others following behind.

The village long hall was almost cavernous. It was high-ceilinged and decorated in stuffed beasts along the walls and rafters, including bears, dire boars, wildcats, owlbears, and giant spider carapaces. At the head of the long-hall was the hearth, and over the hearth was a gallery where the greatest trophy of all hung: a dragon skull, as long as a pike, snarled down from above a dusty ornate ranseur mounted above them. “Well, will ye lookit thaht,” said Quinn.

“Must have inherited it,” said Moria. “The dragons have been dead for ages.”

“They must have had a might hunter indeed, to bring that back,” said Nima.

“Or an army,” said the wizard.

Four men sat at a long table by the hearth, sipping black ale over a half-eaten rack of boar ribs, empty clay soup bowls, crusty bread loaves, and pale wedges of cheese. They all appeared to be men of higher birth but wore stiffened leather jerkins over their clean tunics and long daggers at their hips. A short athletic man with silver hair and bright brown eyes was discussing counts of stored foodstuffs with another silver-haired man with a balding pate and a sallow complexion. The other two were smoking clay pipes: one a younger man with black hair and a coarse beard that seemed to grow from half his neck as well as his face, while the other was a tall, aging man with a scar and braided dark red hair. The last man, they surmised, was the village richter, and across the back of his chair was draped a finely woven woolen cloak lined in ermine fur.

“Probably very rude to interrupt their meal,” said Moria dubiously.

The man with the ermine cloak glanced up at where the adventurers loitered in the hall and called out. “Ahoj! dobré ráno!”

Moria returned the greeting in Fomoraig. “Good morning. I am Moria, and these my companions. We hear of bounty for Hammaddi magus in Kamenar’s Rift. Told you know more?”

All four men paused to casually look each party member up and down appraisingly. The richter then asked, “Hovoríte Fomoraig?”

“Poorly,” Moria said modestly.

The richter glanced at his companions and then looked back at the wizard quizzically. “Lavinian? Nordetong? Catonii?”

In smooth Lavinian, Moria said< “I am better versed in Lavinian, yes.”

“Oh, thank th’ gods,” Quinn muttered in Icatian. “As’m I, sir,” he said in Lavinian.

All four men quietly nodded. “Ojai!” and in Lavinian, the richter introduced himself.

“Greetings to you traveler! I am Bomir Bardejov, village richter. Won’t you share bread and salt with us?”

“Gladly, sir, and with thanks,” said Moria, introducing his companions before taking a seat. The other three men half-stood and bowed ever so slightly. They introduced themselves as Zdisla, Vata, and Mila before returning to their own seats.

Bomir sucked on his pipe and said, “You spoke of a bounty. You do not have the look of corsairs, however. Why seek you the magus?”

“Actually, we were hoping you knew more of the man,” said the wizard. “His name perhaps. A Hammaddi magus wronged a friend of ours, and we hoped by happenstance they were one in the same.” The young man, Vata, snorted and took a long swig of ale. “A longshot, I know,” said Moria, spreading his hands.

Bomir appeared unsurprised. “Indeed, we hear about much and more from traffic from Kamenar’s Rift. But, most of our more queer visitors of late have been going toward that town.”

“Oh, aye?” said Quinn.

“Perhaps you might tell me from where you come, travelers?” Bomir’s demeanor was relaxed and friendly, but he also seemed wary.

“Mystral, by way of Icatia,” said Moria. “And then, of course, a sea voyage. We have adventured in Lavinia and Hammaddi, as well.”

Vata whistled appreciatively, and Bomir said, “You are well traveled, then. Perhaps we might barter your knowledge for mine. What news of import do you bring us in our remote mountain fastness?” He grinned.

“I have heard that outlander assassins plot against Dominak Lukil,” said Moria. “Our band also seeks truth to the rumors that Jorba LeJantre is involved.”

All four men leaned in to listen more closely. The two older men spat at the sound of Lukil’s name. “Truly?” asked the richter.

“So we are given to understand, aye,” said the wizard.

Bomir nodded appreciatively. “That is interesting. We have heard much and more of Lukil’s hob-men on the move north of Kamenar’s Rift. We had heard stirrings of war.”

“War against whom?”

Bomir shrugged and opened his hands. “We know not, but patrols are doubled on the roads beyond the Rift. And … other foreigners have passed through this mountain of late. Know you anything of why so many from your realms are so interested?” He looked at the adventurers intently.

“I kin only speak tae our own innerest, which has tae do wi’ some Faerie folk that’ve gone missin’,” said Quinn.

“In truth, these wayward Fey are fools who came here to ‘save’ this land,” said Moria.

The other three men muttered quietly amongst themselves, nodding to one another. Bomir said, “Indeed, the Dominak’s column encamped here on their way to the Rift. They lost a slave who fled into Drakles Valley and asked me the lay of the land. We heard the escapee was a fairy-folk from Midhjard.”

Moria nodded. “We heard a bit of that tale from some of the men who … used to be part of the column.”

Vata pipped up, “And there was talk of assassins, too. They arrested the blacksmith and questioned him, as well.”

“The blacksmith?” asked Moria and Quinn at the same time, curious and puzzled.

The athletic man, Mila said, “Mad Zoila was going on about foreigners, as well. Overheard them talking.”

Moria exchanged a glance with Quinn, who shrugged. “Mebbe we should talk to ‘im, too,” said the Dalesman. “If’n they cut ‘im loose a’tall.”

Bomir nodded. “They released him after he’d told them what they wanted to know. You’d have to ask him more about that. And Zoila will go on and on if you lend her an ear.”

“An’ she’s…?” prompted Quinn.

The men chuckled. Bomir explained, “She’s a woods witch who lives here in the village. The villagers rely on her as a diviner and as a healer. They say she has the ‘sight’. She usually can be found at the crossroads on the road to Hropka Tozka.”

“She may, indeed, be very helpful in our quest,” said Nima.

“If Zoila tends ta haver, mebbe we should talk to ‘er after we look fer th’ man in th’ woods,” said Quinn.

“Best take her a skin of wine,” Bomir advised. “She will be quite helpful in that case.”

“Well, then,” said Moria. “You gentlemen have been most helpful, and I appreciate your information and hospitality.”

Bomir halted the wizard with a gesture. “You wished to know of the bounty, you said. I owe you the news, remember?”

“Oh, aye,” said Quinn, as if he had forgotten.

Moria nodded. “I do.”

“He was a magician in business with Yorba. They were supposed to deliver some great ‘prize’ to Dominak Lukil in exchange for a legion to fight the tribe of his enemies.”

Bomir’s dark-haired friend chuckled, “Ojai! Well, I guess that venture did not work out for LeJantre, because he’s put a price on the Hammaddin’s head in Kamenar’s Rift. One thousand gold dinars for the head of the magus!”

“Does th’ name ‘Amirandi’ sound aboot right?” asked Quinn.

Vata nodded. “That sounds like it. Yes.”

“Excellent,” said Moria.

Bomir tapped out his pipe on the table. “You say you are planning to search for the escaped slave. You intend to go into Drakles Valley, then?”

“Aye, we probably will,” said the wizard.

The richter cleared his throat. “Then, I will confess something to you. A hunting party went into the valley several days ago, but only a handful have returned. I do not expect the rest will, however.”

“We have heard the valley is haunted. I suspect a more corporeal threat exists there.” The greybeards nodded.

“Have the hunters spoken of what they have seen?” asked Nima.

Bomir shook his head. “We don’t refuse the Dominak’s legions seeking provision, but they overstayed their welcome. The villagers were terrorized for five days while they lingered. When the captain told me of the escapee, I told them how large Drakles Valley was, and how best to enter, but I didn’t tell them of the dangers. Bears, boars, and wildcats are common predators, but not the most dangerous, by far. At the bottom of the valley there are walking dead that hide amongst the muskwort. Even the beasts avoid that place, all except the crows. And, some days, when the mist rises up, we can hear the screams of Her children.”

“Haunted corporeally,” said Quinn. “Got it.”

“Her?” Moria prompted.

The short, strong man glanced up at the dragon skull overhead. “The children of Ilis. Stizla slew her, but he never found her clutch. They been in that valley for seven hundred years, now … growing fat off the flesh of the dead.”

The wizard’s expression was unsettled. “Is Ilis wha’ I think she is? Was?” asked Quinn.

Bomir nodded gravely. “Bride of the Scion. Terror of Strazke Cliffs. Ilis was a devourer of men.”

“Then the valley is dragonlands.” Quinn’s voice carried every emotion there is in it. The Fomoraig all nodded silently, in awe. The spellknight performed a blessing gesture over himself.

“Suddenly wishing I’d picked up a fireball spell somewhere along the way,” Moria said in Faerie. “Fool that I am.”

“If’n ye had , it’d just be th’ fire-breathin’ kind,” Quinn told him.

“I thought I was the cynical one.”

“Kin ye tell wha’ color she was by th’ skull?”

Moria answered the question with a shake of his head. Then he switched back to Lavinian and said, “Many thanks for the news of the magus and the warnings concerning the valley.”

Bomir raised his cup. “I pride myself on knowing my village and my valley. If you should need any further information, we will trade news again.”

* * *

As the adventurers descended the path from the Village Hall, they espied Nyleth chewing on a dry red sausage. Moria waved to her and she smiled at him as she approached. “Oh! There you all are! Would you like a kolache?” she asked.

“I … am not sure,” said Moria.

“Suren I would. What izzit?” asked Quinn.

She held out a basket of jam-filled pastries. “This one has creamy cheese in it, and this one is full of bacon!”

“Bacon!” said Quinn, swiping one.

“Quite the variety,” said Moria, hiding a smile behind his hand.

“It’s my favorite part of Malecor!” declared Nyleth. As they walked, they brought the bard up to speed.

“So,” Moria began. “We learned a few things from the richter. Nice fellow; you’d like him.”

She gave him a raised eyebrow and a sideways smile. “Like, really like him, or ‘have to choose my words carefully’ like him?


“Ah, a shame. We’ll meet him later, yes?”

“More’n likely,” said Quinn.

“He is always keen to hear important tales,” said Moria.

“Fantastic! Let’s make one of those!” said Nyleth, taking a bite from both the sausage and a bacon pastry at once, happily chewing.

“If’n what he said aboot the valley is true, then aye,” said Quinn. “We’ll be in a legend soon ‘nough. One way or t’other.”

Moria nodded somberly. “Here is what we learned. Yorba put a bounty out on Amirandi. Apparently, the magus was supposed to deliver something important to Dominak Lukil in exchange for soldiers. And failed.”

“I hope we can claim responsibility for that,” said Nyleth.

“Indeed. The other thing, the escaped Fey ran into the valley. Those hunting him have not returned, and several have been killed by the local wildlife … and possibly something worse.”

“Oh? That sounds promising!” said the bard.

“Quinn, do you want to tell her?” asked Moria.

“Dragons, Nyleth. Dragons,” said the spellknight, and Nyleth stopped chewing. “There’s a dragon skull inside the Village Hall, an’ the one who slew ‘er ne’er found ‘er clutch,” explained Quinn.

“Best case scenario – they’re also undead,” the wizard added. “I do not wish to consider the alternative.”

“That’s…” Nyleth seemed at a loss for words.

Quinn rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, aye. But we gotta go an’ see,” he said. “I gotta go an’ see.”

“That is not in question, no,” said Moria.

“Well, of course, but … I hope our kinfolk are safe,” said Nyleth.

“The huntin’ party what went in after ‘im had hardly nae survivors,” said Quinn.

“The rest are in the column headed for – or possibly already in – the Rift where this warlord dwells,” said Moria.

“‘E also said tha’ th’ blacksmith an’ a witch might know some things,” Quinn added. “But … dragons.” His eyes practically glistened with awe.

“I’m torn,” Nyleth admitted. “If our kin are in the valley, they might be safer there than anywhere else, depending … on things. But the ones in the column, they are also in danger. The Rift is the last human settlement in the valley before hobgoblin territory.”

“It is only one man in the valley,” said Moria.

“Which one?”

“A ‘jann man’ was the entirety of the description we received last night.”

“That isn’t exactly helpful, but it’s something.”

“Kaldar Rythen Santhil Cill Daram, if I had to guess.”

“So, if’n we chase th’ column, we’d still hafta come back this way, aye?” said Quinn.

Nyleth nodded. “Indeed, and I feel I would be remiss as a mistress of lore if I didn’t at least look into stories about dragons.”

“Welp, in th’ end, we’re ‘here tae find yer people, Nyleth. So, it’s kinda yer call,” said Quinn. Moria gave him a look. “Well it ain’t mah call.”

“I think your reasoning is sound, Quinn, and I fear less for Kaldar tucked in the woods than for the others in the column,” said Nyleth. “Our people can be quite resourceful.”

“Yes, they managed to get capture quite handily,” Moria deadpanned.

She laughed, a little ruefully. “You will admit, we’re better in trees than in boats.”

“Oh, I do not know. I am quite taken with life at sea, now,” said the wizard. Quinn groaned.

“True, it does grow on you,” said Nyleth. “Though if there were more flowers, that would make it even better.”

“The sea over the woods, and the desert over all,” intoned Nima.

“I hadnae thought o’ that,” said Quinn.

“You’re quite right, Nima,” said Nyleth.

“This is why we keep him around,” said Moria.

“I thought it was for my charm and exceedingly fine beard,” said the priest.

“Those are part of the package, right Nima?” said Nyleth, smiling at him.

“As my charm is in born, and I shall be very reluctant to shave, we shall assume you are correct, Sayyadati Nyleth.” She laughed and handed Quinn the last bacon kolache.

Moria brought them back to the point. “If we leave Kaldar to his fate, it will likely be a grim one. The others are at least among … humanoids? Not that that carries any kind of guarantee.”

“True,” Nyleth conceded. “If we chase the one, he may be able to tell us about the column and thereby aid our rescue of the others.” She furrowed her brow in thought for a long moment. “Let us go to the valley.”

“Right,” said Quinn. “We ready, then?”

“Let us speak to the smith and the witch before we head out,” suggested Nima.

“So, who is the blacksmith?” Nyleth asked as they walked.

“I do not know, but the men from the column saw fit to detain and interrogate him,” said Moria. “Also, do you still have a bottle of wine? The richter suggested it might loosen the witch’s lips.”

“But not more than one bottle or her lips will be exceedingly loose,” said Nima.

“I always have a bottle of wine,” said Nyleth. “Do you think a red or a white would be more appropriate?” Moria shrugged, bemused.

“We’ll ask ‘er?” said Quinn.

“I will, perhaps. The škrata are usually herbalists, midwives … hedge wizards, really.”

They wandered the small village until they heard the sounds of hammer on anvil. The smith was a balding man who wore only woolen breeches and a leather apron. His feet were black almost to the ankle from the soot and ash blanketing the floor o fhis smithy.

“Good morning!” Nyleth called out in Fomoraig.

Ahoj!” he said, eyes on the forge.

“Do you happen to speak Lavinian?” she asked in that tongue.

He glanced up and shook his head. “Fomoraig … wa al-Hammadi.”

Nyleth switched to Hammaddi for the benefit of her companions. “Few on these shores know such a tongue – how delightful!” The blacksmith wiped his hands on his apron and gave them all a slight bow.

“Well met,” said Quinn. “Kin we trouble ye fer a minute o’ yer time? We’ve jist come doon from th’ richter’s place.”

The smith nodded, grim-faced, as he placed a finely wrought spearhead on a workbench and began honing it. “Oh, that’s lovely!” Nyleth complimented him.

“He tol’ us,” Quinn continued, “that some of the men … detained ye recently. Kin ye tell us wha’ that was all aboot?” The smith paused, scowling at the workbench, then nodded sharply as he ground the whetstone against the rippled steel fiercely.

“Oh, goodness, I’m sorry,” Nyleth said gently. “I can’t imagine that was very pleasant.” The smith sighed and placed the spearhead down, relaxing his large muscled shoulders a bit. “Those men couldn’t have been up to anything good,” the bard added quietly.

“An’ we’re lookin’ fer ‘em,” Quinn said, as softly as he could manage.

Frowning over his workbench, the smith kept his eyes cast downward, idly rearranging his tools and wiping down the beaten oak surface. Through gapped teeth, he recounted his experience. “Two lobber-men come for me, says that I must come with them. I’ll not be a lobber’s stew, so’s I did as I’s told. To their lieutenant, they brought me. A hob-lobber as big as an ox, if I’m any judge. He throws this curved dagger at my feet, where it stuck fast. I’d seen its like before, recognized it at once.”

He met their gaze for the first time since they’d entered his shop. “You see, I was a journeyman, once upon a time. I traveled to the south, to learn brazing and steel-weaving from the alchemists. I learned their makers’ marks, and the lieutenant knew of my travels. He asks me, in that guttural accent they have, the lobbers … he asks me if I recognize it. And I did, so I told him. It were the mark of the ‘Ad-Dawa al-Jadeed’, those they put on their assassins’ knives. “

Nyleth held his gaze and nodded slowly. “I believe I know of whom you speak.”

“I’m glad someone does,” Quinn muttered.

The blacksmith leaned on his bench for a moment, recalling. “I heard stories, you see. I heard they do not fear death, and that they can sneak anywhere. Anyone might be one o’ their assassins, they say in the Hammaddins’ lands. One day your most trusted friend saves you from a charging camel, and the next he slays your son with one o’ them daggers, just to send a message. Just to frighten their noble ladies. Not many left, I had heard. Most were wiped out a generation ago, but a rival tribe, the Ad-Dina tribe, put them to the sword, it was said. Some battle over a castle, I think. I never knew the details.”

Quinn stroked his beard in thought. “We are acquainted with the tale in parts,” said Nyleth. “And I can imagine this would be the last place you would expect to see such a thing.”

The smith shrugged. “All the talk on the road is of war. Dominaks raising banners, sellswords coming from all over to fight for coin. And there’s been foreigners here too. Maybe it’s the easterlings they’re to fight. Who knows?”

“I hope that whatever is happening finds you safe,” she said. He nodded appreciatively and stoked his forge. “Thank you,” she added quietly, leaving a tiny Hammaddin pin on his anvil then quietly withdrawing.

“You are truly a master of a smith, sir,” said Nima. “Many thanks.” The smith carried on with his craft.

“Mebbe Amirandi sent the assassins after the hob boss?” suggested Quinn, speaking Faerie.

“Perhaps,” said Nyleth. “There seem to be many shifting alliances at work here.”

“Perhaps he wanted to secure the armies without having to make payment,” said Moria.

They returned to the crossroads with the great monolith. They heard the sounds of rustling in the undergrowth a moment before a pile of rags stirred from behind the standing stone. The figure awkwardly rose to reveal a stunted, bent-backed, toothless Fomoraig crone, leaning shakily on a twisted tall-briar walking stick. One eye was cataract-white, staring blindly ahead, while the other was steely grey and shifted to and fro nervously. Sparse white hairs tumbled messily from under her tangled babushka as low as her bent knees. The old woman muttered to herself in her own tongue.

“Blessings, škrata,” Nyleth said. The crone nodded vigorously at her.

Quinn and Nima bowed. “Respectful greetings, ‘ushti,” said the priest in his own language. The old woman stared at him, shouting something at him in Fomoraig.

“Her name is Zoila, Nyleth,” Moria informed the bard.

Nyleth pulled out a bottle of white wine, and the crone steadied herself, licking her toothless lips greedily. She blurted out another bit of gibberish. Nyleth opened the bottle and produced glasses from somewhere, pouring wine for everyone. Zoila gulped down her glass at once, beckoning for more, and Nylth obliged.

The crone finished off the wine again eagerly and then wiped her mouth, looking at each of the adventurers hard. Quinn smiled at her, without flashing his teeth, in case her animal instincts got the better of her.

Mad Zoila’s good eye began to steady and lose focus. Her shaking and fidgeting subsided and she stared into the middle distance. She began to murmur eldritch verses in lofty tones, clutching her throat and making wafting motions with her other hand. Finally, she took a pinch of grey and white dust from a bowl and cast it into the air, where it dissipated as she took a long, drawn out gasp of air.

She then looked at each of them in turn, speaking in perfect unaccented Faerie, Icatian, and Hammaddi. “Greetings, travelers of distant lands! Come ye to have your fortunes told by Mad Zoila?” Moria’s eyebrows ascended his forehead.

“If Mad Zoila would do us the honor?” Nyleth said in Faerie. “Then we would be pleased to hear them!”

“I’d be … honored, Mad…ame Zoila,” Quinn said in Icatian. “What must I do?”

“I would be honored, Sayyadati Zoila,” Nima said in Hammaddi.

Moria held his tongue.

The crone settled herself on the overgrown mound and took a brown leather pouch from under her ragged shawl. She shook it vigorously, clattering the contents within. She poured out a pile of finger-bones etched with runes and stared at their arrangement with her steely grey eye.

“I see … a journey, a winding path … forked, but both ways lead to the same destination. You must choose … the longer, safer path, or the short path fraught with peril. I see … an evil, a horrible darkness…” she said, her voice quaking. “This evil looms over and surrounds a victim wearing the guise of an adversary, a hapless pawn of its dark gods, this one.” Her voice sounds sad.

“I see an obstacle on your journey … but it lies before the evil … and the victim, barring them from their desires. To achieve what you wish, you have two patrons available to you. You may call upon an old god … or a new one.”

“Your words are wise, Madame, and we will meditate upon them,” said Nyleth. She handed the old woman the bottle and bowed to her. Zoila gathered up her runes, placing them carefully back into her pouch. Quinn looked around at his companions, not sure if they were finished. Moria merely looked skeptical.

“Come ye for any other service?” asked the crone. “Mad Zoila knows much and more!”

“There’s somethin’ I’d know, aye,” said Quinn. “But there’s more pressin’ questions at hand.” Moria gazed at him steadily.

“We would talk for a moment, if you have time,” said Nyleth. “We are not the first foreigners to come this way, I fear?”

Zoila sucked at the wine bottle, releasing the lip with a wet slurp. “Nay! Nay! Two men there were before. They spoke within Zoila’s hearing, yes they did!”

“Tell us, Wise Mother, what did they speak of?” asked Nima.

“Foreigners they were, but they wore the guises of our people. BEAR BAITING!” Zoila suddenly shrieked. “I saw through their masks. Zoila sees through the mists and fog … she does! They spoke in strange words, like a thousand black ants swarming about the grass. But, to have sight one sees the patterns of their scurrying. Words they make in the dirt, words Zoila can read.”

The old crone rocked back on her heels, muttering to herself. “The innkeep will hang, oh yes he will … oh yes!” She broke into a fit of cackling that ended in ragged, wet coughing. Coming abruptly to her senses, Zoila recalled the details. “They were speaking of someplace far away … someplace in the west, across the salt seas. They spoke of a woman they were meant to seize. They failed, and their masters were wroth. So they fled, they fled here. They fled from their wrathful masters, because they failed to get the woman. They took her prize, though. Something valuable, something precious to her. More precious was it to their wrathful masters, though. A ‘key’ they called it … a key to a mountain. The ‘Mount of the Seven’, they said.”

Quinn looked to his companions for any sign of recognition, then asked the crone, “Did they say where they was goin’ Madame Zoila?”

“Heheheh! Spin, you fool! Spin round and round amongst the pines, else you wish to be deceived? SPIN DAMN YOU!!!”

Nyleth began to spin, and said “Whee!” Quinn’s expression was mystified. Zoila’s attention seemed to have turned to pulling at weeds from around the standing stone, and Quinn moved to help. Moria’s dubious expression condemned everything in the immediate surroundings.

The bard stopped spinning, pulled out her lute, and began to pick at an old Fomoraig tune. She gave Quinn a prompting glance, and he nodded. “I had one more question, Madame Zoila,” said the Dalesman hesitantly. “Iss aboot a girl.” The crone’s good grey eye flicked up at him.

Moria muttered in Antiglot, and Nyleth scolded him. He looked up at her in surprise.

Quinn hadn’t looked away from the crone. “I jist wanna ken if we’ll be t’gether, or if I’m jist … wastin’ mah time.”

Zoila patted Quinn’s cheek with a gnarled hand. “Lovestruck this one is, oh yes! But, he brings flowers to lay at her dainty feet … such fools men be! Love finds its own, it does … Mayhap love looks for him, while he runs and runs. Stand still, brave lad! Love finds its own.”

The Dalesman grinned. “Aye, Madame Zoila. Aye! I Cannae thank ye enough.”

“A destrier is a mighty beast indeed, my lad! But see how the elk run free and joyful together in the wild. Be wild, my boy. Be wild and love will find its own!”

A weird glimmer found Quinn’s eyes. “Wild! Aye.”

Then Zoila fixed her gaze on Moria. He gave her a level look. “No.”

“You will come back to Zoila, anon,” said the crone. “I have seen your queer eyes in my dreams of late.”

“They are lovely eyes, though,” Nyleth said kindly.

She pointed a gnarled finger at the wizard. “See how they run! See how they run! Run while you can jann-man. Your accounts will be settled soon enough!”

“Enjoy your drink,” Moria said coldly, spinning on his heel and stalking away. Zoila resumed her “gardening”.

Nyleth watched the wizard go. “Thank you, Zoila. Your word were most appreciated,” she said. The others also offered their thanks, then followed after Moria.

“So, uh…” said Quinn when he’d caught up to the wizard. “D’ye ken which way we’re goin’?”

“Down the mountain. Into the valley.” Moria’s tone was clipped, and he waved vaguely in a direction.

“We are ready to go, then?” said Nima.


* * *

They found the warg-riders’ trail with little trouble. It meandered into the valley at a precarious slope, but in their haste, the men had left behind quite a clear path. They hacked and pressed their way deeper and deeper into the woods, and the chalk maples gave way to tall, proud soldier pines. They came across the remnants of a campsite, and Quinn went to have a closer look.

It looked like animals had rolled in the underbrush and humanoids had laid out bedrolls. They found the remains of a campfire by a large tree with exposed roots on a bank along the road near some berry bushes. Water flowed from a small stream.

“Do not eat those,” said Moria, pointing at the berries. He seemed to have calmed down.

Quinn asserted that about eight wargs and a dozen small humanoids had made camp there, along with half a dozen “regular-sized” humanoids. However, fewer tracks left the site and made way deeper into the valley. He found a tiny cold-iron cage in the underbrush nearby and freed it from the brush.

“Brutes,” Moria commented.

“Perhaps we should follow the trail until nightfall?” said Nima.

“Right,” said Quinn. “We kin find a better spot that dinnae smell like wargs.”

“Stay close to the stream if we can,” said Moria.

They pushed deep into the valley and found that the sun was setting as they entered a narrow defile. They made camp and settled in for the evening.

* * *

In the dead of night, Nima nudged the others to attention. “We are beset. Rise and ready!”

They could all hear the cawing of crows above their heads and the sounds of rustling in the bushes around their camp. Shambling into the dim firelight came the corpses of wolf and goblin, shuffling forward. From their bodies, wet vines have sprouted, their flesh rotting off their bones as they stumbled forward, arms outstretched.

“So, thaht’s wha’ happened to’m…” said Quinn.

Session 6.05: Rumors in Detva
In Which the Heroes Hear Useful Stories.

25 September 1380 C.E.

Quinn stepped chivalrously forward and sent his falcata flashing into the beast as it reared up and roared. “Stay close tae me!” he called back over his shoulder. Moria stepped between the paladin and Nyleth then chanted a rapid transmutation; he and his companions began to move more swiftly. The bard puffed her bangs out of her eyes and began to sing a song of battle. Mid-verse, she cast confusion on one of the owlbears. The beast’s enormous wild eyes remained fixed on Moria as the wizard retreated. It swiveled its feathered head and blinked, ruffling its neck feathers but losing none of its focus.

With a whoosh of flame, Nima’s fire elemental appeared in front of the second owlbear, attacking it even as the priest rushed forward with his scimitar. The owlbear screeched with pain as Nima’s blade bit into its flank. It wheeled on the priest, pacing round a few feet before rearing and descending on the half-elf with beak and claws. The former only grazed Nima, but the claw caught the priest’s sleeve and the beast wrapped its great paws around his shoulders, squeezing with great strength.

Meanwhile, its mate assailed Quinn. “Lessee what ye got, numpty,” said the Dalesman, raising his shield. The immense weight of the beast proved too much for him, and it clambered over to rake and bite him. “Ahhh! Bloody hells!” he cried as it wrestled him to the ground.

As the monster threw its full weight on top of the spellknight, he dropped backwards to the ground. Rolling under the beast’s claws and bracing his sword against the ground, he let the creature bury the blade deep within itself. Quinn rolled aside as the animal shuddered and rolled over dead. “Thass how we deal wi’ ye lot ‘n Invershire,” he wheezed.

“Just like wrestling your cousins back home, eh Quinn?” said Moria.

“Bah, this one wrestles like mah girl cousins,” said the Dalesman with a wink.

“Considering all the hair, that was my assumption, yes,” said the Wizard. Quinn coughed out a laugh as Moria advanced on the owlbear grappling Nima and released a spray of vibrant magical color. The beast’s eyes filled with radiance, and it gave another mighty shriek, clutching Nima tightly but shaking its tremendous head vigorously swaying back and forth.

While it writhed, Nyleth pulled her bow and fired at the owlbear. The first arrow found a place in the monstrous creature’s flank, eliciting another screech. The second arrow buried itself in the owlbear’s gaping beak, the fletching protruding from its maw. The beast groaned and collapsed, flattening Nima beneath it. Moria winced sympathetically.

“Oh no!” cried the bard. “Nima, I’m so sorry!”

“Do not concern yourself for that,” said Nima. “But a little help would be very welcome.” Nyleth rushed over and tried to pull the owlbear off of him. Quinn untangled himself from his owlbear and went to help the bard.

While they extricated the priest, Moria glanced around, seeking additional abominations, but the woods around them were eerily quiet. “Hopefully, we’ve just taken down the largest predators in the area. I wonder if their bits are worth anything,” he mused aloud. He collected one of the beast’s claws anda couple of beak-teeth.

Nyleth and Quinn heaved the beast over onto its side with a grunt, pulling Nima to his feet. “Everyone a’right?” the paladin asked.

“Not a scratch. You?”

“Nothin’ I cannae mend on mah own.”

“All good!” said Nyleth. “Nima? Are you all right?”

“I’m injured, but not excessively,” said the priest.

The holy men applied healing magic to their injuries, as the light of the sun streamed orange and purple horizontally through the trees, heralding dusk. “Welp, mebbe we kin still make it while there’s daylight left,” said Quinn.

“I hope so,” said Nyleth. “I don’t think I’d prefer to be out here at night.”

“You speak for me as well, Sayyadati Nyleth,” said Nima.

Quinn led the way as they resumed their trek to Detva Village, along the ridge and up the mountainside. The path hugged close to the cliff’s edge, and they came to a three-way crossroads. Their path meandered to the north, and a nearby waystone indicated that it led to “Hropka Tozka”. The path to Detva Village forked to join their current path on either side of an overgrown triangular hillock, pocked by patches of brightly colored mushrooms. Atop the mound is a standing stone about five feet in height with well-worn carvings upon its face. Quinn’s pace slowed as the group neared the stone.

“Oh, how pretty!” exclaimed Nyleth, moving to take a closer look. “Ah, darn. Another battle marker,” she said, sounding a little disappointed.

“Battle marker?” prompted Moria.

“Battle of Stizla’s Victory. It was during the War of the Exile Lords.”

“Oh, those crazy Exile Lords,” the wizard said without recognition.

Nyleth laughed a little. “He was awarded knighthood for his bravery and calm head during the battle. Fomoraig history can be … impenetrable at times. But this was from long, long ago. Before the Kannites.”

“Huh,” said Quinn.

“Perhaps we’ll find out more in the village,” said the bard, pointing up ahead. “Shall we?”

“Aye,” said the Dalesman.

“Let us carry on, then,” said Nima.

They took the right fork up to the village, just as the sun set at their backs, disappearing into the flat horizon of Dimgrit Fen below. Detva Village was constructed along a cliff, rising up and up along two slopes, cradling a more level saddle between. The village was sparsely wooded with skinny red pine saplings and wide chalk maples. There appeared to be hearths being lit, and smoke was only just rising from chimneys as night fell.

They did not have to wander far to find a strapping young Fomoraig boy splitting logs alongside his home in the deepening gloom. Nyleth cheerily inquired about the location of the nearest inn. The boy wiped his brow, paying her no heed, before pointing up the path. She thanked him pleasantly, and he nodded absently and began truculently splitting logs again. The party headed in the indicated direction.

The inn was a long two-story building with narrow peaked slate roof, and a stucco exterior built on a sloping knoll along the east road out of the village. The waystone indicated that the east road led to “Kamenar’s Rift”. The inn was surrounded by chalk maples, and firelight shined through leaded glass windows. A wooden shingle hung from the eave above the entrance, depicting a slattern clutching a jug.

“S’not wi’out its charm,” Quinn sighed as he opened the door and held it for the others.

Inside, the commons were crowded with predominately local folk, mostly hunters, trappers, tanners, and craftsmen. The commons flanked a great hearth opposite the entrance, where a haunch of ox-chuck turned on a spit, basted and brooded over by a hump-backed old woman with sallow cheeks and a bright yellow babushka worn over a stained cook’s apron. A stack of carved wooden bowls sat near at hand, and tucked into her narrow leather belt she wore a long curved carving knife, paired with a two-tined iron fork, with matching antler handles. To the left of the hearth was a small cellar door, only four feet tall, through which emerged a child-sized grey-bearded old man bearing tankards of ale for his patrons. To the right, at the end of the long-commons was a man-sized stair, leading up.

“So, this is another language I dinnae ken,” lamented Quinn.

“I have picked up a little,” Moria told him in Faerie. “But do not worry. We still have Nyleth.”

As if on cue, the bard stepped to the fore to speak for the party in the local tongue. “Good evening, Honored Mother,” she said politely to the babushka. “Might we join the common room?”

The old woman grunted and nodded, never taking her eyes off the roast. She paused to draw her tools, sliced off a long ribbon of meat, and dropped it into a bowl, handing it to Nyleth without so much as a glance. She did the same for the others as they approached.

“Thank you, Mother,” said Nyleth. She tried to find the cleanest table, but stopped on the way to ask a very short man about the beer of the house. Upon closer inspection, the innkeep bore the large eyes, pointed ears, and curly hair of a halfling. Though childish in stature, his face was deeply lined and his hair almost completely grey. He bustled about the commons, attending the locals and making conversation whilst serving a thick black ale in carved horn flagons.

“Greetings, friend. Might we have a bit of that? It smells wonderful.”

The short innkeeper smiled with tight lips and pressed the last tankard in his hand into Nyleth’s. She thanked him profusely and tried the brew. The ale was thick and dark, smelling of pine and toast, with a strong malty flavor, spiced with just a touch of juniper, finishing tart and bitter. The halfling looked up and down at her and Moria, then he eyed Nima and Quinn before declaring, “Tri!” holding up three fingers, and scurrying off.

Surveying the crowded room, they espied only one table tucked into a dark corner with empty seats, currently occupied by four weary-looking Fomoraig sellswords, by the look of them. Three men and a woman played dice amid the skeletal ruins of a hearty meal of game birds. They wore mismatched hauberks of brigandine and mail. Under the table, in a heap, were baldricks of various-sized axes and their longbows and half-full quivers were neatly leaning unstrung in a neat sheaf behind them in the corner.

Moria blinked in recognition, even as Nyleth approached the table and addressed the sellswords. “Hello,” she said brightly. “Would you mind if we shared your table?”

“Nyleth…” Moria said in Faerie.

The tallest of the three men smiled at the bard and said in Fomoraig, “Of course, young maid! Sup with us! I am Reko! These are Stiko, Drata, and Katya.” The woman narrowed her eyes at the elves, studying their faces keenly. Moria feined disinterest and took a seat in the corner. Nyleth thanked the man and slipped in next to the wizard, keeping Quinn and Nima between them and the woman.

The two men looked the Dalesman up and down appraisingly. “Evenin’,” Quinn said in Icatian. Moria glanced at him. It was as good as a smile. The woman’s eyebrow arched suddenly. The tallest of the three men smiled his most disarming smile at Nyleth. The short innkeep appeared suddenly with three tankards of ale and set them on the table, patting Quinn on the back. The Dalesman expressed his gratitude monosyllabically.

“Nyleth,” will you be kind enough to ask the server for an unopened bottle of wine?” Nima asked in Hammaddin.

Bílého vína?” she asked the halfling.

He looked up at her quizzically. “Vino? Jeden?” he asked, holding up one finger.

She held up one finger as well, and smiled. “Láhev, prosím.” The innkeep nodded and scurried off.

“Many thanks, Sayyadati Nyleth,” said Nima, sticking with his native tongue. She nodded and turned her attention to address the sellswords.

“Greetings! I’m Terra, and these are my friends Sabin, Locke, and Cyan,” she said in Fomoraig, pointing at Quinn, Moria, and Nima in turn.

Reko smiled appreciatively and scooted his stool closer. Drata and Stiko resumed their dice game, wagering tiny copper groats. Katya focused on Moria and asked him a question in Fomoraig, speaking too quickly for him to follow. The dicers glanced up at him, curious.

Moria shrugged helplessly. “Speak more slowly?” he said in hesitant Fomoraig. “Am new to language.”

The woman eyed him suspiciously and said very slowly, “Už … ste .. .niekedy … boli … na … Protea?”

“Protea? Lavinia?” he asked.

Katya furrowed her brow at Moria, and he shrugged helplessly once more, gesturing apologetically. She leaned over and whispered something to her companion Drata. The other man Stiko asked in Lavinian, “Katya says she has met you before?”

“Met?” said the wizard, grateful to be speaking a more familiar tongue. “I do not believe I have had the pleasure, as such.”

Reko looked up suddenly at the sound of Lavinian. “You speak the mariners’ tongue? How splendid!”

“I find it useful when traveling these Eastern waters,” said Moria. Katya glanced sidelong at her companions. Ignoring her, the wizard added, “I am new to the language, but a relatively quick study. Not to boast. Much.” He assumed an expression of false modesty.

Katya muttered something else to her companions, who said, “Ja. I think I recognize you, as well. It was in Eidothea.” Katya and the third man muttered quietly to one another.

“Oh? I have been to Eidothea once, yes. A few weeks back.” Reko looked perplexed, and forgot his conversation with Nyleth momentarily while he and the other Lavinian-speaker conversed rapidly in Fomoraig.

“Sabin,” said Moria, gesturing at Quinn, “had a holy vision there.”

“Ahh, thass why I dinnae remember ye, then,” said the Dalesman. Reko nodded slowly, coming the long way to comprehension.

“I’m almost certain we’ve not met before, lady,” Nyleth lied smoothly. Reko and Stiko seemed to believe her, but Katya and Drata looked skeptical. Drata shrugged and stood to fetch more ale, but Katya folded her arms and leaned backwards slightly on her stool, frowning.

“So, mebbe ye saw ‘im, an’ mebbe ye dinnae,” said Quinn in Lavinian. “Whass goin’ on here tonight?”

“Oh, let’s not be angry with each other,” Nyleth said, her tone mollifying. “Can we perhaps all play at dice together?”

“I could never be angry with you, sweetling,” said Reko. Quinn rolled his eyes.

Stiko shook his head and said, “We are staying until first light, then we’re bound for Kamenar’s Rift … slowly.” Reko chuckled at that.

“Is it dangerous?” asked Nyleth. “I have heard these passes are full of beasts.”

“Slowly?” Moria prompted.

Stiko glanced at Reko. “Ojai! I don’t want to run afoul of our lieutenant on the road.”

“On leave?” the wizard asked.

The sellswords stifled a laugh. “Of a fashion, you could say! Hah!” said Reko.

Moria chuckled politely. “Indeed.”

Reko leaned backwards on his stool, exhaling heavily. “We were with Dominak Lukil’s column set out from Port Crorbak, escorting a train of exotics bound for the Dominak’s stronghold.”

“Oh?” said Moria at the same time Quinn said “Oh, aye?”

Reko, deep in his cups and open with information, seemed to annoy Katya. She gathered up her weapons and stalked out of the commons.

“Does she need followin’?” Quinn asked softly in Faerie.

“Maybe … wouldn’t hurt,” Nyleth replied softly. Nima got up and walked out of the commons.

Reko continued heedless. “We enlisted with the bivouac in Crorbak. They were hiring all the swords they could find to fill the column. We were to escort something to Barad Golodhel, something valuable if they needed so many extra hands to strengthen a hob-legion, but we waited three weeks in the bivouac, eating the castellan’s stores bare. Whatever it was never arrived in port.”

“How unfortunate,” said Nyleth. “Were you paid, at least?’

Stiko scoffed and gestured to the meager pile of groats on the table with the dice in disgust. “Ahh,” said Moria. “A shame. The next round is on me for your misfortune.” He signaled the halfling.

“I ne’er seen much that I’d call ‘exotic’,” said Quinn, drawing Reko out.

The tall man was happy to oblige. “The Daan Kal Kal was the ship we waited on, we heard. Lost at sea, must be. The ship was owned by some lordly vyjebanec named LeJantre. He was responsible for the cargo, whatever it was, so when it was lost, he had to make good, and quickly! So, this freak-show was put together to appease the Dominak and get us out of the bivouac. We marched here six days ago to rest and re-provision, not that they were happy to see us,” he said to his companions, eliciting a smirk from the other two men.”

“Wha’ manner o’ freaks make up a freak show?” asked Quinn.

Stiko smirked. “Well, we was escortin’ more than what the hobs thought we was!”

Moria scoffed. “Hobs. Am I right?”

Reko nodded. “Not long after we arrived here, there was a great commotion amongst the ranks. One o’ the other sellswords was caught in the lieutenant’s tent, I heard. They put him to the question and found him to be a spy.”

Stiko chimed in, “I saw the vyjebanec, when they nailed him up. He had a coiled snake tattoo on his scalp. They shaved the hair from it and nailed it to the tree with him.”

“Well, we were staying put after that,” Reko continued. “The lieutenant had to separate us all from the gob-kin and check our scalps. We all got roughed up, too. Asked us all manner of questions: where we’re from, who we’ve served under, and all that.”

Stiko sucked on his teeth, regarding his tankard intently. “It were in all that confusion the jann-man escaped. I thought sure some of us would get flayed for that. That’s why I said to Reko, ‘We ought to volunteer to go after ‘im.’, to avoid the captain’s wrath.”

“Ahh,” said Moria. “So you are ‘On Assignment’, eh?”

They laughed out loud at that. “The sergeant puts together a hunting party of about 10 worg-riders, and a dozen of us sellswords, hunters like us,” said Reko. “We set out after the janni, but we didn’t know what we were looking for. They kept the beasts and slaves separate from us, in the core of the column, we don’t know what he looked like, how big he is, whether he needs to eat, not nothing! He left no sign, no tracks, no hair, but the worgs had his scent, so we tried to keep up. They run so fast! We were tracking them more than the quarry, just to follow along.”

“So, wha’ happened?” asked Quinn. “Did ye kitch ‘im?”

Reko shook his head sadly. “It was the first morning when we noticed two goblins were gone. A hobber turned up missing the night after that, left his arms and kit behind, right where he was sitting by the fire. They all just vanished in the night!”

Drata piped up in thickly accented Lavinian, “Drakles Valley … haunted! Mátohy in ze foresti!”

Stiko nodded sagely. “We knew they was dead, and after the first Fomoraig disappeared, we had enough.”

Reko swallowed, “You can’t pay your flesh-debt if you’re dead flesh, my da’ always said. So, the next time we lagged behind the worgs, we just turned about and headed back to Detva.”

Moria nodded in understanding. “Simple wisdom, that. I commend you.”

“How terrifying,” said Nyleth.

Reko shrugged., “We asked the village richter if he had any work for us, but he just wanted us gone. No friends to the Dominak, that one. He said that there was a good bounty to be had in Kamenar’s Rift. Someone’s put out a big purse on the head of some Hammaddin magus, there.”

“Izzat right,” said Quinn, trying to keep his tone neutral.

Moria just went for it. “Amirandi?”

Reko shrugged. “You’d have to ask the richter. We need to be on our way on the morrow, just in case any of the hobbers gain sense and come out of the woods.”

The wizard nodded thoughtfully. “So, the hobs remain on the hunt for the escaped jann man … in the haunted lands. More the fools, they.”

“Ojai. They’re still down in the valley, far as I know,” said Reko. “They’re welcome to it.” The sellswords finished the dregs in their cups and pushed away from the table.

“Best of luck, Reko! Be safe!”

“Good hunting, friends.” Moria saluted. The men thanked the adventurers for the conversation, bid them farewell, and retired for the night.

After they’d gone, Moria spoke softly in Faerie. “We will want to lock our doors tonight … if possible.”

“An’ mebbe post a watch,” suggested Quinn.

“Can we stay together again?” asked Nyleth.

Moria regarded her intently. “Of course.”

“I … really don’t feel safe sleeping alone,” she said.

“I dinnae see why nae,” nodded Quinn.

“Man, many thanks,” she said with a small smile.

“An’ mebbe in th’ morn we kin ask this richter wha’ he kens aboot this magus,” said the Dalesman.

“Amirandi can wait, if it is he. Gods willing, we are not alone in our distaste for the man. I’m for entering the haunted valley,” said Moria. “One fewer Fey to save, should we find this ‘jann man’.”

“Indeed, if we can locate one, perhaps we might learn of the others as well,” said Nyleth.

“Sounds best, aye,” said Quinn.

Session 6.04: The Lost Fey
In Which Rhoswen Tells Her Tale.

25 September 1380 C.E.

“Rhoswen, are you alright? Are they treating you well? Are you a prisoner?” Nyleth said, very quickly, in Faerie, and mostly to the side of her cousin’s head.

The elf girl blinked and stared at the adventurers in disbelief. “I am well, cousin,” she said in Faerie. “The Hrutka people are very … hospitable.” She turned to Moria, looking at him with increasing excitement. “Ecoriel! How did you find us?”

The Akaarur Tan,” he replied simply.

Rhoswhen’s lips drained of color to match her alabaster skin. “Did they … did they take you as well?”

“Nay, we found the wreckage. They’ll slave no more.”

Rhoswen cocked her head to the side, looking confused. She turned her quizzical glance on Nyleth. “Then … did you come for us? How did you know what happened?”

“We discovered it on the ship, cousin,” said Nyleth, voice strangely calm.

Moria glanced sidelong at her. “In truth, we did not learn of your situation until we happened upon the ruin of that ship. The logbook pointed us toward Port Crorbak.”

Rhoswen looked at Quinn and Nima. “But, I don’t understand. If you were not captured … where are the others?”

“We had hoped you could tell us that,” said Nyleth. “And,” she sighed heavily. “Why? You knew there were other ways.”

Rhoswen’s eyes glistened, and her composure began to crumble. In a hollo voice, she said, “Then this is only unhappy chance that brings us together in this accursed hell.” Quinn exchanged a look with Nima, looking very suddenly uncomfortable.

“Sssh,” said Nyleth. “I did not mean to upset you, but…” She held her cousin close. “I wish you’d told me. I could have helped somehow.”

“You have no rangers. There will be no rescue. My brothers and sister are lost!” cried Rhoswen.

“And I thought I was negative,” muttered Moria.

Nyleth ignored him. “No, but we do have me. Rhoswen, look at me,” she said, holding her cousin’s head up. “This is not my first time to Malecor.”

Dropping heavily onto a chair, Rhoswen’s delicate shoulders heaved with every sob. “I thought it was Angrael … that he h-had changed his m-mind and sent a rescue! OH, NYLETH! IT WAS ALL FOR NAUGHT!!!” She wept.

Nyleth held her closer. “Tell me everything, Rhos. We can make it well.”

“I sent word to my brother, at the least,” Moria said quietly. Nyleth smiled at him and mouthed a thank you. “We have the assistance of the Hrutka. They hate Yorba and we have promised to work against his interests.”

Rhoswen too up a half-full chalice of wine with a trembling hand and drank deeply, swallowing hard and making a sour face at the mortal vintage. “W-we set out nearly three moons ago. Edana had instructed us in the rangers’ ways to move silent and unseen through mortal realms. We had difficulty finding our way to the coast, but the earth-people… uh, the large ones who live in the north hills… with the firey hair on their faces and chequered skirts, they did not hunt us.” Nyleth gave Quinn a small smile, and the Dalesman nodded but said nothing as Rhoswen continued her tale.

“Edana had convinced an ally to take us by boat to the Stormy Isles, but the winds were not with us and we were becalmed at sea for weeks. We finally were put off on an island shrouded in fog, cold and rocky, where we attempted to take on provisions. We had almost lost heart and wished to turn back, but Edana gave us heart. She hunted game for us and found fresh water.” She smiled. “She was our courage Nyleth! It was you who inspired her Ecoriel, with your own tales of bravery in the Dying Lands. Because you left and returned to us, Edana knew we could survive, as well. It was so hard that first month! We all felt sick, Kaldar thought he might die.”

Nyleth gave Moria a wink. “Bravery, huh?” The wizard looked down with a frown, his expression strangely … guilty?

“Dyin’ Lands?” Quinn wanted to know.

“It is so cold in the lands of men,” said Rhoswen. “The ground is harder beneath our feet, the air hurts our throats, the sun burns hot in the day, and the night is darker than in Faerie. We could not approach the ports of men in our eagle galley, so we paddled to the shores of a place Kaldar called ‘Protea’. It was a terrifying place. Wild and filled with dumb animals who could not speak. At night we would hear the sounds of horrid creatures wailing and rutting. But Edana urged us onward. Kaldar and I met with some men who cast nets in the sea by the sand. Kaldar enchanted them and they agreed to take us to the realm of Kane, to a safe place, secluded, a forest perhaps.”

Her eyes became haunted, and she began to tremble anew. “On the second night… they c-c-came upon us.” Tears rolled down her milky white cheeks. “I remember so little of what happened. They came upon us so fiercely and so quick!”

“Settites? Or slavers?” Nyleth asked.

“I remember their sails … so black and ragged. They were monsters with grey skin and cruel teeth. They fell upon the mortals with curved black swords and burning brands screaming like animals! They found us below the deck, and Edana fought them like she was possessed by a demon! I cannot remember how many fell to her, but Kaldar drove some of them back with his magic. Amquis harried them with his bow, and I ministered to our wounds, invoking the blessings of our Holy Mother, but I do not think she can hear me so far away from home.” She choked with a terrified sob.

“Her grace extends to the bounds of our lands, and little farther, dearest,” Nyleth said quietly.

“But something else was with them, some great demon from hell. I did not hear it, nor see it approach her, but suddenly there it stood behind Edana as she cut through the monsters. She struck at it too late, and it seized her … lifted her up into the air with but one hand. Amquis shot it with his enchanted bow, but his elf-shot had no effect. Kaldar cast enchantments on it, but the creature ignored him. It finally cast Edana aside as she struggled when Angonal charged.

“The demon seemed no match for Angonal’s strength, but it had fell sorcery. I remember it wielded a weapon like a serpent of iron, which bit deep into Angonal’s flanks, drawing blood and making him weak. The demon was quick and stayed out of reach of Angonal’s spear. But Angonal could not avoid the iron snake. Finally, it struck the noble centaur down, but Edana rallied only to fall before the hellspawn. The Kannites had us by then, and we were taken… to…to their ship…” she resumed crying, then drank heavily from the chalice, attempting to calm herself.

“Rhos,” Nyleth said quietly. “It’s all right. We’re here now.”

“Easy, there, lass,” said Quinn.

In a barely audible whisper, Rhoswen said, “I do not care to recall what they did to us aboard that horrible ship. Edana fought back the fiercest, so she was the most ill-used. They brought us here, to this awful place.” The spellknight paled visibly.

“You need not tell,” said Nyleth. “But I do wish to know, are they ill-treating you here?”

“The Hrutka people rescued me, after we were taken to the beast pits.”

“I am glad to hear of that, at least,” the bard said, rather firmly.

“Kaldar said that they were taking us somewhere far from here. We saw them prepare the cages. We were to be taken someplace else with those monstrous beasts they keep. In cages, like dumb animals! But, as we were being loaded into the wagon-cages, one of the men seized me. He spoke to me in a language I did not understand and threw his cloak about me. He took me away from there, away from my brothers and sister. He brought me to Lada, who gave him coins. I have been here ever since, learning their queer language.”

Nyleth hugged her cousin very tightly, and Rhoswen sobbed into her hair. “I wish you had told me, cousin,” the bard said very quietly, almost to herself. “There is so much to tell…” her voice trailed off. “Things are better. We will make things right.”

“But … HOW?” Rhoswen cried. “Edana and Angonal are taken east in cages!”

“Ah, well, you would be surprised how much can be learned by simply asking the right questions.” She smiled warmly at her cousin. “Besides, between Ecoriel, Quinn, Nima, and myself, we have many ways to find the trail.”

“Strewth,” said Quinn.

“We found a missing girl with less to go on than this,” said Moria.

“An’ we found ye,” said Quinn. “Anythin’ kin happen.”

“You … you intend to rescue them?” said Rhoswhen, incredulous. “But, cousin Nyleth … you were never a warrior!”

“Was I?” Moria asked her quietly.

Rhoswen looked up at him and seemed heartened. “Yes! Yes, that is true, Ecoriel. You did not need a sword. And you have survived for years on the outside!”

“Mostly due to Quinn,” he said, gesturing at the big Dalesman.

“Thaht’s what I’m here fer.”

Nyleth hugged her cousin close. “Perhaps I am not a warrior, but my feet have tread the mortal soil for many years, and my eyes were always open. I still do not understand why you did this thing, nor will I, I fear. Why did you not ask for my counsel?”

Wiping tears from her face, Rhoswen said,” You were not in Faerie! We were by ourselves and Angrael was so wroth with me. I never should have told him of our plans. He would have told the Tuatha Ben Kesir, so I said that we must move earlier than we had planned, before we had gathered more of our brethren to our cause.”

“Oh dearest,” Nyleth said, shaking her head. “I wish you had waited. I would have returned … but there is little that can be done now. By the way, cousin … these are Quinn and Nima, both worthies from outside and within. It is due to their help and friendship that Ecoriel and I are here.”

She stood abruptly and unsteadily, for an elf, looking to the others. “Oh! Forgive me, mortals. I am distraught and did not greet you. I am Rhoswen O’Gairbhin na Bail Atha Cliath, of the Tuatha Sylva Gleann.”

“‘Mortals’ is an odd choice of word for one who has left the safe confines of Faerie,” Moria said softly.

“Think nothin’ of it. Ser Quinn Mac Teague, at yer service.” He tipped his floppy hat.

She beamed most disarmingly. “Oh, how gallant you are! And you speak our language, as well! How remarkable.”

Quinn blushed a bit. “Thass all on these two.” He indicated Moria and Nyleth.

Rhoswhen nodded, then turned to greet Nima. “And you … you have a fey face, but you are dressed as a mortal.”

The priest bowed. “Abd-Al-Azhar Nima Ibn Ni’ad wa-al-Ashar, at your service, Sayyadati.”

“Are you of Faerie?”

“My father only, Sayyadati. My mother is Human.”

Rhoswen looked momentarily surprised, then blushed ever so daintily. “Oh! Oh, I am sorry. I did not mean to…” she giggled, embarrassed.

“You need not concern yourself,” Nima assured her.

Rhoswhen regained her composure and curtsied. “Thank you, good men, for finding me. And thank you cousin Nyleth! I just know that all will be set aright now that you are here.”

“It will be well,” said Nyleth, smiling at her cousin warmly. “If we must travel away from the port, will you be safe here?”

The sound of the lock on the door clicked once again, and Lada entered, closing the door behind her. The Fomoraig woman regarded them all curiously. “I trust you have become acquainted with our little guest?” she asked in her own tongue, eliciting a scowl from Quinn.

“Indeed,” Nyleth said with a smile. “Thank you for intervening on my cousin’s behalf.”

Rhoswen cleared her throat and said, “Ahoj, Lada. ďakujem Vám za láskavosť.

Ste vítaní. Budem vidieť, že máte viac vína, Rhoswen,” Lada said

ďakujem, Lada,” said Rhoswen, sounding grateful.

Lada turned to the adventurers and spoke once more in Lavinian. “So, do you have a plan, then?”

“We are hoping to form one soon,” said Nyleth. “I am curious about many things, as you would imagine.”

Lada spread her hands to the sides. “Well, may I be of assistance?” she asked, raised robust eyebrows.

Nyleth smiled broadly. “I hope so! Do you know where they might be taking Rhoswen’s company?”

Lada looked to Rhoswen and asked her something in Fomoraig, speaking very slowly. Rhoswen’s eyes widened and she said, “Kaldar overheard the men speaking. We were to be taken someplace called … Barad Golodhel.”

Lada nodded smugly, like she was showing off a well-trained bird. “Barad Golodhel is the secret fortress of Dominak Lukil,” she explained.

“Ah, Shadow’s Death,” Nyleth said thoughtfully. “Not many people know where it is … besides Kannites.”

“Sounds like something I would have written,” Moria murmured.

“Well, it’s supposedly pretty large,” said the bard. “Legend has it, it is the final resting place of one of the five dragon scions.”

A servant brought in a chased pitcher of wine and five cups. Quinn tried to make himself comfortable as he signaled for a cup. Rhoswen filled her chalice and the spellknight’s cup eagerly. He caught scent of the sour wine before tasting it, and his nose wrinkled. “I think this’s turned,” he said, setting the cup down.

Nyleth sipped delicately at her own wine and continued. “I believe that one’s name was Umbrae.” He expression turned stormy. “Ah, yes. Umbrae was the one who led the attack during the Demon Wars. Umbrae led the charge that took Grandfather.”

Lada nodded sagely. “Just so. The site is supposedly sacred to Kane and his issue. I know not where it can be found. Dominak Lukil is notoriously paranoid, especially after…” She looked meaningfully at Nima, who smiled disarmingly at her. “Well, after all who would threaten him. We have heard, however, that the legion accompanying the caravan of flesh set out on the road for Detva.”

Nyleth nodded. “I must ask, your ladyship, two more things before we take up the road to Detva. Will Rhoswen be safe here while we go? And,” she set the wineglass down, “what do you hope to gain from this?”

Lada’s full lips pressed together tightly as she eyed the bard warily. Then, her mouth slowly spread into a wide grin. “A fair question. And wise to speak so plainly. Since we are alone, I will tell you this. My mother is no friend to Yorba LeJantre, and he is favored of Dominak Lukil. We do not wish to see any harm done to anyone, for that would be too dangerous. But someone wishes the Dominak dead. Someone besides his known rivals…” She looked at Nima again. “Someone foreign.”

“Not I or anyone that I know of,” said the priest. “You have my word.”

Moria gave Nima a look, then turned backed to Lada. “I think I take your meaning.”

Lada’s smile faded a bit. “A pity. We would be most interested to learn who the foreign player is in this game.”

“If we … over hear anything, your ladyship,” said Nyleth, smiling and winking slyly, “we might be able to pass that on, as thanks for the hospitality you’ve shown my cousin.”

Lada looked piteously at Rhoswen, who was refilling her chalice and twisting her face with every sip. “Ah, the poor magnificent creature. We acquired her at great expense in the vain hope that the Fey were the foreign assassins. But, she seems only a frightened child to our eyes. We keep her here at great peril to our house. If any were to know we protect her, it would mean our destruction.”

“Ahh. No one steals from Dominak Lukil,” Moria said sagely.


“Perhaps, then, we could broker an agreement,” said Nyleth. “It is too dangerous for us to bring her along the road, I fear.”

“Of course. What do you propose?” asked Lada.

“We would be willing to eliminate LeJantre from Port Crorbak’s intrigues permanently in exchange for Rhoswen. And if we need to do it via a foreign agent, then it will be as such.”

“Nyleth, we are foreign agents,” Moria said in Faerie.

She looked at him then squinted. “OH! We are, aren’t we?”

Lada’s eyes sparkled with amusement. “We do not wish LeJantre dead. Far from it. My mother would have far worse visit the scoundrel. We would have him live long and in disgrace. But, if he were to die untimely, we would prefer it if he were put to death by the Dominak. As in, we would be unsurprised if LeJantre were in league with these ‘foreign agents’, and had some hand in the assassination attempt on Lukil.”

“Ah, now, disgrace is much easier,” said Nyleth with a laugh.

Quinn began to squirm, and Moria placed a hand on the paladin’s arm. “If we stage an assassination attempt and implicate Yorba…” he said in Faerie.

“It ain’t exactly … gallant, izzit,” Quinn replied in kind.

“Let us amend the terms,” Nyleth said. “We shall bring back as much information as possible and do what we can to aid your cause.”

Lada stared hard at the bard. “We would know who the assassins are, and if Lukil is led to believe that LeJantre is one of them … so much the better.”

“I understand,” said Nyleth.

Moria frowned at the Fomoraig woman, and continued speaking to Quinn. “Although now I’m getting the impression that there are already assassins in play. But gallant, it is not. Dark shores, dark means.”

“Thass how it’s gotta be, then,” said the paladin, sounding resigned.

Lada raised her cup and said, “Should you or any of your countrymen seek safe shelter, come to the side gate after midnight, under cover of darkness. Be in disguise and you will find empty wine bottles nearby, throw them over the wall, and you will be granted entry.”

“We will do what we can, Lada,” said Nyleth, raising her cup as well. “And I trust that you will hold Rhoswen safe until our tasks are complete. You do us a great service, and at great risk to your house. We will not betray that trust.”

They drank deeply to seal the bargain.

Nyleth glanced over at her cousin, who was more than a little into her cups. “Lada, has she been drinking like this the whole time she’s been here?”

“She seems to have taken a fondness for Dimgrit Sour,” said the Fomoraig. “She has been through a terror, poor creature. It seems to help her sleep.”

“Ah, I see. We faerie are … a little more delicate than others in some respects.” Quinn grumbled, and Moria smirked at him.

Lada nodded. “It was difficult at first to make her eat, but she seldom retches her supper any longer.”

Nyleth pulled Rhoswen’s hair back over her shoulder and tried to make her a little more presentable. “That is good news, at least. I thank you for your kindnesses to her. We will work on her sleeping without wine later, yes? When the terrors have faded.” Lada nodded politely.

“Rhoswen? Cousin?” said Nyleth, making sure she had the girl’s attention. “We will be back soon, dearest.” She pulled a very delicate gossamer blanket from her bag and placed it over her cousin.

Rhoswen kissed Nyleth enthusiastically. “You will save them! I know you will!”

“Of course, dearest.”

* * *

After Moria and Nima were given Fomoraig cloaks to cover themselves, Lada had the monstrous bodyguard, which was called Bolga, let the adventurers out of the stable gate. By way of farewell, the monster breathed heavily on the back of Quinn’s neck as he passed. The Dalesman paused long enough to uncurl his fists, then pressed on without a backward glance.”

Nyleth’s face was a twist of emotions. Around the corner from the compound, she stopped. “Should we leave now? Or wait?” Her arms were folded tightly across her coat, and she shifted idly from foot to foot.

“I cannae see nae reason t’tarry, lass,” said Quinn.

“Are we ready to travel, or do we need anything from here?” asked Nima.

“Let’s go,” said Moria.

The set out immediately on the east road across Dimgrit Fen. There were cottages on stilts, as well as the occasional flooded field house. Stands of cultivated rice could be seen in the distance, as well as fisherman poling on flat-bottomed boats in the deeper ponds. They walked for about two hours, swatting at midges and noting the occasional serpentine movement in the stagnant pools that flanked the road.

“‘Ware. Predators about,” Moria warned the others, pointing at the water of one of the larger ponds, some fifty feet from the road.

Nima tapped the paladin on the shoulder. “Ghazi Quinn, you may wish to be more alert.”

With a nod to both men, Quinn slid his falcata from its sheath, interposing himself between the group and the pond. Nyleth readied her bow, just in case. Ripples emanated from the point in the pond where the reptilian eyes Moria had spotted disappeared below the surface. The wizard saw the priest watching the trees and said, “Nima?”

“My attention was caught by the web in the cypress over there,” he said, pointing out a huge spiderweb joining a small stand of stunted cypress trees in the middle distance.

“This’s more like Blackmarsh than I thought,” said Quinn. He led the group forward, with an eye for avoiding the natural hazards.

They carried on for another couple of hours before they came upon a trio of ragtag Fomoraig men who wore thick layers of hides from a myriad of scaled and furred beasts. They sat on a rare dry patch of ground beside the road, twisting shriveled dry black sausages over a campfire. The men stared at the adventurers curiously as they passed, but they made no move to waylay them.

Another couple of hours passed, and the sun cast their shadows out before them on the desolate road. In the far distance they espied hills rising up out of the murk. The ground rose and became drier, and they could see more and more trees emerge as the terrain became gradually hillier. They took their rest where they could on knolls rising above the marsh.

The road became increasingly windy, and as the environment became less swampy, the trees grew thicker. They climbed higher and higher into the hills as the sun dipped lower and lower on the horizon. “We should probably find a safe place to spend the night,” Nyleth said, almost to herself.

“Right. This place’d swallow us whole in th’ dark,” said Quinn.

Moria pointed into the far distance. “I see smoke. Cookfires, I assume. See that ridgeline?” The others saw what he meant, a place no more than five miles ahead. They could not make out the course of the road to determine if it led there, or how directly.

“Do you think we can make it before the sun goes down?” asked Nyleth. “I will admit, I’m not a good judge of distance in places like this.” Moria shrugged.

“I’m game if you are,” said Quinn.

“Nima, what do you think?” asked the bard.

“Let’s be about it, then,” said the priest.

They continued on the road, which wound into the hills through narrow defiles and farther toward the cliffs. As the waning twilight pierced the half-denuded tree cover, giving the woods a red-orange glow, they saw better the village on the ridgeline ahead. It appeared that the road would lead them there, and this close they could clearly make out high-peaked rooftops above the treeline of the ridge.

Nyleth tucked the tips of her ears under her hat and pulled her braids up to cover the lower parts. Quinn noticed what she was up to and nodded. “Aye, that might be best. Won’ be long now, friends.”

The road hugged closely to a steep rocky cliff face to their right and sloped precipitously off to the left through thick stands of thin birches. They all heard the sound of twigs breaking and a deep-throated growl from up ahead. Quinn drew his sword, and Moria evoked light for his companions. An amalgam of fur and feathers, a bizarre half-bear, half-owl monstrosity hauled itself up the slope onto the road in front of them.

“Welp, thass jist greet,” said Quinn. “Git b’hind me.”

“Fascinating,” Moria said sincerely, following the order, while Nima uttered a prayer to augment the paladin’s already impressive strength.

“Whassat?” asked the paladin.

“Owl … bear?” the wizard offered uncertainly.

“Bearowl?” suggested Nyleth.

The creature looked at them all with enormous unblinking raptor-eyes and gave its great ursine body a shake before lazily advancing. Its feathered head did not move while it walked, staring steadily at the adventurers. Then they heard another growl approaching on the road behind them.

“I dinnae think we’re gettin’ out of this wi’out a fight,” Quinn said grimly.

Session 6.03: House Hrutka
In Which the Heroes Bargain with Fomoraig Nobility.

25 September 1380 C.E.

The adventurers rose in the morning and broke their fast in the commons before venturing out into the city of Crorbak. The city was lively with Fomoraig men and women, who primarily dealt in trade with goods brought into the port. Nyleth, as usual, gathered and ate everything the small vendors had to offer, sharing the bounty with her companions. Quinn pecked at the offering, clearly discomforted by the strange surroundings.

Contrary to widely held opinion, the vast majority of goods exchanged in Crorbak were just what one might find at any other major port city. However, it was the “other” goods for which Crorbak had its reputation: they passed a line of beleaguered slaves. Moria tried to get the attention of the slaver, but the man ignored him.

“Dinnae he ken we got money?” Quinn asked.

“Not sure,” said Moria, sighing as he cast charm person.

The man’s attitude changed dramatically, as the wizard had hoped. He asked the slaver where they might find House Hrutka. The man offered directions to “high-town”, where the noble families could be found. Moria thanked him and led his companions away. High town was exactly what it sounded like: an area on a hill in the midst of the wetlands that kept the noble houses above the flood line.

“Always the way, innit?” said Quinn.

“Refuse runs downhill,” said Moria.

“Kin ye read Fomoraig? Money like this, they must have a sign sayin’ how proud they are…”

The wizard held his hand out and tilted it back and forth. “Ish,” he admitted.

“I can read it,” said Nyleth. “Though some of the nuance is lost.”

“Right, then,” said Quinn. “Lessee what we kin find oot.”

After an hour of searching, they managed to find someone helpful enough to point them up the right narrow street to the dwelling of the Lady Zlava Hrutka. Like most of the structures of Port Crorbak, the house appeared to be no more than two stories. Sprawling though it was, it was encircled by a masonry wall topped with jagged fragments of basalt mortared into the crenels. They found a stout oaken door bound in iron, apparently barred from within.

“Welp, I reckon we better knock,” Quinn said before doing so. He smoothed out his drab clothes with a sigh.

They heard the bar being lifted and discarded inside, and then the door was flung open. Standing within and filling the large open portal was a savage looking horror. Towering over seven feet tall. the ugly creature resembled a twisted shadow puppet’s silhouette, a wild thing of flared black and brown fur whose pelt jutted out from its body at freakish angles. The crouching shadow’s ears were large and floppy, draping shoulder-length, adding to the creature’s unnatural shape. Its eyes were too big for its head, and tremendous milk-white ovals loomed on either side of the thing’s wheezy pig-like nose. Its panting mouth was filled with bristly needle-teeth spider-webbed in disgusting strands of yellowish saliva, all vibrating to the tune of its wheezing breath. It wore well-seasoned banded mail and held a wicked-looking morningstar with a head the size of a melon.

“What th’…” said Quinn.

Moria gave it a level look. “Charming. We’re looking for Lady Zlava Hrutka?”

The monster’s goggly eyes fixated upon the wizard, communicating only cruelty. “Zlava … Hrutka?” it wheezed.

“Indeed,” said Moria.

“Aye,” Quinn agreed, not expecting it to understand.

A sudden snarl burst from the creature’s horrid jaws, and it slammed the door shut. They heard the bar slam back into place, followed by the heavy sound of its footsteps as it stomped toward the manor.

“Huh,” said the wizard.

“Well, thaht was rude,” said Quinn, pounding on the door.

“Perhaps not … relatively,” said Moria, stepping aside to let the paladin work.

“Perhaps we have overtaxed the doorkeeper and he has gone to request instructions?” suggested Nyleth.

“Aye, here’s hopin’,” said Quinn.

After a few minutes of Quinn pounding on the door, there was still no response from within.

“If’n we go t’their slave markets, mebbe we kin hassle ‘em there,” said the Dalesman.

Moria shrugged. “Maybe. Nyleth, see if you can find another way in, perhaps?”

“Of course,” she said cheerily.

In short order, she’d found a side gate that did not appeared to be locked. She applied her thieves’ tools, but could not quite defeat the mechanism. Quinn moved forward again and began banging on the second door, which rattled loudly at his assault. He kept it up for a full minute before they heard a familiar bestial snarl from within the walls.

Once more, they heard the sound of a wooden bar clattering to the flagstones within the main entrance. After another minute, the monstrous gatekeeper lumbered around the corner of the wall, his morningstar clutched tightly in his paw. It wheezed and glared at them with malice.

“Less try thaht again,” muttered Quinn.

“Peace, friend,” said Nyleth. “We only want to speak to your masters. Would they be about?”

She stepped up lightly before the slavering beast on two legs and applied her most adorable manner. The monster loomed closely over the tiny fey woman, its fangs dribbling saliva onto the cobblestones at her feet. Its great milky eyes glimmering with mania as it leered at her intently. She patted it on the head in a pleasant manner.

The creature blinked, then stepped back with a disgruntled “HUMPH!” and turned away, casually lumbering back toward the main gate without looking back. They followed it until it came to stand before the oaken door, its morningstar hanging carelessly from its paw. It seemed to burble as it settled back on its heels, staring absently at the ground near the open door.

“Shall we not accept this invitation, then?” asked Nima.

“Let’s,” said Moria.

They pushed through the doorway and walked up a short, narrow walled approach, which opened into a small courtyard ringed with cherry trees. The façade of the manor lay only fifty feet before them, but arrayed along the stair leading up to the entrance were nearly a dozen armed and armored guards standing at attention. They barred the adventurers’ approach, and they heard the sound of the main gate slamming shut behind them. The monster stood behind them, hefting its weapon.

“Now thass a welcomin’ party,” said Quinn.

Nyleth addressed the gathering in Fomoraig. “Greetings, friends. We have recently arrived from the shores of Lavinia. Would there be someone we might speak to about settling the debt of a mutual … acquaintance?”

The soldiers stared at them all intimidatingly, while behind them the door to the manor creaked open a bit. A tall Fomoraig woman in a long, dark blue velvet gown stepped out onto the landing, regarding the adventurers coolly. She appeared to be relatively young and would be fair of face but for the crook in her nose and the weight of her brow. Nyleth bowed deeply and gracefully, and her companions followed suit, each as best as they could.

“Greetings, your ladyship, from the far shores,” Nyleth said politely.

The Fomoraig woman’s thick eyebrows arched with amusement, and she sauntered casually through the line of guards towards the adventurers, eliciting a growl of reproach from the monster at their backs. She raised her hand to calm the creature without taking her gaze from Nyleth and came to a stop right before the bard. Then the woman spoke, in thickly accented Lavinian.

“I am not my lady mother. I am Lada Hrutka, and I would know who rouses us at such an early hour with rude attacks on our doors.”

“Ahh, our apologies,” Nyleth said with a smile and another bow. “It seems we have different routines to the day. I am Nyleth of the Fae, and these are my companions. We meant no attack,” she added brightly, “though we do seem to share a common … frustration.”

Lada’s full wide lips curled slightly at the corners. “I am not frustrated. From whom do you hear I am ‘frustrated’.”

Nyleth smiled and touched the side of her nose. “It is a LeJantre that is the thorn in both of our sides, I am afraid.”

The Fomoraig lady looked at the bard incredulously. “Noble Yorba is a paragon amongst our people! Why would we wish to take part in your quarrels with him?”

The pronouncement disconcerted Moria, but Quinn was quick to whisper in Faerie, “Nay, she dinnae think that. An’ I think she might ha’ been ‘spectin’ us.” The wizard nodded, recovering his composure, but at the sound of the Fey-speech, the monster guard growled again.

“Easy there, laddie,” Quinn told it in Lavinian. The monstrosity drooled a bit as it stared wildly into Quinn’s eyes.

“Ah, of course,” Nyleth was saying to Lada with a sly smile.

“Even if you have no quarrels with him, perhaps speaking with us may provide your house an advantage?” said Nima.

“Advantage?” Lada asked, eyes alight.

“Perhaps so. Something that may advance us both. But it should not be discussed in such setting, Sayyadati.”

Plainly enjoying the parley with armed men and beast all around her, the Fomoraig woman said oh-so-innocently, “Before I admit you to my lady mother’s home, I would know something of what you bring to offer us. For our own security, you must understand.”

Quinn glanced around at the others in the uncomfortable silence that followed, surreptitiously opening his sight to any possible taint on Lada’s soul.

While he did, Nima pulled back his hood and opened his robe to display his prayer beads and other holy accoutrement. “We do have reason to speak of issues regarding House LeJantre, but none to cause you harm,” said the priest.

“It is not that what we could bring in word more than what we could bring in … publicity?” Nyleth said with an innocent smile. “It is in your respectful hands.”

Lada chuckled quietly. “Well, you must have something most … advantageous to bring us after all.” She waved the household guard aside and invited the adventurers up the steps, with the monster lumbering close behind to make sure they did not tarry.

She led them into a sitting room with plush couches on either side and two carved wooden doors at the opposite end of the room from the entrance. Dominating the center of the room was a round granite table, polished to a high sheet and set with chased silver goblets and a pitcher. Lada took up the pitcher and offered them all wine as the hulking brute closed the door and stood guard near the exit.

Nyleth took a sip and complimented the vintage, earning her a smirk from their host. She filled the goblets before setting the pitcher down and asking, “So, what is your grievance with Yorba LeJantre?”

“He captured and sold some of our people,” Moria said bluntly. “We want them back.” The bard gave him a barely perceptible nod and slightly raised her glass to him.

“Lada sat next to Nyleth and crossed her long legs. “Your people. You mean fey-folk from the west. We know of this, but what would you do to Yorba? He is a favorite of Dominak Lukil, who can muster an entire legion to himself. What can you do?”

“Favorite he may be, but there are things that our people look askance at,” said Nyleth.

“All his guards would avail him nothing if he brings them to bear on the wrong point,” said Nima. Lada looked at him, confused. “If he cannot tell where the sting comes from, how can he swat the fly?” He expression switched from confused to surprised in an instant, and she regarded the priest with momentary awe.

“And there are ways to make even the smallest sting be felt for months beyond,” Nyleth asserted.

“Yorba and the Dominak know us not, and we intend to retrieve what is our and begone,” Nima concluded, waiting patiently.

The Fomoraig stood abruptly, her eyes flicked over each of the adventurers in turn, her expression betraying a profound reaction to their words. “I … I think I shall summon my lady mother. She should hear more of what you have to say,” she said before hastily departing. The monster fidgeted by the exit.

“What jist happened now?” asked Quinn.

“Unknown,” said Moria in Faerie.

A few minutes later, Lada emerged from one of the two carved wooden doors with a bent-backed old woman following. They were accompanied by a servant bearing a gilded cage enclosing a hideous avian creature with the body of an emaciated rooster, the wings of a bat, and a long, scaly tail. Another servant rushed in with an ornate cushioned chair for the old woman, who was garbed in fine satin and bore the same crooked nose and heavy brow as Lada.

The younger Fomoraig woman whispered something to the elder and then addressed the adventurers. “May I present the Lady Zlava Hrutka, matriarch of our noble house.” The adventurers observed the nominal obeisant gestures.

The old woman regarded them all coolly, then said in strong Lavinian, “How did you hear of our family.”

Nyleth smiled at her. “There are many who speak of your name, Your Ladyship.”

The matriarch stared at Nyleth with iron-hard gray eyes. “But who led you to our doorstep?”

“That,” Nyleth said, settling back into the chair, wineglass in hand, “is a very interesting story.”

The old woman reached up and opened the gilded cage door, coaxing the beast within out. It flapped its leathery wings obstinately before settling on the old crone’s stooped shoulder. “Izzat what I think it is?” Quinn asked Moria.

“Yes,” said the wizard, carefully not looking directly at the cockatrice.

“For many months,” Nyleth began, “we’ve been following the fey folk that recently were delivered to your shore. When we first landed, we discovered that they had been sold, at quite an unreasonable price.”

Zlava stroked the creature’s neck absently. “What are these fey folk to you, then?”

“Let us say, without too many words, that they are the bane and boon of blood.”

Lada scoffed. “I would not call it a ‘sale’, but ‘abducted’ would be accurate.”

Zlava glanced sharply at her daughter before continuing. “And assuming we could assist you in finding your kin, what would you do for us?”

“Bring Yorba tae justice,” Quinn said sincerely. Lada seemed to find the notion amusing.

“We would be a thorn in his side, one they cannot ignore,” said Nima. “A man so distracted may leave an opening that may be seen and used.”

Lada stepped toward the priest eagerly, staring at him wide-eyed. “An opening to be used … by whom?”

“By those that know to look for it,” Nima said simply. Nyleth smiled knowingly and sipped her wine.

Lada looked at him very long and hard, as if trying to make up her mind about something. Finally, she looked at her mother and shrugged. The matriarch paused and considered for a moment, then looked up at her daughter and nodded.

“We are appalled by the savagery of our countrymen and would see the fey folk liberated,” said the old woman. “If you can be discreet, and avoid implicating my humble household in your clandestine activities, your fey kin may find safe shelter under our roof once they are found.”

“Thass mos’ generous,” said Quinn, bowing.

“You and your house are most kind,” said Nyleth, following suit.

The crone stood and placed her horrid pet back in its cage, while the servant did his best to hold it at arm’s length. “As a gesture of our sympathy for your cause, we would make you privy to a secret that could damn us and our house were it made well-known.” She placed a withered hand on Nyleth’s shoulder – her fingers were surprisingly strong – and stared at her intensely. “You understand that this creates a bond of trust between us. Should such trust be betrayed … our wrath would be dire.”

Nyleth nodded, holding Lady Hrutka’s gaze. “I do understand, Matron.”

The old woman released the bard and shuffled out the door she entered. “Please follow Lada,” she said, gesturing toward her daughter who stood by the other carved door. The adventurers rose from their seats and did as they were bid

Lada unlocked the door with a slender silver key, leading them all into the next room. They arrived in a salon with ornamental plants lining the walls and lavish tapestries hanging from the walls. A stair led out of the room, and an oval wooden table was positioned in the center of the room with six chairs arrayed about it. Candles illuminated the room from the table, and someone seated at the table glanced up as they entered.

She was a fey woman, wearing a black satin gown of Fomoraig cut. Her hair was long and black as the night sky reflected from a still pool. Her eyes met them, wide and almond-shaped, full of sadness, but also uncomprehending of what she saw.

“Greetings, sister,” said Nyleth in Faerie before recognition struck. Then she ran forward and embraced the woman.

“Well, then,” said Moria.

“You are safe!” the bard exclaimed.

“Sister?” Quinn asked the wizard.

“Cousin, really,” said Moria. The woman stood, trembling, looking at him with disbelief. Nyleth held her very close and spoke quietly into her ear. “Also, my brother’s … paramour, Rhoswen?” the wizard added, returning the woman’s glance, curious.

“Gotcha. The words sound a wee bit th’ same…” said the Dalesman.

Moria frowned over at him. “Savage.”

“Ecoriel? Nyleth? I … what … how?” sputtered Rhoswen.

“All is well, Rhos. All is well, we are here!” Nyleth assured her.

“Long story. Not important now,” said Moria.

Nyleth looked over at Lada. “My cousin,” she said simply in Fomoraig.

Lada retreated from the room saying, “I shall leave you to converse.” She pulled the carved wooden door closed, and they heard the sound of the lock ‘click’.”

“Uhh…” said the paladin.

“Oh, relax, Quinn,” said Moria. “If we were prisoners, they would have taken our things.”

Session 6.02: To Malecor
In Which the Heroes Seek the Captured Fey.

21 September 1380 C.E.

Moria, Nyleth, and Quinn rejoined Nima at the Koritsi Kai Kalukas. “What happened while I was gone?” asked the priest.

“A long wait, followed by a long talk with a bureaucrat,” Moria said flatly. They took a seat at Nima’s table and Quinn began his fingers on the rim of his shield.

“Well,” said Nyleth, helping herself to some of the bread on the table, “we had a meeting regarding an … outstanding situation? If you will?”

“Aye, ye kin call it that,” said Quinn.

“Without going into too much detail in public, let us say that some of Quinn’s previous interests here might be less storybook-like and more real than first anticipated,” she said, winking at the paladin.

“Of course…” said Nima.

“Suren, if we kin figger out why the Mon Segnior’s reputation is soiled. An’ find a way tae polish it up a wee bit,” said Quinn.

“Ahh,” Nyleth said, pouring everyone a glass of wine. “Politics. The stuff of some … less interesting songs and more interesting stories.”

“I better not find out he earned it by being some kinda blaggard, though…. How long ‘til we sail, anyhoo?”

Over a plate of charbroiled elk on a bed of seared green peppers, they discussed how they would reach Malecor. The Altair al-Bunni had moved on her trading route. Methos could make The Wyvern available, but he would need to know how long they expected to be in such a dangerous port.

“Boat,” Moria suggested blandly.

“Beats swimming,” Nyleth said, tipping her glass at him.

They decided to make their way to the port to hire a ship to take them, rather than use up all of their good will with the Icatian knight. They contracted with the shipmaster of The Free Tern, who intended to leave mid-afternoon on that day, so as to be well out to sea by sundown. They boarded the ship, which was a worn and small cog, cramped and musty. She was manned by hard-bitten men, who bore many a scar and tattoo. The shipmaster informed them that the voyage would take three days.

Nyleth was pleasant to the sailors, despite their demeanor. The men were gruff and indifferent to the passengers, and gave a general sense of nervousness. The smaller vessel played fresh hell with Quinn’s stomach as it lurched out to sea. “I miss the Bunny,” said the Dalesman.

* * *

24 September 1380 C.E.

They took great care to move well out into deep-water, out of sight of land, and they seemed to be avoiding shipping lanes. At the end of the first day, a light rainstorm pelted the ship and her crew, persisting well into the second day. By the morning of the third day, the rain abetted, but the sun did not emerge from behind thick, ash-grey clouds. The mood of the ship brightened no more than the weather, with tensions drawing tighter the closer they got to “the Cursed Isle.” The sea heralded Kane’s dominion before any other sign, the water growing cloudier and less blue.

“Have any of you been to Malecore before?” Nyleth asked as the ship slipped into the nastier water.

“Nay,” said Quinn. “Have ye?”

“Indeed, but it was a while ago,” she said quietly, eyes to the horizon. “They are a … haunted people.”

Not long after, the sails snapped and fought at the rigging, as swifter, more violent winds buffeted the sea, chopping the waters and wrestling with the ship’s hull.

“D’ye mean, like, superstitious?” Quinn called, clinging to the rail.

“In a way, but oppressed, as well,” said Nyleth, her choice of tightly braided hair proving to be a good one.

Moria stood at the railing, wind whipping his hair out of his face for once. “Violent hearts,” he said. “None are welcome here.”

Their first glimpse of the island was a distant great black cloud on the horizon, overshadowing harsh, sharp-toothed cliffs of basalt.

“Disguises, then?” asked Quinn.

“Indeed,” said Nyleth. “Ecoriel and I will have to be very careful here, though his illusionary magic will make things easier.”

Moria glanced at his companions. “Cloaks with hoods would be simpler. And far less taxing.” He turned to face the sea. “But aye. All of our skills will be required to traverse this land.”

“Of course,” said Nyleth, pulling out the plainest hat any of them had seen her wear. “But in case of emergencies, would it be possible?” The wizard nodded once.

“Sooner we’re quit o’ this place, th’ better,” Quinn said grimly.

The crew of The Free Tern became anxious passing beneath the ominous shadow of the cliffs. Some men brought a canvas bundle that clinked of steel when dropped into a discrete corner of the deck. Perched high in the rigging, a bosun called out, “LOBBER BEARING DOWN ON US!” At which point, the crew all mustered on deck, taking arms from the canvas bundle and rushing to the rail.

“Lobber?” asked Quinn, as the adventurers tried to spot the threat.

“Pirate,” said Moria.

“Ah, I was afraid of that,” Nyleth said dejectedly, pulling her bow. “Bearing?” she called up to the bosun.

“DEAD ON, AND TACKING TO STARBOARD!” the man called back down.

“Roger,” she called back, beginning to sing.

“Pretty sure I’m gon’ hate it here,” said Quinn. Nima nodded, arming himself.

“Just think of it as a target-rich environment,” said Moria.

The captain steered his rudder slightly starboard to gain distance from the cliffs off the port bow. The crew breathed shallow, peering at the gradually looming, large, heavy-hulled cog bearing black sails and a wicked spiked masthead.

“Devil’s teeth, lookithat,” said Quinn.

“Close, Quinn,” said Nyleth. “‘Teeth of Horror’ in Fomoraig.”

“Oh, aye?” said the Dalesman. “Lucky guess, I … guess.”

The lobraider continued on her course as The Free Tern slowly and steadily put her to port. The crew all inched their way to face the grim monstrosity breaking the water toward them. They adopted grim but aggressive postures, some winding crossbows, but all doing their best to hide the obvious fear.

“Take heart, fellas,” Quinn called out.

“Are we certain that this is a pirate attempting to take us?” asked Nima.

A sailor near the priest muttered in vulgar Lavinian, “We can hope to outrun her if we can pass, but if she comes about to ram, or alongside to grapple us, we will likely die fighting. Those who survive … they are truly doomed.”

“Perhaps, then, we shall be able to help…?” Nima said uncertainly. He began to pray, peppering the phrases with words of power.

“We will help,” said Nyleth, as cheerily as possible. “And I daresay none will die this day.”

The men held their breath, and the captain made no move towards nor away from the lobraider, on whose deck they could see inky black smoke rising from unseen braziers. The pirate ship continued on her course, steady as she went, passing the Tern’s broadside approximately three-hundred yards to port. As she carries on, the captain called out, “Steady on, men!”

The crew let out a collective sigh as the lobraider moved on, slowly making her course to the west. One of the sailors muttered, “Must have just eaten already.” The tension bled out of the men, and they returned to their duties. The captain steered her on course to Port Crorbak.

The land of Malecor drifted farther away from the ship’s port side as the captain steered her east-by-northeast, and the smoky black haze of the basalt cliffs dissipated. The air had a sulfurous-salt smell, nonetheless. As the sun dipped behind them, the captain turned the rudder and bore northward, eventually bringing sight of land dead ahead – a flat plain, overcast by brown-grey clouds.

Nyelth pulled a tiny silver box out of her bag. “Whatcha got there” Quinn asked her.

“Just something to make Malecor a little more habitable,” she said, dipping her finger into the corner and dabbing little salve under her nose. She held the box out to the paladin; it smelled faintly of lavender. He took a bit and smeared it under his own nose, nodding thanks. Then she offered to box to Nima and Moria, who demurred.

“I would like to try growing accustomed to the unpleasantness,” said the wizard. “Should an alternative be unavailable.”

“Understandable,” she said, tucking the box away.

The elves and Nima covered their heads, and Quinn used the magic of his hat to color his outfit more drably. The crew cast out their lines and brought the Tern to dock. Other ships from all over Heled were docked alongside: Icatian caravels, Hammaddin baghlahs, and Nordhring longships.

“I have tae say, cruel as this voyage’s been tae me, this land ain’t exactly a sight fer sore eyes,” said Quinn.

The captain approached the adventurers and said in low Lavinian,” We’ve brought you safe to harbor, but I cannot give good counsel to keep you safe ashore. You’ll have to disembark now. We’d prefer to finish our business and be on our way.”

“Very well,” said Moria. “Thank you for the ride.”

“You have been more than kind to us, Captain,” said Nyleth. “May your return voyage be calm and safe.”

He gruffly bid the adventurers farewell and set about offloading the clandestine goods they were shipping. The docks were full of loud and rowdy men. Primarily, they were fair-skinned, square-jawed Fomoraig folk with jet black hair and busy eyebrows. No one took any particular note of the travelers, and they were not approached by an official of any kind.

“Right. So,” said Quinn in Faerie. “My guess is that we should find th’ slave markets.”

“Likely,” agreed Moria.

“If we are lucky, there may be such a thing here,” said Nyleth. “It may be … less easy to find. We should be relatively safe here. This is Dimgrit Fen,” she added. “It’s mostly humans – no Kannites – but the woods to both sides are full of goblins. At least, so I’ve heard.”

“It seems that every sailor without a burden is headed towards the same area,” Nima whispered in Hammaddin.

“Should we chance it and follow?” asked Nyleth, sticking with Faerie.

“Might stand out if’n we dinnae,” said Quinn.

“True,” said Nima.

“Ecoriel? Thoughts?” the bard asked.

“I have no better suggestions, no,” said Moria. “We will have to speak with someone local in order to find what we seek.”

“Right. Here we go, then,” said Quinn.

“Let us keep our eyes open, yes?” Nyleth said quietly. Everyone nodded.

They made their way into the city, following the general flow of sailors, treading mired and unpaved streets. They passed a shop-front displaying animal hides, a cart full of twisted horn and antler, and a store of wood-axes, spades and mattocks. Presently, they came upon the sailors’ destination, an inn with a sign that said “Lovec a Králičie”.

“Whass that mean?” Quinn said, tilting his head like a dog.

“The Hunter and Rabbit,” Nyleth translated. Moria began to hum an old elven hunting tune, which made Nyleth giggle despite the drab surroundings.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: “Kill da Wabbit” – Moria’s player is a silly bitch.]

“Welp, we’re gonna need a kip here someplace. We may’s well have a look-see.” Quinn held the door for the others, then headed inside. The building was a two-story wattle-and-daub structure with low ceilings. It was crowded with sailors and doxies dicing and drinking in front of the hearth by one side. There were a number of more discrete niches into which three benches framed tables and a stair leading up.

“Huh,” Nyleth said quietly. “I suppose they may be looking for something different than we are.”

“Still. They will know something,” said Moria.

“Could be a’that,” said Quinn.

“Let’s … mingle,” said the wizard.

Nyleth took a deep breath and put on her least fight-starting face, heading toward the innkeeper who stood near a curtained door to the kitchen. The man glared at the adventurers as they approached. “Good evening,” she said in Fomoraig. “Would it be possible to get something to eat? We have only a little while before our ship leaves port.” He wiped a stubby finger on his dirty apron and muttered back at her. They chattered back and forth rapidly before the man shuffled off into the kitchen, the same glare on his face.

“Aw, greet,” Quinn complained. “Another bloody language I gotta learn.”

“Chin up, Quinn. Learning is good for you,” said Moria.

Nyleth held her arm out towards a table. “Anyone wish to join me for dinner?” she said with a smile. “I can’t vouch for how good it will be, but it will certainly feature beets.”

“Aye, as it ‘appens, there is room in mah stommick,” Quinn said.

“I feel that some food would be a wise choice,” agreed Nima.

The innkeeper returned with a small iron cauldron and four tankards clutched in his sweaty, meaty paw. Nyleth thanked him politely and remarked on his kindness, which seemed to take him somewhat aback – though his glare never changed. He set the cauldron on the table along with the tankard and produced four wooden spoons. They paid him the two silvers he requested, then he shuffled off to answer the shouts of another patron.

Moria’s lips twisted. “When is the wedding?” he asked softly in Faerie, glancing between the bard and the innkeeper.

Nyleth looked crestfallen. “I figured we should be polite, else he do unsavory things to our foodstuffs. I am sorry. I will try to be less … like that.”

The wizard looked down with a small frown. “I apologize. I was attempting levity. I failed.”

She smiled at him and squeezed his hand gently. “It is well.”

“Fer the best, I’m suren,” said Quinn. “I cannae get sick, but I kin git poison’d…”

The tankards were full of a bitter dark red ale, and the cauldron bubbled with rabbit tripe and stewed vegetables. The Dalesman took up a spoon and helped himself. “It ain’t bad,” he remarked. “Reminds me o’ home a wee bit.”

Moria glanced over at Quinn. “That is not encouraging.”

Nyleth served herself a small bowl and tasted it. “It’s … not too bad. The vegetables are good.”

Nima quietly prayed over the table, purifying the meal. The wizard picked at the vegetables, and Quinn gleefully ate the tripe left behind.

A middle-aged woman in ragged garb sidled up to the shadowy alcove, and in thickly accented Lavinian asked, “Mila for silver? Mila like you! Silver and Mila.” She gestured toward herself.

“She askin’ what I think she’s askin’?” Quinn said in Faerie. Nyleth nodded.

“Perhaps she knows about the slave markets…” suggested Moria.

Nima handed the woman a silver coin. “Thank you for your interest, lady, but we require not your services,” he said.

“Alas, my dear, they are spoken for,” Nyleth told her in Fomoraig, sliding a little closer to the wizard.

Mistaking the priest’s intent, the doxie eased herself onto his leg. “Thank you, sailor! Mila like you! You come with Mila.

“No, my lady. We are not interested,” Nima reiterated. He gently lifted her off his lap, while surreptitiously checking his possessions.

“Ahh, I’m afraid he’s got one at home waiting for him,” Nyleth said, gesturing to Nima. “That one is a lost cause, my dear. Though, I’d be happy to buy you a drink if you have a moment.”

Quinn hid a grin behind his tankard. “Kin ye ask ‘er about th’ slave markets?”

The doxie narrowed her eyes at Nyleth, then at Nima, and after a quick look at Quinn and Moria snatched the silver coin off the table. She roughly shoved off the priest and stormed off in a huff.

“Or … not,” said the Dalesman.

“Or no drink,” said Nyleth. “Whatever makes her happy.”

“Got paid for nothing and has the nerve to be indignant,” said Moria. “Impressive.”

“Some work ethic, I reckon,” said Quinn. “Hope she dinnae bring back a rooster.”

“Mm. Perhaps we can find someone with a-” the wizard seemed to consider and abandon a number of colloquialisms before deciding on ”-greater willingness to speak with foreigners.”

Nyleth made no move to disentangle herself from Moria, scanning the room for anything interesting. Perhaps three-quarters of the patrons were openly bearing arms, and the rest could easily have been concealing weapons beneath rough-hide jerkins and oiled leather doublets.

She leaned over and whispered in the wizard’s ear. “Over there – there’s a dice game. Seems a little tense.” She nodded very slightly at a group of five men – Lavinians and Fomoraig. Moria suppressed a shiver before looking over in the indicated direction.

“Whatever they’re betting on seems to be worth a lot,” she said. “They may just be dicing, but I don’t like their body language, yes?” She lay her head on Moria’s shoulder, keeping an eye on the men.

He leaned his head against hers. “I’m sorry. What were you saying?” She smiled and repeated herself. “Yes, I see it now.” He paused to take a deep breath before continuing. “Body language is not always to be trusted, though.” He lifted his head once more and pulled away ever so slightly, earning him a wry smile from the bard.

Quinn cast a sideways glance at the elves, unable to hear the whispers, before turning back to finish what was left of the stew. The innkeeper returned, and they got the impression that he wasn’t particularly hostile toward them. He just had resting glare face. He gestured quizzically at their tankards. The Dalesman raised his, hopefully, and Nyleth asked for a second round.

Moria did as well, asking about the privy. The innkeeper gathered up the tankards and glared at the wizard. “Zachod?” he said, snorting toward the entrance before shuffling off. Moria extricated himself – not unkindly – from Nyleth and excused himself from the group to attend to nature’s call.

“You should not go alone, Fakir Moria,” said Nima. “I shall accompany you.” The wizard nodded and continued out the door, the priest following behind. Pushing past the sailors crowding the entrance, the two adventurers emerged into the night.

Quinn aimed a goofy smile at Nyleth, and she smiled in return, before sipping her drink. They turned their attention back to people watching. Moments later, a fight broke out at the tense dice game, and all five men drew daggers.

“Whoa, now,” said Quinn.

“That’s what I was trying to tell Ecoriel about,” Nyleth said, watching the men. “I was afraid of that.”

“And there ain’t no law here, as such, izzat right?”

“You are right. Nothing of the sort. Well, there are rules, but … well, it’s mostly whoever is strongest who gets to make them. They change all the time. I’d prefer not to get involved, but…”

“Then less sit right here. Suren they kin work things oot.”

The men fought, and one of the Lavinian sailors got stabbed. The Fomoraig men gathered up the coin on the table and threw the dice at the Lavinians as the uninjured one assisted his companion limping out the door. The rest of the men in the commons quickly went back to their own business. The innkeeper glared after the Lavinians and replaced the adventurers’ tankards, accepting eight copper for them.

Moria and Nima returned a moment later. “Missed the fight,” said Quinn.

“Curses. I was going to place a wager and everything,” said the wizard.

“Next time, fer suren.”

“The one in the red didn’t put up much of a fight before he got stabbed a little,” said Nyleth.

“Shall we secure a room … rooms?” Moria corrected himself. “Or shall we try to find out more about the slave markets this evening?”

“First th’ one, then th’ second?” said Quinn.

The wizard nodded. “Priorities.” He offered Nyleth a small “secret” smile that lasted but a moment. She smiled back, fleetingly.

They flagged down the innkeeper to arrange lodgings for the night. “Should we all share one?” Moria asked, a blush rising in his cheeks. “I just think it would be safer if we didn’t separate. Like Nima said.” He looked to the priest for support, very obviously not looking at Nyleth.

“Keeping ourselves together in this land is very wise,” said Nima.

“S’fine with me, s’long as ye dinnae mind mah snorin’,” said Quinn.

“I, at least, am accustomed to that,” said Moria.

“I would very much prefer to stay together,” Nyleth said, relief clear in her voice, but also not looking directly at the wizard.

That decided, Moria paid the innkeeper for a single room. The man accepted the coin gladly, continuing with his usual glare. “Right. That’s settled. To business?”

“Right,” Quinn agreed. “Whass the name o’ LeJantre’s ship again? We could ask after ‘er, ‘s well.”

After about an hour of Nyleth making polite inquiries, but primarily buying rounds of liquor, she learned that slaves were generally held within “The Bivouac”. The only fortified part of the city, it was where Kannite legions were quartered. Generally, slaves were either sent out of the city to enter the service of a Dominak, or the local elite houses bought them. Occasionally, slaves were sold on the open market in “The Menagerie”, where the beastmasters sold their stock.

She shared what she’ed learned, including that LeJantre owned several ships that often made berth in Port Crorbak. “Thassa lotta variables,” Quinn said.

Nyleth asked about more exotic slaves and heared that some were bought for a small fortune over a month before. A large host of Kannite legionnaires arrived about a week prior to escort them out of the city. Apparently, House Hrutka, a local elite family that profited from trading and ownership of most of the scant arable land around Port Crorback, was extremely displeased by the outcome. Of greater note, they were bitter rivals of Yorba LeJantre.

“Then suren they’d be mad if Yorba made a killin’ on slaves,” said Quinn, pausing a beat before his expression became crestfallen. “Poor choice o’ words,” he added.

“They would be pleased if we made LeJantre look the fool, certainly,” said Moria.

“Oh, indeed,” Nyleth agreed. “Should we pay them a visit before or after we recover our people?”

“Might be safer to ask them about the buyers than askin’ Yorba,” said Quinn.

Moria nodded at him. “Agreed. Perhaps House Hrutka knows more about where they might be found.”

Session 6.01: Pear Wine and Politics
In Which the Heroes Speak with Local Lords.

20 September 1380 C.E.

Methos provided a sumptuous feast for the returning heroes and his impromptu guests. He produced several bottles of a pear mangonelle that was light and sparkling. After a fruit and goat-cheese course, the kitchen served them all a bacon-wrapped leg of lamb pie on a bed of grilled kale.

Nyleth excused herself briefly and returned wearing a dress no one had yet seen. She spent the meal telling their Methos a colorful version of the adventurers’ travels, leaving out any parts about the Black Razeel. In place of it, she spun quite a yarn about a kindly naga. Their host listened, enraptured, passing a tray of date-and-honey sweets wrapped in flaky pastry and dusted with almond flour.

“Truly, I have only ever heard of such fantastic beasts!” Methos exclaimed. “What a wonder that must have been!”

“Aye, it was somethin’,” agreed Quinn.

“The Grimorium was, unfortunately, stolen by Settites,” said Moria. “According to one of the heretics, the … well, a leader anyway, was called Burgiua.”

Methos reclined thoughtfully, his face a rigid mask. “So … my dear friend has lost the ancient manuscript of Alifazzah? Tsk, tsk. It must be very worrisome for him.”

“He was not pleased, no,” said the wizard. “We did make sure to mention your desire for reconciliation.”

Methos broke into a wide grin. “I am certain that Master Param will call upon me if his need is great.” He chuckled stiffly, then abruptly changed the subject. “Speaking of need, you have my gratitude for recovering the darling child of my good friend, the Lady Anell.”

“We were most relieved to have finally found her,” said Moria.

“Aye, tae say th’ least,” added Quinn.

Ser Sigelred cleared his throat. “What ails the child, thinkest thou?”

Nyleth shook her head sadly. “It’s difficult to say, exactly. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Somethin’ that Magus did t’her,” said the spellknight.

Moria shrugged. “Some manner of curse, perhaps? A conjuration effect, at the least. Sadly, it was beyond our good priest’s ability to restore her.” He indicated Nima, who offered a polite apology.

“Oh, don’t apologize, Nima,” Nyleth told him. “He spent most of the voyage here attempting to remove the malady,” she explained to the others.

Guild Wizard Baeren tugged fretfully at his short chin beard. “This be a malady of a very peculiar and powerful nature, to be sure.”

“Conjuration was one of the fields of study I neglected, I must admit,” said Moria.

“I hold oot hope that we kin still find Amirandi,” said Quinn.

The wizened gnome nodded. “I say that it is the responsibility of the College of Wizardry to determine the source of the child’s condition and arrive at a remedy!”

“Ah, well, I am sure that a solution will be found,” Nyleth said confidently.

“What say you, Wizard Moria?” asked Baeren. “You are eligible to speak as a representative of the collegium, now. What shall be our next move?”

Quinn exchanged a double-take with Nyleth, and a small smile quirked the corner of her mouth. “Wizard Moria?” she asked.

“An’ when were ye plannin’ tae tell us?” Quinn asked, grinning.

The newly minted Guild Wizard shrugged. “It’s a formality,” he said softly, but clearly pleased.

“Oh, Ecoriel, that’s wonderful,” Nyleth said quietly, squeezing his arm.

Moria smiled at her, then turned back to Baeren and said, “In the spirit of restoring the Countess’s grandchild to her fully, I have to agree with your assessment, Master. For now, we should return her to Icatia post-haste and set our newest outpost to work. Considering the … arrangement with her family, I am sure they can come up with some workable solution. Assuming the Lady Anell consents, of course.”

Methos frowned. “Would it not be safer to guard the lady and her daughter here, in my villa? This villain has made one attempt on the girl already, and he appears to have abundant resources at his disposal.”

“Is your villa safer than a tower of the Arcane Order?” asked Moria. “Across the sea from the self-same villain?”

“‘E walks throo walls, Wizard Methos,” said Quinn. “I dinnae ken if any place is safe.”

Moria chuckled behind his hand. “Lord Methos is, ah … unaffiliated. Fancies himself a ‘dabbler’, if I recall correctly?”

Methos tented his fingers. “It is not the integrity of her dwelling that concerns me, but the vulnerability of travel o’er sea and war-stricken lands.”

“A fair enough point,” Moria conceded. “We can shroud the ship well. But well enough?” He looked at Baeren.

The gnome looked troubled. “I would like to know more of this ‘dark magus’ and his abilities, but I think the journey may be dangerous for the child and her mother, even with our combined strength to protect her.” Baeren nodded at Ser Sigelred.

“Aye, would that we had settled Amirandi’s bill for good and all. Rather than this ‘dine and dash’, if you will forgive the crude metaphor.”

“Seems apt’s any, Wizard Moria,” said Quinn, earning him a level look.

“Could we instead find a safe place nearer to us now?” asked Nyleth. “What about the fortress at Kantzaros?” Methos looked amused by the prospect.

“What aboot what now?” asked the Dalesman.

“There is a dwarven stronghold near here, I believe,” the bard explained.

“Sinor was bound there,” Moria reminded Quinn.

“Oh, aye. Thass right.”

“I know a song about it – it is supposed to be quite stout and one of a kind,” said Nyleth.

“Indeed it is!” Methos said enthusiastically. “I hath ne’er visited it, but I dare say I would relish the opportunity!”

“The song speaks well of it, though I dare not sing it for the dwarves.” The bard looked sadly at the table for a moment.

Methos patted her warmly on the shoulder. “Ahh, my lady, you will find the dwarves of Kantzaros quite unlike their Midhjard brethren. Outcast from ‘mother-mountain’ for the crime of mirth and art.”

“Oh, indeed?” Nyleth said, intrigued. “I would also very much like to meet them as well!” She took a small sip of wine. “It has been argued by some scholars that the songs of the dwarves could give even the greatest of Faerie bards pause in the days before.”

Ser Sigelred leaned forward and placed a gloved hand upon the table. “We must assume that Amirandi mounts yet another attack, hence he marshals his forces. It would be wise to draw him away from the child, I say.”

“We have not been able to find the man,” Moria pointed out.

Methos cocked his head to the side. “But perhaps we might draw him out.”

“Usin’ wee Alyssa as bait,” Quinn said gravely.

“How long do you think we have before he or his companions discover our whereabouts?” asked Nyleth. “I have no way to protect us from being scried upon.”

“Bah. A pox on all divinations,” said Moria.

“Could we not use an illusory Alyssa?” the bard asked him.

He shook his head. “Not until he had already found us, I fear.”

Ser Sigelred bristled. “My thought turn more to a counter-offensive, good ser. Hath this sorcerer any interests we might threaten?”

“Ah, we meant no harm, Ser Sigelred,” Nyleth said smoothly.

“He has associates, does he not?” mused Baeren.

“Settites, mostly,” said the bard.

Moria nodded. “But they seem more like pawns than allies. It is hard to say with those snakes.”

Methos refilled his wine flute. “Unless I am mistaken, when last we spoke, you mentioned Amirandi had Kannites in his employ? Have you learned any more of that relationship?”

“And what of these maps you brought back from the Settite cache?” asked Baeren. “They depict the isle of Protea, where you encountered what remained of Amirandi’s Drujji thugs.”

Nyleth produced the maps from her magic bag and glanced through them. “They seem to either belong to, or be the work of Hama bint Alifazzah. It’s all in Fomoraig, though. She was a cartographer of some renown in the eighth century.”

“Hama bint-Alifazzah was one of the first daughters of the Sultanate,” Methos interjected with a wink.

“Ahh, this is a lot to think about over dinner,” Nyleth said ruefully, looking around for more bread.

Methos sipped his honeyed pear wine. “From what you have told me, it seems that Amirandi is looking for this … Razeel, whatever it is. He learned of it from the writings of Alifazzah. He has employed both the criminal network of the Drujji and Kannite reavers. It also appears that wherever Amirandi goes, the Settites are not far.”

“That sounds aboot right,” said Quinn.

Their host took another leisurely sip of wine. “So, if we are to find secure lodging for Alyssa in Kantzaros, someone must journey there to make the arrangements. If we are to heed Ser Sigelred’s good counsel, others must attempt to draw Amirandi away … strike at him through those with whom he associates.”

“An’ is that anywhere close tae where we’re goin’?”

“On the way to Malecor? I think not,” said Moria.

Methos popped another sweet into his mouth and said, chewing, “I have business in the Galatian countryside that presses upon me. T’would not be out of my way to call on the renowned Kantzarosian and beg favor to protect the innocent. I can be … quite persuasive,” he finished with a grin.

Nyleth laughed. “That seems quite settled, then.” She refilled her wineglass. “Though, perhaps we can stop by on our way back? I would dearly love to meet these dwarves of such song.”

Ser Sigelred stood suddenly. “‘Tis mine own solemn duty to protect the girl and her mother from these minions of evil. I shall stay with them until they be safe with these … other dwarves.”

Baeren nodded sagely. “I shall remain, as well. I would like to inspect the child and attempt to divine what I may of her affliction. Moria nodded respectfully to the knight and the master wizard.

“That is very kind of you, Ser Sigelred, Wizard Baeren,” Nyleth said.

“Much obliged, aye,” said Quinn.

“Indeed,” Moria intoned.

“A toast, then,” said Nyleth.

Methos raised his flute. “Indeed!”

When all glasses were raised, Nyleth said, “To old friends reunited, lost daughters returned, the promotion of a dear friend to his place in the tower, and to Amirandi – may he meet the sharp side of Quinn’s falcate.”

“Well said, Nyleth,” said Quinn. “Well said, indeed.”

Methos muttered, “To reunions, and to the settling of debts.”

“An’ that s’well,” chuckled the Dalesman.

Ser Sigelred drained his goblet to Methos’ health before retiring for the evening. Guild Wizard Baeren excused himself soon after. “Mebbe I should get tae bed, too,” said Quinn. “I – we…” he indicated Nyleth, “…ha’ got an errand tae run in th’ mornin’.”

“That’s right!” Nyleth said excitedly, clapping her hands together. “Oh, Quinn, I’m so excited for you.”

“Would ye care tae lend a hand, Wizard Moria?” the Dalesman asked.

“Stop that,” Moria said without conviction. Quinn winked at Nyleth, who giggled behind her wineglass.

“Now, my fey fellows,” Methos said in Faerie. “Is there anything I might do to aid you on your way?”

“Your mobile arcane laboratory was well appreciated,” said Moria.

Methos spread his hands wide. “It is yours, wizard. I shall sent it to you wherever you desire.”

“Appreciation extended.”

“We should get to rest, Quinn,” said Nyleth, still smiling.

“…Aye,” said Quinn. “I mighta had a wee bit too much pear wine…”

Methos stroked his chin, considering the spellknight. “It sounds as if you are bound on some great quest, Ser. Is it quite noble and chivalrous?”

“It’s important, anyway,” said the Dalesman.

“Oh, it is,” said Nyleth. “And when it’s complete, I’ll tell you the story, if Quinn will allow it.”

“Well, do not hesitate to ask me if you should require anything,” said Methos, smiling like a cat.

“Indeed,” said Moria, steepling his fingers.

“Right, I’ll do that. Ye have mah thanks,” said Quinn. Methos nodded and bid them all good night.

“I feel it is my duty to accompany you upon this mysterious errand now,” said Moria. Quinn nodded his thanks then retired to his room. Moria walked Nyleth back to her own bedchamber and bid her goodnight at the door with a small smile.

She smiled shyly back at him and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “Congratulations,” she said, then disappeared into her room.

* * *

21 September 1380 C.E.

When they rose the next morning, Methos had already left on his “business” in the country. Nyleth was dressed in formal Faerie clothing, an ethereal dress with lots of tiny silver ivy vines somehow holding it up. When Moria saw her attire, he returned to his room to dress up for the occasion. Quinn had donned his last clean tunic over his shining armor. He’d painted his new shield with the blue and silver coat of arms, but left room for the motto he had yet to include.

“All right,” said the paladin. “Less see if this place is where Pastanti said it was. Was Moria … Wizard Moria comin’?”

“The other ‘stop that’,” Moria muttered in reply as he emerged from his room. “Yes, I am.”

“Oh, you look lovely, Ecoriel,” Nyleth beamed. She was very excited to leave in her flowy skirts and flowers that seemed to have sprouted from her hair.

They walked for an hour to arrive at the Enchrais villa, in the hills above Balearaeos, the bard eating the whole way. It was a magnificent mansion, ringed with olive groves and vineyards cultivated on terraced hillslopes overlooking the bay. Quinn steeled himself to act as though he belonged.

“Oh, I suppose we neglected to tell you what we’re doing,” Nyleth said to Moria.

He shrugged. “I assumed I did not need to know.”

“I intend tae ask the Merchant Prince what it’ll take tae free Pastanti,” said Quinn.

“Ahh,” said Moria. “Fascinating. Does she know what you intend?”

“I mentioned it when we was ‘ere last time. She dinnae think it could be done…” Surrounded as they were by all the opulence, Quinn sounded like he was starting to agree with her.

“I believe that it can be,” said Nyleth, “and there are stories about it … and I believe Quinn intended to speak with her after determining if it was.” She gave the paladin an encouraging smile.

“But she was not … opposed to the notion?” asked Moria.

“Well, iss not that she’s opposed,” said Quinn. She just doesnae think it’s possible. Like I’d have a better chance o’ cuttin’ the moon in ‘alf. But I figure I gotta try, at least.”

“I see. I merely speak from a place of concern as a one-time victim of misguided ‘romantic’ gestures.”

“Me too, brother. Me, too.”

“I believe, perhaps, that it would be – how would one say? – creating false hope to speak of being free to someone for whom it would be impossible,” said Nyleth.

“I do not disagree,” said Moria.

“Well, thass jist it, innit? I dinnae ken if it’s possible ‘r nae,” said Quinn.

“This way, well, we will know if it is possible,” said Nyleth.

“Jist so,” said Quinn.

“I see,” said Moria, giving the bard a sideways glance. “And … our role in this endeavor?”

“Quinn will more than likely be called upon to give his, well, qualifications? His deeds of valor,” said Nyleth.

“Keep me from makin’ an arse o’mahself, I reckon,” the Dalesman muttered.

She patted him on the arm in a sisterly manner. “That as well. And he also is not good at speaking of his own deeds.”

“I ain’t for braggin’, no,” Quinn agreed.

“It’s not bragging, Quinn,” said Nyleth, not quite scolding. “It’s stating what you have done for your faith. I would think bragging has a lot more, well, strutting about to it.”

“It does, aye,” said the Dalesman. “Invershire’s full o’ kilted roosters, struttin’ aboot tah it.”

Moria blinked slowly. “Very interesting.”

When they arrived at the entrance, Quinn pulled a braided rope, which rang a loud bell within. A manservant greeted them and showed them into a lush garden-courtyard, replete with carved marble fonts and sculpture.

“S’a lot o’ riches tae be paid fer by slaves,” Quinn muttered. Nyleth shushed him quietly.

They were left idle for several hours until an aging man of great stature dressed in lavish finery emerged. Flanked by four bodyguards, he had tired grey eyes and long salt-and-pepper hair. He bowed slightly, and Quinn returned the gesture more deeply, doffing his hat.

“Welcome, travelers! I am Mon Segnior Cidanas di Enchrais. What, may I ask, would you have of me?”

“I thank ye fer yer time, Mon Segnior. I am Ser Quinn Mac Teague, Spellknight o’ Mystral. These are mah friends, Guild Wizard Moria o’ the Arcane Order an’ Nyleth of Faerie. I’ve come tae ask ye aboot an oiketes in yer service.”

“I am most pleased to make your acquaintance,” Nyleth said in flawless dialect, curtseying for effect.

“Pleasure,” Moria intoned politely.

“An oiketes?” said di Enchrais. “Has someone offended you, sir knight? I will not stand for it, if it is so.”

“Oh, nay, nothin’ o’ th’ kind,” Quinn assured him. “Quite th’ opposite, really. I’ve come tae ask ye what it would take fer ye to release Pastanti of Koritisi Kai Kalukas.”

“Oh, that is good. Koritsi Kai Kalukas, you say? Ah, yes, the inn in Balearaeos. You find the accommodations there to your liking, do you? I hope so. But, it is the wench of whom you speak, is it? What is she to you, a westerman?”

“Ahh, is it not something your discerning eye can see?” asked Nyleth. “The noble knight is quite taken with her charm and wit. Worry not! She has behaved with nothing but decorum.”

“…Aye,” said Quinn. “She is … passin’ fair. An’ mah intent is strictly honorable.”

“Oh…” said di Enchrais. Then, with sudden realization, “…Oh, OH!? So, you wish to … umm…?” He made a prompting gesture.

“Make ‘er mine, if it please ye, Mon Segnior,” Quinn supplied. Then he shook his head, unsatisfied by the phrasing. “I mean tae court her, is mah meanin’ Mon Segnior. Honorable-like.”

Nyleth swept her hand over the bench nearby. “Will you sit with us, Mon Segnior?” she asked. The Patriarch fussed with the lace at his collar and paces over to a bench. “Please excuse our dear knight,” the bard continued, taking a seat beside di Enchrais. “He is still struggling with the dialect, but if you can imagine, he has learned much in only a few months.”

Goblets of deep rich red wine were brought for them all, and the Mon Segnior drank heartily while he considered. Nyleth kept the conversation light, touching on past adventures and feats of valor. She also tried to catch Moria’s eye from time to time, smiling at him and sharing a wink. For his part, the wizard watched it all with apparently detached solemnity.

Di Enchrais listened intently, asking question after question about each anecdote. Never satisfied with the details, he wanted to know everything. He then seemed to suddenly remember the question put to him. “This is the serving wench at Koritsi Kai Kalukas, yes? She is the only one there, I believe. If she is freed, then who will serve the patrons?”

“Ah, an excellent question, Mon Segnior,” Nyleth said, somewhat uncertainly.

“Another?” suggested Moria. “Is there a shortage of oiketes?”

“Aye,” said Quinn, nodding to the wizard. “Might’n there be someone at another of yer holdin’s that could take ‘er place?”

“I remember her mother,” said di Enchrais. “She was a fine oiketes, but she died last autumn, I was told. Eurysix and Thila are too old to work any longer. I have other inns, but they are home to my oiketes. It would be very hard on my people to leave behind their families to work in Balearaeos.” He seemed fretful at the prospect and drank more wine, worriedly.

“Oh, goodness. I can imagine,” Nyleth said quietly. “You seem concerned, Mon Segnior. Is there something troubling you?” Quinn steepled his fingers, mostly to keep from balling his hands into fists. Moria nodded in approval at the paladin’s hand-control technique.

“I suppose maybe I could look into it, but I’m not sure if I should, do you see?” di Enchrais said, sounding quite distressed.

“Suren I do,” said Quinn. “But ye see how much it means tae me. I cannae imagine ye have suitors comin’ up here all th’ time now.”

“I had assumed she would marry another of her … kind, you see.”

“I believe we do, Mon Segnior,” Nyleth said reassuringly. “Perhaps we could see if there is someone who might welcome a chance to become oiketes?” she suggested.

Di Enchrais seemed amused by the suggestion. “When fey-folk from across the waters call at my door to arrange a marriage to one of my serving-girls, I believe anything is possible.”

Moria mouthed the word “marriage” as though trying it out. He looked over at Quinn appraisingly. Nyleth laughed musically and poured their host another glass of wine. “Perhaps, though the stories do say otherwise, yes?”

“E’en a quartermaster’s son might be a knight someday,” said Quinn.

“I should write a song about you and Pastanti!” said Nyleth. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful? People would come from all over to see the tavern where you met!”

Di Enchrais smiled in a fatherly way. “I love those stories. I rose quite high myself, did you know that?”

Quinn smiled. “Oh, did ye now?”

“Indeed?” asked the bard. “Oh, I would love to hear!”

“My father was a seventh son, with a small villa in Haeumea. We raised sheep and twice a year harvested silk from wild mulberry stands. But I wanted to be great!” he said. Then his face grew regretful.

“I ken sheep very well, hailin’ from th’ Dalelands,” said Quinn.

“Ah, but you are, Mon Segnior,” Nyleth said quietly. “And you are just and kind, else you would not be sitting here with us.”

“Well, I sought my fortune and the favors of great men. But, I … I have done things I am not proud to speak of,” he said sadly. His eyes looked into the middle distance. “I have children … and grandchildren. They stand to inherit all I have – lands, properties, and … reputations. I must take care to regain my reputation, do you see?” Nyleth reached over and patted his hand.

“An’ have yer children harmed yer reputation, Mon Segnior?” asked Quinn.

Di Enchrais beamed. “Oh, no! I have three sons and four daughters. The two eldest have already married and are with child, but I must see to the others. I must make good matches for them, to good families.”

“That is wonderful news,” said Nyleth, smiling broadly. “I wish many beautiful grandchildren on your house. Perhaps, though, we can help you to regain your place?” she added gently. “Then the loss of one oiketes would be small, yes?”

The Patriarch took Nyleth’s hand in both of his and patted her warmly. “Oh, you are so fine! I would like that, yes.” To Quinn, he said, “You have spoken with the girl, and she wishes to leave with you?”

“…Aye,” said Quinn.

Then di Enchrais began to fret once more. “But she knows no one across the sea. And there is Eurysix and Thila to consider. They must be taken care of, as well.”

Nyleth stroked his hands soothingly. “Worry not, kind Ser. We will ensure all are taken care of.”

“I swear nae harm will come tae her while she’s wi’ me,” said Quinn. “An’ suren we kin find someone tae mind th’ others.”

“When next you see us, we will have a settlement of affairs drawn up,” said the bard. “We can assure you that all your holdings and her family will be provided for. And,” she added with a twinkle in her eye, “your name will hold a special place in the lay I compose.”

“Aye. All good ‘n proper,” said Quinn, sounding like an child excited to open his presents.

Di Enchrais rose. “I shall consider this. It will not be easy to convince the Prince to grant manumission, in any case. Though, if you were to do some public good in my name, it would help my family and the case for your Pastanti. But, oh … I must find someone else to work the Koritsi Kai Kalukas. I must think on this some more.”

“Worry not, Mon Segnior. We will find you someone,” said Nyleth. She reached into her bag and produced a bottle of faerie spirits. “For you, kind Ser. And for your patience and kindness this day.” She stood and held it out to di Enchrais, curtseying gracefully. A servant accepted the bottle, and the Mon Segnior thanked her gladly before becoming lost in his own thoughts once more. He shuffled off, muttering to himself.

Quinn watched him go, his expression poleaxed. “Greet. Thass jist greet.”

Nyleth patted him on the arm. “Don’t worry, Quinn. It won’t take long for me to figure out what his family’s troubles are.”

The Dalesman lit up at that. “Oh, aye? C’mon, less git oot o’ here.”

“Indeed,” said Moria and Nyleth at the same time. The bard smiled at the wizard, then said, “Towns like this? With layers and layers of gentry? Lots of gossip.”

Once they were back outside, Quinn grabbed the elves and brought them in for a big group hug.

“There, there,” said Moria, patting the big man’s back.

Session 5.03: The Gambling Den
In Which the Heroes Take the Vigorish

17 September 1380 C.E.

“Do you think they know we’re coming?” Nyleth asked.

“There is no knowing what he told his handler,” said Moria. “No matter. Alyssa may be within. We must chance it.”

“Aye,” said Quinn. “If’n they’re on t’us, then we ‘ave nae time t’dawdle.”

Upon opening the pinewood door, they saw a flagstone courtyard, empty save for a two-story baked clay brick building dominating the south end. It was flanked by palms and overgrowth and guarded by two men-at-arms. Quinn started toward the building like he belonged there. Moria and Nima followed in his wake, but Nyleth pulled up her hood and slipped quietly around the side of the courtyard.

The guards were startled and drew scimitars. “Halt! Who goes there?” one shouted in Hammaddi.

“Gamblers, o’course,” said Quinn. “Rest easy, men.”

The watchmen frowned. “The Suruq ash-Shams is closed due to the curfew. Be on your way, wretch!”

Quinn paused for a moment. “Wretch?” Then he started forward again. “If’n it’s closed, then why’re ye oot here guardin’ it?”

“Surely, you would not turn away a patron’s gold. We are not likely to report you,” said Moria.

The two guards advanced threateningly. “I said be GONE! Unless you wish to lose your dicing hands!”

Nyleth removed her hood and stepped out of the shadows, taking the wizard’s arm. “Oh, poo,” she said in her poutiest, cutest voice. “I had so hoped we could play tonight,” she added, her lip quivering ever so slightly. “Are you sure we can’t come in just for a little while?”

While the bard distracted the guards, Quinn examined their souls. “These men have the stink of evil on ‘em,” he said in Faerie. Nyleth inclined her head ever so slightly to Quinn, but kept her eyes on the men-at-arms.

“They are in this nation. The odds were not in their favor,” said Moria.

The guards exchanged glances and lowered their blades without sheathing them. “The house is closed. You may wager at your pleasure once the curfew is lifted. Now I must demand you leave.”

Moria opened his belt pouch and began counting out gold coins. “Yes, are you sure you cannot be … persuaded?” the wizard asked. Quinn, too, reached for his belt pouch, which was right next to the hilt of his sword.

Nyleth sighed sadly and pushed her hair back behind her ears. “I would dearly love to dice tonight,” she told the men. “Perhaps you could share a cup with us.”

The speaking guard took a firm stance. “You are trying my patience, foreigner! If I must tell you to leave again, I shall raise an alarm, and you will lose that pretty face of yours!”

“Ahh,” she said, gently raising her hands. “No need for harsh voices.” She squeezed Moria’s arm slightly. “This reminds me of a song I knew once!”

She began to sing, weaving enchantment into her voice. The silent guard was enthralled and stepped forward wistfully. “Taa’ha, they have coin! Let us take them inside and dice with them,” he muttered to his companion. “I do so love the games!”

His confederate just stared at him aghast, blinking unbelievingly. “What has come over you, fool! Do not speak my name! Have you been drinking?” Nyleth continued singing, aiming a lullaby at Taa’ha and an encouraging smile at the silent guard. “You!” cried the vigilant one. “You’re a djinnah! You are trying to enthrall me! ALAAARUM! ALAAARUM!!!” he shoulted.

“Ah, I tried,” said Nyleth in Faerie, changing the tune to inspire courage and slipping to the side to ready her bow. Her companions likewise prepared for combat, and Nima made the first move, closing with the shouting Hammaddin and clipping him with the tip of his scimitar.

The enchanted Hammaddin shook his head and blinked, then leapt at Nima, drawing blood and starting to shout as well. Quinn brought his blade to bear on Taa’ha, and a few vicious strikes later, the man went down in a gurgle of blood. His companion looked to the building door desperately, but Moria’s sleep spell dropped him like a stone.

“Anyone hurt?” asked the spellknight, one hand on the door.

“A scratch, Ghazi Quinn,” said Nima. “I can take care of it.”

“We ready, then?”

“Aye,” said the priest. The other two nodded, and Quinn threw open the door.

Within was a grand hall, with stairs leading up to either side of a central room filled with gaming tables of every variety: dicing, placards, and tiles. The room was empty and only the stairs and a curtained back wall between them suggested an exit.

“Best tae close that behind us,” said Quinn, indicating the door. Then he led the way inside, making for the curtain.

“Fan out,” Moria instructed, strafing left. Nyleth closed the door, then she and Nima nocked arrows to cover the stairs. Quinn cradled his falcata and pulled the curtain aside.

Behind the curtain appeared to be a shallow circular pit of sand lined with tile, with space around it for spectators. It was shallow, no more than two feet deep, and there were dark brown stains in the sand. Since no one was there, he returned to the front and made for the left-hand stairs.

They came to a dark hallway on the second floor, with a door to their immediate left and a door at the end of the hall to their right. The nearer door seemed to be barred. “Don’t suppose either of ye know how tae knock,” said Quinn.

“Not as such,” said Moria.

“I can try the old fashioned way,” said Nyleth, producing tools from her magic bag. She slid a rod between the door and the post, trying to work the bar up and free, but it kept falling back into place. She swore eloquently in Faerie.

“Suren, it’s the finest language fer such cussin’,” said Quinn.

“It really does lend an eloquent edge to the profanity, I think,” said Nyleth.

Moria smirked at them. “Indeed.”

“Mebbe I kin smash it doon, but we’d best try that other’n first,” said Quinn.

“So be it,” said the wizard. “Rearguard, keep an eye on this one.” Nima nodded acknowledgement.

Quinn crossed the hall and tried the other door, which was also barred. Nyleth sighed and advanced to try her luck again. She managed to get the bar shimmied up and off its slots, and it landed on the other side of the door with a loud clatter. Quinn pushed it open and was greeted by a hail of iron darts. Three of them thudded into his shield and a fourth clattered off his scale armor. However, one took him in the thigh, and another embedded itself into his right wrist. “Och!” he complained.

“Sorry!” said Nyleth. “I didn’t mean to make so much noise.”

Moria cast haste, then stepped through the doorway, kicking a fine wire laid across the threshold and eliciting the sound of shattering glass from overhead. The wizard was showered with acid, which splashed Quinn as well. Moria cursed and retreated back out into the hall.

“Right,” said Quinn. “Now ye went an’ made me mad.” He charged at one of the men inside and sliced him deeply. Nyleth sang a little louder and shot a second man, sparing a concerned glance for Moria. Nima whispered a prayer and a small fire elemental appeared in the room.

“Wind priest, eh?” quipped the wizard.

“Sun and wind, Fakir Moria,” said the priest with a grin. Then he was dodging more darts, while his elemental came under attack by two other men. Two more came at Quinn with poisoned blades, and the last lobbed another dart at the spellknight, which sailed over his head to thrum into the wall behind.

Moria moved up behind Quinn and tossed colored sand forward in a spray of magical color! Both of his targets closed their eyes and avoided the illusionary assault, but it proved enough of a distraction for Quinn to finish one off and injure the other with his blade. Two more of Nyleth’s arrows sank into another, and then Nima cast another spell. A tiny arc of electricity struck a Hammaddin cowering behind a small stone well on the far side of the room and brought him down.

One of the men proved to be a spellcaster, stepping forward to spray flames across Nima and his pet. Moria attacked another man with a magic missile moments before Quinn put him down. Nyleth and the priest brought down another. The battle continued earnestly, and Nima channeled a burst of healing magic to sooth his companions’ wounds. Seeing this, two men broke and tried to flee. One was brought down in flames by the elemental and the other nearly escaped, but Moria’s slow¬ spell tripped him up. Quinn caught him, raised his falcate high, and cut the coward down, sending his body tumbling down the stairs.

“Stop! There’s no reason to continue fighting!” Nyleth entreated the last man. “We won’t harm you, if you’ll please stand down.” He decided to take his chances, and with a final slash through the back of his jerkin, the last Drujji fled down the stair sand out into the night.

“Is everyone all right?” Moria asked. His companions assured him that they were. The wizard inspected a burlap sack in one corner of the room. It was tied securely with a leather thong, but the deft application of his dagger solved that. The sack was full of gold coins of strange minting, stamped with a pair of snarling dogs’ heads and also embossed in Fomoraig. “Huh. Nyleth, bag this for later?”

“Sure thing!” she said, holding out her bag. “Though, should we make sure they’re safe?”

“No time,” he said. “I fear the Fomoraig may have already been here.”

“Seems,” Quinn said with a frown.

“Hmmm, perhaps you are right,” said Nyleth.

Nima was standing by the locked door. “I have listened, my friends, but I have heard nothing.” Moria sensed magic behind the door.

“Any o’ these have a key on ‘em?” asked Quinn. He searched the fallen man near the well and found an iron key. “Less try this,” he announced, holding it up. The lock opened easily. Quinn nodded to the others and swung the door open.

Within a small, but comfortably furnished apartment in the back of the upper commons, they found a small girl with golden curls laying catatonic on a straw mattress in the corner. In the opposite corner lie a pair of expertly forged blades, still in their scabbards. Quinn approached, trying not to make too much noise. He wiped his falcata clean, sheathed it, and knelt before the girl, attempting to rouse her. Her eyes were open and vacant, staring at nothing.

“Oh, the little one!” Nyleth said quietly, clasping her hands together.

“Fell magic, is it, Moria?” asked the spellknight.

The wizard concentrated for a long moment, then retrieved parchment and quill from his pack, sketching a few runes as he frowned down at the girl. While Moria worked, Quinn spoke softly to the girl. “Suren we’ve been seekin’ ye fer a long time, wee lass.” She continued staring straight ahead, oblivious.

“Conjuration of some sort,” said Moria, after a time. “Though I am woefully unfamiliar with what ritual might be associated with these markings.”

“If you think it wise, Fakir Moria, I may be able to dispel the enchantment,” said Nima.

“It is worth a try,” the wizard agreed, putting his accoutrement away.

“If’n nae, we kin try tae help her far from ‘ere,” said Quinn. “Long’s it’s safe tae move ‘er.”

“Aye,” said Moria. “Let us make haste. Quinn, you may have to carry her. Gently. Everyone gather ‘round. I will wrap us in illusion as I did to shroud us from the guardians of the Black Razeel.”

“Ecoriel…” Nyleth said quietly in Faerie, holding the swords. “…these are from home.”

“Are they? How peculiar…”

“Later…” she said. “We should get somewhere safe.” She looked disturbed by the weapons as she carefully put them into her bag.

“Aye, best we leave quickly with the child,” agreed Nima.

“Quinn, if you please,” said Moria.

“Right. We kin try tae dispel it later.” The spellknight gently hoisted the girl over his shoulder. She was limp as a blanket. “S’all right, Alyssa. We’ll have ye home afore ye kin kennit.”

Moria cast major image, wrapping it around the party so that only the room around them would be visible to anyone looking from the outside. He concentrated on maintaining the illusion and changing it as they walked. The others followed closely behind the wizard. They heard the sounds of the city watch calling out in the distance, searching the area systematically. The adventurers slipped into the alleyways, avoiding them all. They made their way back to the Bath Gate, their precious cargo safe.

On board the Al-Tair al-Bunni, the girl was made as comfortable as possible. Hada ar-Ri was overjoyed to have helped the adventurers recover their charge. They offered the captain a cut of the loot they’d recovered. Hada politely refused twice before accepting the offer gratefully.

Nima was not able to dispel whatever magic afflicted the girl. Moria shared the runes he’d seen on the girl under detect magic. The men agreed that puzzling it out would require further study.

* * *

18 September 1380 C.E.

In the morning, it was revealed that the invading Kannites fought their way back out of the city late in the night. Only a spare few survived to flee into the hills outside the walls of al-Jebail. The curvew was lifted and trade resumed as normal. Hada was so grateful, she agreed to provide the adventurers and the girl safe passage back to Galatia.

* * *

20 September 1380 C.E.

Methos Shane was almost sycophantic in his gratitude for recovering the daughter of his most noble guest. He also asked if they’d learned anything of his very dear friend Ser Joram Param. Moria told him they had indeed met Param. Nyleth politely tried to smoth over some of the awkwardness. Methos was delighted and informed them that he was fortunate enough to be able to return the favor. He had located two associates of the Mystralytes.

With an absurdly theatrical flourish, Methos drew an ermine curtain aside. Guild Wizard Baeren stepped into the room, followed by Ser Sigelred Rauff. “Well, I’ll be,” said Quinn. Moria blinked, utterly taken aback but pleased. Then he made introductions.

The wizened old gnome nodded politely to Nyleth and Nima. “I received your messages, Moria. Very well done! Ser Sigelred has been my protector as I rushed to your aid. Little did I know it would take me so far across the Middle Sea, to lands I have only ever dreamed of. But I see you did not need my help after all.”

“I seem to have … managed, yes,” said Moria, sitting up a little straighter. Nyleth beamed at him.

The wizards excused themselves to confide privately. Moria told Baeren about the Black Razeel, and insisted that it be taken into a proper Arcane Order tower for safekeeping and study. The Guild Wizard’s eyes widened immensely.

“With the acquisition of what is obviously an artifact of the Elder Age, you now qualify for Guild Wizard status with the Arcane Order,” said Baeren. “I am confident that my recommendation will be accepted by the regents immediately.” Moria expressed his gratitude, suggesting that he might accept an honorary title so that he might consider his field work for the Order. The gnome agreed heartily.

Afterward, Baeren approached Quinn, who was drumming his fingers on his shield in time to a song Nyleth was singing to keep the others entertained.

“Shardea sends here regards, Syr Quinn,” said the gnome. “And she asked me to convey a simple message to you.”

“Oh, aye?” said the spellknight.

Baerun unwrapped a bundle handed to him by Ser Sigelred. It was a heavy steel shield, ready to be painted with a coat of arms, that the gnome informed him was enchanted to offer greater protection. Quinn reached out to touch it, tentatively.

Nyleth clapped her hands excitedly. “Oh, Quinn! It’s beautiful!”

“She does not mince words, your captain,” said Moria appreciatively.

Quinn choked up a bit. “Please give her mah thanks,” he said. “I’m honored beyond words.” The small wizard bowed. “As ye kin see, I’ve chosen a coat o’ arms for mahself.”

“I surmise that Shardea assumed as much,” Baeren said, smiling grandfatherly.

Nyleth pulled a silken handkerchief from her bag and discreetly passed it to Quinn. “I dinna need…” he started to say, then took it anyway, blowing his nose vigorously.

“Of course not,” she said quietly.

“I, uh … I’ll wash this afore ye git it back,” said Quinn.

“Ah, it is fine. It’s yours!” she said with a smile. “Though, perhaps we could all celebrate later? I believe I have a bottle of faerie wine in here somewhere.”

Session 5.02: Snakecharming
In Which the Heroes "Lie to a Liar"

17 September 1380 C.E.

The lock clicked open and the door swung outward to reveal four men garbed all in black-dyed shrouds. They shielded their eyes from the magical light emanating from Quinn’s shield, surprised to find anyone inside the perfume shop. Nyleth began to sing her song of courage and Nima prayed for blessings from the spirits. Recognizing them as cultists, Quinn lunged forward and sliced the first man’s throat open. The body went limp and fell face-first onto the floor of the shop.

The priest drew his scimitar and moved up the ladder to support the spellknight against the remaining three cultists. Moria emerged from the cellar next, staff in one hand, wand in the other. His expression was sinister and his wand ready as he spoke in half-broken Hammaddin. “No one move.”

The men stared down at their fallen brother in shock, but they recovered quickly, their expressions turning hostile. “On tae plan B,” growled Quinn, bringing his falcata to bear against the leftmost Settite. The blade bit deeply into the arm the man raised to ward off the attack, and blood splashed against the door frame.

Nyleth took aim and fired, but her target ducked at the sound of the loosed bowstring, narrowly avoiding the shaft. “Poo,” the bard cursed in Faerie, blowing her bangs out of her eyes.

The Settite in the middle hissed at his compatriots, “He’s slain Helwy! Kill them all! RECOVER THE ARTIFACT!!!” All three cultists reached under their garments to produce heavy flanged maces, which they brought to bear against Quinn. Moria’s magic missile cracked against the wounded cultist’s ribs, but he came on with his fellows anyway.

The men assailed the spellknight from all sides. He raised his shield to his left, deflecting the first blow. He swung his falcata up to the right to meet the swing of the cultist with a ringing steel CLANG! As the central opponent raised his weapon with both hands, Quinn served a sharp head-butt to his jaw, staggering him momentarily and sending his swing wide, nearly striking his companions.

Nima uttered a second prayer and the spirits answered. A sizzling arc of electricity fried the wounded cultist, who collapsed twitching to the hard sand of the alley. The priest stepped past Quinn into the alley and took a mace to the ribs for his trouble. He grunted in pain but endured. Relentless, the spellknight advanced on the Settite that had called the others to attack, staggering him backward with blow after blow until he dropped his mace to clutch the vicious gash across his belly. He gurgled in Icatian, “It is over! Return to the wagon! Tell Burgiua the Razeel is LOST!” Then he died.

Nyleth fired an arrow into the survivor, which sank deeply into his side. He clutched at the fey-shaft protruding from his side, but his eyes glazed over after Moria finished the last syllable of a spell of enchantment, looking desperately to the wizard as a potential savior. Moria held his hands out and said in Icatian to everyone, “It’s all fine. We can talk this out.”

“We can talk this out,” said the man. “Thank thee, fey fellow!”

“Pray, come inside, and we shall discuss this as civilized folk.” The wizard spared a sad look for the dead. “It is unfortunate about your companions.” Quinn stepped out of Moria’s way and began examining the fallen, while Nyleth shifted to a song laced with calming enchantments. The wizard approached the cultist and put a soothing, friendly hand on the man’s shoulder.

“But, but … the human…” the Settite glanced fearfully at Quinn. “He slew my fellows!”

“A mistake,” said Moria, turning to Quinn. “One he sorely regrets. Isn’t that right, Quinn.”

“Oh, aye. I dinnae want tae,” the Dalesman said. Nyleth’s song became suggestive, her lyrics about forgiveness and bravery being one in the same.

“He is a knight, you see. His honor is everything to him,” the wizard explained.

“A brutish lout, that one be!” declared the cultist. “Servile crusader to an impotent shade! I can smell the awful chivalry upon him.” He spat.

“His life choices are regrettable, it is true,” Moria said in a placating tone. “Still. I give you my word that I will not allow you to come to harm from him or any of these, my companions.” Quinn’s knuckles whitened on the hilt of his falcata. He took a deep breath and stepped out of sight of the Settite. A moment later he returned, wearing his elf disguise.

The wizard turned to Nima then and asked, “Is there aught that can be done for them?”

“I shall see if they may be helped, Sayyadati Moria,” said Nima.

While the cleric examined them, the wizard explained, “Nima is a priest, you see. He may yet be able to save their lives.”

“These two yet live,” said Nima. “Shall I stabilize them?”

“I think that would be wise,” Nyleth sang quietly.

“Would you like that?” Moria asked the cultist.

He clutched at the wizard’s robes desperately and whispered, “Yes, yes, my mystical friend! You understand! Help my friends, and we will take the hoard back to the wagon. Then, we can collect the girl and slip out the main gate with their bodies hidden in the wagon. I cannot move them all myself.”

Quinn and Nima hesitated at the revelation then set about stabilizing the two dying Settites. Nyleth shot Moria a glance, eyebrow arched, and he gave his companions a meaningful look before turning back to the man. “You speak wisdom, friend. We should move with all haste, and collect the girl.”

Still speaking in a low whisper, the cultist said, “My Blasphemer, Burgiua told us to bring the hoard to the wagon in Harat an-Nukhayla and then to wait outside the As-Sadin gambling den for her arrival. The Icatian girl be within. We saw them take her there last week, and supposedly the Kannites have come to take her out of the city.”

“Anyone ken aboot this As-Sadin den?” Quinn asked in Faerie.

“We could, perhaps, seek it on our own?” said Nyleth. Then she switched to Icatian and addressed the cultist. “Perhaps, brave one, you could lead us there, and we could assist you.”

“Is the Grimorium safe?” Moria asked in a low tone.

The cultist grinned. “Oh, yesss, my friend! Burgiua has it safe and sound. She stole it right out from under the Hammaddins’ noses! Hah!”

“Cunning woman,” said Moria, adopting a wicked grin. “Let us make haste with the hoard.” He led the cultist inside, and he eagerly hastened down into the basement to fetch the chest of coins. He became alarmed when he saw that the magical orb was not inside.

“I admit, my friend, that when I came down, I could not resist holding it,” said Moria. He presented the orb and put it back in the chest with a light pat, trying to look somewhat abashed. “Just for a time. Such power.”

The cultist sighed with relief. “I know, it be the Key to all, we art told.”

“Let us make our way to the wagon, shall we?”

“Canst thou assist me with the chest? It is heavy and shall require four to bring it up the ladder.” Moria nodded to his more physically powerful companions.

They hauled the heavy chest up the creaking ladder into the night of al-Jebail and carry its great unwieldy bulk stealthily through dark palm groves behind the Suq, in the shadow of Tel Buyut. They reached the wide thoroughfare of Harat an-Nukayla (“Street of Palms”), which led straight to the main landward city gate.

“Carrying things is hard,” Nyleth said softly in Faerie.

“You’re doing very well,” Moria told her. She grinned at him and flexed with a soft laugh.

The heretic promised to bring the wagon back to them in the shadow of the palms so that they could load the chest and then return for his companions’ bodies. When he had gone, Quinn asked, “How long’s ‘e gon’ be like this, Moria?”

“Several hours,” said the wizard, to the Dalesman’s visible relief. “Long enough. I hope.”

“If it runs up, I can do the same,” said Nyleth quietly.

Moria nodded and said, “We were very, very fortunate.” He retrieved the orb from the chest and handed it to Nyleth to store in her bag. She replaced it with a rock of similar size, since she had one of those taking up space in the extradimensional sack.

They heard the sound of creaking axles as the cultist brought a mule-drawn wagon alongside the stand of trees. The man opened a hidden compartment into which the chest would fit, along with about six cubic feet of extra space to one side. The adventurers helped carry and load the bodies of the stabilized cultists back to the wagon, to be concealed under a tarp. The conscious Settite was unconcerned about his dead companion. When they loaded the bodies, the adventurers noticed that the hidden compartment contained a bundle of soft bedding and noted it was just about large enough to hold a child.

“Do we know the girl’s purpose, friend?” Moria asked.

He gave the wizard a look as if he only just remembered that he wasn’t among other Settites. “She is part of the plan. Our unholy Lady’s Great Plan. We need all three … the Key, the Gate, and the Right of Passage. I know not why, but it be said that the Icatian girl has the Right of Passage.”

“Fascinating,” said the wizard, earning him a questioning look from Quinn. He waved the Dalesman off.

Once the bodies were concealed, the heretic dusted his palms off and said, “Right. Now we wait for Burgiua and the others.”

“Which building is the As-Sadin gambling den?” asked Moria.

“It be in the Pleasure District. Burgiua showed us earlier today, before the curfew.”

“Ah. Shall we get moving then? Did you not say you were to wait there?”

“Didst I? That art strange. I … mine senses feel odd now. Dulled. I … come then, let us be on our way.”


The charmed cultist snug across the street, avoiding a City Watch patrol farther down, and the adventurers followed his lead. They made their way through the Pleasure District, which seemed ominous and quiet, though it was clear that the wider streets of the district were meant for throngs of revelers on normal evenings. Slipping from shadow to shadow, the cultist led them to a wall of a courtyard that enclosed a three-story masonry building. Then he motioned for the others to crouch within the shadow and wait.

They waited there in silence for minutes that seemed to stretch on for ages, listening to the silence of a city under lock-down. They could hear the sounds of the wind coming off the ocean beyond the Bath Gate. The occasional patrol passed a nearby street.

“The Kannites were coming for the gilr?” Moria asked softly. “Then they are not with you, I take it.”

The cultist grinned and whispered, “They will pay the Drujji for the girl, saving us the trouble. Then, when they emerge, we cloud their eyes and their minds. We use Settia’s venom to paralyze their limbs, and we wills teal the girl and escape in disguise.”

Quinn fakes a smile. “Oh. Right. Greet.” The cultist gave elf-Quinn a momentary look of suspicion, then shook his head and motioned for quiet.

After a few more minutes, a dark shape partially emerged from a shadow across the alley and hissed, “Eadund! Come here! Quickly!” The cultist motioned for them all to stay down and then hustled across the alley. After a brief exchange, Eadund the Settite returned to the adventurers’ position carrying a burlap bundle and grinning eagerly.

“Success, my friend?” asked Moria.

“This be wondrous, my friend! My Blasphemer hath given us the honor of infiltrating the gambling den! These are disguises for us!

“Wondrous indeed,” said Quinn, grinning at Moria.

“Fantastic.” Moria’s glee was sincere.

“I will unwrap it!” said Eadund. “There is a disguise for each of us…”

Still paranoid, the wizard quickly cast detect magic, noting a low level magical aura very close. “Hold a moment, friend,” he said. The cultist jumped suddenly as the bundle he carried moved.

“Quinn,” said Moria.

“Dinnae drop it!” cried the Dalesman.

A great black serpent in the bundle struck Eadund three times in the face, quick as lightning, before he dropped it with a horrible scream. Quinn jumped back, Nima drew his scimitar, and Moria backpedaled, fumbling for his wand. The man across the alleyway quickly slipped back into the shadows. The serpent slithered down the alleyway and, with a final hiss, disappeared into black mist. The snake-bit cultist collapsed to the ground, his neck rapidly swelling and his breath barely hissing through his mouth.

“Bye, friend,” said Moria.

“Bloody snakes!” cursed Quinn. “Nothin’ I can do f’r ‘im now.”

“We should move on the gambling den,” said the wizard. “Now.”

“I couldnae agree more.” Quinn used his hat of disguise to assume Eadund’s face. “‘Ow’s this?”

Moria inspected him. “Passable. You’re getting better.”

“Ne’er thought I’d be hidin’ like this,” said the paladin. “Still, thanks fer makin’ it possible.”

The wizard nodded. “Let’s move.”


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